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  • Rollenästhetik und Rollensoziologie: Zum Transfer rollensoziologischer Kategorien auf die neuere deutsche Literaturwissenschaft
  • Marc-Oliver Schuster (bio)
Pilar de Medeiros . Rollenästhetik und Rollensoziologie: Zum Transfer rollensoziologischer Kategorien auf die neuere deutsche Literaturwissenschaft. Königshausen and Neumann. 254. €38.00

Pilar de Medeiros, who teaches sociology in Portugal, studied at Brock University and Queen's University before entering a doctoral program in sociology and German studies at Albert-Ludwigs-Universität in Freiburg, Germany. This Canadian-German background can be said to underlie the main interests of her book: thematically, it stresses intercultural experience and interpersonal perception; methodologically, it is anchored within German dialectics and hermeneutics. Medeiros's version of her doctoral thesis from 2007 is well structured but did not undergo much proofreading, considering the numerous grammatical, stylistic, and bibliographic shortcomings.

Divided into a theoretical and interpretive part, the book starts its confident theoretical considerations with a survey of sociological role theory, in the course of which we are reminded that contemporary German role theory rests on a partial re-import of German early romanticism, especially of Friedrich Schlegel and Novalis, whose concepts wandered through Wilhelm Dilthey and Georg Simmel into the Chicago school of role theory and re-entered West Germany in the late 1950s in the work of Ralf Dahrendorf, Lothar Krappmann, and Jürgen Habermas. Medeiros's call for a modern hermeneutic reception theory therefore harks back to Schlegel's hermeneutics and Novalis's aesthetics. The theoretical part also mentions the change of media experiences in Germany, which provide additional patterns for role enactments in literature, film, and journalism; given the stated contrast between a logocentric, hermeneutic culture in Germany and a visual culture in the United States, Canada surely sides with the latter. Her main claim remains the call for a transfer of sociological categories of middle range ('Kategorien mittlerer Reichweite') to literary criticism. The advocated use of role theory in general certainly helps interpreting works that highlight identity issues in terms of roles and projections. Medeiros further strengthens her claim by arguing that, from the mid-1960s to the late 1970s, German society witnessed a step of social modernization towards more plurality and differentiation of roles. Dating the beginning of this step in 1963/ 64, she sees its parallel rise in German-language literature, hereby making Max Frisch's Mein Name sei Gantenbein from 1964 the prototypical German novel for this scenario.

The second part of Medeiros's book interprets eight German-language novels, which were published between 1964 and 1980 and are mostly available in English translation. The corpus includes better-known works (e.g., Frisch's Gantenbein book, Peter Handke's Ein kurzer Brief [End Page 402] zum langen Abschied) next to lesser-known novels from Alfred Andersch (Efraim), Adolf Musch (Im Sommer des Hasen), Günter Grass (Kopfgeburten oder die Deutschen sterben aus), Martin Walser (Die Gallistl'sche Krankheit), Gabriele Wohmann (Ernste Absicht), and Paul Nizon (Canto). The interpretive application of role concepts, which are both specific and understandable without extensive explanation, proves highly valuable, and in this respect the corpus was well chosen for articulating self-doubts, encounters with foreign cultures, and changes of self-understandings, including thoughts on writing.

Because they are abstract, Medeiros's statements often remain general or sweeping; her characterization of the modern German novel, for instance, appears more like a list of postmodern traits (non-linear narration, fragmentation, polysemy, irony). Furthermore, her claim about societal modernization is not convincingly linked to the novels, whose social and biographical contexts of production and reception are ignored, as are some of the writers' different national-cultural settings in the GDR, Switzerland, and Austria. Medeiros is at her best in applying role theory to central features of the novels, thus rendering a comparative constellation of interpretations that are appealing for readers with special interest in this intersection of sociology and literature. Medeiros delivers what her dissertation supervisor Willy Michel postulated since the 1980s; the adherence to her 'Doktorvater' is strong indeed. More than a third of her book already consists of direct quotations from primary and secondary sources; the issue of quotations becomes more problematic with copious repetitions and unmarked phrases taken from Michel's publications. He...


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pp. 402-403
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