- Housebound: Selfhood and Domestic Space in Contemporary German Fiction by Monika Shafi
In the wake of the spatial turn, a number of recent publications (such as the edited volume Spatial Turns: Space, Place, and Mobility in German Literary and Visual Culture, by Jaimey Fisher and Barbara Mennel, 2010) have focused on domestic and public space both as an analytical category and an object of study in literature and film. Monika Shafi’s Housebound contributes to this discourse by broaching the question of “how local spaces respond, interact, and appropriate global economic, cultural, and social forces” (4). As the title indicates, her interest is the domestic space of the house, a site she sees emerging in contemporary German culture as “a prime site of identity, powerfully registering conditions of contemporary life, explored in both local and global environments and bearing the imprint of national traditions and transnational contexts” (4). Shafi’s book thus emphasizes the literary portrayal of globalized subjects in their intimate realms, which aligns with a position in cultural studies (taken by Anthony Giddens and Roland Robertson, among others) that finds a salient commentary on globalizing effects in the local and the private.
In her readings, Shafi employs a variety of theoretical approaches to frame her textual findings, including cultural studies, critical theory, anthropology, sociology, and architectural studies. She offers detailed close readings of a number of prose texts written by important contemporary authors in the aughts. Her selection runs the gamut of well-known literary figures from East and West, including ethnic and nonethnic German-language authors of different generations, even if the small sample of one or two authors in each of these categories cannot be considered representative. In each of the six chapters, Shafi sets out to show how the authors deal with the trope of the house, reflect on literary traditions and communicate the links between selfhood and private space that she considers a hallmark of writing on the domestic realm.
Chapter 1 centers on two novels by two female authors born in 1967, in East Berlin and Frankfurt am Main, respectively. Jenny Erpenbeck’s Heimsuchung (2008) and Katarina Hacker’s Der Bademeister (2000) both operate within the twin discourses of Heimat and ruin and thematize questions of memory within the context [End Page 217] of German history of the twentieth century. Shafi reads both structures—a house on a lake and a swimming pool in the former East Berlin, respectively—as synecdoche for the nation and witness to personal and historical trauma. The two family novels treated in Chapter 2—Arno Geiger’s Es geht uns gut (2005) and Katharina Hagena’s Der Geschmack von Apfelkernen (2008)—have at their center the act of inheriting a house, which Shafi intreprets as a creational act of establishing selfhood shaped by family identity and generational continuity. Whereas the main male protagonist in Geiger’s text gains freedom by disposing of his family history, Hagena’s female character renews the generational family model by moving into the inherited house with her own family. In this chapter, Shafi’s conclusions are more tentative than in other chapters. Despite focusing on gender constructions, she does not problematize the ways in which the protagonists’ behavior is gendered in and of itself, nor does she connect her readings back to the analytical framework of gender and modern masculinities she had set up in the beginning. Chapter 3 explores the space of country houses and the tradition of utopian spaces. In her readings of Walter Kappacher’s Selina oder das andere Leben (2005) and Monika Maron’s Endmoränen (2002), Shafi again highlights gender constructions, while foregrounding the discourse on modernity and America in both novels. Especially the interpretation of Selina is incredibly detailed, rich, and interesting. Freud’s concept of the uncanny provides the analytical framework for the readings in Chapter 4 and the “haunted houses” in a selection of Judith Hermann’s short stories and Susanne Fischer’s novel Die Platzanweiserin (2006). Even if one might not agree with every...