227/1030: The productivity of reorganization 

While at the “office” today (if you missed my last post, I am renting a desk for the summer), I spent about two hours just catching up on email and contacting people I’ve been meaning to contact. I also wrote up a report for my local German-American club and took care of business like that. In hindsight, I do ask myself: may I have, perhaps, used my time better? But those stuff were all in my agenda for days now and I figured if not now, when? I wonder how much I could get done if I had that same attitude towards dissertation work. I think I’m slowly getting there, though!

With about two hours left before I’d have to go to my “real life” job, I realized well, shucks. But I think I did get enough work done to be in a better spot tomorrow to actually get some writing done.

The main objective for today was to get a little more of a sense of what material I’ve collected over the year and organize them into lists that I conceivably could then tackle more successfully. I now have five (or is it six?) working bibliographies of articles/ chapters I’ve collected that can be grouped into: subject and discourse, postcolonial literature broadly speaking, intermediality/intertextuality/mediality, voice/language as a medium, and primary sources (okay, so only five).

I also have new dividers in my binder for all my primary authors (ignore the fact that only Monica Ali and Olga Grjasnova have their own divisions, the other eight or so authors are currently unceremoniously plopped together), transnationalism and identity, media reception and use by migrants, and the subject/identity role in discourse.

Finally, I started a list of sources I still have to read and those I’ve read, but still need to annotate digitally (so that I have material I can actually write from). The list is missing A LOT of sources that I’ve sporadically cited in various different working bibliographies, so not only do I still have some organizing to do, I still have a lot to read and annotate. And I’m still working through the pile of messy notes on my desk to figure out where those belong as well. That’s what’s on deck for tomorrow.

This may sound overwhelming, and it is. However, whenever I start to panic, I remember Douglas Adams and press the giant red button. Then I tell myself what I hope to gain from this and where I’ll go from here: once I have my sources organized into categories of relevance, I don’t actually have to read them all before I start writing. I’m actually going to start writing and then draw upon the sources when they become relevant reading/rereading as necessary. I imagine that’s how scholars work anyway, and it should work.

In the meantime, my homework for tonight is taking the small pile of assorted scraps I’ve collected and typing the relevant notes up to be sorted with everything else in the morning.

Sounds good, right? Now I just have to make sure I make it to the desk by 8 AM.

May the force be with you and me.

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226/1030: Update in work and life 

I’ve been following a blogger (maybe I’ll remember to link him here at a later date) who recently has been posting daily updates of what he accomplished with his dissertation each day. It really is a log of his work in a way that seems more productive than trying to produced polished (barely, if at all) posts each time. I’m probably going to do a mix of what I’ve been doing and what he does.

This new style of logging may become especially productive given the fact that I’ve recently been forced to rent a desk due to a shifting home situation and actually have to commute to work on my dissertation now, which somehow motivates me to get stuff done again. I’ve relocated the stack of articles and notes that have been gathering dust on my desk in the apartment to my new desk. Along with a binder where I’ve already started sorting, a new binder, a hole-puncher (two-hole, as the Germans do), a remote keyboard and my motivation, coffee, tea, and milk, the items I’ve brought have yielded a few hours of work and some organization of old material.

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While I have a serious problem to tackle with the large amount of stuff I’ve read and haven’t annotated or organized properly (and the task seems very daunting), I somehow manage to just keep adding new material. But I think if I can have the discipline to start annotating and organizing those right away, I may slowly see a way through the morass.

Most recently, I attended a conference about discourse in public places and the search for resonance, and I selectively attended the one presentation where Bakhtin, my favorite Russian theorist, was the focal point along with Yoko Tawada, Habermas, and a few others. The main takeaway from that session was that a) Tawada would be a productive author to look at for “voice,” b) the difference between voice and Bakhtin’s “utterance” may be found in the body/language discussion, and I’m a Bakhtin pro, or at least more than the academic laymen (this is not to be confused with actually being an expert- I just know more than the basic understanding of his theories, if there even is such a thing). This realization of my position in the academic world is further validated by acceptance into a prestigious research school and the award of a scholarship.

That’s right, the biggest news for my dissertation work is that I’m soon going to be paid more for working on my dissertation than I got paid working a part-time “real” job. Not only do I have 20 hours more a week to work on my diss, but I have more resources with which to do the work (and party afterwards). Work hard, play hard. Life is pretty sweet.

While I am writing this on day 227, I plan to post somehting else today as well, so it’s filling in for the 226th day that I missed .

