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Introduction to TRANSIT: Inaugural Issue Special Topic: Migration, Culture, and the Nation-State

This first issue of TRANSIT grew out of a conference titled “Goodbye, Germany? Migration, Culture, and the Nation-State”, which was held at the University of California, Berkeley, October 28-30, 2004. The conference was organized by the UC Berkeley German Department and the Goethe Institut - San Francisco, in collaboration with the Institute for European Studies, the Townsend Center for the Humanities, the Pacific Film Archive, and the Center for Middle Eastern Studies. This event was part of an ongoing research focus on “Multicultural Germany” in Berkeley’s German Department, which includes a sourcebook publication entitled Germany in Transit: Nation and Migration, 1955-2005, forthcoming from the University of California Press in 2006, as well as a research archive and a lecture series.

Good-bye, Germany!

In recent years the question whether Germany was or was not a country of immigration became the bone of party contention, as the governing Gerhard Schröder/Joschka Fischer coalition of Social Democrats and Greens demanded a recognition of the changing face of Germany, and Chancellor Schröder made a thorough reform of migration to and citizenship in Germany a centerpiece of his political efforts. By contrast, the Christian Democratic and Christian Socialist position papers and official party platforms stated again and again that Germany was not and could never become a classic country of immigration, because of the country’s history, geography, and social reality. This debate draws on a German historical memory that typically goes back only to the early years of the Federal Republic. Both proponents and opponents of the notion of Germany as Einwanderungsland have focused only on the past 50 years within the context of the democratic framework of the Federal Republic. The 1950s, however, may be a rather untypical period in modern German history, for by 1950 Germany (East and West) had become a fairly mono-ethnic country. A broader historical reconsideration might ultimately strengthen a demand for more reflections on the nature of the process of “integration” and for successful models of “multiculturalism.”

Global Heimat Germany. Migration and the Transnationalization of the Nation-State

The article explores the increasing gap between the cultural dynamics of transnationalization in Germany and the national self-perception of the German society. While concepts of "in-migration" (Zuwanderung) and "integration" still stick to notions of the nation-state as being a "container" embracing and controlling a population and a culture of its own, the various processes of material and imaginary mobility across the national borders contradict and challenge this notion as well as its political implications. By drawing on the transnational life-worlds and the cultural productivity of migrants, anthropological research has made important contributions to render visible this challenge. It is argued, however, that an all too exclusive focus on migration may, in fact, rather conceal the wider effects of transnationalisation and cultural globalisation on the society and its cultural fabric as a whole.

The Rhetoric of Origin: Language and Exclusion in Historical Perspective

I take my cues from the printed program of this conference which states that “the concepts of a national community based on ancestral lineage and cultural heritage have been called into question.” In the following I would like to distinguish more clearly between blood line on the one hand and cultural, especially linguistic tradition on the other and suggest that, while the rhetoric of the first is losing, the rhetoric of the second is gaining momentum. The recent culture wars concerning bilingualism in the U.S. are only one strong indication of this trend. Another is the fact that many of the 100,000 immigrants from the former Soviet Union, who were identified as Jews in Russia, are now treated as Russians in Germany because the ethnic identification gave way to linguistic identification. The controversies surrounding the German/Russian debate are only the most recent developments in a long history of linguistic exclusion of alterity in German culture.

The Multilingual Experience: Insights from Language Memoirs

In the US, FL education is still very much hostage to a view of language and culture that privileges the nation-state and its national native speakers. There are currently calls for more imagination/creativity/language play, more collaborative learning. But they have not put into question the ultimate goal, which is to approximate the (nationally conceived) native speaker and to discuss and interpret the canonical works of the native speakers’ national literatures. The teaching of culture in American FL education is still conceived as an initiation to national characteristics or representations promoted by nation-states such as Germany or France--an assimilationist process akin to the assimilation we expect of immigrants to the U.S. After 9/11, our government is interested in promoting the teaching of foreign languages in order to distinguish friend from foe within an international community of nation-states. The notion of ‘cultural difference’ might very well, as H. Seeba remarks, “form the core of the humanities” at American universities, but it does not mean that American FL education teaches the cultural difference, say, between the worldviews of Germans now living in Germany, German naturalized Americans, Germans living in France and Jewish Germans now living in Israel. It teaches about Turks living in Germany, but it does not explore the difference between them and Turks living in Turkey, American Turks, and French Turks. For American learners of German, native speakers of German are still seen as inhabiting a German-speaking national territory and sharing a single, monolithic view of history--an imagined target community inherited from the 19th century.

Cultural Translation and the Problem of Language: Yiddish in Joseph Roth’s Juden auf Wanderschaft

In 2000, W.W. Norton and Company released a new English-language edition of Joseph Roth’s 1927 compilation of essays entitled, Juden auf Wanderschaft. The edition’s dustcover proclaims in large, bold typeface: “A masterpiece of Jewish identity emerges in English 70 years after it was first written.” While it can’t be denied that Roth’s tale, which documents the mass movement of eastern Jews westward across the European continent in the early twentieth century, has today captured both public and scholarly interest in German- and English-speaking lands, the quotation still begs the question: Why are we reading Roth again now? Even the most tentative of answers to this question should include the fact that Roth’s concerns in Juden auf Wanderschaft, including the forcible displacement of a people and their subsequent dispersal throughout the world and Roth’s suggestion of a tyranny inherent in Western culture, find remarkable resonance in our contemporary reality. Global migrations and Westernization today inform research, not just, as the quote above anticipates, on identity politics, but also on topics which seek to move beyond or reinvigorate discussions of identity—topics such as mobility, diaspora, and migration. Written by one who was both an assimilated Viennese and a Galician Jew born in the eastern-most reaches of the Hapsburg Empire, Roth’s work offers an extraordinarily complex and informative perspective on issues that remain current today. And yet, Roth’s Juden auf Wanderschaft is rarely analyzed in a manner which reflects this complexity in all its nuance. Most reviewers, in celebratory response to the work’s topical themes, see it as a poignant declaration of love for the vanishing eastern Jewish culture with which Roth had grown up. Upon closer examination, however, an important part of eastern European Jewish culture does not fall within Roth’s romanticization: the language of eastern European Jewry, the Yiddish language itself. In an age of scholarship increasingly interested in the intersection of multiculturalism and multilingualism, Roth’s (mis)treatment of Yiddish makes Juden auf Wanderschaft a cautionary tale which speaks not only to the themes of contemporary criticism, but also to the very methodologies which seek to shape this criticism.

Provisional Multiculturalism

Distinguishing between descriptive and normative conceptions of multiculturalism, I argue that multiculturalisms emerged historically to challenge dominant presumptions of demographic, social, and cultural homogeneity. Focusing on contrasting pictures in the US and South Africa, I map the historical curtailments of heterogeneities in each. I conclude by urging multicultural commitments as provisional to the establishment of robust social heterogeneities.

The Limits of Multiculturalism

Since the antiracist debates of the 1990s, it has been proper parlance in leftist circles to speak of multiculturalism as a particular kind of racism.

But what does the subject of racism have to do with multiculturalism? Even if one were to disregard the unreasonable conception that the subject is racist in the sense of a “full subordination of the individual under a paranoid system of meanings and perceptions of the world” (Demirovic, 1991), a link is all too quickly forged between the violent racism of Neo-Nazis and a concept of multiculturalism that was originally located in the context of antiracist practice. Succinctly put, “In the antiracist scene, it has lately become a common position to criticize multiculturalism in civil society as racism” (Bojadzijev/Tsianos 2000).

The use of the concept “racism” thus plays a dual, ambivalent role. In the 1990s, it took hold on the left as a political concept to describe local relations; throughout the 1980s, the term had been used more broadly in relation to South Africa’s apartheid regime or to describe “racial unrest” in the USA. In contrast, racist practices and ideologies in the Federal Republic of Germany have been identified in part with the concept of xenophobia. While xenophobia appeared to have more to do with a subject’s diffuse and irrational disposition, “racism” engaged in a systematic dispute with discriminatory, racializing practices in state and societal relations. At the same time, in the post-War era in Europe, the term racism was linked with the folkish-racist politics of National Socialism to the extent that the political weight of western liberal democracies’ condemnatory declarations resonated with the racism concept as well. Against this backdrop, allegations of racism were a political weapon not to be underestimated.

