Table of Contents:
MULTIPLE SCREENS AND PLATFORMS: FROM DOCUMENTARY AND TELEVISION TO INSTALLATION ART
Roots and Routes of the Diasporic Documentarian: A Psychogeography of Fatih Akin's We Forgot to Go Back
Since the mid-1990s, several autobiographical documentaries have emerged in the German media, shot by filmmakers of Turkish or Kurdish descent utilizing the camera as an experiential device for exploring their relationship to their bicultural heritage. As an increasingly global film practice, first- person filmmaking displays myriad stylistic variations: on the one hand, avant-garde abstraction from the indexical image, lyricism, and poetic qualities, and, on the other, an investment in referentiality and history. In some films, the evidentiary status of the self is visibly verifiable and retraces a personal chronology also encompassing family members, while in others authorial self-inscription may only be discernible in the voiceover commentary. Paul John Eakin's notion of relational identity remains salient in all instances, such that experiences of different individuals are "nested one within the other—self, family, community, set in a physical and cultural geography, in an unfolding history" (1999: 85). What makes the autobiographical stance such a powerful mode of intervention is the use of reflexivity "not to necessarily eradicate the real as much as to complicate referential claims" regarding the self and others (Lane 2002: 18). There is a powerful spatial dimension to this endeavor, one captured in the German term Selbstverortung, implying as it does the localization of self, of getting one's bearings in space and time, somewhere between past and present, between here and there (Curtis 2006: 7). In negotiating between the subjective intimacies of personal experience, i.e., the world within, and the quasi-objective public nature of historical circumstance, i.e., the world without, this mode also correlates with other scales of spatial negotiation especially pertinent to the interstitial position of the Turkish German filmmaker of dual heritage, the "diasporic documentarian." Ensconced in the German cultural realm but also possessing internal cultural and linguistic access to Turkish communities in both Germany and Turkey, they are able to shift optics to view both countries and cultures "from afar," to quote Thomas Arslan's essay film Aus der Ferne (From Far Away, 2006).
Their geographical traversals of national borders constitute metaphors of heightened mobility that render ambiguous the distinction between points of origin and of return. There is a sustained tension between "routes" and "roots," as the second generation reverses the path of global capital and flexible labor practices that first lured their parents to Germany, enacting journeys of return that may verge on revalorizing a bounded sense of primordial place in the maternal or paternal village of origin. The ambiguity about which sphere—territorial, cultural, linguistic, discursive— ultimately constitutes the inside and which the outside becomes itself an important source of inspiration as well as friction. To acknowledge the spatial ambiguities that haunt these cultural explorations, however, is by no means to relegate their human subjects to that "imaginary bridge 'between two worlds'" Leslie Adelson (2001) maintains has haunted sociologically inflected public discourse and scholarly discussion of cultural production by foreign nationals and by variously "hyphenated" Germans. That locus, she suggests, "is designed to keep discrete worlds apart as much as it is pretends to bring them together" (2001: 246). She describes her own object of study, Turco-German literature, as "a threshold that beckons, not a tired bridge 'between two worlds'" and adds: "Entering this threshold space is an imaginative challenge that has yet to be widely met" (2001: 248).
Homi Bhabha's notion of third space has also gained popularity among postcolonial scholars. The term has assumed different meanings in his writings, at once describing a cultural locus produced by "wandering peoples who ... are themselves the marks of a shifting boundary that alienates the frontiers of the modern nation" (1990: 315), but also the "general conditions of language" (1994: 36), in which the ongoing performance of cultural discourses always produces an excess or noncoincidence of a given culture with itself that enables "third spaces." Pointing out the potentialities and pitfalls of the concept, Deniz Gokturk has maintained, "the experience of migration can be understood as a productive provocation which creates a transnational 'third space' of travel and translation where our traditional patterns of classifying culture are put into question. While celebrating this 'third space' however, we ought to be cautious not to forget about local specificities and differences as we create a third box for 'mixed pickles'" (2001: 133). Having come to mean too many things in too many contexts, I believe the term's gestural invocation in otherwise cogent scholarly discussions of the Turkish German cultural nexus enacts an ultimately illusory Hegelian Aufhebung (sublation), an unsatisfying resolution of negotiations of perhaps irreconcilable discursive complexity. When such readings produce a valorized third space out of a facile amalgam of purportedly homogeneous German and
Turkish realms, they verge on perpetuating precisely those binaries they seek to deconstruct. Although often attributed an emancipatory valence in relation to dominant cultures, the hybridization processes that underpin notions of third space are, moreover, equally at work in the operations of hegemony, and indeed, of capitalism (Mitchell 1997).
