Narrating the Imagination of Unified Nations in Post-Apartheid South Africa and Post-Wall Germany

Open Access
Brust, Imke
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
December 12, 2008
Committee Members:
  • Daniel Leonhard Purdy, Dissertation Advisor/Co-Advisor
  • Daniel Leonhard Purdy, Committee Chair/Co-Chair
  • Dr Cary Fenton Fraser, Committee Member
  • Thomas Oliver Beebee, Committee Member
  • John Philip Christman, Committee Member
  • Africa
  • Europe
  • South African literature
  • German literature
  • nationalism
  • trans-nationalism
My dissertation explores selected writings from post-wall Germany and post-apartheid South Africa in order to determine how the concept of a unified nation is imagined in literature within both countries. Approaching the nation state as a discursive construct, whose dominant national narrative is defined by the elites in power, my research focuses on the alternative national narratives of both nation-states, which are being explored in the two countries’ literature. My project asserts the argument that fiction is a realm that can incite a discussion, or create a shift in consciousness, from which national change can arise. At the same time, fiction, as a product of the imagination may already envision changes that seem quite impossible under the existing circumstances. Moreover, the Bakhtinian heteroglossia in fiction, the overlapping, and coexistence of narratives, mirrors the image of a nation-state that consists of, or is shaped by, multiple communities rather than the common assumption of being a homogenous entity. In my dissertation, I discuss the following contemporary German and South African works in detail: (1) Narratives of Transition: Günter Grass Ein Weites Feld (1995), Kerstin Jentzsch’s Seit die Götter Ratlos Sind (1994), Thomas Brussig’s Wie Es Leuchtet (2004), Zakes Mda’s Ways of Dying (1995), Sindiwe Magona’s Mother to Mother (1998), and Antjie Krog’s The Country of My Skull (1998) (2) Narratives of Repression: Günter Grass’ Im Krebsgang (2002), Monika Maron’s Stille Zeile Sechs (1991), Zafer Senocak’s Gefährliche Verwandtschaft (1998), Mike Nicol’s The Ibis Tapestry (1998), Achmat Dangor’s Bitter Fruit (2001), and Zoë Wicomb’s David’s Story (2001). My literary research explores in particular the utopian possibilities, the missed chances that both, Germany and South Africa, experienced in the transition to a new society, and how those missed chances affect the present. I approach the process of unified democratization in both countries with Frantz Fanon’s idea of ‘national consciousness’ and Hannah Arendt’s idea of ‘empathy’ in order to determine how the development of self-awareness and reciprocal understanding can lead to national change. For both, South Africa and Germany, countries, which have been shaped by the traumas of pathological nationalism and the search for alternative visions of nation, it is of compelling interest to map out how modern nation states develop from imagination to “concretion” so that national pathological pitfalls can be avoided and the transnational dimensions of nation-building strengthened. The German and South African experiences have illustrated the importance of conceiving the nation as part of both international and transnational communities. A discursive construct of a nation-state that allows for a plurality of national narratives is much better suited for a broader local collective, such as the European or African Union, as well as for a global community, because it allows for differences and similarities and is therefore more dynamic, flexible, and inclusive.