Circumventing Openness: Creating New Senses of Dutchness

Time and again, people who come to the Netherlands are struck by the excessive openness of the Dutch landscape and the Dutch people. Migrants and visitors often remark that Dutch people boast of having created this territory themselves - they live in a transparent space they think they know and control completely.

Openness, a strong belief in visibility and directness, the need for, and the belief in control and regulation, these are a few of the characteristics that come up in such representations of the Dutch. They suggest a realist, rational and sober culture, where there is great acceptance of things that would remain hidden elsewhere. This very month, in October 2004, a survey showed that the Dutch still see soberness and common sense as the main national characteristics, while they characterize their own individual identity as primarily tolerant – and Dutch migrants defined themselves in the same way, only slightly disagreeing with regard to their soberness.

The Archive, the Activist, and the Audience, or Black European Studies: A Comparative Interdisciplinary Study of Identities, Positionalities, and Differences

My aim in this brief article is to introduce a new international and interdisciplinary project on Black Europe which could be of some interest to German Studies for a variety of reasons that will hopefully become evident. In doing so, though, I would like to focus initially on one particular aspect of this project; it is, incidentally, the one that might seem less than fascinating at first sight: the attempt to re-discover and re-contextualize archival materials on the black presence in Europe. My central argument here is that a rethinking of the uses of archives could open up a number of exciting possibilities going beyond this particular subject: in making history usable and relevant for people who would not normally go near an archive, for students who have abilities in information processing their teachers often fail to tap into, for activists linking worldwide through internet-based networks, and for a new reading of existing but largely unknown or ignored materials.

Pathways of Migrant Incorporation in Germany

In this essay we examine five different pathways by which migrants with whom we have worked are incorporating themselves within Germany. Our approach to incorporation brings into the literature on migration the insight that social integration can take place within a process of social and cultural differentiation, a point that has been developed in work on ethnic identity in Africa and in US studies of multiculturalism and cultural citizenship (Schlee and Horstmann 2001; Flores and Benmayor 2000). However, rather than focusing on cultural and identity processes, we begin with an interest in the context of social relations out of which cultural similarities and differences are defined.

To differentiate our definition from the dominant discourse about migrant integration, we will speak of pathways of incorporation. In examining these pathways of incorporation, we note that migrants often live their lives in more than one nation-state at the same time. In four of the five pathways we describe, migrants become connected through social linkages and various forms of identity to Germany that at the same time connect them to organisations, communication systems or identities that extend transnationally (Glick Schiller, 2004).

All five pathways challenge ways in which migrant integration is commonly conceptualised within German discourse and public policy about Ausländer. The fact that there are five pathways identified from our research highlights the weakness of past migration studies that tend to cast all patterns of migration settlement into the same mode arguing for a single model of migrant integration.

The five pathways we identify through our research can be called (1) Christian modernists, (2) local public foreigners, (3) familial networks, (4) vernacular cosmopolitanisms and (5) regional cosmopolitanism. In describing these five modes of incorporation, we draw from Boris Nieswand’s ethnography of Ghanaians in Berlin, Nina Glick Schiller and Evangelos Karagiannis’ ethnography of Nigerians and Congolese in Halle/Saale, Günther and Isir Schlee’s data on Somali in Germany, Holland and England, and studies of German Turkish media in Berlin by Ayse Çaglar and of Russian media in Berlin by Tsypylma Darieva. Lale Yalçin-Heckman contributes comparative points drawn from her research on Muslim labour migrants’ families and associations in Germany and France.

Thomas Meinecke’s German Fictions of Multicultural America: Model or Admonition?

