For VCE English (with regards to Anna Funder's Stasiland)

The essay topic is: "To remember or forget - which is healthier?"

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definitely to remember

1 Answer


STASILAND: "To remember or forget - which is healthier?"
You may find the following articles revealing:

Living with the past? Should we forget or remember? A dilemma - to remember or to forget? To perhaps gain "closure" from some past physical or emotional trauma by confronting it or by letting it go? Which between "remembering" or "forgetting" creates more private or social well-being? Or is there a third option? Forgiving - and is this even considered? Which provides "health"? What is "health" - freedom from trauma, management of pain? Can a "country" be seen as suffering "ill health"? Can a nation be diagnosed "healthy" or in "ill-health"? Does a "collective memory" embody collective guilt or collective innocence or collective amnesia?

Funder's “Stasiland” provides a relatively balanced but personalised analysis of the rise and then demise of East Germany after 1945 and from Communist occupation to re-unification and democracy. Most potently, Funder "records" the personal testimonies (memories) of how both the victims and perpetrators she interviews were affected by such sweeping changes. As a journalist, while she may bias our interpretation towards the victims of the "Stasi" she does not glibly provide simple answers, but she does perhaps re-emphasise both the dangers of forgetting and the dread of remembering the past – the tyranny and fascism of Nazi Germany and the East German totalitarian regime which supplanted it - "to remember or forget— which is healthier? To demolish or fence it off? To dig it up or leave it in the ground?”

Chapter 5: The Linoleum Palace: Funder has been touched by Miriam’s story. Returning to her Berlin apartment, Julia, her landlord, is removing more of her possessions from the linoleum-floored rooms.Many buildings in this area are aging and clearly neglected. It seems self-evident that the current government are not clear about what they should do about them. Funder wonders: ‘To remember or forget—which is healthier?’ Does changing street names, introducing western style trams and the selling luxury baked goods (p. 52) really change anything? Funder's curiosity then motivates her to advertise in a Potsdam newspaper looking to interview former Stasi officers and collaborators: ‘I am curious about what it must have been like to be on the inside of the Firm, and then to have that world and your place in it disappear’ (p. 53).

Some Quotes to Consider:
Funder: I remember things I haven’t remembered before—things that do not come out of the ordered store of memories I call my past. I remember my mother’s moustache in the sun, I remember the acute hunger-and-loss feeling of adolescence, I remember the burnt-chalk smell of tram brakes in summer. You think you have your past filed away under subject headings but, somewhere, it waits to reconnect itself. (Chapter 1)
Funder: He was angry, telling me that history is made of personal stories. He said that issues were being swept under the carpet in East Germany, and people along with them. It took twenty years after the war, he said, for the Nazi regime even to begin to be discussed in Germany, and that that process is repeating itself now. ‘Will it be 2010 or 2020 before what happened there is remembered?’ he wrote. And, ‘Why are some things easier to remember the more time has passed since they occurred?’ (Chapter 2)
Funder on Frau Paul: I know there are places that I don't visit, some even that I prefer not to drive past, where bad things have happened. But here she is in the place that broke her, and she is telling me about it.
Julia: "We easterners have an advantage, perhaps, in that we can remember and compare two kinds of systems. . . . But I don't know if that's an advantage. I mean you see the mistakes of one system - the surveillance - and the mistakes of the other - the inequality - but there's nothing you could have done in the one, and nothing you can do now about the other. . . . And the clearer you see that, the worse you feel."
About Koch: He is “the only person alive who can represent, in his documents and photocopies and photographs, the Wall from the eastern side. Perhaps this is because most people on that side want to forget it.“
Funder: Things have been put behind glass, but they are not yet over (p. 276). (TBC in comments)

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Funder visits museums, where she can see posters, smell jars and all the Stasi "trivia". All these items are "real" but each carries a memory, but Funder is more focused on personal histories, indelible memories that cannot be publicly displayed in a museum. Traumatic emotions such as grief, loss, betrayal, disloyalty, paranoia, horror and anger are not museum exhibits. Whether victim or perpetrator, emotional or psychological, most life-altering consequences for both victims and perpetrators have been internalised; become part of a person's memory, whether for good or for bad. For some there is no resolution from the past or in the present - Miriam, Julia or Frau Paul, even for some of the ex-Stasi. On the other hand, for ordinary Germans too there is peculiar "nostalgia" for the past that is at odds with current lives which they live. Is this "nostalgia" healthy or unhealthy, or is it an historical phenomenon where looking back we see the world as either perfectly terrible or perfectly great?
This is very similar to a previous question: Engaging with the past is necessary in order to move forward with the future?

