Jun 2011

Gabriele Eckart

The Reception of Miguel de Cervantes’s Texts Don Quixote and El Coloquio de los Perros in Post-Reunification German Literature

It is a false commonplace in the field of German studies that Cervantes was not an important influence on German literature after the time of Heinrich Heine.  This study attempts to demonstrate that many literary texts written after the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989) in different ways attempt to give new life to Cervantes’s protagonists.  Although there are also other interesting intertextual references to Cervantes’s texts during this time, only those will be examined that refer in one way or another to the breakdown of the socialist experiment in the GDR and the process of German reunification.  I wish to show that the way in which the authors treat Cervantes’s protagonists is influenced directly by their stance in this sociopolitical “Wende.”[1]

In Joochen Laabs’s travel novel Späte Reise, published in 2006, the main protagonist remembers the “wanderlust” from which he suffered in the GDR, where traveling outside its borders was forbidden with the exception of travel to a few other socialist countries.  Now, after the fall of the Wall, he can satisfy it.  In the GDR, the protagonist had worked as a streetcar driver.  The following paragraph describes how he secretly had dreamed of driving all the way to Spain:

Wenn ich […] auf dem seitlichen Gleis nach Madlow unterwegs war […] war es nur ein Gedankensprung bis zu Don Quijotes Mühlen in der Mancha; und wenn die Bahn in dem maroden Gleis nicht so gelärmt hätte, wären die sich zischend drehenden Mühlenflügel ohne weiteres zu hören und der Ritter, lanzebewehrt über Rosinantes Mähne gestreckt, im Anritt zu erspähen gewesen. (85)

Don Quixote and the windmills are functioning here as a synecdoche for the country of Spain that the protagonist worried he might never see.

In another travel novel from this period, Bernd Wagner’s Paradies (1997), a female protagonist from East Berlin travels to Hamburg after the fall of the Wall, accompanied by her West German boyfriend, Konrad.  During this journey, she has a strange dream:

und dann … hat [Konrad] mir […] das verliehen, was zu tragen immer mein größter Traum war, Don Quichotes Kopfbedeckung, das goldene Baderbecken!  Ich saß dabei auf Sancho Pansas Esel […].  Das Becken war breitgehämmert zu einer Art Kardinalshut… Ich wollte es runden und glätten, indem ich es Konrad, der jetzt weiter von mir entfernt stand, zuwarf wie eine Frisbeescheibe.  Doch die Scharte am Hutrand wurde mit jedem Wurf tiefer, bis daraus eine rotierende Sichel wurde und ich im Schlaf rief… Nicht anfassen, nicht anfassen! (171-2)

With Quixote’s basin – an icon in literary history – on her head, the protagonist without doubt is celebrating the freedom that she gained with the fall of the Wall.  But, how do we interpret the nick at the rim that is deepening and turning the hat into a rotating sickle that could hurt or even kill them?  A sickle, as is well known, was part of the emblem of the Soviet Union.

In contrast to Laabs and Wagner in whose novels Quixote plays an important role in the context of the newly gained freedom to travel – he symbolizes the splendor of another world that was unreachable until now – Volker Braun uses Cervantes’s hero to attack from “a comic perspective” (Fiedler 342) the opportunism of former GDR officials who after the fall of the Wall became successful capitalists from one minute to the next.  In the narrative Der Wendehals (1995) the first-person narrator meets by coincidence Mr. Schaber, who was a high-ranking Party official until 1989.  The narrator hardly recognizes him because he looks so “fein gekleidet, gebürstet und gebräunt, und er geht stolz wie ein Banker einher” (9).  With the help of old friends, Schaber got hold of an important post in the financial academy.  Schaber is busy, the narrator is lamenting, but he has no ideals anymore.  To express the contempt that he feels for Schaber, the narrator refers to Don Quixote, playing with the contrast between a real (with ideals) and a false (without ideals) knight-errant:

er sitzt noch auf dem Pferd des Engagements (einem Gebrauchtwagen, den ihm die Firma stellt, einen gut erhaltenen Opel), aber er reitet auf kein Ideal mehr zu, er ist nur in Trab.  Was für ein armer Ritter, eine reisige Seele – des Geschäfts.  Ein Kaufmann des Ausverkaufs (in seinem eigenen Laden.) (9)