My ensuing analysis tries to circumvent static spatial designators, instead working off the dynamic and performative notion of "spatial practices" advanced by Michel de Certeau (1984). The latter theorist employs the term in his exegesis on the practice of everyday life to refer to the ways we variously use, appropriate, and define specific locales or places, and hereby instantiate socially inscribed spaces. In asserting that "space is a practiced place" (1984: 117), de Certeau acknowledges his intellectual debt to Maurice Merleau-Ponty, who first maintained that "space is existential" and "existence is spatial" (Merleau-Ponty 1989: 342). The tension between place and space, i.e., between concrete geographical locations and the spatial operations of historical subjects that produce a space and imbue it with cultural, ideological, and political associations, is salient to the human experience. But it is also inherent to storytelling, "carrying out a labor that constantly transforms places into spaces or spaces into places," for stories "organize the play of changing relationship between places and spaces" (de Certeau 1984: 118). This assumes a certain medium specificity in cinematic narration, where several layers of spatial organization are operative, from the protagonists who occupy the mise en scene in strategic ways, to cinematographic considerations involving camera placement and movement, to the specific spatiotemporal logic charted by the editing itself.
The type of first-person filmmaking under examination here, in particular, can be understood to function as what Adelson elsewhere has coined Orte des Umdenkens (Sites of Reorientation), defined as "imaginative sites where cultural orientation is being radically rethought" (2001: 247). Via the camera, these filmmakers work through their affinity for, and affiliation with, the respective geographical locales of Germany and Turkey, physically traversing these sites and bringing forth the topological dimensions of the Greek word for recounted or narrated story, diegesis. Functioning at once as author, narrator, and protagonist, they literally enact an itinerary that variously redraws boundaries, charts new vectors between people and places, and expands frontiers.
Fatih Akin's Wir haben vergessen zuruckzukehren (We Forgot to Go Back, 2001) is richly exemplary for these spatial practices. Akin was inspired to make his film after viewing Seyhan Derin's Ich bin die Tochter meiner Mutter (I Am My Mother's Daughter, 1996), which constituted her final project in fulfillment of the degree requirements at the Munich School of Film and Television (HFF Munchen). Coincidentally both films trace journeys to the same region of northern Anatolia bordering the Black Sea where their respective families originate. Their production circumstances, however, are quite distinct. Derin's biographical circumstances, like those of Kurdish German filmmaker Yuksel Yavuz (Mein Vater, der Gastarbeiter/ My Father, the Guestworker, 1995), conform to those Jim Lane (2002), writing in the American context, has maintained characterize a genre in which the authors "are not artists with a large body of established work that may engender wide recognition or viewership. The autobiographical documentarist is more often a filmmaker working in anonymity, at a very local level, under low-budget constraints. We enter the film or video with little preconception of the author's history, a situation akin to such nontraditional written autobiographies as slave narratives, captivity narratives, diaries, and memoirs" (2002: 4). The artist may thereupon gain public recognition, even acclaim, but their initial autobiographical authority depends "less on who they are as public figures and more on their existential interaction with historical events" (2002: 4).
