2 William Collins Donahue, 'Illusions of Subtlety: Bernhard Schlink's Der Vorleser and the Moral Limits of Holocaust Fiction', GLL, 54 (), I (p. 72). International Acclaim for Bernhard Schlink's. “Arresting, philosophically elegant Bernhard Schlink was born in Germany in A professor of law at the. PDF | On Sep 1, , DANIEL REYNOLDS and others published Portrait of Misreading: Bernhard Schlink's Der Vorleser.

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Request PDF on ResearchGate | Bernhard Schlink's "Der Vorleser" and the Problem of Shame | Bernhard Schlink's novel "Der Vorleser" has been criticized for. Bernhard Schlink Der Vorleser Pdf Download by Pelagvladi, released 12 October Bernhard Schlink Der Vorleser Pdf Download -- ally. The aesthetic question facing a reader of Bernhard Schlink's Der Vorleser Alison “The third victim in Bernhard Schlink's Der Vorleser” () The.

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Institutional Login. Log in to Wiley Online Library. download Instant Access. View Preview. Learn more Check out. Citing Literature Number of times cited according to CrossRef: Volume 54 , Issue 1 January Pages Related Information. Email or Customer ID. Forgot your password? For example, both Schaumann and the team of Taberner and Berger suggest that we have entered a new, more nuanced dispensation in which it is possible to now consider German victimhood alongside that of the Jews.

Yet my own study leads me to issue a word of caution. We need to know how these works function socially—how and where they circulate. Who reads, assigns, and discusses these works?

What role do they play in the curriculums of schools and universities? What, if any, is their international resonance? Do we find them prominently displayed, year after year, among the offerings of major bookstore chains and in airport bookstores? Too little attention is paid, I would submit, to these fundamental questions that directly bear on the parameters of public culture.

It was adapted as a made-for-television film in , suggesting more continuity than some critics have acknowledged. More recently, of course, the entire Selb trilogy has been reprised and offered in English translation for the global market, just as it had already been reintroduced to the German-language market in the wake of the unparalleled success of The Reader.

The story these critics tell about an altered memory culture, while not wrong, is neither as uniform nor as linear, I believe, as commonly depicted.

Finally, I take issue with the claim that this new, inclusive memory discourse actually welcomes commensurate depictions of Germans as victims of Hitler, of Allied bombings, etc.

Of course, much depends on what counts as depiction. Does any passing reference or allusion to Jewish victimhood suffice? Or must it be more substantive? The devil, as we will see, is very much in the details. Truly commensurate juxtaposition of victimhood is, in fact, scrupulously avoided, as I will have occasion to argue here—and not necessarily only on altruistic or ethical grounds but also for reasons of efficacy and pragmatism.

German victimhood simply fails to stand out when explicitly and substantively juxtaposed with the suffering of Holocaust victims. His biography as an eminent jurist and public intellectual has always played a significant role in the reception of his fiction. How could it be otherwise? But as soon as one sounds a genuinely critical note, one is likely to get a condescending lecture on the discrete status of author and narrator—as if one had skipped out on that lesson of elementary narratology.

Schlink, I contend, is implicated in both.

I. Bernhard Schlink, Der Vorleser: die Aufarbeitung von Schuld

As a public intellectual, of course, Schlink has, in interview after interview, forcefully confronted the Holocaust; that much is beyond question. He does so, as he explicitly argues, precisely in order to give third-generation Germans the relief they need to come out from the shadow of the Holocaust and achieve a healthy sense of national identity. You derive from my fiction certain positions about coming to terms with the Nazi past. Allow me to point out that I have said what I have to say on this issue in a number of articles.

However, the essays he mentions fail to address the concerns that others and I have raised. At any rate, the fiction also needs to be read as fiction in its own right, so that we may finally ask if it expresses something more or other than what the author elsewhere argues or consciously intends.

I have confessed to an interest in the wider cultural meaning of the texts and films under consideration. To some, this means abandoning the novels as literature and the films as works of art in their own right. This need not be so. I think one can attend both to the sociological meaning of art and to its aesthetic dimensions. Whether I succeed in every case in serving two masters will be up to the reader.

Let us be frank: Though I will not reiterate their contributions here, the pathbreaking work of Hans-Robert Jauss, Stanley Fish, and Jan Radway informs my interest in interpretive communities and reader response. For this study, I have widened the scope of my original examination of numerous newspaper reviews to include the dozen pedagogical manuals published in Germany to provide guidance in teaching The Reader. Rather than grouping my findings in a separate chapter, I have distributed the insights I have gleaned from these handbooks throughout this study, wherever I have found them to be most relevant to a question under consideration.

Again and again, one reads how well this novel goes down: It provides a gripping story, contains surprise twists and turns of events, and rivets the reader by way of its narration through to the end. I have not taken that option but hope that others will.

Of course, those who view broader cultural readings as essentially opposed to close, aesthetic ones harbor their own bias. Lurking within some of the approaches that effectively ignore the wider cultural circulation of art can be found the central weakness of the critical paradigm, one that its adherents believe to have overcome long ago, namely that of the New Criticism.

I offer this brief example to illustrate the point. I will argue throughout this book that the ambiguity inherent in these novels and to some extent in the films they have inspired is of a very specific kind, reserving Chapter 2 for a special discussion of ethical ambiguity. This emphatic valorization of aesthetic ambiguity comports particularly well with literary high modernism as it was understood in the postwar years. She presented each paradigm as tantalizingly responsive to a certain aspect of Kafka, yet it is somehow never fully satisfying.

