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BORDERLESS AND BRAZEN: ETHNICITY REDEFINED BY AFRO-GERMAN AND TURKISH GERMAN POETS Karein Goertz In Memory ofMayAyim 1960-1996 In this article I will examine the works of German poets May Ayim and Zehra Çirak to suggest that they define ethnicity as an inclusive, hybrid concept, rather than an exclusive one rooted in a homogeneous notion of nation and race.1 In their poetry, Ayim (Afro-German) and Çirak (Turkish German) explore the creative space between cultures as a site from which dichotomous notions of ethnic identity are dismantled. Gloria Anzaldúa's description ofthis liminal space—the literal and metaphoric borderland between cultures—is powerfully and eloquently apropos . The point ofintersection between two worlds, in her case the United States and Mexico, is, as she puts it, an open and bleeding wound: And before a scab forms it hemorrhages again, the Iifeblood oftwo worlds merging to form a third country—a border culture. Borders are set up to define the places that are safe and unsafe, to distinguish us from them. A border is a dividing line, a narrow strip along a steep edge. A borderland is a vague and undetermined place created by the emotional residue ofan unnatural boundary. It is in a constant state oftransition. The prohibited and forbidden are its inhabitants ... the mulato, the half-breed. (3) Applied to the German context, the border that first comes to mind is the one that once separated East and West Germany and that, although dismantled, has left residual marks of division, evident in such divisive labels as Ossie and Wessie. Anzaldúa's borderland, however, also aptly describes the vague and undetermined space inhabited by those who cannot be defined within the ethnically restrictive markers of national belonging. In an essay describing her observations on German unification, May Ayim notes that nationalistic terms used sparingly and carefully since the end of the Second World War—Heimat, Volk und Vaterland— have again become common in public speeches (Hügel et al. 206-208). This new German solidarity invariably creates a zone of inclusion and exclusion: "Das neudeutsche 'Wir'—ein eingrenzender und ausgrenzender Ort," she calls it (Hügel et al. 214) ["The new German 'we'—a delimiting and excluding place"]. Lake Anzaldúa, Ayim evokes a epacial metaphor to describe the collective construct we because it is as œnfining as a place—a place that delimits, encloses, circumscribes, and narrows {eingrenzen). The neologism ausgrenzen converts the prefix ein (in, inside) to its antonym aus (out, outside) and implies exclusion from an enclosed space. While eingrenzen speaks only of that which is inVoI . 21 (1997): 68 ??? COMPAnATIST eluded, ausgrenzen draws attention to that which is inevitably cast outside the intimate inner circle. May Ayim and Zehra Çirak write from the borderland space inhabited by the prohibited and forbidden—die Ausgegrenzten. Like Anzaldua, they straddle national and racial borders, and thereby call into question binary markers of difference—European or non-European, black or white. Their poems depict the "process ofcultural interpretation formed in the perplexity of living in the disjunctive, liminal space of national society" (Bhabha 1990, 312). From within this disjunctive space, they reject the simplistic markers by which others wish to define them and, instead, define themselves as they see fit. The act of "talking back" against imposed labels and silence "is no mere gesture of empty words . . . [it] is the expression of [their] movement from object to subject—the liberated voice" (hooks 9). This liberated voice is, to use Ayim's words, grenzenlos und unverschämt (borderless and brazen). Its idiom is bold and playful—language transformed and made strange through the reconstellation ofsemantic and linguistic codes. Ayim's and Çirak's poems are vehicles for articulating and legitimating a hybrid identity that embraces seemingly contradictory identities without prioritizing one over the other. Their poems demonstrate that the power unleashed by hybridity provides a "means of evading the replication of the binary categories of the past and of developing new anti-monolithic models of cultural exchange and growth" (Bhabha 1995, 183). As we will see, these binary categories remain more rigidly defined in Germany than in the more colorful context of the United States, where ethnic pluralism...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-0887
Print ISSN
0195-7678
Pages
pp. 68-91
Launched on MUSE
2012-10-03
Open Access
No
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