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"Weiter durch die Zeit"

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"Weiter durch die Zeit" past meets present in Uwe Johnson's Jahrestage and The New York Times
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Horzen, Deborah L., 1964-
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English
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vii, 282 leaves : ; 29 cm.

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Hats ( jstor )
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Narratives ( jstor )
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Nazism ( jstor )
News content ( jstor )
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Novels ( jstor )
Socialism ( jstor )
War ( jstor )
Dissertations, Academic -- Germanic and Slavic Languages and Literatures -- UF ( lcsh )
Germanic and Slavic Languages and Literatures thesis, Ph. D ( lcsh )
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Thesis:
Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Florida, 1996.
Bibliography:
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 269-281).
General Note:
Typescript.
General Note:
Vita.
Statement of Responsibility:
by Deborah L. Horzen.

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"WEITER DURCH DIE ZEIT":
PAST MEETS PRESENT IN
UWE JOHNSON'S JAHRESTAGE
AND THE NEW YORK TIMES








By

DEBORAH L. HORZEN


A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF
PHILOSOPHY

UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA

1996

























Copyright 1996

by
Deborah L. Horzen


















To Jim













ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS


I would like to express my great appreciation to my committee
members, Prof. Franz Futterknecht, Prof. Alexander Stephan, Prof.
Sharon DiFino and Prof. Geoffrey Giles. Carine Strebel-Halpern, my friend
and devoted proof-reader, gave generously of both her time and her energy
to bring this project to a close. Very special thanks go also to my
dissertation director, Prof. Keith Bullivant, for his expertise and patience
throughout this whole long process. He was, and remains, a tremendous
source of support. I appreciate every opportunity he has given me since
that first semester.
Finally, I would like to thank my husband for being with me from
beginning to end with his limitless encouragement and enthusiasm. Now,
on to other things.













TABLE OF CONTENTS


ACKNOW LEDGM ENT ................................................ ........................................iii

ABSTRACT ....... ..... ...... ............................ vi

CHAPTERS

1 INTRODUCTION: "GESINE ... MANCHMAL
VERSTEHST DU DAS LAND NICHT, IN DEM
W IR DOCH LEBEN" .................................................................. 1

2 "FUR WENN ICH TOT BIN": THE PARAMETERS
OF GESINE'S NARRATIVE PROJECT .................. ............. 32

3 "WIR SIND ZU GAST HIER": GESINE, NEW YORK
CITY AND THE SIXTIES 63

4 "DAS BEWUSSTSEIN DES TAGES": GESINE AND
THE NEW YORK TIMES ............. .... 107

5 "ALS SEI DER TAG NUR MIT IHR ZU BEWEISEN":
THE NEW YORK TIMES AS A PARALLEL TEXT ................... 157

6 "DEN KRIEG, DEN KEINER WILL": GESINE
AND THE VIETNAM WAR .... .............................. ....... 194

7 CONCLUSION: "GESINE, DAS SOLLTE DEINE
HEIMATWERDEN" ..............................258

BIBLIOGRAPHY 269

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH 282













Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy

"WEITER DURCH DIE ZEIT":
PAST MEETS PRESENT IN
UWE JOHNSON'S JAHRESTAGE
AND THE NEW YORK TIMES

By

Deborah L. Horzen

December 1996


Chairman: Professor Keith Bullivant
Major Department: German and Slavic Languages and Literatures


Uwe Johnson's post-war novel, Jahrestage. Aus dem Leben von
Gesine Cresspahl, chronicles Gesine Cresspahl's search for meaning and
identity amidst the uncertainty and upheaval which define her experiences
in the U.S. during the late 1960s. In the course of one calendar year,
beginning August 21, 1967, Gesine systematically takes stock of her life,
herself, and the world around her.
The New York Times provides the thematic and narrative structure
within which her reconstruction of life under Nazi dictatorship and DDR
Socialism unfolds. Pivotal events from 1967/8 structure the novel formally
and thematically. News items illustrating various domestic issues such as
the Vietnam War, racial tensions, escalating urban crime and poverty are
woven into the narrative. And although she is in another country an ocean
away, Gesine is constantly confronted with reminders of Fascist Germany








and failed Socialism in the Eastern Block. The simultaneous explorations
of past and present brings her to question the fundamental assumptions
upon which her sense of truth and reality are based.
The New York Times seems to provide Gesine with "an objective
window on the world." But a closer examination of the original articles
reveals how Johnson manipulates documentary materials to fit his
narrative purpose. The text implies through both language and format that
the cited newspapers items are accurate representations of the source
material when in fact they are highly edited versions of the original event.
In numerous instances Johnson takes deliberate liberties with translation,
juxtaposes elements from different articles, and places exaggerated
emphasis on items buried in the depths of the paper. Thus, highly crafted
and seamless versions of news items are presented as objective
documentary material, while their presentation, relevance and impact are
in fact orchestrated by the narrator. Both the newspaper and Gesine have
specific agendas in determining "all the news fit to print." Her political and
social ideologies, which are not stated directly in the text itself, emerge
clearly in the comparison between Jahrestage and The New York Times.














CHAPTER 1
INTRODUCTION: "GESINE ... MANCHMAL
VERSTEHST DU DAS LAND NICHT,
IN DEM WIR DOCH LEBEN"



Unlike many literary works written during the period spanning the
post-war era to the present, Uwe Johnson's epochal four volume novel,

Jahrestage. Aus dem Leben von Gesine Cresspahl (1970-1983)1 is not tied

solely to the political and social realities of a divided Germany, nor to its

recent past. However, the tetralogy to date has been read primarily as a
novel chronicling the history of a Mecklenburg family in the Weimar

Republic through the DDR's Aufbau period. This reading is, to an extent,
justified. Johnson's detailed portrayal of early post-war East Germany in

Jahrestage's fourth volume is unique both as a work of fiction and as an

historical document: "Da hat die Einigung einmal auch ihr literarisch

Gutes: Endlich konnen Ostdeutsche die Biicher des schon 1959 in den
Westen gegangenen Autors lesen, der wie kein anderer die Geschichte des

1 The first three volumes of Jahrestaee. Aus dem Leben von Gesine Cressnahl
(Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1970, 1972, 1973, 1983) were published separately. The
concluding volume took Johnson another ten years to complete. The novel was originally
conceived as a trilogy, as indicated by Johnson's note at the end of Vol. II which refers to the
sequel "der nichste und letzte Teil dieses Buches..." (II, 1009). The third volume, however,
documents Gesine's story only through July 19, 1968. The dust cover text ends with the
ironic note to the reader "NAchstes Jahr, wie iiblich, mehr." This prediction proved to be
premature as Johnson fell victim to "one of the most highly publicized writer's blocks in
modern literary history" (Theodore Ziolkowski, "Living with Germany on Riverside
Drive," New York Times 8 Nov. 1987: 61). For reasons both personal and physical, which
have been adequately addressed elsewhere by Johnson (Skizze eines Verungliickten and
Begleitumstsinde Frankfurter Vorlesunven), as well as in the secondary literature,
Johnson was unable to proceed with Jahrestage for most of the next decade.










ostlichen Halbstaats geschrieben hat, mit der Treue eines Chronisten, mit
der oft ironisch gefliigelten Phantasie eines Erfinders von Menschen und
Schicksalen."2 The novel is undeniably a result of a particular set of social
and historical conditions which defined Germany during the first half of
the century. However, such one-sided consideration of Jahrestage is
clearly limited in that it glosses over the novel's distinctly American
setting.
In many regards Jahrestage is of particular significance to the non-
German reader. It is easily the most encompassing and detailed treatment
of modern America in the post-war era by a German author. Gesine
Cresspahl's narrative is divided between recent historical events and twelve
turbulent months in 1967/8 during which she is living in the U.S. The
novel's contemporary strand is set in the quintessential American
metropolis, New York City. Details of national and world events are
supplied by the nation's premier newspaper, The New York Times.
In the course of Jahrestage Johnson weaves the bulk of twentieth
century German history into the narrative framework of a calendar year in
the life of DDR expatriate, Gesine Cresspahl. Since the death of Jakob Abs,
the pivotal event of Johnson's first novel, MutmaBungen uiber Jakob (1959),
Gesine has emigrated with their child to the United States. Johnson picks
up the thread of her story some ten years later in New York, where she has
resided since 1961. The novel's 1,900 pages of interwoven narrative and
documentary material has been described as "an ample balance sheet for
the best part of the writer's fictional estate, a colossal exercise in


2 Rolf Michaelis, "Geselliger Einzelginger," DieZeit 29 Apr. 1994: 13.










synchronic timekeeping and diachronic memory"3 with which the author

"legt. alles, was er weiB und kann, auf die Waage."4 The premise of the

narrative structure is a one-year agreement Gesine has made with her

narrative partner, Johnson's fictional narrative persona "Genosse

Schriftsteller." In the course of the year, Gesine takes stock of her life,

herself, and the world around her, and in the process compiles a detailed

catalog of her experiences ("eine BewuBtseinsinventur").5 Throughout

Johnson's "novel of consciousness"6 the narrative combines diverse

materials taken from Gesine's external and internal realities:

conversations, newspaper articles, poems, slogans and scores of musing

mini-digressions. As she shifts abruptly between past and present, as well

as between historical and personal arenas of experience, Gesine's

unassimilated childhood memories of Nazi Germany and the DDR

alternate with scenes of New York City life and a larger sociopolitical

reality represented by The New York Times. In the narrative the proximity



3 Wilfried van der Will, 'Approaches to Reality Through Narrative Perspectives
in Johnson's Prose," The Modern German Novel, ed. Keith Bullivant (New York: Berg,
1987) 192.

4 Peter Demetz, "Uwe Johnsons Blick in die Epoche," Johnsons Jahrestage," ed.
Michael Bengel (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1985) 194.

5 From the title of Dieter E. Zimmer's interview with Johnson, "Eine
BewuBtseinsinventur. Das Gesprach mit dem Autor: Uwe Johnson." Johnsons
"Jahrestage" 99. Johnson, in the guise of Marie Cresspahl, elaborates elsewhere: "Von
mir ist in dem Buch nur, was meine Mutter zwischen dem 20. August 1967 und dem 20.
August 1968 an mir gesehen hat. Was sie horte. Was sie erinnerte. Was sie fur mich
fiirchtete. Was sie wissen konnte von einem Kind das allmahlich elf Jahre alt wurde.
Was--what was in her mind then. On her mind, too. In ihrem BewuBtsein" (Uwe
Johnson, "Interview with Marie H. Cresspahl 2.-3. January 1972," Johnsons "Jahrestage,"
73).

6 Judith Ryan, The Uncompleted Past (Detroit: Wayne State UP, 1983) 156.










of these multiple realities, which have no direct correspondence to each
other, form their own subtext.
For a continuous 365 days, beginning on August 21, 1967, Johnson
chronicles Gesine's story in minute detail "wo sie herkommt, d.h. was ffir
Leute und was fur Dinge es waren, die sie zu dem gemacht haben, was sie

heute ist."7 Gesine's intensive effort at the reconstruction and

reinterpretation of the past represents an exhaustive examination of
Germany in the twentieth century. Confronting the past
(Vergangenheitsbewdltigung) is an integral step in her search for identity
and self-determination. Unfolding parallel to the reconstructive narrative
are the political and social crises which define the American Vietnam War
era. Escalating involvement in Southeast Asia is coupled with decreasing
public support of the war effort. Racial tensions at home, along with
increased crime and violence in the inner city signal the disintegration of
urban America to many observers .
In the late summer of 1967 Gesine is living with her eleven year-old
daughter, Marie, in a rent-controlled apartment at Riverside Drive and
96th Street in Manhattan's Upper West Side. The flat comes complete with
an idyllic view of the Hudson River and a neighboring park. The realities of
parenthood have led Gesine to make some hard choices. In light of her new
priorities she has adopted a new maxim, which goes against everything
she learned in school: ". je dichter ich rangehe ans Geld, desto sicherer




7 Horst Lehner, "Die letzten 123 Tage im Leben der Gesine Cresspahl? Ein
Gesprich mit Uwe Johnson iiber den dritten Band der 'Jahrestage.'" Johnsons
"Jahrestaee" 107. Johnson's description here of the novel's theme echoes a similar
leitmotif in Christa Wolfs novel, Kindheitsmuster: "Wie sind wir so geworden wie wir
heute sind?" (Darmstadt and Neuwied: Luchterhand, 1979) 196.










ist es."8 Following the money, she eventually lands in the antithesis of

socialist society, New York City. Since emigrating from Diisseldorf in 1962,
Gesine has been working as a secretary in the international division of a
large midtown Manhattan bank. She has managed to build a seemingly
stable and secure life for herself and her daughter. Her European
background, knowledge of languages and work ethic ("Auffallen durch

Fleif")9 eventually lead to an assignment which would have a profound

effect on her future. Gesine's boss, De Rosny, senses a lucrative money-
making opportunity in the Czechoslovakian reform movement, and wants
her to assist him in arranging a hard currency loan to the cash-strapped
government. In contrast to her boss's pragmatic motivations, Gesine's
interest in the project is ideological. After a series of bitter disappointments
with Russian-style communism and the DDR's "Arbeiter- und
Bauernstaat," Gesine sees in Czechoslovakia's efforts to reestablish
financial and economical ties with the West the possibility of a new type of
socialism, which combines socialist and democratic principles--a utopian
"dritter Weg." Czech leader Alexander Dubcek envisioned it as "socialism
with a human face." Gesine plans an initial three-month trip to Prague to
lay the groundwork for this promising new monetary relationship between
De Rosny's bank and the Czechoslovakian government. Ironically, she
departs for Prague on August 20, 1968, the eve of the Russian invasion
which brings an abrupt end to the Prague Spring. Unlike the reader,
Gesine is blissfully unaware of what awaits her at the end of her journey.
The novel ends before her arrival. Although the events of August 21 lie


8 Uwe Johnson, "Einfiihrung in die 'Jahrestage,'" Johnsons "Jahrestage" 22.

9 Johnson, "Einfiihrung in die 'Jahrestage" 22.








6
outside the parameters of the novel itself, they overshadow the otherwise

seemingly idyllic conclusion of Gesine's narrative contract with Johnson.

The disastrous beginning of what would be a new calendar year is strongly
implied by the novel's rigid chronological structure and is also anticipated

thematically.

Early in Johnson's career critic Giinter Bl1cker dubbed him "der

Dichter der beiden Deutschland."10 The designation stuck. However,

Johnson found this to be an unfortunate accolade which was misleading,
limiting, and increasingly irritating. Jahrestage represents a conscious

effort on Johnson's part to distance himself from what he considered a very

narrow reading of his fiction.11 Although all of his novels play out against

the background of a divided Germany, Johnson considered his
preoccupation with the extraordinary problems resulting from an

unnatural political situation to be simply the unstudied result of his life
experience, "die einem Schriftsteller fur seinen Fall gerade zwei

verschiedene deutsche Erfahrungen zugewiesen hat, als sein Material."12

Ironically, since 1990 Johnson has emerged as one of the most important
articulators of the DDR experience. German unification has brought

Johnson's work to the fore as the tool well-suited to what Norbert

10 Giinter Blocker, Kritisches Lesebhch (Hamburg, 1962) 196.

11 Johnson describes how his first two published novels, MutmaBungen tiber Jakob
and Das dritte Buch fiber Achim brought about this dubious honor: ". .. allmaihlich began
ich das nicht mehr amiisant zu finden, sondern fuir ein Mi8verstindnis zu halten, denn
mir kam es ja auf die Geschichte an, die ich erzlhlen wollte, und auf die Leute, die diese
Geschichte machten: Nun war das ein politisches Konzept geworden. Das erdrtickte mir
die Luft und das Leben und den Geruch und das Tempo dieser Geschichte." His third
novel, Zwei Ansichten, whose two main characters Johnson considered more than just
star-crossed lovers separated by the Berlin Wall, sealed his fate in the German press as
"Fachmann der deutschen Teilung" (Johnson, "Einfiihrung in die 'Jahrestage'"16).

12 Uwe Johnson, Begleitumstande (Frankfurt aM.: Suhrkamp, 1980) 337.










Mecklenburg describes as "literarische Archaologie jenes deutschen

Teilstaates."13 Descriptions of the DDR's early Aufbau phase in the second

half of Jahrestage are among the few existing literary works which
describe this period in detail. Since Johnson was not subject to the same
censorship as his contemporaries in the DDR, Jahrestage today has
assumed a critical role in chronicling a repressed historical phase for
which there are few existing sources with any degree of objectivity.
Johnson was one of the few East German writers who continued to
write about the country he unwillingly left behind: "Das Hauptwerk
Jahrestage schlieBlich enthilt mit dem dritten und ganz besonders mit
dem vierten Band eine einzigartige erzahlerische Abrechnung mit der
Geschichte der friihen DDR, eine Darstellung, deren historiographische

Dignitit erst jetzt richtig wird entdeckt und gepruft werden kinnen."14

Grass characterizes this aspect of Johnson's prose as "die genaueste
Geschichtsschreibung--wie sie kein Historiker listen kann--iber das
Entstehen der DDR .... Dieser Ubergang aus der Zonengesellschaft in die
DDR ist von keinem anderen Autor so akribisch und dennoch literarisch

gestaltet worden."15 For Gesine, steadfast adherence to the ideals

internalized during the fledgling period of German socialism eventually
brings her full circle. Like his protagonist, Johnson's early experience in
the DDR shaped his relationships, political convictions and sense of


13 Norbert Mecklenburg, "Uwe Johnson als Autor einiger deutscher Literaturen,"
Literature flir Leser 1 (1991): 1.

14 Mecklenburg, "Uwe Johnson als Autor einiger deutscher Literaturen" 5.

15 Roland Berbig, "Distanz, heftige Ndihe, Fremdwerden und Fremdbleiben.
Giinter Grass im Gesprich fiber Uwe Johnson." "Wo ich her bin ." Uwe Johnson in der
DDM, eds. Roland Berbig and Erdmut Wizisla (Berlin: KONTEXTverlag, 1993) 99.








8
identity. Ultimately, it had a profound influence on life's most crucial
decisions.
Johnson considered himself neither an historical writer nor a
particularly political one. His critics are divided on this point.16
According to Peter Beckes, Gesine "will weder eine personliche
Vergangenheitsbewaltigung listen, noch mechklenburgische Heimat
nostalgisch feiern."17 Sarah Lennox, on the other hand, argues that
Johnson's deliberate manipulation of information from The New York
Times results in a skewed and highly politicized representation of the U.S
in the novel: "Gesine's a priori determination that political practice is
purposeless has many consequences for the content of Jahrestage, and
what readers are allowed to learn about political activities in the United
States and Europe during 1967-8."18 Regardless of Johnson's own
statements to the contrary, the political component of his writing is
inescapable. The link between the individual and the prevalent political
reality emerges as the central theme in his writing. He notes in one
interview that, "it is hardly possible to live on the outskirts of history."19
The ideologies, as well as the real-world manifestations, of twentieth
century European history form the background of his novels.


16 Johnson was by far the most thorough collector of Jahrestage criticism. See
Beeleitumstinde 429-35.

17 Peter Beckes,"Gefillt dir das Land nicht, such dir ein anderes," Text + Kritik
65/66 (1980): 69.

18 Sara Lennox, "History in Uwe Johnson's 'Jahrestage,"' Germanic Review 64
(1989): 35.

19 A. Leslie Willson, "'An unacknowledged humorist': An Interview with Uwe
Johnson. Sheerness-in-Kent, 20 April 1982," Dimension. Contemporary German Arts
and Ltters 15 (1982): 402.








9
Compared to many of his contemporaries, including fellow Gruppe
47 members Heinrich B6ll, Ginter Grass, Hans Magnus Enzensberger,
Peter Weiss, Martin Walser and dramatist Rolf Hochhuth, Johnson is far
less outspoken on political topics. His novels all address difficult political
issues, but he does not advocate a particular political agenda. In his only
essay on the novel he contends that literature is unsuited to political
engagement:
Ein Roman ist keine revolutionare Waffe. Er bringt
nicht unmittelbare politische Wirkung hervor. Die
taktischen Aussichten sind airmlich, strategische kaum
nachweisbar.20

Johnson prefers to explore alternative political realities (alternative
Wirklichkeiten) in his novels. He sees literature as a means with which to
challenge an existing situation:
Zu priifen ware da nicht nur das BewuBtsein, in dem
wir erkennen: so leben wir. Stimmt. Auch ein anderes,
das der Frage hilft: Aber wollen wir so leben? Stimmt
das?21

For Johnson's characters, the definitive social and moral issue of the post-
war period is the struggle to preserve personal integrity. This in turn
necessitates the assumption of individual responsibility. Like many post-
war writers Johnson assumes the inseparability of a literary work from its
political and historical context--specifically that of the Third Reich and a
divided Germany. At the same time he refrains from overt political
declarations. His novels, though rich in political material, neither present
solutions nor propose specific courses of action.

20 Uwe Johnson, "Vorschlage zur Prifung eines Romans," Uwe Johnson. eds.
Rainer Gerlach and Matthias Richter (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1984) 35.


21 Johnson, "Vorschlage zur Priifung eines Romans" 33.










Gesine's continued passivity during a particularly turbulent period
in U.S. history is typical of Johnson's characters. Despite an acute sense of
moral conviction, she cannot bring herself to act. The protagonists of
Mutma8ungen iiber Jakob and Das dritte Buch liber Achim (1961), are
likewise both critical observers of a divided Germany's highly politicized
society. Jakob, a railway dispatcher, and Karsch, a journalist from
Hamburg, are impaired by an overwhelming sense of impotence. All three
are quite ordinary people whose convictions have resulted in their
alienation from mainstream society. Lacking in power and influence, they
are essentially passive figures whose decisions and actions (Alternativen)
are dictated by prevailing sociopolitical circumstances.
The essay, "Berliner Stadtbahn" (1961),22 is one of the few instances
in which Johnson elaborates on problems of narrative and politics. In it
Johnson analyzes Germany's post-war politization and its literary
implications. The essay begins with a statement of "anti-narration":
"Erlauben Sie mir, unter diesem Titel zu berichten fiber einige
Schwierigkeiten, die mich hinderten einen Stadtbahnhof in Berlin zu
beschreiben" (BS, 7). The political implications of a divided Germany
prohibit an objective depiction of a station in Berlin. The opening
paragraph contains the only empirical statement given in the text.
Johnson observes a young East German as he disembarks at a train station
in West Berlin, walks across the platform and exits onto the street: "Da tritt
unter vielen anderen eine einzelne Person aus dem eingefahrenen Zug,
iiberschreitet den Bahnsteig und verliflt ihn zur Strale hin" (BS, 7). This
single statement of fact becomes a motif which recurs in a modulated form

22 Uwe Johnson, "Berliner Stadtbahn," Berliner Sachen. Aufsatze (Frankfurt
a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1985). The abbreviation "BS" is used for subsequent references to the
text.








11
throughout the essay. This single observation generates a chain of
speculation and conjecture. There are no visual cues to determine whether
the trip is an ordinary commute or a political gesture. Thus, a
commonplace occurrence becomes saturated with meaning given the
existing political situation. In the final paragraph Johnson sums up what
he perceives as the central problem: "Hoffentlich habe ich die
Schwierigkeiten mit einem Bahnhof der Berliner Stadtbahn dennoch so
beschrieben, daB Sie ihn sich ungefAhr vorstellen k6nnen" (BS, 21). The
essay is, in fact, an argument for the redundancy of narrative objectivity in
a divided Germany. Although Johnson documents the process in detail, he
is unable to gain any insight into the event. Its significance changes with
each shift in political context.
Johnson identifies Berlin as the embodiment of Germany's post-war
situation. The city's former image as a cosmopolitan political, commercial
and cultural center--the Erscheinungsbild der Stadt--has been supplanted
by a new political reality:
Die Grenze zerlegt den Begriff. Sie kann nicht als Kenntnis
vorausgesetzt werden. Zwar ist bekannt, dab das Gebiet der
ehemaligen deutschen Hauptstadt wie eine Insel vom ost-
deutschen Staat umschlossen liegt und daB die Insel
wiederum geteilt ist. Um jene Halfte, die von den Armeen
der Vereinigten Staaten, GroBbritanniens und Frankreichs
beaufsichtigt wird, ist die frithere Verwaltungsgrenze hart
geworden, wie lebendige Haut verhornen kann und nicht
mehr atmet. Sie ist wirtschaftlich und politisch isoliert.
(BS, 8)

In the post-war world Berlin has also come to symbolize the global
realignment into opposing capitalist and socialist camps. The city
embodies two ideologies which are "nicht durch Logik verbunden, sondern
durch eine Grenze" (BS, 12).










The politization of everyday existence is an inescapable fact of life in
modern Germany:
Es gibt nicht: Berlin. Es sind zwei Stadte Berlin, die
nach der bebauten Flache und der Einwohnerzahl
vergleichbar sind. Berlin zu sagen ist vage und
vielmehr eine politische Forderung .. (BS, 9)

The city's cultural and political significance has been reduced to one single
factor. It has become "ein Modell fur die Begegnung der beiden
Ordnungen," which are situated "so eng nebeneinander, daB sie einander
nicht aus dem Blick verlieren k6nnen und einander beriuhren miissen"
(BS, 10). The influences of divergent political systems and ideologies on a
common language and culture create opposing realms of existence:
Es kommt denn hinzu, daB beide Machtapparate ihre
eigenen sprachlichen Verabredungen getroffen haben
und sie in ihrem Gebiet teilweise als Konvention
durchsetzen konnten. Beide Stadte Berlin nennen sich
frei einander unfrei, sich demokratisch einander
undemokratisch, sich friedlich einander kriegslustern
usw. Einige dieser diffusen Formeln sind tatsachlich
sprachgangig geworden und werden oft ohne Ironie
angesetzt. (BS 19)

Each of the political systems, "nach denen heute in der Welt gelebt werden
kann" (BS, 10), relies on a distorted view of reality. Germany's sociopolitical
reality consists of the contentious co-existence the two opposing systems.
Johnson's goal is to create a literature which "die beiden Gegenden in
einen Griff bekommt und zudem iiberregional ist" (BS, 20).
Johnson contends that both reader and writer have become
desensitized to an unacceptable situation. Assumptions and biases are
deeply ingrained in the German postwar mentality. The irony of Berlin's
unnatural situation has dissipated in the face of a seemingly unalterable
political reality. Just as the city represents two competing political










realities, Johnson precludes the domination of any single ideology by
utilizing a multiplicity of narrative viewpoints.
Using the simple example of a man at a train station, Johnson
explores a theme which suffuses his entire oeuvre. Each of his novels
unfolds within a specific social, political and historical context His
characters experience sociopolitical reality as a complex web of systems,
institutions and language from which they attempt to extricate themselves.
R.Hinton Thomas and Wilfried van der Will contend that the writer is
subject to these same influences and constraints:
insofern sie den Schriftsteller bedringt, anregt,
herausfordert, kurz: insofern sie in ihm BewuBtsein
produziert. In dieser zweiten Bedeutung mag
Gesellschaft zwar als ein den Schriftsteller
determinierendes komplexes GroBmilieu verstanden
werden, aber doch als ein solches, das ihn um Spiel
seiner Reflexionen und Einbildungen befreit.23

The reader is similarly affected by the sociopolitical environment. In the
interactive exchange between author and reader the narrative becomes a
tool in a "DenkprozeB, als Mittel der Wahrheitsfindung."24 Ideally, this
prods the reader to question his or her own assumptions. The function of
this narrative model is not to replace reality but to illuminate it:

Wozu also taugt der Roman? Er ist ein Angebot. Sie
bekommen eine Version der Wirklichkeit. Es ist nicht
eine Gesellschaft in der Miniatur, und es ist kein maB-
stabliches Modell. Es ist auch nicht ein Spiegel der Welt
und weiterhin nicht ihre Widerspiegelung; es ist eine
Welt, gegen die Welt zu halten. Sie sind eingeladen,
diese Version der Wirklichkeit zu vergleichen mit jener,


23 R. Hinton Thomas and Wilfried van der Will, Der deutsche Roman und die
Wohlstandsgesellschaft (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1969) 152.

24 Manfred Durzak, Der deutsche Roman der Gegenwart. Entwicklungs-
voraussetuzungen und Tendenzen (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1979) 339.








14

die Sie unterhalten und pflegen. Vielleicht paBt der
andere, der unterschiedliche Blick in die Ihre hinein.25

Johnson consistently argues that his fiction is intended neither as an exact
reflection of reality nor as its utopian projection. An approximation of
reality arises from collaboration of narrative viewpoints, by which the

reader's own experiences and convictions can be measured. The

negotiation of an alternate reality is part of the ongoing exchange between
narrator and reader: "So wird Schreiben praktiziert als Infragestellung
schlechthin."26

Johnson has often been criticized for his meticulous--sometimes
described as tedious--attention to everyday details while neglecting plot and

character development. Giinter Blacker describes Johnson as "der
Registrator und Vermesser Johnson, der Mann, der nichts auslIiBt."27 The

traditional role of narrative (i.e. storytelling) is subordinated in Johnson's
fiction to the demands of creating this "gesellschaftliches Modell":
Das Romane-Schreiben kann auch Geschichten-
Erzahlen sein. Fir mich ist da aber noch etwas anderes
dabei, namlich der Versuch, ein gesellschaftliches
Modell herzustellen. Das Modell besteht allerdings aus
Personen Mit diesen Personen versuche ich ein Bild
der Gesellschaft zu geben. Das heiBt: durch die
Personen, durch das, was ihnen so passiert ist und
passieren kann, und was die Gesellschaft ihnen fiir
Mittel gegeben hat, um diesen Ereignissen zu
widerstehen. Daraus entsteht dann eine Geschichte der


25 Johnson "Vorschlige zur Priifung eines Romans" 35.

26 Ingeborg Hoesterey, "Die Erzahlsituation als Roman. Uwe Johnsons
'Jahrestage,'" Colloquia Germanica. International Zeitschrift fir permanische Sprach-
und Literaturwissenschaft 16 (1983): 24.

27 Giinter Bltcker, "Prager Traum--New Yorker Wirklichkeit," Johnsons
"Jahrestage," 164.








15
Personen und, so hoffe ich, auch eine Geschichte der
Gesellschaft.28

The passages portraying the physical surroundings in Jahrestage are
meticulously detailed. Marie builds a replica of Gesine's childhood home
based on her mother's descriptions. No aspect of New York escapes the
notice of Gesine and her narrative partner, however trivial: train
schedules, subway maps, advertisements on the side of a bus.
In the historical narrative Johnson presents a complex version of
social reality through the story of Jerichow and its inhabitants. He also
draws on events and characters from earlier novels such as Ingrid
Barbendererde, MutmaBungen diber Jakob, Das dritte Buch iiber Achim
and Karsch und andere Prosa. Johnson's long term interest in specific
characters, notably Gesine and Heinrich Cresspahl, give a depth and
continuity to his complete works rarely found in literature:
In Johnsons friiheren Werken bereitet sich jeweils die
Problemstellung der spateren vor (s.o.); doch gilt auch
umgekehrt, daB im Spatwerk das friihere kommentiert
und entschltisselt, als die Bedeutungseinheit eines
Gesamtwerkes hergestellt wird.29

Heinrich Cresspahl's brief career as a British spy during the war, the
death of Gesine's mother, details of life in Jerichow during the Nazi
dictatorship and the Russian Occupation, the childhood relationship
between Jakob and Gesine, and Jakob's last visit with her before his death
are just a few examples of events alluded to in other works which are
developed in Jahrestage.

28 Christof Schmid, "Gesprach mit Uwe Johnson (am 29.7.1971 in West-Berlin),"
"Ich fiberlege mir die Geschichte ." Uwe Johnson im Gesprach, ed. Eberhard Fahlke
(Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1988) 253.


29 Walter Schmitz, Uwe Johnson (Minchen: Beck, 1984) 84.










Johnson's first novel, Ingrid Barbendererde (1985), was first
published posthumously.so This early work is significant in that it

addresses those thematic elements which define Johnson's writing over a
lifetime: the conflicting relationship between political reality and the
individual and the resulting alienation from society. The novel was written
between 1953 and 1956 while Johnson was a "Student der Germanistik und
'weiterer Folgen des Krieges'" at the University of Rostock.31 Shortly before

the completion of secondary school, Ingrid becomes enmeshed in the
conflict between the government and the members of a church-affiliated

group, the "Junge Gemeinde." What begins as a classroom protest against
"veranderten Lehrstoff'--specifically the socialist tenets of dialectics, class
conflict and historical materialism--and for individual freedom of thought
quickly escalates into a perceived attack on the system. As a result Ingrid
is accused of subversive activity, and is called before a school tribunal:
Sie wird am Mittwoch, 13. Mai 1953 im Verfahren gegen
die Junge Gemeinde aus der FDJ ausgeschlossen. Mit
289 gegen 17 Stimmen. Ihr ist das Betreten des
Schulgelandes ab sofort verboten. Fur eine Rede. Fiir
bloB eine Rede.32

After being expelled, she flees East Germany to "das andere Deutschland"
with friend and classmate, Klaus Niebuhr:
Wir werden ja sehen was an diesem ist: sagte Klaus.
Sie warden ja sehen was an diesem war. Ob sie es
30 The novel was originally rejected for publication by the Aufbau-Verlag because
of controversial political elements: "Der Verlag schitzte die literarischen Qualitaten
dieses Romans, aber wiinschte sich einige Anderungen politischer Natur, eigentlich mehr
innenpolitischer Natur, und dazu hkitte ich mein BewuBtsein indern miissen, das konnte
ich nicht. Da nahm ich das Manuskript zuriick." The manuscript was long assumed lost.
Horst Bienek, Werkstatteesprtche mit Schrifstellern (Miinchen: Carl Hanser, 1962) 87.

31 Siegfried Unseld, "Nachwort: Die Prifung der Reife im Jahre 1953," Ingrid
Barbendererde (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1985) 251.


32 Johnson, Begleitumstande 83.










vergessen hatten uiber ein Jahr, und ob das schlimm
sein wiirde.33

Their defection to the West is not perceived as a political statement, but
simply the substitution of one unsatisfactory alternative for another.
The novel which launched Johnson's literary career, MutmaBiunen
iiber Jakob, opens with the death of the title figure. The novel's well known
beginning--"Aber Jakob ist immer quer iiber die Gleise gegangen"--
initiates a reconstruction of the events leading up to that moment. He is
killed in a moment of distraction--or perhaps despair--on the morning he
returns from West Germany, while crossing the tracks on a foggy
November morning. In retrospect multiple narrators attempt to
reconstruct an accurate account of what actually happened. They compile,
compare and negotiate information. Their stories both corroborate and
contradict each other. Contradictions within the story remain unresolved,
which Johnson finds an accurate reflection of human experience:

Der Verfasser sollte zugeben, daB er erfunden hat, was
er vorbringt, er sollte nicht verschweigen, daB seine
Informationen liickenhaft sind und ungenau. Denn er
verlangt Geld fiir was er anbietet. Dies eingestehen
kann er, indem er etwa die schwierige Suche nach der
Wahrheit ausdriicklich vorfuihrt, indem er seine
Auffassung des Geschehens mit der seiner Person
vergleicht und relativiert, indem er auslalt, was er
nicht wissen kann, indem er nicht ftir reine Kunst
ausgibt, was noch eine Art der Wahrheitsfindung ist.
(BS, 20-1)

Holes and contradictions in their theories are smoothed over with
conjecture and speculation. The result is a continuously shifting version of
reality.


33 Johnson, Inmid Barbendererde 247.









The figure of Jakob gradually emerges from the tangled web of
narrative as a socialist hero thrown into personal crisis during a period of
political turmoil. In the latter half of 1956 a combination of events ushered
in a brief--but doomed--period of liberalization in the Eastern Block which
followed Nikita Khrushchev's speech at the XX Party Congress. At roughly
the same time Imre Nagy initiated a program of democratic reforms in
Hungary. The Suez crisis was also brewing. Soviet reaction to the
Hungarian uprising was swift and brutal. Jakob's faith in the socialist
state, along with any illusions of personal integrity and self-determination,
are destroyed as he helplessly watches trainloads of Russian troops pass
through his jurisdiction on their way to Budapest. Although he could hold
up the transport temporarily, Jakob realizes that he cannot stop them
indefinitely. His intervention would be futile.
Jakob subsequently visits his lover, Gesine, who is working in
Diusseldorf as a translator at NATO headquarters. The reality of the BRD
as experienced by Jakob is disappointing. Everything strikes him as crass,
exaggerated and pretentious. He leaves West Germany disillusioned with
both of the political alternatives available to him. He deliberately chooses to
return to his work and his friends in an albeit fundamentally flawed
society, but where he believes the potential for change still exists. He is
killed the next morning. Gesine, as we later learn in Jahrestage, also
leaves the BRD in reaction to an outbreak of anti-Semitic violence. While
both East and West Germany are portrayed in the novel as severely
compromised systems, socialism at least holds out the theoretical promise
of social transformation and historical redemption.
When Karsch, a middle-aged journalist from Hamburg, crosses the
border into East Germany just a few years later in May, 1960, the situation










between the two republics has changed entirely. The border is closed, and
the estrangement between the two German states, already a decisive factor
in Mutmaiungen iiber Jakob, is complete. That "in Deutschland liegt eine
undurchlassige Grenze" (102) is to Karsch, however, a profound revelation.
On a trip into uncharted territory he finds himself in a foreign country,
though the surroundings are deceptively familiar. They may still speak the
same language but any common ground they once shared has disappeared
in the interim: ". er spricht die Sprache und kann sich nicht
verstandlich machen, sie haben da anderes Geld und andere Regierung:
damit soil er sich eines Tages vereinigen" (A, 120). Karsch's extended stay
in the DDR is the premise of the novel, Das dritte Buch Uiber Achim.
Karsch is struggling with a third biography of the chameleon-like
East German cycling star, Achim K. His subject is a national hero, a
respected party member and parliamentary representative, and an
otherwise model citizen of the socialist state. His research and the creative
process, in which he explores several different narrative avenues, comprise
the bulk of the novel. The reporter must sift through and evaluate
mountains of information. He painstakingly selects those aspects of
Achim's story which will "cohere into a meaningful pattern without
distorting the general truth."34 Achim's motivations, as well as those of the
party, are entirely different. They envision a didactic biography that
emphasizes the individual's role in socialist society, and which reaffirms
the political status quo.
After three months of research the proposed project collapses despite
the expenditure of much time and effort. Karsch's failure to produce a
cohesive image of his subject is a result not only of the disparity between

34 Mark Boulby, Uwe Johnson (New York: Frederick Ungar, 1974) 44.










Achim's personal and public image, but is also caused by the writer's own
inflexible idealism. He is overwhelmed by information, and feels compelled
to integrate all of it in order to provide a "true" picture of Achim. This
proves an impossible task as problematic incidents come to his attention:
Achim's active role in the Hitler Jugend, his betrayal of his social-democrat
father to the authorities, and an illegal trip to West Berlin for a three-speed
mechanism unavailable in the East.
The novel chronicles Karsch's failure to resolve the discrepancy
between Achim's public and private personae. Johnson describes the
narrative as a "Beschreibung einer Beschreibung, die Umstande einer
Biographie und was in dieser Biographie enthalten sein sollte."35 The
relationship between the biographer and his subject collapses completely
when Karsch confronts Achim with a photo which appears to substantiate
rumors of his participation in the Berlin Workers' Uprising on June 17,
1953. Achim denies he was there, and Karsch can't be certain that the man
in the photo is really Achim. Even seemingly concrete evidence proves
questionable and ultimately inconclusive. After following a number of false
leads, and faced with Achim's hostility, Karsch must ultimately conclude
"daB die Schliissigkeit eines Beweises beider Gesinnungsidentifikation
unmoglich ist und nur in ein Netz unaufklarbarer Fragen fiihrt."36
Karsch abandons his project in despair and returns to Hamburg none the
wiser about the "real" Achim.
Karsch's experiences are recounted from his necessarily West
German perspective during a marathon telephone conversation upon his
return. The interests and biases of his dialog partner, presumably a friend

35 Bienek 89.


36 Thomas and van der Will 140.










in Hamburg, also shape and direct the narrative. Karsch analyzes the
breakdown of the creative process as well as his own dual role as subject
and narrator. At home Karsch is able to view his recent experience in the
East from a substantial narrative distance, which "Karsch aus der Distanz
zu einer fast fremden Figur objektiviert."37 The change of scenery,
however, does not translate into any measure of objectivity. He finds
himself at a loss to explain anything of his experiences in the East, which
remain uninterpretable in context of West German society. The question,
"wie war es denn?" with which the novel opens and closes remains
unanswered and unanswerable.
The novel's open-ended conclusion underlines Johnson's conviction
that a "unified vision of reality is itself a fiction."38 This same theme is
further explored in the short story "Eine Reise wegwohin, 1960," in which
Karsch tries again to make sense of his DDR experiences. Irrespective of
the angle from which he approaches the problem, the formulation of a
compromise between the two political alternatives proves unattainable.
Opposing political, social, and historical factors make it impossible to
synthesize a single definitive biography of Achim. The truth can only be
approximated. Thus, the presentation of unreconciled and unresolvable
paradoxes is in itself the most truthful portrayal of the existing situation.
Friend and colleague, writer Wolfgang Koeppen, characterizes the search
for truth as the driving force of Johnson's narrative:






37 Thomas and van der Will 141.


38 Ryan 41.










Johnson suchte die Wahrheit. Die Wahrheitssuche ist
aber ein Prozel3, und erst wenn man ihn beschreibt,
nahert man sich vielleicht der Wahrheit.39

According to Judith Ryan, "the idea of history as a product of individual
perceptions becomes a central theme of the novel."4o This view of history
later becomes the organizing idea in Jahrestage, but on a much wider
scale.

Johnson's third novel, Zwei Ansichten (1965), unfolds during the
months immediately before and after the building of the Wall. The work
sealed Johnson's fate in the German press as "Fachmann der deutschen
Teilung." As the novel begins Berlin is a city in crisis; however the political
separation is not yet physical. The narrative portrays the alternative
Wicklichkeiten of two lovers: B., a West German photographer, and D., an
East German nurse. They wake up one morning in August to find
themselves on opposite sides of an armed border. It is obvious who belongs
where. Just in case, the characters are neatly labeled to avoid any
confusion. Initially their personal and political identities are inseparable.
In the course of the novel, however, it is possible to point to a degree of
personal development in D.'s character, while B. becomes increasingly
mired in his slavery to materialism.

Every aspect of daily existence in Berlin--however trivial or personal--
is affected by international Realpolitik. Like the two lovers, the city is
inseparable from its political reality. It literally rests on the fault-line
between the socialist East and the capitalist West. Its physical division is
representative of the division evident in all aspects of German society. It is

39 Wolfgang Koeppen, "Ein Bruder der Massen war er nicht. Uber Uwe Johnson,"
Gesammelte Werke vol. VI (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1986) 426.

40 Ryan 40.










the living embodiment of the Cold War. Johnson finds this division is
insurmountable both on a political and on a personal level.
The relationship, which begins as a casual interlude between two
young people with little in common--"eine Liebschaft, eine Bandelei, eine
Woche, ein Verhiltnis, einen Anfang, sie wuBte das Wort nicht und nicht
warum"41--intensifies commensurate to the political situation. Like their
two countries, the closing of the border politicizes their relationship and the
decisions they make. D. is desperate to leave the DDR as her choices
become increasingly limited. But, as with Johnson's other characters, is
not seeking a new reality, but only to flee from the old. When D. finally
escapes over the border some months later, it is clear there is nothing left of
their flimsy relationship once the physical barriers are removed. The only
thing they have in common is their exploitation of each other. D. is
motivated by the chance at a new life for herself in the West, B. by his need
to assuage vague feelings of guilt and obligation.
Both B. and D. belong to the first post-war generation for whom the
division of Germany is a fact of life. They represent the first "divided
generation," immersed in opposing schools of political thought. However,
D. comes off far better by comparison. In this novel, B. could just as easily
stand for "boor." Like his love interest, B. is synonymous with the political
and economic system from which he comes. He consciously cultivates an
image of professional and financial success. Youth, money and a fast car
all figure in the novel's opening sentence: "Der junge Herr B. konnte die
Hand auf groBes Geld legen und kaufte einen Sportwagen" (ZA, 7). The
narrator later reveals that the car has been acquired with slick capitalist


41Uwe Johnson, Zwei Ansichten (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1965)13. This work
will be referred to subsequently in the text as "ZA"










ingenuity. When B. is called to photograph an accident for the newspaper,
he buys the car on the spot from the owner, who is eager to part with his
bad luck. The red status symbol not only wipes out five years of savings, but
also requires him to overextend himself financially. However, he considers
it is worthwhile, since "einen solchen Wagen wiirde es nur ein einziges
Mal geben im Umkreis von zweihundert Kilometern" (ZA, 8). As a bonus,
word spreads of his financial savvy, and he can charge more for his
pictures. The car immediately becomes an extension of his weak self-
image. Time and again he fantasizes how D. will react when he drives up
in his flashy new foreign car. B. is devastated when the car is stolen within
the month, and he is forced to rent a "klapprigen Kasten, den nicht einmal
ein ostberliner Midchen bewundern wfirde" (ZA, 17). After arranging for
D.'s illegal border crossing into West Berlin, he is unable to meet her, as he
is in Stuttgart picking up his new car.
Unfortunately, B. never overcomes his crippling superficiality.
Entirely without family or friends, he dulls his feelings of loneliness and
isolation with alcohol and a succession of girlfriends. His emotional life is
limited to his car. His feelings for D. and concern for her livelihood never
achieve the same emotional intensity. In Zwei Ansichten B. remains a
pathetic caricature of West German bourgeoisie: shallow, self-involved,
materialistic and somewhat stupid. While Johnson is consistently critical
of the BRD in his novels, his concerns are not taken seriously by West
German critics. Even the many pointed barbs found in Zwei Ansichten fail
to hit their mark: "Somit is angedeutet, wie ein 'Dichter der beiden
Deutschlands' sich damals zu benehmen hatte."42

42 D.G. Bond, German History and German Identity: Uwe Johnson's "Jahrestage"
(Atlanta: Rodopi, 1993) 183.










There is never any question of the ultimate failure of the relationship
between B. and D. Like Berlin itself they remain divided at the most basic
level, and are unable to enter into any kind of meaningful relationship. the
novel clearly illustrates Johnson's skepticism that there could be any sort of
interaction or mediation between East and West. Although Johnson's view
of the two political alternatives available in a divided Germany is negatively
depicted in Johnson's early works, he advocates a continued dialogue
between the two countries in preparation for an eventual political
integration.
Three later works, Eine Reise Nach Klagenfurt (1974), Skizze eines
Verunglickten (1981), and the fragment, Versuch einen Vater zu finden
(1988), parallel some of the fundamental narrative and sociopolitical
thematic elements of Jahrestare. They all have a unique relationship to the
novel in that they were written during the ten-year break between the
tetralogy's third and fourth volumes. Narrative techniques and structures,
as well as thematic content, are typical of Johnson's fiction. Like
Jahrestage, the two short works turn to the past--specifically the
documented historical past--for illumination of a problematic individual
existence.
Reise nach Klagenfurt, which for lack of a more precise description
has been called a "Reisebericht," a "Nachruf," and a "Totenmesse,"
describes Johnson's visit to Bachmann's childhood home shortly after her
tragic death in Rome. In this "biographische Arbeit" he uncovers vestiges
of fascism in Klagenfurt which have been obscured by the passage of time,
progress, and willful cultural amnesia. Through a collage of archival
documents combined with his own personal observations and memories,
Johnson recreates a city and a childhood destroyed by fascism. Events










which took place under the Nazi occupation had a profound effect on
Bachmann both artistically and personally.
The posthumously published fragment, Versuch einen Vater zu
finden, consists of the first 35 pages of Johnson's next project, Heute
neunzig Jahr. It chronicles Heinrich Cresspahl's history as a young man
and soldier in the Great War in years leading up to the events described in
Jahrestage. The project--which Mecklenburg describes as "a mosaic of
facts and signs, dates and sources, documents and oral evidence processed
into hypotheses, episodes and images, and all with a strong degree of
personal involvement"43--was left uncompleted at Johnson's death in 1984.
The search for information is undertaken after Heinrich's death by his
daughter, Gesine. Though Johnson's final intentions for the novel can only
be guessed at, this preliminary fragment details another attempt by Gesine
to contextualize her father's confusing, and often conflicting, actions long
after his death. Here, as in Jahrestage, Johnson portrays an individual
caught up by overwhelming historical circumstances. But in this case, it is
a past to which she has no personal access. She must rely solely on
historical documentation and personal conjecture to reconstruct the most
plausible version of her father's history.

Gesine's past and sense of identity are intimately linked with that of
her father in Jahrestare. Heinrich Cresspahl's life story, which also
comprises a significant portion of the novel, is the story of modern
Germany. When Gesine begins with her reconstruction of his story, he has
been living abroad in the Netherlands and England for ten years. While on


43 Norbert Mecklenburg, "'Ei Junge aus dem Dreikaiserjahr': Uwe Johnson's
'Versuch, einen Vater zu finden,'" trans. Sarah Brickwood, Literature on the Threshold.
The German Novel in the 1980s. eds. Arthur Williams, Stuart Parkes and Roland Smith
(New York/ Oxford/ Munich: Berg, 1990) 36.










vacation in Mecklenburg in the summer of 1931, Cresspahl becomes
enamored with Lisbeth Papenbrock, the youngest daughter of a wealthy
Jerichow landowner and businessman. Despite an age difference of
eighteen years and Lisbeth's engagement to another man, they marry and
eventually settle in Jerichow. When an unbalanced Lisbeth commits
suicide after witnessing anti-Semitic violence in her own town during the
Reichskristallnacht, Heinrich is left to raise Gesine alone. During the war
he simultaneously works for the German Luftwaffe at a local airfield while
spying for the British. In 1945 assumes the thankless job as Jerichow's
mayor; first under British occupation, then under the Russians. Some
months later he is incarcerated, and spends two and a half years in a
Russian prison. He is finally acquitted in May, 1948. Like his daughter,
Heinrich is subjected to a series of sociopolitical realities beginning with
German unification under Bismarck and ending with East German
socialism. In contrast to Gesine, who is content to observe from the
sidelines, he is an active participant in the political events of his time,
driven by circumstances and the will to survive rather than ideology,.
In each of Johnson's works, documented history is both examined
and challenged. Like most other writers of his generation, truth in both
history and narration is a central issue for Johnson. The reality of a
divided post-war Germany was that nothing could be taken at face value:
Alienation from language and material was an
especially difficult problem for post-war artists. The
observation of the propaganda practices employed by the
Nazis, the defeat of that system and the reeducationn' of
Germans by the victorious Allies clearly sensitized the
generation to which Johnson belonged in a special way
to the dangers of taking at face value official
pronouncements of the truth.44


44van der Will 172.