Each approach answered at least one burning question yet left us frustrated in other respects. Typically, she is depicted in the act of covering her breasts with one hand and her pubic area or pudenda i. But this is, of course, a losing proposition because the one hand is thankfully never sufficient to cover both breasts, and even when the artist allows her to make use of her long and flowing hair as in the famous fifteenth-century Botticelli painting , she never quite manages to conceal her nudity, which, of course, is the whole point.

On the contrary, Aphrodite as I am schematically deploying this figure here is meant to simultaneously exhibit and conceal bare female flesh. What does all this have to do with Schlink?

So even as we feast our eyes on the fleshly charms of curvaceous Aphrodite, we can, with logical consistency and good conscience, claim that we are glimpsing a chaste virgin.

Such is the hermeneutic structure that allows us, for example, to see Gerhard Selb of the eponymous detective trilogy both as a fantasy resistor figure and as a figure of harmless fun. Aphrodite is also present in two diametrically opposed notions of ambiguity discussed in Chapter 2: She is there again in Chapter 3, where I discuss the intriguingly dualistic nature of guilt—as both a bold confession of juridical responsibility and its opposite; she is present, if you will, in the curious manner in which guilt metamorphoses from shame into a badge of virtue and honor.

The ambiguous Aphrodite makes her presence felt in other chapters as well— as, for example, when we see that the narrator of The Reader is set up as both a deeply flawed and scarred human being analogous to the modesty gesture , only to be offered ultimately as a winsome identification figure fully capable of representing the aspirations or fantasies of secondgeneration observers of the Holocaust. She provides a handy visual metaphor for my analytic approach and helps set the stage for questions that should bedevil any reader of Schlink.

For example, how can Hanna Schmitz seem like a consummate Holocaust perpetrator to some and a mere guilty bystander to others? Any credible approach must take account of the dual and mutually exclusive messages being sent at various levels throughout the novels.

On all the key questions regarding story and discourse, critics are not merely of different minds—certainly not evenly or haphazardly distributed over the hermeneutic horizon—but curiously polarized though admittedly not in even quantities. Many, for example, view Hanna as the mother figure she is presented as being on several occasions. But for those who resist this identification, there is the requisite passage where Berg denies what he has elsewhere affirmed.

The text always contains some irrefutable evidence—just as those depictions of Aphrodite do—for both positions. So how do we adjudicate the contradictions?

The evidence I offer is of course also textual—based on close readings of differential semiotic structures—but my argument depends on a political and poststructural hypothesis as well: Throughout this study I make use of generational terminology. There is admittedly a high degree of inexactitude in this usage. What constitutes a generation, after all? Precisely where do we draw the line between the two?

To what generation do we ascribe the year-old SS recruit? Grass, by the way, was the same age as Hanna Schmitz when she joined the SS. To what extent can we assume the existence of a common factor that allows such generational groupings to be meaningful in the first place?

The first of these has to do with that impossible genre, Holocaust literature or film. Schools, museums, and memorials have largely taken over this pedagogical function, releasing art to do what it does best—that is, probe, interrogate, and unsettle conventional wisdom on what the Holocaust legacy should mean in contemporary life.

Of course, those earlier—generally more direct and didactic—works also persist into the present, providing continuity, complementarity, and a baseline for those that follow. To admit that evasion is a risk that accompanies such indirect epiphenomenal approaches is simply to concede the freedom inherent in aesthetic experience.

As I have elsewhere demonstrated with reference to selected works by Uwe Timm, Thomas Bernhard, Martin Walser, Thomas Brussig, and Walter Kempowski,42 there is in fact much to be gained precisely via this method of indirect reference.

The sudden eruption, or even slow recognition, of Holocaust themes may, in the context of a work predominantly concerned with other matters, provide readers a powerful, memorable, and productive opportunity to consider the role the Holocaust should play in contemporary culture.

These works inquire about the conflicted meaning of historicization and memory rather than presume it to be settled. Their reservations issue a solemn cautionary note. In widening the circle—acknowledging that popular culture has long since done so—we need not give up our critical sense. Our task, rather, is to differentiate works that function critically from those primarily in the service of evasion.

By reminding ourselves of the stark, prescriptive strictures of earlier theorists, we come to recognize Holocaust literature not as a normative, protected field but as a richly heterogeneous and contested one. The second overarching matter, previously mentioned in passing, is the question of ambiguity and its assumed relationship to higher-level moral inquiry. This is the focus of Chapter 2.

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The conventional wisdom is that as we move beyond the black-and-white ethical certainties of the past, we proceed into a land of richer ethical ambiguity. There are several problems with this assumption, with which the critical literature is rife. First is the frankly incorrect assertion that Holocaust literature has, until recently, trafficked almost exclusively in monochromatic figures and simplistic attributions of guilt and innocence.

Second, there is a flip side to this undertheorized affiliation, namely one that deploys ambiguity perhaps unconsciously or inadvertently precisely to halt the process of painful ethical deliberation. These are matters that, I hope, may enrich other discussions beyond Schlink. The third major question of this study is an old one: This is not a question that I would presume to try to settle in the abstract.

