Germany Literature in the 20th Century

By | January 30, 2022

The first half of the twentieth century

In the meantime, under the influence of the French Symbolists and the English Pre-Raphaelites, the great cycle of aestheticism had begun, which found in Germany one of its culminations in S. George, a refined poet and promoter of a circle that exercised an ethical-aesthetic teaching on German culture, creating an uncompromising opposition to naturalism. The new poetic flowering, aimed at the search for preciousness and exclusive formal values, is part of the literary civilization of European decadence, which found its most authoritative representative in Th. Mann, lucid messenger of bourgeois ideality in the epoch of its decline. At the beginning of the century with the novel Buddenbrooks (1901), Mann proposed after many decades the first German success on the international level, then producing some of the most significant works of the first half of the century. Alongside a figure of such stature, that of his brother H. Mann is limited, owing to the strong ideological charge initially made explicit in a disrespectful critique of the Wilhelminian bourgeoisie.

According to TOPMBADIRECTORY, a fundamentally German movement, despite its European implications, was Expressionism around 1910, which exalted the creative aggressiveness of the artist’s ‘inner nature’. From there the most significant poets of the first half of the century and beyond, such as Germany Kaiser, mostly playwright, took their moves; Germany Heym; E. Lasker-Schüler; Germany Benn; J.R. Becher, who was the official poet of the German Democratic Republic after the Second World War. B. Brecht also had expressionistic beginnings, quickly switched to a Marxist position. Lyricist but above all playwright, the most authoritative and influential of his time, Brecht attacked a wide-ranging theme with theatrically innovative effects, ranging from the demolition of bourgeois morality to the head-on attack on capitalist abuse up to the denial of war and ideological compromise.

With the expressionist movement dissolved or unnerved, the Neue Sachlichkeit (“new objectivity”) dominates between the two wars, a new and more truthful contact with reality through a form of denunciation that acquires ideological value. The novel is back in vogue, with A. Döblin, author of Berlin Alexanderplatz (1929), A. Zweig, with his Der Streit um den Sergeanten Grischa (1927), H. Fallada, with Kleiner Mann, was nun? (1932). These, and other similar authors, could only be hated by the Nazi regime, so that we witnessed a general exodus or the so-called ‘internal emigration’, an opposition in the silence that marks the years 1933-45 as one of the most desolate also for the literature. Among the few voices that still rise without decaying to the rank of corifei of the regime, that of the poet RA Schröder, renovator of Protestant hymnology, of the Catholic novelist S. Andres, of the meditative narrator H. Carossa, of the melancholy E. Wiechert. Another authoritativeness follows the ideologist and narrator E. Jünger in re-proposing a sometimes chilling but suggestive vision of the historical process and its contrasted advance. In the Swiss exile the fame of H. Hesse, conciliator of Christian piety and Indian wisdom in a religious vision of the future that does not yield even in the face of the crudest testimonies of the present, consolidates.

The years of the two Germanys

The tragic caesura of the war marks the beginning of a new phase. Alongside the not many emigrants still able to make themselves heard (Mann and Brecht on the others), new, sad and gloomy voices denounce an annihilation that was before consciences rather than things. Symptomatic, among others, is the immediately extinguished voice of W. Borchert, who returns to the theme of the veteran (Draussen vor der Tür, 1947) in a spirit of total nihilism. An important role, also on an organizational level, is played by Group 47, for over two decades the sounding board of the most valid initiatives, a meeting point for those authors who best interpret the discomfort and discouragement, placing the accent on the responsibility of the writer in the society in which he lives. It emerges as the conscience of the new Germany, H. Böll. A. Andersch is one of the few who can speak about the German resistance. In opera, N. Sachs is one of the most illustrious interpreters of the “great Jewish pain”; K. Krolow revives the German tradition with daring grafts from surrealism. In the theater, alongside the much more authoritative Brecht, it continues to have its own following C. Zuckmayer.

