Rost, et al. Weber and P.
Berg, cited in A. Rost et al. Featherstone, eds. Wahjudi, Metroloops, —7. Normalising Cultural Memory? It was also the first full-scale discussion among intellectuals attempting to define a new German national identity — or resisting that aim — in what is now often called the Berlin Republic. Key terms and themes of the debate are thus discussed in an analysis that looks in detail 1 at the controversy that ensued rather than the Friedenspreisrede itself.
For Walser, the murder of European Jews has thus been instrumentalised by large sections of the media and by an apparently dominant left-liberal intelligentsia as a means of denying German national identity and maintaining the position of a cultural and political elite. In metafictional comments in the novel, the narrator — most likely standing in for Walser — hence claims that he is trying to establish an aesthetic position outside of a public sphere dominated by political correctness, moral coercion and instrumentalisation.
Yet can this distinction between public and private memory really be sustained? In other words, can the novel itself truly be free of the political manoeuvring Walser disparages in his speech?
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In fact, the novel attempts a normalisation of German history. This connection is explored in the final section of this chapter following a discussion of the broader debate on individual conscience and public memory initiated by the Friedenspreisrede. Thus Walser was accused of making socially acceptable arguments that had previously been restricted to far-right fringe groups. According to Bubis, and many others, his remarks on the instrumentalisation of the past equated to a call for an end to public remembrance of the Nazi 6 7 period.
Walser himself later spoke of the liberating intent of his speech. Yet, at the same time, the Walser debate was part of a search for new forms of remembering the Holocaust and National Socialism in a unified Germany which is increasingly inhabited by members of generations born after the Third Reich.
The author describes individual conscience as solely responsible for remembering the Nazi past, and demands that it should be free of external influences In reactions to this notion, a perhaps unsurprising pattern can be observed.
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Those who disagreed most strongly described individual conscience as an easy place to dispose of the uncomfortable memory of the Holocaust. Emphatic agreement was expressed in many letters to the author, 12 subsequently collated in the volume Die Walser-Bubis-Debatte. The issue Dohnanyi is attempting to raise — life under a totalitarian regime — is, of course, vital. His approach, however, disregards the fact that it was Germans who persecuted Jews, disabled people, homosexuals, Roma, and others, and not Germans and Jews who together persecuted 14 others.
Dohnanyi hence turns the reality of concrete historical events into an abstract speculation on human nature.
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The Walser debate thus touches on questions of re-reading history. Different practices of remembering have an impact on the version of the past that is remembered. If personal conscience is seen as the main instrument of remembering, memory becomes merely a depoliticised and 15 ahistorical process of self-examination. This, in turn, might preclude historical analysis and could make accounts of the past limited and distorted. It is indeed one of the dangers public memory faces that it might become too far removed from individual experience to allow generations born long after the historical period, in particular, to relate to events in the past.
Yet there are also obvious contradictions in the notion of individual conscience. First, individual conscience is always influenced by social factors.
Second, in the not so distant future everyone will have to depend on some form of contribution from public institutions and the media before the National Socialist 17 past can become an object of their conscience. Recent theories of collective memory have, consequently, described 18 the essential role of public, ritualised acts of memory in all societies.
The manner in which public memory functions, however, needs to be analysed in a more differentiated way. Da gibt es die politisch-symbolische Ebene.
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Da ist. Wir brauchen. This ignores the role of rational analysis as well as sympathy or grief, for instance — these are emotions that are not automatically linked to a guilty conscience. To insist, as Walser did, that public acts of remembrance simply function as an accusation, is clearly an exaggeration.
Many commentators agreed with Walser that it is necessary to look at the ways in which the Nazi past is used in the present. The Berlin Republic had not ceased to describe itself in relation to the Nazi past, but Auschwitz was now used to justify the first participation of the German Bundeswehr in military action, which dissolves the traditional connection between anti-fascism and pacifism in left-liberal views.
From a theoretical point of view, it has been shown that public memory is always established or maintained because it serves a 25 purpose in the present. At the same time, it is indispensable for modern democratic societies to reflect on the content, forms and functions of their collective memories, on the way in which they construct and appropriate collective histories, that is, to reflect on how they instrumentalise the past.
Equally, the preponderance of people born after the Nazi period in present-day Germany was also frequently stressed. The fact that the Nazi past was still connected to their own experience meant that the tone of the debate often became very personal, perhaps sometimes to the detri28 ment of the quality of the arguments. He focuses specifically on the planned Holocaust memorial in Berlin, the depiction of racist attacks in Germany today 10—11 , and on the negative nationalism of both leftwing intellectuals and left-wing media In the public discourse on remembering the Nazi period and on present-day German identity the term normal has distinct overtones.
It was one of the central terms in the s Historikerstreit and was used in connection with attempts to historicise National Socialism. During this debate, Historisierung was taken to mean the attempt to shift the focus of historiography away from the central Nazi crime, the extermination of the Jews of Europe, towards the normality of every-day life in Germany. As a result, it was argued, the Nazi period would be incorporated into a normal historical narrative and become simply another historical period.
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The foregrounding of the abnormal monstrosity of its crimes would thereby 29 cease. Nowadays, however, perhaps ironically after the election of an SPD-Green government in , the search for a new positive national identity is no longer restricted to the right of the political spectrum. The call for normality in Germany no longer necessarily 33 equates to reactionary views. At the same time, it does not seem appropriate to class Walser as a proponent of the 35 New Right, even though parallels can be drawn.
The Walser debate, therefore, cannot easily be described in the traditional categories of left 36 and right. Among left-liberal intellectuals, an anti-national stance based on arguments using Auschwitz, which had turned into an almost automatic reaction, is now being called into question. A more positive attitude towards patriotism and Heimat can be found, for instance, in the Kurs37 buch , Das gelobte Land, published in September These topics are now approached with fewer preconceptions.
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At the same time, negative German self-images are coming under scrutiny as being a form of national identity in them38 selves, rather than being the opposite of nationalism. Foreign commentators in particular have also agreed that Germany today is normal in the sense of no longer having to prove that it is a functioning 40 democratic state much like other European countries. And should we indeed accept racist attacks as normal as Walser seems to suggest 10—11?
Ein springender Brunnen In his Friedenspreisrede Walser describes literature as situated outside the sphere of Meinung and political machinations he criticises. In order to achieve such a relation to the past Walser tries to free himself of all later judgements about the time of his childhood and youth, and attempts to recreate the perspective that would have been most natural to the boy at the time.
Walser succeeds in showing, rather than explaining, the various ways in which National Socialism penetrated the life of a young boy in a small town as well as how he was immune to some of its ideological manipulations. In the protagonist and his family, Walser depicts what it means to live within a historical period apparently in ignorance of what would later be seen as the defining events of that period, and without knowing how it would end.
The narrative is, however, by no means free of present aims. Yet this is embedded in a more general aim: Walser fulfils in fiction what was demanded by conservatives for historiography in the Historikerstreit. Historicising the Nazi period meant depicting it not solely by describing the social and political developments that led to World War II and the mass exterminations, but by showing what is supposed to be German Alltagsgeschichte, the lives of ordinary people during the period without applying pre-established moral categories.
This allows new perspectives on different degrees of involvement and suffering in social groups that were neither the direct victims of Nazi crimes nor their perpetrators. In Ein springender Brunnen, therefore, characters are shown in their different relations to National Socialism. There are active members of the NSDAP as well as, for example, a clown who criticises the regime in a circus performance.
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