73/1030: “All Immigrants are Artists”

To start off on a good note, Saša Stanišić’s first novel is not only perfect (it feels like) for looking at the relationship between migration and media, but also just a really good book. Like, if people ask my what my favorite book is, I can now confidently say Wie der Soldat das Grammafon repariert. 

But this post won’t be about that. Rather, it (after thinking I was finding only references to it and not the actual original statement- and then realizing it appeared in 2013 in The Atlantic as a part of a series “By Heart” in which authors share their favorite passages with readers) will be a response to Edwidge Danticat’s claim that “all immigrants are artists.” This claim actually originally comes from Patricia Engel’s It’s Not Love, It’s Just Paris and isn’t really so much a claim as an argument that Danticat finds convincing. While I intend to address this claim, I want readers to keep in mind that there is a push-back against calling literature “immigrant literature,” especially in Germany. One can call literature intercultural, but to declare a certain foreigness in writing written by people whose first language was maybe not German is “passé.” I’ll admit that this is a bit confusing to me, since it suggests that literature continues to remain national even with international contributors, but since people like classifying literature by nation and language, we’ll continue to do so even if new labels may be called for.

Recently, in an article about Yoko Tawada, a Japanese-German writer who recently won the Heirich Kleist prize, the author refers to Danicat in relationship to Tawada, as Tawada being “one of these” artists.

“All immigrants are artists,” Edwidge Danticat has said. Under pressure to make themselves legible, immigrants have no choice but to invent new ways of speaking. And in their reading of the world around them, immigrants uncover the alien that always abides in what seems, for the natives, most familiar. But some people are foreign regardless of geography; they are naturally nonnative, immigrant or not. (Galchen 2016)

People ascribe to the creativity of immigrants theory and don’t find it difficult to associate difficulty with language and expression with new creations. The interesting note about Galchen’s comment is that the opposite is also true. Artists are immigrants, nonnative, or foreign by virtue of their work. This theory I can ascribe to, if only because I identify the ability of some people to stand out from the rest, be picked from the group for characteristics that are different than the “norm.” Fasseler in the original source describes Danticat’s perspective:

trying to start a life in a strange land is an artistic feat of the highest order, one that ranks with (or perhaps above) our greatest cultural achievements.

We can see artistic integration as a cultural achievement, but are these achievements greater than all other artistic creations? One cannot forget that these people are nothing without the others, all with their uniqueness as well. I guess what I’m trying to say is that there does seem to be a certain elitist note in these kinds of comments, and I want readers to be careful about not getting too caught up in the “specialness” because it often gets conflated with “betterness.”

On the other hand, when one considers the original handling of the expression, being an artist by life could be used to dissuade them from actively pursuing it in work, as the father character in Patricia Engel’s It’s Not Love, It’s Just Paris tries to dissuade his daughter:

“Pero of course it is, mijita. All your life is a work of art. A painting is not a painting but the way you live each day. A song is not a song but the words you share with the people you love. A book is not a book but the choices you make every day trying to be a decent person.” (qt. in Fasseler)

This moment resonates with Danticat, who describes her own experiences of being the child of migrants and a migrant herself, and the challenges she faced pursuing the profession of artist. This moment also resonates with her, because she sees the positive aspects of this kind of thinking:

 re-creating yourself this way, re-creating your entire life is a form of reinvention on par with the greatest works of literature. This brings art into the realm of what ordinary people do to in order to survive. It takes away the notion that art is too lofty for the masses, and puts it in the day-to-day.

There is something redeeming in the realization that art is also not just about the products produced, but the ways in which we interact and the beautiful moments that can come from these interactions. I’m reminded for a moment of “the medium is the message” and theories of intermediality and that everything we do is an expression- so I guess this claim connects to my PhD project in multiple ways. Probably a good thing and this means it’s worth exploring more closely. But this was a start.

Works Cited

Danticat, Edwidge, and Joe Fassler. “‘All Immigrants Are Artists'” The Atlantic. 27 Aug. 2013. Web. 20 Nov. 2016.

Galchen, Rivka. “The Profound Empathy of Yoko Tawada.” The New York TImes. 27 Oct. 2016, Imagine That sec.. Web. 27 Nov. 2016.

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.

12/1030: Some more Transnationalism

I don’t really feel like doing this today, but I said I would so…

World Literature is a strange concept, and yet we through the term around as if it should be understood what is meant by it. Do we mean literature that should be interesting for the whole world? Literature that belongs to a collection that can represent the whole world? Literature that helped shape the world? Of the list, I think that last item is the most satisfying, but it’s still not that satisfying. The point is, it’s a nebulous concept, but it’s at least better than the concept of “National Literature.”

