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MFS Modern Fiction Studies 49.2 (2003) 390-391
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Petra Fachinger. Rewriting Germany from the Margins: "Other" German Literature of the 1980s and 1990s. Montreal: McGill-Queens UP, 2001. viii +159.
Petra Fachinger's account of "marginal" writing in contemporary Germany expands on recent works on alterity by Leslie Adelson, Sander Gilman, and Jeffrey Peck, providing an important new additionto the growing body of scholarship dealing with minority discourse and literature in the German speaking context. In contrast to previous contributions, Fachinger's book examines literary texts by writers of various ethnic and cultural backgrounds, including German-Jewish, German-Turkish, and East German authors. All of these different writers, Fachinger argues, "endeavour to resist marginalization while simultaneously experiencing or even celebrating the margin as site of 'empowerment'" (18). In this comparative approach lies the provocative potential of Fachinger's book.
Fachinger pays close attention to the particular sociohistorical context of each minority culture and its distinct reaction against German culture. Instead of attempting to offer a comprehensive survey of postcolonial German writing, Fachinger's selective comparative study identifies a variety of counterdiscursive strategies through which marginal writing of the last two decades has reframed the question of what it means to be German in Germany today. Each of the seven chapters focuses on one particular counterdiscursive mode, ranging from countercanonical discourse (Frank Biondi, Akif Pirinçci), rewriting of genre (Lea Fleischmann and Richard Chaim Schneider), hybridity (Zehra Çirak and José Oliver) to postcolonial picaresque (Kerstin Jentzsch, Thomas Brussig) and grotesque realism (Feridun Zaimoglu). Fachinger's close analysis of textual and linguistic strategies, such as [End Page 390] allusions, code switching, interlanguage, and syntactic fusion, together with her careful historicization of each counterdiscursive mode identified in the text, amounts to a rich, nuanced, and diverse understanding of how "marginal" writing in the contemporary German context has engaged in deconstructing the binary structure of center and margin (xii). In this context, the author demonstrates, for example, how recent marginal writing has undermined the conventions of the so-called migrant or "guest worker literature" of the 1970s and early 1980s. Rather than portraying the experience of the migrant's homesickness, suffering, and victimization within the conventions of autobiography and realist fiction, marginal writing of the last two decades has self-reflexively exposed the construction of ethnic, racial, gender, and class difference through its choice of oppositional narrative or poetic strategies.
Fachinger's examination of oppositional discourse draws from postcolonial criticism concerned with anticolonialist textual resistance. While this theoretically informed account is much needed in the field of German studies, which is generally dominated by historical, anthropological, or sociological approaches, the book ultimately shies away from theorizing the meaning of postcoloniality in Germany today. Even if Fachinger successfully problematized essentialist notions of otherness by shifting toward the more historically contingent concept of marginal writing, the juxtaposition of German-Turkish, German-Jewish, and East German (as opposed to, for example, Afro-German) writing requires more theoretical and historical elaboration than what can be provided by the reference to either the minor status of GDR literature within the German canon or the apparent neocolonization of the East by the West after 1989. Moreover, as invoked in the book's introduction, a comparative approach to minority discourse across national and cultural borders is indeed necessary and useful. Yet Fachinger's occasional references to the (de)construction of alterity in postcolonial literature of other national cultures is only a first, if important, step in this direction. Nevertheless, given Fachinger's astute analysis of individual counterdiscursive strategies, Rewriting Germany From the Margins will be of great value to all scholars inside and outside of German studies who are interested in rethinking the construction of national literatures from the perspective of constantly shifting peripheries.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign