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This report is taken from PN Review 79, Volume 17 Number 5, May - June 1991.

Letter from Germany Iain Galbraith
In P·N·R 78, I wrote of a debate taking place in the (West) German literary press during Autumn 1990. The formation of a new German state had induced a number of prominent West German critics to question the moral, aesthetic and political assumptions that had constituted a widespread consensus on the existence of two German literatures. The utter discredit of the East German state (and everything associated with it) had offered the opportunity of deconstructing a view of East German literature whose credibility had been based on the moral authority of various East German writers. The starting signal for this initial phase of the debate had been a frontal offensive against these German writers, incorporating all the attributes of ritual subjugation. This, along with the protest it immediately provoked, had split the 'field' into internecine camps that looked set for a long 'war of position' (the so-called 'Christa Wolf affair', see P·N·R 76). Within a few months, however, the coordinates of the debate had shifted. Evidently, East German literary history could not be rewritten without questioning the dominant view of its West German counterpart.

Had it not been interrupted by the Gulf War, someone would have undoubtedly dubbed this second phase of the debate the 'Günter Grass affair'! Just as Christa Wolf had been set up as a scapegoat for the outrage of those who felt appointed to pass judgement on the 'complicity' of East German intellectuals and writers with the toppled régime, so, too, Günter Grass had figured ...


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