Wednesday, January 13, 2010


Nejat’s conversation with the owner of the German bookstore in Istanbul is one of many exchanges that occurs within the paradigm of Turkish-German entanglement in Fatih Akin’s The Edge of Heaven (Auf der anderen Seite). The conversation sticks out in my mind as a moment in which Akin speaks. Commenting that it would truly be remarkable for a German man in a bookstore in Istanbul to meet a Turkish man who is a professor of German, the bookstore owner expresses a naïve wonder at the serendipity or irony of such a form of cultural exchange. Nejat’s response, a slight nod and glance aside, assures the viewer that the stakes of the exchange do not reside in the apparent referentiality of this here and there. In other words, Akin redirects our attention from the apparently ambiguous and unstable relationship of here and there—in short, the problem of the hypen in “Turkish-German”—towards something else. Relocating the problem of here/there, self/other, homeland/diaspora, Akin’s films nonetheless remain composed of these dyads of cultural and national belonging, the problem of identity and activity. I should like to think about what Akin looks aside to, about how his construction of global Germany suggests some alternative conceptualizations of contemporary film that attempts to navigate globality. This thinking is situated somewhere between Leslie Adelson’s desire to get out the “inbetween” of two worlds. I understand the problems of this model, and would like to take up Adelson’s initiative to find other ways of thinking about this space. However, I cannot help but feel that much contemporary writing which seeks to describe film as something mobile, transient, transitional, interrelated, entangled, etc,… somehow serves to flatten out the radical nature of global rotundity. It seems tantamount to discovering, all over again, that the earth is round—a second, or third, Copernican Revolution.

In her book, The Turkish Turn in contemporary German Literature: toward a new critical grammar of migration, Leslie Adelson develops a model of Turkish-German literature that stands as an alternative to what she calls the “two worlds” approach. She criticizes, in this way, the standard interpretation of hyphenated identity as being “in between” two rigid and fixed cultural identities. Indeed, in part, it seems like what she is arguing for is a dialectical understanding of ethnic and national belonging. She calls the model that she develops and discusses “touching tales,” to emphasize the entanglement of cultural identity that she finds at play in the literary works she reads. Adelson’s notion of “touching tales” involves an understanding of “referentiality,” which she defines as “the conjoined effect of literary figuration and narrative development” (17). Such tales allow for an added dimension of the imagined relationship between textual and lived worlds (Adelson here refers to David Hermann’s Story Logic: Problems and Possibilities of Narrative). Adelson directly refers to (and disputes) Katrin Sieg’s discussion of her notion of referentiality, because she disagrees with Sieg’s reading of the relationship between the literary referent and social reference. Adelson writes, “I apparently did not make it clear enough that the combined effect of figuration and narrative in the novel precludes social reference indexing political claims tied to ethnic identities or anti-racist coalitions” (19). As she moves into a discussion of Claudia Brodsky’s writing on referentiality, it occurs to me that these discussions of the cosmopolitical claims of a “transnational aesthetic” (see Cosmopolitan Screen Schindler and Koepnick) are in this way a matter of the problem of the referent, or of referentiality, more generally. The problem of the referent takes place, as Claudia Brodsky describes, in the form of “demarcation” rather than “signification.” As I hope to develop, this problem involves, at its heart, the contradictory relationship and confusion between reason and cause (see the discussions of Wittgenstein and Freud—Richard Allen, “Psychoanalysis after Wittgenstein”). Adelson’s critique of Sieg seems to emerge out of her perception that Sieg does not make a similar distinction between representation and demarcation. For Sieg, the importance of referentiality is that it is able to exceed, but nonetheless fix, “the representation of clearly recognizable social and ethnic milieux” (see B. Venkat Mani’s discussion of Sieg and Adelson in Cosmopolitical Claims). This is the construction of the “here and now.”

In the context of questions of the cosmopolitical (that is, the negotiation between universal and particular identity and difference), this question of referentiality also takes on the question of the extent to which self-referentiality constitutes a model of referentiality at large (re: analogies between individual and cultural models of psychoanalysis). In East, West, and Others: The Third World in Postwar German Literature, Arlene Teraoka asks, “If discourse about others is self-referential, how do the specific Third World constructions of these authors reflect reciprocal, imaginative constructions of German or Europe?” (1). Teraoka’s question, and her project, reflect the inescapable grounds of Goethian Weltliteratur: the imposition of humbling self-reflection that arises from a concern that one’s own environment would become too narrow. For Goethe, this cures the writer of his feeling that he himself is great (i.e. his realization that he is one among many). Indeed the problem of self and other referentiality introduces to the discussion of general referentiality a tension, which, it seems to me, makes inadequate the argument that pits the undialectic “two worlds” approach against the entangled dialectic of touching tales. For the problem of self-referentiality helps us to think about the way that such a notion of entanglement becomes ascribed as an essential, rather than referential, reality of something called a transnational aesthetic, or, as B. Venkat Mani writes, the “accelerated human mobility” that becomes characteristic of the relationship between nation and diaspora. As a way of working through the tension that arises from self-referentiality, I should like to turn to Kant’s essay on cosmopolitanism, “On Perpetual Peace,” in which he describes global living as a result of geographical space: “Since the earth is a globe, they cannot disperse over an infinite area but must necessarily tolerate one another’s company” (106). He continues to describe the repercussions of global living in his definition of cosmopolitan right, of a universal community “where a violation of rights in one part of the world is felt everywhere.”

In Auf der Anderen Seite, globality is figured not just by or through or as transit, but as the missed meetings, passing non-recognitions, as when Yeter is pictured passing by Ayten, her daughter, on a train, or when the coffins of Yeter and Lotte pass by one another as they are unloaded from the airplane, or when Ayten is sleeping in the corner of a room where Nejat is giving a lecture. This globality, a specific version of "modernist travel," one could argue, could be considered in its rotundity, something that might give form to the impossibility of entanglement.

picture: the MIssisssippi River, from the air.


RT said...

Are the collected passings, which can be conscious or unconscious, like Kant's unwilled connections that happen (and return even when pushed away) because the earth is finite, and are those in turn like Brodsky's building--not semiotic, not necessarily intentional, but historical? (Not a rhetorical question ;) )

In a paper I saw her give on Heidegger, she also pointed to Heidegger's figure of the shoes that get worn away on the inside (unintentionally) as you walk around on the outsides (intentionally). For her, you're always going to have to point to these structures to think about them, even as they anchor and lend power to the language that references them.

etc said...

from Brigid Doherty, "On Iceberg and Water. Or, Painting and the ‘Mark of Genre’ in Rosemarie Trockel’s Wool-Pictures": "Our mobile presence in the space in which the work of art is displayed changes the appearance of the work's frontal surface, while the back of the work confronts us with images in relation to which we find ourselves transformed" (739). Doherty is talking about Bianca Theisen's notion of the "allomatic," which Theisen discusses in relation to Hugo von Hofmannsthal. See Theisen's "Spacing the Feminine," in which she writes that the allomatic is that which "transforms the position of the self into a geometrical place where external influences intersect."