While my own penchant for assessing the vagaries of reception data keeps me from articulating any dogmatic position, I must confess that a good deal of skepticism runs through each of the subsequent chapters. Several years thereafter, Dorrit Cohn forcefully argued against the affiliation of a consistent political or ideological position with any particular literary genre, and with realism in particular.

Deeply problematic in itself—for it was always overly broad—this older view of realism seems to have been replaced, in our time, with one that simply installs the opposite presupposition. I discuss this matter in some depth in Chapter 4.

Picking up on this leveling, antimodernist backlash, one pedagogue unreservedly recommends Schlink for the classroom precisely because he Schlink lets us have it both ways: I have chosen not to recapitulate all the scholarly debates, nor have I fully recreated the scholarly apparatus from the three articles I previously published on Schlink. Though I draw freely on my prior work, reproducing and modifying some of it here, I have self-consciously aspired to a lighter approach in my own writing.

I have assumed that readers may wish to consult the various chapters selectively. Indeed, Holocaust as Fiction may rightly be considered a series of interconnected essays. Chapters 2 and 3 especially presume a sustained interest in textual detail and critical reception; the others are more essayistic in manner.

To those who opt to navigate the book from cover to cover, I confess at the outset to a degree of redundancy. It is not possible to discuss the detective fiction without mentioning the later novel that would emerge from the same fiction laboratory. Whenever possible, however, I have tried to reduce the overlap by pointing readers to the more substantive discussions, wherever these might be found.

Nevertheless, intrepid readers will notice that Hanna Schmitz, that central and very fraught figure from The Reader, makes an appearance in almost every chapter of this study.

Given her importance to each of the questions I treat here, I simply saw no way of restricting her to a single chapter. So is Schlink just moving the goalposts? Is he responding to the needs of the global film market? Whatever the case, there is undoubtedly something intrinsic to this body of work that lends itself to diametrically divergent, and interdependent, readings.

I invite readers to explore this enigma with me in the following pages. There must be something to this case after all. Only the detective is exempt, since he—or she—is the fairy responsible for restitution and retribution. A Holocaust Girlhood Remembered Imagine a popular, bestselling piece of conventional German fiction that features a loveable ex-Nazi who makes overtures to an attractive young member of the opposite sex.

Hypothesize further that this novel places the ex-Nazi principally in the context of German rather than Jewish suffering, and that she is portrayed as having paid the price or at least a very high price , while the truly guilty go unpunished. Imagine this ex-Nazi as a victim, unfairly manipulated by others both during and after the war.

Finally, consider that this figure is given substantial extenuating circumstances—perhaps even an alibi for never revealing what she did during those infamous Is it intrinsically problematic?

The answer is not hard to divine: This stuff is truly Teflon-covered, and criticism that seeks to saddle it with any sense of social responsibility simply slips off without gaining download. Yet at the same time—and this is the truly interesting paradox—we seem willing to credit mass entertainment precisely with such social-critical potential when it pleases us to do so, as is clear from the case of the German broadcast of the American television series Holocaust. After widespread initial doubts about the capacity of popular entertainment to do justice to the subject matter, critics came to value the tremendous role this soap-operatic drama played in raising consciousness about the Holocaust in both Germany and the United States.

Der Vorleser

Indeed, the trilogy serves as a kind of x-ray for diagnosing that better-known novel. Because these detective novels fly below the radar of high culture, they illustrate an instance of Blochian nonsimultaneity,3 that is, a notable incongruity that complicates a widespread conception of German culture as being uniform with respect to this question or as being perpetually, insistently—and, some would say, obsessively—on the lookout for politically incorrect literature about Nazism and the Holocaust.

It is clear from the advertising that the publisher is courting the very same readership for both. If the Selb trilogy and The Reader indeed reach the same or similar readership, then there is all the more reason to inquire into the ideological use being made of these apparent confections.

Almost everybody I know seems to read them, and they have long conversations about them in which I am unable to take part. I am always being reminded that the most serious public figures of our time, from Edmund Wilson to W.

Yeats, have been addicts of this form of fiction. We cannot simply dismiss it as pabulum for the masses,8 as he would have liked to do. And even if we could, this would only make it more interesting for critics who continue to view detective fiction as an important source of social commentary. In the Schlink himself has never been shy about advocating for these Krimis detective novels ; on the contrary, he has repeatedly stressed the continuity in his writing, even going so far as to state that he could not have written The Reader without the experience he had gained in writing the detective novels.

He pursues an attractive, young secretary, Frau Buchendorff, throughout most of the first book, and similar love interests in the latter two, but is favorably contrasted with his more flamboyant skirt-chasing friend Philipp. Within the first third of the novel, Selb deftly tracks down the hacker, who turns out to be both a rival for the affections of the beautiful Buchendorff and an ecological activist who attempts, in his own misguided way, to curb illegal pollution that is being emitted intentionally and systematically by the Rheinland Chemical Works, a thinly veiled reference to the Sandoz chemical spill scandal of The hacker Mischkey is unexpectedly killed in a suspicious car crash, and Selb begins to have pangs of conscience for exposing him despite the fact that he had done so without the intention of having him murdered.

And so our protagonist The loveable, avuncular Selb is an ex-Nazi with a heart of gold. Selb confronts his past with what appears to be disarming honesty: I had faith in the cause and saw myself as a soldier on the legal front. I could no longer be utilized on the other front following my wound at the start of the war. Selb appears to put it all on the table, manfully taking responsibility for his youthful convictions. That disgusted me.

