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Postkolonialismus im Spiegel: Testing Postcolonial Theory on Turkish-German Diasporic Literature

Rosie Preston, German Studies, University of Warwick


Situating itself in a relatively unexplored subfield of postcolonial theory – Turkish-German literature – this article explores whether a conceptual postcolonial reading can be applied productively to two works that depict cross-cultural diaspora experiences, despite the lack of colonial history between the respective nations: Emine Özdamar's 2001 autofictional story 'Der Hof im Spiegel' ['The Courtyard in the Mirror'] set in Germany, and Selim Özdogan's 2005 novel Die Tochter des Schmieds [The Blacksmith's Daughter], a pre-migration chronicle set predominantly within Turkey.1 Focusing on linguistic, social and socio-economic elements of the novels, this article argues that a postcolonial interpretation reveals latent xenophobia against Turks, provides an interesting insight into the re-formulation of identity in the aftermath of migration, and suggests that the Westernisation of Turkey in the late twentieth century partly mirrors neocolonial economic control. However, in our Turkish text, we encounter similar instances of cultural superiority and class-conscious divisions within homogenous communities; assimilation difficulties; and differences between rural and urban populations, which implies that the postcolonial paradigm is fallible. The article concludes that an ahistorical application of postcolonial theory is at risk of not doing justice to the individualism of the diaspora experience.


Postcolonialism, twentieth-century German literature, contemporary German-Turkish diasporic writing, Özdamar, Özdogan.

The landscape of international postcolonial discourse has evolved considerably since the formative contributions by anglophone scholars such as Edward Said, Homi K. Bhaba and Gayatri Svicak in the late 1970s (for an introduction, see Göttsche, 2013: 21–62). Originally, postcolonial theory was applied within specific historical parameters, seeking to identify and critique colonial legacies in the literature of now decolonised nations, such as African-German or French-Algerian works. However, in recent years scholars have used perspectives from postcolonial theory to analyse works of minority literature, such as African-American or Turkish-German, in order to expose latent xenophobia, challenge cultural essentialism, and examine the concept of 'cultural transfer' (Göttsche, 2013: 22).

This article situates itself in the as-yet relatively unexplored subfield of Turkish-German diaspora literature, using the postcolonial framework metaphorically in order to examine the enigmatic 'cultural space' (Ashcroft et al., 2002: 53) that migrants experience between their home and host countries, and to analyse whether the represented relationship between Germans and Turkish migrant workers is analogous of that of coloniser and colonised. However an ahistorical postcolonial reading is controversial, with some critics warning that by disregarding historical accuracy we may homogenise the individualism of the postcolonial experience and 'skate over the historical and political surfaces of various nations and refuse to attend to them in depth' (McLeod, 2000: 245). Monika Albrecht, author of The Turkish Turn in Contemporary Literature, argues that by using postcolonial theory as an all-encompassing umbrella concept, we devalue its potency, as well as potentially confusing the readership which does not associate the new country with a colonial past (2001: vol. 7). Some scholars such as Aijaz Ahmad and Arif Dirlik condemn the approach as theory for theory's sake, or 'bourgeois interiority' (Gandhi, 1998: 58). This article aims to explore whether a 'conceptual' postcolonial reading can be applied productively to two works that depict cross-cultural diaspora experiences: Emine Sevgi Özdamar's 2001 autofictional story 'Der Hof im Spiegel' ['The Courtyard in the Mirror'] which takes place within Germany, and Selim Özdogan's 2005 novel Die Tochter des Schmieds [The Blacksmith's Daughter], a pre-migration chronicle set predominantly within Turkey.[1] Focusing on the linguistic, social and socio-economic elements of the novels, it concludes with an observation on the translatability of the postcolonial to other cognate contexts.