Mecklenburg views this central theme as a series of overlapping processes:
"... how is it possible to get from the crust to the core, from political history
to the history of an individual, from the facts to the truth?"45 Gesine finds
that the impact of historical interpretation is immediate and personal as
she turns to documentary materials in her attempt to reconstruct the past.
In Johnson's work, any compromise between the individual and
sociopolitical reality--whether in the form of "ein dritter Weg," Dubcek's
"socialism with a human face," or Gesine's illusory "moralische Schweiz,

in die wir emigrieren konnen" (I, 382)-- remains out of reach. In his study,
which reexamines the political dimension of Johnson's works, Kurt Fickert
is overly optimistic in his characterization of Johnson's protagonists in
their struggle against political circumstances:

Jakob, Karsch, and perhaps B. have been sequestered in
disillusionment, the primary state of mind resulting
from the realization that they are powerless to change
the course of human events, even to the extent that they
might at least maintain their own integrity On the
other hand, D., whom B. failed to appreciate, Karin, and
the Gesine of the Mutma/fungen fiber Jakob all have the
capacity to effect a compromise in the struggle between
conscience and political reality; they learn that
individuality can persevere against the forces of
conformism by way of accommodating themselves to the
existing situation, by making use of it, or by contending
with it in a place where choice is still a viable factor.46

Regardless of the eventual outcome, the thematic thread which links all of
Johnson's novels is the paradoxical co-existence of political reality and
private life. Even those figures who seem to affect a balance between the

45Mecklenburg, "'Ein Junge aus dem Dreikaiserjahr': Uwe Johnson's 'Versuch,
einen Vater zu finden" 35.

46 Kurt Fickert, Neither Left nor Right. The Politics of Individualism in Uwe
Johnson's Work (New York: Peter Lang, 1987) 98.










two are doomed ultimately to fail. Jakob Abs, Gesine Cresspahl, Karsch
and the others are all in search of a nonpoliticized reality, an objective
assessment of history, or both.
Gesine embodies this set of problems, which occupied Johnson
throughout his writing career. In Jahrestage she becomes a point of
convergence (Zuordnungspunkt). Unlike Mutmal3ungen iiber Jakob, in
which the narrative focuses essentially on a reconstruction of past events,
the Jahrestage narrative examines the conflict between individual and
sociopolitical reality in both an historical and in a contemporary context.
The politically charged atmosphere of the late 1960s--resulting from the
controversy generated by American intervention in Vietnam and the civil
rights movement--exerts a profound influence on Gesine's life. Domestic
problems such as violence, big-city crime, police brutality and racial
tensions share the front page of The New York Times with international
news of Cold War conflicts and the Prague Spring.
Contemporary events from The New York Times are all an integral
part of Gesine's daily existence, whether directly or obliquely. Her
perceptions of America are further shaped by her socialist upbringing, as
well as her early exposure to fascism and war: ". jene friihe Erziehung
in Sozialismus sitzt fest in ihr, sie hat ja auch das Schwimmen nicht
verlernt und nur mit ausfiihrlicher Beschreibung des Anfangs [der DDRI
werde ich zeigen kinnen, wie sie es, im Alter von 35 Jahren, doch noch
einmal versuchen will mit dem Sozialismus."47 This sense of political
awareness is also evident in Gesine's detailed reconstruction of her
childhood. Childhood memories--indelibly marked by facism and
socialism--compete with contemporary events unfolding on Gesine's

47 Uwe Johnson, "Brief an Siegfried Unseld" Johnsons 'Jahrestage" 94.










internal stage. She views the task of confronting the past as a fundamental
part of the search for identity and meaning: "Vielleicht war es die
Lebensmitte, der Beginn der biologischen Riickbildung, die ihr das
Bewusstsein des Lebenslaufes umkehrte in Richtung der Vergangenheit,
in den Versuch zu finden, wie die jeweils vorvergangenen Zustande ihres
Lebens noch durch etwas anderes verbunden waren als ihr
Nacheinander."48 Only by coming to terms with her history can she move
beyond a passive acceptance of her surroundings and act decisively in
determining her future.
When the novel ends abruptly at the end of one calendar year, the
legitimacy of this entire process is radically undermined. On closer
examination, however, the groundwork for this reversal is carefully laid
throughout the fourth and final volume of Jahrestage. In the final volume
Gesine's relationship to the present is markedly different. References from
The New York Times, which form the structural and thematic framework
of the novel, become less frequent as her focus shifts away from her
immediate surroundings. This is reflected in her increased preoccupation
with the past and the future represented by the Prague Spring. These two
issues tend to overshadow the political and social concerns that dominate
the first three volumes.
As in Johnson's earlier novels, Gesine also seems doomed to failure
by the existing political reality. For his characters, options are limited.
They must choose among resignation, destruction or flight. True to form,
Jahrestage ends with Gesine's departure for Prague, which offers the hope
of a liberalized form of socialism. The significance of her renewed
commitment to socialism is negated as she is engulfed--and perhaps


48 Johnson, Begleitumstande 415.








31
consumed--by larger political events which lie outside the scope of the novel.
The outcome is carefully anticipated in Johnson's portrayal of the political
situation in the U.S. and the BRD during 1967/8. Unable to come to terms
with either alternative, she commits herself to the third possibility offered
by the Prague Spring. The steps leading to her ultimate break with the
West are discernible in The New York Times items included in the text.
However, when Gesine departs for Czechoslovakia on the eve of the Russian
invasion at the close of Jahrestage it is clear that there is no escape or
sanctuary from political reality.













CHAPTER 2
"FUR WENN ICH TOT BIN":
THE PARAMETERS OF GESINE'S
NARRATIVE PROJECT



From the outset critics have hailed Johnson's Jahrestage a
masterpiece of the post-war period. It has been described as a "Zeit-

Mosaik"1 and an "erziihlte Chronik, die Privates politisch nimmt, die

Gesellschaftskritik und Geschichtsschreibung in individueller Biographie
aufgehen lailt,"2 which "auch in unvollendeter Gestalt lingst als eines der
eigentiimlichsten und bedeutendsten [Romane] der neueren deutschen

Literatur galt."3 Peter Demetz points to the novel as belonging to those

works "die ihre Schicksale haben, und solche, die Mythen bilden, ehe wir

sie noch ganz gelesen haben."4 In his review of Jahrestage's final volume,

Fritz Raddatz calls the completed novel "eines der unverganglichen
Denkmale der Zeit .unvergleichlich in seiner schwer entzifferbaren





1 Joachim Kaiser, "Fiir wenn wir tot sind," Johnsons "Jahrestage" 168.

2 Rolf Becker, "Eine Bitte fur die Stunde des Sterbens," Johnsons "Jahrestage" 187.

3 Becker 187.

4 Demetz 194.










Kompostition aus glaserner Klarheit und ratselhafter Dunkelheit."5 Long

before its completion Rolf Michaelis included Jahrestage in the prestigious

ZEIT-Bibliothek der 100 Biicher.6

First and foremost, Jahrestage has been read as a novel which
addresses recent German history, the implications of its Nazi legacy and
the early years of the DDR. Its thematization of historical and political
trends over a period of almost forty years is in the well-established tradition

of both the political and the epochal novel (Zeitroman).7 Rolf Becker's

characterization of the work is typical of the almost exclusive focus on the
Jerichow story in Johnson scholarship: "Seine 'Jahrestage' sind ein Buch
von der Vertreibung und vom Heimweh, dieser 'schlimmen Tugend,' ein

Buch von Verletzung, Verlust und Tod."8 Roland Wiegenstein describes

the far-ranging work as "gegen das Vergessen geschrieben."9 The process

of Gesine's reconstruction of memory clearly builds on the idea of
Vergangenheitsbewaltigung in its striving to explore and edify blank areas
in Germany's historical and political consciousness. Like many post-war





5 Fritz J. Raddatz, "Ein Marchen aus Geschichte und Geschichten," Johnsons
"Jahrestage" 177.

6 Rolf Michaelis, "Uwe Johnson, Jahrestage," ZEIT-Bibliothek der 100 Bicher, ed.
Fritz J. Raddatz (Frankfurt aM.: Suhrkamp, 1980).

7 Kaiser, "Fir wenn wir tot sind" 168.

8 R. Becker 92.

9 Roland H. Wiegenstein, "Johnson lesen. VorschlAge zu den 'Jahrestagen 1-4,'"
Johnsons "Jahrestage" 205.










works, Jahrestage addresses the "Liicke im Bewulftsein."10 For Gesine,

National Socialism was neither an aberration nor a closed chapter.
However, Johnson radically expands the movement's traditional historical
parameters in his examination of recent German history.
Although the term Vergangenheitsbewiltigung is used today to
describe a wide range of literature over the last fifty years which addresses
National Socialism, it more accurately describes the thematic focus of West
German literature in the early post-war period. There was no comparable
public discussion in the DDR, whose government categorically refused to
acknowledge any ties to Nazi Germany. Early novels such as Hans Werner
Richter's Die Geschlagenen (1949) and Sie fielen aus Gottes Hand (1951),
Alfred Andersch's Die Kirschen der Freiheit (1952), and Wolfgang
Koeppen's Der Tod in Rom (1954) all sought with some success to articulate
the realities of Nazi Germany. Heinrich Boll, who became the most
prominent writer of the immediate post-war period, established himself as

"das kritische Gewissen des deutschen Volkes"11 with novels such as Wo

warst du, Adam? (1952), in which he took the Catholic church to task for its
passivity in the face of Nazi brutality. The theme of coming to terms with
the past was not just confined to prose. Max Frisch's drama, Nun singen
sie wieder (1945), was one of the earliest portrayals of Nazi atrocity. Carl
Zuckmayer's enormously successful play, Des Teufels General (1946), is
probably the best known work of Vergangenheitsbewaltigung in literature
before 1959. The horrors of the Holocaust also became the subject of poetry


10 Kurt Batt, Revolte Intern. Betrachtungen zur Literatur der DDR (Leipzig:
Verlag Philipp Reklam Jr., 1974) 104.

11 Keith Bullivant, "Heinrich B611--A Tribute," German Life and Letters 39 (1986):









for German-Jewish writers Nelly Sachs (In den Wohnungen des Todes,
1946) and Paul Celan (Mohn und Gedichtnis, 1952).
Few German writers who experienced Nazi brutality survived to
write about it. Ernst Wiechert's early survival narrative, Der Totenwald
(1947), describes five months spent at Buchenwald in 1938. In 1955 novelist
H.G. Adler published an account of the organization of everyday life in a
Nazi "show camp," Theresienstadt 1941-45: Das Antlitz einer Zwangs-
remeinschaft. Such unvarnished first-hand accounts are rare, and are
seldom written in German. For the most part, early post-war literature
addresses the experiences of non-Jewish Germans far removed from the
front and the camps. Of primary concern are the issues of complicity and
guilt. However, stories of individual struggle common in post-war
literature are at odds with collective behavior. Portrayals of suffering and
pathos on the part of individuals swept along by historical events did little to
explain Nazi successes on a national scale. This literature mirrors a
society which displays only limited comprehension of individual moral
responsibility in the Endlosung. Consistently individuals were portrayed as
at odds with anonymous, monolithic institutions (i.e. the military, the
camp, the government). Early examples include little or no discussion of
the broader political and social issues which first enabled Hitler's rise to
power and later led to widespread cooperation with his policies. There was
also little sense of continuity between the years leading up to and following
1945. While many of the early literary attempts at Vergangenheits-
bewdltigung confronted the reading public with extremely uncomfortable
issues of the recent past, these works did not expressly address the
cumulative consequences of individual actions or passivity, examine the










wider socio-historical context of Fascism or question too closely West
Germany's post-war path.
The close of the 1950s marks a turning point in literary perceptions of
the past, as demonstrated by the two definitive, but vastly different
examples of literature dealing with Germany's Nazi past, Heinrich Boll's
Billiard um halbzehn and Ginter Grass' Die Blechtrommel. These two
novels are decidedly different from earlier works focusing on isolated
individuals and events:
Ob Boll, Grass, Lenz oder Johnson, sie all thematisieren
.und zwar gegen den Strich politologischer
Theoriebildung, durch deren Strukturgitter das sich als
moralische Personlichkeit diinkende Individuum
zumeist durchfallt, die Verstrickung des einzelnen in
dem undurchdringlichen Gestrupp politischer
Interessen und Machtpositionen. Sie alle versuchen
literarische LSsungen fir die sich aus solchen
Verstrickungen ergebenden Gewissensprobleme zu
entwickeln, die die Integritat des einzelnen und letztlich
auch seine personal Identitat bedrohen.12

In fictional guise both Boll and Grass look to Germany's prewar years as a
prelude to the Third Reich. In both novels the popular cultural myth of a
Stunde Null, or a complete break with the past, is shown to be a pathetic
farce.

The introduction of this theme initiated two important developments
in literature addressing Vergangenheitsbewaltigung. The phenomenon of
National Socialism is discussed in a considerably wider historical and
social context than was previously the case. Even more important is the
realization that, in the aftermath of two world wars in which Germany was
the aggressor, certain social and cultural traits had contributed to the


12 Beckes 64.










public's susceptibility to authoritarian thinking and behavior. These are
factors which still play a significant role in contemporary German society,
as well as in literature:
Es sind mir wichtige Namen genannt worden: Eich und
Huchel, Koeppen und Kastner. Ich weiB nicht, was die
Genannten bestimmt hat, so zu iiberleben. Ich kann ihr
Verhalten wahrend der Nazizeit (weiterdichten und
publizieren) nicht wagen, doch nehme ich an, daB jeder
fiir sich sein Verhalten am Schicksal jener
Schriftsteller gemessen hat, die Deutschland verlassen
muBten, die in den Selbstmord getrieben wurden, die
man erschlagen hat. Oder sie haben sich spiter an
Autoren messen miissen, die gleichfalls geblieben
waren und iiberlebten, doch ohne das von den Nazis
schlau eingeraiumte Gehege zu nutzen.13

The documentary literature which emerged in the early Sixties
honed in on the role played by ordinary citizens who, for reasons of their
own, actively participated in or passively condoned the actions of the Nazi
government. Proceedings and testimony from war crimes trials became
tools with which to examine the role played by individuals in context of
larger events. Unlike many earlier literary works addressing
Vergangenheitsbewaltigung, in which crimes against Jews were
invariably committed by madmen, they become nightmares of conformity in
documentary literature. In her first-hand account of one of the most
sensational war crimes trials, Eichmann in Jerusalem (1963), Hannah
Arendt portrays Adolf Eichmann, the orchestrater of Hitler's Endlosung,
as a man who is both deceptively normal and horrifically flawed. He is an
embodiment of dangerous extremes. He displays an abject conformity to
authority, a complete subjugation of moral considerations to the attainment
of political goals, and an ordinariness so profound as to be evil. She sees in

13 Giinter Grass, Kopfreburten oder Die Deutschen sterben aus (Darmstadt and
Neuwied: Luchterhand, 1980) 23.










him "die Banalitat des Bosen" characteristic of the "millions of ordinary

men who differed from Eichmann only in being differently employed."14

Dramatic interpretations of the Nuremburg and the Frankfurt Auschwitz
Trials, as well as of Eichmann's trial in Jerusalem all emphasize this
same theme.

Some significant documentary dramas from the mid-Sixties are
based on materials generated by war crimes trials: Die Ermittlung (1965)
by Peter Weiss, Joel Brand. Die Geschichte eines Geschafts (1965) by
Heinar Kipphardt, and prozeB in niirnberg (1967) by DDR dramatist Rolf
Schneider. Though they are based on actual documentary materials these
works are not without their problems. The selected materials fit to some
extent the playwright's predetermined agenda. However, the
dramatization of trial proceedings neatly circumvents several major
obstacles in writing about the Holocaust. Events are related in hind-sight
rather than reenacted. Crimes and atrocities are recounted by both victims
and perpetrators in a controlled, factually scripted situation. The
courtroom itself creates a well-known visual parameter in which
incomprehensible events are explored. The script utilizes the same
historical language that played such a crucial role in the Nazi's success.
Lastly, there is the structure of the trial itself whose sole purpose is to
determine responsibility for crimes committed. The trial process itself sets
distinct criteria for the types of evidenciary material permitted. The
building of the case creates forward momentum in a drama where the
verdict is a foregone conclusion.



14 Michael Hamburger, After the Second Flood: Essays on the Postwar German
Em (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1986) 37.










These dramas are significant in that they "broke through the
comfortable myth of National Socialism having been the work of a small
group of madmen, to ask telling and highly differentiated questions about
personal guilt and also about the involvement of German business in

National Socialism."15 The trial dramas all focus on the ability of ordinary

German citizens to carry out atrocities, and the inability of many to
comprehend how the sum total of their individual actions culminates in the
unthinkable. As in earlier works of Vergangenheitsbewiltigung, these
dramatists are again quick to shift a large portion of responsibility to
anonymous, monolithic forces. The significant difference is that these
contributors to the Holocaust are largely external. Capitalism and the
Allies are both popular targets. Rolf Hochhuth chastises the Catholic
Church for its politically expedient passivity during World War II in his
1962 drama Der Stellvertreter. Despite overwhelming documentary
evidence, the problem of individual responsibility remains unresolved both
in the courtroom and in literature.
During the late 1960s and early 1970s the literary focus turned from
the broad historical stage to the intimate sphere of family life. Unlike
works from the immediate post-war era, a younger generation of authors
undertook essentially factual explorations of the roles played by family
members and neighbors during the Third Reich. Often childhood
perceptions were irreconcilable with both accepted collective history and
existing archival evidence. Several novels from the 1970s view Nazi
atrocities from a very immediate, personal context and often incorporate
authentic documentary materials. Using strategies developed in

15 Keith Bullivant, 'The Spectre of the Third Reich. The West German Novel of the
1970s and National Socialism," After the 'Death of Literature.' West German Writing of
the 1970s, ed. Keith Bullivant (New York: Berg, 1989) 141.









documentary dramas, several writers associated with the
Studentenbewegung turned to the materials locked away in local
Giftschranke to deconstruct "official" versions of events. Younger writers,
too young to have actively participated in Nazi society yet indelibly marked
by fascism, confronted perpetrators and Mitlaufer within their own
immediate social circles. Unlike the documentary playwrights, however,
they tend to be critical of historical documents and the circumstances
under which they were created. This generation was exposed early to Nazi
propaganda, censorship and Allied reeducation efforts. They were
suspicious of the unreflected transformation from fascism to democratic
capitalism. The result was an inherent mistrust of language and
institutions of authority which characterize the Vaterromane and
documentary novels of the Seventies and early Eighties. They all explore
the discrepancies between fabricated and factual versions of events during
the Third Reich perpetrated within the family and what effect this had on
their upbringing and family dynamics.16 Some better known examples
include Peter Hartling's Nachgetragene Liebe (1980), Christoph Meckel's
Suchbild (1980), Giinter Seuren's Abschied von einem Mdrder (1980). In
these Vaterromane the writers assume the mantle of judge and jury in
evaluating the actions of family and neighbors.
Manfred Franke's documentary novel, Mordverliufe (1973), is typical
of this period. As an adult he sets out to uncover what really happened in
his small Rhineland town during the Reichskristallnacht. The novel's
subtitle ("9J10.XI.1938 Ein Protokoll von der Angst, von MiBhandlung und
Tod, vom Auffinden der Spuren und deren Wiederentdeckung") initially


16 Keith Bullivant, Realism Today. Aspects of the Contemporary West German
Novel (Leamington Spa, Hamburg, New York: Berg, 1987) 158.










attests to the addition of a new goal for Vergangenheitsbewiltigung, that of
historical rehabilitation. But despite a thorough evaluation of available
materials this goal proves unattainable. It quickly becomes apparent that
ostensibly factual sources such as police reports, trial proceedings,
depositions, interviews, newspaper articles are all tainted. In retrospect
Franke discovers that it is impossible to differentiate between actual events
and the public fabrication, or quite literally to separate fact from fiction.
From Franke's perspective the fictionalization process of the
Reichskristallnacht assumes greater significance than his initial objective
of establishing what actually happened that night. The corruption of
documentary material to substantiate a public version of events
demonstrates how, despite the outward repudiation of violence, a society
can systematically rationalize murder and persecution. By the end of the
war the fiction was a psychological necessity. It was impossible to reconcile
the reality of the Holocaust with the faces of friends and neighbors. In the
post-war investigation by the Allies the townspeople were given an
opportunity to rectify errors in public mythology, but again fail to punish
those responsible for murder. The failure to administer justice, despite
radically changed political circumstances, becomes an indictment of not
just one small town, but of an entire society.
For Franke, the actual events of the local Reichskristallnacht are far
less damning than the townspeople's inability to act or to later take
responsibility for the horrific cumulative results of their passivity. In the
end, the evidence as it exists and the story behind its corruption bears out

his initial supposition: "Auch Nichthandeln ist Handeln."17 Both violence

17 Manfred Franke, Mordverlaufe. 9./10.XI.1938 Ein Protokoll von der Angst. von
Miihandlung und Tod. vom Auffinden der Spuren und deren Wiederentdeckune
(Frankfurt a.M.: Fischer, 1973) 27.









and passivity played decisive roles in the systematic persecution of Jews
and other undesirables. In Mordverlaufe, as in other works of
documentary literature, Franke demonstrates with ample evidence how
victims of Nazi persecution were hurried along the route to the
concentration camps by innumerable individual instances of action or even
passivity.
There are two features which distinguish Jahrestage from many
other novels of the genre. Rather than beginning with her own birth,
which neatly coincides with Hitler's assumption of power, Gesine's
historical reconstruction chronicles both the prelude and the aftermath to
National Socialism. Within the context of her story Johnson cites historical
evidence to demonstrate his premise that Hitler's Third Reich was neither
an insular historical epoch nor the culmination of a tragic historical chain
of events. There are numerous political, social and economic ties which
link it firmly to the failed Weimar Republic and the American Vietnam
War era. The New York narrative becomes the crucial component in his
argument. By placing the historical reconstruction in a contemporary and,
most importantly, non-German context Johnson accomplishes several
objectives. Because of the complex interrelationship between the Jerichow
and New York stories, National Socialism is effectively chained to an
historical continuum leading directly to the present.
Although Gesine is separated from Germany's Nazi legacy by an
ocean and almost a quarter century, reminders of her childhood
experiences are everywhere. She regularly comes across related items in
The New York Times. Her interest in modern Germany as reflected in the
text are limited: war crimes trials, developments between East and West,
the Neo-Faschist movement and former Nazis still active in the West









German government. The Cresspahl's Upper Manhattan neighborhood is
home to many dislocated Jews. In addition to Mrs. Ferwalter, a
concentration camp survivor who ironically suppresses any sense of anger
or outrage against the Germans in her desire to preserve a precarious
historical mythology, Gesine has other acquaintances who are victims of
the Third Reich. She describes sociology professor Dmitri Weiszand as an
"Absolvent mehrerer Lager in Osteuropa (I, 145). Her tutor for Czech,
Anatol Kreslil, lost his wife to starvation while they were in hiding from the
Nazis. She also finds National Socialism a facet of her own identity. In the
eyes of others it is often impossible to separate her from her homeland's
Fascist past. It is a distinction that Gesine herself is often incapable of
making. In the New York story her surroundings and the paper are a
constant reminder of the links of history.
At the bank, among friends, as well as within the context of her own
historical reconstruction, Gesine cannot escape the label of "die Deutsche."
Whether the subject is politics or history Gesine is expected to justify her
country, and by extension, herself:
Erklaren Sie uns das. Es sind doch Ihre Landsleute,
Mrs. Cresspahl. Versuchen Sie uns, dies zu erkliren.
(II, 794)

While any explanation is doomed to failure from the outset, it must
nevertheless be attempted. The novel is in effect an attempt to fulfill the
request.
With a few exceptions, such as Christa Wolfs Kindheitsmuster,
Vergangenheitsbewaltigung remained primarily a West German concept:
"The increased emphasis in the Federal Republic on Bewditigung of the
Nazi past, particularly by means of a self-exploratory, self-revelatory










psychological process, converged with--and possibly helped create--literary
tendencies toward split perspectives and the unveiling of the author within
the text ."18 Like Johnson, Wolf also considers strenuous engagement
with the past an unending, if unavoidable, process: "Fiir diejenigen, die in
der Zeit des Faschismus aufwuchsen, kann es kein Datum geben, von dem

ab sie ihn als 'bewiltigt' erklaren k6nnen."19 It is not only an undertaking

for Germans, but for other societies.
In Jahrestage Johnson removes the discussion of
Vergangenheitsbewdltigung from a strictly West German context, and
with it any pretenses of progress in that area: "Ich kann mich weder von
der deutschen Vergangenheit noch von der deutschen Gegenwart
dispensieren."20 Gesine systematically chips away at her armor of
socialized consciousness in an American venue against a background of
international events. Her New York City surroundings places Gesine's
reevaluation of the past in an entirely new context: "So zieht sie dem
Abstand von 6000 Kilometer Geschichte ein, so macht sie uns den hiesigen
Aufenthalt angenehm" (I, 173). The distance enables "eine die nationalen
Grenze hinter sich lassende Blickweise."21 Her efforts are also in part a
concerted effort to address her daughter's curiosity about her family and
homeland. Marie's separation from her German roots is more than


18 Sandra Frieden, "In eigener Sache": Christa Wolfs 'Kindheitsmuster,'"
GermanQuarterly 54 (1981): 473.

19 Hans Kaufmann, "Gesprach mit Christa Wolf," Weimarer Beitraie 20 (1974):
98.

20 As quoted by Theo Buck in his article, "Anstande mit der Wahrheit," Text+
iritik 65/66 (1980): 20.


21 Buck 21.








45
geographical. She represents a generation whose knowledge of the Second
World War is entirely second hand, but is aware that issues from the past
continue to impact the Cresspahl family's daily existence. Thus, Johnson's
Jerichow story transcends both political divisions and generation gaps.
What distinguishes Jahrestage from other earlier works addressing
National Socialism is that Gesine's reexamination of the past results in the
undermining of the Vergangenheitsbewiltigung process itself:

Es ist notwendig, das festzustellen um desto
unbefangener und vorbehaltloser fiber das sprechen zu
konnen, was auch an diesem Buch--wie an den
vorangegangenen--kostbar und unvergleichlich ist.
Dazu gehirt in erster Linie Gesines heimlicher Zweifel
an der Tauglichkeit ihrer Vergangenheitsarbeit. Gesine
versenkt sich ja nicht proustisch ins Gewesene, um aus
seiner Vereinigung mit dem Gegenwartigen etwas
Allgemeines, ein Gesetz, eine "ewige" Wahrheit zu
gewinnen. Was sie will, ist vielmehr eine praktische
Lektion fuir ihre Tochter.22

She does not seek reconcile past and present in order to come to terms with
contemporary Germany. She in fact rejects the BRD as a viable political
alternative because it pretends to have adequately addressed the past
despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The discussion
surrounding the statue of limitations for war crimes is the first West
German current event mentioned in Jahrestage: "Die westdeutche
Regierung will die Verjahrung fir Morde und Massenausrottung in der

Nazizeit ganz und gar aufheben, vielleicht" (I, 21).23 The overwhelming

majority of BRD items reported in The New York Times are in some way


22 Blocker, "Prager Traum--New Yorker Wirklichkeit" 165.

23 The significance of this particular news item in Jahrestage is often mis-
construed in secondary literature. See Ch.6 for further discussion.








46
connected to the Third Reich. There are, of course, a number of articles
appearing during 1967/8 which deal with completely different issues,
although they do not usually make the front page, unlike the more
sensational reports from the courtroom. In any case, Gesine does not
generally make note of them in the narrative. This topic's prevalence in
The New York Times, and subsequently in Jahrestage, suggests at least
from a U.S. perspective that Germany's identity remains inseparable from
National Socialism for the foreseeable future:
S. .nur soll die jeweils erzahlte Vergangenheit uns
unsere gegenwartigen Verhaltnisse erklaren. Wir
konnen die Nachrichten von unseren VorgAngern
gebrauchen, wenn sie auch Nachrichten ffir und fiber
uns sind.24

The central role played by Marie in Gesine's exploration of the past is also a
strong argument that, unlike in the legal system, there should be no
question of statute of limitations on the past. As Christa Wolf suggests, it is
an ongoing process with no foreseeable conclusion.
In Johnson's Jahrestage and Wolfs Kindheitsmuster the
questioning of public and private history is intimately linked to the
determination of individual identity. Gesine and Nelly, her counterpart in
Kindheitsmuster, both set out to recover an authentic version of childhood
under the Nazis as a response to a post-war society based on historical
fabrication and alienation: "Niemals haben Menschen so vieles vergessen

sollen, um funktionsfahig zu bleiben, wie die, mit denen wir leben."25

Wolfs historical reconstruction also acknowledges the immediacy of
Germany's recent past in contemporary life:

24 Uwe Johnson, "Vorschlage zur Priifung eines Romans" 31-2.

25 Christa Wolf, Kindheitsmuster (Darmstadt/ Neuwied: Luchterhand, 1987) 451.








47
[. [es] ist nicht tot; es ist nicht einmal vergangen. Wir
trennen es von uns ab und stellen uns fremd.26

For the protagonists of both novels the exploration of childhood becomes a
means by which they can reclaim their sense of self and purpose.
Repression used as a survival mechanism sets a dangerous precedent.
Their individual projects gain particular significance as their young
daughters become politically cognizant. Wolf uses news events in alluding
to recurrent patterns of socialization and the sometimes destructive results
on a world-wide scale. Ongoing conflict in Southeast Asia, Chile and the
Middle East, along with an increasingly chilly Cold War all have their
historical counterparts. The implications of these patterns are personal as
well as global. Likewise, Gesine can find ample evidence for the failure of
Vergangenheitsbewiltigung in the news from West Germany:
Immer noch haben sie in Westdeutschland einen Greis
zum Staatsprasidenten, der im Jahre 1944 Bauplane ffir
Konzentrationslager unterzeichnet haben soll. Er
glaubt nicht, dal er es tat; einen Eid k6nnte er nicht
darauf ablegen. Ein amerikanischer Schriftensach-
verstandiger hat die Signatur auf den Plinen als die des
Staatsprasidenten erkannt. Ein bonner Student, der
neben dem Namen des Staatsprasidenten in einer
Ehrenrolle die Berufsbezeichnung "K.Z.-Baumeister"
eintrug, wurde von der Universitat gewiesen. Die
Christlich-Demokratische Union, der die Sozial-
demokraten beim Regieren helfen, antwortet auf
Forderungen nach dem Riicktritt des Belasteten: Wer
das verlange, wolle nur die Koalition unter Druck setzen
und die Weichen fiir die Wahl einer anderen stellen; das
ist der Stellenwert von Konzentrationslagern in der
westdeutschen Politik; ein solches Land ist das, und
Mrs. Ferwalter sagt: Sicherlich mufite jeder das
damals tun, gewil hatte er eine Ehefrau. (II, 788-9)


26 Wolf 9.










The furor over Bundesprasident Heinrich Liibke's complicity in the
construction of Nazi concentration camps lasts several weeks. Gesine has
little to say about his participation in the Endlosung or the current scandal.
She lets his political maneuverings speak for themselves. The focus of the
newspaper items in the text is clearly on how clear-cut evidence of Liibcke's
collaboration is received by the press, the public and politicians. His evasive
replies to the charges, along with his party's reaction to the scandal,
illustrate clearly the government's failure to confront latent elements of
National Socialism from within. The backlash against those who brought
Liibcke's collaboration to light is particularly vicious. The student who
brings the documents to the public's attention is expelled from the
university. The CDU decries the accusations against Liibcke as blatant
political mudslinging. That the signature on the blueprints--material
evidence authenticated by an American handwriting expert--exists at all is
of seemingly secondary importance. The need to rationalize proves
overwhelming on both a political and a personal level, as illustrated by Mrs.
Ferwalter. The content of the debate is a clear indicator of the current West
German political climate.
In their examinations of childhood under fascism, Johnson and Wolf
both address the layers of socialized consciousness which makes it possible
to sustain this sort of public self-deception over time. In Kindheitsmuster.
the reconstruction process centers around the question: "Wie sind wir so
geworden, wie wir heute sind?" Wolfs approach to the past is a self-
exploratory analysis of psychological process which probes a childhood that
is "vergessen, verdraingt, verleugnet."27 The tenacity of the survival
mechanism proves a stumbling block for Wolfs autobiographical persona


27 Wolf 12.










in the novel. For her the key to the past--and ultimately to freedom from its
repetitive patterns--is an understanding of the subjective process. Wolf
points unequivocally to "dieser fatale Hang der Geschichte zu
Wiederholungen, gegen den man sich wappnen muB."28 Similarly,
Johnson's protagonist struggles to obtain some measure of objectivity. His
emphasis is on the process of analysis and change. The exploration of
Gesine's awareness (Bewuf/tsein) and perception only lays the groundwork
for the writer's true purpose. In an interview with Manfred Durzak,
Johnson articulates the crucial second step which is his principal objective.
It is the moment when the reader recognizes:
Ja, so wie es da geschrieben steht, so ist es, so leben wir.
Aber wollen wir so leben?"29

For Gesine, an understanding of how individual actions (i.e. those of family
and neighbors) contributed to past events is a necessary prerequisite to
responsible action in the present. Wolf believes recognition of such patterns
is the beginning of their exorcism. Conversely, Johnson finds that there is
no escape from the patterns of the past.
The news from West Germany indicates that elements of National
Socialism are deep entrenched in the highest echelons of nation politics.
The uproar over the discovery of Bundesprasident Heinrich Liibcke's
signature on concentration camp blueprints is only one example.
Bundeskanzler--and former Nazi party member--Kurt Georg Kiesinger
shows blatant disregard for the Vergangenheitsbewiltigung concept when

28 Wolf 159.

29 Manfred Durzak, "Dieser langsame Weg zu einer griileren Genauigkeit.
Gesprich mit Uwe Johnson," Gespriche iiber den Roman. Formbestimmungen und
Analysen, ed. Manfred Durzak (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1976) 431. See also
Johnson's essay on the novel, "Vorschlage zur Priifung eines Romans."








50
he appoints another "ehemaligen Angehdriger und Beamter der Nazis" to
the post of party speaker (I, 253), who remains unnamed in the text itself.
Gesine is so incensed by the successful political rehabilitation of Franz
Josef StrauB that she lists it among her reasons for leaving the BRD. The
man, whom she refuses to name in the text, served as "'Offizier fir
wehrgeistige Fuhrung' Voraussetzung: aktiver Nationalsozialist" and
afterwards "gab er sich aus als Widerstandskampfer." His subsequent slick
political maneuverings--upon which Gesine elaborates over the next three
pages--have brought him within reach of what he truly desires: "Der Mann
mochte Kanzler von Westdeutschland werden und Atomwaffen unter den
Druckknopf bekommen" (IV, 1874). Straul embodies the egotism and
moral bankruptcy rampant in West German politics. A return to the BRD
under such circumstances is impossible: "Hatt ich je Heimweh nach der
westdeutschen Politik, ein Bild hangt ich mir auf von dem" (IV, 1874).
West German political reality belies any pretense of progress in confronting
the recent past.
Gesine, like other Johnson characters, is locked into the identity
determined by her sociopolitical environment:
S. ich gebe dir recht, immer von neuem verwechselt er
die Person mit der staatlichen Herkunft. Fur ihn bin ich
Deutschland, das vorige und die beiden jetzigen, fiir ihn
habe ich manchmal kein Gesicht am Kopf, sondern
nationals Pigment, ihm bin ich verantwortlich fiir die
westdeutsche Bundesbahn und fur die westdeutschen
Nazis. (I, 145)

The societies in which she participated have all left their mark. As an
individual she is powerless to bring about significant change. Even if she
could manage to transcend the pasts' internalized patterns, she would be
unable to change the attitudes of those around her.










Johnson's Jahrestage simultaneously explores and criticizes the
concept of Vergangenheitsbewaltigung. However, the novel's closing
image reinforces the links of history: "Wir hielten einander an den
Handen: ein Kind; ein Mann unterwegs an den Ort wo die Toten sind; und
sie, das Kind das ich war" (IV, 1891). This same interrelationship of past
and present, particularly in the confrontation of German fascism, is echoed
in Christa Wolfs Kindheitsmuster, where "der heutige Tag ist schon der
letzte Tag der Vergangenheit."3o
Through the figure of Gesine Johnson articulates the concerns of an
entire generation seeking to define their identity as citizens of post-war
Germany:
Das ist einer Person vom Jahre 1933, die im Jahre 67/68
nicht mehr in Deutschland sitzt, wo sie geboren ist,
sondern in New York, und die in den eigenttimlichen
Zustand geraten ist, der manche Leute um die 30
ankommt. Das ist der Zustand, in dem man sich
unverhofft, ohne daB man es vorher geahnt hat, fragt:
"Woher komme ich eigentlich, was sind meine Eltern
gewesen, was ist das fur ein Land, in dem ich
aufgewachsen bin, wie kamen meine Eltern dazu, daB
ich 1933 geboren wurde in dem Zustand Deutschlands,
der damals war?" Das fragt sich diese Person. Sie ist
sicherlich nicht die einzige, die sich das fragt, und sie
versucht nun durch Erinnerungsversuche, durch
Rekonstruktionsversuche, sich selber zu finden.31

Clearly, Jahrestage is a novel about history and the historical process,
although Gesine's historical reconstruction takes place in a distinctly non-
German context. Up to this point, however, this one-sided view of the novel
has all but eclipsed the role of New York City as Jerichow's temporal,
thematic and structural opposite. Her new vantage point, and eventual

30 Wolf 9.


31 Schmid 255.










rejection of both German political alternatives, projects these issues on the
American stage. There has been little discussion about the novel as a
historical chronicle of America in the late 1960s, which over the last thirty
years has achieved its own historicity.
The significance of New York and the issues facing the U.S. during
1967/8 in Johnson's Jahrestage were of only secondary interest to critics
until the early 1980s. Most subscribed to Christian Gebert's position that
Johnson, like Columbus who embarked for India only to discover America,
"namlich, etwas gescheiter durch die modernen Verkehrsverhaltnisse,

kam nach Amerika und entdeckte Mecklenburg."32 Only with the

publication of the long-awaited fourth and final volume of Jahrestage in
1983 did the examination of Johnson's Amerikabild gain momentum. It
was also not by chance that this new direction in Johnson criticism
coincided with a trend among American Germanists to emphasize
American-German interrelationships in literature and other areas. The
early 1980s saw a spate of publications addressing the U.S image in
literature. As a result well-known works by a range of writers from
Goethe, Heinrich Heine and many 20th century writers were reexamined
in a new context. Post-war works in particular were at the forefront of the
discussion.
Beginning in the 1950s the U.S. is used by several post-war writers as
a vast background against which the protagonist evolves--or unravels. In
many cases the events are loosely autobiographical. America plays a
prominent role in several of Max Frisch's novels, as well as in his
Taeebuch 1966-1971. In their far-reaching quests for identity, the
protagonists of Homo faber (1957), Stiller (1954), Mein Name sei Gantenbein

32 Christian Gebert, "United States of Mecklenburg," Johnsons "Jahrestage" 147.










(1964) and Montauk (1975) all traverse large tracts of the country. In
contrast to Johnson, Frisch's depictions of the U.S. fall more or less in the
category of Reiseprosa. Typically, America takes shape in his novels as a
composite of highways, cities and airports. The scenery is secondary to the
character's futile search for meaning. Another example is Wolfgang

Koeppen's travelogue, Amerikafahrt (1959).33

In general, Durzak characterizes this portrayal of America in

German literature before the mid-Sixties as stilted and cliched:
Ein Amerika-Image, das kaum mehr in erster Linie von
der Literatur propagiert wurde, sondern an dem die
Literatur gleichsam nur partizipierte, wie von allem
zahlreiche--bereits analysierte--Reiseberichte belegen.
Die Massenmedien, politische und kulturelle
Journalistik, haben in erster Linie dieses neue
Amerika-Image kreiert, das weitgehend affirmative
Geltung hatte und das publizistische Feigenblatt fiir eine
politische Machtposition abgab, mit der man sich haufig
identifizierte.34

The image of the U.S. as a patriarchal democratic superpower suffered as
the Cold War progressed. A younger generation of German writers began
to question long-entrenched East-West political positions, and the severe
repercussions the conflict had for Germany in particular. Durzak also
points to American intervention in Vietnam as the point where "der gro3e
Bruder, der sich zum Hiiter der westlichen Freiheit in der Welt
aufgeschwungen hatte, an rapider moralischer Auszehrung zu erkranken
[begann]."35 Reinhard Lettau's scathingly critical Taglicher Faschismus.

33 For a more in-depth discussion of the Amerikabild in German literature refer to
Manfred Durzak's study, Das Amerika-Bild in der deutschen Gerenwartsliteratur.
Historische Voraussetzungen und aktuelle Beispiele (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1979).

34 Durzak, "Abrechnung mit einer Utopie?" 176.

35 Durzak, "Abrechnung mit einer Utopie?" 177.










Amerikanische Evidenz aus 6 Monaten (1971), which describes a nation
saturated with fascism and violence, is indicative of a new image of
America. Similarly, Jiirg Federspiel's dark portrait of New York City,
Museum des Hasses. Tage in Manhattan (1969), describes a cold, inhuman
society self-destructing from within.
By contrast, in a tamer version of the loosely structured "road novel"
inspired by Beat writer Jack Kerouac's On the Road (1957) Peter Handke
uses the U.S. as a completely apolitical backdrop for a warring couple in
Der kurze Brief zum langen Abschied (1972). Several works of varying
quality were the result of writer-in-residence visits such as Martin
Walser's campus novel, Brandung (1985), Gunter Kunert's Der andere
Planet. Ansichten von Amerika (1974), along with such later works as
Dieter Wellershoffs Florida Reisebericht, Im Lande des Alligators (1992).
The Jahrestage narrative can be broken down into three basic
threads, which are nominally linked by the collaborative project between
Gesine and her narrative partner. On one level, the novel recounts

Gesine's experiences "as a citizen and a taxpayer of New York."36 The

reconstructive narrative depicting Gesine's recollections of childhood and
early adulthood in the small Mecklenburg town of Jerichow constitutes a
second level. A third narrative strand expressed in italics, consists almost
entirely of real and imagined exchanges. Often these are between Gesine
and long-dead figures from her past. Each narrative strand is
characterized by a distinct style, viewpoint, and historical time. These
three separate narrative strands intersect in Gesine, who is the focal point



36A. Leslie Wilson, "'An unacknowledged humorist': An Interview with Uwe
Johnson. Sheerness-in-Kent, 20 April 1982," Dimension. Contemporary German Arts
and Letters 15 (1982): 412.










and primary narrator of this novel encompassing The City, The Sixties,
and Germany's recent past.
The three strands function independently in the narrative, but share
a degree of thematic interdependence. Transitions between them results in
an implied thematic counterpoint. Gesine's past and present experiences
coexist with a larger sociopolitical reality in which she is a minute, but
relevant, participant. Peter Beckes describes the relationship between the
two as an "enge Verzahnung zwischen Privatsphare und offentlichen
Belangen, zwischen der 'Banalitit' des Alltags und den groBen politischen
Staatsaktionen in beiden Wirklichkeiten."37 The proximity of items from
different narrative threads in the text imply associations between past and
present events, rather than through any overt intervention by the narrator.
However, in a novel which many critics consider as being one about recent
German history, the coexistence of the Jerichow and New York narrative
strands has long been a source of pointed criticism:

Schon dieser kokette Provinzialismus, modisch
konfrontiert den New Yorker Kulissen (alles natiirlich
mit Akribie beobachtet, oh!, da stimmt jedes Detail): Mal
Dialekt aus Mecklenburg, gleich darauf die headlines
der "New York Times," damit niemand sagen kbnne,
man sei unaktuell, die unertragliche PreziositAt, die aus
US-Negern "Birger afrikanischer Abstammung," aus
Landstreichern "Stadtstreicher" und aus den in
Vietnam Gefallenen "beruflich am Krieg Gestorbene"
macht. .Und dann die vielen falschen,
iiberanstrengten Vergleiche.38






37 Beckes 65.

38 Peter Hamm, "Uwe Johnson, der Schwierige," Johnsons "Jahrestage" 154.










Gebert is not alone in considering these passages "von geringem
Interesse."39 Consistently, critics' objections to Johnson's obsessive
attention to detail is limited to the contemporary narrative strand,
especially the inclusion of contemporary events from The New York Times.
For many, the coexistence of the two narrative strands implies a
problematic comparison between Nazi Germany and the U.S. in the late
Sixties, an assumption which Johnson vehemently denies.

In her study Uwe Johnsons "Jahrestage": Die Gegenwart als
variierende Wiederholung der Vergangenheit, Roberta Hye argues--not
entirely without success in some cases--for the direct correlation between

past and present events through the continual recurrence of evil.40 Her

argument for Johnson's portrayal of human history as an endless, violent
cycle is based on a perceived pattern of correlation between newspaper
items and historical events. She further contends that Johnson uses these
parallel events to suggest similarities between America in the late 1960s
and Nazi Germany:

Das Gleiche wiederholt sich nach Johnsons Vorstellungen
nicht. Wohl aber kehrt Ahnliches wieder zum Beispiel,
obwohl der Zweite Weltkrieg einmalig ist, kommen Kriege
in der Geschichte immer wieder vor und mit ihnen
verwandte Erscheinungen. In Jahrestage sind die
Variationen in der Wiederholung durch die spezifischen
Daten--1938 und 1968--durch die Personen--die
Vergangenheitsgeschichte gehort Heinrich Cresspahl und
die Gegenwartsgeschichte seiner Tochter Gesine--und
schliefl3ich durch die Schauplatze des Romans--Jerichow
39 Gebert 149.

40 "Uwe Johnson zieht zwar Parallelen zwischen dem Deutschland der dreiliger
Jahre und dem Amerika von 1968. Aber er bleibt nicht bei der ParallelitAt der zwei
Perioden stehen, sondern geht dariiber hinaus und stellt mit seinem Werk eine
Geschichtserfahrung dar: Die Gegenwart erscheint als variierende Weiderholung der
Vergangenheit." Roberta Hye, Uwe Johnsons "Jahrestage": Die Gegenwart als
variierende Wiederholung der Vergangenheit (Frankfurt a.MJ New York: Peter Lang,
1978)10.










und die Stadt New York--gegeben. Aber obwohl die Daten,
Namen und Orte verschieden sind, bleiben das Bild der
Welt und das Bild des Menschen in beiden im Roman
geschilderten Epochen sich gleich. Der Mensch Andert
sich nicht; das besagt, er ist genauso base in Amerika 1968
wie er 1938 Deutschland war.41

Hye's supposition, however, goes too far in establishing correlations
between the two narrative threads, especially in her insistence on the
interchangeability of historical epochs. She claims that the similarity
between the Gestapo and the CIA "ist nicht zu unterschatzen." In her
estimation there is also little appreciable difference between the CIA
practices and the methods employed by the East German government.42
She views the "Fangeliste" hung at every post office with the rumored
"komputerisierten Karteien des CIAs fur jeden Burger afrikanischer
Abstammung."43 In this case, Hye fails to distinguish between fact and
fiction, contrary to Johnson's own position cited in the text. The supposed
CIA files on African-Americans are part of a larger conspiracy theory in
which this information will be used to incarcerate them in camps to
preclude a racial civil war. This scenario--among others which are equally
questionable--is part of the small talk at a cocktail party given by Grifin
Seydlitz.44 The speaker, Anselm Kristlein,45 makes a number of


41 Hye 11.

42 Hye 55.

43 Hye 55-6.

44 The character is modeled after Hannah Arendt who lived near Johnson on
Riverside Drive.

45 "(Auch) Romanfigur von Martin Walser." Kleines Adrefbuch fur Jerichow
und New York. Ein Register zu Uwe Johnsons Roman "Jahrestage," ed. Rolf Michaelis
(Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1983) 157.










questionable comments which are either ignored or attributed to alcohol:
"Der ist immer gleich so schwer angeschlagen" (II, 877). Gesine has little
to contribute to the swirl of conversation "in diesem Abbild einer
verrottenden Gesellschaft," and leaves. Her unwillingness to speak up
becomes grounds for criticism:
Muflte sein, Gesine.
Mupfte sein.
Wenn du schon hingehst, warum driickst du dich an
den Wanden herum?
Damit ich es seen kann.
Du sollst den Mund aufmachen, Gesine! (II, 878)

Hye also cites Johnson's use of Hans Magnus Enzensberger's letter, in
which he renounces his stipend at Wesleyan University in protest against
U.S. involvement in Vietnam. She sees this as evidence of deliberate
parallels within the novel, "von Uwe Johnson ausdriicklich
durchgefiihrt."46 Here again Hye falsely attributes statements to Johnson,
and ignores Gesine's subsequent comments on the matter. The parallels,
however, are clearly drawn by Enzensberger alone, as demonstrated both in
the text and the original document: "So wie in den U.S.A. heutzutage war
es in den mittleren dreifiger Jahren in Deutschland" (II, 800). Gesine
flatly dismisses his contentions:

Naomi, deswegen mag ich in Westdeutschland nicht leben.
Weil solche Leute dort Wind machen?
Ja. Solche guten Leute. (II, 803)

The last sentence is a direct reference to Johnson's essay, "Ober eine
Haltung des Protestierens" (1967), in which he pointedly criticizes those
who pay lip service to the peace movement only as long as it poses no


46 Hye 59.









personal inconvenience: "Die guten Leute wollen eine gute Welt; die guten
Leute tun nichts dazu."47 Enzensberger himself falls into this category.
His convictions are of overriding concern only when he fears the loss of his
credibility as a leftist intellectual (II, 801-2). Instead of remaining in a
place where he potentially might make a difference, he leaves for Cuba: "Er
hat eben einfach so den Gedanken, daB er von den Bewohnern Cubas mehr
lernen kann ("Freude"), als den Studenten der Wesleyan University an
politischer Haltung beibringen" (I, 802). The passage in the novel is
markedly similar to the essay in subject matter. Further, both use the
same formulated phrase, "solche Leute." Any doubt the passage alludes to
the essay as a parallel text is dispelled when Gesine states: "Vietnam ist
das Spanien unserer Generation! Das sagen solche Leute" (II, 801). This
essay originally appeared in English as part of Authors Take Sides on
Vietnam: Two Questions on the War in Vietnam Answered by Authors of
Several Nations,48 which was modeled on an immensely popular collection
of essays addressing the Spanish Civil War. The tone of this particular
passage in Jahrestage, together with the earlier essay, leaves no question
that Gesine and her narrator reject simplistic historical equations put
forward by Enzensberger and his contemporaries.
Any direct correlation between America in the 1960s and Germany in
the 1930s is also refuted by Johnson. He concedes the reciprocal
relationship between the Jerichow and New York narratives, but
consistently avoids drawing any unequivocal one-dimensional links
between Nazi Germany and the political climate in the U.S during the

47 Uwe Johnson, "Uber eine Haltting des Protestierens," Berliner Sachen 95.

48 see Cecil Woolf and John Bagguley, Authors Take Sides on Vietnam: Two
Questions on the War in Vietnam Answered by Authors of Several Nations. (London:
Peter Owen, 1967).










