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Herta Müller

Politics and Aesthetics

Bettina Brandt

Publication Year: 2013

Two languages—German and Romanian—inform the novels, essays, and collage poetry of Nobel laureate Herta Müller. Describing her writing as “autofictional,” Müller depicts the effects of violence, cruelty, and terror on her characters based on her own experiences in Communist Romania under the repressive Nicolae Ceauşescu regime.

Herta Müller: Politics and Aesthetics explores Müller’s writings from different literary, cultural, and historical perspectives. Part 1 features Müller’s Nobel lecture, five new collage poems, and an interview with Ernest Wichner, a German-Romanian author who has traveled with her and sheds light on her writing. Parts 2 and 3, featuring essays by scholars from across Europe and the United States, address the political and poetical aspects of Müller’s texts. Contributors discuss life under the Romanian Communist dictatorship while also stressing key elements of Müller’s poetics, which promises both self-conscious formal experimentation and political intervention.

One of the first books in English to thoroughly examine Müller’s writing, this volume addresses audiences with an interest in dissident, exile, migration, experimental, and transnational literature.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vii

List of Illustrations

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pp. viii-9


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pp. ix-xii

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pp. 1-12

Two languages inform the writings of Nobel Prize laureate Herta Müller: German as well as Romanian bear on Müller’s novels, essays, and collage poetry. Born in 1953 in German-speaking Nitzkydorf—a Banat-Swabian village in southwestern Romania—Müller grew up as part of a linguistic and ethnic minority in a Communist state. Her writing career began with...

Part 1. Life, Writing, and Betrayal

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1. Herta Müller

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pp. 15-19

Herta Müller’s is a poor writing, or a writing that uses the poverty of means to escape, momentarily, a greater and much more profound poverty. The world presented in her writing, in a collision of verisimilitude and surrealism, is a world in which one makes do with very little; Müller’s Nobel Prize speech (titled “Every Word Knows Something of a Vicious Circle”), ...

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2. Nobel Lecture

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pp. 20-30

“Do you have a handkerchief?” was the question my mother asked me every morning, standing by the gate to our house, before I went out onto the street. I didn’t have a handkerchief. And because I didn’t, I would go back inside and get one. I never had a handkerchief because I would always wait for her question. The handkerchief was proof that my mother was...

3. Collage Poems

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pp. 31-35

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4. Interview with Ernest Wichner

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pp. 36-54

Ernest Wichner (b. 1952, Guttenbrunn, Romania) is a founding member of the Aktionsgruppe Banat. Wichner left Romania in 1975 and has been living in Berlin ever since. He is a writer, translator, and editor, and he has served as the director of the Literaturhaus (Literary Institute, Berlin) since 2003. In 2004, Wichner accompanied Herta Müller and the poet Oskar...

Part 2. Totalitarianism, Autofiction, Memory

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5. When Dictatorships Fail to Deprive of Dignity

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pp. 57-86

Twenty years after the demise of Communist regimes in Eastern Europe, Herta Müller still dedicates her writings to “all those whom dictatorships deprive of dignity every day,” as she declared in her Nobel Prize lecture. While her adopted country, the Federal Republic of Germany, proposed Müller for the award, it was her country of birth, Romania, that had...

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6. “Die akute Einsamkeit des Menschen”

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pp. 87-108

Loneliness is an unnatural and unwanted state of isolation in which the individual cannot thrive.1 It is not to be confused with solitude, which may be sought and savored. Loneliness is often seen as a feature of modernity, associated with the breakdown of traditional communities and extended family structures. In the second half of the twentieth century it was identified...

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7. Facts, Fiction, Autofiction, andSurfiction in Herta Müller’s Work

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pp. 109-129

Over the last fifteen years the emergence of groundbreaking work on trauma in literature and critical theory has made a profound impact both within and beyond the field of literature. This cutting-edge research has been applied to Herta Müller’s work by scholars such as Beverley Driver Eddy, Brigid Haines, and Lyn Marven, who have connected images and...

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8. From Fact to Fiction

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pp. 130-152

The novel Atemschaukel [The Hunger Angel] marks an important turning point in the career of Herta Müller—an author who fought her way from writing literary texts with the regional touch of a small minority into the center of German mainstream literature. In 2009, the year of its publication, Atemschaukel became the focus of attention for the most prestigious...

Part 3. Müller’s Aesthetics of Experimentation

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9. “Wir können höchstens mit dem, waswir sehen, etwas zusammenstellen"

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pp. 155-183

In his critique of Herta Müller’s Die blassen Herren mit den Mokkatassen, Anton G. Leitner has remarked that he considered the form of her collage poems, which he refers to as Schnipsellyrik, or cut-out poetry, trite and outdated; their genius lies “in the concurrence of fortuitous and calculated word deployment by a writer who can wield not just a pair...

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10. In Transit

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pp. 184-206

Herta Müller’s preferred collage technique correlates her affection for inconspicuous details and Scherben [broken pieces of china] as she invests specific objects with an array of biographical, political, linguistic, and literary meanings. These objects, which transcend genres and languages,...

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11. Osmoses

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pp. 207-229

After her Nobel Prize was announced, commentators never tired of emphasizing that Herta Müller lent her literary and political voice to the victims of Stalinism and the Ceauşescu dictatorship. Müller is without question a political author whose writing describes and indicts the mechanisms of...

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12. Herta Müller’s Art of Reverberation

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pp. 230-251

Herta Müller belongs to a generation of ethnic German writers born in Romania who were influenced by the rhetoric of the Aktionsgruppe Banat, a group that combined experimentation with realism. Among the influences on the Aktionsgruppe Banat, dismembered by the Romanian Securitate in 1975, critics count Franz Kafka, the surrealists...

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13. Accumulating Histories

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pp. 252-272

On May 11–13, 2000, eight authors came together at the University of Tübingen to speak on the topic “Zukunft! Zukunft?” [Future! Future?]. The lectures addressed the possibility of and limitations to thinking a notion of time that includes the idea of a future. Many sought to articulate a future-oriented indebtedness to past and present moments that...

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 273-278


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pp. 273-284


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pp. 285-293

E-ISBN-13: 9780803248427
E-ISBN-10: 0803248423
Print-ISBN-13: 9780803245105

Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2013