An Other Kind of Home

Gender-Sexual Abjection, Subjectivity, and the Uncanny in Literature and Film

by Kyle Frackman (Author)
©2015 Monographs 181 Pages


In this study, the author examines works of German-language literature and film from the nineteenth and twentieth century in order to chart a certain kind of otherness. Common to all of the examined cultural products are aspects of gender, sexuality, a notion of home or belonging, and pressures of abjection. Other elements of identity include race and disease. The characters in the analyzed works encounter both mutual dependence and abhorrence, which complicate their experiences in space and time. This analysis demonstrates that acceptance and belonging are difficult to attain, particularly in the fraught power dynamics in these works. This book includes discussions of works by Frank Wedekind, Robert Musil, Kutluğ Ataman, and Pierre Sanoussi-Bliss.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Acknowledgments
  • Table of contents
  • Chapter 1: Othering, Abjection, and Belonging
  • Chapter 2: Young Corporeality and Unstable Morality in Frank Wedekind’s: Frühlings Erwachen
  • Chapter 3: Discipline, Sexual Complicity, and Queer Space in Robert Musil’s: Törleß
  • Chapter 4: Transnationalism, Identity, and Fantasy in Kutlug Ataman’s: Lola und Bilidikid
  • Chapter 5: Nation, HIV/AIDS, and Sexuality in Pierre Sanoussi-Bliss’s: Zurück auf los
  • Chapter 6: Conclusion: Homeward
  • Bibliography
  • Filmography
  • Index

Chapter 1: Othering, Abjection, and Belonging

What counts in the things said by men [sic] is not so much what they may have thought or the extent to which these things represent their thoughts, as that which systematizes them from the outset, thus making them thereafter endlessly accessible to new discourses and open to the task of transforming them. (Foucault, Birth of the Clinic xix)

My goal in this book is to investigate the spatial and temporal othering of subjects, characters, and themes in German-language film and literature by means of a series of case studies. In these I aim to illustrate a certain kind of alterity. I develop here a theory of subject and body construction based in part on the work of poststructuralist, feminist, and psychoanalytic theorists. There are three so-called red threads that weave their way through the following chapters: gender, sexuality, and a notion of home or belonging. In short, I propose if not a classification then a diagnostic schema for a new type of othering based on the interactions among these three unifying ideas. I will demonstrate in my readings of four cultural products and their contexts that a specific kind of othering can occur when certain conditions are met: new body forms (corporeal constructions) will result from the combination of gender-sexual behaviours with notions of “home” and the pressures of abjection. The entities that emerge from this process will operate in various spatiotemporalities, fusions of space and time.

The objects of my analysis come from similar yet notably different time periods: Frank Wedekind’s Frühlings Erwachen (1891, Spring Awakening), Robert Musil’s Die Verwirrungen des Zöglings Törleß (1906, The Confusions of Young Törless), Kutluğ Ataman’s Lola und Bilidikid (1999, Lola and Billy the Kid), and Pierre Sanoussi-Bliss’s Zurück auf los (2000, Return to Go). With more than a century between the bookends of my readings, I want to say something briefly about the intensely disruptive climates in which these cultural productions came to be. As will become clear, my theory of other-construction is by its very nature related to the cultural climate in which the construction takes place. The ways in which subjects perceive their own characteristics of alterity will necessarily be dependent upon contemporary, surrounding crises. What is threatening, what provokes fear, which members of a society are more or less vulner ← 11 | 12 → able—all of this will affect the manner in which subjects react to each other.

After centuries of comprising over 300 principalities of varying size and political importance, Germany united into one empire in 1871. Especially following the ascension of Wilhelm II to the imperial throne in 1888, the period prior to the First World War was largely defined by the conservative, authoritarian leanings of Prussian society. After the First World War and again after the Second World War, Germany and Austria-Hungary underwent the loss of colonial holdings, wartime annexations, and punitive reparations. For forty years, through the creation of the so-called Wirtschaftswunder (economic miracle), Germany existed as two separate countries, with each part constantly defining itself by what it saw across the border and what it saw in the mirror. Again in 1990, Germany reunified while it faced increased immigration, economic growth, and changing significance in Europe and abroad as the end of the millennium approached.

