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December 05, 2021, 12:36:46 pm

Author Topic: Stasiland Text Response- feedback please!  (Read 6087 times)  Share 

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Stasiland Text Response- feedback please!
« on: April 05, 2015, 12:26:06 pm »
‘Memory, like so much else, is unreliable. Not only for what it alters, but also for what it reveals.’ How reliable are the stories in ‘Stasiland’?

For the historical truth to be uncovered, the ‘personal stories’ of those impacted must be shared. Anna Funder’s literary journalistic text ‘Stasiland’ (2002) explores the ongoing effects of the failed German Democratic Republic (GDR) on both the victims and perpetrators of the totalitarian regime, and acts alternately as a soapbox for communism’s most avid supporters, and as a cathartic vehicle for those who suffered at the hands of the ‘Surveillance State’. While Funder’s interviews are initially framed as the truth, she is quick to undermine the recounts of her interviewees, or dismiss their tales as products of damaged minds. Despite Funder’s insistence that she lacks political motives or personal prejudices, her subjectivity permeates the text and clouds her interviews, instilling doubt into the reader as to the authenticity of Funder’s ‘stories’.

Far from the impartial observer she purports to be, Funder’s own motives are made obvious through her underhanded critique of the stories she is told. Colouring the reader’s perception of certain characters, Funder’s desire to place blame for ‘this land gone wrong’ results in her immediate judgement of her interviewees as right or wrong, a perception which she then mirrors in her narration of the interview, and the story itself. Funder is quick to label Frau Paul as a tragic martyr- ‘large’ and ‘overflowing with tears’; Paul’s description and her tale of the Wall that ‘went straight through [her] heart’ lend themselves well to elicit sympathy from readers. However, Frau Paul’s self-perception, that she is ‘a mother and a dental technician’, but also ‘a criminal’, haunts her, and evidence of Frau Paul helping East Germans to escape the GDR is carefully omitted from the ‘notes of her own life’ given to Funder. This denial of her true past reveals that her ‘memory’ has been ‘alter[ed]’ and ‘rework[ed]’ so that it can no longer ‘rub’ at her: what she has chosen to leave out, her rebellion against the imprisonment of the GDR, is a symbol of her attempt to change her perception of herself from ‘the one the Stasis gave her’ to an alternate version where she is not a ‘criminal’. However, Funder’s inclusion of Michael Hinze’s contradictory story paired with Funder’s description of Frau Paul’s ‘muddled sentences’ and her ‘fiddl[ing] with her collar’ depict Frau Paul as eternally ‘guilt-wracked’ and aware of her past. By undermining Frau Paul’s memory of her life behind the ‘Iron Curtain’, Funder casts doubt onto the reliability of her stories, and whether more have been altered to become a safer, more heroic, or less distressing memory. Similarly, Herr Winz’s tale of ‘the excellent work’ of the Stasi is undermined by Funder. Funder’s dislike for Winz is clear through her caricatured portrayal of the Stasi man as ‘hot and bitter’, a petulant ‘old man’ who still ‘plays spy-games’, and her lack of respect for the man is clear through this unflattering and distanced portrayal. Funder is quick to dismiss Winz’s story as a figment of his imagination, and divulges that she ‘finds it hard to believe’ and labels him ‘unconfident and unconvincing’. Darkly commenting that she believes he only wrote ‘procedural manuals’, Funder influences her readers to see Herr Winz as pathetic, and that his story is a product of his fanaticism and not of true events. By juxtaposing the stories of her interviewees with her personal commentary and other interviews, Funder leads readers to question the reliability of the stories her characters share.