The end of the Cold War accelerated changes in the demographics of Germany that had been taking place in spurts since its founding: the settlement of Aussiedler from the East increased with the demise of the USSR, conflicts in the Balkans and in developing nations released new waves of refugees, and the descendants of Gastarbeiter from the early 1960s onward began to play a more visible role in German society and politics. As land of origin for the term “multicultural,” the United States presented a possible model for unified Germany as it contemplated a possible new identity as “Einwanderungsland. ” Writer, pop musician, and disc jockey Thomas Meinecke, attuned to American music, has written two novels set in the US that emphasize its legacy as an Einwanderungsland while rejecting the idea of the American melting pot. His two novels set in the US, the comic picaresque The Church of John F. Kennedy (1996) and his formless multi-narrator novel Hellblau (2001) both implement concepts from cultural studies theory to examine dimensions of the American multicultural society from the perspective of disillusioned post-unification Germans. Moving off the beaten path both in their contemporary travel and in their historical research, these German characters encounter a wide range of distinct ethnic heritages in the US that move between mutual hostility and productive cross-fertilization. Rather than a melting pot, the US presents itself as a jumbled conglomeration of continuously evolving hybrids generating a rich culture--especially in music-- but a frayed socio-economic fabric. German stereotypes of the US as a materialistic land without culture give way here to an image of a country that has generated new forms of culture through the interaction of various ethnic groups. Meinecke’s view of the US explores the trade-off between the dynamism of a fissured and fragmented pluralistic society and the stability of a homogeneous society in which one ethnic tradition clearly prevails. His novels thus anticipate the controversies emerging in the late twentieth century in both Germany and the US about the relative merits of a “Leitkultur” or a dominant “core culture” versus a heterogeneous multiculture.

GLUB (Hearts)

GLUB (Hearts) is a film about seeds – the eating of them, the shells, the shops and stalls, the people cracking the shells and spitting them out; you see it and you don’t, hidden as it is in ordinariness. It is a phenomenon that embodies the invisibility that comes with both the hyper-visibility of pervasive presence, and the formlessness of what is situated between countability and mass. Utterly material, seeds are countable items but their countability does not matter. Instead, what characterizes seeds or glub is their massive presence. This cultural habit determines the way the street looks, not only because the shells are dropped, but also because eating is a communal activity, which makes the interaction between people look different – less indifferent. Shahram Entekhabi speculated that it is this aspect, a “symptom” of migration that only becomes visible once you notice it, that has made Berlin so much more lively, both as an urban place and, indirectly, as an art world. As soon as Entekhabi mentioned this to Mieke Bal, they had a project; they began to associate on the idea of seeds, and to collect visual memories.

November: A Film Treatment

November is the time after October, a time when revolution seems to be over and peripheral struggles have become particular, localist, and almost impossible to communicate. In November a new reactionary form of terror has taken over which abruptly breaks with the tradition of October.

Yüksel Yavuz’s Kleine Freiheit / A Little Bit of Freedom

Yüksel Yavuz’s internationally celebrated film Kleine Freiheit / A Little Bit of Freedom (2003), tells the story of a friendship between two young men, both of them illegal immigrants living in Altona, one of them a Kurd from Turkey. Baran’s application for asylum has been declined, and he has therefore fallen into an illegal status in Germany. That means that he does not have basic rights, such as health care or job protection. He works as a delivery boy in a relative’s kebab restaurant. When he has a toothache, they try to cure him in the kitchen by sticking a hot skewer into his mouth. His scream leads over into the first montage sequence of a bicycle trip. This triple exposure sequence conveys a gripping cross-section of the neighborhood by superimposing shots of city traffic with shots of the various locations to which kebab is delivered, ranging from a Turkish bakery to a construction site and a brothel. The sequence conveys a sense of multilayered locality, which is underscored by the music of Mercan Dede. Despite the excess of mobility displayed in these images, the characters remain confined within the St. Pauli neighborhood throughout the film. Taking advantage of a “Germany in transit,” Yavuz’s cinematically impressive engagement with locations in Hamburg raises a whole range of interesting questions such as: Where is home? How are transnational mobility and traumatic memory represented in cinema? Do immigrants live in a “parallel world”? Do they care about integration into German society? Do they form new inter-ethnic alliances in this new place? How do questions of race and gender come into play? And where are German (and global) spectators positioned in relation to immigrant spaces and networks?