Vietnam War era. In an interview with Dieter Zimmer he elaborates on
the narrative function of associative chains in Jahrestaee:
Es kommen aus der amerikanischen Gegenwart sehr wohl
AnstiBe, es werden Ereignisse von damals heraufgerufen
durch Ereignisse von heute, lediglich aber heraufgerufen.
Wenn zum Beispiel bei den Unruhen in Washington eine
Hauserzeile ausgebrannt ist, so ist fiir sie die Folgerung:
So sahe ein Krieg in amerikanischen Stidten aus--Von
diesem Vorstellungsbild kommt sie zuriick auf ihren
eigenen Krieg, auf das Jahr 1945; daran schlieBt sich das
Sterben des Flughafens Mariengabe bei Jerichow an.49

Parallels within the text are purely accidental and arise naturally from the
material itself. Johnson brusquely criticized efforts to establish direct
correspondences between the two epochs:
.. ich hatte vor, diese Person bei ihrem alltaglichen
Leben in New York, bei der Erinnerung an das Echo
bestandener Tage zu zeigen. Das ist der eine Aspekt der
"Jahrestage." Der tagliche Tag ruft die Erinnerung der
Vergangenheit herauf, den anderen Aspekt. Sie
suchen diametrale Gegensatze, eindeutuge Urteile und
riicksichtslose Stellungnahmen. So kann man aber
nicht leben.50

He repeatedly warns against the inevitable inaccuracies which arise when
attempting to assign a specific correlation between present and past events
recounted by Gesine:
Parallelen begegnen sich ja nicht, das eine bedeutet nicht
das andere. Ich wiirde zum Beispiel von einem
amerikanischen Faschismus nicht sprechen. Das Wort
weist auf die historische Gebundenheit des Phdinomens, das
sich so nicht wiederholen wird. Amerika hat andere
Voraussetzungen, andere Strukturen und wird auch

49 Dieter E. Zimmer, "Eine BewuBtseinsinventur. Das Gesprich mit dem Autor:
Uwe Johnson," Johnsons "Jahrestare" 101.

50 Heinz D. Osterle, "Strukturfragen und Todesgedanken. Eine ratselhafte
Deutsch-Amerikanerin," Bilder von Amerika: Gespriche mit deutschen Schriftstellern.
ed. Heinz D. Osterle (Minster: Englische Amerikanische Studien, 1987) 127.










andere Formen finden als der italienische oder deutsche
Faschismus.51

The novel's narrative fabric is much more complex than would be indicated
by its bi-level structure. The continuous shifting between subtly
differentiated narrative perspectives is a central component of Jahrestage.
Polyperspectival narrative is no less important for Gesine's story than for
earlier novels. Jahrestage displays the same unequivocal rejection of

traditional Balzacian realism as well as of socialist realism's "abgesungene
epische Totalitat."52 As elsewhere in Johnson's prose, overlapping and/or
competing perspectives call into question the use of traditional narrative
categories (i.e. first and third person) which are also employed extensively
in the novel.
In Johnson scholarship discussion of Jahrestage's narrative
strategies has proved uneven and often contradictory. The only aspects
which will be addressed in any detail here are those pertaining to the New
York narrative, and particularly his use of documentary materials.
However, some background is necessary in order to evaluate widely
divergent conclusions concerning the novel's shifting narrative
perspectives and the gaps in existing research.
Ingeborg Gerlach reduces the narrative into its two most basic
elements. In her paradigm Gesine relates the historical Jerichow story,
while the contemporary New York strand is told by her narrative partner.
Analyses by Ingeborg Hoesterey and Peter Pokay specifically address
Johnson's problematic "Vermischung von auktorialen und personalen


51 Zimmer 101.


52 Hoesterey 24.










Erzahlsituationen,"53 which Gerlach glosses over. Both argue that in
Jahrestage Johnson adds a critical twist to the continuous shifting between
limited and omniscient narrative perspectives characteristic of the modern
novel, in that the tangle of viewpoints is never sorted out within the text.
According to Ingeborg Hoestery: "Solches Fragen gehort freilich .
unmittelbar zur Intention des Textes."54 It is often difficult to make a clear
distinction between multiple viewpoints. The continuous destabilization of
narrative integrity is an important, though often overlooked, component of
Jahrestage.
Gesine's perceptions of the U.S. and contemporary events are also in
constant flux. Of particular interest for this analysis will be the passages
incorporated from The New York Times, which is Gesine's only consistent
source of information about the U.S. Her knowledge is limited to what she
can read and observe. Her experience of the U.S. are fundamentally
different from her daughter's. Unlike her mother, Marie is fully
assimilated in the culture: ". gerade als ein fremder Ankommling von
viereinhalb Jahren hatte sie tichtiger, gewitzter und amerikanischer
werden mtissen als die anderen. .. ."55 Gesine's views on the U.S. are also
quite different from those of her fiance, Dietrich Erichson, who has
deliberately shut the door on the past and moved on. She continues to
question her sense of identity as an individual, as a German and as a
product of her political upbringing. Her perceptions of New York and the
U.S. in 1967/8 are tied to her attempt to come to terms with these issues.


53 Hoesterey 13.

54 Hoesterey 13.


55 Johnson, BegleitumstAnde 413.













CHAPTER 3
"WIR SIND ZU GAST HIER"
GESINE, NEW YORK CITY AND THE SIXTIES



Long before Gesine leaves for Prague she is acutely aware that the
hard-won sense of security provided by her job is tenuous at best. Her
survival is guaranteed only from paycheck to paycheck. So she takes
advantage of every opportunity within her control, acknowledging that
appearance is just as important as substance:

Ihr kann alle vierzehn Tage gekiindigt werden .... Sie
will keine Versicherung versiumen, nicht einmal die
rechtzeitige Anwesenheit am Arbeitsplatz, die optische
Prasenz. (I, 84)1

However, nothing can insulate her from the fear of random violence or the
stress of urban life.

As a resident of New York City, Gesine is aware of a wide variety of
problematic social issues either through her own observations or through
The New York Times. Social and economic extremes, urban crime,
isolation of the underprivileged and the pervasive effects of poverty are all to
be found just around the corner from her apartment. It is merely a street
or two away: "In den SeitenstraBen zwischen den Avenuen sitzt er
inzwischen in vielen der brownstones" (II, 842). The neighborhood market


1 Uwe Johnson, Jahrestae. All subsequent citations from the novel are indicated
by volume and page.










at the corner of 96th Street and Broadway is a cross-section of the ethnically
and economically mixed neighborhood. Its diversity illustrates the best and
the worst of the American melting-pot:
.. damals und heute standen abgerissene Manner an
den Hauswanden, Hehler wie Diebe, Betrunkene, Irre,
viele afrikanischer Abstammung, arbeitslos, krank,
manche bettelnd. Die Sprachen auf diesem Broadway
sind vielfaltig, verwirrend arbeiten Akzente aller
Kontinente an Versionen des Amerikanischen, im
Vorbeigehen zu horen sind das Spanisch aus Puertoriko
und Cuba, das west-indische Franzosisch, Japanisch,
Chinesisch, Jiddisch, Russisch, die Jargons der
Illegalen und immer wieder das Deutsche, wie es vor
dreiilig Jahren in OstpreuBen, Berlin, Franken,
Sachsen, Hessen gesprochen wurde. (I, 27)

She is attracted by the lively diversity that is in marked contrast to Germany
in general and the homogeneous village where she grew up in particular.
At the same time she is repelled by the privation and suffering in its midst.
Gesine's paper of choice, The New York Times, is full of reports on
the Vietnam War as well as on drugs, corruption and racial unrest in the
ghettos. The world portrayed in the paper is a daily affront to her well-
regulated, insular life in the Upper West Side. These elements are all
related to Gesine's crisis of identity: How does one reconcile individual
conscience with sociopolitical reality, and at what price? Rolf Becker
summarizes the unifying theme of Jahrestage:
Wie ist mit Anstand zu leben, wie ist gerecht zu urteilen
und wahr zu sprechen in einer Welt allseitig haftbar
machender Systemzwange, ihrer ideologischen Tlusch-
ungen und parteiischen Sprachregelungen? Wie lebt man
mit dem "BewuBtsein schuldnaher Anwesenheit," von dem
kein Land- und Staatswechsel Gesine entlasten kann?2


2 R. Becker 191.










The novel's central message is that there is no sanctuary from political
reality. The unresolved conflict between personal ideology and harsh
sociopolitical reality profoundly affects Gesine's view of events past and
present. Gesine enjoys the benefits of a society which is embroiled in a
bloody third-world conflict and discriminates against its own citizens. She
also wrestles with her family's actions during the Third Reich and what it
means to be German in the post-war era. At times she finds that her own
identity is synonymous with that of Germany's recent past:
S.. [gute Freunde von mehreren Jahren] sehen mich, und
sie denken an die Verbrechen der Deutschen.
Ohne die Absicht der Krankung. Es ist ihnen selbst-
verstandlich, nattirlich. So verhalt es sich. (II, 851-2)

Johnson noted in a letter that, "as a German, you are not treated as an
individual but as a member of a group who did something to the Jews."3
This theme, which appears in fragmentary form in earlier novels, proves to
be the fundamental reason for Gesine's reconstruction of her childhood and
her ultimate break with West Germany in Jahrestage.
As a member of the post-war generation, Gesine is the product of a
unique set of sociopolitical circumstances. Years of mind-numbing
ideological indoctrination--first under the Nazis, then the socialists--have
left Gesine with an acute awareness of the sociopolitical forces at work in
her daily life. Her German heritage and her life in the U.S. at this
particular historical crossroad both incur feelings of guilt--if only by
association--which are irreconcilable with her desire to live a morally
correct life: "Wlre aber gern ordentlich gewesen, unbeeinfluBt von
Biographie und Vergangenheit, mit richtigem Leben, in einer richtigen
Zeit, mit den richtigen Leuten, zu einem richtigen Zweck" (II, 889). The

3 Ziegfield, Uwe Johnson and Helen Wolff, manuscript.










discrepancy between her principals and political reality has crippled her
ability to act. However, she still continues to shoulder the burden of
responsibility and guilt spawned by her continued political passivity.
Experience has shown her repeatedly that, as an individual, she is helpless
to alter government policy or the priorities of society. Under the current
circumstances, Gesine believes political engagement to be futile:
Ich konnte einen Leserbrief an die New York Times
schreiben; ich konnte fiirs Leben ins Zuchthaus gehen
wegen eines erfolglosen Attentats auf den Prasidenten
Johnson; ich konnte mich offentlich verbrennen. Mit
Nichts konnte ich die Maschine des Krieges aufhalten
um einen Cent, um einen Soldaten; mit Nichts. (II, 894)

Since all alternatives are flawed in some fundamental way, any attempt at
individual action seems futile. While Gesine declines to actively participate
in the political process, her destiny is nonetheless governed by political
forces as she becomes ever more involved with the Czechoslovakian reform
movement professionally and personally.
Within the confines of the tightly regulated calendar structure,
Jahrestare chronicles Gesine's search for meaning and identity amidst the
uncertainty and upheaval of the late 1960s. Now in her mid-thirties and a
parent, she returns to the past to question the fundamental assumptions
that define her sense of self and her heritage. In the past Gesine responded
to ideological disillusionment under different political systems with flight.
She experienced fascism followed by military occupations first by the
British, then the Russians in quick succession, "ohne daB man sie das
gefragt hatte."4 Like the other members of her generation in the DDR, she
is indoctrinated in socialist philosophy at school. Although Gesine retains


4 Johnson, "Einfiihrung in die 'Jahrestage" 21.








67
her idealistic political convictions regardless of circumstances, she is
acutely aware of the hypocrisy rampant in socialism as it really exists:
Sie hat also den Sozialismus auf der Schule gehabt, und
zwar theoretisch, d.h. in dem Sinne, daB der Lehrer
wuBte, dab man log, und daB man wuBte, daB der
Lehrer wuBte, daB man log, also eine perfekte Allround-
Verstandigung, die aber dann den Lehrstoff, soweit es
den Sozialismus betrifft, auf etwas Theoretisches
begrenzt. Als dann der Lehrstoff sich wirklich machte,
im Juni 1953, auf den StraBen der Republik, mit einem
veritablen Aufstand der Arbeiter, nicht der Bauern, aber
der Arbeiter, gegen die sozialistische Regierung, bekam
diese Schiilerin Gesine Cressphal Angst vor der
Wirklichkeit des Sozialismus und floh blindlings nach
Westberlin: Sie lief weg. Obwohl sie wuBte: Moralisch,
politisch, zukunftsbewuBt gesehen, tu ich mir das
Schlimmste an, was ich tun kann, ich geh in die
Vergangenheit, ich gehe zu dem schlechten Entwurf
des Lebens, ich gehe zu dem menschenverachtenden
Kapitalismus.

Before arriving in New York, Gesine has already failed twice to come to
terms with sociopolitical realities. As outlined in Jahrestage, Gesine is
propelled by political events from East to West Germany, and finally to New
York. Despite her disappointments, these experiences have only intensified
her utopian longings for a truly humane and just society. The violent put-
down of demonstrating workers during the June 17, 1953 Uprising put an
end to her childish political ideals: "Kinderwiinsche Sozialismus
etcetera" (II, 990). In a 1983 interview Johnson explains the significance of
this event for Gesine:
Ihr ist ja der Sozialismus auf der Schule als die einzig
menschenm6gliche Alternative beigebracht worden.
Aus dieser Illusion ist sie durch Ereignisse auf der
StraBe von dem Landgericht Gneez in Mecklenburg
aufgeschreckt worden. Das war die erste Warnung, sie
wollte sich diesem Widerspruch nicht aussetzen. Sie
war konsequent genug, von dieser Unklarheit
wegzugehen in eine Gegend, die sie damals fiir die








68
schlimmste der Welt hielt und halten mufite--so war es
in der Schule gelehrt worden--in den Westen, in den
Kapitalismus. Hat hier iiberlebt, aber doch jene
sozialistische Idee, Alternative, weiterhin vor Augen
gehabt, schon weil sie Heimat betraf, weil sie ja
Mecklenburg verwaltete. 5

The reforms promised in early June were never implemented (IV, 1897).
Subsequent Soviet military intervention demonstrated "wer in diesem Land
regiert: die Sowjets" (IV, 1853). Later, Russian intervention in the 1956
Hungarian Revolution, which plays a pivotal role in Mutmalungen iuber
Jakob, further emphasizes the discrepancy between the classroom ideology
and the real-world practices of socialist leaders. It effectively rules out any
possibility of Gesine's permanent return to Jakob and Jerichow. West
German proved equally disappointing, if for other disquieting reasons:
Ich wollte aus dem Land, fur eine Weile. Am
Weihnachtsabend 1959 war in Koln, in der Nachbarschaft,
eine Synagoge mit Hakenkreuzen beschmiert worden und
mit Spriichen: 'Deutsche fordern Juden raus.' Das war
das eine Das andere war die Karriere eines Politikers
in der westdeutschen Republik. (IV, 1872)

Violence, whether real or threatened, used as a tool of control and
repression is a common denominator between Jahrestage's Jerichow and
New York narratives. This same specter of brutal government intervention
casts a shadow over the last few days comprising the novel's conclusion.
Gesine's arrival in Prague coincides with that of Russian tanks.
Like other Johnson protagonists such as Jakob Abs and Karsch,
Gesine finds it difficult--if not impossible--to reconcile her ideals with her
surroundings. For Jakob neither the East's repressive version of socialism


5 Jiirgen Becker, Rolf Michaelis and Heinrich Vormweg, 'Gesprach mit Uwe
Johnson (Am 8. December 1983 in KI6n)," "Ich a lberlee mir die Geschihte ." Uwe
Johnson im Gesprach, ed. Eberhard Fahlke (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1988) 309.










nor the West's democratic capitalism represent a viable alternative.
Karsch's failed biography of Achim lay bare the irreconcilable differences
between East and West. In the short story, "Eine Reise wegwohin, 1960,"
Karsch leaves both Germany behind in favor of Italy's comparative
neutrality only to later run afoul of the Mafia. At the close of Zwei
Ansichten, D.'s escape to the West is not an escape to a new reality but a
flight from the old: "Manchmal ware sie bedenkenlos mitgegangen,
hatte einer sie fiber die Grenze bringen wollen, einfach aus UberdruB, ohne
viel Hoffnung, sich zu verbessern" (ZA, 195). In each case flight does not
represent forward motion. It is the meaningless exchange of one morally
bankrupt political reality for another, as characterized by his own
emigration from East to West Germany which he describes as the
"Riickgabe einer Staatsangehorigkeit an die DDR nach nur zehnjahriger
Benutzung."6 Johnson himself was another disillusioned socialist but an
unwilling emigre. Although he resided intermittently in West Berlin,
Johnson spent most of his life in self-imposed exile in Italy and the United
States before finally settling in the isolated fishing village of Sheerness-on-
Sea, England in 1974. He remained there until his death in 1983. For
Johnson exile was the result of default rather than choice: "die Fremde
war schon gleich, nachdem es Heimat nicht sein konnte."7 This is a
consistent theme in Johnson's prose and is true of his own life experience
after 1959.

In depicting the quintessential metropolis of New York City, which
New York Times editor and columnist James Reston called the "Mecca of

6 Uwe Johnson, "Vita," 0Jber Uwe Johnson, ed. Reinhard Baumgart (Frankfurt
a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1970) 175.


7 Wiegenstein 212.









my Generation,"8 Johnson follows in the tradition established by such
writers as Alexander Doblin (Berlin Alexanderplatz, 1929) and John Dos
Passos (U.S.A., 1937), who depict the modern metropolis as a microcosm of
an alienated, dysfunctional society. The complexities of urban life are
conveyed through the juxtaposition of multiple narrative strands, including
alternative narrative devices such as stream of consciousness, "camera
eye," collage, montage, and the juxtaposition of images. The cinematic
narrative flow is often interrupted by the incision of documentary
materials. Johnson's own experimental narrative approach, exhibited in
such works as Mutmaflungen uber Jakob, Das dritte Buch fiber Achim and
Eine Reise nach Klagenfurt, represents a veritable"Potpourri aller
Stilexperimente von Faulkner und Brecht bis Doblin und Robbe-Grillet
und Strittmatter und J.R. Becher."9 In Jahrestage, Johnson has refined
the his narrative style: the layering of multiple--and sometimes
contradictory--narrative perspectives. The authenticity of the various
viewpoints is constantly destabilized by unresolved questions and
discrepancies arising within the narrative itself. Overlapping first- and
third-person narrators recount Gesine's past and present stories. Her
unvarying daily reality, as established by the novel's calendar structure, is
often framed by contemporary events taken from the newspaper and other
sources. Occasionally other items of realia are included such as
descriptions of a subway map, a radio broadcast on Cardinal Spellman's
death, and television coverage of Robert Kennedy's funeral. Johnson's
generous use of factual materials imparts the impression of a more
traditional narrative mode than in earlier works. A closer examination of

8 "New York Times: Brunnen der Geschichte," Spigel 13 May 1968: 140.

9 Hermann Kesten, "MutmaBungen iiber Uwe Johnson," Die Welt 25 Nov. 1961.










narrative practice in Jahrestage demonstrates that it remains in essence "a
novel of consciousness,"1l and differs only in superficial technical respects
from the narrative complexity which distinguishes Johnson's earlier
prose.
The function of the documentary materials is twofold. In the
Jerichow narrative they substantiate and flesh out Gesine's childhood
memories, which are often fragmentary and unreliable. In some instances
they are little more than impressions strung together by speculation. There
are no first-hand memories at all for reconstructing the fateful chain of
events which brought her parents from England to Mecklenburg the same
year Hitler came into power. It occurs to Gesine that her German identity
is a quirk of fate: ". um 35 oder schon um 30 passiert manchen Leuten
das, daB sie sich zu fragen beginnen, warum bin ich in Mecklenburg
geboren, und muBte das 1933 sein? Und was haben meine Eltern sich
gedacht?"11 These basic questions of identity which arise from their
actions are the genesis of Gesine's reconstructive process.
The first two hundred odd pages of Jahrestage, which recount her
parent's courtship and the newlyweds' strife-filled months in England,
clearly lie outside the scope of Gesine's personal knowledge. These early
scenes are a compilation of available materials, hearsay and conjecture.
When she visits Richmond as an adult, Gesine tries to reconcile the past
and the present with what might have been had her parents only remained
in England. At this point the weaknesses of the reconstructive process are
exposed, causing Gesine to turn inward and challenge her own
assumptions and expectations. That which emerges in the month of

10 Ryan 156.


11 Lehner 108.








72
November as Gesine's central conflict--the question of identity (i.e. being
German in a post-war world)--hangs on a simple twist of fate. Her destiny
is sealed when Heinrich Cresspahl joins his estranged wife and infant
daughter in Germany despite his distaste for the ruling National Socialist
Party. Given what she knows of her father and his convictions, Heinrich
Cresspahl's decision to leave a thriving business in England to settle in the
small town of Jerichow is inexplicable. His wife, Lisbeth, had returned to
Mecklenburg for the birth of their child. When Heinrich prepares to return
home after the christening, she refuses to go. Alone in Richmond,
"Cresspahl konnte acht Monate von auflen zusehen, wie die Nazis ihren
Staat einrichteten" (II, 733). Gesine cannot fathom--or forgive--what seems
to be an ideological and moral capitulation:
Warum bist du denn hingefahren zum Krieg.
War doch noch nicht zu sehen, Gesine.
Doch.
Ne. (I, 391)

The fact remains that her father returned on March 21, 1933, the same day
"an dem ein Irrer names Hitler von einem alten Feldmarschall das
Deutsche Reich in demiitiger Verbeugung entgegennahm" (I, 331). She
accuses him of putting short-term personal concerns ahead of moral
considerations: "Du harst din Fru n Dirschlant, un sass hest du di nich
vel dacht. / Siss hev'ck mi nich vel dacht (I, 392)." Moral authority is a
double edged sword, as Gesine discovers when she castigates her father for
not seeing the writing on the wall. She is herself confronted with her own
failure to act:
Wo sittst denn du, Gesine? Kannstu din Kriech nich
seihn? Worim geihst du nich wech, dat du kein Schult
krichst? Du kennst dat nu doch as dat iss mit de Kinner.
Wat secht Marie, wenn se't merkt hett? (I, 391)









At this point in the novel Gesine's moral authority rests solely on her own
ability to face the same unflinching criticism she directs at her family,
especially her father. Her debilitating passivity in political issues, however,
is not overcome until the close of Jahrestage.
As a direct result of her parents' decisions, her sense of identity is
irrevocably linked to Hitler's Grofldeutschland and the actions undertaken
in its name: ". ich bin das Kind eines Vaters, der von der planmaBigen
Ermordung der Juden gewu8t hat (I, 232)." Despite belonging to the
generation granted "die Gnade der spaten Geburt," Gesine feels in no way
exonerated. Unlike her father, Gesine knew nothing at the time of what
was going on behind the scenes. Happy childhood memories of a summer
at the shore result from blissful ignorance:
Heute weiB ich, daB die Ferien von anderer Art waren.
Nicht weit von Althagen, auf der anderen Seite des
Saaler Bodens, war das Konzentrationslager Barth ....
Wir wuBten es nicht. Hilde Paepcke ist mit uns nach
Barth gefahren, uiber die Drehbrticke, damit wir die
Stadt ansahen. Wir haben nichts gesehen. Die
Bahnstrecke, auf der Cresspahls Kind zum Fischland
kam, passierte Rovershagen. In Rovershagen war ein
Konzentrationslager, dessen Haftlinge ffir die Ernst
Heinkel Flugzeugwerke A.G. arbeiten muBten. Heute
weiB ich es. (II, 955)

Gesine's blurred impressions of Rovershagen framed by the train window
have nothing to do with reality. The sudden shift in narrative perspective
from collective first person to third person reflects the alienation between
reality and memory for her generation. As an adult armed with factual
information she can place a childhood memory in its proper context. While
this rectifies an instance of verfdlschte Vergangenheit, it is at the same
time an act of destruction. The memories upon which identity is based are










not just questioned, but nullified. Links between the adult Gesine and the
alienated "Kind, das ich war" (IV, 1891)12 must be reforged. Objective
knowledge gained through the comparison between personal experience
and documentary materials becomes a powerful component in the process.
Thus in Jahrestage the reconstruction of the past becomes synonymous
with the reconstruction of identity, beginning with the most basic building
blocks.
Almost thirty-five years later Gesine attempts to recreate the
circumstances which sealed her identity as a German. As she walks the
streets of Richmond, England--which would have formed the backdrop of
her childhood under other circumstances--Gesine repeatedly asks herself,
"Was wissen wir noch?" History and politics have rendered the landscape
unrecognizable: "Wir miissen weiter durch die Zeit, umso
undurchdringlicher als vergangen. Jetzt sind wir wo du warst" (I, 287).
In her attempt at reconstruction, Gesine is subject to the same restrictions
on what she can, and cannot, know that Johnson places on the narrator.
She can easily fabricate the image of a pregnant Lisbeth: "Es ist m6glich,
hier ist sie gegangen im Winter 1932, vorsichtig mit ihrem schweren
Bauch zwischen den aufgeregten Kindern, die der Arbeit eines Tauchers
zusahen" (I, 333). But Gesine can only trace her footsteps, not her
thoughts. The answers to her most basic questions remain inaccessible.
Her failure to reconstruct her parents motivations throw three of
Jahrestage's central themes into sharp relief: the problems of
Vergangenheitsbewaltigung, loss of Heimat, and lastly, the search for
truth and the limits of such an undertaking.


12 This phrase, with which Jahrestage closes, is a frequent motif in the text (see for
example: 489, 1008, 1017, 1743, 1891).










Johnson again calls attention to the significance of this particular
event in another short piece, "Interview with Marie H. Cresspahl," in
which Marie traces her mother's and grandmother's path through the
streets of Richmond:

[Lisbeth] soil hier gegangen sein im Winter 1932, allein,
schwanger mit Gesine. So wie Gesine es erzihlt hat,
mu1 ich es annehmen als wirklich und vergangen und
out of reach. Unerreichbar. Kann ich nichts bei
machen.13

Her parents' return to Germany is a central event for Gesine, whose entire
sense of identity is linked to this one decision. Marie, however, considers it
only a minor point. Marie, as the beneficiary of Gesine's mistakes, accepts
with resignation Gesine's version of the past as flawed but adequate. The
reasons are for her less important than the facts. Gesine's attempts at
reconstruction, "bis es ausreichte zum Erzahlen,"14 is valuable only for
what it reveals about her mother. Unlike Gesine, who considers New York
an intermediate station en route to a politically perfect permanent
residence, Marie considers herself American:

Ihre hat die Bogen und Schleifen der amerikanischen
Vorlage. Beim Malnehmen schreibt sie den
Multiplikator unter, nicht eben den Multiplikanden. Sie
denkt in Fahrenheitgraden, in Gallonen, in Meilen. Ihr
English ist dem Gesines iiberlegen in der Artikulation,
der Satzmelodie, dem Akzent. Deutsch ist fiir sie eine
fremde Sprache, die sie aus Hbflichkeit gegen die Mutter
benutzt, im flachem Ton, mit amerikanisch gebildeten
Vokalen, oft verlegen um ein Wort. Wenn sie achtlos
English spricht, versteht Gesine sie nicht immer. (I,
22-3)



13 Johnson, "Interview with Marie H. Cresspahl 2.-3. January 1972," Johnsons
"Jahrestage" 74.


14 'Interview with Marie H. Cresspahl" 75.










Only four years old when they left Germany, she is "ein Kind von New
York"s5 and knows where she belongs: "Ich m6chte nirgends leben, nur in
New York: sagt sie" (I, 259). Unlike Gesine, she has completely
assimilated. Jerichow and the events which are of such vital importance to
her mother are the stuff of stories.
Initially, Gesine clings to the belief that she would be contemplating
an entirely different--and eminently preferable--childhood had her parent's
story unfolded in a different context:
Ich ware jemand anders, bis auf den Namen. Ich ware
nicht deutsch; ich wtrde von den Deutschen sprechen
in einem fremden und entfernten Plural. (I, 334)

This alternate geography of her life would allowed a return and closure
made impossible by history and politics:
Ich kame zuriick auf den Friedhof Sheen, der im
Norden viel Grasland hat. Da ware noch Platz gewesen
in dem weifen Geflacker der sehr diinn ausgesagten
Kreuze und Figuren. Waren sie hier gestorben, hier
konnte ich meinen Eltern Besuche abstatten. Hatten sie
hier gelebt, wir waren im Leben zusammen gewesen.
(I, 335)

Instead, Gesine lives in uneasy exile. She is barred physically and
politically from the DDR. Morally, she cannot rationalize a return to the
BRD. Gesine elaborates her reasons on tape for Marie:
Aber in Deutschland m6chte ich nicht noch ein Mal leben.
Im Westen haben sie eine Nazipartei, und die Nazipartei
hat eine Schligertruppe gegrtindet und gibt der Presse
dariiber eine Konferenz. Und die Presse kommt. Die
Abkiirzung ftir die Saalschiitzer ist S.G., von Schiitz-
gemeinschaft, und der Obernazi kann und kann da keine
Anspielung auf die S.A. Hitlers verstehen, die auch als
Ordner angefangen haben. Und von "Bluts-
verbundenheit" reden die auch schon wieder, wenn ich

15 "Interview with Marie H. Cresspahl" 76.










common blood nicht falsch auffasse. In Deutschland
machte ich nicht noch einmal leben. (I, 422)

As an outside observer in England Gesine would have escaped the double
burdens of German guilt and exile which have profoundly affected her,
although it offered no guaranteed sanctuary from the war. This parallel
existence is symbolized by Heinrich's illegitimate son by Mrs. Trowbridge.
Mother and son both are eventually killed during the war:
Cresspahl hatte im September eine Nachricht
bekommen. Sie seien am 14. November 1940 bei einem
Angriff auf die britischen Midlands ums Leben
gekommen. (III, 1209)

The fact that, but for a move across the Channel, Gesine would be
grappling with an entirely different set of problems underscores a
recurrent theme in Johnson's fiction of an individual swept along by the
overwhelming forces of politics and history.
Gesine is forced to confront circumstances which even the most
optimistic storytelling cannot alter: the war, her parent's basic
incompatibility, her mother's instability. It is possible that in England
Lisbeth could have survived the war, and eventually come to terms with
both her marriage and inner demons. Gesine fantasizes that her mother
might still be alive today: ". sie aber hatte hier iiberlebt, und in eine jener
roten Siulen mit dem Topfdeckel ohne Henkel konnte sich noch heute
Briefe einwerfen nach New York: Liebe Tochter" (I, 332). In an imaginary
exchange her mother points out the futility of such speculation:
So weit bin ich in meinem Leben nicht gekommen,
Tochter. Das kann ich nicht wissen, und nicht
versprechen. (I, 333)










Still, Gesine cannot bring herself to absolve her father of responsibility for

the eventual outcome of his decision to leave England.

At the beginning of the narrative sequence which recounts the events
resulting in Heinrich's fateful decision to join his family in Jerichow,

Marie squeamishly begs her mother to alter her story: "Ich mag nicht was
nun folgt: sagt Marie: Kannst du es nicht indern?"16 (I, 296). Gesine

steadfastly refuses to stray any further from the facts as she knows them,
and states flatly: "Mehr andern kann ich es nicht."17 At most she is

prepared to interpret them with some understanding and compassion.

She grants he could have ignored his conscience either out of weakness or
out of love. Still, she is reluctant to close the door on what might have been.
The problems posed by Vergangenheitsbewiltigung cannot be solved with a
change of location or nationality. Nor can the Cresspahl's participation in

a national tragedy be reduced to the simplistic motivations of a homesick

girl, and of those a man simply trying to save his marriage.

Gesine is a woman without roots. Unlike Marie and D.E., Gesine
continues to consider herself a visitor with no particular bond to New York
or the U.S. She tells her daughter, "Wir sind hier zu Gast." Marie, who is

committed to her new homeland despite recognized problems, replies "Wir

leben hier" (II, 810). Because Gesine makes no real emotional or political

commitment to the U.S., any sense of disappointment or outrage is muted.


16 For other examples see further Jahrestage 296-300.

17 Jahrestae 300.
Warum sagt er ihr nicht: Nimm das Kind, nimm dich
zusammen, geh hinter mir her?
Du bist sonst nicht fiir Gewalt, Marie.
Es going nicht darum, Gewalt zu vermeiden. Er hatte Angst.
Er hatte Angst, sie zu verlieren.
Er war feige! Er wollte nicht wissen, wozu sie notfalls imstande
war!










Her outsider status becomes a way to avoid guilt and political engagement
in "eine Art Immunisierungsstrategie."18 Any feeling of belonging is
temporary and illusory: "Es ist eine Tauschung, und fiihlt sich an wie
Heimat" (I, 134). These images of "Heimat" occasionally evoked by the
weather or Staten Island, "Mecklenburg in New York,"19 are reminders of
a Jerichow that has been permanently lost. By perpetuating her outsider
status in the early part of the novel, Gesine is able to both rationalize her
stay in the U.S. and her lack of political engagement:
Es geht uns nicht an, wir sind hier Gdste, wir sind
nicht schuldig. Wir sind noch nicht schuldig. In
Vietnam fallen mehr Amerikaner als Siidstaatsoldaten,
und General Westmoreland hat mehr davon bestellt.
(I, 90)

She is, however, critical of those who change their sociopolitical venue as a
matter of personal convenience. Hans Magnus Enzensberger is the novel's
most infamous example. She takes an equally dim view of a German actor
who reframes his return to the DDR as a political statement, rather than as
a matter of professional expedience.

Hope for the future is reawakened when, as a result of a promotion at
the bank, Gesine has a chance to help Dubcek's government realize a new
form of liberal socialism--a longed for "dritter Weg"--in Czechoslovakia. In
the latter half of the novel this gradually supplants the invariably
depressing news from Southeast Asia and the BRD, a shift in coverage
which is not based on coverage in the newspaper itself. Although it is clear


18 Beckes 68.

19 "Es ist Mecklenburg, was wir da sehen, Gesine Cresspahls Heimat, mitten in
New York .... Wiesen, dazwischen ein Sandweg, hinter Baumen die Nadelspitze einer
kleinen Kirche. Es ist mehr als d6jh vu, es ist wie Rickkehr in die Kindheit." Klaus
Podak, "Auf den Spuren von Gesine Cresspahl, Johnsons "Jahrestare" 348.








80
in the the course of the year that Gesine is moving gradually toward a
recommitment to socialism, the Vietnam War is the measuring stick
against which her progress is gauged.
Along with the Prague Spring's role in Gesine Cresspahl's personal
story, the Vietnam War is Jahrestage's most pervasive and influential
thematic and structural component.20 The progress of the Vietnam War is
one of several contemporary strands which Gesine follows throughout the
course of 1967/8. Of all the issues having bearing on the novel, New York
Times items concerning the war are the most consistent and frequent. In
this aspect, Gesine's concern with the issue mirrors its prominence in the
American psyche as well as the national press. The articles cover the
spectrum of issues which make up traditional war coverage: battle reports,
assessments, administrative policy, body counts, congressional debate and
political posturing. These items through their very repetition often border
on the mundane, despite their disturbing content.
For a variety of reasons the importance of the Vietnam War, and the
"Vietnam era" as a whole, in Jahrestage is frequently eclipsed by the role of
the Prague Spring in criticism. As a practical consideration, Dubcek's
failed reforms and the subsequent Russian intervention was, of course, of
greater relevance to Germany than the Vietnam conflict, in which
Germany had no political or military involvement. But the problems with
Johnson's use of the Vietnam war in Jahrestage are both structural and
ideological. Two aspects in particular are consistently targeted. Quite
correctly, critics point to the war's suddenly diminished role in the fourth


20 According to the Gallup Poll, the Vietnam War is also cited above other
competing issues as the most important problem facing the U.S. during the years 1966-72.
See further the article by William L. Lunch and Peter W. Sperlich, "American Public
Opinion and the War in Vietnam," Western Political Quarterly 32 (1979): 21.








81
volume, as Gesine's personal and professional lives become ever more
intertwined in the evolving political situation in Czechoslovakia. The
second area of contention is that the novel's portrayal from a predominantly
mainstream American perspective runs counter to prevailing attitudes
among the German intellectual left. Until 1967 polls indicate that the
public generally supported the government's policy. Lunch and Shipman
describe this lack of public concern as a textbook example of the
relationship between the administration and its constituency as long as the
situation is perceived to be going well: "As long as the administration
seems to have foreign affairs in hand, and nothing seems unduly
alarming, the vast majority of citizens are content to follow the President's
leadership."21 Since Gesine turns to The New York Times, which has a
prominent role in communicating administrative policy and shaping
national attitudes, for almost all of her information on the war the picture
of the Vietnam War which emerges in Jahrestage is very different from
that found in Kurasuch, or in the writings of Johnson's friends and
contemporaries such as Giinter Grass, Martin Walser and others.
The general consensus among critics is that the fall-off in war
coverage in the novel's closing weeks represents a failure on Johnson's
part to sustain the theme throughout the course of the novel. The Vietnam
issue is seemingly jettisoned in favor of the Prague Spring. But I would
argue that Gesine's growing interest level in Czechoslovakian affairs is
unrelated to the diminished role of Vietnam towards the novel's close.
Instead, a closer look at the novel and documentary sources clearly shows
that the novel merely reflects a national trend as embodied in The New
York Times and other media following extensive, intense, emotional


21 Lunch and Sperlich 22.










coverage during the Tet offensive. Even the national weekly news
magazine, Der Spiegel, whose coverage of U.S. news is overwhelmingly
dominated by the war, official policy and political fallout, exhibits a marked
decrease in articles on Vietnam after the Tet offensive. This is especially
noticeable during the months of July and August, the same two months
chronicled in the novel's final volume. Further, Gesine's loss of interest in
the Vietnam conflict is one of appearance only. Although the number and
frequency of newspaper items in the novel does fall off markedly beginning
in late June 1968, the interrelationship between Gesine and Vietnam is
reinforced in key passages during July and August, especially in the
novel's closing pages where she looks back on her stay in New York City in
which war events appear as milestones (IV, 1877-8).
The dichotomy between German and American perceptions of
Vietnam is well illustrated by differences in press coverage. General
differences can be established by examining coverage in Der Spiegel. While
the format and focus are differ from those of a daily newspaper, such as
The New York Times, the weekly is comparable in bread and depth of
international reporting, journalistic stature and reputation for factual
accuracy. And, in the analysis of Jahrestage, the comparison between The
New York Times and Der SDiegel is particularly relevant. Both Gesine and
Johnson were devoted readers of the magazine while in New York,22
which was available at the same kiosk on 42nd Street where Gesine bought
her paper each morning. The magazine's role in his fiction is documented
both in Jahrestage itself and Johnson's series of Frankfurt Lectures,
published under the title Beeleitumstande (1980). A complete set of the


22 see Ja tage 211, 1338, 1748.










magazine stood next to his writing desk in Sheerness, upon which he relied
in the writing of Jahrestage.

An article from 18 September 1967, "Vielleicht zufillig," is typical of
the weekly coverage of the Vietnam War in Der Spiegel.23 The bulk of the
article is devoted to recent developments in American foreign policy, with
scant mention of battle details and casualties. There are two items of
special interest. The first is McNamara's plan to create a fortified border
between North and South Vietnam. The second is President Johnson's
increasingly sticky predicament as the election looms ever closer. Without
a total resolution of the conflict or a believable plan to achieve this end, his
chances of reelection are zero. Yet any decisive escalation to bring about a
timely end to the war would almost certainly lead to a head-to-head
confrontation with Red China. This article also addresses North
Vietnamese born attorney Truong Dinh Dzu's surprisingly strong second
place finish in the recent South Vietnamese presidential election. In most
respects this article's factual content does not differ significantly from
articles appearing in the mainstream American press. However, some
differences are immediately obvious.

Despite similarities in factual content, Spiegel articles tend to display
an analytical slant critical of the situation in Southeast Asia, whereas The
Times editorial policy advocated "facts only" reporting. Items are typically
separated out into compartmentalized articles linked visually in the page
layout or with printed references. Any political and military analyses
appeared in a separate sidebar article and are clearly labeled as such. Der
Spiegel, like the International section's format in the American national

23 These events occurred during the last week of August. For instance,
McNamara's report on his latest Vietnam tour appears in The New York Times on 26
August.










weekly, Time, condenses marginally related news items into a single
article. For example, most SDiegel items include both Washington policy
reports and news from the war arena in the same article, inviting parallels
and associations between the two. These items would usually appear in
separate articles in The New York Times, perhaps even on different pages.
The presentation and perception of the same news items is quite different in
the two formats.
In many instances, coverage of the Vietnam war in Der Spiegel
conveys a political bias absent in The New York Times. For example, the
escalating tension between the U.S. and China and the possible nuclear
repercussions are mentioned regularly in Spiegel coverage. The "domino
effect" theory, should communist forces prevail against the South
Vietnamese army, was central to the formation of American foreign policy
in Southeast Asia. Clearly, a nuclear power with a population quickly
nearing one billion figured significantly in political and military strategy.
But unlike Der Spiegel, there was little in the American press by way of a
sustained serious discussion during 1967 of a possible future conflict
between the U.S. and China, other than the government's consistent
assurance that an American success in Vietnam would preclude further
communist incursions in Southeast Asia. War hawks, like presidential
candidate Richard Nixon, criticized Johnson's North Vietnam bombing
strategy. For example, Time Magazine reports a Nixon campaign speech
where he predicts that Johnson's misguided policies would "drag (the war)
into the 70s, with growing risks of a confrontation with China as Peking's
nuclear weaponry improves." But the article concludes, that "Nixon










seemed to be going against a gathering party consensus."24 To the
German press, the situation was perceived quite differently. For instance,
any escalation designed to bring the war to a swift and decisive close could
prove disastrous: ". etwa eine Invasion Nordvietnams, die vollstandige
Zerstorung des Landes oder Angriffe auf Basen in China--brachte die Welt
an den Abgrund eines Atomkrieges."25 Another Spiegel article from July
10, 1967, characterizes President Johnson as carefully considering further
investment of money, manpower and prestige "fiir einen Kampf, den
Amerika langst nicht mehr gegen Nordvietnam, sondern mit dem Blick
auf die Supermacht Rotchina fifhrt."26 From Germany's point of view
further escalation was not to bring about an early end to the Vietnam War,
but was in anticipation of "dem von Washington erwarteten Showdown mit
dem erwachten gelben Riesen China."27 This particular political reality is
one which Spiegel confidently declares "kaum ein US-Generalstabler
bestreitet heute noch."28 In terms of American press coverage, any
hypothetical denial was superfluous since no one seemed to be talking about
it.

Like the TV press, Der Spiegel gives significant space to protesters in
1967, describing one group of D.C. demonstrators as "heitere Hippies mit
bliihenden Blumen und bartige Linke mit Portriits des gefallenen Guerilla-


24 Ti 25 Aug. 1967: 16.

25 "Vielleicht zuflillig," Spifgel 18 Sep. 1967: 120.

26 "Vielleicht zufallig,"piagel 18 Sep. 1967: 120.

27 "Vietnamkrieg: 25 Jahre," Spiegel 10 Jul. 1967: 76.

28 see "Vietnamkrieg: 25 Jahre," Spiegel 10 Jul. 1967: 76.









86
Helden Guevara."29 At this point in the antiwar movement, they were still
operating on the social fringe. In addition, such articles were often the only
ones in the issue dealing with Vietnam, and tended to combine war news
and war policy news in a single article. This results in the linking of items
not necessarily linked in the American press. In Der Spiegel, the line
between separate incidents and issues frequently becomes blurred.

One Spiegel article, chosen at random, indicates how extreme
differences in American and German perceptions were. The article from
the September 4, 1967 issue, "Sofort raus?", reports on Robert McNamara's
latest visit to the war arena. His characterization, also published in the
American press, of the air war at the current level of intensity was blunt
and critical: "Bomben konnen Nordvietnam nicht in die in die Knie
zwingen."so But in the article's lead paragraph glosses over McNamara's
report which monopolizes American headlines. Instead the focus is on
possible impeachment proceedings against Johnson. The Spiegel
supposition is based on two mentions of the word in relationship to
Johnson. The first mention appears in an eleven line note31 ofJohnson's
fifty-ninth birthday in Time, which points out that Andrew Jackson was
fifty-nine when impeached. The second mention was made by dove Sen.
William Fulbright, Dem. Arkansas, in a television interview. The article
paraphrases Fulbright's statements thus: "Die einzig wirksame Sanktion
des Kongresses gegen eine weitere Eskalation des Vietnam Krieges 'ist ein


29 "Demonstranten: Ober den Fluf," Spieel 30 Oct. 1967: 144.

30 "Sofort raus," Spiegl 4 Sep. 1967: 102-104.

31 If this seems rather paltry, it is perhaps explained by the extensive photo spread
on Johnson and his three years in office in the previous issue of Time.









87
Impeachment.'"32 After a lengthy buildup, finally, in the eighth

paragraph, the probability of such proceedings is admitted to be nil, or to
again quote Fulbright, "politisch wohl nicht durchfiihrbar." A look at the

American press gives a quite different picture. In the birthday notice, Time
simply notes that 59 was a tough year for three presidents for a variety of

reasons: "Andrew Johnson was impeached, Benjamin Harrison lost his
bid for reelection and F.D.R. brought the U.S. into World War II."33 The

parallel to Harrison is the most plausible, given that a July Gallup poll

showed 52% of American disapproved of Johnson's handling of the war.34

Johnson's approval rating had tumbled precipitously since his June
meeting with Soviet Foreign Minister, Aleksei Kosygin, from 52% to 39%.
To date only President Truman's approval rating of 31% was lower.35

Interestingly, Fulbright's mention of impeachment does not appear
in Time or in The New York Times. According to the New York Times,

Fulbright's only reported television appearance during that time period

was on ABC's "Issues and Answers," where he discussed a possible repeal

of the Bay of Tonkin Resolution of 1964, which was at the crux of a power
struggle between the President and the Senate.36 While accusing the

President of misleading Congress about the Bay of Tonkin Incident,

32 "Sofort raus," 102.

33 ime 1 Sep. 1967: 43.

34 Time 11 Aug. 1967: 11.

35 Tim 18 Aug. 1967: 18.

36 The 1964 Bay of Tonkin Resolution was cited repeatedly by President Johnson as
the basis of his authority for deploying 467,00 American troops to Vietnam and the bombing
of North Vietnam. Fulbright was especially bitter about Johnson's perceived deception. At
the time Chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, Fulbright personally shepherded the
resolution through the Senate on the President's behalf. Johnson later challenged Congress
to try and repeal the resolution.


I









88
Fulbright seems conciliatory rather than confrontational. Admitting that a
repeal was unlikely, he states in the interview "Politically this [repeal]
would be a direct slap at a leader in time of war. It will not be done that
way, the disillusion, the dissent, that will be expressed in other less direct
ways."37 The Spiegel article emphasizes that "[die USA] in zweieinhalb
Jahren mehr Bomben auf Nordvietnam geworfen haben als auf
Deutschland wahrend des zweiten Weltkriegs."3s Ironically, the Johnson
administration is under intense criticism for not committing 100% of
military capabilities to the bombing campaign during this same week.
Republicans are vocal in their call for wider, more intensive airstrikes
against the North Vietnamese. Humanitarian issues must be weighed
against American loss of life. On the floor of the House, Republican House
Leader Gerald Ford demanded, "Why are we still pulling our air power
punch?"39 In opposition, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and others
suggest that an unconditional halt to bombing might bring Hanoi to the
conference table, a key condition if Johnson was to have any shot at
reelection in 1968. With Johnson unable to communicate a clear sense of
what America was doing in Southeast Asia, the power struggle between
Johnson and the Senate heightened tensions further. The public was
increasingly frustrated with a lack of concrete progress, but still
impeachment does not appear to be a part of the national vocabulary at the
time, despite Der Spiegel's allegations to the contrary.



37 The New York Times 21 Aug. 1967: 1.

38 "Sofort raus," 104.

39 ime 18 Aug. 1967: 17.









89
Rather than emphasizing the rift between Johnson and Congress,
The New York Times instead minimizes the fractiousness of the debate by
showing that even Fulbright publicly admits the Senate has little chance of
overturning the Bay of Tonkin Resolution, and that in fact such a move
could undermine Johnson's role as Commander in Chief. Normally a
vocal antiwar proponent, Fulbright seeks to avoid a head-to-head
confrontation with the President in the interest of national solidarity, while
still "demanding a more substantive role for Congress in the conduct of
foreign affairs in general."40 This comparison of news items taken from
just a single week in late August 1967 demonstrates how perceptions in the
American and German press are starkly different in several instances.
Another example which clearly illustrates the divergent positions of
American and German press on the Vietnam War issue is the publication
of Mary McCarthy's essay, "Report from Vietnam," which explores the
war's impact on the Vietnamese economy, political life and people. It was
published at roughly the same time in the U.S. and Germany, with
interesting and illustrative results.
An internationally renowned writer and literary critic, Mary
McCarthy is best known for her unemotional observations, satirical wit and
acerbic style, such as in her best-selling novel, The Group (1963). As a
vehement antiwar advocate, McCarthy sought to capitalize on both her
standing in the intellectual community and as a popular author in getting
her message out. She believed her success provided her with "an immense
audience that she felt might listen to her about what she saw as the


40 Time 11 Aug. 1967: 10.










immoral American military presence in Vietnam."41 After finally

securing a press visa in early 1967. She spent a month touring South

Vietnam with a brief stopover in Cambodia. The resulting essay, "Report

from Vietnam," was published in The New York Review of Books in the late

spring of 1967.42 Significantly, the magazine is characterized as "the hot

intellectual magazine of the Sixties"43 and served as a platform for the

intellectual Leftist agenda. The magazine had featured an number of

critical articles about the Vietnam War beginning as early as 1964.

McCarthy's "Vietnam" series was essential in the Review's transition from

a rather stuffy intellectual periodical into a chic trendsetter, and helped

propel the magazine's "great literary leap leftward" in 1967.44



41 Carol Gelderman, Mary McCarthy: A Life. (New York: St. Martins Press,
1981)278.

42 McCarthy's "Report from Vietnam" appeared as a three-part serial in The New
York Review of Books as follows: "The Home Program" 20 Apr. 1967: 5-22; "The
Problems of Success" 4 May 1967: 4-9; "The Intellectuals" 18 May 1967: 21+. The
concluding article in the series, "Solutions" appeared 9 Nov 1967: 3-6. McCarthy's
Vietnam essay was also published subsequently in The Observer in four parts (30 Apr.
1967-30 May 1967). All three essays and "Solutions" were later published in book from
under the title, Vietnam (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1967). In 1968
McCarthy published the controversial essay, Ianni (New York: Harcourt, Brace &
World, Inc., 1968), a sympathetic portrayal of the North Vietnamese based on a two week
tour of North Vietnam. She wrote a total of three pieces on Vietnam between 1967 and 1973.
These were later published together in The Seventeenth Degree (New York: Harcourt,
Brace, Jovanovitch, 1974).

