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Archival Engagement


Foreword: Archival Engagement

While the term “archive” conventionally evokes the storage of physical materials and documents, scholars such as Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, and Ann Laura Stoler have called attention to the archive’s subjective qualities. Contrary to a definition that encompasses institutional collections and preservation, the “archive” may be better understood as a production of knowledge, meaning, and memory that exposes processes of transcultural negotiations, epistemic violence, and political engagement. Rethinking the archives of migration, then, involves asking questions that take us beyond “objectivity” or even materiality. TRANSIT 13.2 offers new frameworks for asking questions about archival practices: Who archives, and what merits archivization? How have such forms of archival engagement taken place in literary, artistic, digital, and geographical spaces? What are the stakes of archival misuse and misappropriation, and what are the parameters for making such assessments?

Counterarchives, Appropriation and the Disobedient Gaze: Archival Structures in Ursula Biemann’s Contained Mobility and Charles Heller’s & Lorenzo Pezzani’s Death by Rescue

In the past twenty years, an abundance of video works has emerged that engages with the global crisis of forced migration, many of which employ a critical documentary approach in their negotiation and exploration of these issues. Two such works, which are the primary objects of analysis in this article, are Ursula Biemann’s Contained Mobility(2004) and Charles Heller’s and Lorenzo Pezzani’s Death by Rescue: The Lethal Effects of the EU’s Policies of Non-Assistance(2016).

The venture point from which both works are analyzed is the concept of the archive – a concept that on the one hand is of crucial importance to the production of knowledge and that, on the other, has coined contemporary art practices to a significant extent. After establishing a working definition of the term archive (in reference to seminal texts by e.g. Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault and Marlene Manoff) as a.) a discursive function, b.) as producing rather than merely recording reality and c.) a storage or container, both works are subjected to an in-depth formal analysis.

The article explores how both works employ different – sometimes diverging – conceptions of the archive and how they are brought into dialogue with each other. Whereas both engage information in the form of data that was initally used for means of surveillance and control, Biemann brings these in conversation with what I term a ‘counterarchive’, whereas Heller and Pezzani employ their strategy of the disobedient gaze. Through these strategies, both works make new forms of knowledge visible and enunciable that had not been tangible before.

Paranoia als Migrationsdelirium und Vermittlungswahn um 1900: Zu den Aufzeichnungen von Anton Wenzel Grosz

Anhand eines konkreten Beispiels verdeutlicht mein Aufsatz die Bedeutung und Notwendigkeit einer Archivarbeit, die historisch verdrängte und marginalisierte Artefakte und Dokumente ins Licht rückt: Gegenstand der Analyse sind die handschriftlichen Aufzeichnungen und Skizzen eines Paranoikers aus den Jahren 1913/14, die mehr oder weniger zufällig in einem Berliner Literaturarchiv gelandet sind. Ich argumentiere, dass die Aufzeichnungen von Anton Wenzel Grosz für eine Geschichte der Migration im deutschsprachigen Raum von größter Bedeutung sind, weil sie – auch und gerade in ihrer paranoischen Verzerrung – ein Schlaglicht auf nur wenig erforschte vermittlungstechnische Bedingungen transatlantischer Migration zwischen Europa und den Vereinigten Staaten um 1900 werfen. Dabei betone ich mit Deleuze und Guattari, und in Abgrenzung von psychoanalytischen Lesarten, die historische und politische Dimension des paranoischen Wahns und mache seine Welthaltigkeit zur Prämisse meiner Analyse. Ich lese Grosz’ paranoische Aufzeichnungen als Zeugnis eines „Migrationsdeliriums“, eines Wahns also, der in der Migration sein Material, seine Formen und Themen findet. Überdies spielen Mittlerfiguren und -institutionen, Transportmittel und -wege eine zentrale Rolle in seinem Wahngebäude, das ich daher in einem zweiten Schritt als „Vermittlungswahn“ beschreibe, der, wie ich im Rekurs auf Michel Serres nachzeichne, parasitäre Verhältnisse thematisiert. Als realhistorisches Substrat der von Grosz phobisch besetzten Mittlerfiguren lassen sich die zeitgenössischen, sogenannten „Auswanderungsagenten“ identifizieren, welche um 1900 eine zentrale Schnittstelle innerhalb der Organisation transatlantischer Migrationsbewegungen darstellten. In einem dritten und letzten Schritt widme ich mich dem Umstand, dass Grosz „Migrationsdelirium“ sich nicht nur schreibend, sondern auch zeichnend artikuliert, und untersuche die kartographischen Skizzen, die Teil seiner Aufzeichnungen sind. Die Suche nach den Bedingungen der Möglichkeit dieser kartographierenden paranoischen Ermittlung führt mich zur zeitgenössischen Kriminologie und offenbart die geteilten Episteme von Paranoia und Kriminologie um 1900: ein Zeichengebrauch, der sich als Hypersemiose beschreiben lässt, und eine Praxis der Spurensicherung, die dem Indizienparadigma unterstellt ist. Darüber hinaus lassen sich die Karten mit Deleuze auch als Ausdruck einer Mobilisierung des Unbewussten lesen, das angesichts realer Internierung Fluchtlinien entwirft.