By contrast, Akin had yet to achieve auteur status but had received enough critical acclaim for his first feature-length film Kurz und schmerzlos (Short Sharp Shock, 1998) and the ensuing light-hearted road movie Im Juli (In July, 2000) to induce a heightened awareness of his public self-presentation. This emerging investment in the status of one's image—a perhaps inevitable liability of international success—arguably makes it more difficult to take the emotional risks that otherwise lend the autobiographical genre its depth of emotion, originality, and discursive complexity. Akin had already drawn media attention for his Turkish heritage, and thus his journey to explore his family background risks overdetermination. The challenge becomes that of not surrendering to pre-existing cliches generated by the popular press about oneself or one's ethnicity, or alternately, of appropriating them through acts of postmodern citation that defer authorial identity along a string of pre-existing popular culture associations and thereby also deflect any intimate confrontation with the self. This latter approach appears operative in Akin's film, whether self-consciously fashioned or simply an extension of his general inclination, as a self-identified member of the hip hop generation, to "sample" or borrow from other filmmakers, most particularly American independent cinema.1
Richly evident is, for example, the influence of Martin Scorsese's family documentary, Italianamerican (1974), also shot before he became an acclaimed auteur but had established himself with three feature films, including Mean Streets (1973). The clumsy, inadvertently humorous, and richly insightful family portrait of Scorsese's working-class parents and their Sicilian heritage reveals the personal motivation for his early and continuing directorial preoccupation with Italian American street life in New York. Akin's film takes up techniques and themes from Scorsese's film and struggles in analogous manner with how much to incorporate the authorial self within the unfolding domestic scene. Scorsese's relationship to his historically and geographically removed Sicilian heritage is mediated entirely through the oral narratives of his native New Yorker parents. Their description of living standards of an earlier era acquires visual and historical veracity by intercutting still portraits of familial ancestors and stock photos of back alleys of typical New York tenements draped with the laundry of multiple families. References to the "old country," in turn, posit a romanticized ancestral homeland as structural antinomy to the trope of cultural integration, and, ultimately, of assimilation within multicultural America exemplified in his mother's self-conscious efforts to appear tolerant of other ethnic groups (e.g., the Irish) in the same neighborhood.
Akin's project explicitly takes up this multi-culturalist trope, whose prevalence in American popular culture already in his earlier films functions, in the words of Gerd Gemunden, as "a model for social and ethnic integration, cultural hybridity, and progressive notions of immigration and citizenship" (2004: 189). Yet in contrast to Scorsese, whose film was shot entirely in his family's living room, Akin and other Turkish/Kurdish German documentarists display a more mobile relationship to space. Indeed, their literal border crossings between Turkey and Germany exemplify the more historically immediate nature of their family's integration into a nation that has emerged only recently as "a land of immigration." If there is a positive effect to be found in the globalization of American popular culture and of Hollywood in particular, Gemunden maintains it resides in "the fostering of supranational imagined communities that displace those of the nation state. For minorities living in a nation such as Germany ... this is an attractive position" (2004: 188). Yet that popular culture, as Fredric Jameson has pointed forth, also "represses social anxieties and concerns by the narrative construction of imaginary resolutions and by the projection of an optical illusion of social harmony" (2000: 138). In participating in this "cultural dominant" involving a postmodern repetition of mass cultural forms, Akin's documentary treads an uneasy path between utopian longing and reification.
The film was co-commissioned by the Bavarian and West German Public Broadcasting Companies as part of the series, "Denk ich an Deutschland ... Filmemacher uber das eigene Land" ("When I Think of Germany ... Filmmakers Focus On Their Homeland"), whose title draws inspiration from the first verse of a Heinrich Heine poem "Nachtgedanken" (Night Thoughts), which begins with the phrase "Denk ich an Deutschland in der Nacht, dann bin ich um den Schlaf gebracht" (If I think of Germany at night, I am robbed of all sleep). Also featured are documentaries by Doris Dorrie, Andreas Dresen, Andreas Kleinert, Peter Lilienthal, Katja Riemann, and others, which take stock of the increasingly complex social, political, and economic landscape of post-Wall Germany. It is perhaps in this funding framework that Akin dwells more explicitly than other compatriot directors of bicultural heritage engaged in first-person endeavors, on questions of local, national, and cultural affiliation, with consequences for how the biographical, narrational, and profilmic self is articulated and, perhaps, reified relative to different scales of space.
If the initial forty to ninety seconds of a film are among the most self-conscious (Bordwell et al. 1985: 25), this is particularly true for first- person films, which often seal what Philippe Lejeune has coined "the autobiographical pact" by confirming that author, narrator, and protagonist are one and the same (1989: 4). By introducing his film with a photographic portrait of his parents early in their marriage, taken probably in the late 1960s, Fatih Akin appears to displace attention to them as the actual object of his investigation. Yet his accompanying voice-over recollection of being raised with their recurring reminder that "someday we will return [to Turkey], we are not here to stay" underscores not only the young Turkish couple's initial ambivalence about settling in a foreign country, but also the point of intergenerational tension in the film itself, against which their son Fatih arguably shapes his own identity as that of a native Hamburger, at home within the ensuing referential setting of the film but also fully secure in the role he occupies as its narrator and protagonist.
