This volume explores the rich, evolving body of contemporary cultural practices that reflect on a European project of di
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English Pages 186  Year 2020
This volume explores the rich, evolving body of contemporary cultural practices that reflect on a European project of di
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This volume explores the rich, evolving body of contemporary cultural practices that reflect on a European project of di
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At a time when migration is mostly discussed in terms of “conflict” and “crisis”, it is decidedly important to acknowled
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Migration and Race in Europe covers various facets of the interplay between migration and race in Europe. Over the past
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Debates about migration and heritage largely discuss how newcomers integrate into the host societies, and how they manag
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The Many Voices of Europe
Culture & Conflict
Edited by Isabel Capeloa Gil, Catherine Nesci and Paulo de Medeiros Editorial Board Arjun Appadurai ⋅ Claudia Benthien ⋅ Elisabeth Bronfen ⋅ Joyce Goggin ⋅ Bishnupriya Ghosh ⋅ Lawrence Grossberg ⋅ Andreas Huyssen ⋅ Ansgar Nünning ⋅ Naomi Segal ⋅ Márcio Seligmann-Silva ⋅ António Sousa Ribeiro ⋅ Roberto Vecchi . Samuel Weber ⋅ Liliane Weissberg ⋅ Christoph Wulf ⋅ Longxi Zhang
ISBN 978-3-11-061526-5 e-ISBN (PDF) 978-3-11-064578-1 e-ISBN (EPUB) 978-3-11-064610-8 ISSN 2194-7104 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Number: 2019949479 Bibliographic information published by the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek The Deutsche Nationalbibliothek lists this publication in the Deutsche Nationalbibliografie; detailed bibliographic data are available on the Internet at http://dnb.dnb.de. © 2020 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston Cover image: Edmund Lowe Photography / Moment / Getty Images Typesetting: Integra Software Services Pvt. Ltd. Printing and binding: CPI books GmbH, Leck www.degruyter.com
This book is dedicated in loving memory to our dear colleague, mentor, and friend, Gisela Brinker-Gabler, whose warmth and wisdom have inspired many and will be forever missed.
Contents Gisela Brinker-Gabler and Nicole Shea Introduction 1
Part I: Crossing Borders: (Re)configuring Identities Vanessa D. Plumly Linked Security and “Rhetorical Ethics”: Breaking Frames and Opening Cracks of Identification through the Narrative Fissures of Olumide Popoola and Annie Holmes’s breach (2016) 13 Rebecca Forney Negotiation/négation of Double Names in Assia Djebar’s “Le corps de Félicie” 30 Nasim Darouie Image and Identity in the Diasporic Graphic Autobiography Persepolis
Part II: Shifting Frontiers of National Belonging Giovanni Dettori New Cultures of Italian Migration
Jocelyn Wright Integration and the French Banlieue: Reading Ahmed Djouder’s Désintégration (2006) and Philippe Faucon’s Désintégration (2012)
Gisela Brinker-Gabler Translocal Constellations: Navigations of Mobility and Emplacement and Emine Sevgi Özdamar’s Story “The Courtyard in the Mirror” 73
Part III: A New Europe On Different Grounds Jeroen Gerrits Raúl Ruiz’s Adaptation of The Blind Owl: An Exilic Model for Europe
Renata Schellenberg The Post-Yugoslav Literature of Dubravka Ugrešić
Elke Segelcke Occident and Orient: “Poetics of Movement” in the Works of Zafer Şenocak 115
Part IV: Maxi Obexer, Playwright, Novelist, Activist Friederike Eigler Refugee and Migrant Voices On and Off the Documentary Theater Stage: Recent Works by Maxi Obexer 129 Maxi Obexer The Longest Summer
Astrid Weigert “Revealing That Which Is Hidden:” Interview with Maxi (Margareth) Obexer: Playwright, Novelist, Activist 159 Notes on Contributors Index
Gisela Brinker-Gabler and Nicole Shea
Introduction As we come closer to the beginning of the third decade of the twenty-first century, the lives of millions of people have been shaped by the experiences of mobility and migration. For the first time in human history, all continents are involved in the mass movements of people. This anthology attends to the critical moment of these wide-ranging processes with a specific focus on the accelerated pace of changes across Europe in recent years as well as the emerging interactions between Europe and the world shaping new forms of literature and culture, theories and criticism. The essays of this collection explore the evolving, rich body of contemporary cultural practices as well as reflections on a common European project of diversity. The authors herein interrogate new dialogic dynamics between and across cultures in Europe as well as Europe and its relationships with the world. The Many Voices of Europe includes essays by promising junior researchers and senior scholars presented at two international conferences organized by the Council for European Studies: a conference in Glasgow, United Kingdom, in 2017 and in Chicago, USA, in 2018. The unique contribution of our collection in the field of literary studies of Europe lies in its interdisciplinary, transnational and comparative perspective, which will invite many readers from diverse disciplinary directions and stimulate new research on the ambitious writing and thinking across borders of the many voices of Europe today. Across Europe, there are continuous calls for traditional national identities as well as proposals for new forms of trans/national/cultural identities and communities, assertions of regionalized identities, proclamations of multiculturalism and declarations of multilingualism. Several essays in this collection attend to this critical moment with the analysis of the recent literature of migration as a (re)writing of European subjects. From a variety of theoretical and critical standpoints that have been developed in the last decades, they engage many questions. How are migrants writing new identities into and against the old national (meta)narratives? Through what means are they interrogating the grounds of multiple identity constructions? What experimentations with form in literature – e.g. the graphic novel or in avant-garde film – emerge in this unstable context? Finally, what impact might new forms of subjectivity have upon the (de)construction of national identities in the new Europe? A transcultural reflection on new forms of mobile and migrant literature and a European project of diversity requires a careful consideration of the terminology used and the concepts applied, as well as an awareness of the origins https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110645781 001
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and motivations for particular approaches. Therefore, this collection also attends to the following questions: How do critical approaches, such as transnationalism and transculturality, cosmopolitanism and hybridity, blur political borders and cultural edges and call attention to the reality of cultural, artistic and political diffusion, influence and integration of a new Europe thereby affecting societies at large? How do recent theoretical reflections on literatures of migration and their possible contributions to a cultural production of Europe influence nations and their partnerships within and without, that is, partnerships with their neighbors, and the relationships with the world moving forward? The essays of The Many Voices of Europe respond to expectation and demand for a Europe becoming more diverse and inclusive, reclaiming spaces of creation and representation for trans/national subjects and underrepresented groups. The need for diversity and inclusion is all the more important in this political moment of rising xenophobia and increased challenges of religious and civilizational conflicts in today’s Europe.
1 Crossing borders, (re)configuring identities In current Western discourse, especially in Europe and the United States, security and how to secure borders have taken center stage as fundamental topics. As we experience today (in late 2018), the alarming and distressing news of the move of thousands of immigrants, named the “caravan,” which keeps the Mexican-US border in the news, and, in 2016, the channel between France and England and the border city of Calais have become top news. Migrants and refugees streaming into Europe since 2015 have clustered around the French site and built a tent city known as “The Jungle,” hoping to settle in Britain. The publisher Meike Ziervogel commissioned Olumide Popoola and Annie Holmes to go to the camp and collect stories of people there with their hopes, escapes, desperations and survival strategies. Vanessa Plumbly focuses on Popoola and Holmes’ book breach, a polyphonic fictional text that incorporates eight short stories based on interviews completed in “The Jungle” and articulates the ambiguity of a “border fence.” The politically unsettling collection with diverse and nuanced stories aroused immediate attention and inspired debates on how to deal with this humanitarian challenge and how to show effective engagement. Drawing on new narrative models that emphasize a “breach” or cracks and fissures as powerful tools for recognizing and understanding trans/national subjects and spaces, Plumbly’s essay demonstrates the positive affect and effect of expanding networks and connections for a newly constructed altered reality.
Complications of naming and cultural identity are the focus of Rebecca Forney’s contribution on the Maghrebian French writer Assia Djebar and her story “Le corps de Félicie” [The Body of Felicie]. Presenting the story of a woman, French citizen and practicing Catholic and her marriage with an Algerian Muslim, Mohammad (or Môh, as Félicie calls him) and the life with their children in Algieria, Djebar illuminates experiences in a colonial and postcolonial Algeria, that is, life in-between imperial binary oppositions with all their ambivalences and complexities. Forney specifically sheds light on the dilemma of their children, who are each given two names, one from the Christian/ French tradition, the other from the Muslim/Arabic tradition. Each child works through the discord in their identities differently, elucidating various identity constructions depending on religious, linguistic and national binaries as well as family ties. The story begins with a dying Félicie in a Parisian hospital; the narrators are the oldest son and youngest daughter, who, having taken on different choices of identity construction, are now faced, together with their siblings, with the challenging question of where to bury the body of the mother, a confessing Catholic and French citizen, who lived her married life in Algeria, where also her husband is buried. Forney argues that, in the narrators’ monologues and dialogues in view and next to the dying mother, memories of colonial and postcolonial violence, intersections of marginalities, contesting center/margin binaries emerge, which continue to contour characters in the unique ongoing identity struggles in a society shaped by a history of a colonizer/colonized framed French/ Algerian relationship. Autobiographical works belong to a favorite genre among (im)migrant writers. Nasim Darouie introduces a diasporic graphic autobiography, Marjane Satrapi’s The Complete Persepolis (2007). This is the first autobiographical work by an Iranian female author adopting the Western form of graphic novel, a book that won high praise and later was made into a prize-winning film. Satrapi, a child of a Teheran middle-class family leaning toward Marxism, experienced the brutal times of the Iranian Revolution, finished her education as a young woman in Europe and finally chose exile in Paris, France. To reflect and to define her struggles with identity, her fight against ignorance and prejudice and her attempt to make sense of diverse cultural narratives and constructions, Satrapi selected the “comic book” genre (she prefers this term over “graphic novel”). The image-text dialogue allows her to track down and to make visible the dualities and divisions she has confronted on an everyday basis, producing a continuously fragmenting identity and struggles to connect the fragments of both her Western and non-Western identities. For her analysis of Satrapi’s unique style of cartooning and composing her autobiography “with visual framing and mirroring a subject formation,” Darouie makes use of Mitchell’s
Gisela Brinker-Gabler and Nicole Shea
concept of the “metapicture” and Lacan’s psychoanalytical theory of the “Mirror Stage.” It is worth noting that comics are for Satrapi not only a new way of “seeing” but also a new “act of translation.” Comics allow her to create female identities differently as well as to transfer her work to the cultures of non-Western Europeans, including Iran; they defy linguistic and national “natural” borders and reevaluate divisions and differences in Western and Eastern contexts.
2 Shifting frontiers of national belonging Among those engaged in crossings and recrossings, there are those who struggle with the legacies of colonialism and its metropolitan languages; there are those who immigrate or migrate, leaving one community behind for another or they seek refuge or are forced into exile; and there are those redefining themselves in a relationship to a diasporic community. All these people have lost nations, worlds and histories and are facing multiple cultures and identities, competing languages, conflicting meanings of subjectivity, family ethos, nation, gender/sexuality, love and power. Using as a reference the groundbreaking work of the Italian scholar Graziella Parati on migration literature, Giovanni Dettori in his contribution pinpoints the literary production of immigrants who write in the Italian language against the background of the recent migration emergency that has incited a climate of new nationalism, of xenophobia and of populism across Europe. In the past decade, Italy has changed from a country of emigration to a site of immigration from Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe. In the past, Italians left not only for North America, South America and Australia but also for European destinations like Germany that welcomed them and other ethnic groups, particularly Turkish people as Gastarbeiter or guest workers. Now, Italian life has been dramatically changed in its public and private structures due to increased immigration that poses significant challenges to the Italian nation with regard to the acceptance of other/s and cultural differences. Racism, violence and fear are often the response to the change of a history of a nation. Only in recent years, there has emerged a “new literature” of immigrants in Italy, that is, narratives from “second generations” Italians who now make their voices heard. They contribute to a redefinition of Italian literature and society by developing alternatives to racial and religious division and embrace instead cultural difference and negotiations of various cultural contexts. In her essay, Jocelyn Wright focuses on the banlieue, a term that, while perfunctorily defined as “suburb,” exists within a very specific cultural context in
France, being the location most closely associated with immigrants and the complications and contradictions of integration and assimilation. The site of riots and barely concealed racism, the banlieue is examined as a space where social and cultural capital serve as markers signifying the ability to be considered “wholly French”; consequently, integration is revealed to have a salient socioeconomic element, beyond the traditional discourses of racism. Wright uses two works – Ahmed Djouder’s Désintégration and Phillippe Fauconʼs Désintégration – to examine ways in which access to the goods and services that mark a middle-class existence are simultaneously proffered and withheld from certain denizens of the banlieue based upon a nexus of denied privilege as signaled by race or socioeconomic status. As immigrant populations tend to stay within the banlieue, even their descendants – possessing language, native birth and education – are forever marked by an ineradicable sense of difference that makes integration a futile consideration. Transnationalism and transculturalism have become driving forces in social, cultural and political dynamics, challenging insinuated forms of national or cultural homogeneity and concepts of identity in terms of nation, national language, culture and belonging. Gisela Brinker-Gabler in her contribution introduces the model of translocal constellation to reflect on border-crossing cultural practices with seemingly antagonistic conditions of manifold expressions of mobility as well as of emplacement, exploring the interplay between these processes. The concept of “translocality,” she suggests, situates cultural practice continuously within and across “locales” without confining them to the boundedness of one single nation, one single culture and moreover without limiting them within the antipodes of East and West, North and South. As such, translocality offers also a new ground of “relationality” for Europe and its connection to the world. Developing her argument for translocal constellations, she makes use of Walter Benjamin’s thought on language, translation and constellation and reflects on a short story by the acclaimed Turkish-German writer Emine Sevgi Özdamar, “The Courtyard in the Mirror,” to capture the particular processes of translocal constellations in her writing which opens up a new cultural practice of connecting times and spaces, mobility and emplacement and the continuous building of communities.
3 A new Europe: On different grounds Managing heterogeneity, that is, linguistic, ethnic, cultural, ecological and religious diversity, has long advanced a relevant discourse in Europe and the
Gisela Brinker-Gabler and Nicole Shea
world in view of increasing internationalization, globalization and migration. Recent waves of immigration and globalization mobility increased the level of emergency with regard to the question as to how and by what kind of cultural practice is it possible to challenge historically fixed identities and the contradictions of binary and essentialist structures in order to stabilize the ground for a New Europe. In visiting Europe’s history, one might expect to find some guidance in earlier avant-garde movements and their challenging and multiple forms of representations of complex cultural transgressions and transnational links between cultures and nations. Jeroen Gerrits in his essay brings to our attention a unique cultural and aesthetic border crossing, which dissolves homogeneous and traditional narratives by a master of avant-garde cinema: Raúl Ruiz. After leaving Chile following Pinochet’s military coup, Ruiz lived in exile in Paris and, in 1987, adapted there for film the surrealist novel by Sadegh Hedayat – The Blind Owl; Hedayat had come to Paris from Iran in 1926 and began writing this novel, which he then finished only in 1937, after his second arrival in Paris. The novel, already a curious product of an East/West crossing, transforms in Ruiz’ film adaption even further, representing manifold differences and diversities and dissolving consistently homogeneous orders with manifold experiments and a poetic restiveness that defies comprehension. Gerrits, who follows patiently and diligently in his essay how identities in the film double, multiply, fold and (ex)change, raises the question whether such an “approach of adaption across media and cultures could serve as a commentary on contemporary experiences of mobility and migration in European Alpha Cities like Paris.” How are adaption and translation connected, and what constitutes a “good translation”? An intriguing supplement to Ruiz’ adaption of Hedayat’s work offers the Turkish-German author, editor and translator Zafer Şenocak. Elke Segelcke in her contribution highlights one of the relevant contexts of Şenocak’s work, that is, the so-called translational turn in cultural scholarship. The translational turn includes a dynamized understanding of culture as being permeated by translation processes, which generate difference by de-essentializing monolithic and dichotomous national cultural concepts. Şenocak takes on the role of a cultural mediator who critically rebuts the elimination of oppositional thinking in today’s East and West societies, including Orientalist exotics as well as “regressive developments” in Islam. For example, in his memoir Mutmaßungen über den Glauben meines Vaters [Speculations on the Faith of my Father], he composes a sophisticated autofictionalization that interweaves the multilingual and multicultural Islamic traditions with Western Enlightment thought, as well as many sources of poetry and dialogues, which altogether produce a multidimensional work with multiplicities of meanings that can be read and explored in different ways.
According to Şenocak, it is the diversity of opinion that makes dialogues with others possible. Şenocak’s reinterpretation of the traditional hermeneutic “understanding” (in contrast to Gadamer and, instead, in the footsteps of Benjamin and Derrida) aims at an acceptance of “not-understanding” and “misunderstanding” that assigns a specific productivity to the continuous questioning and analysis in the communication between cultures. In her meditation upon the role of literary memory in the aftermath of the dissolution of a nation-state, Renata Schellenberg focuses upon Dubravka Ugrešić, an author deeply affected by the breakup of Yugoslavia and the resulting tension emerging between a writer’s identity and the coercive power of a new state in forming a new identity. Ugrešić reacted against the perceived program of “purification” enacted by the new state of Croatia, as it sought, as many new countries do, to use its artists to shape itself. However, Ugrešić saw in this purification an erasure of personal memory, an elision replaced with allegiance to a national memory established not by the lived experiences of individuals, but by the state. Consequently, the writer becomes necessarily transnational, a being of crossed borders and translated languages, since the national identity of a language draws in translators as “co-authors.” Writing, then, functions as a series of negotiations of identities, between the personal and the political, rendering Europe as transgressions and affirmations of the self in relation to the state.
4 Maxi Obexer: Playwright, novelist, activist A powerful challenge to the idea of Europe in light of increasing mobility and migration flows is presented in the work of Maxi Obexer. The final three contributions focus on her writings: an analysis by Friederike Eigler, a translation of one of her essays by Katrin Sieg and an interview with Obexer conducted by Astrid Weigert. Calling into question the entire premise of a “refugee crisis,” Friederike Eigler works to reclaim the lived material reality of the migrants by focusing on the writing of Maxi Obexer, the Berlin-based author. Noting that many of the activists and advocates claim to speak “in the name of the refugees,” Eigler identifies the resulting problem of obscuring the refugees’ own voices, as they are co-opted within the Western discourses of terror, migration and national policy, noting, for instance, how the politics of “terror” manifest quite differently in the West than in the everyday horror experienced by migrants fleeing violence in Syria. Instead, Eigler suggests, there needs to be a re-thinking of the
Gisela Brinker-Gabler and Nicole Shea
nature of materiality, as theorized by current feminist thought, in relation to the human body. To this end, Eigler focuses on the work of Obexer, particularly her theatre, to connect the narratives of contemporary migrants and refugees to those of earlier generations. Through the Exil-Ensemble, performing Gehen und Bleiben, a play commissioned by the Hans Otto Theater in Potsdam, Obexer plays with both the material physicality of the actors and the discursive space of the theatre to unsettle received notions of the Other-ness of the refugee. Stories of migration are pulled from the actors’ lives, but acted by others. Communication is effected in multiple languages and transmitted by speech, gesture and distance media such as Skype, rendering stories of home and flight in body and spoken word. The consequence of this art form is, as Eigler points out, a revelation of “negotiation between the universal dimension of this struggle over multiple and often competing notions of belonging on the one hand and the attention to the specific situation of the refugees on the other.” “I looked at the liberty of movement certificate in my hand. To my ears that sounded like ‘you’re at liberty to move on,’ addressed to a ‘libertine’ who, when she opens her coat, wears only lingerie.” With these words, translated by Katrin Sieg, Maxi Obexer, the Italian-German playwright, essayist and author, cuts to the heart of the metaphor of movement across borders that beckons the migrant and lulls the native into a sense of complacency. Using her own path to German naturalization as a parallel, Obexer interrogates the bureaucracy of belongingness, balanced between discourses of a residency that is either restricted and unrestricted, wondering what could ever constitute perfect integration. Juxtaposed against her own navigation of einbürgern (“naturalization”) is the anecdote of six young men who get on a train at Franzensfeste, a fortress in the Alps, and are taken off at Rosenheim, when the “policemen’s eyes scan our white faces: no, they’re not looking for us.” How different, then, the words integration and belonging mean amidst issues of race and language that separate people on a common journey. In an explication of Obexer’s work, Astrid Weigert interviews the activist/ author, providing context for some of her most notable works, including Das Geisterschiff (2005; The Ghost Ship), Illegale Helfer (2014; Illegal Helpers) and Europas längster Sommer (2017; Europe’s Longest Summer). The common thread weaving throughout these works is a fierce engagement with the concept of the postmigrant, a rejection of received notions of what a migrant or a refugee is, eliciting a new kind of reception for the narratives surrounding and characterizing the human Other. Echoing Eigler’s concern with the materiality of the refugee experience, Obexer insists that “Europe is concrete” and not a series of customs and ideas that, somehow, refugees will corrupt. Perhaps no better symbol exists in Obexer’s work than the shipwreck that never officially
happened in Das Geisterschiff [The Ghost Ship]. As she noted, the piece was written to put “into relief the architecture of silence” from the authorities that sought to erase the deaths of 283 migrants off the coast of Sicily. It is the role of the artist to rescue their authentic voices, long denied by official discourses about “migrants” and “refugee,” and enabling these human beings to reclaim their selfhood. Our collection, The Many Voices of Europe, shows that many writers today overcome the constraints of political borders and national languages and contribute to a multilingual and multifaceted European culture. United in Diversity is the official motto of the EU. Yet this is also a moment when European diversity seems to foster disunion, conflict and cultural clash, not accord. The quest for an appreciation of diversity confronts real, hard differences in memory and legacies of historical conflict. In the face of open borders and mass migration, some have responded to changing societies by seeking tests of membership and citizenship to create a homogenous and exclusionary community. United in Diversity seems at the moment to confront “Organized as Different.” Yet, as much as this discord promotes even more anxious longing for European union, we can recall that the long history of Europe has been one of a dynamic of cultural dis/union. And, indeed, in that history of conflict, we find some of the most memorable expressions of European unity.
Vanessa D. Plumly
Linked Security and “Rhetorical Ethics”: Breaking Frames and Opening Cracks of Identification through the Narrative Fissures of Olumide Popoola and Annie Holmes’s breach (2016) From 2015 to 2016, on the northern coast of France in the city of Calais, refugees from North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula erected a camp. “The Jungle,”1 as it was known among the refugees who inhabited it from countries as disparate as Ethiopia and Afghanistan, was a place of convergence for those in transit to the United Kingdom via the Channel Tunnel.2 According to the editors of Voices from the Jungle: Stories from the Calais Refugee Camp (2017) – a collection of autobiographical texts, poetry and photographs that inhabitants of the camp created during their time there and with the help of volunteers through an initiative called “University for All” – “[t]he camp was also an emblem of the impact of forced displacement within Europe, and the mostly ineffectual efforts of European countries to address it” (Godin et al., 2017: 3). While Voices from the Jungle remains one of the only comprehensive texts focusing on the refugee condition in Europe told from the refugees’ own perspectives, another important work that predates it – published in 2016 – is breach, a fictional text that draws on interviews conducted with members of the Calais camp in 2015 by Olumide Popoola and Annie Holmes. London-based Afro-German author
1 This name reflected conditions in the camp that was said to be uninhabitable. 2 For more on the countries of origin of those in the camps see, Godin et al., 2017: 4 and Kara Fox: “Calais ‘Jungle’ Migrant Camp: What You Need to Know,” CNN, 22 October 2016. (accessed 16 July 2018). Note: I would like to thank Gisela Brinker-Gabler and Nicole Shea for inviting me to participate in the panel “The Poetics of Crossing Borders” at the 24th International Conference for Europeanists held at the University of Glasgow, July 12–14, 2017 and for the feedback and commentary I received as part of the panel from which this book originates. This research and my presentation at that conference were financially supported by the Women in German Professional Development Award for Contingent Faculty, which I received for research in the summer of 2017. https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110645781 002
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Popoola and her white Zimbabwean co-author Holmes were commissioned to compose this work based on the narrated and lived experiences of refugees in Calais that they documented. Both authors currently live and work in London and have known each other for some years through Hedgebrook, a women’s collective network for writers who focus on social justice and social change.3 As Meike Ziervogel from Peirene Press reveals on the opening page of breach, she commissioned the authors to go to the Calais refugee camps to distil stories into a work of fiction about escape, hope and aspiration. On another level, however, these stories also take seriously the fears of people who want to close their borders. It’s that dialogue that isn’t happening in real life. A work of art can help bridge the gap. (Popoola and Holmes, 2006: n.p.)
The current discourse of the West’s so-called “refugee crisis,” mostly articulated through the media, has become increasingly more difficult to separate from the pre-existing mediated discourse on terrorism since 9/11, especially in Europe and the United States, where security has taken center stage as the fundamental topic, and anxieties have fueled pre-existing Islamophobia and racism.4 Fear, thus, serves as the underlying factor for the desire to maintain security – whatever might be meant by this floating signifier in today’s socio-political contexts – raising many questions: Can borders actually be “secured”? How can both current citizens of and refugees fleeing to Europe feel safe and less threatened/feared by one another? Who is protected, and who is sequestered and at what cost? This begs the ultimate question: what happens if “security” is also breached? In this chapter, I argue that this breach in security and the blurring and rupture of the clear boundaries between self and other are precisely what opens up sites of vulnerability for recognition of the self’s dependency on as well as the fundamental need to trust in the other. The power differential maintains its authority between those who are actually protected citizens and those who are not. Moreover, the security of some often comes at the insecurity of others, further reinforcing racist structures and cognition as well as reifying Otherness.5 While a 3 See: “Hedgebrook: Women Authoring Change.”http://www.hedgebrook.org/about us/ Accessed 16 July 2018.Web. and “Olumide Popoola & Annie Holmes discuss ‘breach’” Creative Conversations. YouTube. 24. October 2016. Accessed 16 July 2018. 4 See, for example, El Tayeb, Fatima, (2016) Undeutsch: Die Konstruktion der Anderen in der postmigrantischen Gesellschaft (Bielefeld: Transcript) and Plumly, Vanessa (2016) “Refugee Assemblages, Cycles of Violence and Body Politic(s) in Times of ‘Celebratory Fear,’” Women in German Yearbook: Feminist Studies in German Literature and Culture 32, 163 188. 5 For a compelling analysis of what she refers to as “human security” and how it plays out in relation to human rights as well as how the demand for security for some often comes at the
Linked Security and “Rhetorical Ethics”
breach in security can bolster the appeal for more control, surveillance and containment, it also signals susceptibility, permeability and the impossibility of being completely removed from vulnerability, in whichever form it may manifest itself. The factual basis for the short stories in breach intensifies their impact on the reader, while the fictional reworking enables the reader to identify and empathize at a deeper level than would have been possible if the work had been composed simply of autobiographical narratives. Through examples of rhetorical questions posed for ethical reflection and empathic effect, instances of framing connected to (a lack of) information and the expansion of the frame’s boundaries and second-person narration as a vehicle through which to identify, albeit not equate one’s self with the protagonist, I underscore the ways in which the short stories in Popoola and Holmes’ collection enact the titular action of rupture, producing gaps for the reader to fill, slip through and further unsettle prevailing knowledge and information. This enables the reader to gain access to divergent perspectives, thus allowing the audience to comprehend human precarity more fully. The textual openings that breach offers provide the reader with sites of entry that question mediated discourses and individuals’ perceptions. Together, they can generate a recognition of the self and other as precarious beings, affected by unequal structural circumstances. By way of close textual analysis of three chapters, I argue that, through such cracks in the text, breach articulates a holistic approach to security and human precarity otherwise imperceptible, yet this recognition of vulnerability cannot be forced given that, as Judith Butler has argued, “there is no guarantee that this will happen” (2004: 43). In addition to the rhetorical textual opening first offered in the inaugural chapter “Counting Down,” I examine two further chapters, “The Terrier” and “Extending a Hand.” The former presents rhetorical interrogatives that produce suspicion and result in the reader’s own questioning of the narrator’s (mis)interpretation of the unfolding events. The latter utilizes the second-person point of view to narrate the short story. As such, it places the reader in the position of the protagonist and allows us to consider how our own actions and decisions might play out in such a scenario.
cost of security for others, see Beverly Weber (2016) “The German Refugee ‘Crisis’ after Cologne: The Race of Refugee Rights,” English Language Notes 54.2, 77 92. Weber writes, “When the discourse of human rights ignores the workings of whiteness in Europe, Europeanness becomes a field of power that produces precarity in the name of security, via a policing of the boundaries of the human, deployed through the desire to create a heavily surveilled and policed public space” (2016: 78).
Vanessa D. Plumly
1 “Counting down”: Adding “you” to calculated questions “When you claim asylum you sum it all up.” He laughs and his eyes become so small they fade into his unshaven face until you only see two lines with a little hair. I can make jokes at any time but even I don’t understand why he laughs. “How do you sum up genocide?” He is quiet after that. (Popoola and Holmes 2016: 19)
A character who wishes to go by the nickname of Obama poses the above rhetorical question, ‘how do you sum up genocide?’ that hits not only the other character Calculate hard, but also the reader. The silence that follows is deafening, given not only its contemporary political contexts, but also its historical weight, in addition to the incomprehensibility of the act itself, despite its omnipresence. This affirmative rhetorical question produces a response that Kamila Karhanová cites from the work of L. Dušková as “a negative universal quantifier” (2005: 204), meaning that any response to such a question is both generally assumed to be the same for all to whom it is posed and that the answer implies a negation of the posed rhetorical question. The anticipated replies are thus: you do not sum up genocide; you cannot; it is simply impossible to do. However, these are not the only possible answers to the question. The word “genocide” does not actually seem to bear the weight of its signified meaning, so the question of how to sum it up is meant to force the reader to reflect on the word’s definition, its connotation and even its ineffectualness. The only way to allow readers and listeners of stories to obtain the full impact of the word is to pose it as a question. While this question is simultaneously posed to the reader, the actual question posed by Obama to Calculate articulates what he must do for the authorities with whom he will claim asylum; he will be forced to summarize, as briefly and accurately as possible, his experiences and grounds for seeking asylum in Europe; his response to such a question must be calculated. More than affirming the negative universal quantifier that this rhetorical question elicits, in this moment, the text yields what Nita Schechet terms a “sit[e] of textual entry” that promotes “a boundary challenging intimacy” here between the reader, the text and the characters (2005: 11, 12). The rhetorical opening invites the reader to respond to and reflect on this question. This is in contrast to other rhetorical questions posed in the short story “Counting Down,” as they are tied directly to the characters’ histories and present experiences, thus maintaining their diegetic boundaries. An example is when Calculate poses the question “Can you be quiet now?” explaining, “I don’t want to get caught here” (Poopoola and Holmes 2016: 12), or when Obama asks “[h]ave we not made it
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most of the way without Calculate?” (Poopoola and Holmes 2016:13). The difference is that the question of “how do you sum up genocide?” is a general one, one that could just as easily be directed at the reader in this moment, anticipating a response. Thus, the rhetorical question reaches beyond the diegetic bounds of the text and pulls the reader into the discourse surrounding the characters’ circumstances. This question, in particular, does not rely on the narration to function, instead penetrating the reader’s mind with a sharp impact. Schechet proposes that such sites serve “as openings into textual intentionality (‘what the text does, rather than what the text is meant to mean’ [Iser 1993, 6])” (2005: 12). In inviting the reader in, the intent is to grapple with defining the concept of genocide and with taking its meaning, its weight, its historical and present contexts, and the possibility of experiencing or the reality of having experienced it into account. The positive effect of such an opening is that it serves as a powerful tool for the readers or audiences to enter into the narrator’s diegetic discourse, even if their own experiences might be far removed from those of the speaker or rhetor. The question, though posed to Calculate within the narrative, extends in a Brechtian-style break beyond that specific frame, reaching out to readers and inviting them into the picture, the story and the discourse. It addresses them as part of the “you,” asking, how would you formulate or calculate a response to such a loaded and incomprehensible question? Rather than an unwillingness to respond to this question, I interpret the authors’ intention in having Calculate withhold commentary as a means through which to create space for the reader’s own reflection. Calculate’s laugh is stifled because his pun/joke (Calculate says you have to sum it up) becomes sticky;6 it attaches itself to Obama’s experience of genocide multiplying or intensifying his pain instead of simply adding an element of comic relief. As such, this is but one example of the many narrative and rhetorical fissures Popoola and Holmes employ throughout breach that produce critical and ethical contemplation on the part of their readers. The role rhetorical questions play in contemporary literature continues to be examined. According to Kamila Karhanová, “the rhetorical question [. . .] is not one of those figures of speech to which much attention is paid in literary theory or linguistics, it seems to be regarded as a banal phenomenon of little interest to researchers” (2005: 203). There is much to be uncovered about the affect and effect/impact that rhetorical questions can have in literature,
6 Sara Ahmed (2015 ) The Cultural Politics of Emotion, 2nd ed. (New York: Routledge). Ahmed refers to emotions as sticky, but here I think it is also possible for the emotions to be expressed through actions and words that also become stuck to the self and the body and are equally felt (2004; 2015: 13).
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especially on their readers. Karhanová provides multiple definitions for a rhetorical question, stating that, in order “to define ‘rhetorical question,’ literature refers to its answer or, to be exact, to the hypothetical answer to a rhetorical question” (2005: 203). This means that more important than the question itself is the answer or the calculated response. Other definitions she offers are “a question to which no answer is expected,” “that the answer to this question ‘is by implication obvious’,” or “a rhetorical question suggests or implies an emphatic contrary assertion” (2005: 203–204). The latter is that which we encounter in this first passage I cited from breach. But this specific rhetorical question also represents an iteration of Sonja Foss and Cindy Griffin’s feminist interpretation of an invitational rhetoric – one that Kathleen Hardesty views as “challeng[ing] a strict definition of rhetoric as persuasion and work[ing] instead toward the possibility of an ethical encounter with others” (2013: ii). Hardesty further asserts that [i]t is this ethical encounter, that seeks to understand rather than convert, support cama raderie and mutuality (if not unity) instead of reinforcing dominant power relationships, challenge the speaker as much as the audience, and privilege listening and invitation over persuasion where appropriate. (2013: 2)
Of course, in a written fictional text, albeit based on real life, invitational rhetoric functions differently than when employed in a face-to-face dialogue, given that the reader can respond to the text’s prompt, but receives only the feedback that is written into the text. Nevertheless, this exercise provides what Foss and Griffin deem “an invitation to the audience to enter the rhetor’s world and see it as the rhetor does” (1995: 5). Yet persuasion is not the end goal, as they note, “the invitational rhetor does not judge or denigrate others’ perspectives but is open to and tries to appreciate and validate those perspectives.” “Invitational rhetors do not believe they have the right to claim their experiences as superior to those of their audience members and refuse to impose perspectives on them” (1995: 5). Therefore, in returning to Schechet’s point from earlier, the text’s intentionality is to lend space to the reader to generate the text’s meaning in such instances of narrative fissuring as addressed above. In the two chapters interpreted below, I further observe how rhetorical questions can undermine the narrator’s position of power and knowledge as well as how second-person narration invites the reader to perform the self as other – without colonizing the Other’s narrative – through additional fissures.
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2 “The Terrier”: Rhetorical interrogatives The short story “The Terrier” details the interactions of the French woman Eloise, a would-be progressive who runs a bed-and-breakfast and surreptitiously houses the Syrian Kurdish minors Omid and Nalin, who are trying to reunite with their mother and family in the UK. At one point in the narrative, Omid asks to borrow Eloise’s computer to check his email. Breaching his privacy, she observes him typing his address on Gmail: “[i]t ended with what looked like a date. ‘Ah,’ I said, making conversation. ‘Year of your birth – 1994?’ He looked alarmed. ‘No,’ he said. ‘Not 1994, 1999. I am a minor. I am seventeen’” (Popoola and Holmes 2016: 40). Omid’s response does not seem to satisfy Eloise; she continues to reflect on and question his age. Her interior monologue presents further questions, this time of a more open-ended nature, but nevertheless rhetorical. “He didn’t look seventeen years old to me. Why lie to me? What other lies might he be telling? He said Nalin was fourteen but she might be older too. Perhaps she wasn’t even his sister. Perhaps they weren’t refugees at all, but criminals, or even terrorists” (Popoola and Holmes 2016: 41). Beyond her initial prying, Eloise provides her own possible answers to these rhetorical questions, marking them as more in line with a confrontational rhetoric – one that is “grounded in traditional Western and/or European institutions and attitudes – seeks to persuade, conquer, convert and ultimately change others” – than invitational (Hardesty 2013: 2). It is an interior perspective that does not take the exterior world into account. And yet, the choice of the word perhaps in the final sentence of the quoted text references one possible interpretive option for the reader but does not maintain that this is the only option. As a result, the interpretation is left open. Moreover, the questions seem to be posed with readers in mind to answer them, thereby not discounting their response. They further probe: whom do/ should the reader trust? Eloise? Omid? Both? Neither? The narration, while presented from the first-person perspective of Eloise, is no doubt unreliable, even if she claims in the beginning that she cannot tell a lie (Popoola and Holmes 2016: 27). She withholds information about the youth staying with her from both her friend Marianne and from another so-called friend, the plumber Luc. Both characters make cameo appearances in the short story and boast their share of hostility toward the Jungle and its refugee occupants. The reader also witnesses Eloise’s performance of generosity as limited and marked by certain boundaries, when she mentions the Lidl bread she shares with Omid and Nalin: “I was toasting bread for their morning meal. Not my home-baked bread, I should say, which I make with coarse-ground wholewheat and a seed-rich crust. They wouldn’t know the difference, I told myself. They’re not about to rate my cooking on TripAdvisor” (Popoola and Holmes 2016: 31–32). Her deceptive nature is thus performed, and, as readers,
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this information is made readily available to us, albeit not to Omid and Nalin. Since they are unable to injure or harm the perception that others might have of Eloise, she does not seem to care about their picture of her. The narrative as such undermines the readers’ image that Eloise creates of herself because we are privy to her inner thoughts as well as her outward performance, creating a triangulation of perception: how Eloise understands herself, how Omid and Nalin see her, and how we, the readers, perceive her. Aware of her illusory nature, readers are invited into the text to respond to the questions Eloise raises but are not forced to agree with her perspective. In fact, the interrogatives Eloise poses in this short story both counter and confirm Kharanová’s observation that “a rhetorical question is an utterance of ambiguous nature and as a consequence its literal interpretation remains available to the speakers” (2005: 21). Readers in this case remain free to answer the questions without fear of judgment and without having to assimilate to the speakers’ interpretation. This creates the external conditions of safety and value that Foss and Griffin cite as resulting from an invitational rhetoric. Alternate interpretations therefore become just as valuable as any literal interpretation. Moreover, one might actually more accurately interpret Eloise’s questions as prompting figurative interpretations, rather than literal, since they evoke and generate fearful figures/ haunting specters: the criminal and the terrorist. Later in the text, Eloise returns to her interrogation, asking, ‘How old were you when you left Syria?’ [. . .] ‘I was ten and she was six,’ Omid said. So unconvincing, I found them. How old when they arrived in Turkey? How old when they left Turkey? I was a terrier – I would not let go” (Popoola and Holmes 2016: 43). These non-rhetorical questions seek an answer and are prodding in nature. The interrogative is part of the interrogation and the linguistic play on terror and terrorizing (as well as the “terrier”) becomes quite clear. While Eloise believes the children could be potential terrorists, her own actions enact a form of terror that threatens to harm any sense of security they might have established. Based on her own perceptions and on her inability to understand their conversations in Kurdish, Eloise draws conclusions about Omid and Nalin even though she is missing tangible proof to do so. Yet at the same time, no evidence exists that would prove her suspicion untenable. A person’s knowledge of others and the image they have of them can be conflicting, since one frame of reference can neither represent an entire individual’s life nor tell us much, given that it is out of context. This fragmented viewpoint is once more evinced in Omid’s questioning about a photo he encounters in Eloise’s home. Unfortunately, the reader is not given his internal thoughts on the image but rather only his spoken commentary as reported through Eloise. “‘Who is this in the photograph?’ [Omid] asked me in the dining room
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the morning after Luc’s visit (Popoola and Holmes 2016: 31). [. . .] ‘That’s me,’ I said. ‘And that’s the same motorbike that’s out there on the path, under the cover.’ [. . .] ‘This is you, madame?’” (Popoola and Holmes 2016: 33). Eloise goes on to describe herself in the photo to the reader and then to point out the slight differences in her appearance in the present, considering herself as not looking so much different. Later, however, she realizes that she has indeed aged. Thus, the image refers to what Butler deems “the frame’s efficacy and its vulnerability to reversal, to subversion, even to critical instrumentalization” (2009: 10). The integration of the photo into the narrative operates as an integral turning point for Eloise, who is forced to see what she previously could not, her own precarity and her own (mis)perception. Here the image and its punctum remind Eloise that she has aged and is woundable, for, according to Barthes, photographs always implicitly reference death (2010 : 31). Again, in this moment in the story, Eloise poses rhetorical questions: “Who had they thought me before this? An ageless crone, without any life or history of my own? And why not, really? Why should they have any attention to spare from their own predicament?” (Popoola and Holmes 2016: 33) This instance not only calls into question the current limited frame of reference that Omid may possess for Eloise in not knowing her past and only knowing her as she exists in the present, but it also simultaneously acknowledges the reasons structuring these existing gaps in Eloise’s prior reflections on Omid. This counter-image of Eloise from Omid’s perspective can thus be compared to Eloise’s framing of Omid in which he found himself caught – limited to the confines of a specific space and time in the here and now without any reference to the past or future that might provide a more complete representation. It double exposes the (mis) perceptions Eloise had of Omid and Nalin in her initial interrogation, since she also cannot possess a complete picture or comprehensive knowledge of their entire life. This compels Eloise to come to an understanding of Omid and Nalin’s current predicament. By extending the frame’s parameters or allowing it to “invariably brea[k] from itself as it moves through space and time” (Butler 2009: 10), an opportunity is opened for seeing what is not seen and reinterpreting what has been misinterpreted for both Eloise and potentially also for Omid. Rhetorical questions, like the ones Eloise poses above, also invite the reader into the text for reflection. They may not demand an answer, or evoke a specific one, but the reader is nevertheless likely to deliberate on them. Thus, they do more than the limited definitions that Karhanová offers as they are invitational, not confrontational; they do not assume an adversary to defeat, but rather engender an offering, or what Foss and Griffin refer to as “an initial tentative commitment to that perspective – one subject to revision as a result of the interaction” (1995: 8). The interaction within the fictional space of the
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narrative is triangulated: the reader interacts with the protagonists (in an imaginative way) and the characters with other characters. At the end of “The Terrier,” Eloise receives a phone call from Marianne, who tells her that a fire has broken out at the Jungle. She quickly drives there and, upon arrival, muses in relation to the young girl, “[w]here on earth did Nalin wash here? Where did she go when she had her period?” and in relation to herself, “What would Marianne say, [. . .], if she could see me now in the almost dark in the refugee camp? Or Luc the plumber, glowering from his brother’s house nearby?” (Popoola and Holmes 2016: 45–46) She thus ponders whether her friends might change their perception if they were to see her in the camp; Eloise and readers cannot know how they would respond and can only imagine their responses. As she searches the camp, Eloise is surprised to find Omid and Nalin with a British man named Murray who is helping them with their bureaucratic paperwork: “‘Age,’ said Murray. ‘It can be a problem when someone doesn’t have a birth certificate. The authorities tend to make arbitrary judgements based only on their impressions.’ Like I had” (Popoola and Holmes 2016: 47). Eloise reflects on herself, and, potentially, the reader does the same, if she/he/they had read Eloise’s interpretations of these youth as compatible with their own. Eloise then goes on to vouch for Omid and Nalin’s age, explaining that they have been living with her, although this is proven to be unnecessary. The two have their birth certificates on hand and will likely be giving their blood: “Nalin held her hand forward, thumb extended towards Murray, like a hitchhiker’s. Her thumb for the pricking, for the blood, for the proof. Fingerprints. Age. Genes. DNA. Proofs of the body” (47). Try as they might to be contained, the contents of the frame and the body are never simply bound. In all of its precarity, the body, like the frame, “becomes a kind of perpetual breakage” that is “subject to a temporal logic by which it moves from place to place” (Butler 2009: 10), yet its fragmented pieces, unlike those of multiple frames left open to interpretation can come together to provide a tangible truth. Each of the encounters Eloise has with Omid and Nalin calls into question the securing of the self and the preservation of the self without an understanding of others upon whom our own identity depends. Textual fissures in “The Terrier” consequently signal important interpretive openings. While Schechet articulates that “[t]he point of analysis of this sort, following entry through critical reading of textual fissures, is not to find a single definitive interpretation” (2005: 19), Popoola and Holmes’s narration provides the reader in this case with some definitive answers to the question of Nalin and Omid’s breach of European law. The “proofs of their body,” here, unlike perception’s own flawed framing, are neither up for debate nor left to the imagination. Although perpetual breaks transpire on multiple levels in breach, at times promoting transgression, at others transformation, as readers, we are
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left wondering, why is it that humans trust extracted biological evidence as truth more than the subjects who actually embody and articulate these truths? Scientific and technological progress have not only provided the medical means by which to seemingly capture and contain an impermeable objective truth, but also the visual means through which to obscure and interpret it out of context and through which to hold it captive.
