Volume 12, Issue 1, 2019
Lanscapes of Migration
Second-generation authors of German family novels have been increasingly on the move in their literary works ever since German unification in 1989/90 which has precipitated renewed literary engagements with often migratory family pasts of exile, deportation, flight, for example, due to the Second World War, the Holocaust, or both. Concurrently, memory studies scholarship has increasingly focused on spatial migration as condition for memory. However, discourses of migration in memory studies as well as those within literary studies have focused on spatialmigration as content, thus neglecting the intersection of memory, literature, and migration on the structural level of a literary text. Søren Frank has conceptualized “migration literature” to encompass texts that are migratory in their formalistic aspects, rather than through their content. 1 Here, I elaborate on Frank’s idea of “migration as a textual strategy” by conceptualizing a textual form of migration present in second-generation family novels, such as Honigmann’s Eine Liebe aus nichts. The second generation’s self-reflexive, often experimental, writing processes when attempting to represent or narrate others’ experiences constitute the textual form of migration that I suggest. By examining the epistemological gaps that arise in the narration of the father’s story in relation to one’s own in Eine Liebe aus Nichts, I attempt to articulate a textual form of migration underway in the postmemory work it performs.
Willkommenskultur: A Computational and Socio-linguistic Study of Modern German Discourse on Migrant Populations
In the lingering wake of the European Refugee Crisis of 2015, population demographics within Germany’s borders continue to change. As these changes occur, sentiments in relation to incoming populations also shift. This essay details the findings of a socio-linguistic study of the portrayal of migrant populations in a corpus of news articles recently collected from four popular German news venues. Using topic modeling, (a computational method of large-scale text analysis), this study analyzes the discourse surrounding and sentiment toward migrant populations in German news media. By exploring the media contexts of the terms Flüchtling, Ausländer and Einwanderer this study reveals how media representations further propagate stereotypes and prevent the integration of migrant populations into German society.
Not Another Exilic Movie: Alienation and the Everyday in Shahid Saless's Reifezeit and Tagebuch eines Liebenden
When Sohrab Shahid Saless has been acknowledged, he has generally been placed between nations, in a position of dauntingly uncategorizable otherness as an exilic filmmaker reduced to the interstices of Iran and Germany whose films are best interpreted according to autobiographical details. For his part, Shahid Saless fiercely rejected attempts to contextualize his artistic production in terms of both national and transnational identity. I claim that the most productive reading of two of Shahid Saless’s first films in exile – Reifezeit (“Coming of Age”) and Tagebuch eines Liebenden (“Diary of a Lover”) – derives not from his national or cultural background, but from his consistent political engagement and affinity for social critique.
If, in the context of his life and oeuvre, Shahid Saless’s diptych reflects an exile’s outsider perspective in his host country, it is not primarily through an engagement with the status of “other” conferred upon him by his displacement and distance to the new locus of cultural meaning. The position of otherness that emerges in from his formal and thematic preoccupations is the riven subject of Marxist alienation: The films confront the viewer with the otherness of people within themselves, the powerlessness and even sickness in the individual that is the structural byproduct of the contradictory demands of economic and social life. Daily traumas and humiliations, while seemingly individual and momentary, are also structural and recurring, endemic not just to Iran or Germany, but to every society where the very social fabric is held together by systems of production and reproduction that are as corrosive as they are coercive.
Review of Priscilla Layne's White Rebels in Black: German Appropriation of Black Culture, 2018.
Sabine Scho’s work is hard to pin down. The German publisher of Animals in Architecture—Kookbooks—is largely dedicated to contemporary poetry, perhaps leading one to an over-hasty taxonomy. Upon closer inspection, Scho’s work, in particular Animals in Architecture, is a hybrid combining prose miniatures, poetry translations and fragments, sociological reflections, and photos with a green color filter. Indeed, Scho’s work on this project first started with photography, spanning nearly a decade of visiting zoos across the globe. In 2012, she started a blog as a kind of accountability mechanism for finishing the book. However, there remained questions of form, content, even language. Largely written while living in São Paulo, Animals in Architecture contains many traces of Anglophone and Portuguese influence.
