Literary Creolization and German Decoloniality: Race, Nation, and Language in the Early Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries

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This dissertation explores how two epochs of German literature construct and contest forms of language-based identity: pre-1945 literature written under or around German colonialism, and contemporary postcolonial German literature. If the twenty-first century recognizes itself in the heightened mobility and intensifying transnational interconnection which characterized the imperial world of the early twentieth century, it also increasingly revisits the memory and legacy of this period in interrogating its own inequalities and cultural logics of exclusion and racism. This project analyzes such a turn through the lens of creolization, bringing to light how aesthetic strategies informed by multilingualism, translation, and ethnographic discourse construct literary language as a space for intermingling, recombination, and transvaluation. Languages mix, but histories of various scales overlap and interweave, too, contesting any closures in collective identity.The dissertation begins in the southern African colonial “contact zone” (Pratt) with an analysis of the early essays and short stories of the notorious German colonial writer, Hans Grimm. In Grimm’s essays, anti-miscegenist colonial ideology disavows creolization processes, but in so doing testifies to their effects on colonial cultural politics. In Grimm’s fiction, several types of what I term colonial multilingualism emerge that transpose the problem of creolization into literary form. The second chapter analyzes the correspondence collected in the diary of Nama indigenous leader Hendrik Witbooi, finding quite different form of (anti-)colonial multilingualism that not only presupposes linguistic creolization (in marking the beginnings of Afrikaans) but also enacts a literary creolization (outside of fiction) towards indigenous sovereignty. A third chapter on Yoko Tawada’s story “Bioskoop der Nacht” finds the history and aesthetics of creolization in colonial space invoked in a contemporary literary work, which also uses experimental writing forms to rework creolization for Germany’s European context today. The final chapter argues that Sharon Dodua Otoo’s novel Adas Raum uses creolizing multilingualism to dismantle colonial culture’s assertion that European language is an expression and container for a European identity that is defined as not-Black and as mutually exclusive with African identity. Creolization thus destabilizes the borders between cultures and languages to the end of forging an anti-racist German identity.

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266 pages


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Contemporary German Literature; Creolization; German Colonialism; Postcolonialism


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Fleming, Paul

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Adelson, Leslie
Schwarz, Anette

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Germanic Studies

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Ph. D., Germanic Studies

Degree Level

Doctor of Philosophy

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Government Document




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dissertation or thesis

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