With the following words, Schaber tries to justify his sudden change from a Communist  Party official to a capitalist: “Ich bin vom hohen Roß, und danke meinem Gott.”  He adds, “Was zählt das schon, ob du oben sitzt, wer sieht dich darauf an? Das war einmal… Achtung, Ansehn, Ehre.  Jetzt stehst du vor dir selbst da.” (17)  Unfortunately, Braun’s narrator does not reflect upon the fact that a person who so quickly is able to climb down from Rocinante and master a new, completely earthly existence, cannot have been a true Don Quixote.  No doubt, Schaber must have been an opportunist already before the fall of the Wall.  Had he really believed in the ideals in which he had pretended to believe as a Communist Party official, it would have been harder for him to deal with the reality of the socialist experiment’s collapse.  As we know, for Don Quixote losing his dream world led to his death.  That Braun’s narrator is obviously in pain in the face of the loss of Schaber’s former self as a believed-to-be communist shows his unconscious nostalgia for the GDR and his problems in coming to terms with the new political situation.   An indication of these problems is also the mysterious epigraph at the beginning of Der Wendehals, in which Braun quotes Don Quixote’s squire: “’Liebe Frau’, erwiderte Sancho, ‘wenn Gott es wollte, so wäre ich froh, nicht so heiter zu sein, wie du mich siehst’” (5).  As Christine Cosentino pointed out, Braun’s figure Schaber actually represents a part of the author’s own self, one who at the same time is his “Widersacher und Alterego” (180).  Taking this observation into consideration, we could interpret the epigraph as an expression of Braun’s inner doubts about his perception of reality at that time.

Steffen Mensching’s interpretation of the myth of Don Quixote demonstrates that he, too, suffered from such nostalgia when he wrote the narrative Quijotes letzter Auszug (2001) – as in Braun’s case, not nostalgia for life as it was in the GDR, but for the time when communist ideals were not questioned.   In Mensching’s text, Quixote is protesting against his author, Miguel de Cervantes: “das Buch [ist] eine einzige Lüge” (6).  Although the protagonist has to admit the reading of it is “vergnüglich, spannend, amüsant” (6), he makes it clear that he hates the content of the book, especially its ending.  That he dies with a “Widerruf [im] Maul” (12) – Don Quixote, as is well known, under his real name Alonso Quijano, retracts his belief in the ideals of chivalry – furthermore, that he dies in bed and not in a battle for his ideas Mensching’s protagonist finds unacceptable.  That Cervantes ended his story in such a deplorable way could only be explained, Mensching’s narrator thinks, by Cervantes’s fear of the Inquisition.

The ending of Cervantes’s novel has often been discussed in the history of world literature.  Jorges Luis Borges, for instance, wrote, “Cualquier otro autor hubiera cedido a la tentación de que Don Quijote muriera en su ley, combatiendo con gigantones o paladines alucinatorios, reales para él.” (31) / (“Every other author would have given way to the temptation that Don Quixote would die in his struggle, fighting with giants or hallucinated paladines who were real for him.”) (Transl. G.E.)  After having quoted a critic who criticized Cervantes for having Quixote wake up from his illusions before his death, Borges continues,

A ello podemos contestar que la forma de la novela exige que Don Quijote vuelva a la cordura, y también que este regreso a la cordura es más patético que el morir loco.  Es triste que Alonso Quijano vea en la hora de su muerte que su vida entera ha sido un error y un disparate. (31) / (To this, we can respond that the form of the novel requires that Don Quixote return to his reason and also that this return to mental health is more pathetic than to die mad.  It is sad that Alonso Quijano sees in the hour of his death that his whole life was an error and nonsense.) (Transl. G.E.)

