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The "reality" of cultural violence in the novels of Heinrich Böll


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Adcock, L ORCID: 0000-0001-9790-1101 2021 , 'The "reality" of cultural violence in the novels of Heinrich Böll', Research Master thesis, University of Tasmania.

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In this thesis, I offer a different perspective on the works of the acclaimed German author Heinrich Böll. I propose that a form of violence called cultural violence accurately reflects the "reality" ("Wirklichkeit") that Böll strove to convey in his novels and that this expression of violence is a theme that unifies the author’s body of works. Extensive research of existing literature corroborates the originality of this interpretation.
Cultural violence was identified by the Norwegian sociologist Johan Galtung. He defines it as violence involving aspects of culture, such as ideologies and doctrines, that incite and legitimise the harm individuals or institutions cause (Galtung, "Cultural Violence" 291, 295). Galtung’s recognition of this form of violence came about through his research on violence and its different expressions, which is an integral component of his quest to promote peace (Galtung, "Cultural Violence" 291).
While Böll passed away before Galtung developed his concept of cultural violence, he too recognised that violence could result from the covert influence of societal and structural forces (Böll, "Drei Tage" 406). Böll was particularly aware of the potential for unseen societal forces, especially ideologies, to give rise to violence, as he spent his formative years in the political turmoil of the Third Reich. He attributed the cause of these unprecedented twelve years in German history to the "idiotic blindness" of Germans to "political realities" that facilitated Hitler’s rise to power (Böll, “Erinnerung" 518-519). To counter this ignorance and prevent a repetition of its violent consequences, Böll sought to draw attention to and foster an understanding of these "realities" through the concepts of the "topical" ("das Aktuelle") and the "reality" (“die Wirklichkeit"). Here, the "topical" represents the readily observable contemporary events and issues of everyday life, and it is these topics that he centred his novels on (Böll, "Der Zeitgenosse und die Wirklichkeit" 71). But Böll’s narratives are not just shallow reflections of current issues (Böll, "Der Zeitgenosse und die Wirklichkeit" 74). To him, the "topical" was a façade that must be penetrated in order to reveal to his readers the "reality" of the hidden influences that serve to manipulate and shape it (Böll, "Der Zeitgenosse" 71). While the origins of Böll’s concepts related to the covert influence of the ideology of fascism, he later identified a number of invisible societal forces, such as the capitalist political ideology and doctrine, religious ideology and language, as being integral to understanding the "reality". But aspects of culture are of course abstract concepts that require an agency through which to exert their influence. For Böll, this involved the second covert force that he identified as having the potential to lead to violence – structures, namely institutions (Böll, "Drei Tage" 406). It is the interaction between the cultural and institutional forces that shapes topical events and represents "reality". Examination of Böll’s major works reveals the author’s depiction of this interplay between the two covert forces as the incitement and legitimisation by ideologies and doctrines of the violence of institutions. Among the institutions Böll drew particular attention to are the German government and military, the church and the press.
I argue that Böll’s "reality" of the shaping of the "topical" through a process in which aspects of culture are the source of the violence and institutions are the agents through which it is exerted, encapsulates Galtung’s concept of cultural violence. I propose that Böll’s portrayal of this "reality" serves as a unifying element in his oeuvre through its consistent presence in his novels.

Item Type: Thesis - Research Master
Authors/Creators:Adcock, L
Keywords: Cultural violence and Heinrich Böll
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