Herta Müller’s <i>Atemschaukel (The Hunger Angel)</i> in the Context of Twentieth-Century Forced Migration in East-Central Europe
Keywords:Herta Müller, Oskar Pastior, Romanian German minority, Gulag, soft memory, Atemschaukel, mediative (mimetic) literary testimony, the experience of double imprisonment, exile literature, Péter Forgács
My paper elaborates Herta Müller’s Gulag novel, Atemschaukel (2009; published in English under the title of The Hunger Angel in 2012), in the historical, political and ethical contexts of twentieth-century forced migrations by placing the novel among those exodus narratives that have unfolded the parallel history of Romanian-German and Jewish communities during and after the Second World War. Given the fact that the memory of forced migrations and of the Gulag is a “soft memory” (Etkind 2004), there are no consensual remembrance policies in any concerned East or East-Central European country regarding their history. In the absence of official ownership, the legacies of these colletive and individual traumas became predominantly text-based (rather than image- or monument-based). One must therefore study those aesthetical forms by which literature is able to encode the physical, psychological, moral, social-political conditions of any totalitarian rule—and thus, attempt to establish the perceptional and sensational frames on which the universe of the Gulag can be re-constructed. Accordingly, my paper gives an amplifying view of the tendencies by which Müller’s Atemschaukel both preserves and subtly re-orchestrates the conventions of the genre of the Gulag novel. One of the main achievements of her (politics of) aesthetics consists in re-creating the image of the labor camp through an ethically grounded conception of literary testimony, which, at the same time, gains and fulfills a mediative (mimetic) function.
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