Rereading Der Vorleser, Remembering the Perpetrator

Crownshaw, Richard. 2009. Rereading Der Vorleser, Remembering the Perpetrator. In: Stuart Taberner and Karina Berger, eds. Germans as Victims in the Literary Fiction of the Berlin Republic. 33 Suffolk: Boydell & Brewer, pp. 147-161. ISBN 9781571133939 [Book Section]

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Abstract or Description

Bernhard Schlink's 1995 Novel Der Vorleser (The Reader, 1996) has attracted a critical consensus that deems it to have reconfigured the perpetrator generation as victims of Nazism and the second generation as victims of Nazism's legacy. Such an appropriation of victim status is part of a wider discourse of German suffering, prevalent in the 1990s and 2000s, which has often sought to elide the memory of suffering caused by Germans. In this chapter, however, I argue that Schlink's novel actually attempts to intervene critically in these proclivities of German cultural memory. This intervention needs to be understood in relation to the binary thinking that governs the remembrance and construction of Germany's victims and perpetrators.

In 2006 Aleida Assmann perceived the persistence of a binary opposition in German cultural memory, in which Germans were remembered as either “victims” or “perpetrators,” but never both. Memories of German suffering, according to Assmann, have been the stuff of private, familial, communicative memory, and have not been recognized at an official commemorative level, which is the preserve of a hegemonic Holocaust memory. Attempts after the immediate postwar period to elevate German suffering from the private and familial to the level of national and official commemoration, by way of, say, the Bund der Vetriebenen (Association of Expellees), were deemed by second-generation Germans in the 1960s to be revisionist attempts to subsume Holocaust memory by recourse to competing claims of victimization.

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Book Section

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English and Comparative Literature



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Date Deposited:

17 Nov 2015 12:48

Last Modified:

23 Jun 2017 15:39


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