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Germany's Rubble Texts: Writing History in the Present, 1943-1951.

By Kathryn A. Sederberg


With the decline and defeat of National Socialism, German society experienced a period of radical semantic openness in which historical narratives broke down, creating a heightened uncertainty as to what it meant to live in the present. This dissertation examines the literary and visual culture as well as political theory of the period that engaged with the notion of “rubble” at metaphoric, tropological, and structural levels. Looking beyond the canon of Trümmerliteratur (rubble literature), the concept of “rubble texts” allows for an analysis of cultural forms that bear witness to wartime and postwar Germany as a landscape of both ruin—which points to legible layers of the past—and rubble—a disorientating state of destruction. Close readings of texts address the telling conflation of rubble and ruin in contemporary discourse, which reflects both the desire to create something new and the persistent presence of the old. Additionally, this project expands the traditional focus on 1945 as the Stunde Null (Zero Hour) to the period 1943-1951, looking both backward and forward to Germany’s periods of rubble and rebuilding (Trümmer- and Aufbaujahre). This dissertation highlights the diary as a crucial yet often overlooked form that offers evidence of the historiographic and temporal crisis in texts of this moment in German history. Formally, the diary contains several forms paradigmatic of “rubble texts”: presentist temporality, stuttering forward movement, lack of narrative arc, and reflections on the act of writing. Rubble film, photography, and modernist literature of this period provide other examples of an aesthetics of fragmentation, self-consciously engaging with the concept of “rubble” and attempting to stake out new space for postwar German culture. Primary materials include unpublished diaries of German civilians, the wartime diaries of Victor Klemperer, literary works by Wolfgang Koeppen and Arno Schmidt, the rubble film Berliner Ballade (Robert Stemmle), and essays by Karl Jaspers and Hannah Arendt. Incorporating archival research, this dissertation considers questions of temporality and the writing of history, and the pragmatics of writing in times of crisis and explores the politics of rubble texts in the context of postwar projects of Umerziehung (reeducation) and Entnazifizierung (denazification)

Topics: Postwar Germany, Second World War, National Socialism, Postwar Literature, Diary, Rubble Film
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