61. Proposal for Another Project: Anthology of Literature by Young GDR Writers

In an attachment to my file from the central archive, labelled MfS HA XX 2MA, Nr. 976, Z i p s e r, Dr. Richard, 2. Karte (Ministry for State Security, Main Department XX 2 staff members, No. 976, Z i p s e r, Dr. Richard, 2nd card), there is a note that reminds me of yet another project I had planned to carry out—this time in collaboration with dissident prose writer Martin Stade. The note, which is dated July 5, 1979, refers to an anthology of literature by twenty to twenty-five young GDR writers that Stade and I had tentatively decided to prepare together. The focus would be on writers who were born in the GDR—i.e., not before October 7, 1949, the day the constitution of the GDR went into effect. Writers in this age group had spent their entire lives in the GDR; and unlike the older generations of writers in the GDR, they had no recollection of the Third Reich or postwar Germany. All of these writers, none of whom was older than thirty at that time, had grown up in the GDR and therefore did not compare their Germany to Germanys of the past. They tended to be highly critical of the SED regime, its oppression of GDR citizens in all walks of life, and the “really existing socialism” that prevailed in their state-controlled society. Stade was mentoring some of these writers, which explains why he was familiar with their unpublished works.

Regional Headquarters Frankfurt/O., bulletin 6/79, on 5/7/1979: In anticipation of criminal prosecution due to the signing of a letter to Comrade Honecker, the writer Martin STADE has relocated materials that incriminate him to the residence of Pastor Ralph RITSCHEL [blacked out].
The materials under discussion are notes and research information that STADE prepared for FRG [West German] newspapers as well as approximately 20 manuscripts from GDR writers with cover letters that go with them. Presumably, these materials are the result of efforts STADE made on Z.’s behalf. Z. is planning to compile an anthology with ca. 40 GDR authors. Originally, a German-language edition of this was supposed to be published in spring 1979 in the USA.

I reach into the depths of my memory and recall that Stade had not only discussed this project with me in the summer of 1978, but drafted and given me a proposal outlining his concept. The anthology was his idea, not mine, and he viewed it as a logical sequel to DDR-Literatur im Tauwetter (GDR Literature During the Thaw). It, too, was not going to be a book that could have been published in the GDR. Fortunately, after a little searching I was able to locate Stade’s two-page proposal, which is cited in its entirety below.

Proposal for an Anthology with Young GDR Authors

After having presented the literature of this country with more than 40 GDR authors and their views in the first book [DDR-Literatur im Tauwetter], there have been developments in literary events and cultural policy in general which make an additional project in this area necessary and interesting.

The events related to the expatriation of Wolf Biermann, along with the the departure of important authors from the GDR, have led to a deep divide between those who have conformed and the others who want to make their very personal conceptions of literature become a reality and in so doing find themselves for the most part in opposition to the official cultural policy.

I would just like to add that, in the meantime, the SED functionary for economics Rudolf Bahro has published a book in the West that contains a comprehensive, fundamental critique of “socialism as it exists in reality,” especially in the GDR. Legal proceedings against Bahro are to be expected later in the year. This whole process will have a strong influence on the authors. [The title of Bahro’s controversial book, published in September 1977, is “Die Alternative: Zur Kritik des real existierenden Sozialismus” (English title: “The Alternative in Eastern Europe”). In June 1978 Bahro was sentenced to eight years of imprisonment for ‘treason.’].

From the interviews with the authors in the first book, as well as from their contributions, one already learns in certain respects into which group each would be placed.

What is needed now, in my opinion, is a book similar in form to the first one, wherein other, young authors express themselves, those who have just come forward with their first book or are working on it, and from whom one can expect important books in the 1980s. A large number of these authors are much more forceful and rigorous, much more realistic and eager to experiment when it comes to their writing. The extent to which they master their subject matter artistically will be evident from the selection of stories and poems that will have to be made.

We are talking about some twenty to twenty-five authors, and it is likely that about half of them—due to their topics and the way they write—will one day come into sharp conflict with the Writers’ Union and cultural policy. To some extent that is already the case or it is on the horizon. Of course, this development will also depend on the degree to which they remain resolute personally and how substantial their talent is.

It will certainly be interesting to find out how the Biermann incidents and the legal proceedings against Bahro have influenced and are influencing the young authors. What insights have they produced? Have they led writers to impose restrictions on themselves or have they generated courage and brought about the opposite.

It will be important to trace the process of disillusionment, which is taking place not only among the authors and within the intelligentsia but actually in the entire population. Where do the origins of this lie for each of the individual authors? How is the disillusion reflected in their works? Are they prepared, over and beyond their literary work, to become engaged politically and how will that happen?

Since the contributions of the authors will be on hand when the interviews begin, these conversations should go into the literary works to a great extent, in order to illustrate the intentions of the authors from them.

An additional point would be the social situation of the authors, their material and mental condition and the problem of solidarity with other authors.

Regrettably, Martin Stade and I did not follow through on this project, which would have resulted in an anthology offering unique perspectives on an important period in GDR literary history. After returning to Oberlin in the summer of 1978, I realized that I could not possibly take on more work and dropped this item from my list of things to do. And Stade, who was busy writing short stories and doing research for his historical novel on young Johann Sebastian Bach, did not pursue it further.