43 Philip Nobile, Intellectual Skywriting. Literary Politics and "The New York
Review of Books" (New York: Charterhouse, 1974) 3.

44 Nobile 39. "Almost every article that the Review is now famous, or notorious, for
was squeezed into that twelvemonth." It includes the conclusion of McCarthy's Vietnam
series, "Solutions." Also appearing that year were essays from Noam Chomsky, "The
Responsibility of Intellectuals," and Paul Goodman, "The 'We Won't Go' Movement." I.F.
Stone chastises anti-Vietnam advocate Senator William Fulbright and labels him a
"drowsy watchdog" and a "cloakroom crusader" who spoke up too late against the war in
"Fulbright: The Timid Opposition." Another article alleges a nefarious link between the
CIA and intellectuals.










From the outset, McCarthy ignores military and political issues, and
instead focuses on the detrimental impact of American soldiers and
civilians on the country and culture of South Vietnam. Her
characterizations are illustrated by unsettling anecdotes based on her first-
hand observations. In the opening paragraph she baldly states her antiwar
bias, admitting she arrived in Saigon looking for "material damaging to
American interests." Her prejudices are quickly validated when she sees
how Americans and their war machines dominate the landscape. By day
the city resembles a "gigantic PX," and a "World's Fair or Exposition in
some hick American city" by night,45 an atmosphere which McCarthy
likens to a cruise ship, with a "pepless Playboy flavor" (MC, 6). The war
seems far away, but she quickly learns that "a short trip by helicopter from
Saigon in almost any direction permits a ringside view of American
bombing" (MC, 31). To those who stand to profit, the war in Southeast Asia
is just a "cheap form of mass tourism, [which] opens the mind to business
opportunities" (MC, 23). The American presence has completely undercut
the local economy, turning it into a booming service economy entirely
dependent on civilian and military personnel. The inevitable American
withdrawal will surely and swiftly lead to Saigon's economic collapse.
With the steady influx of foreign troops and consumer goods, Saigon
has become a classic example of unbridled capitalism and opportunism at
work. It has been transformed into an American city populated by an
Asian minority, mirroring the best and the worst of the American dream.
The similarities to home are striking. The surroundings and atmosphere
in the city are that of a vacation, except for the unmistakable presence of


45 McCarthy 5-6. All further references to McCarthy's text will be indicated
parenthetically by the abbreviation "MC".









war. The war in the countryside, where the "terrain" is cleared with
"Incindergel" (i.e. napalm, "which makes it sound like Jello") and
"weedkiller," (i.e. defoliant, "something you use in your driveway") is a
barely visible column of smoke on the horizon (MC, 3).
McCarthy's Americans, whether found behind a desk or a gun, are
"zealots" and "springy, zesty, burning-eyed warriors" (MC, 25). Typical of
the military mindset, "the war is not questioned; it is just a fact. The job
has to be finished" (MC, 10). The focused and disciplined soldiers she
observes and interviews in the field "can become very sentimental when
they think of the good they are doing and the hard row they have to hoe with
the natives, who have been brainwashed by the Viet Cong" (MC, 25). They
are missionaries "spreading the American way of life, a new "propaganda
fide" (MC, 18). McCarthy's essay is populated with clueless ideologues,
who speak glibly of reeducation, "pacification" and progress as defined by
statistics and diagrams. Vietnam has become a laboratory for academics
tinkering with their social and economic theories. She finds it difficult, if
not impossible to get a straightforward answer to any of her questions
except from those actually on the front lines. This warped idealism is not
confined to the pencil-pushers and bean-counters in Saigon, as illustrated
by numerous examples from the field.

Repeatedly McCarthy tours refugee camps housing entire villages,
which have forcibly uprooted and resettled. Even the showplaces are
lacking in rudimentary supplies, sanitation, clean water and decent
quarters. One area, the "Iron Triangle," was razed during Operation
Cedar Falls ("Clear and Destroy"). The 7,000 plus refugees (mostly women,
children and old men) were allowed to bring only a few personal belongings
and some animals. Despite the fact that these people have traditionally








93

engaged in rice cultivation, the U.S. Army has decided to turn them into
vegetable farmers. Not only have they lost everything, but their water
buffalo are sickening and dying in the new environment. It is apparent to
her from the outset that even the most humanitarian of projects in the field
are part and parcel of the military's public relations effort. The hard sell is
directed not only at the American press and public, but at themselves.
Propaganda is everywhere. A banner at the entrance to a refugee camp
reads, in English: "REFUGEES FROM COMMUNISM." Even for those
who are not refugees, but whose lives have been disrupted, life is fraught
with absurdities.
For McCarthy, the true measure of the war's progress is illustrated
by problems created by the Americans themselves: a flood of refugees and
the nightmarish logistics of caring for them. By 1968 about ten percent of
South Vietnam's population had been dislocated by the war. As McCarthy
bitterly notes, these are not typical political refugees fleeing persecution
from the enemy. It is the Americans who have flushed them from their
homes and farms. This program of destruction and relocation was an
integral part of the American "pacification" effort, which, however, created
infinitely more problems than it solved. A recurring theme in the essay is
the disruption of an ancient agrarian society.46 The American's
systematic uprooting of the Vietnamese population is echoed in the rural
landscape which is grossly disfigured by defoliation, bombing, mounds of
industrial garbage and war wreckage: ". the fecal matter of our
civilization" (MC, 51).




46 This theme is also the subject of the drawings accompanying McCarthy's "Report
from Vietnam" in The New York Review of Books.




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“WEITER DURCH DIE ZEIT”:
PAST MEETS PRESENT IN
UWE JOHNSON’S JAHRESTAGE
AND THE NEW YORK TIMES
By
DEBORAH L. HORZEN
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF
PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
1996

Copyright 1996
by
Deborah L. Horzexi


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
I would like to express my great appreciation to my committee
members, Prof. Franz Futterknecht, Prof. Alexander Stephan, Prof.
Sharon DiFino and Prof. Geoffrey Giles. Carine Strebel-Halpern, my friend
and devoted proof-reader, gave generously of both her time and her energy
to bring this project to a close. Very special thanks go also to my
dissertation director, Prof. Keith Bullivant, for his expertise and patience
throughout this whole long process. He was, and remains, a tremendous
source of support. I appreciate every opportunity he has given me since
that first semester.
Finally, I would like to thank my husband for being with me from
beginning to end with his limitless encouragement and enthusiasm. Now,
on to other things.
IV

TABLE OF CONTENTS
page
ACKNOWLEDGMENT iii
ABSTRACT vi
CHAPTERS
1 INTRODUCTION: “GESINE . . . MANCHMAL
VERSTEHST DU DAS LAND NICHT, IN DEM
WIR DOCH LEBEN”. 1
2 “FÜR WENN ICH TOT BIN”: THE PARAMETERS
OF GESINE’S NARRATIVE PROJECT 32
3 “WIR SIND ZU GAST HIER”: GESINE, NEW YORK
CITY AND THE SIXTIES 63
4 “DAS BEWUSSTSEIN DES TAGES”: GESINE AND
THE NEW YORK TIMES 107
5 “ALS SEI DER TAG NUR MIT IHR ZU BEWEISEN”:
THE NEW YORK TIMES AS A PARALLEL TEXT 157
6 “DEN KRIEG, DEN KEINER WILL”: GESINE
AND THE VIETNAM WAR 194
7 CONCLUSION: “GESINE, DAS SOLLTE DEINE
HEIMAT WERDEN" 258
BIBLIOGRAPHY 269
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH 282
v

Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
“WEITER DURCH DIE ZEIT”:
PAST MEETS PRESENT IN
UWE JOHNSON’S JAHRESTAGE
AND THE NEW YORK TIMES
By
Deborah L. Horzen
December 1996
Chairman: Professor Keith Bullivant
Major Department: German and Slavic Languages and Literatures
Uwe Johnson’s post-war novel, Jahrestage. Aus dem Lehen von
Gesine Cressnahl. chronicles Gesine Cresspahl's search for meaning and
identity amidst the uncertainty and upheaval which define her experiences
in the U.S. during the late 1960s. In the course of one calendar year,
beginning August 21, 1967, Gesine systematically takes stock of her life,
herself, and the world around her.
The New York Times provides the thematic and narrative structure
within which her reconstruction of life under Nazi dictatorship and DDR
Socialism unfolds. Pivotal events from 1967/8 structure the novel formally
and thematically. News items illustrating various domestic issues such as
the Vietnam War, racial tensions, escalating urban crime and poverty are
woven into the narrative. And although she is in another country an ocean
away, Gesine is constantly confronted with reminders of Fascist Germany
vi

and failed Socialism in the Eastern Block. The simultaneous explorations
of past and present brings her to question the fundamental assumptions
upon which her sense of truth and reality are based.
The New York Times seems to provide Gesine with “an objective
window on the world.” But a closer examination of the original articles
reveals how Johnson manipulates documentary materials to fit his
narrative purpose. The text implies through both language and format that
the cited newspapers items are accurate representations of the source
material when in fact they are highly edited versions of the original event.
In numerous instances Johnson takes deliberate liberties with translation,
juxtaposes elements from different articles, and places exaggerated
emphasis on items buried in the depths of the paper. Thus, highly crafted
and seamless versions of news items are presented as objective
documentary material, while their presentation, relevance and impact are
in fact orchestrated by the narrator. Both the newspaper and Gesine have
specific agendas in determining “all the news fit to print.” Her political and
social ideologies, which are not stated directly in the text itself, emerge
clearly in the comparison between Jahrestage and The New York Times.
vii

CHAPTER 1
INTRODUCTION: “GESINE . . . MANCHMAL
VERSTEHST DU DAS LAND NICHT,
IN DEM WIR DOCH LEBEN”
Unlike many literary works written during the period spanning the
post-war era to the present, Uwe Johnson’s epochal four volume novel,
Jahrestage. Aus dem Leben von Gesine Cresspahl (1970-1983)1 is not tied
solely to the political and social realities of a divided Germany, nor to its
recent past. However, the tetralogy to date has been read primarily as a
novel chronicling the history of a Mecklenburg family in the Weimar
Republic through the DDR’s Aufbau period. This reading is, to an extent,
justified. Johnson’s detailed portrayal of early post-war East Germany in
Jahrestage’s fourth volume is unique both as a work of fiction and as an
historical document: “Da hat die Einigung einmal auch ihr literarisch
Gutes: Endlich konnen Ostdeutsche die Bücher des schon 1959 in den
Westen gegangenen Autors lesen, der wie kein anderer die Geschichte des
1 The first three volumes of Jahrest.aye. Alls dem Leben von Gesine Cressnahl
(Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1970, 1972, 1973, 1983) were published separately. The
concluding volume took Johnson another ten years to complete. The novel was originally
conceived as a trilogy, as indicated by Johnson’s note at the end of Vol. II which refers to the
sequel “der náchste und letzte Teil dieses Buches...” (II, 1009). The third volume, however,
documents Gesine’s story only through July 19, 1968. The dust cover text ends with the
ironic note to the reader: “Náchstes Jahr, wie iiblich, mehr.” This prediction proved to be
premature as Johnson fell victim to “one of the most highly publicized writer’s blocks in
modern literary history” (Theodore Ziolkowski, “Living with Germany on Riverside
Drive,” New York Times 8 Nov. 1987: 61). For reasons both personal and physical, which
have been adequately addressed elsewhere by Johnson (Skizze pines Vernnghickten. and
Begleitumstande. Frankfurter Vorlesungen). as well as in the secondary literature,
Johnson was unable to proceed with Jahrestave for most of the next decade.
1

2
óstlichen Halbstaats geschrieben hat, mit der Treue eines Chronisten, mit
der oft ironisch geflügelten Phantasie eines Erfinders von Menschen und
Schicksalen.”2 The novel is undeniably a result of a particular set of social
and historical conditions which defined Germany during the first half of
the century. However, such one-sided consideration of Jahrestage is
clearly limited in that it glosses over the novel’s distinctly American
setting.
In many regards Jahrestage is of particular significance to the non-
German reader. It is easily the most encompassing and detailed treatment
of modern America in the post-war era by a German author. Gesine
Cresspahl’s narrative is divided between recent historical events and twelve
turbulent months in 1967/8 during which she is living in the U.S. The
novel’s contemporary strand is set in the quintessential American
metropolis, New York City. Details of national and world events are
supplied by the nation’s premier newspaper, The New York Times.
In the course of Jahrestage Johnson weaves the bulk of twentieth
century German history into the narrative framework of a calendar year in
the life of DDR expatriate, Gesine Cresspahl. Since the death of Jakob Abs,
the pivotal event of Johnson’s first novel, Mutmafiungen iiher Jakob (1959),
Gesine has emigrated with their child to the United States. Johnson picks
up the thread of her story some ten years later in New York, where she has
resided since 1961. The novel’s 1,900 pages of interwoven narrative and
documentary material has been described as “an ample balance sheet for
the best part of the writer’s fictional estate, a colossal exercise in
2 Rolf Michaelis, “Geselliger Einzelganger,” Die Zeit 29 Apr. 1994: 13.

3
synchronic timekeeping and diachronic memory”3 with which the author
“legt . . . alies, was er weifi und kann, auf die Waage.”4 The premise of the
narrative structure is a one-year agreement Gesine has made with her
narrative partner, Johnson’s fictional narrative persona “Genosse
Schriftsteller.” In the course of the year, Gesine takes stock of her life,
herself, and the world around her, and in the process compiles a detailed
catalog of her experiences (“eine BewuBtseinsinventur”).5 Throughout
Johnson’s “novel of consciousness”6 the narrative combines diverse
materials taken from Gesine’s external and internal realities:
conversations, newspaper articles, poems, slogans and scores of musing
mini-digressions. As she shifts abruptly between past and present, as well
as between historical and personal arenas of experience, Gesine’s
unassimilated childhood memories of Nazi Germany and the DDR
alternate with scenes of New York City life and a larger sociopolitical
reality represented by The New York Times. In the narrative the proximity
3 Wilfried van der Will, “Approaches to Reality Through Narrative Perspectives
in Johnson's Prose,” The Modern Germán Novel, ed. Keith Bullivant (New York: Berg,
1987) 192.
4 Peter Demetz, “Uwe Johnsons Blick in die Epoche,” Johnsons “ Jahrestage.” ed.
Michael Bengel (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1985) 194.
6 From the title of Dieter E. Zimmer’s interview with Johnson, “Eine
BewuBtseinsinventur. Das Gesprách mit dem Autor: Uwe Johnson.” Johnsons
“Jahrestage” 99. J ohnson, in the guise of Marie Cresspahl, elaborates elsewhere: “Von
mir ist in dem Buch nur, was meine Mutter zwischen dem 20. August 1967 und dem 20.
August 1968 an mir gesehen hat. Was sie hórte. Was sie erinnerte. Was sie fiir mich
fiirchtete. Was sie wissen konnte von einem Kind das allmahlich elf Jahre alt wurde.
Was—what was in her mind then. On her mind, too. In ihrem BewuBtsein” (Uwe
Johnson, “Interview with Marie H. Cresspahl 2.-3. Januar 1972,” Johnsons “Jahrestage.”
73).
6 Judith Ryan, The Uncompleted Past (Detroit: Wayne State UP, 1983) 156.

4
of these multiple realities, which have no direct correspondence to each
other, form their own subtext.
For a continuous 365 days, beginning on August 21, 1967, Johnson
chronicles Gesine’s story in minute detail “wo sie herkommt, d.h. was fur
Leute und was für Dinge es waren, die sie zu dem gemacht haben, was sie
heute ist.”7 Gesine’s intensive effort at the reconstruction and
reinterpretation of the past represents an exhaustive examination of
Germany in the twentieth century. Confronting the past
(Vergangenheitsbewaltigung) is an integral step in her search for identity
and self-determination. Unfolding parallel to the reconstructive narrative
are the political and social crises which define the American Vietnam War
era. Escalating involvement in Southeast Asia is coupled with decreasing
public support of the war effort. Racial tensions at home, along with
increased crime and violence in the inner city signal the disintegration of
urban America to many observers .
In the late summer of 1967 Gesine is living with her eleven year-old
daughter, Marie, in a rent-controlled apartment at Riverside Drive and
96th Street in Manhattan’s Upper West Side. The flat comes complete with
an idyllic view of the Hudson River and a neighboring park. The realities of
parenthood have led Gesine to make some hard choices. In light of her new
priorities she has adopted a new maxim, which goes against everything
she learned in school: “. . . je dichter ich rangehe ans Geld, desto sicherer
7 Horst Lehner, “Die letzten 123 Tage im Leben der Gesine Cresspahl? Ein
Gesprach mit Uwe Johnson über den dritten Band der ‘Jahrestage.’” Johnsons
“Jahrestage” 107. Johnson’s description here of the novel’s theme echoes a similar
leitmotif in Christa Wolfs novel, Kindheitsmnster: “Wie sind wir so geworden wie wir
heute sind?” (Darmstadt and Neuwied: Luchterhand, 1979) 196.

5
ist es.”8 Following the money, she eventually lands in the antithesis of
socialist society, New York City. Since emigrating from Düsseldorf in 1962,
Gesine has been working as a secretary in the international division of a
large midtown Manhattan bank. She has managed to build a seemingly
stable and secure life for herself and her daughter. Her European
background, knowledge of languages and work ethic (“Auffallen durch
Fleifi”)9 eventually lead to an assignment which would have a profound
effect on her future. Gesine’s boss, De Rosny, senses a lucrative money¬
making opportunity in the Czechoslovakian reform movement, and wants
her to assist him in arranging a hard currency loan to the cash-strapped
government. In contrast to her boss’s pragmatic motivations, Gesine’s
interest in the project is ideological. After a series of bitter disappointments
with Russian-style communism and the DDR’s “Arbeiter- und
Bauernstaat,” Gesine sees in Czechoslovakia’s efforts to reestablish
financial and economical ties with the West the possibility of a new type of
socialism, which combines socialist and democratic principles—a utopian
“dritter Weg.” Czech leader Alexander Dubcek envisioned it as “socialism
with a human face.” Gesine plans an initial three-month trip to Prague to
lay the groundwork for this promising new monetary relationship between
De Rosny’s bank and the Czechoslovakian government. Ironically, she
departs for Prague on August 20, 1968, the eve of the Russian invasion
which brings an abrupt end to the Prague Spring. Unlike the reader,
Gesine is blissfully unaware of what awaits her at the end of her journey.
The novel ends before her arrival. Although the events of August 21 lie
8 Uwe Johnson, “Einfiihrung in die ‘Jahrestage,’” Johnsons “Jahrestage” 22.
9 Johnson, “Einfiihrung in die ‘Jahrestage”* 22.

6
outside the parameters of the novel itself, they overshadow the otherwise
seemingly idyllic conclusion of Gesine’s narrative contract with Johnson.
The disastrous beginning of what would be a new calendar year is strongly
implied by the novel’s rigid chronological structure and is also anticipated
thematically.
Early in Johnson’s career critic Günter Blocker dubbed him “der
Dichter der beiden Deutschland.”10 The designation stuck. However,
Johnson found this to be an unfortunate accolade which was misleading,
limiting, and increasingly irritating. Jahrestape represents a conscious
effort on Johnson’s part to distance himself from what he considered a very
narrow reading of his fiction.11 Although all of his novels play out against
the background of a divided Germany, Johnson considered his
preoccupation with the extraordinary problems resulting from an
unnatural political situation to be simply the unstudied result of his life
experience, “die einem Schriftsteller für seinen Fall gerade zwei
verschiedene deutsche Erfahrungen zugewiesen hat, als sein Material.”12
Ironically, since 1990 Johnson has emerged as one of the most important
articulators of the DDR experience. German unification has brought
Johnson’s work to the fore as the tool well-suited to what Norbert
10Günter Blocker, J
g, 1962) 196.
11Johnson describes how his first two published novels, Mutmallnnyen iiher Jakoh
and Das dritte Buch fiber Achim brought about this dubious honor: “. . . allmáhlich begann
ich das nicht mehr amüsant zu finden, sondern für ein MiBverstandnis zu halten, denn
mir kam es ja auf die Geschichte an, die ich erzáhlen wollte, und auf die Leute, die diese
Geschichte machten: Nun war das ein politisches Konzept geworden. Das erdrfickte mir
die Luft und das Leben und den Geruch und das Tempo dieser Geschichte.” His third
novel, Zwei Ansichten. whose two main characters Johnson considered more than just
star-crossed lovers separated by the Berlin Wall, sealed his fate in the German press as
“Fachmann der deutschen Teilung” (Johnson, “Einffihrung in die ‘Jahrestage’”16).
12Uwe Johnson, Begleitumstande (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1980) 337.

7
Mecklenburg describes as “literarische Archáologie jenes deutschen
Teilstaates.”13 Descriptions of the DDR’s early Aufbau phase in the second
half of Jahrestage are among the few existing literary works which
describe this period in detail. Since Johnson was not subject to the same
censorship as his contemporaries in the DDR, Jahrestage today has
assumed a critical role in chronicling a repressed historical phase for
which there are few existing sources with any degree of objectivity.
Johnson was one of the few East German writers who continued to
write about the country he unwillingly left behind: “Das Hauptwerk
Jahrestage schliefilich enthalt mit dem dritten und ganz besonders mit
dem vierten Band eine einzigartige erzahlerische Abrechnung mit der
Geschichte der friihen DDR, eine Darstellung, deren historiographische
Dignitát erst jetzt richtig wird entdeckt und gepriift werden konnen.”44
Grass characterizes this aspect of Johnson’s prose as “die genaueste
Geschichtsschreibung—wie sie kein Historiker leisten kann-über das
Entstehen der DDR. . . . Dieser Ãœbergang aus der Zonengesellschaft in die
DDR ist von keinem anderen Autor so akribisch und dennoch literarisch
gestaltet worden.”45 For Gesine, steadfast adherence to the ideals
internalized during the fledgling period of German socialism eventually
brings her full circle. Like his protagonist, Johnson’s early experience in
the DDR shaped his relationships, political convictions and sense of
43 Norbert Mecklenburg, “Uwe Johnson ais Autor einiger deutscher Literaturen,”
Literature fiir Leser 1 (1991): 1.
44 Mecklenburg, “Uwe Johnson ais Autor einiger deutscher Literaturen” 5.
43 Roland Berbig, “Distanz, heftige Náhe, Fremdwerden und Fremdbleiben.
Gunter Grass im Gesprách über Uwe Johnson.” “Wo ich her hin . . ” Uwe Johnson in der
DDR, eds. Roland Berbig and Erdmut Wizisla (Berlin: KONTEXTverlag, 1993) 99.

8
identity. Ultimately, it had a profound influence on life’s most crucial
decisions.
Johnson considered himself neither an historical writer nor a
particularly political one. His critics are divided on this point.i6
According to Peter Beckes, Gesine “will . . . weder eine persónliche
Vergangenheitsbewaltigung leisten, noch mechklenburgische Heimat
nostalgisch feiern.”!? Sarah Lennox, on the other hand, argues that
Johnson’s deliberate manipulation of information from The New York
Times results in a skewed and highly politicized representation of the U.S
in the novel: "Gesine's a priori determination that political practice is
purposeless has many consequences for the content of Jahrestage. and
what readers are allowed to learn about political activities in the United
States and Europe during 1967-8."18 Regardless of Johnson’s own
statements to the contrary, the political component of his writing is
inescapable. The link between the individual and the prevalent political
reality emerges as the central theme in his writing. He notes in one
interview that, “it is hardly possible to live on the outskirts of history.”!9
The ideologies, as well as the real-world manifestations, of twentieth
century European history form the background of his novels.
Johnson was by far the most thorough collector of Jahrest.ave criticism. See
Begleitumstande 429-35.
11 Peter Beckes,“Gefallt dir das Land nicht, such dir ein anderes,” Text + Kritik
65/66 (1980): 69.
16 Sara Lennox, "History in Uwe Johnson's 'Jahrestage,'" Germanic Review 64
(1989): 35.
16 A. Leslie Willson, “‘An unacknowledged humorist’: An Interview with Uwe
Johnson. Sheerness-in-Kent, 20 April 1982,” Dimension. Contemporary German Arts
and Letters 15 (1982): 402.

9
Compared to many of his contemporaries, including fellow Gruppe
47 members Heinrich Boll, Günter Grass, Hans Magnus Enzensberger,
Peter Weiss, Martin Walser and dramatist Rolf Hochhuth, Johnson is far
less outspoken on political topics. His novels all address difficult political
issues, but he does not advocate a particular political agenda. In his only
essay on the novel he contends that literature is unsuited to political
engagement:
Ein Roman ist keine revolutionáre Waffe. Er bringt
nicht unmittelbare politische Wirkung hervor. Die
taktischen Aussichten sind armlich, strategische kaum
nachweisbar.20
Johnson prefers to explore alternative political realities (alternative
Wirklichkeiten) in his novels. He sees literature as a means with which to
challenge an existing situation:
Zu prüfen ware da nicht nur das Bewufitsein, in dem
wir erkennen: so leben wir. Stimmt. Auch ein anderes,
das der Frage hilfit: Aber wollen wir so leben? Stimmt
das?2i
For Johnson’s characters, the definitive social and moral issue of the post¬
war period is the struggle to preserve personal integrity. This in turn
necessitates the assumption of individual responsibility. Like many post¬
war writers Johnson assumes the inseparability of a literary work from its
political and historical context—specifically that of the Third Reich and a
divided Germany. At the same time he refrains from overt political
declarations. His novels, though rich in political material, neither present
solutions nor propose specific courses of action.
20 Uwe Johnson, “Vorschláge zur Prüfung eines Romans,” Uwe Johnson, eds.
Rainer Gerlach and Matthias Richter (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1984) 35.
21 Johnson, “Vorschláge zur Prüfung eines Romans” 33.

10
Gesine’s continued passivity during a particularly turbulent period
in U.S. history is typical of Johnson’s characters. Despite an acute sense of
moral conviction, she cannot bring herself to act. The protagonists of
Mutmafiungen iiher Jakob and Das dritte Buch üher Achim (1961), are
likewise both critical observers of a divided Germany’s highly politicized
society. Jakob, a railway dispatcher, and Karsch, a journalist from
Hamburg, are impaired by an overwhelming sense of impotence. All three
are quite ordinary people whose convictions have resulted in their
alienation from mainstream society. Lacking in power and influence, they
are essentially passive figures whose decisions and actions (Alternativen)
are dictated by prevailing sociopolitical circumstances.
The essay, “Berliner Stadtbahn” (1961),22 is one of the few instances
in which Johnson elaborates on problems of narrative and politics. In it
Johnson analyzes Germany’s post-war politization and its literary
implications. The essay begins with a statement of “anti-narration”:
“Erlauben Sie mir, unter diesem Titel zu berichten fiber einige
Schwierigkeiten, die mich hinderten einen Stadtbahnhof in Berlin zu
beschreiben” (BS, 7). The political implications of a divided Germany
prohibit an objective depiction of a station in Berlin. The opening
paragraph contains the only empirical statement given in the text.
Johnson observes a young East German as he disembarks at a train station
in West Berlin, walks across the platform and exits onto the street: “Da tritt
unter vielen anderen eine einzelne Person aus dem eingefahrenen Zug,
fiberschreitet den Bahnsteig und verláfit ihn zur StraBe hin” (BS, 7). This
single statement of fact becomes a motif which recurs in a modulated form
22 Uwe Johnson, “Berliner Stadtbahn,” Berliner Sachen. Aufsátze (Frankfurt
a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1985). The abbreviation “BS” is used for subsequent references to the
text.

11
throughout the essay. This single observation generates a chain of
speculation and conjecture. There are no visual cues to determine whether
the trip is an ordinary commute or a political gesture. Thus, a
commonplace occurrence becomes saturated with meaning given the
existing political situation. In the final paragraph Johnson sums up what
he perceives as the central problem: “Hoffentlich habe ich die
Schwierigkeiten mit einem Bahnhof der Berliner Stadtbahn dennoch so
beschrieben, dad Sie ihn sich ungefáhr vorstellen kónnen” (BS, 21). The
essay is, in fact, an argument for the redundancy of narrative objectivity in
a divided Germany. Although Johnson documents the process in detail, he
is unable to gain any insight into the event. Its significance changes with
each shift in political context.
Johnson identifies Berlin as the embodiment of Germany’s post-war
situation. The city’s former image as a cosmopolitan political, commercial
and cultural center—the Erscheinungsbild der Stadt-has been supplanted
by a new political reality:
Die Grenze zerlegt den Begriff. Sie kann nicht als Kenntnis
vorausgesetzt werden. Zwar ist bekannt, daB das Gebiet der
ehemaligen deutschen Hauptstadt wie eine Insel vom ost-
deutschen Staat umschlossen liegt und daB die Insel
wiederum geteilt ist. Um jene Halite, die von den Armeen
der Vereinigten Staaten, GroBbritanniens und Frankreichs
beaufsichtigt wird, ist die frühere Verwaltungsgrenze hart
geworden, wie lebendige Haut verhornen kann und nicht
mehr atmet. Sie ist wirtschaftlich und politisch isoliert.
(BS, 8)
In the post-war world Berlin has also come to symbolize the global
realignment into opposing capitalist and socialist camps. The city
embodies two ideologies which are “nicht durch Logik verbunden, sondem
durch eine Grenze” (BS, 12).

12
The politization of everyday existence is an inescapable fact of life in
modern Germany:
Es gibt nicht: Berlin. Es sind zwei Stádte Berlin, die
nach der bebauten Fláche und der Einwohnerzahl
vergleichbar sind. Berlin zu sagen ist vage und
vielmehr eine politische Forderung. . . . (BS, 9)
The city’s cultural and political significance has been reduced to one single
factor. It has become “ein Modell für die Begegnung der beiden
Ordnungen,” which are situated “so eng nebeneinander, dad sie einander
nicht aus dem Blick verberen konnen und einander beriihren miissen”
(BS, 10). The influences of divergent political systems and ideologies on a
common language and culture create opposing realms of existence:
Es kommt denn hinzu, dafi beide Machtapparate ihre
eigenen sprachlichen Verabredungen getroffen haben
und sie in ihrem Gebiet teilweise als Konvention
durchsetzen konnten. Beide Stádte Berlin nennen sich
frei einander unfrei, sich demokratisch einander
undemokratisch, sich friedlich einander kriegsliistern
usw. Einige dieser diffusen Formeln sind tatsachlich
sprachgángig geworden und werden oft ohne Ironie
angesetzt. (BS 19)
Each of the political systems, “nach denen heute in der Welt gelebt werden
kann” (BS, 10), relies on a distorted view of reality. Germany’s sociopolitical
reality consists of the contentious co-existence the two opposing systems.
Johnson’s goal is to create a literature which “die beiden Gegenden in
einen Griff bekommt und zudem überregional ist” (BS, 20).
Johnson contends that both reader and writer have become
desensitized to an unacceptable situation. Assumptions and biases are
deeply ingrained in the German postwar mentality. The irony of Berlin’s
unnatural situation has dissipated in the face of a seemingly unalterable
political reality. Just as the city represents two competing political

13
realities, Johnson precludes the domination of any single ideology by
utilizing a multiplicity of narrative viewpoints.
Using the simple example of a man at a train station, Johnson
explores a theme which suffuses his entire oeuvre. Each of his novels
unfolds within a specific social, political and historical context His
characters experience sociopolitical reality as a complex web of systems,
institutions and language from which they attempt to extricate themselves.
R.Hinton Thomas and Wilfried van der Will contend that the writer is
subject to these same influences and constraints:
. . . insofern sie den Schriftsteller bedrángt, anregt,
herausfordert, kurz: insofern sie in ihm BewuBtsein
produziert. In dieser zweiten Bedeutung mag
Gesellschaft zwar ais ein den Schriftsteller
determinierendes komplexes GroBmilieu verstanden
werden, aber doch ais ein solches, das ihn um Spiel
seiner Reflexionen und Einbildungen beffeit.23
The reader is similarly affected by the sociopolitical environment. In the
interactive exchange between author and reader the narrative becomes a
tool in a “Denkprozefl, als Mittel der Wahrheitsfindung.”24 Ideally, this
prods the reader to question his or her own assumptions. The function of
this narrative model is not to replace reality but to illuminate it:
Wozu also taugt der Roman? Er ist ein Angebot. Sie
bekommen eine Version der Wirklichkeit. Es ist nicht
eine Gesellschaft in der Miniatur, und es ist kein maB-
stábliches Modell. Es ist auch nicht ein Spiegel der Welt
und weiterhin nicht ihre Widerspiegelung; es ist eine
Welt, gegen die Welt zu halten. Sie sind eingeladen,
diese Version der Wirklichkeit zu vergleichen mit jener,
23 R. Hinton Thomas and Wilfried van der Will, Der deutsehe Roman nnd die
Wohlstandsgesellschaft (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1969) 152.
24 Manfred Durzak, Der deutsehe Roman der Gegenwart. Bntwicklungs-
voraussetuzungen und Tendenzen (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1979) 339.

14
die Sie unterhalten und pflegen. Vielleicht pafit der
andere, der unterschiedliche Bliek in die Ihre hinein.25
Johnson consistently argues that his fiction is intended neither as an exact
reflection of reality nor as its utopian projection. An approximation of
reality arises from collaboration of narrative viewpoints, by which the
reader's own experiences and convictions can be measured. The
negotiation of an alternate reality is part of the ongoing exchange between
narrator and reader: “So wird Schreiben praktiziert als Infragestellung
schlechthin.”26
Johnson has often been criticized for his meticulous—sometimes
described as tedious-attention to everyday details while neglecting plot and
character development. Günter Blocker describes Johnson as “der
Registrator und Vermesser Johnson, der Mann, der nichts auslafit.”27 The
traditional role of narrative (i.e. storytelling) is subordinated in Johnson’s
fiction to the demands of creating this “gesellschaftliches Modell”:
Das Romane-Schreiben kann auch Geschichten-
Erzahlen sein. Für mich ist da aber noch etwas anderes
dabei, namlich der Versuch, ein gesellschaftliches
Modell herzustellen. Das Modell besteht allerdings aus
Personen. . . . Mit diesen Personen versuche ich ein Bild
der Gesellschaft zu geben. Das heifit: durch die
Personen, durch das, was ihnen so passiert ist und
passieren kann, und was die Gesellschaft ihnen für
Mittel gegeben hat, um diesen Ereignissen zu
widerstehen. Daraus entsteht dann eine Geschichte der
25 Johnson “Vorschlage zur Priiftmg eines Romans” 35.
2® Ingeborg Hoesterey, “Die Erzahlsituation als Roman. Uwe Johnsons
‘Jahrestage,’” Colloauia Germánica. Internationale Zeitschrift für germanische Sprach-
und Literaturwissenschaft 16 (1983): 24.
27 Günter Blocker, “Prager Traum—New Yorker Wirklichkeit,” Johnsons
“Jahrestage.” 164.

15
Personen und, so hoffe ich, auch eine Geschichte der
Gesellschaft.28
The passages portraying the physical surroundings in Jahrestage are
meticulously detailed. Marie builds a replica of Gesine’s childhood home
based on her mother’s descriptions. No aspect of New York escapes the
notice of Gesine and her narrative partner, however trivial: train
schedules, subway maps, advertisements on the side of a bus.
In the historical narrative Johnson presents a complex version of
social reality through the story of Jerichow and its inhabitants. He also
draws on events and characters from earlier novels such as Ingrid
Barbendererde. Mutmafiungen iiber Jakob. Das dritte Buch iiber Achim
and Karsch und andere Prosa. Johnson’s long term interest in specific
characters, notably Gesine and Heinrich Cresspahl, give a depth and
continuity to his complete works rarely found in literature:
In Johnsons friiheren Werken bereitet sich jeweils die
Problemstellung der spateren vor (s.o.); doch gilt auch
umgekehrt, dafi im Spátwerk das ffiihere kommentiert
und entschlüsselt, ais die Bedeutungseinheit eines
Gesamtwerkes hergestellt wird.29
Heinrich Cresspahl’s brief career as a British spy during the war, the
death of Gesine’s mother, details of life in Jerichow during the Nazi
dictatorship and the Russian Occupation, the childhood relationship
between Jakob and Gesine, and Jakob’s last visit with her before his death
are just a few examples of events alluded to in other works which are
developed in Jahrestage.
2®Christof Schmid, “Gesprách mit Uwe Johnson (am 29.7.1971 in West-Berlin),”
“Ich iiberlege mir die Geschichte . . Uwe Johnson im Gcsprach. ed. Eberhard Fahlke
(Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1988) 253.
Walter Schmitz, Uwe Johnson (München: Beck, 1984) 84.

16
Johnson’s first novel, Ingrid Barbendererde (1985), was first
published posthumously.3° This early work is significant in that it
addresses those thematic elements which define Johnson’s writing over a
lifetime: the conflicting relationship between political reality and the
individual and the resulting alienation from society. The novel was written
between 1953 and 1956 while Johnson was a “Student der Germanistik und
‘weiterer Folgen des Krieges’” at the University of Rostock.31 Shortly before
the completion of secondary school, Ingrid becomes enmeshed in the
conflict between the government and the members of a church-affiliated
group, the “Junge Gemeinde.” What begins as a classroom protest against
“veranderten Lehrstofl”—specifically the socialist tenets of dialectics, class
conflict and historical materialism-and for individual freedom of thought
quickly escalates into a perceived attack on the system. As a result Ingrid
is accused of subversive activity, and is called before a school tribunal:
Sie wird am Mittwoch, 13. Mai 1953 im Verfahren gegen
die Junge Gemeinde aus der FDJ ausgeschlossen. Mit
289 gegen 17 Stimmen. Ihr ist das Betreten des
Schulgelándes ab sofort verboten. Für eine Rede. Für
bloB eine Rede.32
After being expelled, she flees East Germany to “das andere Deutschland”
with friend and classmate, Klaus Niebuhr:
- Wir werden ja sehen was an diesem ist: sagte Klaus.
Sie würden ja sehen was an diesem war. Ob sie es
3® The novel was originally rejected for publication by the Aufbau-Verlag because
of controversial political elements: “Der Verlag schatzte die literarischen Qualitáten
dieses Romans, aber wünschte sich einige Ánderungen politischer Natur, eigentlich mehr
innenpolitischer Natur, und dazu hátte ich mein BewuBtsein ándem müssen, das konnte
ich nicht. Da nahm ich das Manuskript zuriick.” The manuscript was long assumed lost.
Horst Bienek, Werkstattgesprache mit Schrifstellern (München: Carl Hanser, 1962) 87.
31 Siegfried Unseld, “Nachwort: Die Priifung der Reife im Jahre 1953,” Ingrid
Barbendererde (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1985) 251.
32 Johnson, Begleitumstande 83.

vergessen hatten über ein Jahr, und ob das schlimm
sein wiirde.33
Their defection to the West is not perceived as a political statement, but
simply the substitution of one unsatisfactory alternative for another.
The novel which launched Johnson’s literary career, Mutmafiungen
über Jakob, opens with the death of the title figure. The novel’s well known
beginning—“Aber Jakob ist immer quer fiber die Gleise gegangen”—
initiates a reconstruction of the events leading up to that moment. He is
killed in a moment of distraction—or perhaps despair-on the morning he
returns from West Germany, while crossing the tracks on a foggy
November morning. In retrospect multiple narrators attempt to
reconstruct an accurate account of what actually happened. They compile,
compare and negotiate information. Their stories both corroborate and
contradict each other. Contradictions within the story remain unresolved,
which Johnson finds an accurate reflection of human experience:
Der Verfasser sollte zugeben, dafl er erfunden hat, was
er vorbringt, er sollte nicht verschweigen, dafi seine
Informationen lfickenhaft sind und ungenau. Denn er
verlangt Geld ffir was er anbietet. Dies eingestehen
kann er, indem er etwa die schwierige Suche nach der
Wahrheit ausdrficklich vorffihrt, indem er seine
Auffassung des Geschehens mit der seiner Person
vergleicht und relativiert, indem er auslafit, was er
nicht wissen kann, indem er nicht ffir reine Kunst
ausgibt, was noch eine Art der Wahrheitsfindung ist.
(BS, 20-1)
Holes and contradictions in their theories are smoothed over with
conjecture and speculation. The result is a continuously shifting version of
reality.
33 Johnson, Ingrid Barhendererdo 247.

18
The figure of Jakob gradually emerges from the tangled web of
narrative as a socialist hero thrown into personal crisis during a period of
political turmoil. In the latter half of 1956 a combination of events ushered
in a brief-but doomed-period of liberalization in the Eastern Block which
followed Nikita Khrushchev’s speech at the XX Party Congress. At roughly
the same time Imre Nagy initiated a program of democratic reforms in
Hungary. The Suez crisis was also brewing. Soviet reaction to the
Hungarian uprising was swift and brutal. Jakob’s faith in the socialist
state, along with any illusions of personal integrity and self-determination,
are destroyed as he helplessly watches trainloads of Russian troops pass
through his jurisdiction on their way to Budapest. Although he could hold
up the transport temporarily, Jakob realizes that he cannot stop them
indefinitely. His intervention would be futile.
Jakob subsequently visits his lover, Gesine, who is working in
Düsseldorf as a translator at NATO headquarters. The reality of the BRD
as experienced by Jakob is disappointing. Everything strikes him as crass,
exaggerated and pretentious. He leaves West Germany disillusioned with
both of the political alternatives available to him. He deliberately chooses to
return to his work and his friends in an albeit fundamentally flawed
society, but where he believes the potential for change still exists. He is
killed the next morning. Gesine, as we later learn in Jahrestape. also
leaves the BRD in reaction to an outbreak of anti-Semitic violence. While
both East and West Germany are portrayed in the novel as severely
compromised systems, socialism at least holds out the theoretical promise
of social transformation and historical redemption.
When Karsch, a middle-aged journalist from Hamburg, crosses the
border into East Germany just a few years later in May, 1960, the situation

19
between the two republics has changed entirely. The border is closed, and
the estrangement between the two German states, already a decisive factor
in Mutmaflungen über Jakob, is complete. That “in Deutschland liegt eine
undurchlássige Grenze” (102) is to Karsch, however, a profound revelation.
On a trip into uncharted territory he finds himself in a foreign country,
though the surroundings are deceptively familiar. They may still speak the
same language but any common ground they once shared has disappeared
in the interim: “. . . er spricht die Sprache und kann sich nicht
verstándlich machen, sie haben da anderes Geld und andere Regierung:
damit soil er sich eines Tages vereinigen” (A, 120). Karsch’s extended stay
in the DDR is the premise of the novel, Das dritte Buch fiber Achim.
Karsch is struggling with a third biography of the chameleon-like
East German cycling star, Achim K. His subject is a national hero, a
respected party member and parliamentary representative, and an
otherwise model citizen of the socialist state. His research and the creative
process, in which he explores several different narrative avenues, comprise
the bulk of the novel. The reporter must sift through and evaluate
mountains of information. He painstakingly selects those aspects of
Achim’s story which will "cohere into a meaningful pattern without
distorting the general truth."34 Achim’s motivations, as well as those of the
party, are entirely different. They envision a didactic biography that
emphasizes the individual’s role in socialist society, and which reaffirms
the political status quo.
After three months of research the proposed project collapses despite
the expenditure of much time and effort. Karsch’s failure to produce a
cohesive image of his subject is a result not only of the disparity between
34 Mark Boulby, Uwe Johnson (New York: Frederick Ungar, 1974) 44.

20
Achim’s personal and public image, but is also caused by the writer’s own
inflexible idealism. He is overwhelmed by information, and feels compelled
to integrate all of it in order to provide a “true” picture of Achim. This
proves an impossible task as problematic incidents come to his attention:
Achim’s active role in the Hitler Jugend, his betrayal of his social-democrat
father to the authorities, and an illegal trip to West Berlin for a three-speed
mechanism unavailable in the East.
The novel chronicles Karsch’s failure to resolve the discrepancy
between Achim’s public and private personae. Johnson describes the
narrative as a “Beschreibung einer Beschreibung, die Umstánde einer
Biographie und was in dieser Biographie enthalten sein sollte.”35 The
relationship between the biographer and his subject collapses completely
when Karsch confronts Achim with a photo which appears to substantiate
rumors of his participation in the Berlin Workers’ Uprising on June 17,
1953. Achim denies he was there, and Karsch can’t be certain that the man
in the photo is really Achim. Even seemingly concrete evidence proves
questionable and ultimately inconclusive. After following a number of false
leads, and faced with Achim’s hostility, Karsch must ultimately conclude
“dad die Schlüssigkeit eines Beweises beider Gesinnungsidentifikation
unmoglich ist und nur in ein Netz unaufklárbarer Fragen führt.”36
Karsch abandons his project in despair and returns to Hamburg none the
wiser about the “real” Achim.
Karsch’s experiences are recounted from his necessarily West
German perspective during a marathon telephone conversation upon his
return. The interests and biases of his dialog partner, presumably a friend
35 Bienek 89.
3® Thomas and van der Will 140.

21
in Hamburg, also shape and direct the narrative. Karsch analyzes the
breakdown of the creative process as well as his own dual role as subject
and narrator. At home Karsch is able to view his recent experience in the
East from a substantial narrative distance, which “Karsch aus der Distanz
zu einer fast fremden Figur objektiviert.”37 The change of scenery,
however, does not translate into any measure of objectivity. He finds
himself at a loss to explain anything of his experiences in the East, which
remain uninterpretable in context of West German society. The question,
“wie war es denn?” with which the novel opens and closes remains
unanswered and unanswerable.
The novel’s open-ended conclusion underlines Johnson’s conviction
that a “unified vision of reality is itself a fiction.”38 This same theme is
further explored in the short story “Eine Reise wegwohin, 1960,” in which
Karsch tries again to make sense of his DDR experiences. Irrespective of
the angle from which he approaches the problem, the formulation of a
compromise between the two political alternatives proves unattainable.
Opposing political, social, and historical factors make it impossible to
synthesize a single definitive biography of Achim. The truth can only be
approximated. Thus, the presentation of unreconciled and unresolvable
paradoxes is in itself the most truthful portrayal of the existing situation.
Friend and colleague, writer Wolfgang Koeppen, characterizes the search
for truth as the driving force of Johnson’s narrative:
•*7 Thomas and van der Will 141.
38
Ryan 41.

22
Johnson suchte die Wahrheit. Die Wahrheitssuche ist
aber ein Prozefi, und erst wenn man ihn beschreibt,
náhert man sich vielleicht der Wahrheit.39
According to Judith Ryan, “the idea of history as a product of individual
perceptions becomes a central theme of the novel.”40 This view of history
later becomes the organizing idea in Jahrestage. but on a much wider
scale.
Johnson’s third novel, Zwei Ansichten (1965), unfolds during the
months immediately before and after the building of the Wall. The work
sealed Johnson’s fate in the German press as “Fachmann der deutschen
Teilung.” As the novel begins Berlin is a city in crisis; however the political
separation is not yet physical. The narrative portrays the alternative
Wicklichkeiten of two lovers: B., a West German photographer, and D., an
East German nurse. They wake up one morning in August to find
themselves on opposite sides of an armed border. It is obvious who belongs
where. Just in case, the characters are neatly labeled to avoid any
confusion. Initially their personal and political identities are inseparable.
In the course of the novel, however, it is possible to point to a degree of
personal development in D.’s character, while B. becomes increasingly
mired in his slavery to materialism.
Every aspect of daily existence in Berlin-however trivial or personal¬
is affected by international Realpolitik. Like the two lovers, the city is
inseparable from its political reality. It literally rests on the fault-line
between the socialist East and the capitalist West. Its physical division is
representative of the division evident in all aspects of German society. It is
39 Wolfgang Koeppen, “Ein Bruder der Massen war er nicht. Über Uwe Johnson,”
Gesammelte Werke. vol. VI (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1986) 426.
40
Ryan 40.

23
the living embodiment of the Cold War. Johnson finds this division is
insurmountable both on a political and on a personal level.
The relationship, which begins as a casual interlude between two
young people with little in common-“eine Liebschaft, eine Bandelei, eine
Woche, ein Verhaltnis, einen Anfang, sie wuBte das Wort nicht und nicht
warum”4i—intensifies commensurate to the political situation. Like their
two countries, the closing of the border politicizes their relationship and the
decisions they make. D. is desperate to leave the DDR as her choices
become increasingly limited. But, as with Johnson’s other characters, is
not seeking a new reality, but only to flee from the old. When D. finally
escapes over the border some months later, it is clear there is nothing left of
their flimsy relationship once the physical barriers are removed. The only
thing they have in common is their exploitation of each other. D. is
motivated by the chance at a new life for herself in the West, B. by his need
to assuage vague feelings of guilt and obligation.
Both B. and D. belong to the first post-war generation for whom the
division of Germany is a fact of life. They represent the first “divided
generation,” immersed in opposing schools of political thought. However,
D. comes off far better by comparison. In this novel, B. could just as easily
stand for “boor.” Like his love interest, B. is synonymous with the political
and economic system from which he comes. He consciously cultivates an
image of professional and financial success. Youth, money and a fast car
all figure in the novel’s opening sentence: “Der junge Herr B. konnte die
Hand auf groBes Geld legen und kaufte einen Sportwagen” (ZA, 7). The
narrator later reveals that the car has been acquired with slick capitalist
^Uwe Johnson. Zwei Ansichten (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1965)13. This work
will be refered to subsequently in the text as “ZA.”

ingenuity. When B. is called to photograph an accident for the newspaper,
he buys the car on the spot from the owner, who is eager to part with his
bad luck. The red status symbol not only wipes out five years of savings, but
also requires him to overextend himself financially. However, he considers
it is worthwhile, since “einen solchen Wagen würde es nur ein einziges
Mai geben im Umkreis von zweihundert Kilometem” (ZA, 8). As a bonus,
word spreads of his financial savvy, and he can charge more for his
pictures. The car immediately becomes an extension of his weak self-
image. Time and again he fantasizes how D. will react when he drives up
in his flashy new foreign car. B. is devastated when the car is stolen within
the month, and he is forced to rent a “klapprigen Hasten, den nicht einmal
ein ostberliner Mádchen bewundern würde” (ZA, 17). After arranging for
D.’s illegal border crossing into West Berlin, he is unable to meet her, as he
is in Stuttgart picking up his new car.
Unfortunately, B. never overcomes his crippling superficiality.
Entirely without family or friends, he dulls his feelings of loneliness and
isolation with alcohol and a succession of girlfriends. His emotional life is
limited to his car. His feelings for D. and concern for her livelihood never
achieve the same emotional intensity. In Zwei Ansichten B. remains a
pathetic caricature of West German bourgeoisie: shallow, self-involved,
materialistic and somewhat stupid. While Johnson is consistently critical
of the BRD in his novels, his concerns are not taken seriously by West
German critics. Even the many pointed barbs found in Zwei Ansichten fail
to hit their mark: “Somit is angedeutet, wie ein ‘Dichter der beiden
Deutschlands’ sich damals zu benehmen hatte.”42
42 D.G. Bond, German History and German Identity: Uwe Johnson’s “Jahrestage”
(Atlanta: Rodopi, 1993) 183.

