Table of Contents
Place and Time in Alle Tage
Narration and language
Global characters: Terézia Mora's Alle Tage as transcultural literature in the age of globalisation
In Germany, a country that is known to define itself enormously through its economic success, globalisation and migration are very ambivalent topics, since both phenomenons mean broad impacts from “the outside” (Biendarra 2012: 2). In terms of culture, integration and assimilation are discussed intensely, and the so-called “Leitkultur-Debatte” (“dominant culture debate”) of the 1990s has not lost its controversy (Taberner 2004: 14). The debate started in a time of increased East-European migration to Germany, which was due to the fall of the iron curtain. It thematises worries about the survival of the “German” culture and groups people strictly by their own “cultural background”. This grouping is also common within the German literary canon, which tends to classify authors by their ethnic background (Gerstenberger 2004: 209). In such manner, wherever the author Terézia Mora is introduced, her birthplace Hungary is mentioned. Although Mora grew up in Hungary as part of the German minority, speaks and writes German fluently, she still seems to be seen as “not entirely German” (“ Ich bin ein Teil der deutschen Literatur, so deutsch wie Kafka. ” 2005). Mora herself rejected exactly this statement, which was made as an introduction to an interview in the magazine Literaturen that Mora gave together with Imran Ayata, Wladimir Kaminer and Navid Kermani. On the contrary, she said that in Berlin she had found the place where she does not feel “foreign” for the first time in her life and, what is more, that she thinks of herself as “as German as Kafka” (ibid.). The critics proved her (partly) right: Interestingly enough, Mora won the Ingeborg-Bachmann-Preis, one of the most acclaimed German literary prices, in 1999 for her short story Ophelia, but the Adelbert-von-Chamisso- Preis, awarded to writers of non-German descent who write in German, in 2010.
In this essay, I argue that Terézia Mora with her novel Alle Tage (“Day In Day Out ” , 2004) breaks with all German literary categorisations and is able to catch the ambiguity and disorientation of the 21st century from multiple viewpoints, in the setting of migrant experience. Alle Tage is a piece of transcultural literature, not only in the broad sense of being “concerned with borders and borderlands between cultures”, but more specifically because it is able to capture “the identities emerging from these locations” (Gerstenberger 2004: 212). It will be the aim of this essay to show how Alle Tage is moving away from the notion of a “stable” German identity towards complex identities in the age of globalisation. In this way, the migrant becomes a metaphor of the century itself, and one-sided „we“ and „them“ arguments become redundant. Alle Tage has the ability to hold a mirror up to us and, in Adelson's words, to make us historically literate:
“If literature of migration does not revolve around contested rights and identities, why bother with it at all? One central premise here is that these literary narratives provoke us to ponder the historical intelligibility of our time, to become more historically literate by reading against the grain of existing categories, concepts, and statistics of migration in order to ask what worlds we inhabit as the millennium turns.” (Adelson 2005: 14)
Adelson (2005) and Haines (2008) state that the German literary canon until now has put too much emphasis on the biographies and identities of migrant writers and has thus missed out on the broader perspectives that their literature offers. They call for a new reading and naming of “migrant” literature, as there is a new generation of writers which has the ability to change our perception of migration entirely. Haines (2008) focuses on German-writing authors from the East-European countries, namely Wladimir Kaminer (Russia) and Ilija Trojanow (Bulgaria), as well as Terézia Mora (and many others). But while she defines the “Eastern Turn” in German literature solely by adding a post-Cold War perspective to it (Haines 2008: 141), Adelson (2005) sheds a more universal light on the changes through so- called migrant writers. She states that the literature of Turkish-German writers, such as Feridun Zaimoğlu or Emine Sevgi Özdamar, used to be seen too narrow, reflecting solely on their unfortunate position as foreign labourers in the German society (Adelson 2005: 15). Adelson, in difference to this usual interpretation, thinks “that the literature of Turkish migration archives an epochal sense of disorientation“ (ibid.).
It is my belief as well that literature of migration cannot only teach us something about “different” cultures or single experiences, but that it conveys universal experiences of living in the 21st century per se. In the age of globalisation, people and their cultures are consistently in contact and thus in movement. Equally, Tobias Kraft emphasises that Bade's term of the “homo migrans” does not just stand for a certain type of human experience, but is rather a phenomenon that all cultures and languages in the 21st century share (2006: 4). This leads to the concept of cultural hybridity by Homi Bhabha, who published The Location of Culture in 1994 and stated that the idea of homogeneous national cultures was coming to an end, challenged by hybrid, manifold cultures and identities (Walkowitz 2006: 528). Similarily, Paul White in 1995 observed that all migration processes relate to an identity shift and that the age of globalisation would produce manifold identities (White 1995: 2). It was his belief that literature would be especially suitable for the thematisation of these ambiguous realities, because it was more direct and emotional than social sciences (White 1995: 15).
