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The politics of dialogue: poetry in the GDR

Berendse, Gerrit-Jan 2016. The politics of dialogue: poetry in the GDR. Leader, Karen, ed. Rereading East Germany. The Literature and Film of the GDR, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 143-159. (10.1017/CBO9780511902543.010)

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Poetry written in the GDR is characterized by dialogism, and for this reason it signifies the appropriate genre with which the stereotype of the GDR as a closed culture is denied. Dialogues consist of conversations and intertextual relationships in individual poems between both living and dead colleagues, but dialogue can also be identified as an intervention into public cultural and political matters. A dialogue with such dictatorial regimes as the GDR is always situated between being attracted to and distancing itself from the established cultural hegemony, that is, between adaptation and dissidence. Indeed, in its forty-year history GDR poetry showed a distinct critical engagement with the authorities. Even in times of extreme disengagement from national issues following the expatriation of Wolf Biermann in 1976, for example, and, again, in the 1980s, GDR poetry has shown a remarkable gravitational pull towards internal affairs and moreover has manifested a marked solidarity with the status quo. At the same time, however, poets have defined themselves as masters of deviation from the discourse of power and were agents of cultural transition in their roles as active translators. By incorporating ‘foreign’ voices in their work – literally crossing boundaries when travelling abroad and collaborating in cross-cultural projects – they represent what Stephen Greenblatt defined in 2010 as cultural mobility: a ‘process of exchange across the borders of nations and cultures’. For this reason, poetry written in the GDR must be characterized as a process of continuous oscillation between two extremes: that is, between, on the one hand, ambiguously engaging with authority's power discourse (also known as master discourse, or Leitdiskurs) and, on the other, the transcendence of domestic national issues with the aim of eliminating cultural provincialism.

Item Type: Book Section
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Modern Languages
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DD Germany
D History General and Old World > DK Russia. Soviet Union. Former Soviet Republics
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
ISBN: 978107006362
Last Modified: 04 Jun 2017 08:54

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