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Washington University in St. Louis


Topographies of Sexuality: Space, Movement, and Gender in German Literature and Film since 1989

Necia Chronister

Washington University in St. Louis,

Recommended Citation

Chronister, Necia, "Topographies of Sexuality: Space, Movement, and Gender in German Literature and Film since 1989" (2011). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. Paper 69.

This Dissertation is brought to you for free and open access by Washington University Open Scholarship. It has been accepted for inclusion in Electronic Theses and Dissertations by an authorized administrator of Washington University Open Scholarship.


Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures

Dissertation Examination Committee:

Lutz Koepnick, Chair Mary Ann Dzuback Paul Michael Lützeler Erin McGlothlin Lynne Tatlock Martina Wagner-Egelhaaf




Necia Chronister

A dissertation presented to the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences of Washington University in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy

May 2011

Saint Louis, Missouri

Copyright by

Necia Chronister

May 2011

Acknowledgements I would like to thank the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures; the

Department of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies; and the Mr. and Mrs. Spencer T. Olin

Fellowship at Washington University in St. Louis for their intellectual and financial support

during my graduate studies and the composition of this dissertation. In particular, I thank

Lutz Koepnick for helping me identify many of my intellectual blind spots and work through

them, Lynne Tatlock for her professional mentorship and her care in developing my writing,

and Paul Michael Lützeler for helping me learn about the big picture of literary studies. I also

owe thanks to Erin McGlothlin, Mary Ann Dzuback, and Martina Wagner-Egelhaaf for their

careful reading of my work and generous feedback. Finally, I would like to thank the

Graduate School Practices of Literature at the Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster for

initial feedback on my first chapter, as well as the German Academic Exchange Service

(DAAD) for providing me with the financial support to develop such a close professional

relationship with Martina Wagner-Egelhaaf and the Universität Münster.

The dissertation is never only an intellectual challenge, but an emotional one as well.

I want to thank my husband, Eric Hoffpauir, who has read every academic word I have

written in graduate school and who has loved and cared for me throughout; my daughter,

Nola, for giving me play breaks; my mom and stepdad, Sharla and Rockey Robbins, for their

unrelenting encouragement and emotional support; my dad, Rick Chronister, for having the

blind confidence in me that only a parent can have; and my sister, Lindsey Pasley, for giving

me perspective when the dissertation seemed like my whole world. Finally, I am indebted to

my friends and colleagues, Tracy Graves, Nancy Twilley, and Corey Twitchell for their

careful reading of my work, honest feedback, and humor. I couldn‘t have completed the

dissertation without your support.


Table of Contents





Chapter One:

Reading Queer Space: Theory and Methodology….…………………………………….10

Chapter Two:

The Centrality of Queer in Contemporary Representation………………………………71

Chapter Three:

Queer Heterosexuality and the Spaces of Grotesque/Abject Encounter…

Chapter Four:

Poetically Queer: Androgyny and the Spaces of Gender Ambivalence




Works Cited…………….………………………………………………………………243



A ―queer‖ thing has happened in German literature and film since 1989.

Characters in contemporary works by Fatih Akin, Judith Hermann, Bodo Kirchhoff,

Christian Kracht, Angela Krauß, and Emine Sevgi Özdamar, among others, undertake

travel within re-unified Germany and abroad with unprecedented frequency and ease.

More importantly, this travel almost always entails experimentation with sexual and/or

gender expression. Once these characters are set in motion, their gender and sexual

identities become unfettered from the ostensibly stable spaces and places of their home

nations and communities. What is more, protagonists in travel narratives and films

identify more than ever before as gay/lesbian/queer or experiment with these identities

while traveling; often these figures ―lose‖ or ―double‖ their gender, becoming

androgynous. At the end of the narrative, they tend to resist settling into a place or into a

sexual or gender identity. By creating characters who engage sexually while traveling,

these authors and director imagine a range of possibilities for understanding sexualities

and for renegotiating gender in our contemporary globalized world.

To be sure, travel and sexuality have been paired themes in literature at least since

Homer‘s Odyssey. Literary figures have always travelled abroad and encountered there

the sexual ―Other,‖ the exotic, and the foreign. In some genres, like the Bildungsroman,

sexual encounters during travel have served the purpose of heterosexualizing the (usually

male) protagonist and thereby helping him become a responsible, (re)productive adult

who is prepared to enter society upon return home (though other models and other genres

exist as well). In the texts and films I examine in this dissertation, characters do not


become heterosexualized through travel; nor do they return home ready to be responsible,

reproductive adults. Rather, characters today are often comfortable in their disorientation

and choose to resist settling, even after the trip is long over.

This trend in contemporary representation can be contextualized in part by

noting the historical developments of post-1989 Europe that put into question long

established notions of space and spatial boundaries. The fall of the Berlin Wall and

German reunification mark a political and geographical destabilization of the East/West

binary, and the developments of the European Union have made travel across national

borders within Europe virtually effortless. From a global perspective, the developments

of advanced globalization and the invention of the internet have created spaces that

transcend spatial and political boundaries, as well as the divisions of work, home, and

leisure spaces that have traditionally structured European men‘s and women‘s lives.

With the historical developments of 1989 and the 1990s that reconfigured the European

map, as well as the world-wide developments of advanced globalization and the internet,

which have ―flattened‖ space, Europeans have unprecedented access to the globe. 1

Indeed, the historical developments of 1989 and the 1990s in Europe give evidence of

1 I use the term ―advanced globalization‖ here to describe the networking of global communications media and the global distribution of goods and labor that characterize globalization today. Arguably, the world has been global since tribes and Vikings made their ways across countysides and oceans. Today, however, global distances are traversed with unprecedented ease and speed. Goods, services, and practices from across the world are available to its wealthier inhabitants and, in many cases, instantaneously. For this reason, cultures are becoming increasingly hybrid, and local cultures are forced more than ever to negotiate the meaning of local culture while integrating globalized elements. The term ―flattened space,‖ in the sense I use it here, has been popularized by economist Thomas Friedman in his book The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century (2005). In his book, Friedman argues that globalization has created a level playing field for economies of all size, because global networks of personal computers and the creation of specific kinds of software make national economies less beholden to their geographical borders and the particularities of their histories. Friedman‘s term has been adopted in discussions outside of economics to describe a collapsing of distances through the advent and proliferation of global communications media and global transportation.


shifting conceptions about spatial delineation, the nation-state, and thus perhaps also the

viability of identities based on local places. Questions about the role of space in human

self-perception have been taken up by geographers, philosophers, historians, and other

academic thinkers. As I will demonstrate in this dissertation, this historical situation in

Germany after 1989 has prompted new representations of space and mobility in literature

and film that destabilize the binaries of East/West, national/foreign, and public/private.

Concurrently, intellectual and popular conceptions about gender and sexuality

have changed as well. Since Judith Butler argued that gender is not something that one

―has‖ nor ―is,‖ but rather that one ―does,‖ gender has become destabilized as a

fundamental basis for identity and reconceived as mutable and in flux. The number of

gender and queer studies programs in the United States and abroad have multiplied since

the early 1990s, and these major fields of study have been concerned with examining the

recent proliferation of gender and sexual identity categories. Over the past two decades,

similar questions about identity have occupied thinkers in both spatial and gender/queer

theory. It is perhaps, then, no surprise that sexuality and travel have also become strong

themes in German literature and film since 1989. I will argue in this dissertation that

these destabilizations of both the spatial paradigm and the gender/sexuality system can be

understood in tandem with one another and that the connections between the two are

evidenced by their pairing in contemporary literature.

My dissertation focuses on works by one film director and five authors who

thematize travel and sexuality in their respective work: Fatih Akin, Judith Hermann,

Christian Kracht, Bodo Kirchhoff, Angela Krauß, and Emine Sevgi Özdamar. Not all of


the primary texts discussed in my dissertation can be categorized as travel literature or

film; however, all feature topoi of that genre: mobility, a heightened awareness of space,

the crossing of borders and boundaries, and a keen awareness of the body in the foreign


In his films Im Juli (2000), Gegen die Wand (2004), and Auf der anderen Seite

(2007), Fatih Akin not only thematizes heterosexuality, same-sex desire, and androgyny,

travel between Turkey and Germany, and the cultural (if no longer national) boundaries

that place restrictions on sexual object choice, but he also uses landscape and cityscapes

to place his characters in precarious situations in which sex and gender are in flux. In the

two films I examine here, Gegen die Wand and Auf der anderen Seite, Akin uses the

topographies of two German cities, Bremen and Hamburg, and of the Turkish city

Istanbul, as parallel settings for his characters, thus questioning the validity of the

East/West binary. The topographies of these cities are implicated in the problematic

relationships between his leading couples. In Gegen die Wand, he introduces androgyny

into the hetero-normative framework of the relationship of the protagonists, forcing them

to renegotiate their own heterosexual gender identities established in Hamburg and put in

flux in Istanbul. In Auf der anderen Seite, a lesbian relationship set in motion from

Germany to Turkey proves necessary for the negotiation of other same-sex familial

relationships that structure the film.

Two authors I examine in this dissertation employ queer narrators or narrators

who can be read as queer. Judith Hermann authors highly mobile and highly sexual

characters, but often omits information about her protagonists‘ respective genders. These


characters exhibit different gendered behaviors in different spaces, thus frustrating the

reader‘s attempt to assign them a gender. In Christian Kracht‘s work, sexual orientation,

rather than gender, is rendered unintelligible as his characters travel in Germany and

abroad. The first-person narrators in his novels Faserland (1995) and 1979 (2001) both

have clear sexual orientations (heterosexual and homosexual, respectively), but often

recoil from possible sexual encounters as they enter new spaces. Sexual orientation does

not correspond with sexual desire in Kracht‘s works; nor does it correspond with other

types of orientation. In 1979, the narrator‘s anxiety about sex corresponds with an

anxiety toward space, and he must rely on the androgynous figure Mavrocordato to

provide him with spatial orientation.

