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  • Introduction:Precarity/Heimatlosigkeit
  • Gabi Kathöfer and Beverly Weber

The concept of Heimat continues to play a pivotal role in the imagination of and scholarship on German-language cultural and national identity, most recently perhaps in the controversial renaming of Germany's newly combined ministries for the interior, building, and the environment into the Bundesministerium des Innern, für Bau und Heimat. Traditional conceptualizations of Heimat have been closely linked with cultural essentialism and a sense of loss, whether in the romantic idea of a premodern bourgeois idyll; ideological appropriations of Heimat in Nazi Germany; cultural and nationalist imaginaries of the Heimatfilm; discourses on the "lost Heimat in the East," disseminated in particular by expellees (Eigler); or the decades-long discussions of the role of German Leitkultur in German-speaking multicultural societies. As the idea of Heimat as a "longing for a wholeness and unity" (Strzelczyk 109) relies on processes of domination and power through which belonging is confirmed or denied, Heimat discourses have been described as a complex "interplay of identity and difference," a construction of cultural collectives through homogenization and essentialization as well as othering and exclusion that has taken on "many political shades depending on the historical context" (Boa and Palfreyman 204).

Given the nationalistic and racist ideologies that have long informed dominant understandings of Heimat as a (lost) territorial space tied to a homogeneous ethnic group, the question arises what political role the rejection, deprivation, or loss of Heimat, which might be expressed in the notion of Heimatlosigkeit, could play or has played in the contextualization of belonging in the German-language cultural context. For some, Heimatlosigkeit might seem to offer an attractive counter-concept to challenge the injustice and exclusion inherent in racialized and place-based notions of belonging. The Czech-Jewish philosopher Vilém Flusser, for example, who emigrated from Prague after the Nazi occupation, defines the loss of rootedness as a potentially liberating process, an objection to nationalism and an opportunity to disclose "what it [Heimat] really is: the seat of most (perhaps all) of our prejudices—the judgments made before any conscious judgments" (93).

Such a rigorous dismissal of Heimat, however, is not unproblematic and is challenged in a range of contexts. W. G. Sebald's fiction and essays, in conversation with German-language writers from Germany and Austria as well as Franz Kafka, highlight a Heimat in ruins and often focus on the ongoing trauma of exile. Visual [End Page 411] artist and theorist Hito Steyerl has pointed out that the curators of the 2004 Heimat Kunst exhibit in Berlin both drew on Flusser to declare that "we are all migrants," while simultaneously essentializing the difference between "Germans" and others. Indeed, such embracing of mobility plays a problematic role in much (depoliticized) reception of postcolonial theory in a German-language context via an embrace of "hybridity" (Ha 221–22; Terkessidis 233). Recent scholarship on the concept of home has re-emphasized the importance of Heimat in German-language cultural history (to name a few: Blickle; Boa and Palfreyman; Eigler; Gebhard et al.; Kanne). While these studies unsettle traditional notions of Heimat, they do not abandon place-based notions of belonging. However, it is especially the association with loss that defines Heimat, "[t]he idea of a lost or unattainable Heimat [that] has shaped German literary and cultural history in significant ways" (Eigler 2). Thus, the sense of Heimat is always already rooted in a sense of Heimatlosigkeit.

Yet claims to Heimat or home have also been important to cultural production by minoritized and racialized groups, reconceptualized alternatively as voice, belonging, diaspora, or even future. Many of immigrant heritage in Germany comfortably construct transnational belongings via a sort of "global Heimat" that negotiates communities across the cultural boundaries policed by nationalisms and nation-states (Römhild). For example, Fatima El-Tayeb's examination of activist practices produced by artists and activists of colour suggests that the construction of transnational queer diasporic homes plays a key role in the anthology Talking Home: Heimat aus unserer eigenen Feder: Frauen of Color in Deutschland, edited by Olumide Popoola and Beldan Sezen (El-Tayeb, European Others 70–80). The use of both the English home and...


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pp. 411-417
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