As I addressed in previous posts, it’s difficult to put geographical boundaries on a piece of text, and even less on an idea.

In my Transnationality and Literature course back then, the professor spent time to explain the difference between fact and fiction.  It’s a god thing she did, since I’d never thought about the distinction before (sarcasm there, obviously), but there is action involved in both. Fact comes from the latin word facere, or “to do.” Fiction comes from fingere, “to form” or “to make.” At the time, I don’t think I appreciate the difference between the two, but I understand now why she needed to point it out in relation to conceptions of national literature. When we think of nation, thanks to Benedict Anderson, we think of something being made. It’s created and in this way directly related to the work of literature. If we consider Auerbach, this means that, while language developments are facere- an identifiable development of happening, literature is the following of how things are made. Auerbach is known for claiming that home could not be found in a nation, rather in the language.

This is why language in the post-WWII World was so controversial. German Jewish people could no longer speak German, and yet their Heimat could only be found there.

Furthermore, one can cite Siegfried Weigel’s … wait, I am just realizing that I need to find out what I read to prepare for the first lecture. There’s a great quote on page 17 that would link awesomely to Papageien: 

“Jedes Konzept von Nationalliteratur entwirft einen je spezifischen Umgang mit dem Chronotopes von Literature und Geschichte” (Weigel 17 in I don’t remember where)

Every concept of national literature is determined by the specific relationships of the chronotopes of literature and history. What are chronotopes? Bakthin would have something to say. Wikipedia also of course has something to say about Bakhtin having something to say:

In literary theory and philosophy of language, the chronotope is how configurations of time and space are represented in language and discourse. The term was taken up by Russian literary scholar M.M. Bakhtin who used it as a central element in his theory of meaning in language and literature.

If that isn’t enough for today and thinking about the relation between lit, nation, and language, think about how a particular piece of literature depicts time and space, and then you’ve got one chronotope, one presentation in language and discourse of how time and space work. Basically, if I’m thinking about the chronotope of Brick Lane, I till think about how her life and her mental and physical space are represented in the language. Of course, the television and intermediality plays a role in this.

To be continued (though for the next few days, by post will come late since I won’t have computer access).

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.

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. 

 

 

9/1030: finding acceptance

I really need to write these posts earlier in the day. For some reason (really good reasons, actually), I push them to the end of the day and write something-anything to get something for the day. Maybe that’s the idea, I mean, maybe I am succeeding somehow by making myself write something-anything, often. That was, after all, the goal.

However, I also want to be producing work that I can refer back to, and on a day like today, that’s not happening. Today, I am going to share some of the challenges of writing a dissertation in Germany. It actually starts before one has to do any writing.

In many place in the world, students get to apply for a PhD program, look good for a year or two, take courses, and then write a proposal that needs to be accepted. To even start a PhD in Germany, one has to start with the proposal- so, I have to take back that the process starts before one starts writing. One has to do a lot of writing, and reading/research, to find a unique research question that proposes a new foray into knowledge. Then one has to explain how one will go about answering the question and predict what kind of impact this research will make on the world. All this before. the. acceptance. If one wants support in Germany, one has to have a clear explanation of what that support will bring.

Now that I think of it, Germans are merely more careful with their resources, because they have less to waste than universities in the US.

I digress.

So, a proposal of the project is important for acceptance as a PhD student at a German university. Then, there’s the support by individual sponsorship, if not going the program route. If you have your project, you try to find an interested professor who will sponsor you and promise the university that you are someone who can and will carry out the project to completion.

After that, the doors are pretty much opened. The sponsor, or Betreuer, as they call them here, are the most important part of the application.

Of course, there are the bureaucratic steps. Before one can enroll at the university, one needs to be accepted into the college on applies for. One has to have one’s education, qualifications, and project examined to see if acceptance can be recommended. Once the Zulassung is granted, the enrollment is just a formality.

In short, there are four primary steps to starting a PhD in Germany under individual sponsorship, and they take a lot longer than the mere bullet point suggests:

  1. Write proposal for project (1-10 months)
  2. Find  sponsor (1-10 months)
  3. Apply for and receive acceptance into college one wants to defend dissertation in- for me, it is Allgemeine und Vergleichende Literaturwissenschaft (two weeks)
  4. Apply for and receive enrollment (1-2 weeks)

Each of those steps involve a lot of small steps, like get sponsor’s signature, get copies of all documents, get translations of documents or certified copies, if necessary. Transfer money, fill out forms, meet with people, ask questions, etc.