The pop tune "Family Affair" (Sly and The Family Stone, 1971) initiates the cut to a photo studio portrait from the later 1970s, panning across the faces of individual family members as the title, We Forgot to Go Back is superimposed on the scene. Voice-over, musical lyrics, image, and print text converge to convey that transience and impermanence dwell at the core of this particular version of what Sigmund Freud once coined the "family romance" (1975: 9). The Viennese psychoanalyst and family father of six adopted the term to identify a fantasy the adolescent psyche commonly invokes to aid in the process of parental separation and individuation: that of being freed from the family of birth and becoming associated with one of higher, or otherwise idealized or normative social standing. This desire fundamentally originates out of questions of identity, not relative to the
Figure 4.1 Fatih Akin in We Forgot to Go Back, DVD capture ego or the agency of the mind, but as an effort to locate oneself within a personally viable and meaningful relational history and to use this as the basis for making sense of and in the world. In Akin's case, the path to individuation involves casting the terms of his origins in such a way as to establish a geographically and culturally secure standing, i.e., of indigeneity and unconditional belonging in relation to a bounded place and socio-cultural context—here, Altona in Hamburg, Germany. Through use of African American pop music from the 1970s as a sound bridge between key scenes, however, he also connotatively aligns this identity with the cosmopolitan consumerism of global youth culture and its tendency to engage in "nostalgia without memory" (Appadurai 1996: 30).
Those musical lyrics trail off precisely on the phrase "One child grows up to be ..." and a match edit from his toddler face to Akin in close profile within a car interior, so as to link the trope of "local boy makes good" to a man that had already garnered a degree of celebrity status. The opening voice-over now anchors itself in the diegesis as Akin goes on explain to the unseen passenger beside him—the camera operator and stand-in for the spectator—why he is making this film. The dramaturgical conceit of filming him while driving literally and figuratively underscores that he is in the driver's seat, in control of the narrative journey on which he is embarking. In contrast to scenes shot in a moving train, which often connote passive contemplation and travel via regulated timetables and along predetermined routes, the automobile has long served in different cultural and historical contexts as a symbol of social mobility lending the driver an aura of bourgeois propriety, and evincing his or her autonomous and individualized mastery of space. Akin's staging is thus charged with a degree of performativity in which the car becomes a "bionic prosthesis" (Lackey 1997: 32) for his expanded identity, enabling him to display what Mark Osteen, discussing the role of the automobile in American film noir, refers to as "upward mobility through automobility" (2008: 187). Given Akin's cathected relationship to American cinema, where traveling shots within car interiors have long occupied an iconic role, it is little wonder he would choose an analogous maneuver to refute his parents' long-standing assumption that they would return for good to Turkey and abnegate anything but a transient cultural and social claim to live in Germany. Instead, the scene affirms Akin's affinity for his home district and his sense of social belonging, as he confidently surveys the neighborhood through the windshield and nods in recognition at the occasional passerby.
As in other diasporic documentaries, movement through time and space becomes the anamnestic vehicle for stream-of-consciousness recollections. Yet, whereas the psychoanalytical regression in, for example, Seyhan Derin's visual dreamscape in a moving train is enacted entirely at the nonlinguistic level, Akin's bears echoes of the Freudian talking cure. The intimate setting mimics the therapeutic encounter in which the analysand (driver) voices his associative thoughts while facing away from the analyst (i.e., camera operator). The Oedipal anxieties about Akin's origins and about the role of the totemic paternal signifier against which he has variously shaped his own gendered identity are intercut with recorded footage of another quasi-therapeutic confessional encounter—that of his parents on their living room couch responding to Akin's off-camera queries about their arrival in Germany back in the 1960s and about their early married life. The film's discourse is thus generated from the point of view of a son caught up in object relations, expressing his fascination with past anecdotes his parents have shared about their individual lives in Turkey, about their hopes and struggles upon arriving in Hamburg, and about early married life. This engagement with his parents as individuals whose history precedes his own entry into the world represents a site of universal fascination and anxiety for all (adult) children. It destabilizes the prevalent narcissistic assumption that our parents' lives essentially commenced to have meaning only upon our arrival in the world. The relocation of Mustafa and Hadiye Akin to Germany assumes an almost exotic dimension when their son speculates that the cultural adjustments had to have been as dramatic "as if I were to up and move to Russia or something." But Akin's pride in them is also closely linked to the agency of the ego-ideal, which Freud (1914) suggests gradually emerges out of the ego's original narcissism as it is repeatedly "disturbed by the admonitions of others and his own critical judgment is awakened" (1959: 51). Lacan, in turn, has read Freud's ego ideal as that agency for whose gaze the individual subject or ego seeks to actualize itself in the most idealized light (1981: 257).
