The role of the fool and the carnivalesque in post-1945 German prose fiction on the Third Reich
This thesis examines post-1945 German prose fiction dealing with the Third Reich in the light of Mikhail Bakhtin's Rabelais and his World. My review of the secondary literature in Chapter 1 shows how few Germanists have examined the role of the carnivalesque in such fiction or used Bakhtin's work systematically. Having set out the shortcomings of Bakhtin's theory and shown Carnival's ambivalent position in the Third Reich, Chapter 2 builds on this theoretical and historical foundation by giving an overview of the different ways in which authors deploy the Fool and the carnivalesque in post-1945 prose fiction. This overview provides a context for the rest of the thesis, in which I discuss in detail how four authors use the topoi of the Fool and the carnivalesque in different ways to confront the past and encourage social change. Thus, Chapter 3 analyses Hans Hellmut Kirst's 08/15 trilogy (1954-55) which describes Asch's carnivalesque subversion of the NCOs who abuse power within the Army, and his subsequent development into a positive figure of authority. Chapter 4 argues that, beneath its bleak surface, Günter Grass's Hundejahre (1963) deploys the carnivalesque to transmit a sense of mourning and rebirth after the Holocaust. Chapter 5 deals with Edgar Hilsenrath's Der Nazi and der Friseur (1977), whose Fool-protagonist provokes the reader to laugh at earlier attempts to make sense of the Holocaust in order to prioritize the act of anamnesis as an end in itself. Chapter 6 examines Gert Hermann's Veilchenfeld (1987) and Der Kinoerzähler (1990). Veilchenfeld is a carnivalesque signifier of Nature whose persecution at the hands of the people of Limbach parallels the town's ecological destruction, so that the novel can be read as a critique of the exploitation of Nature. In Der Kinoerzähler Hofmann uses Karl, a Fool-figure who narrates silent films, to encourage the development of critical faculties which combat the fatalism and authoritarianism that hamper social change. It becomes clear that the authors of the above works have anticipated the shortcomings of Carnival as a model of resistance and have thus redefined the Fool and the carnivalesque. So in my view, although the way the authors deploy these topoi maps only partially with Bakhtin's ideas about Carnival, these authors have understood the central concepts of the carnivalesque's ambivalence and its powers to subvert authority and use them productively to deal with the issues raised by the Third Reich.