Around the time of the Monetary Reform they started to draft incriminated colleagues back in. I could have returned to the judiciary then, too. But I saw what the efforts to get reinstated, and the reinstatement itself, did to my colleagues.

Selb sheds his attachment to Nazism like a youth who, as he attains the age of reason, parts ways with his childhood notion of religion: The novel has it both ways. Emphatically, it is the latter scenario that structures the remainder of the novel. And it is of generic and not only ideological consequence that he observes, once again, that this shabby intrigue was something he does not yet fully understand. In , Weinstein denounces two of his non-Jewish German colleagues, Tyberg and Dohmke, telling the Gestapo that the two were involved in a conspiracy to sabotage production.

At the forceful urging of the federal prosecutor Gerhard Selb, both are quickly convicted of treason and the latter is hanged. It turns out, as Selb discovers only many years later, that Weinstein, prompted by the power-hungry Korten, had knowingly provided false testimony in the hopes of preserving his own life. Set up and executed by my friend and brother-in-law. This has the effect of unburdening others as well, such as the dim-witted Schmalz, who is portrayed as yet another helpless pawn of Korten despite the fact that it was he who physically threatened Weinstein and actually murdered Mischkey.

A bit like Hanna in The Reader, Schmalz is the proximate, but clearly subordinate, perpetrator. Of course, this model of guilt, one in which only a few superiors—or perhaps ultimately only one—are blameworthy, while all the rest appear as cogs or subordinate functionaries, is both well-known and shopworn. Indeed, the implicit Hitler-Korten analogy is already clearly suggested with the murder of the computer hacker, Mischkey.

Instead, we learn of a general ethos of violence and of a hierarchical chain of command in which well-understood signals, rather than explicit orders, are given to overzealous subordinates. After considering his several options, Selb realizes that Korten could easily twist, or entirely evade, any actual attempt to bring him to justice. For this reason, he decides to take matters into his own hands—literally—by pushing his nemesis off the rocky cliffs of Brittany.

He realizes that this is not quite right, and he suffers the requisite pangs of conscience in the immediate aftermath. From a structural and generic point of view, we might say that Tyberg was spared precisely so that he could play this crucial postwar role for Selb.

Moreover, by murdering Korten, Selb has achieved what he believes West German courts could not, or would not, have done. In taking on this role, albeit belatedly, Selb does not only rehabilitate himself. If we are to conclude that the Selb trilogy is not merely a collection of unrelated investigations unified by the coincidence that they feature the same detective but instead is a concerted, consistent exploration of the ex-Nazi Gerhard Selb, then we will need to pay some attention to the other two novels, where we find a reiteration and elaboration of the formula already established.

How many had I sent? I stared into the rain.

In this case, the policy memo seems to have come to him of its own accord. Instead, these conversations about the war merely afford him the opportunity to remind us how much better he is than those former Nazi colleagues who reentered government service without ever really having shed their fascist convictions. Because I was no longer an old Nazi? Because I had definitely had enough of others laying out for me what is just and unjust?

Back in , being a public prosecutor was simply over for me. In both sequels, we get an elaboration of the fact, already stated in the first volume, that Selb was seriously wounded on the Eastern Front and rendered incapable of further duty as a soldier.

Now we read that these injuries resulted from a particularly horrific attack on his tank brigade in Poland, and it was for this reason and not because he meant to that he ended up as a Nazi Staatsanwalt Public Prosecutor. This episode is amplified to include the victimhood of Germans in general when, for the first time since , Selb returns to Berlin, where he is reminded of the widespread destruction wrought by Allied bombing that left the city in ruins and took the lives of his parents.

Yet he cannot help viewing these attacks in relationship to his own Nazi past, about which these hooligans could of course have known absolutely nothing: But something [other than my body] did hurt. I had had the opportunity to rectify what in those days I did wrong. When do you get that kind of opportunity? But I did it wrong again. In light of the generic bias in favor of reading with the private investigator and on this more later , I would suggest that we are meant to see these two events his service as a Nazi prosecutor and this attack by neo-Nazis as indeed analogous—comparable at least insofar as Selb failed to resist the skinhead gang, just as he once failed to stand up to his Nazi superiors.

Again, he did what he was told; and again, it is suggested, he did so under threat of physical violence. We are thus invited to project his unmistakable status as victim in the recent attack back onto his Nazi past.

Where, in all this, is the convinced young Nazi eager to serve on the Eastern Front at a time, as we now know, when some members of the Wehrmacht German army actively assisted the SS in the prosecution of the Holocaust?

Selb does make amends, however. In fact, all three adventures in each of the novels can be seen as reparation. In murdering Korten, he has, as we have observed, carried out a form of retributive justice largely unavailable in postwar Germany.

Despite occasional self-doubts, which only serve to render him more likable, Selb defends his murder of Korten as an act of justifiable homicide, honoring the ancient call for revenge.

We witness Selb redressing his Nazi past in the subsequent novels as well. And he vigorously defends his extralegal efforts to protect her, on the grounds that these represent a corrective for the overly submissive attitude toward authority inculcated in him and his generational cohort during the Nazi period: Though Selb himself encourages this process of obfuscation by casting his adversaries as the embodiment of fundamental moral vices rather than as perpetrators of specific historical crimes.

