Cultural Identity in contemporary German-Romanian literature
Holden, Anca-Elena Luca
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In my dissertation, I discuss literary representations of cultural identity formation and dissolution in selected works by contemporary German-Romanian authors Richard Wagner and Herta Müller. Wagner and Müller are ethnic Germans who emerged as prominent authors under Ceauşescu’s dictatorship. Along with other German-Romanian authors, they were part of the literary group Aktionsgruppe Banat (1972-75), one of the most important dissident groups in Romania. In their writings, Wagner and Müller openly criticized the communist regime. They also questioned the cultural identity of the Banat-Swabian communities in which they grew up. As a result of their political opposition to the regime, they were harassed by the Securitate and banned from publishing. Because of their German heritage, political experience under the communist regime, and their status as immigrants and political refugees in West Germany, Wagner and Müller occupy a unique position in contemporary German society and culture. In their works, they challenge the nation-state as the basis of German nationalism and question cultural definitions of “Germanness” based on biological, territorial, and state-centered concepts. While Wagner’s primary focus is on the cultural, linguistic, and political challenges that East-Central European ethnic German immigrants face in West Germany, Müller’s works concentrate almost exclusively on the oppression and persecution under Ceauşescu’s dictatorship and the tyrannical atmosphere of the Banat-Swabian village. In my analysis of Wagner’s fiction, I discuss three figures of Banat-Swabian writers who construct personalized cultural identities and attempt to re-invent themselves as writers during Ceauşescu’s regime and after immigration to West Germany. In my analysis of Müller’s works, I examine the narrative strategies that five characters, four Banat Swabians and one ethnic German, employ to interrogate and resist conceptualizations of “Germanness” in the aftermath of World War II, under Ceauşescu’s dictatorship, and after immigration to West Germany. Wagner’s characters negotiate triangular cultural identity paradigms between the “periphery” (the Banat and communist Romania) and the “center” (West Germany), which combine elements of Banat-Swabian, Romanian, and Western languages and cultures. The cultural identity of Müller’s protagonists, however, is marked by acute fragmentation as a result of their traumatic experiences in the Banat-Swabian village and communist Romania.