Herausgegeben von Silke Horstkotte und Leonhard Herrmann, Berlin: de Gruyter, 2013. vii + 360 Seiten. €99,95.
Writing about recent literature is a risky business, as the editors of this collection of twenty essays admit. Without the benefit of historical hindsight and without the reassurance of established trends and canons, the selection of primary materials and [End Page 164] thematic range is difficult. But precisely such uncertainty is the stimulus for this volume, which opens up insights into some of the key preoccupations of literary scholarship on the contemporary German novel. Underpinning the collection is an awareness of the co-presence of authors, readers, and literary/media professionals within a global communication network. Moreover, the editors and contributors share the conviction of the novel’s significance both in the creation of, and the critical reflection on, the notion of the ‘present’ itself.
The collection arose from a conference held at the University of Leipzig in March 2012 in conjunction with the Leipzig Book Fair. At just over a quarter of a century since the fall of the Berlin Wall, this is an important historical juncture for reflecting on German-language literature and, in this undertaking, Horstkotte and Herrmann’s volume is therefore not alone. Other recent publications such as Carsten Gansel’s 2013 edited collection Entwicklungen in der deutschsprachigen Gegenwartsliteratur seit 1989 or Lyn Marven and Stuart Taberner’s Emerging German-Language Novelists of the Twenty-First Century (2011) [ed. note: see review in Monatshefte 106.2, Summer 2014, 341–343] also seek to map out the territory of an emerging canon. There are certainly overlaps between the present volume and such recent collections. To a certain extent, this relates to the primary materials covered but, more significantly, it also pertains to the recurrence of thematic areas such as the family novel, pop-literature, or discourses of history and memory. All this suggests that although the field of contemporary literature is, by definition, in a state of becoming, canon formation is nevertheless already well underway.
What sets Horstkotte and Herrmann’s project apart, however, is that they reject both an author-by-author scheme and an explicitly thematic approach that stresses the social relevance of new writing. Instead, they aim to shed light on what exactly makes contemporary literature contemporaneous. Specifically, the contributions to this volume look at the varied ways in which novelists construct and interrogate present-ness and how authors and the wider culture industry interact to co-produce a literary field. Emerging from this are three key areas of interest: realism and the fantastic, literary forms of historicity, and the relationship between literature and the market. All the contributions respond in differing ways to milestones in the German literary landscape since unification. Thus the call for new readability in the mid-90s, the rise and fall of pop-literature, the demands for ‘relevant realism’ in 2005, and, in the same year, the founding of two national book prizes (the Deutscher Buchpreis and the Preis der Leipziger Buchmesse) stake out the territory of the contemporary in both a chronological and a thematic sense.
The limits and possibilities of realism are explored in a range of essays: Parr’s reflections on normalistic narratives and Taylor’s analysis of Terézia Mora’s Alle Tage consider the textual construction of the normal and the everyday. For Horstkotte, Herrmann, and Fleig the demand for realism and for discourse-relevant literature, which renders a complex, often intangible, contemporary world accessible to the reader, has reawakened the interest in the fantastic as narrative strategy, as shown in novels by Georg Klein, Daniel Kehlmann, Sibylle Lewitscharoff, Thomas Glavinic, Benjamin Stein, and Uwe Tellkamp. By contrast, as Baßler’s contribution shows, the current interest in mythical worlds—epitomized by popular TV series such as Game of Thrones—though appearing to speak to a taste for the fantastical, actually satisfies [End Page 165] an appetite for the comforting immersion of the realist narrative. The resonances of the (popular) media context for the contemporary novel are captured particularly well in Baßler’s contribution and come to the fore also in Fulda’s survey of student...