25
There is never any question of the ultimate failure of the relationship
between B. and D. Like Berlin itself they remain divided at the most basic
level, and are unable to enter into any kind of meaningful relationship, the
novel clearly illustrates Johnson’s skepticism that there could be any sort of
interaction or mediation between East and West. Although Johnson’s view
of the two political alternatives available in a divided Germany is negatively
depicted in Johnson’s early works, he advocates a continued dialogue
between the two countries in preparation for an eventual political
integration.
Three later works, Eine Reise Nach Klagenfurt (1974), Skizze eines
Verunglückten (1981), and the fragment, Versuch einen Vater zu linden
(1988), parallel some of the fundamental narrative and sociopolitical
thematic elements of Jahrestage. They all have a unique relationship to the
novel in that they were written during the ten-year break between the
tetralogy’s third and fourth volumes. Narrative techniques and structures,
as well as thematic content, are typical of Johnson’s fiction. Like
Jahrestage. the two short works turn to the past—specifically the
documented historical past-for illumination of a problematic individual
existence.
Reise nach Klagenfurt. which for lack of a more precise description
has been called a “Reisebericht,” a “Nachruf,” and a “Totenmesse,”
describes Johnson’s visit to Bachmann’s childhood home shortly after her
tragic death in Rome. In this “biographische Arbeit” he uncovers vestiges
of fascism in Klagenfurt which have been obscured by the passage of time,
progress, and willful cultural amnesia. Through a collage of archival
documents combined with his own personal observations and memories,
Johnson recreates a city and a childhood destroyed by fascism. Events

26
which took place under the Nazi occupation had a profound effect on
Bachmann both artistically and personally.
The posthumously published fragment, Versuch einen Vat.er zu
finden. consists of the first 35 pages of Johnson’s next project, Heute
neunzig Jahr. It chronicles Heinrich Cresspahl’s history as a young man
and soldier in the Great War in years leading up to the events described in
Jahrestage. The project-which Mecklenburg describes as “a mosaic of
facts and signs, dates and sources, documents and oral evidence processed
into hypotheses, episodes and images, and all with a strong degree of
personal involvement’,43-was left uncompleted at Johnson’s death in 1984.
The search for information is undertaken after Heinrich’s death by his
daughter, Gesine. Though Johnson’s final intentions for the novel can only
be guessed at, this preliminary fragment details another attempt by Gesine
to contextualize her father’s confusing, and often conflicting, actions long
after his death. Here, as in Jahrestage. Johnson portrays an individual
caught up by overwhelming historical circumstances. But in this case, it is
a past to which she has no personal access. She must rely solely on
historical documentation and personal conjecture to reconstruct the most
plausible version of her father’s history.
Gesine’s past and sense of identity are intimately linked with that of
her father in Jahrestage. Heinrich Cresspahl’s life story, which also
comprises a significant portion of the novel, is the story of modern
Germany. When Gesine begins with her reconstruction of his story, he has
been living abroad in the Netherlands and England for ten years. While on
Norbert Mecklenburg, “‘Ein Junge aus dera DreikaiserjahrUwe Johnson’s
‘Versuch, einen Vater zu finden,’” trans. Sarah Brickwood, Literature on the Threshold
The German Novel in the 1980s. eds. Arthur Williams, Stuart Parkes and Roland Smith
(New York/ Oxford/ Munich: Berg, 1990) 36.

27
vacation in Mecklenburg in the summer of 1931, Cresspahl becomes
enamored with Lisbeth Papenbrock, the youngest daughter of a wealthy
Jerichow landowner and businessman. Despite an age difference of
eighteen years and Lisbeth’s engagement to another man, they marry and
eventually settle in Jerichow. When an unbalanced Lisbeth commits
suicide after witnessing anti-Semitic violence in her own town during the
Reichskristallnacht, Heinrich is left to raise Gesine alone. During the war
he simultaneously works for the German Luftwaffe at a local airfield while
spying for the British. In 1945 assumes the thankless job as Jerichow’s
mayor; first under British occupation, then under the Russians. Some
months later he is incarcerated, and spends two and a half years in a
Russian prison. He is finally acquitted in May, 1948. Like his daughter,
Heinrich is subjected to a series of sociopolitical realities beginning with
German unification under Bismarck and ending with East German
socialism. In contrast to Gesine, who is content to observe from the
sidelines, he is an active participant in the political events of his time,
driven by circumstances and the will to survive rather than ideology, .
In each of Johnson’s works, documented history is both examined
and challenged. Like most other writers of his generation, truth in both
history and narration is a central issue for Johnson. The reality of a
divided post-war Germany was that nothing could be taken at face value:
Alienation from language and material was an
especially difficult problem for post-war artists. The
observation of the propaganda practices employed by the
Nazis, the defeat of that system and the 'reeducation' of
Germans by the victorious Allies clearly sensitized the
generation to which Johnson belonged in a special way
to the dangers of taking at face value official
pronouncements of the truth.44
44
^van der Will 172.

28
Mecklenburg views this central theme as a series of overlapping processes:
. . how is it possible to get from the crust to the core, from political history
to the history of an individual, from the facts to the truth?”45 Gesine finds
that the impact of historical interpretation is immediate and personal as
she turns to documentary materials in her attempt to reconstruct the past.
In Johnson’s work, any compromise between the individual and
sociopolitical reality-whether in the form of “ein dritter Weg,” Dubcek’s
“socialism with a human face,” or Gesine’s illusory “moralische Schweiz,
in die wir emigrieren konnen” (I, 382)- remains out of reach. In his study,
which reexamines the political dimension of Johnson’s works, Kurt Fickert
is overly optimistic in his characterization of Johnson’s protagonists in
their struggle against political circumstances:
Jakob, Karsch, and perhaps B. have been sequestered in
disillusionment, the primary state of mind resulting
from the realization that they are powerless to change
the course of human events, even to the extent that they
might at least maintain their own integrity. . . . On the
other hand, D., whom B. failed to appreciate, Karin, and
the Gesine of the Mutma/hingen iiber Jakob all have the
capacity to effect a compromise in the struggle between
conscience and political reality; they learn that
individuality can persevere against the forces of
conformism by way of accommodating themselves to the
existing situation, by making use of it, or by contending
with it in a place where choice is still a viable factor.46
Regardless of the eventual outcome, the thematic thread which links all of
Johnson’s novels is the paradoxical co-existence of political reality and
private life. Even those figures who seem to affect a balance between the
^Mecklenburg, “‘Ein Junge aus dem DreikaiserjahrUwe Johnson’s ‘Versuch,
einen Vater zu finden’” 35.
46 Kurt Fickert, Neither Left nor Right. The Politics of Individualism in Uwe
Johnson’s Work (New York: Peter Lang, 1987) 98.

29
two are doomed ultimately to fail. Jakob Abs, Gesine Cresspahl, Karsch
and the others are all in search of a nonpoliticized reality, an objective
assessment of history, or both.
Gesine embodies this set of problems, which occupied Johnson
throughout his writing career. In Jahrestage she becomes a point of
convergence (Zuordnungspunkt). Unlike Mutmaflungen über Jakob, in
which the narrative focuses essentially on a reconstruction of past events,
the Jahrestage narrative examines the conflict between individual and
sociopolitical reality in both an historical and in a contemporary context.
The politically charged atmosphere of the late 1960s—resulting from the
controversy generated by American intervention in Vietnam and the civil
rights movement—exerts a profound influence on Gesine’s life. Domestic
problems such as violence, big-city crime, police brutality and racial
tensions share the front page of The New York Times with international
news of Cold War conflicts and the Prague Spring.
Contemporary events from The New York Times are all an integral
part of Gesine’s daily existence, whether directly or obliquely. Her
perceptions of America are further shaped by her socialist upbringing, as
well as her early exposure to fascism and war: “. . . jene friihe Erziehung
in Sozialismus sitzt fest in ihr, sie hat ja auch das Schwimmen nicht
verlernt und nur mit ausführlicher Beschreibung des Anfangs [der DDR]
werde ich zeigen konnen, wie sie es, im Alter von 35 Jahren, doch noch
einmal versuchen will mit dem Sozialismus.”47 This sense of political
awareness is also evident in Gesine’s detailed reconstruction of her
childhood. Childhood memories—indelibly marked by facism and
socialism—compete with contemporary events unfolding on Gesine’s
47 Uwe Johnson, “Brief an Siegfried Unseld”
£”94.

30
internal stage. She views the task of confronting the past as a fundamental
part of the search for identity and meaning: “Vielleicht war es die
Lebensmitte, der Beginn der biologischen Rückbildung, die ihr das
Bewusstsein des Lebenslaufes umkehrte in Richtung der Vergangenheit,
in den Versuch zu linden, wie die jeweils vorvergangenen Zustande ihres
Lebens noch durch etwas anderes verbunden waren als ihr
Nacheinander.”48 Only by coming to terms with her history can she move
beyond a passive acceptance of her surroundings and act decisively in
determining her future.
When the novel ends abruptly at the end of one calendar year, the
legitimacy of this entire process is radically undermined. On closer
examination, however, the groundwork for this reversal is carefully laid
throughout the fourth and final volume of Jahrestage. In the final volume
Gesine’s relationship to the present is markedly different. References from
The New York Times, which form the structural and thematic framework
of the novel, become less frequent as her focus shifts away from her
immediate surroundings. This is reflected in her increased preoccupation
with the past and the future represented by the Prague Spring. These two
issues tend to overshadow the political and social concerns that dominate
the first three volumes.
As in Johnson’s earlier novels, Gesine also seems doomed to failure
by the existing political reality. For his characters, options are limited.
They must choose among resignation, destruction or flight. True to form,
Jahrestage ends with Gesine’s departure for Prague, which offers the hope
of a liberalized form of socialism. The significance of her renewed
commitment to socialism is negated as she is engulfed—and perhaps
Johnson, Bovloitnmstande 415.

31
consumed—by larger political events which lie outside the scope of the novel.
The outcome is carefully anticipated in Johnson’s portrayal of the political
situation in the U.S. and the BRD during 1967/8. Unable to come to terms
with either alternative, she commits herself to the third possibility offered
by the Prague Spring. The steps leading to her ultimate break with the
West are discernible in The New York Times items included in the text.
However, when Gesine departs for Czechoslovakia on the eve of the Russian
invasion at the close of Jahrestage it is clear that there is no escape or
sanctuary from political reality.

CHAPTER 2
“FÜR WENN ICH TOT BIN”:
THE PARAMETERS OF GESINE’S
NARRATIVE PROJECT
From the outset critics have hailed Johnson’s Jahrestage a
masterpiece of the post-war period. It has been described as a “Zeit-
Mosaik”1 and an “erzahlte Chronik, die Privates politisch nimmt, die
Gesellschaftskritik und Geschichtsschreibung in individueller Biographie
aufgehen láfit,”2 which “auch in unvollendeter Gestalt lángst als eines der
eigentümlichsten und bedeutendsten [Romane] der neueren deutschen
Literatur gait.”3 Peter Demetz points to the novel as belonging to those
works “die ihre Schicksale haben, und solche, die Mythen bilden, ehe wir
sie noch ganz gelesen haben.”4 In his review of Jahrestage’s final volume,
Fritz Raddatz calls the completed novel “eines der unverganglichen
Denkmale der Zeit . . . unvergleichlich in seiner schwer entzifferbaren
1 Joachim Kaiser, “Für wenn wir tot sind,” Johnsons “Jahrestafre” 168.
3 Rolf Becker, “Eine Bitte fiir die Stunde des Sterbens,” Johnsons “Jahrestage” 187.
3 Becker 187.
4 Demetz 194.
32

33
Kompostition aus glásemer Klarheit und rátselhafter Dunkelheit.”5 Long
before its completion Rolf Michaelis included Jahrestage in the prestigious
ZEIT-Bibliothek der 100 Bucher,6
First and foremost, Jahrestage has been read as a novel which
addresses recent German history, the implications of its Nazi legacy and
the early years of the DDR. Its thematization of historical and political
trends over a period of almost forty years is in the well-established tradition
of both the political and the epochal novel (Zeitroman).^ Rolf Becker’s
characterization of the work is typical of the almost exclusive focus on the
Jerichow story in Johnson scholarship: “Seine ‘Jahrestage’ sind ein Buch
von der Vertreibung und vom Heimweh, dieser ‘schlimmen Tugend,’ ein
Buch von Verletzung, Verlust und Tod.”8 Roland Wiegenstein describes
the far-ranging work as “gegen das Vergessen geschrieben.”9 The process
of Gesine’s reconstruction of memory clearly builds on the idea of
Vergangenheitsbewaltigung in its striving to explore and edify blank areas
in Germany’s historical and political consciousness. Like many post-war
5 Fritz J. Raddatz, “Ein Marchen aus Geschichte und Geschichten,” Johnsons
“Jahrestage” 177.
6 Rolf Michaelis, “Uwe Johnson, Jahrestage,” ZEIT-Bihliothek der 100 Riioher ed.
Fritz J. Raddatz (Frankfurt a.M: Suhrkamp, 1980).
^ Kaiser, “Für wenn wir tot sind” 168.
8 R. Becker 92.
9 Roland H. Wiegenstein, “Johnson lesen. Vorschlage zu den ‘Jahrestagen 1-4,’”
Johnsons “Jahrestage” 205.

34
works, Jahrestage addresses the “Liicke im Bewufitsein.”10 For Gesine,
National Socialism was neither an aberration nor a closed chapter.
However, Johnson radically expands the movement’s traditional historical
parameters in his examination of recent German history.
Although the term Vergangenheitsbewaltigung is used today to
describe a wide range of literature over the last fifty years which addresses
National Socialism, it more accurately describes the thematic focus of West
German literature in the early post-war period. There was no comparable
public discussion in the DDR, whose government categorically refused to
acknowledge any ties to Nazi Germany. Early novels such as Hans Werner
Richter’s Die Geschlavenen (1949) and Sie fielen aus Gottes Hand (1951),
Alfred Andersch’s Die Kirschen der Freiheit, (1952), and Wolfgang
Koeppen’s Der Tod in Rom (1954) all sought with some success to articulate
the realities of Nazi Germany. Heinrich Boll, who became the most
prominent writer of the immediate post-war period, established himself as
“das kritische Gewissen des deutschen Volkes”11 with novels such as Wo
warst du. Adam? (1952), in which he took the Catholic church to task for its
passivity in the face of Nazi brutality. The theme of coming to terms with
the past was not just confined to prose. Max Frisch’s drama, Nun sin gen
sie wieder (1945), was one of the earliest portrayals of Nazi atrocity. Carl
Zuckmayer’s enormously successful play, Des Teufels General (1946), is
probably the best known work of Vergangenheitsbewaltigung in literature
before 1959. The horrors of the Holocaust also became the subject of poetry
10 Kurt Batt, Revolte Intern. Betrachtungen zur Literatur der DDR (Leipzig:
Verlag Philipp Reklam Jr., 1974) 104.
11 Keith Bullivant, “Heinrich B811--A Tribute,” German Life and Tetters 39 (1986):
245.

35
for German-Jewish writers Nelly Sachs (In den Wohnungen des Todes.
1946) and Paul Celan (Mohn und Gedachtnis. 1952).
Few German writers who experienced Nazi brutality survived to
write about it. Ernst Wiechert’s early survival narrative, Per Totenwald
(1947), describes five months spent at Buchenwald in 1938. In 1955 novelist
H.G. Adler published an account of the organization of everyday life in a
Nazi “show camp,” Theresienstadt, 1941-45: Das Antlitz einer Zwangs-
gemeinschaft. Such unvarnished first-hand accounts are rare, and are
seldom written in German. For the most part, early post-war literature
addresses the experiences of non-Jewish Germans far removed from the
front and the camps. Of primary concern are the issues of complicity and
guilt. However, stories of individual struggle common in post-war
literature are at odds with collective behavior. Portrayals of suffering and
pathos on the part of individuals swept along by historical events did little to
explain Nazi successes on a national scale. This literature mirrors a
society which displays only limited comprehension of individual moral
responsibility in the Endlosung. Consistently individuals were portrayed as
at odds with anonymous, monolithic institutions (i.e. the military, the
camp, the government). Early examples include little or no discussion of
the broader political and social issues which first enabled Hitler’s rise to
power and later led to widespread cooperation with his policies. There was
also little sense of continuity between the years leading up to and following
1945. While many of the early literary attempts at Vergangenheits-
bewaltigung confronted the reading public with extremely uncomfortable
issues of the recent past, these works did not expressly address the
cumulative consequences of individual actions or passivity, examine the

36
wider socio-historical context of Fascism or question too closely West
Germany’s post-war path.
The close of the 1950s marks a turning point in literary perceptions of
the past, as demonstrated by the two definitive, but vastly different
examples of literature dealing with Germany’s Nazi past, Heinrich Boll’s
Billiard um halhzehn and Günter Grass’ Die Blechtrommel. These two
novels are decidedly different from earlier works focusing on isolated
individuals and events:
Ob Boll, Grass, Lenz oder Johnson, sie all thematisieren
. . . und zwar gegen den Strich politologischer
Theoriebildung, durch deren Strukturgitter das sich als
moralische Persónlichkeit diinkende Individuum
zumeist durchfállt, die Verstrickung des einzelnen in
dem undurchdringlichen Gestrüpp politischer
Interessen und Machtpositionen. Sie alie versuchen
literarische Losungen fiir die sich aus solchen
Verstrickungen ergebenden Gewissensprobleme zu
entwickeln, die die Integritát des einzelnen und letztlich
auch seine personale Identitat bedrohen.12
In fictional guise both Boll and Grass look to Germany’s prewar years as a
prelude to the Third Reich. In both novels the popular cultural myth of a
Stunde Null, or a complete break with the past, is shown to be a pathetic
farce.
The introduction of this theme initiated two important developments
in literature addressing Vergangenheitsbewáltigung. The phenomenon of
National Socialism is discussed in a considerably wider historical and
social context than was previously the case. Even more important is the
realization that, in the aftermath of two world wars in which Germany was
the aggressor, certain social and cultural traits had contributed to the
12 Beckes 64.

37
public’s susceptibility to authoritarian thinking and behavior. These are
factors which still play a significant role in contemporary German society,
as well as in liter ature:
Es sind mir wichtige Ñamen genannt worden: Eich und
Huchel, Koeppen und Kástner. Ich weifi nicht, was die
Genannten bestimmt hat, so zu üherleben. Ich kann ihr
Verhalten wahrend der Nazizeit (weiterdichten und
publizieren) nicht wagen, doch nehme ich an, dab jeder
fur sich . . . sein Verhalten am Schicksal jener
Schriftsteller gemessen hat, die Deutschland verlassen
muflten, die in den Selbstmord getrieben wurden, die
man erschlagen hat. Oder sie haben sich spáter an
Autoren messen miissen, die gleichfalls geblieben
waren und überlebten, doch ohne das von den Nazis
schlau eingeraumte Gehege zu nutzen.13
The documentary literature which emerged in the early Sixties
honed in on the role played by ordinary citizens who, for reasons of their
own, actively participated in or passively condoned the actions of the Nazi
government. Proceedings and testimony from war crimes trials became
tools with which to examine the role played by individuals in context of
larger events. Unlike many earlier literary works addressing
Vergangenheitsbewaltigung, in which crimes against Jews were
invariably committed by madmen, they become nightmares of conformity in
documentary literature. In her first-hand account of one of the most
sensational war crimes trials, Eichmann in Jerusalem (1963), Hannah
Arendt portrays Adolf Eichmann, the orchestrater of Hitler’s Endlósung,
as a man who is both deceptively normal and horrifically flawed. He is an
embodiment of dangerous extremes. He displays an abject conformity to
authority, a complete subjugation of moral considerations to the attainment
of political goals, and an ordinariness so profound as to be evil. She sees in
13 Günter Grass, Kopfgeburten oder Die Deutschen sterben aus (Darmstadt and
Neuwied: Luchterhand, 1980) 23.

38
him “die Banalitát des Bósen” characteristic of the “millions of ordinary
men who differed from Eichmann only in being differently employed.”14
Dramatic interpretations of the Nuremburg and the Frankfurt Auschwitz
Trials, as well as of Eichmann’s trial in Jerusalem all emphasize this
same theme.
Some significant documentary dramas from the mid-Sixties are
based on materials generated by war crimes trials: Die Ermittlung (1965)
by Peter Weiss, Joel Brand. Die Geschichte eines Geschafts (1965) by
Heinar Kipphardt, and nrozefi in mirnherg (1967) by DDR dramatist Rolf
Schneider. Though they are based on actual documentary materials these
works are not without their problems. The selected materials fit to some
extent the playwright’s predetermined agenda. However, the
dramatization of trial proceedings neatly circumvents several major
obstacles in writing about the Holocaust. Events are related in hind-sight
rather than reenacted. Crimes and atrocities are recounted by both victims
and perpetrators in a controlled, factually scripted situation. The
courtroom itself creates a well-known visual parameter in which
incomprehensible events are explored. The script utilizes the same
historical language that played such a crucial role in the Nazi’s success.
Lastly, there is the structure of the trial itself whose sole purpose is to
determine responsibility for crimes committed. The trial process itself sets
distinct criteria for the types of evidenciary material permitted. The
building of the case creates forward momentum in a drama where the
verdict is a foregone conclusion.
14 Michael Hamburger, After the Second Flood: Essays on the Postwar German
Era (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1986) 37.

39
These dramas are significant in that they “broke through the
comfortable myth of National Socialism having been the work of a small
group of madmen, to ask telling and highly differentiated questions about
personal guilt and also about the involvement of German business in
National Socialism.”15 The trial dramas all focus on the ability of ordinary
German citizens to carry out atrocities, and the inability of many to
comprehend how the sum total of their individual actions culminates in the
unthinkable. As in earlier works of Vergangenheitsbewaltigung, these
dramatists are again quick to shift a large portion of responsibility to
anonymous, monolithic forces. The significant difference is that these
contributors to the Holocaust are largely external. Capitalism and the
Allies are both popular targets. Rolf Hochhuth chastises the Catholic
Church for its politically expedient passivity during World War II in his
1962 drama Per Stellvertreter. Despite overwhelming documentary
evidence, the problem of individual responsibility remains unresolved both
in the courtroom and in literature.
During the late 1960s and early 1970s the literary focus turned from
the broad historical stage to the intimate sphere of family life. Unlike
works from the immediate post-war era, a younger generation of authors
undertook essentially factual explorations of the roles played by family
members and neighbors during the Third Reich. Often childhood
perceptions were irreconcilable with both accepted collective history and
existing archival evidence. Several novels from the 1970s view Nazi
atrocities from a very immediate, personal context and often incorporate
authentic documentary materials. Using strategies developed in
15 Keith Bullivant, “The Spectre of the Third Reich. The West German Novel of the
1970s and National Socialism,” After the ‘Death of Literature.’ West German Writing of
the 1970s. ed. Keith Bullivant (New York: Berg, 1989) 141.

40
documentary dramas, several writers associated with the
Studentenbewegung turned to the materials locked away in local
Giftschranke to deconstruct “official” versions of events. Younger writers,
too young to have actively participated in Nazi society yet indelibly marked
by fascism, confronted perpetrators and Mitlaufer within their own
immediate social circles. Unlike the documentary playwrights, however,
they tend to be critical of historical documents and the circumstances
under which they were created. This generation was exposed early to Nazi
propaganda, censorship and Allied reeducation efforts. They were
suspicious of the unreflected transformation from fascism to democratic
capitalism. The result was an inherent mistrust of language and
institutions of authority which characterize the Vaterromane and
documentary novels of the Seventies and early Eighties. They all explore
the discrepancies between fabricated and factual versions of events during
the Third Reich perpetrated within the family and what effect this had on
their upbringing and family dynamics.16 Some better known examples
include Peter Hártling’s Nachgetragene Liehe (1980), Christoph Meckel’s
Suchbild (1980), Giinter Seuren’s Abschied von einem Morder (1980). In
these Vaterromane the writers assume the mantle of judge and jury in
evaluating the actions of family and neighbors.
Manfred Franke’s documentary novel, Mordverlaufe (1973), is typical
of this period. As an adult he sets out to uncover what really happened in
his small Rhineland town during the Reichskristallnacht. The novel’s
subtitle (“9./10.XI.1938 Ein Protokoll von der Angst, von MiBhandlung und
Tod, vom Auffinden der Spuren und deren Wiederentdeckung”) initially
16 Keith Bullivant, Realism Today. Aspects of the Contemporary West German
Novel (Leamington Spa, Hamburg, New York: Berg, 1987) 158.

41
attests to the addition of a new goal for Vergangenheitsbewaltigung, that of
historical rehabilitation. But despite a thorough evaluation of available
materials this goal proves unattainable. It quickly becomes apparent that
ostensibly factual sources such as police reports, trial proceedings,
depositions, interviews, newspaper articles are all tainted. In retrospect
Franke discovers that it is impossible to differentiate between actual events
and the public fabrication, or quite literally to separate fact from fiction.
From Franke’s perspective the fictionalization process of the
Reichskristallnacht assumes greater significance than his initial objective
of establishing what actually happened that night. The corruption of
documentary material to substantiate a public version of events
demonstrates how, despite the outward repudiation of violence, a society
can systematically rationalize murder and persecution. By the end of the
war the fiction was a psychological necessity. It was impossible to reconcile
the reality of the Holocaust with the faces of friends and neighbors. In the
post-war investigation by the Allies the townspeople were given an
opportunity to rectify errors in public mythology, but again fail to punish
those responsible for murder. The failure to administer justice, despite
radically changed political circumstances, becomes an indictment of not
just one small town, but of an entire society.
For Franke, the actual events of the local Reichskristallnacht me far
less damning than the townspeople’s inability to act or to later take
responsibility for the horrific cumulative results of their passivity. In the
end, the evidence as it exists and the story behind its corruption bears out
his initial supposition: “Audi Nichthandeln ist Handeln.”17 Both violence
17 Manfred Franke, Mordveriaufe. 9./10.XI.1938 Ein Protokoll von der Angst, von
Mifihandlung nnd Tod, vom Auffmden der Spuren und deren Wiederentdeckung
(Frankfurt a.M.: Fischer, 1973) 27.

42
and passivity played decisive roles in the systematic persecution of Jews
and other undesirables. In Mordverlaufe. as in other works of
documentary literature, Franke demonstrates with ample evidence how
victims of Nazi persecution were hurried along the route to the
concentration camps by innumerable individual instances of action or even
passivity.
There are two features which distinguish Jahrestace from many
other novels of the genre. Rather than beginning with her own birth,
which neatly coincides with Hitler’s assumption of power, Gesine’s
historical reconstruction chronicles both the prelude and the aftermath to
National Socialism. Within the context of her story Johnson cites historical
evidence to demonstrate his premise that Hitler’s Third Reich was neither
an insular historical epoch nor the culmination of a tragic historical chain
of events. There are numerous political, social and economic ties which
link it firmly to the failed Weimar Republic and the American Vietnam
War era. The New York narrative becomes the crucial component in his
argument. By placing the historical reconstruction in a contemporary and,
most importantly, non-German context Johnson accomplishes several
objectives. Because of the complex interrelationship between the Jerichow
and New York stories, National Socialism is effectively chained to an
historical continuum leading directly to the present.
Although Gesine is separated from Germany’s Nazi legacy by an
ocean and almost a quarter century, reminders of her childhood
experiences are everywhere. She regularly comes across related items in
The New York Times. Her interest in modem Germany as reflected in the
text are limited: war crimes trials, developments between East and West,
the Neo-Faschist movement and former Nazis still active in the West

43
German government. The Cresspahl’s Upper Manhattan neighborhood is
home to many dislocated Jews. In addition to Mrs. Ferwalter, a
concentration camp survivor who ironically suppresses any sense of anger
or outrage against the Germans in her desire to preserve a precarious
historical mythology, Gesine has other acquaintances who are victims of
the Third Reich. She describes sociology professor Dmitri Weiszand as an
“Absolvent mehrerer Lager in Osteuropa (I, 145). Her tutor for Czech,
Anatol Kreslil, lost his wife to starvation while they were in hiding from the
Nazis. She also finds National Socialism a facet of her own identity. In the
eyes of others it is often impossible to separate her from her homeland’s
Fascist past. It is a distinction that Gesine herself is often incapable of
making. In the New York story her surroundings and the paper are a
constant reminder of the links of history.
At the bank, among friends, as well as within the context of her own
historical reconstruction, Gesine cannot escape the label of “die Deutsche.”
Whether the subject is politics or history Gesine is expected to justify her
country, and by extension, herself:
Erklaren Sie uns das. Es sind doch Ihre Landsleute,
Mrs. Cresspahl. Versuchen Sie uns, dies zu erklaren.
(II, 794)
While any explanation is doomed to failure from the outset, it must
nevertheless be attempted. The novel is in effect an attempt to fulfill the
request.
With a few exceptions, such as Christa Wolfs Kindheitsmuster.
Vergangenheitsbewaltigung remained primarily a West German concept:
“The increased emphasis in the Federal Republic on Bewaltigung of the
Nazi past, particularly by means of a self-exploratory, self-revelatory

44
psychological process, converged with—and possibly helped create—literary
tendencies toward split perspectives and the unveiling of the author within
the text. . . .’’is Like Johnson, Wolf also considers strenuous engagement
with the past an unending, if unavoidable, process: “Für diejenigen, die in
der Zeit des Faschismus aufwuchsen, kann es kein Datum geben, von dem
ab sie ihn ais ‘bewáltigt’ erkláren konnen.”W It is not only an undertaking
for Germans, but for other societies.
In Jahrestage Johnson removes the discussion of
Vergangenheitsbewaltigung from a strictly West German context, and
with it any pretenses of progress in that area: “Ich kann mich weder von
der deutschen Vergangenheit noch von der deutschen Gegenwart
dispensieren.”20 Gesine systematically chips away at her armor of
socialized consciousness in an American venue against a background of
international events. Her New York City surroundings places Gesine’s
reevaluation of the past in an entirely new context: “So zieht sie dem
Abstand von 6000 Kilometer Geschichte ein, so macht sie uns den hiesigen
Aufenthalt angenehm” (I, 173). The distance enables “eine die nationalen
Grenze hinter sich lassende Blickweise.”2! Her efforts are also in part a
concerted effort to address her daughter’s curiosity about her family and
homeland. Marie’s separation from her German roots is more than
1® Sandra Frieden, '"In eigener Sache”: Christa Wolfs ‘Kindheitsmuster,’”
German Quarterly 54 (19811: 473.
W Hans Kaufmann, “Gesprach mit Christa Wolf,” Weimarer Beitrava 20 (1974):
98.
“ll As quoted by Theo Buck in his article, “Anstande mit der Wahrheit,” Text +
Kritik 65/66 (1980): 20.
21 Buck 21.

45
geographical. She represents a generation whose knowledge of the Second
World War is entirely second hand, but is aware that issues from the past
continue to impact the Cresspahl family’s daily existence. Thus, Johnson’s
Jerichow story transcends both political divisions and generation gaps.
What distinguishes Jahrestage from other earlier works addressing
National Socialism is that Gesine’s reexamination of the past results in the
undermining of the Vergangenheitsbewaltigung process itself:
Es ist notwendig, das festzustellen um desto
unbefangener und vorbehaltloser liber das sprechen zu
konnen, was auch an diesem Buch—wie an den
vorangegangenen—kostbar und unvergleichlich ist.
Dazu gehort in erster Linie Gesines heimlicher Zweifel
an der Tauglichkeit ihrer Vergangenheitsarbeit. Gesine
versenkt sich ja nicht proustisch ins Gewesene, um aus
seiner Vereinigung mit dem Gegenwártigen etwas
Allgemeines, ein Gesetz, eine “ewige” Wahrheit zu
gewinnen. Was sie will, ist vielmehr eine praktische
Lektion fiir ihre Tochter.22
She does not seek reconcile past and present in order to come to terms with
contemporary Germany. She in fact rejects the BRD as a viable political
alternative because it pretends to have adequately addressed the past
despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The discussion
surrounding the statue of limitations for war crimes is the first West
German current event mentioned in Jahrestage: “Die westdeutche
Regierung will die Verjáhrung fiir Morde und Massenausrottung in der
Nazizeit ganz und gar aufheben, vielleicht” (I, 21).23 The overwhelming
majority of BRD items reported in The New York Times are in some way
22 Blocker, “Prager Traum—New Yorker Wirklichkeit” 165.
23 The significance of this particular news item in Jahrestage is often mis-
construed in secondary literature. See Ch.6 for further discussion.

46
connected to the Third Reich. There are, of course, a number of articles
appearing during 1967/8 which deal with completely different issues,
although they do not usually make the front page, unlike the more
sensational reports from the courtroom. In any case, Gesine does not
generally make note of them in the narrative. This topic’s prevalence in
The New York Times, and subsequently in Jahrestage. suggests at least
from a U.S. perspective that Germany’s identity remains inseparable from
National Socialism for the foreseeable future:
. . . nur soli die jeweils erzahlte Vergangenheit uns
unsere gegenwartigen Verháltnisse erklaren. Wir
konnen die Nachrichten von unseren Vorgángern
gebrauchen, wenn sie auch Nachrichten für und über
uns sind.24
The central role played by Marie in Gesine’s exploration of the past is also a
strong argument that, unlike in the legal system, there should be no
question of statute of limitations on the past. As Christa Wolf suggests, it is
an ongoing process with no foreseeable conclusion.
In Johnson’s Jahrestage and Wolfs Kindheitsmuster the
questioning of public and private history is intimately linked to the
determination of individual identity. Gesine and Nelly, her counterpart in
Kindheitsmuster. both set out to recover an authentic version of childhood
under the Nazis as a response to a post-war society based on historical
fabrication and alienation: “Niemals haben Menschen so vieles vergessen
sollen, urn funktionsfahig zu bleiben, wie die, mit denen wir leben.”25
Wolfs historical reconstruction also acknowledges the immediacy of
Germany’s recent past in contemporary life:
Uwe Johnson, “Vorschláge zur Priifung eines Homans” 31-2.
25 Christa Wolf. Kindheitsmuster (Darmstadt/Nenwiad- Luchterhand, 1987) 451.

47
. . . [es] ist nicht tot; es ist nicht einmal vergangen. Wir
trennen es von uns ab und stellen uns fremd.26
For the protagonists of both novels the exploration of childhood becomes a
means by which they can reclaim their sense of self and purpose.
Repression used as a survival mechanism sets a dangerous precedent.
Their individual projects gain particular significance as their young
daughters become politically cognizant. Wolf uses news events in alluding
to recurrent patterns of socialization and the sometimes destructive results
on a world-wide scale. Ongoing conflict in Southeast Asia, Chile and the
Middle Bast, along with an increasingly chilly Cold War all have their
historical counterparts. The implications of these patterns are personal as
well as global. Likewise, Gesine can find ample evidence for the failure of
Vergangenheitsbewaltigung in the news from West Germany:
Immer noch hahen sie in Westdeutschland einen Greis
zum Staatsprásidenten, der im Jahre 1944 Baupláne fur
Konzentrationslager unterzeichnet haben soil. Er
glaubt nicht, dab er es tat; einen Eid konnte er nicht
darauf ablegen. Ein amerikanischer Schriftensach-
verstandiger hat die Signatur auf den Planen als die des
Staatsprásidenten erkannt. Ein honner Student, der
neben dem Ñamen des Staatsprásidenten in einer
Ehrenrolle die Berufsbezeichnung “K.Z.-Baumeister”
eintrug, wurde von der Universitát gewiesen. Die
Christlich-Demokratische Union, der die Sozial-
demokraten beim Regieren helfen, antwortet auf
Forderungen nach dem Rücktritt des Belasteten: Wer
das verlange, wolle nur die Koalition unter Druck setzen
und die Weichen fiir die Wahl einer anderen stellen; das
ist der Stellenwert von Konzentrationslagern in der
westdeutschen Politik; ein solches Land ist das, und
Mrs. Ferwalter sagt: Sicherlich mubte jeder das
damals tun, gewifi hatte er eine Ehefrau. (II, 788-9)
26 Wolf 9.

48
The furor over Bundesprásident Heinrich Lübke's complicity in the
construction of Nazi concentration camps lasts several weeks. Gesine has
little to say about his participation in the Endlósung or the current scandal.
She lets his political maneuverings speak for themselves. The focus of the
newspaper items in the text is clearly on how clear-cut evidence of Liibcke's
collaboration is received by the press, the public and politicians. His evasive
replies to the charges, along with his party’s reaction to the scandal,
illustrate clearly the government's failure to confront latent elements of
National Socialism from within. The backlash against those who brought
Liibcke's collaboration to light is particularly vicious. The student who
brings the documents to the public’s attention is expelled from the
university. The CDU decries the accusations against Liibcke as blatant
political mudslinging. That the signature on the blueprints—material
evidence authenticated by an American handwriting expert—exists at all is
of seemingly secondary importance. The need to rationalize proves
overwhelming on both a political and a personal level, as illustrated by Mrs.
Ferwalter. The content of the debate is a clear indicator of the current West
German political climate.
In their examinations of childhood under fascism, Johnson and Wolf
both address the layers of socialized consciousness which makes it possible
to sustain this sort of public self-deception over time. In Kindheitsmuster.
the reconstruction process centers around the question: “Wie sind wir so
geworden, wie wir heute sind?” Wolfs approach to the past is a self-
exploratory analysis of psychological process which probes a childhood that
is “vergessen, verdrángt, verleugnet.”27 The tenacity of the survival
mechanism proves a stumbling block for Wolfs autobiographical persona
27 Wolf 12.

49
in the novel. For her the key to the past-and ultimately to freedom from its
repetitive patterns—is an understanding of the subjective process. Wolf
points unequivocally to “dieser fatale Hang der Geschichte zu
Wiederholungen, gegen den man sich wappnen muB.”28 Similarly,
Johnson’s protagonist struggles to obtain some measure of objectivity. His
emphasis is on the process of analysis and change. The exploration of
Gesine’s awareness (Bewuptsein) and perception only lays the groundwork
for the writer’s true purpose. In an interview with Manfred Durzak,
Johnson articulates the crucial second step which is his principal objective.
It is the moment when the reader recognizes:
Ja, so wie es da geschrieben steht, so ist es, so leben wir.
Aber wollen wir so leben?”29
For Gesine, an understanding of how individual actions (i.e. those of family
and neighbors) contributed to past events is a necessary prerequisite to
responsible action in the present. Wolf believes recognition of such patterns
is the beginning of their exorcism. Conversely, Johnson finds that there is
no escape from the patterns of the past.
The news from West Germany indicates that elements of National
Socialism are deep entrenched in the highest echelons of nation politics.
The uproar over the discovery of Bundesprásident Heinrich Liibcke’s
signature on concentration camp blueprints is only one example.
Bundeskanzler—and former Nazi party member—Kurt Georg Kiesinger
shows blatant disregard for the Vergangenheitsbewaltigung concept when
28 Wolf 159.
29 Manfred Durzak, “Dieser langsame Weg zu einer gróBeren Genauigkeit.
Gesprach mit Uwe Johnson,” Gesprache über den Roman. Formbestimmungen und
Analvsen. ed. Manfred Durzak (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1976) 431. See also
Johnson’s essay on the novel, “Vorschlage zur Priifung eines Romans.”

50
he appoints another “ehemaligen Angehoriger und Beamter der Nazis” to
the post of party speaker (I, 253), who remains unnamed in the text itself.
Gesine is so incensed by the successful political rehabilitation of Franz
Josef StrauB that she lists it among her reasons for leaving the BRD. The
man, whom she refuses to name in the text, served as ‘“Offizier für
wehrgeistige Fiihrung’ . . . Voraussetzung: aktiver Nationalsozialist” and
afterwards “gab er sich aus ais Widerstandskámpfer.” His subsequent slick
political maneuverings-upon which Gesine elaborates over the next three
pages-have brought him within reach of what he truly desires: “Der Mann
mochte Kanzler von Westdeutschland werden und Atomwaffen unter den
Druckknopf bekommen” (IV, 1874). StrauB embodies the egotism and
moral bankruptcy rampant in West German politics. A return to the BRD
under such circumstances is impossible: “Hátt ich je Heimweh nach der
westdeutschen Politik, ein Bild hángt ich mir auf von dem” (IV, 1874).
West German political reality belies any pretense of progress in confronting
the recent past.
Gesine, like other Johnson characters, is locked into the identity
determined by her sociopolitical environment:
. . . ich gebe dir recht, immer von neuem verwechselt er
die Person mit der staatlichen Herkunft. Für ihn bin ich
Deutschland, das vorige und die beiden jetzigen, fur ihn
habe ich manchmal kein Gesicht am Kopf, sondern
nationales Pigment, ihm bin ich verantwortlich für die
westdeutsche Bundesbahn und für die westdeutschen
Nazis. (I, 145)
The societies in which she participated have all left their mark. As an
individual she is powerless to bring about significant change. Even if she
could manage to transcend the pasts’ internalized patterns, she would be
unable to change the attitudes of those around her.

51
Johnson’s Jahrestage simultaneously explores and criticizes the
concept of Vergangenheitsbewaltigung. However, the novel’s closing
image reinforces the links of history: “Wir hielten einander an den
Hánden: ein Kind; ein Mann unterwegs an den Ort wo die Toten sind; und
sie, das Kind das ich war” (IV, 1891). This same interrelationship of past
and present, particularly in the confrontation of German fascism, is echoed
in Christa Wolfs Kindheitsmuster. where “der heutige Tag ist schon der
letzte Tag der Vergangenheit.”30
Through the figure of Gesine Johnson articulates the concerns of an
entire generation seeking to define their identity as citizens of post-war
Germany:
Das ist einer Person vom Jahre 1933, die im Jahre 67/68
nicht mehr in Deutschland sitzt, wo sie gehoren ist,
sondern in New York, und die in den eigentiimlichen
Zustand geraten ist, der manche Leute um die 30
ankommt. Das ist der Zustand, in dem man sich
unverhofft, ohne dad man es vorher geahnt hat, fragt:
“Woher komme ich eigentlich, was sind meine Eltern
gewesen, was ist das für ein Land, in dem ich
aufgewachsen bin, wie kamen meine Eltern dazu, dad
ich 1933 geboren wurde in dem Zustand Deutschlands,
der damals war?” Das fragt sich diese Person. Sie ist
sicherlich nicht die einzige, die sich das fragt, und sie
versucht nun durch Erinnerungsversuche, durch
Rekonstruktionsversuche, sich selber zu finden.31
Clearly, Jahrestage is a novel about history and the historical process,
although Gesine’s historical reconstruction takes place in a distinctly non-
German context. Up to this point, however, this one-sided view of the novel
has all but eclipsed the role of New York City as Jerichow’s temporal,
thematic and structural opposite. Her new vantage point, and eventual
30 Wolf 9.
M Schmid 255.

52
rejection of both German political alternatives, projects these issues on the
American stage. There has been little discussion about the novel as a
historical chronicle of America in the late 1960s, which over the last thirty
years has achieved its own historicity.
The significance of New York and the issues facing the U.S. during
1967/8 in Johnson’s Jahrestage were of only secondary interest to critics
until the early 1980s. Most subscribed to Christian Gebert’s position that
Johnson, like Columbus who embarked for India only to discover America,
“namlich, etwas gescheiter durch die modernen Verkehrsverháltnisse,
kam nach Amerika und entdeckte Mecklenburg.”32 Only with the
publication of the long-awaited fourth and final volume of Jahrestage in
1983 did the examination of Johnson’s Amerikabild gain momentum. It
was also not by chance that this new direction in Johnson criticism
coincided with a trend among American Germanists to emphasize
American-German interrelationships in literature and other areas. The
early 1980s saw a spate of publications addressing the U.S image in
literature. As a result well-known works by a range of writers from
Goethe, Heinrich Heine and many 20th century writers were reexamined
in a new context. Post-war works in particular were at the forefront of the
discussion.
Beginning in the 1950s the U.S. is used by several post-war writers as
a vast background against which the protagonist evolves-or unravels. In
many cases the events are loosely autobiographical. America plays a
prominent role in several of Max Frisch’s novels, as well as in his
Tagebuch 1966-1971. In their far-reaching quests for identity, the
protagonists of Homo f'aber (1957), Stiller (1954), Mein Name sei Gantenbein
32 Christian Gebert, “United States of Mecklenburg,” Johnsons “.Tahrestape” 147.

53
(1964) and Montauk (1975) all traverse large tracts of the country. In
contrast to Johnson, Frisch’s depictions of the U.S. fall more or less in the
category of Reiseprosa. Typically, America takes shape in his novels as a
composite of highways, cities and airports. The scenery is secondary to the
character’s futile search for meaning. Another example is Wolfgang
Koeppen’s travelogue, Amerikafahrt (1959).33
In general, Durzak characterizes this portrayal of America in
German literature before the mid-Sixties as stilted and clichéed:
Ein Amerika-Image, das kaum mehr in erster Linie von
der Literatur propagiert wurde, sondern an dem die
Literatur gleichsam nur partizipierte, wie von allem
zahlreiche—bereits analysierte—Reiseberichte belegen.
Die Massenmedien, politische und kulturelle
Journalistik, haben in erster Linie dieses neue
Amerika-Image kreiert, das weitgehend affirmative
Geltung hatte und das publizistische Feigenblatt fur eine
politische Machtposition abgab, mit der man sich háufig
identifizierte.34
The image of the U.S. as a patriarchal democratic superpower suffered as
the Cold War progressed. A younger generation of German writers began
to question long-entrenched East-West political positions, and the severe
repercussions the conflict had for Germany in particular. Durzak also
points to American intervention in Vietnam as the point where “der groBe
Bruder, der sich zum Hüter der westlichen Freiheit in der Welt
aufgeschwungen hatte, an rapider moralischer Auszehrung zu erkranken
[begann] .”35 Reinhard Lettau’s scathingly critical Taglicher Faschismus.
33 For a more in-depth discussion of the Amerikabild in German literature refer to
Manfred Durzak’s study, Das Amerika-Bild in der deutschen Gegenwartsliteratur.
Historische Voraussetzungen und aktuelle Beisniele (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1979).
34 Durzak, “Abrechnung mit einer Utopie?” 176.
35 Durzak, “Abrechnung mit einer Utopie?” 177.

54
Amerikanische Evidenz aus 6 Monaten (1971), which describes a nation
saturated with fascism and violence, is indicative of a new image of
America. Similarly, Jiirg Federspiel’s dark portrait of New York City,
Museum des Hasses. Tage in Manhattan (1969), describes a cold, inhuman
society self-destructing from within.
By contrast, in a tamer version of the loosely structured “road novel”
inspired by Beat writer Jack Kerouac’s On the Road (1957) Peter Handke
uses the U.S. as a completely apolitical backdrop for a warring couple in
Per kurze Brief zum langen Ahschied (1972). Several works of varying
quality were the result of writer-in-residence visits such as Martin
Walser’s campus novel, Brandung (1985), Gunter Kunert’s Per and ere
Planet. Ansichten von Amerika (1974), along with such later works as
Pieter Wellershoffs Florida Reisebericht, Im Lande des Alligators (1992).
The Jahrestage narrative can be broken down into three basic
threads, which are nominally linked by the collaborative project between
Gesine and her narrative partner. On one level, the novel recounts
Gesine’s experiences “as a citizen and a taxpayer of New York.”36 The
reconstructive narrative depicting Gesine’s recollections of childhood and
early adulthood in the small Mecklenburg town of Jerichow constitutes a
second level. A third narrative strand expressed in italics, consists almost
entirely of real and imagined exchanges. Often these are between Gesine
and long-dead figures from her past. Each narrative strand is
characterized by a distinct style, viewpoint, and historical time. These
three separate narrative strands intersect in Gesine, who is the focal point
36 A. Leslie Wilson, “‘An unacknowledged humorist’: An Interview with Uwe
Johnson. Sheerness-in-Kent, 20 April 1982,” Dimension. Contemporary German Arts
and Letters 15 (1982): 412.

55
and primary narrator of this novel encompassing The City, The Sixties,
and Germany’s recent past.
The three strands function independently in the narrative, but share
a degree of thematic interdependence. Transitions between them results in
an implied thematic counterpoint. Gesine’s past and present experiences
coexist with a larger sociopolitical reality in which she is a minute, but
relevant, participant. Peter Beckes describes the relationship between the
two as an “enge Verzahnung zwischen Privatspháre und offentlichen
Belangen, zwischen der ‘Banalitát’ des Alltags und den groBen politischen
Staatsaktionen in beiden Wirklichkeiten.”37 The proximity of items from
different narrative threads in the text imply associations between past and
present events, rather than through any overt intervention by the narrator.
However, in a novel which many critics consider as being one about recent
German history, the coexistence of the Jerichow and New York narrative
strands has long been a source of pointed criticism:
Schon dieser kokette Provinzialismus, modisch
konfrontiert den New Yorker Kulissen (alies natürlich
mit Akribie beobachtet, oh!, da stimmt jedes Detail): Mai
Dialekt aus Mecklenburg, gleich darauf die headlines
der “New York Times,” damit niemand sagen konne,
man sei unaktuell, die unertrágliche Preziositát, die aus
US-Negern “Bürger afrikanischer Abstammung,” aus
Landstreichern “Stadtstreicher” und aus den in
Vietnam Gefallenen “beruflich am Krieg Gestorbene”
macht. . . . Und dann die vielen falschen,
überanstrengten Vergleiche.38
â– ri Beckes 65.
Peter Hamm, “Uwe Johnson, der Schwierige,” Johnsons “Jahrestave" 154.

56
Gebert is not alone in considering these passages “von geringem
Interesse.”39 Consistently, critics’ objections to Johnson’s obsessive
attention to detail is limited to the contemporary narrative strand,
especially the inclusion of contemporary events from The New York Times.
For many, the coexistence of the two narrative strands implies a
problematic comparison between Nazi Germany and the U.S. in the late
Sixties, an assumption which Johnson vehemently denies.
In her study Uwe Johnsons “Jahrestape”: Die Gegenwart als
variierende Wiederholung der Vergangenheit. Roberta Hye argues-not
entirely without success in some cases-for the direct correlation between
past and present events through the continual recurrence of evil.40 Her
argument for Johnson’s portrayal of human history as an endless, violent
cycle is based on a perceived pattern of correlation between newspaper
items and historical events. She further contends that Johnson uses these
parallel events to suggest similarities between America in the late 1960s
and Nazi Germany:
Das Gleiche wiederholt sich nach Johnsons Vorstellungen
nicht. Wohl aber kehrt Áhnliches wieder zum Beispiel,
obwohl der Zweite Weltkrieg einmalig ist, kommen Kriege
in der Geschichte immer wieder vor und mit ihnen
verwandte Erscheinungen. In Jahrestage sind die
Variationen in der Wiederholung durch die spezifischen
Daten—1938 und 1968—durch die Personen—die
Vergangenheitsgeschichte gehort Heinrich Cresspahl und
die Gegenwartsgeschichte seiner Tochter Gesine—und
schlieBlich durch die Schauplátze des Romans-Jerichow
00 Gebert 149.
40 “Uwe Johnson zieht zwar Parallelen zwischen dem Deutschland der dreiBiger
Jahre und dem Amerika von 1968. Aber er bleibt . . . nicht bei der Parallelitát der zwei
Perioden stehen, sondern geht dariiber hinaus und stellt mit seinem Werk eine
Geschichtserfahrung dar: Die Gegenwart erscheint als variierende Weiderholung der
Vergangenheit.” Roberta Hye, Uwe Johnsons “Jahrestage”: Die Gegenwart als
variierende Wiederholung der Vergangenheit (Frankfurt a.M./ New York: Peter Lang,
1978)10.

