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Female Allegory and the Critique of German History in Helma Sanders-Brahms's
Deutschland Bleiche Mutter
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Dr Teresa Ludden
Hipkins, D; Plain, G
War-Torn Tales: Literature, Film and Gender in the Aftermath of World War II
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In 'The Origin of German Tragic Drama' (1925) Walter Benjamin makes an important distinction between symbol and allegory and argues that symbol and allegory relate to historical time and the modes of its expression. Using Benjamin's ideas I argue that images in Sanders-Brahms's 1979 film, hitherto seen as symbols (of German suffering or guilt) can be interpreted in the allegorical mode. The argument centres on the image of the mother's paralysed face and the montage of documentary footage of German cities lying in ruins. Connections are made with Thomas Elsaesser's use of the Freudian concept of 'Fehlleistung' (parapraxis) and his application of this concept to the films of the male directors of New German Cinema in which he discerns a ‘performative failure’ to address the Holocaust and German-Jewish relations in post-war Germany. I argue that Elsaesser's argument can be expanded and developed by considering displacement and forgetting in 'Deutschland Bleiche Mutter'. The film highlights this through three main strategies: the use of melodramatic devices where unrepresentable or ineffable elements are indirectly alluded to via music and the mise-en-scène; highlighting and performing silence and silencing; and the use of the traditional alignments of women with silence and the body to allow allusion to the unrepresented which is not communicated in the public sphere.
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