The Punctum of Lived Experience or an Autobiographic Reading of Herta Muller’s The Appointment (1997)

  • Abstract:

    As Danuta Zadworna Fjellestad argues, there is a danger of handling Europe as if it were “a cultural – if not political –unity.” Such a view tends to dismiss the fact that during the nearly four decades following WWII, “at least two generations of Central and East Europeans have grown up in a political and social system which created specific cultural techniques for constructing, monitoring, and controlling the self, techniques which were radically different from those in the West.” Eastern European post-communist autobiographic fiction reflects upon this historical and cultural experience. This presentation looks at the autobiographic fiction and autofiction of Herta Muller, recipient of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Literature, and the ways in which Muller evokes a past profoundly marked by authoritarianism. Member of the German ethnic community in Transylvania, Romania and living currently in Germany, Muller’s novels: The Appointment (1997), The Land of Green Plums (1994), The Passport (2007), and The Hunger Angel (2009) involve complex negotiations with memories of the past: of ideological indoctrination, of fear and helplessness experienced at the hands of Nicolae Ceausescu’s dictatorial regime. Through her narrative reflections on communism as a lived personal and historical experience, Muller’s autofiction contributes to “the shaping, and misshaping [of] the new European ‘order’” and of the necessary myth of the united Europe (Judt, “The Past,” 84). Her writings call attention to that “other Europe” and the exigencies of a “new” European identity within the European Union. Being kept on a waiting list to be measured by European standards, Eastern European countries entered the “cosmopolitan union of Europe” with a set of different dynamics, stemming from different psycho-social and historical realities, than those of the ipse facto European nations whose belonging has never been questioned in the first place (Beck 196). Remembering a past lived differently, such post-communist narratives impose the necessity for a more nuanced understanding of European memory and of the historical conditions it narrates.