SI
und die Stadt New York-gegeben. Aber obwohl die Daten,
Ñamen und Orte verschieden sind, bleiben das Bild der
Welt und das Bild des Menschen in beiden im Roman
geschilderten Epochen sich gleich. Der Mensch andert
sich nicht; das besagt, er ist genauso bose in Amerika 1968
wie er 1938 Deutschland war.41
Hye’s supposition, however, goes too far in establishing correlations
between the two narrative threads, especially in her insistence on the
interchangeability of historical epochs. She claims that the similarity
between the Gestapo and the CIA “ist nicht zu unterschatzen.” In her
estimation there is also little appreciable difference between the CIA
practices and the methods employed by the East German government.42
She views the “Fangeliste” hung at every post office with the rumored
“komputerisierten Karteien des CIAs für jeden Bürger afrikanischer
Abstammung.”43 In this case, Hye fails to distinguish between fact and
fiction, contrary to Johnson’s own position cited in the text. The supposed
CIA files on African-Americans are part of a larger conspiracy theory in
which this information will be used to incarcerate them in camps to
preclude a racial civil war. This scenario-among others which are equally
questionable—is part of the small talk at a cocktail party given by Gráfin
Seydlitz.44 The speaker, Anselm Kristlein,45 makes a number of
41 Hye 11.
42 Hye 55.
43 Hye 55-6.
44 The character is modeled after Hannah Arendt who lived near Johnson on
Riverside Drive.
45 “(Auch) Romanfigur von Martin Walser.” Kleines Adrefíbuch für Jerichow
und New York. Ein Register zu Uwe Johnsons Roman “Jahrestage.” ed. Rolf Michaelis
(Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1983) 157.

58
questionable comments which are either ignored or attributed to alcohol:
“Der ist immer gleich so schwer angeschlagen” (II, 877). Gesine has little
to contribute to the swirl of conversation “in diesem Abbild einer
verrottenden Gesellschaft,” and leaves. Her unwillingness to speak up
becomes grounds for criticism:
Mupte sein, Gesine.
Muflte sein.
Wenn du schon hingehst, warum driickst du dich an
den Wánden he rum?
Damit ich es sehen kann.
Du sollst den Mund aufmachen, Gesine! (II, 878)
Hye also cites Johnson’s use of Hans Magnus Enzensberger’s letter, in
which he renounces his stipend at Wesleyan University in protest against
U.S. involvement in Vietnam. She sees this as evidence of deliberate
parallels within the novel, “von Uwe Johnson ausdriicklich
durchgeführt.”46 Here again Hye falsely attributes statements to Johnson,
and ignores Gesine’s subsequent comments on the matter. The parallels,
however, are clearly drawn by Enzensberger alone, as demonstrated both in
the text and the original document: “So wie in den U.S.A. heutzutage war
es in den mittleren dreifiiger Jahren in Deutschland” (II, 800). Gesine
flatly dismisses his contentions:
- Naomi, deswegen mag ich in Westdeutschland nicht leben.
- Weil solche Leute dort Wind machen?
- Ja. Solche guten Leute. (II, 803)
The last sentence is a direct reference to Johnson’s essay, “Über eine
Haltung des Protestierens” (1967), in which he pointedly criticizes those
who pay lip service to the peace movement only as long as it poses no
46
Hye 59.

59
personal inconvenience: “Die guten Leute wollen eine gute Welt; die guten
Leute tun nichts dazu.”47 Enzensberger himself falls into this category.
His convictions are of overriding concern only when he fears the loss of his
credibility as a leftist intellectual (II, 801-2). Instead of remaining in a
place where he potentially might make a difference, he leaves for Cuba: “Er
hat eben einfach so den Gedanken, daC er von den Bewohnern Cubas mehr
lernen kann (“Freude”), ais den Studenten der Wesleyan University an
politischer Haltung beibringen” (I, 802). The passage in the novel is
markedly similar to the essay in subject matter. Further, both use the
same formulated phrase, “solche Leute.” Any doubt the passage alludes to
the essay as a parallel text is dispelled when Gesine states: “Vietnam ist
das Spanien unserer Generation! Das sagen solche Leute” (II, 801). This
essay originally appeared in English as part of Authors Take Sides on
Vietnam: Two Questions on the War in Vietnam Answered bv Authors of
Several Nations.48 which was modeled on an immensely popular collection
of essays addressing the Spanish Civil War. The tone of this particular
passage in Jahrestage. together with the earlier essay, leaves no question
that Gesine and her narrator reject simplistic historical equations put
forward by Enzensberger and his contemporaries.
Any direct correlation between America in the 1960s and Germany in
the 1930s is also refuted by Johnson. He concedes the reciprocal
relationship between the Jerichow and New York narratives, but
consistently avoids drawing any unequivocal one-dimensional links
between Nazi Germany and the political climate in the U.S during the
47 Uwe Johnson, “Über eine Haltung des Protestierens,” Berliner Sachen 95.
48 see Cecil Woolf and John Bagguley, Authors Take Sides on Vietnam: Two
Questions on the War in Vietnam Answered bv Authors of Several Nations. (London:
Peter Owen, 1967).

60
Vietnam War era. In an interview with Dieter Zimmer he elaborates on
the narrative function of associative chains in Jahrestage:
Es kommen aus der amerikanischen Gegenwart sehr wohl
Anstofie, es werden Ereignisse von damals heraufgerufen
durch Ereignisse von heute, lediglich aber heraufgerufen.
Wenn zum Beispiel bei den Unruhen in Washington eine
Háuserzeile ausgebrannt ist, so ist fiir sie die Folgerung:
So sáhe ein Krieg in amerikanischen Stadten aus—Von
diesem Vorstellungsbild kommt sie zuriick auf ihren
eigenen Krieg, auf das Jahr 1945; daran schliefit sich das
Sterben des Flughafens Mariengabe bei Jerichow an.49
Parallels within the text are purely accidental and arise naturally from the
material itself. Johnson brusquely criticized efforts to establish direct
correspondences between the two epochs:
. . . ich hatte vor, diese Person bei ihrem alltáglichen
Leben in New York, bei der Erinnerung an das Echo
hestandener Tage zu zeigen. Das ist der eine Aspekt der
“Jahrestage.” Der tagliche Tag ruft die Erinnerung der
Vergangenheit herauf, den anderen Aspekt. . . . Sie
suchen diametrale Gegensátze, eindeutuge Urteile und
riicksichtslose Stellungnahmen. So kann man aber
nicht leben.50
He repeatedly warns against the inevitable inaccuracies which arise when
attempting to assign a specific correlation between present and past events
recounted by Gesine:
Parallelen begegnen sich ja nicht, das eine bedeutet nicht
das andere. Ich wiirde zum Beispiel von einem
amerikanischen Faschismus nicht sprechen. Das Wort
weist auf die historische Gebundenheit des Phánomens, das
sich so nicht wiederholen wird. Amerika hat andere
Voraussetzungen, andere Strukturen und wird auch
49 Dieter E. Zimmer, “Eine Bewufitseinsinventur. Das Gesprách mit dem Autor:
Uwe Johnson,” Johnsons “Jahrestage” 101.
50 Heinz D. Osterle, “Strukturfragen und Todesgedanken. Eine rátselhafte
Deutsch-Amerikanerin,” Bilder von Amerika: Gespráche mit deutschen Schriftstellern.
ed. Heinz D. Osterle (Münster: Englische Amerikanische Studien, 1987) 127.

61
andere Formen linden ais der italienische oder deutsche
Faschismus.51
The novel’s narrative fabric is much more complex than would be indicated
by its bi-level structure. The continuous shifting between subtly
differentiated narrative perspectives is a central component of Jahrestage.
Polyperspectival narrative is no less important for Gesine’s story than for
earlier novels. Jahrestage displays the same unequivocal rejection of
traditional Balzacian realism as well as of socialist realism’s “abgesungene
epische Totalitát.”52 As elsewhere in Johnson’s prose, overlapping and/or
competing perspectives call into question the use of traditional narrative
categories (i.e. first and third person) which are also employed extensively
in the novel.
In Johnson scholarship discussion of Jahrestage’s narrative
strategies has proved uneven and often contradictory. The only aspects
which will be addressed in any detail here are those pertaining to the New
York narrative, and particularly his use of documentary materials.
However, some background is necessary in order to evaluate widely
divergent conclusions concerning the novel’s shifting narrative
perspectives and the gaps in existing research.
Ingeborg Gerlach reduces the narrative into its two most basic
elements. In her paradigm Gesine relates the historical Jerichow story,
while the contemporary New York strand is told by her narrative partner.
Analyses by Ingeborg Hoesterey and Peter Pokay specifically address
Johnson’s problematic “Vermischung von auktorialen und personalen
51 Zimmer 101.
52
Hoesterey 24.

62
Erzahlsituationen,”53 which Gerlach glosses over. Both argue that in
Jahrestage Johnson adds a critical twist to the continuous shifting between
limited and omniscient narrative perspectives characteristic of the modem
novel, in that the tangle of viewpoints is never sorted out within the text.
According to Ingeborg Hoestery: “Solches Fragen gehbrt freilich . . .
unmittelbar zur Intention des Tex tes.”54 It is often difficult to make a clear
distinction between multiple viewpoints. The continuous destabilization of
narrative integrity is an important, though often overlooked, component of
Jahrestage.
Gesine’s perceptions of the U.S. and contemporary events are also in
constant flux. Of particular interest for this analysis will be the passages
incorporated from The New York Times, which is Gesine’s only consistent
source of information about the U.S. Her knowledge is limited to what she
can read and observe. Her experience of the U.S. are fundamentally
different from her daughter’s. Unlike her mother, Marie is fully
assimilated in the culture: . . gerade als ein fremder Ankommling von
viereinhalb Jahren hatte sie tiichtiger, gewitzter und amerikanischer
werden müssen als die anderen. . . .”55 Gesine’s views on the U.S. are also
quite different from those of her fiancé, Dietrich Erichson, who has
deliberately shut the door on the past and moved on. She continues to
question her sense of identity as an individual, as a German and as a
product of her political upbringing. Her perceptions of New York and the
U.S. in 1967/8 are tied to her attempt to come to terms with these issues.
53 Hoesterey 13.
54 Hoesterey 13.
55 Johnson, Begleitumstande 413.

CHAPTER 3
“WIR SIND ZU CAST HIER”
GESINE, NEW YORK CITY AND THE SIXTIES
Long before Gesine leaves for Prague she is acutely aware that the
hard-won sense of security provided by her job is tenuous at best. Her
survival is guaranteed only from paycheck to paycheck. So she takes
advantage of every opportunity within her control, acknowledging that
appearance is just as important as substance:
Ihr kann alie vierzehn Tage gekvindigt werden. . . . Sie
will keine Versicherung versaumen, nicht einmal die
rechtzeitige Anwesenheit am Arbeitsplatz, die optische
Prásenz. (I, 84)1
However, nothing can insulate her from the fear of random violence or the
stress of urban life.
As a resident of New York City, Gesine is aware of a wide variety of
problematic social issues either through her own observations or through
The New York Times. Social and economic extremes, urban crime,
isolation of the underprivileged and the pervasive effects of poverty are all to
be found just around the corner from her apartment. It is merely a street
or two away: “In den Seitenstrafien zwischen den Avenuen sitzt er
inzwischen in vielen der brownstones” (II, 842). The neighborhood market
1 Uwe Johnson, Jahrestage. All subsequent citations from the novel are indicated
by volume and page.
63

ei
at the comer of 96th Street and Broadway is a cross-section of the ethnically
and economically mixed neighborhood. Its diversity illustrates the best and
the worst of the American melting-pot:
. . . damals und heute standen abgerissene Manner an
den Hauswánden, Hehler wie Diebe, Betrunkene, Irre,
viele afrikanischer Abstammung, arbeitslos, krank,
manche bettelnd. Die Sprachen auf diesem Broadway
sind vielfáltig, verwirrend arbeiten Akzente aller
Kontinente an Versionen des Amerikanischen, im
Vorbeigehen zu horen sind das Spanisch aus Puertoriko
und Cuba, das west-indische Franzosisch, Japanisch,
Chinesisch, Jiddisch, Russisch, die Jargons der
Illegalen und immer wieder das Deutsche, wie es vor
dreiBig Jahren in OstpreuBen, Berlin, Franken,
Sachsen, Hessen gesprochen wurde. (I, 27)
She is attracted by the lively diversity that is in marked contrast to Germany
in general and the homogeneous village where she grew up in particular.
At the same time she is repelled by the privation and suffering in its midst.
Gesine’s paper of choice, The New York Times, is full of reports on
the Vietnam War as well as on drugs, corruption and racial unrest in the
ghettos. The world portrayed in the paper is a daily affront to her well-
regulated, insular life in the Upper West Side. These elements are all
related to Gesine’s crisis of identity: How does one reconcile individual
conscience with sociopolitical reality, and at what price? Rolf Becker
summarizes the unifying theme of Jahrestapn:
Wie ist mit Anstand zu lehen, wie ist gerecht zu urteilen
und wahr zu sprechen in einer Welt allseitig haftbar
machender Systemzwánge, ihrer ideologischen Táusch-
ungen und parteiischen Sprachregelungen? Wie lebt man
mit dem “BewuBtsein schuldnaher Anwesenheit,” von dem
kein Land- und Staatswechsel Gesine entlasten kann?2
2 R. Becker 191.

65
The novel’s central message is that there is no sanctuary from political
reality. The unresolved conflict between personal ideology and harsh
sociopolitical reality profoundly affects Gesine’s view of events past and
present. Gesine enjoys the benefits of a society which is embroiled in a
bloody third-world conflict and discriminates against its own citizens. She
also wrestles with her family’s actions during the Third Reich and what it
means to be German in the post-war era. At times she finds that her own
identity is synonymous with that of Germany’s recent past:
. . . [gute Freunde von mehreren Jahren] sehen mich, und
sie denken an die Verbrechen der Deutschen.
Ohne die Absicht der Kránkung. Es ist ihnen selbst-
verstándlich, natürlich. So verhált es sich. (II, 851-2)
Johnson noted in a letter that, “as a German, you are not treated as an
individual but as a member of a group who did something to the Jews.”3
This theme, which appears in fragmentary form in earlier novels, proves to
be the fundamental reason for Gesine’s reconstruction of her childhood and
her ultimate break with West Germany in Jahrestape.
As a member of the post-war generation, Gesine is the product of a
unique set of sociopolitical circumstances. Years of mind-numbing
ideological indoctrination-first under the Nazis, then the socialists-have
left Gesine with an acute awareness of the sociopolitical forces at work in
her daily life. Her German heritage and her life in the U.S. at this
particular historical crossroad both incur feelings of guilt—if only by
association—which are irreconcilable with her desire to live a morally
correct life: “Ware aber gern ordentlich gewesen, unbeeinfluBt von
Biographie und Vergangenheit, mit richtigem Leben, in einer richtigen
Zeit, mit den richtigen Leuten, zu einem richtigen Zweck” (II, 889). The
3 Ziegfield, Uwe Johnson and Helen Wolff, manuscript.

66
discrepancy between her principals and political reality has crippled her
ability to act. However, she still continues to shoulder the burden of
responsibility and guilt spawned by her continued political passivity.
Experience has shown her repeatedly that, as an individual, she is helpless
to alter government policy or the priorities of society. Under the current
circumstances, Gesine believes political engagement to be futile:
Ich konnte einen Leserbrief an die New York Times
schreiben; ich konnte fürs Leben ins Zuchthaus gehen
wegen eines erfolglosen Attentats auf den Prásidenten
Johnson; ich konnte mich offentlich verbrennen. Mit
Nichts konnte ich die Maschine des Krieges aufhalten
um einen Cent, um einen Soldaten; mit Nichts. (II, 894)
Since all alternatives are flawed in some fundamental way, any attempt at
individual action seems futile. While Gesine declines to actively participate
in the political process, her destiny is nonetheless governed by political
forces as she becomes ever more involved with the Czechoslovakian reform
movement professionally and personally.
Within the confines of the tightly regulated calendar structure,
Jahrestage chronicles Gesine’s search for meaning and identity amidst the
uncertainty and upheaval of the late 1960s. Now in her mid-thirties and a
parent, she returns to the past to question the fundamental assumptions
that define her sense of self and her heritage. In the past Gesine responded
to ideological disillusionment under different political systems with flight.
She experienced fascism followed by military occupations first by the
British, then the Russians in quick succession, “ohne dafl man sie das
gefragt hatte.”4 Like the other members of her generation in the DDR, she
is indoctrinated in socialist philosophy at school. Although Gesine retains
4 Johnson, “Einfiihrung in die ‘Jahrestage”* 21.

67
her idealistic political convictions regardless of circumstances, she is
acutely aware of the hypocrisy rampant in socialism as it really exists:
Sie hat also den Sozialismus auf der Schule gehabt, und
zwar theoretisch, d.h. in dem Sinne, dafl der Lehrer
wuBte, dafi man log, und daB man wuBte, daB der
Lehrer wuBte, daB man log, also eine perfekte Allround-
Verstándigung, die aber dann den Lehrstoff, soweit es
den Sozialismus betrifft, auf etwas Theoretisches
begrenzt. Als dann der Lehrstoff sich wirklich machte,
im Juni 1953, auf den Strafien der Republik, mit einem
veritablen Aufstand der Arbeiter, nicht der Bauem, aber
der Arbeiter, gegen die sozialistische Regierung, bekam
diese Schülerin Gesine Cressphal Angst vor der
Wirklichkeit des Sozialismus und floh blindlings nach
Westberlin: Sie lief weg. Obwohl sie wuBte: Moralisch,
politisch, zukunftsbewuBt gesehen, tu ich mir das
Schlimmste an, was ich tun kann, ich geh in die
Vergangenheit, ich gehe zu dem schlechten Entwurf
des Lebens, ich gehe zu dem menschenverachtenden
Kapitalismus.
Before arriving in New York, Gesine has already failed twice to come to
terms with sociopolitical realities. As outlined in Jahrestage. Gesine is
propelled by political events from East to West Germany, and finally to New
York. Despite her disappointments, these experiences have only intensified
her utopian longings for a truly humane and just society. The violent put-
down of demonstrating workers during the June 17, 1953 Uprising put an
end to her childish political ideals: “Kinderwünsche . . . Sozialismus
etcetera” (II, 990). In a 1983 interview Johnson explains the significance of
this event for Gesine:
Ihr ist ja der Sozialismus auf der Schule als die einzig
menschenmogliche Alternative beigebracht worden.
Aus dieser Illusion ist sie durch Ereignisse auf der
StraBe von dem Landgericht Gneez in Mecklenburg
aufgeschreckt worden. Das war die erste Warming, sie
wollte sich diesem Widerspruch nicht aussetzen. Sie
war konsequent genug, von dieser Unklarheit
wegzugehen in eine Gegend, die sie damals fur die

68
schlimmste der Welt hielt und halten muBte—so war es
in der Schule gelehrt worden-in den Westen, in den
Kapitalismus. Hat hier überlebt, aber doch jene
sozialistische Idee, Alternative, weiterhin vor Augen
gehabt, schon weil sie Heimat betraf, weil sie ja
Mecklenburg verwaltete. 5
The reforms promised in early June were never implemented (IV, 1897).
Subsequent Soviet military intervention demonstrated “wer in diesem Land
regiert: die Sowjets” (IV, 1853). Later, Russian intervention in the 1956
Hungarian Revolution, which plays a pivotal role in Mutmaflunpen üher
Jakob, further emphasizes the discrepancy between the classroom ideology
and the real-world practices of socialist leaders. It effectively rules out any
possibility of Gesine’s permanent return to Jakob and Jerichow. West
German proved equally disappointing, if for other disquieting reasons:
Ich wollte aus dem Land, für eine Weile. Am
Weihnachtsabend 1959 war in Kóln, in der Nachbarschaft,
eine Synagoge mit Hakenkreuzen beschmiert worden und
mit Sprüchen: ‘Deutsche fordern Juden raus.’ Das war
das eine. . . . Das andere war die Karriere eines Politikers
in der westdeutschen Republik. (IV, 1872)
Violence, whether real or threatened, used as a tool of control and
repression is a common denominator between Jahrestage’s Jerichow and
New York narratives. This same specter of brutal government intervention
casts a shadow over the last few days comprising the novel’s conclusion.
Gesine’s arrival in Prague coincides with that of Russian tanks.
Like other Johnson protagonists such as Jakob Abs and Karsch,
Gesine finds it difficult--if not impossible—to reconcile her ideals with her
surroundings. For Jakob neither the East’s repressive version of socialism
5 Jürgen Becker, Rolf Michaelis and Heinrich Vormweg, “Gesprách mit Uwe
Johnson (Am 8. Dezember 1983 in Kóln),” “Ich iiherleee mir die Geschichte , . ” Uwe
ed. Eberhard Fahlke (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1988) 309.

nor the West’s democratic capitalism represent a viable alternative.
Karsch’s failed biography of Achim lay bare the irreconcilable differences
between East and West. In the short story, “Eine Reise wegwohin, 1960,”
Karsch leaves both Germany behind in favor of Italy’s comparative
neutrality only to later run afoul of the Mafia. At the close of Zwei
Ansichten. D.’s escape to the West is not an escape to a new reality but a
flight from the old: “Manchmal . . . ware sie bedenkenlos mitgegangen,
hatte einer sie üher die Grenze bringen wollen, einfach aus IJberdruB, ohne
viel Hofihung, sich zu verbessern” (ZA, 195). In each case flight does not
represent forward motion. It is the meaningless exchange of one morally
bankrupt political reality for another, as characterized by his own
emigration from East to West Germany which he describes as the
“Rückgabe einer Staatsangehorigkeit an die DDR nach nur zehnjáhriger
Benutzung.”6 Johnson himself was another disillusioned socialist but an
unwilling emigre. Although he resided intermittently in West Berlin,
Johnson spent most of his life in self-imposed exile in Italy and the United
States before finally settling in the isolated fishing village of Sheerness-on-
Sea, England in 1974. He remained there until his death in 1983. For
Johnson exile was the result of default rather than choice: “die Fremde
war schon gleich, nachdem es Heimat nicht sein konnte.”7 This is a
consistent theme in Johnson’s prose and is true of his own life experience
after 1959.
In depicting the quintessential metropolis of New York City, which
New York Times editor and columnist James Reston called the “Mecca of
® Uwe Johnson, “Vita,” Uber Uwe Johnson, ed. Reinhard Baumgart (Frankfurt
a.M: Suhrkamp, 1970) 175.
^ Wiegenstein 212.

70
my Generation,”» Johnson follows in the tradition established by such
writers as Alexander Doblin (Berlin Alexandernlatz. 1929) and John Dos
Passos (U.S.A.. 1937), who depict the modem metropolis as a microcosm of
an alienated, dysfunctional society. The complexities of urban life are
conveyed through the juxtaposition of multiple narrative strands, including
alternative narrative devices such as stream of consciousness, “camera
eye,” collage, montage, and the juxtaposition of images. The cinematic
narrative flow is often interrupted by the incision of documentary
materials. Johnson’s own experimental narrative approach, exhibited in
such works as Mutmafiungen über Jakob. Das dritte Buch über Achim and
Eine Reise nach Klavenfnrt. represents a veritable“Potpourri aller
Stilexperimente . . . von Faulkner und Brecht bis Doblin und Robbe-Grillet
und Strittmatter und J.R. Becher.”» In Jahrestage. Johnson has refined
the his narrative style: the layering of multiple—and sometimes
contradictory—narrative perspectives. The authenticity of the various
viewpoints is constantly destabilized by unresolved questions and
discrepancies arising within the narrative itself. Overlapping first- and
third-person narrators recount Gesine’s past and present stories. Her
unvarying daily reality, as established by the novel’s calendar structure, is
often framed by contemporary events taken from the newspaper and other
sources. Occasionally other items of realia are included such as
descriptions of a subway map, a radio broadcast on Cardinal Spellman’s
death, and television coverage of Robert Kennedy’s funeral. Johnson’s
generous use of factual materials imparts the impression of a more
traditional narrative mode than in earlier works. A closer examination of
® “New York Times: Brunnen der GeschichteSnievel 13 May 1968: 140.
^ Hermann Kesten, “Mutmafiungen über Uwe Johnson,” Die Welt 25 Nov. 1961.

71
narrative practice in Jahrestape demonstrates that it remains in essence “a
novel of consciousness,”10 and differs only in superficial technical respects
from the narrative complexity which distinguishes Johnson’s earlier
prose.
The function of the documentary materials is twofold. In the
Jerichow narrative they substantiate and flesh out Gesine’s childhood
memories, which are often fragmentary and unreliable. In some instances
they are little more than impressions strung together by speculation. There
are no first-hand memories at all for reconstructing the fateful chain of
events which brought her parents from England to Mecklenburg the same
year Hitler came into power. It occurs to Gesine that her German identity
is a quirk of fate: “. . . um 35 oder schon um 30 passiert manchen Leuten
das, da3 sie sich zu fragen beginnen, warum bin ich in Mecklenburg
geboren, und mufite das 1933 sein? Und was haben meine Eltern sich
gedacht?”n These basic questions of identity which arise from their
actions are the genesis of Gesine’s reconstructive process.
The first two hundred odd pages of Jahrestape. which recount her
parent’s courtship and the newlyweds’ strife-filled months in England,
clearly lie outside the scope of Gesine’s personal knowledge. These early
scenes are a compilation of available materials, hearsay and conjecture.
When she visits Richmond as an adult, Gesine tries to reconcile the past
and the present with what might have been had her parents only remained
in England. At this point the weaknesses of the reconstructive process are
exposed, causing Gesine to turn inward and challenge her own
assumptions and expectations. That which emerges in the month of
Ryan 156.
11 Lehner 108.

72
November as Gesine’s central conflict—the question of identity (i.e. being
German in a post-war world)-hangs on a simple twist of fate. Her destiny
is sealed when Heinrich Cresspahl joins his estranged wife and infant
daughter in Germany despite his distaste for the ruling National Socialist
Party. Given what she knows of her father and his convictions, Heinrich
Cresspahl’s decision to leave a thriving business in England to settle in the
small town of Jerichow is inexplicable. His wife, Lisbeth, had returned to
Mecklenburg for the birth of their child. When Heinrich prepares to return
home after the christening, she refuses to go. Alone in Richmond,
“Cresspahl konnte acht Monate von aufien zusehen, wie die Nazis ihren
Staat einrichteten” (II, 733). Gesine cannot fathom-or forgive-what seems
to be an ideological and moral capitulation:
Warum bist du denn hingefahren zum Krieg.
War dock noch nicht zu sehen, Gesine.
Dock.
Ne. (1,391)
The fact remains that her father returned on March 21, 1933, the same day
“an dem ein Irrer names Hitler von einem alten Feldmarschall das
Deutsche Reich in demütiger Verbeugung entgegennahm” (I, 331). She
accuses him of putting short-term personal concerns ahead of moral
considerations: “Du karst din Fru n Dürschlant, un süss hest du di nich
vel dacht. / Süss hev’ck mi nich vel dacht (I, 392).” Moral authority is a
double edged sword, as Gesine discovers when she castigates her father for
not seeing the writing on the wall. She is herself confronted with her own
failure to act:
Wo sittst denn du, Gesine? Kannstu din Kriech nich
seihn? Woriim geihst du nich week, dat du kein Schult
krichst? Du kennst dat nu doch as dat iss mit de Kinner.
Wat secht Marie, wenn se’t merkt hett? (I, 391)

73
At this point in the novel Gesine’s moral authority rests solely on her own
ability to face the same unflinching criticism she directs at her family,
especially her father. Her debilitating passivity in political issues, however,
is not overcome until the close of Jahrestage.
As a direct result of her parents’ decisions, her sense of identity is
irrevocably linked to Hitler’s Grofldeutschland and the actions undertaken
in its name: . . ich bin das Kind eines Vaters, der von der planmafligen
Ermordung der Juden gewuCt hat (I, 232).” Despite belonging to the
generation granted “die Gnade der spáten Geburt,” Gesine feels in no way
exonerated. Unlike her father, Gesine knew nothing at the time of what
was going on behind the scenes. Happy childhood memories of a summer
at the shore result from blissful ignorance:
Heute weib ich, dab die Ferien von anderer Art waren.
Nicht weit von Althagen, auf der anderen Seite des
Saaler Bodens, war das Konzentrationslager Barth. . . .
Wir wubten es nicht. Hilde Paepcke ist mit uns nach
Barth gefahren, über die Drehbriicke, damit wir die
Stadt ansahen. Wir haben nichts gesehen. Die
Bahnstrecke, auf der Cresspahls Kind zum Fischland
kam, passierte Rovershagen. In Rovershagen war ein
Konzentrationslager, dessen Háftlinge fiir die Ernst
Heinkel Flugzeugwerke A.G. arbeiten muflten. Heute
weib ich es. (II, 955)
Gesine’s blurred impressions of Rovershagen framed by the train window
have nothing to do with reality. The sudden shift in narrative perspective
from collective first person to third person reflects the alienation between
reality and memory for her generation. As an adult armed with factual
information she can place a childhood memory in its proper context. While
this rectifies an instance of verfalschte Vergangenheit, it is at the same
time an act of destruction. The memories upon which identity is based are

74
not just questioned, but nullified. Links between the adult Gesine and the
alienated “Kind, das ich war” (IV, 1891)12 must be reforged. Objective
knowledge gained through the comparison between personal experience
and documentary materials becomes a powerful component in the process.
Thus in Jahrestage the reconstruction of the past becomes synonymous
with the reconstruction of identity, beginning with the most basic building
blocks.
Almost thirty-five years later Gesine attempts to recreate the
circumstances which sealed her identity as a German. As she walks the
streets of Richmond, England—which would have formed the backdrop of
her childhood under other circumstances-Gesine repeatedly asks herself,
“Was wissen wir noch?” History and politics have rendered the landscape
unrecognizable: “Wir miissen weiter durch die Zeit, umso
undurchdringlicher ais vergangen. Jetzt sind wir wo du warst” (I, 287).
In her attempt at reconstruction, Gesine is subject to the same restrictions
on what she can, and cannot, know that Johnson places on the narrator.
She can easily fabricate the image of a pregnant Lisbeth: “Es ist moglich,
hier ist sie gegangen im Winter 1932, vorsichtig mit ihrem schweren
Bauch zwischen den aufgeregten Kindern, die der Arbeit eines Tauchers
zusahen” (I, 333). But Gesine can only trace her footsteps, not her
thoughts. The answers to her most basic questions remain inaccessible.
Her failure to reconstruct her parents motivations throw three of
Jahrestage’s central themes into sharp relief: the problems of
Vergangenheitsbewáltigung, loss of Heimat, and lastly, the search for
truth and the limits of such an undertaking.
12 This phrase, with which Jahrestage closes, is a frequent motif in the text (see for
example: 489,1008,1017,1743,1891).

75
Johnson again calls attention to the significance of this particular
event in another short piece, “Interview with Marie H. Cresspahl,” in
which Marie traces her mother’s and grandmother’s path through the
streets of Richmond:
[Lisbeth] soil hier gegangen sein im Winter 1932, allein,
schwanger mit Gesine. So wie Gesine es erzahlt hat,
mufl ich es annehmen als wirklich und vergangen und
out of reach. Unerreichbar. Kann ich nichts bei
machen.13
Her parents’ return to Germany is a central event for Gesine, whose entire
sense of identity is linked to this one decision. Marie, however, considers it
only a minor point. Marie, as the beneficiary of Gesine’s mistakes, accepts
with resignation Gesine’s version of the past as flawed but adequate. The
reasons are for her less important than the facts. Gesine’s attempts at
reconstruction, “bis es ausreichte zum Erzáhlen,” 14 is valuable only for
what it reveals about her mother. Unlike Gesine, who considers New York
an intermediate station en route to a politically perfect permanent
residence, Marie considers herself American:
Ihre hat die Bogen und Schleifen der amerikanischen
Vorlage. Beim Malnehmen schreibt sie den
Multiplikator unter, nicht eben den Multiplikanden. Sie
denkt in Fahrenheitgraden, in Gallonen, in Meilen. Ihr
Englisch ist dem Gesines iiberlegen in der Artikulation,
der Satzmelodie, dem Akzent. Deutsch ist für sie eine
fremde Sprache, die sie aus Hoflichkeit gegen die Mutter
benutzt, im flachem Ton, mit amerikanisch gehildeten
Vokalen, oft verlegen um ein Wort. Wenn sie achtlos
Englisch spricht, versteht Gesine sie nicht immer. (I,
22-3)
13 Johnson, “Interview with Marie H. Cresspahl 2.-3. Januar 1972,” Johnsons
“Jahrestaee" 74.
1^ “Interview with Marie H. Cresspahl” 75.

76
Only four years old when they left Germany, she is “ein Kind von New
York”i5 and knows where she belongs: “Ich mochte nirgends leben, nur in
New York: sagt sie” (I, 259). Unlike Gesine, she has completely
assimilated. Jerichow and the events which are of such vital importance to
her mother are the stuff of stories.
Initially, Gesine clings to the belief that she would be contemplating
an entirely different—and eminently preferable-childhood had her parent’s
story unfolded in a different context:
Ich ware jemand anders, bis auf den Ñamen. Ich ware
nicht deutsch; ich wiirde von den Deutschen sprechen
in einem fremden und entfemten Plural. (I, 334)
This alternate geography of her life would allowed a return and closure
made impossible by history and politics:
Ich káme zurück auf den Friedhof Sheen, der im
Norden viel Grasland hat. Da ware noch Platz gewesen
in dem weifien Geflacker der sehr dünn ausgesagten
Kreuze und Figuren. Waren sie hier gestorben, hier
konnte ich meinen Eltem Besuche abstatten. Flatten sie
hier gelebt, wir waren im Leben zusammen gewesen.
(I, 335)
Instead, Gesine lives in uneasy exile. She is barred physically and
politically from the DDR. Morally, she cannot rationalize a return to the
BRD. Gesine elaborates her reasons on tape for Marie:
Aber in Deutschland mochte ich nicht noch ein Mai leben.
Im Westen haben sie eine Nazipartei, und die Nazipartei
hat eine Schlágertruppe gegründet und gibt der Presse
darüber eine Konferenz. Und die Presse kommt. Die
Abkiirzung fur die Saalschützer ist S.G., von Schütz-
gemeinschaft, und der Obemazi kann und kann da keine
Anspielung auf die S.A. Hitlers verstehen, die auch als
Ordner angefangen haben. Und von “Bluts-
verbundenheit” reden die auch schon wieder, wenn ich
15 “Interview with Marie H. Cresspahl” 76.

77
common blood nicht falsch auffasse. In Deutschland
mochte ich nicht noch einmal leben. (I, 422)
As an outside observer in England Gesine would have escaped the double
burdens of German guilt and exile which have profoundly affected her,
although it offered no guaranteed sanctuary from the war. This parallel
existence is symbolized by Heinrich’s illegitimate son by Mrs. Trowbridge.
Mother and son both are eventually killed during the war:
Cresspahl hatte im September eine Nachricht
bekommen. Sie seien am 14. November 1940 bei einem
Angriff auf die britischen Midlands urns Leben
gekommen. (Ill, 1209)
The fact that, but for a move across the Channel, Gesine would be
grappling with an entirely different set of problems underscores a
recurrent theme in Johnson’s fiction of an individual swept along by the
overwhelming forces of politics and history.
Gesine is forced to confront circumstances which even the most
optimistic storytelling cannot alter: the war, her parent’s basic
incompatibility, her mother’s instability. It is possible that in England
Lisbeth could have survived the war, and eventually come to terms with
both her marriage and inner demons. Gesine fantasizes that her mother
might still be alive today: “. . . sie aber hátte hier iiberlebt, und in eine jener
roten Sáulen mit dem Topfdeckel ohne Henkel konnte sich noch heute
Briefe einwerfen nach New York: Liebe Tochter” (I, 332). In an imaginary
exchange her mother points out the futility of such speculation:
So weit bin ich in meinem Leben nicht gekommen,
Tochter. Das kann ich nicht wissen, und nicht
versprechen. (I, 333)

78
Still, Gesine cannot bring herself to absolve her father of responsibility for
the eventual outcome of his decision to leave England.
At the beginning of the narrative sequence which recounts the events
resulting in Heinrich’s fateful decision to join his family in Jerichow,
Marie squeamishly begs her mother to alter her story: “Ich mag nicht was
nun folgt: sagt Marie: Kannst du es nicht ándern?”16 (I, 296). Gesine
steadfastly refuses to stray any further from the facts as she knows them,
and states flatly: “Mehr ándern kann ich es nicht.”17 At most she is
prepared to interpret them with some understanding and compassion.
She grants he could have ignored his conscience either out of weakness or
out of love. Still, she is reluctant to close the door on what might have been.
The problems posed by Vergangenlieitsbewaltigung cannot be solved with a
change of location or nationality. Nor can the Cresspahl’s participation in
a national tragedy be reduced to the simplistic motivations of a homesick
girl, and of those a man simply trying to save his marriage.
Gesine is a woman without roots. Unlike Marie and D.E., Gesine
continues to consider herself a visitor with no particular bond to New York
or the U.S. She tells her daughter, “Wir sind hier zu Gast.” Marie, who is
committed to her new homeland despite recognized problems, replies , “Wir
leben hier” (II, 810). Because Gesine makes no real emotional or political
commitment to the U.S., any sense of disappointment or outrage is muted.
1® For other examples see further Jahrestape 296-300.
17 Jahrestage 300.
- Warum sagt er ihr nicht: Nimm das Kind, nimm dich
zusammen, geh hinter mir her?
- Du hist sonst nicht für Gewalt, Marie.
- Es ging nicht darum, Gewalt zu vermeiden. Er hatte Angst.
- Er hatte Angst, sie zu vertieren.
- Er war feige! Er wollte nicht wissen, wozu sie notfalls imstande
war!

79
Her outsider status becomes a way to avoid guilt and political engagement
in “eine Art Immunisierungsstrategie.”! 8 Any feeling of belonging is
temporary and illusory: “Es ist eine Táuschung, und fiihlt sich an wie
Heimat” (I, 134). These images of “Heimat” occasionally evoked by the
weather or Staten Island, “Mecklenburg in New York,”i9 are reminders of
a Jerichow that has been permanently lost. By perpetuating her outsider
status in the early part of the novel, Gesine is able to both rationalize her
stay in the U.S. and her lack of political engagement:
Es geht uns nicht an, wir sind hier Gáste, wir sind
nicht schuldig. Wir sind noch nicht schuldig. In
Vietnam fallen mehr Amerikaner ais Siidstaatsoldaten,
und General Westmoreland hat mehr davon bestellt.
(I, 90)
She is, however, critical of those who change their sociopolitical venue as a
matter of personal convenience. Hans Magnus Enzensberger is the novel’s
most infamous example. She takes an equally dim view of a German actor
who reffames his return to the DDR as a political statement, rather than as
a matter of professional expedience.
Hope for the future is reawakened when, as a result of a promotion at
the bank, Gesine has a chance to help Dubcek’s government realize a new
form of liberal socialism-a longed for “dritter Weg”-in Czechoslovakia. In
the latter half of the novel this gradually supplants the invariably
depressing news from Southeast Asia and the BRD, a shift in coverage
which is not based on coverage in the newspaper itself. Although it is clear
18 Beckes 68.
19 “Es ist Mecklenburg, was wir da sehen, Gesine Cresspahls Heimat, mitten in
New York. . . . Wiesen, dazwischen ein Sandweg, hinter Baumen die Nadelspitze einer
kleinen Kirche. Es ist mehr ais déjá vu, es ist wie Riickkehr in die Kindheit.” Klaus
Podak, “Auf den Spuren von Gesine Cresspahl, Johnsons “Jahrestage” 348.

80
in the the course of the year that Gesine is moving gradually toward a
recommitment to socialism, the Vietnam War is the measuring stick
against which her progress is gauged.
Along with the Prague Spring’s role in Gesine Cresspahl’s personal
story, the Vietnam War is Jahrestage’s most pervasive and influential
thematic and structural component.20 The progress of the Vietnam War is
one of several contemporary strands which Gesine follows throughout the
course of 1967/8. Of all the issues having bearing on the novel, New York
Times items concerning the war are the most consistent and frequent. In
this aspect, Gesine’s concern with the issue mirrors its prominence in the
American psyche as well as the national press. The articles cover the
spectrum of issues which make up traditional war coverage: battle reports,
assessments, administrative policy, body counts, congressional debate and
political posturing. These items through their very repetition often border
on the mundane, despite their disturbing content.
For a variety of reasons the importance of the Vietnam War, and the
“Vietnam era” as a whole, in Jahrest.age is frequently eclipsed by the role of
the Prague Spring in criticism. As a practical consideration, Dubcek’s
failed reforms and the subsequent Russian intervention was, of course, of
greater relevance to Germany than the Vietnam conflict, in which
Germany had no political or military involvement. But the problems with
Johnson’s use of the Vietnam war in Jahrestage are both structural and
ideological. Two aspects in particular are consistently targeted. Quite
correctly, critics point to the war’s suddenly diminished role in the fourth
20 According to the Gallup Poll, the Vietnam War is also cited above other
competing issues as the most important problem facing the U.S. during the years 1966-72.
See further the article by William L. Lunch and Peter W. Sperlich, “American Public
Opinion and the War in Vietnam,” Western Political Quarterly 32 (1979): 21.

81
volume, as Gesine’s personal and professional lives become ever more
intertwined in the evolving political situation in Czechoslovakia. The
second area of contention is that the novel’s portrayal from a predominantly
mainstream American perspective runs counter to prevailing attitudes
among the German intellectual left. Until 1967 polls indicate that the
public generally supported the government’s policy. Lunch and Shipman
describe this lack of public concern as a textbook example of the
relationship between the administration and its constituency as long as the
situation is perceived to be going well: “As long as the administration
seems to have foreign affairs in hand, and nothing seems unduly
alarming, the vast majority of citizens are content to follow the President’s
leadership.”21 Since Gesine turns to The New York Times, which has a
prominent role in communicating administrative policy and shaping
national attitudes, for almost all of her information on the war the picture
of the Vietnam War which emerges in Jahrestage is very different from
that found in Kursbuch. or in the writings of Johnson’s friends and
contemporaries such as Gtinter Grass, Martin Walser and others.
The general consensus among critics is that the fall-off in war
coverage in the novel’s closing weeks represents a failure on Johnson’s
part to sustain the theme throughout the course of the novel. The Vietnam
issue is seemingly jettisoned in favor of the Prague Spring. But I would
argue that Gesine’s growing interest level in Czechoslovakian affairs is
unrelated to the diminished role of Vietnam towards the novel’s close.
Instead, a closer look at the novel and documentary sources clearly shows
that the novel merely reflects a national trend as embodied in The New
York Times and other media following extensive, intense, emotional
21 Lunch and Sperlich 22.

82
coverage during the Tet offensive. Even the national weekly news
magazine, Per Sniegel. whose coverage of U.S. news is overwhelmingly
dominated by the war, official policy and political fallout, exhibits a marked
decrease in articles on Vietnam after the Tet offensive. This is especially
noticeable during the months of July and August, the same two months
chronicled in the novel’s final volume. Further, Gesine’s loss of interest in
the Vietnam conflict is one of appearance only. Although the number and
frequency of newspaper items in the novel does fall off markedly beginning
in late June 1968, the interrelationship between Gesine and Vietnam is
reinforced in key passages during July and August, especially in the
novel’s closing pages where she looks back on her stay in New York City in
which war events appear as milestones (IV, 1877-8).
The dichotomy between German and American perceptions of
Vietnam is well illustrated by differences in press coverage. General
differences can be established by examining coverage in Per Sniegel. While
the format and focus are differ from those of a daily newspaper, such as
The New York Times, the weekly is comparable in bread and depth of
international reporting, journalistic stature and reputation for factual
accuracy. And, in the analysis of Jahrestage. the comparison between The
New York Times and Per Sniegel is particularly relevant. Both Gesine and
Johnson were devoted readers of the magazine while in New York,22
which was available at the same kiosk on 42nd Street where Gesine bought
her paper each morning. The magazine’s role in his fiction is documented
both in Jahrestage itself and Johnson’s series of Frankfurt Lectures,
published under the title Begleitumstande (1980). A complete set of the
22 see Jahrestage 211,1338,1748.

83
magazine stood next to his writing desk in Sheerness, upon which he relied
in the writing of Jahrestave.
An article from 18 September 1967, “Vielleicht zufállig,” is typical of
the weekly coverage of the Vietnam War in Per Spiegel .23 The hulk of the
article is devoted to recent developments in American foreign policy, with
scant mention of battle details and casualties. There are two items of
special interest. The first is McNamara’s plan to create a fortified border
between North and South Vietnam. The second is President Johnson’s
increasingly sticky predicament as the election looms ever closer. Without
a total resolution of the conflict or a believable plan to achieve this end, his
chances of reelection are zero. Yet any decisive escalation to bring about a
timely end to the war would almost certainly lead to a head-to-head
confrontation with Red China. This article also addresses North
Vietnamese born attorney Truong Dinh Dzu’s surprisingly strong second
place finish in the recent South Vietnamese presidential election. In most
respects this article’s factual content does not differ significantly from
articles appearing in the mainstream American press. However, some
differences are immediately obvious.
Despite similarities in factual content, Soiegel articles tend to display
an analytical slant critical of the situation in Southeast Asia, whereas The
Times editorial policy advocated “facts only” reporting. Items are typically
separated out into compartmentalized articles linked visually in the page
layout or with printed references. Any political and military analyses
appeared in a separate sidebar article and are clearly labeled as such. Per
Spiegel, like the International section’s format in the American national
^3 These events occurred during the last week of August. For instance,
McNamara’s report on his latest Vietnam tour appears in The New York Times on 26
August.

weekly, Time, condenses marginally related news items into a single
article. For example, most Sniegel items include both Washington policy
reports and news from the war arena in the same article, inviting parallels
and associations between the two. These items would usually appear in
separate articles in The New York Times, perhaps even on different pages.
The presentation and perception of the same news items is quite different in
the two formats.
In many instances, coverage of the Vietnam war in Per Sniegel
conveys a political bias absent in The New York Times. For example, the
escalating tension between the U.S. and China and the possible nuclear
repercussions are mentioned regularly in Sniegel coverage. The “domino
effect” theory, should communist forces prevail against the South
Vietnamese army, was central to the formation of American foreign policy
in Southeast Asia. Clearly, a nuclear power with a population quickly
nearing one billion figured significantly in political and military strategy.
But unlike Per Spiegel, there was little in the American press by way of a
sustained serious discussion during 1967 of a possible future conflict
between the U.S. and China, other than the government’s consistent
assurance that an American success in Vietnam would preclude further
communist incursions in Southeast Asia. War hawks, like presidential
candidate Richard Nixon, criticized Johnson’s North Vietnam bombing
strategy. For example, Time Magazine reports a Nixon campaign speech
where he predicts that Johnson’s misguided policies would “drag (the war)
into the 70s, with growing risks of a confrontation with China as Peking’s
nuclear weaponry improves.” But the article concludes, that “Nixon

85
seemed to be going against a gathering party consensus.”24 To the
German press, the situation was perceived quite differently. For instance,
any escalation designed to bring the war to a swift and decisive close could
prove disastrous: “. . . etwa eine Invasion Nordvietnams, die vollstándige
Zerstorung des Landes Oder Angriffe auf Basen in China-bráchte die Welt
an den Abgrund eines Atomkrieges.”25 Another Spiegel article from July
10, 1967, characterizes President Johnson as carefully considering further
investment of money, manpower and prestige “für einen Kampf, den
Amerika lángst nicht mehr gegen Nordvietnam, sondern mit dem Blick
auf die Supermacht Rotchina führt.”26 From Germany’s point of view
further escalation was not to bring about an early end to the Vietnam War,
but was in anticipation of “dem von Washington erwarteten Showdown mit
dem erwachten gelben Riesen China.”27 This particular political reality is
one which Spiegel confidently declares “kaum ein US-Generalstabler
bestreitet heute noch.”2® In terms of American press coverage, any
hypothetical denial was superfluous since no one seemed to be talking about
it.
Like the TV press, Per Spiegel gives significant space to protesters in
1967, describing one group of D.C. demonstrators as “heitere Hippies mit
bliihenden Blumen und bartige Linke mit Portráts des gefallenen Guerilla-
24 Tims 25 Aug. 1967: 16.
2^ “Vielleicht zufallig,” Spiegel 18 Sep. 1967: 120.
2® “Vielleicht zufallig "Spiegel 18 Sep. 1967: 120.
22 “Vietnamkrieg: 25 Jahre,” Spiegel 10 Jul. 1967: 76.
2® see “Vietnamkrieg: 25 Jahre,” Spiegel 10 Jul. 1967: 76.

86
Helden Guevara.”29 At this point in the antiwar movement, they were still
operating on the social fringe. In addition, such articles were often the only
ones in the issue dealing with Vietnam, and tended to combine war news
and war policy news in a single article. This results in the linking of items
not necessarily linked in the American press. In Per Spiegel, the line
between separate incidents and issues frequently becomes blurred.
One Spiegel article, chosen at random, indicates how extreme
differences in American and German perceptions were. The article from
the September 4, 1967 issue, “Sofort raus?”, reports on Robert McNamara’s
latest visit to the war arena. His characterization, also published in the
American press, of the air war at the current level of intensity was blunt
and critical: “Bomben konnen Nordvietnam nicht in die in die Knie
zwingen.”39 But in the article’s lead paragraph glosses over McNamara’s
report which monopolizes American headlines. Instead the focus is on
possible impeachment proceedings against Johnson. The Spiegel
supposition is based on two mentions of the word in relationship to
Johnson. The first mention appears in an eleven line note31 of Johnson’s
fifty-ninth birthday in Time, which points out that Andrew Jackson was
fifty-nine when impeached. The second mention was made by dove Sen.
William Fulbright, Dem. Arkansas, in a television interview. The article
paraphrases Fulbright’s statements thus: “Die einzig wirksame Sanktion
des Kongresses gegen eine weitere Eskalation des Vietnam Krieges ‘ist ein
29 “Demonstranten: Über den FluB,” .Spiegel 30 Oct. 1967: 144.
99 “Sofort raus,” Snierel 4 Sep. 1967: 102-104.
91 If this seems rather paltry, it is perhaps explained by the extensive photo spread
on Johnson and his three years in office in the previous issue of Time.

