Ortner – University of Copenhagen

Transcultural Memory as Battlefield of European Identity

– The Making of Europe in Contemporary German-language Migrant literature

The project Transcultural Memory as Battle Ground of European Identity investigates how the slippery ground of German and European memory is negotiated in writings by authors who originate from a post-Soviet country, have settled in Germany, and have adopted German as their literary language. I work on the assumption that those German-language migrant writers contribute importantly to the urgent need of widening the cultural memory of Europe both temporally (from around 1900 to 1989) and spatially (towards the East). They carry along - and give literary expressions to - an eastern perspective of the past that contest the de-contextualization and the universalization of Holocaust memory as well as the thesis of the absolute incomparability of the event, which is deeply rooted in the German Vergangenheitsbewältigung.

The literary writings are analysed on the backdrop of the current renegotiations of the European identity as it has evolved in the aftermath of the political revolution of 1989 and the Eastern Enlargements of the European Union in 2004 and 2007. The universalization of the Holocaust as the central trauma of the 20th century has caused a gap that divides the cultural memories of the European nations along the line of the former Iron Curtain. Countries such as the Baltic States and Poland perceive the consolidated conception of the Holocaust to be a westernized definition of wartime realities and call for a ‘Europeanization’ of their experiences under the second dictatorship between 1945 and 1989 (Mälksoo 2009). I will pursue the question of how the experiences expressed in the contemporary wave of German-language migrant writings inform and potentially widen the (westernized) perception of the European past towards the East.

The monograph includes writings by Katja Petrowskaja, Olga Grjasnowa, Lena Gorelik, Vladimir Vertlib, Maxim Biller, Julia Franck, and Barbara Honigmann.