Christa Steinle

Petra Sterry’s “Tale of Princess Dunkelschön”

as a linguistic-conceptual strategy

A fairy tale written in three text blocks on a curtain: that could be interpreted as a pleonasm. The curtain and the fairy tale share a common morphological structure. Both the curtain and the fairy tale conceal and cover something. Petra Sterry explores the “morphology of the fairy tale” (Vladimir Propp).1 She recognizes that fairy tales are narratives which are continually being woven anew out of the same or similar elements. Fairy tales are living things, they tell of life, they are a postmodern literature avant la lettre that lives from an aura of ambivalence. They only show what they say, and yet in the narrative itself more is concealed than is said: they keep their secrets. Fairy tales are the mirror of society, a dark mirror that is clouded at some points – thus the fascination of the fairy tale, but also the fear of it. In the fairy tale the child becomes acquainted with concealed social mechanisms and reads of social hierarchies and social classes, of poor and rich, of beautiful and ugly, of good and evil, of names and the nameless, of prohibitions and laws. The true meaning of the fairy tale glimmers through the interpretable and the uninterpretable, the surreal and the irreal; it is, namely, to point toward that which is concealed behind the curtain.
Petra Sterry seems to be telling a new fairy tale, but its elements are familiar: the lake, the forest, the mirror, the queen, the princess, the dwarf by the name of Rumpelstilzchen. She opens a new chapter in the unending history of the fairy tale. Similarly to Paul McCarthy and Mike Kelley in their interpretation of “Heidi”, Sterry’s interpretation also reveals the dark side of the fairy tale. Not a happy end, but disaster waits at the end of the “Tale of Princess Dunkelschön”,2 who hangs herself in the forest, abruptly and brutally eliminating the hopeful line about “living happily ever after” found at the conclusion of every fairy tale.
In exploring and deconstructing fairy tales, Sterry is really exploring social mechanisms, whose clockwork of rules is veiled and conveyed by the fairy tale’s narrative. The subjects are eroticism and death, power and morality, esteem and honor, possessions and social rank. Myths and fairy tales deal with the fields that psychoanalysis pulled forth from >>