The Involution of History in Uwe Timm’s Am Beispiel meines Bruders

Gary L. Baker


In Am Beispiel meines Bruders Uwe Timm blends the pain of traumatic loss at the familial level with history writing in a narrative that suggests that trauma is endemic to all the writings and family stories that he employs. In order to elucidate Timm’s distinctive approach to history the essay combines Cathy Caruth’s disputed trauma-as-history equation with the notion of involution as a manner of interpreting culture. In an investigation of the past on simultaneous familial and national levels Timm embeds an intimate scene of his father sobbing. This scene serves as a prime instance of trauma-as-history and an illustration of how Timm’s narrative involutes history back into the trauma that is endemic to its writing in the first place. Timm’s work synthesizes both traumatic and historical elements, creating a narrative formula that precludes the dissociating effects of what Erich Santner calls “narrative fetishism.” His work leads instead to a narrative with an embedded elaborating quality that instills active reflection and differentiating perspectives in the reader. Where past events are viewed through the trauma that they cause, history is involuted thus creating a paradigmatic rather than syntagmatic form in its conflation of national, familial and (auto) biographical history. (GLB)

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