3 “Extending a Hand” to you The final chapter I examine in breach, “Extending a Hand,” explores the inner thoughts of Habena, a young woman in the Calais camp, and her friend Mariam, whose mother back home is in desperate need of surgery for an ulcer that eventually ruptures. Her mother is unaware of the predicament in which Mariam currently is because Mariam fears voicing her precarious situation to her, wishing to protect her mother from injurious knowledge that might exacerbate her health issues. The two protagonists end up trying their luck at selling themselves to male truck drivers at a rest stop. They navigate precarious situations in which their own bodily borders and ethical boundaries are transgressed. Through the integration of the use of “You” into this short story, the boundaries of reader/protagonist are also traversed. The employment of second-person narration has been explored in depth more recently, since the flourishing of its use in postmodern literature. Monika Fludernik has studied the function of second-person narration, indicating that it creates a bridge to empathy; in this way, it functions as a sort of extension of the hand to the other and to the outside. In breach, this narrative device offers the reader the ability to transgress the boundary of the page’s text in order to place one’s self in the other’s position, although this is still restricted, as I will address later. Fludernik writes: Narrative you has as its distinguishing trait the closeness to generalizing you and the you of self address, and for this reason its initial distancing effect ‘Is this me, the reader? Or is this a character?’ can develop into an increased empathy effect, with the figural you (particu larly in present tense texts) achieving maximum identification on the reader’s part. (1993: 227)
She continues, explaining that second-person narration contains “subversive potential for creating an unsettling effect – that of involving the actual reader of fiction not only in the tale, but additionally in the world of fiction itself, an eerie effect that can be put to very strategic political use” (1993: 232). As readers, given the highly politicized nature of the content which Popoola and Holmes address,
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we can assume that this political implementation is present in the work, and yet, as previously stated, the authors do not attempt to sway the reader toward a specific ideology. Instead, they encourage the reader again to engage in reflection. Aid, charity and goodwill in the context of the refugee camp come to the fore in “Extending a Hand.” The conflicted feelings that refugees experience as a result of these efforts are demonstrated through the reactions of the second-person narrator who is simultaneously appreciative and annoyed, indebted to others and still desiring to maintain her independence and agency. The chapter as a whole maintains a critical awareness of the Western (white) aid mentality and the wiseacre attitude that comes with positions granted authority. As the protagonist (Habena) rationalizes, “[w]ithout these people coming and staying, the camp would be nothing like it is. You would suffer a lot more. You know that” (Poopoola and Holmes 2016: 52). She goes on to state, “[t]hey, the ones who give up their time, are here to extend a helping hand, to help make things survivable. But you don’t need a hand; you have two of those. What you need is opportunities” (Poopoola and Holmes 2016: 49). Ever the realist, Habena keeps the reader informed of her interactions with the volunteers in the camp who are no doubt beneficial but who also do not know what it is that she actually needs. The authors play with this notion of what it means to aid someone, and how aid frameworks actually differ when asking the people impacted what it is that will help them. The protagonist thus also recounts her attempt to pick out clothing from a distribution truck and a volunteer’s efforts to sway her to choose something other than what she knows she wants. Through the use of questions, once again, the protagonist asks the reader to acknowledge the imbalance of power and the stripping of agency that refugees feel in such circumstances: “Why people think they know what’s best for you, when they are not you, you don’t understand. Why you wouldn’t know how you want to dress at your age is beyond you” (Poopoola and Holmes 2016: 51). “Dignity involves choosing your own outfits, at least, doesn’t it? Doesn’t it?” (Poopoola and Holmes 2016: 52) The rhetorical question posed by Habena to herself, but also to the reader (identifying as the protagonist and as a reader who is being questioned and probed), registers on multiple levels to make the intended meaning and impact clear. The use of “You” makes this possible. The short story opens by immediately positioning the reader within the narrative, with the second-person pronoun: “You sit on the side of the road, Mariam and you” (Poopoola and Holmes 2016: 49). At this point in the story, the reader is not yet aware of Habena’s name (the person behind the “You”) or her positionality as a woman. However, more about her is revealed to the reader over time. Although it later becomes impossible for the reader to fully identify with her, moments continue to arise in which women particularly could see themselves in her character, especially in the scenes of sexual
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advancement. Irene Kacandes references such moments of identification as literary performatives in which the reader actualizes the statements read. The graduated awareness of the distinction between the reader and the protagonist is something she also explains. Kacandes asserts that, although [n]aming, chronological discrepancies, and the encoding of gender are all shown to inter fere with the execution of literary performatives. [. . .] botched performances effect the du plicitous stance of recognizing oneself as playing with the boundaries between “reality” and “literature”: the postmodernist project. (1993: 139)
These “botched performances” that occur as the narrative progresses are important because they allow for an opening that can create a point of identification, but they also refuse to equate the reader with the protagonist or the self with the other. The acts provide not only identificatory openings but also unbridgeable gaps that go beyond the distinction between reality and literature and extend in this context to the distinction between positions of coloniality. Additionally, Bruce Morrissette also teases out the importance of considering the function of present tense in conjunction with second-person narration. According to Morrissette, “[..] the verb tense [. . .] the present, thus further generaliz[es] the action into something the reader not only might have done, but might conceivably do” (1985: 110). The use of the second-person narrator and the present tense throughout the story poses, then, the question of “what if” in the counterfactual context. What if, the text asks us, we were the ones in this situation? What would we do, and how would we survive? Utilizing “You” transfers and transmits the interior thoughts of the character to the naratee and allows for a more intimate identification that otherwise would not be possible. Multiple questions are posed in this story to relay Habena’s thoughts and to promote critical deliberation on the part of the reader. Returning to the aid mentality that this chapter dissects, the protagonist reflects on racist images that circulate in the media and in the public domain. She evokes the famous “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” song, contemplates the images of starving children promoted in the media for charity purposes and ponders the discourses in which she finds herself caught: “You wonder what the pictures are now. Of people like you, here, in the camp. What will stick this time? The muddied clothes you try to keep clean but which hang drab and damp on your bodies? The queuing?” (Poopoola and Holmes 2016: 52, 53) These questions offer readers a chance to reflect on their own participation in the construction, production, and/or consumption of racialized discourses of the non-white Europeans, while also posing the questions to readers as the protagonist, inciting them to reflect on how they might see themselves as a result of their new subjectivity and
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positionality placed within the work, or even how they might consider constructing it differently from such a position. Furthermore, “Extending a Hand” creates a second skin for the reader, one that does not quite fit, like the pants that Habena chooses: “[y]ou stand for a second to pull up the tight trousers so they don’t expose your backside. There is a gap between your skin and the jeans. [. . .] No one makes trousers for your shape. [. . .]” (Popoola and Holmes 2016: 51) Although the second skin is not a perfect fit, readers can acknowledge their ability to slip on the role of the in literature, albeit not wholly, through rhetorical ethics. A gap is still present, separating the reader from the protagonist, as is the power differential in the readers’ ability to take off the skin made available to them. While second-person narration may be integral to the postmodern project, as witnessed in breach, it is also part of the postcolonial project.
4 Conclusion: Narrative vulnerabilities as sites of (potential) recognition In her work Precarious Lives: The Powers of Mourning and Violence, Judith Butler writes: A vulnerability must be perceived and recognized in order to come into play in an ethical encounter, and there is no guarantee that this will happen. [. . .] In this sense, if vulnera bility is one precondition for humanization, and humanization takes place differently through variable norms of recognition, then it follows that vulnerability is fundamentally dependent on existing norms of recognition if it is to be attributed to any human subject. (2004: 43)
If these existing norms of recognition can be thought through in relation to the self, which in any context is viewed as the norm against an/other, then a recognition might potentially occur, but the difficulty lies in trying to produce characters with whom any potential reader can identify and in generating narrative fissures that allow for the self to comprehend and partially place one’s self in the position of the other. The means through which Popoola and Holmes achieve vulnerability are through the rhetorical insertion of the reader as self into the narrative. They accomplish this task by inviting the reader into the work through rhetorical questions and the use of second-person narration that can be read as narrative fissures. It is, indeed, striking that in Butler’s own work on precarity, she poses numerous rhetorical questions in relation to the self and the other, asking not
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only herself, but also the reader to understand his/her/themselves in ethical situations that call upon them to own up to a certain culpability every individual has in relation to one another. She writes: I find that my very formation implicates the other in me, that my own foreignness to my self is, paradoxically, the source of my ethical connection with others. I am not fully known to myself, because part of what I am is the enigmatic traces of others. In this sense, I cannot know myself perfectly or know my ‘difference’ from others in an irreduc ible way. This unknowingness may seem, from a given perspective, a problem for ethics and politics. Don’t I need to know myself in order to act responsibly in social relations? Surely, to a certain extent, yes. But is there an ethical valence to my unknowingness? I am wounded, and I find that the wound itself testifies to the fact that I am impression able, given over to the Other in ways that I cannot fully predict or control. I cannot think the question of responsibility alone, in isolation from the Other; if I do, I have taken my self out of the relational bind that frames the problem of responsibility from the start. (2004: 46)
While Butler employs the first-person “I” in her rhetorical questions in reference to herself, readers are capable of reading themselves into the “I” of these interrogatives. The way the questions are phrased creates an opening that allows for slippage into this “I.” The relational bind tied to the potential to be wounded about which Butler writes in this excerpt is also constructed in each of the chapters of breach addressed above. Vulnerability in breach is not limited to the refugees, although their precarity is clear from the outset. Popoola and Holmes portray the woundability of those who are safe at home too. They do so by way of allowing an opening up of the self rather than prompting a closing off of the self from others. Despite possessing a shared woundability, they do not shy away from exposing the differential power dynamics that affect their protagonists. In posing the question “What is an Author?,” Michel Foucault insists that, when reading, “we must locate the space left empty by the author’s disappearance, follow the distribution of gaps and breaches, and watch for the openings this disappearance uncovers” (1998: 209). The narratives in breach interlace the stories of diverse subjects contained within Europe’s borders from refugees to citizens, but none of their subjectivities or bodies are confined solely to this space or remain untouched by others. Indeed, most reach across and beyond constructed borderlines. The reader, often positioned as outsider in works of literature, is thus invited into the discourse in Popoola and Holmes’s breach through their use of rhetorical questions and through the opening of the book’s own bound and bounded frames. In the process, a reflection on ethics and vulnerability comes into play.
Vanessa D. Plumly
Borders are not simply referenced in this work in relation to the pages’ frame and the book’s binding, but also in connection to border walls. International law scholar Moria Paz explains that “[t]o be protected [. . .] an individual must get close to the State or its agents” (2016: 7). She assesses how, in the context of walls, refugees must reach the closest point to the border as possible in order to be recognized under international law. One could argue that the same is the case for refugees upon arrival in a country to which they are fleeing. In order for their experiences to be understood and felt by those not in their position, there must be a way for refugees to come into contact with those not in their predicament. The closer they get to the inhabitants of the country, the more likely those inhabitants are to recognize and wish to protect them. The preservation of human rights requires this linked mentality to be upheld. The proximity of self to other makes this possible. Achieving this goal both in the narratives presented and in the way in which the stories are narrated, breach offers a closeness that opens up sites of accountability, vulnerability, perceptibility and comprehensibility. Rather than producing a “crisis,” it signals the capacity for acting and doing (-ibility/ability). These are the powers such exposures to a breach in security can create. Moreover, the cover image of the book breach presents a chain-link border fence bearing a gaping hole. The border fence symbolizes an inherent duality. It signals a threat and a warning to those approaching to keep out. It also serves as a perceived safety precaution for the protection of whatever is on the other side. However, one could argue that it is all a matter of positioning as to how one perceives this barrier and its distinct, yet indivisible sides. On the one hand, in its entirety, the fence delineates via a line drawn between one space and the next to arc off what is external or outside. On the other hand, the perceptible holes and the opening enable what is outside to filter through, spill over and be seen on the inside. Taken as a whole, the chain-link fence both symbolically attempts to demarcate and establish boundaries and difference and embodies the interconnectedness and interdependence of members of our global society – from humans to nations and beyond. So, too, do the short stories contained in Popoola and Holmes’ breach.
Works Cited Ahmed, Sara (2015) The Cultural Politics of Emotion, 2nd ed. (New York: Routledge). Barthes, Roland (2010) Camera Lucida (New York: Hill and Wang). Butler, Judith (2009) Frames of War: When is Life Grievable? (London: Verso). Butler, Judith (2004) Precarious Lives: The Power of Mourning and Violence (London: Verso).
Linked Security and “Rhetorical Ethics”
El-Tayeb, Fatima (2016) Undeutsch: Die Konstruktion der Anderen in der postmigrantischen Gesellschaft (Bielefeld: Transcript). Fludernik, Monika (2006) “Second person fiction: You as addressee and/or protagonist,” Arbeiten aus Anglistik und Amerikanistik 18.2, 217–247. Foss, Sonja K. and Cindy Griffin (1995) “Beyond persuasion: A proposal for an invitational rhetoric,” Communication Monographs 62.1, 2–18. Foucault, Michel (1998) “What is an author?,” in Aesthetics, Method, and Epistemology, ed. James D. Faubion, trans. Robert Hurley et al. Essential Works of Foucault: 1954–1984. Vol. 2 (New York: The New Press), 205–222. Fox, Kara (2016) “Calais ‘Jungle’ migrant camp: What you need to know.” CNN 22 October 2016. (accessed 16 July 2018). Godin, Marie, Katrine Møller Hansen, Aura Lounasmaa, Corinne Squire and Tahir Zaman, eds. (2017) Voices from the ‘Jungle’: Stories from the Calais Refugee Camp (London: Pluto Press). Hardesty, Kathleen Sandell (2013) An(other) Rhetoric: Rhetoric, Ethics, and the Rhetorical Tradition Master’s thesis (U of South Florida). “Hedgebrook: Women Authoring Change” (2018). (accessed 16 July 2018). Iser, Wolfgang (1993) The Fictive and the Imaginary: Charting Literary Anthropology (Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press). “Olumide Popoola & Annie Holmes discuss ‘breach,’” Creative Conversations, YouTube 24 October 2016. 16 July 2018. Kacandes, Irene (1993) “Are you in the text?: The ‘literary performative’ in postmodernist fiction,” Text and Performance Quarterly 13, 139–153. Kharanová, Kamila (2005) “Rhetorical questions in polemical media dialogue,” in Dialogue Analysis IX: Dialogue in Literature and the Media, Part 2: Media, ed. Anne Betten and Monika Dannerer (Tübingen: De Gruyter). Morrissette, Bruce (1985) Novel and Film: Essays in Two Genres (Chicago: U of Chicago P). Paz, Moria (2016) “Between the kingdom and the desert sun: Human rights, immigration, and border walls,” Berkley Journal of International Law 34.1, 1–43. Popoola, Olumide and Annie Holmes (2016) breach (London: Peirene Press). Plumly, Vanessa (2016) “Refugee assemblages, cycles of violence and body politic(s) intimes of ‘celebratory fear,’” Women in German Yearbook: Feminist Studies in German Literature and Culture 32, 163–188. Schechet, Nita (2005) Narrative Fissures: Reading and Rhetoric (Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson UP). Weber, Beverly (2016) “The German refugee ‘crisis’ after Cologne: The race of refugee rights,” English Language Notes 54.2, 77–92.
Negotiation/négation of Double Names in Assia Djebar’s “Le corps de Félicie” In France today, the term “immigrants” refers to large groups of “non-Europeans” who are not immigrants at all; rather, they come from France’s many former colonies overseas, including the Maghreb, Algeria, Morocco or Tunisia. Algerian author Assia Djebar’s literary works, like those of her Algerian contemporaries Mohammad Dib, Mouloud Mammeri and Kateb Yacine, explore the violence (physical, emotional, linguistic and epistemic, among other forms) during French colonialism, the Algerian war for independence and after independence. Born Fatima-Zohra Imalayene, she was educated under the French school system in Algeria and published her first novel, La Soif [The Mischief] under her pseudonym in 1957. In 1996, she received the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, and, in 2005, she was the first North African writer to be elected to the prestigious Académie Française. In works such as Femmes d’Alger dans leur appartement [Women of Algiers in Their Apartment] (1980) and L’amour, la fantasia [Fantasia, an Algerian Cavalcade] (1985), Djebar considers and critiques master narratives of nationhood and identity, in part by grappling with the complex linguistic landscape of Algeria, where French, Arabic, Tamazight and other local languages collide. In her 1997 story “Le corps de Félicie,” published in the collection Oran, langue morte,1 Djebar employs the allegory of marriage as colonial encounter as the central premise. The characters Félicie and Môh represent the moment of the encounter and produce children who must navigate and negotiate their identities. The children of such bi-national, bi-racial or bi-cultural encounters recall the botanical roots of the term “hybridity.”2 Félicie and Môh’s children are a mixture of both “sides,” represented by their dual names: each child3 received two names: a French, Christian name and an Algerian, Muslim name, separated by a slash. This duality, which is also an ambivalence, prompts each character to reckon with his or her identity. They are, to borrow from critical theorist and postcolonial scholar
1 Published in English as “Félicie’s Body,” in The Tongue’s Blood Does Not Run Dry (2006), translated by Tegan Raleigh. Citations provide information for the 1997 French text, with the corresponding page of Raleigh’s translation in brackets. Ex. (Djebar 1997: French [English]). 2 For a discussion of the history of the term “hybridity,” see the works of postcolonial scholars Amar Acheraïou (2011) and Robert Young (1995). 3 The text states she has eight children (Djebar 1997: 237, 258 [140, 152]), though only seven are mentioned: six biological (Marie/Khadidja, Karim/Armand, Ourdia/Louise, Kader/Jean, Yvon/Khellil, and a girl who died in infancy) and one adopted (Younès, a nephew). https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110645781 003
Negotiation/négation of Double Names in Assia Djebar’s “Le corps de Félicie”
Homi Bhabha, “neither the one nor the other,” but both French and Algerian (Bhabha 1994: 25). These double names are regarded differently by each child, and the relationships Karim/Armand, Marie/Khadidja and Ourdia/Louise have with their names reveal different models for reconciling what only appear to be contradictions in their postcolonial identities. The slash in their name enables explorations of identity and resists “fixing” the subject’s identity, thereby producing different models and allowing for different negotiations than a hyphenated name. This is demonstrated by the character Félicie who, in the end, speaks in the text only after her children give her a second name to reflect the multiplicity and fluidity of her identity, even after her death in the narrative. The story concerns the condition and location of Félicie Marie Miloudi (née Germaine), who is, at the beginning of the story, in a coma in a French hospital. Her children gather to recall her life and her marriage, and how they have wrestled with the identities and names given to them by their parents. Halfway through the story she dies, and the children have to decide where she is to be buried: in France, her country of birth and death, or in Algeria, the country she has made her homeland and where her husband is interred. This decision forces Félicie’s children to reconsider their mother’s identity, just as they have done for themselves. Félicie is positioned as the central force by both the title of the story, which identifies her and her body as the subject of the text and through her role as addressee in the first fifty-plus pages of the story. The story is told from multiple points of view: in the first person, by Karim/Armand and Ourdia/Louise; in the third person by an omniscient narrator; and finally, in the first person, by Félicie. In those sections in which Karim/Armand and Ourdia/Louise are narrators, they speak to their mother, addressing her in the second person, as if reminding her of what she said and did. Félicie’s Catholic religious practice and Flemish maiden name Germaine suggest Félicie be read as a dominant, Eurocentric force, as opposed to her Algerian other, Mohammad. However, Félicie is not an “active” character in the present narrative, in part due to her comatose state, which complicates a reading of her as a colonizing force. Mohammad is largely absent from the narrative, not only because he died ten years before the narrative takes place, but also because he is rarely the subject or the central subject of the narrative. When he is mentioned, it is alongside Félicie, either in a supportive and supporting role, or to show tension between their separate positions. He is rendered more passive still in the way the text adopts Félicie’s domestication of his name: she could not correctly pronounce his full name, and so she shortened it to ‘Môh’ (Djebar 1997: 254 ). Despite this, Môh is represented in the text as a loving
husband to Félicie, and it is their love that is foregrounded, not just their union. Emphasizing the couple’s love subverts the allegory in which each member of the union maintains a distinct essence, an authenticity that reduces them to colonizer and colonized. For their part, the joining sides must negotiate the encounter, which is demonstrated by a recalled conversation between Félicie and Môh regarding their third child’s name (their firstborn son), though the practice was established with their firstborn child. Môh insists, for a reason undisclosed in the text, that his son’s Muslim name, Karim, appears first on the birth record, which Félicie acquiesces to.4 The effect is that the name that corresponds to the dominating culture is represented second in his name, sandwiched by two nonFrench names: he is born Karim/Armand Miloudi. Karim/Armand is also given a nickname, Titi, as the double name did not provide a suitable resolution to the encounter: Félicie “a avoué” [“confesses”] to him that she may have given him a nickname because his French, Christian name is given second (Djebar 1997: 253 ). Mireille Rosello, a scholar of gender, diaspora and postcolonial studies, notes that this nickname does not directly call forth a history, culture, religion or national identity. She says it “individualizes the son but also infantilizes” him, due to the repetition of a simple syllable (Rosello 2005: 62). It is a nickname all his own, not a diminutive of either of his names. Titi seems to embrace the nickname because it connects him to his mother rather than a religious, national or ethnic background. “Titi” is used in the text in intimate, familial settings – with his siblings or in “conversation” with his comatose mother. Though he appears to favor the already privileged, already dominant terms by presenting himself as Armand/Titi in much of the text and when he is in France, he recognizes value and agency in the other. He presents himself as Karim/Armand in part IV, when he needs to convince the Consul to allow Félicie’s body to be sent to Algeria for burial. In making a case for Félicie’s “Algerianness” – proving that she is “Algerian enough” to be buried there – he foregrounds his own “Algerianness” by presenting his name as Karim/Armand. He uses the “official” order of his name, that which is printed on his birth record, in this space of government and law. In this way, Karim/Armand/Titi constantly negotiates his identity depending on the context; his identity is not static or fixed.
4 “à cette occasion Père, m’as tu rapporté, a tenu à m’accoler le prénom musulman en pre mier.” Tegan Raleigh renders this as “You informed me that on this occasion, Father wanted to put the Muslim name first” (Djebar 1997: 252 [148 149]).
Negotiation/négation of Double Names in Assia Djebar’s “Le corps de Félicie”
There is another character in the text who bears a nickname – Armand/ Karim/Titi’s older sister and the firstborn child, Marie. For much of the story, her Muslim name, Khadidja, is not mentioned. In the present narrative time, she is addressed as “Marie”; her nickname, “Kaki,” is often the second name given in the text (e.g., Marie/Kaki, Djebar 1997: 264 ).5 In two separate places in the text, she is referred to by this familial nickname, without attaching it to any other name. In the first, Karim/Armand calls his older sister “Marie,” then corrects himself before describing the career goals she held in her younger years, before he moved to France: “Marie elle-même, enfin Kaki qui se voyait bientôt institutrice [. . .]” [“As for Marie – rather, Kaki – she saw herself soon as a teacher [. . .]”] (Djebar 1997: 267 ). Calling her “Kaki” instead of “Marie” reinforces her youth, immaturity and idealism in this past moment. In the other instance, Karim/Armand describes the difference between how he and his older sister left Algeria for France: “Contrairement à Kaki, vois-tu Mman, je ne suis pas parti, moi, à cause de l’amertume” [“You see, Mman, unlike Kaki, I didn’t leave out of bitterness”] (Djebar 1997: 274 ). “Kaki” here is used to situate Marie/Khadidja/Kaki within the familial circle, but also, particularly because of the context of this example, it communicates a judgement on Karim/Armand’s part. Kaki’s bitterness is seen as immature, childish; Karim/Armand/Titi’s manner of moving to France is, by contrast, more mature, more measured and less emotionally driven. Kaki moved to France after divorcing her Algerian (Muslim) husband Amar, with whom she had two sons, Noureddine and Halim.6 Upon her divorce, which was sparked by her husband’s desire to take a second wife, she 5 The origins of the nickname are not described in the text, so it is unclear whether “Kaki” was meant as a mixture of “Khadidja” and “Marie,” or if it was meant as a “neutral” third nick name, like “Titi.” Composed of two syllables and rhyming with her first, Christian name, each syllable starts with the same consonant sound which gives an impression of youth and even childishness. 6 The names of Marie’s sons from her first marriage are mentioned in two places in the text: in the first instance, their names are given as ‘Noureddine et Halim’ (Djebar 1997: 240 ) and in the second instance they are named ‘Noureddine et Mourad’ (Djebar 1997: 303 ). Later in the narrative, ‘Mourad’ is given as the name of Mohammad’s youngest brother, who was killed in 1962 (Djebar 1997: 327 ). The discrepancy in names here may be read as an error, missed in the text’s editing process (these two names, it should be noted, are preserved in the English translation). The two names may also be read as a double name, reinforcing the child’s ‘Algerianness’ which Marie bars from her own name and identity. If he is named after his late great uncle Mourad, he may have been given a second name, Halim, so that his iden tity is not determined by the legacy, and thus identity, of his double. The absence of this son from the narrative, coupled with the ambiguity surrounding his name, means that this subject eludes categorization. He cannot be fixed by a name, though,
“definitively crossed out” her Muslim name.7 In France, she remarried and had a third son, named Alain. Her Muslim name is revealed only after Félicie’s death, during the family discussion of where Félicie will be buried. Standing up for her mother’s religiosity, she says, “‘Moi qui m’appelle Marie et qui ne m’appellerai plus, grâce à Dieu, Khadidja, Marie et le petit Jésus, savez-vous ce que cela signifiait pour elle ?’” [“‘Me, my name is Marie and I’ll no longer answer to ‘Khadidja,’ thank God . . .. Do you know what Mary and baby Jesus meant to her?’”] (Djebar 1997: 306 ) Marie/Khadidja emphasizes Félicie’s religiosity, while also marking a connection between herself and that same religious tradition through a central female figure. What she does not emphasize is the connection between her name and Islam: “Khadidja” is the name of the prophet Muhammad’s first wife and the only one with whom he was monogamous. This resonates explicitly with Marie’s situation: when her husband decided he wanted to take a second wife, she ceased to be connected to her namesake. Refusing to stand for it, she breaks with that sign. Her crossing out “Khadidja” indicates that she has chosen a side. Like her oldest sister Marie, Ourdia, the youngest sibling and second narrative voice, refuses the double name in favor of one side – but not before attempting to rewrite her name altogether. Ourdia interprets her double name as a gap between her parents, as proof of conflict or tension in their marriage, as a failure to communicate. She describes the double names as “une frontière, une crête, un no man’s land [English in the text]” [“a frontier, a crest, a no-man’s land”] thereby inscribing herself within these limits and between two opposing states, forces, places, never belonging wholly to one or the other (Djebar 1997: 292 ). Ourdia implies that the children are suffering in this contact zone.8 Citing the Biblical implications of her brother Kader/Jean’s French name, she asks Félicie why his Muslim name was not “Yahia,” which Ourdia cites as the Koranic “equivalent” of “Jean.” Then, she reasons, they could have only put
being identifiably Muslim names, either name marks his ‘Algerianness.’ He is a specter of the trace of otherness in Marie’s life. I choose to retain the first name given, Halim, to demarcate a space of unique identity for the absent boy. Referring to him as Halim/Mourad or Mourad/Halim would assume that his double name is of the same nature as Karim/Armand, Marie/Khadidja, Louise/Ourdia, etc., and I find no textual evidence to support this interpretation. 7 “[Marie] a barré définitivement son prénom musulman” [“Marie, who got rid of her Muslim first name once and for all”] (Djebar 1997: 239 ). 8 Rosello reminds us that “The act of naming is often always already linked to the desire to categorize that will then be used to exclude. To name is precisely to leave the no man’s land, to accept the responsibilities that come with belonging, even if they are experienced as a con straint” (Rosello 2005: 67).
Negotiation/négation of Double Names in Assia Djebar’s “Le corps de Félicie”
down one name and called him “Jean” as well. In response, Félicie cites her lack of knowledge of Môh’s cultural history and traditions.9 What Ourdia proposes are names that can be translated into different contexts, but which refer to the same referent. She interprets her relationship with her names, and her siblings’ relationships with their names, as having two faces: she says to her mother, “‘vous [Félicie et Môh] nous disiez, voilà, tu as deux faces, deux visages . . . ’” [“‘you [Félicie and Môh] told us, there, you’ve got two sides, two faces, two . . . ’”] (Djebar 1997: 295 ). When she asks her mother why she was not named simply “Louisa,” which would not mark her as an other in either context, Félicie defends the double names, claiming that no one told her that Louisa was an Arabic first name (Djebar 1997: 294 ). In this way, she does not reject Ourdia’s proposed name change – yet Ourdia still does not claim it as her own. “Louisa” could be seen as a way of domesticating “Ourdia” in order to adapt to “Louise,” which does not change morphologically enough to be seen as an equal contribution. She also refuses the possibility for a nickname, claiming they “‘nous coupent en petits morceaux!’” [“‘hack us up into little pieces’”] (Djebar 1997: 295 ). She favors one whole name, not names that fragment or diminish her, and so she chooses one name rather than two. Rather than renaming herself “Louisa,” which would allow her to move unmarked in either context, she decides to be called “Ourdia” only. Félicie protests that “Louise” comes first on her identity card – her “proper” name is “Louise/Ourdia” and not, as the text suggests, “Ourdia/Louise.” In response, she declares that she will always be “Ourdia.”10 The double name, as written with a slash, indicates a relationship between the names that is different from that which is indicated by a hyphen, a common punctuation mark in names, particularly in French naming practices. To represent the coupling with the hyphen, as critic Rosello does in her analysis, is to misread the relationship between the two names, the relationship between the names and the subject, and the effects of the encounter that engenders the doubly named subject. The hyphen indicates a joining of two separate entities, which remain individual in their union. The result is a conglomerate, containing discrete and discernible elements of both that can be more or less easily
9 “‘je n’ai jamais su ce qu’il y avait dans le Coran ! Alors que les musulmans reconnaissent Jean l’Evangéliste !’” [“‘I never knew what was in the Koran, much less that the Muslims recog nize John the Evangelist!’”] (Djebar 1997: 294 ). 10 “‘Non, j’habite l’Algérie, et même si j’allais en France comme Titi, comme Marie, Ourdia, je serais toujours’” [“‘No, I live in Algeria, and even if I go to France like Titi and Marie, I’ll al ways be Ourdia!’”] (Djebar 1997: 295 ).
separated.11 Thus, the hyphen does not communicate the same degree of violence done to the subject when one term is effaced. The distance between terms visually indicated by the hyphen provides a natural breaking point; either term may be “dropped” from the pair without disturbing the integrity of the other, as they hold each other in equal tension. The slash indicates a relationship in which each term relies on the other, pressuring the other, to maintain the balance of the slash and the angle at which it exists. The privileged first term exerts the most pressure and is represented typographically as threatening to overpower the second term. However, either term may be the privileged term and may switch places depending on the circumstance: the first term, the most visible, is the preferred “face” presented by the subject at a given moment. This inherent ambivalence enables Armand/Karim/Titi to change the order of his names and allows the text to give Ourdia’s two names as “Ourdia/Louise,” rather than the order listed on her identity papers (“Louise/Ourdia”). This does not, however, indicate a pure either/or relationship: Titi is neither Armand nor Karim, but both Armand and Karim. Even when Ourdia and Marie seem to have separated their names and opted for either/or logic,12 they cannot and have not completely discarded the other “part” of them. To illustrate that these identities cannot be fully separated, if Marie’s crossing out were to be represented typographically, the slash helps stabilize the relation: the negated “Khadidja” appears as a shadow term, Marie/Khadidja, supporting the significance of the term while still haunting it. The hyphenated name falsely indicates more of a separation: the hyphen appears to extend through the second term, rendering the relation between the terms Marie-Khadidja ambiguous, and it appears either that Marie has overtaken the term or that Khadidja is a separate person entirely. Crossing out identity in this way shows a search for a fixed, stable identity and forecloses the possibility of continual negotiations of identity. In a slashed name, when Marie/Khadidja “crosses out” her second, Muslim name, she cannot erase it or break it off and leave it in the past. The nature of the encounter is such that it is not reversible; the crossed-out term is
11 This might be considered to follow the logic of separation, as decolonial feminist scholar María Lugones writes in “Purity, Impurity, and Separation” (1994). 12 Julija Šukys, a writer and professor of creative nonfiction with a background in compara tive literature and Holocaust studies, embraces this position: “The only way to stop this dis memberment is to reject the duality that Félicie has tried to sustain in her children once and for all. Hyphenated identity is ultimately rejected for an either/or. The dream of an Algeria where one can flow freely between languages, where identity is flexible and not tied down to language, dissipates and is forgotten. Choosing sides has become a necessity, since it is the only way to remain whole” (Šukys 2004: 120).
Negotiation/négation of Double Names in Assia Djebar’s “Le corps de Félicie”
still present, indicating that the subject cannot be “cleansed” or “purified.” Her first two sons, Noureddine and Halim, are further evidence of the Muslim and Algerian elements that help form her identity. Though she cuts ties with Algeria and her now-ex-husband, her familial ties to her siblings and her children indicate that she has not attempted to erase those elements from her identity. This inability to fully purify herself is part of why she rejects the nickname “Kaki.” Not only does it infantilize her, but it also serves as a reminder of her “impure” condition. Despite what can be taken as attempts at purification by both Marie and Ourdia, Félicie shows that complete purity is impossible. Though at the beginning she appears to represent the privileged, dominant position of the colonial fatherland, she severs ties with France, refusing to stay even two weeks at a time. She adopts a new homeland and becomes a “daughter” of it (rather than a mother symbolizing that homeland). Titi describes how his mother integrated herself within the community and used her privileged position to obtain goods for women in the Miloudi tribal family, in the surrounding area and ultimately for resistance fighters in the Front de Libération Nationale [National Liberation Front] during the war for independence (Djebar 1997: 253–254 ). The Koran necklace that she wears around her neck, a gift from her husband Môh, further complicates her identity. It does not signify that she has converted to Islam, for she has remained Catholic. Rather, she wears it out of love for her husband. Félicie’s French body, dressed in this necklace, resists interpretation – and this saves her when she is swept up in the massacres in Oran 5–7 July 1962, where mobs of nationalists attacked the pied-noir population or anyone identified as being of European descent, just after independence was officially declared for Algeria. Félicie found herself in the thick of the violence and was kidnapped. When her assailant pulled her head back in order to slice her neck, her necklace “jaillit” [“sprang up”] (Djebar 1997: 346 ). It is not so much the necklace itself that saved Félicie, but how the necklace was read symbolically against her Frenchness: the man poised to slit Félicie’s throat recoils at the conflicting signs. Félicie shouts that she has made her home here, that her husband and children are Algerian, and she will not leave (Djebar 1997: 348 [198–199]). Rosello asserts that the necklace “does not transform her into a cultural hybrid but into an incomprehensible or undecipherable sign” (Rosello 2005: 53). Félicie’s French body, dressed in the gold Koran necklace, resists interpretation and essentialization. Despite building a home in Algeria, her connection to the community and her love for her husband, Félicie cannot be buried next to Môh in Beni-Rached cemetery unless she had converted to Islam in her life and pronounced the chahadda before her death. Anticipating that she would have wanted to be buried
next to Môh, the children work together to forge (in both senses) a Muslim identity and obtain papers that certify her conversion. Félicie becomes Yasmina, the name Ourdia gives when asked what she would have chosen for herself. Marie’s son Noureddine points out that she now resembles her children with her two names (Djebar 1997: 309 ). Though it is never written as such in the text, Félicie becomes Félicie/Yasmina or Yasmina/Félicie. It is after she has been given this identity and her body interred that she speaks. The last section of the text, entitled ‘Le rire de l’ensevelie’ [‘The Laugh of the Shrouded Woman’], is written as a poem or song in which Yasmina/Félicie describes both her body’s travel from France to its final resting place and the movement and fluidity of her identity. The song is punctuated by the refrain “L’on me porte qu’on m’emporte,” which Tegan Raleigh translates as “Bearing me to be borne off.” Earlier in the text, Karim/Armand/Titi explains the implications of the use of “porter” [“to carry”] in dialectical Arabic as indicative of caring for a suffering body: “non pas assister, mais ‘porter’ un vieux père ou une mère, un mari défaillant et naturellement tout enfant livré à la série des maladies infantiles . . . Ta fille [Ourdia] ‘t’a portée’ tous ces jours [. . .]” [“Not helping, but ‘carrying’ an old father or mother, an ailing spouse and, of course, a child given over to the series of childhood illnesses. Your daughter [Ourdia] ‘carried you’ all these days [. . .]”] (Djebar 1997: 280 ). Ourdia “carried” her father as well, which Félicie relates to Titi: “‘Elle le ‘portait’ comme un enfant . . . Ourdia, une brave: elle fut pour ainsi dire la mère de son père !’” [“‘She ‘carried’ him like a child. Brave Ourdia. She was, in a manner of speaking, becoming her father’s mother!’”] (Djebar: 1997: 282 ). The way Ourdia nurses her father likens her to a mother figure, but Ourdia goes further with “carrying” her mother. She has a greater role in facilitating the birth of Yasmina Miloudi: she carries her to term, even accompanying the body back to Algeria. The refrain also follows the same constitutive and constituting logic as Félicie/Yasmina’s identity: it was created by the people whose identities she helped create. The colonial encounter, which produced her doubly named children, is represented in her own double name at the end of the text. The additional name is not merely added on to her identity, nor does it take away from it by slicing her in two. Rather, Félicie/Yasmina is constituted as whole. Catherine Milkovitch-Rioux, a scholar of contemporary French literature specializing in wars of the twentieth century, calls this section an envoi to reflect its function relative to the preceding four sections (2015: 35). In her article “Assia Djebar’s Mourners,” she writes, “The fact that this poem is found at the end of the collection suggests that this chant accompanies not only Félicie but also all those who have died in the entire collection, and even in her other works [. . .]” (Milkovitch-Rioux 2015: 40). Indeed, Félicie/Yasmina is not alone
Negotiation/négation of Double Names in Assia Djebar’s “Le corps de Félicie”
in death, but accompanies and is accompanied by Môh, her sister Simone, the Cheikha Rimiti, and other unnamed mourners and women. They gather around her and her grave, and Rosello notes that her first-person pronoun represents a community of women: “her ‘I’ is not individualistic at all. It has become the place where collective memory can be nurtured and preserved” (Rosello 2005: 138). Though her body is interred, Félicie/Yasmina lives on in the space described in this last section. Her identity is communal, fluid and dynamic. Félicie shows that identity is not fixed or essential – she resists being cast as the pure Frenchwoman, even as she represents one term of the colonial encounter in the allegory. The double names that she and Môh have given their children demonstrate how they have negotiated their encounter and the different ways in which their children grapple with their identities demonstrate the same. The slash in their name prevents successful erasure or calcification of the identity and represents a fundamentally different relationship between the two names than the hyphen. In the slashed name, all terms are always present; even when one name is “crossed out,” it remains to support and shadow the embraced name. Examining Djebar’s considerations of identity and double names in “Le corps de Félicie” alongside works like Nulle part dans la maison de mon père [Nowhere in My Father’s House] (2007) and L’amour, la fantasia, will contribute to a greater discussion of identity in her oeuvre, which she has figured in the intersection of language, gender and culture, as well as between time and space (geographical place and sociocultural space).
Works Cited Acheraïou, Amar (2011) Questioning Hybridity, Postcolonialism and Globalization (New York: Palgrave Macmillan). Bhabha, Homi K. (1994) The Location of Culture (London: Routledge). Djebar, Assia (1997) “Le corps de Félicie,” in Oran, langue morte (Paris: Actes Sud), 235–363. Djebar, Assia (2006) “Félicie’s Body,” in The Tongue’s Blood Does Not Run Dry, trans. by Tegan Raleigh (New York: Seven Stories Press), 139–208. Lugones, María (1994) “Purity, Impurity, and Separation,” Signs 19.2, 458–479. Milkovitch-Rioux, Catherine (2015) “Assia Djebar’s Mourners,” The Romantic Review 106, 29–45. Rosello, Mireille (2005) France and the Maghreb: Performative Encounters (Gainesville, Florida: UP of Florida). Šukys, Julija (2004) “Language, the Enemy: Assia Djebar’s Response to the Algerian Intellocide,” Journal of Human Rights 3.1, 115–131. Young, Robert (1995) Colonial Desire: Hybridity in Theory, Culture and Race (London: Routledge).
Image and Identity in the Diasporic Graphic Autobiography Persepolis At the end of the graphic novel Persepolis, before the protagonist Marji leaves Iran forever, she talks about women’s rights in Iran, and how women’s testimonies are not acceptable according to the Islamic law. Through writing Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi is giving her testimony to the world, using her once-censored art of visual communication, as she is both the author and illustrator. Her graphic novel is a historical account as well as a personal account of her life as a woman who is in exile, both in her home country and outside of it. Satrapi’s graphic novel The Complete Persepolis (2007) (originally published as Persepolis and Persepolis 2 in French in 2000 and 2001, and published in English in 2003 and 2004) has become not only critically but also commercially an outstanding success. Since the early 2000s, the demand for comics, graphic novels and memoirs has increased; moreover, the Western reading public wants to know more about Middle Eastern countries and their cultures. After the September 11 terrorist attack in 2001, as with a number of countries, Iran has been classified as part of the “Axis of Evil.” Satrapi set out to change this one-dimensional portrayal of her country by showing the real life of people. In her attempt, Satrapi followed Persepolis with other graphic novels, namely Embroideries (2003) and Chicken with Plum (2004), with the same intention: enlightening the world – as well the Iranian people – of the hidden truths of Iran and Iranian society. Her works have been adapted into award-winning films. Persepolis is also a diasporic autobiography. Satrapi is among the very few women to write autobiographical graphic novels and the first Iranian female author to do so. She presents her protagonist Marji, whose humorous way of going about universal issues attracts a wide readership. Autobiographies can assert or establish one’s identity, which can become especially fragmented or severely altered when one settles in a new country with different cultural norms. Therefore, the story is one of contradictions: growing up in a liberal family but having to live in a conservative country, living in the West and having to adapt to European culture and lastly living in Iran as a westernized woman. She writes: “I was a westerner in Iran, an Iranian in the West. I had no identity. I didn’t even know anymore why I was living” (Satrapi 2007: 274). These conflicts are exhibited in the identity crisis that Marji struggles with. Immigrant narratives show a desire to put the fragments together and build an integrated self. In graphic autobiographies, images and words accompany each https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110645781 004
Image and Identity in the Diasporic Graphic Autobiography Persepolis
other; thus, the portrayal of the self can be traced in the drawings as well as the writings. Critics call cartooning a “new seeing” of reality and choices made by the author/artist make this clear. Hillary Chute, in Graphic Women: Life Narrative and Contemporary Comic (2010), writes: “Satrapi’s choice of pareddown techniques of line and perspective [. . .] is rather a sophisticated, and historically cognizant, means of doing the work of seeing” (146). Such choices made for the “way of seeing” and “being seen” lead to analysis and a discussion of the way Satrapi sees herself and the way she shows us her observed identity. Because comics is intrinsically a hybrid medium, we can study the juxtaposition of verbal and visual; hence, through studying this juxtaposition, the goal of this paper is to shed light on the correlation between an imagined self and an imaged self. This relation, along with the autonomous ways the images of the self are able to express identity, can be explored using William J. T. Mitchell’s theory of iconology, specifically the notion of “metapictures,” and paired with the theories of identity from Lacanian psychoanalysis, mainly “the mirror stage” by Jacques Lacan. Mitchell’s works, namely Iconology (1986) and Picture Theory (1994), focus on media theory and visual culture. He believes that we must consider pictures to be living things. In Picture Theory, Mitchell suggests that we begin to look to pictures themselves for answers to their nature and function. Looking specifically at “metapictures,” Mitchell illustrates how pictures might actually be able to represent themselves and provide a metalanguage of their own, asserting that “Metapictures reveal the inextricable weaving together of representation and discourse, the imbrication of visual and verbal experience” (Mitchell 1994: 83). He thus gives a definition of a metapictures as “pictures about pictures – that is, pictures that refer to themselves or to other pictures, pictures that are used to show what a picture is” (Mitchell 1994: 35). Mitchell introduces three different kinds of metapictures: first, the picture that explicitly reflects on or “doubles” itself, in which the production of the picture is present in the picture itself. This effect is that of the “Mise en abyme,” a French term literally meaning “placed into abyss.” A common sense of the phrase is the visual experience of standing between two mirrors, then seeing as a result an infinite reproduction of one’s image. Second is the picture that contains another picture of a different kind, thus reframing or recontextualizing the inner picture. Third, there is the picture that is framed, not inside another picture, but within a discourse that reflects on it as an exemplar of “picturality.” Mitchell provides an example of one of the most sophisticated metapictures that summarizes all the features of the genre, what he calls a meta-metapicture: Las Meninas by Velázquez. He calls the formal structure of the painting “an
Fig. 1: Diego Velázquez, Las Meninas (1656).
encyclopedic labyrinth of pictorial self-reference, representing the interplay between the beholder, the producer, and the object or model of representation” (Mitchell 1994: 58). We can see that the painting is composed of frames within frames: a man standing in the doorway, the mirror on the wall, the easel of the painter and the actual frame of the painting. This creates the effect of mise en abyme: the picture thus reflects on itself. According to Mitchell, Las Meninas “deploys its self-knowledge of representation to activate the
Image and Identity in the Diasporic Graphic Autobiography Persepolis
beholder’s self-knowledge” (Mitchell 1994: 61), and it does so by destabilizing the position of the spectator. Metapictures in comics lead to the creation of metacomics, a term put forward by Thomas Inge in “Form and Function in Metacomics: Self-Reflexivity in the Comic Strips.” According to Mitchell, metacomics represent a fundamental “potentiality” inherent in the representational strategies of comics (Mitchell 1994: 82). Mirrors are very common in graphic novels. Characters in the comics are constantly looking at themselves in mirrors, and, where actual mirrors do not appear, the gutters impersonate them and take on their properties. I will consider aspects in a graphic novel such as framing, mirroring, gutters, gaps and so on as the narcissistic gestures that would draw attention to the image and its creator and thereupon to his/her identity. There are many examples of metacomic moments in Persepolis. In one instance, the narrator, Marjane, literally suggests reading images as a text. In the panel below, she suggests that, by looking at the women in her university, one could, if one knew how to read, distinguish their hairstyles or body shapes (Satrapi 2007: 291). This is a self-reflexive feature, showing a picture that is drawing attention to the nature of image, i.e., a metapicture.
Fig. 2: Marjane “reading” other women. (Persepolis 2, 140). Courtesy of Penguin Random House.
