Dimension2: Contemporary German-Language Literature

Volume 1, Number 3

Forward! -- Editorial

Ingo R. Stoehr

This issue of DIMENSION2 is the first one to present a thematic focus. While each volume's January issue focuses on a selection of the new books from the previous fall season and the May issue presents a literary institution, each September issue focuses on a theme that I consider to be of interest to a larger audience. The September 1995 issue will present "The Image of the Third World in Contemporary German-Language Literature," and I plan to devote the September 1996 issue to "Classical Mythology in Contemporary German-Language Literature."

The present September issue, however, focuses on the "Image of the New Germany in Contemporary German-Language Literature." After the fall of the Berlin Wall (which stands pars pro toto for the fall of the entire German-German border fortifications) and in particular after German reunification, old certainties have been replaced by new questions in almost every aspect of life. The emotional aspect, perhaps, is not the least important among the various aspects: Germany feels like a new country because--well: because it feels different.This is easy to explain on a personal level. One feels the difference, for example, when one walks through the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin--especially for the first time after one has seen the Brandenburg Gate as an impenetrable obstacle between East and West Berlin for what seemed an eternity. Or one feels the difference, for example, when a friend, who grew up in East Berlin, stops at a certain place to explain how crazy it was: just a few years ago, he had not been able to continue walking in this direction because this is where the border check point in the middle of the train station had been--and now it is hard to find even traces of what used to cut right through the freedom of movement of an entire country.The newly gained freedom has also brought problems that center around economic restructuring and ideological reorientation. These terms have such a high degree of abstractness that they are almost euphemisms; however, they refer to a reality that is distinctly different from the West- and East Germanies of pre-unification days. The texts in this issue of DIMENSION2 all try to assess this difference in their own ways. Not surprisingly, they all also reach somewhat different conclusions.Some are more optimistic than others; some go for the shock value, while others try to deal very gently with shocking experiences; some are openly political, while others assert the private moment; some deal with the way it used to be, and others center on the new Germany. For example: Hans Christoph Buch is certainly very pessimistic and provocative, but he needs to be because he is writing an open letter with a political message. Uwe Kolbe, both in the interview and in the selection of his poems, believes in the importance of the private moment. Rolf Hochhuth's theater play, Wessis in Weimar, is perhaps the most controversial text because of its open polemics. When an excerpt from it, the infamous "Rohwedder" scene, was published in the German news magazine, Der Spiegel, the scandal was perfect because Hochhuth dealt with terrorism in a way that lead some people to believe he might condone acts of terrorism. In the excerpt for this issue, he tackles another sensitive area but the a touch of self-irony since the play itself, Wessis in Weimar, is mentioned in the monologue.Hans Joachim Schädlich's story examines, in a very gentle yet firm manner, the shocking interconnection of political and private realm, giving a new meaning to the phrase, "Big Brother." Ruth Rehamnn, as an observer from the outside, tries to understand how the political changes affect the people. While Joachim Walther tells a story from the old GDR, Stefan Heym's story emphasizes that things have changed now; like others, his historical perspective incorporates the Nazi legacy, making clear his doubts about the changes as he see them.Due to this issue's thematic focus, there are perhaps more essayistic texts than usual. Of course, there is, as always, an essay that presents a view from America; this issue's essay is by Stephen Brockmann, a literary scholar from Carnegie Mellon University. In contrast, the view from Germany is this time in the plural and by writers themselves: Hans Christoph Buch, Friedrich Christian Delius, and Richard Wagner. The essay by Delius is perhaps the most upbeat text in the entire issue because he, among other things, points to the wealth of stories that can be told. The texts by Günter Kunert and Mathias Wedel are also essayistic in character, although Kunert writes about the survival qualities of Berlin while Wedel anticipates profound changes for the entire country.In addition to the essayistic texts, I have included all literary genres (narrative, lyric, and dramatic), though with clear emphasis on the narrative. For example, Durs Grünbein is primarily known as a poet, but this issue presents a powerful prose text by him. While the text is on language itself and, therefore, on an abstract level of writing, it is tied back to German reality by means of the literary device of identifying a text as a manuscript found in certain circumstances.While all texts indeed deal with the New Germany and the legacy of the old Germanies, the last selection, the poems by Marian Nakitsch, yields a further perspective on questions that concern foreigners in Germany: Marian Nakitsch is a native of the former Yugoslavia, who writes in German because he loves the German language and culture. Although his parents reside in Germany, he has so far not been allowed to live in Germany.This leads to another point I wanted to make about this magazine because Hans Bender made the previously unpublished poems by Nakitsch available to DIMENSION2: It is the support from the members of the editorial board; this support is evident in this September issue since, in addition to Hans Bender's mediation, Leslie Willson contributed a translation, and Uwe Kolbe collected the essays for the View-from-Germany section in this issue, was available for an interview, which was conducted in his Berlin apartment in July 1994, and has some of his latest poems published in this issue.In addition to literary works, this issue present art work. This is a tradition that Leslie Willson started with his Dimension, and I intend to publish art work in every issue of DIMENSION2. In order to make sue that this goal is achieved, I have asked Christoph Zuschlag, an art historian at the University of Heidelberg, for his help. he has agreed, and I am happy to welcome him as a new member on the editorial board of DIMENSION2.Christoph Zuschlag is well qualified for the task I have asked him to perform for this magazine because he is the coeditor, together with Barbara karpf and Michael Klant, of the annual art calendar, Artium Kunstkalender, an endeavor that has won him many contacts to important artists in the German-speaking countries. Two of these artists, Emil Schumacher and Karl Otto Götz, were interviewed by Christoph Zuschlag and a colleague; both interviews are available as book publications from the crantz publishing house in Stuttgart. It is through Christoph Zuschlag's active support that I am able to present art work by K. O. Götz in this issue.There are two other reasons why I feel that Christoph Zuschlag will be an asset to DIMENSION2. First of all, he is a friend whom I met at the Odenwaldschule, a private school in Germany's Odenwald (literally: Odin's Forest) and one of the rare "pedagogical islands" that has its roots in the teaching experiments of the beginning of this century. For me, it is one of the few special places in this world. Second, he is experienced in regard to German art abroad: Having studied in Heidelberg and Vienna, he has worked on projects at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Los Angeles County Art Museum. At the latter museum, Christoph Zuschlag collaborated on the exhibition of Nazi Germany's presentation of what they called "Degenerate Art," which is also the topic of his 1991 dissertation at the University of Heidelberg. The book version, »Entartete Kunst.« Ausstellungsstrategien in Nazi-Deutschland ["Degenerate Art--Strategies for Exhibition in Nazi Germany], is in preparation with a publisher, the Wernersche Verlagsbuchhandlung .

With this latest addition to the editorial board, I feel DIMENSION2 has become more effective. This is very important to make sure that contemporary literature, in particular, but also contemporary art from German-speaking countries has a strong voice that can be clearly heard by a primarily English-speaking audience.

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