Funder is fascinated by understanding how people deal with the past, their own past as well as the collective notions that we have of the past.

For Miriam, Julia and Frau Paul - all perhaps classified as victims - recalling the past is traumatic rather than healing. What experiences would each person like to forget? Is their "health" affected?
Miriam has suffered immense grief with Charlie’s unexplained death and her imprisonment. She has invested considerable emotional energy in her search for answers and lives a life ‘suspended’.

Julia has psychotherapy during which she slowly reveals her past traumas to Funder. She purposefully withdrew from society following imprisonment by the Stasi. She also has to deal with the trauma of being raped after the fall of "The Wall". Believing that by confronting the past Julia can move on with her life her psychotherapist, she searches for her Italian boyfriend's.letters. Does this provide her with release and closure? Does Julia ending up in California suggest something about "health" through confrontation, or has she just run away to a new life?Klaus tends not to dwell too much on the past and does not resent what happened, perhaps allowing him to "live and let live"?

On the other hand, Funder also interviews those who work to keep the memories of the GDR fresh. There are those volunteers who "maintain the rage" making sure that the uncompromising control that the Stasi had over East Germans is exhibited through the museums. Many help preserve the buildings, keep the store archives, exhibit photos as well as providing guided tours, e.g. Hohenschönhausen Prison.

But there are those who would clearly like to forget the past:
"You know, they just want to stop thinking about the past. They want to pretend it all didn’t happen’ (p.45).
Funder biases our sympathies (you may wish to question whether she does that or not?) towards her belief that memory of the past, as a personal. private or public record, must be maintained in order to honour the victims and to record the abuse carried out by the GDR government through the Stasi so that is should not be forgotten - not be buried. Equally, Funder draws our attention to the lack of prescience shown by the GDR when she observes: "what it must have been like for those to be on the inside of the Firm, and then to have that world and your place in it disappear" (p. 53).

There are many examples that you could draw upon yourself to demonstrate the those views that are nostalgic and those who express an embarrassment with the past - Ostalgie and Winz.

If "history" can be considered a "collective memory" that, as Funder suggests, often excludes the persona, the individual in favour of the larger brush of history, we exclude personal testimony at our peril as each person 's current and future life is in some way influenced by the events of the past. This gives rise to certain "insecurities" in some.

This essay question asks the reader to consider the "health" and "ill-health" derived from past events as they are 'remembered" and as they have been (deliberately?) "forgotten". You also may need to think about how Funder reveals her interviewees' "past" both through her own interventions as a narrator and how she allows her subjects to speak for themselves so as to "relive" their past, with a view to "moving on" with their future. "Healthy" memories are not necessarily "healed" memories? There are clearly "scars" ...
In some sense this is a "confessional narrative" that suggest optimistically that only by exploring the past can a person move on to a "healthier" future.

If Funder is "engaging" us in the past, then we must also consider why some of her subjects have chosen (often) to forget their past, or even hide it, while others are still emotionally and physically scarred by their experiences, and others remain unrepentant.

Structuring your essay may depend on whether you agree or disagree about whether it is better "to let sleeping dogs lie" or to "poke around in the ashes" until a the flame of memory" is rekindled? And to what purpose is a memory? We may often underestimate "forgetting" or the need to forget?

Perhaps Funder is asking us to question whether Germany is truly "reunified" or that older enmities still exist just under the surface? That nothing is really ever quite forgotten?
Look at each individual character's story and explore whether they have resolved their past (gained closure and "health"?) or whether they have left it behind or still carry open scars.

Look at how their current existence is influenced by their past (perpetrator or victim) and whether they have “moved on”. Why do some? Why can some? And why do some not care?

Finally, your conclusion should reflect on the term “healthier” and on those who appear relieved by unburdening their past, those who are apathetic and those who are unrepentant. Where do your sympathies as a reader fall?

You may like to consider: http://learnink.info/stasi2013/Stasiland.html and http://learnink.info/stasi2013/Funder2.html

“And I’m painting a picture of a city on the old fault-line of east and west. This is working against forgetting, and against time.’ (p. 147)

In engaging with an unrecorded past, Funder’s biased narrative emphasises the personal and private nature of the history of the everyday person caught up in events over which they have very little control.

Perhaps “forgetting” is a form of "health" just as much as “remembering” is a form of testimony to an injustice that can never be righted in the hope that it will not be repeated?