Nachdenken über Christa T.
[This page by Ernest Schonfield]
Nachdenken über Christa T. ; The Quest for Christa T. (1968)
In this novel, an unnamed female narrator describes the life of her friend Christa T. who died of leukaemia aged 35, leaving behind her husband Justus and three young children.
The story begins in the early 1940s with the collapse of the Third Reich, and it ends with Christa T.’s death in the mid-1960s.
In the preface, the narrator says that Christa T. does not need us, but ‘we’ definitely need to remember her: ‘wir brauchen sie’ (we need her, p. 8). This is because Christa T. represents the values that ‘we’ need. ‘We’ includes not only the citizens of the GDR, but also the entire human race. Christa T.’s values are ‘Gewissen’ (conscience) and ‘Phantasie’ (imagination, fantasy). These two words are Christa T.’s answers to the question: ‘Was halten Sie für unerläßlich für den Fortbestand der Menschheit?’ (What do you consider to be indispensible for the continuing survival of the human race?, p. 169).
These values (conscience and imagination) mean that Christa T. is opposed to the narrow-minded conformists who seem to occupy positions of authority in the GDR, such as Dr Gertrud Dölling (née Born), who insists on facts. The narrator cherishes the memory of Christa T. precisely because she represents an antidote to the conformism of Dölling and her kind. The narrator explains: ‘sie [Christa T.] hat genau die Art Phantasie gehabt, die man braucht, um [unsere Welt] wirklich zu erfassen – denn, was man auch sagen mag, mir graut vor der neuen Welt der Phantasielosen. Der Tatsachenmenschen’ (She [Christa T.] had exactly the kind of imagination that we need in order, genuinely, to understand our world – for whatever people say, I am horrified by the new world of the unimaginative people, the ‘fact people’, pp. 53-54). While functionaries like Dölling represent conformity to the accepted wisdom of ‘facts’, Christa T. asks awkward questions, and reflects, in search of new ideas and potentialities. Dölling is associated with another character, Blasing, the vet’s assistant who becomes a journalist, whose key talent is to pigeonhole people. While Dölling and Blasing are quick to judge people and dismiss them, Christa T. stands for a slower and more profound way of thinking.
It is significant that, at teacher training college, Christa T.’s close friend Günter is criticised for his excessively subjective interpretation of Schiller’s play Kabale und Liebe (Intrigue and Love/Luise Miller). The aim of the assignment is to emphasise the socio-economic aspects of the play. Günter fails, because he stresses the subjective, emotional content of the play, and this infringes the ideological conventions of the GDR (pp. 68-69).
Christa T.’s characteristic yell, ‘Hooohaahoo’, at the beginning of the novel (p. 14), expresses her role as a disruptive, unpredictable element in a society which seems too narrowly ordered. The narrator realizes that Christa T. is special, precisely because she gives voice to aspects of experience that are usually repressed: ‘Ich fühlte auf einmal mit Schrecken, daß es böse endet, wenn man alle Schreie frühzeitig in sich erstickt, ich hatte keine Zeit mehr zu verlieren’ (Suddenly I felt, with terror, that things will end badly if you stifle all the cries within you too soon. I had no more time to lose. p.16).
The novel foregrounds its own fictional status, as Chloe Paver has shown (see below, pp. 89-90).
Page references in brackets are to the German edition: Christa Wolf, Nachdenken über Christa T. (Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 1991).
Christa Wolf, The Quest for Christa T., trans. by Christopher Middleton (London: Hutchinson, 1971)
Elizabeth Boa, ‘Unnatural Causes: Modes of Death in Christa Wolf’s Nachdenken über Christa T. and Ingeborg Bachmann’s Malina’ in Arthur Williams, Stuart Parkes and Roland Smith (eds.), German Literature at a Time of Change 1989-1990 (Bern: Peter Lang, 1991), pp. 139-54
Chloe Paver, ‘Christa Wolf: Nachdenken über Christa T.’ in Paver, Narrative and Fantasy in the Postwar German Novel (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), pp. 84-116