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Housebound: Selfhood and Domestic Space in Contemporary German Fiction

Monika Shafi
Volume: 121
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    In life and in fiction, houses are compelling objects that shape an impressive range of personal and public affairs. A house embodies experiences often intensely emotional, and it also represents both a major financial investment and a material reality embedded in architectural, aesthetic, and social traditions. The house, the place where we try to be at home, can be regarded - as theorists from Gaston Bachelard to Edward S. Casey have argued - as the key space for our constructions of selfhood and belonging. A host of contemporary German narratives featuring houses highlight this relationship between selfhood and domestic space. Beginning with a historical and theoretical overview of the house in German literature, 'Housebound' analyzes the shelters - often highly ambivalent spaces - that writers such as Katharina Hacker, Arno Geiger, Walter Kappacher, Monika Maron, Jenny Erpenbeck, Judith Hermann, Barbara Honigmann, and Emine Sevgi Özdamar build in their texts and what these reveal about contemporary selfhood in Germany and its relationship to the social world. The concluding comparative analysis of Katharina Hacker's 'Die Habenichtse' and the English novelist Ian McEwan's 'Saturday' reveals these developments in another national literature and makes a case for the global appeal of the domestic as a major site of identity politics. Monika Shafi is the Elias Ahuja Professor of German and Chair of the Department of Women and Gender Studies at the University of Delaware.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-832-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-25)

    This study offers interpretations of works by contemporary German and Austrian authors that focus on the topic of the house. Houses are powerful objects and can provoke great passion. Like love or travel, with which they share the key element of desire, houses belong to the basic inventory of literary traditions, and the interaction between dwelling and traveling, stasis and movement — or between being housebound and travel-bound — has yielded ample fictional material. Providing for our most basic needs, offering both shelter and identity, and representing specific historical formations, houses touch upon virtually all aspects of individual needs and...

  6. 1: Bodies, Biographies, and Buildings: Jenny Erpenbeck’s Heimsuchung and Katharina Hacker’s Der Bademeister
    (pp. 26-52)

    Jenny Erpenbeck, born in 1967 in East Berlin, and granddaughter of East German writers Hedda Zimmer and Fritz Erpenbeck, began her writing career in the 1990s after studying theater and directing. Author of prose, plays, essays, and radio plays, Erpenbeck won immediate critical acclaim with her first publication, Geschichte vom alten Kind (1999, translated as The Old Child and Other Stories, 2006).¹ Born the same year in Frankfurt am Main, Hacker, who studied philosophy, history, and Jewish Studies, also began her freelance career in the late 1990s, and she has published both prose and poems. Her work, beginning with her...

  7. 2: House Inheritance: Arno Geiger’s Es geht uns gut and Katharina Hagena’s Der Geschmack von Apfelkernen
    (pp. 53-80)

    Moving often involves a head-on confrontation with all the possessions one has acquired over the years, and choosing what to keep and what to cast off can be a difficult and laborious undertaking. Decisions are influenced by items’ economic or sentimental value — the latter indicating their mnemonic worth and meaning. In these choices, far more is at stake than the fate of objects, since sorting through things in preparation for moving also entails, according to Jean-Sébastien Marcoux, “the sorting out of relations and memories. . . . As such, sorting mediates the relationship between people and things, and in...

  8. 3: Escaping to the Countryside: Walter Kappacher’s Selina oder Das andere Leben and Monika Maron’s Endmoränen
    (pp. 81-109)

    The two novels discussed in this chapter — Walter Kappacher’s Selina oder Das andere Leben (2005, Selina or The other life) and Monika Maron’s Endmoränen (2002, End moraines) — trace movements opposite to Geiger’s and Hagena’s texts. In the latter narratives, the protagonists entered the houses in question by chance and with reluctance; they suddenly needed to come to terms with a family history that was for the most part burdensome and painful. In Selina and Endmoränen, on the other hand, the main characters are drawn to houses that quickly turn into objects of single-minded desire. Half-ruined, these houses need...

  9. 4: Uncanny Houses: Selected Narratives by Judith Hermann, and Susanne Fischer’s Die Platzanweiserin
    (pp. 110-139)

    The literary real estate market offers many different types of houses, and for the two authors featured in this chapter, Judith Hermann and Susanne Fischer, the most intriguing are the odd homes that defy standards of beauty and comfort. These are the ugly or decrepit places: the run-down house in the countryside, the bleak apartments or the shabby postwar row house evoking the uncanny, and the haunted house of the Gothic. Their strangeness reflects both contemporary conditions of globalization and Romantic and fin-de-siècle literary traditions.¹ These buildings blur the lines between familiarity and strangeness, home and non-home, public and private,...

  10. 5: Open Houses: Emine Sevgi Özdamar’s “Der Hof im Spiegel” and Seltsame Sterne starren zur Erde: Wedding-Pankow 1976–77
    (pp. 140-168)

    In her text “Die neuen Friedhöfe in Deutschland” (1999, The new cemeteries in Germany), a short piece addressing the German national debate about dual citizenship, Emine Evgi Özdamar, one of the foremost contemporary Turkish-German authors, takes issue with the concept of fixed national identities as symbolized in passports.¹ Her witticisms, such as the idea of nineteen passports for everyone, illustrate that allegiances are always multiple, shifting, and historically dependent. She concedes, however, that nineteen passports may be a bit too complicated. After all, wouldn’t they require in-depth expertise in current affairs and world history? For without such knowledge, how is...

  11. 6: (Un)safe Houses: Katharina Hacker’s Die Habenichtse and Ian McEwan’s Saturday
    (pp. 169-194)

    In Bertolt Brecht’s Die Dreigroschenoper (1928), Jonathan Jeremiah Peachum, owner of the firm “Beggar’s Friend,” tells the beggars who have to work for him that he has figured out how to profit from their poverty. Contrasting their meekness and suffering to his entrepreneurial skills, he boasts:

    Aber ich habe herausgebracht, daß die Besitzenden der Erde das Elend zwar anstiften können, aber sehen können sie das Elend nicht. Denn es sind Schwächlinge und Dummköpfe, genau wie ihr. Wenn sie gleich zu fressen haben bis zum Ende ihrer Tage und ihren Fuß-boden mit Butter einschmieren können, daß auch die Brosamen, die von...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 195-200)

    “So, which one did you like best?” the real estate agent asks the prospective home buyer at the end of a house tour. In answering this question, the client might address price, location, and design, or perhaps discuss needs and wants that could also include those of family members. At heart, these considerations all point to the hope for the good life. “Houses are fictions of how life ought to be,” Philippa Tristam has stated (265), and the plots that unfold in houses are, as I hope I have shown in the preceding interpretations, built on influential but conflicted bourgeois...

  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 201-216)
  14. Index
    (pp. 217-224)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 225-225)