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 2 Writing Emptiness: Yoko Tawada’s The Bath, Das nackte Auge and “Flucht des Monds”
cellar: We have long forgotten the ritual by which the house of our life was erected. But when it is under assault and enemy bombs are already taking their toll, what enervated, perverse antiquities do they not lay bare in the foundations! What things were interred and sacrificed amid magic incantations, what horrible cabinet of curiosities lies there below.
— Walter Benjamin, Einbahnstrasse1
In contrast to German author W. G. Sebald’s admittedly Eurocentric historiography (e.g. he wrote about, but never lived in, China), which I discussed in the preceding chapter, this chapter focuses on a younger Japanese-German author, Yoko Tawada (b. 1960). She, too, writes about architecture, albeit with the understanding that it is possible to achieve complete disintegration of all boundaries, so as to uncover the “empty spaces” beneath – and to thereby undo perceived orders of how space should be divided. As I will demonstrate, her ontology differs from a human-centered Western philosophical model, and thus contributes to what I see as a “new European” approach to cultural and linguistic boundaries, as well as to the geographical borders that have been politically at stake since the end of the Cold War.
Architects have long recognized that buildings, like trees, have life spans, albeit at a different pace from humans. Postmodern theorists like Katherine Hayles argue against anthropocentrism by suggesting “that every real object possesses […] its own experience of the world, including biological, animate, and inanimate objects” (178). As a postmodern contemporary creative writer, Tawada,...
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