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Turkish German (Film) Studies: Intersecting Fields, Emerging Paradigms

Scholarship on Turkish German cinema has changed greatly in response to the explosion of films since the mid-1990s; the resultant disagreements and contradictions are an integral part of this process. Thus one of the first German-language publications on the subject, the 1995 anthology "Geturkte Bilder": Zur Inszenierung von Fremden im Film (“Fake [related to: 'Turkish'] Pictures": About the Staging of Strangers in Film), edited by Ernst Karpf et al., achieves a compelling deconstruction of the filmic representation of the figure of the foreign and the foreigner. But the criticism of the representation of migration and ethnic minorities in Germany remains within a limited theoretical frame that imagines the migrants on screen only in terms of their foreignness. In the late 1990s Deniz Gokturk observed a gradual shift in filmic sensibilities from the above-mentioned “cinema of duty" to the “pleasures of hybridity"; the implications of this shift have since been discussed extensively in numerous scholarly articles (Ezli 2009; Fenner 2003; Gokturk 1999; Rendi 2006).

In responding to new filmic and critical sensibilities, scholars on both sides of the Atlantic also make use of important theoretical interventions such as Homi Bhabha's theorization of the postcolonial location of culture, Arjun Appadurai's writings on the labor of the imagination under globalization, and Hamid Naficy's concept of accented cinema (Bhabha 1994; Appadurai 1996; Naficy 2001). Gender and sexuality emerged as an important nexus of analysis and a particularly salient marker of cultural and conceptual change (Eren 2003; Gokturk 2000; Kili^bay 2006; Mennel 2002a and 2002b). On the level of formal analysis, cinematic spaces and soundscapes, too, have emerged as major sites for analyzing the films' political efficacies and aesthetic practices (Baer 2008; Gallagher 2006; Kosta 2010; Kraenzle 2009) and for utilizing the various spatial, visual, and affective turns in relation to Turkish German culture (Kaya 2007).

The theoretical apparatus developed over the last two decades, however, not only draws on methodologies from film studies and cultural theory. Literary scholars, in particular, have made critical interventions that force us to reconsider the larger theoretical framing of discussions of Turkish German culture in general. Leslie Adelson, Azade Seyhan, and B. Venkat

Mani have complicated the terms taken for granted in earlier debates on migration, ethnicity, and (national) identity. Adelson persuasively argues against reading cultural production about migration as a mimetic representation of social reality and rejects the view of migration as "inbetween" two whole cultures incommensurable with each other (2001). Seyhan extends the context for Turkish German cultural production, focusing on narratives that are not "bound by national borders, languages, and literary and critical traditions" (2001: 4). Opposed to the terms ethnic and immigrant literature, she prefers the concept "transnational" as "a genre of writing that operates outside the national canon" (2001: 10). Continuing Adelson's and Seyhan's complication of the relationships of authors and texts bound by national imaginaries, B. Venkat Mani endows literary texts with the ability to "push the boundaries of the German language and transform its grammar and vocabulary both literally and figuratively" putting forth "cosmopolitical claims," based on multiple simultaneous affiliations that unsettle the links among "home, belonging, and cultural citizenship" (2007: 5 and 7). Analyzing a "literature of Turkish migration" that incorporates itself "into and beyond national archives," Adelson in fact observes a Turkish turn in German culture (2005: 12).

Nonetheless, these contributions confirm that ethnicity continues to be a valid, even if problematic, category of inquiry, enhanced by a set of recent scholarly works that enable us to theorize ethnicity beyond its reductive, normative, or exclusionary functions. Ruth Mandel has shown that the German state aspires to present itself as cosmopolitan by branding itself as "tolerant humanist, and universalist" precisely through its engagement with the question of ethnicity (2008: 14). Another way of rethinking ethnicity informs Katrin Sieg's concept of ethnic drag and its implications for the productivity of cultural performance, including forms of self-ethnicization (2002). Her model allows for a conception of identity not as biologically innate but a performative masquerade able to negotiate power in the field of culture. In film studies, the interpretative frameworks anchored in this new understanding of cosmopolitan and cosmopolitical claims also extend to economic relations in the New Europe and beyond. For instance, Randall Halle's study on German Film after Germany: Toward a Transnational Aesthetic grounds the theorization of transnational film aesthetics in an economic approach, emphasizing ensembles of production and funding (2008: 30-128). In Akin's films, the focus of the anthology's fourth part, he finds a transnational normalcy that moves beyond the model of cohabitation and opens up a space similar to Mani's vision of cosmopolitical claims.

Theoretical approaches to the transnational flows of culture have significantly shaped the discussion of Turkish German cinema since the mid-1990s and linked it to new research in critical geography, anthropology, and cultural studies. The growing interest in European cinema as a category of academic inquiry and cultural consumption has allowed scholars to examine Turkish German cinema in comparative contexts, from Deniz Gokturk's participation in early transnational diasporic cinema research to Daniela Berghahn's and Claudia Sternberg's coedited 2010 volume on European Cinema in Motion: Migrant and Diasporic Film in Contemporary Europe. Meanwhile Turkish German films are used to expand and complicate standard accounts of German film history (Bergfelder et al. 2008; Hake 2008; Brockmann 2010); this phenomenon can even be observed in the limited academic engagement with Turkish German cinema in Germany, as evidenced by Ozkan Ezli's 2010 edited volume on Akin's Auf der anderen Seite (The Edge of Heaven, 2007). Last but not least, on both sides of the Atlantic, the growing interest in Turkish German cinema cannot be separated from the proliferation of film festivals such as the Nuremberg- based Filmfestival Turkei/Deutschland (Film Festival Turkey/Germany), the availability of many (subtitled) films on DVDs and their exhibition in noncommercial and commercial venues, the inclusion of representative films in German-culture courses offered at British and North American universities, and the active involvement of academic publishing houses in promoting scholarship on the subject.

 
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