Migration and Heimat (Seminar)


German

Thomas Herold (Montclair State University)

Gabriele Eichmanns Maier (Carnegie Mellon University)

There are two major trends in contemporary German literature when we think of the notion of Heimat: On the one hand we find a ubiquitous migrant literature, the crossing of boundaries, the internationality and intersectionality of characters who are at home in a global village – or what Ursula März calls a representation of “biographic and cultural nomadism.” This “Literatur der Eingewanderten” (März) by authors such as Sasha Marianna Salzmann, Hatice Akyün, Lena Gorelik, Irena Brezna, or Olga Grasnowaja, among many others, accompanies an era of migration and an era in which notions such as national and cultural identity must be renegotiated. On the other hand, the dominance of migrant literature seems to stand in stark contrast to an emphasis on spatial limitations and rural settings rather than border crossings and globalization: an abundance of Heimat literature.

Arguably as a reaction to an era of migration, Heimat has gained new prominence in the German political landscape around the 2017 federal election campaign, even leading to the new addition to the Ministry of the Interior, the Heimat Department. This prominence runs parallel to a renaissance of Heimat literature, as texts in rural settings that harken back to the “Dorfroman” of the late 19th century populate the bestseller lists. Authors such as Mariana Lekys, Alina Helbing, Andreas Moster, Katrin Seddig, Norbert Scheuer, Katharina Hacker, Josef Bierbichler, and Dörte Hansen have provided a body of texts whose extensiveness alone makes it questionable to push the notion of Heimat aside as a misguided principle of the reactionary right.

„Das Dorf boomt – die Dörfer sterben“, so write Werner Nell and Marc Weiland in the introduction to the essay collection Imaginäre Dörfer (2014). While the emphasis on the rural contrasts ongoing urbanization, the loss of Heimat and search for new identities in migrant literature recalls the Germany of the 1950s and the popularity of the Heimatfilm, a genre that examined the implications of these same questions. On closer inspection, then, the two larger trends may be complementary rather than contradictory.

This seminar is interested in evaluating these two trends with regard to their intersections. Contributions that explicitly combine Heimat- and migrant literature are especially welcome. Examinations on identity, spatiality, urbanization, and “Landflucht,” for example, that refer to either genre (Heimat and migrant literature) will also be considered.

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There are two major trends in contemporary German literature: we find a ubiquitous migrant literature that seems to stand in stark contrast to an emphasis on spatial limitations and rural settings rather than border crossings and globalization, and an abundance of Heimat literature. This seminar is interested in evaluating these two trends with regard to their intersections.