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With regards to the VCE English text 'Stasiland' - How does Anna Funder demonstrate that engaging with the past is necessary in order to move forward with the future?


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Is engaging with the past is necessary in order to move forward with the future?

This essay question asks that your answer considers "how" the writer reveals the "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. In some sense this is a "confessional narrative" that suggest optimistically that only by exploring the past can a person move on to a "better" 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 are emotionally and physically scarred by their experiences, and others remain unrepentant.

Structuring your essay may depend on whether you agree or disagree that “we cannot move on to the future” until we have resolved the past. Perhaps Funder is asking us as individuals whether indeed we are prepared to face our personal pasts rather than accept the broader brush stroke of history that views Germany as reunified. Following that look at each character and explore how they have resolved their past (through Funder's interpretation) and 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”. Finally, your conclusion should reflect on the term “necessary” and on those who appear relieved of their past, those who are apathetic and those who are unrepentant.

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)

Here, Anna Funder, the Australian journalist and foreign outsider, a fluent German speaker, swims her way through the symbolic “flotsam and jetsam” of the “new” Germany, a Berlin swimming pool. She recalls her own national heritage (Dawn Fraser, Shane Gould and Susie O’Neil) and the drug-enhanced East German athletes that tried to dominate the pool in Olympic competition. The overburdening nature of conventional ideological achievement that passes as history, suddenly seems an inadequate explanation in relation to the individual private lives of so many East Germans (whether tragic, heroic or apathetic, whether victim, perpetrator or compliant citizen) who were the victims of the Stasi regime. Funder resists the idea to forget.

Funder’s East German “past” is a place and time for contention and personal struggle, between the private lives of people and the coercive and corrupt ideologies of a state’s communist bureaucracy. In returning both the victims and the perpetrators to their “past” through her interrogative intrusions, Funder absorbs them (and us) in a moral deliberation that condemns or absolves, reveals or re-conceals a personal history that may not have been told without Funder’s persistence.
By the end of Funder’s journey, however, we may still ask has this “Ostalgie” freed her subjects from the past? Has each subject’s previously private concealment been “necessary” in order to forget what cannot be resolved? A personal injustice that will never be righted? And perhaps ultimately, how can re-visiting the past reconcile events that appear irreconcilable?

Germany’s dual history following the 2nd Word War does not comfortably suture together following its reunification and nor does Funder’s eloquence advance a harmonious future. It may, however, bear witness to continuing underlying tensions and an unresolved tragedies that might well be ignored or indeed remain unrecorded.

There are a number of approaches that can be taken to answering this question - Yes I know, obvious! But how you "see" the text and how your sympathies are developed towards and against certain characters, as well as your historical understanding of the generally repressive GDR context and the Stasi-controlled East Germany, will tend to focus your essay. Be aware of your assumptions and test them!

The perspective that Funder offers is that of a journalist (first person biased narration, and perhaps even unreliable?) and not that of the historian, yet we are left with the impressions that we have been "told" authentic stories that recapture the "past". Her “non-fiction travelogue” with its “quasi-documentary” or “investigative journalism” style, infers verifiable truths, but she herself (as the narrator) creates open bias and her findings are really not surprising. On the other hand, her gifts as a story teller are notable.

Similarly, your personal perspective may observe that Funder constructs a series of interconnected, parallel and contrastive private narratives that serve (at first glance) to produce the stereotypical "Benevolent Democratic West" versus the "Corrupt Communist East". That view, however, may or may not be superficial, but as a reader you are clearly being positioned to sympathise or express incredulity through Funder’s search for “forgotten truths” and the revelations of her characters. The personal narratives she “reports”, as well as her own often quirky interventions, provide connectivity, suspense and narrative continuity.

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 relief, a form of resolution or even redemption, just as much as “remembering” is a form testimony to an injustice that can never be righted? Funder has perhaps demonstrated that engagement with the past may not be necessary at a national level, but it may be contingent if we are to move on to the future as individuals ...


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