Dream of the Other Europe: Rethinking Germanistik through the Balkans
Sponsored by the Waterloo Centre for German Studies and Croatian Studies at the University of Waterloo, this conference examined how Germanophone writers from the Balkan countries contribute to recent discussions of migration, displacement, impermanence, and what Azade Seyhan calls the “geographies of memory.” From Herta Műller to Irena Vrkljan, these contemporary writers develop a unique voice that expresses the vicissitudes of the multilingual self. They devote themselves to creating a poetics of exile. This rich literature inhabits the ambiguities of what Homi Bhabha calls a “Third Space” that refuses to reify oppositions between nationalities and ethnicities. In so doing it often mimics and subverts the ethnic, class, and gender stereotyping of the Balkan immigrant.
At this conference, the invited speakers investigated how this new body of writing attempts to come to terms with the history of South-Eastern Europe in the 20th century, especially post-1989 developments, and how it enters into dialog with the problem of historical and national amnesia. For the exile writer, Croatia, Bosnia, or Rumania may or may not offer a nostalgic dream of another Europe; Germany too may become other than one’s dream of Europe. But, in the end, these writers lead us to reflect on our own position as reading from a distance.
The conference was inaugurated by a reading (in Croatian, German and English) by the Swiss-Croatian poet, Dragica Rajčić, on the evening of Friday, February 3rd at 7pm. This special event was held at the home of Professor Alice Kuzniar, followed by a wine-and-cheese reception sponsored by the Swiss Consulate.
For further information about the conference, please read the article in our newsletter Wat's In-Sight issue 6.
List of speakers and presentations:
Anke Biendarra (University of California, Irvine)
Gedächtnisgleis, Erinnerungstunnel: Marica Bodrožić’s Memory Landscapes
Biendarra analyzed the poetics of Marica Bodrožić (born 1973 in Croatia) and illustrated her development as a prose writer, from her early collection of stories Tito ist tot (2002) in which she worked through the loss of her homeland Yugoslavia, to the narration of migration in an intercultural Europe in her latest novel Das Gedächtnis der Libellen (2010). The process of Bodrožić’s writing is intrinsically linked to her "Ankunft” (arrival) in the German language, whereby she is able to narratively reconstruct a home country that the war in the Balkans had erased from the European map. This poetic language, linking origin and future, holds together what had been dissociated through migration and displacement. At the same time, the tension between the chosen, second "mother tongue" and the language of childhood enables a critical perspective on the past and the multiethnic conflicts that were smoldering under the surface in Josip Tito's Yugoslavia. By employing neologisms, synesthesia, and images of dreams and fairytales, Bodrožić’s poetic language creates landscapes of memory in between and of two cultures.
Michael Boehringer (University of Waterloo)
Masculinity a Dream? Migration and Masculinity in the Works of Dimitré Dinev
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Austria experienced large-scale migration from Eastern European countries. Despite this large influx of migrants – and in contrast to the German situation –, immigrant authors, such as Radek Knapp, Doron Rabinovici or Julya Rabinowick, only began to be received widely towards the end of the 20thcentury. In literary criticism, the migratory experience depicted in the works of these authors has thus far been analyzed under the notions of the dissolution of the subject or of plural and hybrid identities. Paradoxically, the migratory experience was thus also constructed as gender-neutral and universal.
Boehringer turned his attention to the notion of masculinity and its loss/es in the works of the Bulgarian-Austrian author Dimitré Dinev using the theoretical concepts of habitus/capital/field (Bourdieu) and hegemonic masculinity (Connell) to analyze both the socialization of Dinev’s male protagonists into traditional patriarchal structures, and the subsequent loss, through migration, of their economic, social and physical capital.
Alice Kuzniar (University of Waterloo)
Irena Vrkljan’s Autobiographical Prose between Zagreb and Berlin: A Critique of a Monolingual ‘Germanistik’
Irena Vrkljan was born in Croatia in 1930 and since 1966 has divided her time between Zagreb and Berlin. She composed many of her autobiographical novels in German and translated them into Croatian (as well as vice versa), but, although well known in her place of birth, she has gone unnoticed as a German-language writer. This reception suggests that an intercultural Germanistik, to be truly worthy of the name, needs to take into account writings across the monolingual language barrier and study the implications of the bilingual subject.