Ever the storyteller, Akin begins subconsciously to frame not only his parents but also himself in the nostalgic discourse of classic American immigration and upward mobility. Following his visit to his parents, where he had posed questions as once did Martin Scorsese, from off camera, while they sat on the living room coach, he explains: "I wanted to make a film about my family. I wanted to show, 'Hey, these guys came here and didn't even have a toilet and now their kids are working at the German consulate and making films.'" His recourse (within the original German dialogue) to specifically the English word "family" implies that the German cognate would be inadequate to the trope he conjures from American multicultural identity politics. Having inserted himself into this idealized integrationist narrative of the American dream, he projects an extended genealogy that also includes the next generation, his (yet to be conceived) children, whom he anticipates one day regarding him with the same degree of historical distance and, perhaps, fascination as he has his own parents: "That's why I'm making this film. So that someday I can show my kids, 'Hey, those are your grandparents.' My kids will probably be more German than I am, assuming they have a German mother. So 'This is where they're from, this is how they spoke German, this is what they were like.'" Embedded in the narrative of his parental heritage is thus also a narrative of the self as projected from the place of the big Other, here, his future children, similarly bearing witness to their father's habitus and speech.
If the film's editing deftly enunciates "the peculiar chronicities of late capitalism" (Appadurai 1996: 30) in temporal registers of past, present, and future perfect, from a spatial point of view, it also evokes the Freudian topological division of reality into an interior world—here, the automobile as prosthetic extension of Akin's psyche—and an exterior world of object relations that include his parents but also the urban landscape and its ethnically diverse inhabitants. The car windshield herein substitutes for the camera lens itself as the technology enabling distanciation between observer and observed, with the open window evincing the semipermeability of this simultaneously psychical and cinematic membrane. The visual style of urban flanerie is very reminiscent of that of Raoul Coutard, cameraman for Jean-Luc Godard's A bout de souffle (Breathless, 1960) and soon after, for Jean Rouch's Chronique d'un ete (Chronicle of a Summer, 1960). The striking glimpses of Paris in late summer captured by Coutard's camera while filming Jean-Paul Belmondo driving in his stolen Thunderbird convertible were enabled by, and participated in, the French cinema verite movement. That approach to documentary emerged as a result of the lightweight 16 mm Arriflex cameras used with the portable Nagra sound recorders, which allowed a reduced crew to accompany subjects in everyday routines such as riding a car or walking in the street. Proponents of the American direct cinema movement (Robert Drew, Richard Leacock, D. A. Pennebaker) sought to replicate "being there" under the assumption that the less obtrusive technology exercised no discernible influence upon the scene at hand. French ethnographer Jean Rouch and
Figure 4.2 Mustafa and Hadiye Akin in We Forgot to Go Back, DVD capture sociologist Edgar Morin, however, used the camera as a "psychoanalytic stimulant" they maintained triggered truths from the individuals filmed that would not have emerged were a camera not running (Levin 1971: 136). Certainly, the famous scene in Chronicle of a Summer of Holocaust survivor Marceline Loridan recalling her father's deportation to Birkenau in 1943 as she perambulates through Les Halles exemplifies the way the mobile camera could be deployed to trigger stream-of-consciousness ruminations rich with psychological revelation even when that testimony was later revealed to be historically inaccurate.
The same ideological contradictions that inhere in Chronicle of a Summer also characterize Akin's automobile sequence: the camera's presence has a provocative effect on its participant but remains itself curiously invisible. Viewers are thereby subject to a naturalization of the profilmic event that entails repression of the work of signification on many levels: that of camerawork, editing, and even the speaking subject's own censorial interventions. Effectively, this is a tension between film as evidence, as reflecting meaning, on the one hand, and acknowledgment of film as text, as semiotic activity, on the other. This correlates with a sense of reality "out there" beyond the windshield, and of Akin as part of a cognitive apparatus "inside" the vehicle. Both realms are subject to interpretation even if Freud has maintained, "internal objects are less unknowable than the external world" (1975, 14: 171). Freud's later writings indicate he had begun to rethink this topology and view the "psychical apparatus extended into space" (1975, 23: 196), and space, in turn, as "the projection of the extension of the psychical apparatus" (1975, 23: 300). If Akin's running monologue expresses his desire to locate himself within a genealogy that is relational, i.e., pertaining to his social place among family and friends, the camerawork and editing in turn spatialize those relations by topologically mapping his desire onto his everyday surroundings. Shown in profile in the car interior as he remarks that his own children will likely be even more German than he is, the depth of field created through his side window enacts an extended tracking along the historical housing facades of Altona. Later in that sequence he speaks more emphatically about his identification with this milieu: "I'm from Hamburg. Altona is my home. This is where I was born. People from fifty-five different countries live here." As if on cue, he pulls up beside an Afro German friend on his bike to shake his hand as the man breaks into an enthusiastic street rap.
The film thereupon cuts to Akin on foot, explaining that they are now going to his friend Adam Bousdoukous, who invested his earnings from acting in Short Sharp Shock to open a tavern in Altona and "now it's our restaurant." Greek accordion music provides a sound bridge into the festive locale, which is filled to capacity. The camerawork becomes immersive, moving fluidly around tables of patrons and cutting to closeups as they talk animatedly amidst open bottles of wine and plates of food. The ethnic entrepreneur's remark, "I bring Greece to Germany, that is my job," capitalizes on national affiliations, but when later pressed as to where his personal identifications lie, he reverts to the local or even cosmopolitan: "I don't really think of myself as German. I'm a Hamburger." Ensuing footage of Akin's mother teaching a classroom of Turkish-speaking children in Hamburg similarly underscores the way that diasporic communities build upon "imagined worlds," which "are constituted by the historically situated imagination of persons and groups spread around the world" (Appadurai 1996: 33). Against the backdrop of a map of Turkey, they sing lyrics translated as, "Far away there is a village. This village is our village. Even when we are not there, even when we don't go to visit. This is our village."
Those lines initiate the shift in geographical setting, cutting directly to the Istanbul airport where a film clapboard snaps shut on a glimpse of jetlagged travelers pushing along luggage carts. The ensuing visual montage continues the theme of urban flanerie first initiated in Altona, with traveling shots of Istanbul at night from a moving automobile, an establishing shot of the city against the backdrop of the rising sun, and pedestrian footage of the dense throngs moving in broad daylight through city streets whose topography of donkeys and automobiles offers evidence of the nonsynchronicity within Turkey's modernity. This viewpoint is no longer explicitly aligned with Akin's persona as it was in the car interior; it diffuses into an anonymous touristic gaze whose primary function is to establish locality. The accompanying American soul tune, Johnny Mathis's "I'm Coming Home," creates an affective overlay for the testimonials Akin will gather in that city: "Going back where I come from. I've had more than I can stand of watchin' men destroy my dreams. They picked my brain till it was clean. When I was up, they knocked me down. I ain't goin' to hang around, I'm goin' home." His father's sister, Turkan, and her husband Fikret resided in Germany for many years and their daughter Vildan ("Villi") and son Hikmet were born and raised there; when the couple eventually chose to return home, their adult children followed them. Their comments are inevitably more nuanced than Mathis's lyrics, recounting the challenges of acculturation in Germany, but also of reintegration in Turkey. What binds their individual narratives is a wistfulness about what is lost and what is gained in both countries through the choice to be anchored in a particular locale.
