Unrealized Futures: Post-Socialist Memory in German-language Literature (Part 1) (Panel)

German / Comparative Literature

Maria Mayr (Memorial University of Newfoundland)

Kristin Rebien (San Diego State University)

This panel seeks to investigate the ways in which German-language literature engages with the legacy of socialism as a transcultural European phenomenon. Although political debates tend to treat the socialist past of Eastern Europe largely as an overcome stage of history, German-language literature offers a rich and varied engagement with the legacy of socialism as a transcultural experience based on shared histories and often seemingly nostalgic memories. While nostalgia has acquired negative connotations such as being unrealistic in the past, more recent critical engagements with nostalgia point to its future-oriented nature (e.g. Arnold-de Simine). In this panel, we wish to explore what Paolo Jedlowski in this context calls “memories of the future”, which are basically “recollections of what individuals and groups expected [of the future] in the past” (Jedlowski 121). Rather than merely conceiving of these unrealized futures as failures if they did not come to pass, Jedlowski points out that these possibilities and potentials nevertheless became part of an individual’s identity and therefore have a legacy that impacts the present and future. From this perspective, we invite papers on German-language literary texts that engage the socialist legacy of central and eastern Europe. More specifically, we are interested in literary representations of unrealized, alternative futures embedded in these socialist pasts.

Questions we would like to address include: How (both thematically and stylistically) does literature about former socialist countries written in German remember and evaluate aspects of the socialist past positively? How can literary critiques of “real existing socialism” before 1989 lead to positive, future-oriented projections for a post-socialist world? How do transcultural reflections on shared histories and memories in Eastern Europe contribute to a sense of unity in the present? Can memories of pre-1989 Eastern Europe be adequately conceptualized by the various existing definitions of nostalgia and/or how can they be brought into conversations with critical discourses around utopia, hope, mourning, ‘Heimweh’, etc.?

This panel aims to shed light on the unrealized, alternative futures that were envisioned in former socialist European countries as they are depicted in contemporary German-language literature. It invites submissions on literary representations of future-oriented forms of nostalgia and “memories of the future” (Paolo Jedlowski), i.e. “recollections of what individuals and groups expected [of the future] in the past” but which did not come to pass. As such, the panel has a particular interest in these memories’ legacy and futurity (Amir Eshel).