Vrkljan’s work constitutes what can be called a “distant writing,” that is, an ongoing lyrical contemplation of what it means to be living and writing in das Fremde. Yet, despite the discontinuities life has brought her (living between Berlin and Zagreb and in the aftermath of wars), writing for Irena Vrkljan becomes the site of an abiding. Taking her inspiration from the other displaced women authors, Marina Tsvetayeva and Else Lasker-Schűler, she envisages the poetic self as transcending discrete national borders.
Maria Mayr (Memorial University)
The Impossible Return: A New Germanophone ‘Väterliteratur’
This paper traced the figure of the father prominent in German-language literature written by authors from the Balkan countries and published since former Yugoslavia’s violent disintegration. In Väterliteratur, a primarily West-German literary trend of the 1970s, a generation of writers sought to acknowledge and find ways to react to their fathers’ WWII legacies. A significant number of contemporary German-language texts written against the background of the most recent Balkan wars also explicitly engage with a culpable father figure in a post-war context. For instance, Melinda Nadj Abonji’s Schaufenster im Frühling (2004), Terézia Mora’s Alle Tage (2004), Julya Rabinowich’s Tagfinsternis (2007), Nicol Ljubic’s Meeresstille (2010), and Marica Bodrožić Das Gedächtnis der Libellen (2010) present powerful father figures. The figures’ dark and often nearly unspeakable crimes, ranging from polygamy and sexual abuse to serial killing and genocide, threaten to silence the works’ protagonists and narrators and haunt them in their post-war, Western European lives.
This latest use of the father as a literary figure addresses a country’s not so distant violent past, and the ways in which it both continues and rewrites the earlier one. Questions pursued include: In what ways do contemporary Germanophone authors from the Balkan countries rewrite earlier Väterliteratur? How do the works, written from the perspective of the emigrant, deal with the triple loss of father, fatherland, and mother tongue? Is there any possibility of return for any of the protagonists? Is there any sense of loss or, on the contrary, a celebration of an impossibility of return and filiation? Or is such a return no longer desirable or necessary in the context of what could be conceived of as a post-national Europe? In a related fashion, how do the authors in question address issues surrounding generational guilt? Does the concept arise, and if so, do the authors and characters assume this inheritance? Do the texts engage in a process of Vergangenheitsbewältigung or do they rather come to abolish any attempt at understanding the past for the sake of a livable present and future? How do the texts insert themselves in and/or reconfigure Germany and Austria’s memory discourses? And finally, if fathers and fatherlands are places of no return, does the European city offer a viable alternative? Or is Europe itself in question?
Charlotte Schallié (University of Victoria)
Counterpoint as a “Space of Radical Openness” in the Poetry of Dragica Rajčić: A Translator’s Field Notes
Dragica Rajčić’s poetry envisions “spaces of radical openness” (bell hooks) allowing her lyrical voices to break down the binaries of home and diaspora. Using the metaphor of counterpoint, Schallié focused on the process of translation as an analytical tool to illuminate the narrative strategies through which Rajčić negotiates the cultural politics of difference. The author’s disregard for grammatically correct spelling and syntax creates a complex counterpoint of narratives that blend, overlap and complicate one another. Her use of non-standard misspellings such as eye dialect and pronunciation spellings seem to the reader both familiar and estranged. Similar to a contrapuntal composition that contains “distinct and yet inseparable” individual melodies (New Harvard Dictionary of Music), Rajčić’s poetic language is comprised of a complex interplay of both harmonic and dissonant strands—yet ultimately defying a specific rhythm or verse meter. Individual lines are punctuated by words and idioms, which—as they are deliberately misspelled—evoke multiple, often ambivalent or contradictory meanings. In her poetry, Rajčić composes her own speech acts by disturbing the grammatically regulated (and hierarchized) flow and structure of the German language. Her lyrical voices evoke a space of radical openness in which bifurcated identities are constantly reshaped by the dynamics of their socio-political surroundings.
As Rajčić’s texts resist being simply converted into a different linguistic and cultural framework, they pose significant challenges for translators. Examining selected poems, Schallié discussed her own translation strategies advocating a dialogical intertextual exchange throughout various stages of the translation process.