Transcultural Graffiti: Diasporic Writing and the Teaching of Literary Studies

Transcultural Graffiti: Diasporic Writing and the Teaching of Literary Studies

Transcultural Graffiti: Diasporic Writing and the Teaching of Literary Studies

Transcultural Graffiti: Diasporic Writing and the Teaching of Literary Studies


Transcultural Graffiti reads a range of texts - prose, poetry, drama - in several European languages as exemplars of diasporic writing. The book scrutinizes contemporary transcultural literary creation for the manner in which it gives hints about the teaching of literary studies in our postcolonial, globalizing era. Transcultural Graffiti suggest that cultural work, in particular transcultural work, assembles and collates material from various cultures in their moment of meeting. The teaching of such cultural collage in the classroom should equip students with the means to reflect upon and engage in cultural 'bricolage' themselves in the present day. The texts read - from Cesaire's adaptation of Shakespeare's Tempest, via the diaspora fictions of Marica Bodrozic or David Dabydeen, to the post-9/11 poetry of New York poets - are understood as 'graffiti'-like inscriptions, the result of fleeting encounters in a swiftly changing public world."


‘Deutschland ist nur eine Illusion’ – ‘Germany is only an illusion’, reads the graffiti slogan, a sort of public postnational text, which adorns the cover of this book.

The slogan was sprayed on the wall of a brothel in the north-German town of Lüneburg. I biked past it twice daily during the two-year period in which I taught at the university there. My bike route took me through the town’s red-light district on my way to and from work. At one pole of my daily trajectory was the rather dilapidated seventeenth-century house where I rented a crooked room under the roof; at the other pole was the university campus on the outskirts of the city – a barracks complex built for the Wehrmacht, then requisitioned by the British occupation forces during the Cold War, and finally converted into a pleasant campus in the mid-1990s. Between these two antipodes, there was the centre of what had been for several centuries one of Germany’s most prosperous medieval salt towns – some of it now perfectly restored after years of neglect, some of it, like the red light district, still seedy and run down.

The spray-canned slogan which greeted me each day on my way to and from the university thus occupied a median space between two exemplifications of the city’s respective roles across a thousand years of history – the once-ostentatious burgher’s residence in the centre of the erstwhile salt-metropolis, the army barracks witnessing to the town’s Cold War isolation close to the former East-West border – and to the subsequent shift of regional reference points in the wake of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Victor Burgin has written evocatively of this sense of shifting parameters in post-cold war places: ‘The generation of Europeans to which I belong grew up in a world of fixed borders, of glacial boundaries: frozen, it seemed for eternity, by the cold war. Now, in the time of thaw, borders everywhere are melting, sliding, submerging, re-emerging. Identities – national, cultural, individual – are experiencing the exultant anxieties that accompany the threat of dissolution.’ My daily peregrination from medieval city centre turned tourist-town, to city limits, once on the margins of the West-German realm of ‘Wohlstand’ [wealth] and now a regional node within an increasingly unified but also increasingly complex Europe, were symptomatic of this new sense of volatile identities.

My own oscillations between public and private, between professional and domestic, traversed the town’s diminutive red-light district, itself an embodiment of one of the oldest forms of human ‘commerce’, the brothel being the archetypal lieu de passage or lieu de brassage. The brothel as public-private space, prostitution as the professionalization of intimacy – these oxymorons, blurring categories we once might have taken as mutually exclusive, show how apposite a site that whorehouse wall was for the graffiti which embla-

Victor Burgin, In/Different Spaces: Place and Memory in Visual Culture (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), 155.

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