Writing a new society: Aufbau in GDR literature 1949–1962

Hines, Matthew Russell ORCID: 0000-0002-8144-007X (2023). Writing a new society: Aufbau in GDR literature 1949–1962. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

Text - Accepted Version
Available under License All rights reserved.

Download (9MB) | Preview


This thesis is a survey of the early literature of the German Democratic Republic and an exploration of the political implications of cultural production in the period 1949–1962. Across four literary-analytical chapters, a sample of novels, plays, and poems illustrates the breadth and diversity of politico-aesthetic approaches in the Aufbau years and thereby expands upon existing scholarship on early GDR literature by deepening the understanding of intellectuals’ interaction with and participation in political discourse. This study aims, broadly, to address myopic characterisations of Aufbau literature by asking how parallels to, deviations from, and ambiguities in the state-sanctioned aesthetic method of socialist realism and other politico-aesthetic norms might be read as politically significant for the GDR’s history and as indicative of an overlooked potentiality in socialist cultural production.

The application of a theory of allegory not only unites several strands of Walter Benjamin’s own work around a single but diverse literary corpus; it also offers a contribution to the existing body of scholarship on the period by presenting a hermeneutic tool with which to identify how cultural objects represent significant examples of a polysemic, socialist-affirming aesthetic practice. Benjamin’s allegory serves as a structural methodology to identify patterns of fragmentation, montage, and internal disintegrity, and to differentiate texts that embody these patterns from others structured by a realist totality and total narrative coherence, which count as symbolic. Insofar as techniques identified as allegorical became targets of Party and critical attention, they serve here as markers for deviations from political and, sometimes, aesthetic norms outlined by the SED.

This analysis is presented according to a spectrum of political conformity to Party-mandated and -inspired norms, and of aesthetic conformity to allegoricism. The first chapter concerns Benjamin’s theories of allegory and symbol as principal methodological devices, though each subsequent chapter introduces a distinct aspect from across Benjamin’s œuvre. After an examination of two exemplary socialist realist novels as symbolic in the third chapter, the fourth chapter centres on novels by and about refugees and expellees from former German territory west of the Oder and Neiße rivers in what appears to be the first GDR-focussed analysis of its kind. In Chapter Five, plays by Inge and Heiner Müller, and others exemplify the debate around didactic and dialectical theatre, as well as the legacy of Bertolt Brecht, in the Aufbau. Finally, in the sixth chapter a collection of unpublished poems – drawn, among others, from the ‘Lyrikabend’ at the Akademie der Künste on 11 December 1962 – represents the most experimental and divergent literature produced at the time, which is collated through an allegorical reading.

As an authoritarian state with a socialist programme, the GDR constituted a unique setting to explore the possibility that art could invoke political change because of the idiosyncratic ambiguities enjoyed by intellectuals as part of a precarious dialectic between autonomy and affiliation, which I term the authority trap. This activity on the part of intellectuals remained precarious because often subversive, but it played a highly productive and constructive role in the period, providing evidence of an artistic network that experimented with official aesthetic policies to write a new society in the Aufbau.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
Licence: All rights reserved
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
School or Department: School of Languages, Cultures, Art History and Music, Department of Modern Languages
Funders: Other
Other Funders: Wolfson Foundation
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DD Germany
D History General and Old World > DK Russia. Soviet Union. Former Soviet Republics
P Language and Literature > PD Germanic languages
P Language and Literature > PT Germanic literature
URI: http://etheses.bham.ac.uk/id/eprint/13591


Request a Correction Request a Correction
View Item View Item


Downloads per month over past year