This is already apparent with respect to Korten in volume one—observe how Selb performs the same trick on Weller and Welker, the antagonists from volume three. Their vices are in fact so generic that they—who, of course, were never Nazis—begin to merge with the Nazi arch villain Korten: Third Reich, war, defeat, reconstruction, and economic miracle—for them these were only different circumstances in which they played the same game: Korten was also like this.

Just like the others [Weller and Welker], his own power and success had become one with that of the firm. What we have witnessed throughout the trilogy, then, is a two-pronged strategy in the representation of perpetrators.

On the one hand, evil is concentrated in the person of one or a very few highly placed superiors and thus safely isolated from midlevel bureaucrats like Staatsanwalt Selb.

On the one hand, he needs to be proximate enough to evil so as to be a credible convert in the postwar period. Thus, Schlink as well as Popp places the protagonist within the upper reaches of the SS: Even the quick pace of detective fiction cannot mask this contradiction, for at no time in German history could one attain the position of state prosecutor without having attained the age of majority—and then some.

It is now, as it was then, a position of considerable prestige and power, and one that demands a very high level of education. Let us stipulate from the outset that the Braunbuch is a problematic source: What Question Does He Answer? But if we ask only about the ages of ex-Nazi state prosecutors, judges, and those holding positions of similar rank in West Germany, we are not likely to encounter a great deal of distortion.

Recall that this is precisely the professional cohort with whom Selb repeatedly affiliates himself. This group is prominently referenced in each novel, sometimes on multiple occasions. It turns out that their average age in —the earliest that our wounded Selb could have returned from the Eastern Front to take up his role as state prosecutor—was just over 34 years Moreover, the members of the group with whom Selb compares himself would themselves have been pushing eighty years of age when the first installment was published in These data may appear out of place to connoisseurs of this consummate genre of entertainment.

Yet detective fiction is known not only for extravagant plot devices but also for its love of empirical data, close attention to detail and temporal sequence, as well as a valorization of deduction from carefully placed cues and plot segments—as anyone who has read Sherlock Holmes surely knows.

But before doing so, let us cast a glance at the larger popular cultural context in which Selb and company circulate. To the very end, former Minister of Justice Ernst Janning powerfully portrayed by Bert Lancaster , who represents the most honest and morally upright of all the accused, maintains that he was not fully informed about the extermination camps.

While, in some sense, they are clearly adversaries, they ultimately concur on what the crux of the matter is for this film, namely that certain members of the legal and military elite constitute a privileged social class that should have known better, even if they did not have specific knowledge of the Holocaust per se. Abby Mann, who wrote both the play and the film script for Judgment, has repeatedly stressed his interest in this group of lesser-known defendants.

We are asked to believe that he was simply too young to come under this kind of indictment. This discrepancy might be overlooked within a fast-paced novel, but it is complicated in the film, particularly when the villainous Korten and Schmalz appear to belong to precisely the same age cohort as Selb. Director Nico Hofmann must have sensed the dilemma of placing these men side by side.

To accomplish this, however, he requires plot material not available in the novel.

So he makes up a past for Selb as an amateur boxer. He places the handsome, half-naked young man in the ring with an opponent who seems nearly defeated after being pummeled by the muscular and adept young prosecutor. Clearly, he is unafraid to endure pain. Profuse amounts of sweat bespeak not only his great exertion and stamina but also accentuate his powerful upper body. Though locked in primal physical conflict, Selb remains the picture of manly composure. He now has his opponent on the ropes and could easily inflict real damage, for he is the undisputed alpha male in this duo.

Finish him off! Knock him out! Mach ihn fertig! Schlag zu! The message is clear: Selb fights fair or not at all. But when he turns his back, his opponent takes full advantage of his momentary inattention and brutally beats him. The image of a verbally abused, betrayed, and bleeding Selb speaks volumes.

Clearly, Korten is not on hand merely to support a friend in an amicable, off-hours boxing match. He has something riding on this contest—presumably a bet—and he is using Selb to attain it. Even here—preeminently here—Korten is pulling the strings in a scheme Selb does not seem to comprehend. Still from Death Came as a Friend. Hofmann may in fact be quoting the legendary scene with Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront in which the young boxer sees his future sacrificed to the greed of his unscrupulous managers.

The actor who plays the macho, young Selb even looks a bit like the young Brando. As useful as the German Tyberg was in providing absolution to Selb at a key point in the novel, this figure drops out entirely of Der Tod kam als Freund. This means that the friendly Vera Mueller of the novel, who, as an American Jew, also confers forgiveness upon Selb, is cut from the film as well.

We can divine strategic as well as ideological reasons for this decision. As he goes back in his mind to those key war years, Selb becomes vaguely suspicious of Korten, but he still genuinely does not know—even these many years later—what precisely led to the trial and convictions in which he played a leading role. He needs to visit this Jewish survivor to discover the truth.

Selb, visibly shaken, is so surprised that he has her repeat this. Indeed, he finds it so difficult to integrate this fact into his life story that he must replay the scene back at his hotel room over a number of strong drinks. To the contrary, she takes Selb seriously, accepts his inquiry as legitimate, and confirms his naivety as fully plausible.

In this respect, her indictment of Korten is truly secondary. Weinstein was indeed a knowing accomplice, though under considerable duress. But poor Selb was an unwitting one—unaware of his crime even until Frau Weinstein provides this crucial piece of testimony. The Exculpatory Genre of Detective Fiction There is another, more subtle technique of normalization that has less to do with character and plot than with the genre itself.