In another example, Marjane the avatar is conscious of her readers and of herself as a character in her narrative, and she often speaks directly to the reader (Satrapi 2007: 117). The written text self-reflexively calls attention to this fact too, as the texts come in two different forms: captions for the narrator’s voice and the bubbles for the character. This is an example of a “talking metapicture” according to Mitchell.
Fig. 3: Marjane speaking to the reader. (Persepolis 1, 117). Courtesy of Penguin Random House.
Other examples can be seen in these two panels: on the left, the image is complementing the narrator’s thought, yet independent of her. The angry facial expression of the Achaemenid soldiers from 2500 years ago confirms the verbal expressions. The one on the right, however, is ironic, since the characters are talking about celebrating their newfound freedom while being literally framed and trapped by evil in form or a serpent like creature. In this case, the image is independently contradicting the verbal cues. The most common form of metapictures that the reader/viewer sees repeatedly in Persepolis is Marji looking at herself in mirrors, as well as framing herself as she takes on new identities and new avatars. Satrapi’s framed self also functions as a mirror. The gap between the subject and its image is a reflection of the split in the identity of the creator. Mirror scenes highlight this issue, because they act as a mise en abyme of this blurred boundary between the self and the image of the self. Michael Chaney, in Reading Lessons in Seeing (2016), maintains that mirrors in comics signify “subject formation and
Image and Identity in the Diasporic Graphic Autobiography Persepolis
Fig. 4: Achaemenid soldiers. (Persepolis 1, 28). Courtesy of Penguin Random House.
fragmentation” (22), as well as “failed encounters with the real” (16). This gap in identity is represented in the gaps in the comics, which Persepolis makes frequent use of. A perfect example of this gap is the rupture in the very first panel in the novel. Persepolis’s first chapter “The Veil” opens with this image of Marji introducing herself: “This is me when I was 10 years old. This was in 1980” (Satrapi 2007: 3). Following with the next panel, it reads: “And this is a class photo. I’m sitting on the far left so you don’t see me” (Satrapi 2007: 3). The gutter well separates Marji
Fig. 5: A contradictory image. (Persepolis 1, 43). Courtesy of Penguin Random House.
from the rest. The captions accompanying the panel also create the same effect. They start with “This is me” which is the quintessential dichotomy of self and other: object and subject. The adult Marjane, living in France, writing in French, is now referring to this image, a self-created avatar and a self-representation, as “me” turning the referent of the phrase “this is me” to an object. She objectifies herself, but later in the novel we see this “me” taking the position of the subject, directly addressing the reader and talking to us in the speech bubbles. The way the self and its mirrored image swap positions complicates the tracing of identity in her self-portrait. According to Hatfield in Alternative Comics (2005), the cartoonist-autobiographer regards himself as other, objectifies the self and reconstructs identity with control over the visual representation, may actually enable the autobiographer to articulate and uphold his or her own sense of identity (114–115). These mirrors echo Lacanian theories on the confrontation of the self and its ideal image. Jacques Lacan was a controversial French psychoanalyst and psychiatrist associated with post-structuralism. In one of his influential yearly seminars, “The Mirror Stage as Formative of the Function of the I” (originally published in 1966), Lacan defines his concept of the mirror stage. He situates identity in the domain of the visual and maintains that the child sees its reflection in the mirror and recognizes an Other that could potentially unite with the self. According to this theory, we first perceive our reflection in the mirror as an integrated and whole self as opposed to our inner self, which is fragmented and ever shifting. In this phase, we are taken from the realm of the Real, where
Image and Identity in the Diasporic Graphic Autobiography Persepolis
Fig. 7: Marji’s struggle with identity. (Persepolis 2, 164). Courtesy of Penguin Random House.
Fig. 6: Marjane addressing the reader. (Persepolis 1, 3). Courtesy of Penguin Random House.
we are cherished by the mother, into the Imaginary, striving for the unachievable Ideal-I to compensating for this loss; the ego thus desires what it lacks. Marji’s marginalized identity in post-revolution Iranian society and migrant identity in Europe, in terms of not matching the ideal, is similar to Lacan’s theory. Her identity struggles are caused by her desire to overcome the difference she perceives between the ideal image and her self. Similar to the child that has to move out of the Real into the Imaginary and become independent from the mother, Marji has been separated from her mother country and assigned the status of the Other in her home country because of defying the dominant discourse of the Islamic regime, as well as in Europe for being a migrant.
Fig. 8: Marji’s lack of integrated identity. (Persepolis 2, 35). Courtesy of Penguin Random House.
Becoming culturally, socially and racially a marginalized “Other,” Marji becomes more aware of her body, her image and her reflection, and takes on
Image and Identity in the Diasporic Graphic Autobiography Persepolis
many avatars: a child with Western attitudes, a teenager with Middle Eastern looks and finally a westernized adult taking on the role of a traditional Iranian wife. In addition to her isolation in society, Marji is experiencing discrepancies in her identity and struggling to maintain an ideal image in her marriage as well. As Marji lacks an integrated identity, so do the visual representations of her. Her metapictures hail the reader with a desire to manifest a lack. Complementary to the mirror stage is Lacan’s concept of “gaze.” Lacan first introduced the concept of gaze in his theories of the mirror stage. According to him, the mirror stage establishes the ego as fundamentally dependent upon external objects, on an Other. It begins the process of developing an identity distinct from others and yet, at the same time, dependent on the images of others to determine itself. Lacan later introduced the split between the eye’s look and the gaze. This is similar to becoming aware that an “Other” is watching you: “I see only from one point, but in my existence I am looked at from all sides” (Lacan 1978: 72). The gaze hence denies the subject its full subjectivity, making it becomes the object of the other. This is exemplified in the gaze in Las Meninas. In the picture, we find ourselves standing behind Velazquez’s easel as we feel his gaze on us, wondering if he is looking at us, the viewers. By having the object of our eyes look look back at us, we are reminded of our own lack; it is the lack that keeps the desire alive. He calls the gaze objet a, i.e., the object of our desire. Mitchell applies the notion of Lacanian desire to his iconology. In his 1996 work “What Do Pictures ‘Really’ Want?” Mitchell shifts the location of desire from artists and beholders to images themselves, in order to find an answer to the meaning of images and the way they communicate as signs. He maintains that the desire of image is due to lack rather than power (Mitchell 1996: 76) and to discuss their desire is to find out what it is they lack. His answer is that the immediate desire of the picture looks like a version of the Medusa effect: it “hails” the viewer (Mitchell 1996: 76). He writes in a book with the same title “[pictures] would want a kind of mastery over the beholder . . . The paintings’ desire is to change places with the beholder, to transfix or paralyze the beholder, turning him or her into an image for the gaze of the picture . . . The power they want is manifested as lack, not as possession” (Mitchell 1996: 36). In Persepolis, there are many panels with the characters’ gazes. One example is in the very first chapter heading “The Veil,” where the eye in it “sees” and “reads” the printed title word. The veiled eye could be the surveilling gaze of the regime or the conscious gaze of the entrapped veiled woman. There are other examples throughout the book; most of the gaze happens in desperate moments of the characters, drawing attention to the lack.
In this study, I have adopted a theory of self-reflexivity, applying it to graphic narratives via W. J. T. Mitchell’s theories of iconology. I have specifically focused on Mitchell’s concept of “metapicture,” studying different types of “image” present in this work of autobiographical narrative. I have linked the study of image to the portrayal of self, using Lacan’s theories of psychoanalysis – in particular his concepts of “mirror stage,” “gaze,” and “desire.” Thus Satrapi conveys her identity using the autonomy of her metapictures: images that, by drawing the viewer in, reinforce and add to the narrator’s thoughts or even go against them, self-reflexive panels that mirror the issues emphasized by the author and draw attention to them. Images side by side of the written texts convey the message on behalf of the creator, portraying selves even in their fractured state and conveying their lack and desire; they express the inexpressible and help the author articulate and (re)construct their identity.
Works Cited Chaney, Michael A. (2016) Reading Lessons in Seeing: Mirrors, Masks, and Mazes in the Autobiographical Graphic Novel (Jackson, MS: UP of Mississippi). Chute, Hillary L. (2010) Graphic Women: Life Narrative and Contemporary Comics (New York: Columbia UP). Hatfield, Charles (2005) Alternative Comics: An Emerging Literature (Jackson, MS: UP of Mississippi). Inge, M. Thomas (19919) “Form and function in metacomics: Self-reflexivity in the comic strips,” Studies in Popular Culture, 13. 2, 1–10. Lacan, Jacques (1977) “The mirror stage as formative of the function of the I,” in Ecrits: A Selection, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Norton). Lacan, Jacques (1978) The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho Analysis, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: W. W. Norton & Company). Mitchell, W. J. T. (1994) Picture Theory: Essays on Verbal and Visual Representation (Chicago: U of Chicago P). Mitchell, W. J. T. (1996) “What do pictures really want?,” October, 77. Mitchell, W. J. T. (2005) What Do Pictures Want?: The Lives and Loves of Images (Chicago: U of Chicago P). Satrapi, Marjane (2007) The Complete Persepolis (New York: Pantheon).
New Cultures of Italian Migration 1 Italy as new destination for migrants Italy was traditionally a land of emigration, where millions of Italians left the peninsula for not only North American, South American and Australia but also for European destinations like Germany that welcomed them as Gastarbeiter or guest workers. This migration was meant to be temporary, satisfying a lack of unskilled workers who could be temporarily employed in German factories. Thousands of these workers ended up staying in Germany and are now an integral part of German society. Today, the situation has changed. The destabilization of the Middle East has brought thousands of refugees to the European shores, with Italy’s central position making it the European outpost of illegal landings. Over the last few decades, the relatively homogenous cultural and linguistic map of Italy has been significantly changed due to the contributions of second-generation immigrant Italians. Using as reference the groundbreaking work of Graziella Parati on migration literature, I will pinpoint the literary production of immigrants who write in Italian against the background of the recent migration crisis that is inciting a climate of xenophobia and populism across Europe. Many Italians, observing the progressive multiculturalism of Italy, feel menaced and react to what they consider an attack on the Italian culture, supporting reactionary movements that defend a monocultural idea of Italy that, in reality, never existed. I would like to provide some data on immigration in Italy and in the Mediterranean in general to show how massive this phenomenon has become in recent years. These data also show the constant increase in the presence of migrants in the peninsula since the 1970s. In the 1970s, people who had chosen Italy as a destination country were a few hundred; in the early 1980s, the number increased to a few hundred thousand. In 2015, with the destabilization of the Middle East continuing to fuel immigration, about seven million people were identified as migrants living in Italy, a country of 60 million. In the early months of 2015, thousands of people attempted to cross the Mediterranean on vessels, decrepit and overcrowded that, in many cases, capsized, killing hundreds. According to the UN News Centre, approximately 224,000 people traversed the sea in the first seven months of 2015
(“Fleeing conflicts” 2015).1 In the previous year, 219,000 thousand made the crossing,2 and, of those, 90,000 landed in Italy (“Mediterranean crossings” 2014). In the same period, 2100 people perished in the crossing, surpassing the record number established in 2014 (Essa 2015). It was estimated that about 1000 people per day attempted to reach Europe, mostly by boarding unsafe vessels in Libya and Turkey. That number was only destined to rise. Just in the month of October 2015, 218, 394 reached Europe. All but 8000 arrived in Greece. This is a staggering number in that it took the whole of 2014 for 219,000 to reach Europe. Famine, war and dramatic political changes motivate the exodus of refugees and migrants: the largest group was composed of Syrians (38 %), followed by Eritreans (12 %), Afghans (11 %), Nigerians (5 %) and Somalis (4 %) (Parati 2017: 3). The refugee crisis is being perceived as an unsustainable and costly invasion. Italy launched the operation Mare Nostrum to rescue migrants at sea, replaced by Operation Triton with patrols restricted to the Italian seacoast. The crisis of Calais, in which 2500 refugees gathered in the northern French city waiting to cross the English Channel and the situation in Ventimiglia, the Italian town bordering France, showed the lack of cooperation between European states: France tried to close its borders to additional refugees who remained trapped on Italian territory. However, the perception that European states are hosting hordes of immigrants is erroneous. In fact, 86 % of refugees are hosted by developing countries such as Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, Iran, Ethiopia and Jordan (Parati 2017). Public opinion has been desensitized to this topic, as even the images of hundreds of corpses floating in the Mediterranean became a recurrent image broadcasted on television and social media. Indignation mounted only when images of children started to surface and became the emblem of the atrocity of the migration crisis. The recent Italian elections of 4 March 2018 saw the success of right-wing parties, in particular the Lega Nord (Northern League) and Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy), along with the populist anti-system party Cinque Stelle (Five Stars). These parties all exploited anti-immigrant rhetoric to persuade the electorate to vote for them. This anti-immigration sentiment grew stronger with the election on 1 June 2018 of Matteo Salvini as Minister of the Interior. He put at the top of his
1 “Fleeing conflicts, record number of migrants and refugees crossed Mediterranean so far in 2015,” United Nations. 1 July 2015. http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=51315#. VaO SEW06fQ (United Nations 2015). 2 “Mediterranean crossings more deadly a year after Lampedusa tragedy,” United Nations High Commisioner for Refugees. 2 October 2014. http://www.unhcr.org/news/latest/2014/10/ 542d12de9.html (UNHCR 2014).
New Cultures of Italian Migration
political agenda the reduction of the number of immigrants in Italy. Although Salvini’s role is secondary in the governing coalition, he managed to dictate the political agenda of the Italian government, overshadowing the Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte (“How Matteo Salvini is Dominating Italian Politics” 2018). Salvini’s decision on 10 June 2018 to close Italian ports to vessels of immigrants created an uproar. He stated that, “Everyone in Europe is doing their own business, now Italy is also raising its head. Let’s stop the business of illegal immigration” (“Migranti, l’Italia sfida Malta” 2018). Following this declaration, the Italian authorities refused the disembarkation of 600 immigrants traveling on the vessel Aquarius. The Italian Interior Minister asked Malta to provide a port of disembarkation for the ship, but Malta also refused. This crisis was solved when the Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez allowed the vessel to dock in Valencia (“Spain to accept disputed migrant ship” 2018).
2 Immigrants in Italy Immigrants have been part of the Italian social fabric for decades, but integration into Italian society is complex. Even second-generation Italians struggle to be recognized as Italians although they grew up in Italy, completed their education in Italian schools and speak Italian as their mother tongue. They are often identified as extracomunitari, a judicial definition that indicates a person who is not a citizen of one of the member states of the European Union (“Extracomunitario” 2018). This term came to indicate any person who is not assimilable to a supposed idea of italianità. Moreover, Italian nationality law is based on ius sanguinis, a Latin juridical expression by which citizenship is not determined by place of birth but by having one or both parents who are citizens of the state. It is opposed to ius soli, or birthright citizenship, the right of anyone born in the territory of a state to nationality or citizenship. Recently, the Italian parliament tried to change the children’s citizenship law and to implement the ius soli; however, the bill did not pass, boycotted by members of Parliament; 800,000 people who grew up or studied in Italy are still without citizenship (“Lo Ius soli” 2018).
3 Immigrant literature in Italy Immigrant literature started to appear in Italy during the 1980s with the first waves of immigration to the peninsula. The first group of migrant writers did
not master the Italian language, so they were only able to publish their texts with the help of journalists or translators who reworked their texts in an acceptable Italian. The first generation of migrant writers in Italy had common themes reflecting on their experience as migrants; they wrote about exile, displacement, cultural fragmentation, otherness and racism. They felt the urgency of telling their stories, and autobiographical writing became the genre of election. With time, migration waves increased, and, just as this phenomenon is going to stay, so is the production in Italian of authors of non-Italian origin. Many of the themes that distinguished early immigrant writers in Italian are presented by a new generation of authors, more at ease with the Italian language and no longer in need of translation. The level of sophistication of these works has increased since the appearance of the first examples of migrant literature in Italy and the number of publications has multiplied (Parati 2007: 12). However, migrant authors also struggle to affirm themselves given the general negative judgment of Italianists who have a tendency to downgrade their production as autobiographical texts of non-literary value (Parati 2007: 13). In fact, these works are not easily ascribable inside the Italian literary canon, which does not contemplate texts that stray from a rigid monolingualism and monoculturalism; this is one of the reasons that leads literary critics to downplay the artistic value of this production. However, using Italian national literature as basis for comparison in determining migrant literature’s literary value is misleading. In fact, the canon of Italian literature is artificially constructed around a supposed linguistic and cultural unity. Undoubtedly, the most important contribution of migrant literature to Italian culture is the questioning of a fixed idea of italianità founded on an unreal idea of linguistic and cultural homogeneity. Migrant writers describe in their texts the new reality of Italian society and foresee the future development of multiculturalism in Italy: “literature [. . .] is the ideal forum for examining the anxieties about the present and the future of the Italian identity” (Parati 2007: 12). Furthermore, it is important to analyze migration literature via instruments that go beyond the category of aesthetics; hence, the complexity of immigrant writings is better highlighted by an interdisciplinary approach (Parati 2007: 12). An important factor limiting the diffusion of this literature is the scarcity of major publishers willing to invest in unknown authors with a multicultural background. They find a more responsive interlocutor in minor publishers specializing in migration literature or new authors. However, competition within the publishing establishment makes it hard for them to achieve visibility in the Italian market (Parati 2007: 14).
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4 Coping with migration Migrant literature often presents a traumatic aspect, as it usually talks about a violent event, albeit not necessarily of a physical nature. It recounts the drama of abandoning one’s land, culture and language. It is about a rupture, a forced separation that leaves profound scars in the soul. Literature thus takes on a therapeutic function; through it, migrants are able to tell their stories, detail their journey towards a new motherland and express their fears and hopes. The journey is not only a physical transition from one land to another, it is also a cultural movement from one identity to another and especially from one language to another, a separation that affects both the affective sphere and the linguistic one. As stated by Christiana de Caldas Brito, “a migrant leaves three mothers: the biological mother, the mother land, and the mother tongue” (in Parati 2007: 11). Initially, migration is marked by desperation, but this dark phase is, in most cases, followed by the relief of having reached a place possibly better in which the migrant can hope to thrive and fulfill the wish of a better life; in de Caldas Brito’s words: “It takes time before the pain of leaving one’s country transforms itself from a pain as obstacle into a pain as growth” (in Parati 2007: 11). While the first generation of migrants were more interested in describing the experience of migration in its cruel reality, exploring its dark side, secondgeneration migrant writers adopted a lighter approach to describe migration hardships. They make light of the situation through themes of irony and paradoxical situations (Parati 2007: 12). However, these writers had not experienced the challenge of leaving one’s country for an uncertain future; rather, they were born in Italy or arrived in Italy at a very early age, and Italian is their main language. They thus recount the struggle with their Italian identity as well as that of their parents’ homeland. While they typically identify as Italian, other Italians do not perceive them as such; simultaneously, they are not recognized as belonging to the ethnicity of their families, for they often do not speak the language of their parents and are familiar only with Italian culture. In humor and irony, second-generation migrant writers find a way to address questions of identity and belonging without using dark tones. As the famous Italian playwright Luigi Pirandello observed, “humor is created by a betrayal of expectations: we laugh if a person falls unexpectedly or behaves uncharacteristically” (in Parati 2007: 15). This definition is useful when analyzing the works of migrants who find themselves misplaced between identities, wrongly framed inside one identity or the other but who never feel completely integrated inside a single society, language or culture. The outsiders’ gaze keeps categorizing second-generation migrants as foreigners because they do
not conform with a supposed idea of italianità based on physical appearance. Thus, migrants suffer a double rejection: from the nation they feel is theirs, Italy and from the country of their families. Migrant writers exploit this confusion, creating texts that laugh at this inadequacy of conforming to the expectations of others. The irony and humor used by migrant writers help them reverse preconceptions and clichés of migrants. For example, Kossi Komla-Ebri plays with the idea of nostalgia in the short story “Home . . . sick.” Fofi, a doctor completely assimilated in Italian culture, has married an Italian woman and has forgotten his African past. The arrival of his sister as an au pair in his house allows him to reconnect with his origin through a process of culinary and music reeducation. However, nostalgia for Africa prevails in Fofi’s younger sister who does not feel his same drive for assimilation in a new culture, and she decides to return to Africa. Once back in her homeland, Fofi’s sister experiences a nostalgia for her brief, privileged experience in Italy. The irony is that “through a betrayal of expectation” she becomes nostalgic for a place that she decided to leave because she felt strongly homesick for her native place. But her nostalgia is very stereotypical, for she is missing an idea of Italy as a gourmet capital, a stereotype heavily exploited in the tourism promotion of Italy: “I take my car, I go downtown and look around the shops, I go to the grocery store and buy some spaghetti, some cans of tomatoes, some meat imported from France, some taleggio, then I go home and cook it all up” (Parati 2007: 97). The traditionalist Orientalist gaze that Western colonizers had for Africa is now embodied by the stereotypical view Fofi has for Italy. Igiaba Scego, an Italian-born writer, absorbed Somali culture at home through her parents. In her experience, different cultures can peacefully coexist in a syncretic exchange. In her first novel, Rhoda, published in 2004, the idea of a hybrid identity is central. Faduma and Barni are friends, and they meet to prepare a complicated tea cake; as in “Home . . . sick,” the preparation of food becomes a pretext for the two friends to reflect on the complexity of identity and to discuss the migration experience. Their stories are played out as Faduma is busy building the elaborate dessert; the role of Barni in this baking process is that of eating the desserts: “one made desserts and the other ate them. They had discovered a modus operandi that did not pit one against the other” (Parati 2007: 164). During this encounter, the lives, the hopes, and the tragedies of these two friends are simultaneously recounted. We find out about Barni’s deteriorating health, the loss of her niece, Rhoda and their troubled relationship with Italian culture. In particular, Barni remarks how her Somali identity is stereotypically perceived by Italians. Pirandellian humor envelops the narration based on misconceptions and mistrust towards an identity perceived as Other. This is evident
New Cultures of Italian Migration
in the passage wherein Barni reacts to the presence of another woman who accompanies Faduma during one of their meetings: Barni noticed that her friend was not alone. There was a woman, a gaal, with her. Just a few meters stood between the two of them. In those few meters, she studied the enemy, the foreigner. . . The presence of that outsider among them disturbed her. It meant that she would have to express herself in Italian and that she would not feel at ease. Just a few meters stood between the two of them. In those few meters, she studied the enemy, the foreigner. . . It was the color of her skin that divided them, that milky white brought [Barni] intestinal discomfort. “Oh hi, Barni, this is Sandra.” “Barasho wanaagsan, sister!” replied the girl. . . (Parati 2007: 172)
This passage is steeped in irony that springs from the prejudice that accompanies one’s identity. Barni reads Sandra’s Italian identity as hostile, and she is caught off guard once she realizes that the girl knows some Somali and can converse in that language, although haltingly. The prejudice and misconception are bi-folded and involve both identities. Humor not only subverts the Italian misconception about Somalis, but also the prejudice migrants have about Italians. Ultimately, the three women set up an activity together aimed at cultural inclusion. The last short story I am introducing was written by Lily-Amber Laila Wadia, an Indian-Italian. As with the aforementioned authors, she debunks stereotypes and cultural segregation using humor. For Laila Wadia, diversity is a construction that lies in the mind of the observer; it is a social fabrication that has no reason to exist in a globalized world. The short story “Ravi’s Wedding” is highly humorous, with the irony in the story resulting from a preconceived idea of identity leading to misplaced expectations and cultural crossovers. Ravi is an only child who arrives in Italy to study medicine. A privileged migrant, he is destined for an arranged marriage to the next-door neighbor’s daughter and a life in India; Italy for him is only a temporary destination. However, his parents’ plans are disrupted when Ravi returns to India accompanied by an Italian fiancée, Maria Cristina. This event wrecks all plans and throws his family into confusion. Ravi’s parents, in an attempt to welcome the Italian girl appropriately, put up the appearance of a Western family: We shouldn’t embarrass our Ravi by appearing like old stereotypes, all incense and sa cred cows. We should present ourselves as a modern family, worthy representatives of the India that is on the cusp of the technological age. We will dress western, we will eat western, we will talk western. . . or at least we will try. Shame on anyone who removes his shoes, eats with his hands, or inadvertently mentions Hinduism or anything like that. (Parati 2007: 192)
Ravi’s family is so serious in their impersonation of an idealized Western family that they even buy a coffee maker with grinders and filters in three different sizes that they do not know how to use. Moreover, they fill up their house with imported food, and they start wearing western clothes; their mother even starts wearing make-up and gets a makeover, all to impress their Italian guest. Again, the expectations are disappointed, leading to humorous situations. In fact, Ravi’s parents are in shock once they discover that Maria Cristina is a complete fanatic for Indian culture and has embraced an alternative life style; she speaks Hindu, does not wear a bra, dresses like a gypsy, teaches yoga, and is vegan. Moreover, she is not a coffee drinker because coffee is forbidden by the Laws of Manu and she has just finished translating the Dhyna Bindu Upanishad into Italian. Maria Cristina is fully immersed in Indian culture; she is even an excellent cook of Indian foods, showing her real love and appreciation for Indian culture. Migration waves are not destined to cease. Italians, in the last couple of decades, have seen their homeland become a destination for migrations. In fact, the media tend to portray migrants’ arrivals on the Italian coasts as a mass invasion, in reality, Italy has a significantly smaller number of immigrants if compared with that of other European countries; only 8.2 % of the country’s population is made of immigrants; the percentage in Germany and France is 12 % and 11.01 %, respectively. Moreover, migrants are perceived as a homogenous entity, with no cultural and religious distinctions, an undifferentiated group of invaders from which Italians have to protect themselves. These new Italians are an integral part of the social structure of Italy, contributing to the enrichment of Italian society through cultural diversification. However, integration remains a problem, especially because migrants or secondgeneration Italians are still not fully considered Italian citizens. The circulation of their works is limited, often underrepresented and scarcely transmitted. Major publishers rarely invest in publishing authors who cannot easily be framed inside a traditional Italian literary canon. Yet the value of texts created by migrants cannot be measured merely by their artistic quality, for their message is of equal importance. The texts I have presented contain the autobiographical narration of specific identities and experiences which challenges this racist discourse on migrants. The stories restore dignity to the migrant’s experience seen through subjectivity and not as a group experience equal for everybody. Through their narration, migrants are able to state their individuality. The statement at the center of this migration literature is “I am an Other like many other immigrants, but I am also an Other like no other.” Migrants highlight their specificity and voice their right to exist in a country that is no longer foreign to them.
New Cultures of Italian Migration
Works Cited Essa, Azad (2015) “Migrant crisis a failure of European policy, UN says,” Al Jazeera. 6 August 2015. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/08/migrant-crisis-failureeuropean-policy-150806172330199.html Parati, Graziella (2017) Migrant Writers and Urban Space in Italy: Proximities and Affect in Literature and Film (Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan). Parati, Graziella (2005) Migration Italy: The Art of Talking Back in a Destination Culture (Buffalo: U of Toronto P). Parati, Graziella and Marie Orton (2007) Multicultural Literature in Contemporary Italy (Madison: Farleigh Dickinson UP).
Internet Sources “Extracomunitario.” Vocabolario Treccani, Treccani. http://www.treccani.it/vocabolario/extrac omunitario/ (accessed 14 July 2018). “How Matteo Salvini is dominating Italian politics.” The Economist. 21 June 2018 (accessed 13 July 2018). “Lo Ius soli.” Ministero dell’interno. http://www1.interno.gov.it/mininterno/export/sites/de fault/it/sezioni/sala stampa/notizie/stato civile/app notizia 22786.html (accessed 14 July 2018). “Migranti, l’Italia sfida Malta. Salvini: chiudiamo i porti.” La Stampa. 11 June 2018. (retrieved 13 July 2018) “Spain to accept disputed migrant ship Aquarius.” BBC News. 12 June 2018 (retrieved 13 July 2018). United Nations, “Fleeing conflicts, record number of migrants and refugees crossed Mediterranean so far in 2015.” 1 July 2015. http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp? NewsID=51315#.VaO-SEW06fQ United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees “Mediterranean crossings more deadly a year after Lampedusa tragedy.” 2 October 2014. http://www.unhcr.org/news/latest/2014/10/ 542d12de9.htm
Integration and the French Banlieue: Reading Ahmed Djouder’s Désintégration (2006) and Philippe Faucon’s Désintégration (2012) 1 Introduction The French banlieue is a space that is simultaneously very easy and very difficult to define. The word itself means “suburbs,” yet the term brings with it a whole host of additional associations, which are easily revealed by a simple Google search. The images in the search are not quintessential American suburban imagery, but rather of endless rows of giant, towering concrete buildings devoid of people. Functionally, the banlieue refers to the outskirts of major cities where large numbers of poor people, immigrants and minorities tend to live. The stigma associated with the banlieue and, particularly, the cités that house its poorest inhabitants in housing projects, has only grown with time, especially after the banlieue became more associated with immigrants in the 1970s, when a large number of North Africans moved into the HLMs1 in the banlieue (Hargreaves 1995: 71). The link between the banlieue and immigration has since solidified to such an extent that, by the mid-1990s, Alec Hargreaves argued that the “spotlight has shifted” from immigration to the “problems of the banlieue” which became a “coded language for minority ethnic settlement” (Hargreaves 2007: 2). The banlieue is now a metonym for immigration and, particularly, the question of integration, which is to say, the blending of minorities and immigrants into French society (see Noirel 1988: 7). The banlieue is also known as the site of urban riots, a recurring phenomenon in these areas since the 1980s. Due to the media’s coverage of the 2005 riots that fixated on the notion of the crisis and failure of French integration as a viable model moving forward, discussion of the riots soon became a conversation, not just about the integration of minorities in France – a conversation that had been ongoing since the 1980s – but also about their “désintégration [disintegration],” which implies a failure of the republican attempts to bring its immigrant population into French society and perhaps even a complete dissolution
1 HLMs, or Habitations à Loyer Modéré, refer to a form of rent controlled public or private housing in France. https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110645781 006
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of French society (see Durmelat and Swamy 2011: 9–13). All of this discourse – that surrounding both integration and this new phenomenon of disintegration – hinged on racial and religious differences and the irreconcilability of these differences with what it meant to be “French.” Furthermore, this discourse located such conflicts of integration and disintegration firmly within the banlieue, in spite of the fact that these were – and continue to be – national conversations that affect all parts of French society. Recirculated comments by politicians about the riots – most notably Nicholas Sarkozy’s infamous “racaille” sound bite – solidified the riots as the marker of a crisis of integration policies in France and, to some, with the failure of the French Republic to bring together these populations, the implicit end of the Republic itself. Far-right politician and leader of the Front National Jean-Marie Le Pen described the riots as epitomizing the failure of current immigration policies and his rhetoric led to a tremendous uptick in membership in the Front National following the riots (see Campbell 2005: 1). While the slippage between “intégration” and “désintégration” indicates the anxiety surrounding the banlieues, the riots and the tensions produced by racial and religious differences within these communities, the written and filmic narratives about the banlieue at this time reveal a counter-discourse that challenges the assumption that racial and religious differences are the primary factors in integration. While they do not deny the tensions that racial and religious differences produce in contemporary French society, fictitious narratives across genres are instead choosing to foreground the rampant economic inequalities in the French banlieue. This article examines integration and its application to the French banlieue before taking a closer look at two works that are provocatively titled Désintégration: a novel by Ahmed Djouder written in the immediate aftermath of the 2005 riots, and a 2012 film by Philippe Faucon. Both works emphasize the role that economic inequalities play in creating the marginalization and – in some cases – radicalization of France’s minority populations and thus complicate the notion that the problems surrounding integration in contemporary France are the sole byproduct of racial and religious differences. As Linda McDowell suggests, inequalities – especially in spaces of migration and displacement – can only be understood by considering all of the factors of the individual, which include not only race and religion, but also economic situation, gender and sexuality (McDowell 2008: 491). By highlighting the importance of economic inequalities in both works, I aim to show how consideration of class and economic difference is just as important to the conversation of integration in the banlieue as race and religion, and how it is only by considering all of these factors together that we can come to a full understanding of the factors that affect integration in the banlieue.
2 (Des)Integration The French model for incorporating immigrant and minority populations into society has, historically, been wholly assimilationist: immigrants were expected to renounce any identities other than a French one. Integration, which was adopted as a term by the French government in the late 1980s, referred, according to France’s Haut conseil à l’Intégration, to participation in French society that was concerned not just with the presence of difference in France, but also the social incorporation of said differences into the fabric of French society. The term was meant to be a third way between the extreme polls of assimilation – total adoption of the new country’s values – and insertion – the presence of a foreign cultural community in France without any crossover or cross-cultural exchange between the foreign and the French elements (Gevereau et al. 1998: 241). Hargreaves argues that integration has further come to be used as coded language that represents “race” or “ethnic relations” without ever needing to use either of these terms (Hargreaves 1995: 2). Since the banlieue has historically been a space of immigration where many first and second-generation immigrants tend to live, it has, as Nina Bucker describes, become mixed in with these conversations on immigration and integration of minority populations. As Bucker describes, Le discours sur les banlieues [. . .] se mêle au discours de l’immigration, et par conséquent à celui de la nationalité, de l’identité et de l’étrangeté. Les populations urbaines sont ainsi confrontées à une double stigmatisation, sociale et raciale à la fois. [The conversation about the banlieue has mixed with conversations about immigration, and as a result with those about nationality, identity and otherness. Urban populations are thus confronted by a double stigmatization, which is both social and racial.] (Bucker 2013: 27)2
The effects of this “double stigmatization” are far-reaching. Indeed, integration has taken on such a racial and religious connotation that, even though it began as a term to refer to immigrants, it is now applied to second-, third- and even fourth-generation immigrants who were born on French soil, attended French schools, are fluent in the French language, and thus are not immigrants at all. Despite the fact that these persons are French citizens, numerous conversations take place regarding the “intégration” of these populations, though it is often unclear to these populations what exactly they ought to do to be better incorporated into French society. In the wake of the 2005 riots, Médine, a rapper and third-generation immigrant (born to a second-generation Algerian immigrant father and a French-Kabyle
2 All translations are my own.
Integration and the French Banlieue
mother) who grew up in the banlieue of Le Havre, wrote an op-ed for Time magazine in which he summed up a sentiment shared by many of his contemporary musicians, writers and activists: “I was born and raised in France. I’ve been a citizen since birth. How much more French can I be?” Best-selling author Faïza Guène, who is also of Maghrebi origin and who also grew up in the banlieue, shared a similar sentiment in an interview: People say that people like me should be more integrated [. . ..] But what does that mean? I was born in France, I went to a French school, I speak French, I live in France. It is diffi cult to do the things that are apparently needed to be accepted if that means denying things that are a part of my culture. It is as if and this is a bit brutal but is true we (children of immigrants) are told, ‘You are children of the republic, but you are bastard children. You are very welcome here but with the following conditions [. . ..] The great symbols of France, the cultural richness [. . ..] All that is inaccessible [. . ..] It has got noth ing to do with me or our lives. (quoted in Mehta 2010: 176 177)
Guène and Médine are both responding to the exact type of rhetoric which is telling French citizens who grew up in France – albeit in the socially marginalized space of the banlieue – that they are not integrated into French society, despite the fact that they themselves feel French. Although France’s colonial relationship with Algeria and the Maghreb is cited as a contributing factor to present-day anxieties surrounding integration, the economic and class differences set up by colonization and carried through into the present-day banlieue (see Mbembe 2009) have been downplayed in favor of an emphasis on how vestiges of the colonial mentality shape present-day French racial perceptions. Thomas, for instance, roots banlieue writing both in a postcolonial context and one denouncing racial and religious inequalities, rather than a concern with economic inequalities (Thomas 2008: 35). If we revisit the very same novels and films which have been used to support the claims that integration is a racial and religious issue, that is to say, the novels set in and written by inhabitants of the banlieue, the turn of the twenty-first century emerges as a key moment of change. Twenty-first century banlieue texts do more than envision the banlieue as a postcolonial space or as literatures of immigration in dialogue with Francophone North African texts. Rather, these texts challenge the primacy of race and religion as the true axes of difference around which integration turns by calling attention to socioeconomic and class differences through their use of capital. In this paper, I am using capital as Bourdieu does to include not just the economic elements and material goods, but also fields that do not yield economic dividends, such as one’s social connections, cultural knowledge and social honor, all of which affect one’s positions within society, as well as one’s access to opportunities (see Bourdieu 1986: 241–258). As Bourdieu states, “the position of a
given agent in the social space can thus be defined by the position he occupies in the different fields [of capital], that is, in the distribution of powers that are active in each of them” (Bourdieu 1991: 230). These texts draw attention to the role that capital and one’s possession of and access to it, both material and immaterial, play in the “intégration” of populations living in the banlieue.
3 Ahmed Djouder’s Désintégration Désintégration was published immediately following the riots in February 2006 and is an evocative response to the discourse about integration that followed. As with many of the novels published that year, it is bursting with explanations for why these riots took place, as well as with ruminations on the banlieue. The integration project has, in Djouder’s eyes, failed, and the riots indicate the complete failure and dissolution of the French Republic. However, the novel blames socioeconomic circumstances for the deep sense of alienation felt by those from the banlieue, not race or religion. Djouder’s decision to replace traditional main characters with larger, universal figures – “nous [we],” “nos parents [our parents],” and “vous [you]” – encourages a reading of the novel as an allegory in which individual racial or religious differences are irrelevant and instead folded into a larger collective identity: class. Djouder avoids explicit references to race and religion for several chapters of the book in order to make his work as universal as possible, drawing attention to the fact that, even if he draws from his own upbringing as the child of Algerian immigrants, his concerns are not limited to Algerians, or even to persons of Maghrebi origin.3 They are, rather, the concerns of anyone who is poor, regardless of their racial or religious background.4 These economic concerns are then compounded by racism, which is not coming from within the banlieue, but is rather an external force being applied from metropolitan France as it looks towards the periphery. Contained within the novel is a scathing critique of intégration, which Djouder calls “une stratégie sécuritaire camouflée [a camouflaged security strategy]” (113) because these populations (supposedly not incorporated well in the fabric of
3 Djouder, further, rejects identifying with Algeria over France, noting that, while “nous [we]” may be interested in its concerns, it is not their job to rebuild the country “parce que nous sommes français” (105). 4 While Djouder does eventually tackle racism and religious discrimination, his choice to re serve this for the end of the novel suggests that this is not his primary area of concern.
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French society) have been there for generations. Instead, he calls upon French society to recognize the presence of these people and their economic plight: Votre ‘intégration’ est bien hilarante. Ce mot est moche. Nous n’en voulons pas. On ne doit pas s’intégrer. On ne s’intègrera pas. On attendra que vous réagissiez, que vous nous voyiez comme n’importe quelle autre personne, comme n’importe quel étranger, n’im porte quel Français. [Your ‘integration’ is laughable. The word is ugly. We do not want anything to do with it. We do not have to integrate. We will not integrate. We will wait until you react, until you see us like any other person, like any other stranger, like any other French person.] (115)
The novel, which hinges on binary oppositions, juxtaposes the lifestyles of the French middle and upper classes with those of France’s minorities and (former) immigrant populations. The opening lines of the novel list the leisure activities in which “nos parents [our parents]” will never engage: golf, tennis or badminton. This is followed by items “nos parents [our parents]” will never purchase (11). These items and activities are markers of what Bourdieu calls cultural capital, which is defined as “a form of knowledge, an internalized code or cognitive acquisition which equips the social agent with empathy towards, appreciation for or competence in deciphering cultural relations and cultural artifacts” (Bourdieu 1993: 7). While some of this cultural capital is embodied – mannerisms and mechanisms of the body learned from one’s social group – many of them are also objectified – cultural goods or objects which are indicative of one’s social class or aspirations to a particular social milieu such as the items Djouder identifies (Bourdieu 1986: 243). While none of the items in Djouder’s introduction is essential to one’s basic survival, Djouder’s emphasis on these seemingly nonessential items – objects or privileges which the middle and upper class take for granted – coupled with the novel’s evocative title, presents these objects and leisure of activities as items that are just as crucial to integration as racial parity or freedom to practice one’s religion. Throughout the novel, Djouder focuses upon the banlieue inhabitants’ lack of access to goods and services, thus demonstrating how cultural capital reproduces preexisting hierarchical socioeconomic structures by excluding them from key elements of French culture. Such feelings of inequality are exacerbated when the poor living in the banlieue realize that they are systematically excluded from accessing these aspirational goals while simultaneously being confronted with imagery of persons who can achieve them. Television is cited as a primary disseminator of the lifestyles to which those in the banlieue will never have access: “Chapeau la télé, elle est la grande pédagogue, celle qui nous a tout appris de la vision occidentale des rapports humains [Cheers to the television, it is the great teacher, that which has taught us the Western vision of human relationships]” (68). These
television programs have a pedagogical aspect for the children of immigrants, for whom it becomes the primary resource for cultural literacy, a primer in the lifestyle from which they themselves will be systematically excluded. By focusing not on the usual suspects of race or religion or even access to jobs but rather on access to the trappings of this different social circle – the French middle and upper classes – Djouder demonstrates how poverty shapes every facet of a person’s life by isolating him or her from a variety of experiences, which only creates wider gaps between social classes. If the goal of French policy makers is to integrate these same populations raised in poverty into the fabric of French society, how far is this integration expected to extend? Is it enough for these populations to be living in France, attending French schools, working French jobs? And, as they do so and encounter different aspects of French culture, will they nevertheless hit a glass ceiling of inopportunity that is not the product of race or religion but rather one of economic upbringing and the social trappings that come with it? This emphasis on brands and material goods and objects contains a critique of the French elites who assume that the poor will be satisfied simply if their basic needs are taken care of: Un pauvre en France, d’une certaine manière, s’il a un toit, une télé, une chaîne hi fi et s’il mange tous les jours, d’une certaine manière, les riches peuvent avoir la conscience tranquille. Parce que, d’une certaine manière, avoir un toit où vivre et dormir et pouvoir s’amuser un peu et manger, c’est le principal, non, qu’on soit riche ou pauvre? [A poor person in France, in a certain manner, if he has a roof, a television, a hi fi system, and if he eats every day, in a certain manner, rich people can have an easy conscience. Because, in a certain manner, having a roof under which to live and sleep where one can amuse oneself a bit and eat, that’s the point, no, whether one is rich or poor?] (107)
The novel shows, repeatedly, that the poor in the banlieue have aspirational goals which extend far beyond a roof over one’s head and access to food. Once those basic needs have been satisfied, they want more. Furthermore, as not only residents but also citizens of the French Republic, they, too, ought to have access to the same opportunities – including social, political and economic opportunities – as any citizen living anywhere on French soil. Djouder’s novel indicates that the crucial questions of the twenty-first century with regards to the banlieue revolve around access to the other forms of capital – not just material goods but also cultural, symbolic and social – that will allow persons in the banlieue to move beyond flipping hamburgers at a fast food restaurant.
Integration and the French Banlieue
4 Phillippe Fauconʼs Désintégration Philippe Faucon’s 2012 film Désintégration follows the story of one person trying to find a job that will allow him to enter into the middle class: Ali, a young man of Maghrebi origin who, following his training in electrical systems maintenance, is trying to find an internship. Having studied and worked hard, he hopes to earn enough money that his mother can stop working at her menial cleaning job and have the lifestyle he believes she deserves. Ali sends out CVs for internships, but he has a hard time even getting an interview, much less a coveted internship position. As he continues to get rejected in spite of the numerous applications – over 100 in four months – Ali gets increasingly discouraged, especially as he watches his white, French classmates find jobs easily while he and his fellow Arab and black classmates struggle to find a position. It is at this point that an Islamic fundamentalist, Nasser, swoops in and recasts Ali’s feelings of economic disenfranchisement in terms of racial and religious discrimination. He juxtaposes Ali’s struggles with the experiences of the privileged children in “les beaux quartiers de Lille [the nice neighborhoods of Lille],” saying that Ali and his friends have “rien à voir avec eux [nothing to do with them].” What Ali does have, according to Nasser, is the right to the religion of his parents, which Nasser recasts in distorted, radical terms that pit Muslims against a French society that does everything possible to undermine their heritage. At Nasser’s urging, Ali begins to distance himself from the systems of French society in which he was, previously, quite well integrated. Ali chooses to only associate with Muslims because, according to Nasser, anyone belonging to “cette société [this society]” (France) is a danger to him. Ultimately, at Nasser’s encouragement, a thoroughly discouraged Ali takes a job for which he is over-qualified: operating a forklift in a warehouse. A long tracking shot of Ali at work makes the viewer feel the monotony of his work life; Ali’s unhappiness is palpable. Unable to find satisfaction at work, Ali throws himself even further into Nasser’s radicalized brand of Islam. This only serves to further alienate him, not just from French society, but also from his family, as he clashes with his sister, who does not wear a headscarf, and his brother, who has moved in with his French girlfriend. In spite of his family members’ numerous attempts to correct the radical Islam Ali is learning – his mother tells him that Islam is about sharing and love, not hatred and discrimination – Nasser’s vision of events – a French state pitted against a religious minority it only wants to exploit – prevails. The film ends with Ali becoming a suicide bomber. The film foregrounds Ali’s economic disenfranchisement as his primary reason for falling victim to this fundamentalist version of Islam. While his family is the epitome of integration, and Ali has gotten training for a professional job that
should allow him to lead a comfortable middle-class lifestyle, it is only when Ali cannot find a job that he falls prey to a fundamentalist recruiter who is clearly seeking out young men who already feel disenfranchised and recasts these feelings in racial and religious terms that suit his own radical purposes. If Ali had only found a job, the film insists, this suicide bombing never would have happened.
