Friday, October 31, 2008

Literature and Identities

I was just reading an article about contemporary German literature in the French newspaper Le Monde. It basically explains how much richness and diversity immigrants living in Germany and writing in German have brought to contemporary German literature. In addition to talking about immigrants, I would have added that many writers whose parents were immigrants and whose first language might be other than German, have now chosen to write in German. Anyway, I must admit that I am a bit difficult about the use of terminologies like "immigrant" or "mother tongue", so let's say it's fair enough to use it broadly in this case. But what I don't understand is the parenthesis in the following sentence, where the author reports from the Frankfurt international book fair, in which Turkey was the guest country of honor this year:à des écrivains turcs invités, bien d'autres, qui vivent en Allemagne et ont choisi d'écrire en allemand (le pays compte 3,4 millions de musulmans dont une majorité de Turcs), occupent désormais une place de choix dans le paysage littéraire : Feridun Zaimoglu, Emine Sevgi Ozdamar ou Hatice Akyün, notamment, ont enrichi ces dernières années la littérature germanophone de leur imaginaire et de leurs trouvailles stylistiques.

When talking about the Turkish authors living in Germany and who have chosen to write in German, she feels the need to tell us that Germany counts 3.4 million Muslims, from which a majority are Turkish. Can someone explain to me what this information has to do with writing in German or being Turkish? What does it add to our understanding of contemporary writing in Germany? It doesn't even tell us how many people from Turkish origin live in the country, so it doesn't add any relevant information, except that the author is making a serious amalgam here between country of origin and religion! Personally, I don't mind being called "Turkish", because among many others, it's one of the adjectives that indeed adds relevant information to who I am. I would accept "Muslim" to some extend, but even there I might find it odd to chose it as a first way of describing myself. As for "immigrant", it is a word that certainly wouldn't help describing me. It could even be misleading because I haven't really emigrated from anywhere, my parents did. They didn't ask for my opinion when I was in my mother's belly. The only thing that being called an immigrant would do to me is, alienating me from my parents country (because I have supposedly left it) and from the place where I live, and where I am supposed to feel home. How would you like to be called then, will you say? Don't call me one thing, I am from Turkish descent, yes, and I am a Turkish citizen. I am also a Belgian citizen and a resident of the Netherlands. I am speaking five languages, and mastering writing in at least three. So no, if I am going to be published one day, supposedly in French, I would not like to be called an immigrant writer! I had enough of that. Everyday life is narrow enough to put people into boxes, so I do believe we can do better in the literary, and in any artistic and creative domains for that matter. Of course ethnic, religious and cultural frameworks can influence creativity, and it does add a lot to the overall picture, but literature gives so much more space to writers and their readers. It's an immense area where we can move beyond frontiers, go much further than everyday life.

I would like to end with a quote from 2000 Nobel Laureate for Literature Gao Xingjian, from a speech given at the inauguration of the last edition of Kosmopolis, an international Literature festival held from 22 to 26 October in Barcelona:
"When literature becomes a hymn of praise for a country, the flag of a nation, the voice of a political party or mouthpiece of a class or group, it can be used as a powerful and crushing instrument of propaganda, but it loses its intrinsic nature ..."