Parting from Phantoms: Selected Writings, 1990-1994

Overview

These essays, diary entries, and letters document four agonizing years in the personal history of German writer Christa Wolf, while painting a vivid portrait of the present cultural and political situation in the former German Democratic Republic. The most prominent writer of the German Democratic Republic and its most famous cultural export, Wolf was called East Germany's "Mother Confessor" and treated by the West German press as emblematic of GDR intellectuals. After reunification, she published the novella ...
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Overview

These essays, diary entries, and letters document four agonizing years in the personal history of German writer Christa Wolf, while painting a vivid portrait of the present cultural and political situation in the former German Democratic Republic. The most prominent writer of the German Democratic Republic and its most famous cultural export, Wolf was called East Germany's "Mother Confessor" and treated by the West German press as emblematic of GDR intellectuals. After reunification, she published the novella What Remains, which was bitterly attacked by the press as Wolf's belated attempt to establish herself as a victim of the Stasi (the GDR's secret police). The criticism discredited Wolf in the eyes of many Germans and plunged her into a deep personal crisis. Parting from Phantoms shows Wolf coming to terms with her ambiguous past and unforgiving present.
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Editorial Reviews

Todd Gitlin
Christa Wolf was arguable the msot influentila writer of a nation that no longer exists. . . .Parting from Phantoms traces the fever chart of her anguish.
The Nation
Independent Magazine
Not just a portrait of Christa Wolf in spiritual exile but a magnificent testament to the heartache of recent German times, and the mutual misunderstanding of the political left of east and west.
Booknews
A collection of Wolf's essays form 1990-94; also includes short and fragmentary pieces, such as diary entries, letters, notes, transcripts of conversations, and experimental writings. The texts often focus on Wolf's reactions to the collapse of the German Democratic Republic and her views of reunified Germany. She cautions against nostalgia about the GDR and demonstrates her reservations about the current status of Germany. The book includes correspondence from G<:u>nter Grass, J<:u>rgen Habermas, and Volker Braun. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
Eunice Lipton
"On January 10, 1993, The New York Times Magazine ran an article announcing the fall from grace of several East German writers, Christa Wolf among them....her book Patterns of Childhood was frequently recommend to me as an extraordinary analysis of how a little girl under the Third Reich became an anti-Semite and a Nazi...Parting From Phantoms is a collection of essays and letters organized around the momentous, catastrophic events in Wolf's life triggered when she made her Stasi Files public....[She] as a writer is deeply suspicious of memory [and] ...was and is first of all a writer whose subject is morality, individual and social She demands consciousness of herself and others. With consciousness comes responsibility....I can't find it in my heart to condemn her....Wolf's life, even her dreadful dilemma, provokes envy in me...eveny toward a life so extremelyl, used to effect things. We in theUS don't have that opportunity....We are a puritan, xenophobic peple who will always hew to the middle of the road so that we cna live our own dear lives to their natural ends." -- The Women's Review of Books
Todd Gitlin
Christa Wolf was arguable the msot influentila writer of a nation that no longer exists. . . .Parting from Phantoms traces the fever chart of her anguish. -- The Nation
Rob Spillman
[C]hrista Wolf is perhaps the best-known writer and intellectual of the former East Germany. Her personal, haunting novels -- including The Quest for Christa T (1968) and Accident (1989) -- offered unveiled criticism of communist Germany. Inside the GDR, she championed intellectual freedom and was very visible in the protests that led to the collapse of the state in November 1989. Afterwards, the unapologetic leftist denounced the West's "Anschluss" disguised as unification and was especially critical of paternalistic putdowns of Eastern intellectuals. In 1990, after Wolf published a novella about being watched by the infamous, omnipresent Stasi, the former symbol of East German resistance was crucified for publishing the work only after it was safe. She was then slapped with the dreaded "collaborator" tag after her own Stasi files were leaked to the press; among more than 40 volumes of "victim files" about Wolf, there were also records of her having been willingly interviewed by the Stasi between 1959 and 1962.