Conclusion While neither Djouder’s novel nor Faucon’s film downplays the reality of racial or religious discrimination for persons of Maghrebi descent living in France, both works are careful not to place this at the center of the reasons for these persons’ feelings of disenfranchisement. Instead, the experience of a poverty that they cannot escape – economic inequalities leading to social gaps that they cannot bridge – emerges as the primary difficulty for today’s persons of Maghrebi origin, and one that they are much more interested in discussing than their racial or religious backgrounds. The roles that economic inequalities play in shaping the present-day inequalities in the banlieue are also reflected by the 2005 riots, where the rioters were united, not by race or religion but by a shared sense of poverty (see Lagrange 2013: 121 and Mohammed 2013: 171). The rioters did not divide themselves into racial or religious groups; rather, they were a collective representing the people of the banlieue. Furthermore, while riots are a relatively common phenomenon in France (see Koff and Duprez 2009: 726) and within the banlieue itself (see Mucchielli 2009: 731–751), these events were unique because of the damage that they did to material goods. While nobody died as a direct result, the rioters took a tremendous toll on material objects: 10,000 private vehicles were burned, and 30,000 rubbish bins were destroyed, along with hundreds of public buildings, buses and post office vehicles. Overall, the total cost amounted to more than 200 million euros and the material damage over the course of those three weeks was so great that it was deemed the most significant protest in France since those in May 1968 (Koff and Duprez 2009: 714). The damage to material objects suggests that the riots targeted the lack of access to capital and the consequent social segregation. Hugues Lagrange argues that the riot’s unique character had to do, primarily, with the “incapacity of these youths to access social positions . . . combined with the new effects of ethnic segregation in poor neighborhoods in France” (Lagrange 2013: 121). Marwan Mohammed agrees that the riots occurred because they were “carried out by vulnerable people who lack political leverage and enjoy little access to national political structures” (Mohammed 2013: 171). In the Zones Urbaines
Integration and the French Banlieue
Sensibles or deprived urban areas in which the bulk of the rioting occurred, the economic – and resulting social – inequality is palpable: one out of four workers are unemployed (twice the national ratio), more than one out of three adults lacks advanced education (versus one out of five nationally) and more than one out of every four families is a single-parent family (again, twice the national average) (Fauvelle-Aymar et al. 2013: 184). Despite links made between the riots and race, the rioters themselves never claimed to speak for any particular racial group, and the physical targets of the violence were not racial.5 Furthermore, the majority of the rioters were born in France and, thus, French citizens; only 7 % of those who were arrested over the course of the riots were born overseas (Echchaibi 2007: 302). If we look to Djouder’s novel and Faucon’s film, both of which were created in the wake of the 2005 riots, many of the same themes are present. Their protagonists were not as concerned with their racial or religious identities as they were with mastering French cultural capital. Racism continues to operate in contemporary French society, affecting peoples’ access to economic opportunities, and neither work denies the role that racism plays in the experiences of its minority characters. Nevertheless, as these works show, in order to combat racism effectively, it is essential to address the very real economic inequalities that are only exacerbating these gaps and leaving openings for fundamentalists to take advantage of frustrated, vulnerable young persons in the banlieue. As scholars of this topic, it is our obligation to consider the complete picture and how the intersections of race, class and religion shape the experiences of minorities in the banlieue and affect the state of integration in contemporary French society.
Works Cited Bourdieu, Pierre (1986) “The Forms of Capital,” in Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education, ed. J. Richardson (New York: Greenwood), 241–258. Bourdieu, Pierre (1993) The Field of Cultural Production (New York: Columbia UP).
5 Jobard, “Rioting as a Political Tool,” 237. It should further be noted that there is extensive disagreement about what exactly the riots represented. Achille Mbembe sees the riots and the treatment of the banlieue in general as an extension of the phenomena of colonial France (see Achille Mbembe, “The Republic and its Beast: On the Riots in the French Banlieues,” Trans. Jane Marie Todd, in Frenchness and the African Diaspora, ed. Charles Tshimanga et al. [Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2009]. Slavoj Žižek, however, sees the riots as a passage à l’acte that was devoid of any larger meaning (see Slavoj Žižek, Violence: Six Sideways Reflections [New York: Picador, 2008], 69).
Bourdieu, Pierre (1991) Language and Symbolic Power, ed. John B. Thompson, trans. Gino Raymond and Matthew Adamson (Cambridge: Polity Press). Bucker, Nina (2013), “Les gêoles de la différence?”: Quêtesidentitaires postmigratoires d’une minorité noire en France urbaine (New York: Peter Lang) Campbell, Matthew. “The fire next door,” The Sunday Times, 13 November 2005. Djouder, Ahmed (2006) Désintégration (Paris: Stock). Durmelat, Sylvie and Vinay Swamy, ed. (2011) Screening Integration: Recasting Maghrebi immigration in contemporary France (Lincoln: U of Nebraska P). Echchaibi, Nabil (2007) “Republican Betrayal: Beur FM and the Suburban Riots in France,” Journal of Intercultural Studies 28.3, 302. Fauvelle-Aymar, Christine, Abel François and Patricia Vornetti (2013) “The 2007 presidential election and the 2005 urban violence in French ‘deprived urban areas,’” in Rioting in the UK and France, ed. David Waddington et al. (New York: Taylor and Francis), 183–202. Gervereau, Laurent, Pierre Milza and Émile Temime (1998) Toute la France: Histoire de l’immigration en France au XXe siècle (Paris: Somogy). Gevereau, Laurent et al. (1998), Toute La France: Histoire de l’immigration en France au XXeme siècle (Paris: BDIC) Hargreaves, Alec (2007) Multi ethnic France: immigration, politics, culture and society (New York: Routledge). Hargreaves, Alec (1995) Immigration, Race and Ethnicity in Contemporary France (New York: Routledge). Koff, Harlan and Dominique Duprez (2009) “The 2005 Riots in France: The International Impact of Domestic Violence,” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 35, no. 5, 713–730. Lagrange, Hugues (2013) “The French riots and urban segregation,” in Rioting in the UK and France, ed. David Waddington et al. (New York: Taylor and Francis), 107–123. Mbembe, Achilles (2009) “The Republic and Its Beast: On the Riots in the French banlieues,” in Frenchness and the African Diaspora, ed. Charles Tshimanga (Bloomington: Indiana UP), 47–55. McDowell, Linda (2008) “Thinking through work: complex inequalities, constructions of difference, and trans-national migrants,” in Progress in Human Geography 32.4: 491–507. Mehta, Brinda (2010) “Negotiating Arab-Muslim Identity, Contested Citizenship, and Gender Ideologies in the Parisian Housing Projects: Faïza Guène’s Kiffe kiffe demain,” Research in African Literatures 41.2, 173–02. Mohammed, Marwan (2013), “Youth gangs, riots, and the politicization process,” in Rioting in the UK and France, ed. David Waddington et al. (New York: Taylor and Francis), 157–172. Mucchielli, Laurent (2009) “Autumn 2005: A Review of the Most Important Riot in the History of French Contemporary Society,” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 35.5, 731–751. Noirel, Gérard (1988) Le creuset français: Histoire de l’immigration XIXe XXe siècles (Paris: Seuil). Thomas, Dominic (2008) “New Writing for New Times: Faïza Guène, banlieue writing and the post-Beur generation,” Expressions maghrébines 7.1, 33–51. Thomas, Dominic (2012) “Postcolonial Writing in France,” in The Cambridge History of Postcolonial Literature, ed. Ato Quayson (Cambridge: Cambridge UP), 604–619.
Translocal Constellations: Navigations of Mobility and Emplacement and Emine Sevgi Özdamar’s Story “The Courtyard in the Mirror” In recent decades, processes of decolonization and globalization, of migration and diaspora have produced a rich body of literature, which explores and reflects on the multifaceted movements, multicultural and multilingual conditions shaping new identities and new modes of heterogeneous writing in the contemporary world. In the course of this development and in addition to earlier postcolonial studies, new transdisciplinary approaches have been developed for the analysis of this literature of movement and its complex processes of interactive dynamics between and across cultures and borders. Many important scholarly works, to give only some examples, confronted the growing body of writing “Outside the Nation” (Seyhan 2000), writing a “New Critical Grammar of Migration” (Adelson 2005) or “WritingbetweenWorlds,” undermining the borders between Nationaland Weltliteratur (Ette 2016). New perspectives have developed on writers of a “New World Literature” (Sturm-Trigonakis 2013), transcultural writers in the age of mobility (Dagnino 2015) or writers of “ex(tra)territoriality,” opening the utopian horizon of a new freedom, another space and new margins (Lassalle and Weissmann 2014). Most recently, reflections on the “post-migrant condition” have further challenged the line between migration and non-migration, bringing new attention to multiple trajectories created by various kinds of mobility that move people between different countries, cultures, languages and communication practices. In what follows, I introduce a model of translocal constellation to reflect on border-crossing literature with seemingly antagonistic conditions of manifold practices of mobility as well as cultural expressions of emplacement, in other words, to explore the interplay between these processes. Developing my argument for translocal constellations, I shall consider Walter Benjamin’s thought on language, translation and constellation and reflect on a short story by the acclaimed Turkish-German writer Emine Sevgi Özdamar, “The Courtyard in the Mirror.” First, I give a brief overview with a focus on accelerated social changes and shifts in theory and research practice with regard to mobility, space and emplacement.
Transnationalism and transculturalism have become driving forces in social, cultural and political dynamics, challenging insinuated forms of national or cultural homogeneity and concepts of identity in terms of nation, national language, culture and belonging. New lines of “thinking about the nation” had already emerged in the 1970s, for example in Jean-Francois Lyotard’s sophisticated challenge of the metanarrative based on “national culture” as being in decline in his study of the Postmodern Condition (1979), followed in the ‘80s, for example, with Benedict Anderson’s (1983) path-breaking study on nations as imagined communities, and in the ‘90s with Homi K. Bhabha’s (1990) inspiring work on narrative strategies of nation building. New frames of analysis developed based on the fact that the general feature of all cultures today is a process of cosmopolitization within all nations (Beck 2008) and, furthermore, that nations are characterized by a hybridization that overcomes limitations of multiculturalism, which is still grounded in a concept of single cultures and exclusivity (Welsch 1999). With this turn to wide-ranging and powerful processes of mobility and interconnectedness, there also emerged another agenda in the 1990s, which seemed to move in the opposite direction, a so-called “spatial turn” or a “politics of location.” With decolonization and postcolonial studies entering the critical discourse beginning in the 1970s, attention had shifted to people on the socalled periphery, whose self-determination required not just the re-discovery of a “pure” place and culture but an understanding of the dynamic nature of all cultures (Fanon 1963). Adding a deconstructionist lens, postcolonial analysis fostered a rethinking of many assumptions about space, emphasizing, for example, how it had been entangled in the fantastical construction of colonized world(s) (Said 1978). In the 1990s, the field of geography moved to the center of critical discourses on spatial processes in the social sciences and humanities. The geographer Doreen Massey, in her essay “A Global Sense of Place” (1991), for example, countered the argument of the dissolution of place and the local as the result of globalization. She argued that the local does not dissolve, and its “social meaning” does not vanish. However, we must challenge a conservative sense of place tied to origin and authenticity that is devoid of temporality: If we dynamize space and place with time, placial narratives will change. Massey suggested thinking of place as a “meeting place,” that is, a place open to change, to flows and to connections. The French geographer Daniel Courgeau introduced the term translocality in the 1970s, applying it to his special field of Demography. Around the turn of the twenty-first century, the term was newly theorized, opening the opportunity to challenge spatial restrictions via multidirectional global interconnections, as well as to emphasize the continuing importance of the production of locality
Translocal Constellations: Navigations of Mobility and Emplacement
(Appadurai 1996). As the social scientist Michael Peter Smith summarized, translocality signifies “situated yet mobile subjectivities,” that is a mode of multiple emplacement or situatedness both here and there (Smith 2011). In 2013, the anthropologist Clemens Greiner and the geographer Patrick Sakdapolrak published a highly informative overview of the employment of translocality as a research perspective in the social sciences involving mobility, migration, circulation and spatial interconnectedness. They point out that scholars who have developed conceptual approaches to the term usually build on insights from transnationalism, while at the same time attempting to overcome some of the limitations of this long-established research perspective. What defines the new approach of translocality is the use of the two central dimensions of mobility and place along with their socio-spatial dynamics. Unlike transnational studies, the perspective of translocality focuses not only on national border crossing but expands to include manifold crossings of continents, mega-cities, and regional and rural borders. As such, it can be applied – in contrast to transnationalism – to research on internal migration (that is, migration apparent within national borders), which makes up the bigger share of global migration dynamics today (Greiner and Sakdapolrak 2013). By now, translocality has been applied widely in various studies in the social sciences; more recently, this perspective has been adopted in literary and cultural studies as well. One example is the essay of Münster (Germany) entitled Postcolonial Translocations. Cultural Representation and Critical Spatial Thinking (Munkelt et al. 2010). Testing the uses and limitations of translocation as an open exploratory model for a critically spatialized postcolonial studies, the included essays cover a wide range of cultural expressions, e.g., literature, film and TV, photography and the arts. In their insightful introduction, the editors see the advantages of the translocal perspective adding to earlier studies on hybridization and creolization of diasporic cultures, bringing to today’s critical spatial thinking a more refined concentration on mobility and the dynamic process of location and emplacement as intervention. In his book Literature’s Sensuous Geographies. Postcolonial Matters of Place (2015), the Danish comparatist Sten Pultz Moslund turns to phenomenological approaches to place and language, drawing inspiration from Heidegger, Dufrense and Deleuze among others. According to Moslund, postcolonial studies have focused on the discursive challenges of imperial master narratives. He mentions, for example, studies on the Caribbean by Stuart Hall and Paul Gilroy, which specifically concentrated on the journey, translation, movement, interhuman relations and the various Diasporas in the Caribbean – but make no mention of the Caribbean as a phenomenal place and environment (Moslund 2015: 180–181). To open up other discursive relations to the world, Moslund suggests the paradigm of
sensuous geographies, that is, the exploration of sense-aesthetic dimensions of embodied experiences of placial worlds. Thus, we may conclude, global flows, increased movements and migrancy create a heightened awareness for mobility and interconnectedness as well as new negotiations of space and of place, in which people are situated and live in particular ways, tied to specific contexts – yielding a multipositionality, which I try to balance with caution in my approach to a translocal poetics. Walter Benjamin’s thought on language, translation and constellation offers a complex and flexible intellectual site to think through translocality by way of applying his thought on language to place and cross-cultural practice. Traditionally, translation theory is based on a bifurcation of target and source language; this bifurcation is undermined in Benjamin’s understanding of languages as always different and supplemental at the same time. According to Benjamin, languages differ in their mode of meaning (Art des Meinens), but, Benjamin notes, within this mode of meaning also resides the relatedness and kinship of all languages, that is, their translatability, because no single language can attain by itself a mode of meaning (Benjamin 1968: 70f). Benjamin’s essay opens a new trajectory in translation theory insofar as he acknowledges that all languages are distinct as well a non-hierarchically interrelated. They are all fragments in need of continuous reverberation and supplementation. As such, Benjamin’s translation theory contests cultural domination and the power of historical priority because the mode of meaning of an original can show itself only as specific and different by comparison with another mode of meaning, another specific locality, another cultural translation. To apply this view to place: we only can begin to grasp the specificity of a place or placial particularity, by learning about other places, supplementing our understanding of the place that we believe we know or belong to. From this perspective, what we are used to defining as a familiar place actually is “foreign” and only will become “familiar” with our exploration of different places. It is important to understand that this move is not from one place to another, but a transformation that involves a double “creation” of location – of the particularity of the seemingly familiar place and the specificity of the new place – to which I bring my placial particularity or what I call placeability. Whenever this happens, a constellation emerges that opens up to a manifold triggered heterogeneity allowing for what is most important for Benjamin: “reverberation” and “supple mentation” (Benjamin 1968: 74, 76). In addition, I am drawing here on Benjamin’s methodological image of constellation, which he reveals in his German Tragic Drama, and he later develops further in his Arcades Project and his “Theses on the Philosophy of History.” Based on the Sternbild as Konstellation, a constellation, according to Benjamin,
Translocal Constellations: Navigations of Mobility and Emplacement
is defined as the potential of displaying the relation of juxtaposed changing elements within an overarching unity of disunity, in which they gain “actuality” and are grasped instantaneously from a viewpoint, but remain in a state of dynamic fluctuation (Benjamin 1998: 34). Accordingly, in my model, “constellation” serves as a conceptual tool to overcome the duality of global/local and to elucidate the experience of placial particularities as perpetually active forms that have undergone multifaceted transformations and dispersions, creating an encompassing translocality that is always open to change and, as such, a perpetuating changing configuration. Let me briefly outline what I see as the beneficial complements of this model to the previous approaches discussed earlier. The attentiveness to the creative process of places, reverberation and supplementation in constellation resists any simple understanding of origin or of mobility, hybridity or performativity. The model of translocal constellation emphasizes provisional placial particularity, which undergoes kaleidoscopic transformations depending on diverse contexts. Some scholarship of globalization has emphasized the imminent deterioration of the local parallel to growing transnational interconnectedness and transcultural communication. Clearly, the contextual understanding of placial particularities in a constellation not only promotes an understanding of recognized multiple “locals,” but also sincerely considers heterogeneous “locals” in their particularity around the world at risk of being marginalized or even of disappearing. Furthermore, following more recent criticism on the exclusive focus on fluid boundaries and identities, we may ask: if the transnational or transcultural is looked at positively as a fluid space, always in the making, does it become a shallow or superficial space, even promoting violent fluidity? The concept of translocal constellation tries to avoid eclipsing or absorbing placial particularity and, at the same time, attempts to stay attentive to mobility and perpetually changing configurations over historical time. This allows for a consideration of various forms of dynamic interaction between a territorial localization (centering) within specific contexts and processes of delocalization (and decentering) under specific conditions, such as practices of mobility, multilingualism and global communication. Identity is a learned or constructed particularity in relation to the people and places forming one’s placeability. In today’s complex cultural configurations, placeability will be challenged in a process of negotiation early on. As a concept, hybridity offers the possibility to leave dichotomous thinking behind and to seriously confront crucial contradictions in today’s world. While there are nuanced explorations of multiperspectivity via hybridity, there is also the danger of unassuming moves to mixture, collapsing hybridity into a fixed category without engaging profoundly in its structure and relevant contexts.
Contemplating translocality offers instead a process of kaleidoscopic actualization within emerging constellations, which, then, can be unpacked in their complexity of places and contexts. Subject matters and modes of writing of contemporary migrant, exile or diasporic narratives are undeniably vast and various. At this juncture, I shall introduce a narrative, which illuminates such an actualizing translocal constellation: Emine Sevgi Özdamar’s multilingual story in “Der Hof im Spiegel,” brilliantly translated by Leslie Adelson into English (The Courtyard in the Mirror, 2006).1 Özdamar, a Turkish-German writer, has been successfully publishing stories and novels in German since the 1990s and is now both celebrated and well-known. Many publications analyzed her work with particular attention to the representation of the migratory experience.2 For example, in her article “Comparative Cultural Studies and Ethnic Minority Writing today,” Sabine Milz (2000) highlights “fluidity of belonging” and cultural “hybridity” in Özdamar’s writing and compares this with another illustration of “minority writing” by the Caribbean Canadian writer Marlene Nourbese Philipp. In what follows, I explore the possibility of reading Özdamar’s story as an articulation of a carefully constructed composite of an expanding particularity that assembles relationships and the specificities of sites and times into a translocal constellation. In “Der Hof im Spiegel,” the narrator, coming from afar, lives in in a large German city. She inhabits and navigates her place, which offers a view into a courtyard, by strategically placing mirrors around her apartment, allowing her an expanded view into the public/private spaces of her neighbors. Creating her multi-perspectival setting, she has in mind a French urban specialist who once wrote about the residential aesthetic of the Orient, that is, how people there extend their houses into alleyways resembling labyrinths where neighbors woke up nose to nose. With these three mirrors, she has extended her apartment and built her very own neighborhood as a meaningful meeting place. For her, it brings back a feeling of her upbringing in Turkey, which comforts her now. In other words, she has come to her new place bringing with her a particular “placeability,” a geographical imaginary of home. With the extended space of her mirrors, she connects with her present by watching her neighbors and engaging emotionally with their everyday life, such as the nun who enjoys reading Alice in Wonderland in her bed, and with the
1 Transit. A Journal of Travel, Migration, and Multiculturalism in the German speaking World. http://transit.berkeley.edu/2006/adelson/; transl. and introd. Leslie Adelson. 2 For recent collections of articles on Özdamar’s work and detailed overviews of earlier inter pretations see: Oxford German Studies 45:3 (2016) and Paul Michael Lützeler and Thomas W. Kniesche (2018).
Translocal Constellations: Navigations of Mobility and Emplacement
woman from Africa, who bakes bread by the windowsill every day with her four children playing. In addition, the mirrors provide an imagined space to relate to those who live in an “other” place. Whenever she picks up the phone and talks to family and friends back in Turkey, she looks into the mirrors where they become present. What emerges is not just a connection of two sites, here and there, but a contingent and shifting formation across borders, blurring the distinction between here and there – in other words, a translocal constellation. We also follow the narrator wandering in the streets of her neighborhood, reminding us of the exemplary figure of modern life presented in Georg Simmel’s essay, “The Stranger,” first published in 1908. According to Simmel, a stranger is “(a) person who comes today and stays tomorrow” with “proportion of nearness and remoteness” that is the aura of “objectivity” (Simmel 1950). As such, we are following the narrator wandering in the streets, observing, talking to neighbors and recording stories. She does so, however, always with empathy and compassion for the manifold concerns and worries of the human beings she encounters. Özdamar’s story illuminates reverberation and supplementation of placial particularity and relationality of past and present that is actualized in a translocal constellation. She looks into the mirrors and watches her “world,” which includes people who are living and who have died, old and new configurations. Looking into the mirror, she speaks on the phone with her mother, who has passed, as well as to her old friend Jon, a poet, still living back in Turkey, about all the other people in the courtyard and those she actually met walking around in her neighborhood and seriously cares about.3 The merging of multiple layers of time and realities in the mirrors and her real encounters with neighbors and people in the neighborhood streets allow the narrator a process of inhabiting her place. She has access to beloved people of her past and present, allowing her to come to terms with her memories as well as to relating to her particular placial particularity in the now, her unique neighborhood, the people she meets on an everyday basis in her mirrors, in her house and in the surrounding streets. The view of the narrator’s past “place world” changes throughout the story, as well as the imagined voices of her mother and the poet Jon changes her understanding and transforms her present place experience. When on one day she feels insulted by a German woman and swears never to speak German 3 In the introduction to her translation, Adelson points out that “the story is richly saturated with a complex history of modern media ranging from scissor cut silhouettes, mirrors, and photography to the telegraph, telephone, radio, cassette recordings, television, and film” (2006).
again, her friend Jon gives her sensible advice, which helps her to better acclimate herself to her new linguistic surroundings. Rather than a gradual process of synthesis or hybridity, we find in Özdamar’s story a juxtaposition of heterogeneous places and experiences, out of which emerges a discontinuous, perpetually changing constellation that is guided, in her case, by compassion. It is with compassion that she watches and engages with her neighbors, that she reaches back into childhood memories, people lost, her friend Jon’s poetry, which she complements with German poetry, weaving pain, solitude and sometimes desperation into her story. Translocality – with the guiding image of constellation – captures the open, nonlinear processes of interconnectedness and relationality of people and places in modern cultures today. The concept provides a new set of tools for the analysis of literature and cultural practice, which considers both the trajectories of movement as well as the dynamics of emplacement. It is attentive to global and local wanderings as well as to diverse placial practices, sensuous experiences and imagined placial worlds. Placial particularity is not static or fixed in a “here and there”; rather, it unfolds in kaleidoscopic transformations captured in instantaneous actualizations of translocal constellations. Translocality, if further developed, may serve to establish a new broad category in literature, that is, translocal literature, offering a new horizon of multiple forms of situated yet mobile subjectivities and their cultural expressions. These reflections need further explorations with regard to the now of the author and the reader, as well as production and distribution parameters.
Works Cited Adelson, Leslie (2005) The Turkish Turn in Contemporary German Literature: Toward a New Critical Grammar of Migration (New York: Palgrave Macmillan). Anderson, Benedict (1983) Imagined Communities. Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London, New York: Verso). Appadurai, Arjun (1996) “The production of locality,” in Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P). Benjamin, Walter (1998) The Origin of German Tragic Drama. Transl. John Osborne (New York: Verso). Benjamin, Walter (1999) The Arcades Project. Transl. Howard Eiland and Kevin McLauglin (Cambridge, MA; London: The Belknap/Harvard UP). Benjamin, Walter (1968) “The task of the translator (1923),” in Walter Benjamin. Essays and Reflections, ed. Hannah Arendt, transl. Harry Zohn (New York: Schocken Books), 69–82. Benjamin, Walter (1968) “Theses on the philosophy of history (1940),” in Walter Benjamin Essays and Reflections, ed. Hannah Arendt, transl. Harry Zohn (New York: Schocken Books), 253–264.
Translocal Constellations: Navigations of Mobility and Emplacement
Beck, Ulrich (2008) “The cosmopolitan perspective: Sociology of the second age of modernity,” The British Journal of Sociology, 59, 79–105. Bhabha, Homi K., ed. (1990) Nation and Narration (London, New York: Routledge). Bhabha, Homi K. (1994) The Location of Culture (London, New York: Routledge). Brinker-Gabler, Gisela, ed. (1993) Encountering the Other(s). Studies in Literature, History, and Culture (Albany: SUNY Press). Brinker-Gabler, Gisela (2016) “The task of the translator: Walter Benjamin ’s Über setzen in cross-cultural practice,” in Translation and Translating in German Studies. A Festschrift for Raleigh Whitinger, ed. John L. Plews and Diana Spokiene (Waterloo, Canada: Wilfried Laurier UP), 15–26. Brinker-Gabler, Gisela (2018) “Walter Benjamin’s translator/critic as a model for transcultural thought and practice,” in Benjamin‘s Figures. Dialogues on the Vocation of the Humanities, ed. Madeleine Kasten, Rico Sneller and Gerard Visser (Nordhausen, Germany: Traugott Bautz). Brinker-Gabler, Gisela and Sidonie A. Smith, eds. (1997) Writing New Identities. Gender, Nation, and Immigration in Contemporary Europe (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P). Certeau, Michel de (1980) L’invention du quotidian. Vol.1, Arts de faire. Union génerale d’editions 10–18, [“Walking in the City.” The Practice of Everyday Life, transl. Steven Rendall, ch. 7. Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: U of California P, 1984] Courgeau, Daniel (2013) https.://www.researchgate.net/post/How would you define the term of Translocality Dagnino, Arianna (2015) Transcultural Writers and Novels in the Age of Global Mobility (West Lafayette, IN: Purdue UP). Fanon, Franz (1963) Wretched of the Earth (1961). Transl. Constance Farrington (New York: Grove Weidenfeld). Ette, Ottmar (2016) WritingbetweenWorlds.TransArea Studies and the Literatures without a fixed Abode. Transl. Vera M. Kutzinski (Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter). Hannerz, Ulf (1996). Transnational Connections. Culture, People, Places (London, New York: Routledge). Lasalle, Didier and Dirk Weissmann, eds. (2014) Ex(tra)territorial. Reassessing Territory in Literature (Amsterdam: Brill/Rodopi). Greiner, Clemens and Patrick Sakdapolrak (May 2013) “Translocality: Concepts, applications and emerging research perspectives,” Geography Compass, 7.5, 373–384. Jordan, Jim (2016) “From guest worker to cultural cosmopolitan: Evolving identities in Emine Sevgi Özdamar’s short story cycle Der Hof im Spiegel,” Oxford German Studies 45.3. Lefebvre, Henri (1992/1974) The Production of Space (Oxford; Malden, Mass.: WileyBlackwell). Lützeler, Paul Michael and Thomas W. Kniesche, eds. (2018) Gegenwartsliteratur. Ein Germanistisches Jahrbuch/A German Studies Yearbook: Schwerpunkt/Focus: Emine Sevgi Özdamar. Lyotard, Jean-Francois (1984/1979) The Postmodern Condition. A Report on Knowledge (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P). Massey, Doreen (1994/1991) “A global sense of place,” Rprt. Space, Place, and Gender (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P), 146–156. McClusky, Alan (Nov. 2013) “Cosmopolitanism and subversion of ‘home’ in Caryl Philipp’s A Distant Shore,” Transnational Literature, 6.1.
Milz, Sabine (2000) “Comparative cultural studies and ethnic minority writing today: The hybridities of Marlene Nourbese Philip and Emine Sevgi Özdamar,” CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture: A WWWeb Journal, 2.2. Moslund, Sten Pultz (2010) Migration, Literature, and Hybridity. The Different Speeds of Transcultural Change (New York: Palgrave/Macmillan). Moslund, Sten Pultz (2015) Literature’s Sensuous Geographies. Postcolonial Matters of Place (New York: Palgrave/Macmillan). Munkelt, Marga, Markus Schmitz, Mark Stein and Silke Stroh, eds. (2010) Postcolonial Translocations: Cultural Representation and Critical Spatial Thinking (Amsterdam: Rodopi). Özdamar, Emine Sevgi (2006) “The Courtyard in the Mirror.” Transl. and intr. Leslie A. Adelson. In Transit. A Journal of Travel, Migration, and Multiculturalism in the German speaking World. http://transit.berkeyley.edu/2006/adelson/ Said, Edward (1978) Orientalism (New York: Pantheon Books). Simmel, Georg (1950) “The Stranger” [Der Fremde, 1908]. The Sociology of Georg Simmel. Transl. Kurt Wolff (New York: Free Press), 402–408. [https://www.infoamerica.org/docu mentos pdf/simmel01.pdf.] Smith, Michael Peter (2011) “Translocality: A critical reflection,” Translocal Geographies. Spaces, Places, Connections, ed. Katherine Brickell and Ayona Datta (Farnham, England: Ashgate), 181–98. Seyhan, Azade (2000) Writing Outside the Nation (Princeton: Princeton UP). Sturm-Trigonakis, Elke (2013) Comparative Cultural Studies and the New Weltliteratur (Lafayette, IN: Purdue UP) [Global Playing in der Literatur. Ein Versuch über die neue Weltliteratur. Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 2007] Welsch, Wolfgang (1999) “Transculturality – the puzzling form of cultures today,” in Spaces of Culture: City, Nation, World, ed. Mike Featherstone and Scot Lash (London: Sage), 194–213.
Raúl Ruiz’s Adaptation of The Blind Owl: An Exilic Model for Europe In this essay, I explore the idea of cultural and aesthetic border-crossing through a comparative analysis of The Blind Owl (Boof-e-Koor), a 1937 short novel by Iranian writer Sadegh Hedayat and its eponymous adaptation by Chilean ﬁlmmaker Raúl Ruiz, released exactly 50 years later in France (La chouette aveugle, 1987). In analyzing Ruiz’s ﬁlm through a Deleuzian interpretative framework as a “strategic adaptation” of Hedayat’s novel, I will show how series of very precise mismatches cause (id)entities, tropes and storylines to double, branch, multiply, fold and (ex)change. This conﬂuence of Iranian and Chilean surrealist minds across time, space, culture and media will serve not only as a reﬂection on (or refraction of) on contemporary experiences of mobility and migration in European metropolitan centers like Paris – the Alpha city that hosted both Hedayat and Ruiz and forms the setting of the ﬁlm itself – but also as a model for a European Culture to come. As a ﬁlmmaker supporting (and supported by) Salvador Allende’s regime, Raúl Ruiz (1941–2011) ﬂed into exile after the Pinochet coup of 1973. Like many Chileans, he ended up in France, where the critics of the Cahiers du Cinéma (all of whom starred as characters in his ﬁlms at one point or other) were quick to adopt him as a champion of his métier. Though attention has come to wane somewhat in recent years, there is surely no lack of critical and scholarly attention for Ruiz’s eclectic, experimental and extensive oeuvre – Ruiz made over a hundred, sometimes hard-to-ﬁnd, ﬁlms and wrote extensively on his medium as well. Yet The Blind Owl occupies a relatively unmarked place within that work. It received barely any notice in the English-speaking ﬁlm world especially, and, so far, virtually no one discusses the ﬁlm as an adaptation; even the few French reviewers who did celebrate the ﬁlm claimed that Ruiz drew but a few tropes from Hedayat’s novel (esp. Moullet 2004).1 Likewise, Hedayat scholars rarely mention the adaption when discussing The Blind Owl. While the ﬁlm indeed appears to break away completely from its source material after an already loose appropriation of Hedayat’s novel in its ﬁrst of three sections, I will nevertheless argue that the ﬁlm is important precisely as an adaptation:
1 That the ﬁlm, despite occasional pirated appearances on the web, is not commercially avail able on DVD or on streaming services in the English speaking world undoubtedly accounts, in part at least, for its limited attention. https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110645781 008
Ruiz, rather than faithfully bringing the novel’s content to the screen, continues to push Hedayat’s narrative strategies to the nth degree. It is this strategic adaptation that provides the exilic perspective on Europe. Before elaborating that strategy, I will ﬁrst discuss Hedayat’s novel, as well as several critical responses in the West.
1 The Blind Owl: A novel in two novellas Although mostly written during the years Sadegh Hedayat spent as an unsuccessful dentistry student in Paris, The Blind Owl was ﬁrst published not in the West, but in the East: a mere ﬁfty copies were stenciled in India in 1937 (the author had taken up temporary residency in Bombay) and stamped “not for sale in Iran.” When the short novel was released in his home country several years later (after Reza Shah’s relinquishing of the throne in 1941), its reception was mixed at best. The more critical Iranian reviewers accused Hedayat of gharbzadegi – literally translated as Weststruckness – for his infatuation with and deep endebtedness to modern Western literature. That inﬂuence was not lost on Western critics either – witness Michael Beard’s crucial study entitled The Blind Owl as Western Novel – though here the qualiﬁcation was rather intended as a complement: To Beard, this “pastiche of Western themes and styles allow[s] Iranian readers to see their own society in defamiliarized terms” (Beard 1990: 230). André Breton, Surrealism’s self-crowned father ﬁgure, likewise reviewed The Blind Owl as a “masterpiece” upon the publication of the French translation in 1953. Two years previously, Hedayat had returned to Paris only to commit a carefully planned suicide (an earlier attempt during his previous stay in Paris had failed). By the time the French translation got to the presses, Hedayat’s grave was surrounded by those of many of France’s greatest writers at one of Europe’s most famous cemeteries, the Père Lachaise. At the same time, Beard argues, The Blind Owl should not only strike Iranians by holding up a defamiliarized self-portrait, for it is “likely to greet us [meaning Western readers – JG] with . . . an inevitable aura of the uncanny” as well. For the Western literary tradition Hedayat takes on is made to move according to what Beard calls “unknown rules, following the grain of foreign tropes and character types” (Beard 1990: 103). The contemplation of suicide and the aura of the uncanny, along with the desire to kill the object of desire, pervades The Blind Owl as well – a book believed to possess the power to lure its readers into following suit and is said to
Raúl Ruiz’s Adaptation of The Blind Owl: An Exilic Model for Europe
have in fact caused “many suicides” in Iran after it was published.2 More than any of the actual events of the story, however, the enigmatic nature of the book primarily concerns the relation between its two parts, each of which is told by a nameless narrator obsessed by an attractive woman and haunted by a “bent old man.” In the ﬁrst part (which, despite its deliberately obscure setting, must be assumed to take place in a rather more recent history than the second), the narrator is a solitary miniature painter who decorates pen cases – if he is not preoccupied with his reﬂections on death or giving in to his self-oblivious opium addiction. The only event of the story he relates is triggered by a glimpse of the beautiful woman he recognizes from the one image he has obsessively been painting on his pen cases. As Michael Beard aptly puts it in his plot summary, after this initial glimpse the painter “searches for her hopelessly in the countryside around his house. The woman comes to him again, unexpectedly and wordlessly, walks into his house, lies down on his bed, and mysteriously dies” (Beard 1990: 49). While the woman’s death is surely as mysterious (or, to use the surrealist keyword, as marvelous) as her very appearance, we should note that the ﬁrst part of the book does not quite end here. For as soon as the painter realizes the woman lost her life, he inserts his hand “into the front of her dress,” then undresses himself to lay down “beside her on the bed,” only for the narrator to jump to the conclusion: “All my eﬀorts were useless” (Blind Owl 2010: 37). Underscoring his necrophilic impotence, the narrator relates how it was rather the cold of her dead body that “penetrated to the depths of my heart” (Blind Owl 2010: 37). Shifting gears, the narrator proceeds to paint her “Turkoman” eyes before he chops up her body, puts the pieces in a trunk and buries her remains with the help of a bent old man whom we likewise recognize from the narrator’s pen case drawings and hence from the initial scene in which he had glimpsed the woman. At the burial site, this mysterious old man, with a laugh that “makes one’s hair stand on end,” digs up an old vase decorated with a portrait identical the one the painter had himself just drawn of the dead woman. The narration all but dissolves as the speaker’s consciousness descends into an opiuminduced slumber. Across the break, a nameless narrator awakens. The nature of this narrator and his relation to the previous one is deliberately unclear. It appears as though the same narrator is reborn in a diﬀerent world or that a diﬀerent narrator
2 See Porochista Khapour’s introduction to D.P. Costello’s English translation of The Blind Owl.
marvelously shares experiences and expressions with the previous one. Instead of a miniature painter, he is now a writer who keeps his pen in a pen case adorned with a familiar image. This second narrator, who had been adopted as a child into an Iranian family, is obsessed with his unconsummated marriage to the (biological) daughter of his new family; he claims that his unnamed wife/not-his-sister (in Costello’s translation the narrator refers to her as “the bitch”) receives anyone in her bedroom but him and gets especially upset by the suspicion of a “bent old man” frequenting her. Towards the end of the novel, the narrator forces his way into his wife’s bedroom in an attempt to kill her. Not ﬁnding any strangers in the room, it almost in passing occurs to him that his life-long obsession with his wife’s adultery may not have any grounding in reality. All the same, he returns soon after with the reinvigorated intention of killing her, though this time they actually end up in a passionate love scene: the narrator believes she mistakes him for the mysterious old man. When she encloses his body “like a cobra” and starts biting his lip “savagely,” he ﬁnds himself helpless in his attempt to escape her embrace: “My efforts were useless.” He ends up killing her “involuntarily” with the knife he had brought along for this very purpose and once back to his own room discovers not only that he holds her blood-drenched eyeball in his hand; his image in the mirror reveals he has in fact become a mysterious bent old man.
2 Escher-twisting across the abyss Quite apart from explicit references to favorite surrealist tropes and techniques, such as automatism (“My hand independently of my will always depicted the same scene” [Blind Owl 2010: 23]) or the uncanny (“Somehow I always felt this subject to be remote and, at the same time, curiously familiar to me. I don’t remember very well” [Blind Owl 2010: 24]), these warped stories of repression and inhibition, incest and impotence, murder and necrophilia surely invite psychoanalytic readings. When the second narrator relates a story of his biological “origins” – a story he himself learned from hearsay – the Oedipal overtones indeed seem hard to ignore. According to this story within the story, the narrator was born in India of a mother named Bugam Dasi, a “dancer in a lingam temple,” and a father whose identical twin brother used his indistinguishable appearance to trick Bugam Dasi into sleeping with him. Upon having learned of the deceit, Bugam Dasi submitted the twins to a “trial by cobra”: she had the brothers locked in the “dark room” of the lingam temple and, after dancing in front of them one last time, a snake was released to kill one of them, upon which the survivor was released to live as her
Raúl Ruiz’s Adaptation of The Blind Owl: An Exilic Model for Europe
husband. Since, however, the survivor had lost his mind and memory from the horror of the dark room experience, the narrator expresses doubt whether the father or his uncle left the temple looking like a white-haired old man. So when, in the ﬁrst part of the novel, a “bent old man with an Indian turban” suddenly appears on the narrator’s doorstep and claims to be his forgotten uncle, we do not, given our knowledge from the second part, even need the narrator to mention in passing that he had “always pictured [his] father something like this”([Blind Owl 2010: 25). And when, prompted by this uncle’s visit, the narrator has his ﬁrst glimpse of the woman whose “harmonious grace of movement” could but be possessed by “a Hindu temple dancer” (Blind Owl 2010: 27), we can readily put different pieces from diﬀerent stories of diﬀerent narrators together to reconstruct an Oedipal desire to sleep with the mother – a desire which, in the second part of the novel, is prohibited and interrupted by the father ﬁgure of the bent old man. In the The Blind Owl as Western Novel, Michael Beard invites us to provide a psychoanalytic reading of the novel by discussing two stories that inﬂuenced Hedayat and are mostly known to us because of Freud’s interpretation of them: Wilhelm Jensen’s Gradiva and E.T.A. Hoﬀmann’s “The Sandman.”3 Both stories deal with obsessive love. This is connected in Gradiva to a work of art coming to life in a buried city (Pompeii in Jensen becomes Rey in Hedayat’s case), associated by Freud with repressed desire. Story elements and tropes from Hoﬀmann’s tale include the picking out of eyes, the doubling of father ﬁgures and the dismemberment of an inanimate woman. Yet, in comparison to both Gradiva and “The Sandman,” I would argue, Hedayat’s story not only invites but also exceeds psychoanalytic interpretation that would be based on displacement and condensation. The novel resists a ﬁnal analysis that would explain away what Beard had called its “unknown rules,” which I will here suggest calling its play of diﬀerence and repetition. In “Eternal Recurrence in The Blind Owl,” Michael Cisco provides a compelling reading of The Blind Owl using a Nietzschean-Deleuzian concept of the eternal return. The break between the two parts of the novel is central to his argument, as this crucial passage makes clear: Becoming, another term for this motion [of eternal recurrence], is a necessarily forgot ten operation. “Knowledge as such is impossible within becoming,” Nietzsche wrote, and “A world of becoming could not, in the strict sense, be ‘grasped,’ be ‘known.’” In the transformation from the ﬁrst narrator to the second narrator, there is a forgotten mo ment of indeterminacy. There is nothing important about whether one is the ﬁrst or
3 For Freud’s discussion of these stories, see his essays “Delusion and Dream in Jensen’s Gradiva” and “The Uncanny” respectively.
the second narrator; their signiﬁcance seems chieﬂy to depend on the transformation that links them through a forgotten moment of becoming, which is represented by Hedayat as a break in the narrative. During this unconscious lapse, the narrator is no longer one, and not yet the other. As the moment of transition is marked by a chapter break, there is no narration of the actual moment of change. However, there is someone there, who is about to be the second narrator. (Cisco 2010: 476)4
Drawing not only on Friedrich Nietzsche but also on Henri Bergson, the concept of becoming does not, for Deleuze, mark a momentary change between stable identities. When Nietzsche, quoted in the passage above, claims that knowledge is incompatible with becoming, he means that becoming does not know what it is (becoming) in the process. This is not an epistemological issue as much as an ontological one: there is no being underneath the becoming, nor does it assume a given identity as its telos. Indeed, assuming a given identity, especially one associated with power, is the opposite of becoming; it is a form of consolidation preventing its very emergence; becoming, by contrast, necessarily concerns the production of the new. Cisco seems to acknowledge as much when he writes that we have passed through all possible identities at the moment of narrative rupture in The Blind Owl – a rupture in which there is no self, no narrator (both of whom undergo “ego-disintegration”), no knowledge and indeed no language. The moment of transformation, while not formally marked as such, includes a remarkable repetition.5 In an act of deliberate inaccuracy, I stated before that the ﬁrst part of the novel ends with an opium-induced fall into forgetfulness (“I was falling” the narrator states, “into an inﬁnite abyss in an everlasting night. After that a long series of forgotten scenes ﬂashed one after another before my eyes. I experienced a moment of utter oblivion” [Blind Owl 2010: 57]). This is inaccurate insofar as the narrator had already recovered from this “moment” before the transition: the chapter ends with the words “When I came to myself, I found myself in a small room and in a peculiar posture which struck me as strange and at the same time natural to me” (Blind Owl 2010: 59). Chapter three, a cross the break, then starts as follows:
4 For the Nietzsche references within this quote, see Writings from the Late Notebooks p. 138 and p. 26 respectively. 5 Although Cisco notes that the transition takes place across a chapter break, the white page sperating chapters two and three the one under consideration here also marks the division between chapters one and two. So even if the white page does not recur in the ﬁnal three chap ter transitions, there is no clear formal indication informing the reader that a shift is taking place; there is no subdivision in parts, for example. The same is true for the ﬁnal transition between chapters four and ﬁve, when the narration switches back again.
Raúl Ruiz’s Adaptation of The Blind Owl: An Exilic Model for Europe
When I awoke in a new world everything that I found was perfectly familiar and near to me, so much so that I felt more at home in it than in my previous surroundings and man ner of life . . . I had been born again in a world which was ancient but which at the same time was closer and more natural to me than the other. (Blind Owl 2010: 61)
That the ending of chapter two and the beginning of chapter three are contiguous – the narrator tells how he awakened to a new situation at once new and yet “natural” – should not prevent us from sensing the awkwardness of the repeated awakening itself or to note the diﬀerence within the repetition. Indeed, if we were to assume the narrator to be the same across the abyss, it is as though he had forgotten, at the start of chapter three, that he had already recovered from his forgetfulness. Moreover, the common aspect of being in a state of awakening all but obfuscates the fact that the qualiﬁcation of the ﬁrst situation as strange has been dropped in the second. Furthermore, whereas the narrator comments on the familiarity of his own position in the ﬁrst awakening, he rather addresses the entire world around him in the second. The transition thus proceeds by way of a Möbius strip or Escher twist: seemingly moving on in uninterrupted continuity, we nevertheless ﬁnd ourselves repeating our tracks in a world turned inside out. The novel enacts, in this sense, what the (second) narrator claims to experience. That the (second) narrator seems to have forgotten that he had already recovered from his fall into forgetfulness is rather typical of him – indeed not only of him. Cisco observes: Hedayat employs repetition in a unique manner. Neither narrator ever remarks upon or seems to notice that events, motifs, and similar or identical epithets and phrasings which arise in their own thoughts and utterances are repeating, but they rather encounter every repeated event or thought as if it had only just occurred for the ﬁrst time. (Cisco 2010: 478)
The forgetting of brow-raising experiences and utterances is quite symptomatic indeed. Take, for example, the narrator in part two ﬁnding himself “alone, in the same posture as when I used to sit with my opium pipe beside the brazier, sitting by my smoky oil lamp like the odds-and ends man behind his wares” (Blind Owl 2010: 129). While he explicates the connection between (indeed the identity of) his present posture with previous ones of himself and the odds-and-ends man (one of the novel’s many instantiations of the bent old men), it remains up to the reader to relate the posture back to the strange but familiar posture of awakening, just before the narrative rupture. When the narrator ﬁnds that the oil from his lamp “contained within it the odor of my wife’s legs” and he feels in his mouth “the faintly bitter taste of the stub end of a cucumber” (Blind Owl 2010: 131, emphasis added), we may think it would be too obvious for him to care to relate this to his experience
he had with his wife earlier that same evening (“I rubbed my face against her legs and several times I called her by her real name . . . And at the same time in my heart, in the bottom of my heart, I said, ‘Bitch . . . bitch!’ I kissed her legs; the skin tasted like the stub end of a cucumber, faintly acrid and bitter.” [Blind Owl 2010: 129, emphasis added]) Even so, he seems oblivious, despite the oddity of the analogy, to the various previous times he had found human body parts to taste like the bitter stub end of a cucumber, such as when he kissed his brother-in-law “on his half-open mouth, which was so much like my wife’s. His lips tasted like the stub end of a cucumber: they were acrid and bitter. The bitch’s lips, I thought, must have the same taste” (Blind Owl 2010: 95). Indeed, the ﬁrst narrator had already made the analogy when he lay down naked besides the dead woman. From virtually any point in the novel, we can enter this branching and folding network of interconnected tropes.
