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'Kassandra' and 'Medea' von Christa


Wolf: Utopische Mythen im Vergleich
Modern Language Review, The, Oct, 2008 by Chloe Paver
'Kassandra' and 'Medea' von Christa Wolf: Utopische Mythen im Vergleic. By CORINNA
VIERGUTZ and HEIKO HOLWEG. Wurzburg: Konigshausen & Neumann. 2007. 140 PP.
18 [euro]. ISBN 978-3-8260-2733-8.

This is a concise and businesslike study of one aspect of Wolf's two myth-based
narratives: the envisioning of utopian possibilities. Evidently aimed at students, it makes
no claim to be a piece of original scholarship: the authors do not formulate a new
research question, and while German-language scholarship on the two novels is cited
judiciously, no account is given of the extensive English-language scholarshipon Wolf.

Having supplied helpful definitions of 'utopia' and 'myth' , Corinna Viergutz and Heiko
Holweg offer detailed analyses of each text, before comparing the two. The conclusion
towards which they are working is adumbrated at the outset: that while both texts have a
utopian dimension, in the later piece the characters that embody utopian ideas remain
isolated; the possibility that they might band together to effect change no longer seems
conceivable. This has, as they readily acknowledge, been noted already, but while earlier
work concentrates on either Kassandra or Medea, they follow the train of ideas through
both texts.

The authors do a good deal of critical spadework, not least in identifying the two texts'
cultural antecedents. A typical example is Engels's model of a three-phase history of
human society (matriarchy, a society based on property, and modern Communism),
which the authors see exemplified in Kassandra, though readers may be confused hereby
a lack of clarity about chronology. By saying that 'we' are 'currently' living in Engels's
second historical phase ('Gegenartig befinden wir uns [...] in der Besitzgesellschaft' , p.
45), the authors gloss over the fact that Wolf wrote the text in a quite different society
from 'ours' , one which was, according to the rhetoric of the state, living through the third
phase.

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One or two other things struck me as ill-conceived or unhelpful. The nature and purpose
of the lecture series to which an early draft of Kassandra belonged is taken as read,
knowledge I am not sure can be assumed. A first reference to a 'Vorlesung' is left
unglossed and subsequent references to the 'Frankfurter Poetik-Vorlesungen' and the
'Voraussetzungen' do not make it clear that these are nearly, but not quite, co-terminous.
An over-liberal use of inverted commas and italics sometimes leaves it unclear whether or
not we are reading quotations from Wolf's texts. The authors' assertion that, in fleeing
Troy, Aineias carries with him to a new destination the utopian possibilities of the
Skamander community (pp. 53, 63) would seem to ignore his mythical role in the
founding of a new patriarchal society, Rome (knowledge of which Wolf surely assumes).
Finally, while the authors maintain some minimal distance from Wolf's views (hinting,
for instance, that one need not share Wolf's belief that patriarchy and capitalism are
leading humanity to disaster), they offer character studies rather than a study of Wolf's
methods of characterization. Only in the final chapter do they turn their attention to extra
-literary events. This leads them to the sensible if unsurprising conclusion that there is a
link between Wolf's bruising experience of the Wende and the retrenching of her utopian
aspirations.

CHLOE PAVER

UNIVERSITY OF EXETER

COPYRIGHT 2008 Modern Humanities Research Association


COPYRIGHT 2009 Gale, Cengage Learning

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