- From West-German Väterliteratur to Post-Wall Enkelliteratur:The End of the Generation Conflict in Marcel Beyer's Spione and Tanja Dückers's Himmelskörper
Was ich nicht sehen kann, muß ich erfinden. Ich muß mir Bilder selbst ausmalen, wenn ich etwas vor Augen haben will. Es bleibt keine andere Möglichkeit, jeder erwachsene Mensch ist sich dessen bewusst, hat gelernt, daß die ausgedachten Bilder unersetzlich sind. Vielleicht kann man an dieser Einsicht den Erwachsenen erkennen. Als Kind, noch als Jugendlicher erscheinen einem die eigenen Erfindungen als Möglichkeiten, hinter denen sich eine Wirklichkeit verbirgt, und diese Wirklichkeit, glaubt man, wird irgendwann zum Vorschein kommen, sie wird die erfundenen Bilder nach und nach zurück ins Dunkel sinken lassen.(Marcel Beyer 65)
These lines from Marcel Beyer's novel Spione (2000) could serve as a working definition of the new type of memory work that has been practiced by the third postwar generation of German writers. Rather than looking for authenticity of past experience and for the true meaning of memory, the narrator in Beyer's novel foregrounds the mediated nature of recollections that are often contained in fictional images and in the products of imagination ("die erfundenen Bilder"). As he is trying to satisfy his curiosity about family history, he prefers not to confront the past directly, but to spy on it, as if looking through a peephole at distant times, places, and people. This process had begun quietly, almost like an imaginative game in those turbulent years in the Federal Republic of the late 1970s, when the protagonists in Beyer's novel were still children. Twenty years later, in the 1990s, their interest in the history of the family has reached maturity, and this at a time when the last remaining participants in and witnesses of the horrors of World War II are very close to death, unable or unwilling to reveal many of the secrets they carry inside. What cannot be obtained from belated conversations or pieced together from documents and photographs is replaced by fiction and imagination. The "erfundenen Bilder" are the only possible key to the recovery of a now hidden historical reality ("Wirklichkeit") and, once understanding of the past is achieved, these pictures could be allowed to recede back into obscurity, once and forever. [End Page 149]
Beyer's quasi definition of memory work applies to a number of books that were published around 2000: in addition to Spione, one should mention Tanja Dückers's Himmelskörper (2003), Judith Kuckart's Lenas Liebe (2002), Olaf Müller's Schlesisches Wetter (2003), Lena Kugler's Wie viele Züge (2001), Stefan Wackwitz's Ein unsichtbares Land (2003), and Reinhard Jirgl's Die Unvollendeten (2003), as well as two documentary works – Thomas Medicus's In den Augen meines Großvaters (2004) and Christoph Amend's collections of interviews and essays Morgen tanzt die ganze Welt: Die Jungen, die Alten, der Krieg (2003). These fictional and documentary works were all written from the point of view of the young narrators, the grandchildren, who begin to study the past from the comfortable distance of the more than sixty years that separate them from the world of the grandparents. Most of the novels are also conceived primarily as products of the protagonists' spying, speculating, digging around, and reshuffling the "stummen Überbleibsel" (S. Beyer 118) of one's own familial history: old letters, photographs, diaries, and other objects from the family archives (Löffler 9). On the one hand, of course, this trend is not entirely new nor limited only to members of Beyer's generation. These works echo the methods of Väterliteratur of the 1980s or are close in spirit to recent novels by established writers of older generations such as Monika Maron (Pawels Briefe, 1999), Uwe Timm (Am Beispiel meines Bruders, 2003), or Wibke Bruhns (Meines Vaters Land, 2004). But on the other hand, these new books exploring the world of the last generation that shares first-hand experiences of the Nazi period and the Holocaust are indicative of the thoroughly transformed discursive context of the postunification decades. In the particular case of Marcel Beyer and, to a somewhat lesser extent...