The German Epic in the Cold War
Peter Weiss, Uwe Johnson, and Alexander Kluge
Imprint: Northwestern University Press
Matthew Miller’s The German Epic in the Cold War explores the literary evolution of the modern epic in postwar German literature. Examining works by Peter Weiss, Uwe Johnson, and Alexander Kluge, it illustrates imaginative artistic responses in German fiction to the physical and ideological division of post–World War II Germany.
Miller analyzes three ambitious German-language epics from the second half of the twentieth century: Weiss’s Die Ästhetik des Widerstands (The Aesthetics of Resistance), Johnson’s Jahrestage (Anniversaries), and Kluge’s Chronik der Gefühle (Chronicle of Feelings). In them, he traces the epic’s unlikely reemergence after the catastrophes of World War II and the Shoah and its continuity across the historical watershed of 1989–91, defined by German unification and the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
Building on Franco Moretti’s codification of the literary form of the modern epic, Miller demonstrates the epic’s ability to understand the past; to come to terms with ethical, social, and political challenges in the second half of the twentieth century in German-speaking Europe and beyond; and to debate and envision possible futures.
“This book bristles with an impressive command of background knowledge, interpretive insights, intertextual links, and, above all, a convincing and important overarching claim about the epic’s return in Cold War in German prose.”—Richard Langston, author of Visions of Violence: German Avant-Gardes after Fascism
"In an introductory meditation on the changing perception of reading in the accelerated, globalized present, Miller clarifies the stakes in writing modern epics, which 'unfold in and address themselves to vaster, longer, slower—that is, epic—swaths of time.' While literature's postwar reemergence appears counterintuitive, in Miller's view, he draws on critics as varied as Theodor Adorno, Franco Moretti, Andreas Huyssen, Fredric Jameson, as well as Kluge and Oskar Negt to argue persuasively for the potential of modern epics . . . The German Epic is an intellectually rewarding study that will appeal to scholars in German literary and film studies . . . a thought-provoking approach to postwar literature that is engaging not least because of the author's nuanced writing." —Nicole Thesz, German Studies Review
"Matthew D. Miller's project is an ambitious and timely one: to investigate the actuality—the 'possible futures'—of three door-stopping modern German epics . . . There is considerable originality here: whilst Weiss and Johnson are frequently compared, including Kluge's post-Reunification collection of stories sheds new light on two 'Cold War classics.' The thesis is simple: these epics adapt and develop an age-old genre in innovative and fresh ways, making it relevant to the future." —Martin Brady, Monatshefte