- Die Ethik der Literatur: Deutsche Autoren der Gegenwart ed. by Paul Michael Lützeler, Jennifer Kapczynski
Die Ethik der Literatur is a compilation of contributions to the twentieth St. Louis Symposium on German Language and Culture of the same name, organized in March 2010 by the volume’s editors and attended by this reviewer. The St. Louis symposia, organized by faculty in the Department of Germanic Languages & Literatures at Washington University in St. Louis on a biennial basis, are centered around topics in German literature and culture, with the 2010 symposium dedicated to exploring interrelationships between ethics and literature—including the question as to whether one can actually speak of an ethics particular to literature.
Paul Michael Lützeler states in his introduction, where he foregrounds the primacy of ethics for literature in general—“ohne gestaltetes moralisches Dilemma ist ein großes literarisches Werk nicht denkbar” (13)—and that of literature for ethics—“die ungelösten und oft unlösbaren Fragen der Ethik [blieben] das Gebiet der Literatur” (11–12)—that the goal of this symposium was not “den Themenbereich Ethik und Ästhetik philosophisch explizit zu klären,” but “vielmehr sollte essayistisch mit den unterschiedlichen Möglichkeiten, die Kritik, Literatur und Germanistik zur Verfügung stehen, das Thema implizit angesprochen werden” (16). The desire to approach the question of an ethics of literature by means of the disciplinary tools available to literary criticism, literary production, and German Studies respectively is reflected in the symposium’s fruitful triadic structure, whereby the reflections of eight invited authors (Durs Grünbein, Arnold Stadler, Angela Krauss, Peter Schneider, Ulf Erdmann Ziegler, Hans-Ulrich Treichel, Barbara Honigmann, and Yoko Tawada), each engaging in some way with the ethical implications of writing literature in German today, are bookended by essays contributed by one literary critic and one German Studies scholar: the former tasked with reading “their” author’s oeuvre as a whole within the symposium’s larger theme of the ethics of literature, the latter with addressing the theme within the context of a single work by the same author.
The invited authors each approach the topic (as one might expect from such a disparate group) from radically different angles, ranging from the more or less (auto) biographical (Stadler, Krauss, Honigmann) to reflections on the ethical function and societal value of the writer (Grünbein), to revealing behind-the-scenes insights into [End Page 246] the creative process (Schneider, Ziegler, Treichel), and finally to literary musing on the power of language to interrogate culture (Tawada). One of the achievements of this collection lies thus in its demonstration, via a fascinating range of writerly approaches, of the multitude of forms that an ethics of literature might take, while resisting definition or prescription.
While not referencing each other directly, the paired contributions of critics and literary scholars nevertheless enter, more often than not, into a productive dialog with and complement one another. Where, for example, the critic Ina Hartwig locates an ethics particular to Arnold Stadler in what she reads as the cultural criticism implicit in the recurring theme of yearning throughout Stadler’s work, the Germanist Peter Hanenberg posits in his essay on Stadler’s “triptych” Salvatore a Stadlerian poetic ethos grounded in the concept of a Heilsversprechen, which itself can be read as an object of Sehnsucht. In addressing how the work of Ulf Erdmann Ziegler engages with the notion of place, literary critic Gregor Dotzauer situates the author within contemporary German literary currents (including relating his work to the subgenres of the Berlin- and Provinzroman), while literary scholar Mark Rectanus approaches the question of place and identity via the concept of architectures of memory, showing how Ziegler’s Hamburger Hochbahn foregrounds the ethics of experiencing place, of identity construction, and of artistic production. Thematic bridges are also established across the set triads: Hans-Ulrich Treichel’s riveting account of the biographical untruths told to him in his childhood, the late revelation of the “truth,” and the implications of both for him as...