Transnationalism in Contemporary German-Language Literature

By Klocke, Sonja E. | German Quarterly, Fall 2016 | Go to article overview

Transnationalism in Contemporary German-Language Literature


Klocke, Sonja E., German Quarterly


Herrmann, Elisabeth, Carrie Smith-Prei, and Stuart Taberner, eds. Transnationalism in Contemporary German-Language Literature. Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2015. 284 pp. $90.00 (hardcover).

The last couple of years have seen a proliferation of publications on transnationalism in the humanities and the social sciences, and also on transnational literature. Within this "transnational turn," transnationalism was not always neatly separated from globalization. Transnational literature was often understood as a synonym for literature concerned with the effects of globalization or with minority literature, and the terms "transnational writer" and "minority writer" were used interchangeably to denote German-language authors with a so-called migration background.

In contrast, Herrmann, Smith-Prei, and Taberner set out to follow another, much more promising path as their informative introduction to the volume expounds. Offering an overview of the developments in the field since the 1990s, they clearly distinguish between globalization and transnationalism before they define how they want to use transnationalism as an analytical tool for their volume; a tool that "prompts us to shift our focus away from the movement of some- migrants, refugees, exiles, or trafficked people-across borders toward the implication of all " (4). This goal is met in all of the following chapters, several of which emphasize that contemporary transnational texts do not depend on an author's migration background but on content. The texts analyzed in Transnationalism in Contemporary German-Language Literature deal with the flows of people, products, and ideas across borders. Furthermore, the texts are transnational in the sense that they-especially in today's transnational era-often travel back and forth across borders, are exposed to various cultural influences, and in turn possess the potential to affirm, challenge, or reconfigure nations, and even the world. The latter aspect leads the editors to conclude that some contemporary German-language works can be considered "world literature, if world literature is conceived of as a theoretical concept that connects worldliness to mobility and cosmopolitan ideals, rather than simply as an expression for literature translated into other languages or for works that are considered the most outstanding examples of each national culture (the classics and the masterpieces)" (9).

While transnationalism may impact everyone's lives, the editors emphasize the significance of positionality in their introduction. The laws that govern residence, mobility, and the degree of ease with which one crosses a border have varying impact on a refugee, a legal migrant, an illegal migrant, or a lawful citizen who crosses borders on vacation. Given the increase in immigration into Germany since the millennium, as the editors rightfully point out and buttress with relevant numbers, contemporary Germany might be considered an "exemplary transnational space" (7) in which discussions about the importance of the stability of borders and nations, which continue to control rights to travel or settle, prevail. The so-called refugee crisis, which peaked in the summer of 2015 and fostered the development of right-wing extremist groups such as PEGIDA, and the ensuing success of the political party Alternative für Deutschland (Alternative for Germany) in various regional elections in the spring of 2016 buttress the editors' claim and speak to the volume's timeliness.

Under the title "Contexts," Part I offers three essays, one by each of the editors. Placing a great variety of German-language literature in context with key debates on transnationalism, these first essays illustrate that the transnational is a much more fluid category than evident in much of German-language literary criticism, and in fact often spreads out to other kinds of crossings including "those of the body, emotions, desires, love, sexual practices, and libidinal and digital spaces as well as the crossing of these experiences from the literary to the contextual" (81). …

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