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Author Christa Wolf Reflects on the Debate about East German Literature (September 27, 1993)

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They naturally pinned me down on that point: Just where is this literature? And why, a curly-haired young woman asks, haven’t I spoken again publicly for a long time now? Somebody wanted to know what my removal to America stood for, if that was an escape. I insist upon my right to speak when I want to, and also to remain silent. I refuse to accept the advocate role that they again want to give me, appreciate the fact that they are partially right, but give examples of what I and others have said and written anyway, without anyone noticing, remind them, as I always do on such occasions, how many years after the Napoleonic Wars Tolstoy wrote War and Peace, and plead for the contemplation break that has to be granted even to writers. I do hear them say yes and sense that they silently stick to their demands; I notice physically how strong that claim has again become or perhaps always remained.

[ . . . ]

Around midnight on the deserted “pedestrian zone” in the center of Potsdam, eerily illuminated by lights on whipshaped lampposts. For a few seconds, I have an intensive déjà-vu experience. But here I have already . . . I stood here once in the same light; I heard the same words of farewell; I already exchanged the same embraces once before . . . But that is impossible. I am simply tired, sleep during most of the trip back; Gerd is also tired but stays awake by driving. We do not say much; once I say that I could not do something like that again. Gerd says: You really don’t have to. I brought along from the bookstore a book that is being discussed right now, have leafed through it, a thoroughly conceived story, I envy the woman who wrote it. When will I, or will I ever be able to write a book again about a distant invented figure; I myself am the protagonist, there is no other way, I am exposed, have exposed myself.

Before falling asleep, I read in an essay by Erwin Chargaff**: “Two Kinds of Mourning,” which begins with the sentence: “A silent mourning has fallen upon the world.” That is true, I think to myself, and then I find a diary quote by Kierkegaard from the year 1849: “A single person cannot help or save an era; he can only express that it comes to an end.”

** Erwin Chargaff (1905-2002), Austrian biochemist; discovered two rules that helped lead to the discovery of the double helical structure of DNA. [Footnote taken from Christa Wolf, One Day a Year, trans. by Lowell A. Bangerter. Europa Editions: New York, 2007, p. 518.]

Source of English translation: Christa Wolf, One Day a Year, trans. by Lowell A. Bangerter. Europa Editions: New York, 2007, p. 510-16, p. 518. Reproduced here with the permission of Europa Editions.

Source of original German text: Christa Wolf, Ein Tag im Jahr, 1960-2000 (1st edition, 2003) Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Taschenbuch, 2008, entry from September 27, 1993, pp. 554-62.

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