It does not develop its cause during the narrative or alongside it, but its sole theme is the discovery of something that happened ante rem.

The main point is always the same: Casting Nazism Thus, prior to any of the exculpatory strategies encoded within the protagonist and his story, the very genre of detective fiction mystifies Nazism by making it the great, unknown, foundational crime. For similar reasons, W. Auden dismisses the claim that detective fiction indulges fantasies of violence. The trick, of course, is to espouse this doctrine while denying that one is doing any such thing.

Anyone who does not understand this, as we are sure to be reminded, simply does not know how to have fun—or, I am tempted to say, must be an academic! As in the case of our likeable detective, Hanna is unquestionably placed at the scene of crimes but is never specifically and individually responsible for any particular deed. There are always others on hand, a number of who such as the male guards at the horrible church fire were her superiors.

As an illiterate ethnic German Volksdeutsche , she is given an even more compelling explanation than Selb for her ignorance of the larger Nazi enterprise. True, there is no single villain such as Korten, around whom the narrative crystallizes guilt and draws off the last vestiges of her responsibility; as a result, she does retain a modicum of always nebulous guilt. But with regard to the worst of the crimes of which she may be guilty—transporting women from work details to their death in Auschwitz or standing by while women burned to death in a locked church—there were always other, more highly placed actors who willingly exploited her ignorance and handicap.

Not unlike our Selb, she is much abused during and after the war. Despite further parallels at the level of plot e. For even if the book had been written in hindsight, that is, from the vantage of her newly acquired literacy, the ability to narrate and reflect intelligently or even coherently on her preliterate days would have cast considerable doubt upon her illiteracy excuse.

Like her literary precursor, Hanna undergoes a self-imposed punishment actually two, if one includes the suicide and is ultimately rehabilitated: Hanna and Selb are both redeemed, albeit in strikingly different ways: In castigating himself for too tardily reacting to current challenges of neo-Nazism, Selb explains that this is a problem that has haunted him since his youth: Only the ideological value of casting himself in this light can explain the relentless repetition of this motif, which soon becomes tedious.

Can we salvage Schlink by means of irony— that is, by arguing that we are actually meant to read against the grain? This is precisely the argument that some advocates of The Reader propose. Though they adduce a variety of reasons for doing so, each argues that we are intended to see past Michael Berg rather than to uncritically share his point of view.

With his hyper-self-criticism, he is always one step ahead of the critics; his circumspection and self-deprecating remarks serve only make to him more trustworthy, not less. If pain is what the patient says it is, irony must be what the reader claims it is. I would only want to share the burden of proof fairly with those who wish to place Berg fundamentally in doubt. In arguing for the efficacy of the television drama Holocaust, Huyssen based himself on documented responses of the target audience.

Yet we should be aware that this same procedure could conceivably be carried out on Selb as well. So, you see yourself as innocently abused?

Or is Schlink playing to two audiences simultaneously? The irony thesis may be very flattering to readers, yet it is crucial to notice that Selb, like Berg, reliably anticipates the very criticism we may wish to credit ourselves with having discovered.

In this respect, we are always outflanked. It may be that we know what we are getting into when we take a detective novel in hand. But while the genre may come equipped with certain self-inoculating devices, we should not be too quick to consider the matter settled.

Though some readers will claim to distance themselves from Selb—and perhaps they really do— the tendency in detective fiction generally, as John M. Reilly observes, is just the opposite.

But in the world of fictional homicide, justice prevails, the criminal is punished, order is restored. Poetic, not civic, justice rules. Because of this, readers experience the pleasure of narrative closure. This fantasy resolution, however, comprises only the final phase of the fictional reconstruction of Nazism. As we have already noted, the concentration of responsibility in the hands of just one actor or a very few was an important prerequisite, and one that echoes official West German pronouncements regarding German war guilt from Konrad Adenauer to Helmut Kohl.

To be sure, Korten threatens and manipulates the Jew Weinstein. But this abuse is no different in kind than that meted out to gentiles indeed, this is how Selb becomes a victim on par with Weinstein. The fact that he maintains his power in the postwar period by the same unscrupulous means viz his use of Schmalz to murder Mischkey suggests, as we have seen, that there is nothing unique or historically specific about his wartime transgressions: The real genius of the Selb trilogy, implicitly at least, is to deny that there is any such message.

It is just entertainment. But we are then constrained to ask how the topics of Nazism and the Holocaust lend themselves to such great fun. As in so much American popular cinema, Schlink has not striven for historical accuracy or even analytical insight. Instead, he has provided his readers with something much more basic, namely, a consolation prize. He is macho, confident, and witty, yet also vulnerable and self-deprecatory.

He is honest in his own terse way , was never very guilty to begin with, and is eager to make things right in the present. He is an ex-Nazi who, by finally killing the holdover Nazi villain, refashions himself into a kind of resister after the fact. For what more could one possibly ask? It has a distinctly Mitteleuropean feel, an air of allegory and moral meditation.

Hardly a prescription for a bestseller. This time around she will marry for money, not love. The white spotlight starkly illuminates this solitary figure on the dark stage, and with a haunting refrain that does not lack a touch of defiance, she implores the audience to put themselves in her place: But here the stakes are much higher: One night, while the prisoners are confined in a local church, an Allied bomb ignites the steeple, gradually setting the entire building ablaze.

