115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Around Fürstenfelde and Unterleuten: Textual and Digital Explorations of Two Contemporary German Novels

Olivia Albiero, San Francisco State University

Saša Stanišić’s Vor dem Fest (2014) and Juli Zeh’s Unterleuten (2016) share not only their interest in small German villages, but also their publication as both text and digital component. This paper explores how the relations between past and present, closure and openness, individuality and collectivity, facts and fiction in the two narratives help understand the reading experiences the two works encourage and the significance of the digital explorations they offer to their audiences.

Proposal: 

Contemporary literature often invites readers to participate in a manifold experience, pointing to a new form of interaction between texts and their audiences. Some recent German literary works also partake in this practice. In my paper, I explore two contemporary German novels which share not only the topic, but also some modalities of publication, and therefore encourage closer reflection on the projects they pursue. Saša Stanišić’s Vor dem Fest and Juli Zeh’s Unterleuten narrate the story of two villages in rural Brandenburg, in which people from outside the village are mostly perceived as intruders. But while the novels focus on two small communities, their online presence launches them into the open, digital world. Indeed, both novels were not only published as books, but also expanded through an online component. After its first publication in 2014, Vor dem Fest was released as an e-book, enriched with digital contents. For some time, Saša Stanišić also curated a blog about Fürstenfelde, the semi-fictional village at the center of his work, featuring pictures of places that inspired his writing, text passages that were excluded from the published version, and details about his reading tour. When Juli Zeh's novel was published in 2016, it was released along with a website featuring information about the project and an interactive map of the village Unterleuten, annotated with the key places and characters – some of whom also possess an online presence and a Facebook profile. Juli Zeh suggests that, being a social novel of the 21st century, her work differs from similar projects from earlier times. Starting from this consideration, my paper compares the projects of Vor dem Fest and Unterleuten, and their importance as textual and digital cultural products. I argue that the relations between past and present, closure and openness, individuality and collectivity, facts and fiction that frame the events in the narratives also help understand the reading experiences the two works encourage and the significance of the digital explorations they offer to their audiences.

Topic Area: