Who is Germany now? Literary (Re)Negotiations of Belonging in Contemporary German Literature by Authors of Former Eastern-Bloc Countries
Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
This dissertation focuses on how novels written by authors from former Eastern-bloc countries narratively negotiate the topic of migration and belonging. By concentrating on the literary representation of this wave of historical migration, I seek to expand the German literary discourse on the migrant experience, which since the 1980s has been mostly understood as a Turkish German phenomenon. German authors from former Eastern-bloc countries who address the topic of migration in their literary works enrich the discourse on migration and belonging in post-1990 Germany on two levels. First, each of these autobiographically inflected novels narrates its respective protagonist’s experiences migrating as a child from former Eastern bloc countries, and her/his effort to find belonging in Germany during early childhood and adolescence. Second, each novel narratively interacts with Germany’s memory culture and its discourses. To that end, I have chosen the works of four authors from former Eastern-bloc countries: Marica Bodrožić’s Das Gedächtnis der Libellen (2010), Eleonora Hummel’s Die Fische von Berlin (2005), Sasha Marianna Salzmann’s Außer sich (2017), and Emilia Smechowksi’s Wir Strebermigranten (2017). By way of historical contextualization and a form of narrative analysis that combines the theoretical framework of memory studies with the methodology of narratology, I contend that contemporary literature by German authors from former Eastern-bloc descent deploys intertextual references known to the German reader primarily socialized in Germany as narrative devices that make a “foreign” experience familiar. As a result, these works make the case for possible moments of narrative and cultural intersections between German culture and cultures beyond the German national border. I employ the methodological tools of narratology to more deeply engage with the literary works, laying the groundwork for further analysis—analysis that both connects the cultural and social understandings to the specific composition of the narrative and resists the favored "intercultural" label for these works. The texts by Bodrožić, Hummel, Salzmann and Smechowski explore in various ways the possibility of narrative and cultural intersection between their respective cultural backgrounds and Germany, and thereby constitute productive material for considering the intersections, inclusions and transgressions of culture via their intertextually constructed narratives. Their intertextual references to German collective memory function as a practice of remembering, because they yield the memory of other cultural narratives along with their topoi, genres and cultural and historical contexts. The narrating (adult) I of each of the novels under investigation, whose socialization in Germany was more extensive than in his or her country of birth, negotiates through intertextual references the memories of his or her country of birth and of the experience of having migrated to Germany. As a result, friction develops within the constitution of each of the narratives between the narrated personal memory of the migrant protagonist and the referenced German collective memory, a juxtaposition of experience and narration that constructs a memory realm not yet explored.
Memory theory allows for further investigation into the form of the author's narration. The significant contributions to scholarship on memory on the part of Astrid Erll, Aleida and Jan Assmann, Michael Rothberg, and Renate Lachmann will provide a theoretical background to my discussion. With this dissertation, I seek to expand preexisting notions of cultural belonging by demonstrating two things: how these literary texts and their intertextual references are constructed, and what dialogical relationship exists between German memory narratives and memories that transcend the German national border. To that end, I consider the literary works themselves as a kind of memory: literature references past and current discourses of the real world, which are then coded and put into aesthetic practice as narrative. I intervene in the discourse on migration literature to reveal the inherent, underlying German aspects of these novels by authors with a so-called Migrationshintergrund. The discourse on Migrationsliteratur has been undergoing a tumultuous ideological shift from location to narration. While the category of Migrationsliteratur by its very definition tries to ethnicize a vast group of German literary works written by authors of non-German origin based on their biography, current literary scholarship has endeavored to expand the categories of national and cultural identity beyond such monolithic notions. I maintain that through their narrative constitution, and not their biography or Hintergrund, these works not only enrich but also further complicate the previous understanding of Migrationsliteratur. By exploring the dialogical relationship between narrated and referenced memories in novels, I shift the conceptualization of the “migrant” from that of a person stranded between two separate worlds to the notion that allows for productive observations and negotiations of culture beyond monolithic conceptions.
Chair and Committee
Paul Michael Lützeler, Lynne Tatlock, Caroline Kita, Michael Braun,
Bauder, Adeline, "Who is Germany now? Literary (Re)Negotiations of Belonging in Contemporary German Literature by Authors of Former Eastern-Bloc Countries" (2021). Arts & Sciences Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 2481.
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