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Transit Heimat: Translation, Transnational Subjectivity and Mobility in German Theatre

  • Author(s): Varney, Denise
  • et al.
Abstract

This paper is interested in themes of translation, transnational subjectivity and mobility in German theatre between 1994 and 2004. It is set within the broader context of the expansion of Europeanisation that followed German reunification and the lifting of the Iron Curtain in central and eastern Europe. It is therefore especially concerned with theatre that responds to the issues that arise with the opening of Europe’s eastern borders and the tensions associated with increased cross-border movement.

Some of the developing tensions will involve the changed status of nations in post-communist Europe, the future of national identity and culture and the formation of transnational or post-national subjectivities. Anna Langhoff’s 1994 Transit Heimat/gedeckte tische is the primary example used in this paper. It is a play about central and eastern European refugees written and performed in the critical early years of reunification that brings an early example of the changing face of Europe to the German stage. It is the little-known but important precedent for later more boisterous German-language treatments of the theme of refugees and xenophobia such as Christoph Schlingensief’s provocative Bitte Liebt Österreich (Vienna, 2000). Foreign subjects also find their counterparts in Heiner Müller’s posthumously performed Germania 3 Ghosts at Dead Man (Berlin 1996) and Germania Stücke (2004). The paper argues that these theatrical and performance pieces represent the downside of transnational or post-national subjectivities as experienced by the new Europe’s poor and powerless. In danger of falling into an underclass of stateless and itinerant welfare recipients, the characters display the trauma of the transition from the old communist regimes to the neoliberal economies of western Europe. It concludes that the play offers a timely reflection on the state of foreignness showing it as a transnational subjectivity produced by entrenched nationalist perspectives, shown nonetheless to be resilient and enduring.

This paper interprets the theme of translation in three quite specific ways before considering its wider metaphoric possibilities. Firstly, the translation of a published German text into English. Secondly, it involves the complex imaginative and creative process of transforming the verbal text, usually dialogue and stage directions, into material stage elements – voice, body, gesture, movement, image and so on. The third and related sense of translation concerns the less tangible elements of the text – variously, the sub-text, ideological underpinning, the gendered and colonialist constructions, and the visceral and affective elements – that are in excess of the verbal text and the stage directions. These elements are also translated into performance and shape its reception.

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