Collections > Electronic Theses and Dissertations > Murderous Mothers: Feminist Violence in German Literature and Film (1970-2000)
Available after 6 July, 2019

This dissertation analyzes literary and filmic representations of violent mothers from late 20th-century Germany. It employs feminist theories of language and theories of the voice and the body in film to enhance close readings of texts in which female protagonists defy gendered expectations by perpetrating acts of aggression. Through an interplay between thematic violence and the transgression of aesthetic conventions, these works generate an imaginary of feminist violence that advances feminist politics. Highlighting this dynamic reveals female bodies and voices as important sites for working through both past and contemporary violence in the German context. In addition, this work has broader theoretical significance as an intermediary between feminist theories of language and materialist feminist theories. Instead of strategies for emancipation, these texts generate female subjectivities that are engaged, not in assertions of individuality, but in collective and collaborative storytelling practices. The first chapter considers Dea Loher’s Manhattan Medea (1999) and Christa Wolf’s Medea. Stimmen (1996). Both of these texts use the story of Medea to come to terms with a historical context in which the voices of outsiders are excluded. To counteract repetitive mythmaking, these texts push the formal boundaries of genre, advocating for heterogeneous storytelling in which more than one voice is expressed. The second chapter analyzes Elfriede Jelinek’s Lust (1989) in terms of pornographic and melodramatic tropes. By contrasting pornography (with its emphasis on fulfilled desire) and melodrama (with its emphasis on thwarted desire), Jelinek confronts the inescapable violence in even the most intimate human relationships. The third chapter discusses Margarethe von Trotta’s film about the militant violence of the Red Army Faction, Die bleierne Zeit (1981). By highlighting this film’s engagement with the mythological story of Antigone, this chapter demonstrates how the sisters in the film engage in collaborative mothering and memory work. The final chapter brings together R.W. Fassbinder’s Martha (1974) and Helma Sanders-Brahms’s Deutschland, bleiche Mutter (1980). The protagonists of both films are drawn into cycles of domestic violence that leave them paralyzed and prone to acts of self harm, thereby alerting viewers to the ways in which they have uncritically accepted narratives about gender, history, and marriage.