Through a comparison of Wenn wir sterben (When We Die, 2002) by Ernst-Wilhelm Händler and wir schlafen nicht (We Never Sleep 2004) by Kathrin Röggla I intend to prove the thesis that both writers reveal the symptoms of a crisis in today's society, as determined by the deepening globalization in the economic, social, and cultural spheres where flexibility (as characterized by Richard Sennett in The Corrosion of Character, 1998) is an essential feature enabling an individual to adapt to a fast-changing world and to the employment conditions of neoliberal states. Influenced by Richard Sennett, they illustrate the negative consequences of the new economy on German society: the insecure situation of individuals is determined by unpredictable fluctuations of the free market and by the virtual economy (c.f. Jean Baudrillard), mechanisms of which appear to common people as a sphere of “hyperreality,” deepening the alienation of individuals. Both writers portray interesting female characters, impressed by the success propaganda in the media, trying to use the opportunities of the free market to gain independence. However, at the end of the works, they become disillusioned when confronted with intrigues followed by their bankruptcy or dismissal. Both writers argue that the main crisis in today's global society is the financialization of all spheres of life and the subordination of the individual to the dictates of mass culture, which popularizes idealized pictures of success and a fashionable lifestyle while avoiding responsibility for the losers in globalization, that is, the weakest members of society. Contemporary authors also have been developing a critical interpretation of the achievements of women's emancipation, pointing not only to woman-hostile work conditions, but also to the loss of family bonds in general and to the automatization of all aspects of life, where personal contact is replaced by phone calls and the Internet. Under the influence of the media's images of globalization, women try to fit the expectations of the male-dominated corporate world, while a focus on profit results in the loss of moral values. Both authors come to the conclusion that materialistic-oriented civilization is nearing its end. According to Ernst-Wilhelm Händler and Kathrin Röggla, literature must be engaged more in societal questions and should shed light on the negative results of globalization in the cultural, economic, and social spheres in order to assist readers in rethinking their own life priorities.
Global Crises in Ernst-Wilhelm Händler's Wenn Wir Sterben (When We Die) and Kathrin Röggla's Wir Schlafen Nicht (We never Sleep)
ewa wojno-owczarska is Assistant Professor at the Institute of German Studies, University of Warsaw. She studied German literature, history, international relations and South-Eastern European Studies in Warsaw and Jena. In 1999, she completed her studies with distinction. In 2001, she received a scholarship from the Bavarian Ministry of Research, Science and Arts, which allowed her to continue her research in Munich. She received her Ph.D. in 2003. Her research interests are contemporary literature, the history of culture in German-speaking countries and the relationship between literature and music. In 2014, she was awarded the Humboldt Research Fellowship for Experienced Researchers to finish her habilitation in Berlin. Since 2016, she has been the leader of the international projects “Globalisierungsdiskurse in Literature und Film des 20. und 21. Jahrhunderts” (in cooperation with HU Berlin and ELTE Budapest) and “Topographien der Globalisierung/Topographies of Globalization.”
Ewa Wojno-Owczarska; Global Crises in Ernst-Wilhelm Händler's Wenn Wir Sterben (When We Die) and Kathrin Röggla's Wir Schlafen Nicht (We never Sleep). Comparative Literature Studies 15 May 2018; 55 (2): 303–325. doi: https://doi.org/10.5325/complitstudies.55.2.0303
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