As we shall see, Emine Sevgi Özdamar, Bodo Kirchhoff, and Angela Krauß

denaturalize heterosexuality in their works. Bodo Kirchhoff explores male heterosexual

desire as alienating and frightening, as his protagonists travel to exotic locations and

encounter there the sexual and cultural Other. In his novels, Kirchhoff employs the

abject as an aesthetic mode to alienate the reader from the desires of his heterosexual

protagonists and to express the protagonists‘ alienation from foreign spaces as they

travel. By contrast, male friendships offer Kirchhoff‘s protagonists more fulfilling

relationships, and Kirchhoff‘s employment of the abject changes character in those texts

in which he depicts the homosocial. Emine Sevgi Özdamar employs a similar aesthetic,

the grotesque, in her autofictional works. Özdamar thematizes border crossingboth

geographically and in terms of genderand explores female heterosexual desire in

foreign spaces. The grotesque lends her narratives humor as her protagonists adjust to


living in a foreign country and have strange sexual experiences there. Finally, Angela

Krauß‘s protagonist in ―Die Überfliegerin‖ sets out into the world in search of self-

discovery and learns upon encountering two transvestites that identity is performed,

constructed, and negotiated. Her own heterosexual identity is queered when she

embraces multiplicity.

In investigating the thematic intersections of space, mobility, gender, and

sexuality in contemporary literature, I take into consideration popular and theoretical

discourses on space and gender that gained currency in the latter half of the twentieth

century. Spatial theory since Henri Lefebvre has offered models of thinking about space

not simply as a material reality, but also as socially constructed, normative, and

regulatory. Such theorists as Marc Augé, Michel de Certeau, Gilles Deleuze, Félix

Guattari, Michel Foucault, and Doreen Massey, among others, have created conceptual

models for understanding space in our contemporary world of heightened mobility and

flow. Moreover, social geographers such as Dennis Altman and Massey have examined

the implications of globalization for local constructions of gender and sexuality. These

theorists provide models for considering how spaces may be rendered aesthetically in

literature and film, as well as how gender and sexuality function in different kinds of


Spatial theory in the latter half of the twentieth century has conceptualized space

as fluid and negotiable, and thus a less stable basis for identity than previously

understood. In her groundbreaking works Gender Trouble (1990) and Bodies that Matter


(1993), Judith Butler has similarly destabilized gender as a basis for identity. 2 In these

foundational works of queer studies, Butler reconceives gender as existing neither as a

binary opposition nor on a continuum, but as a performance, a discursive reality that is

reified through the repetition of norms, behaviors, and discourses. By denaturalizing

binaries of sex and gender, Butler has created a paradigm that allows for the transgression

of long established social boundaries that also regulate sexuality. Moreover, since

Butler‘s early work, categories describing sexuality have multiplied. Theories by

intellectuals such as Butler, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, and Judith Halberstam, among

others, have found resonance in both popular culture and academic discourses, rendering

reflections on gender and sexual identity visible in public discourses in an unprecedented


In the chapters that follow, I examine the ways in which characters in

contemporary German literature and film, and particularly in those texts and films that

thematize the traversal of space, exhibit queer gender and/or sexuality. In Chapter 1, I

map out my theoretical framework for examining the spatial and gender/sexuality

systems in contemporary German literature and film. I trace the major shifts in both

spatial and queer theory and focus on their parallel concerns since 1990 as both fields of

theory reorganized themselves around the tenets of poststructuralism. In Chapter 2, I

examine constructions of queer in Judith Hermann‘s short story ―Sonja‖ (1998), Angela

Krauß‘s longer story, ―Die Überfliegerin‖ (1995), and Fatih Akin‘s film Auf der anderen

Seite (2007). The popularity of these texts provides evidence of the centrality of queer in

2 Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York: Routledge, 1990). ---, Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of „Sex‘ (London: Routledge, 1993).


contemporary representation. I demonstrate that queer appears not only in the form of

gay/lesbian/queer characters, but also can be an aesthetic mode or narrative standpoint.

Moreover, by examining the spaces of queer encounter in these texts, I show how

literature and films imagine queer and hetero-queer spaces. In Chapter 3, I turn to an

examination of heterosexuality in the works of Emine Sevgi Özdamar and Bodo

Kirchhoff. I argue that these authors use the grotesque and the abject, respectively, to

alienate the reader from their protagonists‘ heterosexual desires and thereby to queer

heterosexuality. I also discuss their characters‘ unwillingness to ―settle,‖ either into

stable relationships or into the places and spaces in which they find themselves. Finally,

in Chapter 4, I propose androgyny as an aesthetic rendering of queer sexuality and

gender. I examine the characters Mavrocordato in Christian Kracht‘s novel 1979 (2001),

the unnamed protagonist-narrator in Judith Hermann‘s short story ―Sommerhaus, später

(1998), and Sibel in Fatih Akin‘s film Gegen die Wand (2004), each of whom is capable

of displaying both masculine and feminine features at once and of oscillating between

intelligible and unintelligible gender expressions.

All literary texts in question have received attention from scholars and critics

alike, yet little work has connected these protagonists‘ travel and their sexual activity.

My dissertation demonstrates that sex, space, and mobility can, and should, be

understood in tandem with one another in many contemporary works. As I will

demonstrate, contemporary literature and film part from the conventions of the travel

narrative in which the protagonist travels in order to find a coherent sense of self and in

which sexual encounters serve that project by heterosexualizing the protagonist. Instead,


in contemporary German literature and film, characters who engage with different kinds

of spaces find their identities to be mutable and in flux. Rather than settling at the end of

the narrativeeither in terms of space or a stable gender/sexual identitythese

characters prefer to remain unsettled. They prefer to keep open the possibility of further

movement through space and further possibilities for gender and sexual expression.


Chapter 1: Reading Queer Space: Theory and Methodology

In the introduction to this dissertation, I proposed that the travel motif in

contemporary German literature and film parts from the conventional model in which the

protagonist journeys into the world in order to find a core sense of self and experiences

sexuality on the trip as part of his initiation into (re)productive adulthood. Rather, I

argue, contemporary authors and directors set their characters in motion to experience

spatial and gender/sexual ―disorientation,‖ and characters tend to remain unsettled at the

end of texts in terms of both space and a sexual/gender identity. In investigating this

trend in contemporary German literature, I turn to two fields of theory, spatial and queer

theory, that similarly examine identity as fluid, hybrid, unnstable, discursively

constructed, and performed. In this chapter, I examine the major ideas and trends in

spatial and queer theory and then turn to a discussion of the ways in which queer activism

has used ―placemaking‖ as a strategy for gaining legitimacy in the public sphere. By

looking to spatial and queer theory, as well as to the ways in which queer activism has

conceived of and used different spaces, I trace various models for understanding the

connections between gender, sexuality, and space in our material world and in the worlds

of literature and film. Finally, I conclude this chapter by briefly outlining how I employ

concepts from spatial and queer theory to analyze fictional texts in the chapters that


Spatial Theory

Space has a great deal of currency in German studies today. Conference panels,

articles, and anthologies are devoted to examining both the social implications and


literary expressions of the so-called ―spatial turn‖ in intellectual thought. Summed up

neatly by the oft-cited call ―Always spatialize!,‖ 3 the spatial turn refers to a trend in the

social sciences in the1980s and 1990s (and some two decades later in the humanities) to

privilege ―space‖ over ―time‖ as an organizing principle of intellectual interrogation. For

literary studies, this has meant learning to ―read‖ and analyze spaces in texts. Setting can

no longer be considered a mere backdrop for the temporal trajectory of plot; rather,

literary scholars are concerned with the ways in which characters engage with their

spatial environments and what that engagement with space contributes to our

understanding of texts.

In her book chapter, ―Spatial Turn‖ in Cultural Turns. Neuorientierungen in den

Kulturwissenschaften (2007), Doris Bachmann-Medick contextualizes this shift to

privileging space over time in intellectual thought. She writes that during the

Enlightenment, time was established as the privileged category of the modern era. 4

Indeed, one finds an explicit explanation for the privileging of time in Immanuel Kant‘s

Critique of Pure Reason (1781/1787). In his chapter On the Schematism of the Pure

Concepts of the Understanding Kant posits time and space as the two a priori conditions

for all understanding. Time is the a priori condition for the thinking subject‘s inner

reflection; space is the a priori condition for the existence of the outside world. Because

3 The origin of this call is disputed. A clear play on Frederic Jameson‘s slogan, ―Always historicize!‖ (The Political Unconscious, 1981), Doris Bachmann-Medick mistakenly credits Jameson himself for this call to spatialization. Other theorists have attributed the slogan to Henri Lefebvre, and feminist theorist Susan Stanford Friedmann claims to have created the slogan in her book Mapping: Feminism and the Cultural Geography of Encounter (1998).

4 Doris Bachmann-Medick, Cultural Turns. Neuorientierungen in den Kulturwissenschaften (Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt Taschenbuch Verlag, 2007).


the individual‘s reflection is primary to all understanding, time is the principal a priori

category, even for spatial interpretation. He writes, ―The concept of the understanding

contains pure synthetic unity of the manifold in general. Time, as the formal condition of

the manifold of inner sense, thus of the connection of all representations, contains a priori

manifold in pure intuition.‖ 5 According to Kant, if the world cannot be knowable, but

only interpreted through our own perceptions, then understanding of the outer world must

depend on the ―inner sense‖ of the individual, which is time. Intellectual thought should,

then, privilege time over space as an organizing principle of interrogation.

Aside from shaping intellectual discourses, time and the attendant concepts of

―progress,‖ ―transcendence,‖ ―evolution,‖ ―history,‖ and ―the future,‖ etc., have shaped

the values upon which Western culture has based itself, according to Bachmann-Medick.

