Academic journal article German Monitor

Cartographies of Self: Ilma Rakusa's Autobiographical Narrative Mehr Meer. Erinnerungspassagen

Academic journal article German Monitor

Cartographies of Self: Ilma Rakusa's Autobiographical Narrative Mehr Meer. Erinnerungspassagen

Article excerpt

This chapter will examine how lima Rakusa's novel Mehr Meer articulates a cartography of self, which is composed of various geographical lines across Central and Eastern Europe and of subjective topographies created by the process of memory and narration. Her autobiography traces numerous journeys by the narrated self ?eastwards' in search of a place of origin, a search that is continually undermined by the process of recall. Central to this analysis is establishing the textual strategies employed in the narrative to articulate her cosmopolitan heritage as a dynamic process of subjective and literary hybridity. This investigation will furthermore attempt to place Rakusa's text within contemporary transcultural literature, a literature that moves between and across linguistic, cultural and national boundaries.

Mehr Meer, lima Rakusa's first novel, received the prestigious Schweizer Buchpreis in 2009. This accolade, established to honour texts that engage a wide reading public, secured her place in contemporary Germanlanguage literature. Rakusa had until then earned her reputation primarily as a translator and publicist in the German-speaking world, and to a lesser extent as a poet and essayist. Central to all of her published work to date is her engagement with topics such as identity, ethnic origins and the key role language plays as a medium of self-discovery, self-formation and self-transformation. lima Rakusa describes her autobiographical project in Mehr Meer as a series of memories, culled from objects she has collected since her ?nomadic' childhood, spent moving across various geographical, linguistic and political boundaries of Central and Eastern Europe:

Ich sammelte, um eine eigene Welt aufzubauen. Um der Zugluft meiner spielzeuglosen Nomadenkindheit etwas Festes entgegenzusetzen. Heute sind es diese Dinge, aus denen mir Geschichte entgegenschlägt, meine eigene.'1

The novel can be read as a modern coming-of-age narrative, in which the fissures in as well as the progression to adult selfhood are made visible.

Another literary pattern inherent in her text is the quest or journey in search of origins.2 Rakusa acknowledges the inherent limitations of memory to reconstruct a self:

Ist damals damals? Ist heute heute? Die Zeit ist keine Fadenspule. Am Schnürchen aufgereiht ist nichts. Meine Erinnerung gleicht einer treibenden Eisscholle, die aufragt, untertaucht, bis sie allmählich, sehr allmählich, weniger wird. (MM 111)

Her choice of metaphor for the process of recall - drift ice, which appears and disappears as it melts - underlines the unreliability of memory in gaining access to the past. The mosaic-like self that emerges in her text is the result of the interplay between external reference points (diverse historic, linguistic, ethnic and cultural spaces) and internal ones (transgenerational and personal memories and experiences).3

Rakusa locates her cosmopolitan heritage within the long tradition of Central European diversity and this is a key determinant in the narrative. Within this configuration, identity is negotiated between different geographical locations and cultural paradigms, including the German language.4 Her autobiographic quest also addresses European cultural and literary traditions, particularly the Slavic tradition, which reflects her own multi-ethnic family history. Moreover, her interests extend beyond this to include her intellectual and personal fascination with French culture. Rakusa describes her deep-rooted sense of self that is unconsciously drawn towards Eastern Europe:

Die innere Kompaßnadel zeigt nach Osten. Aber woher diese Erregung, wenn ich eine Akazienallee sehe, einen Ausschnitt von Tiefland, einen tuchförmigen Platz, gesäumt von einstöckigen Häusern. Da ruft etwas: Hier. Und kein Name kommt dem Bild bei. Das Bild sitzt hinter jeder bewußten Erfahrung. Es stammt aus einem Gedächtnisspeicher, den ich weder kontrolliere noch wirklich kenne. …

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