3 Diﬀerentiating the painted scene To be sure, we have already seen that the narrators of both parts repeatedly note the uncanny character of their experiences with objects, people or events striking them as heimlich and unheimlich at once, as familiar without evoking a speciﬁc (because repressed) recollection (“I don’t remember very well”). Yet with and beyond such experiences of the return of the repressed, the eternal return at work here is not only marked by a fundamental forgetfulness, as Cisco pointed out; it also marks a process of becoming as the recurrence of diﬀerence itself. So we should not only be struck by the recurrence of the peculiar taste of a cucumber stub (a recurrence, as said, which passed unmarked by the narrator himself), but also by the fact that this ﬂavor is not evoked by the wife’s lips (as the narrator anticipated when he kissed her brother): it is rather the skin of her legs and then the oil of his lamp that somehow ﬁll his mouth with its acridity and bitterness. This process of diﬀerentiation constitutes The Blind Owl’s fundamental operation. It is not a displacement meant to shield the ego from a confrontation with a traumatic experience, but a process that involves the very dissolution of that ego, or rather its dispersal into a whole assemblage of ﬁgures that constitute the novel. In this regard the novel does not enact what its narrator(s) frequently claim(s) is going on, since the latter tend(s) to reduce diﬀerence to resemblance and resemblance to identity. Take, for example, the twins, of which the second narrator says, “My father and my uncle . . . resembled each
Raúl Ruiz’s Adaptation of The Blind Owl: An Exilic Model for Europe
other exactly in ﬁgure, face, and disposition, and even their voices were identical” [Blind Owl 2010: 71]). Or consider the ﬁrst narrator’s comparison of his own painting of the woman’s eyes and the depiction on the vase found at the burial site: “There was not an atom of diﬀerence between them” (Blind Owl 2010: 55). Let us examine this distinction between the narrator’s disposition to reduce diﬀerence and the operative power of the novel itself by taking a closer look at the pen case painter’s work. “For some reason unknown to me,” the ﬁrst narrator claims towards the beginning of the novel, “the subject of all my painting was from the very beginning one and the same” (Blind Owl 2010: 23). He then describes the scene as follows: It consisted always of a cypress tree at the foot of which was squatting a bent old man like an Indian fakir. He had a long cloak wrapped about him and wore a turban on his head. The index ﬁnger of his left hand was pressed to his lips in a gesture of surprise. Before him stood a girl in a long black dress, leaning towards him and oﬀering him a ﬂower of morning glory. Between them ran a little stream. (Blind Owl 2010: 23)
Immediately afterwards, the man who claims to be the narrator’s uncle enters his room and “squat[s] on the ﬂoor.” The narrator describes him in familiar enough terms as “a bent old man with an Indian turban on his head and a yellow ragged cloak on his back; his face was partly concealed by a scarf wrapped around his neck: his shirt was open and revealed a hairy chest.” While no one would fail to recognize the uncle from the scene the narrator had just described, already some details are added to or deviate from the painted scene: the cloak, for example, whose color was initially left undetermined, is now described as yellow and ragged; it is wrapped “on his back” rather than “about him.” So far, however, these diﬀerences in the description are not necessarily incompatible with one another; the detail of revealed chest hair (as well as other details of the description I have left out here) may not have been mentioned previously, but they are expanding rather than contradicting our mental image of the painting. The scene starts shifting more dramatically when the narrator subsequently peeks through a “ventilation hole” to which he does not normally have access. It provides the following vista: On the open ground outside my room I saw a bent old man sitting at the foot of a cypress tree with a young girl no, an angel from heaven standing before him. She was leaning forward and with her right hand was oﬀering him a blue ﬂower of morning glory. The old man was biting the nail of his index ﬁnger of his left hand. (Blind Owl 2010: 25 26)
The narrator continues to describe the woman in more detail (noting her Turkoman eyes and half-open lips, comparing her to a Hindu temple dancer as
well as a mandrake) until he is “certain that she wished to leap across the stream which separated her from the old man but that she was unable to do so.” He ﬁnally adds that the man burst into a hollow, grating and mocking laugh, “of a quality to make the hairs of one’s body stand on end . . . and yet the expression in her face did not change” (Blind Owl 2010: 27). Here the diﬀerences with initial description gain more weight. The old man’s bursting into laughter (described in terms we have already encountered in discussing later passages from the novel) indicates an action occurring in time, yet the woman seems still stuck in the stillness of the painting: she supposedly desires to cross a stream but is unable to; her facial expression deﬁes the expected change in response to the laughter as well. Some changes may still seem trivial additions rather than signiﬁcant changes (the girl is now a young girl, if not an angel from heaven – angels from hell will occur later on; the man is sitting but not necessarily squatting; she is leaning forward rather than toward him and offers a now apparently blue ﬂower of morning glory with a speciﬁcally indicated hand). The most weight falls on the one detail that is incompatible with the previous tableau: whereas the old man was ﬁrst pressing the index ﬁnger of his left hand to his lips (in a gesture of surprise), he is now biting the nail of this speciﬁc ﬁnger, perhaps in a gesture of (castration) anxiety, but at any rate suggestive of meaning by virtue of the diﬀerence alone. Henceforth the diﬀerences proliferate and entangle, sometimes quite literally, with other tropes gradually introduced into the narrative: vines of blue, “scentless” morning glory, for example, cover the area where he buries the woman’s bodily remains; its ﬂowers frame her portrait on the vase he ﬁnds there. Vines of morning glory also overgrow the “weird houses of geometrical shapes” which keep recurring whenever the narrator leaves the conﬁnements of his home. Part of the pleasure or challenge of reading the novel consists in tracing and mapping the many recurring tropes and their transformations. If the novel, despite these movements of dispersal and diﬀerentiation, nevertheless plays with the idea of a primal scene, it does not do so by pointing back to a single scene of origin. Instead, the original scene itself splits into two and fragments further when its details start commingling in new conﬁgurations. Thus, when narrator in part two describes his pen case, he would have reproduced the exact words of the ones used by the ﬁrst narrator (in the description discussed above) were it not for his explicit naming of his mother and his speciﬁcation of her “bending forward” as “dancing,” thus bringing in one of the stories of origin: that of the death by cobra: “The index ﬁnger of his left hand is pressed to his lips in a gesture of surprise. Before him a girl in a long black dress is dancing. Her movements are not those of ordinary people – she could be Bugam Dasi.
Raúl Ruiz’s Adaptation of The Blind Owl: An Exilic Model for Europe
She is holding a ﬂower of morning glory in her hand. Between them runs a stream” (Blind Owl 2010: 120–121). Yet the same tableau forms the setting of a peeping Tom experience from childhood. When the narrator in part two rests from one of his aimless wanderings under a cypress tree at the bank of a river (thus assuming the “familiar posture” of the bent old man), he all at once sees “a little girl appear from behind the cypress trees” wearing “a black dress of very ﬁne, light material, apparently silk. She was biting the nail of one of her ﬁngers of her left hand, and she glided by with an unconstrained, carefree air.” The encounter – the narrator himself doubts whether it was real or imagined, and to us it matters little – brings up an apparently forgotten scene from childhood, when he had visited this same landscape with his mother-in-law and his step-sister (now his “bitch”). That day, the narrator now recalls, his step-sister fell into the river when they were playing with other children: The others pulled her out and took her behind a cypress three to change her clothes. I followed them. They hung up a woman’s veil as a screen in front of her but I furtively peeped from behind a tree and saw her whole body. She was smiling and biting the nail of the index ﬁnger of her left hand. Then they wrapped her up in a white cloak and spread out her ﬁne textured black silk dress to dry in the sun. (Blind Owl 2010: 93)
Here, then, is another scene of origin containing elements from the image obsessing the painter, and whose recurrence marks a process of diﬀerentiation: in the absence of the bent old man it is the girl, smiling rather than laughing, who is biting her nail and is wrapped in a cloak – a white one this time. A woman’s veil replaces a man’s turban, but nevertheless fails to serve as a screen. Just as The Blind Owl thus alludes to the sense of origin only to double or fracture its source, the novel provides a sense of destiny (by having the narrator end up becoming the bent old man) only to oﬀer another spin of the wheel of the eternal recurrence. In the brief last chapter, barely two pages long, the narrator awakens once again. His ﬁrst action is to look for a ﬂower vase but he gathers that it has gone missing. Instead of the vase, he ﬁnds a bent old man crouching amongst the shadows of his room, holding “something resembling a jar, wrapped in a dirty handkerchief” under his arm (Blind Owl 2010: 146). When the bent old man slips through the doorway, the vase-become-jar is now described yet more vaguely as “a jar, or whatever it was that was wrapped under the handkerchief” (Blind Owl 2010: 147). This boon thus loses speciﬁcity as the bent old man himself disappears “in the mist” with a mere “bundle” under his arm. The presence of blister ﬂies and maggots, as well as the weight of a dead woman, described in the novel’s ﬁnal lines, repeat tropes from the ﬁrst part, perhaps signifying the return of the ﬁrst narrator or else the introduction
of a third. We have, at any rate, crossed yet another narrative rupture, marked by another repeated moment awakening: the novel thus ends at the beginning of a new cycle of the eternal return, continuing the process of becoming and the recurrence of diﬀerence itself.
4 Ruiz’s pentaludic model If Sadegh Hedayat’s novel is a pastiche of styles and source materials mixed into a story that exceeds normalizing psychoanalytical interpretations, Raúl Ruiz pushes this tendency to the nth degree. Everything doubles, splits, mirrors and proliferates in his heavily textured ﬁlm. In “Central Conﬂict Theory,” the opening essay of Poetics of Cinema’s ﬁrst volume, Ruiz introduces his pentaludic model, which will explain his adaptive strategy as well: Personally, I have sought to work with stories, fairly abstract ones I admit, using what might be called a pentaludic model. Put more simply, I consider that my protagonists are like a herd of dice (just as one says: “A herd of buﬀalo”). The number of sides to the dice varies from herd to herd [. . .] but in each herd the number is always the same . . . Inside each die is an inﬁnite number of miniature dice, with the same number of sides as the big die, except that these inner dice are also slightly loaded so that they tend to give the same results, becoming “tendentious.” The herd attempts to take the trickery of individ ual dice into account during each game, lending coherence to the ensemble (Ruiz 1995: 19 20).6
This model thus suggests the image of nesting dolls (or nesting dice), but with a twist: any image, action or decision, according to Ruiz, forms an amalgam of constitutive elements whose behavior is not necessarily determined by the larger whole. (“My decision is a mask,” the essay concludes, “behind which there is disorder” [Ruiz 1995: 23]). However, in the hands of a clever trickster-ﬁlmmaker, the
6 The model is called pentaludic because there are ﬁve rules of the game. While these do not need to concern us now in detail, I cite for the sake of completeness: The herds play ﬁve diﬀerent games. They compete against other herds; and in this game the rules of central conﬂict theory are often observed. But the same herd will sometimes play a game of chance (which is quite natural for dice); and in a third variation, the dice also feign the emotions of fear, anger, and joy, donning disguises and playing at scaring each other or making each other laugh. A fourth game is called vertigo: the aim is to strike the most danger ous pose, threatening the survival of the entire herd. A ﬁfth game might best be called the long term wager. For instance, they’ll say something like, “I swear not to change my shirt until Jerusalem falls,” or more simply, “I’ll love you for the rest of my life” (Ruiz 1995, 19 20).
Raúl Ruiz’s Adaptation of The Blind Owl: An Exilic Model for Europe
elements of chance and randomness start forming self-organizing systems of their own, capable of changing the larger ensemble in so doing. In another essay, Ruiz, borrows Walter Benjamin’s term of the photographic unconscious, which we can use to elaborate further on the pentaludic model. Noting that certain elements of a photograph constitute its basic representational value while the reason for the presence of other elements escapes us, Ruiz writes: “All these unnecessary elements have a tendency, curiously, to reorganize themselves forming an enigmatic corpus, a set of signs that conspires against the ordinary reading of the picture, adding to it an element of uncanniness, of suspicion” (Ruiz 1995: 57). He then extends the Benjaminian concept, adapting the (still) photograph’s “dark jungle of involuntary or uncontrolled signs” (Ruiz 1995: 58) for the moving images of (narrative) cinema. Since ordinary cinema spectators, as Ruiz writes, “can anticipate what comes next, because they know the rules” – that is, of conventional ﬁlm or of the Central Conﬂict Theory (drama organized around a conﬂict of characters with opposing wills) – and, because they compare images of a given ﬁlm less to their own lives than to images from other movies, they manage to “conﬁgure a diﬀerent type of photographic or cinematic unconscious, produced no longer by a lack of control over the images, but by an excess of control” (Ruiz 1995: 58–59). Ruiz asks us to imagine a spectator who, instead of focusing on a ﬁlm’s story line, would rather follow the involuntary forms, meaning those “obsessional details” that exceed the meaning making intention behind the image or sequence. Would she, like Ruiz, ﬁnd “the eternal DC6 crossing the sky during Ben Hur’s ﬁnal race” to the point of developing a “particular fetish” out of it, watching “innumerable tales of Greco-Latinity” with the sole aim of constituting “the single story of a DC6 ﬂying discretely from one ﬁlm to the next” (Ruiz 1995: 60)? Or would she share the “sensation of abyss” generated by “the puzzle image” we are now so accustomed to seeing on television? Having in mind the reverse shots, eyeline matches and other forms of continuity editing that typically bring images into spatial contiguity that have nevertheless been recorded at different times and in diﬀerent locations, Ruiz writes: Continuity and dispersion: two constant principles in cinematography. We see the images as if they were a continuum, knowing that each take is worlds apart. It is a feeling border ing on fear, accentuated by the passage of time. For those of us who attempt to remain conscious of the substance behind the cinematographic image this culminates in a sensa tion of abyss, of multiple chasms, that ﬁssure the image at any given moment . . . (Ruiz 1995: 69)
The sensation of abyss, of ﬁssuring the image while maintaining a sense of continuity, already marked the play of diﬀerence and repetition in Hedayat. When
Ruiz applied his pentaludic model to The Blind Owl’s “fairly abstract” story, the abyss widens and the chasms multiply, becoming “tendentious” in the process. We have seen, for example, how in Hedayat’s novel a man occurs out of nowhere, claiming to be the protagonist’s uncle. In Ruiz’s strategic adaptation, this uncle is soon to be followed by the entry of the protagonist’s nephew. While that may not be “faithful” to the original as far as story elements go, we can see how Ruiz’s protagonist at once becomes the nephew of an unknown uncle and the uncle of an unknown nephew. This mirroring move, as we shall see shortly, will itself be mirrored to the point of absurdity.
5 The adaptation: Via Tirso and the Prophet Such multidirectional doubling and branching is already apparent in the title credits. A seemingly still image shows multiple doors of a ﬁlm theater receding into the background of a dark room, with each nested plane illuminated by differently colored artiﬁcial lighting. While the superimposed text shows the title in French (la chouette aveugle in all capitals), the word ﺍﻟﻤﺪﺍﻥtowers above it. While Farsi uses the Arabic script, the word used here is not a tribute to the story’s original Persian title. Transliterated as Al-madan, this actually Arabic word means the convicted or the condemned; hence, it does not translate into the French title at all. The next title credit picks up on this split: a superimposed text now reads: “The Condemned freely inspired by Sadegh Hedayat’s The Blind Owl and Tirso de Molina’s Damned by Despair.”7 Not only does the title change from La chouette aveugle to Le condamné, the ﬁlm’s source material also doubles up – mimicking the doubling of the primal scene in The Blind Owl in so doing – with Tirso’s Damned by Despair (1625), a baroque play about the salvation of sinners from the Spanish Golden Age. Damned by Despair resonates with The Blind Owl most notably by switching the destinies, if not indeed the identities, of its protagonist, a hermit (Paulo) who follows the harsh paths of righteousness but ends up in hell for lack of faith, and his mirror image, a worst kind of criminal (Enrique) who gains entry to heaven. Midway the play, the hermit starts leading a criminal life in order to comprehend the man whose fate he was revealed to share. A play within the play unfolds when Paolo’s band of criminals captures Enrique and ties him to a tree; Paulo himself enters the stage to play the role of himself as hermit asking
7 “‘Le Condamné’, librement inspiré de “La chouette aveugle” de Sadegh Hedayat et de “Le condamné par manque de foi” de Tirso de Molina (my translation).
Raúl Ruiz’s Adaptation of The Blind Owl: An Exilic Model for Europe
Enrique to confess and ask for God’s mercy. Enrique refuses, shaking Paulo’s faith and thereby (indirectly) condemning himself to hell. Ruiz’s ﬁlm thus splits oﬀ into a variety of possible venues before having actually started.8 Beyond the religious debate about the salvation of sinners and the trope of linked destinies, Ruiz’ adapts Tirso’s idea of a play within a play (turning it into a ﬁlm within the ﬁlm) in which enacted personas, actual characters and the selves behind it swap places to the point of indiscernibility. The actual narrative of Ruiz’ ﬁlm initially follows the plot of part one of Hedayat’s novel, although the narrator is not now a pen case painter (or a writer for that matter) but a projectionist in a Parisian ﬁlm theater that only shows Arabic ﬁlms (an autobiographical reference on Ruiz’ part, who lived next to two such theaters at the time). This projectionist becomes obsessed with a female dancer in one of these ﬁlms because she “avoids his look” – as though the ﬁlm character would be aware of a spectator’s presence. The woman (the dancer or her double) miraculously appears in the diegetic reality of the projection room only to die immediately, as in Hedayat’s novel. Still following the source material, the hero proceeds to chop up her body covered by maggots and, with the help of a bent old man, rid himself of the trunk in which he collects the remains. The plot then switches to Tirso de Molina’s play, gradually mixing it with Hedayat’s novel. But while Tirso’s play stages a typically Christian debate about salvation of sinners and Hedayat’s novel alludes to a pre-Islamic Iran (his story is at least partially situated in the ancient capital Rey) and evokes Hindu iconology, Ruiz places this theological debate in an Islamic context (see, for example, Moullet 2004; Rosenbaum 1997). To do so, he introduces a new protagonist. In sharp contrast to Hedayat’s novel, in which no one but Bugam Dasi (the protagonist’s supposed mother) is mentioned by name, the process of naming narrators and protagonists is part and parcel of Ruiz’s pentaludic model. The new protagonist, for example, is named after one of the prophet Mohammed’s companions, Ibn Abu Bakhr. As a historical ﬁgure (of whom the ﬁlm does not provide information), Abu Bakhr was an adopted son of one of the later Caliphs, so, in picking this (for Ruiz’ probable public) rather obscure reference, the ﬁlmmaker alludes to the trope of adoption from The Blind Owl. Even the voiceover narrator in this part of the ﬁlm, who does not appear as a character, is mentioned by name. Again the 8 To add to the complexity: Ruiz’ ﬁlm not only mixes Hedayat’s novel and Tirso’s play; it was also the second of two ﬁlms conceived in conjunction by Ruiz, the other being Life as a Dream (1986), which is based on another seventeenth century Spanish play by Calderón de la Barca. See Robbins 2014.
name resonates with the prophet’s: the narrator is called after Mohammed’s nephew, Ibn Abbas. This makes the never even mentioned or depicted Mohammed an absent uncle of the never-seen narrator. From here on, most of the characters speak a mixture of “Old Spanish” and Arabic, which is subtitled in “Old French” with heavily distorted grammar, odd semantic choices and obvious mistranslations. To capture yet another way in which the pentaludic model operates in this ﬁlm, consider the subtitles (in the original) of the words spoken by a man with a white turban: “Por ke sommes deus et ne un . . . por ce ke tot est deus fors de Allah qui est un.” Assuming that these words are meant to invoke the Islamic debate about the doctrine of divine unity (tawhid), we could approximately translate this “translation” as: “why [. . .] are two and not one . . . because all is two except Allah who is one.” In order to provide consistency, however, this translation necessarily involves various adjustments and deliberate choices. I have, for example, chosen to read deus as approximation of the modern French deux (two) rather than the Latin Deus (God), and por ke as the modern French pourquoi (why) rather than the audible porc (pork) – although the latter makes sense in this context insofar as porc, a noun existing only in the singular mode, evokes the (grammatical) category of number. Without straining the imagination too much, then, we could have read the sentence as “pork are God and not one . . . ” and prefer another choice of translation for fear of blasphemy – which would only have deepened had we continued the translation with “all is god except Allah” (tot est deus fors de Allah). The cinematic unconscious, in short, extends all the way from the polysemy of the subtitles to the unity of God.
6 Imitating a cunning God Ruiz himself extends his theoretical position to include God in storytelling as well. He writes (in his “Central Conﬂict Theory” essay): Let us go back to a normal or normalized story. The protagonist is getting ready to act. He is going to make a decision . . . Unfortunately, the protagonist is a thirteenth century Arab who would not dream of making a decision without ﬁrst consulting the Treatise on Cunning. He knows that the ﬁrst object of any decision is to allow one to submit to God’s will. Decisions must be taken, as it were, by imitating God. But God created the world using hila, or cunning. Hila is not the quickest means to an end, but it is the most subtle: never direct, never obvious, because God cannot choose too obvious a path . . . He must use baram, or detour: artiﬁce (kayd), mystiﬁcation (khad), trap (makr). (Ruiz 1995: 20)
Raúl Ruiz’s Adaptation of The Blind Owl: An Exilic Model for Europe
The idea of imitating a cunning God is also taken to heart by Hedayat’s (second) narrator, who says towards the end of the novel: I understood now that I had become a miniature God. I had transcended the mean, paltry needs of mankind and felt within me the ﬂux of eternity. What is eternity? To me, eternity meant to play hide and seek with the bitch on the bank of the Suran, to shut my eyes for a single moment and to hide my face in the skirt of her dress. (Blind Owl 2010: 139)
A (blinded) view from the perspective of a cunning God oﬀers a “single moment” of eternity. This is “a little time in its pure state,” of which Deleuze likes to speak (borrowing the phrase from Marcel Proust).9 In Diﬀerence and Repetition, Deleuze puts God’s point of view and the process of diﬀerentiation together, writing: “It is therefore true that God makes the world by calculating, but his calculations never work out exactly [juste], and this inexactitude [injustice] in the result, this irreducible inequality, forms the condition of the world” (Deleuze 1994: 222, translation modiﬁed).10 By adapting the strategy of diﬀerence and repetition through his pentaludic model, Ruiz, I conclude, cannot but steer away from its source material. His adaptation of The Blind Owl does not do Hedayat’s novel justice (exactly) from the point of view of identity. But from the perspective of the cunning God, Hedayat himself already introduced this irreducible inequality developing across an abyss (or two). Ruiz provides a stunning (or cunning) visual equivalent of this in the ﬁnale of his strategic adaptation, in which heavily textured superimposed images partially overlap as they slide in diﬀerent directions. Moving through these planes, the initial protagonist – the projectionist – arrives at sea, suitcase in hand. This ﬁnal image is reminiscent of the third cinema of Glauber Rocha or the second cinema of François Truﬀaut. Their respective masterworks Black God, White Devil (Deus e o Diabo na Terra do Sol, 1964) and The 400 Blows (Les quatre cents coups, 1959) end on a similar note, leaving it up to the viewer to interpret the vast expanse of water as an image of an impassable barrier putting an end to a line of ﬂight or as an open space of liberation, oﬀering unobstructed views of a distant horizon. But as if to underscore the idea that Ruiz himself did not ﬁt comfortably in either of these categories of second and
9 For one example of Deleuze’s frequent use of the phrase (beyond his monograph on Proust), see The Time Image, p.17, where he uses in the context of Ozu’s still lives (the vase in Late Spring): “There is becoming, change, passage. But the form of what changes does not itself change, does not pass on. This is time, time itself, ‘a little time in its pure state.’” 10 Although he does not include a discussion of The Blind Owl, Michael Goddard explores Ruiz’s work generally from a Deleuzian framework, primarily centering on the concept of the neo baroque and its “imcompossible realities co existing in a motley world” (Goddard 2013, 63).
third cinema, this ﬁnal image of the sea remains part of a visual multiplicity constantly shifting its points of overlap. Like Hedayat, Ruiz lived his life belonging neither to one nor another culture or national identity. Both developed their art from within the abyss of becoming, communicating obliquely across time and space.11 This exilic perspective and this strategic form of adaptation, via the conﬂuence of Iranian and Chilean minds in Paris (across an abyss of half a century), oﬀer a model for a becoming of a European culture that is not now a compromise between already established national interests, identities and practices. But it may take a trickster God to load the dice for the assemblage to become“tendentious.”
Works Cited Beard, Michael (1990) Hedayat’s Blind Owl as a Western Novel (Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP). Cisco, Michael (2010) “Eternal recurrence in The Blind Owl,” Iranian Studies 43.4, 471–488. Deleuze, Gilles (1994) Diﬀerence and Repetition (New York: Columbia UP). Deleuze, Gilles (1989) Cinema 2: The Time Image. Trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P). Freud, Sigmund (2003) “Delusion and dream in Jensen’s Gradiva,” in Gravida, ed. Wilhelm Jensen, Helen M. Downey and Sigmund Freud (Los Angeles, CA: Consortium). Freud, Sigmund (2003) The Uncanny. Trans. David McLintock (New York: Penguin Classics). Goddard, Michael (2013). The Cinema of Raul Ruiz: Impossible Cartographies. Directors’ Cuts (New York: Columbia UP). Hedayat, Sadegh (2010) The Blind Owl. Trans. D.P. Costello (New York: Grove Press). Hoﬀmann, E.T.A (1982) “The Sandman,” in Tales of Hoﬀmann, trans. Stella Humphries (New York: Penguin Classics). Jensen, Wilhelm, Helen M. Downey and Sigmund Freud (2003) Gradiva (Los Angeles, CA: Consortium Book). Molina, Tirso de (1986) Damned for Despair. Trans. M.G. Round (Liverpool, UK: Liverpool UP). Moullet, Luc (2004) “Raúl Ruiz: An annotated ﬁlmography,” Rouge 5. Translation Rouge 2004. Excerpted from Traﬁc 18 (Spring 1996). Online (accessed 8 March 2018). Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm (2003) Writings from the Late Notebooks. Ed. Rüdiger Bittner. Trans. Kate Sturge (New York: Cambridge UP). Richardson, Michael (2006) Surrealism and Cinema (Oxford, New York: Berg). Robbins, Jonathan (2014) “Labyrinths,” Film Comment 50. 2, 16–17. Rosenbaum, Jonathan, Gavin Smith and Mark McElhatten (1997) “Ruiz hopping and buried treasures / Ruiz on Ruiz: A ﬁlmography,” Film Comment 33. 1, 14–22, 24–27. Ruiz, Raúl (1995) Poetics of Cinema. Trans. Brian Holmes (Paris: Éditions Dis Voir).
11 On the idea of oblique communication in Ruiz’ exilic art, see Richardson 2006, 161.
The Post-Yugoslav Literature of Dubravka Ugrešić Dubravka Ugrešić went into exile in 1993 during the Homeland War. A staunch anti-nationalist, she left the country for political reasons, not willing to profess understanding for the newly established political system in Croatia and therefore clearly not in agreement with the direction of this post-Yugoslav state. In doing this, she relinquished a productive and reputable career as an academic at the University of Zagreb, abandoning her prolific work as a Slavist while also changing course in her writing and overall purpose as a writer. Much has been written about her transition to the status of an international writer bearing no clear national allegiance and about the impact of her post-Yugoslav writings on the emergence and understanding of contemporary deterritorialized, transnational literature. This article does not dispute Ugrešić’s significant contribution to this field of literature nor does it seek to redefine her development of literary works which are not bound to a specific nation-state culture but which are eclectic, independent and intercultural in nature. Instead, this article highlights some of the inherent complexities that underlie this transnational approach to writing, revealing some of the discursive and narrative difficulties that emerge from the absence of clear literary categorization. It also examines the issues arising from the author’s refusal to acknowledge a distinct form of national belonging. Two distinct literary events in the early 1990s instigated Ugrešić’s departure from the literary scene in Croatia, marking her break with state literature and indicating some of the profound differences that had begun to separate her as an author from her (national) culture. One event occurred at the very beginning of the war in December 1992 when Ugrešić joined a group of women writers protesting the rise of nationalism in the former Yugoslavia, using the international PEN festival in Rio to do so. These authors were subsequently maligned in the Croatian press and famously labeled the “Vještice iz Ria” [The witches of Rio], criticized for the embarrassment they caused to the government, their apparent betrayal of the national cause and the lack of support they showed on the international stage for an independent Croatian statehood. The attacks were vicious and deliberately public, as the press published private details about their lives and encouraged harassment of the authors and a boycott of their work due to their treasonous behavior. In an anonymous article “Hrvatske feministice siluju Hrvatsku!,” published in the weekly journal Globus, they were aggressively
characterized as feminists raping the state and described as obstinate communists who opposed the independence of Croatia due to professional self-interest. This misogynist tone, as well as its accompanying accusation of Ugrešić as a hopeless and opportunistic Yugo-nostalgic character, would remain a prevalent feature in much of the criticism concerning her post-Yugoslav work. The other event impelling a rift between Dubravka Ugrešić and her home country was an article that she wrote in October 1992. Translated into German and published in the newspaper Die Zeit, the article was called “Wenn der Patriotismus zur Ideologie wird. Saubere kroatische Luft” and it chronicled the systematic sanitization of Croatian culture that was occurring at this time. The title of the article was inspired by a popular piece of kitsch sold throughout Croatia in the early 1990s: a tin can decorated in the pattern of the red and white checkerboard (a national symbol) that claimed to contain harvested “clean Croatian air” for the consumer. Ugrešić used the symbolism of this kitschy artefact to describe the rampant and willful cultural amnesia that was taking place throughout the country after its declaration of independence in 1991. Her acerbic article described the compulsive need of the new Croatian culture to do away with all aspects of the old culture, i.e. to eliminate traces of association it may have had with the Yugoslav state, and it chronicled the extensive official efforts undertaken by the new Croatian government to do so. Ugrešić cited the renaming of streets, the firing of people, the removal of unwanted books from public libraries, as well as the opportunistic rewriting of history by politicians as concrete examples of this new fanatical need to “cleanse” current culture and to demonstratively rid it of all unwanted influences from the past. Ugrešić rightfully saw this purification of Croatian culture as a loss and as a nation-wide impoverishment at all levels of culture and society. In her view, this process of sanitization stripped Croatian life of its authentically complex history, denying people the developments and influences that had been formative to their lives during those times. This process of elimination altered their ownership of personal memory and, by implication, their identity, creating a mistaken sense of belonging while also instilling a misplaced loyalty to the state. She wrote about the nefarious and extremely populist sense of morality that accompanied this type of “cleaning,” observing how these acts were associated with general acts of eradication that removed dirty (and therefore bad) influences from one’s environment. Both of these highly publicized literary incidents are relevant to an understanding of Ugrešić’s work today and are worthy of attention within the framework of this article. For, as determining and detrimental as they were to her in the 1990s, these occurrences connote themes that now regularly appear in Ugrešić’s writing, having become the focal point
The Post-Yugoslav Literature of Dubravka Ugrešić
of her literary presence as an émigré, post-Yugoslav writer. Issues pertaining to nationalism, identity and cultural belonging can be readily found in most of her post-1990 essayistic writing, demonstrating thus a commitment to a set of concerns that plague the itinerant writer, while simultaneous showing allegiance to a post-national state that only such a writer can achieve. Writing exile, if this is indeed what Ugrešić’s literature focuses on, carries its own set of recognized challenges and adjustments. As Edward Said noted, the exiled writer exercises something akin to a contrapuntal existence that is caught between two languages, two cultures, two geographies, which is a precarious state that gives rise to “an awareness of simultaneous dimensions” (Said 2001:148). This double perspective is naturally unpredictable and unstable, for, as Said further explains, “Exile is a life led outside of the habitual order” (Said 2001: 149) and therefore naturally isolated. Compounding this state of disconnectedness is the fact that there is an implicit sense of loss and estrangement to the exilic existence, one that can easily succumb to nostalgia and a gross embellishment of the past, preventing the exiled author from fully engaging with the present. However, as Claudio Guillén so conclusively stated, there are two types of action the exiled author can undertake, each of which shapes the act of writing differently. He notes, “A certain kind of writer speaks of exile, while another learns from it” (Guillén 1976: 272), claiming that, in the latter case, the author can in fact assume a counter exile poise, using displaced circumstances to “transcend the earlier attachment” to create a self-conscious literature that can “triumph over separation” (Guillén 1976: 272). Ugrešić seems to endorse the point about needing to overcome her staid literary past, as she uses her displaced exile existence to address the generally complex state of non-belonging, making it a present and central concern in her overall postYugoslav work. Language becomes the obvious means with which to create the spatiality from which to counter the unsettled conditions of exile. As critics have observed, in such cases language is designated with a power of emplacement that allows the author the opportunity to inhabit and thereby intelligibly respond to the disconnectedness of exile (Jilani 2015: 59). It is important to recognize that this empowered self-positioning is somewhat curtailed in Ugrešić’s case due to the language in which she chooses to write. Ugrešić writes her émigré work in what she calls “a small language,” in Croatian, a minor European language that must be translated in order to be heard. As such, there is a direct reliance on translators to communicate her experience as a writer in exile, and it falls to them as colleagues to share in the responsibility of catching the nuances of displacement, fragmentation and apparent loss. There is an implicit trust on Ugrešić’s part that
they will do this properly, and she refers to her translators as “co-writers” of her texts (Medin 2015). This filtered binary relationship between writer and translator must be factored in when considering Ugrešić’s post-Yugoslav literature, for she strongly identifies with the invisibility of the translator, believing that they share a similarly precarious, undervalued presence on the literary stage. In an article from 2012, she directly expressed a professional solidarity with translators, while also explaining her own insecure existence as a translated, “small language” writer: They keep me alone in literary life. Our marriage is a match between two paupers, our respective symbolic capital in the playroom of world literature completely negligible. In any case, translating from a small language is still thought of as a profession, Writing in a small language from a literary out of nation zone now that is a diagnosis. (Ugrešić 2012)
In her émigré work, Ugrešić has often exposed the paradoxical practice of using the language of a country that has rejected her and where she, ostensibly, no longer is wanted, nor does she belong. For those able to read her in her native tongue, her use of Serbo-Croatian is beautiful and complex, a reflection of her academic training and her sensitivity to pan-Slavic overlap and nuance. She is very sensitive to changes in the language and bemoans the fact that this language has suffered as a result of the war and how it has become less of what it used to be. In one of the addenda to her 1992 essay “Saubere kroatische Luft,” Ugrešić writes about the removal of Serbian lexica from post-independent Croatian language, noting that the replacement of these words with Croatian counterparts was an empty and imposed exercise that did not result in any cultural enrichment itself (Ugrešić 2015). In her view, these acts of omission simply made people stupid and unaware of alternate ways of communicating, debilitating their ability to express thought. She regards her own language as a plurality of inseparable influences, stating: “I write in a language that has split into three – Croatian, Serbian and Bosnian – but despite concerted efforts to will it apart, remains the same language.” She sees her attachment to this language as a final but lasting sign of prior citizenship, stating that her linguistic competence is the only remnant left from her previous life as a Yugoslav citizen: “My mother tongue was the only baggage I took with me, the only souvenir my country bequeathed me” (Ugrešić 2014: 216). Another theme prominent in her émigré writings is Ugrešić’s struggle to identify the purpose of a writer in the interim conditions of political transition and her attempt to define what it means to write without a set and agreed national identity. Questions concerning placement and belonging constitute the very basis of her exile work. However, because she equates writing with thinking,
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she regards writing itself as a connective activity, one that brings and joins diverse points together as a creative act that can make cohesive and comprehensive sense of even the most disparate events. Those familiar with Ugrešić’s pre-1990 academic work will recognize this larger multi-perspective approach as a hallmark of her earlier work, as this piecemeal tactic is visibly present in such hybrid writings as Poza za Prozu (1978) or Život je bajka (1983). Scholars like Dragana Obradović who have studied Ugrešić’s early literary activities contend that she is an integral part of a generation of writers who popularized post-modern tendencies in Yugoslav literary circles, validating thus her fragmented and pluralistic approach to literature. Ugrešić’s use of literature to explore different versions, voices and views of any given subject matter is an effort to fuse together a broad multitude of views onto a given topic in order to elaborate correctly on its significance. Croatian national literature in the 1990s, however, did not support this type of expansive synoptic work from its writers, wanting them instead to focus on exalting the singularity of nationality, politicizing them by giving them a mandate to praise the newly formed state. Ugrešić rejected this odd singularity of purpose. Her response rests on the belief that writers should use language to postulate, rather than to designate, and she writes: “Naš pisac iznenaden je tom opčom strašću prema imenovanju, ona kao da ima cilj uvjeravanja sebe i drugih u stvarno postojanje nove zbilje. Ovo je crno, ovo je bijelo, ovo je pravo i ovo je krivo” (Ugrešić 2002b: 115) [Our writer was surprised by this passion for naming things, which had the purpose of convincing oneself and others of the existence of a new reality. This is black, this is white; this is right, this is wrong]. Her stance is not politically motivated, nor is it a case of deliberate literary subversion. Ugrešić believes that a writer should not be given complete power to decipher culture for the public, asserting instead that this is and remains the responsibility of the thinking individual. The one truth she sees in this myriad of state-sponsored literary activity is that it is all a lie and that by asking writers to take on the responsibility of designation, in her view, one is blatantly asking them to lie (“Sve drugo je laž,” Ugrešić 2002b: 115). The displaced and disconnected existence of the author in exile does grant Ugrešić certain freedoms, encouraging creativity and a bold new audacity in her literary endeavours. For example, Ugrešić invents words to address her unsteady and unanchored state. In 1993, she accidentally coined the word fictionary by missing the letter “d” on her keyboard, devising in the process a noun that became inordinately apt to describe her present circumstances. She regarded this invention as a necessary Freudian slip and consequently recorded her entire journey to the USA as Američki fikcionar, an imaginary event that cannot be uniformly defined. Conclusive nomenclature in general is problematic for Ugrešić, as is the matter of conclusive identity. She writes at length about the absurdity of having
an ID card or owning a passport, both of which she perceives as deceitful documents connoting false information (Ugrešić 2002a: 23). On her first visits abroad in the early 1990s, she still used her Yugoslav passport, one whose political authority had clearly expired, crumbling under the duress of the burgeoning civil war. Yet she still had to carry it to have permission to cross borders, forced to accept it as a “symbol” of who she is. She records the absurdity of presenting this document as official verification of her person, because both of these things were in flux, especially in the early 1990s when she initially decided to emigrate. A similar feeling of incomprehension occupies her when, post-independence, she is in possession of a new Croatian passport. She feels that this document does not reflect who she is as a citizen. In her view, it is a booklet that should be read more complexly and more inclusively in order to reflect the experience of the person carrying it. Yet her experience attests that this is clearly not the case, for the passport and its assertion of statehood and national belonging are set in unilateral, pre-determined terms. She is aware of the high price people have paid to have this Croatian identification. Statehood, in general, is a problematic concept for Ugrešić as is the notion of border-crossing and border-making, terms that she believes ought to be more malleable to correspond to the act of traveling the person undertakes when they decide to change localities. One should, moreover, look at why people travel and not merely that they travel. She referenced the entire issue of her mobility and non-state belonging in her 2014 essay entitled “ONZone,” in which she explained the implications of living a literary life that does not observe the conventional (and highly artificial) boundaries of nationhood. She is unsure how to cope with this life and concludes, “I don’t know whether it’s harder to articulate the ON-zone or to live it” (Ugrešić 2014: 224). The problems inherent to the guidance and mentorship of people displaced by political circumstance is aptly addressed in her 2006 book Ministry of Pain in which she narrates the experiences of émigrés living in Amsterdam, struggling to adapt to their post-Yugoslav existence. The diverse array of characters meet in a university literature class in which the narrator – a Yugoslav émigré as well – serves as teacher of South Slavic literature. In this case, the teacher, Tanja Lucić, is eventually fired, for she fails to teach the curriculum of the course, focusing instead on the stories of her students, a living narrative that is far more pertinent than the texts that she is required to have them read. There is clearly a strong autobiographical element to all of this, as Ugrešić mercilessly exposes the predicament of her own expertise: she is the skillful master of a literature and culture that no longer exists, yet a believer in literature per se, which she maintains as a strong civilizing influence in all of her work. Yet, not everyone shares this aspired allegiance to literature, and this lapse in moral and cultural principle is something Ugrešić must increasingly contend with in
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post-Yugoslav times. In the 2015 article “Esej koji putuje već pune 23 godine,” Ugrešić reflected upon the conduct of a former editor who, in the newly independent state of Croatia, was “liberated” by nationalism. He abandoned his previous identity as an intellectual and became head of the state police, having changed careers entirely. After this promotion, he was one of the first ones to harass Ugrešić in the early 1990s: banging on her door in the middle of the night, drunk, demanding that she leave the country. Ugrešić refers to his behavior as an opportunistic type of emancipation, describing it as a revelation of his true human character, one that was facilitated by the emergence of staunch nationalism that entitled many to similar acts of bad behavior in the 1990s and which indeed remains so manifest in post-Yugoslav Croatia. Ugrešić’s refusal to serve the state, as well as to abide by any expectations it has placed on her as a national literary author, would seem to suggest that one should regard her writing as a transnational effort, one that deliberately rejects the concept of the nation state for a more generous and cosmopolitan prospect of understanding. Critics have indeed asserted this designation as an appropriate means to describe her work, due to its fragmentary mode of writing, and because Ugrešić so willingly “inhabits shifting physical and discursive sites, different zones of non-belonging that constitute a philosophical space outside of the walls of the city” (Karpinski 2013: 49). Ugrešić herself has referenced this term in her work, suggesting that it may be a viable framework for her émigré, post-Yugoslav work. She is however also dubious whether the designation itself carries lasting value, regarding it as a “literary utopia” and openly querying: “Does transnational literature have its readers? And if it does, who are they?” (Ugrešić 2014: 225). There is evidence that Ugrešić considered herself an outcast from the literary canon even before emigrating and prior to encountering formal political difficulties with the government in the 1990s. In 2015 Ugrešić described her career prior to the 1990s, openly speaking about the cultural ostracism she experienced as a female intellectual in the former Yugoslavia. Rather importantly, she noted that this isolation gave her certain advantages as well, allowing her to experiment with literature in an independent and unchecked way. She explains: “But as an outsider I was free to shape my own literary taste, to pick my own literary traditions, to build my own system of literary values. I was free to disregard expectations, and fully aware that I would not be at the center of things or quickly canonized. So there was nothing to worry about” (Medin 2015). It is thus important to evaluate the work of Dubravka Ugrešić through the person of Dubravka Ugrešić, without affixing a set designation to her unique form of life writing and literary work. To do otherwise would seem to represent a gross oversimplification of Ugrešić’s overall work as an author and a public
intellectual. Moreover, it is important to recognize that although she writes across cultures, exposing an array of issues that cannot be subsumed under a single national forum – thereby eliciting recognition from an international readership – she does write from a defined, if complicated, national literary space. She is identifiably a post-Yugoslav writer. Ugrešić herself readily cites this fact in many of her writings. Literature is a decidedly private affair for her as she organizes and processes her experiences through her own language and her own personal confrontations with issues arising from her transnational existence, confrontations that are rooted in a defined and locatable personal history. In Kultura Laži she sarcastically defines her identity as cultural bastardism [“kulturni bastardizm”], ethnic schizophrenia [“etnička šizofrenija”], essentially arguing that it is a multiple, mixed identity that cannot be artificially severed into one form (Ugrešić 2002b: 330). Throughout her work, Ugrešić has argued the importance of owning a unique and identifiable personal history and she has prioritized personal memory as an essential aspect of much of her post-1990s writing. In Europe in Sepia (2014), she pointedly wrote about her need to retain her pre-Croatian understanding of state, explaining that this is a personal, rather than a political decision. And while her detractors may have attempted to dismiss her focus on the past as a form of ill-advised and opportunistic nostalgia, Ugrešič has explained why this past remains so vital to her as both a person and a writer: When Yugoslavia finally sank, my neurosis took on a name Yugonostalgia and a defini tion: political sabotage of the new Croatian state. And I received epithets too: traitor and Yugonostalgic. Eyewitness to how brutally and efficiently the confiscators of memory could erase collective memory and with it my personal history, I became a member of my own personal resistance movement. I defended myself by remembering remembering a weapon of choice against the violence of forgetting. As opposed to theirs, my bullets killed no one. Mine had too short of a range. (Ugrešić 2014: 10 11)
As critic and fellow academic Azade Seyhan has noted in her work, commemoration of the past is a key feature in exile literature and an element that locates the identity of the exiled author. She explains: “Remembering is an act of lending coherence and integrity to a history interrupted, divided or compromised by instances of loss,” stressing that, in time, these acts of remembrance help facilitate a better understanding of the present (Seyhan 2001: 4). Remembering indeed appears to be a form of anchored being for Ugrešić, as it settles her and allows her to write. Notions of remembrance permeate her book Europe in Sepia as she evaluates both the advantages and disadvantages of longing, personal memory in the text, reminiscing, as it were, about the value of memory itself. The emphasis on maintaining her own memory in Europe in Sepia makes her
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literary stance here decidedly personal and contextualizes her approach to literature as a protective measure, a means of representing, but also preserving who she is. By resorting to memory in such a direct way, it would appear as if Ugrešić uses it as a means of countering the implicit loss that has accompanied her as an author in exile. It is, however, important to recognize that Ugrešić’s perceived sense of loss is not associated solely with her émigré status, but with a general shift in contemporary culture itself and that she laments the loss and degradation of other, more general, values in society as well. Cultural consumerism is, for example, a great concern for Ugrešić and she frequently discusses this issue in her work, evaluating her own responsibilities as an author in refuting the process of the commercialization of literature. She is inordinately selfcritical about her choice of profession and recognizes the benefits of her status and success. Yet she cannot help but feel that the writing profession has become deeply flawed and writes: “Although my books and the recognition they have received serve to confirm my professional status, they offer me no protection from the feeling that I’ve lost my profession, not to mention my right to a “profession” (Ugrešić 2014: 229). So what she is ultimately lamenting in many of her works is the larger (and universal) theme of the loss of literature, deeply apprehensive about the direction authors have taken with the words that they write. In many of her texts she repeatedly points out that there is a difference between buying books and actually reading books, claiming that the former should not be the sole desired outcome of a proper author. Ugrešić’s latest literary project is entitled Lisica (Fox) and it has been hailed as her most personal literary project yet. Published late in 2017 in Croatia by Fraktura, it was translated into English in Spring 2018 and has only recently been made available to an international reading audience. This limited release has not affected its popularity, with critics openly qualifying it as a “remekdjelo,” a masterpiece of Croatian literature (Tolić 2018). The book, designated as a novel, is an homage to world literature and a text that is as an assembly of reflections on the role of writing in society and culture. It is, to quote the online Croatian review provided by her Fraktura publisher, a “roman o pripovijedanju,” a novel about storytelling, a story about how other stories come to be told. Drawing on the figure of the fox, there is implicit reference to Isaiah Berlin’s designation of the author operating as either hedgehog or fox, with Ugrešić’s endorsement falling clearly on the side of the multifariousness and versatility of the fox. The novel contains a diverse assembly of reflections that document the precarious nature and unpredictable scope of literary production, describing incidents of its genesis, delivery and reception. It does so by examining a variety of different literary traditions and experiences, including Ugrešić’s
own. Like many other of her works, this latest literary text is a medley of influences and intentions and demands a perceptive, committed reader, someone who is capable of assembling the fragments of the text into a meaningful, if playful, whole. Although Lisica is ostensibly designated a work of fiction, the book has clear autobiographical overtones and includes many of Ugrešić’s own experiences on the literary scene. It is also representative of her personal taste in literature and includes writers she has studied and whom she likes, revealing her private literary predilections and taste. There is a clear affinity for Russian literature, which is represented through established figures like Boris Piljnjak and Vladimir Nabokov, but also by those who are not part of mainstream literary culture, such as the creative (and mostly forgotten) members of the Russian Avantgarde OBERIU collective. Ugrešić does not discriminate among the writers she represents and gives them all equal prominence in her book. By compiling this assortment of literary talent within a single volume, Lisica commemorates a broad spectrum of overlooked literary creativity (including Ugrešić’s own) while criticizing a preoccupied and distracted public, not always appreciative of the act of reading. This book can, consequently, be read as an archive of sorts, a home for the literary adventures of the historically, politically and culturally itinerant author and as a means with which to retain the literary contribution these people have made through their texts and writing. The novel is a stark reminder of the many activities that accompany literary production and which both promote and preclude writing. The fox is referenced throughout the text as a solitary but connective force, and she (the lisica/fox) reappears throughout the many episodes of the text, popping up in gardens and backyards, many people incidentally feeding her in an attempt to domesticate her. In many ways, Lisica marks a return to the domestic literary fold for Ugrešić. Since the novel has not yet been widely translated, it has been read mostly on the literary market in Croatia and, rather significantly, away from her supportive international readership. Reviews for the book have been overwhelmingly positive, and in June 2018 Lisica was awarded the prestigious Tportal literary prize, beating a dozen other popular Croatian authors to the award. This recognition has greatly altered the public’s perception of Ugrešić, restoring her status as a key figure of the Croatian national literary scene. And for the first time in years that mainstream media has actively promoted Ugrešić’s work, encouraging the public to read her as part of the Croatian canon. This literary rehabilitation is undoubtedly a positive development for Ugrešić, as it signals a long-overdue return to her national literary roots. However, one does have to wonder how these accolades will impact her future work, keeping in mind the other key events that shaped her writing in the past
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25 years. When assessing her status as an exiled writer in 1998, Ugrešić namely expressed gratitude to her public, debunking criticism of her being the nation’s witch. She professed autonomy from these circumstances by graciously stating: “ . . . svojoj bivšoj sredini mogu biti samo zahvalna” [I can only be grateful to the conditions of my place back then]. She impishly added: “Novac za kupovine metle zaradila sam sama. I letim sama” [I have made my own money for my broom. And I fly alone (Ugrešić 2002b: 335]. One hopes that the success of Lisica will affirm such bold assertions of literary independence, while also directing Ugrešić’s career in positive new directions.
