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[short summary of dissertation project]
Audio #2 to support accessibility [detailed summary of dissertation project]
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Telling Stories to Survive: The Writings of Saša Stanišić
An Approach to Decolonizing Discourses in German Studies
In short: At the core of my dissertation project are the analysis of Stanišić’s use of storytelling within his novels as a narrative device for survival, on the one hand, and decolonizing methodological explorations and approaches of discourses in German studies, on the other hand. In my project, I argue and explore five points:
(i) Storytelling as a narrative device – especially decoupled from the author - deserves more critical attention;
(ii) Putting the focus on storytelling in the narrative enables discussions about topics like migration, trauma, borders, naming, and language without reverting to the exclusionary category of literature of migration;
(iii) Considering storytelling as narrative device in my analysis is also useful, especially with the implicit strategy of survival, as it creatively highlights the reasons that make this strategy necessary in the first place;
(iv) Analyzing Stanišić’s stories and his use of storytelling in his narrative by exploring decolonizing approaches multiplies these narratives, thus giving them the space to exist and to assert themselves within hegemonical and hierarchical discursive environments;
(v) A methodology focused on decolonizing can show the global interconnectedness of the struggles of peoples that are excluded from a presumed universality. At the same time, it has the potential to highlight specific problems in the German context.
In more detail
I'm interested in examining the writings of German-Bosnian author Saša Stanišić and the role that homodiegetic and heterodiegetic narratives play within his novels. In addition, I am curious in how far these narratives are informed and formed by influences of Magical Realism as well as the engagement with and negotiation of anxiety, Heimaten, and, most of all, death. In highlighting the roles that the narratives play within the novels, I believe they can be made useful in making visible obstructive, racist, and ostracizing conditions that too many people in Germany encounter. More broadly, I strive towards having decolonizing dialogues between German, African, and Caribbean discourses that happen on eye level (as much as my subjectiveness, biases, and prejudices of Eurocentric education and ways of thinking allow). These dialogues, I hope, have the potential to inform readings of contemporary German literature in a new and reflective way.
Not only will my dissertation on Staniśić be the first comprehensive analysis of the writings of this prestigious contemporary German-language author, but at the heart of my work is a double move: explicitly, Stanišić’s storytelling is a means for survival, particularly for the characters in his novels. Implicitly, it allows for a decolonizing approach to notions of racism, borders, and a narrow, exclusionary notion of Heimat, and, thus, a decolonizing of them and their underlying discourses.
The tentative title of my dissertation and the idea of telling stories to survive could be, without a doubt, considered for the author himself. In his debut novel, for example, he is writing a story on the Bosnian War about trauma and migration which, in turn, brought him to Germany (as he recalls in Herkunft). But that is not the argument that I want to make. There will be times in my dissertation where I will refer to Stanišić’s history of migration experiences and, more often, will include statements made by him into the discussion. But for the most part, I want to build my argumentation without reference to the author as the deciding factor. I am going to clarify this point further in my dissertation where I intend to intensely scrutinize and rethink the (in my opinion) unproductive category of literature of migration.
The first part of my dissertation thesis pertains directly to Saša Stanišić. My literary analysis is going to highlight different levels of the narrative: the narration of the narrator as well as narratives told by characters. Both Stanišić’s characters and narrators make ample use of storytelling. In his first Zürcher Poetikvorlesung in November 2017, Stanišić formulated that quite pragmatically: “Solange ich erzähle, gibt es mich da” (47:46-48:00, "As long as I am telling [stories], I exist there"). While storytelling is used in different instantiations, moments, and situations, the aim – while not always made explicit – is clear: survival. Returning to the first Zürcher Poetikvorlesung, Stanišić says about storytelling: “Das Erzählen ist immer auch nur Ablenkung - Ablenkung von dem Grauen. In Augenblicken existenzieller Krise kann es aber auch eine Überlebensstrategie sein, eine Selbstvergewisserung einer Welt, der man misstraut” (47:34 - 47:52; "Telling [of stories] is always also just a distraction - distraction from the horror. In moments of existential crisis, however, it can also be a survival strategy, a self-ascertainment of a world that one mistrusts").
With this analytic emphasis on storytelling, I argue three things: (i) storytelling as a narrative device – especially decoupled from the author - deserves more critical attention; (ii) putting the focus on storytelling in the narrative enables discussions about topics like migration, trauma, borders, naming, and language without reverting to the exclusionary category of literature of migration; (iii) considering storytelling as narrative device in my analysis is also useful, especially with the implicit strategy of survival, as it creatively highlights the reasons that make this strategy necessary in the first place.
