Literature – Language – Identity

In the member states of the EU a diversity of language situations can be found. Contrary to countries with a single national language like Germany and those which function perfectly well as multilingual states, such as Luxembourg, Belgium is faced with huge problems that are partly caused by its linguistic division. Differing, sometimes irreconcilable concepts of language lead to complications in inter- as well as intra-cultural communication, posing the fundamental question of how language and the construction of identity are interrelated. In today’s differentiated societies, literature forms a ‘space’ of complex meaning and aesthetic meta-languages. Contemporary texts using multilingualism as an aesthetic principle, texts by authors from a migration background or with intercultural interests offer deep insights into new forms of identity. The international project The Construction of Identity in Multilingual Literature: A Comparison of Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, headed by Prof. Rolf Parr and Dr. Thomas Ernst (Literature and Media, with colleagues from the University and the Centre National de Littérature Mersch/Luxembourg, the University of Leuven/Belgium, and the University of Leiden/Netherlands), examines these texts: By drawing on ­various methods from literary and cultural theory, it compares the literary discourse in these four countries in order to analyse and understand how language(s) frame(s) social life and identity in Europe.

In North America, too, (urban) self-con­ceptions are shaped by the complex interplay ­between ­literature, the media and migration. The joint research project Condensation, Inversion, Assemblage: City Scripts and North American ­Urbanity (under the direction of Prof. Barbara Buchenau, Prof. Jens Gurr, Prof. Josef Raab, ­Department  of Anglophone Studies, and colleagues from the English/American Studies Departments of the Universities of Bochum and Dortmund) examines those writing and reading processes that have both enabled and criticised the conflictual history of the migration-based urbanisation of North American society since the earliest beginnings of European settlement. This analysis takes a variety of perspectives – systematic, historical and geographical – and is closely connected with the MERCUR-funded project Urban Transformations (2012–15) mentioned  in the previous research report. All of this is intended to eventually lead to the creation of a DFG Research Training Group (under the ­direction of Prof. Barbara Buchenau).

The literature produced by writers of Turkish origin in Germany has become established as a field of literary scholarship of its own within literary science. To give these writings a “place” in quite a literary sense is the general aim of the Literary Archive of Writers of Turkish Origin founded at the Department of Turkish Studies (Prof. Kader ­Konuk, Nesrin Tanç M.A.). This is where the works and the literary estates of writers of Turkish origin are to be collected, categorised and made accessible to the general public by means of exhibitions and publications. The archive will offer a unique forum for research into transnational literature in Germany. One of the more general tasks of the archive will be to raise the awareness of the history of Turkish migration and exile among the general public and preserve literary estates that would otherwise be lost. The more specifically scholarly object of the archive is formed by the requirement to research the transnational literary networks of these authors as well as the circumstances of literary production against a background of multilingual conditions.

One would be led to assume that, since the beginnings of Turkish immigration to Germany in the early 1960s, the mutual perception of both sides would have normalised and improved due to daily contact in everyday situations. However, what the actual image is that “the Germans” have of “the Turks” and vice versa, “the Turks” of “the Germans”, after fifty years of regular contact on all levels and which images dominate among which groups of the population will be investigated in the BMBF project Stereotypes Germany-Turkey (Stefan Ossenberg, German as a Second/Foreign Language, under the direction of Prof. em. ­Rupprecht S. Baur in cooperation with Prof. Haci-Halil Uslucan, Department  of Turkish Studies, and colleagues from Marmara University, Istanbul and Bahçeşehir University Berlin, from September 2014). What qualities Germans ascribe to Turks, and vice versa will be examined by drawing on a list of 136 specific traits. The project will combine questions and insights from sociolinguistics, general linguistics and literary scholarship, referring to a corpus of contemporary (journalistic and literary) texts as well as historical literary testimonies.