Putting the Past and Present on Trial: Migration and Memory in Ludwig Laher's Documentary Novel, Verfahren (2011)

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German Life and Letters

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Journal Article


Languages, Literatures, and International Studies


This paper discusses the articulation of 'multidirectional memories' in the Austrian author Ludwig Laher's documentary novel Verfahren (2011) as an attempt to mobilise readers to effect social change. Close examination of the documentary techniques employed illuminates the political thrust of the novel and the possibilities of literature to contribute to political discourse in a Western Europe increasingly influenced by immigration from the East. By drawing on theories of autobiography and Bill Nichols's work on documentary film, I offer a working definition for the under-theorised genre of the documentary novel, and demonstrate how the coexistence of three types of rhetoric - judicial/historical, commemorative/critical, and deliberative - enables Laher to expose the inhumanity of Austria's immigration policies, to situate a Kosovar's application for asylum in a longer history of immigration struggles and WWII-era politics, and to challenge Austrian citizens to exercise their political responsibility. Finally, I argue that this focus on subjectivity and personal memories does not preclude close attention to politics, and that documentary art is well equipped to navigate the supposed dichotomies of fact and fiction, memory and rights, and the individual and society.