Academic journal article German Monitor

Sewing an Account of Oneself: Materiality, Femininity, and Germanness in Larissa Boehning's Lichte Stoffe

Academic journal article German Monitor

Sewing an Account of Oneself: Materiality, Femininity, and Germanness in Larissa Boehning's Lichte Stoffe

Article excerpt

This article investigates Larissa Boehning's 2007 novel, Lichte Stoffe, arguing that it offers a valuable intervention into debates about contemporary Germanness and about the meaning of ?Heimat'. The novel's protagonist is Nele, a young German woman whose grandfather was an African-American GI. The text depicts Germanness as a site of nomadism (Braidotti) and hybridity (Bhabha). It also offers a meditation on the importance of history, which is of necessity constructed and imagined. Narratives here are woven by women and shaped by material as well as discursive forces. The novel can thus be seen as proposing and practising a form of ?material feminism' (Alaimo and Hekman). It also highlights the disruptive potential of the figure of the girl.

Larissa Boehning admirably fits the description ?emerging writer'. She first attracted widespread attention in 2003 with the publication of her well-received short-story collection, Schwalbensommer, which, in its subtlety and restraint, reminded several critics of the work of Judith Hermann.1 Boehning's first novel, Uchte Stoffe, appeared in 2007; it was nominated for the Deutscher Buchpreis, and received an award for best German-language debut novel.2 Boehning has been termed a ?Fräuleinwunder', and this belittling label, together with the comparisons to Hermann, has arguably hindered her emergence as a writer with a distinct aesthetic and set of concerns.3 However, the appearance of Boehning's second novel, Das Glück der Zikaden (2011), and her developing profile as a novelist, signal her emergence and establishment; Boehning has by now won numerous awards, and been both anthologised and translated into English.4 This article will focus on Boehning's first novel, Uchte Stoffe, identifying in that work an important contribution to debates about Germanness - especially but not only black Germanness - and about feminine identities and narratives.

Boehning (b. 1971) has described how growing up, she felt devoid of history; she was, she claims, ?sehr westdeutsch sozialisiert', a process she associates with Americanisation.5 The questions of history and Germanness are pertinent for an understanding of Uchte Stoffe, as we will see. Boehning - who studied philosophy, cultural studies, and art history - spent several years in the American Midwest while in her twenties; her time there was characterised by longing for Europe. She has also lived, with her family, in Palma de Mallorca.6 Boehning is, or has often been, a partial outsider, then, her double vision finding expression in her layered and opaque work, which points up Germanness as inevitably fragmented and constructed.

Boehning's work, frequendy concerned with history and identity, offers a useful intervention into debates about the uniquely vexed question of contemporary Germanness. As Mary Fulbrook observes, post-Holocaust constructions of German national identity are uniquely problematic, uniquely tortured'.7 The post-war division of Germany and its subsequent reunification, along with the forces of globalisation, add to the uncertainty that ?being German' involves. The self-consciousness of ?the Germans' as far as nationality is concerned has recently been exacerbated by Angela Merkel's comments on the failure of multiculturalism in Germany, and the so-called ?Sarrazin-Debatte', triggered by the 2010 publication of Thilo Sarrazin's Deutschland schafft sich ab. Wie wir unser Land aufs Spiel setzen9 Sarrazin argues that a combination of low birth-rates, a growing underclass, and increased immigration, especially from Muslim countries, spells trouble for Germany. The exclusionary vision of Germanness that the subsequent media debates have both exposed and propagated is uncomfortable, triggering shameful associations.

The protagonist of Lichte Stoffe is Nele, a thirty-year-old German woman whose grandfather was an African-American GI. In the course of the novel, Nele tracks down her grandfather, Harold, partly with the aim of retrieving a valuable painting that she knows to be in his possession. …

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