Academic journal article German Quarterly

Das Vaterland verlassen: Nomadic language and "feminine writing" in Emine Sevgi Ozdamar's Das Leben ist eine Karawanserei

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Das Vaterland verlassen: Nomadic language and "feminine writing" in Emine Sevgi Ozdamar's Das Leben ist eine Karawanserei

Article excerpt

... nomadic consciousness is akin to what Foucault called countermemory; it is a form of resisting assimilation or homologation into dominant ways of representing the self. Feminists-or other critical intellectuals as nomadic subjects-are those who have forgotten to forget injustice and symbolic poverty; their memory is activated against the stream; they enact a rebellion of subjugated knowledges.

(Rosi Braidotti Nomadic Subjects 25)

Man muss das Vaterland verlassen, an einen anderen Ort gehen, damit man an zwei Orten gleichzeitig ist.

(Ozdamar in Gutzeit 39)

Written in the German language by a native Turkish speaker, Emine Sevgi Ozdamar's Das Leben ist eine Karawanserei/hat zwei Turen/ aus einer kam ich rein/ aus der anderen ging ich raus is a novel invested in exploring the hybrid and in-between realms of language, voice, and identity. The title of the novel, with its stress on movement and travel through the image of doors and the caravanserai (an ancient resting place for travelers and caravans),1 highlights Ozdamar's interest in issues of migration and nomadism-terms which I will critically employ, re-define, and connect with questions concerning a "feminine" identity and language in this article. In Karawanserei, Ozdamar illustrates how expressions of the self from an alternative female or "feminine" site shape cultural, ethnic and sexual identities; in other words, she explores how expressions which re-construct subjectivity through the medium of a hybrid, unauthorized, and often subjugated voice are entwined with constructions of femaleness and "femininity." In this context, the novel also examines power relations inherent in questions concerning hegemonic and non-hegemonic voices-particularly women's voices which are typically repressed or derogated within dominant as well as minority discourses. Ozdamar re-imagines and re-members these subjugated voices in Karawanserei in such a way that it is the women's voices which indeed come to form the dominant discourse of the novel without, however, constituting a dominating "master narrative." Instead, the voices we hear in the novel remain "nomadic," i.e., they exhibit no nostalgic desire for fixity and authority.

In ways demonstrated in this article, the novel especially stresses the crucial importance of female embodiment as connected with representations of a "feminine" and "nomadic" subjectivity. Leslie Adelson's insightful work on female embodiment and national identity emphasizes the ways in which female subjectivity and cultural alterity conflict with German national self-representation.2 Ozdamar's specific use of embodiment illustrates German national Selbstverstandnis indirectly as it connects questions of subjectivity with the corporeality of her re-membered language (the sound of words when read out loud, their visual appearance and sometimes the literal space they occupy on the pages of her book). Embodiment-traditionally part and parcel of a "feminine writing"-is paramount for a representation of female minority identity. As Rosemary Betterton observes in her lucid study on feminist art practice,

[t]he attempt to map a new space for female postcolonial subjectivity has become a central issue within contemporary art practice. The themes of exile, separation and return have provided a powerful means of exploring the self as an ongoing process of construction in time and place through the operation of memory as well as in the present, and in the articulations of loss and desire. The presence and absence of the body in the text functions as a metaphor for the difficulty of fixing identity as a subject in history. (162)

Ozdamar's conception of the female subject in time and place occurs through a particular angle of story-telling, which in Karawanserei highlights a "feminine language" through the tactic of embodying language, stressing the position of speaking as a woman, and emphasizing a narration which fuses the Turkish idiom with a mother tongue to create a hybrid and "creolized" language. …

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