by Monika Moyrer on Mülleresque Realizations
My trip to Romania in the summer of 2004 was a turning point in my graduate life. One episode I vividly remember is flipping through dusty pages of large-sized bound material in an archive in Timisoara/Temesvar, with my father, to find a couple of Herta Müller's earliest four-line poems. Herta Müller (born 1954 in Romania) is one of the most acclaimed contemporary Romanian-German authors. After years of struggle with a repressive communist regime in Romania, she migrated to Germany in 1987. Müller exhibits in her work a peculiar style and a sensibility for language that is rooted in her experiences in the Romanian-German diaspora.
The yellowed and dusty 1968-1974 editions of the Neue Banater Zeitung evoked my own vanished past. I remember how familiar I was with the poor paper quality and the awkward mixture of speeches and reports about the "great leader" Ceausescu and the shrinking German minority's struggle to represent a flourishing cultural life. I was born in Brasov/Kronstadt and lived in the Romanian Carpathians until the age of 15, but after my move to Germany I quickly became (West) German. The visceral familiarity of snippets of the Romanian language and urban everyday life overwhelmed me. The journey brought to life happy memories of my childhood, as well as grief at the loss of our home. I realized that my project is as much about my family (hi)story as it is about Müller.
We drove to Nitzkydorf, Müller's birthplace and a constant leitmotif in her works. In her first book, Niederungen, Müller invented a metaphor for her German ancestors, who settled in Romania in the 17th century: the German frog. In the 1990s Müller writes about her encounter with hundreds of frogs in a railway station. The situation captures the disturbing reality she tried to depict in the stories. This episode nicely sums up some of the most memorable aspects of Müller's poetology, namely, her life as the source for her fiction, her search for precise and "unused" poetic metaphors, and her evocation of the uncanny through writing. While I was visiting her native village, I suddenly understood what she meant. The adventure to find Nitzkydorf turned spooky after a rain when I took off my shoes and walked barefoot on the muddy unpaved streets. It felt Mülleresque, as if I had stepped into one of her stories--charmed by a touch of magic yet without a chance to romanticize the situation because the village's poverty hit me with full force.
Since the beginning of my project, I have struggled with the complex spectrum of feminism, which proved to be both a blessing and a curse. Deconstructionist debates about gender as a category of analysis stand side by side with debates about women as racial, biological, sexual, and transnational beings within particular sociopolitical economies. Additionally, there is grassroots activism that focuses on specific issues: domestic abuse, labor issues, lesbian and queer rights in which women become vulnerable because of their sex, poverty, race, and sexuality. In my mind, these diverse positions were often not reconcilable and resisted the quest for harmony.
What contribution did feminist multiplicity make to my project? It became my theoretical model because it allows my cultural identity to intersect with an admittedly "messy" intellectual project. I not only write about a female ethnic German author from Romania and explore the question of Heimat from the perspective of the German diaspora, but also am interested in Müller's position within larger political issues of immigration and multiculturalism in contemporary Germany. I see her as the immigrated German outsider who speaks critically about the individual's fears and moral responsibilities in any political system. I discuss her warnings against the uncritical essentialization of one's own ethnic minority group, nation, or mother tongue. Müller shows that strangeness is always already embedded in one's familiar origins. For her, German becomes strange through its mixture with Romanian proverbs and sayings. Ultimately, it becomes freed from ideological burdens through her employment of the genre of collage.
COLLAGING THE ARCHIVE
My notion of the "archive" has profoundly changed. The dusty archived texts have commingled with postcards, photographs, video and tape recordings, and scribbled notes from readings I attended in Berlin and Stockholm. The Internet, with its unlimited accessibility and the availability of online recordings of speeches and resources from Romania, mirrors the disruption of time, space, and genre in Müller's collage poems. My method too has become its own sort of collage in its reconception of texts. This has shaped my argument about Müller's diasporic writing strategy and provided evidence that she is an impossible case to "fit" into established categories of analysis: Heimat, German identity, exile, or autobiography. Moreover, I see her fragmented poetic style and her collage poetry as an experiment with irreconcilable ambiguities and experiences.
THE DUST OF HISTORY
One of my Doktormütter, Arlene Teraoka, has written about another significant Müller in German literature, Heiner. Herta and Heiner connect through Inge, Heiner's wife. In In der Falle (In the Trap), Herta pays homage to Inge. Like Herta, Inge profoundly struggled to express her disturbing personal experiences related to World War II in poems. While Heiner and Herta are both highly respected and present on theatrical and literary stages, Inge is (almost) forgotten, covered by the dust of history. Was nun? Finish the dissertation, cut the umbilical cord(s), and dig anew through muddier projects, which stir up a little more dust of (hi)stories.