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Alternate history - alternate memory : counterfactual literature in the context of German normalization Schenkel, Guido


This dissertation examines a variety of Alternate Histories of the Third Reich from the perspective of memory theory. The term ‘Alternate History’ describes a genre of literature that presents fictional accounts of historical developments which deviate from the known course of history. These allohistorical narratives are inherently presentist, meaning that their central question of “What If?” can harness the repertoire of collective memory in order to act as both a reflection of and a commentary on contemporary social and political conditions. Moreover, Alternate Histories can act as a form of counter-memory insofar as the counterfactual mode can be used to highlight marginalized historical events. This study investigates a specific manifestation of this process. Contrasted with American and British examples, the primary focus is the analysis of the discursive functions of German-language counterfactual literature in the context of German normalization. The category of normalization connects a variety of commemorative trends in postwar Germany aimed at overcoming the legacy of National Socialism and re-formulating a positive German national identity. The central hypothesis is that Alternate Histories can perform a unique task in this particular discursive setting. In the context of German normalization, counterfactual stories of the history of the Third Reich are capable of functioning as alternate memories, meaning that they effectively replace the memory of real events with fantasies that are better suited to serve as exculpatory narratives for the German collective. To develop the theoretical framework for this new category, the dissertation delineates and contrasts pertinent theories of both collective memory and counter-memory and harnesses the scholarly findings of these fields to expand existing critical understandings of the genre of Alternate History. The combination of this sociological approach with the methodology of literary studies is applied in a close reading to an exemplary selection of Alternate Histories, grouped into three themes which correspond closely to prominent narratives of German collective memory: The universalization of National Socialism, the motif of the ‘good German,’ and the myth of German victimization. This approach demonstrates in detail the narrative strategies that constitute alternate memory in the context of German normalization.

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