Works Cited Berlin, Isaiah (1953) The Hedgehog and the Fox (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson). Guillén, Claudio (1976) “On the literature of exile and counter-exile,” Books Abroad 50.2, 271–80. “Hrvatske Feministice Siluju Hrvatsku!” Globus (11 December 1992) (accessed 20 June 2017). Jilani, Sarah (2015) “Writing exile : Displacement and arrival in Eva Hoffman’s Lost in Translation and Edward Said’s Out of Place,” Life Writing 12.1, 59–73. Karpinski, Eva C. (2013) “Postcards from Europe: Dubravka Ugrešić as a transnational public intellectual, or life writing in fragments,” The European Journal of Life Writing 2, 42–60. “Lisica” (2017) https://fraktura.hr/lisica-88.html (accessed 20 June 2018). Medin, Daniel (2015) “A Conversation with Dubravka Ugrešić,” Music and Literature 6.
(accessed 30 June 2018). Obradović, Dragana (Jan. 2017) “Crafting serious work out of mass culture: The early prose of Dubravka Ugrešić,” World Literature Today. (accessed 2 July 2018). Said, Edward W. (2001) “Reflections on exile,” in Reflections on Exile and other Literary and Cultural Essays (London: Granita Publications), 37–49. Seyhan, Azade (2001). Writing Outside of the Nation (Princeton: Princeton UP). Tolić, Tanja (2018) “90 Knjiga za ljetno čitanje.” (accessed 2 July 2018). Ugrešić, Dubravka (1992). “Wenn der Patriotismus zur Ideologie wird. Saubere kroatische Luft,” Zeit 44. (accessed 28 June 2018). Ugrešić, Dubravka (2002a) Američki Fikcionar (Zagreb: Konzor). Ugrešić, Dubravka (2002b) Kultura Laži (Zagreb: Konzor). Ugrešić, Dubravka (2006) Ministry of Pain (New York: Ecco).
Ugrešić, Dubravka (2012) “Out of nation zone,” Salmagundi 174/175. (accessed 3 July 2018). Ugrešić, Dubravka (2014) Europe in Sepia (Rochester: Rochester UP). Ugrešić, Dubravka (2015) “Esej koji putuje već pune 23 godine,” Peščanik. (accessed 20 June 2018). Ugrešić, Dubravka (2017) Lisica (Zagreb: Fraktura).
Occident and Orient: “Poetics of Movement” in the Works of Zafer Şenocak Transnational networks, mutual interdependencies, cultural transfer and cultural overlaps – as well as experiences of cultural difference and alterity – are gaining relevance in the face of the challenges posed by globalization and migration movements. This turns culture itself into a process of translation. As the cultural and literary scholar Doris Bachmann-Medick (2014, 240–252) explains, the “translational turn in cultural scholarship,” the change (from purely philological translation to “cultural translation and culture as translation” in the context of Homi Bhabha’s postcolonial concept of “translational culture”) includes a dynamized understanding of culture as being permeated by translation processes beyond fixed identities. The scholar of Romance and Comparative Literature, Ottmar Ette (2005: 109–112), sees literary translation from other cultural contexts, according to this perspective, as a hermeneutic process in which the “de- and recontextualization” of the translation process unfolds a philological interpretation in the form of a continuously changing reading and thus an “oscillating figure of thought” that cannot be territorialized nor claimed by national literature; rather, it stands for a “ZwischenWeltenSchreiben” [“Writing Between Worlds,” referring to Ette’s book title, translator’s note] that intentionally broadens one’s own possibilities of thinking and forms of expression. For Ette (2005: 30), it is a matter of dissociation from concepts like “one national literature or the world literature,” and going beyond the bipolarity of “nation” and “world,” “foreign” and “self,” as well as the definitive allocation to a single culture only. He argues for the development of a cross-border “poetics of movement” (2005: 19) within the context of today’s “movement and networking processes” (2005: 19), in which space and time are connected to each other through continuous jumps between cultures without a fixed relation to one particular culture. A parallel to Bachmann-Medick’s and Ette’s revised understanding of translation as a culture-specific process of movement can be found in the form of translation as cultural mediation in the transcultural concept of the poetics of the transnational Turkish-German author, editor and translator Zafer Şenocak, whose entry into poetic and literary production began “in the sphere of a culture of translation” (Şenocak 2011: 84). Familiar with European literature and philosophy, as well as with Ottoman-Turkish literature (having recourse to his own heritage), he was the first to translate the Divan poetry of the Sufi mystic Yunus Emre into German. In the face of dichotomous demarcations between https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110645781 010
cultures and religions, as well as the resistance “to ambiguous and hybrid identities” (Şenocak 2011: 109) in the migration and integration debates, Şenocak – as a cultural mediator – seeks to expand the German literary canon and cultural memory with a “new language [. . .] that does not defame but rather translates the foreign” (Şenocak 2011: 187) and is the basis of every communication in the form of a critical dialogue with others as well as with oneself (Şenocak 2011: 187). In this context, the Ottoman Empire represents the “most diverse cultural influences, [. . .] blending of style and language” (Şenocak 2011: 84) and thus an “impurity” in the “creative sense” is in contrast to the “puritanical ideology of the [Turkish] Republic” (Şenocak 2011: 85). Regarding Şenocak’s transcultural translation concept, a differentially determined yet “non-dichotomous translational model” therefore resists (in Bachmann-Medick’s formulation) the “alleged purity of concepts like culture, identity, tradition, religion and so on,” and “unmasks any type of identity claims as deceptive because they are permeated by what is foreign” (Bachmann-Medick 2014: 247). Hence, interpretation as a part of literary translation work involves the author taking alternating points of view instead of preconceived positions, “which always define the foreign according to the self.” Accordingly, this implies a differentiating deconstruction of opposites “in order to experience an altering effect of the foreign within the self” (Şenocak 1994: 54). Against dichotomous patterns of perception, the author stands not between the “self” and the “other,” “but carries within himself all the symbols with which he has come into contact,” which in his case include the “Anatolian-Islamic culture with its specific intersections” and especially German-Jewish, religiously and mystically inspired writers of modernity like “Kafka, Benjamin, Scholem, Celan,” who were not identical with the German language or nation but, like Şenocak himself, were shaped by contact with other cultures (Şenocak 2001: 100). This contribution draws from Şenocak’s critical essays on culture and translation as well as his most recently published book In deinen Worten. Mutmaßungen über den Glauben meines Vaters [In Your Words. Speculations on the Faith of my Father] (2016) in which the lyrical passages translated from Turkish blend with general reflections on translation. In the context of Şenocak’s view of Islam, this contribution aims to elaborate on his reinterpretation of the traditional hermeneutic understanding and translation, whose inter- and transcultural dimension is already established in Walter Benjamin’s “The Task of the Translator” (1923). In connection with the problem of understanding constructions of identity and alterity, it is assumed that Şenocak’s familiarity with the works of Walter Benjamin also includes his translation essay, to which Jacques Derrida’s essay “Babylonische Türme. Wege, Umwege, Abwege” [“Des Tours de Babel”] (1997) makes direct reference. As Bachmann-Medick (2014: 246–247) explains, the cultural studies change in translation studies, the translational turn – with its new conceptualization of
Occident and Orient: “Poetics of Movement” in the Works of Zafer Şenocak
cultural understanding as a translation process – influences the “translational character of the objects of cultural studies themselves” and “their hybridity and complexity.” On the one hand, such an understanding of translation “unfolds an important method of displacement and alienation and of the establishment of difference and mediation.” On the other hand, it also sheds a critical light not only on classical hermeneutics, whose task in connection with translation is – in the case of Hans-Georg Gadamer and others (Cercel 2009) – the explanation of the world in the sense of creating a holistic interpretation and a universal understanding of meaning as the discursive success of communication, but also it illuminates the past European practice of translation as “a strategy of solidifying foreign cultural images within the colonial process” in the form of thinking of identity as a binary of “self and the foreign” in “service to a European practice of representation” (Bachmann-Medick 2014: 245). In this context, Şenocak’s essay “Literarische Übersetzung: Brücke oder Schwert” [“Literary Translation: Bridge or Sword”] (1994, 48) can be understood – with explicit reference to Edward Said’s “’Orientalism’ as a preliminary mental stage and side effect of colonialism” – as a confrontation with the cultural and political history of translation as part of the history of colonialism and its discursive environment. Şenocak connects the polarizing manner of thinking about the “Orient” and the “Occident” to the steady increase of expansionist politics by the European powers and to the establishment of the discipline of oriental studies at the beginning of the nineteenth century to an “above all German creation.” On the one hand, this “led to an exoticization of a world perceived as foreign” and, on the other hand, also “created a proximity” with regards to the literary reception of the Divan tradition of authors such as Lessing, Goethe, Rückert and Rilke as well as Greek antiquity as the “common origin of both the Islamic civilization in the middle ages and western civilization in modernity” (2011: 106). However, the orientalists (and not the poets) were “the first translators of oriental literature” (1994: 48) who often, as diplomats, represented the political and economic interests of their countries. For example, Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall (who for Şenocak is “the prototype of the orientally-biased translator”) solidified existing “prejudices and misunderstandings between the cultures” with his “Eurocentrically-grounded oriental studies” and thus created the image of the “Ottoman Empire and the country of Turkey which arose from it” as the “counter-world created by Europe” (1994: 50). For Şenocak, this polarizing practice of translation not only has direct consequences for the reception of “Ottoman and Turkish literature by the Orientalists” (1994: 50), who assume the “overriding concept of ‘oriental’ literature” and “oriental stereotypes” instead of the characteristics of a “single poet of a particular epoch, genre, or movement” (1994: 51), but it also contributes to the misconception of Turkish-German authors. Instead of orienting oneself within the
“fiction” of the author as a “unique, personal expression of the consciousness of language” (2001: 99), one reads “the biography that is written all over him” (2001: 98). Because of this, Şenocak argues in his essay, “Zwischen Koran und Sex Pistols” [“Between the Koran and The Sex Pistols”], that the sustained “clash of opposing worlds” needs a “translating power,” “whose purpose is not the leveling of differences, but the transfer of different interpretations” (2006: 32). In connection with his literary text In deinen Worten. Mutmaßungen über den Glauben meines Vaters [In Your Words. Speculations on the Faith of my Father] and its analysis of the problem of translation from tradition into modernity, and therefore from the original tradition into the present as a search for a new dynamic in Islamic thinking, the following attempts to demonstrate that especially religious texts with their ambiguity are hermeneutic cases. Their understanding and misunderstanding depend on “the changing social and cultural embedding” and “historically [. . .] changing readings” (Ette 2005: 109), which represent a contradiction to the missing openness of interpretation and the lack of questioning sources in dogmatic Islam. Şenocak’s turn to the “rich traditions of a narrative, a poetic, [and] an aesthetic Islam” that “also created a great civilization” (Main 2016) in the early middle ages is a critical rebuttal of the “elimination of oppositional thinking” in today’s Muslim societies1 and the “regressive development” of Islam in the form of reversion as a political ideology. This is especially true in Turkey where the public discourse is missing, despite the potential of “many critical theologians and thinkers” (Main 2016). The book resembles a religious and philosophical essay, in which the author (from a Muslim perspective) turns his attention to the religious belief of his recently deceased father, in which the traditional mindsets of Muslim and Oriental origin combined with Westernoriented Enlightenment. However, Şenocak wants his memories to be understood not as “documentation of the life of [his] father” (Main 2016), but rather as “fiction” in the sense of a developing third figure, which is depicted through the image of the son as he tries to make sense of the father’s culture all within the fictional continuity of their past conversations. The narrative form of this text resembles a puzzle with its seamless transition between different kinds of texts. The literary text switches from cultural-historical or religious-historical to aesthetic reflections on childhood memories, to direct addresses to the father with additional quotes from his notebook and letters. The essay is also interspersed with lyrical passages in italics that mirror in poetry what was previously said and reflected. While not always clearly identifiable, most of the Islamic sources
1 Zafer Şenocak, In deinen Worten. Mutmaßungen über den Glauben meines Vaters, 16. Hereinafter the pages of the volume will be added to the text in parentheses after the quote.
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which comprise Şenocak’s translation of foreign poetry into German are verses by his father, his own poetry and surahs from the Koran. Produced within the context of the conversations between father and son, it results in a type of imaginary dialogue with the Koran that is set against the orthodox prohibition of interpreting the word directly received from God. Following the explanation of the sources of Islamic culture that the father deems relevant (which, in addition to the Koran as based on the Old Testament, include the Greek, Persian and Indian cultural-historical heritage) – as a “natural bridge between East and West” and an “alternative concept to the Eurocentric projections of Western historiography” (20) – the writings of the Bengal-Indian poet Tagore (translated by the author from Turkish) hint at this “heritage” that “compels us towards multilingualism” (21). Şenocak’s final passage of the text reflects on the “ambivalence between the rational and the mythical [. . .] experience of the world” (2001: 99). Like so “many things in this book [. . .] which could have been written by him [the father]” or by a messenger “who still travels between us” (164), the last passage of Şenocak’s – reflecting on the “ambivalence between the rational and the mythical [. . .] experience of the world” (2001: 99) as regards the “last things” – seems mysterious with its reference to the “underlying structure of human consciousness” (2001: 99) and touches on questions of faith beyond Islam as well as faith itself and its uncertainties. As indicated by the subtitle of the volume, “Mutmaßungen über den Glauben meines Vaters“[“Speculations on the Faith of my Father”], the entire text can be read as a counterargument against certainties in favor of a productive doubt in which the author ascribes the “degradation of humanity in Islam” to the lack of a self-critical engagement and the loss of a “culture of disagreement,” “skepticism,” and “irony” (79). At the same time, the multiplicity of meanings also dissolves “legitimacy of absolutist power through supposed Muslim authorities” (16). Şenocak counteracts the tendency towards simplification and reduction in modern Islam (as well in as the West’s understanding of Islam) with his fragmented style of writing; it breaks down the form of the great narrative and conforms to the author’s intention to also break down ideological and religious certainties. To this belong the critical questions and challenges formulated in his text as well as a revival of “humanity in Islam” through “a historical and critical reappraisal of Muslim source texts” (37) and also through a reappraisal of the literary heritage with a return to the poetry and aesthetics of the canonized Sufi mystics of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, which transmitted the meaning of poetry (of central importance for the author) as song, music and body language as well as the principle of doubt and self-critical thinking. As Şenocak explains in an interview within the context of his views on Islam and his father’s belief system, “the Sunna, the prevailing religious persuasion in
Islam” (Main 2016), rejects the long tradition of the humanist and heterodox position of Sufism due to its own fixation on words and literal interpretation of the Koran. The neglect of an “aesthetic sensibility” (84) is countered with Sufism as a “mixed interpretation of the core Islamic religion” that is, according to Şenocak – because of its syncretism in the absorption of Christian, Shaman, Persian and other teachings – particularly open to interpretation and explanation (Main 2016). The fictional text plays a game with auto-fictionalization in which the perspectives of the father and the son are in many ways also the perspectives of the author and his father, in whose life the Koran played a central role – yet not without connection to poetry. As Şenocak explains his own “writing myth” in his essay Deutschsein. Eine Aufklärungsschrift [Being German. An Enlightenment Pamphlet] (2011: 79–80), the son owes his acquaintance with the Koran and with the “listening experience” of the “mystical chants of the medieval Anatolian Sufi Yunus Emre” to his father. Therefore, listening to foreign sounds as a “sensuous experience of language” and a source of inspiration for his own poetry enabled him in the 1980s to translate into German the verses of Emre, other Ottoman poets and Turkish authors: “Your faith would have remained foreign to me without poetry” (25), but “we lived in translation. Our house was wherever languages encountered one another” (23). The house as a metaphor for translation and visual reference point for the syncretic character of Şenocak’s literary and cultural heritage indicates the central role of the metaphor as a “crossing-over” in his own poetics. He understands the house’s visual representation (as a conscious opposite of pure conceptuality) less as a stylistic element than as “the core of every metaphysical experience,” and the “remaining secret in a world of discoveries” that “surpasses rationality” (2001, 102). This redefinition of the metaphor can also be understood as the author’s criticism of the misinterpretation of the Divan poetry by Western oriental scholars and their lack of “poetic instinct” regarding the Ottoman and Turkish poetry, whose style has been stereotypically judged as a “contrived manner of speech” or “exaggerated metaphor” in accordance with Orientalism as a Eurocentric mindset (1994: 51–52). Instead of “a clumsy imitation of form and rhyme patterns,” what matters to the lyricist Şenocak (in poetry translation) is grasping the “specific spirit” of “foreign poetry,” and “the complex interactions of language, form and sound, as well as an obvious and a hidden meaning that are inferred from the constellation of pictures and signs” (1994: 53). The aim is to illuminate the historical and cultural “comprehensive context” of a work of art and also to counter the tendency of a “polarizing manner of thinking” in the literary encounter between East and West (1994: 53). The problem of the hermeneutic handling of the Koran as well as the search for new impulses for a modern, enlightened Islam is discussed several times in the book. While the son
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aesthetically experiences “a momentum of revelation” about the “depth” of “word, body, and dream” (36), and the father (through his faith in religious texts “as the revelation of god”) longs for the inspiration and soul of Islam in the mystic tradition of Sufism by escaping the present into poetry, the contemporary “believer in Islam” (as Şenocak sees it) represents the “antagonist of the translator.” Due to a misunderstanding of the hermeneutic interpretation of a language in another social reality, the contemporary believer cannot interpret the contradictions in the religious text “either linguistically or historically” in a humane, timespecific reading. This results in multiple conflicts that cannot be resolved “either spiritually or socially” (37). With the conclusion that the Koran could be “interpreted in all languages, but translated into none” the son questions if “every translation [isn’t] always also an interpretation” and man, when he interprets, is “writing every book anew” (37). Man is confronted with the ambiguity and the diversity of interpretation of the written word, as well as the tension between translatability and untranslatability. In his essay “Die Aufgabe des Übersetzers” [“The Task of the Translator”], Walter Benjamin makes this tension fruitful for translation in the context of the problem of hermeneutic understanding. According to his philosophical and metaphysical translation theory, a supra-historical relation (that he conjectures) does not reveal itself in the form of a “pure language,” but rather alludes to a lost totality of one original language as well as an untranslatable, essential core that can only be “reached through the totality [of languages] and the complementation of their intentions.”2 Benjamin maintains the principle of translatability despite his realization of the incommensurability of languages because the meaning (indwelling the original text) only attains its “constantly renewed and latest, most comprehensive unfolding” (52) in the translation that surpasses mere message and mediation. Contrary to the conventional theory of translation that aims to convey the “form and meaning of the original as precisely as possible,” for Benjamin the “true relation between original and translation” consists of a “change and renewal” of the original text since – without a defined “reproduction of meaning” – there is “also a further maturing of defined words” (53). This basic principle likewise manifests itself in Şenocak’s literary concept of translation as a way of gaining knowledge within the transcultural dialogue through an updating of the reference text in a creative manner. According to Benjamin, the task of the translator is “to liberate through rewriting” the “pure” language that is trapped in the “foreign work of art [and its meaning]” in order
2 Walter Benjamin, “Die Aufgabe des Übersetzers,” 54. Hereinafter, the pages of the essay will be added to the text in parentheses after the quote.
“to win back the movement of language” (60) and to broaden and deepen one’s own language with renewed meaning by means of “the foreign” language (61). His differentiation between “intention [of the] intended” and the “mode of signification” explained through the example of the German word “Brot” and the French word “pain” (according to which the same intended object in different languages gains a different semantic meaning due to the different cultural context) is, for Ottmar Ette, an epistemic “jump from linguistics[. . .] to a culturally open philology” (2005: 118), without the non-equivalence of the terms necessarily leading to fundamental untranslatability. Regarding the original, the translation (per Benjamin) should rather “incorporate its mode of signification in its own [the original’s] language,” which accords with Şenocak’s understanding of translation as a constant movement of thought that articulates its own intercultural and transcultural references in that it transforms the foreign into one’s own foreign by gazing with an “alienated eye onto one’s own” (2006: 30). For Şenocak, the perception-stimulating effect of doubt and the rediscovery of the diverse meanings of words is necessary for the requisite Muslim rediscovery of the “transience of meaning and interpretation” that can only be understood within historical contexts. In the case of the fictive conversations between father and son, this rediscovery is expressed in the form of the difference between original and translation (in the Benjaminian sense of language movement) as well as in the form of translation as a culture-specific process of movement: “I understand why you always preferred the original Koran over every translation because the meaning of words is fond of traveling, vain, and misleading; but their sound is eternal” (63). Correspondingly, the fixation on the (divine) word in Islamic culture is criticized in this context since it stays “trapped in the circle of hermeneutics” (80) where “the word [. . .]” has suppressed “all other signs” through “the strict ban on images in Sunni Islam” (81) and, therefore, creative and representative art with its human dimension, symbolization and image is lacking (Main 2016), in contrast to Christian culture. To a certain degree, the author sees the “lack of a humanization of the divine message through image and metaphor” (81) – apart from the importance of dreams as a means of perception and revelation – compensated by the sophisticated and artful recitation of the Koran, where its musicality, sound, aesthetic effect and “the voice of the mystic” (82) again combine poetry and religion for him. For Şenocak, the fondness for travel, transience and ambiguity of the meaning of words again result in a positive, perception-stimulating doubt concerning both supra-historical interpretations as well as one’s own interpretation, since every communicative act arises from a diversity of opinions which “makes the dialogue with the other possible” (57). Thus, the fictive son figure of the text tries again and again to understand the Islamic belief system of the
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father from different perspectives and to express in words his lack of understanding: “questions for my father were for me always questions for which there was no answer, because there was no god” (86). By repeatedly approaching and falling from faith, as well as doubting faith and despairing of it in the mode of auto-fictionalization, the son finds that “from this doubt, his belief” becomes “believable for him.” Şenocak (in his own words and from a Muslim perspective) wants to remind the reader of the path established after the enlightenment that many Christians, Jews and mystics had taken should be pursued by contemporary Muslims when confronted by questions of faith. The author’s concern with cultural translation and with culture as translation implies – in addition to intercultural and transcultural interrelations and the deconstruction of opposites – a “non-understanding” or misunderstanding with their effects on “models of communication between cultures” (2001: 103). This is already contained in his earlier essays in the concept of “negative hermeneutics” that is opposed to the traditional hermeneutic teaching of understanding with its claim of universality that aims for a construction of meaning and a holistic interpretation as well as their “masked [self] understanding” (1994: 28) of what is foreign. Şenocak “regards hermeneutic models [. . .] more from the failure of understanding than from successful understanding,” whereby the “supposedly understood is critically analyzed, and the misunderstood and repressed move into the focus” (2001: 103). Newer hermeneutic theories also follow this direction under the label of “post hermeneutics”3 by going, like the theorizing of deconstruction, against the primacy of coherent understanding and assigning a specific productivity to nonunderstanding and misunderstanding. Şenocak’s model of understanding as a “negative hermeneutics” allows for a connection to Jacques Derrida’s essay “Babylonische Türme. Wege, Umwege, Abwege” [“Des Tours de Babel”], which is based on Benjamin’s essay on the translator and its “system in deconstruction.” Derrida’s theory of text continues that which Benjamin made productive for translation in the thinking about language: the incommensurability of language or the apparent equivalence of languages. This is introduced as “a differential and meaning-constructing occurrence” because – “by depicting the difference between the self and the foreign in the translation” – deconstruction “is accomplished within the translation” in an exemplary way” (Hirsch 1997: 11). The concept of differential movement within language, with its permanently changing linguistic and semantic system, leads to the translation as having to translate interconnections, circumstances and relations instead of single elements. Due to impure languages that are “already and always”
3 See Dieter Mersch, Posthermeneutik (2010).
traversed “by foreign textures” and due to their overlapping, languages are to be understood as “intertexts” such that “the translation previously designed as a translation between languages [. . .]” has to become “a translation within linguistic textures and orders of reference” (Hirsch 1997: 12). By thinking of the translation as a process that is steadily modifying the linguistic texture, the movement of translation shows its deconstructive character. By dissolving and wrecking textures as well as simultaneously constituting new ones, the process of translation reveals both the incoherent and meaning-constructing structure of language. Şenocak’s deconstructive reinterpretation of the traditional hermeneutic understanding in the interest of a “negative” side of “hermeneutics” (revealing its limitations and weaknesses) does not dissolve the relation of foreignness between “self” and “other”; yet the aspects of “not-understanding” and misunderstanding in the context of a meeting between cultures illustrate the dependence on mediation as well as the adherence to the principle of translatability and the understanding of translation as a culturally specific process. This process aims to reconnect the “clipped lines of communication between cultures” (1994: 27) as well as to remember the hybrid cultural-historical heritage of West and East. This will lead to a new aesthetic perception that presents “bastardization” (1994: 27) in the sense of a creative impurity of language and European literature. Translated by Jan Hohenstein and Patrick Schultz
Works Cited A modified German version of this article appeared in Türkisch-Deutsche Studien. Jahrbuch 2018, Universitätsverlag Göttingen 2019. Bachmann-Medick, Doris (2014/2006) Cultural Turns. Neuorientierungen in den Kulturwissenschaften (Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt). Benjamin, Walter (1977) “Die Aufgabe des Übersetzers,” in Illuminationen. Ausgewählte Schriften (Frankfurt a M.: Suhrkamp), 50–62. Cercel, Larisa, ed. (2009) Übersetzung und Hermeneutik. Traduction et Herméneutique (Bucharest: Zeta Books). Derrida, Jacques (1997) “Babylonische Türme. Wege, Umwege, Abwege,” in Übersetzung und Dekonstruktion, ed. Alfred Hirsch (Frankfurt a. M.: Suhrkamp), 119–165. Ette, Ottmar (2005) ZwischenWeltenSchreiben. Literaturen ohne festen Wohnsitz (Berlin: Kulturverlag Kadmos). Hirsch, Alfred, ed. (1997) “Vorwort,” in Übersetzung und Dekonstruktion (Frankfurt a. M.: Suhrkamp), 7–12. Main, Andreas (10 May 2016) “Im Gespräch mit Zafer Şenocak. Der Islam ist wirklich ein Gespenst geworden – und ein Monster.” https://www.deutschlandfunk.de/muslimischeerneuerung-der-islam-ist-wirklich-ein-gespenst.886.de.html?dram:article id=351204 (Deutschlandfunk).
Occident and Orient: “Poetics of Movement” in the Works of Zafer Şenocak
Mersch, Dieter (2010) Posthermeneutik (Berlin: Akademie-Verlag). Şenocak, Zafer (2016) In deinen Worten. Mutmaßungen über den Glauben meines Vaters (Munich: Babel Verlag). Şenocak, Zafer (2011) Deutschsein. Eine Aufklärungsschrift (Hamburg: edition KörberStiftung). Şenocak, Zafer (2006) Das Land hinter den Buchstaben. Deutschland und der Islam im Umbruch (Munich: Babel Verlag). Şenocak, Zafer (2001) Zungenentfernung. Bericht aus der Quarantänestation (Munich: Babel Verlag). Şenocak, Zafer (2006) War Hitler Araber? IrreFührungen an den Rand Europas (Berlin: Babel Verlag Hund & van Uffelen).
Refugee and Migrant Voices On and Off the Documentary Theater Stage: Recent Works by Maxi Obexer 1 A European Utopia Much of the work of the Berlin-based author Maxi Obexer (b. 1970), who grew up in the German-speaking region of Northern Italy (South Tyrol or Südtirol), focuses on the fate of migrants and refugees entering Europe and related issues of race, gender and human rights. Obexer has addressed these pressing social challenges throughout her career as writer, dramatist and political essayist, that is, long before the mass exodus of people from Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia (among other places) in the summer of 2015.1 In this article I discuss two of Obexer’s essays on issues of migration (one was originally presented at a conference) and a recent theater play, all of which she wrote in response to the so-called “refugee crisis.” Drawing on feminist scholarship that rethinks notions of materiality, I will examine the political dimensions of these works with special attention to the risks and potentials of staging the plight of refugees in documentary theater. The very term “refugee crisis” carries problematic connotations suggesting that the European continent is overrun by refugees or that the European host countries cannot absorb a large number of refugees (numbers that pale when compared to those who have entered Lebanon and Turkey, to name just a few non-EU countries). Jonas Tinius maintains that this crisis, “decried by politicians and pundits alike [. . .], is as much a European and German identity crisis – that is to say, a crisis of national self-understanding [. . .].” In her 2016 essay “Warum in Utopien denken?” [Reasons for Utopian Thinking] Obexer takes this “crisis of national self-understanding” as a point of departure for shifting the focus from the national to a transnational European realm. Challenging the anti-immigrant backlash in the discourses and policies regarding refugees, she evokes a utopian vision of Europe that is based on the lives, material conditions and experiences of those attempting to enter the continent. I examine this essay in more detail below as a provocative attempt to change
1 For a brief description of Obexer’s previous work, see “Werkverzeichnis” on her website, m obexer.de. The website also includes excerpts from the play script Gehen und Bleiben. https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110645781 011
the discourse on refugees from a problem to be solved to an opportunity for rethinking Europe. Obexer wrote this essay in response to the sea change in public discourse that gained momentum in early 2016.2 As is well known, since then the political landscape – and related policies – both in the European Union and in the United States have moved even further away from the alternative European vision Obexer evokes. However, these developments have not stopped her nor many other writers, artists and activists from continuing their work in support of refugees in Germany, Europe and around the globe. Despite the fact that discursive and artistic interventions like Obexer’s are both timely and compelling, they are often hampered by the following tension: they speak or act compellingly in the name of refugees and challenge tendencies promoted by the media coverage of seeing refugees merely as victims – or worse, as threatening Other. But herein lies the contradiction, one that is familiar from the study of migration and post-colonialism: when artists and intellectuals speak on behalf of the marginalized or subaltern – in this case on behalf of refugees – the refugees’ own agency and their voices are inherently obscured. While this tension is still present in the 2016 essay, Obexer has found compelling ways out of this dilemma both in her 2017 essay “The Longest Summer” and in her play Gehen und Bleiben [To Leave and to Stay] from the same year. In brief, in her autobiographical essay “The Longest Summer” Obexer undercuts the unspoken opposition between “real foreigners,” that is, those from outside of the EU borders, usually with darker skin, and foreigners from within Europe like herself who are EU citizens. At the same time, she recognizes the differences between these two groups. Inserting her own voice as “migrant” thus allows her to acknowledge if not solve the representational dilemma of speaking on behalf of others.3 Obexer’s play Gehen und Bleiben that premiered in the spring of 2017 at the Hans Otto Theater in Potsdam draws on the author’s extensive interviews with the multi-ethnic, multi-national ensemble. My in-depth discussion of the play and the performance makes up the main part of this article and explores the role of material aspects – the staged bodies, lives and experiences of the refugee and migrant actors – in the larger context of documentary theater. In different ways both the 2017 essay and the play lend themselves to an exploration of the significance of foregrounding auto/biographical dimensions as a way to counteract the representational dilemma mentioned above. Of course an overreliance on
2 In Germany these shifts in public opinion followed the assaults of women at the hands of migrants and refugees primarily from North Africa on New Year’s Eve 2015/16 in Cologne. 3 See also Obexer’s comments in the interview with Astrid Weigert in this volume, pp. 165 166.
Refugee and Migrant Voices: Recent Works by Maxi Obexer
“real” voices comes with potential new liabilities and limitations. These risks will be addressed in regards to documentary theater’s ambiguous position between theatricality and claims of the “real.” To frame my discussion of the role of material or “real” dimensions in Obexer’s creative work about and with refugees, it is useful to recall the efforts of feminist scholars to “radically rethink materiality, the very ‘stuff’ of bodies and natures,” as Stacy Alaimo and Susan Hekman put it in their introduction to Material Feminisms (2008: 6). The contributions to Material Feminisms discuss how materiality can be reconceptualized and reintroduced into feminist and intersectional approaches across the disciplines (2008: 3–5).4 In her seminal article “Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter,” a central point of reference for Material Feminisms, Karen Barad maintains that neither “meaning” nor “matter” can be thought of as individually articulated, static entities (2003: 39).5 Instead “meaning” and “matter” are mutually implicated, and neither aspect has a privileged status over the other. Furthermore, Barad defines discourse as “boundary-making practices” through which “phenomena (matter) come to matter” (140). These phenomena in turn are “agential,” that is, they are in constant dynamic exchange with discursive practices (140). As Hekman puts it in less abstract terms: a materially grounded ontology assumes that “there is a world out there that shapes and constrains the consequences of the concepts we employ to understand it” (2008: 109).6 It is instructive to recall this foundational line of argument from the early 2000s here because it has broad implications beyond feminist science studies (the immediate context of Barad’s argument). The nature-culture dualism forecloses an “understanding of how ‘nature’ and ‘culture’ are formed” and thus prevents effective change (Barad 2003: 145). By contrast anyone working towards social change regarding issues that involve gender, ethnicity, race and the environment (to name just a few), would have to examine how the material and
4 The editors attribute the neglect of the material through the early 2000s to the dominance of post structuralism and the focus on language and representation. While they do not want to abandon the insights of the linguistic turn, Hekman and Alaimo make a convincing case for a “material turn,” that is, for bringing the body and other matter back into the discussion. The contributors’ underlying notions of “matter” and “material” vary greatly according to their areas of scholarship (they include nature, the body, affect, the non human or more than human, the social, and experiences, among others). For the purpose of this article I employ the term “material” when I discuss the lives and experiences of refugees and migrants. 5 Page numbers here and in the following refer to Barad’s reprinted article in Material Feminisms. 6 Furthermore in contrast to a postmodern relativism, these consequences can be compared “in terms of how well they allow us to cope with our environment” (Hekman 2008: 109 110).
discursive realms interact – and then intervene in the specifics of that constellation.7 As Sarah Ahmed argues in The Cultural Politics of Emotion, the powerful role of affect is a specific manifestation of this dynamic. The repeated use of negative, affect-laden terms in discourses about marginalized groups, e.g., asylum seekers, results in what Ahmed calls “sticky words” that contribute to a sense of uncertainty and a general fear of these groups in Western societies (2004: 45–47); these discourses have material consequences when political platforms and policies draw on (and in turn foster) sentiments of perceived threats. Feminist and intersectional approaches that rethink “materiality” as always already interacting with discourse are highly pertinent for creative writing and performance. As particularly malleable kinds of discourses, literature and theater participate in “boundary-making practices” and have the potential for intervening in “the world’s becoming, to contest and rework what matters and what is excluded from mattering” (Barad 2003: 144). Along similar lines Obexer defines the political role of theater as pushing the boundaries of engrained thinking and action, especially when it comes to marginalized groups.8 To explore what this might entail, I will first turn to Obexer’s opening address at the 2016 Summer School Südtirol for dramatic and essayistic writing which she directed and co-founded.9 In the presentation, titled “Warum in Utopien denken?”, she juxtaposes a dominant European view of the continent with what she posits as the refugees’ vision of Europe by asking: who “needs Europe? Whose utopia, whose country is it?”10 Throughout the text, Obexer contrasts “us” (Europeans) who watch and judge “them” (refugees) from a comfortable distance while
7 Barad introduces the terms “intra act” and “intra action” to underscore the interconnected ness of the material and the discursive realms (133). 8 “Das genuin Politische der Dramatischen Kunst” (The genuinely political of dramatic art), unpublished presentation at the Maxim Gorki Theater. Unless indicated otherwise all transla tions are mine. 9 The Summer School is part of the Neues Institut für Dramatisches Schreiben (NIDS) that Obexer co founded with Sasha Marianna Salzmann. Obexer comments on the 2016 Summer School which focused on “our utopias” in a conversation with Kara Oke in the newspaper Salto Arts: “We attempt here to describe visions that are also those of migrants and minorities and of all those who have not given up the hope yet for a free and open Europe as artists, as authors, as politicians, as scholars.” (“Wir versuchen hier, Visionen zu benennen, die auch jene der Migrantinnen und der Minderheiten sind und für alle, die es noch nicht aufgegeben haben, an ein Europa als freies und offenes Land zu glauben als KünstlerInnen, als AutorInnen, als PolitikerInnen, als WissenschaftlerInnen.”) 10 “[W]er braucht europa? wessen utopie, wessen land ist es?” [Obexer uses lower case throughout many of her works] (Obexer, “Warum in Utopien denken”).
Refugee and Migrant Voices: Recent Works by Maxi Obexer
disregarding their claims to self-determination, claims she associates with the decision to leave one’s homeland. She mentions some of the material conditions and experiences that lead to this decision – civil war, terror and destruction of livelihoods – and the refugees’ vision of another, safer life with an open future that is tied to the European continent. The essay thus foregrounds the refugees’ agency instead of portraying them merely as victims or as a collective (and threatening) Other. For Obexer, the refugees literally embody what selfdetermination means to those who cannot take it for granted but have to put their lives and bodies in harm’s way in order to claim it. Challenging those who blame the refugees collectively for terror attacks in Germany and Europe in her address, Obexer points out the following contradiction: she identifies an underlying refusal to connect our own horror (Grauen) vis-à-vis terrorist incidents with the refugees’ experience of horror that contributed to their decision to flee terror and come to Europe. In short, in the current political climate we do not grant migrants the same degree of humanity that we claim for ourselves – “as if even their shock was an essentially different shock than my [sic] own.”11 Her essay counteracts this trend towards considering the trauma and loss refugees experience as less “grievable” than our own (Butler 2004: 33).12 By focusing on how the refugees’ bodies, their actions and their visions are interrelated, Obexer reclaims them as fellow humans and puts them at the heart of the European project. wer braucht europa? wessen utopie, wessen land ist es? gehört es nicht den einwanderern, den umherwanderern, den grenzwanderern? den minderheiten? denen an den peripherien? wer aus und einwandert, hat visionen und utopien in kopf und körper. wer geht, um in europa anzukommen, weiß, welche utopien und welche visionen mit diesem land verknüpft sind. kennt also noch immer die zukunft europas [who needs europe? whose utopia, whose country is it? does it not belong to the immi grants, wanderers, border walkers (Grenzgänger)? to the minorities? to those at the pe ripheries? those who emigrate and immigrate have visions and utopias in their heads and their bodies. those who leave to arrive in europe know what kind of utopias and visions are connected to it. therefore they still know the future of Europe].
11 “[A]ls wäre selbst noch ihr entsetzen etwas essentiell anderes als mein eigenes entsetzen” (Obexer, “Warum in Utopien denken”). 12 In Precarious Life Judith Butler challenges what she calls the “violence of derealization”: making losses of the other invisible and considering the other’s casualties not to be “griev able.” According to Butler the process of grieving is a precondition for working towards social justice (33).
Here Obexer turns the Europe as we know it on its head or, considering the material grounding of her essay, it might be more fitting to say that she places Europe back on its feet. The radical vision that takes shape here suggests that the center of Europe might lie at the peripheries, among the “immigrants, wanderers, border walkers (Grenzgänger)” and that the future of Europe might lie in the hopes and utopias of those who seek to enter Europe, in their heads and in their bodies. To paraphrase Hekman and Alaimo’s introduction to Material Feminisms, the role of experience (here of refugees) produces new forms of knowledge about Europe, its potential and its future. Enticed by those who come to Europe with the hope for greater self-determination and a new lease on life, Obexer is urging us to envision Europe anew: a Europe that requires our imagination, not a freewheeling one but one that is grounded in the “wirklichkeit im hier und jetzt [reality of the here and now].” From this utopian perspective the “refugee crisis” turns into a new opportunity for the European continent. Glimpses of this “other” reality emerged in widespread acts of solidarity and civic involvement in the second half of 2015. But since then these responses (quickly branded as “Welcoming Culture” [Willkommenskultur]) have been increasingly obscured by “a reality of risks and dangers” evoked by the media and politicians alike.13 In “Warum in Utopien denken?” Obexer calls on her audience to recognize the refugees’ agency, yet she still references their plight as a collective group. In her 2017 contribution to the Bachmann literary competition in Klagenfurt, a text titled “Der längste Sommer” [“The Longest Summer”],14 Obexer shifts the emphasis in significant ways: adopting the first person singular and a personal perspective throughout, the author uses a train trip from Bozen (Italy) to Berlin via the Italian-Austrian border at the Brenner Pass as narrative frame to contemplate her own story of migration and to observe the treatment of six of her fellow travelers, teenagers from outside of Europe, who are eventually taken off the train by the border police, signaling migration cut short or denied. Their future remains unknown to the narrator and the other travelers. By including her own migration experience from one European country to another and juxtaposing it with the unknown fate of the teenage migrants, Obexer
13 Alluding to the Wende and the fall of the Wall in 1989, Obexer speaks of a brief moment in the summer of 2015 when the walls around a fortified Europe began to crumble due to discur sive pressure from within and material pressure from without. An idea of Europe emerged that recalled twentieth century visions of a peaceful and open continent, a vision that contributed to the foundation of the European Union in the long shadow of World War II. 14 “The Longest Summer,” included in this issue, is the translation of the text Obexer read at the 2017 Klagenfurt literature competition and is part of the longer publication Europas längster Sommer that appeared in the fall of 2017.