Space, in this paradigm, holds a lesser value and has been associated with stasis,‖ ―the

imminent,‖ ―the cyclical‖ and ―the material present.‖ Not only has Western culture

perceived itself as operating on a historical timeline of cultural development; it has also

characterized other cultures as existing in inferior positions on that same timeline.

Bachmann-Medick writes that we can see the effects of privileging time in the

historicism and colonialism of the nineteenth century. In the age of postcolonialism and

postmodernism, temporal metaphors like ―progress‖ and ―evolution‖ have lost validity as

bases for positive values, having been exposed for their role in the colonial era in the

violent subordination of ostensibly ―lesser evolved peoples‖ like Africans, American

Indians, and Asians, for the profit of supposedly ―culturally advanced‖ Europeans. As a

5 Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Paul Guyer and Allen W. Wood (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1998) 272. I am indebted to Martina Wagner-Egelhaaf for my understanding of this concept.


result, temporal concepts have given way in the postcolonial era to spatial models of

understanding the relationships between cultures. Thinkers like Fredric Jameson, Edward

Said, and Edward Soja, among many others, have argued that cultural relationships can

be understood as existing in synchrony and constellation. 6 Whereas time had been a

linear concept that could only tolerate one cultural standard at a time, space as an

organizing category of thought prefers multiplicity, plurality, networking,

multiculturalism, and eclecticism. 7

This is not to say that space was ignored before Edward Soja coined the term

―spatial turn‖ in 1989. 8 Indeed, space and time have been considered primary categories

for understanding experience since Plato, and space has long been the subject of

geography, sociology, anthropology, architecture, and cartography. 9 However, the

proliferation of thought on space beginning in the latter half of the twentieth century has

resulted in paradigmatic changes in the way we conceptualize space and our

identification with it. Over the next several pages, I will trace the major trends in spatial

6 Bachmann-Medick 285-295.

7 Of course, political discussions on space cannot be conceived of as universally positive. Thinking in terms of space and culture brings up often troubling questions of territorialism and nationhood that do not tolerate cultural pluralism. Perhaps the most notorious example of this is Friedrich Ratzel‘s concept of Lebensraum, which I discuss in footnote 11.

8 Edward Soja, Postmodern Geographies: The Reassertion of Space in Critical Social Theory (London:

Verso, 1989). See also: Jörg Döring und Tristan Thielmann, hrsg. ―Einleitung. Was lesen wir im Raum? Der Spatial Turn und das geheime Wissen der Geographen,Spatial Turn. Das Raumparadigma in den Kultur- und Sozialwissenschaften (Bielefeld: transcript Verlag, 2008) 7-48.

9 In his play Timaeus, Plato develops the concept of the chora, which, according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is ―a three-dimensional field in which the created universe may subsist, a field that Timaeus initially calls the receptacle (hupodochê) of all becoming‘ (49a5–6) and subsequently calls ‗space‘ (chôra, 52a8, d3).‖ ―Plato‘s Timaeus,Stanford Encyclopedia of Phylosophy,


thought, focusing on the ways in which theorists have posited the relationship between

humans and their spaces. Each model of thinking about space suggests ways in which

group and individual identity is anchored in (and can become de-anchored from) spaces

and places.

Before I continue with a discussion of spatial theory, however, I should define the

terms ―space‖ and ―place‖ for this dissertation. One of the difficulties of reading spatial

theory arises from the failure of theorists to define their particular use of these seemingly

intuitive terms, and the implementation of these terms differs from theorist to theorist. In

this chapter, I survey theories on space and place and use the terms in accordance with

the particular theory in question. In the chapters that follow, I employ the term ―space‖

to describe a dimension that is dynamic and mutable as characters traverse it. ―Place,‖ on

the other hand, denotes an area that is perceived by characters as stable and

unchangeable. Both spaces and places can be arenas in which characters develop senses

of identity (or not). Both spaces and places can be named, located on maps, and

delineated. However, ―space‖ in this dissertation will be a matter of practice and

dynamism, ―place‖ a matter of established physical boundaries.

Prior to the 1970s, thinking on space was based on a ―container‖ model, in which

space was conceptualized as a pre-existing parameter within which people conducted life.

Drawing from this model, theorists like Friedrich Ratzel, Georg Simmel, and Fernand

Braudel, among others, conceptualized natural space as having a determining influence

on the people who inhabit it. At the turn of the twentieth century, Friedrich Ratzel argued

that landscapes and their inhabitants have a natural and essential relationship. In Über


die geographische Lage (1894), Ratzel asserts that the geographical situation of a people

has a determining effect on both the physical characteristics of the population and the

―character‖ of the culture as a whole. To tend one‘s land is therefore to care for one‘s

people. He writes: ―Indem ein Volk sein Land erhält, erhält es sich selbst. Sein Land zu

behalten, es in jedem Sinne zu genießen, sich in seinen Grenzen auszuleben, sieht ein

Volk als seinen nächsten Zweck

.10 Natural space is God-given, Ratzel argues,

and one‘s territory should be defended. However, it is also natural for a political unit to

expand or retract its geographical space according to its needs and political relationships

with neighboring entities. As the parameters of a culture‘s spaces change, so do the

characteristics of the entire culture. 11

Whereas Ratzel theorized the ostensibly determining effects of space on groups of

people, his contemporary, Georg Simmel, soon began to examine the inverse, that is, the

ways in which people manipulate space to create the political boundaries that are critical

for the formation of groups. Simmel argues that political boundaries are ―not a spatial

fact with sociological consequences, but a sociological fact that is formed spatially.‖ 12

For Simmel, social groups create borders in order to shape their possible experiences and

10 ―By maintaining its land, a people also maintains itself. A people sees its first purpose as upholding its land, enjoying it in every way, and living out life within its borders[…]‖ (my translation). Friedrich Ratzel, ―Über die geographische Lage‖ (1894), Raumtheorie. Grundlagentexte aus Philosophie und Kulturwissenschaften, hrsg. Jörg Dünne und Stephan Günzel (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 2006) 387.

11 Ratzel‘s geographical determinism would become dangerous as the twentieth century progressed. In his work Der Lebensraum. Eine biogeographische Studie (1901), Ratzel argues that a society functions like an organism, which, as it grows, seeks out more space to live. This concept of Lebensraum would be co-opted

by the National Socialists to justify imperialist expansion of Germany into Eastern Europe. See: Woodruff D. Smith, "Friedrich Ratzel and the Origins of Lebensraum," German Studies Review 3.1 (Feb 1980): 51-


12 Trans. David Fearon. See: ―Georg Simmel: The Sociology of Space,Website for the Center for Spatially Integrated Social Sciences (CSISS):


relationships within space. Boundaries lend a group a sense of cohesion, because they

mark a physical expression of ―sameness.‖ Moreover, spatial boundares determine the

relationships of one social group with others, that is, they establish the ―proximity‖ or

―distance‖ of other groups. According to Simmel, the ultimate validation of a social

group is a space of its own. 13

Space has been the subject of not only human geography and sociology, but more

recently, of history as well. In the mid-twentieth century, historian Fernand Braudel, as a

leader of the Annales school of historiography, rejected teleological accounts of the past

and argued instead for a materialist human geography, or a géohistoire, in order to

explain how the past informs the present. In his seminal work The Mediterranean and

the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II (1945) he writes that géohistoire means

discovering a history of space. He states: To pose the human problems the way that an

intelligent human geography sees them, distributed spatially and charted whenever

possibleyes we certainly should. However, they should not be posed only for the

present and in the present, but rather, find their application in the past by accounting for

time.14 To support his call for spatializing history, he examines how the people on the

Mediterranean Sea interacted with their unique geographical positioning to build their

cultures and thus create their histories. Careful to distance himself from the geographical

13 Georg Simmel, ―Über räumliche Projektionen sozialer Formen,Raumtheorie. Grundlagentexte aus Philosophie und Kulturwissenschaften, hrsg. Jörg Dünne und Stephan Günzel (Frankfurt am Main:

Suhrkamp, 2006) 304-316.

14 Fernand Braudel, ―Géohistoire und geographischer Determinismus,Raumtheorie. Grundlagentexte aus Philosophie und Kulturwissenschaften, hrsg. Jörg Dünne und Stephan Günzel (Frankfurt am Main:

Suhrkamp, 2006) 395. (My translation from German).


determinism of Friedrich Ratzel, he argues that the time, space, and agency of a people in

their environments are all connected in producing history.

Ratzel, Simmel, and Braudel are only three of numerous spatial thinkers of the

modern era who drew from a ―container‖ model of space to understand the relationship

between humans and their environments. Their work presumes that groups are formed

through the divisions of spaces into separate ―containers‖ that can then be differentiated

from the ―containers‖ of other groups. Space, in this paradigm, is the pre-existing

parameter within which human interactions take place. In 1974, however, Henri

Lefebvre changed the trajectory of spatial theory by rejecting the ―container‖ model and

arguing instead that people create spaces through their various modes of interaction. In

his seminal work The Production of Space (1974), he writes: ―Nature is

simply the

raw materials (matière première), with which the productive forces of different societies

have operated to produce their space.‖ 15 In what has become known as the ―relational‖

model of space, Lefebvre argues that each society produces its spaces through social

interactions. Lefebvre outlines three main ways in which a society produces spaces:

through 1) the ways in which it divides and uses natural space, 2) the ways in which it

represents and organizes real spaces on documents like maps and city plans, and 3) the

ways in which art produces the symbols and images by which people of that society

organize their own spatial perceptions. After Lefebvre developed his model of relational

space, spatial thinkers could no longer conceptualize space as simply the framework or

15 Braudel 395 (my translation from German).


pre-existing ―container‖ in which history takes place. Rather, we now understand space

as continually produced and reproduced through human interactions. 16

The influence of Lefebvre on spatial thinking has been far reaching. During the

1970s and 80s, theorists like Michel de Certeau, Pierre Bourdieu, and Doreen Massey,

among many others, built from Lefebvre‘s concept of relational space to examine how

spaces are produced socially and what power structures are invested in the production

and maintenance of certain spaces. Michel de Certeau demonstrates how socially

constructed, relational space is created within material space in his work The Practice of

Everyday Life (1984). 17 According to de Certeau, a space is necessarily created by those

physical barriers that delineate it, but also by the human subject who makes choices when

s/he traverses it. The city is full of possibilities and interdictions, in the form of streets,

buildings, walls, etc., which make traversing some spaces simple and others difficult. By

making choices in the creation of a path, the subject actualizes city spaces: ―In that way,

[the walking subject] makes them exist as well as emerge. But he also moves them about

and he invents others, since the crossing, drifting away or improvisation of walking

privilege, transform or abandon spatial elements.18 For de Certeau, walking can be

16 For an in-depth discussion of the philosophical debates on space as ―containers‖ versus space as

relational, see Benno Werlen, ―Andere Zeiten—Andere Räume? Zur Geographie der Globalisierung,Denken des Raums in Zeiten der Globalisierung, hrsg. Michaela Ott und Elke Uhl (Münster: Lit, 2005) 57-


17 Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, trans. Steven Rendall (1984; Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988).