Sie taten es nicht, und die in der Kirche eingeschlossenen Frauen verbrannten. The accused could have unlocked them. They did not do so, and the women burned to death. During the trial, Hanna twice turns the investigation back on the judge: Alle empfanden es. Everyone felt it.

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With this question, Hanna is of course asking us as well. And, as in Cabaret, we are called to understand, if not quite condone, her behavior. Or, more precisely, we are invited to sympathize, in part because we never learn exactly what her behavior and actions were that night.

This more nuanced depiction of a perpetrator has been hailed as an advance over the simplistic, moralizing approaches of the past, which, we are told, tended to place perpetrators and victims at monochromatic extremes. The author himself confesses some reservations about this strategy: The first to sally forth was Cynthia Ozick, who, in the March issue of Commentary, faults the novel for indulging in a kind of ahistorical fantasy: Schlink achieves this through a sleight of hand that has been lauded by numerous critics: But it is more than mere sugarcoating.

Her introduction to Michael, and to us, comes when she rescues the unknown boy, who is apparently ill and filthy with his own vomit, cleaning him up and escorting him safely home. Her basic impulses, when not encumbered by other factors such as those that will lead to her career as a camp guard , are thus established as startlingly humane.

Nor does he mean that this alone provides a fully adequate explanation of evil. Certainly this is the way Stephen Daldry chooses to portray her in his compelling film of the novel see Chapter 6. It is precisely because this explanatory model enjoys popular credence that Hanna, too, for all her apparent particularity, comes to stand for the many. What we see in her is not the great enigma of evil, from which we shrink in horror and incomprehension, but a virtual textbook example of the sociological conception of criminality, which we tend to embrace.

While she evokes the horrors of the Holocaust—though relatively indirectly, as both Bartov and Hoffman rightly point out—she simultaneously makes the Holocaust appear more amenable to explanation in terms of familiar ideas about human behavior. In the last pages of the book, we learn via the prison warden that Hanna has accepted her incarceration like a nun embracing solitude: As if she had submitted willingly to the prevailing order, as if the somewhat monotonous work were a kind of meditation.

She struggles to gain literacy and then promptly and, in my opinion, incredibly reads all the classics of Holocaust literature, but not before becoming an activist for better prison conditions. Before she can enjoy the clemency that has been granted her after 18 years of prison, she hangs herself in her cell on the very morning of her release, rendering what some deem a final, moral act of selfcondemnation.

Given multiple incentives, both textual and extratextual, to see Hanna as a kind of prototypical perpetrator, this character seems destined to expand or multiply to fill the historical void.

We know a great deal about Nor, if we are honest, is this a question with which the text is seriously concerned. We cannot, of course, blame Schlink for our own desire to substitute fiction for history. But if so, it is nevertheless a hunger that The Reader fully satisfies. In the rare accounts by perpetrators, too, the gas chambers and ovens become everyday scenery the perpetrators reduced to their few functions and exhibiting a mental paralysis and indifference, a dullness that makes them seem drugged or drunk.

The defendants seemed to me to be trapped still, and forever, in this drugged state, in a sense petrified in it. To whom, and in what degree, does this apply? On the contrary, they were often quite spirited, self-righteous, argumentative, and arrogant; they occasionally smiled, and even laughed, in the face of their accusers.

His error lies in having generalized this phenomenon so indiscriminately. Perhaps we want to believe that the Holocaust makes moral zombies out of all of us. Unfortunately, this is rather like asking the jury to ignore a sensational outburst that would otherwise directly affect the verdict: It exudes the very numbness I have tried to describe before. The tactic is pretty clear: Berg is seeking justification for the very claim he has already admitted is discredited.

The question we must ask, rather, is the extent to which they are responding in a reasonable manner to a work of conventional literary realism. Are they distorting and simplifying a far more complex work?

Or are they responding sensibly to cues that have been deftly planted by an author who has had considerable prior experience in the mass entertainment genre of detective fiction?

Are they responding plausibly to an author whose expertise consists in the efficacious presentation of evidence and testimony?

We may not be too surprised to discover that Oprah Winfrey, who did not demur from using her on-air book However, he did intervene at other points to offer corrections. But notice what has now become of that place: One is the simplistic, black-and-white, Manichaean division into good guys and bad guys. The other, equal but opposite mistake is a moral relativism that ends up blurring the distinction between perpetrator and victim. This kind of moral relativism is frequently to be encountered among liberalminded Westerners.

We cannot proceed with our On this point, we would do well to begin with eminent Holocaust refugee, learned modernism expert, and Cambridge don George Steiner, for it was doubtless his glowing review in the London Observer that inaugurated the proliferation of the language of morality so rife in the subsequent criticism. It is as if the moral law that Kant thought lies in every human heart blossoms under the radiant power of literacy.

After all, they know better than the emotionally anaesthetized narrator, for they, or their immediate family members, were there. He wanted to break down the easy contempt of the lawful citizen toward the criminal by exploring the psychology of the criminal. Yet this is hardly the case. Dostoevsky, let us recall, challenges us to enter into the twisted mind of his protagonist Raskolnikov, but only after he has given us the gruesome murder scene, complete with split skull and bloody hatchet.

To be sure, Schlink does not entirely suppress the depiction of atrocity, but he does obfuscate the connection between perpetrators and crime, so that we are left with the feeling—if we can believe the critics—that there is some deeper truth to this mystification of criminal responsibility.

