restricted access Günter de Bruyn's Märkische Forschungen: Form, Institutions, and Censorship
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Günter de Bruyn's Märkische Forschungen: Form, Institutions, and Censorship1 Rachel Halverson Washington State University Scholars of German literature have responded to German unification with a call to reexamine and reevaluate forty years of East German literature.2 Such a new analysis of East German author Günter de Bruyn's3 Märkische Forschungen: Erzählung für Freunde der Literaturgeschichte (East Germany 1979)/Brandenburg Investigations: A Tale for Friends of Literary History (West Germany 1981) reveals a complicated picture of GDR life that goes beyond an oversimplified view of historiography as official propaganda . Reading Märkische Forschungen in conjunction with Hayden White's Metahistory instead shows.the making of history as a dynamic process of individual perspectives and institutional sanctions. Since its publication, Märkische Forschungen has garnered various interpretations. Karin Hirdina and Lutz Richter view the novel as de Bruyn's fictional statement on literary history following his work on Jean Paul's biography in 1975. James Knowlton and Bernd Leistner consider the novel to be a continuation of the author's earlier works, Buridans Esel (1968) and Preisverleihung (1972), and recognize Märkische Forschungen as a literary statement on the "literarische Erbe" 'literary inheritance' debate in East Germany. Dennis Tate demonstrates that the character Max von Schwedenow is an amalgamation of the Romantics, Jean Paul, Kleist, Hölderlin, and Wilhelm Friedrich Meyer. Absent from this critical response, however, is any examination of de Bruyn's novel as a statement on the subjective validity of history and censorship, and on the salience ofthe positions ofthe characters Putsch and Menzel in East German society, that is, in the institutions of which they are a part, their opposing positions on Max von Schwedenow, and their success in propounding their respective viewpoints. On the surface, the narrative in Märkische Forschungen appears unremarkable. It recounts the misadventures of a village school teacher, Ernst Putsch, in confronting the workings of party-sanctioned historical research in East Germany. This research has produced an exclusive version of the past by suppressing opposing historical perspectives in order to justify the existence and development of East German society. Putsch's absentmindedness, his lack of sophistication in the ways of institutionalized academia, and his 8 Rocky Mountain Review idealized pursuit of historical truth tempt the reader to dismiss his confrontation with Dr. Winfried Menzel, a successful and highly visible East German historian, as naive and misguided. However, if we view the encounters of these two characters from the perspective of Hayden White's theories on writing history which he develops in his Metahistory ( 1973), they constitute much more than the clash of a country bumpkin with an urban sophisticate: they definitively exemplify the role of form, ideology, and censorship in the writing of history. Articulating Putsch's and Menzel's relative success or failure in propagating their respective versions of Schwedenow's life reveals the correlation between institutional affiliation and censorship.4 In his Metahistory, White challenges the assumption that history is composed of facts and elevates the historian and his interpretation of historical data to a prominent role in the writing of history. For White, the substance of history is a malleable medium: The same event can serve as a different kind of element of many different historical stories, depending on the role it is assigned in a specific motific characterization of the set to which it belongs. . . . The historian arranges the events in the chronicle into a hierarchy of significance by assigning events different functions as story elements in such a way as to disclose the formal coherence of a whole set of events considered as a comprehensible process with a discernible beginning, middle, and end.(7) In other words, the role the historian assigns events determines their significance within the continuum from the past to the present . The same event may thus be of a completely different importance depending upon the historian, the other historical information he has at his disposal, and his conceptualization of the past and its components. Furthermore, White maintains that Historiographical disputes on the level of "interpretation" are in reality disputes over the "true" nature of the historian 's enterprise. . . . [Disputes over what "history" ought to be reflect...

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