Refugee and Migrant Voices: Recent Works by Maxi Obexer
breaks open the very notion of migration. She does so first of all by referencing her own story as one of migration and thus employing a term that is usually reserved for people of color from outside of (Western) Europe; secondly by also including memories of the liberating experiences in Berlin, her coming out journey, her love relationship with another woman and their eventual separation. Put differently “The Longest Summer” illustrates a vision of migration that comes across as both mainstreamed and, from the perspective of most refugees, as out of reach. Obexer’s own story is one of taking leave from familiar places and established norms to go through the trying process of establishing new affiliations and attachments. Most migrants stemming from outside of Europe are denied this human right to self-determination – the focus of Obexer’s earlier essay. While some may find the inclusion of a “Western” perspective on the search for new places of belonging misplaced in an essay that also portrays the plight of refugees, I propose to read this essay as an invitation to rethink not only inhuman policies regarding refugees but also well-established notions of migration and migrants. Broadening the notion of migration in this manner and portraying it as part and parcel of a life journey and as manifestation of one’s right to self-determination, Obexer’s highly personal essay “The Longest Summer” makes a strong political statement.
2 Refugee voices in documentary theater In “The Longest Summer” Obexer begins to find a way out of the representational dilemma (speaking on behalf of others) while evoking a sense of shared humanity across radically different migration experiences. Another productive way of addressing the tension between agency and (political) representation is Obexer’s play Gehen und Bleiben and, more generally, theater projects that involve refugees as participants – the focus of the remainder of this article. As Jonas Tinius points out, theater groups that involve actors with a migration background are not a recent phenomenon, even though migrant and minority theater practitioners still have no broad institutional role. Prominent examples that have emerged in the rich German theater landscape since the 1980s are the Theater an der Ruhr in Mülheim or the Ballhaus Naunynstraße in Berlin. Both institutions have a long and consistent history of working with migrant and immigrant actors, and many have become part of these theaters’ permanent ensembles in an effort to establish what Shermin Langhoff (in her role as past director of the Ballhaus Naunynstraße) has called “postmigrant theater,” that is, a theater that takes a diverse, multi-ethnic society – and an ensemble that includes many second- and third-generation migrant actors – as
points of departure for its artistic work.15 There is however some concern that the recent interest among many theaters in the situation of refugees has shifted the focus away from the accomplishments of postmigrant theater. As Katrin Sieg and Matthias Warstat have shown, projects that emerged in the context of postmigrant theater featured new and diverse manifestations of Germanness and Europeanness and thereby challenged longstanding national and ethnic clichés as well as persistent racism.16 By contrast, productions that respond to the influx of refugees tend to focus on the harrowing circumstances under which humans cross the increasingly militarized borders of “fortress Europe” and then face countless hurdles within Europe.17 In brief, according to Warstat, the internal focus on a diversifying Europe has shifted to an external focus on the inhuman effects of European border politics (2017: 36). This stark juxtaposition of postmigrant and refugee theater does not apply to all initiatives and projects.18 A good example is the Exil Ensemble initiated by Shermin Langhoff, director of the Maxim Gorki Theater, in response to the recent influx of refugees. As Langhoff explains in a 2016 interview, fittingly titled “No voyeurism, please!” [“Nur kein Voyeurismus!”], the name was purposefully chosen to connect the situation of current refugees with artists who were forced into exile during the Second World War or other global crises. In other words the project Exil Ensemble and its name seek to connect the situation of refugees today to those of earlier generations of refugees-turnedimmigrants across the globe. Beyond this attempt to historicize and thus normalize the integration of migrants into the cultural realm, the establishment of the Exil Ensemble involves an extended period of training in an effort to take the refugees seriously as actors instead of merely using them on stage to provide an authentic flair to their live stories. The initial result of the Gorki
15 See her statement: “Mich interessiert vor allem, wie die Deutschen das Phänomen Migration in ihrem Land und ‘die anderen’, die zugereisten ebenso wie die hier geborenen ‘neuen Deutschen’, wahrnehmen. Wo sind deren Geschichten? Warum sind sie nicht im Lauf der Jahre zu unseren Geschichten, unseren Stücken geworden?” (Langhoff 2012). 16 Warstat also provides a critical discussion of the term “postmigrant” (2017: 30 31). 17 Examples include Michael Ruf’s Asylum Monologues (2013), first presented at the Bühne für Menschenrechte (Stage for Human Rights); Obexer’s play Illegale Helfer (2015; Illegal Helpers) which was performed at a number of theaters in Germany and in the United States; Nicolas Stemann’s production of Elfriede Jelinek’s “Die Schutzbefohlenen” (Hamburg 2014/15; The Supplicants), the play Letters Home that was created by refugees in The Refugee Club Impulse (Berlin) and has been performed across Germany from 2014 to 2016, and Miriam Tscholl’s “Morgenland” (2016; Orient). 18 See for instance Sieg’s favorable discussion of Obexer’s play Illegale Helfer.
Refugee and Migrant Voices: Recent Works by Maxi Obexer
Theater’s approach was the performance of the play Winterreise [winter journey] in the spring of 2017, which grew out of the ensemble’s road trip through Germany and Switzerland. In a compelling opening scene a group of exile actors challenges the patronizing treatment by their German host – a situation that serves as critical commentary on other kinds of (theater) projects initiated by a well-meaning host society.19 The initiative at the Gorki Theater is an example of a long-term commitment to integrating refugee and migrant actors. By contrast, as scholars and theater critics have pointed out, some of the spontaneous efforts by theaters to evoke empathy with the plight of refugees are fraught with problems. For instance in a critical assessment of Michael Ruf’s popular Asylum Monologues that has been performed throughout Germany, Sieg argues that the performance falls back on stereotypes of the migrant Other that postmigrant theater productions had successfully challenged. Putting refugees on the stage in an effort to give voice to their experiences holds the risk of adopting a paternalistic approach while evoking sympathy for the “infantilized other” (Sieg 2016) or of “exoticising” marginalized groups (Wihstuz 2013: 191). These critical responses point to some of the weaknesses and dangers of documentary theater in general. As Sieg explains: “Documentary theatre’s ostentatious lack of dramatic artifice implies that this is the appropriate form for history unfolding rapidly, because there hasn’t been time for processing. Yet such artlessness does not inure this genre to a crass stereotyping that would raise objections in a more crafted play” (2016). There are of course numerous examples of documentary theater productions that are mindful of these risks – for instance by drawing attention to the mediatized and selective nature of the “authentic” sources and documents they draw upon. As Alison Forsyth and Chris Megson mention in their introduction to the edited volume Get Real: Documentary Theatre Past and Present, documentary theater often includes “reflexive performance techniques” that indicate an “acknowledgement of the complexity of ‘reality’” (2009: 3) or, as Carol Martin points out, that probe the very idea of “documentary” and the “real” (2009: 88–89). And while what counts as evidence in documentary theater has significantly broadened over the past few decades,20 it continues to differ from fictional plays
19 See Goldman’s New York Times review “In Germany’s Theaters, Stories of Exiles and Refugees.” 20 The very definition of what constitutes documentary theater has evolved among both the ater practicioners and scholars (Forsyth and Megson 2009: 1 5). While the documentary the ater of the 1960s and 1970s drew primarily on textual documents, more recent plays draw on a range of archived materials as well as oral sources, testimonies, and orature (Martin 84 89).
precisely because it holds the promise to “[g]et [r]eal” (the fitting title of the edited volume): documentary theater introduces the audience to – albeit mediatized, selective and subjective – aspects of reality with the potential of evoking a public sphere where both theater practitioners and theater goers challenge hegemonic discourses and social practices (Reinelt 2009: 11–12).21 It is here that documentary theater relates in productive ways to the material feminist and intersectional approaches mentioned earlier. Just as these approaches do not ignore but incorporate the insights of postmodernism and post-structuralism, reflective documentary theater as defined by Forsyth and Megson is mindful of the constructed nature of the “authentic” matter – lives, bodies and experiences – it stages. At the same time neither material approaches nor documentary theater are all about social construction; rather both are not only cognizant of but explicitly address real material consequences of specific discursive and performative practices.
3 Obexer’s play Gehen und Bleiben Against this backdrop of the promises and pitfalls of documentary theater, it is instructive to examine Obexer’s Gehen und Bleiben, a play commissioned by the Hans Otto Theater in Potsdam, and its production by Clemens Bechtel in the spring of 2017.22 In the following analysis, I ask in what ways the play “gets real” and how it negotiates the risks of getting too real, that is, how it avoids evoking a naïve sense of authenticity that is prone to othering and stereotyping while sidestepping aesthetic and performative dimensions. Finally I ponder the question posed by Christiane Peltz in her feuilleton article titled “Was bringt es Flüchtlingen, wenn sie auf der Bühne stehen?” [What do refugees gain when they are on the stage?] (2016) and expand it to “Was bringt es den Zuschauern, wenn sie Flüchtlinge auf der Bühne sehen?” [What do spectators gain when they see refugees on the stage?] Gehen und Bleiben focuses on the situation of twelve characters who came to Germany from a range of countries and for a variety of reasons. Despite
See also Derek Paget, “The ‘Broken Tradition’ of Documentary Theatre and its Continued Powers of Endurance,” 235. 21 Obexer voices similar views on the political role of theater in “Das genuine Politische der Dramatischen Kunst.” 22 To date the play script has not been published but excerpts are available on Obexer’s web site, m obexer.de.
Refugee and Migrant Voices: Recent Works by Maxi Obexer
major differences in circumstances all of them struggle with complex and difficult relationships to those who stayed behind and with related questions of whether or not to remain in Germany. Conceptually notions of home or Heimat, related issues of memory and forgetting, and mediatized communication are central to the piece. What distinguishes the play from others that address the situation of refugees is that it underscores the extent to which these struggles are not unique to refugees but are familiar, albeit rarely in such existential ways, to many people in today’s globalized and mobile world. In order to address these issues in this larger transnational context, Obexer conducted extensive interviews with Berlin-based actors from a range of national and ethnic backgrounds to learn about their stories and their current situation. Of the twelve actors and musicians, seven are refugees from Syria, one from Iran; the remaining four actors are migrants or immigrants from Russia, Macedonia, France and Israel. It is important to note that Gehen und Bleiben refrains from labeling the characters as either refugee, migrant or immigrant but instead aims to show a spectrum of highly individual situations, even among members of the same group (e.g., Syrian refugees). To explore how Obexer’s play straddles the prevailing division between postmigrant and refugee theater I reintroduce the rubrics of migrants and refugees in my analysis. All members of the ensemble had prior experience with acting, writing or directing in their home countries. Obexer wrote the play in close collaboration with the ensemble. In contrast to her previous play Illegale Helfer, Gehen und Bleiben does not incorporate verbatim sections of the interviews with the actors but takes these as source material for a highly selective focus on the abovementioned topics and related imagery and anecdotes. This material was then reworked into a particular dramatic form.23 For the most part the script uses the actors’ real names (first names only) and is based on their actual stories, but the characters are not identical with the actors who perform them. Several actors play more than one role, and individual actors do not necessarily perform their own story.24 As some of the Syrian actors mentioned in the post-performance discussion, those kinds of shifts helped them gain distance to their often painful or traumatic experiences. Other aspects that mark the production as artistic performance rather than “merely” documentary include the multiplication and mirroring of roles. For
23 Private conversation with the author on 25 May 2017. 24 I attended the performance twice; the second time included a post performance discussion with the actors and the dramaturg Christopher Hanf.
example, the French actor’s ambivalent relationship to her home and her parents is mirrored by the Israeli actor to the point where the former finds the latter sleeping in her own bed at her parent’s home in France. In another carefully choreographed moment all male actors appear with eye-patches, a marker of both material and psychological war injuries that are initially introduced in one Syrian’s (imagined) Skype conversation with his brother, a war veteran who stayed behind in Syria. Conceptually these shifts and duplications guard against any simple conflation of actor and character without severing this connection altogether – as is characteristic for freely imagined theater. Overall Gehen und Bleiben exemplifies an approach to documentary theater that references material aspects of the migrant actors’ own lives while at the same time making use of a range of postdramatic devices that thwart superficial identification with the characters’ plight. These include opting for a series of loosely connected scenes over plot development, opening the fourth wall through the use of choric elements and, as mentioned, choreographing a range of actor-character constellations that undercut any clear demarcations between actor and any one character s/he performs. Matt Cornish, in an epilogue to his analysis of post-1989 German theater refers to similar kinds of performances as “fictionalized documentary form” that “embeds documents within richly aesthetic, theatricalized spaces” (2017: 188). Gehen und Bleiben captures a historical moment that goes beyond that portrayed in earlier theater projects by Obexer and others; those usually focused on the dangers during the flight and the arrival in Europe, including life in cramped refugee camps, attempts to navigate national and European bureaucracies and the role of “illegal helpers” in these processes (see Obexer’s 2015 play (Illegale Helfer)). Instead it takes as its point of departure the life of refugees and migrants in Germany and focuses on specific slices of the present – primarily the difficult communication with those who stayed behind – and on aspects of the future, namely the question of whether or not to make Germany a permanent home and the implications of this decision for partners and family members back home or stranded in third countries. At times the play suggests a degree of choice that is in fact denied to most refugees.25 This might be an attempt to underscore the
25 The play focuses primarily on Syrians who, at the time of the performances in early 2017, were usually granted asylum in Germany due to the ongoing war in Syria. Arguably they thus had a somewhat larger degree of agency when it came to their living situation in Germany. By contrast refugees from most other countries had a much slimmer chance of receiving asylum, especially after the renewed tightening of the asylum laws in the spring of 2017.
Refugee and Migrant Voices: Recent Works by Maxi Obexer
refugees’ (desire for) self-determination and agency – in line with Obexer’s essay “Warum in Utopien denken?” discussed above – but it also risks glossing over significant differences between the situation of refugees and migrants. As the example above illustrates, one of the play’s main strengths is also its greatest challenge: namely the negotiation between the universal dimension of this struggle over multiple and often competing notions of belonging on the one hand and the attention to the specific situation of the refugees on the other. The inclusion of a range of migration stories safeguards against some of the abovementioned risks of documentary theater: the uniform portrayal of marginalized groups as victims or their exoticization, both with the effect of confirming dominant – albeit benevolent – narratives of Germanness. The play aims at circumventing these pitfalls by highlighting the diversity of Syrian refugee positions and by connecting their stories to those of other migrants from various national and ethnic backgrounds. A few examples illustrate how these aspects manifested in the Potsdam production. Gehen und Bleiben opens with a prologue of the Israeli actor (Sharon) who lists material objects and aspects of lived experience that she had to leave behind at the border. These include not only her career and her place of residence but sensual memories of a particular place in Israel and, most important, her (native) language. All actor-characters carry with them these mnemonic traces of a former home or Heimat;26 they especially haunt the Syrian refugees since their memories are tied to homes that are not only geographically distant but in most cases also physically destroyed by the war. The role of remembering is further complicated by traumatic experiences connected to the civil war. One of the young Syrian actor-characters (Nicola) is intent on forgetting his past life in Syria in order to establish a new life in Germany, another character (Amin) wishes the memories of the war would vanish like a desert wind.27 One of the final scenes references once more war-torn Syria. The scene is fittingly titled “In Ruinen” [In ruins; 44–45] and conjoins the voices of many actors, not just the Syrian ones. Their diverse responses and questions bespeak the sense of loss and an inability to make sense of the destruction. Regarding the play’s postdramatic
26 I am using the German term Heimat here because its connotations evoke an affective rela tionship to home and homeland that correspond with the play. On the rich and at times highly problematic history of the term, see Boa/Palfreyman and Eigler/Kugele. 27 Manuscript version of Gehen und Bleiben, 5 6 (Nicola) and 24, 44 (Amin). I am grateful to Maxi Obexer for making the unpublished play script available to me.
dimension, this scene is one of several that have a choric quality with the effect of opening up the fourth wall.28 In stark contrast to the scene “In ruins” there are also light-hearted and humorous situations that address the trials of (prescribed) integration (2017: 40–42) and tensions between generations, for instance when the parent generations’ desire to have their adult children return “home” is summed up in the phrase “kommst du jetzt” [are you coming now, 39], repeated in another scene by multiple characters in multiple languages. The choice of choric elements suggests that this generational (and gendered) pull transcends national and ethnic groups. The play underscores important differences between the refugees and the other migrants when Sharon draws attention to the privileged position of those who live in Germany of their own volition (here, Sharon herself and the French and Russian characters) and who may choose to visit family in their home countries at any time (35–36). Despite this disclaimer this scene illustrates the challenges of conjoining the situation of refugees with that of long-term migrants or immigrants. Perhaps the story of the Macedonian character is meant to bridge the two groups: he escaped his home country, together with his mother, during the Balkan wars of the 1990s, but has since built a new life in Berlin while his mother settled in Macedonia and wants her son to return “home.” However the play’s attempt to draw attention to the situation of individual actor-characters while also emphasizing shared traits is not convincing here. The light-hearted references to over-protective mothers seem strangely out of place when one considers the highly restricted mobility of most refugees and the involuntary long-term separation from family members. In a more successful example of staging contemporary notions of “home” Sharon evokes a virtual world map and outlines how each of the characteractors has family members in several continents and countries (36–37). Referencing the entire space of the theater (“and Australia would be located in the last row”), the monologue has the effect of temporarily abandoning the fourth wall and including the audience in musings on family relations that crisscross the globe. The scene undercuts facile categories of origin and belonging by illustrating how voluntary and involuntary migration results in a web of human relations spanning the continents. By highlighting the multiple ways in which the situations of refugees and migrants are connected to transnational
28 Other scenes with choric elements focus on the topic of departure and return (13 15), the dramatic reenactment of Alaa’s desertion from the Syrian army (19 20), and memories of daily life in Syria during wartime, including memories of torture (24 26).
Refugee and Migrant Voices: Recent Works by Maxi Obexer
communities on and off the stage, the performance avoids the dangers of stereotyping, exoticizing and infantilizing the refugees. The play also connects the situation of the actor-characters with that of the spectators through its focus on the role of languages as necessary but imperfect means of communication and on the reliance on multiple form of mediatized communication.29 In fact much of the play revolves around difficult or failed acts of communication. Elisions and silences due to traumatic experiences or willful forgetting (as in the case of Nicola, mentioned above) are the more obvious examples for the fragmentary nature of the stories we hear. Another dimension of the explicit staging of the challenges of communication is the use of multiple languages (Hebrew, English, German, Arabic, French and Russian) and instances of sudden code switching, for example when Nicola and his Syrian girlfriend Mariana continue their increasingly heated discussion about their diverging memories of Syria in Arabic. The effect is that those not fluent in Arabic, presumably most of the spectators, can no longer follow the conversation. This linguistic defamiliarization of the audience foregrounds the extent to which comprehension is tied to proficiency in particular languages. The reversal of a constellation that most refugees face on a daily basis is enhanced by the director’s choice to withhold translated versions of the Arabic dialogue via supertitles. (By contrast, for English sections of the play German supertitles are provided, a practice that Berlin theatergoers have come to expect – albeit usually in reverse, that is, German is translated into English in a city that caters to an international theater audience.) The use of multiple languages including code switching and (partial) translation is further complicated by the mediatized character of much of the play’s speech. Underscoring the play’s attention to the dispersion of families and separation of partners across continents, the dialogue frequently takes place via phone and internet calls or social media. While these technologies enable separated families and lovers to stay in touch, the performance focuses on the alienating effects of communicating across geographical distances and radically different living conditions. When communication breaks down there are few affective or physical resources the interlocutors can fall back on. For instance when Alaa has a video call with his wife Leyla, who is still in Syria, the couple has to maneuver around so many painful and difficult topics that they run out of things to say, highlighting not only the limits of verbal communication but
29 A number of stage props visualize this focus on media and communication technologies: a large screen, multiple computer monitors, cell phones, and traditional telephones.
illustrating how communication technologies may in some cases exacerbate rather than overcome geographical separation (15–20). Significantly it is one of the youngest characters who voices his frustration about social media – reversing the expected generational divide regarding the use of communication technologies. In a tense dialogue with his father, twentyyear-old Kais blames the faltering romantic relationship to his girlfriend, who stayed behind in Syria, on the reliance on Facebook, WhatsApp and Skype, technologies that cannot replace spontaneous and affective dimensions of being in the same place (27). The father attributes his son’s misgivings to an idealized notion of love that rests on the idea of pure and unmediated communication. While the play in its entirety does not promote this nostalgic notion of immediacy, it takes seriously Kais’s desire for “real” human contact by highlighting throughout both sides of communication technologies: enabling and complicating human relationships. The exploration of the possibilities and perils of mediatized communication is perhaps the best example of how the play links the situation of all actors and reaches out to the spectators’ own experience while being attentive to the special situation of most refugees. The performance concludes with a fitting scene: the Syrian character-actor Leyla calls Alaa via internet from Sudan, the only country to which she and their children managed to escape. She asks her husband to leave Germany and join them in Sudan, highlighting the inhuman effect of the German asylum law that at the time stipulated a three-year waiting period before immediate family members were allowed to join those who were granted asylum.30 The play ends with the disruption of the connection and the discontinuation of the couple’s conversation. The final scene thus ties the fragility of communication media to the play’s central focus on the material dimensions of “gehen und bleiben”, that is, the experiences of life in prolonged transit and the separation from family members. As suggested above, at a conceptual level documentary theater’s promise to “get real” can be usefully discussed with reference to material approaches in feminist and cultural studies. Specifically documentary theater that relies on actors from marginalized groups serves as an example of the renewed attention to the body, affect and lived experience. In plays with and about migrants it is the stories and bodies of the actor-characters that point to experiences and events beyond the stage. At the same time recent trends in documentary theater, as summarized by Forsyth and Megson, are cognizant of the roles of
30 With the formation of a German governing coalition in the spring of 2018, the laws changed once again.
Refugee and Migrant Voices: Recent Works by Maxi Obexer
discourse and other meaning-making resources as mediating and thus coconstructing our notion of the real. In this sense the realism of documentary theater is never un-mediated but always tenuous, with implications that shift in each individual production (Reinelt 2009: 8, 10).
4 Conclusion In this final section, I return to the questions of what difference the presence of a migrant ensemble makes for the actors themselves and for the audience. In “Paranoid Reading” that marks Sedgwick’s reassessment of critical theory and her turn towards material approaches to culture, she coins the term “reparative practices” to acknowledge how individuals and communities may “extract sustenance from objects of a culture” (2003: 150–151), even if that culture as a whole does not sustain these individuals or communities. Regarding the difference the participation in theater productions makes to migrant and refugee actors themselves, there are not only important financial and professional gains but arguably also the potential for such “reparative practice,” even if only on a temporary basis.31 These human and social effects of participating in the making, the rehearsal and the performance of Gehen und Bleiben became clear in the post-performance discussion with the actors. Another, staged, example of such reparative practice occurs in Winterreise, performed by the Exil Ensemble at the Maxim Gorki Theater in 2017. In a self-referential turn, one of the six actors comments on his newly found theater “family” at the end of the performance. These sentiments are of course in no way a substitute for urgently needed political change regarding asylum laws and long-term support for refugees. The second question, what difference does a migrant and refugee ensemble make for the audience, raises more complicated issues. Critical voices abound. An example is Peltz’ sarcastic charge that the cultural elite by watching refugees on the stage indulges in publicly subsidized Betroffenheit, denoting the superficial emotion of being moved.32 Peltz addresses legitimate concerns, some of which recall the above-mentioned reservations vis-à-vis the function and role of documentary theater in general (which may or may not include actors from marginalized groups). As Forsyth and Megson maintain with reference to
31 For a critical take on this constellation of hope in the “affective present” within an eco nomic and political context of precarity, see Lauren Berlant, Cruel Optimism 4 9. 32 See the original sentence: “Der Kulturbürger leistet sich nach Feierabend etwas staatlich geförderte Betroffenheit” (Peltz 2016). See also Wihstutz (2013: 191).
Derek Paget, in today’s mediatized world the revival of documentary theater may indicate a “renewed investment, by practitioners and audiences alike, in the profound moment of ‘encounter’ afforded by live performance” (2009: 5). While live encounter is a defining aspect of most if not all theater (even in highly mediatized productions by the likes of Frank Castorf), documentary theater’s promise to “get real” is likely to enhance this experience. For instance, the information that Gehen und Bleiben is based on the real stories of its ensemble was provided in all announcements of the play33 and was probably a motivating factor for many theatergoers who attended the performance. However, as has been shown throughout this contribution, in the Potsdam production of Gehen und Bleiben this experience of live encounter with the actor-characters cannot be separated from multilingualism, translation and mediatization, all of which highlight the extent to which we are presented with selective slices of reality, tailored to particular interlocutors. Overall this attention to discourse and its limitations is integral to the subject matter of the performance. It has the effect of providing the audience with limited access to individual stories while safeguarding against superficial identification with the “Other.” Put differently this aspect of the play helps to counteract the main risk inherent in the genre of documentary theater, that is, equating the performance with real life and eliding the play’s theatrical dimension. As Cornish puts it succinctly with reference to postmigrant theater: the hybrid genre of “fictionalized documentary theater” works well with the goals of foregrounding new voices and new stories that are part of the “common conflicted ground of Europe” (2017: 189). Fostering an awareness of the inevitably partial and mediatized reality that we witness on stage is of special significance in the context of a play that addresses the situation of migrants and refugees. Beyond an epistemological awareness of its “tenuous realism,” the play foregrounds how this particular group of actor-characters who are separated from family and partners both relies on and is affected, at times existentially, by the imperfections of discourse and the limitations of communication technologies. In line with insights of scholarship on material feminisms, language is shown to have material consequences just as material living conditions shape the kind of language that can be uttered on stage. And it is this very constellation that illustrates the potential
33 “Am Anfang des Projekts stand eine Phase der Recherche: Die Beteiligten Flüchtlinge und Auswanderer . . . haben von ihren persönlichen Erfahrungen berichtet. Die Autorin Maxi Obexer hat darauf die Gespräche in ein Theaterstück verwandelt . . . ” (performance brochure). Similar information was provided on the Potsdam theater website and in reviews of the performance.
Refugee and Migrant Voices: Recent Works by Maxi Obexer
of documentary theater: It creates a particular kind of reality that remains partial and preliminary “and yet [. . .] it is a way of knowing” (Reinelt 2009: 23), one that conjoins the audience with the migrant ensemble without erasing the differences between the two. In the context of these epistemological musings it is instructive to consider Obexer’s comments from the field, based on her work at the Potsdam theater. Obexer speaks of an audience that is as diverse as contemporary German society and of a collaborative relationship with theatergoers where she (as author of the play) learned as much from an engaged and open-minded audience as vice versa.34 These comments on the “new audience” (together with the creation of the play Gehen und Bleiben in interaction with members of the ensemble) complement the above-mentioned epistemological questions regarding the kind of reality and of knowledge documentary theater stages in a compelling manner: the “reality” we encounter on stage is a co-constructed one and thus by necessity both partial and emerging. In sum Obexer’s attention to refugee and migrant voices in her essayistic and dramatic works successfully intervenes in “the world’s becoming” by contesting and reworking “what matters and what is excluded from mattering” (Barad 2003: 144). The risk of creating superficial and non-consequential Betroffenheit via performances with refugees is real, but the Potsdam production of Obexer’s Gehen und Bleiben for the most part side-stepped these dangers by presenting material aspects of the lives of refugees and migrants through the use of postdramatic staging practices that guard against naïve forms of identification. Furthermore instead of portraying refugees merely as victims or as part of a collective, Gehen und Bleiben highlights a range of experiences and subject positions among both refugee and migrant actors. In many ways the play thus serves as a creative response to the central demand of Obexer’s essay “Warum in Utopien denken?”: it stages the refugees’ diverse backgrounds and insists on their agency and self-determination. Put differently, Obexer’s play begins to bridge the gap identified by Sieg and Warstat between postmigrant theater – and its long-standing concerns with performing diversity across Germany and Europe – on the one hand and theater about refugees on the other. In light of the increasingly precarious situation of refugees in Europe and across the globe, the play’s focus on aspects of the shared material reality and humanity of those on and off the theater stage has clear political implications.
34 Obexer, “Wer sind wir?” See especially the section “Von der Zivilgesellschaft und dem neuen Publikum Gehen und Bleiben”.
Works Cited Ahmed, Sarah (2004) The Cultural Politics of Emotion (New York: Routledge). Alaimo, Stacy and Susan Hekman, eds. (2008) Material Feminisms (Bloomington: Indiana UP). Barad, Karen (2003) “Posthumanist performativity: Toward an understanding of how matter comes to matter,” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 28. 3, 801–831. Reprinted in Alaimo and Hekman, Material Feminisms, 120–154. Berlant, Lauren (2011) Cruel Optimism (Durham, NC: Duke UP). Boa, Elizabeth and Rachel Palfreyman (2000) “Introduction,” in Heimat. A German Dream, ed. Elizabeth Boa and Rachel Palfreyman (Oxford: Oxford UP), 1–29. Butler, Judith (2004) Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence (New York: Verso). Cornish, Matt (2007) “Epilogue: Hybridized history,” in Performing Unification. History and Nation in German Theater after 1989 (Ann Arbor, MI: U of Michigan P), 171–189. Eigler, Friederike and Jens Kugele (2012) “Introduction,” in Heimat between Memory and Space, ed. Friederike Eigler and Jens Kugele (Berlin: De Gruyter), 1–12. Forsyth, Alison and Chris Megson (2009) “Introduction,” in Get Real. Documentary Theatre Past and Present, ed. Alison Forsyth and Chris Megson (Basingstoke: Palgrave McMillan), 1–5. Goldman, A.J. (2018) “In Germany’s Theaters, Stories of Exiles and Refugees.” New York Times. 4 Jan. 2018. www.nytimes.com/2018/01/04/theater/winterreise-gorki-amerikadeutesches-theater-drums-in-the-night-munich.html Hekman, Susan (2008) “Constructing the Balast: An Ontology for Feminism,” in Material Feminisms, ed. Stacy Alaimo and Susan Hekman, 85–119. Langhoff, Shermin (2012) “Gespräch mit Irene Bazinger: Wozu postmigrantisches Theater?” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 15 Jan. 2012. www.faz.net/aktuell/feuille ton/buehne-und-konzert/gespraech-mit-shermin-langhoff-wozu-postmigrantischestheater-11605050.html?printPagedArticle=true#pageIndex 2. Langhoff, Shermin (2016) Summary of interview with Peter Laudenbach “Nur kein Voyeurismus!” (Süddeutsche Zeitung), Rbb24. 9 July 2016. www.rbb-online.de/kultur/bei trag/2016/07/gorki-theater-exil-ensemble-shermin-langhoff.html. Lemmings, David and Ann Brooks, eds. (2014) Emotions and Social Change: Historical and Sociological Perspectives (New York, Abingdon: Routledge). Margareth Obexer. Website. http://www.m-obexer.de. Martin, Carol (2009) “Living simulations: The use of media in documentary in the UK, Lebanon and Israel,” in Get Real, ed. Alison Forsyth and Chris Megson, 74–90. Maxim Gorki Theater (n.d.) “Exil Ensemble. Ein Ensemble von Künstler/innen im Exil am Gorki,” Kulturstiftung des Bundes, www.kulturstiftung-des-bundes.de/cms/de/projekte/ buehne und bewegung/refugee-ensemble-project.html. Obexer, Maxi (Oct. 2016) “Das genuin Politische der Dramatischen Kunst,” Presentation at the opening of the drama festival “Flucht, die mich bedingt,” Maxim Gorki Theater, Berlin. Obexer, Maxi (2017) Europas längster Sommer. Roman (Berlin: Verbrecher Verlag). Obexer, Maxi (2017) Gehen und Bleiben. Unpublished play script. Excerpts available at Margareth Obexer, www.m-obexer.de/theaterstuecke/theaterstuecke 19 gehen-undbleiben.htm. Obexer, Maxi (2014/15) Illegale Helfer. Unpublished play script. www.m-obexer.de/theater stuecke/theaterstuecke 18 illegale helfer.htm.
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Obexer, Maxi (2018). Interview with Astrid Weigert. In the present volume, 159–169. Obexer, Maxi (2017). “The Longest Summer.” Transl. by Katrin Sieg. In the present volume, 150–158. Obexer, Maxi (2016) “Unsere Utopien. Nostre Utopie.” Interview with Kara Oke. Salto Arts. 27 July 2016. www.salto.bz/de/article/27072016/unsere-utopien-nostre-utopie. Obexer, Maxi (2016) “Warum in Utopien denken?” Blog. 39Null, 24 July 2016. 39null.com/ blog/warum-in-utopien-denken. Obexer, Maxi (2018) “Wer sind wir?” Der Deutschunterricht, special issue on “Flucht und Vertreibung in der deutschsprachigen Literatur,” 70. 1, 77–79, www.ife.uzh.ch/dam/ jcr:052b87dc-7512-45ee-acef-19b4a885ac0b/z355 2018 01.pdf. Paget, Derek (2009) “The ‘broken tradition’ of documentary theatre and its continued powers of endurance,” in Get Real. Documentary Theatre Past and Present, ed. Alison Forsyth and Chris Megson, 234–238. Peltz, Christiane (2016) “Was bringt es Flüchtlingen, wenn sie auf der Bühne stehen?” Berliner Tagesspiegel. 16 May 2016. https://www.tagesspiegel.de/kultur/fluechtlinge-und-kulturwas-bringt-es-fluechtlingen-wenn-sie-auf-der-buehne-stehen/13596606.html Reinelt, Janelle (2009) “The promise of documentary,” in Get Real, ed. Alison Forsyth and Chris Megson, 6–23. Sedgwick, Eve Kosovsky (2003) “Paranoid reading and reparative reading, or, you’re so paranoid, you probably think this essay is about you,” in Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity (Durham, London: Duke UP), 123–151. Sieg, Katrin (2016) “Refugees in German documentary theatre,” Critical Stages/ Scènes Critiques, 14, special issue on “Theatre and Statelessness in Europe,” ed. Azadeh Sharifi and Steve Wilmer, www.critical-stages.org/14/special-topic/ Tinius, Jonas (2016) “Authenticity and Otherness: Reflecting statelessness in German postmigrant theatre,” Critical Stages/ Scènes Critiques, 14, special issue on “Theatre and Statelessness in Europe,” ed. Azadeh Sharifi and Steve Wilmer, www.critical-stages.org/ 14/special-topic/ Warstat, Matthias (2017) “Postmigrantisches Theater? Das Theater und die Situation von Flüchtlingen auf dem Weg nach Europa,” in Vorstellung Europa/Performing Europe: Interdisziplinäre Perspektiven auf Europa im Theater der Gegenwart, ed. Natalie Bloch, Dieter Heimböckel and Elisabeth Tropper, (Berlin: Theater der Zeit), 26–42. Wihstuz, Benjamin (2013) “Other space or space of others? Reflections on contemporary political theatre,” in Performance and the Politics of Space. Theatre and Topology, ed. Erika Fischer-Lichte and Benjamin Wihstutz (New York, Abindgon: Routledge), 182–198.
The Longest Summer Prologue Where is this free land named Europe? All I can see is states. In one of these states, in Belgium, there’s a European Parliament, that much is known. What’s known, too, is that hundreds of thousands are moving to Europe. Millions of others in Europe pick themselves up, go on the move, leave their country and settle somewhere else. Europe got people moving. But where is this land? The deeper one moves into Europe, the more it recedes from view.1
1 “I am pleased to inform you that your application for naturalization has been granted and will take effect with the official handing over of your certificate of citizenship. Signed, Hoff.” Letter in hand, I book a “Europe Special” and take the train from Bozen to Berlin, where my naturalization as a German citizen will be finalized by an official swearing-in ceremony, replete with vow and seal. Until I got this letter I did not know that obtaining German citizenship is called einbürgern [English “naturalization”]. Even after twenty years I make the acquaintance of strange words like this one. Some of them are so glittering and clever I wonder how I could ever have survived without them. But this word does not sound right to me. I stare into the air and mouth it. The prefix ein suggests I’m being enclosed, sealed in, vacuum-packed. Since I moved to Germany such words have been put by my side to watch over me. They change over time and miraculously keep step with me. First came the restricted residency permit. I always liked that word. In order to obtain a restricted residency permit,2 I had to cross an inhospitable area that anyone who enters wants to leave as quickly as possible. No more sidewalks, bike lanes or U-Bahn. The footpath followed a
1 The German original is available on the webpage of the Bachmannpreis unde the title “Europas längster Sommer.” It is a short version of the Roman essay that was published under that same title by Verbrecherverlag (2017). The press kindly granted permission for the publi cation of this excerpt. The translation was funded by the Kulturabteilung der Provinz Bozen (Cultural Office of Bozen Province) 2 German original: befristete Aufenthaltserlaubnis https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110645781 012
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six-lane freeway and crossed a wind-whipped overpass, dusty, deafening and relentless. Power cables and rail tracks below, lined by cranes, signal towers, waste dumps and grain silos. It was the least welcoming of landscapes one could imagine for newcomers. The offices were housed in containers arranged in a makeshift village with alphabetically named streets. Like D Street, where the office of Deportation was located. Opening hours were only from 8 a.m. to noon. You better arrive here by 6 a.m. to pull a number, or your long trek to this office will have been in vain. Wait time is at least five hours, to be spent in the kind of hard plastic chairs known all over the world, screwed to the floor and attached to each other. They also attached us to one another, all of us who awaited our turn. We all stared into the air and in between at the forms that posed endless riddles. We pricked up our ears when a door opened or the numbers advanced, and we all eternally and hopelessly stared at the number display. I was proud to be one of us, a foreigner. Here at the Ausländereinwohneramt (foreigners’ registry office) I came closest to who I wanted to be: a foreigner among other foreigners. “Do you speak German?” asked the German civil servant in an exaggerated foreign accent, as if I could understand her better if she tried to speak in such a contrived manner. But my own reply was what really surprised me: I said, “Me speak German yes.” Like her, I strove to speak a correctly broken German. By applying for a residency permit my own German tongue suddenly became foreign. I repeated the application procedure for a restricted residency permit three times. Each time the interval between applications became longer; each time I had to submit a bank statement displaying my balance. The amount shown there determined the length of time I was granted before I had to repeat the procedure. My biggest dream was to one day obtain an unrestricted residency permit. I never reached this goal, rumor had it that it became unnecessary. Evidently the bureaucrats had better things to do than worry about the legal status of immigrants like me: the so-called EU citizens. It became obsolete. Still, I would have liked to hold the unrestricted residency permit in my hands, a piece of paper with my name on it. As evidence of the path taken, my new life abroad. Instead I was handed a “liberty of movement certificate” (Freizügigkeitbescheinigung) in a German citizens’ registration office. From now on, the annual (for some: monthly) fateful trek across the inhospitable wasteland between freeway overpass, grain silos and industrial harbor was undertaken only by the real foreigners. EU citizens were invited into the cozy waiting rooms of German city halls, on par with the German citizens going about their mundane bureaucratic formalities there.
As European internal borders were abolished and a comfort zone created for EU citizens, all of us European immigrants ceased to be foreigners. At the same time, other immigrants became all the more foreign. Although all of us did the same thing, namely immigrate, our paths henceforth diverged. I looked at the liberty of movement certificate in my hand. To my ears that sounded like “you’re at liberty to move on,” addressed to a “libertine” who, when she opens her coat, wears only lingerie.
2 The train passes the fortress Franzensfeste, one of the largest fortifications in the Alps, which was never attacked. Its construction reportedly took four thousand laborers at any one time. It extends far down into the river bed and connects both sides of the valley by a dam, which would serve as protective barrier in case of war. The fortress continues below ground through bunkers and secret tunnels, boring down through rock and bunkers and creeping upwards across several wooded hills, where stone stairways link one watchtower to another. The low-slung, crouching installation gives the impression of always being on guard. Composed of barracks, ammunition stores, towers, stairways, stables and reception halls, the fortress is a flat labyrinth that signals above all that it is firm and anchored. The Hapsburgs had it built in the nineteenth century, driven by a sense of massive threat. When the monarchy finally collapsed, without any external intervention, and the Italians took over the area, they continued building. They, too, lived in fear of attacks, which turned out to be just as unwarranted. The fortress was never seriously threatened; it never had to prove its mettle. The liberty of movement certificate led me to doubt that official terms confirm and validate individuals’ diverse migratory paths, that their purpose is to assist those who embark on the long journey to a new country, and that these travels will conclude with an arrival. I began to get a glimpse of how words divide us, that they are set in front of people to block, rather than propel them. Most immigrants are commanded to integrate in the form of an eternal test that only the examiners know how to pass – namely never. Those who think they know how “to integrate” prescribe it for you. But how to integrate according to a categorical imperative? And what would be an example of “perfect” integration? That you become a genuine German? But that’s precisely what nobody lets you be, although it’s silently expected of you. It’s at once prescribed and denied.
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Someone like me, however, does not have to face such commands or expectations. I was never instructed or reprimanded; I didn’t have to integrate because my integration was taken for granted. I was rerouted from the foreigners’ registry office to a German city hall. I would have preferred the cold, drafty bridge to the overheated city hall. The traverse, the inhospitable terrain, the untethering of my own existence, being comfortable among strangers: these corresponded to my own strangeness, which step by step transmuted into familiarity. The citizens’ registration office leveled this path, robbed it of its name, significance and the effort expended. That was not tragic; something so negligible and meaningless could make no claims to tragedy. Rather, it interiorized the process of migrating, turned it into a solely personal experience. At the Franzensfeste station, where even the fastest trains must stop to go through customs, but where it’s rare to see any people, six young men board the train. With a look of relief they drop into the seat cushions. They could be boys traveling to a soccer match or to band practice. It’s one more stop and another half hour until we get to the Brenner pass. Unless they are plucked from the train, they stand a good chance of making it to Germany. From then on their geographical odyssey will turn into a bureaucratic one. Until they can hold in their hands what I have in mine: the letter. “I am pleased to inform you that your application for naturalization has been granted and will take effect with the official handing over of your certificate of citizenship. Signed, Hoff.” It is an adventurous journey that changes me profoundly. It doesn’t begin with crossing the border. Real immigration starts later and increases and becomes denser the more the part of you that migrates changes. And this journey, once started, probably never ends. No, I didn’t want to skip one single step. It began with a rapt, inch-by-square-inch inspection of a quiet studio apartment on the second floor. A lone piano, left behind by previous tenants, sat in the empty room. There it was, facing me, the new renter who didn’t know how to play. It led me to Elena, a young woman from Moscow who had come to Germany with her father. Officially she counted as German, an ethnic German who had remigrated. The only German words she knew dated from the time of Empress Maria Theresia. She learned German in record time and was accepted by a technical college, where she trained to be a secretary. In Russia, Elena had graduated with a degree in English literature and held a diploma as a piano teacher. Neither was recognized in Germany. Above all, Elena was a pianist, and, when she played, she transformed the run-down house into a palace. She played radically, tenderly, fiercely, sternly and gingerly, she made high and low waves tumble into each other, and while I felt these two bodies bloom, the
piano and her, I was transfixed by Elena’s mouth. Her lips were wet, she couldn’t stop swallowing the spit welling up in her mouth. Elena once told me that a Russian can lose anything as long as she keeps her language. Language is her dearest home, and it is tightly woven into her lining. And I? What did I look for abroad if not a language? There was no lining. Or if there was it was full of holes. Where I come from, language is spoken sparingly. It seemed to me it was silenced, as if the language that was there was suppressed and stifled. I was greedy for language. Everything in me yearned for language. I gorged myself on it. Under my table newspapers and magazines sat in growing piles until the legs lost ground and the tabletop sat on the paper piles. There was a hungry hole in me. I funneled language into it, with everything that language could think, feel and fill. The hole stayed hungry and if I didn’t keep stuffing it, it threatened to devour me, when it was overflowing to block me, and when I was about to speak to plunge me into unconsciousness. My heart was racing. From six to nine o’clock in the evening, my heart beat as if with fear. After nine it pulsed with happiness and euphoria over my newfound freedom. What was I doing? Let me be surprised by myself? By my romantic journey of selfdiscovery? “What do you want? A Schribbe!?” Every day when I left my apartment and stepped into the bakery on the ground floor, she barked at me. “Schrippe!” The word didn’t want to cross my lips. My P was too soft, it derived from the Italian Palermo-P. It couldn’t ante up to the hard German plosive, was too close to the soft Berlin-B. Had I gone to a German school? my advisor wanted to know, about to send me back to the German prep course. He glanced at the lecture notes I had scribbled and looked at my transcript, which noted my Italian citizenship. Around that time, I had received an invitation by [playwright] Heiner Müller, who wanted to organize a staged reading of my play at the Berliner Ensemble, Brecht’s old theater on Schiffbauerdamm, followed by a public conversation with me. In German. The same German the professor had deemed inadequate for an introductory seminar. I didn’t possess language like the Russian who can lose anything as long as she keeps her language. I emigrated to find a language; I traveled towards myself as if through a wilderness. I was hyper-awake, vulnerable, exposed. Things that appeared banal to others could fell me. People that got onto my subway car like friends, who spoke to each other intimately and who exited at the next station without so much as a good-bye, left me in shock. How could they be so sure they would see each other again the next day? Across from me each young man leans his head onto his neighbor’s shoulder. They sleep fast and deep, as only young people can sleep who haven’t
The Longest Summer
rested for weeks or months. One of them wears a T-shirt with a teddy bear appliqué; evidently his mother had sewn it on by hand. I estimate his age to be twelve, at most thirteen years. What might they have left behind? What will they carry with them as long as they live? Some things they’ll never see again. Among them their most precious possessions. I did not tell my mother about my impending naturalization. Something prevented me, I don’t know what. She would not have known what to do with it, she might have shrugged it off. Just another piece of paper. More bureaucracy. And bureaucracy means harassment. Belonging to a nation-state doesn’t mean anything to her. She grew up in Italy in the wake of dictatorship. And that meant: authorities are to be avoided whenever possible. “German citizenship? Why on earth?” my friend Christine burst out. She was the first one I had wanted to tell, because she was the first person I met in Berlin. For her, I had never been the stranger that I felt myself to be, but someone deserving of her interest. Leftist that she was, she never placed much stock in national identity or in Germany. All the better if foreigners populate it. Was Christine right: does it really not matter to hold a piece of paper in your hand that officially confirms you’re now a German citizen? What could a country, a nation, a state or an official named Hoff confirm that people didn’t already prove each and every day: your belonging to the human species? Whose quest, as a species, everywhere and always, is the search for love, for happiness, for language. They search for it with you, and you with them. All those human beings with whom your life here has finally amounted to one. Serendipitously, under a vast sky sheltering us all, you once met each one of them. At a queersolidarity party large enough, you plucked up your courage to go by yourself. And when you were just about to leave, because your shyness made you believe that no one would be interested in you, someone suddenly asks you if you want a beer. A few hours later and you’re even being kissed, and someone even falls in love with you, even begins to look closely at you, and what she sees seems to please her even weeks, even months later, apparently so much that love grows. So that you spend years together. So that you’re being missed when you’re away. So that she’s worried about you when you’re late. So that, after the separation, the word “separate” still shakes you whenever a waiter asks whether you want one or separate checks. Still, Mister Hoff’s letter moved me to tears. And now that I hold it in my hand I feel the weight of my choices. What started on a whim became my life. Berlin sounded beautiful. Soft and friendly. I didn’t know more than that before I moved there. We have arrived at the Brenner Pass. I hope for their sake that their slumber won’t be disturbed by border police who would shake them awake. Crack
open one lid and their hearts would begin to thump with fear. It’s the border. All hardships will have been worth it for those who can make it across. Last year, six thousand minors alone have been pulled from the train and made to wait in the street. Of all the stations between Verona and Munich, the Brenner Pass is the most desolate place to be forced off the train. Cold, forbidding, empty; no one would voluntarily stay here. For EU citizens, the place is no longer terrifying: instead of facing fear and harassment, they now glide effortlessly across the border. The Italian and Austrian border stations have been replaced by outlet malls surrounded by parking lots. Hard to say whether they’re a prettier sight. For those who still have to make it to the European zone of “freedom, law, and security” (first paragraph of the Dublin Regulation3), the border continues to present a formidable, tall, impenetrable wall in the form of any border guard’s whimsy. One day Elena asked me how I imagine my future. I said: “With a woman, about eight years older than me, theater director.” Elena was amazed, and so was I. Asked again, I replied again: “Yes, with a woman, about eight years older than me, theater director by profession, with a rooftop apartment.” Next day I searched the Zitty4 for women’s parties that Thursday and found Ackerkeller. That same evening a woman kissed me. Dazed, I got onto my rickety bicycle to wobble home. It was an old East German bike with an oversized, white West German saddle on which I slid back and forth. The night turned into a dark blue, the stars glittered so sharply as if they wanted to deter the coming dawn. From this night on, I swapped the theater for the clubs that made up the “scene.” “You look like someone who goes to the East to have her coming out.” I gaped. “I what?” Luckily, I had heard of coming out. The women in the clubs had told me about it, painting mostly terrifying pictures of friends who would leave me, family that would banish me, a different identity I would acquire and all around difficulties, like an awful disease. But when I first slept with a woman, it turned out to be an explosive and overwhelming revelation. The boys have made it another stretch of the way. The train starts moving again. It must be one of those days when Italian officials don’t abide by the European Dublin Agreement and let people travel where they like. Pure luck for them. That can change any day. There’s no unified European policy. For many
3 The Dublin Regulation was passed in 2003, as a step in the process to create a common European asylum system. It determined that the EU member state where refugees first apply for asylum is responsible for housing and supporting them while their applications are processed. 4 Weekly magazine with events listings for Berlin.