Yet this enterprise seems doubtful, at best. While there is surely an enduring mystery regarding the degree to which Hanna was nudged into her role by her underprivileged upbringing i. This obfuscation allows critics to cease thinking about the vagaries of criminal responsibility, rather than impelling them to pursue its complexities.

As Jonathan Petropoulos and John K. He was struck particularly, but not only, by the ways in which the German organization of the camp led Jews, however reluctantly, to become complicit in the destruction of their own people. Rather, his purpose is clearly to complicate moral inquiry rather than to quash it.

In any case, it is mistaken to view Levi as the father of moral relativism concerning the Holocaust. On the contrary, his work is characterized by a profound moral ambivalence, qualification, and subtlety. This was grounded above all in his self image: In the place of blanket mental and spiritual deadness, historians Gideon Greif and Michael Berenbaum diagnose a far more mixed palette of emotional responses to the horrors of camp life.

In this inventory of potentially numbed observers, we should not, of course, forget to include ourselves—as readers placed alongside the sympathetically drawn Berg more on this later , we, too, are being invited to view ourselves as anesthetized into a state of moral suspension.

Is this the moral sophistication hinted at by the critics and promulgated by pedagogues? It will not do to argue prescriptively by reminding readers, as Petropoulos and Roth do so well, that Levi was acutely aware of this danger and strenuously countered it. As I elaborate at some length in Chapter 6, she cries out for inclusion within this zone of moral indeterminacy. Late in the novel, after her attainment of literacy, she invokes Levi almost verbatim in solemnly telling Berg and us that no living person has the right to judge her.

In short order, she carries out this judgment on herself via suicide, making her form of Selbs[t]justiz self-administered justice sympathetic to many readers. If the novel and the film it inspired contain any intriguing premise at all, it is this: To suggest that the underprivileged and socially vulnerable represent a fertile recruiting ground for coconspirators and collaborators of violent, lawless We simply need to know more about what she did and why she did it.

Rather than explore the vagaries of class as one, perhaps very important, determinant within a complex mix of historical factors, The Reader envelops both Hanna and us in a mental fog that impedes moral reflection rather than furthering it—all the while allowing us to feel good about ourselves. It gestures toward all those revered icons of postmodern sophistication: It retroactively justifies the failure of many families to pursue information about the wartime activities of their first-generation members by making this seem the natural state of affairs.

In this way, the notion of a gray zone, like the numbness that constitutes it, functions as a defense against confronting Holocaust atrocities. In the end, one cannot avoid the conclusion that the effort to implicate the reader, no matter how laudable, is simply a ruse. In what might strike us as a bizarre reversal of definitions of the human, readers now identify with the humanized Hanna exclusively as one determined by forces beyond her control.

More fundamentally, we might ask what else may be at stake in tapping into this long cultural tradition of attempting to link the bourgeois reader with extreme criminality.

Is this not itself a kind of evasion or a reprieve from the tedium of history? This convention is so much a part of the aesthetic tradition that one can easily take it for granted. On this point, it is again Primo Levi who provides a fresh perspective: It is not my point to discredit the Schillerian philosophy of aesthetic education that asks readers to place themselves in the position of the radically marginalized and socially deviant.

There may indeed be much to admire in this gambit—perhaps. As an educator myself, and specifically as a teacher of literature, I myself am inclined to this humanist view. But Levi reminds us that within this very vehicle of potential In engaging the subjunctive and hypothetical, however laudably, we may also, at the same time, be fleeing the unbearably actual and historical.

My point here, however, has been to suggest that an unreflective embrace of moral ambiguity may, in the very name of complexity, effectively deny it. Schlink has advocated the novel— over the more explicitly propositional essay, for example—as a particularly apt venue for issues that remain essentially problematic, open-ended, and irresolvable. Schlink is no doubt right to discard the monster thesis—a project Peter Schneider had, by the way, already undertaken with his novella Vati.

The widespread and fundamental critique of rationality that has characterized modern intellectual life—variously associated with critical theory, poststructuralism, and postmodernism—may have produced a rather lopsided climate that does not bode well for this task.

This task may well lie beyond the scope of good fiction—and may thus represent the real limit to literary approaches to the Holocaust. Without hesitation, most affirm that it is, unequivocally.

And they give good reasons: Statistics suggest that two-thirds to three-quarters of my class will indeed have cheated on an exam or homework assignment by the time of graduation.

Their personal implication in a general moral query does not keep them from upholding the basic principle—in this case, of academic honesty. But not so when it comes to the Holocaust.She had not had the key, no one had had the key, there had not been any one key to the church, but several keys to several different doors, and they had all been left outside in the locks.

In accusing himself so relentlessly, he not only portrays himself as the victim of an indiscriminate and unjust notion of collective guilt, he simultaneously begins the process of reintegrating himself—and his generational cohort—within the international community. Hanna's shame also controls her behaviour during her trial. But what concerns me here is more the manner in which these self-flagellating confessions are meant to be read simultaneously as both justified precisely as a statement of his subjective experience and unjustified, namely as an overassignment of guilt that therefore draws our attention to his deformation and suffering as a result of this problematic relationship.

Frankly, it does not matter whether she was asking for silence or for testimony, nor does it matter that Berg adamantly maintains that he detected no appeal in her countenance.

KIETH from Santa Barbara
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