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Author of the Month: Robert Blankenship

Published: September 18, 2017

Suicide in East German Literature: Fiction, Rhetoric, and the Self-Destruction of Literary Heritage

Robert Blankenship, assistant professor, Romance/German/Russian Languages and Literatures

Newly arrived this year from Camden House, this 200-page text is Blankenship’s first book. This study of fictional suicides in East German literature provides insight into the complex and dynamic rhetoric of the German Democratic Republic (GDR/East Germany) and the literariness of its literature. Blankenship argues that the many fictional suicides in the literature of the GDR have been misunderstood. “The common assumption is that authoritarian oppression in East Germany led to an abundance of real suicides and that fictional suicides in GDR literature constitute a simple, realistic reflection of East German society,” said the member of the university since 2016. It was Blankenship’s goal to provide both a history of suicide in GDR literature and close readings of individual texts to reveal that far from reflecting historical suicides, the novels of the period contain rich literary attributes such as intertextuality and unorthodox narrative strategies. Blankenship hopes this study offers insight into the complex and dynamic rhetoric of the GDR. It is his underlying claim that East German literature ought to be read as just that – literature. “Suicide has never played a role in my personal life,” he explained. “If someone close to me had killed himself, I might not have been able to write this book. For me, this book is about reading fiction as fiction using literary theory.” Blankenship feels his views of the theme of suicide have evolved by writing the book. “We should not just think in order to write,” he said. “We ought to write in order to think.” This book traces German literary heritage everywhere from ancient Greeks to Shakespeare to Goethe. The roots of suicide as a theme in East German literature began in the 1970s with the rise to power of Erich Honecker who led East Germany until shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. “He delivered an important speech

Charles Harper Webb book image

that denied any taboos in East German literature as long as the writers began from `the standpoint of socialism.’ However, the twin taboos of literary heritage and suicide began to unravel at the same time. After all, who decides who starts from the standpoint of socialism?” Blankenship urges the community to read his new text. “I would tell potential readers not to be intimidated,” he said. “It reads well, it is not too long and is written with the educated undergraduate reader in mind.” Blankenship came to CSULB from Transylvania University in Lexington, Ky. He received his Ph.D. in German from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2011.