Situating a German Self in Democratic Community: Greek Tragedy and German Identity in Christa Wolf’s Mythic Works

in German Politics and Society
Author: Robert Pirro
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In times of political or social crisis, issues of identity and affiliation

tend to become more salient. In response to the threatened or actual

disruption of the routines of material provision, social order, and

ideological legitimation, definitions of self and community that had

formerly been considered authoritative come under more frequent

and more extensive questioning. Responses to this condition of

uncertainty and doubt about identity and affiliation are typically

forthcoming from many different quarters: party politicians, leaders

of social movements, public intellectuals, religious authorities. Such

responses can also be quite varied as was the case, for example, in

the aftermath of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Only months after the

event and with major questions about the future of the two Germanies

in the air, Jürgen Habermas surveyed the various possible sources of German identity that were on offer at that time—economic prestige

(“DM nationalism”), cultural inheritance, linguistic unity, ethnic

descent, historical fate, aesthetic experience, and constitutional patriotism—

and found all but the last seriously wanting.3 In any given

episode of crisis and questioning, most responses will ultimately

have little or no effect; the eventual reestablishment of the routines

of provision, order, and legitimation usually means that one or

another set of definitions of self and community has won out and

become authoritative for a critical mass of citizens.

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