Emine Sevgi Özdamar, born in 1946, in Malataya, Eastern Anatolia, moved to Germany following a recruitment drive for temporary workers. Now a prolific writer, Özdamar has received critical acclaim for her works, which depict cross-cultural Turkish-German encounters and self-conceptualisation in the aftermath of migration. Set before the reunification of Germany, the titular story in Özdamar's autobiographical collection of short stories, 'Der Hof im Spiegel' follows the unnamed narrator as she settles into life in Düsseldorf, observing the habits and behaviours of neighbours in her courtyard through a triad of mirrors, and reporting back to Turkish family and friends through telephone calls, embellishing her descriptions with elements of the fantastical. In so doing, Özdamar creates a site in which her German and Turkish worlds can seemingly coexist, which has attracted appraisals by postcolonial and diaspora scholars such as Dirk Göttsche, Monika Albrecht, Jim Jordan and Leslie Adelson. In line with Özdamar's other works (see Özdamar, 2013), 'Der Hof im Spiegel' is rich in syncretic linguistic manipulation and metaphors that, through a postcolonial lens, expose hidden meanings.

Stuart Hall (1997: 1) writes that the identity of a 'culture' lies in its linguistic expression, and language is a 'representational system' that ascribes meaning based on preconceived 'frameworks of interpretation'. During an interaction in a pet shop, the narrator of 'The Courtyard' enquires how many languages the parrot on display can speak, only for the shopkeeper to reply almost acrimoniously: ''Wie viele Sprachen spricht ihr Papagei?' Die Verkäuferin sagte: 'Wir sprechen deutsch.'' (17) [''How many languages does your parrot speak?' The saleswoman said, 'We speak German.''] The abrupt reply immediately establishes boundaries and conversational limits. The use of 'wir' ['we'] instead of 'he' or 'it' refers collectively to German speakers and excludes the Turkish customer, exposing the latent prejudice that the customer is an uneducated 'Gastarbeiter' [migrant worker] with a limited command of German. The parrot can also be a metaphor for colonial linguistic domination: the parrot carries connotations of mimicry, learning and repeating exclusively the dominant language of the colonial metropole at the expense of an indigenous language. The parrot returns later as an imagined reflection in the narrator's mirror, speaking 'unintelligible' German: 'der Papagei, der so ein ‚unverständliches' Deutsch zu mir gesprochen hatte' (24). This 'unintelligible' German could be representative of anti-colonial resistance against one single enforced language of communication, an act of linguistic abrogation and defiance.

However, The Courtyard in the Mirror defies such strict cultural dualisms, favouring instead an amalgamation of languages and literary references to enrich the text. Bill Ashcroft argues (2002: 52) that 'untranslated words … are directly metonymic of that cultural difference which is imputed by the linguistic variation', and Özdamar frequently leaves phrases in the vernacular, for example in quoting from Baudelaire's Les fleurs du mal [Flowers of evil]: 'Mère des souvenirs, maîtresse des maîtresses, O toi, tous mes plaisirs!' (36) [Mother of memories, mistress of mistresses, O you, all my pleasure]. In so doing, the narrator creates a text in which cultural variety is celebrated and preserved, while emphasising the universal nature of imagination and the value of great literature regardless of the language of communication or the cultural origin of the author. Moreover, the story is punctuated with European intertextuality, with references to Heine, Brecht, Kleist, Lenz, Büchner, Lewis Carroll, and lyricist Can Yücel, which subtly encourage the assimilation of other cultural writing into the German artistic sphere. The inclusion of the narrator's friend and confidante, the Turkish poet Yücel, is a significant point in Dirk Göttsche's postcolonial reading of 'The Courtyard'; he suggests that by featuring Yücel alongside German, French and English authors, it exposes the German literary cannon to be 'incomplete' without fetishising Yücel as 'oriental' on account of his heritage:

Sie [stellt] den Zitaten aus Werken deutscher, französischer und englischer Autoren solche aus dem Werk des türkischen Lyrikers Can Yücel an die Seite, so dass der im deutschen Sprachraum geläufige Kanon als unvollständig erscheint und erweitert wird, ohne dass der türkischer Lyriker schon aufgrund seiner Herkunft orientalisiert würde. (Göttsche, 2006: 523)

[She places quotes from the Turkish poet Can Yücel on a par with those from German, English and French authors so that the current German language canon appears incomplete, and is being expanded, without the Turkish poet being orientalised on account of his heritage.]

