Paul O’Hanrahan has recently been awarded his PhD in CLAS, entitled ‘Berlin in English-language Fiction, 1989-2009: Spatial Representation and the Dynamics of Memory’, for which we congratulate him most warmly. Paul has kindly written an accoint of his work for the blog.
I was delighted to hear recently that I had been awarded a PhD for my research on the topic of ‘Berlin in English-language Fiction, 1989-2009: Spatial Representation and the Dynamics of Memory’. As you may read in more detail here, it is the culmination of six years of work which began in the Department of Cultures, Languages and Area Studies at the University of Liverpool in 2008.
The excitement of this particular area of research was linked to its innovative and inter-disciplinary nature: there is very little scholarship on the representation of Berlin in the English-language, so I felt that here was an opportunity to define a field of study. On the other hand, this presented its own challenges, as I worked in terrain that was illuminated by both Contemporary Literature Studies and German Studies, yet remained to some extent distinct from both.
Over the years, I refined a methodology based on genre and spatial memory to engage with the recurrent explorations of the past that dominate English-language Berlin fiction after 1989. I found that the present often conditioned memory in thrillers: the focus of German unification on Berlin in the 1990s and 2000s was refracted variously through the Nazi Berlin of Robert Harris, the post-war ‘rubble Berlin’ of Joseph Kanon or the playful, Weimar-influenced contemporary Berlin imagined by Louise Welsh. Another consequence of the fall of the Wall, was what might be called Britalgia: a specifically British nostalgia for Cold War Berlin in novelists such as Ian McEwan, John le Carré and James Lasdun.
In the final chapter of my thesis, I looked more closely at the specific nature of English-language Berlin fiction by exploring its outsider perspective. A degree of detachment is evident in contemporary novels by Chloe Aridjis and Anna Winger: here negotiation of the city is inextricable from confrontations with its past. Distance takes on a spatial dimension for Irish-German author, Hugo Hamilton, who continues to adopt the stance of an outsider on his many fictional returns to the city. I posit that Hamilton’s three, pre-2009, Berlin novels are in themselves a work of memory in that they can be read together as a fictional chronicle of how the city responded to the processes of unification.
I am grateful to my supervisors, Dr. Lyn Marven and Professor Charles Forsdick, for their invaluable support throughout this project which was manifested in the form not only of expertise and wisdom, but also of commitment and enthusiasm. I would also like to thank Dr. Andrew Plowman for his substantial contribution over many years and to extend my gratitude to other members of the Department who have given me advice during the course of my research.