However, this realization that all his actions that he performed in the name of his ideals were errors and nonsense, a utopian socialist such as Mensching has to reject.  Therefore, he corrects, so to speak, Cervantes’s text that is about a man who sallies out into the world with a raised lance to change it in the name of his ideals and dies in the end when he awakes from his illusions.  Mensching’s narrative Quijotes letzter Auszug is supposed to offer proof that such an undertaking is not at all a “Ulk und Dumme[r]jungenstreich” (12) – and that at no rate can it be called madness.  Therefore, instead of dying, Mensching’s Quixote wakes up from a coma and sallies out once more; the revolution will go on….  Without a squire because Sancho died from disillusionment, Don Quixote rides to Barcelona where Cervantes is supposed to live.  He wants to force him to rewrite the end of the book.  However, instead of Cervantes, he finds only Avellaneda there – the false author of the second part of Don Quixote of La Mancha.   For having created unrest, Quixote is arrested and put to the pillory.   When later on he finds the “real” author of Don Quixote, Cervantes tells him the book is just fiction; he should go to hell.  Followed by a mob, which even Sancho’s widow is part of, Quixote escapes to a cliff at the shore near Gibraltar.  There, exhausted but still strong and armored, he waits for his pursuers.

Apart from the size and complexity of both texts, Cervantes’s and Mensching’s Don Quixote also differ through different attitudes regarding the narrators.  While in Cervantes’s case the narrator strongly distances himself from the imagined world of his main protagonist – by means of which it becomes recognizable to the reader as a mad world – in the case of Mensching’s narrator, such a distance is missing.  Mensching’s Quixote speaks in the first person, without any self-irony; therefore, the world in his mind seems to be the “correct world” to the reader.

Nevertheless, there is some humor in Mensching’s book.  It comes from political hints at concrete events that occurred after the fall of the Wall.  The following example, without doubt, refers to the shocking revelations about the luxurious life of the East German nomenclatura in Wandlitz near Berlin.  In the following example, Don Quixote tells Sancho Panza how he stepped between two fighting men at a market:

ein junger Heißsporn verteidigte, mit rührendem Elan und Unverständnis meine Ehre, edel und selbstlos hätte ich, will sagen, Don Quijote, gekämpft, nur für die Regeln hoher Ritterschaft, der zweite, ältre lachte, geh mir mit deinem Heiligen, um Gold und Reichtum ging es ihm […].  Die letzte Meinung kränkte mich, die erste war mir peinlich. (45-6)

In the following paragraphs, Quixote rejects the accusation that he fought for gold and riches; and it makes him likable that his fame, which the firebrand praises, embarrasses him because, admittedly, sometimes he fell prey not to the greed for gold, but to vanity.  Without doubt, this evaluation of the two men’s arguments represents Mensching’s thoughts regarding the characters of the men who represented the GDR leadership:  They had their flaws, but they were not capitalists in disguise.

Interestingly, neither Braun nor Mensching, who are committed Marxists, try to interpret Cervantes’s hero from a Marxist perspective.  It would mean seeing the hidalgo Don Quixote mainly as “Ideologieproduzent[en], der den Warenproduzenten – Sancho Pansa ist Bauer – in das Schlepptau seiner Verstiegenheiten nimmt” (Dieckmann 17).  Instead of trying to demystify Don Quixote in Marxist terms, Braun and Mensching interpret the fact that Quixote had an ideology – no matter what kind – positively.  At least he believed in something; he had ideals and didn’t give them up in times of disbelief.

