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001 Stasiland Structure and Form (1)

Structure and Form: ‘Stasiland’
Funder, as an empowered and well-educated contemporary woman in 2002, can be seen as ‘talking back’ to the
GDR regime and its tyrannical, patriarchal worldview (all of the Stasi she interviews are ‘Stasi men’. Research
question: were there any Stasi women?). She documents in detail to encounters of a number of female victims
of the Stasi – Miriam, Julia, Frau Paul. From a feminist perspective, it is a ‘Her-story’ as much as a ‘His-story’.
She is very much concerned with rescuing these individual stories – Julia, Miriam, Frau Paul, Klaus, the Stasi
Men – from the jaws of history. Furthermore, she is very much concerned with showing the reader that history
is many-sided, complex, a tapestry of competing realities. This in itself is a very contemporary (postmodern),
democratic, human, personalizing treatment of history.
Broadly speaking, Funder is saying: I (and we) need to make the effort to acknowledge the humanity of these
individuals despite what their government did. It is an act of rescue/reclamation/resurrection. Her
representation is optimistic, humanizing, empowering in the service of this rescue/reclamation/resurrection.
So… how does Funder strategically construct the text in the service of what she is saying?
And what ‘intended effect’ may she be seeking to have on her readers?
Funder’s non-fiction narrative is a journalistic investigation and excavation of the past.
Because Funder strategically chooses to tell much of this narrative in the present tense, she and its victims are
empowered as chroniclers and survivors of this ‘lost world’ (i.e. they are here, right now, as survivors speaking
to the reader) and it is the disempowered, marginalised ‘Stasi men’ who are the defeated ones.
Funder also strategically constructs the novel as a patchwork of testimonies (in fancy terms: a polyphonic
narrative). This suggests history is not determined by one voice (as it is in ‘NLMG’). Unlike Ishiguro, Funder
instead presents the memories of a group in society as the struggle for many voices to be heard. She ‘rescues’ a
number of marginalised voices from being forgotten by ‘History’ (see ‘authors and their contexts’ above),
especially those of victims. She also suggests in doing this that the nature of history is uncertain, incomplete, an
ongoing battle to be heard waged by the powerful and the less-so. This is democratic, humanising in its effect.
The world of the GDR is also limited by the rules of reality and the technologies available in the Cold-War era.
Their technologies – smell samples, sniffer dogs, wigs, ‘the Black Channel’ often appear pathetically. In this, she
shows the gap between the totalitarian ‘fantasy’ and the totalitarian ‘reality’. Funder shows that individuals and
communities are complex, too complex perhaps for the Stasi’s ‘narrow schema’.
Narrative perspective shifts more often in ‘Stasiland’. Funder inserts herself into the narrative so that we
encounter and return to ‘Anna’s’ story in the first-person present tense. At other times, however, she moves
into the third-person past tense to recount GDR history and/or the experiences of those she meets. The
present tense and the past tense mingle on the page throughout the narrative as they do in the lives of the
characters. Consider this in relation to the quote from the text: ‘the past is never, really, over.’
Because Funder strategically grounds the narrative in the first-person present tense, we identify directly with
Anna (‘I’). The strategic use of present tense also enhances our sense of a story in which the future is open,
indeterminate. This is also true when the people she speaks to speak and act in the present tense. The present
tense arguably humanises and empowers them more, similarly to Ishiguro’s ‘NLMG’.
Furthermore, we hear a range of ‘voices’ throughout the narrative (Miriam, Julia, the Stasi Men, Hagen Koch,
Funder’s incorporation of a multitude of voices also suggests that the past is not determined by one voice). The
past is instead presented as the struggle for many voices to be heard. This arguably is a more hopeful,
democratic take on history. It furthermore helps to further humanise and give dignity to the victims of the GDR
regime. At the same time, it also humanizes the Stasi, knocking them from their pedestal as powerful, faceless
villains and instead presenting them such that we may mock (even sympathise with?) their flaws (see: ‘Funder
is saying’ on page one).
The structure of ‘Stasiland’ can be described as episodic and non-linear. Funder strategically constructs the text
as a series of episodes strung together, each episode exploring the perspective of a different character/voice.
We see this in the chapter titles e.g. ‘Miriam’, ‘Julia has no story’, ‘Klaus’ etc. This episodic structure again
enhances the reader’s sense of history as being the product of competing voices, a messy thing, not the clean
record of events that ‘NLMG’ is presented as.
Funder herself can be seen as a kind of Puzzle-Person ‘working against forgetting, and against time’ as she
reconstructs strands of GDR history through personal testimony. Hers, and the Puzzle People’s, is a work of
reverse-rectification, the opposite of Kathy’s journey in NLMG. Like that of the Puzzle People, her narrative
tapestry can perhaps never be fully completed, but its existence affirms her belief that these individual’s
humanity needs to be recognized (see ‘Funder is saying’, p.1).
This arguably further serves her aim of giving the reader a more humanistic, optimistic view of history and of
the nature of history. The text’s design insists that the story of history belongs as much to the powerless as to
the powerful, that in Funder’s words ‘the stories of individual people must be told’.
‘Stasiland’ features surreal humour ( e.g. the ‘smell jars’ in the Runde Ecke; von Schnitzler criticizing ‘Big
Brother’; Anna’s description of the Lipsi dance; Julia’s encounter at the unemployment office). Funder’s
strategic highlighting of humour in this world further reinforces the statement made by the manager of the
Puzzlers that ‘They [the GDR government] wanted to put everything into their narrow schema, but life simply
didn’t fit into it.’ This humour forcefully implies to the reader how ridiculous the Stasi’s delusion made them.
The humour – Anna’s sometimes mocking take on the Stasi men, that of the victims – can also be regarded as
empowering the ‘little people’ in this way.
On the endings: it is useful to compare the final paragraphs of each book (perhaps at the end of your essay?) to
suggest their tone and their impact on the reader. What final ‘message’ do the books leave their readers with?
Funder’s title ‘Stasiland’ echoes ‘Alice in Wonderland’ – it implies that the world of the GDR is a parallel, often
absurdist reality that Anna, our ‘Alice’, is forever struggling to comprehend.
Funder makes repeated allusions to ‘Alice in Wonderland’ throughout the book. In the opening scene, she first
enters a subway (goes down a rabbit hole?) to visit the Runde Ecke museum; at the Runde Ecke, she describes
that she ‘shrank like Alice’ at its opening doors (in the original, Alice’s size variously shrinks and expands in her
journeys through Wonderland). The sense of absurdism Funder repeatedly injects into the narrative (see Tone)
further complements this sense of the GDR as a parallel, surreal reality: ‘a secret, walled in garden’, ‘a land gone
wrong’ as Funder describes it at various points.
In contrast, Funder also implies that the GDR was a parallel world through her ‘Alice in Wonderland’ references
(see notes on the Title, above).
The landscapes of ‘Stasiland’ variously evoked as grey and crumbling. This urban decay may suggest the
crumbling and disppearing of a history that Funder seeks to record: ‘this is work against forgetting, and against
time.’ (see ‘Funder is saying’ p.1).
In summary, take more of a language-analysis approach to the text: How has the author designed the text? In the
service of what big ideas and to what intended effects on their audience? What characters have they included, and
how have they chosen to portray them? Again, in the service of what big ideas and to what intended effects on their