18 De Certeau 98.


likened to a creative speech act, and the city provides the ―grammar‖ for such creative

walking. 19

Finally, de Certeau makes an important distinction between space and place.

Whereas a place is a set of elements that stand in specific locations in relation to one

another, space is a set of ―vectors of direction, velocities, and time variables‖ and always

implies the creative process of traversing it: ―In short, space is a practiced place.‖ 20 In

other words, a place is delineated, named, and perhaps locatable on a map. Space is the

dynamic subjective experience of a place as it becomes activated by those people who

inhabit and traverse it. It is produced by the subject, by his/her choices in walking or

otherwise moving, and in his/her interactions with other people.

De Certeau‘s contemporary, Pierre Bourdieu, is less concerned with the

production of material spaces than with the relational symbolism of space. In his chapter

Social Space and Symbolic Space,‖ in Practical Reason: On the Theory of Action

(1989), Bourdieu states that his entire body of work has the (structuralist) aims of

mapping out patterns in specific cultures, attempting to find the invariant structures

behind them, and discovering the applicability of those patterns for understanding other

cultures. 21 According to Bourdieu, one of the most universal means of understanding

cultural power structures is to look at the culture‘s use of space. Not only is space

19 De Certeau 97.

20 De Certeau 117.

21 Pierre Bourdieu, Practical Reason: On the Theory of Action, trans. Randall Johnson (1989; Stanford:

Stanford UP, 1998) 2.


allotted to individuals and social groups in a means proportionate to either economic or

social capital, but social classes derive their legitimacy through spatial metaphor:

This idea of difference, or a gap, is at the basis of the very notion of space, that is, a set of distinct and coexisting positions which are exterior to one another and which are defined in relation to one another through their mutual exteriority and their relations of proximity, vicinity, or distance, as well as through relations of order, such as above, below, and between. Certain properties of members of the petit-bourgeoisie can, for example, be deduced from the fact that they occupy an intermediate position between two extreme positions


Both social classes and individual people occupy social space, according to Bourdieu.

The social space of an individual is unique to that person (just as no two entities can

occupy the same material space) and is determined by social class, family, economic

wealth, and social capital, among other factors. According to Bourdieu‘s most influential

concept, the ―habitus,‖ a person‘s position within social space comes to be manifested on

his/her body through mannerisms, clothing, and gestures. The production of space in

society is both relational and symbolic, and each person in a society demonstrates his/her

unique position through the habitus.

Similar to Bourdieu and de Certeau, feminist geographer Doreen Massey draws

from Lefebvre in her critical reading of spatial control as a means of gendered power. In

her collection of essays Space, Place, and Gender (1994), Massey demonstrates the ways

in which, traditionally in Western culture, women‘s work within the domestic sphere has

been necessary to allow men the requisite mobility and time flexibility for productive

work in the public and political spheres. Men‘s work, which becomes then aligned with

historical notions of progress, production, and transcendence in a metaphysical manner, is

22 Bourdieu 6.


supported by a notion of femininity that is associated with cyclical work within the

household, reproduction (as opposed to production), and immanence (as opposed to

transcendence). 23 Massey‘s work has inspired an entire body of feminist spatial theory.

Feminist geographers like Joanne P. Sharp, Nancy Duncan, and Gill Valentine, among

others, have engaged in discussions about male and female spheres, gender and

citizenship, feminist architecture, and sexuality and space. 24

Massey‘s influence on the field of geography extends outside feminist discourses,

however. She takes Lefebvre‘s concept of relational space beyond its original

parameters, arguing that space is not only socially constructed and artificially rendered,

but that cultural productions of relational space should not be conceptualized as isolated

from one another. All spaces must be understood in global terms. Moreover, taking a

global perspective on space reveals that space itself is inseparable from time. She writes:

‗Space‘ is created out of the vast intricacies, the incredible complexities, of the interlocking and the non-interlocking, and the networks of relations at every scale

from local to

configured social relations (rather than as an absolute dimension) means that it cannot be seen as static. There is no choice between flow (time) and a flat surface

of instantaneous relations (space). 25

Seeing space as a moment in the intersection of

The boundaries of space are not stable. Spaces connect, merge, separate, and interrelate,

and because space is so dynamic, it can only be conceptualized in relation to its moment

in time. It is the fundamental flaw of previous spatial thinkers, according to Massey, to

23 Doreen Massey, Space, Place, and Gender, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1994). See specifically the essay ―Space, Place, and Gender‖ 185-190.

24 A good starting point for examining these discourses is the anthology Nancy Duncan, ed, Bodyspace:

Destablizing Geographies of Gender and Sexuality (London: Routledge, 1996).

25 Massey 265.


attempt to separate space and time and to confuse ―simultaneity‖ for ―stasis.‖ She argues

that ―[s]pace is not static, nor time spaceless.‖ 26 She calls for historians and geographers

to think not in terms of time or space to inform their respective fields, but rather space-

time. Moreover, in attempting to dismantle the binary of time/space, Massey also argues

for the dismantling of other related binaries that regulate power, such as male/female and


Indeed, for spatial thinkers of both the ―container‖ and ―relational‖ models, to

examine space means to scrutinize the actual and symbolic relationships between human

societies and their environments. A society‘s position in geographical space, according

to the container model, could determine the character and history of that culture.

According to the relational model, a person‘s position within society is largely shaped by

the spatial divisions that regulate class and gender. Although the ―container‖ and

―relational‖ models dominated spatial thinking in the twentieth century, outliers also exist

that are gaining new currency since the spatial turn. For example, Michel Foucault‘s

concept of the heterotopia, which focuses on the ―non-places‖ that exist rather invisibly

in all cultures, is perhaps the most frequently cited concept in spatial theory today. Gilles

Deleuze and Félix Guattari‘s ―smooth‖ and ―striated‖ spaces are similarly influential.

According to Deleuze and Guattari, a person‘s perception of space as s/he traverses it

determines the kind of space it is. Rather than theorizing static spaces and places (which

is perhaps no longer credible after Massey), these spatial thinkers prefer to examine

26 Massey 264.


dynamic spaces that change character either through practices of collection and

juxtaposition or through the subject‘s mobility through those spaces.

In his essay ―Of Other Spaces‖ (1967) Michel Foucault predicts the spatial turn

that would be named some twenty years later. He writes that while the ―great obsession‖

of the nineteenth century was history,

[t]he present epoch will perhaps be above all the epoch of space. We are in the epoch of simultaneity: we are in the epoch of juxtaposition, the epoch of the near and far, of the side-by-side, of the dispersed. We are at a moment, I believe, when our experience of the world is less that of a long life developing through time than that of a network that connects points and intersects with its own skein. 27

Rather than examining the ordinary spaces in which group identity formation occurs,

Foucault is more interested in the ―non-places‖—the utopias and heterotopias that he

contends exist in nearly all societiesin which difference, change, and the compilation

of disparate objects are valued. Utopias, he argues are ―sites with no real places. They

are sites that have a general relation of direct or inverted analogy with the real space of

Society‖ and that reflect an image of society as either perfect or the opposite of perfect. 28

The mirror, he argues, is the best example of a utopia. Heterotopias are much more

complex; they are the spaces that exist in each society that reflect elements of all other

societies. The museum and the library are good examples, in that they bring disparate

objects from all corners of the world into one building. The graveyard is a similar such

site, in that people from different ages, areas, and families are collected there. One of the

defining features of heterotopias, Foucault writes, is that one must gain permission to

27 Michael Foucault, ―Of Other Spaces,‖ trans. Jay Miskowiec, Diacritics. 16.1 (Spring 1986): 22-27. 22.

28 Foucault, ―Of Other Spaces24.


enter, either through invitation or by paying admission. The heterotopia is, therefore, not

a space one encounters on a daily basis and a space that one must make an effort to enter.