87
Impeachment.’”32 After a lengthy buildup, finally, in the eighth
paragraph, the probability of such proceedings is admitted to be nil, or to
again quote Fulbright, “politisch wohl nicht durchfiihrbar.” A look at the
American press gives a quite different picture. In the birthday notice, Time
simply notes that 59 was a tough year for three presidents for a variety of
reasons: “Andrew Johnson was impeached, Benjamin Harrison lost his
bid for reelection and F.D.R. brought the U.S. into World War II.”33 The
parallel to Harrison is the most plausible, given that a July Gallup poll
showed 52% of American disapproved of Johnson’s handling of the war.34
Johnson’s approval rating had tumbled precipitously since his June
meeting with Soviet Foreign Minister, Aleksei Kosygin, from 52% to 39%.
To date only President Truman’s approval rating of 31% was lower.35
Interestingly, Fulbright’s mention of impeachment does not appear
in Time or in The New York Times. According to the New York Times.
Fulbright’s only reported television appearance during that time period
was on ABC’s “Issues and Answers,” where he discussed a possible repeal
of the Bay of Tonkin Resolution of 1964, which was at the crux of a power
struggle between the President and the Senate.36 While accusing the
President of misleading Congress about the Bay of Tonkin Incident,
32 “Sofort raus,” 102.
33 Time 1 Sep. 1967: 43.
34 Time 11 Aug. 1967: 11.
35 Time 18 Aug. 1967: 18.
33 The 1964 Bay of Tonkin Resolution was cited repeatedly by President Johnson as
the basis of his authority for deploying 467,00 American troops to Vietnam and the bombing
of North Vietnam. Fulbright was especially bitter about Johnson’s perceived deception. At
the time Chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, Fulbright personally shepherded the
resolution through the Senate on the President’s behalf. Johnson later challenged Congress
to try and repeal the resolution.

Fulbright seems conciliatory rather than confrontational. Admitting that a
repeal was unlikely, he states in the interview “Politically this [repeal]
would be a direct slap at a leader in time of war. It will not be done that
way, the disillusion, the dissent, that will be expressed in other less direct
ways.”37 The Spiegel article emphasizes that “[die USA] in zweieinhalb
Jahren mehr Bomben auf Nordvietnam geworfen haben als auf
Deutschland wáhrend des zweiten Weltkriegs.”38 Ironically, the Johnson
administration is under intense criticism for not committing 100% of
military capabilities to the bombing campaign during this same week.
Republicans are vocal in their call for wider, more intensive airstrikes
against the North Vietnamese. Humanitarian issues must be weighed
against American loss of life. On the floor of the House, Republican House
Leader Gerald Ford demanded, “Why are we still pulling our air power
punch?”33 In opposition, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and others
suggest that an unconditional halt to bombing might bring Hanoi to the
conference table, a key condition if Johnson was to have any shot at
reelection in 1968. With Johnson unable to communicate a clear sense of
what America was doing in Southeast Asia, the power struggle between
Johnson and the Senate heightened tensions further. The public was
increasingly frustrated with a lack of concrete progress, but still
impeachment does not appear to be a part of the national vocabulary at the
time, despite Per Spiegel’s allegations to the contrary.
3^ The New York Times 21 Aug. 1967: 1.
38 “Sofort raus,” 104.
39
Time 18 Aug. 1967: 17.

Rather than emphasizing the rift between Johnson and Congress,
The New York Times instead minimizes the ffactiousness of the debate by
showing that even Fulbright publicly admits the Senate has little chance of
overturning the Bay of Tonkin Resolution, and that in fact such a move
could undermine Johnson’s role as Commander in Chief. Normally a
vocal antiwar proponent, Fulbright seeks to avoid a head-to-head
confrontation with the President in the interest of national solidarity, while
still “demanding a more substantive role for Congress in the conduct of
foreign affairs in general.”*o This comparison of news items taken from
just a single week in late August 1967 demonstrates how perceptions in the
American and German press are starkly different in several instances.
Another example which clearly illustrates the divergent positions of
American and German press on the Vietnam War issue is the publication
of Mary McCarthy’s essay, “Report from Vietnam,” which explores the
war’s impact on the Vietnamese economy, political life and people. It was
published at roughly the same time in the U.S. and Germany, with
interesting and illustrative results.
An internationally renowned writer and literary critic, Mary
McCarthy is best known for her unemotional observations, satirical wit and
acerbic style, such as in her best-selling novel, The Group (1963). As a
vehement antiwar advocate, McCarthy sought to capitalize on both her
standing in the intellectual community and as a popular author in getting
her message out. She believed her success provided her with “an immense
audience that she felt might listen to her about what she saw as the

90
immoral American military presence in Vietnam.”41 After finally
securing a press visa in early 1967. She spent a month touring South
Vietnam with a brief stopover in Cambodia. The resulting essay, “Report
from Vietnam,” was published in The New York Review of Books in the late
spring of 1967.42 Significantly, the magazine is characterized as “the hot
intellectual magazine of the Sixties”43 and served as a platform for the
intellectual Leftist agenda. The magazine had featured an number of
critical articles about the Vietnam War beginning as early as 1964.
McCarthy’s “Vietnam” series was essential in the Review’s transition from
a rather stuffy intellectual periodical into a chic trendsetter, and helped
propel the magazine’s “great literary leap leftward” in 1967.44
41 Carol Gelderman, Mary McCarthy: A Life. (New York: St. Martins Press,
1981) 278.
42 McCarthy’s “Report from Vietnam” appeared as a three-part serial in The New
York Review of Books as follows: “The Home Program” 20 Apr. 1967: 5-22; “The
Problems of Success” 4 May 1967: 4-9; “The Intellectuals” 18 May 1967: 21+. The
concluding article in the series, “Solutions” appeared 9 Nov 1967: 3-6. McCarthy’s
Vietnam essay was also published subsequently in The Observer in four parts (30 Apr.
1967-30 May 1967). All three essays and “Solutions” were later published in book from
under the title, Vietnam (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1967). In 1968
McCarthy published the controversial essay, Hanoi (New York: Harcourt, Brace &
World, Inc., 1968), a sympathetic portrayal of the North Vietnamese based on a two week
tour of North Vietnam. She wrote a total of three pieces on Vietnam between 1967 and 1973.
These were later published together in The Seventeenth Degree (New York: Harcourt,
Brace, Jovanovitch, 1974).
43 Philip Nobile, Intellectual Skywriting. Literary Politics and “The New York
Review of Books” (New York: Charterhouse, 1974) 3.
44 Nobile 39. “Almost every article that the Review is now famous, or notorious, for
was squeezed into that twelvemonth.” It includes the conclusion of McCarthy’s Vietnam
series, “Solutions.” Also appearing that year were essays from Noam Chomsky, “The
Responsibility of Intellectuals,” and Paul Goodman, “The *We Won’t Go’ Movement.” I.F.
Stone chastises anti-Vietnam advocate Senator William Fulbright , and labels him a
“drowsy watchdog” and a “cloakroom crusader” who spoke up too late against the war in
“Fulbright: The Timid Opposition.” Another article alleges a nefarious link between the
CIA and intellectuals.

91
From the outset, McCarthy ignores military and political issues, and
instead focuses on the detrimental impact of American soldiers and
civilians on the country and culture of South Vietnam. Her
characterizations are illustrated by unsettling anecdotes based on her first¬
hand observations. In the opening paragraph she baldly states her antiwar
bias, admitting she arrived in Saigon looking for “material damaging to
American interests.” Her prejudices are quickly validated when she sees
how Americans and their war machines dominate the landscape. By day
the city resembles a “gigantic PX,” and a “World’s Fair or Exposition in
some hick American city” by night,*5 an atmosphere which McCarthy
likens to a cruise ship, with a “pepless Playboy flavor” (MC, 6). The war
seems far away, but she quickly learns that “a short trip by helicopter from
Saigon in almost any direction permits a ringside view of American
bombing” (MC, 31). To those who stand to profit, the war in Southeast Asia
is just a “cheap form of mass tourism, [which] opens the mind to business
opportunities” (MC, 23). The American presence has completely undercut
the local economy, turning it into a booming service economy entirely
dependent on civilian and military personnel. The inevitable American
withdrawal will surely and swiftly lead to Saigon’s economic collapse.
With the steady influx of foreign troops and consumer goods, Saigon
has become a classic example of unbridled capitalism and opportunism at
work. It has been transformed into an American city populated by an
Asian minority, mirroring the best and the worst of the American dream.
The similarities to home are striking. The surroundings and atmosphere
in the city are that of a vacation, except for the unmistakable presence of
45 McCarthy 5-6. All further references to McCarthy’s text will be indicated
parenthetically by the abbreviation “MC”.

92
war. The war in the countryside, where the “terrain” is cleared with
“Incindergel” (i.e. napalm, “which makes it sound like Jello”) and
“weedkiller,” (i.e. defoliant, “something you use in your driveway”) is a
barely visible column of smoke on the horizon (MC, 3).
McCarthy’s Americans, whether found behind a desk or a gun, are
“zealots” and “springy, zesty, burning-eyed warriors” (MC, 25). Typical of
the military mindset, “the war is not questioned; it is just a fact. The job
has to be finished” (MC, 10). The focused and disciplined soldiers she
observes and interviews in the field “can become very sentimental when
they think of the good they are doing and the hard row they have to hoe with
the natives, who have been brainwashed by the Viet Cong” (MC, 25). They
are missionaries “spreading the American way of life, a new “propaganda
fide” (MC, 18). McCarthy’s essay is populated with clueless ideologues,
who speak glibly of reeducation, “pacification” and progress as defined by
statistics and diagrams. Vietnam has become a laboratory for academics
tinkering with their social and economic theories. She finds it difficult, if
not impossible to get a straightforward answer to any of her questions
except from those actually on the front lines. This warped idealism is not
confined to the pencil-pushers and bean-counters in Saigon, as illustrated
by numerous examples from the field.
Repeatedly McCarthy tours refugee camps housing entire villages,
which have forcibly uprooted and resettled. Even the showplaces are
lacking in rudimentary supplies, sanitation, clean water and decent
quarters. One area, the “Iron Triangle,” was razed during Operation
Cedar Falls (“Clear and Destroy”). The 7,000 plus refugees (mostly women,
children and old men) were allowed to bring only a few personal belongings
and some animals. Despite the fact that these people have traditionally

93
engaged in rice cultivation, the U.S. Army has decided to turn them into
vegetable farmers. Not only have they lost everything, but their water
buffalo are sickening and dying in the new environment. It is apparent to
her from the outset that even the most humanitarian of projects in the field
are part and parcel of the military’s public relations effort. The hard sell is
directed not only at the American press and public, but at themselves.
Propaganda is everywhere. A banner at the entrance to a refugee camp
reads, in English: “REFUGEES FROM COMMUNISM.” Even for those
who are not refugees, but whose lives have been disrupted, life is fraught
with absurdities.
For McCarthy, the true measure of the war’s progress is illustrated
by problems created by the Americans themselves: a flood of refugees and
the nightmarish logistics of caring for them. By 1968 about ten percent of
South Vietnam’s population had been dislocated by the war. As McCarthy
bitterly notes, these are not typical political refugees fleeing persecution
from the enemy. It is the Americans who have flushed them from their
homes and farms. This program of destruction and relocation was an
integral part of the American “pacification” effort, which, however, created
infinitely more problems than it solved. A recurring theme in the essay is
the disruption of an ancient agrarian society.46 The American’s
systematic uprooting of the Vietnamese population is echoed in the rural
landscape which is grossly disfigured by defoliation, bombing, mounds of
industrial garbage and war wreckage: “. . . the fecal matter of our
civilization” (MC, 51).
46 This theme is also the subject of the drawings accompanying McCarthy’s “Report
from Vietnam” in The New York Review of Rooks

The brains behind the “pacification” program are “paramilitary
professors” trained at American universities, who have transformed
Vietnam into a giant experiment with their “Strategic Hamlets”: “Here for
the first time, political science, as taught and studied in the big American
universities, is being applied to war, where it often seems close to science
fiction” (MC, 62). Even more dangerous than the implementation of these
ill-conceived textbook programs is the constant manipulation of language,
“where words, as if ‘accidentally,’ have broken loose from their common
meanings” (MC, 86). For McCarthy, political and military codewords are
euphemisms for destruction, death and misery inflicted on a helpless
civilian population. The lingo is a primary instrument in obscuring the
real human cost of the war. Terms such as “resettlement,” “carpet
bombing,” “collateral damage,” and even “accident” disguise an ever-
widening gap between the war’s humanitarian objectives and brutal
actions against the Vietnamese. The complete alienation of actor from
action as mirrored by language is a recurrent theme in the essay, and
becomes the focal point of McCarthy’s closing argument.
The conflict has assumed the guise of an archetypal struggle between
good and evil, right and wrong, freedom and oppression. McCarthy’s
Americans, in their eagerness to play God with a Third World agrarian
people, have lost their humanity. In eliminating the black-clad enemy,
outgunned and technologically disadvantaged, the gap between the force
necessary and force expended is immense. From the Americans’ superior
vantage point it is almost like a game. In one incident McCarthy relays the
savage and swift retribution, like a bolt of lightning from above, against a
peasant who confronts an American bomber:

95
Punishment can be magisterial. A correspondent, who was
tickled by the incident, described flying with the pilot of the
little FAC plane that directs a big bombing mission; below, a
lone Vietnamese on a bicycle stopped, looked up,
dismounted, took up a rifle and fired; the pilot let him have
it with a whole hombload of napalm-enough for a platoon.
In such circumstances, anyone with a normal sense of fair
play cannot help pulling for the bicyclist, but the sense of
fair play, supposed to be Anglo-Saxon, has atrophied in the
Americans here from lack of exercise. (MC, 33)
The old adage of “might makes right” has warped the rules of modern
warfare, leading McCarthy to conclude that, “the worst thing that could
happen to our country would he to win this war” (MC, 33). An American
victory would justify a war policy she believes based on a horrific disregard
for human life, and guarantee the use of such methods in future conflicts.
This same quote, tellingly, becomes the essay’s title in Per Spiegel.
Given the increasingly higher stakes, the perpetration of a
monolithic image of the enemy becomes increasingly problematic. In the
semantics of the war Viet Cong guerrillas, communist aggression and the
lone bicyclist with the rifle are one with their actions. The actions Johnson
and the Americans soldiers are dictated by the actions of North Vietnam.
The American soldier, separated from his actions by pristine ideology, “is
pictured as completely sundered from his precision weaponry, as though
he had no control over it, in the same way that Johnson, escalating, feigns
to have no option in the war” (MC, 86). McCarthy points out that even the
ethically correct decision to not use “The Bomb" is invalidated by the
refinement of other devices which are just as effective and morally
reprehensible, even if the individual incidents of destruction are on a
smaller scale. The defense industry is hard at work developing more

96
adhesive napalm, better tear gases, improved defoliants and tortuous
machines for forcing the Viet Cong from their tunnels (MC, 97).
In the essay’s follow-up, “Solutions,” McCarthy advocates the swift
and immediate withdrawal of American troops from South Vietnam, and
the end of the bombings in the North. She is not interested in what is
practical or expedient, but in what is moral. From her view, the issue is
essentially black or white: “Either it is morally wrong for the United States
to bomb a small and virtually defenseless country or it is not, and a student
picketing the Pentagon is just as great an expert in that realm, to say the
least, as Dean Rusk or Joseph Alsop” (MC, 95). The logistics and political
considerations-present and future-are only a smoke-screen to hide a lack
of national will.
McCarthy points out that there is no lack of “solutions” to the
Vietnam War put forward by politicians. She is equally critical of them all:
Richard Goodwin’s proposal in The New Yorker, of J. K.
Gilbraith’s “moderate solution” (hailed by James Reston),
by Senator Fulbright’s eight-point program, and, sad to say,
by Fulbright’s hearings taken as a whole. What emerges,
when all the talk is over, is that none of these people really
opposes the war. Or not enough to stop thinking in terms of
‘solutions,’ all of which imply continuing the war by
slightly different means until the Viet Cong or Hanoi ... is
ready to make peace. (MC, 90-1)
Her own approach is simplistic, and unhampered by diplomatic and
political posturing. It is morally incumbent upon the U.S. to withdraw,
regardless of the political loss of face at home and abroad. These
intangibles are unimportant when weighed against loss of life. She is
concerned only with what she perceived as sane and morally correct: “Not
being a military specialist, I cannot plot the logistics of withdrawing 464,000

97
American boys from Vietnam, but I know that it can be done, if necessary,
and Johnson knows it too. Everybody knows it” (MC, 95). In the spring of
1967, a successful conclusion to the war still seemed possible. But less than
a year later, in the course of the Tet Offensive, it became painfully clear to
the Johnson administration and the American public as a whole that the
war was being lost. However, the logistics of withdrawal took an additional
five costly years to accomplish.
McCarthy concludes her “Vietnam” series with a call to individual
political action. Protest at all levels is needed to prod the nation from its
complacency: “There are various ways of obliging the administration—and
more importantly the country-to take notice: some extremely radical, like
the bonze’s way of self-immolation; some less so, ranging from tax refusal
through the operation of underground railroads for protesting draftees,
down to simple boycotts of key war industries; nobody who is against the
war should be receiving dividends from the manufacture of napalm, for
instance, which is calling to be outlawed” (MC, 106). McCarthy’s solution
to the Vietnam crisis is a grassroots movement of individual political
initiative based on ethics. It is just possible that the sum total of individual
acts of civil resistance at all levels “modestly or grandly, with friends or
alone” will coalesce into a viable and powerful resistance movement capable
of affecting political change: “From each according to his abilities, but to be
in the town jail, as Thoreau knew, can relieve any sense of imaginary
imprisonment” (MC, 106). As long as the administration circulates
“cooked-up” solutions for others to implement “like inter-office memoranda”
(MC, 106), and war resistance is confined to university campuses, the
status quo will remain unchanged. In her essay series, McCarthy portrays
the policies of the Johnson administration in Southeast Asia as morally

98
bankrupt, which must be challenged and changed by right-thinking
individuals.
The opinions expressed in McCarthy’s “Report from Vietnam” were
in line with the attitudes of many other vocal American intellectuals. Their
antiwar position, and especially demands for immediate withdrawal, while
fast gaining public acceptance still remained outside the mainstream until
after the Tet Offensive in the early spring 1968. Although national polls
tracked the public’s growing dissatisfaction with the administration’s
Vietnam policy, only one-third supported immediate withdrawal. In
August 1967 34% of the American public supported this action, up
significantly from 24% six weeks before. Almost two-thirds were against
sending more troops to Southeast Asia.47 But, in the national mind,
antiwar protest remained the purview of university students and hippies.
Contrary to popular perceptions, there is convincing evidence for the
ineffectiveness of the antiwar movement: “Antiwar demonstrations had
not convinced most citizens that the United States was morally wrong in
being in Vietnam and may have even slowed the development of
withdrawal sentiment by acting as a negative reference point.”48 In her
essay McCarthy attacks both Johnson’s reactionary policies in Vietnam,
and public complacency toward them, despite the growing evidence that
Sofort raus?” 102. The tide had begun to turn just a few weeks earlier. A Gallup
poll from mid-July shows that “for the first time, a majority of Americans (52%)
disapprove of President Johnson’s handling of the war. The poll showed that 41% believe
that the U.S. should never have sent troops to Vietnam in the first place, a percentage that
has risen steadily from 24% in 1965, and that 56% think the Allies are stalemated or losing
the war. Only 34% said they believe the Allies are making progress.” Time. 11 Aug 1967:
11.
Lunch and Sperlich 31. See also Philip E. Converse et al, “Continuity and
Change in American Politics: Parties and Issues in the 1968 Election, American Political
Science Review 63 (1969): 1105.

99
people were beginning to express opposition in the polls, especially in the
matter of escalation. Still, in 1967, public debate on the Vietnam War was
merely “a minority pastime, looked by the majority with more or less
tolerance” (MC, 106). This public complacency is anathema to the sort of
political change McCarthy sees as critical to ending the war.
In the United States, the impact of McCarthy’s “Vietnam” essay was
limited to the cerebral pages of The New York Review of Books. The series
did provoke a reaction published in the January 18, 1968 issue. Opposing
McCarthy’s plea for immediate and unconditional withdrawal, Diana
Trilling argues that the resulting vacuum in South Vietnam would be filled
by the communists. She further warns that the massacre of countless anti¬
communists who had assisted the Americans would be inevitable. The
magazine gave the face-off between the two top billing in bold print: “Diana
Trilling vs. Mary McCarthy.” Far from igniting a firestorm of public
discourse, Trilling’s reaction was the end of it. It was quickly apparent to
McCarthy that she was preaching to the choir: “Intellectuals, who did not
need awakening, seemed to be the only persons listening to her.”49 To her
great surprise and disappointment, critics and readers alike ignored
Vietnam and book sales were miserable:
My publicist was absolutely thunderstruck,” she
disclosed on William Buckley, Jr.’s “Firing Line.” “He
had never seen a case of a book on a controversial subject
by a well-known author—this after the success of The
Group—that received virtually no notice.” Buckley
suggested that the reviewers ignored Vietnam because
“they thought it was preposterous.”50
Gelderman 283.
50 Gelderman 283.

100
McCarthy’s anti-war views, along with the concerns of other American
intellectuals, most notably Noam Chomsky, were brushed aside for the time
being. While the hook’s failure was a tremendous personal disappointment
for McCarthy, it was indicative of mainstream American sentiment prior
to the Spring of 1968. While the public was increasingly uncomfortable with
the war and proposed escalation, polls did not reflect a significant change
until later in the summer of 1967. Overwhelming public opposition to the
war did not manifest itself until the Tet Offensive.
McCarthy’s essay, “Report from Vietnam,” appeared in a four part
series in Per Sniegel the following July (nos. 29-32) under the title, “Über
Amerikas Krieg in Vietnam.”51 It is something of a departure from the
magazine’s typical Vietnam coverage in 1967/8, the period covered in
Johnson’s Jahrestave. The change in the title is already indicative of the
transformation the essay underwent for Per Spiegel. The magazine’s
publication of McCarthy’s essay is notable in that it was the only feature
article by an American-and one of only a handful of human interest pieces
on the Asian conflict—appearing in the magazine during the late Sixties.
Its publication in Per Sniegel guaranteed wide-exposure to a well-
educated, but still essentially mainstream German reading public.
The German translation is by Klaus Harpprecht, also an
acquaintance of Johnson. The West German news weekly was the only
European periodical to carry the essay. In terms of sheer numbers the
article’s impact in Germany was much more significant than in the U.S.
Other factors contributed to an entirely different presentation and reception
of McCarthy’s essay in the German press. By 1968 the Review’s circulation
51 The Italian Magazine, Tempo Presente, also planned to publish McCarthy’s
essay. But the plan was derailed by scandal when CIA funds were linked to the magazine’s
sponsor, Congress for Cultural Freedom.

101
had peaked at 82,000,52 comparable to Per Spiegel’s circulation for the same
period. In addition, the news magazine’s reading audience was
significantly different from that of the Review. It was made up of the well-
educated and politically cognizant—but still essentially mainstream—middle
and upper classes. Not only did the series receive significantly wider
exposure, but judging from the “Leserbriefe” the response was far more
positive. Although she is criticized for her “merkwiirdige Vietnam-
Impressionen” and as a “Vertreterin jener intellektuellen Schichten,” some
readers roundly condemn what they perceive as an unjust and inhumane
war.53
Beyond the significant differences in audience and venue is the
striking metamorphosis of the series itself from an essay in an intellectual
leftist periodical to a feature article in a national news magazine. The most
telling changes are those in format and visual presentation. The original
presentation is clearly that of an essay. Similar to the book, which is devoid
of illustrations, the text itself is the focus of attention. It is presented
compactly in a few pages, illustrated by a limited number of pen and ink
drawings, which complement rather than detract from the essay.
In Per Spiegel. McCarthy’s text competes with the accompanying
photos. The “Vietnam” series underwent a visual transformation in
keeping with the magazine’s typical format. No photos were included with
the original series in The New York Review of Books or in the book version.
52 Nobile 65.
53 “Nachdem die Amerikaner in Vietnam Konzentrationslager errichten und
Kampagnen gegen die Senatoren Robert Kennedy, Fulbright und andere gestartet werden,
die deni Wahnsinn ein Ende machen wollen, kann man die Politik deGaulles nur
begriiBen. Wann wird sich die Bundesregierung endlich auch von den USA lossagen?”
Spiegel 7 Aug. 1967: 10.

102
In the first three segments of the original article pen and ink drawings are
sprinkled through the text. The concluding segment is punctuated with
political cartoons, which seem only marginally related to the text. Most of
photos included in Per Sniegel are dramatic in nature, with a strong
human interest element. A closer examination of the interplay between
photo and text in Per Sniegel reveals a subtext underscoring—and to a
certain extent manipulating—some of the more radical ideas in McCarthy’s
article.54 McCarthy’s opening descriptions of Saigon’s decadent hedonism
is punctuated with pictures of American soldiers with Vietnamese go-go
dancers and prostitutes. Interspersed are photos of hlack market goods at
busy market places, billboards advertising American products and
Westerners in rickshaws. One photo shows McCarthy—distinguished by
grin and baseball cap-standing in front of a U.S. military aircraft “mit dem
Vietnam Experten Bernard Fall.” The caption is a loose paraphrase of
McCarthy’s motivation for the Vietnam trip as expressed in the essay’s
opening paragraph: “Ich wollte Amerikas Interessen schádigen.” The
shift in McCarthy’s agenda according to the Per Sniegel as expressed by
this caption is subtle, but telling.55
A dominant theme in the photos, as in the essay itself, is the
dislocation of the Vietnamese population. Included are families huddled
with their meager belongings in helicopters and unkept, disoriented
children being unloaded from a military transport truck. But this
“Evakuierung” also has a distinctly dark side apart from the content of the
54 The interplay between text and photo in the news media was a special interest to
Johnson. His treatment and thematization of this dynamic in Jahrestage is discussed
further in Ch. 6.
55 ‘Tiber Amerikas Krieg in Vietnam," Sniegel 10 Jul. 1967: 81. Compare this to
McCarthy’s original statement, where admittedly she arrives looking for “material
damaging to American interests.” (MC, 6)

103
images themselves. For example, there is a photo of a refugee camp gate,
similar to the one described in the essay (MC, 28) sans banner. The image
itself is not particularly disturbing, but the caption is: “Evakuierten-Camp
in Dak To: Letzte Zuflucht im Konzentrationslager?”56 The cynicism of
such a reference, further punctuated by a question mark, could hardly be
lost on the German reading public. As described above, McCarthy points to
the absurdity of distinguishing between accidental and deliberate civilian
casualties and determining if and when such actions becomes genocidal.
But never are the compounds referred to as anything but refugee or
resettlement camps. The historically loaded term, “concentration camp,”
appears nowhere in the original essay. It can only be assumed that Per
Spiegel’s use of the term is deliberate and meant to be provocative.
In a much more damning example of the Americans’ destructive
domination, the series concludes with two contrasting pictures of bombed-
out structures. The caption reads: “Wenn Amerikaner das gleiche tun . . .
ist es etwas anderes.” While the subject matter of the two photos is
ostensibly similar, the emotional impact is far from equal. Both are images
of destruction caused by war. The arrangement of the two pictures follows
a pattern consistent throughout the series of pairing photos illustrating
similar subjects in North and South Vietnam.
On the concluding pages of the series, the first picture is reminiscent
of a dramatic tableau. It shows the blackened shell of a North Vietnamese
kindergarten. An adult and three children stand tightly clustered before
the blackened ruin. Their attention is clearly riveted by the sight. The
image addresses several of McCarthy’s themes: civilian targets and
casualties as well as the official denial of their existence, forceful
56 Spiegel 17 Jul. 1967: 91.

104
resettlement and the reeducation process. The schoolhouse motif is an
important one within the text itself, illustrating American willingness to
deny or refashion reality to fit their scenarios and stereotypes.57
The second photo is more pedestrian in content and composition. It
shows a bombed out housing block in Saigon. Here, the subjects are all
adults, some of whom are clearly Caucasian. A group of soldiers stands off
to the far right. One man—perhaps a reporter—is taking notes. In
comparison to the first photo this scene is devoid of emotion. The reader
observes other official observers viewing a destroyed building. No one
seems surprised or particularly upset. Other than the reporter, no one
seems to be much paying attention to the bombed out background.
The paraphrased caption comprises yet another aspect of the Per
Spiegel article’s subtext. The use of “wenn” implies frequent American
bombing attacks on North Vietnamese civilians, as well as raising the
implication of deliberate action. In the text itself McCarthy is not prepared
to go that far. Public reaction to the U.S. bombing of North Vietnam at this
point was mixed. Johnson and his supporters considered strategic
bombing of military targets essential in forcing Hanoi to the negotiating
table. McCarthy merely points to the ludicrous paradox perpetrated by the
military. At the same time they profess to make a theoretical, humanistic
distinction between combatants and non-combatants, but does not separate
them in actual practice on the battlefield.
Although Mary McCarthy is not mentioned specifically in
Jahrestage. Johnson was almost certainly aware of the McCarthy essays, if
The second part of the series, “The Home Program,” includes lengthy passages
ridiculing the empty “cream schoolhouse . . . essential to the American dream of what we
are doing in Vietnam” and the belief that “in Viet Cong hamlets no schooling is permitted”
(MC, 31).

105
not from New York Review of Books then from Per Spiegel. Johnson was
also personally acquainted with McCarthy through their mutual friend,
Hannah Arendt while living in New York in 1966.58 His personal library
contained American editions of most of McCarthy’s fiction, although it
includes neither of her “Vietnam” essays.
In the context of Johnson’s Jahrestaae. McCarthy’s essay, “Report
from Vietnam,” is a useful benchmark in several ways. McCarthy
expresses the dissenting views of American intellectuals based on moral
and human rights issues. The intellectual’s position in 1967 emphasized
the loss of life, human rights abuses, destruction of the Vietnamese
culture, and the possibility of escalation into global nuclear engagement.
The discussion avoided the political and military considerations cited by the
Johnson administration, which intellectuals such as McCarthy deemed
immaterial. At the same time the book’s lackluster sales in the U.S. clearly
delineates the gap between intellectual and mainstream/Main Street
America’s positions on the war. Despite the public’s increasing frustration
with the war, which increased markedly in 1967 and early 1968, the
majority of Americans were still solidly behind the Johnson
administration. Lastly, there is the differences in the essay’s American
and German versions. Although the series was published roughly
concurrently in the U.S. and the BRD, it appeared in two vastly different
venues in terms of both circulation and reading audience. The essay’s
American audience exhibited primarily leftist political leanings and was
58 Arendt also lived on Riverside Drive and was among one of the first people
Johnson met in New York. She figures in Jahrestave as “Gráfin Seydlitz.” While
visiting the U.S. in spring 1965 Johnson was interviewed by McCarthy’s German
translator, Klaus Harpprecht, who was then working as a press correspondent in
Washington D.C. So aside from Johnson’s own preoccupation with the Vietnam issue,
there are several other avenues of contact. Bernd Neumann, Uwe Johnson. Mit zwolf
Portrats von Dieter Ritzert (Hamburg: Europáische Verlagsanstalt, 1994) 544.

106
well-educated. The public at large was distinctly uninterested in
McCarthy’s anti-war views, as reflected by low sales of the essay in book
form. On the other side of the Atlantic, publication in Per Spiegel
guaranteed McCarthy’s series high volume mainstream exposure. The
McCarthy series fit in quite well with magazine’s circumscribed coverage
of the United States in the late 1960s. With few exceptions, reports deal
almost exclusively with President Johnson and the Vietnam War. The
articles on Johnson are actually an extension of the Vietnam topic, as
many address his plummeting popularity, increased isolation, and
reelection outlook, all of which are tied directly to his failed war policy. The
publication and reception of McCarthy’s controversial essay in Germany’s
largest news weekly highlights fundamental differences between national
attitudes on the Vietnam war. In 1967, the antiwar movement had not yet
caught on the U.S., whereas in Germany these views were already part of
the public forum.

CHAPTER 4
“DAS BEWUSSTSEIN DES TAGES”:
GESINE AND THE NEW YORK TIMES
The year 1967/8, chronicled in Uwe Johnson’s Jahrestage, is among
the most turbulent in American history. The nation was in a state of social
and political crisis. The tide of public opinion was slowly turning against
the Johnson administrations policy in Southeast Asia. Frustration with
the Vietnam conflict escalated even further in late 1967 as the number of
American troops was increased to half a million with no military or
political resolution in sight. Every month the bill for American
involvement in Vietnam was over a billion dollars.i The sharp increase in
American involvement in Vietnam was to be funded by monies funneled
from much needed social programs.
By the late 1960s the nation was taking notice of the counter-culture
and its message. Privileged children of the American middle-class were in
revolt against their authoritarian parents, and by extension, the
government. The War Against Poverty declared by President Lyndon B.
Johnson in 1964, which championed job training and improved housing for
the underprivileged, had done little to alleviate the plight of the inner city
poor. Unemployment and substance abuse were epidemic in the ghettos.
More than thirty people died when racial tensions erupted violently in the
Watts ghetto near Los Angeles. The American public was as shocked by
1 Lunch and Sperlich 30.
107

108
the sight of brutal confrontations between black rioters and white police
officers as they were by burned out neighborhoods. A substantial increase
in the numbers of robberies, assaults, and violent deaths in urban America
seemed to further confirm the perceived downhill slide of American cities.
Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King preached non-violent protest to
followers seeking racial equality and harmony. Democratic Presidential
candidate and brother of a martyred president Robert Kennedy criticized
Johnson’s bankrupt Vietnam policy and promised a “new America.” The
assassinations of these two young national political figures in 1968 rocked
the nation—and the world. Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Great Society” appeared
to be self-destructing. These political developments, which Gesine culls
daily from the pages of The New York Times, form the backbone of
Jahrestaae.
Throughout the early part of the Jerichow narrative Gesine relies
upon documentary materials to reconstruct a remote, and ultimately
unknowable, past. In the contemporary narrative Gesine continues to use
similar items to substantiate her observations and experiences in New
York City during the late 1960s. On both levels the articles provide the
impetus for reflection as well. For this second narrative strand Gesine’s
preferred source of information is The New York Times, “die sich selbst als
Gewissen der Welt versteht.”2 The items gleaned from its pages are part
and parcel of Jahrestage’s diary-structure. Documentary materials relay
events which lay outside the realm of Gesine’s immediate experience. Still,
these events have a significant impact on her life. Reports from the
battlefields of Vietnam, incidents of social injustice and racial unrest
across America, ongoing reports on war crimes trials in West Germany
^ “New York Times: Brunnen der GeschichteSnievel 13 May 1968: 140.

109
and the evolving reform process in Czechoslovakia are all topics which
have a marked effect on Gesine’s everyday existence.
By placing Gesine in a specific temporal and historical context, The
New York Times functions in the novel as her window on the world. The
New York environment is one in which she is clearly an outsider. From
the outset it is clear that her personal history sets her apart from other
people with whom she comes into contact. Her isolation from mainstream
American society is further compounded by her responsibilities as a single
parent, her circle of acquaintances, and her job. She is a woman with little
leisure time. When she is free, she invariably has a newspaper in her
hand. With few exceptions, her acquaintances are other Europeans or
people from work. Few of the relationships can be characterized as
friendships. Even her fiancé, D.E., is kept at arm’s length.
When compared with Johnson’s other novels, the structure of
Jahrestage seems uncharacteristically simple. To the consternation of
literary critics Johnson declined throughout his career to identify any fixed
set of principles in his writings. However, a consistent theme in interviews
is the premise that form emerges from the demands of the material itself.
According to Johnson, content and form comprise a single entity:
Die Geschichte muB sich die Form auf den Leib gezogen
haben. Die Form hat lediglich die Aufgabe, die Geschichte
unbeschádigt zur Welt zu bringen. Sie darf vom Inhalt
nicht mehr ablosbar sein.3
3 Johnson, “Vorschláge zur Priifung eines Romans” 34. He states elsewhere: “Ich
habe namlich in keinem Fall versucht, mit Schwierigkeiten anzugeben, zu zeigen, wie
kompliziert und verwickelt man es machen kann, ich habe in jedem Fall die gewahlte
Form und Struktur der Erzahlung fur die einzig mogliche gehalten.” Reinhard
Baumgart, “Uwe Johnson im Gesprach," “Ich uherlep'e mir die Geschichte . 226.

110
He argues that each project presents a unique set of problems, the
consideration of which dictates a particular structural and narrative form.
The two elements are likewise considered inseparable in the creative
process:
Was meine Mittel oder Erzáhlweise angeht, so habe ich da
keine Experimente gemacht. Ich habe gewartet, bis ich für
die Geschichte, die mir bekannt war und die ich erzáhlen
wollte, die Form wuBte und hatte, die ich brauchte.4
For Jahrestage this results in the incorporation of the reconstructive
narrative into the novel’s chronologically narrated New York strand. Just
looking at the format, the novel appears at first glance to be a journal. It is,
in fact, the text of a narrative project in which Gesine collaborates with her
narrative partner, Johnson, to reconstruct her childhood. The calendar
starts running on August 21, 1967 as Gesine returns to work after a
vacation at the shore. The deal struck between Gesine and her narrative
partner is limited to one year, which at times she finds too taxing:
. . . seit bald einem Jahr die Tage, die der Genosse
Schriftsteller aufschreiben will. Wie werden wir froh sein,
wenn es ein Ende hat mit dem Unveroffentlichten. (IV,
1657)
The calendar, much like a daily log-book, includes an accounting of
Gesine’s present day experiences, the remembrance process, and
documents the progress of the project.
In earlier works such as Mutmafiungen über Jakob and Das dritte
Buch über Achim the narrator/s attempt to reconstruct the story of an
individual. Pertinent information is culled from a variety of sources, and
relayed to the reader from multiple perspectives. In both novels, however,
4 Bienek 89.

Ill
the subject’s story remains incomplete. Both are characteristically reticent
to reveal much of their inner selves. Jakob’s death neatly precludes him
from any direct narrative probing. Achim ultimately breaks off contact
with his biographer, Karsch. He assumes his fabricated public image of
sport celebrity and folk hero, which has become more real to him than his
own personal history. A definitive portrayal of Jakob or Achim proves
impossible despite an exhaustive review of available information. For the
narrator both subjects remain inaccessible either through an act of fate or
of the will.
Conversely, in Jahrestage Johnson probes the life and history of a
single subject, who cooperates fully with her narrative partner within
defined parameters. An entire historical epoch is viewed from the
perspective of one individual. Unlike the two earlier novels, narrator and
reader are privy not only to the same materials available to Gesine, but also
to her memories and the reconstructive process itself. The change in
narrative focus is reflected in the novel’s structure. Bernd Neumann was
one of several critics who were disappointed by Jahrestape’s “durchaus
traditionelle Erzáhlstruktur und -haltung.”5 Johnson however, views the
novel’s structure as perfectly consistent with that of his earlier works. By
using the calendar year to break down Gesine’s story into self-sufficient,
yet interrelated, daily segments, Johnson provides a simple, unvarying
structural solution for a set of very complex narrative and thematic
demands. Guided by the rigid chronological sequence of the calendar year
Gesine can address the past in a structured and organized fashion.
5 Bernd Neumann, Utopie und Memesis: Zum Verhaltnis von Asthetik.
Gesellschaftsphilosophie und Politik in den Romanen Uwe Johnsons (Kronberg/Ts.:
Athenaum, 1978) 305.

112
Current events cited daily from The New York Times further enforce
the novel’s calendar structure. Existing parallel to the historical narrative
are segments Gesine dictates into tape recorder at Marie’s behest “fiir
wenn ich tot bin” (I, 386). By contrast, when Gesine begins to record her
thoughts and memories on tape she steps outside the novel’s regulative
structure. The direct confrontation with herself and her past, without the
intervening presence of her narrative partner is initially overwhelming.
She confides to the tape recorder:
Manchmal bin ich so miide, daB ich genauso unordentlich
rede wie ich denke
Ich finde das nicht ordentlich wie ich denke
Wo ich her bin das gibt es nicht mehr. (I, 386)
The grafting of the reconstructive narrative onto the novel’s dominant
structural component—the calendar-is consistent with Johnson’s premise
that form emerges organically from the demands of the material.6 In his
Frankfurt lecture series he describes how the idea for Jahrestage’s
structure developed:
[Die Blatter] waren entstanden aus der Ãœbung, fiir jedes
der vorgegebenen 365 oder 366 Kapiteln einen un-
abhángigen Ansatz, eine eigene Struktur herzustellen, die
jeweils zu entwickeln waren auch aus dem Zustand des
erzahlenden Suhjekts. War dieser Versuch einmal
gesichert, konnte der Rest der Zeit verwandt werden auf
6 Critics such as Marcel Reich-Ranicki found Johnson’s depiction of the
interrelationship between form and content pretentious: “Fiir jede Geschichte, sagte er
[Johnson] einmal, suchte er die passende Form. Hier hingegen sucht er nicht fur eine
Geschichte die Form, sondern fiir einen Stoff die Geschichte-und er findet sie nicht,
jedenfalls nicht auf diesen fast fiinfhundert Seiten” (Reich-Ranicki, Entgegnimgen. Zur
deutschen Literatur des siebziger Jahre. Stuttgart: Deutsche-Verlags Anstalt, 1979, 252).
His assessment of Jahrestage I proved to be somewhat premature. He later backtracked
significantly after Johnson’s death soon after the publication Vol. IV: "... sicher ist, daB
noch nie ein deutscher Erzáhler die Verhaltnisse in den ersten Jahren nach dem Zweiten
Weltkrieg auf dem Gebiet der kiinftigen DDR so anschaulich und so wahr beschrieben
hat. . . . Zu Recht wurde gesagt, daB die Jahrestage im vierten Band zu einem epischen
Kunstwerk werden, das zugleich ein Werk der Geschichtsschreibung ist” (Marcel Reich-
Ranicki, “Der trotzige Einzelgánger. Zum Tode des einsamen Schriftstellers Uwe
Johnson,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 14 Mar. 1984).

113
Aufmerksamkeit far die Wirklichkeit der Tage auf den
Straflen von New York, wie sie sich gibt aufierhalb der New
York Times und wie sie hátte verloren gehen konnen fiir
den, der in einem Biiro davon abgeschlossen ist beim
Schreiben eines Kapitels fiir einen anderen Tag. Die
amerikanische Ebene des Buchs war in der Planung
fertig.7
The narrative’s calendar component is a device by which Gesine can order
and catalog daily experiences in order to create an illusion of control. It
also enables her to examine past events within clearly defined parameters.
The illusion of ordered daily life regulated by the narrative’s calendar
structure is a shield against the chaotic past. Its linear and temporal
aspects lend direction and dimension to the fluid tangle of Gesine’s
memory.
The novel’s calendar structure which drives the New York narrative
consists of a series of essentially diary-like entries, which one critic has
labeled a “relentless method”8 of rigid chronological order. In fact, this
inherently flexible combination of calendar and journal allows for accounts
of Gesine’s daily routine, her impressions of urban life, and the newspaper
articles which catch her eye to exist along side her historical narrative.
As a practical matter, Jahrestage’s narrative calendar reflects the
contractual agreement between Gesine and her narrative partner in which
“ein Schreiber in ihrem Auftrag fiir jeden Tag eine Eintragung an ihrer
Statt, mit ihrer Erlaubnis, nicht jedoch fiir den taglichen Tag [macht]” (IV,
1474). The text is a result of their combined efforts. The novel’s
chronological structure, while not strictly a diary, is echoed in Gesine’s
7 Johnson, Begleitumstande 427.
8 Theodore Ziolkowski, “Living with Germany on Riverside Drive.” New York
Times 8 Nov. 1987: 61.

114
description of The New York Times as “das Tagebuch der Welt” (III, 1191).
Just as the novel’s calendar brings a semblance of order to Gesine’s present
and past experience, the paper daily condenses the glut of world news into a
manageable form. As Fickert points out, the calendar is more historical
than personal.9 Except for a few holidays, the calendar usually marks
anniversaries of milestone events in Gesine’s life. Similarly, the New York
Times items related in Jahrestage reflect Gesine’s personal history and
agenda. The novel’s almost exclusively historical-political focus is clearly
established by structure as well as content.
In the Jerichow story some of these milestones are represented by
her father’s inexplicable return to Nazi Germany, Reichskristallnacht and
her mother’s subsequent suicide, the war, the Russian Occupation, her
father’s incarceration and the founding of the DDR. Milestones in the New
York story are also almost all political in nature, and as in the past, are
often violent: the Vietnam War (especially the Khe Sanh Siege and the Tet
Offensive), the march on Washington, D.C., racial riots, the Prague
Spring, ongoing Nazi war trials, as well as the assassinations of Dr.
Martin Luther King and Sen. Robert Kennedy.
The calendar of daily life recounted in the New York narrative exists
in tangent with a second narrative strand recounting Gesine’s
recuperation of historical memory. The Jerichow story is a retrospective
account of her experiences under four distinctive political regimes. It is by
comparison more loosely structured and less ordered, although it proceeds
more or less chronologically. The associative connections between past and
present made by Gesine are a part of the text. The weather, newspaper
9 Kurt Fickert, Dialogue with the Reader: The Narrative Stance in Uwe Johnson’s
Fiction (Columbia: Camden House, 1995) 90.

115
items, sounds, smells, or random phrases are among the random
transition elements between the two separate narrative strands. In this
respect the narrative process mimics that of memory, which is hy nature
associative rather than chronological. According to Johnson:
Wir benutzen in unserem Denken die zeitliche Folge, aber
auch andere Methoden. Warum sollen wir nicht als
Kompliment ansehen, dafl Romane unserer Zeit
wenigstens sich versuchen an den artistischen Fertigkeiten
zeitgenossischer Gehirne?i°
In Jahrestage. as in real life, there is rarely a direct correlation between
the stimulus and the memory it triggers. Transitions are indicated in the
text by a physical break, where sentences pick up or leave off in mid¬
thought. By shaping Gesine’s narrative to mirror cognitive thought
processes, Johnson enhances the objective credibility of the information she
relays:
Die Basis ist das BewuBtsein dieser Person, das
dieses alies enthált, nebeneinander und nicht sehr
streng geordnet. Was die Vergangenheit angeht, ist
die Chronologie einigermafien eingehalten,
besonders auf Bitten des Kindes Marie.11
In most instances the transitional links between the two narrative spheres
are arbitrary. They are thematically evocative rather than blatantly
correlative. This interpretation, borne out both by Johnson’s statements
and in the text itself, further contradicts Roberta Hye’s contention that
Johnson draws intentional correspondences between past and present
events.
1® Johnson, “Vorschláge zur Prüfung eines Romans” 34.
11 Zimmer 101.

116
Gesine is aware that memory alone does not give a trustworthy
account of the past. Remembered events are at best a composite of
impressions, characterized by compression and inconsistency. Her
historical-political consciousness is formed by key experiences and events,
whose interpretation in limited context of her personal history is highly
subjective:
Und ich trau dem nicht was ich weifi, weil es sich nicht
immer in meinem Gedachtnis gezeigt hat, dann unverhofft
ais Einfall auftritt. Vielleicht macht das Gedachtnis aus
sich so einen Satz, den Jakob gesagt hat oder vielleicht
gesagt hat, gesagt haben kann. 1st der Satz einmal fertig
und vorhanden, baut das Gedachtnis die anderen urn ihn
herum, sogar die Stimmen von ganz anderen Leuten.
Davor habe ich Angst. Mit einem Mai fiihre ich in
Gedanken ein Gesprách über ein Gesprách, bei dem ich gar
nicht dabei war und Wahrheit ist daran nur die Erinnerung
an seine Intonation, wie Jakob sprach. (I, 387)
Associations may also be deliberately programmed to create the requisite
memory, or a verfálschte Vergangenheit. A study on memory reported in
The New York Times addresses some of Gesine’s concerns. Its
conclusions are substantiated by her own experience. Her recuperation of
historical memory, in the form of her personal story, is both an affirmation
and a rejection of the process as an objective tool with which to evaluate
human agency:
Wenn man aber die eigene Vergangenheit, die verfalschte
Vergangenheit aufklaren will, dann muB man sich
kümmern um die Umstánde des Jahres 1933, in dem sie
geboren ist. Danach sucht sie, danach habe ich auch in
ihrem Auftrag geforscht und es nach Beratung mit ihr so
aufgeschrieben, wie es tatsáchlich gewesen ist und nicht,
wie die falschende Erinnerung es will.12
12 Becker, MichaeUs and Vormweg 305.

117
The presence of her narrative partner, along with Marie’s questions and
reluctance to accept Gesine’s version of past events as a fait accompli, are
corrective devices against memory’s natural tendencies.
Gesine’s reconstruction of the Cresspahl family history assumes a
more cohesive form through Marie’s guiding questions about their actions
in different political circumstances. Her daughter’s questions, as well as
New York Times articles, often function as a direct bridge between the
Jerichow and New York strands. Regardless of the transition device
employed, narrative shifts are often abrupt and inexplicable. The
associative transitions, along with the italicized passages, present a
deliberate contrast to the chronological organization and to the New York
calendar.
A shift in narrative used in the novel’s first dated entry provides a
model for subsequent transitions between past and present. The bond
between the two strands is introduced in truncated form:
Das Motorengerausch láuft ineinander in der Entfernung
und schlágt in ebenmalligen Wellen ins Fenster,
Meeresbrandung vergleichbar. Von Jerichow zum Strand
war es eine Stunde zu gehen, am Bruch entlang und dann
zwischen den Feldem. (I, 13)
The narrative shift, which is more lyrical than most, proves a dead end.
The chapter breaks off abruptly at this point. This particular passage is
relayed from the viewpoint of the narrator, rather than that of Gesine. His
presence is indicated by the reiterated motif, “Ich stelle mir vor” (I, 12). As
he visualizes her heading for her apartment at dusk, he describes Gesine
as the intellectual and physical embodiment of the interrelationship of past
and present. Without her cooperation he can proceed no further. The path
to Jerichow and the past leads directly through her.

