Reading the city: Prague in Czech and Czech-German narrative fiction since 1989
In the course of its history, Prague has been the site of many significant cultural confrontations and conversations. From the medieval chronicle of Cosmas to the work of contemporary writers, the city has taken shape in literature as a multivalent space where identities are constructed and questioned. The evolution of Prague’s literary significance has taken place in a multicultural context: both Czech-speaking and German-speaking writers have engaged with the city and its past, and their texts have interacted with each other. The city has played a central part in many collective narratives in which myth, history and literature intertwine. What role has Prague taken on in literary explorations of place and identity in the post-socialist era? How do authors engage with the myths and memories of the city, its contemporary and remembered meanings?
This thesis discusses the works of both Czech and Czech-German writers in the light of these questions. It will analyse two German-speaking emigrant authors, Libuše Moníková (1945-1998) and Jan Faktor (1951- ), viewing them alongside three Czech writers, Jáchym Topol (1962- ), Daniela Hodrová (1946- ), and Michal Ajvaz (1949- ). Looking at prose fiction written in both Czech and German, I will explore continuities and contrasts in the literary roles played by Prague. The diverse works of these authors are unified by the recurring theme of a search for meaning in Prague and its past. This is an open-ended process which involves the reader in questions of how the city’s heterogeneity can be reflected and explored in a narrative. The figure of the author takes on new and complex identities, becoming a means of reinventing the myths and revisiting the memories that have shaped Prague’s cultural significance. In that process, the identity of Prague itself becomes contested.