The ship, which restricts who may enter and which travels from port to port, collecting

objects and people along the way, is the best example of a heterotopia, according to

Foucault. Finally, he asserts that all non-places have one of two opposite functions:

either 1) to create an illusory space that reveals all other spaces to be illusory or 2) to

create a real space that exhibits a total degree of order and harmony unachievable in any

other space. 29

What Foucault does not make explicit, but what I find to be an intriguing aspect

of heterotopias, is that these space are always evolving. Libraries and museums acquire

materials to display; graveyards continue to bury people. The ship, which evolves

through its mobility, changes configuration at each stop, gaining new passengers and

dropping off others while it collects new objects and then sails again. The heterotopic

space is not concerned with establishing or maintaining a stable social identity for a

group of people; rather, when the subject enters heterotopic space, s/he encounters

elements of disparate cultures in continually evolving arrangements. Unlike the

―container‖ or ―relational‖ space, the heterotopic space lends itself to the suspension of

identity because it is not anchored to any one place or associated with any particular

group of people. 30

29 Foucault, ―Of Other Spaces27.

30 When discussed in tandem with Massey‘s concept of space-times that are continually in flux, Foucault‘s heterotopias can seem to describe any space. However, there are some important distinctions to be made between the two concepts. First, unlike Massey‘s spaces-times, which evolve rather organically because of


While Foucault is interested in the ―non-places‖ of societies, Gilles Deleuze and

Félix Guattari are concerned with disparate perceptions of everyday space. In their book

chapter ―1440: The Smooth and the Striated‖ in A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and

Schizophrenia (1980), Deleuze and Guattari develop two categories of space. ―Striated‖

space is characterized by its delineations: its landmarks, buildings, and points of interest

that make it unique and thus navigable. Subjects in striated space are interested in getting

from place to place. ―Smooth‖ space, by contrast, is less delineated and more fluid. The

subject does not attempt to navigate it, but rather, wanders through it without clear

intention. S/he experiences it visually, aurally, sensually, and haptically. Deleuze and

Guattari write that the smooth and the striated are not distinct types of space, but rather,

share common characteristics: ―Of course, there are points, lines, and surfaces in striated

space as well as in smooth

In striated space, lines or trajectories tend to be

subordinated to points: one goes from one point to another. In the smooth, it is the

opposite: the points are subordinated to the trajectory.‖ 31 Thus, a striated space can

become smooth and vice-versa. For example, one might expect a city space to be always

striated, but it is smooth for the flaneur. 32 Likewise, the desert or ocean, typically

the people traversing them, Foucault‘s heterotopias exist outside commonly-tread spaces and control how they evolve by restricting who and what may enter. Additionally, Massey‘s concept of space-time depends on a linear time continuum, whereas Foucault‘s heterotopias defy progressive senses of time or space. Heterotopias are composed of objects from disparate times and places in the world that are juxtaposed rather than placed in a continuum.

31 Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, ―1440: The Smooth and the Striated,A Thousand Plateaus:

Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi (1980; Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987) 478.

32 While Deleuze and Guattari use the rather obscure term ―city nomad‖ to describe the wanderer who experiences smooth space in the city, I prefer to employ the more widely received term ―flaneur‖ as developed by Walter Benjamin. Benjamin‘s flaneur is both mobile through city space and highly perceptive


considered to be ―smooth‖ spaces, can be navigable by the stars or modern technological

equipment. What Deleuze and Guattari are describing, though they do not state it

explicitly, is that space depends on the embodied perceptions of the subject while mobile.

Space becomes striated when the subject is aware of being situated in it and attempts to

navigate through it. His/her intellectual capability to interpret and navigate space

determines that space. Smooth space, by contrast, is characterized by the subject‘s

sensory perceptions. It depends on ―haptic rather than optical

It is an

intensive rather than extensive space, one of distances not of measures and

Perception in it is based on symptoms and evaluations rather than measures and

properties.‖ 33 In both cases, the traveler‘s embodiment, intentions, and perceptions

determine the kind of space s/he traverses. Space is not constructed through social

interaction; it is projected outward from the mobile subject. 34

Unlike their contemporaries who support the ―container‖ and ―relational‖ models,

Foucault, Deleuze, and Guattari are not concerned with examining issues of group

formation or social identity anchored in places and the division of spaces. Rather, they

are interested in dynamic spaces that change characteristics over time and due to the

of the sights, sounds, smells, and feeling of a city. See: Walter Benjamin, ―M: The Flaneur,‖ The Arcades Project, trans. Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 1999) 416-455. See specifically [M 1,3] on 417.

33 Deleuze and Guattari, ―The Smooth and the Striated479.

34 In the conclusion of the essay, Deleuze and Guattari discuss the political implications of striating space. The sky, for example, is a space that has changed quality through history. Once a smooth spaceone thought to be infinite and without any kind of permanent markingit is now strictly parsed into airways and no-fly zones. Spaces that are striated are controllable and thus subject to the dominating forces of

political and private interests.

state. Smooth space is the space of war; it is space available to be changed, conquered, and striated.

Striated space is the space of seated power; space that is regulated by the


mobility of those who inhabit and traverse them. Their discussion of space as something

that can be perceived outside of identity is unique, and these are among the most

frequently discussed theories on space since the ―spatial turn.‖

One important contemporary thinker follows in the footsteps of Foucault,

Deleuze, and Guattari. Marc Augé‘s Non-Places. An Introduction to Supermodernity

(1995) addresses the ways in which traditional places are disappearingnot spatially, but

phenomenologicallyin our age of unprecedented technology and mobility. According

to Augé, supermodernitycan be characterized by the disappearance, or at least de-

emphasis, of what he calls ―anthropological places,‖ which he defines as ―relational,

historical and concerned with identity.35 That is, people are spending less time in places

like towns and city neighborhoods, where people live and where identity formation is

ostensibly anchored, and more time in transitional non-places like airports, train stations,

and highways. Moreover, people live increasingly in temporary abodes like hospitals,

clinics, and hotels, where relationships are only fleeting. Even drawing money from

one‘s bank account no longer requires interaction with a human being when an ATM

machine is much more efficient. Augé writes that in this age of technological

advancement and mobility, people are much less connected with places, even though they

retain the sense of experiencing places all the time: ―The hypothesis advanced here is that

supermodernity produces non-places, meaning spaces which are not themselves

anthropological places and which

do not integrate the earlier places: instead, these are

listed, classified, promoted to the status of ‗places of memory‘, and assigned to a

35 Marc Augé, Non-Places: An Introduction to Supermodernity, trans. John Howe (London: Verso, 1995)



circumscribed and specific position.36 Non-places in the Augean sense (as opposed to

the Foucaultian sense) are those transitional spaces that disconnect the modern subject

from places, all the while giving him/her the sense of experiencing place. For example,

humans now travel at speeds never before imaginable and on routes such as the skyways,

highways, and high speed railways that bypass ―anthropological‖ places. Moreover,

these modes of transportation are designed to give the passenger a false sense of having

experienced the places s/he actually bypasses. Airplanes are supplied with travel

magazines that are intended to give the passenger a sense of having experienced a foreign

location by reading articles about shopping or the local cuisine of a place. Pilots and in-

flight video updates announce the location of the plane over the earth, giving the

passenger a sense of space traversed, even though s/he is not experiencing those places

crossed. Similarly, highways are marked with billboards and signs that announce the

attractions of a city or town. The traveler has a sense of what is characteristic of the

place without actually driving through it or stopping there. Images and texts replace

material places. These transitional spaces offer up images and texts of other places and

thus are also not experienced as places in themselves by the distracted traveler.

Moreover, the means by which the traveler gains a false sense of experiencing

place is the same means by which the identity of the traveler is made into a non-identity.

The traveler is a consumer, an ATM number, a ―security threat‖ or ―non-threat,‖ or a

destination printed on a ticket. The traveler‘s identity is de-centered from the actual

person. It is constructed through the text that markets to him/her or that identifies

36 Augé 63.


him/her through code, rather than through any core sense of self that the traveler

communicates or projects. These non-spaces eliminate social interaction and local

identity while maximizing anonymity.

Today, discourses on space are multiple and varied. While such concepts as

Foucault‘s heterotopias, Deleuze and Guattari‘s ―smooth‖ and ―striated‖ spaces, and

Augé‘s non-places sidestep issues of group identity (or dispense with them altogether),

another branch of spatial theory is concerned with the changing characteristics of cultures

and places in the age of global marketing, communication, and travel. Theorists like

Homi Bhabha and Daniela Ahrens continue to draw from Lefebvre‘s concept of relational

space to understand how cultural spaces and cultural identities are negotiated in the age

of advanced globalization. Homi Bhabha‘s notion of ―third space,‖ for example,

discusses the necessary hybridity of cultural identity in both real spaces and the ―space‖

of intercultural communication. He argues that all cultures contain a degree of diversity,

though this diversity is regulated by the norms of the dominant culture. When two

dominant cultures meet, he argues, a negotiation of norms must take place. Within this

paradigm, cultural identity is not anchored to a place or space, but rather, is mutable and

subject to reconfiguration based on the negotiation of cultures. 37 Similarly, Roland

Robertson‘s concept of ―glocalization‖ is concerned with the hybridization of ―local‖ and

―global‖ cultures in the age of globalization. According to Daniela Ahrens, who expands

on Robertson‘s concept, the local and the global cannot be conceived of as distinct spatial

37 Jonathan Rutherford, ―The Third Space. Interview with Homi Bhabha,Identity: Community, Culture, Difference, ed. Jonathan Rutherford (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1990) 207-221.


categories. Although globalization is a seemingly overwhelming force that seeks to

homogenize places through the mechanisms of marketing and chain franchises, local

cultures frustrate a total homogenization of space. Rather, local cultures select which

globalized goods and media to adopt and which to reject altogether, and they often adapt

those globalized products to fit local tastes and traditions. 38 For example, it would be

unthinkable in the United States to order a beer at a McDonald‘s, whereas in Germany,

one can. Both Bhabha and Ahrens demonstrate how cultural identity is mutable

according to the spatial reconfiguration of populations and businesses in the age of

advanced globalization.