118
The next shift between the New York and Jerichow narratives comes
two days later, on August 23:
In der Nacht in New Haven gingen fiinfhundert Polizisten
Patrouille in den Negervierteln. . . . Sie stellt sich vor, daB
sie die Gesichter der Polizisten beobachtet hátte, deren eines
zu sehen ist unter der erhobenen schwarzen Faust in der
Zeitung, mit einem ungláubigen Ausdruck fast
altersweiser Art, noch im Nachgeschmack der voran-
gegangenen Priigelei.
Im August 1933 sail Cresspahl in einem schattigen Garten
an der Travemiindung, mit dem Riicken zur Ostsee, und
las in einer englischen Zeitung, die fiinf Tage alt war.
(I, 16)
Although the interior monologue is relayed by the narrator in the third
person, the viewpoint is here clearly Gesine’s. This is indicated by a new
formulation of the previous motif: “sie stellt sich vor.” The only apparent
link between present and past narratives is that both Gesine and her father
are reading the newspaper. Significantly, her first image is one of her
father engrossed in a newspaper. This link between two generations
proves of critical relevance to the story. Both are portrayed as dedicated
newspaper readers. Heinrich Cresspahl’s paper is almost a week old.
Gesine patiently wades through stacks of back issues of The New York
Times which accumulated during her vacation. Should she miss one, she
doesn’t hesitate to pick up a discarded copy in the subway or from the trash
can (I, 15). Both she and her father turn to papers in another language for
news. The link between the British newspaper, The Times, and The New
York Times is an important one for Gesine, who also has access to Der
Spiegel and presumably to other German news sources in a large
metropolis like New York. Her paper of choice represents both practical
and personal concerns. Though the papers have little in common aside

119
from their names and respectable reputations, this is enough to earn
Gesine’s dogged devotion.
A third narrative strand, which plays off materials in both the
Jerichow and New York stories, relates a series of imagined dialogs.
Frequently Gesine’s dialog partners are ghosts from her past. Other
passages are narrated by a collective voice, described by Peter Pokay as the
“Chor der Jerichower Kleinbiirger.”is These exchanges are set off from
the main body of the text, and are printed in italics. Many passages consist
simply of vague fragments or comments, rather than lengthy exchanges.
The identity of her dialog partner is rarely given, and cannot always be
immediately established. In some instances it is impossible to identify
them with certainty even in hindsight.
The third narrative stance differs from the Jerichow and New York
stories in two significant aspects. The two primary story lines deal
primarily with actual historical events. In the italicized passages it is often
unclear if they are manifestations of memory or fantasy. They are also
conveyed entirely from Gesine’s perspective without editorial interference
from “Genosse Schriftsteller.” In the absence of her narrative partner
Gesine functions autonomously. Her narrative collaborator simply
recounts the material as dictated. The subjective, spontaneous nature of
the italicized passages offers a glimpse into her inner workings, which are
otherwise off limits to the narrator. The fragmentary third strand mirrors
her own informing presence in the text. Here she emerges “nicht als eine
beschriebene Identitat, sondern in zahlreichen Fetzen inneren Monologs
oder Passagen erlebter Rede.”14 These passages exist independent of
Peter Pokay, “Die Erzahlsituation der ‘Jahrestage.’”
S" 284.
14
Hoesterey 13.

120
temporal reality. At the same time the exchanges are inextricably bound
both to the historical past and Gesine’s concerns for the future. This third
narrative strand, which straddles both past and present temporal levels,
exists independent of the Jerichow and New York narratives’ relentless
linear progression which drives the novel’s calendar structure.
The italicized fragments comprise the only unadulterated source of
information from Gesine. By contrast, a clear physical picture of Gesine
never emerges in the text, in contrast to the attentive word-paintings of New
York urban life, the factual reality represented by The New York Times or
the abundance of minute details embellishing her Jerichow memories.
This is markedly similar to her earlier portrayal in Mutmafiungen über
Jakob. Jakob Abs, Heinrich Cresspahl, and, to a lesser extent, Joche and
Rohlfs are depicted in terms of distinct physical characteristics in keeping
with their personalities. The only description of Gesine is included as part
of her Stasi file. The information proves all but useless to Rohlfs, who
narrates the passage:
Also Gesine Lisbeth. Und was soil ich mit Grosse:
mittelgross. Damals. Vor fiinf Jahren. Augenfarbe:
grau. Das kann nun auch grün sein, auf der Meldestelle
ist es so dámmrig dass da jeder dunkelgraue Augen hat:
und was haben sie fur Haarfarbe aufgeschrieben? dunkel.
Datum der Geburt, staatliche Zugehorigkeit, besondere
Kennzeichen: keine. Ich weiss auch nicht wie es besser
ware, aber damit kann keiner was anfangen. . . .
Das Gesicht sehr achtzehnjáhrig Haarfarbe dunkel
vielleicht nicht ganz schwarz straff rückwárts die Haut fest
sonnenbraun über den starken Backenknochen
gleichmütig ernsthaft querkopfig blickende Augen,
Augenfarbe: grau.15
He is forced to gloss over contradictions and gaps in his information in
order to arrive at a physical description of Gesine, which effectively
15 Johnson, MutmaBungen fiber Jakob 14.

121
neutralizes the value of his observations. Further neither physical nor
biographical facts provide any insight into Gesine’s psyche. In the novel
even physically observable information is rendered questionable early on.
The most accurate description of both Gesine and her role in the novel is a
purely subjective remark by Rohlfs, who calls her the “Taube auf dem
Dach.”i6
As in the case of Jakob, an incomplete and imperfect version of
Gesine emerges as a result of the collaborative process between the
narrators and their material. As new information continues to surface
they must reevaluate their perceptions. The cycle of negotiated perception
forms the backbone of memory, and ultimately of the novel itself:
Was bleibt von einem toten Menschen übrig im Gedáchtnis
seiner Freunde oder seiner Feinde oder seiner Geliebten?
. . . natiirlich, die erinnern sich an ihn. Widersprüchlich,
einer weifi mehr als der andere, sie streiten sich mitunter,
wenn nicht immer, sie erinnern sich. Das ware der
Monolog. Sie reden über ihn und versuchen, ihre Meinung
gegen andere durchzusetzen: das ware Dialog. Und dann
ist der Erzáhler berechtigt, das hinzuzutun, was er auch
noch weifi.17
The novel’s multi-level, shifting narrative perspective is yet another
variation on Johnson’s approach in which content determines structure “in
Stofien, Wellen und Fragmenten, in Erinnerungsschiiben, Monologen und
Gespráchfetzen, im Allgemeingewoge des Existentiellen ebenso wie exakt
fafibaren Daten.”!» Instead of narrative being subservient to the novel’s
16 Johnson, Mutmaflungen aber Jakob 10.
17 Bienek 114-115.
18 Günter Blocker, “Roman der beiden Deutschland.” IJher TTwe Johnson, ed.
Reinhard Baumgart (Frankfurt a.M. Suhrkamp, 1970) 11.

122
linear and chronological form, it begins itself to determine the forward
progression of the narrative.
Jahrestage offers fewer discernible narrative angles, but the
difficulties of perception and narration remain, as revealed in a scene
similar to the one discussed above. The only marginally physical
description of Gesine appears at the beginning of Jahrestage. This is
striking in a text otherwise distinguished by an obsession with detail. The
scene is dominated by what is physically definable. But even in this brief
passage the picture becomes fragmentary once the narrator turns from her
surroundings and mannerisms to the subject herself. The phrase, “Ich
stelle mir vor,” injected periodically by the narrator, emphasizes the
narrator’s uncertainty as he turns from factual to subjective (even fictional)
content:
Sie ist jetzt vierunddreiBig Jahre. Ihr Kind ist fast zehn
Jahre alt. Sie lebt seit sechs Jahren in New York. In dieser
Bank arbeitet sie seit 1964.
Ich stelle mir vor: Unter ihren Augen die winzigen Kerben
waren heller als die gebráunte Gesichtshaut. Ihre fast
schwarzen Haare, rundum kurz geschnitten, sind bleicher
geworden. Sie sah verschlafen aus, sie hat seit langem mit
Niemandem grofi gesprochen. Sie nahm die Sonnenbrille
erst ab hinter dem aufblitzenden Türflügel. Sie trágt die
Sonnenbrille nie in die Haare geschoben. (I, 12)
Here, as in MutmaBungen fiber Jakob, this portrayal of Gesine reveals little
relevant information. Of greater relevance to the novel is the way Gesine’s
identity is defined by a web of external relationships with her child, her
deceased father, her high-powered boss, her narrative partner and to the
newsmakers at The New York Times.
In contrast to the reality chronicled in The New York Times and the
events recounted in the Jerichow story, Gesine’s New York existence is

123
uneventful if not mundane. The counterpuntal tension between past and
present commutes the novel’s lack of discernible plot. The cumulative
effects of sculpting political and historical forces emerge very slowly in this
narrative strand. The historical narrative and the newspaper serve as
both source and measuring stick for the world events which unremittingly
affect Gesine’s daily existence. Thus, the dynamic properties of all three
modes of time and their interrelationship are portrayed through her unique
consciousness.
The novel’s narrative structure is reflected in the title: Jahrestage.
Aus dem Leben von Gesine Cressnahl. Its English translation,
“Anniversaries,” is by contrast decidedly lacking. The reference is limited
to the recurrent relationship between the past and the present. Continuity
is preserved through memory and commemoration, illustrated in the past
and present narrative. But the more fitting translation in terms of the
novel is “days of the year.”i9 Here, each day represents both another notch
along the historical compendium, and a segment of a perpetually recurring
cycle. The cyclical implication, which plays a major role in the novel, is
entirely lacking in the English edition. As Johnson explains, the title
communicates “that every present day keeps, by way of memory, days of one
day in the past; in this sense the 365 days in the book are a technicality.”20
This is the title preferred by Leila Vennewitz, who translated Jahrestace into
English. Vennewitz explains that “Anniversaries” captures only one limited aspect of
Johnson’s original title, lacking “a sense of the passage, or flux, of time” implied in the
other title. Johnson, however, disagreed for a number of reasons: “As to me, I thought of
this book always with the English ‘Anniversaries’ and never doubted this would be its
name in an English translation. ... I would find ‘Days of One Year’ more bearable. It is
still your suggestion, only more radical. But it removes from sight all the drawers below
the single one marked 1967/68.” “Auskünfte für eine Übersetzerin,” “Ich iiberleve mir die
Geschichte . . ." 325-6.
“Auskünfte für eine Übersetzerin” 325.

124
Gesine herself reflects both the linear and cyclical aspects of the
calendar as used in Jahrestage. The chronological line linking past,
present and future is echoed in the system of connecting points which
delineate Gesine’s unvarying daily and weekly routine: Riverside Drive in
Manhattan to the bank at Lexington and Third via Grand Central Station
and the South Ferry. The world itself is made to fit into lines and columns
in the numbered pages of The New York Times. She is also engaged in the
same weary repetition of history as she repeatedly flees as a reaction to
political disillusionment, which has propelled her on an involuntary
journey from Bast to West Germany, then to America and which will
ultimately bring her to Prague. The United States is yet another station in
Gesine’s flight from political reality. As the novel moves relentlessly
forward in terms of the calendar year it also systematically reaches back
into the past.
Although the outer narrative framework is essentially diary-like in
character, the narrative voice is for the most part that of a third person, and
not a first person narrator. Gesine’s perceptions, thoughts, and reflections
on the past are continually negotiated by this outer narrative voice:
“Erzahlt wird also nicht das Leben der Gesine Cresspahl, sondern aus
ihrem Leben, und es wird, was sie erinnert, auch von ihr erzahlt: Auch
diese Lesart laBt der Untertitel zu.”21 This narrative structure, which
allows for multiple narrative strands, makes possible the incorporation of
material which Gesine could not simply carry around in her head:
verbatim citations of The New York Times, old weather reports, lists from
school and prison records, shopping lists, as well as eyewitness accounts of
Bengel, Michael. “Johnsons ‘Jahrestage’ und einige ihrer Voraussetzungen,”
Johnsons “Jahrestage” 316.

125
events occurring before she was born. She has substantial help with “der
ungeheuren Akribie Ihrer Rekonstruktion von Wirklichkeit”22
Gesine is able to recall and recreate scenes from her Mecklenburg
childhood with such exacting attention to detail that her recollections
assume compelling factual credibility. The implied objective role of the
Verfasser augments the veracity of the material. He does the background
research, gathers reports, statistics and other materials which are used to
authenticate Gesine’s reconstructions:
Sie schreibt das Buch ja nicht. Das Buch schreibt der
Verfasser. Er versucht sozusagen ihr BewuBtsein des
Tages darzustellen. Ob das nun ein Vorfall in New York ist
oder die Suche nach Erklarungen für Vorfalle im Jahre
1938-man kann dieses im BewuBtsein bewegen und priifen
und nebenher sehr wohl die tagliche Arbeit tun. Zu diesen
im BewuBtsein bewegten Sachen gehoren sicher auch die
Nachrichten der “New York Times,” die für diese Person ja
eine Vermittlung mit der Welt bedeuten, da sie den
grofieren Teil des wachen Tages in Arbeit abwesend ist und
nur so erfahren kann, was nebenan passiert, ob das
Nebenan nun die 98. Strafle ist oder Südostasien. Auch die
Recherchen unternimmt nicht sie, die unternimmt der
Verfasser fur sie. Er kann ihr dann eine Version anbieten,
er kann sehen, ob es zu ihrer Biographie, zu ihren
Haltungen, zu ihren Bediirfhissen paflt. Wenn es paBt,
kann er weiterschreiben.23
The narrator’s role in Jahrestage is clearly substantial, although for the
most part behind the scenes. Johnson’s characterization here of the
relationship between Gesine and her narrative collaborator, “Genosse
Schriftsteller” refutes the long-held assumption that Gesine is the single
source of the New York Times items. Johnson’s own position is rather
22 Zimmer 102.
22 Zimmer 99-100.

126
obtuse as he describes the articles elsewhere as subjective segments read
“mit Mrs. Cresspahls Augen.”24
In his early essay, “Berliner Stadtbahn,” Johnson poses the question:
“Wo steht der Author in seinem Text?” This same concern is a central
structural component of Jahrestage. In one of the novel’s pivotal scenes
Johnson himself puts in an appearance. The result is the agreement
between Gesine and an authorial narrative persona (in the guise of a
somewhat fictionalized Johnson) to reconstruct her childhood.25 The
author is identified within the text as a partner in the narrative process.
He has almost unlimited access to her past and her current life, but is
limited to what she chooses to share with him. She addresses him only as
“Genosse Schriftsteller” or occasionally “Herr Johnson.” This small detail
clearly defines the boundary between the author and Gesine. This title
serves two functions: it alludes to their common DDR background while
simultaneously creating a distance in what would normally be seen as an
intimate relationship between subject and narrator. It is a relationship
which is far more intimate than an acquaintance, yet never a friendship.
They interact at all times on a strictly professional basis:
. . . sie hat den Verfasser suchen lassen nach den
Einwirkungen von vier gesellschaftlichen Systemen auf ihr
Leben, sie láfit den Verfasser mit ihrem Kind, mit ihren
Preunden und Vorgesetzten und Feinden Beziehungen
unterhalten weit fiber die Verpflichtungen von
Bekannschaften hinaus. Sei es in den Gedanken des
Verfassers, sie wird ihm widersprechen, wenn er ihr eine
24 Johnson, Bepdeitumstande 413.
25 Sitting in the back row at Johnson’s lecture for the Jewish American Congress
Gesine observes: “Johnson safi krumm hinter dem griinen Tuch, hielt sein Manuskript
mit beiden Hánden abgedeckt, spiegelte das Licht der Scheinwerfer in seiner Glatze und
musterte den Saal nur fliichtig mit Blicken zwischen Brauen und Brillenrand hindurch”
(I, 256).

127
Entscheidung vorschlágt, die zu ihren Bediirfnissen und
Bedingungen nicht pafit.26
While Gesine’s narrative partner knows a great deal about his subject’s
past and present experiences, his knowledge is limited to what she allows
him: “Ich beschreibe ihr Leben und was in ihrem BewuCtsein vorgeht, und
zwar genau in den Stücken, die sie fur angebracht halt.”27 His position is
by no means omniscient. His knowledge of her inner thoughts is limited to
what she chooses to tell him. Van der Will characterizes the author’s role
in the novel as that of a “scribe,” with the Gesine figure alternating between
first and third person narrative voice:
By employing the author as her scribe the narrator can
refer to herself in the third person, reverting to the first
person plural only when Marie, her daughter, is implicitly
included in the angle of narration and reserving the first
person singular for moments of extremely private and
personally involved aspects of her life. Although the author
obviously generates the text, he does so in the service of
fictional constraints laid on him by the chief narrator
figure.28
While generally accurate, van der Will implies a passivity on the part of the
narrator that is at odds with textual evidence. Far from functioning solely
as a conduit of Gesine’s thoughts and experiences, the narrator performs a
26 Johnson, “Rede anláfilich der Entgegennahme des Georg-Büchner-Preises
1971,” Johnsons “Jahrestage” 55. Throughout Johnson is quite conscious of the boundary
established between Gesine and her narrative partner. “Wenn Sie wollen, ist das sogar
ein naturalistischer Blickwinkel; ich erzahle so viel, wie die Person wissen kann, nicht
aber, was sie nicht wissen konnte. . . . Wenn diese Person entscheidet, daB sie etwas
mehr iiber ihren GroBvater wissen mochte, dann muB ich eben hingehen und ihr den
Kapp-Putsch und ihr die mogliche und wirkliche Rolle ihres GroBvaters zeigen. Wenn
sie das wissen will, dann besorge ich ihr das Wissen.” (Ree Post-Adams, “Antworten von
Uwe Johnson. Ein Gesprach mit dem Autor," Ich iiherlege mir die Geschichte 276).
27 Lehner 112.
28van der Will 193.

128
series of pro-active tasks. He undertakes research for Gesine and is
responsible for the choreography of narrative strands and supplementary
materials. Fickert employs the more active characterization of “stage
director.”
While the scope of the narrative is defined by Gesine’s perspective, it
is the narrator through whom the multiple strands are conveyed. To
identify her viewpoint exclusively with the third person narrative stance
belies the partnership between the author and Gesine as described in the
text:
Wer erzahlt hier eigentlich, Gesine.
Wir beide. Das horst du dock, Johnson. (I, 256)
The element of partnership is one of the novel’s integral components. The
introduction of an objective filter prevents the narrative from becoming a
completely subjective portrayal of present and past within the cliched and
entirely subjective scope of a diary:
Ich will dir mal as sagen, du Schriftsteller. . . .
Ein Jahr hab ich dir gegeben. So unser Vertrag. Nun
beschreibe das Jahr.
Und was vor dem Jahr war.
Keine Ausfliichte!
Wie es kam zu dem Jahr.
In diesem verabredeten Jahr, seit dem 20. August 1967. . . .
Soil es denn doch ein Tagebuch werden?
Nein. Nie. Ich halt mich an den Vertrag. (IV, 1426-27)
In the course of this contractual relationship, as in any other, a certain
degree of friction develops. Gesine does not always agree with her
narrative partners decisions, and at times feels hemmed in by his
presence. Both are fully dependent on each other in the generation of the
narrative. It is Gesine’s story that is being told, but the author is poised to

129
step in when she is no longer able to tell it. Johnson relays the story other
mother’s suicide when Gesine is struck suddenly with a high fever.
This rai ses some essential questions as to the relationship between
the author and his fictional character. While the text intimates there is an
element of partnership, Johnson denies that he has any influence on the
material Gesine conveys or shapes that her story takes: “Ich bin der
Aufzeichnende und komme weiter nicht in Betracht.”29 Instead he
characterizes the partnership as a cooperative effort: “Das ist ein
Arbeitsverháltnis, eine Cooperation gewesen. Wir haben eine Sache
gemeinsam gemacht.”30 The demands of Gesine’s job and her
responsibilities as a single parent would make it almost impossible to
accomplish the research necessary to provide a thoroughly detailed
historical background: “. . . dann ist es doch meine Aufgabe, ihr das
herauszufinden, wie das damals war, und dann abzuwarten, ob das zu ihr,
so wie sie ist, pafit oder ob es nicht zu ihr paflt.”3' The volume of the New
York Times reading alone is prohibitive. Arthur “Punch” Sulzberger, the
newspaper’s publisher at the time claims that, “anybody who claims to read
the entire paper every day is either the world’s fastest reader or the world’s
biggest liar.”32 Collaboration between Gesine and her narrative partner is
apparent in many of the New York Times passages.
There are a range of opinions on the narrative stance in the New
York story. Ingeborg Hoesterey considers Gesine both subject and narrator
29 Daiber 129.
30 Daiber 130.
31 Manfred Durzak, “Dieser langsame Weg zu einer grofieren Genauigkeit” 438.
32 “The Kingdom and the Cabbage,” Time 15 Aug. 1977: 73.

130
of the contemporary strand, as well as her childhood recollections.
According to Hoesterey, Gesine’s reconstruction of the past is embedded in
what is essentially a first-person narrative since her viewpoint dominates
the novel. Her narrative partner is, in effect, a handy assistant, but does
not himself have a significant impact on the telling of the story: “Indes
mull unmittelbar hinzugefiigt werden, dal) ihre zweistrángige Erzáhlung
kein Unternehmen im Alleingang ist, sondern problematisch iiberlagert
ist durch die Assistenz des Autor-Erzáhlers.”33 However, most critics treat
the New York story and the New York Times items as identical.
Johnson’s role as “der Aufzeichnende” is necessary if only to make
the novel itself believable:
The author Johnson is part of the fictional structure in that
he acts as writer who keeps Gesine’s diary and electronic
notebook and, as is evident by the persistent ‘Ich stelle mir
vor . . .’ of the first diary entry (21 August, 1967), he is
responsible for providing the general contextual setting
within which his narrated and narrating figures live.
Occasionally tensions are allowed to arise between the
various narrator figures and internal addressees (Gesine,
Marie, Mr. Erichson, etc.) and, more significantly, between
the author and the narrator, and it is at such moments that
the reader is made aware of the complex narrative
arrangement that is involved in the final presentation of the
text.34
Nowhere is the collaboration between Gesine and the fictional Johnson
more evident than in the New York Times segments.
Since the relationship between character and author is freely
acknowledged within the text itself, to what extent is the figure of Gesine
dependent on the author? “Wo denn ist sie Johnsons Abbild, wo sein
33 Hoesterey 14.
3^ van der Will 193.

131
Wunschbild, wo sein Gegenbild?”35 Why does Johnson choose Gesine
Cresspahl, not only as the central figure of the Jahrestage. but as the
spokesperson of an entire generation? She functions as a cipher for a
common experience, a society, and a generation:
. . . es hátte jemand offentlich gesagt, warum ich diese
Gesine Cresspahl denn nicht endlich umbringe, damit ein
Ende sei. Darauf würde ich antworten, daB ich das nicht
kann. Ich bin mit ihr bekannt seit dem Jahre 1956.
Rechnen Sie nach: Das ist eine zu lange Zeit für solche
Morde, und aufierdem ist sie mir wichtig. . . . Sie gehort
vielmehr zu den kleinen Leuten, und in der Zeit dieses
Buches, jedenfalls auf einer Ebene, gehort sie wirklich zu
den kleinen Leuten: Sie ist eine Angestellte.36
Gesine, by virtue of her very ordinariness, provides Johnson with the ideal
narrator. She is one insignificant bank employee in a fast-paced
metropolis. The relevance of her struggle with the past occurs against this
intimidating, impersonal backdrop. Gesine is a “socially average,
ordinary sort of person. But she does have exceptional qualities: her
memory and her moral conscience in political matters.”37 Through the
eyes of his protagonist Johnson creates “eine Welt,” whose relevance can
only be interpreted through individual understanding.
Are Gesine and Uwe Johnson essentially the same person? Several
times it has been suggested that Gesine is actually a projected figure,
35 Bengel 311.
33 Johnson, “Einfuhrung in die ‘Jahrestage’" 15.
37
van der Will 195.

132
which Johnson categorically denies.40 A good number of biographical
parallels can be drawn in earlier works, and the specific similarities
between Gesine’s and Johnson’s personal histories, especially regarding
their stays in New York, cannot be overlooked.41 However, they can be
overemphasized, as in the case of Reich-Ranicki, who find that Gesine
“wirkt vor allem als Medium: Sie ist es, die Johnsons New-York-Eindriicke
übermitteln muB.”42 Gesine and Uwe Johnson are of the same generation
(she was born in 1933, he one year later), come from the same region and
share a multitude of experiences. Most significant for the purposes of this
study are the elements Johnson’s stay in New York City which are
incorporated into Jahrestage. Like Johnson, Gesine came to America for
the first time in 1961. Johnson resided at 243 Riverside Drive from mid-1966
until 1968 while working on a textbook of contemporary German literature
for Harcourt, Brace and World. Gesine’s departure for Prague on the eve of
the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia coincides with Johnson’s return to
Germany in August of 1968. While Gesine is by no means identical with
the author, they share a singularly intimate relationship through direct
dialogue in Jahrestage.
Johnson states that his characters, although initially his creations,
develop an independent identity of their own:
40 Osterle, “Strukturfragen und Todesgedanken” 121: “Ich mochte aber noch dem
Ausdruck Projektionsfigur widersprechen. Ich kenne diese Dame seit 1956. Ein Paar
Wochen aus ihrem Leben im Herbst dieses Jahres habe ich in der ‘MutmaBungen iiber
Jakob’ beschrieben oder erzahlt. Seitdem habe ich immer gewuBt, wo sie war, genau wie
ich von anderen Personen—iiberhaupt von Personen, von denen ich einmal erzahlt habe-
im BewuBtsein hatte: der und der hat eben geheiratet Oder ist gestorben.”
41 See further Wilhelm Johannes Schwarz, Per Erzahler IJwe Johnson (Bern and
München: Francke, 1970) 10.
42 Marcel Reich-Ranicki, “Der trotzige Einzelganger. Zum Tode des einsamen
Schriftstellers Uwe Johnson," Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 14 Mar 1984: 25.

133
Wenn ich Erfahrungen eigener Art übernommen habe—
aber doch wohl recht selten—dann habe ich immer
überlegen müssen: Wie wirkt das auf eine 33jahrige Frau?
Wie würde sie darauf reagieren? Wie würde sie das
bearbeiten? Wie würde sie das erzáhlen? Auf diesem Wege
habe ich das bifichen Material, das ich an Kenntnissen von
New York und den Leuten dieser Stadt anbringe, schon so
weit verwandelt, dafl es von mir aus gesehen unkenntlich
ist und als Material allein dieser Gesine gehbrt.43
He endows his character with a separate personality and sphere of
experience, totally independent of him. But he also acknowledges that “von
mir aus lebt sie.”44 While many elements of the novel have their roots in
biographical fact, Johnson has used his characters to distance himself
from them. The use of Gesine Cresspahl as the primary medium of
perceived experience prevents the novel from being viewed as a blatant
biographical reconstruction of Johnson’s past. Events are viewed through
the filter of another (although fictitious) personality, and are subjected to
another criterion of perception. Thus, Johnson’s objective is identical with
that of Gesine: to attain an objective viewpoint of the past.
The pages of New York’s-and the nation’s—largest daily newspaper
are read religiously each day by Gesine. It provides an authentic channel
of information about current events, and creates at the same time a
virtually infinite narrative horizon for her reflections and reconstructions.
The New York Times is Johnson’s primary documentary source in
Jahrestage. and it dominates the present-day level of the narrative. Despite
the obvious structural and thematic importance of the newspaper, Johnson
finds the standard perception of its role in the novel limited. In an
interview with Manfred Durzak, Johnson discusses The New York Times
43 Osterle 121.
44 Osterle 121.

134
at length and addresses some misconceptions about its function in
Jahrestage. Durzak, who characterizes it as “Hilfsmittel des Erzáhlens,”
tries to differentiate between Gesine’s private, subjective experiences in
New York and a larger, objective reality conveyed through the paper. For
Johnson, they are two aspects of the same narrative viewpoint: . . die
‘New York Times’ ist kein Erzáhlmedium, sondern ein Aspekt des
subjektiven Zustandes.”45 He insists that, by directly incorporating the
paper in her daily routine, this alternate narrative of daily events is like¬
wise subordinate to Gesine’s particular version of reality: “Das ist genauso
real wie der Toast, den sie sich am Morgen leistet. Das ist eben
vorhanden.”46 Fries points out that the New York Times items, even when
not commented upon in the narrative, are not, strictly speaking,
documentary: . . das Sprachmaterial, das von dem Ausdruck
‘dokumentarisch’ erfafit werden kann, existiert überhaupt nicht in seiner
urspriinglichen Form, sondern nur ais Übersetzung.”4?
The voluminous number of items taken from the pages of The New
York Times and the unique role they play in the construction of Johnson’s
Amerikabild set Jahrestage apart from other post-war novels which
address Germany’s recent past. All of the many disparate elements which
make up the daily news-from the paper’s banner to the classified ads, and
ranging from headlines to everyday minutiae—find their way into the
narrative at some point. The New York Time’s fundamental role in the
4,r> Manfred Durzak, “Dieser langsame Weg zu einer grofieren Genauigkeit” 445.
46 Durzak, “Dieser langsame Weg zu einer groBeren Genauigkeit” 446.
47 Ulrich Fries, Uwe Johnsons “Jahrestage.” Erzahlstruktur und uolitische
Subiektivitat.” (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1990) 110.

135
novel augments Johnson’s characteristic reliance on the juxtaposition of
numerous narrative strands derived from a wide variety of sources.
Ironically, no one element has been more belittled and eschewed by
critics. The newspaper has been largely dismissed as simply a structural
mechanism or as a convenient shorthand for the inclusion of “die
Wirklichkeit der weiBen amerikanischen Mittelschicht,”48 which lies
outside the realm of Gesine’s immediate experience. Just as Grabbe’s
Devil prescribes three verses of Klopstock’s Der Messias (1748/73) as
“unfehlbares Schlafmittel,”49 at least one critic finds Gesine’s paper of
choice is “Opium fur exilierte Mecklenburger.”50 In his tepid review of the
novel’s English translation, Theodore Ziolkowski refers to the “relentless
method” of Johnson’s daily news recaps.5! Several critics side with
Christian Gebert, who labels Johnson’s excessive penchant for citation
unnecessary:
Was wir so in diesem Roman iiber New York und
Amerika erfahren, ist einmal die zumeist lediglich
durch Zitation vermittelte und daher unverbindliche
Realitat . . . erspielte Zitatcollage aus der NYT. . . . Es
scheint nur eine pflichtmafiige moralische Verbeugung
vor dem Zeitgeist, wenn da stándig Vietnam, KZ-
Prozesse in der Bundesrepublik, Studenten-
demonstrationen und Rassenunruhen bloB zitiert
werden. “Die NYT halt fur notig, dafl wir dies wissen.”
48 Sigrun Storz-Sahl, Erinnerung und Erfahrung: Geschichtsphilosophie und
asthetische Erfahrung in Uwe Johnsons “Jahrestagen” (Frankfurt a.M. and New York:
Peter Lang, 1988) 163.
4^ From Christian Dietrich Grabbe’s Scherz. Satire. Ironie nnd tiefpre Bedentiing
(1927).
,r'^ Peter Demetz, “Uwe Johnsons Blick in die Epoche” 195.
54 Ziolkowski 61.

136
—Vor allem Johnson halt es fur notig, der sie fur uns
fleihig abschrieb. ‘Süns hev’ck mi nich ve dacht.’52
Joachim Kaiser plainly exhibits relief at the scaled-down role of news
media in the novel’s concluding volume: “Jetzt darf ffeilich das Magazin
‘Time’ nicht mehr erwáhnt werden, weil doch die im Band IV Gott sei
Dank nicht mehr so dominierende ‘New York Times’ die einzige
Informationsquelle sein soli.”53 In his review of the same volume even
Johnson enthusiast Rolf Becker finally admits an amicable frustration with
Gesine’s news addiction: “Schon damals hatten wir uns gewünscht, die
gewissenhafte Leserin Gesine moge doch ab und zu eine Nummer der
fabelhaften Zeitung iiberschlagen.”5*
In general, statements regarding The New York Times and the U.S.
in the late Sixties are riddled with inaccuracies and bias, if not overt
hostility. Roland Wiegenstein, for example, seizes Johnson’s frequent
mention of the Vietnam War as an opportunity to vent his political spleen:
“Zunáchst sind das Begebenheiten aus dem Krieg in Vietnam, bis hin zum
taglichen Body-count—man hat das ja rasch vergessen (in den USA will
man es vergessen, darum auch hat man sich Ronald Reagan zum
Prásidenten gewahlt). . . ,”55 In his characterization of the newspaper
items as “simple Eselsbrücken,” Reich-Ranicki fails to see how the
American newspaper could possibly benefit Johnson’s narrative:
®2 Gebert 149.
Kaiser 175.
54 R. Becker 189.
55
Wiegenstein 206.

137
Ãœberdies hatte ich oft den Eindruck, da Gesine
Cressphal erst wáhrend ihres Amerikaaufenthalts dazu
kam, westliche Zeitungen zu lesen, weshalb sie die ‘New
York Times’ insgeheim immer mit dem ‘Neuen
Deutschland’ vergleicht. Denn was sie an der ‘New
York Times’ verwundert und was sie mit
offensichtlichem und nur zuweilen ironisch
gedámpftem Respekt hervorhebt, gilt mehr oder weniger
auch für einige westeuropáische Blatter. Und wozu hat
Johnson seine Gesine nach New York geschickt, wenn
das, was sie über Amerika notiert, zum grofien Teil
doch auf Zeitungslektüre beruht? In Düsseldorf láfit
sich die “New York Times” ebenfalls abonnieren und
studieren.56
In her comparative study, “Mythos Manhattan. Die Fazination einer
Stadt,” Sigrid Bauschinger asks wryly, if not provocatively: “Was jedoch
wáren die Jahrestage ohne die ‘New York Times’?”57 Some infer that
Johnson’s novel would be better off without it. One critic found the
newspaper items in the first volume—“dieses Zusammengeschnibbelte”—so
tedious that he marked the all Jerichow passages in red, and proceeded to
read what he considered the essential story in one sitting “ohne den New
Yorker Tagebuchballast.”58 Theodore Ziolkowski’s review in The New York
Times, where he describes Jahrestage as a “flawed but powerful
testament,” runs along these same lines. In agreement with the majority
of German critics, he finds the “epochal novel’ . . . much more successful.”
He completely dismisses the New York narrative strand, which of the two
is potentially of greater interest to the American audience: “[The] entire
New York framework—especially between Gesine and her daughter, surely
Marcel Reick-Ranicki, “Uwe Johnsons neuer Roman,” Johnsons “Jahrestage”
139.
57 Bauschinger 389.
58 text + kritik: Uwe Johnson 65/66 (1980) 62.

138
the most insufferable brat in recent fiction—seems wholly contrived and
conveys no convincing sense of Gesine’s career or life.”59 Ziolkowski was,
however, reviewing a somewhat different novel.
In preparing the English edition for publication, Johnson was
himself forced to weigh the relative value of the “New York” material
against that of the “Jerichow” story. His American publisher, Harcourt
Brace Jovanovitch, insisted on a shorter text. When faced with an
ultimatum, he chose to cut passages from the contemporary rather than
the historical narrative.60 Johnson cut approximately one-third of the
novel for the abridged English translation, which was published in two
volumes. Most of the eliminated passages chronicled current events. Some
daily entries were done away with entirely. Johnson’s pragmatic editorial
decision to favor the “Jerichow” story proved to be a grievous mistake.
Despite the fact that Jahrestage is also about a pivotal period in U.S.
history, the novel never grabbed the interest of American readers. The
reduced role of present-day narrative in Anniversaries and Ziolkowski’s
review both played a role in this. Thirty years later, Johnson’s shortsighted
editing of now crucial passages in Anniversaries significantly hampers the
novel’s significance in the U.S.
59 Ziolkowski 61.
59 According to Helen Wolff, his publisher at Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Johnson
personally selected which passages to cut with little discussion (Eberhard Fahlke and
Jeremy Gaines, “Auskünfte für eine Übersetzerin,” “Ich iiherlep-e mir die Geschichte . .
Uwe Johnson im Gesprach. 317). For Johnson, it seemed “that the choice was between
cutting or having a book at all, and so I preferred a shortened book. And my involvement
was limited. So I thought, if there must be cutting, then I’ll do it myself. In the main such
chapters were left out that have to do with conditions in America, in which case one can
assume that the public knows about them already, although perhaps not in the illumination
of Anniversaries.” A. Leslie Willson, “’An unacknowledged humorist’: An Interview
with Uwe Johnson. Sheerness-in-Kent, 20 April 1982,” Dimension: Contemporary
German Arts and Letters 15 (1982): 405-6.

139
Despite the breadth of Johnson’s descriptions of New York City and
his meticulous attention to detail, he still garners some criticism for his
omissions. For example, there are few references to the city’s diverse
entertainment and cultural life. In the course of a year she manages only
to take in one movie and a baseball game. The latter is hardly voluntary, as
it is at her boss’ invitation. The narrow focus of Gesine’s existence (work,
home, commute) defines the parameters of contact with New York and its
denizens. In a 1983 interview with Heinrich Vormweg Johnson describes
Gesine as “eine aufmerksame Zeitgenossin,” who consciously tests and
revises “eine verfálschte Vergangenheit.” As an adult she is in the position
to evaluate her own participation (or lack thereof) in the historical and
political process:
Immerhin haben vier verschiedene politische Systeme
sich bemiiht, an ihrer Person etwas zu verándern. Sie
hat allmáhlich begriffen, was da mit ihr versucht
worden ist, und sie hat versucht, sich zu wehren.61
Gesine’s tutelage under the Nazis, the socialists, and later the Allies, was a
function of politics and proximity. Johnson’s point is that Gesine was an
accidental, rather than an ideological participant. Using a similar phrase,
Vormweg seeks to turn the conversation from Gesine’s early formative
experiences to her life in New York: “Sie nimmt auch Teil an der New
Yorker Gegenwart.” Johnson replies: “Notwendigerweise, ja.”62 For the
first time, Gesine can exercise some small degree of autonomy in
determining how she participates socially and politically. In New York
Gesine has the objective distance and the motivation to critically evaluate
her surroundings, as well as her history. Given the central role of the New
Becker, Michaelis and Vormweg 305.
62 Becker, Michaelis and Vormweg 305.

140
York narrative in the novel, elements which Johnson deems “necessary” to
his Amerikabild assume great significance. In a novel which Durzak
describes as an “ozeanische(s) Konglomerat von in Sprache umgesetzten
Wirklichkeitspartikeln,”63 the nature of these fragments of reality and the
transformation they undergo in the narrative are both areas of central
importance in the full consideration of Jahrestage.
While Gesine’s obsession with The New York Times has been duly
noted with varying degrees of enthusiasm, most critics have declined to
undertake a closer examination of the newspaper’s role despite Johnson’s
numerous invitations within the text to do so.64 Consistently, newspaper
items are accepted at face value as citations and not as narrative passages
in their own right. In addition, the newspaper’s national role and
reputation during the late Sixties is more significant for the novel than the
current state of Jahrestage scholarship would belie. Removed from the web
of political and social reference provided by The New York Times and the
American Vietnam War era Jahrestage is just another historical novel.
The subsequent analysis of the newspaper’s role in the novel will attempt to
correct this oversight in current Johnson scholarship.
The use of The New York Times as a narrative medium is a variation
on Johnson’s narrative model. His prose typically includes elements of
documentary and pseudo-documentary materials. Earlier novels such as
MutmaCungen iiber Jakob. Das dritte Buch iiber Achim. as well as the
little-known Ingeborg Bachmann biography, Eine Reise nach Klagenfurt.
all include information gleaned from official or otherwise “objective”
63 Manfred Durzak, “Mimesis und Wahrheitsfindung. Probleme des real-
istischen Romans. Uwe Johnsons ‘Jahrestage,’” Gesnráche iiher den Roman 461.
64 Some of the notable exceptions include: Kurt Fickert, Anita Kratzer, Sara
Lennox and Sigrun Storz-Sahl.

141
sources. Although the documentary materials included in the two earlier
novels are manufactured by the author, their documentary character
implies a certain incorruptible objectivity within the context of the work.
The information is presented as both accurate and unbiased. However,
from the moment of their injection into the narrative these items are
subjected to incessant reevaluation as circumstances change or new
information surfaces. The relevance and verity of information within the
narrative itself can only be speculated upon, since the narrative context is
in constant flux. More often than not the introduction of a new
documentary source necessitates the reevaluation of previous perceptions
and conclusions on the part of the reader. The ensuing speculation then
propels the narrative in a previously unconsidered direction. This
narrative stance so intrinsic to Johnson’s fiction is further emphasized by
the titles of the two earlier novels, as well as Johnson’s working title for the
Achim biography.65
The implied authenticity of the documentary materials in the
narrative is not directly challenged in Johnson’s fiction. Questions of
validity and objectivity arise as a function of the narrative process. In his
“Lebensbild in Zitaten,”66 Johnson relies heavily on archival and
documentary materials to raze Bachmann’s pop-culture image which
eclipses the “real” Bachmann and her work. The narrator of Eine Reise
nach Klagenfurt. who in this instance is identical with Johnson himself,
does not question the integrity of the information he gathers. Johnson’s
“Reise” is not only a physical pilgrimage to Ingeborg Bachmann’s
6® i.e. “Eine Beschreibung einer Beschreibung.”
66 From the title of Rolf Michaelis’ review of Eine Reise naob Klavenfnrt.
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 23 Nov. 1974.

142
birthplace in the days following her death, but is also a journey into the past
as he searches for traces of Bachmann and her “unsichtbare Stadt” of her
childhood. Regardless of the source—tourist brochures, railroad timetables,
the local paper, Bachmann’s personal correspondence—all items are
presented as equally legitimate. Even the narrator’s recollections of
conversations and phone calls are footnoted in the text, just as if they
existed as real documents. The narrator fills the role of “Aussucher” and
editor who compiles and arranges the information, occasionally
commenting when necessary. The materials interact with each other
through their placement in the text with only minimal interference from
the narrator. It is up to the reader to judge the merits and implications of
each piece of information. The narrator’s true function in the narrative is
obscured by the straightforward presentation of factual materials. For the
most part he is content to let the facts and statistics speak for themselves.
He manipulates the text behind the scenes, so to speak, as he selects, edits,
and finally, arranges the materials. It is only in the context of a childhood
brutally destroyed by Fascism that the documentary materials take on a
menacing, deceitful or tragic qualities.
Johnson’s use of documentary materials in the non-fictional Eine
Reise nach Klagenfurt is just as effective as in his fiction. The result is a
highly subjective biographical portrayal of Bachmann with all the
earmarks of an objective documentary. The subjectivity results from the
inseparability of author, narrator and the generation of the text itself. The
reader must make the inferences and connections lacking in the text,
which is normally the task of the biographer. The collaborative process
between narrator and reader produces a unique and intimate portrait of

143
Bachmann, as well as the events which left an indelible mark on her
psyche and her writing.
Information gleaned from tapped phone conversations, newspaper
articles, government reports and photographs are used to hedge the gap
between what the narrator can and cannot know. Johnson’s narrative
model rejects the idea of Balzac’s “Manieren der Allwissenheit.”
According to Johnson, the narrator is also limited by access to sources and
the scope of his information. Discrepancies in the text created by
conflicting or incomplete information remain unresolved in Johnson’s
novels. Because the means of resolution lies outside the scope of the text
itself, it becomes the job of the reader to reach his or her own conclusions
based on the information given in the narrative.
There are numerous examples of this strategy in Johnson’s novels.
Apart from the mysterious circumstances surrounding Jakob’s death in
Mutmafiungen iiher Jakob, it is never explained why Gesine is carrying a
miniature camera and a handgun when she returns illegally to the GDR.
The implications are never addressed in the text, but certainly her real
motives for sneaking across the border just as Hungary teeters on the brink
of revolution must be called into question by the reader. A less dramatic
example in Das dritte Buch iiher Achim. is the photo which precipitates the
final break between the biographer and his subject. Karsch first states that
it arrived in the mail and then later describes how he mysteriously
discovered it in his suit pocket.
Among the many examples of such discrepancies in Jahrestage are
those concerning Gesine’s father, Heinrich Cresspahl. One mystery never
completely cleared up in the retrospective narrative is the nature of his
activities during World War II. Gesine bases her conclusion on a 1940

144
British half-penny discovered in her father’s things after his death.67
Piecing together her memories and other hits of evidence, Gesine surmises
he spied for the British while employed by the Nazis to build a military
airfield on the outskirts of Jerichow. His knowledge of what was taking
place there, as well as his ties to England made him a prime candidate for
recruitment: “Für jemanden, den ein Englander etwas fragen konnte,
wufite Cresspahl eine Menge Staatsgeheimnisse” (II, 633). Even though
this is a very plausible explanation, it is not the only one. She seems
convinced at one point that her father did indeed spy for the British, and
states: “Wann Cressphal damit anting, habe ich zu fragen vergessen; im
September 1939 arbeitete er schon einige Monate fur die britische Abwehr”
(II, 809). However, there are other considerations which undermine
Gesine’s tenuous conclusions. She can only speculate, for instance, how
the first contact was made between her father and his British handler:
“Nun weiB ich etwas nicht. . . . Ich stelle mir vor” (II, 811). Upon reflection
Gesine concludes that, even granting her father the benefit of doubt, his
motives for spying would have been less than heroic:
Erprefit und gekauft und sicher. Nur dafi er sich aus
eigenem entschlossen hatte und seine Freiheit
zuverlássig behalten. (II, 814)
Even Gesine’s motives for telling such a story come under scrutiny when
Marie points out:
- Alie in deiner Familie haben den Nazis in die Hand
gearbeitet, und Cresspahl erst recht. Nun willst du
wenigstens einem die Ehre retten, und deinem Vater
am liebsten. (II, 810)
“Den hat man mir aus Jerichow geschickt, als mein Vater gestorben war. Das
war 1962, und er ist seit Kriegsanfang nie mehr in England gewesen” (II, 810).

145
Although Marie accuses her mother of once again resolving the loose ends
rather too neatly, she has to either accept or reject Gesine’s version of
events as they are denied the luxury of definitive proof one way or the other.
The constant destabilization of the narrative resulting from conflicting
versions of reality, such as in the case of Heinrich Cresspahl, generates
forward momentum in an otherwise sluggish plot.
As illustrated by these examples, the relevance of the information
and its place in the narrative puzzle changes constantly. In some
instances, contradictions remain intentionally unresolved within the
confines of the narrative. However, the primary role of documentary
materials is to substantiate a version—or perhaps multiple versions—of
reality. In Jahrestage. Johnson synthesizes an accurate and detailed
depiction of New York City and life in the United States during the late
1960s. His Amerikabild, is based in large part on his own meticulous
observations and further authenticated by items from The New York
Times. By firmly anchoring Gesine’s story in a familiar and exceedingly
well-documented reality, the disparity between fiction and nonfiction—as
well as that between history (subjective) and reality (objective)-is in large
part suspended.
Clearly, the reader could get hold of the paper and have access to the
same information as Gesine does. In a discussion of Mutmaflungen iiher
Jakob. Johnson describes an “ideal reader”68 who would read the text a
number of times and branch out for independent explorations initiated by
the text in a process which mirrors the author’s own creative process: “Ich
habe das Buch so geschrieben, als wiirden die Leute es so langsam lesen,
6® For for a detailed analysis of the reader’s interaction with the text invited by
Johnson’s narrative approach see further Kurt Fickert, Dialopnie with the Reader..

146
wie ich es geschrieben habe.”69 The collaborative process between author
and reader generates a further “Version der Wirklichkeit,” which is linked
symbiotically to the version offered in the novel:
Sie sind eingeladen, diese Version der Wirklichkeit zu
vergleichen mit jener, die Sie unterhalten und pflegen.
Vielleicht paCt der andere, der unterschiedliche Blick in
die Ihre hinein.?9
To some degree Johnson incorporates this envisaged role of the reader in
all of his novels. His invitation to such an approach in Jahrestage has an
additional caveat which has far-reaching implications for the novel’s
“Version der Wirklichkeit” as it applies to the U.S. in the late 1960s. What
was previously a comparative effort confined to the text and the reader has
been expanded to include a third, and entirely independent version of
reality, embodied in the pages of The New York Times. Gesine, as well as
the reader, can question the newspaper’s “Version der Wirklichkeit” and
compare it with their own understanding of events.
The use of authentic newspaper items in Jahrestage originates from
an earlier project. Johnson was working on a documentary narrative
incorporating newspaper as early as 1961, titled Geschichte der Stadte
Berlins. The work, which would consist in large part of newspaper
accounts, was to address the Wall and its division of Berlin. He eventually
shelved the project in frustration when he was unable to keep up
narratively with the glut of information generated by the complicated and
69 In the next breath, however, Johnson shows he has little faith in the modern-day
reading public: “Wir haben aber eine ganz besondere Form des Lesens heutzutage, die
sehr hastig ist und sich eigentlich nur nach Signalen orientiert. . . .” Arnhelm NeusüB,
“Über die Schwierigkeiten beim Schreiben der Wahrheit: Gesprách mit Uwe Johnson
(1961),” Uwe Johnson 40.
Johnson, “Vorschlage zur Pnifung eines Romans” 35.

147
extremely fluid political situation. In their unadulterated form the
materials proved unmanageable, and ultimately, useless in reconstructing
a coherent narrative version of events.
Eberhard Fahlke points to the lessons learned from the failure of this
early narrative experiment as key to the successful incorporation of The
New York Times in Jahrestage. Two significant changes are made which
allow the integration of such a vast spectrum of material into the novel.
First, he establishes Gesine as a narrative filter, which allows Johnson to
pick and choose items from a world-wide spectrum of events:
Das Interessante am Umgang mit der New York Times
ist, dafi er immer gebrochen ist über das Subjekt Gesine
Cresspahl, also im Spiel mit “Ich soil ihr BewuBtsein
des Tages darstellen,” das selber wieder gebrochen ist:
“Das BewuBtsein des Tages” ist ein Werbeslogan, den die
New York Times selber verkauft hat. Uwe Johnson
wuBte das natiirlich und er wuBte genauso, daB ein
BewuBtsein des Tages nicht darzustellen ist. Aber die
Leseerfahrung Gesine Cresspahls wird jetzt vom
Schriftsteller Johnson im Erzáhlen ihres Alltages
umgesetzt.71
The contrast between the two versions, both of which are an inventory of
daily events, provides an added dimension to the text. Gesine’s versions of
The New York Times items play significant structural and thematic roles
in Jahrestage. They provide the narrative’s underpinnings, just as they
create structure and order for Gesine’s unvarying routine. The daily
grind, described by Johnson in an interview, is quickly established in the
novel:
Die Tendenz ist, den Ablauf des Tages zu kennzeichnen.
Jeden Tag erscheint die Wirklichkeit in der New York
Times in einer fafilichen und zumutbaren Darstellung.
Damit muB die Gesine sich beschaftigen. In der Regel
268.
“‘Mit verzogerter Phantasie.” Gesprách mit Eberhard Fahlke.” Dimfinsinn2

148
liest sie die Zeitung am Morgen, das heiBt, die
Nachrichten stehen am Anfang des Kapitels. Dara