Volume 12, Issue 2, 2020
Landscapes of Migration
Emotionale Landschaften der Migration: Von unsichtbaren Grenzen, Nicht-Ankommen und dem Tod in Stanišićs Herkunft und Varatharajahs Vor der Zunahme der Zeichen
Dieser Artikel untersucht die literarische Figuration und Wirkung von emotionalen Landschaften der Migration sowie ihre Schnittpunkte mit geographischen Landschaften anhand der Romane Herkunft (2019) von Saša Stanišić und Vor der Zunahme der Zeichen (2016) von Senthuran Varatharajah. Aufbauend auf dem in der aktuellsten Transit-Ausgabe erarbeiteten Verständnis von „landscapes of migration“ als „changing assemblage of geographical, physical, and imaginary entities“, erweitert dieser Artikel dieses Verständnis durch eine Fokussierung auf emotionale Aspekte von Landschaften der Migration. Literarische Landschaften der Migration entstehen dabei durch ein Wechselspiel unterschiedlicher Faktoren: unsichtbare Grenzen innerhalb des Individuums (Scham), zwischen Individuum und Familie (Entfremdung), zwischen Individuum und Gesellschaft (Rassismus), welche durch ein in-between, ein fortwährendes Nicht-Ankommen charakterisiert sind; der scheinbare Kontrast von detailreicher, ausgeschmückter Vergangenheit und der Verortung im Hier und Jetzt der Gegenwart; der Tod als Fundament der Lebensrealität. Stanišićs neuester, sehr persönlicher Roman und Varatharajahs Debütwerk gehen unterschiedlich vor, aber ihre emotionalen Migrationslandschaften weisen ähnliche Strukturen und Charakteristika auf. Ob temporal, psychisch oder physisch, die Möglichkeiten des Ankommens werden durch unsichtbare Grenzen suspendiert, das Leben findet in einem Zustand des Nicht-Ankommens statt. Dieses Nicht-Ankommen ist das singuläre Erlebnis der Landschaften der Migration, auf das sowohl Stanišić und Varatharajah verweisen und das sich in allen genannten Aspekten niederschlägt.
Merkel the German “Empress Dowager”? Reactions to the Syrian Refugee Crisis in China and other East Asian Countries
Taking a cue from a painting by Jiny Lan, a Chinese artist living in Germany, which captures Merkel’s refugee policy in 2015, the article examines both official and popular responses to the recent Syrian refugee crisis in China and other East Asian countries. In the painting, Merkel wears a Manchu-style headdress typical of women at the Qing court. Lan’s portrait of the German Chancellor resembles the Empress Dowager Cixi—one of the most powerful women in Chinese history, and a ruler with a contentious legacy. The article distills some of the major reasons for a positive or negative attitude toward accepting refugees among Chinese living in both China and Germany. In the coda, it briefly touches on reactions in Japan and South Korea to provide context and contrast.
Although popular opinion in China and within Germany’s Chinese communities is divided on the refugee question, there is little interest among Chinese in either country in building a Willkommenskultur. The massive influx of new immigrant groups led Chinese expatriates in Germany such as Jiny Lan to distance themselves from Merkel’s impactful refugee policy. Their political views tended to converge with those of Merkel’s critics both in the government and among the right-leaning populace. The apocalyptic equation of Merkel and the Empress Dowager Cixi taps into the fear that the end of Germany is near, evident in neologisms such as “Europastan,” “Deutschstan,” and “Francistan.” The refugee issue is an ongoing one. Merkel has by now modified her position, but the effects of her refugee policy in 2015 still remain to be seen.
In Caroline Link's popular 2001 film Nirgendwo in Afrika, a Jewish family fleeing the Holocaust finds refuge in British-controlled Kenya. Theater plays a crucial role in the film: Members of the Redlich family explicitly call upon one another to engage in roleplaying. They make use of theater to experiment, imaginatively, with their new roles within the colonial establishment. The film's production team, as I point out, was similarly preoccupied with questions of theater and theatricality. In interviews, the film's director and producers claim that their indigenous extras struggled to understand the distinction between fiction and reality, often became overly caught up in the roles they were portraying, and could only be, not truly perform, for the camera. In this way, the film's production team discounts their indigenous extras as genuine collaborators and, ultimately, justifies their monopoly over the work of cultural representation. If theater and performance are often portrayed as opening up a path to greater political and social emancipation, we find here instead an example of how it can be used both to initiate individuals into a colonial hierarchy and to maintain and reinforce patterns of exclusion.
