Comparative Literature Studies 40.2 (2003) 193-214
[Access article in PDF]
Identity Politics and Travel in Novels by Emine Sevgi Özdamar and Zafer Senocak
In a recent article on Germany's migrant population entitled "Wenn die Heimat global wird," the cultural anthropologist Regina Römhild stated: "Die kulturelle Praxis der Einwanderungsgesellschaft hält sich weder an die ethnischen Sortiermuster der etablierten Multikultur, noch lässt sie sich in einen interkulturellen Anpassungsdialog zwingen. Kulturen lassen sich weniger denn je in Grenzen und Vorgaben pressen. Sie wandern und verändern sich mit den Menschen." 1 ["The cultural praxis of immigrant society neither conforms to the patterns of ethnic grouping of the established multiculture, nor allows itself to be forced into a dialog of assimilation. Less than ever can cultures be fit into borders and molds. They migrate and change along with people."] Römhild's succinct summary of one of the most important insights of contemporary critical theories, that cultures are porous, malleable, and constantly shifting entities that resist discursive as well as physical demarcations, has a flipside that undermines the seemingly obvious assertion of culture and change, namely the indelible power of everyone's original cultural imprint. 2 The tension between this subjective imprint, and the exposure to different customs structures the intercultural encounter which is, of course, enmeshed in power differentials and center-margin dichotomies. What distinguishes modern intercultural encounters is that globalization has turned them from exotic instances into daily occurrences.
Yet, the transition from a presumed homogeneous society to an ethnically diverse social order continues, as Germany's 2002 election campaign amply demonstrated, to be a contentious and emotionally charged issue. Multiculturalism, migrants and asylum seekers ranked among the [End Page 193] top forces to be combated by Germany's conservative, right wing parties. Solutions to the sweeping migration movements that continue to change the contours of Germany as of other European nations are sought in nineteenth century ideologies of Eurocentrism and nationalism that oppose rather than try to come to terms with diverse ethnic realities. Emerging from these controversial debates are complex negotiations about demarcations, be they as cultural borders, legal limits, socio-political barriers or any other line drawn to legitimate exclusionary mental and social practices.
Paralleling, to some extent, the political discussion about Germany's migrant population is the question of how to assess the literature by migrant authors. 3 Their first texts, published in the 1960s by the so-called guest workers were primarily regarded as the niche production of a specific socio-economic group, tinged by the flavor of the foreign, but far removed from mainstream German literature. 4 Forty years later, migrant literature as one example of German minority literature still struggles for recognition as a different but integral part of German national literature. Since migrant literature is categorized following primarily external criteria such as the author's ethnic origin or thematic clusters, the literary evaluation of texts is often short shifted and replaced by social or biographical aspects. The "enrichment" approach according to which bi-cultural authors augment and enhance the German language precisely because it is often not their mother tongue also treats these writers as second-class citizens for it negates their autonomous use of language. In order to evaluate migrant literature as a constitutive part of contemporary German literature, it is therefore necessary to take aesthetic, not social criteria as a starting point.
In the following contribution, I will focus on such aesthetic aspects and analyze works by two prominent German-Turkish writers, Emine Sevgi Özdamar's novel Die Brücke vom goldenen Horn (The Bridge of the Golden Horn, 1998) and Zafer Senocak's narrative Gefährliche Verwandtschaft (Dangerous Relationships, 1998). Both texts feature an autobiographical first-person narrator's search for self-fulfillment and identity that is mediated through the experience of migration and travel and in which twentieth century German as well as Turkish history play a crucial role. 5 In creating characters that move between German and Turkish social realities, both texts also ponder ways to subvert...