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  • Transnationalism in Contemporary German-language Fiction by Nonminority Writers
  • Stuart Taberner

In recent years transnationalism has become fundamental to debates across the social sciences and humanities as scholars wrestle with the interrelated phenomena of economic globalization, mass migration, the unprecedented expansion of travel and tourism, and the universalizing immediacy of the internet and new communications technologies. Setting contemporary flows of people, ideas, information, capital, products and lifestyles around the globe in their historical context, researchers essentially agree that what we are witnessing today is both quantitatively and qualitatively new and emphasize the impact of these cross-border currents on the way individuals "place themselves" in a world in which identities and cultures do not relate exclusively to fixed territories but are increasingly mobile, selected according to taste or necessity, hybrid, or even virtual. As Steven Vertovec puts it: "Yet today these systems of ties, interactions, exchange and mobility function intensively and in real time while being spread throughout the world" (3).

This article's innovation is to consider the ways in which this present-day transnational reality figures in contemporary German language fiction by what - with obvious reservations, not least the assumption of an absent homogeneity, a majority culture, or even Leitkultur - might be termed nonminority writers. Its starting point is the striking focus in recent analyses of German-language fiction on Turkish-German writers in particular as transnational agents journeying back and forth between an imagined Germany and imagined spaces elsewhere - excellent work has been done by Leslie Adelson, Azade Seyhan, Tom Cheesman, B. Venkat Mani, and others - and the equally striking fact that far less has been done on nonminority writers with regard to their literary representation of the social, cultural, and psychological dislocations, adaptations, and new departures associated with the multidirectional permeation of impulses and perspectives across national borders as they experience it differently, or, more likely, in both diverging and overlapping ways. Venkat Mani's Cosmopolitan Claims is unusual insofar as it sets a nonminority writer, Sten Nadolny, alongside Emine Sevgi Özdamar and Feridun Zaimoğlu (and the [End Page 624] Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk), but still more work remains to be done on a very much wider range of nonminority writers.

This paucity of scholarly work on nonminority writers in relation to transnationalism seems to be an important gap for at least two reasons. First, nonminority Germans are routinely imagined, perhaps without any further thought, as "settled," that is, as an indigenous population in relation to which "others" need to locate, or, more often, assert themselves. As Regina Römhild reminds us, however, in the transnational era "the ideal of fixed territories of culture turns into a fiction, and mobility becomes the common ground for the proliferation of diasporic life-worlds, cultures and identities." Nonminority Germans, in short, are as itinerant as anyone else. And second, for all that the scholarly literature on "hypthenated-German" writers, for want of a better term, rightly underscores exclusion there is frequently a more or less theorized presumption that the migrant's "inherent" transnationalism may also open up certain possibilities. Thus, for James Clifford, minorities living in diaspora may profit from the "empowering paradox" that "dwelling here assumes a solidarity and connection there" (322). With regard more specifically to minority authors in German, Mani summarizes two forms of benefit frequently believed to accrue to their work: the "recuperation of lost tongues and idioms through the migratory experience" described in Seyhan's analysis on the one hand and, on the other, the "gains that are made when migratory tales signal interventions in the history and culture of the host nation" identified by Adelson (Mani 18). Indeed, as far as culture is concerned, whether defined broadly as social practice or more narrowly as artistic production, migrants are often assumed to play a vital role in creative forms of "syncretism, creolization, bricolage, cultural translation and hybridity" that are highly valued in the present moment (Vertovec 7). Certainly, as Cheesman suggests, Germany's minority authors, its "naturally cosmopolitan migrants," are lionized as the country's only hope of competing in a global market in which hybrid voices are in demand ("Akçam" 182).

Of course, the argument that it is sometimes possible to...


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