I argue that it is exactly this mentioned sense of disorientation and of manifold identities, as a universal experience of our century, that Mora's Alle Tage conveys. Alle Tage can be described as a transcultural piece of fiction, as it “transcends the borders of a single culture in its choice of topic, vision and scope and thus contributes to a wider global literary perspective” (Dagnino 2012: 4). I follow Arianna Dagnino and adapt a transcultural view to the study of Alle Tage as well, in order to better “deal with the cultural complexities of the twenty-first century mobile age” (2012: 1). I adapt the framework proposed by Homi Bhabha and others to „read immigrant and ethnic minority writers as a vanguard of cultural change“ (Sievers 2013: 4). It is the aim of this essay to show exactly how Alle Tage carries transcultural experiences, thereby focusing on the topic of disorientation in the 21st century and on the “global” or transcultural characters that emerge from it.
Place and Time in Alle Tage
Alle Tage paints the picture of protagonist Abel Nema's life in and journey through a huge German city called “B.”. At the beginning of the novel, Abel is hanging upside-down from a climbing scaffold on a playground with his feet tied together, having suffered severe head injuries as well as a bleeding torso wound. From this point on, the story of how he ended up there is told in flashbacks. The reader learns that Abel comes from a South-East-European country to Germany at the age of 19. At the beginning of his journey, a gas accident happens and Abel is gifted with a special ability: He can memorise words immediately after he has heard or read them, and is thus able to learn any language in almost no time. On the negative side, this accident leaves Abel with an orientation weakness, leading him to be lost and late all the time. At the language laboratory of the University, he masters to learn ten languages, but because he stays rather isolated and without actual speaking contact, Abel is at the same time speechless and almost never says a word. Bureaucratic chaos, accidents and bad decisions mark Abel's way through his new life - partly by his own fault, partly as a fault of the system. His wife Mercedes, with whom he is in a marriage of convenience, once says about him: “Er sieht so normal aus, […] deswegen dauert es eine Weile, bis man merkt, dass er in Wirklichkeit wie ein Magnet alles Sonderbare, Lächerliche und Traurige anzieht.” (Mora 2004: 188). At the end of the novel, Abel wakes up in the hospital after having been beaten to near death by adolescents on the playground that the novel showed in the beginning. Now he has forgotten all languages and also his mother tongue. The novel closes with the impression of Abel who repeats the one sentence he remembers: „Es ist gut.“
The places in the novel are all abbreviated, the exact time of the plot is unknown as well: „Let us call the time now, let us call the place here.“1 (Mora 2004: 9). This is the first break with categorisations that the novel makes: It is not important where exactly Abel is, but the story focuses fully on his experiences in the new environment. To a certain degree, readers might relate to the experience of getting lost in a new place, both realistically in the streets as well as in the figurative sense of being „culturally“ lost. Here, Mora “conceives space not as an a priori entity but as cultural, social and discursive construct” (Hammer 2006, qtd. in Toldi 2015: 96). It is this cultural construct in which Abel does not fit in. One of the recurring themes of Alle Tage is that Abel has to move out of his flat or is wandering around the city aimlessly, which leads to turbulent evenings in bars and, often enough, to him getting lost or being injured. It is only in the language laboratory, sealed off culturally, that he seems to be at peace. But as soon as the outside world, other people and new places, enter into contact with him, chaos is predestined. Yet, he also does not seem to be able to stand still, and it is exactly his aimless movement in the search for regularity which defines Abel the most: “The identity of the characters emerges not from the fact that they are bound to a place, but from drifting in the undefinable here and now.” (Toldi 2015: 97). In this description lies one of the universal experiences of living in the 21st century: In a globalised world, people are free to move and to do whatever they feel like. But not rarely, the endless possibilities lead to an overload with choices and the experience of feeling lost instead. What happens to Abel is at times strange and feels exaggerated, but there is also a certain amount of fundamental truth to the story, an effect that is reached through the „inevitability of situations“2 (Schütte 2013: 14) as well as the special narrative perspective.
1 All translations from German to English are my own. „Nennen wir die Zeit jetzt, nennen wir den Ort hier.“
2 „Unabwendbarkeit eines Sachverhalts“
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- terézia mora alle tage terezia mora transcultural literature migrantenliteratur globalisierungsliteratur globalisierung migrationsliteratur transkulturell