Layered memories. Four former GDR writers and their autobiographies (1990-1997)

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Layered memories. Four former GDR writers and their autobiographies (1990-1997)

Type: Research master thesis
Title: Layered memories. Four former GDR writers and their autobiographies (1990-1997)
Author: van Rooden, Charlotte
Issue Date: 2018-10-31
Keywords: autobiography
literary writers
relations to the past
history of emotions
Abstract: This thesis focuses on the question how literary writers intervened in the debates about the nature and history of the GDR in the period following unification by publishing their autobiographies (1990-1997). The examination of four writers’ autobiographies by separating their epistemic, moral and political relations to the past, while also considering the emotions expressed in them, reveals the underlying, leading arguments in these texts by shedding light on individual, implicit claims. The writers took varying but concrete stances in the debates. The perspective of the writers' relations to the past reveals their arguments and demonstrates that these were primarily based on epistemic and moral claims instead of on direct political suggestions. It shows the variety of the writers' 'political' arguments and explains in which ways the writers made political points or took a stance in these texts, namely by (epistemically) explaining or showing and by (morally) judging, ridiculing or lamenting certain aspects of their lives, thus differentiating the ‘political’ nature of the interventions and the strategies to convey these. Moreover, the thesis' approach reveals and explains the texts' contradictions. These inconsistencies reveal the issues in which the writers' present interpretations cannot be applied to the construction of their pasts, demonstrating where these ‘weak points’ lie and that autobiographies are not as free as fiction. The analysis furthermore reveals strong correlations between the autobiographies’ styles and conceptualisations. Overall, the thesis complements historiography in various ways. For one, it proves the value of studying the autobiographies of literary writers, of whom other scholars of autobiography assumed that they could easily frame their lives around their art and hold back on political questions. The historical approach furthermore contradicts and complements interpretations by literary scholars. It is original in its use of the perspective of relations to the past in combination with comparing expressed emotions in the texts. Ultimately, this analysis sheds light on the ways in which individuals can deal with historical changes impacting not only their present, but also their past lives.
Supervisor: Paul, Herman
Faculty: Faculty of Humanities
Department: History (Research master)
Specialisation: History
ECTS Credits: 30

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