Thursday, September 09, 2004

Die alte Heimat

Hugo Hamilton says that the German are a lonely people. When they are abroad, he says they tend to forget where they come from and long to be invisible. In their attempt to exorcise their collective demons, they deny their heritage and essentially became homeless people, intellectually and otherwise. Oh, and they have guilt. They have so much guilt, of which they are reminded repeatedly.

At the end of it all, Hamilton hints that there is no German identity, which belies everything that has preceded his sad conclusion. The German are ashamed, guilty, and remorseful; this is their identity.

I was very close to showing this article to my parents, who happen to be German, but two reasons prevented this from happening:

1) Not wanting to raise their ire on a peaceful and otherwise guilt-free, remorseless summer evening, and

2) Their pending departure to a German club wherein they would meet their German friends, who collectively form a German choir that sings German songs, after which they would eat German food and drink German beer. Jawohl!

I sort of understand where Hamilton is coming from, but find his predisposition to generalizations at once exaggerated and distressing. I don't like that he uses Bernhard Schlink's The Reader as an example of the identity-less German psyche, which is also a work that heavily features so-called 'second generation' guilt in a post-war Germany. Why no mention of Sebald or Grass? Not every German that dares to speak forthrightly is shaking in his boots.

I realize that I probably don't completely get what Germans are living through and have lived through since the middle of the twentieth century. I am merely the Canadian offspring of immigrants who left a country called Deutschland forty-eight years ago. But I do get this: they feel no guilt and no shame, and of that I am proud.

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