Özdamar de-familiarises the German readership from their mother tongue, a process of linguistic alienation which Bill Ashcroft (2002: 43) fittingly describes as 'an abrogation of the essentialist assumptions of that norm and a dismantling of its imperialist centralism'. When reflecting on the word 'Gastarbeiter' [migrant or 'guest' worker], the narrator says: 'das Wort 'Gastarbeiter' … ich sehe vor mir immer zwei Personen, eine sitzt da als Gast, und die andere arbeitet' (2001: 47) [the word 'guest worker' … I always see two people before me, one sitting there as a guest, and the other working.] By identifying language idiosyncrasies and forcing the reader to re-analyse the familiar, Özdamar deconstructs the tacit, elitist notion of having 'ownership' over one's mother tongue and thus disregarding unconventional language usage as 'wrong'. Furthermore, the reader is actively placed in the position of novice language learner, through the transcription of the Berliner dialect, 'uff eenmal jeht'se uff, die Tür' (27) [and suddenly, the door opens!]. By encouraging the German reader to phonetically construct meaning from decontextualised oral sounds, they mirror the initial stages of language acquisition, therefore evoking empathy with the cultural (Turkish) 'other' in its process of linguistic integration. Phonetic transcriptions also reinforce the notion of a culturally homogenous literary cannon, by echoing the late nineteenth century dramas of Günter Grass and Gerhart Hauptmann[2].

A cornerstone in the postcolonial argument is the extent to which a coloniser attempts to impart their beliefs upon the colonised. When Jehovah's Witnesses visit the narrator, it appears on first reading that the preachers are proactively trying to engage with Germany's multicultural society, by pre-empting and overcoming potential communication barriers: 'Indisch? ... Türkisch? … Sie holten aus ihrer Tasche eine kleine Bibel der Zeugen Jehovas auf türkisch' (Özdamar, 2001: 33). [Indian … Turkish? … They pulled a small Jehovah's Witnesses Bible in Turkish out of their bag.] However, their lack of interest in discovering the narrator's personal beliefs highlights an inherent desire to 'enlighten' the masses irrespective of personal difference, an act which bears resemblance to colonial Christian missions and thus inclines us towards viewing Germany as a cultural 'coloniser'. This encounter defies reductionism, however. The Jehovah's Witnesses are themselves marginal to Western Christian tradition, so it would be erroneous to claim that they represent a majority culture. Furthermore the narrator herself willingly fulfills preconceived racial stereotypes in order to end to the unwanted religious encounter, 'Ich nix Deutsch' (33) [I no German]. We encounter another example of an underlying sense of German superiority in another story in the same collection, when Sevgi brings Turkey to the German stage 'zum ersten Mal' (50) [for the first time]. This initially appears to be a step of cultural progression; however, it is undermined by issuing an explanation sheet which is distributed among audience members before the performance. By declaring that the Turkish play is 'not logically structured' like traditional German theatre (52–53), and requires cultural mediation, this seemingly progressive attempt to incorporate foreign artistic influences into the 'vertrauten' [familiar] German artistic sphere fails. The explanation sheet, albeit seemingly harmless, reinforces Homi Bhabha's premise that a coloniser wishes its colonised populace to 'mimic' the cultural hegemony while maintaining a degree of difference that separates them.

While the German cultural curtain rises, tentatively introducing Turkey into the intellectual public sphere, the curtain to the German private sphere remains tightly closed. The Düsseldorf courtyard becomes a microcosm for Germany's protection of domestic privacy, through the repeated imagery of closed curtains: 'die Vorhänge waren dort immer zugezogen' (Özdamar, 2001: 26) [The curtains there were always closed]. This deliberate physical and metaphorical barricading of the domestic space is juxtaposed against the welcoming 'Wohnästhetik des Orients' [aesthetic of the Orient], as we encounter open curtains in Istanbul 'bewegten sich oben an ihrem Fenster die Vorhänge durch den Wind' (Özdamar, 2001: 13) [the curtains up on her window were moving because of the wind] and an extended social living space 'bis zu Gassen' (25) [into alleyways].