If I had to pick the hardest thing I’ve done in my life so far, it was applying for acceptance into a German university to write my PhD. I just submitted the application today and can expect the papers next week. I am celebrating that day- haven’t decided how, yet. I may frame the matriculation paper, though.

If anyone stumbles across this blog looking for help on how to get started here, I would love to help.

 

8/1030: a little about Martynova

It’s getting late, and I have to make sure I do some writing for my PhD today, so I am going to respond to a recent interview with Olga Martynova in the German news source: Die Welt. 

I came across Martynova when I was looking for a book to translate for my BA Thesis. It had to be a book that had not been translated yet and was good literature (that sounds presumptuous, but there was a vague criteria in place to determine this). Mostly, it had to be demanding literature that would be interesting to translate. Martynova had just won the Ingeborg Bachmann Prize at the Festival of German-Language Literature of 2012, so I decided her book Sogar Papageien überleben uns would be the thing to translate. I still haven’t finished that translation (though working on it), but the author took a strong hold in my heart. I thought about her through my MA work, and when the time came to figure out books to explore for my PhD topic, Papageien seemed a likely candidate.

This is what I wrote as an overview for one of the drafts of my expose: Olga Martynova’s Sogar Papageien überleben uns (2010)- A German philologist from Russia falls in love with a German, is on her way through Germany on an academic conference tour, and reflects on Russian and German history, literature, and her life along the way. This novel includes many literary references and a few intermedial references (for example, the 2006 soccer World Cup) and will be used to show the difference in effectiveness of literary versus intermedial reference.

Basically, I wanted to address this book as one in which more intertextuality than intermediality occurs, and use it to show the difference between the two phenomena.

Of course, Martynova has continued writing since Papageien, and I know I need to be up-to-date with all the works of the authors, not just the ones I want to work with. So, this interview about Martynova brings me up to speed on her latest work.

Something all sources about Martynova like to emphasize, is that her poems are written exclusively in Russian, and her novels exclusively in German. It’s as if her creative work is split between the languages. Maybe there’s something to be said with German being her bilingual tongue, the tongue that makes her many-voiced, and therefore evokes a kinship with the many-voiced Bakhtinian novel (Martynova, after all, is the one who introduced me to Bakhtin). There’s even a reference to this by Martynova in her interview.

“In Romanen kann man viele Meinungen beschreiben, Aengste und Hoffnungen. Aber nichts bleibt so, wie es ist.”

“There are many opinion described in a novel, fears and hopes. But nothing stays the same.” I wonder whether Martynova would agree with Olga Gjasnova that things repeat themselves, but she does believe that the world is constantly changing and despite that, we need literature to keep us busy.

Still, her novels are also extremely poetic, and I bet there’s a lot of prose in her poems.

This new novel of Martynova, Der Engelherd, is the continuation of an episode from Moerikes Schluesselbein, another novel she’s written since Papageien. One of the characters from Schluesselbein dies, and another character thinks about this death in Engelherd. In the novel, the angels are ambassadors between the worlds. Of course, this is right in line with translation and interpretation- transnationalism, et al. But what interests me is that Martynova’s angels are based on the angels of Paul Klee… and there is of course some intermedial reference to these works.

The novel itself, though is mostly in deference to the euthenasia the Nazis committed during their reign in the Third Reich. It’s a reminder of parts of German history most German readers feel uncomfortable with and guilty about. The minorities of this novel are not migrants or people of different heritage, but rather those handicapped or people with sickness or defects. During the Third Reich, it was shameful to be sick. I would say there are still certain stigma associated with people not totally healthy. For Martynova, art is meant to break taboos, and perhaps that’s what happens with her novel.

I like her lines about the difference for art between democracies and dictatorships. Martynova says that even if art is censored in a dictatorship, it is still given value and respect, perhaps because of its ability to express ideas that go against this dictatorship. Alternatively, “in der Demokratie entsteht der Eindruck, vom Fussball bis zur Mode waere alles wichtiger als die Kunst.” In a democracy where everything is free, expression is more about what’s entertaining rather than breaking through boundaries.

Martynova is a Russian-German writer. She states that she sees both languages as being her own, and that the difference in her poetry and prose languages has to do with the type of images needed for both, not the language.

I continue to find Martynova fascinating for being able to grasp what is German, and what is Russian, without posing these differences in terms of cliches. I haven’t decided whether I will use her latest book in my PhD, but I will certainly look into it.

Work Cited: Heidemann, Britta. “In Yad Vashem Sagte Sie ‘German.'” Die Welt. Die Welt, 11 Sept. 2016. Web. 11 Sept. 2016.

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.