Academic journal article German Quarterly

Transnational Asthetik des turkischen Alltags: Emine Sevgi Ozdamar's Das Leben ist eine Karawanserei

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Transnational Asthetik des turkischen Alltags: Emine Sevgi Ozdamar's Das Leben ist eine Karawanserei

Article excerpt

Why has Emine Sevgi Ozdamar's novel, Das Leben ist eine Karawanserei / hat zwei Tiiren / aus einer kam ich rein aus der anderen ging ich raus, continued to intrigue so many academics and the broader reading public since its publication in 1992?1 Out of the considerable body of literary writing in German by migrant women, Karawanserei has indeed emerged as outstanding in many respects. This novel, written in German by a Turkishborn woman who began learning the language only as a young adult, has been approached from myriad perspectives ranging from those who laud it as a colorful, oral-style narrative bringing new imagery into German-language literature to those who use it as an example of migrant, feminist, hybrid and/or minor literature. However, Karawanserei's special literary quality with regard to the working together of form and content has not previously been submitted to systematic examination. Aesthetic analysis in a cultural context offers fresh measures of, and insights into, Karawanserei's caliber and complexity, allowing the text to be read with different critical criteria, and consequently, in a new light. The artistic merit of the novel reflects positively not only on migrant literature but also on contemporary literature generally. My essay explores both the specific issues of Ozdamar's aesthetic accomplishments in Karawanserei and the broader issue of the role of literary analysis in German Studies.

What constitutes Ozdamar's artistic achievement in Karawanserei? A theoretical key to the idea that conceptually and aesthetically unifies the novel is provided by Theodor Adorno's imperative that the critic must ask the right questions about the aesthetic structure of a work of art in order to gain access to its truth content (Wahrheitsgehalt).2 Also pertinent to my interpretation is Adorno's reminder that an artwork "needs to be deciphered, and that deciphering is the task of criticism" (Hohendahl 238). To date, the question of whether or not the novel has a conceptual center, a truth content, has not been posed. Yet, approaching Karawanserei through close reading and structural analysis reveals the pervasive thread of a truth content that unites Ozdamar's novel and transforms it into a literary work of art.

Karawanserei's amalgamating force is the author's figuration of freedom (Freiheit). Ozdamar illuminates the idea of freedom with originality while imbuing it with multiple implications-social, economic, political, sexual-within a Turkish context. Because Karawanserei has remained aesthetically undeciphered, the significance of freedom has been overlooked. The word Freiheit itself is used only sparingly in Ozdamar's novel, but the ideal of freedom pervades the development of the narrator-protagonist and the portrayal of the family, community, and nation in which she grows up. Karawanserei's truth content of freedom functions pivotally both in the novel's structure and its content. My essay explains how the author's ideas about freedom locate and embody the truth content that is the foundation ofKarawanserei's aesthetic and conceptual harmony

Giving literary form to freedom and its absence grounds the choice of memories that diegetically drive Karawanserei. The novel conveys not sentimentalized reminiscences, but rather recollections molded by the author's deeper thematic structuring principle, her novel's truth content. Ozdamar's memories are filtered through time, maturity, and most importantly, through her underlying artistic concept. In Karawanserei she aestheticizes the quotidian. As a novelist, Ozdamar transforms her Turkish childhood and youth, realizing in her art the proposition that freedom can unlock "life's riddle" (a motif that will subsequently be treated in detail). What is unique about the concept of freedom portrayed in Karawanserei? The answer to this question further demonstrates what gives aesthetic form to Ozdamar's novel. By virtue of its artistic form, Karawanserei manifests itself as more than a tool (Werkzeug) in the service of content- and language-oriented analyses. …

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