Moments of possibility: Holocaust postmemory, subjunctivity, and futurity in Katja Petrowskaja’s Vielleicht Esther (2014) und Robert Menasse’s Die Hauptstadt (2017)

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This article examines subjunctive approaches to history and memory as a novel aesthetic and ethical mode of Holocaust (post-)memory in two prominent examples of contemporary German-Jewish fiction. I argue that Katja Petrowskaja’s Vielleicht Esther (2014) and Robert Menasse’s Die Hauptstadt (2017) develop subjunctive modes of Holocaust (post-)memory as a response to a crisis of witnessing in the post-survivor era. Faced with the dying out of the survivor generation and the increasing institutionalization and hypermediation of Holocaust memories, these two authors invoke the subjunctive to self-reflexively account for their historical positionality and critique monolithic memory discourses (Petrowskaja), while also aiming to (re-)invest a stagnant culture of Holocaust memory with political urgency and futurity (Menasse). Subjunctivity thus emerges as a central yet underexamined mode of contemporary German Jewish writing which has the potential to transform wider cultures of Holocaust (post-)memory, by moving ‘beyond the traumatic’ (Rigney 2018) in the direction of futurity.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)406-426
Number of pages21
JournalForum for Modern Language Studies
Issue number4
Early online date23 Oct 2020
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2021