Dimension2: Contemporary German-Language Literature

Volume 9, Number 1/2

Forward! -- Editorial

It's high time for this issue to get out. It's been almost ten years since I was involved with the English version of Fremde AugenBlicke, edited by Irmgard Ackermann and published by Inter Nationes in 1999: Foreign ViewPoints: Multicultural Literature in Germany. It is a wonderful collection of a multitude of voices that played an important part in reaching out to an English-reading audience; unfortunately, it is now out-of-print.

Therefore, it's high time to make sure that a new and current selection of multicultural writing of German-language literatures is available to the English-speaking world. DIMENSION2 mainly attempts to survey contemporary works from Germany, Austria, and Switzerland by printing original texts with high-quality translations. "Contemporary" typically means literature from the last five years, sometimes as "old" as ten or more years, sometimes as "new" as one year. In a sense, DIMENSION2 is building the ultimate German literature anthology in English translation one issue at a time. As a result, of course, some of the authors contained in the 1999 book have already been printed in previous issues of the magazine; the same holds true for others who could have been included here.

Yet it's high time to devote the focus of an entire issue to the diversity of German-language literatureswithout merely reduplicating the 1999 book. For this reason, the issue of DIMENSION2 on the "Voices of Cultural Diversity" casts a wider net. Included are some authors' statements about their situation, the encounter of "German" authors with the "alien," and the Jewish experience in the postwar era.

Dividing the texts into five sections (with a total of six sections including the artwork) seems to suggest nice and clean distinctions, but nothing is just what it seems. The "alien" seems to be part of everybody's experience; differences just show up when it comes to one's passport. Living with familiar and alien aspects are simply a matter of universal themes of leaving home, finding one's place in the wide world, and returning to the original homeor so it seems. Some texts indeed allow their authors to explore these universal and other themes, such as growing-up and love, in a powerful and joyful way. When cultures intersect and languages meet, there is opportunity for fun and experiment. Examples are the satirical tone of Wladimir Kaminer's reports and the lingus-tic play in poems by Ilma Rakusa and José F. A. Oliver. But there is more.

When cultures intersect and languages meet, there is also the potential for problems, especially when differences surface: different passports, appearances, religions, histories. In real life, the mix of "mainstream" and other voices is never easy. Again, it is full of opportunities but also of problems. This begins with the legal, moral, and emotional concerns of immigration and integration/assimilation versus preservation of cultural identity ... where it ends is a question of each society's ability to engage in civil discourse. As I write this, the ups and downs of an immigration bill make headlines in the United States. German-language literatures bring up topics that are close to home everywhere because they are global experiences.

These complex matters cannot be explored in a two-page preface, but many authorsAlexander Kluge, Dimitré Dinev, Imran Ayata, and Agalaja Veteranyi in this issueaddress them head on, each in his or her thought-provoking manner, and in reference to three countries: Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. Matters become even more complex by the reasons of migration that are often tied to various forms of oppression and the yearning for freedom. Lubuše Moníková and Maxim Biller both revisit Prague: the former follows her main character through the experience of torture as normality in post-Velvet Revolution times; the latter returns the present-day Prague on the quest for his father's legacy. Perhaps the most positive in this selection, Biller's text subtly affirms humanity over political oppression. Feridun Zaimoglu's novel focuses on economic and familial oppression; the excerpt is an almost stand-alone episode that shows the power of the father over his wife and children.

Most of the authors mentioned so far have been recognized with the Adelbert-von-Chamisso Prize, an award given by the Robert Bosch Foundation, which is very active in supporting "migration literature" written in German. For example, the Klett-Cotta anthology Feuer, Lebenslust!—ErzĢhlungen deutscher Einwanderer, from which the "Conversations" are taken for publication here, was sponsored by the Robert Bosch Foundation.

Another major factor in the diversity of German-language literatures is tied to the Jewish experience, dealt with by both Jewish and non-Jewish writers. While Barbara Honigmann's text is autobiographical, the others place real experiences in fictional contexts. For example, Doron Rabinovici suggests a variation on the theme of forgetting: What if the old Nazi suffers from dementia? Forgetting and remembrance are also major themes in the poems of Elazar BenyoĎtz, taken from his 2004 book that was also sponsored by the Robert Bosch Foundation.

It's high time to get this issue of DIMENSION2 to print. Yet there remains more to be done: there are more texts, authors, topics to consider. To give just one quick example, in this issue the Afro-German experience is addressed only in the artwork of the artist couple who goes by the joined name MwangiHutter. This, however, is the beauty of a magazine: there's always the next issue to consider new texts and, perhaps, reconsider old themes. For the time being, enjoy reading this issue.

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