Housebound: Selfhood and Domestic Space in Narratives by Contemporary German Women Writers
Monika Shafi (University of Delaware) [BIO]
In his seminal essay The Metropolis and Mental Life (1903) the German sociologist Georg Simmel identified self-centeredness or a cold and blasé demeanor as typical attributes of the urban dweller who responded with such emotional distancing to the overwhelming social forces of the modern metropolis. Similar attributes can be found in works by contemporary German women authors, particular by the younger generation for whom Judith Hermann has become the undisputed poster child. The protagonists in narratives by Hermann, Karen Duve, Susanne Fischer or Zoë Jenny are often self-absorbed, restless characters unable to sustain relationships. Yet despite their itinerant, metropolitan life styles and their avowed dislike of bourgeois routine, houses, the very embodiment of bourgeois stability and identity, figure prominently in their prose.
This extensive focus on home and houses grates against the characters’ urban mobility and mind-set and in my talk, I wish to explore this tension, specifically in Hermann’s two short story collections, Sommerhaus, später (1998) and Nichts als Gespenster (2003) and Susanne Fischer’s novel Die Platzanweiserin (2006). I will argue that these texts invert the dichotomy of private and public space so that the city appears endowed with domestic features such as intimacy and shelter while the domestic realm turns up alienating and unhomely. Moreover, the quest for shelter and selfhood is also projected onto the “other” house, the ugly, dilapidated house on the outskirts or in the country. By reconfiguring the haunted house motif, these narratives rework Romantic traditions that are, however, less populated but the ghosts and fears of the past than of the present, the lack of autonomy and identity related to contemporary patterns of work, leisure, and progress.