Cover image for The language of silence : West German literature and the Holocaust
The language of silence : West German literature and the Holocaust
Schlant, Ernestine.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Routledge, 1999.
Physical Description:
x, 277 pages ; 24 cm

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PT405 .S3443 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Focusing on individual authors from Heinrich Boll to Gunther Grass, Hermann Lenz to Peter Schneider, The Language of Silence offers an analysis of West German literature as it tries to come to terms with the Holocaust and its impact on postwar West German society. Exploring postwar literature as the barometer of Germany's unconsciously held values as well as of its professed conscience, Ernestine Schlant demonstrates that the confrontation with the Holocaust has shifted over the decades from repression, circumvention, and omission to an open acknowledgement of the crimes. Yet even today a 'language of silence' remains since the victims and their suffering are still overlooked and ignored. Learned and exacting, Schlant's study makes an important contribution to our understanding of postwar German culture.

Author Notes

Ernestine Schlantis Professor of German at Montclair State University. She is author of Hermann Broch(1978) and editor of Legacies and Ambiguities: Postwar Fictionand Culture in West Germany and Japan(1986).

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Schlant, a professor of German and comparative literature at Montclair State University, has studied the writings of West German novelists from 1949 to 1990, concluding that in their approach to the Holocaust, the majority of the works are essentially a "language of silence." The author is a non-Jew, as are the novelists she studied, which include Nobel Prize^-winner Heinrich Boll and Gunter Grass. The sequence of the authors' chapters follows roughly a chronological order, showing how the nature of the silence has changed over the decades. Schlant begins with a chapter examining the generation that tried, in the first postwar decade, to find its literary voice in what she calls the "literature of the rubble," and ends with a chapter that discusses the efforts of some novelists to introduce a dialogue between Jews and non-Jews. The author envisions some hope for the future, writing that this literature "has begun to express sorrow and mourning, and has started to acknowledge and include the Jewish presence in Germany." Schlant quotes such notable historians, writers, and scholars as Theodor Adorno, Jean Amery, Hannah Arendt, Paul Celan, Saul Friedlander, Raul Hilberg, Rolf Hochhuth, Thomas Mann, and George Steiner in supporting her thesis. The book is thoughtful and innovative, riveting in its narrative, analysis, and details. --George Cohen

Library Journal Review

Schlant, a specialist in German literature, has written a study of West German literature and its relation to the Holocaust, focusing on non-Jewish German authors writing between 1949 and 1990. She discusses the Holocaust as a total war against the Jews and the writings of the period as a literature of silence, evasion, and blindness. Bll, Grass, Koeppen, Kluge, Schlink, and Sebald are some of the authors discussed. Schlant gives novels about fathers (vaterliteratur) written between 1975 and 1981 a separate chapter, and Ortheils A Farewell to the War Veterans receives a close and sustained reading. Lenzs autobiographical novel New Times, about the fighting on the Eastern Front, is examined as a narrative, especially as regards what is left out, disfigured, or silenced. A chapter on speeches and controversy is especially good in discussing not only the written word but also the causes, development, understanding, and psychological repression of the reality of the Holocaust. An excellent study; highly recommended for German and Jewish studies collections. [Schlant is the wife of presidential hopeful Bill Bradley.Ed.]Gene Shaw, NYPL (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Schlant's selective book treats only prose works by non-Jewish West German writers: H. B"oll, W. Koeppen, A. Kluge, G. Grass, H-J. Ortheil, H. Lenz, G. Hofmann, A. Andersch, P. H"artling, B. Schlink, P. Schneider, W.G. Sebald, and others. This narrow focus allows readers to look at how Germans publishing free of official censorship have dealt with their nation's annihilation of Jews. Schlant looks not only at plots and characters, but also at subtexts and "blind spots"--at the silences--and finds that what is most lacking in the works she analyzes is the mourning of Europe's Jews. But the method has its limitations, especially when she judges an author's attitude by omissions in one work that are not omissions in another. Schlant does not treat the work of novelist Siegfried Lenz and skips over some important Holocaust texts by the included authors, especially B"oll and Grass. Nonetheless, Schlant's book is thorough; its insightful analyses reveal a talent for delicate, close reading, and her ability to place literature in a social context makes the work useful as a reference on the cultural history of West Germany. It will surely find a secure place among the best studies of Holocaust literature. Highly recommended to all readers. R. C. Conard; University of Dayton

Table of Contents

1 The First Postwar
DecadeHeinrich Boll and Wolfgang Koeppen
2 Documentary LiteratureAlexander Kluge and Gunter Grass
3 Autobiographical
Generational Discord
4 Autobiographical NovelsHans-Josef Ortheil
5 The War on the Eastern FrontHermann Lenz
6 Ruptures and DisplacementsGert Hofmann
7 Restitution of Personal Identity?Alfred Andersch and Peter Hartling and Gert Hofmann
8 Speeches and Controversies
9 Post-UnificationBernhard Schlink and Peter Schneider and W. G. Sebald
The Jewish Presence in Germany
The Institutionalization of the Holocaust