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Early in the introduction to this collection of essays, Ernestine Schlant makes plain that the book's purpose is not to furnish close comparative analyses of significant issues of the sort one might expect in a book dealing with the postwar literature and culture of West Germany and Japan, two countries that share a number of striking similarities in their prewar and postwar developments. The thirteen essays, prepared for a conference held in 1988 to explore World War II's legacies to the two countries, address specific topics with reference to either West Germany or Japan (not both). "At this juncture in the project, it was clear that true comparative studies [End Page 991] by any of the participating scholars could not yet be undertaken." By juxtaposing essays representing the German and Japanese points of view on chosen topics, the conference organizers hoped to generate discussion of ideas and issues that would stimulate full-fledged comparative work in the future.
The topics comprise the six major sections of the book: "Historical Overviews;" "The Postwar Intellectual Climate;" "Literature Under the Occupation;" "Postoccupation Literary Trends;" "The Critic and Critical Institutions in the Postwar Era;" and "The Writer as Public Conscience." The essays, all by eminent specialists in German or Japanese history, literature, and culture, are highly informative and brimming with provocative insights, touching on a whole gamut of questions, from the predictable issue of war responsibility to the impact of Occupation censorship on cultural matters. Perhaps unavoidably, as hinted at by the words "overviews," "climate," and "trends," most of the essays tend toward the general, delineating broad outlines of their subjects.
Schlant's opening essay, presumably based at least in part on the conference discussions, attempts "to establish some rudimentary guideposts for comparisons." She notes, for instance, the possibility for fruitful comparative study of the phenomenon of literary withdrawal, of avoiding history and taking refuge in nature, seen in the early postwar literature of both Germany and Japan, as reported in a few of the essays. A host of other potential comparative topics come to mind—for instance, the seemingly pervasive role of left-wing ideology in both Germany and Japan, mentioned by many of the essayists, in shaping the course of postwar history and culture in the two countries, even as they democratized under the American presence.
By focusing on just two writers, Wolfgang Koeppen and Ernst Jünger, who stand at opposite poles in the literary spectrum, Dagmar Barnouw's essay is one of the few that gives a substantive sense of the literary texts behind the discussion. While her aim is to demonstrate, by reference to these two authors, the shifts over the past forty years in critical perceptions of novels concerned with guilt, many of her remarks suggest avenues for comparative study. Among other things, her comments about Ernst Jünger's elitism, aestheticism, and cultural conservatism call up the figure of the Japanese writer Yukio Mishima.
As an initial foray into the daunting area of postwar German-Japanese comparative literary studies, this volume amply fulfills its promise of challenging the reader "to participate in making the comparisons." [End Page 992]