The literary analysis is going to be followed by an exploration of decolonizing approaches to German studies that will be enabled, in the first place, by my analysis. This is the implicit aspect of the aforementioned double move. By using storytelling as a survival strategy, Stanišić casts a fundamental light onto things that makes this strategy necessary in the first place: War, death, borders, anxiety, racism, a narrow, exclusionary notion of Heimat. By highlighting obstructive and even perilous concepts (and their realizations!), Stanišić implicitly creates the condition for visibility, critique, and awareness. Furthermore (and perhaps more importantly), considering Stanišić’s stories and his use of storytelling in his narrative by exploring decolonizing approaches multiplies these narratives, thus giving them the space to exist and to assert themselves within hegemonical and hierarchical discursive environments – both within the narratives themselves, but also with regards to an oftentimes oversimplified categorization of Stanišić’s writing as literature of migration.
The discussion of decolonizing approaches is going to happen on several interconnected playing fields: discussions of prominent German philosophers, analyses of contemporary theoretical explorations that try to account for the social reality of contemporary Germany (Interkultur, postmigrantische Gesellschaft, Gegenwartsbewältigung), and opening up the conversation to African and Caribbean discourses. This exploration of potential decolonizing approaches, particularly through the form of the decolonial couplet – juxtaposing a sentence or paragraph of a text (re)producing Eurocentric forms knowledge with a sentence or paragraph of a text generated outside of hegemonic, Eurocentric modes of knowledge production – in connection with Stanišić’s novels can not only highlight the continuous relevance of reading literature in the 21st century, but it can also show the global interconnectedness of the struggles of peoples that are excluded from a presumed universality. At the same time, it has the potential to highlight specific problems in the German context. Lastly, it is a move toward filling a gap in German literary studies as decolonization is still often limited to historical, social, and political discourses.
Saša Stanišić's novels: Wie der Soldat das Grammofon repariert (2006), Vor dem Fest (2014), Fallensteller (2016, short story collection), Herkunft (2019)
"Emotionale Landschaften der Migration: Von unsichtbaren Grenzen, Nicht-Ankommen und dem Tod in Stanišićs Herkunft und Varatharajahs Vor der Zunahme der Zeichen", Transit Vol. 12, No. 2, 2020. [Access here]
This article analyzes the literary figuration and effect of emotional landscapes of migration as well as their intersections with geographical landscapes in the novels Herkunft (2019) by Saša Stanišić and Vor der Zunahme der Zeichen (2016) by Senthuran Varatharajah. Literary landscapes of migration are created by the interplay of different factors: invisible borders within the individual (shame), in-between the individual and family (alienation), and between the individual and society (racism) which are characterized by an in-between, a continuous non-arriving. Further factors are the apparent contrast of detailed, varnished past and the localization in the here and now of the present, and death as the essential base of lived reality. Whether temporal, psychological, or physical, the possibilities of arrival are suspended by invisible borders. Live happens in a state of non-arriving. This non-arrival is the singular event of the landscapes of migration which both Stanišić and Varatharajah explore in their novels.
"Marc-Uwe Kling’s QualityLand: ‘Funny dystopia’ as Pressing Social and Political Commentary." In: Cornils, Ingo, Lars Schmeink [eds.]. New Perspectives on Contemporary German Science Fiction. Palgrave Macmillan, 2021. (In press)
My chapter analyzes the critical function of Marc-Uwe Kling's "funny dystopia" QualityLand (2017). I argue that Kling's proposed notion of the "funny dystopia" can be located in the conflict of utopia and dystopia - especially in what Tom Moylan in Scraps of the Untainted Sky (2000) describes as “critical dystopia.” By exploring the idea of the critical dystopia, Kling makes use of both satire and anxiety which allows his novel to forcefully critique the status quo, by obscuring the diegetic world’s relation to our lived reality, only to then more fully reveal its strong proximity. This analysis, then, highlights the novel as both a timely and effective commentary on our modern capitalist consumer-driven society, showing potential trajectories of technology and the ongoing exploitation of the public that it is used for.
“Michael Endes “Momo” (1973): Zeitkonzept als pädagogisches Potential im DaF-Unterricht." In: Bernhardt, Sebastian, Johanna Tönsing [eds.]. Zeitnutzung in der aktuellen Kinder- und Jugendliteratur. Literaturwissenschaftliche und literaturdidaktische Perspektiven. Frank & Timme, 2021, pp. 203-225. (with Lisa Höller)
This chapter analyzes the potential of the German children's book Momo (1973) by Michael Ende in the DaF-classroom (Deutsch als Fremdsprache; German as Foreign Language), particularly with focus on the questions of time and usage of time. The chapter highlights this potential in the context of German language-teaching at a university in the US capitalist context where questions of time usage are especially prevalent. Therefore, this chapter not only reflects on the authors' usage of the novel in the DaF-classroom and gives further suggestion on the use of the novel. But it also highlights the twofold potential of this use. On the one hand, Momo is an adequate and enjoyable book for German language learners of approximately B1-level, providing a literary approach to learning vocabulary, grammar, reading, and communication. On the other hand, it encourages the students to reflect on their own use of time, thus creating a direct and meaningful applicability and connection to their own lives.