In addition to being situated within one to two decades of a momentous unification, all of the texts treated here have another temporal placement in common.1 They were produced in the years surrounding a fin de siècle. I do not intend to propose that these texts are evidence of some sort of centennial or millennial anxiety.2 I do, however, believe that both of these time periods—the turn of the nineteenth to the twentieth century and the turn of the twentieth to the twenty-first—exhibit characteristics that are worthy of consideration in any interpretation of texts arising from them.3 Even, however, if we choose to view these texts on a closer level, isolated from the other texts discussed here, each text itself is situated within a complicated cultural and historical context, each with its own social difficulties and idiosyncrasies that have inflected the creation of the text as well as the subsequent analysis of it.

In the texts I have chosen to analyze, we will move from a period in which subjectification was greatly determined within a framework of national understanding to a time and area in which national frameworks are arguably less conclusive and important. The first two texts evince bourgeois authority figures that signal a presence of power but are defective in their constitution and behaviour. Set in two institutional environments (in Germany and Austria-Hungary, respectively), Wedekind’s play and Musil’s novel feature adults who are supposed to regulate the behaviour and thoughts of adolescents, disciplining them for their future roles in society. While neither text refers explicitly to a specific nation in which their stories take place, each makes cultural and geographical al ← 12 | 13 → lusions so as to make the setting more palpable: for example, references to Germanic cultivated education, Bildung, in both Wedekind and Musil as well as placement within an empire, each of which draws connections to the real world in which the texts are consumed (i.e., the German Empire and Austria-Hungary). This existence of authority is not always convincing, but it is nonetheless structurally involved in the literary texts’ narratives.

The two films, on the other hand, will demonstrate that gender, sexuality, illness, and race, for instance, all permeate national borders—nothing here remains intact. Ataman’s and Sanoussi-Bliss’s films take us to a Germany that is situated differently from the German and Austro-Hungarian Empires of the two literary works. Now part of the European Union with globalized economic concerns and pressures of the integration of its residents, late twentieth-century Germany and the characters we meet in it are less culturally uniform. Set against the backdrop of nationality and nationhood, these cultural products will illustrate the spatiotemporal component that is inherent in processes of othering. Indeed, the othering that we will see in the following chapters will also show that spatiotemporal abjection is a pervasive force intimately related to the ways in which nationalities perceive themselves and how they interact with gender and sexuality.

In this chapter, I will provide an introduction to and a foundation for the theoretical concepts that I employ in what follows. What I posit here will be expanded and supplemented by the subsequent chapters and the readings of cultural products that they provide. As I have explained above, I aim in this book to examine mechanisms by which sexual others and othernesses are created in several German and German-language cultural products. Of primary importance in this inquiry will be the nature of subjects and objects and the relationships between them within the context of discourses of gender and sexuality. I begin with a formulation of Freud’s (das Unheimliche, the uncanny), which, to some extent, underlies all of the texts and contexts addressed in this book. Progressing from this basic anxiety or fear, I will consider the formation of a subject and its interactions with objects. Based upon the subject’s assessment of its own current status and surroundings, these relationships can have extreme or mild consequences. These associations are steadily imbued with power, thereby affecting the nature of the interplay and its outcome, including whether the subject gains any utility from its actions. We will see that, throughout these processes, the subject and its objects (or abjects, as I discuss below) are dependent upon each other for their ← 13 | 14 → existence but are unaware of the formative roles they play in each other’s constitution. These unconscious constructions take infinite forms, but I will focus in this book on the ways in which objects, abjects, and others exist in their relations to space, time, and sexuality. Two concepts that I will use in constructing my final theory of othering will be related to space and time in which othering takes place. Where and when are these objects created? Where and when do these objects reside? One consequence of examining spatiotemporal existence is a politico-cultural one: where and when do these entities belong? A notion of home goes right to the heart of the issue.

