In the Shadow of the Family Tree: Narrating Family History in Väterliteratur and the Generationenromane

Jennifer Susan Cameron

In the Shadow of the Family Tree: Narrating Family History in Väterliteratur and the Generationenromane
Cameron, Jennifer Susan
Thesis Advisor(s):
Anderson, Mark
Germanic Languages and Literatures
Persistent URL:
Ph.D., Columbia University.
While debates over the memory and representation of the National Socialist past have dominated public discourse in Germany over the last forty years, the literary scene has been the site of experimentation with the genre of the autobiography, as authors developed new strategies for exploring their own relationship to the past through narrative. Since the late 1970s, this experimentation has yielded a series of autobiographical novels which focus not only on the authors' own lives, but on the lives and experiences of their family members, particularly those who lived during the NS era. In this dissertation, I examine the relationship between two waves of this autobiographical writing, the Väterliteratur novels of the late 1970s and 1980s in the BRD, and the current trend of multi-generational family narratives which began in the late 1990s. In a prelude and three chapters, this dissertation traces the trajectory from Väterliteratur to the Generationenromane through readings of Bernward Vesper's Die Reise (1977), Christoph Meckel's Suchbild. Über meinen Vater (1980), Ruth Rehmann's Der Mann auf der Kanzel (1979), Uwe Timm's Am Beispiel meines Bruders (2003), Stephan Wackwitz's Ein unsichtbares Land (2003), Monika Maron's Pawels Briefe (1999), and Barbara Honigmann's Ein Kapitel aus meinem Leben (2004). I read these texts as examples of genealogical writing, in which protagonists seek to position themselves in relation to their family histories through the construction of family narrative. The formal similarities between the two trends - (inter)textual dialogue, hybridity of prose style, vignette or essayistic structure - cast their underlying differences into greater relief. While the author-narrators of Väterliteratur seek to reach a definitive conclusion regarding the question of the father's complicity in Nazism, the authors of Generationenromane allow for greater nuance in categories such as victim and perpetrator. In both cases, however, the subjectivity of the individual protagonist shapes his or her engagement of the family past, as they seek to negotiate between personal family relationships and public discourses of collective memory in contemporary Germany.
Germanic literature
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Suggested Citation:
Jennifer Susan Cameron, 2012, In the Shadow of the Family Tree: Narrating Family History in Väterliteratur and the Generationenromane, Columbia University Academic Commons, http://hdl.handle.net/10022/AC:P:14496.

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