"Zwischen Natur, Mensch und Empfinden: Das anthropozäne Individuum in den Gedichten Yevgeniy Breygers und Verena Stauffers." In: Hayer, Björn [ed.]. Gegenwartslyrik. Entwürfe - Strömungen - Kontexte. Büchner Verlag, 2021, pp. 105-130.
How to understand yourself in a world in which culture, technology, and nature are almost inseparably linked, a hybrid merging - a world in which species extinction is a painfully commonplace? How can poetry depict and, more importantly, make perceptible this understanding? This chapter sets out to answer these questions by analyzing the poetry of Yevgeniy Breyger (flüchtige monde , Gestohlene Luft ) and Verena Stauffer (Ousia, 2020) with focus on the engagement with the individual in the era of the anthropocene. More specifically, this chapter pays specific attention to the hybrid, ambivalent, and turbulent relation between human and nature, language, non-understanding, and sensation. The chapter's thesis is that both Breyger and Stauffer create poetry that intends to be not only objects of indulgence, but - going off the perception of the anthropocene as an essential fact of our lives - fundamentally postulates reflection. The telos of this reflection is not merely understanding, but a rousing from a lethargic habit, a scrutinizing consciousness, and thus a potential reorientation of the reader in the context of the anthropocene.
“Book Review: Manlio Graziano – What is a Border?” Konturen, 2020. [Access here]
“’Three poems from 'fugitive moons'”. Translation of poems by Yevgeniy Breyger. No Man's Land, 2021. [Access here]
“‘We Can Do It’ [Wir schaffen das] – Creative Impulses Through Migration (a Report from September 2017, with an Afterword on the Situation Today)”. Translation of a lecture given by Sabine Scholl. Konturen, 2020. [Access here]
“Der Tod als konstitutiver Topos in Saša Stanišićs Romanen.” Workshop, Universität Mannheim, 11/26-11/27/2021.
"Orientation and Disorientation in New Media: Senthuran Varatharajah’s Vor der Zunahme der Zeichen." Seminar, GSA, Virtual, 10/01-10/03/2021.
“The Power of Naming. A Decolonial Approach to German Studies.” NeMLA Conference, Virtual, 03/13/2021.
The Power of Documentation in German Literature of Migration.” Virtual Conference, Association of Borderland Studies. 06/05/2020.
“Intersections of Literature of Migration and Heimatliteratur in Saša Stanišić’s works.” Seminar, NeMLA, Boston, Massachusetts. 03/05-03/08/2020.
“'Heimat', Borders, and Cobelonging in Stanišic's Herkunft (2019) and Varatharajah's Vor der Zunahme der Zeichen (2016).” PAMLA, San Diego, California. 11/14-11/17/2019.
Vogel, M., Klueppel, J., Vigeant, C. “Being human: Examinations of the human condition at the example of Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s Der Besuch der alten Dame.” RMMLA, El Paso, Texas. 10/10-10/12/2019.
“The power of impressionism: Gender roles in Herman Bang’s Ved Vejen.” Poster Presentation at the Graduate Forum, University of Oregon. 05/17/2019.
“Beyond copyright: The Literary Concept of Authorship on YouTube.” Graduate Data/Media/Digital Symposium, University of Oregon. 04/05/2019.
“What does it mean to translate context?” Panelist at Translation Studies Symposium, Oregon Center for Translation Studies, University of Oregon. 02/22/2019.
“Emine Sevgi Özdamar: identity, trauma, and the mediation of German.” Andersrum: Welcome to the Otherhood 2.0, University of Wisconsin-Madison. 11/09-11/10/2018.
Organization, Chairing & Research Assistant
Graduate Conference Committee Chair, “Ideologies of Convenience: Cynicism and Irony”; responsible for:
Call for Papers
Housing the participants
recording of all Conference panels and Keynote speech available here
Panel Chair: “Decolonizing German Studies: Literature of Migration as Catalyst?” NeMLA, Virtual, 03/13/2021.
Panel Chair: “Dystopia and Utopia in Contemporary German Literature and Film.” PAMLA, Virtual, 11/11-11/14/2021.
Panel Chair: “Cynicism and Irony in Literature”, Interdisciplinary Graduate Conference, University of Oregon, 02/13-02/14/2020.
Graduate Representative, Department of German and Scandinavian, University of Oregon (since September 2017):
Spearheaded the initiative to create the opportunity for graduate students to teach a content class in the summer; successfully adopted by the department in Summer 2021
Organizing Graduate Writing Retreats
Organizing Graduate Writing Group
Attending faculty meetings to communicate Graduate Student concerns and suggestions
Research Assistant to Professor Gantt Gurley, University of Oregon, 08/2019
Researching the topos of the Eternal Jew with specific focus on Goethe's fragment "Der Ewige Jude"