The narrator therefore uses a triad of mirros to manipulate her living space into a hybrid of her German immediate environment and her long-distance Turkish relationships. Not only do the mirrors simultaneously respect and penetrate the closed curtains of her neighbours, 'die Häuser mischten sich ineinander' (25) [the houses got all mixed up together], they also act as a site in which the narrator can recede into an imaginative, hybrid world. The imaginative migration into the self that is commonplace in diaspora literature is often echoed in traditional postcolonial works, leading us to the conclusion that imaginative migration into transcendent realms is an internalisation of the trauma associated with physical relocation, such as the separation of the family unit: 'Ich stand in einem Zugkorridor, und neben diesem Zug fuhr ein anderer Zug in die Gegenrichtung' (Özdamar, 2001: 32) [I stood in a train corridor, and next to this train another train travelled in the opposite direction]. The 'multiple, transnational imaginaries and localities inherited by those in the diaspora' (Mandel, 2008: 232) create an ideological, multicultural realm, unaffected by geographical or social constraints of reality, or the ultimate separation of death: 'Meine Mutter und sechs Nonnen und ein Pfarrer, alle wohnten wir zusammen [im Spiegel]' (Özdamar, 2001: 31) [my mother and six nuns and a priest, we all lived together [in the mirror]]. The state of existing between cultures brings simultaneous trauma and contentment: 'Ich war glücklich im Spiegel, weil ich so an mehreren Orten zur gleichen Zeit war' (31) [I was happy in the mirror, because I was in multiple places at once]. Mandel (2008: 233) suggests that a certain degree of self-conceptualisation is associated with such fantasies: 'the anxiety arising from living across national boundaries generates fantastic projections in which desires, dreams and obsessions find an outlet into new narratives of the self'. Indeed, there is a degree of conscious theatricality in the narrator's interactions with the titular mirror. Critics suggest that this is not a narcissistic relationship with the mirror; however, it is a stage, a backdrop against which to dramatise the events of the courtyard for an audience (her mother), and herself: 'Mutter, Karl spielt jetzt für den ganzen Hof und für dich Klavier' (Özdamar, 2001: 27) [Mother, Karl is now playing piano for the whole courtyard and for you]. By placing a lack of theatre in direct apposition to feeling isolated, the narrator directly links her happiness with her need for a creative output: 'In dieser Stadt habe ich [noch] kein Theater, ich habe keine Freunde' (18) [in this town I don't [yet] have a theatre, I don't have friends] – thus using the mirror as a theatrical substitute.

Göttsche links Özdamar's process of re-imagining the self with the protagonists of many postcolonial texts, who, he asserts, are constantly forced to re-establish their identities (2006, vol. 59: 522). Such an interpretation, however, emphasises the political symbolism of the mirror, and neglects to acknowledge that the use of the fantastical is equally a stylistic choice to enrich the modality of the text. The narrator's changing depictions of the 'self' in the mirror do indicate that identity is a fluid, evolving concept, but not that this re-imagining is imposed onto her by others. Instead, these manipulated self-reflections mirror her integration into German society, literally and metaphorically, becoming more infrequent as she loses ties with Turkey and begins to establish roots in Germany: 'Als meine Mutter starb … hatte [ich] den Hof im Spiegel etwas vernachlässigt' (Özdamar, 2001: 31-32) [when my mother died … I had somewhat abandoned the courtyard in the mirror]. Whether solipsistic or not, the mirror becomes a mode of existence which enables Sevgi to remain on the 'Brücke' [bridge] itself, as opposed to a constant process of running 'über sie [die Brücke] zur anderen Seite der Stadt hinüber' (21) [over the bridge to the other side of town].

