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  • The German Student Movement and the Literary Imagination: Transnational Memories of Protest and Dissent by Susanne Rinner
  • Siegfried Mews
The German Student Movement and the Literary Imagination: Transnational Memories of Protest and Dissent. By Susanne Rinner. New York: Berghahn, 2013. vi + 174 pages. $75.00.

It seems ironic that representatives of the student movement with literary inclinations, who initially had subscribed to the fairly widely accepted radical slogan “Schlagt die Germanistik tot, färbt die blaue Blume rot,” eventually turned to writing fiction—often in an autobiographical vein—that later became a subject of literary studies by Germanisten and their ilk. Peter Schneider, who in his novella Lenz (1973) had conveyed his gradual estrangement from the student movement and thereby expressed the sentiments of those whose utopian hopes for radical social and political changes had been dashed, published an autobiographical narrative on the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of the events of 1968, entitled Rebellion und Wahn. Mein 68 (2008), in which he confirmed his long-held conviction about the necessity of change in the pre-unification (and, conceivably, the post-unification) Federal Republic but also criticized the delusional attitudes in which the student leaders had indulged when attempting to effect such changes.

In a perhaps less critical vein than Schneider, Susanne Rinner proceeds from the well-documented assumption of a “dritte Vergangenheitsbewältigung” centered on the student movement, which eventually came to the fore following the ongoing disputes about the “Third Reich” as well as (particularly after its demise) “the GDR” (6). These debates ultimately contributed to changes in the political realm as evidenced, for example, by the rise of Joschka Fischer from radical student movement sympathizer and activist to a prominent member of the political establishment when he served as Foreign Minister and Vice Chancellor of the Federal Republic from 2003-2005. Although Rinner, as indicated in the title of her study, in her first chapter discusses works of fiction by active participants in the student rebellion such as the aforementioned Lenz as well as Heißer Sommer (1974) by Uwe Timm, she implicitly [End Page 337] and explicitly challenges the perception that the initial literary reactions to the German student movement were essentially to be encountered in the pre-unification Federal Republic and West Berlin and did not elicit any noteworthy responses in the realm of fiction originating in the GDR.

In fact, Rinner accentuates the significance she attributes to the responses of a literary nature originating in the GDR by devoting the second and lengthiest of her four chapters to “1968 in East Germany” (57–93). Although GDR writers were being barred by the nearly impenetrable Berlin Wall and the fortified German-German border from participating in and actively supporting the student rebellion in West Berlin and West Germany, or, for that matter, becoming engaged in the Prague Spring of 1968, which was crushed by the Soviet Union and its allies (including the GDR), Rinner plausibly argues that literary works assumed the function of conveying to readers issues that could not be openly discussed in the GDR. In particular, she considers Irmtraud Morgner’s trilogy Leben und Abenteuer der Trobadora Beatriz nach Zeugnissen ihrer Spielfrau Laura (1974, 1983, 1998) to be a work that constitutes “an important addition to the cultural memory of 1968” by virtue of addressing issues such as “the Cold War, the Vietnam War, feminism, and the Civil Rights movement” (67).

Although Rinner focuses on the student movement in Germany, in her third chapter, titled “Transatlantic Encounters,” she justifiably draws attention to the international context of the student movement by initially recapitulating—albeit necessarily selectively and somewhat cursorily in view of its extraordinary influence—the significant role of the US as a source of the “German literary imagination” (96) from Goethe (“Amerika, du hast es besser. . .”) to the beginning of the twenty-first century. Although the impact of the US on the German student movement may be called ambivalent in view of its broadly accepted as well as imitated popular culture versus, for example, the widely rejected Vietnam War, Rinner adds a positive note by specifically engaging in an analysis of two scenes of encounter taking place in the US between...


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