Erich Loest  – who had left the GDR, where he spent seven years in prison for political reasons long before it collapsed – uses the figure of Don Quixote to ridicule those who wish to repeat a socialist experiment in East Germany.  In an essay published in the journal Die Zeit in 2002 he attacks the renowned literary critic Werner Mittenzwei for his strongly expressed nostalgia for the former GDR in the book Die Intellektuellen (2001).  In contrast to Volker Braun’s turncoat Schaber, Mittenzwei really seems to have believed in communist ideology and the realization of its ideals in the GDR.  Therefore, as Loest puts it “[f]ür Mittenzwei bricht 1989 eine Welt zusammen und beginnt ein wahres Jammertal von Hass und Verfolgung”.[ 2] Referring to Don Quixote, Loest states, “Als Hoffnungsstrohhalm erscheint ihm [Mittenzwei] der Aufruf “Für unser Land,” in dem die Don Quixotes der DDR ein letztes mal versuchten, ihre Illusionen zu bewahren.”  In the following, Loest plays with the famous contrast between the idealistic Don Quixote and the earthly Sancho:  “Aber die Sancho Panzas waren längst mit ihren Trabant-Eseln zu neuen Ufern unterwegs” – a hint at the masses of East Germans who in their small cars called “Trabant” were about to satisfy their “wanderlust” that was suppressed for so long.

Loest takes one more step in his attempt to make Don Quixote topical for the period after the fall of the Wall.  To Mittenzwei’s advice that humankind should repeat the socialist revolution to see if the next time the experiment might be more successful, Loest replies,

Das hatten wir in einem Witz, in dem Lenin seinen Genossen zurief: ‘Zurück in die Schweiz! Alles noch mal von vorne!’  Deshalb nenne ich Werner Mittenzwei einen roten Don Quixote.  In diesem Vergleich liegt auch Trost: Cervantes ließ seinen Helden am Ende ein Testament machen und friedlich, befreit von Wahnideen, die Augen schließen.  In diesem Sinne wünsche ich Mittenzwei ein langes Leben.

Another East German writer who shed new light on the figure of Quixote from the perspective of the “Wende” in 1989, Ingo Schulze, should be mentioned here.  In his novel Neue Leben (2005) the critical intellectual Georg, shortly after the fall of the Wall, started the first free newspaper in a Saxon city.  In the description of the opening reception, the narrator states, “Georg hatte ernst wie Don Quichotte auf seine Gratulanten herabgeblickt, verwundert, daß jene, gegen die er ins Feld ziehen wollte, sich nun lächelnd zu seinen Füßen wanden”  (98).

As Braun did, Schulze employs the famous Spanish protagonist to attack the opportunism of former Party officials who after the fall of the Wall changed their political views too fast to be believed.  However, in contrast to Braun, Schulze is claiming Quixote’s role for that of his main protagonist, an alter ego of the author.  According to the romantic interpretation of Don Quixote (by which Quixote is not a fool, but a brave fighter for a better world) this protagonist is a real Don Quixote, not as Braun’s Schaber, a false one.   Georg’s dream world is not enlightened by the utopia of the Golden Age, but by that of a press free from the terror of censorship.  However, the Party officials who always opposed this kind of press suddenly are not his enemies anymore; Don Quixote is standing there with his lance raised, and those whom he wanted to battle against are “smilingly” winding at his feet.   How would Cervantes’s hero have reacted if his mighty enemy, the Knight of the Mirrors, had behaved in such a strange way?

To summarize the result of this examination at this point, we have seen very different references to Don Quixote in the case of six East German writers.  Their interpretation of Cervantes’s protagonists was influenced by their more positive or more negative attitude towards the fall of the Wall and the process of German reunification.  One of them, Erich Loest, had left the GDR already before its collapse and, as a half-East, half-West German, serves as a bridge to the West German Martin Mosemann’s adaptation of Cervantes’s novel Don Quixote.  Loest used, as we saw, his reference to Don Quixote to criticize sarcastically those East Germans who still are dreaming of a new socialist experiment.  Mosebach’s contribution to the adaptation of Cervantes’s novel in the context of German reunification refers to the political chaos in the East of which, we could say, the very different interpretations of Cervantes’s novel are a reflection.  Ironically, Mosebach asks in the face of this chaos if it was worthwhile to give freedom to those behind the now-broken-down Wall.

