New Encounters in the Asian-German Avant-Garde
This book contributes to a historically evolving conversation about immigration as a facet of globalization in the European context. Focusing on literary and artistic works from the post–World War II era, the author uses a «call-and-response» structure – as in African-American slave songs, Indian kirtans, and Jewish liturgy – to create a series of dialogues between Asian-German authors, including Yoko Tawada, Pham Thi Hoài, and Anna Kim, and an earlier generation of German-speaking authors and artists whose works engaged with «Asia,» including W. G. Sebald, Peter Weiss, and Joseph Beuys.
Considering the recent successes of the New Right, which have brought about a regression to Nazi anti-Semitic discourses grounded in the equation between Jews and «Orientals,» the author advocates a need for solidarity between Germans and Asian-Germans. Using «fusion» as a metaphor, she revises the critical paradigms of Orientalism and postcolonial studies to show how, in the aftermath of the twelve-year Nazi dictatorship, Germany has successfully transformed itself into a country of immigration – in part due to the new and pioneering Asian-German voices that have reshaped the German-speaking cultural landscape and that are now, for the first time, featured as coming together in this book.
Chapter 1 Silkworms and Concentration Camps: W. G. Sebald’s Die Ringe des Saturn and Austerlitz
If traces of history survive in the form of architectural sites once inhabited by human beings, then traces of the living are metaphorically present in buildings and other inanimate sites. In this chapter, I focus on the writings of W. G. Sebald (1944–2001), as they reveal a preoccupation with the sedimentations of life in abandoned objects and structures, from the cocoons left behind by silkworms, to the enclosures where prisoners were once tortured and killed. By establishing imaginary links between the lives that have passed and the objects that remain, Sebald poses the question of representation with respect to the Shoah as well as other genocides. As a non-Jewish German author born at the end of World War II, Sebald struggled with the challenge of representing German history. I argue that this accounts for his depiction of the “Orient” – and “Orientals” in his portrayal of both Asian and Jewish characters – as an alternative geographical space outside Europe. I discuss Sebald’s analogy between Germany and China during the Ch’ing dynasty in Die Ringe des Saturn [The Rings of Saturn] (1995). And I analyze his subsequent novel, Austerlitz (2001), where he depicted the friendship between a German expatriate to England (modeled after himself) and a fictitious Jewish man rescued by the Kindertransport in order to connect, hypothetically, with a lost Jewish German “Other.” Using these Asian-Jewish-German narratives as his basis, Sebald’s writings focus on abandoned material objects and architectural structures as containers now empty, conjuring up the “dead” in order to...
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