Introduction: Reexamining Turkish German Archive(s)

This cluster emerged from a GSA (German Studies Association) conference panel series that aimed to (re)examine the Turkish German archive by specifically taking into consideration developments since 2013. In line with this issue’s focus on “investigations into critical and artistic attempts to challenge conceptions of the archive as a static, objective site of knowledge,” contributions that follow engage with a variety of positions of archival engagement in the Turkish German context. The ensuing questions have guided our inquiry: How have recent (forced) migrations from Turkey impacted and transformed Germany’s cultural, institutional, political, and academic landscape? How do relocation, immigration, and exile figure thematically and conceptually? What kinds of exchanges with long-standing Turkish and Kurdish diasporic communities have occurred? Which collaborative efforts and interventions have emerged that promote “radical diversity” (Max Czollek) and highlight alliances across minoritized communities? How have discourses on dis/integration shifted through artistic collaborations (especially those taking new formats and modalities into account)? How do cultural practices engage multiple sites across borders? How are (post)migrant perspectives and positions changed, rejected or redefined? How do contemporary voices and practices connect to, or “open up old archives” and make the voices of the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s “audible” (Utlu “Un/Sichtbar”)? In what ways do Turkish German archive(s) help us understand historical continuities and discontinuities and how does the recent wave of migration from Turkey alter our assessment of Germany’s “migrant archives” (Yildiz and Rothberg)?

Archival Dispersals: Literary Magazines as Mobile and Fragmentary Archives

This article reconceptualizes the fragmentary status of the archive of migration by focusing on Turkish German literary magazines Ezgi, Parantez, Şiir-lik and Allıturna. In the first part, I argue that literary magazines as intrinsically diasporic, mobile and spatially dispersed media provide us with a model that unsettles our understanding of archival engagement as well as Foucault’s theory of the archive. The fragmented status of this literay archive calls for anecdotal readings which exemplify the element of chance and randomness that characterizes archival research in general and calls into question the medial and institutional conditions of our access to the archival fragments. In the second part, I contrast these mobile and fragmented archives to the national archive, which imagines itself to be an archive of plenitude and completeness. While the latter valorizes preservation of a uniform past , the former prioritizes radical accessibility and dispersion, resists the “house arrest” of archivization and demands to be always in motion at the risk of dissemination with no return.

Memory Meetings: Semra Ertan’s Ausländer and the Practice of the Migrant Archive

Turkish migration to Germany has long been debated as not having been sufficiently documented and given an adequate place in German national archives. But these debates have often reified a static and nationally organized logic of the archive. This essay instead traces the literary figure of the Ausländer as poetically claimed by the writer Semra Ertan and visually staged by media artist Cana Bilir-Meier in order to give an account of the unspeakable experience of racialization as ongoing foreignization in a Germany shaped by labor migration. Based on the discussion of Ertan’s select poems and the textual, visual, and audible material compiled by Bilir-Meier, this article demonstrates how the figure of the Ausländer animates “memory meetings.” Ertan’s words and personal experience are co-produced by Bilir-Meier’s interventions and given out to meet with contemporary intersectional anti-racist activists, who are enabled to make a claim about their own present in which the figure of the Ausländer has been mostly forgotten.

The article makes several claims based on the figure and the workings of the Ausländer in these memory meetings. The first claim is that the figure of the Ausländer allows a conceptualization of race in Germany that is grounded in the experience of alienation—as seeing oneself from a racializing gaze—resulting from unequal labor, institutional abandonment, and the devaluing of migrant-knowledge production. Another claim pertains to the nature of the archive itself. The material collected from various sources, including German and Turkish national media, in which the details about Ertan are rather marginalized or documented to be forgotten, are reorganized by Bilir-Meier from the margins to establish its own center. This archive is situated in migrant-knowledge, particular to the experience of Ertan’s migration and affectively charged, but able to tell a larger story about the racializing experience of migration. Taking these claims together, the article argues that migrant archives are not just dispersed documents waiting to be nationally organized and acknowledged. Rather, the “the migrant archive” is a form of embodied, lived, and practiced knowledge with others in moments of commemoration. The migrant archive then is a dynamic and shifting practice, able to adapt to transnationally moving experiences if it can find a ground for mnemonic interaction regardless of, or even in counter-position to, a nationally sanctioned status.

