Of Awful Connections, East German Primitives, and the New Black Berlin Wall. Germany and German History in African-American Literature
Darryl Pinckney’s Black Deutschland (2016), Paul Beatty’s Slumberland (2008), and John A. Williams’ Clifford’s Blues (1999) are three recent novels by African-American authors and with African-American protagonists that are partly set in Germany and that include references to events such as the Holocaust and German Reunification. The research project plans to take these novels as points of departure for an investigation that analyzes the images of Germany and German history in African-American literature from a transnational, comparative perspective. Drawing on a theoretical framework that connects comparative imagology, Black Diaspora Studies, and the recent academic focus on (world) literature’s “multidirectional memory” (M. Rothberg) and its “cosmopolitan style” (R. Walkowitz), the project will focus on four historically diverse, cross-cultural discourses that are relevant in shaping the role of Germany and German history in African-American literature: 1) the formation of a ‘canonic’ African-American image of postromantic Wilhelminian Germany that started with W. E. B. Du Bois’ student years in Berlin (1892–1894); 2) the interwar period and the intertwining sub-discourses of the Old World as “racial haven” (R. Coles) for African-American intellectuals, and of Berlin as the “European capital of sexual libertinage”; 3) National Socialism and its relations and parallels to racism in the U.S.; 4) African-American perceptions of Germany as a divided and/or reunified country.