Mosebach’s contribution to the reception of Don Quixote in post-Wall Germany is a prologue and epilogue to his new translation of Manuel de Falla’s opera for puppets Meister Pedros Puppenspiel.  It was performed at the Kabinettheater in Vienna in 2001.  As is well known, the plot of de Falla’s opera follows a chapter of part two of Don Quixote of La Mancha.  Mosebach’s prologue and epilogue consist of dialogues between Quixote, Sancho, and Master Peter, the puppeteer; they are written in trochaic verses.  The time is the 20th century as is indicated by a “Würstchenbude” (4) the smell of which excites Sancho’s stomach.   His donkey is replaced by a bicycle.  Such parts of the stage set leave no doubt that Mosebach’s prologue and epilogue are not comments about seventeen-century Spain, but about the problems of contemporary Germany.  That those problems have to do with the process of reunification is indicated by questions of Quixote as, for instance, the following: “Warum führt das Freiheitschenken / nur in immer größre Wirrsal?” (6) – a hint at the mentioned political chaos in the East.

The plot of Mosebach’s prologue is more or less identical with the last part of Cervantes’s 25th chapter of part two of Don Quixote: The narrator introduces the puppeteer, Master Peter, and his talking ape; Peter honors Quixote as a hero by praising his courage.  In the epilogue, there are important changes.  At first, the plot follows the beginning of Cervantes’s chapter 27 in part two where it turns out that Master Peter is Ginés de Pasamonte – a galley prisoner whom Quixote had liberated in part one of the novel.  To get away faster, he had stolen Sancho’s donkey.  In part two of Cervantes’s novel, Pasamonte covers parts of his face with an eye patch.  In this disguise, he can perform as a puppeteer without Quixote and Sancho recognizing him.   However, Mosebach has Sancho recognizing Pasamonte after the puppet show in which, as is well known, Quixote destroyed the puppets in his delusion that the action on stage was reality.  The squire recognizes him by Pasamonte’s bicycle; it’s his!  The former galley prisoner had stolen it from him after having been liberated by Quixote.  Sancho tears off Pasamonte’s eye patch; now, also Quixote recognizes him and says reproachfully, “Schlecht vergolten, undankbarer / hast du Räuber Pasamonte / die Befreiung und Erlösung / die dir schenkte Don Quijote!” (4-5) Later, Mosebach’s Quixote adds,

Wenn die Welt ich soll befreien

Warum sind’s nur Bösewichter

Oder tongebackne Puppen

Die mein Schwert zur Freiheit leitet? (6)

Given the fact that this epilogue was written two years after German reunification – exactly during the heated discussion about the fact that many East Germans had worked for the state police – Mosebach’s “villains” could refer to those East Germans who cooperated with the Stasi.  The expression “puppets made from clay” can be interpreted as “people without a soul” – perhaps a reference to the “turncoats” such as Braun’s Schaber.

The question must be raised why we can find so many East German writers who in the context of the “Wende” refer to Don Quixote, but only one West German?  It is probably an indication of the fact that mainly the mind of East Germans was occupied so strongly with those events.  For most West Germans, the events were certainly interesting and perhaps sometimes unpleasant because of the raise in taxes as a result of German reunification, but they did not shake West Germans’ existence as they did East Germans’.  In reference to sociopolitical change, there is an important similarity between Cervantes’s 17th-century Spain and East Germany in the last decade of the 20th century that makes his texts of great relevance for this contemporary period.  As Ernst Bloch showed, Cervantes lived at a time when idealism seemed to have disappeared from the world.  The transcendental ways of thinking, according to Bloch, had become pushed aside “von einer geheimnisvollen Realdialektik” (113) – a reference to the development of modernity that put an end to most people’s transcendental anchorage in the medieval Weltanschauung with its faith in God.  Now again, after the arrival of capitalism in East Germany, idealism – for instance in the form of the belief in a classless society – seems to have disappeared; those who stick to it are considered to be quixotic, following “Trugbildern” (Bloch 118).

In the following, some interesting texts of East German writers published after the fall of the Wall will be pointed out that refer to Cervantes’s Don Quixote, but are not necessarily related to the events of the “Wende” in 1989.  Afterwards, I will examine a text by Fritz Rudolf Fries that reinterprets Cervantes’s novella about the speaking dogs El Coloquio de los perros – commenting very specifically on the events following the fall of the Wall.