Paradigms of Refuge: Reimagining GDR Legacy and International Solidarity in Jenny Erpenbeck's Gehen, Ging, Gegangen
This article examines a recent refugee novel, Jenny Erpenbeck’s Gehen, ging, gegangen (Go, Went, Gone, 2015) in relation to debates on the refugees who have arrived in contemporary Germany in the context of the so-called “refugee crisis.” The article’s point of departure is Go, Went, Gone’s rare pairing of GDR history and refugees – a pairing that deviates from usual discussions of former East Germany and distressed migration today. Such discussions tend to see the GDR as a source of present-day antirefugee sentiments and violence (which are higher in former East German federal states) because of the communist state’s alleged racial homogeneity and geographic isolation. Disputing both assumptions, the article points to Erpenbeck’s diachronic juxtaposition of refugees in contemporary Germany with the GDR’s relations to its partner countries in the global South, which the novel portrays in their ethical ambivalence. While the former GDR sought to position itself as part of an egalitarian transversal network of countries that emerged from the decolonization of Africa (including Angola, Ghana, Kenya, and Mozambique), as well as Cuba and Vietnam, the communist state also entertained various educational and economic exchanges with these partner countries (from 1970s onwards) that were often marred by colonial discourses of development and modernization, economic exploitation, and racialized oppression against participants in these programs. Turning to the novel, the article analyzes Erpenbeck’s paratactic juxtaposition of the now-“strayed” (abhandengekommen) utopian architecture at Berlin’s Alexanderplatz with a present-day image of striking refugees as an allegory of the largely unrealized, egalitarian potential of the GDR for contemporary discussions about refugees in reunified Germany. By opening up the failed utopian promise of the communist future that never arrived so as to include those who have been historically excluded from the imagined community of East Germany, the novel suggests that demonstrating solidarity with refugees in contemporary Germany might redefine East German socialist legacy, making it applicable for the 21st century.
SchwarzRund is a Black Dominican queer femme feminist, active in intersectional education, Black German publishing and spoken word, empowerment around Fatness, Blackness, Queerness, and allyship, and critical media research. In this interview, SchwarzRund speaks about the German publishing world, the role of Black queer presses, the importance of translation and multilingualism in Black German literature, and her experiences in academia at a predominantly white institution, the Humboldt Universität zu Berlin. These observations are often threaded through the lens of her 2016 novel Biskaya, its three main characters Tue, Matthew, and Dwayne, and the various responses to the novel in Germany. SchwarzRund’s novel Biskaya: An Afropolitan Novel debuted to critical acclaim with zaglossus verlag in 2016. As the novel revolves around various forms of artistic production—music, visual art, poetry, etc.—SchwarzRund’s reflections on the novel are also always reflections on the German arts and publishing world in some important way. The interview took place in September 2019, and there was so much laughter throughout that we had to edit most of it out to save space.The German-language original of this interview appears in William Collins Donahue & Martin Kagel’s essay collection, Die große Mischkalkulation. Institutions, Social Import, and Market Forces in the German Literary Field. Fink, 2020.
Working on a translation project of this scale has been a tremendous honor. We are humbled both by the opportunity to work closely with some of the most important, emergent German-language authors of our time, as well as by the broad scope and intersectional nature of this literature whose value extends well beyond the discourse of German Studies scholarship.
Precisely because we believe that the value of this literature lies in its ability to circulate outside the confines of the German language, this translators’ introduction is meant to provide crucial context and gloss vocabulary for readers unfamiliar with the specificities of this content. As both editors and translators, we offer these interjections in recognition of the immense labor of our many contributors, whose input and diligent annotations have furnished both impetus and material for the current introduction.