Spatial theory in the age of advanced globalization must deal with questions of

both cultures and the individuals who move through spaces. What does identity mean

when one moves through space rather than remaining in those places where identity is

ostensibly stable? What happens to identity when the individual moves outside a space

where that identity is constituted? How do individuals perceive space as they move

through it? What kinds of spaces maximize mobility? How do people create spaces as

they traverse it? Contemporary thinkers on space continue to draw on Henri Lefebvre‘s

―relational‖ model of space to address these questions, yet newer work on space also

problematizes the ostensible cohesiveness of identity based on place that Lefebvre

assumes. Contemporary concepts such as ―third space,‖ ―glocalization,‖ the ―global

village,‖ and the ―flattening‖ of space in the era of global communications and

multiculturalism question the bases of stable group identity in a world that promises more

38 Daniela Ahrens, ―Rolle und Funktionen der Region in Zeiten der Globalisierung,Denken des Raums in Zeiten der Globalisierung, hrsg. Michaela Ott und Elke Uhl (Münster: Lit, 2005) 73-88.


access to global mobility and cultural multiplicity than ever before. With the dissolution

of stable spaces, identity must become more fluid or dissolve altogether.

I am interested in demonstrating how the fluidity or altogether dissolution of

identity has become a theme commonly paired with travel and mobility in contemporary

German literature. By outlining the major trends in spatial theory of the twentieth

century, with focus on how spatial theory posits humans‘ sense of identity in terms of

their spatial positioning, I have enumerated the approaches to space that inform my work.

Whether characters in this literature find themselves in ―container‖ spaces, in

―relationally‖ constituted spaces, or spaces that they create, activate, or fail to recognize

through their mobility, the spatial theories outlined in this introduction give us a basis for

recognizing the spatial dynamic in these contemporary German texts. In the section that

follows, I outline the ways in which queer theory similarly questions the ostensible

stability of gender and sexual identity. By demonstrating how both spatial theory and

queer theory posit the instability of identity based on spaces/places or gender/sexuality,

respectively, I focus my theoretical frameworks for examining the interplay of space and

sexuality in contemporary German literature.

Queer Theory

In February 1990, less than a year after Edward Soja coined the term ―spatial

turn,‖ Teresa de Lauretis called for a new direction in gay and lesbian studies. According

to de Lauretis, ―queer theory‖ would shift scholarly inquiry away from the identity

politics of gay liberation and lesbian feminism and re-focus attention to examine the


ways in which identities are created through discourse. 39 Rather than doing away with

the concept of identity altogether, queer theory was to examine the construction of queer

identities both within queer communities and with regard to queer‘s relationships to

heterosexuality. While queer theory was born out of a need to evaluate the construction

of, and relationships between, non-heteronormative identities, at no point has there been a

consensus on what it means to be queer.

Although ―queer‖ is used most often as an umbrella term to describe an alliance

of non-heterosexual identities, there is little consensus about the validity of that use of the

term. Gloria Anzaldúa has called queer a useful but ―false unifying umbrella,‖ that erases

the differences between gays, lesbians, the transgendered, transsexuals (pre- and post-op),

intersex people, and other seemingly limitless identity categories, as well as racial and

ethnic differences, that exist under its rubric. 40 More pointedly, Nikki Sullivan has stated

that the term queer often conjures the singular image of the white gay man. 41 At the same

time, however, queer has provided a community of inclusion for those who do not

identify along the heterosexual/homosexual binary, such as bisexual people (who are

often excluded from both straight and gay/lesbian communities), transgendered and

transsexual people (whose border crossings in terms of gender often do not correspond to

39 De Lauretis coined the term queer theory at a working conference on gay and lesbian studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz. The essays presented at that conference were published in the jounal differences in 1991. See: Teresa de Lauretis, ―Queer Theory: Lesbian and Gay Sexualities, an Introduction,differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies, 3.2 (1991): iii-xviii. Three years later, de Lauretis would distance herself from the term queer theory, arguing in the same journal that queer had ―become a conceptually vacuous creature of the publishing industry.‖ See: Teresa de Lauretis, ―Habit Changes,differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies, 6.2+3 (1994): 296-313.

40 Nikki Sullivan, A Critical Introduction to Queer Theory, (New York: New York UP, 2003) 45-47.

41 Sullivan 48.


a same-sex desire), and sadomasochists (who identify not in terms of sexual object

choice, but rather, sexual practice). 42

Additionally, queer‘s position vis-à-vis the categories gay, lesbian, and

heterosexuality is also contested in discourses on sexuality. One of the earliest

descriptions of queer comes from Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, who in her book Tendencies

(1993) argues that the term queer must preserve gay/lesbian at the heart of its definition.

She writes that although queer ―can refer to

the open mesh of possibilities, gaps,

overlaps, dissonances and resonances, lapses and excesses of meaning when the

constituent elements of anyone‘s gender, of anyone‘s sexuality aren‘t made (or can‘t be

made) to signify monolithically,‖ queer can only function if same-sex expression remains

at the ―definitional center‖ of the term. 43 Otherwise ―to displace [same sexual

expressions] from the term‘s definitional center[] would be to dematerialize any

possibility of queerness itself.‖ 44 In other words, if same-sex desire is not at the center of

queer, then queer becomes too abstract to function as an identity category.

In its most radical form, queer can be understood as being antithetical to both

heteronormativity and gay/lesbian identity categories. Some groups of people who

identify as queer, such as the activist group Queers United Against Straight-Acting

42 Sullivan 38-9 See also: Jonathan Alexander and Karen Yescavage, ―‗The Scholars Formerly Known as…‘: Bisexuality, Queerness and Identity Politics,The Ashgate Research Companion to Queer Theory, ed. Noreen Giffney and Michael O‘Rourke (Farnham: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2009) 49-65.

43 Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Tendencies, (Durham: Duke UP, 1993) 8. Sedgwick goes on to write that some of the most important and exciting work that comes out of queer exceeds the parameters of sexuality and gender, including work on race, ethnicity, nationality, etc., and that queer seems to work most effectively when dealing with issues of self-perception, performance, and experimentation. Sedgwick, Tendencies 8-9.

44 Sedgwick, Tendencies 8.


Homosexuals, have distanced themselves from homosexuality, arguing that lesbian and

gay identity categories reinforce the binary heterosexuality/homosexuality and thus

reaffirm heteronormative culture. Such groups see queer as stepping outside that binary

and thus occupying a perpetual ―outsider‖ status. They argue that the most effective

challenge to heteronormativity lies in personalizing one‘s own identity and thereby

resisting simplistic categorizations of gender or sexual identity. 45

At another extreme, queer has been conceptualized as a category capable of

including not only gays and lesbians, but also some heterosexuals. In his seminal work

Saint Foucault: Towards a Gay Hagiography (1995), David Halperin defines queer not

as an identity, but as a position against whatever is the norm: Queer is by definition

whatever is at odds with the normal, the legitimate, the dominant. There is nothing in

particular to which it necessarily refers. It is an identity without an essence. ‗Queer,

then, demarcates not a positivity but a positionality vis-à-vis the normative.46 This

position of queer could be occupied by heterosexuals, even reproductive heterosexuals,

under certain conditions. Halperin goes on to write that queer is ―not restricted to

lesbians and gay men but is in fact available to anyone who is or who feels marginalized

because of his or her sexual practices: it could include some married couples without

children, for example, or even (who knows?) some married couples with children

45 Sullivan 45-6.

46 David M. Halperin, Saint Foucault: Towards a Gay Hagiography, (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1995) 62. (original emphasis)


with, perhaps, very naughty children.47 While Halperin‘s inclusion of heterosexuals in

his definition has been charged with making queer too diffuse to be useful, it is, on the

other hand, an important attempt to dismantle the binary heterosexual/homosexual and to

position queer as a challenge against norms rather than as an identity. 48

Queer theory has come under attack for the inability of its proponents to agree on

a definition, and thus working parameters, of queer. However, the term‘s evasiveness can

be understood as indicating what queer does. Queer evades definition and

institutionalization, even while the study of queer has been taken up by universities and

pop culture alike. Queer explores the fluidity and multiplicity of identities, the instability

of identity categories per se, their historical and social contingencies, and the fictions

they rely on. As Noreen Giffney has argued, queer ―signifies the messiness of identity,

the fact that desire and thus desiring subjects cannot be placed into discrete identity

47 Halperin 62.

48 Calvin Thomas questions the extent to which heterosexuals (and particularly heterosexual men) can be taken seriously as proponents of queer theory. In his book article ―Straight with a Twist: Queer theory and the Subject of Heterosexuality‖ Thomas argues that heterosexuals must not only work intellectually with queer theory, but rather, must scrutinize their heterosexual privilege and use this privileged social position to enact change. He argues that because heterosexuals do not experience strict societal taboos and violence against their form of love, they have the luxury of ―political unconsciousness,‖ that is, of ignoring the close relationship between eroticism and the validation of social identity. However, heterosexuals who examine their privilege can use that position to queer heterosexuality and to thus challenge heteronormativity. He acknowledges that this effort requires courage, because to be perceived as queer can make one the target of prejudice and even violence. Nevertheless, it is the responsibility of those heterosexuals interested in queer equality to contest the precarious constitutive boundaries between heteronormativity and queer. Calvin Thomas, ―Straight with a Twist: Queer Theory and the Subject of Heterosexuality,The Gay „90s:

Disciplinary and Interdisciplinary Formations in Queer Studies, ed. Thomas Foster, et al (New York: New York UP, 1997) 83-115. See also: Calvin Thomas, ―On Being Post-Normal: Heterosexuality after Queer Theory,The Ashgate Research Companion to Queer Theory, ed. Noreen Giffney and Michael O‘Rourke (Farnham: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2009) 17-32.


categories, which remain static for the duration of people‘s lives.‖ 49 Proponents of queer

theory argue for its potential to challenge institutional hegemonies and norms, and the

very contestation of the term queer demonstrates its effectiveness in resisting delineation

and thus institutionalization. 50

Queer theory has its roots in poststructuralist theory, a philosophical turn that

rejects the modern humanist notion of a unified, knowable, independent self and instead

examines the ways in which the ―self‖ is constructed through discourses and institutions

that wield power over concepts of knowledge and truth. 51 The ―self‖ is constructed

through the individual‘s (conscious or unconscious) participation in discourses,

performance of culturally sanctioned roles, and adherence to institutions. Informed by

this paradigm, Judith Butler‘s concept of gender as neither something that one ―has‖ or

―is,‖ but rather, as what one ―does‖ has been the most basic and most important step for

queer theorists to think outside of identity categories. 52 Butler argues that we ―do‖

gender by repeatedly performing the socially prescribed gestures and behaviors that

effectively maintain a binary concept of male/female. She contends that we can

dismantle the binary, which is limiting for those people who do not fit neatly into either

category, by ―doing‖ gender differently, that is, by experimenting with ―performative

49 Noreen Giffney, ―Introduction: The ‗q‘ Word,‖ The Ashgate Research Companion to Queer Theory, ed. Noreen Giffney and Michael O‘Rourke (Farnham: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2009) 2.

