Diaspora, Postmemory and the Transcultural Turn in Contemporary Jewish Writing: Barbara Honigmann’s Autofictional Writings

Jessica Ortner


According to Marianne Hirsch, descendants of exiled Holocaust survivors unwillingly inherit their parents continued dislocation: as the homeland of their ancestors has “ceased to exist” they are destined forever to remain exiled from the “space of identity” (Family 243). The German Jewish writer Barbara Honigmann is one of those descendants of exiled Holocaust survivors even though she was born in Germany to where her parents had returned after the war. However, in contrast to Hirsch, she embraces life in diaspora and self-imposed exile as the true source for constructing a genuine identity in which she is true to her Judaism. In illuminating the discrepancy between Hirsch’s analytical reading of exilic postmemory and Barbara Honigmann’s way of creating it in literature, this article shows that different conceptualizations of diaspora give rise to different postmemorial aesthetics: whereas Hirsch’s photographic aesthetics represents the melancholic insight that a return to the place of origin is impossible, nostalgic aesthetics gives in to this very desire for a “final return” (Hall). However, both the nostalgic and the photographic aesthetics are based on a territorial understanding of home and on the idea that identity is bound to a specific space. In contrast, Honigmann’s aesthetics of postmemory, which I call transcultural, perceives diasporic identity as the result of a constant blending and mixing of cultures. Thus, identity is not connected to a distinct place, but rather to a “common genealogical origin” (Boyarin, Boyarin). However, as this origin has been forgotten, the author must laboriously reconstruct it in her autofictional writings.

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