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This item is taken from PN Review 75, Volume 17 Number 1, September - October 1990.

IN THE BOOKSELLER for 22 June, Walter Kaufmann, an East German writer - now a German writer - described 'Another Kind of Censorship'. A man wakes from a dream of freedom to the nightmare of its consequences - consequences for writers, publishers, and booksellers as, in different terms and degrees, for other people in other vocations.

The great West German 'multinational media giant' Bertelsmann has 'stepped East through the crack in the Wall' and established its hugely successful book club. Within a week 35,000 members were recruited. Money hitherto spent in the sometimes excellent Dresden bookshops, for example, was going west and the shops were empty. Publishers in the east quickly felt the cold and started postponing and cancelling middle-list and 'literary' contracts. The subsidized and the once clandestine sectors are exposed to market forces with a vengeance.

There has not yet been the massive investment in eastern German industry and culture that was promised - laws on property must be brought into line with western German laws before capital can flow safely. But there is a big market there which, Kaufman tells us, 'is simply being swamped'. This has serious implications for 'the survival of our' - that is east German - 'cultural life'.

What Volker Braun, one of our best-known writers, called 'the vigorous stream of our literature' must now alter its course. Two streams, with which he means the two German literatures, would have to merge somewhere in a 'problematic landscape'.

Both these literatures are rich, and if GDR writing should prove to retain its identity then it is only because it was once something special, something specially needed for its concern with human problems and their solutions.

That specialness is described succinctly by Peter Graves (TLS, 15-21 June), in reviewing German books - east and west - that relate to recent political developments. Until Honecker's fall,

With both press and broadcasting media in the hands of the government, it fell to writers to articulate the real concerns of the people and expose the contradictions between theory and practice. In effect they became public defenders of the State's humanistic ideals against a party which had abandoned them in all but rhetoric.

Were these the real concerns of the people, or of an idea of the people? Did one rhetoric elicit an answering rhetoric? It is not to cast doubt upon the intensity or the quality of their writing, or to make little of the hardship under which they wrote, to raise such questions about these writers now. Some of the greatest writers are themselves addressing them. Graves tells how Christa Wolf is concerned by the translation of the chant 'We are the people' into 'We are one people'.

Returning to Walter Kaufmann, we must ask how east German cultural life can survive as something different in quality and kind from west German cultural life. A single market, a rapidly integrating economic order, the impending development of the east - with apparent democratic approval - along western lines must draw the line under a fertile, troubled period in German literature - and perhaps begin a new one.

Kaufmann is no doubt right in saying that writers provided something 'specially needed in their concern with human problems, but their solutions, largely democratic socialist, seem to have commanded less assent. Few German writers, east or west, share Mr Kohl's values. There is a radical strain which has been deprived of its - perhaps imaginary - constituency. The solutions that have drawn the people are less of an idealistic, more of a material nature.

Have the changes in Eastern Europe, so often assisted and catalysed by writers, betrayed those writers? How will they deal with a new order in which 'another kind of censorship' is applied? With relatively free media and newspapers, their task as direct witnesses and 'public defenders of the State's humanistic ideals' is finished. It would seem that their work was only partly successful.

What has fed, time and again, our valuing of East European literature, often in very indifferent translation, has been a pained, even at times a jealous respect for the circumstances that gave rise to it, for the role (as we perceived it) of the writer in such societies. Those circumstances and that role have changed. Though we may not revise our view of work published before 1990, we will read the sequel by a different light.

If we have respected dissident writers not only for their witness, but because we believed they spoke for popular aspirations, are we to assume that we have misread them, as they appear - at least for the time being - to have misread their people's hopes? Who were they speaking for, whose ideals and aspirations?

Their own perhaps: their values, their social vision, remain individual and distinctive. The collapse of barriers has turned them into radicals and dissidents like ours, different only in the intensity of their apprenticeship and the anguish of their betrayal. They will now learn different strategies of dissidence, and how to deal with the assimilative tolerance of societies that reward their - critics with honours and chairs, or ignore them until they are driven to alternative action, or silence.

This item is taken from PN Review 75, Volume 17 Number 1, September - October 1990.

Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this item to
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