Through Funder’s ‘adventures in Stasiland’, she labels the frailty of memory she encounters as a product of psychological distress and damage. Funder’s own perception of the GDR is clouded by her obsession with the ‘horror-romance’ nature of the country, and she finds herself held back by her ‘Ausländer’ label. Similarly, Julia ‘is not at home in her own country’ and remains ‘trapped’ between her past in the GDR and her present. Her memories of the GDR and her feelings toward her former country are contrasting: while her life in the GDR was characterised by her inability to act or escape, the psychological trauma that followed her rape has left her ‘longing’ for the return of the ‘Security State’ and her personal security. Funder’s dismissal of this ‘ostalgie’, believing that it ‘colours a cheap and nasty world gold’ is clear: she does not understand the nostalgia, as, from her capitalist perspective, there is nothing worth missing in the GDR. This results in Funder labelling Julia’s nostalgia for the GDR as emotional trauma: a product of the association with the fall of the GDR with her rape. Through the juxtaposition of her own perception of ‘ostalgie’ with Julia’s, it is clear to Funder’s readers that yet again Funder is a ‘foreigner’ as she is unable to understand the complexity of Julia’s confused memories of the ‘good father State’. Furthermore, Funder’s interactions with the drunken men in the park cement her lack of belief of the GDR as a place worth missing. By exaggerating their lack of sobriety, Funder caricatures the men and further denigrates them through nicknames like ‘Professor Mushroom’. By framing the men as overtly inebriated and clownish, Funder immediately positions her readers to find the men’s perception of their past in the GDR as untrustworthy and their stories of better times in the GDR as bitterness over their treatment in the western system. Funder further casts doubt on the authenticity of the men’s stories by inferring that the drunks in the park were ‘certainly drunks’ in the GDR, and this ‘cushion[ing]’ by alcohol may have altered their memories of an unhappy time. By questioning the psychological integrity of the Germans that she encounters, Funder leads readers to question the truth in their stories, or whether their memories have been damaged by psychological distress and alcohol abuse.

Funder’s own bias and involvement in the stories of those she interviews further diminish the reliability of her tales. Funder’s obsession with Germany’s history and her desire to hold someone accountable for the ‘horror-romance’ that she encounters removes the text’s potential for neutrality and makes it impossible to separate Funder from the stories of her interviewees. Employing a layered effect to her interviews, Funder immediately passes judgement, absolving some and damning others, creating an immediately biased portrayal of her characters. First she observes their outward appearance, before relaying their story in their own words, and finally, for a select few, taking over the narration and cementing her over-involvement in their stories. For Stasi men like Herr Winz and Herr Bock, Funder stays on the outer layers of her observations: portraying them with immediate dislike and disgust, Funder makes no effort to truly connect and understand the men. Dramatising their interviews and exaggerating their negative qualities, Funder paints pictures of old men with ‘brown spittle’, ‘papery’ skin and ‘bully’ mannerisms. By framing the Stasi men in this light, Funder makes her bias against the Stasi clear and consolidates her personal involvement in the text, leading readers to become skeptical of her accuracy in portraying the Stasi’s stories. In contrast, when interviewing her ‘maidens’, victims like Miriam, Julia, and Frau Paul, Funder often crosses into the inner layer of her narration. Funder’s personal involvement often takes over the interview: she becomes absorbed in her physical reactions, that her ‘bones have gone soft’, and her ‘hairs stand up’. When her victims lose their voice, Funder dominates and it becomes impossible to separate the author from her stories. As Miriam recounts the story of her attempt to escape the GDR, it becomes Funder who finishes the tale, adding a dramatised, almost fictional feeling to the interview. Funder’s fascination with Miriam’s past, remarking that she ‘like(s) the girl she was’ and retracing her journey ‘back to the source’, leads readers to question the accuracy of Miriam’s chapters, or whether Funder, in her enthusiasm, has changed the story to fit Miriam’s depiction as a ‘naughty angel’. This is further compounded by Funder’s quick dismissal of her victim’s admissions of guilt: it is clear to readers that Funder wishes to present her opinion that even if East Germans followed the rules, the system ‘probably would’ still harm them, ignoring that some of her ‘victims’ were, in fact, criminals. Through her involvement in the stories and her prejudice against the Stasi men, Funder’s readers are led to doubt her reliability as an unbiased observer.

Whilst ‘Stasiland’’s stories are purported to be true, Funder’s readers are instead positioned to question the truth in her stories. As she undermines the accounts of her characters with conflicting evidence and her personal commentary, Funder casts doubt onto the accuracy of her interviews and questions why both victims and perpetrators might alter their stories. Moreover, by questioning the integrity of the positive memories and ‘ostalgie’ that she encounters, Funder attempts to present a nation of damaged people whose memories may have been clouded. Finally, Funder’s own reliability is questioned by readers through her self-involvement and prejudices. ‘Stasiland’  reveals that the ‘personal stories’ of East Germans have been altered by the ‘unreliability’ of memory itself.
« Last Edit: May 04, 2015, 11:15:51 am by bangali_lok »
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