A strong acceleration comes, in the following years, from a generation of writers who, almost all of them, were too young to be directly responsible for the Nazi crimes, but to some extent had participated or at least witnessed them. The names of U. Johnson and Germany Grass stand out. Johnson, with two sensational novels (Mutmassungen über Jakob, 1959, and Das dritte Buch über Achim, 1961), poses for the first time the most radical problem of the German reality, that of the division between the two Germany; Grass with the novel Die Blechtrommel (1959) attempts daring expressive ways between the macabre, the grotesque and the realistic to provide a ferocious parody of the last decades of German history. New names in opera are those of H. Heissenbüttel, founder of experimentation, and of HM Enzensberger (also active in other genres), one of the most alert and enlightened spirits. In dramaturgy the authors of the so-called documentary theater assert themselves, first of all R. Hochhuth, M. Kipphardt, P. Weiss, which find a common figure in the desire to recover historical facts through the leanest possible poetic mediation, because precisely from the events immediately following the action, above all political, of revision and eventual repulsion. In the theater, P. Hacks and H. Müller reveal a strong character as a playwright, who gives the best of himself by demystifying classical myths in the name of a barbarism-progress dichotomy. T. Dorst is firm in his anti-Brechtian creed. Lastly, there is a group of declared realists, who place markedly the emphasis on the distortions of a society which, in its satisfied opulence, aims to forget: the author of great interest is H. Achternbusch.

In the German Democratic Republic, the space for free expression oscillates between conditioning and the permissiveness of power. The issue of the placement of man within a socialist and at the same time technologically advanced society is imposed, with the heavy and converging risks of alienation. Among the narrators are H. Kant, Germany Kunert, most recently oriented towards a planetary catastrophism, E. Strittmatter, the most advanced, at least at the beginning, in a satirical criticism and self-criticism, C. Wolf, the most accredited for evidence such as Der geteilte Himmel (1963) and Nachdenken über Christa T. (1969). Dead JR Becher and Brecht, already prestigious poets, such as the lyricist of nature P. Huchel or his most genuine heir J. Bobrowski, continue in their work, not always facilitated by the authorities, and other younger ones refer to the old tradition German of the lyric of nature, even if the factor of ideological commitment creeps heavily into it. Linguistic research is central to the poets of the so-called Prenzlauer-Berg-Connection, including S. Anderson, R. Schedlinski, U. Kolbe, who since the late seventies have contributed to creating a sort of counterculture in the East. Starting from that same decade, an increasing number of Eastern writers are forced to choose (among the most sensational cases that of the poet W. Biermann, expelled from the GDR in 1976) or choose to move to the West.

The reaction to the excess of ideologization led, from the mid-1970s, to a turning point towards the recovery of the individual and private dimension. In this perspective, genres such as autobiography are recovered (P. Härtling, in Nachgetragene Liebe, 1980, traces his childhood during Nazism) and fictitious biography, where the approach to the object of analysis is conducted in a manner that they range from the use of documentary material to absolute fiction (among others, K. Reschke, the aforementioned Härtling, R. Hochhuth).

Writers also take part in the debate on the environment: in the GDR, M. Maron (who in 1988 would have chosen the West) attacks industrial pollution with the novel Flugasche (1981; published in the West); Die Rättin (1986) by Germany Grassreminds the man with whom he talks that the apocalypse is unstoppable and the post-atomic phase has already begun. The novel Bronsteins Kinder (1986) by East German J. Becker (who fled to the FRG in 1977), which had debuted (1969) with Jakob der Lügner, set in the Łódź ghetto. Another East German, C. Hein, in his dry prose he describes with a critical eye the reality of the GDR (Der fremde Freund, 1982, published in the West under the title Drachenblut, 1983). HJ Schädlich (who moved to West Berlin in 1979), in Ostwestberlin (1987), P. Schneider, with Der Mauerspringer, 1982 (will return to the subject with Paarungen, 1992), and T. Becker, in Die Bürgschaft (1985). In dramaturgy, at the center of B. Strauss’s work is the idea of ​​the loss of illusion and orientation in the contemporary world (Die Fremdenführerin, 1986).

