10/1030: memories and monuments or Transnationalism and Literature 

When I started, this post was fueled by three cups of coffeee; albeit, that last one was decaf. Now, it’s a day and a half later and fueled by my personal drive to write something every day.

I worked really hard in high school… like, 1230 bed 0430 wake up hard, doing loads of homework and spending my days in school trying to make sure I got done from class to class what needed to be done. That’s IB and AP for you. Now, the question comes: was it really worth it? Yeah. Actually it was, because I trained my body and mind for a lifetime of hard work in academia, where there is no such thing as a break or vacation, and the only time I don’t feel guilty about not working is when I’m working. To some, that may sound terrible, but they probably don’t know the immense joy of being rewarded with an answer after working at a problem for so long. They probably also don’t know that those moments of revelation never stop happening.

So, enough of my ode to hard work in high school, let me lay out the plan for the next few days, maybe weeks. I have a lot of notes left over from my last semester of studies that are waiting to be reviewed and filed. Since I’m interested in researching for my PhD, I am going to glean magic moments from my notes that help me think about my thesis and share these with you. That way, I can finally put those notes away and I have some annotations for use in my dissertation.

Today, I’m going to start with my Transnationalism and Literature final.

One of the first uses of the term transnationalism was in 1916 in an essay of the same name by Randolph Bourne. In his essay, Bourne describes the USA as a model of how a country can be influenced by multiple cultures. He also commends the ability of immigrants to preserve ties to their homelands and continue to build constructive lives in the US. In this way, discussions of transnationalism tie in closely with discussion around diaspora, because one of the distinctions between diaspora and other types of migration is the ability of these migrants to collect in the destination country, keep ties as a group to the home country, and preserve values and traditions while integrating into the new country. For this reason, members of Jewish Diaspora are often thought of as the first transnational citizens. It is no coincidence that Olga Grjasnova’s character, Mascha, has Jewish heritage. She is a model transnational (though she rejects that term, too).

In his essay, Bourne also uses an expression “mother land is no one nation” to help emphasize that one country can be home to people with multiple cultures and heritages. Citizenship and socio-cultural belongingness are also not necessarily the same thing. All of contemporary literature seems to explore this, especially post-colonial texts. Brick Lane and White Teeth provide obvious examples, but the German novels I look at challenge national belonging of people, literature, and language. Identity, after all, is only a construct and the traditions of people, while powerful influences, are only practices that have decided to be “okay.”

What is a nation, anyway? Benedict Anderson famously says it’s an “imagined community” where belonging is determined by sharing an idea of culture, language, and physical boundaries. The spread of the nation-state was encouraged by economic and medial developments. The development of communication and transportation helped ideas of unity spread faster. Now, we seem to see the opposite- there are a lot more challenges to belongingness these days. Perhaps globalism, or transnationalism, are now also the result of medial relations? An idea worth exploring.

To some extent, nation can be seen as a positive thing. It can give people a sense of something larger than themselves and make them feel like they are contributing to something great. There were, after all, enough reasons for the German principalities to fight for unity in the 18th century. However, Foucault would seem to warn that determining what is shared, and who is excluded from a nation, can lead to a negative homogenizing that allows a population to be more easily controlled. Protecting this imagine community of sameness from difference often led/leads to violence. Some writers fought against this. For example,  Heinrich Heine wrote stories emphasizing the cultural diversity, translation, and mixing of the German people to show the tremulous roots of nation.

This idea of nation, however, extends beyond the imaginary one controlled by ideas of culture. Foucault seems to be concerned with the physical presentation of nation, which of course involves race and is a huge topic in new English lit in particular. However, beyond race, nation is a concept to which anyone with the cultural connections can claim belonging. We saw this during the Holocaust, before and after this as well, in the writings of people persecuted and exiled. Through exile, these people are made to cross the borders and leave the places of their memories. The physical places are left behind, but the spaces can always be returned to.

If I am looking for transnationalism in literature, multiple languages are a give-away. After all, our literatures are still largely grouped by language, and these languages always linked to a country. Therefore, language changing, code-switching will shake up this clear connection.But that’s too obvious. Hybrid characters, claiming no one identity, will also be transnational. I think it is useful to have a good idea of what transnationalism means when going through my PhD research, because I constantly have to remind myself that I am looking at “German” and “English” literature, and I need to remember what I mean by that. Am I referring specifically to the language in which the literature is written? And does literature ever belong to a nation? I ask that last question especially as someone who is decidely US American, but not looking at US lit. at all.

Disclaimer: this series is a collection of brainstorms and free-writes that are a part of my planning for actual text in my dissertation. Therefore, I am giving myself the liberty to make mistakes, make assumptions (call me out on offensive ones, though!), not tie up loose ends, and generally not make any sense. 

Copyright 2016 Dorothea Trotter: because these writings are planning for actual text in my dissertation, some of this will appear in my dissertation. I hold the right to the words in this post and require that interested parties ask for permission before copying the words or ideas too closely. Obviously, the date of posting is the date of copyright and I reserve the right to challenge suspected plagiarism in my future dissertation submission using these blogs as proof of originality. 




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