FDGB Factory Reports as (Literary) Text

Friday, January 7, 2011: 9:50 AM
Yarmouth Room (Marriott Boston Copley Place)
Mathieu Denis , Université de Montréal, Montreal, QC, Canada
East German factory reports have traditionally been used for information regarding employment statistics, worker conditions, and managerial concerns. They are much more. In this paper, I suggest how German union (FDGB) factory reports, as historical sources, are more fruitfully considered within a historical-literary context. Between ideological phrases, these reports offer a rich picture of workers' public and private lives. That is to say, what on the surface appears as a straightforward, dry, formulaic bureaucratic report can actually be turned in to a literary text whose "voice" reveals a world otherwise obscured by the very language that gives it the ability to speak to the historian. The implications for this paper go beyond understanding worker culture in modern Germany. Ultimately, I offer a framework for reconsidering the ways that formulaic documents can be read as lively, even surprising, texts. In this sense, this paper crosses multiple disciplinary boundaries, including labor history, literary/textual analysis, ego-histoire, and industrial relations studies. Texts that appear at first glance to be no more than a summary narrative of expected phraseology, I argue, are also complex and fluid literary texts to be analyzed and even enjoyed in much the same way that traditional literature has become part of historical analyses. In this sense, questions of mediation, inter-textuality, and literary analysis must now be included in the historian's "toolbox."