50 At the same time, however, several theorist, including Teresa de Lauretis, believe that queer has become institutionalized (precisely because it is taken up by universities), trendy, and marketable. See footnotes 39 and 84.

51 Sullivan 41.

52 Butler, Gender Trouble 79-141.


possibilities for proliferating gender configurations outside the restricting frames of

masculinist domination and compulsory heterosexuality.‖ 53 For David Halperin and

Annamarie Jagose, among others, ―doing‖ queer means taking an active stance against

heteronormative culture. 54 It means keeping the definition of queer fluid so as to have the

flexibility and agility to respond to authoritative institutions that seek to limit modes of

sexuality. This emphasis on ―doing‖ gender and queer destabilizes them as bases for an

essential, unchangeable core identity and instead empowers individuals to ―do‖ gender

and queer in a way that can liberate themselves and others.

Queer theory‘s strongest foundations can be found in the works of Michel

Foucault, Jacques Derrida, and the academic partnership of Gilles Deleuze and Félix

Guattari. Foucault‘s The History of Sexuality Volume 1 (1976) historicizes modern

discourses on sexuality and demonstrates how institutions that regulate knowledge such

as the church, the legal system, medicine, and the field of pscyhology become central to

controlling and creating categories like ―heterosexuality‖ and ―homosexuality‖ that shape

an individual‘s sense of identity. 55 He refutes the ―repressive theory,‖ i.e., that Western

society suffers largely from institutionalized repression of sexual desire, and argues

instead that Western society speaks compulsively about sex in the form of

53 Butler, Gender Trouble 141.

54 Giffney 5, Halperin 62, Sullivan 43. Others have criticized this approach, arguing that taking a position against heteronormativity reinforces the binary hetero/queer and thus fails to dismantle identity categories (Sullivan 48). However, Halperin‘s definition of queer that actually includes heterosexuals belies this critique and places queer in a position against authoritative heteronormativity rather than heterosexual people. (Giffney 2) See also: Annamarie Jagose, Queer Theory: An Introduction (New York: New York UP, 1996) 96-97.

55 Michael Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Volume 1, trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Pantheon,



institutionalized confession. By making sex a taboo subject, institutions like the church

and the legal system have forced people to develop new and creative ways to

conceptualize and discuss desire that circumvent conventional vocabulary for sex.

Additionally, the church, the law, medicine, and psychology elicit confessional accounts

of sex from ―deviants,‖ thereby expanding the discourse further. These institutions thus

wield power both to control the range of acceptable gender and sexual expression and to

foster a proliferation of discourses on sex. By historicizing the discourses that have

shaped modern categories of sexuality, Foucault denaturalizes identity categories like

―heterosexual‖ and ―homosexual‖ and shows how sexual pleasure can be created anew

through discourse.

Likewise, Jacques Derrida‘s method of deconstruction contributes to queer

theory‘s project of dismantling the heterosexual/homosexual binary. For example, in

Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of „Sex,(1993) Judith Butler uses this

method to demonstrate how heterosexuality can be considered the ―legitimate‖ form of

sexuality only if homosexuality is maintained as a category of ―illegitimate‖ sexuality.

According to Butler, homosexuality is the ―constitutive outside‖ that delineates

heterosexuality. 56 If homosexuality becomes normalized and is thus no longer the

―constitutive outside‖ that demarcates the boundaries of heterosexuality, then

heterosexuality loses its viability as the ―natural‖ category, as well as its privileged

position on the hierarchically organized binary.

56 Butler, Bodies that Matter 187-189.


Finally, the concept of ―becoming‖ as developed by Gilles Deleuze and Félix

Guattari in A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (1980) has been adopted

by queer theory to challenge the possibility of a stable identity. According to Deleuze

and Guattari, relationships and interactions, or the processes of continual ―becoming,‖ are

all that exist in terms of identity. In their example of the orchid and the wasp, in which

the orchid mimics the wasp to attract it (and thus becomes a ―becoming-wasp‖) and the

wasp becomes part of the orchid‘s reproductive system by spreading its pollen (and thus

becomes a ―becoming-orchid‖), the two entities become so entwined that they can no

longer be conceived of as separate beings. They are both ―becomings,‖ in that each is

always implicated in the ―deterritorialization‖ of the self and the ―reterritorialization‖ of

the other, so that identity is lost in favor of interaction. 57 In terms of gender and sexual

identity, ―becoming‖ is a way of thinking about fluidity of identity, interactions based on

sexual object choice or sexual practice, and the transformative nature of desire. 58 Queer

theory draws from these foundations in poststructuralism to focus on the possibility of

breaking out of heteronormative identity categories. The concepts of ―becoming‖ and of

―doing‖ gender and queer divest the notion of an essential gender or sexual identity of its

validity and make new articulations of gender and sexuality thinkable.

It is no coincidence that the term ―queer theory‖ was coined within a year of

Edward Soja‘s pronouncement of a postmodern ―spatial turn.‖ Both fields of intellectual

thought had been influenced directly by poststructuralist thinkers like Gilles Deleuze,

57 Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, ―Introduction: Rhizome,A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi (1980; Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987) 3-25.

58 Giffney 6.


Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, and Félix Guattari and began reorganizing themselves

around the concepts of construction, discourse, practice, and performance in the late

1980s and early 1990s. Previously, gay and lesbian studies of the late 1960s and 1970s

had focused on fostering notions of group identity. Gay and lesbian studies had grown

out of contemporary equal rights activism, the historicization of sexuality, and advances

in the social and hard sciences whose advocates argued for a revision of the ways in

which gay and lesbian identities were being conceptualized. Barry D. Adam describes

the era in terms of a shift in institutionally sanctioned discourses:

Psychologists were displacing the homosexuality-as-sickness view with new investigations into homophobia, the irrational prejudice directed against homosexual practices and peoples. Sociologists, anthropologists, and historians were unsettling biological models of sexuality by showing how desire is deeply shaped by cultural context, and how pet notions concerning ‗the natural‘, ‗the moral‘, and ‗the desirable‘ are peculiarly ethnocentric. 59

Gay and lesbian identity politics were supported by this work which demonstrated how

unfair the marginalization and repression of homosexuals were. They operated on the

notion that unity was central to empowerment. Identity politics were based on the

―sameness‖ of group members, a premise that would soon be challenged by queer theory

to be limiting and exclusive of those who do not fit the heterosexual/homosexual

binary. 60

59 Barry D Adam, ―From Liberation to Transgression and Beyond: Gay, Lesbian and Queer Studies at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century,Handbook of Lesbian and Gay Studies, ed. Diane Richardson and Steven Seidman (London: Sage Publications, 2002) 17.

60 Although gay liberation and lesbian feminism were related movements, there was a distinct divide in their approaches to achieving political liberation. While gay liberation worked to claim visibility for gays and lesbians in public spaces within major cities, lesbian feminism found the movement to be androcentric and took a more separatist approach. Maintaining that women would never gain full legitimacy in a society structured for and by men, lesbian feminism sought separate spaces in which women would run their own


By the 1980s new vocabulary problematized the gay/lesbian identity categories.

For example, bisexuality and transgender were categories that did not fit neatly into the

heterosexual/homosexual paradigm. 61 Moreover, for readers of Foucault, it became

apparent that the political liberation of an ―essential homosexual‖ was problematic, since

―heterosexuality‖ and ―homosexuality‖ were terms invented through western discourse.

At the same time, the grand narratives of liberation (such as Marxist liberation) were

becoming increasingly difficult to believe. 62 In the 1990s, Adam writes, ―liberation had

given way to transgression as a leading project‖ and queer theory ushered in by Judith

Butler and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick became the arena for re-thinking the articulation of

queer identities. 63 Queer theory questioned how people became categorized in the two

camps of ―heterosexual‖ and ―homosexual‖ and sought to delineate the regimes that

create and maintain the binary. 64 Whereas the identity politics of gay liberation and

lesbian feminism had taken the notion of a person‘s core identity as the basis for political

action, queer theory sought to denaturalize the notion of a core self that was to be

expressed through one‘s sex, gender, desire, and social relationships. 65 As Nikki Sullivan

businesses and make their own politics, at the extreme even creating rural, all-female settlements known as ―lesbian lands. See Jagose 75 and Gill Valentine, ―Queer Bodies and the Production of Space,Handbook of Lesbian and Gay Studies, ed. Diane Richardson and Steven Seidman (London: Sage Publications, 2002) 146-9. For more on radical lesbian feminist separatism, see Radicalesbians, ―The Woman Identified Woman,Feminist Theory: A Reader (Mountain View: Mayfield Publishing Company, 2000) 194-198.

61 Adam 15, Sullivan 39.

62 Adam 18.

63 Adam 18 (original emphasis).

64 Adam 18-19.

65 Sullivan 81.


has written: ―[O]nce normative assumptions about sex/gender are undermined and/or the

traditional focus on object choice is shown to be cultural rather than natural and

inevitable, identity categories such as heterosexual and homosexual become almost

impossible to maintain.‖ 66 In problematizing the way in which sexuality and gender were

viewed as expressions of an individual‘s core self, queer theory effectively undermined

the perceived ―naturalness‖ of the heterosexual/homosexual binary.

