Writing Outside the Nation
Some of the most innovative writers of contemporary literature are writing in diaspora in their second or third language. Here Azade Seyhan describes the domain of transnational poetics they inhabit. She begins by examining the works of selected bilingual and bicultural writers of the United States (including Oscar Hijuelos, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Eva Hoffman) and Germany (Libuse Moníková, Rafik Schami, and E. S. Özdamar, among others), developing a new framework for understanding the relationship between displacement, memory, and language. Considering themes of loss, witness, translation, identity, and exclusion, Seyhan interprets diasporic literatures as condensed archives of cultural and linguistic memory that give integrity and coherence to pasts ruptured by migration.
The book next compares works by contemporary Chicana and Turkish-German women writers as innovative and sovereign literary voices within the larger national cultures of the United States and Germany. Seyhan identifies in American multiculturalism critical clues for analyzing new cultural formations in Europe and maintains that Germany's cultural transformation suggests new ways of reading the American literary mosaic. Her approach, however, extends well beyond these two literatures. She creates a critical map of a "third geography," where a transnational, multilingual literary movement is gathering momentum.
Writing Outside the Nation both contributes to and departs from postcolonial studies in that it focuses specifically on transnational writers working outside of their "mother tongue" and compares American and German diasporic literatures within a sophisticated conceptual framework. It illustrates how literature's symbolic economy can reclaim lost personal and national histories, as well as connect disparate and distant cultural traditions.
Azade Seyhan is the Fairbank Professor in the Humanities and Professor of German and Comparative Literature at Bryn Mawr College. She is author of Representation and Its Discontents: The Critical Legacy of German Romanticism.