From unification to the 2000s

1989, the year of the fall of the Berlin Wall, is not just a terminus a quo for German literature, an epochal stage. The thematization of the ‘turning point’ is presented as a constant that crosses the texts of both Western and Eastern authors and touches on a particular aspect of utopias: the collapse of illusion with respect to expectations. In the field of essays, Enzensberger’s interventions occupy a prominent place, linked to the great themes of contemporary socio-political reality. On the theatrical side, Hochhuth, with Wessis in Weimar: Tragikomödie (1992), launches an indictment against the ‘annexation’ of the GDR by West Germany; Hein, after drawing the dissolution of the system (Die Ritter der Tafelrunde, 1989), retraces the problems of unification ( Randow, 1994); Germany Seidel in Villa Jugend (represented for the first time in 1991) stylizes the passage of an era in symbolic form. The urgencies of history also urge the playwright FX Kroetz, who dealt with xenophobic tendencies and right-wing radicalism in Furcht und Hoffnung der BRD (1984), and reactivate his political consciousness ( Ich bin das Volk, 1994). Dorst, also active in the field of cinema, re-proposes in his most recent plays in addition to historical characters ( Karlos, 1990) the conflicts of a country after unification ( Herr Paul, 1993). H. Müller, disenchanted and provocative, careful experimenter of every formal possibility of the theater, exhumes figures from recent history (Germany 3: Gespenster am toten Mann, posthumous, 1996), performed one year after his death. The talent of B. Strauss, critical observer of the German reality in the Schusslor trilogy (1991) is confirmed.

In the narrative, Grass, who against the ‘annexation’ of the GDR and for a confederation of the two states also expresses himself in speeches and essays (Ein Schnäppchen namens DDR, 1993), in the novel Unkenrufe (1992), returns to pose , alongside the theme of unified Germany, that of the relationship between Germans and Poles, while with (1995) by the East Berliner R. Jirgl; among the authors we must remember at least K. Hensel and U. Draesner. Ein weites Feld (1995) proposes a literary correction to the historical representation of unification through the events of a character followed by the last phase of the socialist regime in the first year following the turning point. A vast production can be traced back to the theme of the turning point in fiction: among others, Germany de Bruyn, Germany Kunert, B. Burmeister, Maron, E. Loest. Even the younger generation is confronted with the past: the loss of security with the disappearance of places, people and usual things is reflected in the novel Abschied von den Feinden.

But to illustrate the situation of the new Germany perhaps the representation in a minimalist key offered by the Saxon I. Schulze in what has been considered the first novel of the turning point, Simple Storys (1998), which records the other side of the unification from an inconspicuous, antispectacular and decidedly peripheral perspective, that of the East German province of Thuringia, a theme also at the center of his novel Neue Leben (2005). W. Hilbig, who grew up in the GDR but moved to the FRG in 1985, unmasks the relationship between intellectuals and power in fiction (Ich, 1993). On the control system of the secret police under the socialist regime, East German Wolf presents a personal testimony in narrative form (Was bleibt, 1990); Wolf, already confirmed among the most significant voices of the German literary panorama with Kassandra (1983) and Sommerstück (1989), the story of an intellectual generation, in Medea: Stimmen (1996) crosses mythological projection, the actuality of pacifism and the unmasking of patriarchal powers in dense and problematic writing. Hein in the Willenbrock novel(2000) deals with the difficult situation of the former GDR struggling with the problem of immigration from Eastern European countries. Recent national history is also the theme on which the production of B. Schirmer revolves, who in Der letzte Sommer der Indianer (2005) tells the last years of the GDR. In opera, Enzensberger, after Die Furie des Verschwindens (1980), with Zukunftsmusik (1991) and Kiosk (1995), intertwines tradition, everyday poetry and reflections on the present in his usual ways. One of the strongest and most discussed voices of the younger generation is that of D. Grünbein, a native of Dresden, who, with an analytical gaze, brings out the relationship between language and physicality (Grauzone morgens, 1988; Schädelbasislektion, 1991; Falten und Fallen, 1994). Authors such as T. Lang (Am Seil, 2006), D. Kehlmann (Die Vermessung der Welt, 2006) and Germany Lustiger acquire full notoriety, who in So sind wir (2005) addressed the issue of Jewish identity.

Germany Literature in the 20th Century