Svetlana Boym defines nostalgia as "a longing for a home that no longer exists or has never existed" in her masterful study of its relationship to global modernity since the dissolution of the Cold War (2001: xii). If it is a sentiment of loss and displacement, it is also "a romance with one's own fantasy," one that "can only survive in a long distance relationship" (2001: xii). This is richly underscored when Akin's film signals its next shift in geographical setting via a faded touristic postcard offering an aerial view of undeveloped coastline—that of Filyos, a former fishing village on the Black Sea, and the primordial home of the Akin clan. The transitional montage begins with a closeup of a road map tracing the route Akin and his crew will take, and then shifts to traveling shots of villages their van passes along the way. The accompanying aural citation of global popular culture, Odyssey's "Going Back to My Roots," renders Turkey the projected site of a phantasmal homecoming for Akin as much as for his father's brother, Nejat Akin, who returned there after a short stay in Germany during the 1970s. Yet the lyrics "Zippin' up my boots, goin' back to my roots yeah, to the place of my birth, back down to the earth" contradict the affiliations the filmmaker previously articulated and will again assert in the final minutes of the film, as a native-born Hamburger. The acoustic fantasy fades amidst the diegetic sound of tides lapping on an empty beach behind Akin, who gazes around him, disoriented and incredulous. He explains that there used to be thirty or forty fishing boats moored along the shoreline, which he found wonderful; yonder they always played football in the fields between old rusting wagons. The camera pans 360 degrees, as if to register his vertigo about the changes wrought upon the former village of "about ten homes, no more" now peppered with low-rise apartment buildings and single family dwellings. In the ensuing encounter with Nejat Akin at his home, the uncle seems ill at ease, first reluctant to talk and then rambling in an elliptical fashion that evidently defied editorial assimilation. Nejat indicates that he never regretted returning to Turkey and would otherwise not have the children and the life he has today, which enables him to go out fishing on the sea in summer, away from people and problems.
As Boym suggests, "homecoming—return to the imagined community— is a way of patching up the gap of alienation, turning intimate longing into belonging" (2001: 255). Certainly, the desire for belonging powerfully
Figure 4.3 The Black Sea in We Forgot to Go Back, DVD capture informs both Akin's approach to his project, and the testimonials of his wider circle of relatives—cousins, uncles, and aunts— who have traversed continents in the search for an elusive sense of entitlement within either Germany or Turkey and eventually settled in Turkey for good. Operating as "a defense mechanism in a time of accelerated rhythms of life and historical upheavals" (2001: xiv), nostalgia can be discerned in their sentimental recollections of either a seemingly prelapsarian era prior to emigration or, alternately, an idealized life left behind in Germany. Even as the ambivalences expressed most especially among the second generation, i.e., Akin's cousins, bear an immediate historical and cultural specificity, they will also resonate with a multitude of film viewers, since, as Boym suggests, "the mourning of displacement and temporal irreversibility is at the very core of the modern condition" (2001: xvi).
As a psychical defense mechanism, then, nostalgia need not be solely regressive but can also be understood as "a symptom of our age, a historical emotion" (Boym 2001: 225). The archival value of We Forgot to Go Back rests in how the documentary bears witness to this emotion at the level of both discourse and diegesis, navigating a tenuous path between what Boym has identified as restorative nostalgia, i.e., local longing preoccupied with a return to origins, and reflective nostalgia, which dwells in ambivalence, embraces contradictions, and, as such, represents precisely "a new understanding of time and space that made the division into 'local' and 'universal' possible" (2001: xvi). Akin's use of the participatory mode of visual anthropologists blends with elements of autoethnography to map these conflictual psychical processes onto the topographies of both Germany and Turkey. The final two shots of the film evoke the disjunctures that underpin such an endeavor. On her living room couch in Hamburg, Hadiye Akin pragmatically points out that Turkey today is only a three-hour flight away, herein underscoring spatiotemporal continuity between two countries and cultures. However, the ensuing final image of a small rowboat resting on the shores of Filyos against the backdrop of the sun setting into the sea situates us once more in the temporally remote phantasm of Akin's childhood recollections of an unchanged Turkey. If this recourse to poetic closure accords all too easily with the cliches of the touristic imagination, it may also point forth a liability: that of the exhaustion of representational signs that haunts certain postmodern constructions of diasporic subjectivity.
1. "When my ideas come, they all come at the same time and they come from a lot of different sources. I even recycle, like sampling in hip hop music, which I love." Interview with Fatih Akin. "It's easier to hate than to love," 19 September 2007, website of the Kaunaus International Film Festival. www.kinofestivalis.lt/en/news/easier-to-hate- than-to-love/.