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Constructions of Melancholy in Contemporary German and Austrian Literature

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Anna O'Driscoll

Melancholy has become a central theme of German literature since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. The rapidly changing sociopolitical circumstances of the post-1989 period and the continued burden of the Nazi past have directly contributed to this upsurge in melancholy themes. This book traces the complex discourse of melancholy in contemporary literature in the work of Monika Maron, Christoph Hein, Arno Geiger and Alois Hotschnig. Focusing on key concepts of melancholy – time, transience, historical dislocation and posthistoire – the author’s readings reveal the close connection between the body and melancholy from ageing to our gendered relationships with history. This study also emphasizes the relevance of melancholy for current theoretical issues in German Studies, including Heimat discourse, genealogy and transgenerational memory, and postmemory.

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Chapter 1 Introduction

Extract

This book explores how melancholy, both as a pathological phenomenon and a cultural construct, is expressed in the novels of a selection of German and Austrian writers. The burden of the past and sense of loss in the present are the main drivers of melancholy sentiments in these texts. A number of motifs are used in this context, the struggle with a dif ficult legacy being an obvious evocation of these conditions. While both historical and familial legacies lurk in the background of all of the narratives analysed, they are most directly addressed in Arno Geiger’s Es geht uns gut as well as Christoph Hein’s Frau Paula Trousseau, the title of which specifically highlights the protagonist’s inability to escape the legacy of her unhappy marriage to Hans Trousseau, along with other legacies that shape her life. The intrusion of the past into the empty present, whether welcome or not, is also depicted through the long-standing association of melancholy with the spectral, a communication with ghosts being particularly evident in the novels of Monika Maron and Arno Geiger. The feeling of being stranded in the pre- sent, of being left behind while others race into the future, is also an abiding motif. It is most powerfully expressed in the image of ‘terminal moraines’, which is the title of the first novel to be analysed here: Endmoränen. In analysing the aforementioned narratives one must focus not only on the sociopolitical conditions that may give rise to melancholy but also on the...

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