Interestingly, the narrator's social connections are an eclectic mix of characters who exist on the margins of society, including 'der Penner … gegenüber von Armani' (Özdamar, 2001: 18) [the bum … across from Armani], homeless man Hartmut, homosexual Herr Volker, gypsies, the nun who lives opposite and South African TV repair men. The descriptions of these characters always involve a racial or religious label even if the description is irrelevant to the progression of the story: 'Die vier schwarzen Kinder' (28, my emphasis) [The four black children] / 'der jüdische Rahmenmacher' (24, my emphasis) [the Jewish frame maker]. This taxonomy reveals the psychological impacts of interpolation – in other words, the overriding German classification of the narrator's own identity as 'Turkish' subconsciously influences her classification of others. We should be wary of reading too much into the labelling of characters by physical indicators of religious or cultural background however, as this a necessary literary tool to embellish a description, and enables the reader to bring their own 'framework of interpretation' to the characters. Furthermore, if we were to attribute the subconscious categorisation of the self in opposition to an 'other' as a direct indicator of colonial thought, we also implicate Arzu or Fuat in Selim Özdogan's novel Die Tochter des Schmieds as an arbiter of colonial rhetoric.

Set in a small Turkish village in the mid-twentieth century, and spanning decades and generations, Selim Özdogan's novel follows protagonist Gül, her father the blacksmith, and additional characters that weave in and out of the tapestry of Gül's rural Turkish life as she assumes maternal responsibilities, migrates throughout Turkey (and eventually to Germany), and witnesses the gradual modernisation of her family and environment. Born in 1971 in Cologne, the author Özdogan was brought up bilingually, and The Blacksmith's Daughter marks one of his first novels to engage explicitly with his family's Turkish cultural heritage. Arzu, the stepmother of protagonist Gül, persistently differentiates the family from a perceived 'subaltern' (village residents or gypsies) in order to maintain social status: 'Was sollen die Leute reden, wenn du mit den armen Kindern spielst' (Özdogan, 2012: 162) [what would the neighbours say, if you play with the poor children] / 'Das sind ja Farben, wie Zigeuner sie tragen' (162) [they're colours that gypsies wear]. Arzu demonstrates a sense of cultural superiority through her description of the villagers as 'einfältig' [primitive], speaking with authority (but no concrete evidence) that the villagers supposedly 'noch in die Sträucher machen, Läuse und Flöhe und Wanzen haben und nicht richtig sprechen können' (Özdogan, 2012: 74) [still shit in the bushes, who have lice and fleas and bedbugs and can't speak properly]. By contrast, Gül's late mother Fatma does not associate urban roots with cultural superiority, and therefore is able to integrate naturally and quickly with locals: 'die Frauen des Dorfes mochten Fatma ... weil [sie] sich nicht als etwas Besseres fühlte, nur weil sie aus der Stadt kam' (22) [the women in the village liked Fatma … because [she] didn't fancy herself as something better, just because she came from the town]. Cultural ignorance is revisited later in the novel by Gül's husband Fuat, whose willingness to exploit stereotypes for his own amusement is shown through the coarse statement about a young man in the village army quarters having 'fucked a dog': 'bei uns auf dem Dorf … da hat einer der jungen Männer eine Hündin gefickt' (255).

Additionally, postcolonial perspectives cannot account for the process of relocation, integration and assuming new identities within communities in Turkey. With each relocation (from the town to the village and vice versa) Timur's children adapt to a new linguistic centre by learning the dominant accent and dialect in order to feel fully integrated: 'Es war ein schöner Tag ... sie hat nur zehn Minuten gebraucht, bis der Kekskindakzent verschwunden war' (Özdogan, 2012: 133) [it was a good day … she needed only ten minutes before her 'biscuit-child' accent had disappeared] / 'Ihr Dialekt ist im Laufe des Jahres verschwunden, sie hat keine Hemmungen mehr' (86) [her dialect disappeared during the course of the year, she no longer has any inhibitions]. The children find immediate happiness when they successfully hide their differences and mimic the cultural norm. Interestingly, Özdogan depicts differing degrees of integration within the same family – Fatma and Melike's instant involvement with new communities is juxtaposed against Gül and Arzu's more tentative attempts at assimilation and consequent sense of isolation – suggesting that personality affects integration. Fatma and Melike are characterised by their extrovert natures in comparison to introverts Arzu and Gül. Whereas Melike quickly fits in, 'Sie hat schnell Anschluß gefunden' (78) Gül and Arzu remain solitary: '[Gül] ist es gewohnt, allein im Garten zu sitzen' (151) [Gül is used to sitting alone in the garden] / 'Arzu … weint still vor sich hin' (72) [Arzu … cries silently to herself].

Arzu's distress is largely caused by having to raise Timur's children following the death of his wife Fatma. Her indignation is analogous to the sense of resentment and resistance felt by a missionary coloniser in attempting to 'parent', regulate and 'civilise' a foreign territory: 'Ich habe sie großgezogen, mag Arzu denken, ich habe sie gekleidet und genährt, ich habe mich sieben Tage in der Woche um sie und ihre Schwestern gekümmert, ich habe alles getan' (169) [I raised them, Arzu might well have thought, I clothed and fed them, I looked after her and her sisters seven days a week, I did everything]. The authorial speculative use of 'mag' [might] opens up an interpretive space where we can assess whether our sympathy for Arzu (and the absent coloniser) as a victim of circumstance is sufficient to counterbalance the seemingly negative affect her presence has on Gül (or the colonised land). However, we must be wary of using postcolonialism metaphorically in fiction, as the convenient dualism of coloniser and colonised mirrors anti-colonialism, the antecedent to postcolonialism that critiques power hierarchies without moving beyond them.

Ironically, while the influence of Germany on the 'ethnography of the imagination' (Appadurai, 1991: 202) remains disputed, it is widely acknowledged that Germany fulfilled a more concrete, quantifiable role in twentieth-century Turkish history which, in postcolonial terms, is a 'material condition' of colonisation (McLeod, 2000: 254). Die Tochter des Schmieds depicts the start of economic and social transformation within Turkey from a traditional state to one which sought to identify itself as 'modern'. This process of self-conscious modernisation was primarily instigated by Atatürk's reforms, and subsequently reinforced by the effects of globalisation as Turkey began to consume 'Western' entertainment, films with 'Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant … Ava Gardner' (Özdogan, 2012: 206).

Amid the seemingly inevitable process of Westernisation, Germany plays a particularly noticeable role in raising economic expectations and promoting migration. Sociologist Ruth Mandel (2008: 233) argues that Germany has become so present in the consciousness of even non-migrant Turks that 'in some senses the diaspora gradually has assumed the authority of a legitimate and even desirable 'centre' vis-à-vis an increasingly 'peripheral' Turkey.' Germany becomes a beacon of economic aspiration, with its 'bunten Lichtern in der Nacht' (Özdogan, 2012: 294) [bright lights in the night] to the Turkish 'Petroleumlampe' (222), [petroleum lamp]; the desire for 'luxurious' goods and living conditions fuels what Appadurai calls the 'fantasy of migration' (1991: 192). By polarising Turkish characters' ideas of luxury with German readers' ideas of basics – 'drei Bleistifte sind ein Luxus' (128) [three pencils are a luxury] – Özdogan encourages the German reader to identify with the economic aspiration of the unsatisfied and ambitious Turkish characters: 'In diesem Drecksland hier komme ich zu nichts, sagt Murat. Ich werde dir Geld schicken von drüben' (294) [I won't amount to anything in this filthy country, says Murat. I will send you money from over there] / 'Die [Deutsche] reiten nicht mehr auf dem Rücken von Eseln, das sind zivilisierte Menschen' (300) [the Germans don't ride on the backs of donkeys any more, they are civilised people].

This remote German economic influence is part of the wider context of twentieth-century globalisation that saw a glamourised representation of the Western lifestyle transmitted to Turkey through the emerging mass media. In his essay 'Imagination and Ethnography' in Recapturing Anthropology, Arjun Appadurai (1991: 197) argues that technology facilitates access to 'the metropolitan world' which invites viewers to 'consider a wider set of 'possible' lives than they ever did before' and thus be able to evaluate their own circumstances: 'Sie weiß nur aus Büchern und Filmen, daß es auch anders sein kann' (Özdogan, 2012: 295) [she only knows from books and films that it can also be different]. Technology widens the geography of their rural and urban Turkish environments to suddenly incorporate a global perspective: 'Abends erfahren sie aus dem Radio, daß Kennedy erschossen worden ist' (261) [in the evening she discovers from the radio that Kennedy has been shot]. It decreases the number of media through which information passes, and thus the reliability of information increases: 'Er muß nicht mehr im Teehaus von Leuten, die es auch nur von jemand anderem gehört haben, erzählen lassen, wer denn nun das entscheidende Kopfballtor gemacht hat' (90) [no longer must he be told, in the cafe, by people who also had only heard from someone else, which player had scored the winning header]. The remote Western influence therefore assumes an almost educatory role, mirroring, but not entirely replicating, the colonial presence. For Melike, access to other worlds encourages a degree of independence that prompts her to reject the stereotypical expectations of her gender and instils in her a desire for something 'Größeres und Besseres' (266) [bigger and better]. For Gül, the cinematic fantasies offer an imaginative escape, an opportunity to 'consider a wider set of 'possible lives'' (Appadurai 1991: 197): 'Je mehr fremde Träume sie sieht, desto mehr sehnt sie sich in andere Welten' (Özdogan, 2012: 207) [the more foreign fantasies she sees, the more she longs for other worlds].

This unspecified and pluralistic reference to 'other worlds' illustrates the move away from the dualistic 'two worlds paradigm' (Jordan 2006: 491) that diaspora and postcolonial literature originally explored. As Jim Jordan explains, authors of diaspora literature 'no longer conceive of themselves as between cultures: instead, they are positioned within matrices of gender, generation, class, ethnicity and nationality which themselves are in flux, and subject to changes of historical perspectives, international political realignments and differential rates of modernisation'. Accordingly, Annette Wierschke (2006: 519) argues that Özdamar does not present segregated Turkish or German cultures, but rather 'both spaces are continuously brought together and mixed, so that cultural identity finds itself in a constant state of flux'. Indeed both Özdamar and Özdogan consciously depict Turkey and Germany in a changing state: 'Die Zeiten ändern sich ... Es wird immer mehr junge Menschen geben, die etwas lernen wollen, studieren' (Özdogan, 2012: 152) [times change … There will be more and more young people who want to learn, to study] / 'USA-Army go home … Deutschland verrecke' (Özdamar, 2001: 58) [USA-Army go home …Germany, die!].

Not only are the respective countries depicted as in transition (chapter 'Mein Berlin' precedes the impending 'Wende', Germany's reunification in 1990) but Özdamar and Özdogan consciously present difference in such a manner that it emphasises similarity. By counterbalancing critiques of Germany, 'Es gefällt ihr in Deutschland nicht … die Menschen sind distanziert' (Özdogan, 2012: 301) [she doesn't like it in Germany … the people are cold] with critiques of Turkey: 'Sie streiten sich wegen Wassermelonen … wegen Wassermelonen' (126) [they argue with each other over watermelons … over watermelons], the two-dimensional conclusion that Germany is a Westernised pinnacle of civilisation in comparison to developing Turkey disappears, and facilitates a subtle critique of Germany while acknowledging the fallibility of the homeland.