In each of the book’s twenty-two sections, Scho closes in on animals, whether camels, bats, penguins, or octopus. A quote from Hans Blumenberg is one of the two epigraphs to her introductory essay—aptly describing a central paradox of zoos: the relationships between the animals in the enclosures and the homo sapiens outside. Many of her poems remind us that it is often unclear who is watching whom. John Berger’s essay “Why Look at Animals?” notes that zoos are simultaneously a “living monument” to the disappearance of caged creatures from our culture. People go to zoos to see animals, but it is unlikely that the animals want to see humans. Animals in Architecture documents an attempt to reconnect with these animals and its ultimate futility.
Although I try to keep a close watch on the contemporary German poetry scene and had come across some of Sabine Scho’s work before Animals in Architecture was published in 2013, I was quite surprised by this work’s genre-bending mix of elements. In the following year, I tried my hand at translating these challenging texts and managed to place a couple poems in No Man’s Land, an online journal dedicated to publishing German literature in English translation.
Scho’s regard has only increased in current German-language discourse. In particular, the significance of her contributions to debates on human relations with the environment have continued to grow; she was recognized with the Deutscher Preis für Nature Writing alongside the poet Christian Lehnert in the summer of 2018. The following essay is among the most concise German-language takes on the subject of zoos, animals, humans, and the ways in which architecture exemplifies our fraught relationship.
Is it coincidence or fate that a writer with the last name ‘bird’ would take such interest in his namesake? Perhaps it’s both, but Dodos auf der Flucht. Requiem für ein verlorenes Bestiarium [Dodos on the Run: Requiem for a Lost Bestiary] is far from an extended swansong for the extinct animals Mikael Vogel’s work evokes. It is a collection of poems and prose as much dedicated to the shrinking biodiversity of our globe as it is a reflection on human causality—an at times caustic indictment of a laissez-faire interpretation of natural history as ‘survival of the fittest.’
Vogel’s writing process often begins with archival research, and the German-language originals of his poetry at times invoke acts of translation themselves: Many are couched in the registers of historic violence. In recontextualizing the surviving memoires of exploration—the observations and assessments of Darwin, Leguat, van Linschoten, Audubon, and Steller (to name a few)—focus shifts to the specific, personal narratives which have molded contemporary understandings of natural history. From early-modern travel narratives to the feigned objectivity of modern text book analyses, Vogel’s collection negotiates a plurality of historic and contemporary voices: tracing the human reception of endangerment and extinction across the centuries and searching for those disappearing animals left behind and in-between.
The questionable legacy of early modern science maintains a visible presence throughout his work. The struggle between European and indigenous naming systems, the mercantile commodification of the natural world, and often-visceral accounts of first encounters and exterminations at times threaten to inform new objectivizations of the deceased, but a form of agency, too, is encountered in the caesurae between Vogel’s mediations. The animals at the heart of these poetic interventions reveal themselves in the conflicting imaginaries proliferating in their collective absence, the precise attention to their anatomic detail, or—from digital recordings of extinct bird song to display case drawers of taxidermied animals—the author’s recourse to the surviving material record. The resilience of nature, too, alongside the human role in establishing and maintaining its discourse remain underlying counternarratives to the subject matter: a world in which volcanic winter can inspire “Biedermeirliche Sonnenuntergänge von niedagewesener Farbpracht” [Biedermeier sunsets, the glory of unprecedented hues].
Ostensibly dedicated to those new initiates to the growing list of human-induced extinction, Dodos auf der Flucht is also a sardonic history for that most pernicious of animals: human beings. Historical narratives and extant material evidence elucidate the interrelation between human migration, climate change, and mass extinction: the debilitation of Earth’s once-astounding biodiversity recast as colonial enterprise. Humans are, after all, in Vogel’s desiccating humor: “Auch nur ein Säugetier: Trockennasenaffe aus der Ordnung der Primaten / Einziger Affe von dem bekannt ist dass er leugnet Affe zu sein / Kriege anzettelnd um noch einmal auf allen vieren zu kriechen” [Still just a mammal: haplorrhine of the order Primates / The only ape known to deny its apehood / Instigating wars to crawl again upon all-fours].