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years, the Germans turned a deaf ear to the calls by Spain, Italy and Greece for a common European immigration policy. Meanwhile, now that Germany demands such a policy, other European states refuse to budge. “It’s an experiment, I want to find out if a new passport changes something,” I said to Christine, who winced. It didn’t convince her. An experiment. When I look at the boys sitting across from me, I am ashamed of my words. They would do anything for a German passport, if they ever got the chance to apply for one. They would use the slightest crack in the wall to get in, scale the tallest mountain, burrow through the bureaucracy, survive barking officials and a seemingly endless odyssey, stand up to their families at home and to their own hopes, remain dependent on luck and good people. The challenges they face are so heavy they will fill and determine their entire lives. And if it ends with a German passport then it’s a happy end and the whole journey was not in vain. “What else do you know about me?” I asked the stranger who had apparently watched me for a while. “I think you look like someone who falls flat on her face.” Indeed. The first woman I pursued did everything to get rid of me. She didn’t even put out, but merely talked about it while our belt buckles clinked against each other. Jeannette took part in public kiss-ins on Alexanderplatz and kissed strange women for homosexual equality. I was the only one she didn’t kiss, neither in the U-Bahn nor in the S-Bahn. I jumped with happiness when she invited me to go on a trip to the Baltic with her. I had never been to the Baltic coast and thought: “Now! This is your chance!” As soon as we were on the train, Jeanette regretted inviting me. She cuddled up to the other couple, they soon formed a threesome and held hands while walking through the woods to the beach. They were familiar with the landscape. Once I arrived at the beach, I wanted to jump in the ocean and forget the hell I had gotten myself into. I swam far, as far as I could. The vast sea was in front of me, I laughed, I floated on my back, saw the tiny figures on the beach, the sky above me, what did a walk through the woods matter? At one point I discovered I didn’t even have to swim, I was being carried by the current. The current sucked me outwards, I would soon be in the middle of the Baltic Sea. Nobody on the beach would care about by my disappearance. None of the people who knew me, who loved me, who would go under themselves if they found out I had drowned somewhere in the open sea, were there. I punched the waves and pushed against the current. My eyes searched for the beach; it was only a distant, thin line. I became a body with arms that churned, with lungs that breathed, with eyes that steered. When I stumbled across the beach and plopped into the sand, I was wracked by chills and shivers like none I had ever known. I came undone. My body was shaken like a sack and my insides were cold. My skin was icy inside
and out. A kingdom for a person to lie on top of me. I didn’t even have the strength to grab my clothes. I heard Jeanette laugh. I must have been laughable. A naked body that freezes next to a heap of clothes. The train enters Rosenheim station and jerks to a stop. One of the boys briefly opens his eyes and closes them again. How many stations may he have passed on his journey? The doors are opened abruptly. Passport control. The policemen’s eyes scan our white faces: no, they’re not looking for us. They don’t even disguise the object of their search. They stop at their row: “Passport!” The boys wake up more slowly than the police have time for. “Up, up!” Still bonetired, they don’t even have a moment to rub their eyes. They are pulled to their feet and quickly taken outside. The second policeman, who wears rubber gloves, collects the boys’ belongings and stuffs them into a plastic bag. He searches underneath the seats, in the overhead racks and between the seats, then he closes the bag and leaves the train. It is quiet on the train. Some continue to read their newspaper and act as if nothing had happened or as if what happened were normal. Others, including me, look around them in embarrassment. Our gaze shifts outside, to the platform. We see about thirty young men lined up there. “They come with nothing, but they got cell phones.” A woman with a thick Bavarian accent breaks the silence. “They can always afford a cell.” No one answers or agrees with her or tells her: “Shut the fuck up” – which I would love to have said to her. But everyone stays quiet. A minute ago they shared our compartment. They were travelers who do what travelers do: doze, sleep, yawn, stretch, cross their legs one way and then the other. Slump against their neighbor. We were travelers in a train taking all of us in a common direction. Now we’re sitting inside, they’re standing outside, put there to be stared at and taken away. Then the train starts moving again. Translated by Katrin Sieg
Original Publication Obexer, Maxi. “Europas längster Sommer.” Bachmannpreis ’ 18:42. Tage der deutschsprachigen Literatur, http://bachmannpreis.orf.at/stories/2843789/
“Revealing That Which Is Hidden:” Interview with Maxi (Margareth) Obexer: Playwright, Novelist, Activist 1 Introduction Maxi (Margareth) Obexer (*1970 in South Tyrol/Alto Adige, Italy)1 is a prolific and award-winning author whose politically engaged work centers on issues of flight and migration to today’s Europe. In such diverse genres as novels, radio plays (Hörspiele), theater plays and essays, she explores the human toll and moral ambiguity that often remain hidden – both literally and metaphorically – when those forced to leave their homes in other parts of the world seek refuge in Europe. Uncovering this hidden human and moral cost through nuanced aesthetic interventions has become a hallmark of Obexer’s creative work. The following overview of her key texts aims to introduce readers to her work and to highlight the stylistic, thematic and genre-based innovations that make her oeuvre one of the most compelling in contemporary German literature. The subsequent interview delves into more details on Obexer’s research and creative process and concludes with reflections on her work with the Neues Institut für Dramatisches Schreiben. Obexer’s interest in issues of visibility in the context of contemporary flight and migration can be traced back to her very first novel, Wenn gefährliche Hunde lachen (2011; When Dangerous Dogs are Laughing). The main character is a young Nigerian woman, Helen, who risks her life on an arduous journey through North Africa in order to create a better life for herself in Europe. The novel makes visible her utter dependence on her smuggler,2 the violent realities of her perilous journey, which include rape and prostitution, the harshness of the natural environment and the extremes of physical and mental exhaustion that she endures. What makes the novel even more compelling, however, are the interspersed letters that Helen writes to her family back home. In these letters, she takes great pains to avoid mention of her horrific experiences and instead paints her journey in rather rosy hues. Obexer’s novel provides
1 South Tyrol (Südtirol/Alto Adige) is today an autonomous province in Northern Italy with a German speaking majority, while, of course, those German speakers are a minority within the Italian nation state. 2 On the role of human traffickers in Obexer’s work, see Theele. https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110645781 013
unexpected and cogent insights into processes of revealing and covering up migrants’ experiences and invites further analysis of agency and gender in this context. A political cover-up of a humanitarian catastrophe lies at the core of Das Geisterschiff (2005; The Ghost Ship), a play that revolves around a shipwreck in the Mediterranean Sea that has disappeared from view and, with it, the hundreds of migrants who drowned when the vessel capsized. For her play, which is based on real events off the coast of Sicily in 1996, Obexer conducted extensive research and interviews with locals. The key aspect around which Obexer structures her play is the fact that Italian authorities declared the ship never to have existed in the first place, despite tangible and incontrovertible evidence to the contrary in the form of body parts and identification cards gathered by fishermen. The characters of two young journalists provide Obexer the opportunity to point out the moral ambiguities rife in today’s media as these journalists travel to the coastal village not so much to find the truth, but in the hopes of garnering a journalism award (and the respective prize money) for their story. Their disappointment is palpable when a key witness refuses to corroborate the sensationalist claims they are eager to include in their reporting. In the final scene aboard their return flight, they read about an arson attack in the village, for which a refugee has been arrested, and realize that they themselves were the ones who had inadvertently caused the fire. The last sentence of the play expresses their presumed helplessness about the situation: “But what can one possibly do. . . . ”3 To some extent, Obexer’s radio play Illegale Helfer4 (2014; Illegal Helpers) – and the theater play of the same name – can be viewed as her artistic reply to that same self-defeating phrase “But what can one possibly do . . . .” Again, based on real events and extensive first-hand interviews, the author presents us with a wide spectrum of ordinary people who have made it their cause to help and support migrants lacking legal status in Europe and who do so by circumventing or explicitly violating national laws. These “illegal helpers” come from all walks of life and their support ranges from insider advice for achieving the best outcome in asylum hearings to finding (illegal) work opportunities or illegally transporting refugees across national borders to avoid deportation. The “helpers” reflect on their motivations, their successes and failures, and often point to conflicts between national laws and human rights laws. The documentary character of the radio play is based on the fact that the original interviewees present their own respective statements, often verbatim from the
3 The German original reads: “Was kann man bloß tun . . .” (Geisterschiff 79). 4 Obexer was awarded the Robert Geisendörfer Prize 2016 for the radio play.
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original interviews with the author. This allows listeners to hear the interviewees’ individual accents, intonations, emotionality and breathing patterns which in turn bring these helpers’ very real ordinariness to the foreground and preempt any claims of heroic status. Only one character is fictional, namely the figure representing the majority of passive citizens who are hesitant, do not know what to do and cannot decide whether to get involved. By giving voice to the many courageous yet illegal and covert acts of support, Obexer does to some extent endanger the very persons who are willing to come forward, yet, as Katrin Sieg states in her article on “Refugees in German Documentary Theatre,” “making public the illegal [. . .] is the prerequisite for effecting change on a systemic level so that more people can migrate legally.” Premiering in 2016 as a theater play,5 Illegale Helfer stakes its claim as an innovative and compelling contribution to German postmigrant theater. While the term postmigrant theater is still somewhat in flux, Shermin Langhoff, founder and until 2013 director of the Ballhaus Naunynstrasse theater in Berlin, defined it as follows in an interview in 2011: “For us postmigrant means that we critically question the production and reception of stories about migration and about migrants which have been available up to now, and that we view and produce these stories anew, inviting a new reception” (quoted in Stewart).6 Arguably, Obexer’s Illegale Helfer falls within these parameters as it provides a self-reflective and artistically nuanced treatment of less visible aspects of migration and integration in a diverse society – in this case focusing on the seldom-heard voices of those who remain in the shadows in order to assist migrants and refugees. Sieg contrasts Obexer’s play favorably with more typical documentary plays that can run the risk of creating an “empathy of authenticity.” Obexer’s use of authentic statements by those helping migrants does not aim at empathy but rather at nudging the audience toward active civic engagement. More recently, Matt Cornish described postmigrant theater as presenting “a theatrical echo of the real” – created on the basis of research and interviews and embedded “within richly aesthetic, theatricalized spaces.” The term, then, is an apt one for Obexer’s play (Cornish 2017: 188).7
5 Illegale Helfer premiered in January 2016 at the Schauspielhaus Salzburg. The play received the Eurodram playwriting award in 2016 which funds translations of the play into other European languages. 6 For more background on postmigrant theater see Sharifi and Cornish as well as the article by Friederike Eigler in this volume. 7 Cornish refers to postmigrant theater mostly in the context of Turkish German directors, par ticularly in the context of the Ballhaus Naunynstrasse theater in Berlin. For my purposes, the “Epilogue: Hybridized History” of his monograph is of particular relevance.
Obexer’s most recent publication is Europas längster Sommer (2017; Europe’s Longest Summer),8 a short novel with strong autobiographical elements. It interweaves the narrator’s thoughts on Europe’s distinct treatment of migrants from within the EU (versus non-EU migrants and refugees) with personal reflections on Obexer’s upbringing in Italy, the meaning of national identity, of Germanness and of belonging to a minority or majority. The narrator is on a long train ride from Northern Italy to Berlin that also functions as a metaphor for her personal coming-out story and her professional development as a playwright. The most searing moment occurs when a small group of exhausted young refugees with whom she temporarily shares the compartment are pulled out of the train by German police. The train moves on and the passengers look on in silence while the refugees stand forlornly on the platform. While dreams of living in Germany may be over for the young men, the narrator has had the privilege to choose to become a naturalized German citizen. Though she clearly views herself as an immigrant to Germany and emphasizes this status to her German friends and acquaintances, they reject this description of her out of hand. She may have been born in another country, speak German with an accent or prefer different foods, but she is definitely not an immigrant in their eyes. Her European background and skin color clearly play a major role in her friends’ insistence that she is not an immigrant. By having her narrator insist on her immigrant status in Germany, Obexer makes visible and reflects on her own privilege. As such, Europas längster Sommer provides a literary springboard for critical engagement with white/European privilege and in particular with the privileged lens of white/ European authors. At the same time, Obexer throws a revealing light on the situation of non-EU migrants and refugees from which many avert their gaze during the current debate on immigration in Europe.
2 Interview The interview that follows is based on transcripts of several face-to-face interviews recorded during Obexer’s stay as Max Kade Writer-in-Residence at Georgetown University, with some follow-up questions and clarifications discussed via e-mail. The transcripts were edited for clarity and length in close consultation with the author and then translated.9
8 See the English translation by Katrin Sieg of an excerpt with the same title in this volume. 9 My thanks go to Deva Kemmis for her invaluable help with the translation.
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Astrid Weigert (AW): I would like to begin by talking about your latest book, that is, your novel Europas längster Sommer (2017; Europe’s Longest Summer), which was nomi nated in 2017 for the Ingeborg Bachmann prize and which you wrote for the most part during your appointment as the Max Kade writer in residence at Georgetown University in 2014. This book is different from your other works in that it relies on the personal voice as reflected by the interior monologue of the narrator. What compelled you to use this personal narrative style in combination with the abstraction “Europe” that appears in the title? Maxi Obexer (MO): Europe is not an abstraction for those who have decided to make their way here: precisely because of the possibilities available in Europe, they decided to live their lives in an entirely different place from where they were born. Europe is con crete and real for those who try to get here and for whom Europe’s values and visions are very much worth following. Europe is also not an abstraction for those minorities or bor der regions, who, along with the EU, had hoped that the rule of nation states would dis solve or that the abject symbiosis of majority and minority would become obsolete. In Europas längster Sommer I wanted to tell my own story as well, which allowed me to get to the bottom of the essential moments of my migration process and to come closer to what this really means for me. That is, to describe what lay along the routes and all that was to be found there without knowing in advance exactly what I was looking for. To realize for instance, that what is left behind on these journeys becomes more precious the further it recedes. I also wanted to write about those who are often neglected but who are so significant: the people who make way for those who seek to come here; that is, those who were already here and based on their convictions and curiosity were willing to create opportunities for refugees and migrants to arrive here in the first place. AW: When you look back at your first novel (Wenn gefährliche Hunde lachen, 2011; When Dangerous Dogs are Laughing), in which the protagonist, a young Nigerian woman, rou tinely endures horrific physical and psychological experiences while on her own journey to make a better life in Europe, how would you connect the two works? MO: Wenn gefährliche Hunde lachen is written from the perspective of Helen, reflected in the letters she writes to her relatives back home. She tries to put everything that happens to her on her journey through Europe in the best light in these letters by emphasizing her faith in this land: in its freedom, equality, opportunities, where she can lead her life as she wishes. This is a personal battle for her own dreams and ideas, but it is also a battle for the values and visions that this Europe promises. Europas längster Sommer is an es sayistic novel that is a reaction to the great movements of people that became possible in the summer of 2015, when Fortress Europe was stormed not only from without but from within. Millions set out upon the path of engagement and charity and of finally becoming people for whom the destiny of other human beings was not irrelevant. The main character in this new book is an EU citizen who can move about freely in the comfort zone of the EU, in contrast to others, for instance the six boys with whom she shares part of a train journey. But even she ends up asking herself, after two decades, where this free and wide ranging land that carries the lovely name Europe, can be found. She, too, gazes up at the glass walls of nation states that continue to exist in Europe.
AW: Apart from novels and essays, you have mainly written plays. A sentence from our earlier conversations has stayed with me, namely that you intend to “reveal that which is hidden” (“das Verborgene sichtbar machen”) with your art. This is especially evident in the plays Das Geisterschiff (2005; The Ghost Ship) and Illegale Helfer (2014; Illegal Helpers). The first of the two works is about the discovery and salvaging of a shipwreck off the coast of Italy in which hundreds of refugees had drowned. The very existence of the wreck had been denied by the Italian government for years. The second play is about a group of peo ple of all ages and walks of life who choose to help refugees, accepting the inherent risks of coming into conflict with the law by doing so. This implies that they are willing to continue to help, even if a change in the law were to criminalize this kind of aid. Why do you place so much weight on making what is normally concealed visible, and how did you go about uncovering the hidden aspects that lie at the core of these two plays? MO: I’m interested first of all in telling stories that haven’t been told yet; to make visible the realities of people and relationships that have remained invisible, that have been hid den, ignored or denied. I’m interested in narratives that haven’t yet been established or the stories that exist only in the shadows of established narratives. For me, this is the point at which the genuine political work can begin in writing. In Das Geisterschiff, it was a matter of putting into relief the entire architecture of silencing, impeding and denial that in the course of bringing the shipwreck itself up, was likewise brought to the surface in the play. What’s more, the ship itself was likely deliberately sunk. During my research for the play, the Italian fishermen led me to a topic that still oc cupies me, even now, ten years later. They told me about Salvatore Lopo, a fisherman from Portopalo, who helped 150 refugees who had been in an emergency at sea onto his boat and took them to shore. He saved their lives and was taken to prison for it: his boat was confiscated and he was threatened with the loss of his fishing license for over a year. He’s not an exception. Since then the question, “What if my own country isn’t humane?” has occupied me. After all, I identified the hidden world of the “illegal helpers,” those who themselves understand their charitable acts as a political protest against an inhu mane government. This also has to do with the conflict between national legislation and universal human rights, which nation states often disregard. And, of course, it’s also a question of what happens to a society when the government criminalizes humane acts. AW: I had the opportunity to attend a very engaging English language production of Illegale Helfer, a staged reading at the Austrian Cultural Forum in New York City in July of 2017. That experience made me particularly aware of how important the voices of the in dividual characters were (e.g., the judge, the older teacher, the Swiss farmer) to the over all impact of the play. Would it be justified to modify your quotation of wanting to make that which is hidden visible, into a notion of wishing to make the invisible audible? MO: Illegale Helfer was conceived from the beginning as both a traditional play as well as a radio play. The striking thing about the radio play is that all those with whom I spoke and who let me into their otherwise concealed world were also willing to record my ver sion in their own voices afterwards. They spoke in each case with the voice of the charac ter I had written for them, and this had an enormous impact. In terms of how each figure acts, what they do and what their failures are, we hear their own voices explain every thing: their temperaments, personalities, life stories, even the history of their countries. I
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was surprised by how much the voice imparts and how it “fleshes out” a character; it is after all the most unique expression of a person. AW: Before Illegale Helfer premiered at the Hans Otto Theater in Potsdam in May of 2016, the populist right party Alternative for Germany (AfD) demanded that the play shouldn’t run, because it rewards law breaking and portrays illegal action in a positive light. How did you react to this, personally and professionally? MO: I can relate a very memorable episode that clearly lays out how important the audi ence is, but also illustrates what significance the theater holds as a site of democratic ne gotiation. Theater director Tobias Wellemeyer decided officially against the AfD demand to keep the production from going forward. The AfD then announced in response that they would attend the premiere which necessitated a request for additional police protection. In the end, the party members didn’t attend the premiere; they came to the second performance instead, after which a discussion between the audience and the play’s author was sched uled. I was waiting in the foyer. I heard the applause; I waited and waited there was even a standing ovation. I started to wonder what was happening. Finally, the doors to the foyer opened, the audience streamed out, and the discussion began. It lasted a long time, and, contrary to my expectations, the AfD did not disrupt the discussion. Only afterwards did I hear what had actually taken place in the theater after the play had ended. The audience had recognized the AfD members and with enormous applause made their stance clear. Their strong support of the play was aimed at the AfD members, who then slipped away. AW:: Likewise, in your latest play Gehen und Bleiben (2017; Going and Staying) the voices that are brought to life on stage are central to your work. You describe the play on your website as a “documentary literary play about that which remains at home and neverthe less ends up accompanying those who leave their homeland, about what is held dear and becomes ever dearer precisely because it is left behind.”10 In this case, you bring twelve people onto the stage who are portrayed as refugees or immigrants, now living in Germany and reflecting on their daily experiences, longings and memories. If I under stand correctly, these actors are actually lay people who are speaking of their own respec tive experiences. Why do you value this aspect of authenticity so much? MO: These actors are all immigrants who have come to Germany for a host of reasons. They come from Russia, Syria, France, Bosnia, Iran, Israel or the Ukraine, and, in each case, it’s a matter of the relationships and connections that they maintain with their home countries. The play brings nearly all the theater forms together: choral passages, monologues, dialogues, reports, songs and the performers themselves. Some of the actors came from the world of theater, others from the music scene or from choral groups. The
10 The original German reads: “Ein dokumentarisch literarisches Stück darüber, was bleibt und dennoch mitgeht, wenn Menschen ihre Länder verlassen, darüber, was kostbar ist oder umso kostbarer wird, weil es zurückbleiben musste.” http://www.m obexer.de/theater stuecke/theaterstuecke 19 gehen und bleiben.htm. Translation is mine.
important thing was that they came from a world of experience that they themselves por trayed. Of course, they don’t perform their own personal experience, but someone else’s. It’s also important that this wasn’t about putting their stories on display. I intentionally created theatrical scenes from certain moments of their narratives. But as in Illegale Helfer the performers themselves inhabit these realities and experiences; they know them through and through, and therefore it doesn’t take great effort or technical acting abilities to bring them to the stage. AW: Your work within the theater world does not only involve writing plays but is much more wide ranging, extending to theoretical considerations including the responsibilities of the theater as an institution, the conditions of the theater and of dramatic writing itself. And yet you didn’t leave those ideas in the theoretical realm: in 2014 you co founded, with Sasha Marianna Salzmann, the New Institute for Dramatic Writing [Neues Institut für Dramatisches Schreiben, NIDS], which lays out the following principles in the “Manifest / Manifesto” on its website: 1) to bring the societal significance of the performing arts into the public’s awareness; 2) to strengthen the artistic independence of writers, particularly female authors with migrant backgrounds; 3) to organize performing arts events; and 4) to teach the different forms of performance in all their diversity overcoming the separa tion between post dramatic and dramatic performance. How would you take stock of the successes, challenges and problems you’ve experienced thus far with the Institute? MO: Our workshops have by now become established, and, as a result, quite a number of playwrights of all genders11 have already found their way into the theater and to impor tant publishing houses. Their work is being performed, and they’ve been commissioned to write plays, which in turn contributes to an expansion of the topics and stories per formed on stage and seen by audiences. This means that we are on our way to approach ing a “theater of the many,” which is one of our most important goals. Equally popular are our “conversations about the dramatic arts” [“Dramatische Gespräche”] which take place in public fora. Likewise, our Summer School in South Tyrol is becoming more and more established. It offers workshops, performances and readings and actively supports exchanges with artists, activists, scholars and participants of all genders from a wide variety of disciplines. What is important to us is to become familiar with the thinking in the various disciplines, as well as to gather and share experiences on a particular topic. I continue to actively engage with the dramatic arts and their beauty and meaning for societal developments. I remain interested in transforming particular developments or making their problematic aspects visible. Market forces are merciless, including when it comes to this art form, and one particular challenge for me is the question: how can we go beyond encouraging and supporting the work of playwrights and move towards fur thering the dramatic arts as an art form per se?
11 In the German interview, Obexer uses gender inclusive forms of the nouns Künstler*innen, Schauspieler*innen, Teilnehmer*innen, Dramatiker*innen, etc. in this and subsequent para graphs. The translation renders this inclusivity with the descriptor “of all genders.”
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AW: As a successful dramatist and co founder of the NIDS, you are in an ideal position to respond to my final question: How do you see the future of political spoken theater in German speaking Europe? What contributions to the institution of theater will play wrights and actors with migrant background be in a position to make? MO: Diversity among dramatic authors will continue to increase, I’m convinced of that. In the theater and in terms of public demand there’s long been a shift in thinking, and that will continue. In terms of the future of spoken theater, I’m torn: on the one hand, I think there will be a major change before long that will correspond to language and speech on stage gaining more currency again, with new forms of performance and also with better compensation. But it could also go differently.
Works Cited Cornish, Matt (2017) Performing Unification. History and Nation in German Theater after 1989 (Ann Arbor, MI: U of Michigan P). Diesselhorst, Sabine (2016) “Im Darknet der Willkommenskultur,” Nachtkritik 9. 9 June 2016. https://www.nachtkritik.de/index.php?option=com content&view=article&id=12696:ille gale-helfer-am-hans-otto-theater-potsdam-inszeniert-yvonne-groneberg-die-deutscheerstauffuehrung-des-dokumentartheaterstuecks-von-maxi-obexer&catid=38:dienachtkritik-k&Itemid=40 Margareth Obexer. www.m-obexer.de. Website. Obexer, Margareth (2005) Das Geisterschiff (Merz & Solitude). Obexer, Margareth (n.d.) “Gehen und Bleiben,” Margareth Obexer, http://www.m-obexer.de/ theaterstuecke/theaterstuecke 19 gehen-und-bleiben.htm Obexer, Margareth and Marianne Salzmann (2015) “Manifest/Manifesto,” Neues Institut für Dramatisches Schreiben. 26 March 2015. http://nids.eu/?p=83 Sharifi, Azadeh (2011) “Theatre and migration. Documentation, influences and perspectives in European theatre: Structures – aesthetics – cultural policy,” in Independent Theatre in Contemporary Europe, ed. Manfred Brauneck and ITI Germany (Bielefeld: Transcript). DOI: 10.14361/9783839432433-005. Sieg, Katrin (2016) “Refugees in German documentary theatre,” Critical Stages/Scènes Critiques: The IATC journal/Revue de l’AICT, 14, http://www.critical-stages.org/14/refu gees-in-german-documentary-theatre/ Stewart, Lizzie (2017) “Postmigrant theatre: The Ballhaus Naunynstraße takes on sexual nationalism,” Journal of Aesthetics & Culture, 9.2, 56–68, DOI: 10.1080/ 20004214.2017.1370358. Theele, Ivo (2017) “Der ‘Schlepper’, das unbekannte Wesen. Formen der Fluchthilfe in Maxi Obexers Wenn gefährliche Hunde lachen und Illegale Helfer,” in Niemandsbuchten und Schutzbefohlene. Flucht Räume und Flüchtlingsfiguren in der deutschsprachigen Gegenwartsliteratur, ed. Thomas Hardtke, Johannes Kleine and Charlton Payne (Goettingen: V & R unipress), 287–303.
List of Works by Maxi (Margareth) Obexer Novels Europas längster Sommer. Roman. Verbrecher Verlag, 2017. Wenn gefahrliche Hunde lachen. Folio, 2011
Essays Von der Notwendigkeit der Kunst. On the Necessity of Art. (English and German). Verlag Merz & Solitude, 2010.
Plays Das Geisterschiff. Verlag Merz & Solitude, 2005. Von Kopf bis Fuß. Ed. Theater Baden, Switzerland, 2005. Die Liebenden. Ed. Landestheater Tübingen, 2003
Stories Das Herz eines Bastards. Prosa und Essays. Athesia, 2003.
Performances, Radio Plays, Libretti Gehen und Bleiben. Drama. Premiere at Hans-Otto-Theater, Potsdam, March 2017. Theater Prize of the Friends of the Hans-Otto-Theater, April 2017. Illegale Helfer. Radio play and drama. WDR 2014/15. World premiere Salzburger Schauspielhaus 2016. [Staged readings in Lübeck, Prague, Vienna, Chicago, Washington DC., Paris, New York City]. German premiere at Hans-Otto-Theater, Potsdam. 2016. Eurodram Prize 2016; Robert-Geisendörfer Prize 2016. Traumnovelle. Libretto. Based on the novella by Arthur Schnitzler. Opera in cooperation with the composer Alex Novitz. Staatstheater Braunschweig, Premiere February 2013. Das Ballhaus. Drama.With Roberto Cavosi. Vereinigte Bühnen Bozen 2013. Planet der Frauen. Eine Kampfoperette. Drama/Libretto. With Bernadette LaHengst. Theater Freiburg. März 2012. Gletscher. Drama. Innsbrucker Landestheater 2011. World premiere Stuttgart 2010. Radio play, DLF 2012. ORF, DLF, RBB 2012, 2013. Das Geisterschiff. Drama. Premiere at Theater Basel März 2010. World premiere at Theaterhaus Jena, December 2007; Halle 7, München, 2009; Radio play WDR 2006, BR 2007; Staged readings at Berliner Schaubühne, Staatstheater Dresden, Staatstheater
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Karlsruhe, Bayrische Akademie der Schönen Künste, Budapester Trafö, Städtischen Bühnen Osnabrück. Kindersoldaten. Documentary Drama. In cooperation with Liquid Penguin Ensemble. Landestheater Schwaben, June 2010. Die Wende. Performance. In cooperation with Ingrid Hora. Galerie Program, Berlin 2009. F.O.B. free on board. Radio play. NDR, 2008. Liberté toujours. Radio play. NDR, 2008. Lotzer. Eine Revolution. Commissioned drama. World premiere at Landestheater Schwaben. September 2008. Defending Europe. Manifestoes. Europäische Kunstbiennale, July–November 2008. Der Zwilling. Commissioned drama. World premiere at Staatstheater Dresden, December 2006. Hidden See. Monologue. Radio play WDR, 2005. With Irm Hermann. Directed by author.
Notes on Contributors Gisela Brinker-Gabler was professor of Comparative Literature at Binghamton University. She previously taught at the Universities of Florida, Essen and Cologne, and as Distinguished Käthe-Leichter-Professor at the University of Vienna. She has widely published on modern literature and thought, women’s literature and political culture, and transnational literature studies. Among other works, she edited Deutsche Literatur von Frauen. Vom Mittelalter bis zur Gegenwart (2 vol., 1988), Encountering the Other(s). Studies in Literature, History and Culture (1995), Writing New Identities. Gender, Nation, and Immigration in the New Europe (together with Sidonie A. Smith, 1997), “If we had the Word.” Ingeborg Bachmann (together with Markus Zisselsberger, 2004). She is the author of Image in Outline: Reading Lou Andreas Salomé (2011, transl. into Croatian, 2016, and German, 2018). Recently, she published essays on “The New Nomads. Yoko Tawada Lesen” (2014), “Benjamin. The Task of the Translator” (2016) and “Benjamin’s Translator/Critic as Model for Transcultural Thought and Practice” (2018). Nasim Darouie is a PhD candidate of comparative literature at Binghamton University. She received her bachelor and master’s degree in English literature in Iran and wrote her master’s thesis on ‘poetic drama.’ During her four years at Binghamton, Nasim has taught several courses as the instructor of record, including “World Literature I & II,” “Literature & Society,” and “The Graphic Novel.” Her fields of interest have been classic and modern fairytales, theory and philosophy of language, and visual culture. She is currently writing her dissertation on the role of image in autobiography. Friederike Eigler is professor of German at Georgetown University and has widely published on twentieth- and twenty-first-century literature and culture with special focus on memory, space and gender. She was editor of The German Quarterly from 2004 to 2006 and is the author of Gedächtnis und Geschichte in Generationenromanen seit der Wende (2005). Other major publications include the volume Heimat: At the Intersection of Space and Memory / Zwischen Raum und Gedächtnis (de Gruyter, 2012), co-edited with Jens Kugele, and the monograph Narratives of Place, Space, and Belonging: Toward a Transnational Approach to Flight and Expulsion (2014). Her article is part of a larger project on European cultural memory and literary responses to the influx of refugees into Germany and Europe over the past 75 years. Jeroen Gerrits is Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature at Binghamton University. His teaching and research center on intersections between film, new media, literature and philosophy. His forthcoming book, Cinematic Skepticism: Across Digital and Global Turns (SUNY Press 2019), examines audiovisual expressions of a broken relation to the world by reviewing the filmphilosophies of Gilles Deleuze and Stanley Cavell in light of recent developments in the cinema. He also published a variety of essays on cinema, TV series and film-philosophy. Maxi Obexer is an award-winning playwright, essayist and novelist. She was born in South Tyrol, Italy, and moved to Berlin at the age of twenty-three. Obexer studied comparative literature, philosophy and theater studies in Vienna and Berlin. In addition to her creative work, she regularly writes reviews and essays for newspapers and anthologies and was responsible for the literature
Notes on Contributors
section of the weekly magazine Freitag for several years. In 2014, she founded the Neue Institut für Dramatisches Schreiben (New Institute for Playwriting). Currently she is a guest Professor at Deutsches Literaturinstitut Leipzig. She received numerous fellowships and awards and was a Max Kade visiting artist at Dartmouth College and Georgetown University. Obexer is known for her political plays, audio plays and essays. Migration and the treatment of refugees have been central concerns in her work. Vanessa D. Plumly received her PhD in German Studies in 2015 from the University of Cincinnati, where she also completed a certificate in Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies. Previously, she served as a Lecturer and the Program Coordinator in German in the Department of Languages, Literatures & Cultures at SUNY New Paltz. In Fall 2019, she will start as Assistant Professor of German at Lawrence University. Plumly is co-editor of the volume Rethinking Black German Studies: Approaches, Histories and Interventions and has published in the German Studies Review, Women in German Yearbook and Die Unterrichtspraxis. Plumly serves as review editor for H-Black-Europe and is co-chair of the Black Diaspora Studies Network at the German Studies Association. Renata Schellenberg is Associate Professor of German at Mount Allison University, Canada. She has published widely on eighteenth-century German literature and culture, including recent articles or chapters on Goethe as collector, late eighteenth-century German-language periodicals and travel writing in relation to collecting and museum culture. She is the author of Commemorating Conflict: Models of Remembrance in PostWar Croatia (2016) and the co-editor of Word and Image in the Eighteenth Century: An Interdisciplinary Dialogue (2008). She is currently completing a monograph on museum culture in post-Enlightenment Germanophone Europe. Elke Segelcke is Professor of German and European Studies in the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures at Illinois State University. Her area of research focuses on the literature and intellectual history in Weimar Germany, German post-unification literature and transnational literature. Her publications include a book-length study on Heinrich Mann’s Beitrag zur Justizkritik der Moderne, articles on the literature of the Weimar Republic and book chapters on Christa Wolf, Barbara Honigmann, Navid Kermani and transcultural literature in postunification Germany, with an emphasis on the works of Zafer Şenocak. She co-edited a volume of Collected Essays on Cosmopolitical and Transnational Interventions in German Studies with Venkat Mani and is currently working on a book-length study on Navid Kermani’s and Zafer Senocak’s approaches to Enlightenment cosmopolitanism and the European project of cultural pluralism in the context of current debates over Muslim integration, Western values and national identity. Nicole Shea is the Director of the Council for European Studies at Columbia University and the Executive Editor of EuropeNow, a global publication for a broad, multi-disciplinary educated audience. She oversees the renowned annual International Conference of Europeanists, the prestigious Mellon-Dissertation Completion Fellowships, among others, and supports 13 Research Networks, including those addressing European Culture, Immigration, Social Movements, and Health. Shea is the author of The Politics of Prostitution in ‘Berlin Alexanderplatz’ and is currently working on a manuscript about the understanding of time and
Notes on Contributors
space with German Expressionist writer, Emmy Hennings. Also forthcoming is her book article “Emmy Hennings: Der Mensch als Weib” which will be included in the volume “Women in German Expressionism: Gender, Sexuality, Activism.” Shea studied under the late Gisela Brinker-Gabler at Binghamton University where she received her PhD in Comparative Literature. Katrin Sieg is Graf Goltz Professor and Director of the BMW Center for German and European Studies at Georgetown University, where she is also affiliated with the German department. She has published three monographs on German and European theater and performance, as well as articles in the fields of feminist, postcolonial and critical race studies. One of her longstanding areas of interest is postmigrant theater in Germany; in this context she became interested in Maxi Obexer’s work for radio and the stage. Currently she is completing a book titled Decolonizing German and European History at the Museum. Astrid Weigert, Ph.D., is Teaching Professor in the Department of German at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. Her research interests focus on issues of gender and genre from the Romantic period to today. These interests are folded into her work on foreign-language pedagogy and curricular matters. She served as Book Review Editor of The German Quarterly and is currently Assistant Editor of Gegenwartsliteratur. Ein Germanistisches Jahrbuch. Jocelyn Wright earned her PhD in French Studies from the University of Texas at Austin in Spring 2018. She has published articles on Francophone North African literature and contemporary French banlieue film and literature in CELAAN and the International Journal of Comic Art and has a book chapter forthcoming in Screening Youth: Contemporary French and Francophone Cinema.
Index agency 24, 32, 132, 135, 136, 137, 142, 143, 149, 162 anxiety 65, 96 Aquarius 57 assimilation 5, 60, 66 asylum 15, 16, 134, 142, 146, 147, 158, 162 autonomy 50, 115 banlieues 65, 66 Benjamin, Walter 5, 7, 75, 78, 79, 99, 118, 123, 124, 125, 173 border 2, 5, 6, 28, 75, 77, 87, 110, 117, 135, 136, 138, 143, 155, 157, 165 Brothers of Italy 56 Butler, Judith 15, 21, 22, 26, 27, 135 Christian 3, 30, 32, 33, 101, 122, 124 Cinque Stelle 56 citizen 3, 57, 67, 70, 108, 110, 152, 157, 164, 165 citizenship 9, 57, 108, 152, 155, 156, 157 colonialism 4, 30, 119, 132 comics 4, 40, 41, 43, 44 community 4, 9, 37, 39, 66 conflict 9, 34, 98, 99, 166 destabilization 55 Dhyna Bindu Upanishad 62 diasporic 3, 4, 40, 77, 80 displacement 13, 58, 65, 91, 94, 107, 119 diversity 1, 5, 7, 9, 61, 123, 124, 143, 149, 168 Documentary 131, 139, 140, 163 emplacement 5, 75, 77, 82, 107 European Union 57, 132, 136 exile 3, 4, 6, 40, 58, 80, 87, 105, 107, 108, 109, 112, 113, 138 extracomunitari 57 film 1, 3, 6, 65, 71, 72, 73, 77, 81, 87, 98, 99, 100, 101, 102, 173, 176 Five Stars 56 fluidity 31, 38, 79, 80 https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110645781 015
foreign 62, 66, 78, 88, 117, 118, 119, 121, 122, 123, 125, 153, 154, 176 Fratelli d’Italia 56 Gastarbeiter 55 gender 4, 25, 32, 39, 65, 131, 133, 162, 168, 173, 176 genre 3, 41, 58, 119, 139, 148, 161, 176 Global 76, 174 government 32, 57, 66, 105, 106, 111, 166 graphic novel 1, 3, 40, 43 history 1, 3, 4, 6, 9, 21, 30, 32, 35, 81, 89, 106, 112, 119, 137, 139, 143, 166, 175 homeland 31, 37, 59, 60, 62, 135, 143, 167 Home. . .sick 60 human rights 14, 28, 131, 162, 166 hybridity 2, 30, 79, 80, 82, 119 iconology 41, 49, 50, 101 immigration 4, 6, 55, 56, 57, 64, 65, 66, 67, 155, 159, 164 independence 24, 30, 37, 106, 110, 115, 168 integration 2, 5, 8, 21, 23, 57, 62, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 72, 73, 118, 138, 144, 154, 155, 163, 175 Islam 6, 34, 37, 71, 72, 118, 120, 121, 122, 124 Italian elections 56 Italian literary canon 58 Italianists 58 italianità 57 ius sanguinis 57 ius soli 57 Lacan 4, 41, 46, 47, 49, 50 language 4, 5, 7, 8, 36, 39, 58, 59, 61, 64, 66, 75, 76, 77, 78, 92, 107, 108, 109, 112, 118, 120, 121, 122, 123, 124, 125, 133, 143, 148, 156, 157, 166, 169, 173, 174, 176 Lega Nord 56
Malta 57 Mare Nostrum 56 marginalized 47, 48, 67, 79, 132, 134, 139, 143, 146, 147 media 6, 8, 14, 25, 41, 56, 62, 64, 81, 87, 114, 132, 136, 145, 146, 162, 174 middle-class 3, 5, 72 migrant 1, 3, 8, 47, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 75, 80, 132, 137, 139, 141, 142, 147, 149, 168, 169 migrant writers 57 mobility 1, 5, 6, 7, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 87, 110, 144 monoculturalism 58 monolingualism 58 Names – Christiana de Caldas Brito 59 – Giuseppe Conte 57 – Graziella Parati 55 – Igiaba Scego 60 – Kossi Komla-Ebri 60 – Lily-Amber Laila Wadia 61 – Luigi Pirandello 59 – Matteo Salvini 56 – Pedro Sánchez 57 narration 15, 17, 18, 19, 22, 23, 25, 26, 60, 62, 89, 92 negotiation 8, 79, 143, 167 Northern League 56 nostalgia 60, 107, 112 Operation Triton 56 Orientalist gaze 60 origin 13, 58, 60, 67, 68, 71, 72, 76, 79, 96, 97, 119, 120, 144 Özdamar, Emina Sevgi 5, 75, 80, 81, 82 Özdamar, Emina Sevgi 75
periphery 68, 76 populism 4, 55 postmodern 23, 26, 133 refugee 7, 8, 13, 14, 19, 22, 24, 56, 131, 132, 136, 138, 139, 141, 142, 143, 147, 149, 162 religion 32, 65, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 118, 122, 124 representation 2, 21, 41, 42, 46, 80, 119, 122, 133, 137 Rhoda 60 riots 5, 64, 65, 66, 68, 72, 73 rupture 14, 15, 45, 59, 92, 93, 98 security 2, 14, 15, 20, 22, 28, 68, 158 society 3, 4, 28, 40, 47, 49, 55, 57, 58, 59, 62, 64, 65, 66, 67, 69, 70, 71, 73, 88, 106, 113, 137, 139, 149, 163, 166 terror 7, 20, 135 transcultural 1, 75, 79, 117, 118, 123, 125, 175 transformation 22, 78, 91, 92 translation 4, 5, 6, 7, 30, 33, 58, 75, 77, 78, 81, 88, 89, 90, 100, 102, 103, 117, 118, 119, 120, 122, 123, 124, 125, 136, 145, 148, 164, 168 transnational 1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 117, 173, 175 trauma 135 UN News Centre 55 Valencia 57 Ventimiglia 56 war 30, 37, 56, 105, 108, 110, 135, 142, 143, 154 xenophobia 2, 4, 55