Wolf Biermann, whom we could call, similar to Loest, a half-East German and a half-West German  (he grew up in Hamburg, moved in 1953 to East Germany until he was expatriated in 1976), wrote in 2001:

Ich half mir selbst, drum hilft mir Gott

Im Beten seh ich keinen Sinn

Bin ein moderner Don Quichotte

Mich wundert, daß ich so hilflos bin (63).

That Biermann’s lyrical ego in the year 2001 sees himself as a “modern Don Quixote,” meaning as an eccentric and a man full of contradictions, might have to do also with his feelings toward the process of German reunification; however, this is not stated clearly in the poem.  Therefore, it will not be examined further.

An ambivalent case is Fritz Rudolph Fries’s narrative Don Quixote flieht die Frauen: oder die apokryphen Abenteuer des Ritters von der traurigen Gestalt (1995).  At first glance, it seems that the text would not refer to the “Wende” in East Germany.  It interprets the author Miguel de Cervantes as a womanizer and politically suspicious subject who, being afraid of the Inquisition, portrays himself in his creative writing as a crazy knight-errant who calls himself Don Quixote.  In other words, Cervantes’s novel, according to Fries’s narrator, was mainly created as a red herring for the Inquisition’s censorship office.  And it allegedly worked – the Inquisitor after having read this novel took Cervantes’s name off the list of suspicious people.   Nevertheless, a second reading of Fries’s text shows that it is more than a historical narrative; there are, indeed, important references to East Germany and its situation after German reunification.

After the Inquisition took Cervantes’s name from the list of suspicious people in Fries’s text, at least for seven years, the narrator states, “Freilich blieben da die sieben Jahre algerischer Gefangenschaft, der Einfluss der Ungläubigen, ihre geheime Infiltration, und sei nicht immer der Schriftsteller ein Sprengsatz im eigenen Land und der Leser der Zünder dazu?” (5)  This statement about the function of the writer is a paraphrase of the Marxist concept of “Kunst ist Waffe”.  It seems that Fries in the ideological turmoil that followed the fall of the Wall – a turmoil in which also the function of literature as East German writers saw it was called into question – wanted to reassure himself that nothing had changed for a writer; literature still was needed to criticize and perhaps change reality.

However, there is another reason for seeing Fries’s reinterpretation of Don Quixote as a reaction to the events of the “Wende” in 1989.  It’s a text about files.  The first sentence says, “Meister Cervantes, so las man später in den Akten der Inquisition, habe nicht immer die Wahrheit geschrieben” (5).  In the years after the fall of the Wall and the ousting of the state police, the Stasi files were opened to the public.  The poisoning dust that came out of them destroyed the careers of several writers and other figures of political importance.  Fries’s talking about files of the Inquisition in his text is a disguised way of talking about the Stasi files.  The omniscent narrator in Don Quixote flieht die Frauen conducts research in the Inquisition’s files, which are now open; he discovers that Sancho Pansa, the assistant of the writer and prisoner Don Quixote, had told the Inquisition about the discrepancies between the writer’s life and his supposed autobiography, called Don Quixote de la Mancha.  With the help of those files, the narrator then reconstructs the true story of Cervantes’s life, that is, the story that the Inquisition had gathered listening to Sancho.  This whole procedure reminds us of West German journalists who after the fall of the Wall went to the East to read the Stasi files of prominent writers and then confronted them in the media with the discrepancies between the “facts” found in the files and their life stories as they were told in their books; the most famous example is Karl Corino’s accusation of Stephan Herlin as a liar in his long essay “Aussen Marmor, innen Gips”: Die Legenden des Stephan Hermlin (1996)[3].  In talking about the voracity of a writer’s work in historical disguise, Fries might have gained the inner distance that he needed to be able to cope with such a situation.  However, another interpretation is possible.  Fries, as it was known in 1996 [4], had been an “Informeller Mitarbeiter” of the Stasi until the fall of the Wall.  By turning Sancho Panza into an informer of the Inquisition, the author might have attempted to play down such activity, to give it a more innocuous look, or to trivialize it.