So, can perspectives from postcolonial theory bring relevant and insightful contributions to Turkish-German diaspora literature? The most productive application of the approach is in the identification of a diaspora 'hybrid' identity, challenging the culturally dualistic trope of existing solely between two cultures, or 'two worlds'. The framework also yields an interesting interpretation of the late twentieth-century Westernisation of Turkey, arguing that Germany's economic influence over Turkey is almost neocolonial: raising economic expectations, creating a new consumer market for Western exports, and successfully encouraging Turkish 'guest' labour into the German economy. Furthermore, we can argue that 'Der Hof im Spiegel' reveals latent racism and subconscious 'othering' of those who appear different to the German 'norm', which bears resemblance to an 'imperial centre'. However, in our Turkish text, Gül and her siblings also felt pressure to assume the local dialect of communities within their home country, showing therefore that desire to mimic the standard practices of a community is common across cultures even if a postcolonial framework is not applied. Furthermore, although imagery in Özdamar's text can be interpreted as metaphors for colonial legacies (for example the 'German speaking' parrot or the closed curtains of the domestic sphere), it is also easy to create colonial metaphors within an exclusively Turkish context, which suggests there is a danger of politicising elements of the text which may be present purely to enrich the narrative style.

It appears that while insightful, a postcolonial approach cannot account for elements which do not fit its paradigm, such as differences between rural and urban populations or the class divides within homogenous communities, and an ahistorical blanket application of the framework is at risk of not doing justice to the individualism of the diaspora experience. Within the specific context of post-1970s Turkish diaspora literature in German, and particularly in light of the 1973 Anwerbestopp (the cessation of guest worker recruitment) we are justified in identifying a cultural reluctance to assimilate foreign influences. However, we should remain cautious at directly comparing the depicted German cultural reserve and disinterest in the 'cultural other' with colonial de-territorialisation, violence and exploitation of indigenous peoples. Political and social analysis does reveal outward racism and violence towards Turks in Germany; however, such extreme examples exist primarily outside of the representations within 'Der Hof im Spiegel' and Die Tochter des Schmieds, which take care to defy reductionism, emphasise cultural similarities and present opportunities for improved integration.

We should question the validity of a reading practice that forces the reader to conform to the exact Eurocentric ethnocentrism they are seeking to identify and criticise in the text: not only does diasporic postcolonialism categorise a novel by the 'foreignness' of its author, but it also reduces the characters to 'abstrakte thematische Funktion[en]' (Adeleson, 2006: 522) [abstract thematic functions], and imposes its own Western interpretation on a fictional novel. While the postcolonial approach cannot do justice to the multiplicity of perspectives that diaspora literature lends itself to, it is, however, a useful exercise to hold postcolonialism up to the eponymous mirror and look 'bourgeois interiority' in the face.


I would like to express my thanks to Dr Jim Jordan.


Rosie Preston graduated with a first class BA Honours in German Studies from the University of Warwick in 2014.


[1] A note on the translations: English translations of German quotations from 'Der Hof im Spiegel' come from Leslie A. Adelson's translation 'The Courtyard in the Mirror' in Transit 2005, vol. 2:6, n. p. (internet publication). Translations from Die Tochter des Schmieds are my own and therefore unreferenced. Where there is no published English-language translation for any other works from which I have quoted, I have provided my own translation. These are the unreferenced translations.
[2] Cf. the phonetic Danzig dialect in Im Krebsgang by Günter Grass, and the phonetic Silesian dialect in Vor Sonnenaufgang by Gerhart Hauptmann.


Primary sources

Özdamar, S.E. (2001), Der Hof im Spiegel, Cologne: Kiepenheuer & Witsch

Özdogan, S. (2012), Die Tochter des Schmieds, Berlin: Aufbau Verlag

Transit (2005), 'The Courtyard in the Mirror', translation of 'Der Hof im Spiegel', 2 (1), available at, accessed 19 October 2014

Secondary sources

Adelson, L. (2005), The Turkish Turn in Contemporary German Literature: Toward a New Critical Grammar of Migration New York: Palsgrave Macmillan

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To cite this paper please use the following details: Preston, R. (2016), 'Postkolonialismus im Spiegel: Testing Postcolonial Theory on Turkish-German Diasporic Literature', Reinvention: an International Journal of Undergraduate Research, Volume 9, Issue 2, Date accessed [insert date]. If you cite this article or use it in any teaching or other related activities please let us know by e-mailing us at