Eure Heimat ist unser Albtraum [Your Homeland is our Nightmare] is the title of our collective work: essays by fourteen German-language authors, framed at the beginning of 2019 as a sort of answer to these developments. Because as one can imagine, this concept of homeland is a nightmare for marginalized groups in our society. But not just for them. That’s the reason why two words on the original cover of the book are colored the same shade of purple as the book cover itself. Because it is not the editors and authors of this book who decide where “we” ends and “you” begins. Every reader decides this for themselves: Do I want to live in a society oriented around völkisch, racist, antisemitic, sexist, heteronormative, and trans-antagonistic structures? Or would I rather be a part of a society in which every individual—whether black and/or Jewish and/or Muslim and/or woman and/or queer and/or non-binary and/or poor and/or differently abled—is treated equally?
I will never know what it means to be invisible. I will never know how it is to be able to kiss carelessly in the park, to just go for it. What it means to stroll in the streets and not have to deal with the fact that somebody might try and touch my hair as they walk by. How it is not to have to constantly self-soothe in monologues after a day of being asked multiple times whether one understands German. To dissolve in the crowd is not an option for me. I belong to several minority groups at once; to conceal this would entail more dangers for me than to name my positionalities.
Job postings that explicitly encourage “people with migration backgrounds” or those who “experience discrimination” to apply, were a good start once. But they do not solve the problem. Sure, an injustice is being identified here that is imperative to counteract. Unless rules like quotas are established, however, such postings ultimately peter out as a merely symbolic gesture. In the end, it is not the well-intended statement that counts, but who is being hired. And who isn’t.
Discussions of social cohesion always place particular import in the “trust” of the citizenry in state institutions, as well as the “trust” between different demographic groups. Appeals to these people for trust ignores the experiences of those potentially threatened by racism—corporally through rightwing violence, verbally through representation in the mass media, or existentially through unequal allocation of resources by discriminatory markets. Trust always signifies that those who would trust must extend beyond the realm of their own knowledge or experience, but not necessarily that they should act against their own better knowledge.
A friend and I walk through the museum quarter of a West-German city, surrounded by a bunch of tourists. There are plenty of exhibitions, but none can compete with the spectacle my body seems to present. Besides piercing gazes, I notice a few Annikas aiming their phones at me and, without asking for permission, taking pictures as though I were a Banksy graffiti. “Ey, they’re taking pics of me again,” I whisper to my friend. She looks me over. “I think it’s your outfit. They’re simply not used to such a crazy style.”
One of the greatest privileges in life is the ability to choose who you want to be. There is a kind of privilege that lies in the discrepancy between you and how you are seen by the outside world—particularly when you don’t fit the mold of the majority.
There are few certainties for migrants and refugees who find themselves living abroad, the Serbian-Austrian philosopher Ljubomir Bratic observes. One of these few anchor points is food from home. As long as you can eat “your” food, you know: The world is still in order. Often, the tastes of childhood provide a sense of stability and comfort.
I’m used to being solicited as a Jewish author. Or as I prefer to call it: a Jew-author. And now I’m already in the thick of things. Because in this text, I’ll be investigating how normalized understandings of belonging and the return of rightwing thought are intertwined. I contend that these understandings are manifest in the demand for integration whose all-but-universal presence is the reason I describe this as an integration paradigm. And I’d like to explain why I believe that Gegenwartsbewältigung [overcoming the present] is an appropriate counterstrategy. This text, then, is a kind of assembly kit for the construction of an alternative to the integration paradigm. But it’s up to you, dear reader, to make something out of it.
 A play on the much-lauded German (World War 2-related) memory culture of “overcoming / coming to terms with the past” [Vergangenheitsbewältigung].
Many struggles are now becoming visible. And many self-motivated people motivate me, in turn, to address problems. Unpaid activist work is a double burden. The work is exhausting and looking the imbalances one sees squarely in the eye is demanding. But unpaid activist work also has its own compensation. It helps me to escape powerlessness. Swallowing something down certainly avoids the immediate fury—but it leaves me helpless and alone, and I really just can’t with that.
It’s necessary to connect many different struggles. Because then it’s suddenly about a better life for everyone. There’s always something to do. This is overwhelming. But there are also always people with whom one can do it together. And that empowers!