Besides Don Quixote flieht die Frauen, Fries in this period after German reunification published another important reinterpretation of a text of Miguel de Cervantes’s – the novella Coloquio de los Perros (1613).  It is one of the most renown of Cervantes’s Exemplary Novels – a text full of barbed observations on the Spanish society of the time.  The novella is not Cervantes’s magnum opus, but because of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s adaptation in “Nachrichten von den neuesten Schicksalen des Hundes Berganza” (1814) even German readers who are not familiar with Cervantes’s Exemplary Novels know about the famous canine protagonist, Berganza.

In Fries’s reinterpretation of Cervantes’s text, titled Die Hunde von Mexico Stadt (1997), two writers, the East German first-person narrator and his famous West German colleague Günter Grass, are standing on the balcony of a hotel in Mexico City listening to the conversation of two dogs.  They are Berganza and Cipión and function as reincarnations of Cervantes’s protagonists in Coloquio de los Perros. Also four other figures – a poet, an alchemist, a mathematician, and a project maker – are borrowed from Cervantes’s text, with the only difference that Fries’s arbitrista is a woman, “eine Projektemacherin.”  Like Cervantes’s dog, Fries’s Berganza is a picaresque character; he is always hungry, changes masters frequently and consequently comes in touch with very different social spheres.  The main subject of the dogs’ conversation in Fries’s text is of course not Spain, but contemporary Germany, more precisely, the disappearance of the former GDR and rapid westernization of East Germany.  The form of a dog’s conversation and the many references to Cervantes’s text render funny what otherwise would just be one more lamentation about a disappearing world that the narrator attempts to rescue.  In other words, the intertextuality in Fries’s text functions as camouflage for the author’s nostalgia for the GDR, where he had lived more comfortably than today.

Fries’ Berganza is a tall white dog that speaks with a deep voice and uses obscene vocabulary: “Deine Spalte, oder hast du keine, ist ohne Duft”.  Cipión – in Fries’s text a female dog – justifies her lack of sex- appeal: “Die Jahre sind es nicht, die Mutationen, Berganza!  Experimente von Menschenhand” (7).  Instead of appealing to protectors of animals, which after this surprising start of the conversation seems to be Fries’s intention in writing this text, Berganza changes the subject and reflects about the miracle of their ability to speak: “Sind wir zu klagen hier oder doch eigentlich uns zu wundern, dass uns das Wunder der Sprache gegeben ward” (7-8).  This is the same question that Berganza asks in Cervantes’s text.  However, the answer as to why the two dogs can speak is different in Cervantes’ and Fries’ novellas.  In Cervantes’s text, a story about witches tries to explain this miracle; in Fries’ text the witches are missing.  Instead, Cipión just says the dogs have been given the ability to speak in order to “sagen, was sich Menschen nicht mehr trauen” (14).  In other words, the two dogs must have received the mastery of language from a divine source.  The important things that they feel urged to express in Fries’ text concern the process of German reunification – “eine Pest” (17) in Berganza’s words.  In Fries’ story, four people literally die from this plague which is taken literally as an epidemic: the poet, the alchemist, the mathematician and the arbitrista – the same four figures to whom Cervantes’s Berganza had listened in the hospital in Valladolid (with the difference that the arbitrista then was a man).

In that hospital Cervantes’s poet had complained bitterly about not being able to find an intelligent, liberal, and generous prince to whom he could dedicate his poem.  The alchemist complained about his inability to buy the instruments for finding the philosopher’s stone, and the mathematician about his inability to define the quadrant of the circle.  In fact, he came very close, but then he got stuck and couldn’t continue though he had been trying desperately.  Cervantes’s arbitrista’s problem is quite different.  The authorities do not approve of the plan he made to improve the finances of the state.  He had proposed that all vassals of the state between fourteen and sixty should fast once a month and give the money that they saved this way to the king.  The latter wouldn’t have any more debts after twenty years.