The Digital Archive of Diaspora: Blogging (Post)Migration

Transnational diaspora groups make intensive use of community media when communicating and connecting in cyberspace. In particular, I argue that blogs constitute a new kind of (post)migrant archive that compiles shared histories and experiences of diaspora. The principal role of the digital archive has become defined, not so much by storage, as by circulation and transfer, in what media theorist Wolfgang Ernst (2002) calls the paradigm shift in the reconceptualization of the archive in the digital age.

Indeed, circulation and transfer are also essential dimensions of the digital diaspora. Regarding the modes of interactions of diaspora communities on the web, I will analyse how (post)migrants’ online self-representation and their struggle to gain visibility shape new understandings of the digital archive of diaspora. My focus targets blogs as one of the most popular genres in cyberspace. The samples I analyse are written by (post)migrants and are often intended to decenter the German “Mehrheitsgesellschaft” [“mainstream society”] and diversify its artistic-intellectual scene.

It has been shown that these new media settings also give rise to new forms of writing; for example, authorship is often collaborative. My thesis is that this very heterogeneous virtual collaboration often has the effect of transcending the contours of stable “Turkish”, “Arab” and/or “German” identities and of thus also contradicting dominant parameters of identity politics.

This is the case with the collective blog “migrantenstadl” that is the subject of my analysis; “migriert, migriert, sonst sind wir verloren” [“migrate, migrate, otherwise we are lost”] is the motto of this often provocative project and an invitation to its readers. “Migration” is movement and mobility, whereas “Archive” is preservation, so how to construct an archive of migration on moving ground?

While my primary interest is to explore and connect the concepts of digital diaspora and digital archive, I will try to give concrete form to my theoretical findings on this nexus by analysing the above-mentioned blog, which is a cultural and political initiative directed by Tunay Önder and Imad Mustafa that was founded in 2011.

"Almanya: A [Different] Future is Possible” Defying Narratives of Return in Fatma Aydemir's Ellbogen

This paper investigates the theme of returning ‘home’ in Fatma Aydemir’s 2017 novel, Ellbogen, arguing that the novel’s protagonist utilizes her physical journey to Turkey to formulate a new, fluid positionality between apparently conflicting expressions of Otherness and belonging. Through the lens of decolonial anthropology, including the works of Eduardo Viveiros de Castro and Stuart Hall, I examine the ways in which imaginaries of inheritance and ascription both inform and deconstruct components of Turkish German archival memory. My reading proposes a conceptual framework in which encounter and return are not conclusive, but continual. The character Hazal’s engagement with multiple elements of her family’s diasporic memory meld with her lived experience of violence and disenfranchisement in Berlin—as well as her difficulties accessing and acknowledging the communities with which she consistently finds herself associated in Germany. Hazal’s ‘return’ to her country of nationality then becomes a critical renegotiation of her own identity—one which transcends fixed notions of belonging as defined by the subject’s spatiality or temporality. In providing this close reading of Ellbogen, I also point to its thematic continuities with Aydemir’s recent 2022 novel Dschinns, as well as both novels’ role within a growing tradition of contemporary German-language literature which question underlying constructs of division. The intervention a journey like Hazal’s realizes instead permits the formulation of unique positionalities through constant, ongoing negotiation. I argue that a work such as Ellbogen acknowledges the participatory nature of belonging, the fragile bonds which render this belonging possible, and the as-yet unwritten future participation may engender.

Escaping the Hamster Wheel: Creative Remembrance in Traveling Archives

How can one find meaning in the scattered fragments that remain from a life? For me, this question arose full force when I was asked to contribute a short piece of writing on my mother Angela Göktürk to a volume honoring her life and work, initiated and published in Turkey by her former colleagues at Trakya University in Edirne. Leafing through handwritten notebooks, loose pages, letters, photographs—some arranged in albums, many more jumbled in boxes of various sizes at multiple locations—I felt overwhelmed by the task of integrating these disparate pieces into a coherent text. The sense of fragmentation and dispersal painfully highlighted the limits of full comprehension, even with respect to a person whom I had known closely for my entire life. At the same time, going through old papers can also be a creative pursuit that holds a captivating thrill: reviving memories, illuminating connections, and enabling new discoveries. As long as words written on pages open up into imagined conversations, those who have passed continue to be present by our side. The following essay weaves together findings from personal and public archives–both the Turkish-infused archives of contemporary Germany, and the German-infused archives in the Turkey of my childhood–to suggest possibilities of creative engagement transcending borders and nativism.


After Flight

"After Flight" by Ilija Trojanow

English translation by Ambika Athreya


"Fears" by Lena Gorelik

English translation by Nathan Modlin

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