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Comparative Literature Studies 40.2 (2003) 215-231

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Exile and the Construction of Identity in Barbara Honigmann's
Trilogy of Diaspora

Christina Guenther

Barbara Honigmann belongs to the first generation of Jewish German-speaking writers raised in a German-language environment after the Holocaust. Her texts, Roman von einem Kinde 1 [A Child's Novel] and Eine Liebe aus Nichts 2 [A Love Made out of Nothing] established her as a prominent representative of re-emerging German Jewish writing 3 although she has lived outside of Germany in self-imposed French exile since 1984. During the 1990s, she published four more works, Soharas Reise [Sohara's Journey], Am Sonntag spielt der Rabbi Fußball [On Sunday the Rabbi Played Soccer], Damals, dann und danach [At that Time, Then, and Afterwards], and Alles, alles Liebe 4 [With All My Love] which earned her prestigious German literary prizes, including the Heinrich-von-Kleist prize in 2000. 5 Central to Honigmann's texts is the construction of identity, in which context she critiques the notion of genealogical and geographical origin by translating identity into a hybrid genre, a form of literary self-representation, or autobiographical fiction, located on the borderline between fact and fiction.

Honigmann's three literary autobiographical fictions, Roman von einem Kinde, Eine Liebe aus nichts, and Damals, dann und danach, which I consider a trilogy of Diaspora, map the coordinates in her lifelong process of claiming, and indeed reinventing, a particular Jewish German identity. Honigmann's texts reflect postmodern theories of identity construction, including the fragmentary nature of identity through explorations of the interplay of memory with historical, cultural, religious, familial, ethnic and gendered categories of identity. Distinctive to her construction of Jewish German identity is the literary exploration of her particular exile experience. Through a self-imposed expatriation (first, from the GDR and then, later, from Germany after reunification), returning "nach Hause in die [End Page 215] Fremde" (Roman 113), Honigmann succeeds in living and integrating what postcolonialists have termed a cultural hybrid's perspective into her construction of identity. Finally, it is through living and writing on the German and Jewish periphery, am Rande, that she successfully throws into relief the permeable boundaries of identity categories, namely race, nationality, class, and ethnicity. In this state of "insider's outsidedness," 6 writing as an East-German Jew living outside of Germany, she destabilizes the notion of a whole identity and explores ethnicity, and Jewishness in particular, "as a culturally constructed concept regulated by specific historical conditions." 7 In this paper I shall examine more closely how Honigmann foregrounds exile as theme and structuring trope in her Diaspora trilogy, the three autobiographical texts, constructs reflecting Barbara Honigmann's unique Jewish German identity at the end of the 20th century. Let me preface my analysis of exile in her three texts with a few general remarks about the construction of her Jewish and German identities.


For Honigmann, identity is conceptualized as a communicative process; literary or artistic production has a constitutive function with regard to social and cultural identities. In fact, Honigmann's exilic art is the liminal space in which she can investigate and resolve for herself the post-Shoah quandary of being Jewish and German, or what Dan Diner has called the Jewish-German "negative symbiosis." In Jews in Today's German Culture, Sander Gilman formulates succinctly the implications of this concept for Jewish German writers since the 1980s. Writers acknowledge and problematize "the permanent separation and simultaneous identity of Jews with Germany . . . [and] the sharing of a common history that revolves around the Shoah in their art and essays [while] understanding this history in different ways." 8 Honigmann adds a personal dimension to this interpretation of the "deutsch-jüdische Symbiose, dieses Nicht-von-einander-loskommen- Können, weil die Deutschen und die Juden in Auschwitz ein Paar geworden sind, das auch der Tod nicht mehr trennt" (Damals 16) ["German-Jewish symbiosis, this can't-live-without-each-other, because in Auschwitz the Germans and the Jews became a pair inseparable even...


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