Berlin-based Mikael Vogel’s recent publications include the 2018 Dodos auf der Flucht (Verlagshaus Berlin), Massenhaft Tiere (Verlagshaus J. Frank, 2014), and Kassandra im Fenster (Offizin S., 2008), a cooperative work with Friederike Mayröcker and Bettina Galvagni. A 2015 recipient of the Yakiuta Reisestipendium, Vogel’s projects involve acute engagement with the material record of his subject matter—a practice which has taken Dodos years in the making. He was awarded a Jahresstipendien für Schriftsteller for 2019 from the state of Baden-Württemberg and has been selected as one of the year’s German-language authors for Versopolis Poetry, a digital literary platform and analog network facilitating contact, translation, and exchange between 15 European literary festivals from London to Lviv. A selection of his poetry with English translations was published digitally by Versopolis in 2019.
The following translations include the poem “Der Carolinasittich” and excerpts from the short essay, “Von Seltenheit,” one of several prose afterwords to Dodos auf der Flucht. With its emphasis on the fragility of Earth’s island ecosystems, the essay provides contextualization for his larger project: reflections on the fraught relationship between migration and the natural and human landscapes which continue to facilitate the modern wave of mass extinction, our Anthropocene.
This conversation between the German critical race theorist Iman Attia and the American memory studies scholar Michael Rothberg originally appeared in German in a special issue of the journal Neue Rundschau (190.2 ). Edited by Manuela Bauche and Sharon Dodua Otoo, the issue, “Geschichte Schreiben” [Writing History], was dedicated to exploring non-hegemonic ways of narrating the past, especially from the perspectives of people of color. The editors asked Attia and Rothberg to discuss their contributions to the reimagination of history and memory, with particular emphasis on Attia’s project “Verworbene Geschichte(n)”(http://www.verwobenegeschichten.de) and Rothberg’s concept of“multidirectional memory.” The bilingual dialogue took place over email during the course of winter 2017-2018 with Attia drafting her comments in German and Rothberg writing in English.
In 2002, the French Minister of Internal Affairs decided to dismantle a refugee camp in Sangatte, which is near the channel tunnel of Calais, because the camp had been declared unstable due to overpopulation and tensions with the local inhabitants (Mulholland). Nonetheless, after the closure, a spontaneous camp later on named ‘The Jungle’ was reported near the harbor with an estimated population of a hundred people. In 2009 the population had increased to 700 (The Connexion) and by the year of 2014 it exceeded a thousand (The Guardian) with many coming through the crossing of the Mediterranean Sea. Eventually, the makeshift camp was evacuated in 2016 (Nederlandse Omroen Stichting).
This event caught my attention in 2015 while visiting my hometown close to the border of France. It’s unrealistic to believe that one is capable of understanding what it is like to live in these kinds of conditions without having the empirical experience of setting foot on the soil itself. During my journey I kept a journal and camera as a tool to document this landscape in the attempt to gain a broader perspective and better understanding on a situation occurring all over the world.
The question of migration and border control has become a litmus test for governments, democracies, and civil societies around the world in recent years. In our era of highspeed digital connectivity people acquire knowledge about the world primarily as long-distance spectators through moving images flickering on portable screens. The common framing of migrants moving in a caravan or huddled on an overcrowded boat is occasionally punctuated by a photograph gone viral, for example, of the drowned Syrian boy on a Turkish shore or the crying little girl from Honduras at the US-Mexican border, looking up her mother’s legs as a guard is patting her down. These images have made a stronger imprint on the public perception of crisis than any research publication on migration. Meanwhile, the question arises if saddening images of dead or distraught toddlers in red t-shirts are effective in mobilizing affective engagement with the human cost of violent borders. Moreover, it is unclear whether such spectatorial empathy can translate into critique and action. The direct appeal of framed helpless children offers first and foremost a safe outlet for shock and pity that affords no political intervention or systemic change. The victimizing gaze on migrants falls short of imagining possibilities of coexistence, collaboration, and a shared future. Are there alternatives to passively watching the pain of others, the suffering of refugees detained at borders, rescued at sea, or trapped in camps? What might the world look like through the lens of migration? And how can we begin to conceptualize an open city based on participation and interaction?
Landscapes of Migration