Parting From Phantoms chronicles Wolf's personal and intellectual post-Wall travails, from a protest speech she gave on the night of the government's collapse to her eloquent defense of her 40 years of adult life under communism (she was 16 at the end of World War II). The book includes essays, lectures, letters, diary entries and interviews. Wolf repeatedly returns to the idea that East Germans have a right to their history, that it was more than "a repellent monotony of oppression and scarcity." She chides market-driven Westerners "who are capable of imagining anything in the whole wide world except the possibility that anyone could wish to live a different sort of life than they do." And after all the polemics and fighting to control history, Wolf concludes that "'the truth' about this time and about our lives must come from literature."

Arranged chronologically, the collection would have benefited from an introduction giving background to Wolf's public battles. As is, the specific accusations against Wolf appear within a probing interview with Gunter Gaus that appears well into the book. Still, this difficult, prickly collection is much like Wolf herself -- unsparing, intelligent, dissident, passionate -- and it offers an invaluable view into the "other side" of German unification. SalonOct. 17, 1997

Kirkus Reviews
In her first nonfiction collection since German unification, East Germany's most prominent novelist wrestles eloquently with the ghosts of the past: her own, her country's.

After the Berlin Wall collapsed in 1989, Wolf was pilloried in the West German press for two reasons. First, having been a privileged figure in East Germany, she had the bad judgment to publish a story showing how she, too, had been persecuted by the East German secret police. This rang hypocritical to some, even though Wolf had been a dissident since the late 1960s. Second, and more damaging, it came to light that from 1959 to '62 Wolf was an "unofficial collaborator" with the secret police (though none of the information she gave was damaging to anyone but herself). The present collection of essays, letters, diary entries, and speeches mainly comprises Wolf's responses to her critics and detractors. Though the attacks have plainly wounded her deeply, she does not run for cover, but stands her ground with clear-eyed self-critique and self-defense. In an exchange of letters she tells Günter Grass that she and her husband chose to remain in the East German police state because they thought they might "have an influence there, which would not have been possible if I had pranced around too much in the Western media." She relates her reluctance to see East Germany become part of West Germany to her 1984 novel Cassandra, in which she presents East Germany as Troy, doomed to destruction. Yes, the East was doomed to fall, but not necessarily to be swallowed whole by larger, richer West Germany: The utopian Wolf did not advocate "preserving or restoring the old GDR. For a very brief moment in history we were thinking about an entirely different country. . . ." Wolf's enemies will not be persuaded, but on the whole she acquits herself well.

A rare view of life from the perspective of East Germany. Essential reading for anyone interested in Europe's intellectual life.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226905037
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 11/28/1998
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 323
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Table of Contents

Translator's Foreword
Self-Indictment 1
The Language of the Turning Point 3
Momentary Interruption 9
A German You Can Contradict: Hans Mayer 14
Whatever Happened to Your Smile? Wasteland Berlin 1990 25
Rummelplatz, the Eleventh Plenum of the Central Committee of the Socialist Unity Party, 1965: A Report from Memory 42
Two Letters: I. To an Academy 54
Two Letters: II. To Wolfgang Thierse 60
"The Truth of Our Tongues": The Stories of Grace Paley 64
Woserin, Friday, September 27, 1991 72
Cancer and Society 89
The Leftover Baggage of German History: Correspondence with Jurgen Habermas 109
Trial by Nail 124
On the Road to Tabou: Paul Parin 139
Clinical Findings 152
The Multiple Being Inside Us: Correspondence with Efim Etkind 156
Mood Fit 162
Caught Talking: Otl Aicher 165
The Faces of Anna Seghers: A Picture Book 175
Santa Monica, Sunday, September 27, 1992 186
"Free, Ordered, Inconsolable": To Heinrich Boll on the Occasion of His Seventy-Fifth Birthday 199
Hours of Weakness, Hours of Strength: Correspondence with Gunter Grass 207
One's Own Contradictory Life: Volker and Anne Braun to Christa Wolf 215
Reply to a Letter from Volker Braun 217
Berlin, Monday, September 17, 1993 231
Insisting on Myself: Christa Wolf in Conversation with Gunter Gaus 246
The Symbols of Nuria Quevedo 270
Parting from Phantoms: On Germany 281
Index 305
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