Turkish Immigrant Experiences in Germany: The Cultural Divide in Literature

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

In examining the Turkish immigrant experience in Germany, it is essential to consider a wide range of factors and their complex interactions in order to begin to reach an understanding of the subject. It is necessary, I believe, to keep a broad perspective in the interest of developing an analysis and critique that also offers some heuristic value for advancing a framework of cultural understanding. My aim, at this point, is to work towards the development of a broader, interdisciplinary dialogue using the analytical tools of political science and German-cultural studies. To this end, I make use of the literature of Turkish immigrant authors to highlight what I consider to be the main tendencies and points of contention in the field of German Cultural Studies.

Political and social tensions in Germany revolving around the recent debate concerning dual citizenship and the so-called Auslanderproblem ("foreigner problem"), combined with strained relations between Turkey and the European Union, have raised many questions regarding the issue of multiculturalism. One of the central difficulties surrounding the debate on multiculturalism is the common usage of terms such as Auslanderproblem and the framing of the controversy about political rights and cultural interaction in terms of a problem where the implicit solution is anything but multicultural acceptance. Overcoming the "us-them" dichotomy and the connotations of "problem," which plague multicultural questions in Germany, constitutes a large first step towards intercultural understanding. As will be demonstrated, these issues take on added meaning in the specific context of Turkish immigrant experiences and the literature of Turkish authors. Germany remains "foreign" to the immigrant population, and the Germany peo ple deny themselves a relationship with a rich cultural tradition growing within their midst. In this light, political, social, and cultural issues are all intimately connected, as questions of "German identity" and "identity within Germany" remain uncertain.

NOTE: This paper, presented in the Germanic Languages and Literature Section in 1999, was co-winner of the Ronald O. Kapp Undergraduate Award to the most outstanding paper presented at the annual meetings of the Academy that year. Next year, Mr. Boesenecker will intern with the German Federal Parliament (Bundestag) on issues surrounding the European Integration process, and he will begin graduate study in the fall of 2001.

Increasingly, these questions of political rights and social integration have found expression through literature, and discussion of the literature from foreign authors living in Germany has become prominent in the dialogue over identity and culture. Drawing on this literature presents one possible route to developing a method of intercultural understanding. while the theme of foreign literature and foreigners in Germany is increasingly discussed throughout various academic circles, misunderstandings and misperceptions continue to abound in contemporary analyses of the subject, and an increased cultural awareness has been slow in developing. More specifically, examinations of the literature defined alternately as Literatur auslandischer Autoren (Literature of Foreign Authors), Gastarbeiterliteratur (Guest-Worker Literature), and Migrantenliteratur (Migrant Literature) tend to remain superficial treatments of an "interesting phenomenon" rather than evaluations on the basis of literary value and creative expre ssion. [1] Though there is an increasing awareness of this "analytical deficit," little has been done to change the nature of literary analysis or the method of criticism. in order to examine the issues of identity, literature, and Turkish immigrant experiences in Germany, a basic summary of the historical development of the so-called Migrantenliteratur is first necessary.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

In "Literatur der Fremde--Literatur in der Fremde" [Literature from abroad (of the in the foreign)-literature in the foreign], Sigrid Weigel outlines several stages in the history of Migrantenliteratur in Germany, noting the progression from reports and discussions about the presence of Migrantenliterature to the beginnings of a discussion concerning the literature itself and even its aesthetic qualities (Weigel 1992, 182ff). …