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Department of European Studies and Modern Languages

Professor Dennis Tate
Emeritus Professor



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Current projects

1.      German Life-Writing in the Twentieth Century

A volume of essays, co-edited with Roger Woods (Nottingham) and Birgit Dahlke (Humboldt, Berlin)

This collection of essays arising from a conference held at the University of Nottingham is currently being prepared for submission in the autumn of 2009 to Camden House, for anticipated publication in 2010. It consists of introductory essays on The Uses of Life-Writing followed by groups of essays on central periods of political upheaval in twentieth-century Germany: the First World War, the Nazi era and the post-unification era.

2.      Remembering the GDR and Germanys Unification Process

An interdisciplinary conference, co-organised with David Clarke and Renate Rechtien (Bath) and Ute Wolfel (Reading), to be held between 14 and 16 September 2009 at the University of Bath. (For full details of the programme, see the departmental webpage.)

This conference is expected to lead to the production of two volumes of essays with a political and a cultural focus respectively, each of which will be edited by two of the conference organisers. They will be ready for submission in 2010.

Established research interests

As my list of publications indicates, the special interest in the culture of the GDR that I first developed in the 1970s has expanded and diversified as the political context has changed since then. Initially I explored the diversification of what had originally been a tightly controlled culture in the wake of dtente. I then focused on the cultural symptoms of what proved to be the terminal crisis of the GDR during the 1980s. The collapse of the GDR was accompanied by the release of huge amounts of archival information and the publication of confessional writing of all kinds which fed into the various historical assessments of the achievements and limitations of East German culture to which I have contributed, while the post-unification problems inherent in integrating East and West German culture have provided another rich field of research over recent years.

In the 1980s I published a monograph on The East German Novel, which traced its emergence from the Marxist theories of the 1930s about literary realism and highlighted the main phases in its development in relation to the three central themes of identity, community and continuity. My analysis of some twenty texts published between the early 1940s and the late 1970s indicated a strong movement away from the ideologically conformist depiction of individuals integrating easily into a dynamic society (adapting the classical model of the Entwicklungsroman) to the presentation of individuals suffering from life-threatening crises arising from deep social alienation (on the model of Georg Bchners Lenz).

The interest aroused by this monograph led to my involvement in a range of conferences and multi-authored volumes elaborating a differentiated view of GDR culture and placing it in various productive comparative contexts.

The opportunity this also provided to focus in more detail on individual East German authors allowed me to draw attention to the achievements of two relatively neglected authors, Franz Fhmann and Gnter de Bruyn, particularly through my monograph on Fhmann (Ideology and Authenticity: A Study of his Prose-Writing) published in 1995 and my two edited volumes on aspects of de Bruyns work, Mrkische Forschungen (1990) and Gnter de Bruyn in Perspective (1999).

My earlier work on the cultural life of the GDR during the era of Germanys division into two states put me in a good position to assess the reasons for the cultural conflicts which accompanied the political process of unification and to promote informed discussion of them, for example in the volume Geist und Macht: Writers and the State in the GDR (1992) which I edited jointly with my colleague Axel Goodbody. I have also been involved in collaborative volumes aimed at a wider readership which have included assessments of various aspects of East German culture from a post-unification perspective, such as German Cultural Studies: An Introduction (edited by Rob Burns, 1995) and the Encyclopedia of Contemporary German Culture (edited by John Sandford, 1999).

The on-going process of taking stock of the achievements of major authors associated with the GDR but also widely appreciated outside that particular context then led to publications on Heiner Mller (see the volume of essays Probleme und Perspektiven jointly edited with Ian Wallace and Gerd Labroisse in 2000), Stephan Hermlin, Uwe Johnson, Volker Braun and Christoph Hein.

The focus of most of my work since 2000 has been autobiographical writing, viewed as a process engaged in by many leading East German authors that began well before the collapse of the GDR and has continued vigorously since unification. This culminated in the publication of my third monograph, Shifting Perspectives: East German Autobiographical Narratives Before and After the End of the GDR, by Camden House in 2007. The volume begins with a theoretical discussion of the close inter-relationship between first-person fiction and explicitly autobiographical texts in the GDR context. It then provides an overview of the conflicts surrounding autobiographical writing from the anticipatory theoretical debates of the 1930s to the present day. The main part of the volume consists of case-studies of the work of Brigitte Reimann, Franz Fhmann, Stefan Heym, Gnter de Bruyn and Christa Wolf, exemplifying the differing patterns this shifting of perspectives has produced over an era of continuing political upheaval.