J.H. Elliot states about the role of the arbitristas in seventeenth-century Spain:

The arbitrista was the product of a society which took it for granted that the vassal had a duty to advise when he had something to communicate of benefit to king and commonwealth, the assumption being that he would also benefit himself.  Sometimes a crook and more frequently a crank, he might recommend anything from a secret alchemical formula infallibly guaranteed to refill the king’s depleted coffers, to the most grandiose political and military projects. (243)

Cervantes’s low opinion of the proposal of his arbitrista can be seen in the fact that the other figures are laughing about so much nonsense and the narrator adds: ”y él también [el arbitrista] se riyó de sus disparates” (336) / (“and he also [the project maker] laughed about his nonsense”) (Transl. G.E.).

Interestingly, in Fries’ text a high official of the former GDR plays the role of the arbitrista; she had helped put into words the utopian projects of the Party and coined the expression: “Plane mit, arbeite mit, regiere mit” (17).  However, contrary to Cervantes, Fries does not have us laugh about this figure; instead, the East German author portrays her with complete seriousness and tragic emphasis.  Before she dies from the plague – which for Fries, as stated above, serves as a metaphor for the process of German reunification – she writes down her will.  It states that after her death, she wants to be put on ice until the next millennium.  This, without any doubt, expresses the author’s wish that the GDR one day under better conditions would rise from the dead – very similar to Werner Mittenzwei’s dream, which Erich Loest made fun of in his essay “Wider die Dunkelmänner unserer Zeit”.  What supports this interpretation is also the fact that Cipión – Berganza’s object of desire – in the end crawls into the freezer where the “Projektemacherin” is waiting until the next millennium.

To summarize, besides two short references to Cervantes’s Don Quixote of la Mancha that serve to articulate the emotional suffering caused by the travel restrictions in the former GDR and the joy about the newly gained freedom to travel (Laabs, Wagner), there are three important intertextual references to Cervantes’ texts that can be interpreted as a nostalgic way of saying good-bye to the socialist dreams of the authors (Braun, Mensching, Fries).  Loest, on the other hand, rejects such feelings of nostalgia by laughing at one such man who is dreaming of another socialist experiment as a Don Quixote who is still in love with novels of chivalry.  In Schulze’s case, Don Quixote, quite differently, is a hero who is surprised at the behavior of his enemies who are suddenly not behaving as enemies anymore.  He is also a hero in the West German Mosebach’s epilogue to Meister-Peters-Puppenspiel, a text in which the East Germans, summa summarum, are compared to the ungrateful Spanish robber Ginés de Pasamonte.  Paradoxically, between the lines – not only of Mosebach’s, but also of Braun’s, Mensching’s and Fries’ texts – there is lurking the question of whether everything would be better if the Wall had not come down.

Notes

1 A part of this article was published in German under the title “Don Quichotte und Sancho Pansa in der deutschen Nachwendeliteratur” in Literarische Koordinaten der Zeiterfahrung.  Eds. Joanna Lawnikowska-Koper, Jacek Rzeszotnik.  Wroclaw: Neisse Verlag, 2009: 177-86.

2 To be precise, Mittenzwei does not state directly that mankind should repeat the socialist revolution.  He states that he thinks that according to Marx’s theory, mankind will have no other choice than “das Experiment der Umwälzungen aller bisherigen Verhältnisse in radikal erneuerter Fassung zu wiederholen”  (Mittenzwei 557) if it wants to survive.

3 Besides smaller discrepancies between “truth” and self-representation in Hermlin’s book Abendlicht (1979) from the time when Hermlin was a youth, Corino discovered that Hermlin never was a prisoner in a German concentration camp as he claimed; neither was he an officer of the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War, nor had he been an active member of the French Resistance.  Critics of Corino’s attack on Hermlin pointed out the fact that although a first-person narrator is employed to tell the story of a man’s life in Abendlicht, the book was intended to be only semi-autobiographical, not completely factual in nature.

4 See Joachim Walther’s book Sicherungsbereich Literatur Berlin: Ch. Links Verlag, 1996.

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(1/8/2007)

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