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This review is taken from PN Review 124, Volume 25 Number 2, November - December 1998.

EAST OF EDEN Literary Intellectuals and the Dissolution of the State: Professionalism and Conformity in the GDR, edited by Robert von Hallberg, translated by Kenneth J. Northcott (Chicago University Press)

In November 1989, the Berlin Wall came down. In December, the East German communist party changed its name. In March, free elections were held in the GDR and Helmut Kohl's CDU emerged as the winner. In July, the West German mark became the currency for both Germanies. In October, the former GDR was incorporated into the Federal Republic of Germany.

Where were eastern intellectuals during this swift and bloodless dissolution? In denial, according to Robert von Hallberg. Many continued calling for some form of socialism, even as the people were making their rejection clear.

Von Hallberg sets the scene carefully for this collection of interviews conducted in the early 1990s with East German writers and intellectuals. From its founding in 1949, the ongoing legitimization of the GDR 'rested not on wealth, force, or accident, but on a bedrock of ideology'; hence, the importance to the state of the written word, and the writers' privileges and sense of consequence that flowed from it. For readers, on the other hand, literature took over the function of the non-existent critical press. It was there to express points of strain and controversy, 'aids to life' that would maintain hope within the limits of GDR society. Literary scholars, meanwhile, saw their work as part of 'an effort to educate the princes', while hoping for a relaxation of censorship standards.

The failure of political imagination that occurred among intellectuals in 1989-90 had, von Hallberg argues, a lot to do ...


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