Blindly Working Through the Past

Bookcover Jörg Magenau reviews Christa Wolf's autobiography, in Signandsight (originally in Die Taz):

Las Vegas is not the first place you would associate with Christa Wolf. She doesn't stay long. She sets herself a 60 dollar limit at roulette and stops there. She throws a few joyless coins into the one-armed bandit before retiring wearily to bed, early. A welcome escape from gambling hell. As far as earthly pleasures go, she is not easily led into temptation.

This scene comes at the end of what her publishers somewhat boldly describe as her new “novel”. “Stadt der Engel oder The Overcoat of Dr. Freud” (city of angels or The Overcoat …) is in fact memoirs couched in fiction and it is all about being seduced. It is only here, on the road to Navajo – and the Hopi Indians – that she finally manages to let go and show some interest in the things that come her way: the landscape, the people. It's no coincidence that her journey ends in Death Valley where she glides over into a dream vision. A pull “towards the end” is ever-present in this book. Death nears with old age; it is time to take stock.

In the months beforehand, between September 1992 and May 1993, when Christa Wolf was a guest at the Getty Center in Los Angeles – almost everything revolved around herself and her history, her life in the GDR, socialism, and most of all, the shock that she experienced in the summer of 1992, when the Gauck Authority (for the Stasi Archives -ed.) presented her with the 42 folders of so-called “Stasi victim files” and a slim portfolio that detailed her activities as an “IM”, or informal cooperator, between 1959 and 1962.

The acronym “IM” was the mark of the devil in year two of a reunified Germany. The public had taken to the moral high ground and was in no position to make nuanced differentiations. And now the great moralist herself, Christa Wolf, had been caught red handed.