Academic journal article German Quarterly

Fighting writing: The unruly literay Stiefkind Franco Biondi

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Fighting writing: The unruly literay Stiefkind Franco Biondi

Article excerpt

In their now famous study on Kafka, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari coined the phrase "minor literature" and defined it as "that which a minority constructs within a major language" (16). This concept has been transferred into the context of an immigrant or ethnic background, and studies of minority literatures have become important in recent scholarly research. In the case of Germany, the influence of various "foreign elements" deriving from the influx of migrant workers to Germany in the sixties is of particular interest.' Investigating ethnic subjects as decontextualized subalterns and their literary manifestations vis-a-vis a dominant culture, it is possible to trace how the expression of a subaltern moment functions in relation to hegemonic discourse and how that discourse can thus be altered, even subverted. I focus here on one minor voice in German, Franco Biondi, and his novel Die Unversohnlichen oder im Labyrinth der Herkunft.

Literature produced by "migrant authors" is an intriguing subject since it does not easily fit into contained literary niches. Indeed, this form of literature has puzzled literary critics who have had problems finding a fitting terminus for this new phenomenon. Many terms have been used in an attempt to name and frame this literature, ranging from Gastarbeiterliteratur,2 to Migranten/Migrationsliteratura to Deutsche Gastliteratur and finally multinationale and multikulturelle Literatur.4 But a precise categorization remains elusive because it is reductionist (if not impossible) to posit a homogeneous source for these multifaceted and heteroglossic literary manifestations. This type of literature in fact defies a systematic patterning and that makes it fascinating and powerful. One might speak of a partisan literary praxis that hides and operates in the mountains, resisting categorization, and is, therefore, hard to spot and/or control by the elements of power, that is, by hegemonic discourse.

In her thorough investigation into literature written by and about foreign authors in Germany, Immacolata Amodeo speaks of a "silencing of the aesthetic of the Other" (22) in German literary discursive practice, which deflates and denies the radical potential of such forms of literature. She shows how attempts are made by various literary critics (who after all are the representatives of major literature) to find a commonality that may usefully fit the undefineable Other into a definable slot. This vexed task leads, in most cases, to oversimplification and stereotyping in a futile leap for control over the potentially disruptive impetus of this kind of literary enunciation.

Teraoka's fascinating article on the topic stresses the necessity for investigating the constructed nature of this sort of literary discourse which different writers use to different ends. "What is called Gastarbeiterliteratur, in other words, is really contested territory, and all claims made about or on it are profoundly strategic and political" (Gastarbeiterliteratur 299). She shows how the phenomenon of minor literature is brought into discursive practices and used strategically by various participants, either by members of the "Other" group or by those trying to come to grips with it, i.e., the literary establishment. She does not flatter the second group. In her words, "[w]hat we find is an uneasy, contradictory effort, simultaneously to promote such literature written by non-Germans and, by a number of different strategies, to defuse its potential political force" (312). Teraoka goes so far as to say that the institutional attention this literary phenomenon has received so far is, consciously or not, operating within an imperialistic mind frame that bears undertones of literary colonization (310). Whatever the case (for the literary establishment has certainly indulged in some infelicitous phrasing in the ongoing discourse), it is clear that while representatives of major literature have taken notice of the existence of a minor literature within their ranks, they have firmly declined to deal with its aesthetic or formal aspects, the trend being to focus on content only. …

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