In the shambles of Vienna after the First World War, Sigmund Freud penned a curious essay. Starting early on with an extended journey through a dictionary entry, Freud’s “Das Unheimliche” (1919, The Uncanny) is one of his forays into literary criticism and interpretation. In this essay, Freud aims to examine the aesthetic nature of fear, specifically “the uncanny”:

Kein Zweifel, daß es zum Schreckhaften, Angst- und Grauenerregenden gehört, und ebenso sicher ist es, daß dies Wort nicht immer in einem scharf zu bestimmenden Sinne gebraucht wird, so daß es eben meist mit dem Angsterregenden überhaupt zusammenfällt. Aber man darf doch erwarten, daß ein besonderer Kern vorhanden ist, der die Verwendung eines besonderen Begriffswortes rechtfertigt. Man möchte wissen, was dieser gemeinsame Kern ist, der etwa gestattet, innerhalb des Ängstlichen ein “Unheimliches” zu unterscheiden. (“Das Unheimliche” 229–30)4

Building upon an article by Ernst Jentsch, which—“aus leicht zu erratenden, in der Zeit liegenden Gründen”5—comprises his main source on this topic, Freud determines he has two courses of action before him: on the one hand, he could head toward Jentsch’s theory of the uncanny (i.e., that everyone has a different reaction to and conception of what is uncanny); on the other, he could etymologically investigate this topic, in order to track down why this word means what it does (Freud, “Das Unheimliche” 230–31; Jentsch). Instead, Freud reveals right away that either approach would result in a conclusion that “das Unheimliche sei jene Art des Schreckhaften, welche auf das Altbekannte, Längstvertraute zurückgeht” (“Das Unheimliche” 231).6 Nonetheless, Freud points to the word’s opposition to and negation of literal heimlich (homey or homelike, although the word came to mean what it does today: “secret”), wondering how what had been or is familiar—of the home—can become frightening. Furthermore, why is it that what is frightening is not automatically uncanny (Freud, “Das Unheimliche” 231)? ← 14 | 15 →

In the next part of his essay, Freud analyzes E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Der Sandmann (1817) and Die Elixiere des Teufels (1815) and finds in them castration anxiety and fear of doubles, respectively. His reading of the latter is less obviously or stereotypically Freudian, and he uses examples from Hoffmann’s text to speak to the idea of the Doppelgänger, which, he writes, has developed from its original function as a “Versicherung des Fortlebens” (assurance of living on) among the “primitives” to “unheimlichen Vorboten des Todes” (uncanny herald of death) (Freud, “Das Unheimliche” 247). According to Freud, sometime in the progress made from primitive beginnings, modern and advanced man [sic] has been a bystander to the evolution of what had been a helpful reminder of eternal life and safety into a terrifying harbinger of doom. Thus, we see another instance of a change from something helpful or protective into something horrifying. Indeed, even beyond the primitive narcissism that Freud finds in the earlier examples—i.e., in advanced societies—the double recurs in the form of the conscience, a body that has the power to turn the Ego into an object (“Das Unheimliche” 247–48). Still, Freud is not satisfied with these examples of uncanniness or rather the insufficient explanations that they might provide. Before proceeding to more specific examples of the uncanny, Freud provides a basic explanation for the origin of what is perceived as uncanny:

Der Charakter des Unheimlichen kann doch nur daher rühren, daß der Doppelgänger eine den überwundenen seelischen Urzeiten angehörige Bildung ist, die damals allerdings einen freundlicheren Sinn hatte.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2014 (December)
Deutscher Film Subjektivität Deutsche Literatur Geschlecht Sexualität
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2015. 181 pp.

Biographical notes

Kyle Frackman (Author)

Kyle Frackman holds a PhD in German and Scandinavian Studies from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and a degree in German Studies from Hamline University (Minnesota). He is currently Assistant Professor of Germanic Studies at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, where he teaches graduate and undergraduate courses on German and Scandinavian literature and film.


Title: An Other Kind of Home