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  • Grenzüberschreitungen: Ein literatursoziologischer Blick auf die lange Geschichte von Literatur und Migration ed. by Wiebke Sievers
  • Michael Boehringer
Wiebke Sievers, ed., Grenzüberschreitungen: Ein literatursoziologischer Blick auf die lange Geschichte von Literatur und Migration. Vienna: Böhlau, 2016. 294 pp.

So-called “migration literature,” that is, contemporary literature written by authors who immigrated to Austria and whose first language is not German, has attained a place of prominence in the Austrian literary field, gathering attention from publishers, literary critics, and the wider reading public. Authors such as Dimitré Dinev, Anna Kim, Doron Rabinovici, Julya Rabinowich, and Vladimir Vertlib have come to be part of the literary elite whose books can be found on the long list of prestigious literary prizes and in the catalogues of major publishers; the group is well represented in literary scholarship.

The volume Grenzüberschreitungen: Ein literatursoziologischer Blick auf die lange Geschichte von Literatur und Migration is part of this burgeoning scholarly interest, albeit with a different focus. The volume has its roots in the research project “Literature on the Move” (, funded by the Wiener Wissenschafts-, Forschungs- und Technologiefonds that has been focusing since 2012 on the literature “zugewanderter AutorInnen in Österreich,” and is the result of the collaboration of three members of the project team, Wiebke Sievers, Holger Englerth, and Silke Schwaiger, each of whom is responsible for 2 or 3 individual chapters. This common foundation results in a tight theoretical, thematic, structural, and stylistic cohesion among the individual essays, resulting in a final product that reads more like chapters of a book than essays by different authors.

The volume connects to the existing research literature by accepting [End Page 149] the current scholarly consensus of considering immigrant authors part of a cultural avant-garde that plays a crucial role in transgressing narrowly conceived notions of national cultures and literatures, the titular “Grenzüberschreitungen.” Yet it aims to set itself apart both in scope, taking a broader historical approach, and in theoretical foundation, diverging from the widely employed constructivist paradigms of performativity, hybridity, and transnationalism. The editors employ instead a historical-comparative approach, the Bourdieuan concept of the literary field and its mechanisms of exclusion, and Yasemin Yildiz’s critique of the monolingual paradigm (cf. Beyond the Mother Tongue) as key concepts in the analysis of altogether seven “zugewanderte” authors and their works.

Thematically, Grenzüberschreitungen is divided into three parts: a substantial introductory essay by Sievers that establishes the volume’s theoretical and methodological framework and outlines the (historical) connections between migration and literature in the Austrian context; “Teil 1,” consisting of three essays that focus on authors (Elias Canetti, Milo Dor, György Sebestyén) who migrated to Austria between the 1930s and late 1950s; and “Teil 2,” which examines in four individual essays the professional progress of four contemporary authors (Seher Çakır, Ilir Ferra, Stanislav Struhar, Tanja Maljartschuk) in the Austrian literary field. In selecting these mostly little-known writers, the authors aim to expand the scholarly focus beyond the few well-established names mentioned above and to put forward a new perspective on the history of migration and Austrian literature. The volume’s central line of argument holds that Austrian literary history can be divided into different periods with respect to the acceptance of immigrant authors, from a period of almost unquestioned acceptance as the result of the Habsburg cultural heritage of authors from the former crown lands up to the mid-1960s, to a period of nationalization of the literary field in the 1970s and 1980s, to a wave of renewed interest in “migration literature” starting in the 1990s. Given the historical and theoretical approach that unites all essays in Grenzüberschreitungen, the researchers are able to demonstrate the use of the German language as a central mechanism of exclusion of foreign-born authors from the national literary field, and also the loss (and resulting lack) of cultural and symbolic capital that migration almost inevitably entails. The three essays of “Teil 1” demonstrate that immigrant authors such as Canetti, Dor, and Sebestyén did not face the same resistance to their inclusion into the literary field, as the Austrian literary establishment...


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