Of the voices that shaped early queer theory, Judith Butler has had arguably the

most wide-spread effect in theoretical discourses. Her breakthrough contribution to queer

theory, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (1990) is a genealogy

of critical discourses on gender and a critique of feminist identity politics. Feminism,

according to Butler, reinforces heteronormativity in that it assumes the existence of a

stable and viable category of people called women who have a set of common needs,

desires, and motivations. 67 She traces the feminist (and non-feminist) discourses that

construct, maintain, and critique the binary gender system of male/female, which she

calls the ―heterosexual matrix,‖ a ―hegemonic discursive/epistemic model of gender

intelligibility that assumes that for bodies to cohere and make sense there must be a stable

sex expressed through a stable gender (masculine expresses male, feminine expresses

female) that is oppositionally and hierarchically defined through the compulsory practice

66 Sullivan 15.

67 Butler, Gender Trouble vii-xii. See also: Judith Butler, ―The Force of Fantasy: Feminism, Mapplethorpe, and Discursive Excess,The Judith Butler Reader, ed. Sara Salih and Judith Butler (Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2004) 183-203.


of heterosexuality.‖ 68 The heterosexual matrix is a complex set of institutions and

discourses that approve of certain types of relationships and lifestyles (particularly those

that most closely resemble the ideal of reproductive monogamous heterosexuality) at the

expense of others and that universalize them as the ―natural‖ and ―ahistorical‖ forms of

appropriate gender and sexuality. According to Nikki Sullivan, heterosexuality can then

be understood as ―a (historically and culturally specific) truth-effect of systems of

power/knowledge‖ whose ―dominant position and current configuration are contestable

and open to change.‖ 69 Butler argues further that while the heterosexual matrix is likely

invisible to those who function well within in it—who ―perform‖ heterosexual gender

and sexual desire ―appropriately‖—it is oppressive to those whose bodies, genders, and

desires do not line up within the matrix. 70 By disregarding the construction of gender and

sexual categories as regulatory fictions, feminism merely reproduces the heterosexual

matrix, according to Butler.

Butler‘s concept of gender performativity, which is only one point among many

and which is fleshed out towards the end of Gender Trouble, has become the most widely

received and discussed concept in her entire body of work. Drawing on J. L. Austin‘s

speech act theory, Butler argues that gender is not natural or essential, but rather is reified

through patterns of behavior that express internalized norms. 71 Gender categories are

normalized in culturally and historically specific ways, and the individual‘s adherence to

68 Butler, Gender Trouble 151. Butler defines the term ―heterosexual matrix‖ in endnote #6.

69 Sullivan 39.

70 Butler, Gender Trouble 6-7, 35-38.

71 Sullivan 82.


these categories through dress and gesture, among other means, contributes to the

―intelligibility‖ of that individual‘s body in its cultural context. Under the paradigm of

the heterosexual matrix, biological sex, gender, and sexual desire must line up to mirror

heteronormative gender and sexual desire in order for the body to be ―intelligible.‖

To demonstrate how gender, sex, and desire may not map neatly according to the

heterosexual matrix, but rather are malleable in their presentation and constellation,

Butler discusses drag. The drag performer consciously layers, blends, and juxtaposes

genders through parody and masquerade, thereby demonstrating how gender is dependent

upon the stylization of the body through clothes, make-up, hair, accessories, gestures, and

behaviors. In Bodies that Matter, Butler clarifies her terms for a readership that she sees

as having used her work reductively. Performance and gender performativity should not

be confused, she warns. Performance is the conscious act of displaying gender (as in

drag performance); performativity is the (usually) unconscious act of displaying gender

in everyday behavior and thus reifying it. The drag performer operates on a level of

parody and performance while those who adhere to the heterosexual matrix

performatively reify binary gender categories. 72

In Gender Trouble and Bodies that Matter, Butler makes a second foundational

contribution to queer theory by dismantling the sex/gender distinction that is the basis of

feminist ontology. This distinction, developed by Gail Rubin in her 1975 article The

Traffic in Women: Notes on the „Political Economy‟ of Sex, maintains that biological sex

is the basis of male/female difference and that gender is the social overlay that is based

72 Butler, Bodies that Matter ix-xii, 1-23.


on that difference. Butler turns this ―truth-effect‖ on its head, questioning the privileged

position of the material body as existing prior to social meaning. Instead, she argues, the

material body cannot be interpreted without pre-existing social categories. She illustrates

her point with a well-known example: when a baby is born, the first pronouncement

made about it is ―it‘s a girl‖ or ―it‘s a boy.‖ Gender categories must first exist before the

material body can be interpreted. Because two categories exist prior to the child, the

child is categorized as one or the other. Even a child born with a material body that does

not conform to the pre-existing categories will be assigned a category nonetheless and

sometimes even surgically altered to fit that category. According to Butler‘s argument,

the social construction exists prior to the material, and thus biological sex cannot be

understood as essential or primary, but rather, only as an interpretation of materiality

made intelligible through discourse. 73

Butler demonstrates that if gender and sexual categories are ―truth-effects‖ rather

than essential reality, then the path to a validation of queer identities lies not in the

identity politics of gay liberation or lesbian feminism, but rather in exposing the

categories male/female and heterosexual/homosexual to be fictions capable of

destabilization and reorganization. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick‘s The Epistemology of the

Closet, published in the same year as Gender Trouble, seeks to locate the maintenance of

those fictions in twentieth-century western institutions. 74 Taking the work of Michel

73 This concept is introduced in the preface of Gender Trouble and revisited with this particular example in Bodies that Matter 230-3.

74 Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990). Eighteen years later, in the preface to the 2008 edition of Epistemology of the Closet, Sedgwick commented


Foucault as her methodological basis, she examines the ways in which institutions like

the church, the law, medicine, and psychology, etc., are invested in controlling discourses

to maintain the illusion that heterosexuality is the only valid sexual identity.

Sedgwick begins her investigation of the modern discursive construction of sexual

identities by historicizing the origins of the heterosexual/homosexual binary. It is well

known among historians of sexuality, she writes, that the terms homosexuality and

heterosexuality were developed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century,

respectively. (Indeed, the category heterosexuality could only exist once its ―Other,‖

homosexuality, had been established.) The subject‘s sexual object choice, rather than

sexual practice, became the basis for modern sexual identity around this time:

It is a rather amazing fact that, of the very many dimensions along which the genital activity of one person can be differentiated from that of another (dimensions that include preference for certain acts, certain zones or sensations, certain physical types, a certain frequency, certain symbolic investments, certain relations of age or power, a certain species, a certain number of participants, etc. etc. etc.), precisely one, the gender of object choice, emerged from the turn of the century, and has remained, as the dimension denoted by the now ubiquitous category of ‗sexual orientation.‘ 75

Sedgwick does not attempt to explain this historical phenomenon, other than to assert that

the establishment of binary gender was a prerequisite for the stratification of sexual

identity. Instead, she devotes Epistemology of the Closet to exploring the institutional

on the simultaneity of the two works and their common referencing as foundational texts in queer theory:

―Like Judith Butler‘s Gender Trouble, also published in 1990 and also widely considered a foundational text in queer theory, Epistemology doesn‘t use the word ‗queer.‘ So what is queer about it? Retrospectively I would say it‘s exactly this resistance to treating homo/heterosexual categorization—still so very volatile an actas a done deal, a transparently empirical fact about any person.‖ 2008 edition preface, xvi.

75 Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet 8 (original emphasis).


regulation of sexual discourses as they exist today and as they are depicted in twentieth-

century English literature.

Like Butler, Sedgwick draws from Derridian deconstruction to argue that

homosexuality is the perceived constitutive border of heterosexuality. However, she

departs from Butler in two ways. First, she focuses on sexuality rather than gender and,

second, she argues that heteronormative individuals and institutions are at least somewhat

aware of the precariousness of heterosexuality‘s privilege on the binary of sexual

categories (which, she contends, is why they work fiercely to maintain this privilege). To

make this point, Sedgwick investigates the term ―homosexual panic,‖ a concept

commonly used in the 1980s as a legal defense for heterosexual people charged with hate

crimes against LGBTQ people. 76 If a defendant claimed that his/her actions were

motivated by ―homosexual panic,‖ this meant that s/he had felt threatened by a perceived

sexual advance from a homosexual person and acted violently in defense. Sedgwick

argues that the very fact that ―homosexual panic‖ was a legally and medically sanctioned

defense for perpetrators of hate crimes against homosexuals demonstrates how individual

and institutional forms of homophobia are mutually reinforcing. 77

76 According to the Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry 4th ed (1985), the term ―homosexual panic‖ describes a temporary psychosis triggered by any variety of homosexual ―threats,‖ including perceived sexual advances from a member of the same sex. Harold I. Kaplan and Benjamin J. Sadock, eds., Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry, 4th ed. (Baltimore: Williams & Williams, 1985) 1320.

77 Ironically, Sedgwick argues, ―homosexual panic‖ functioned as a defense only by admitting the precariousness of the distinction between heterosexuality and homosexuality. Panic is an emotional response to destabilization and, in this case, the defendant panics when s/he realizes that his/her heterosexual identity is not as stable as s/he previously thought it to be. The perpetrator becomes violent because his/her sexual integrity is perceived to be threatened. Moreover, Sedgwick argues, such a defense does not appeal to the judge‘s or jurors‘ rationality, but rather, to their emotional identification with the defendant. The judge or jurors are supposed to ask themselves if they would have acted similarly in the same situation and to make a decision based on maintaining their own desire to reaffirm their


Sedgwick argues that the most powerful means that institutions have for

maintaining the primacy of heterosexuality is to silence queer expression. In examining

this power, she departs from Foucault‘s argument that institutions are responsible for the

proliferation of discourses on sex and instead looks for ways in which silences are

institutionally mandated and proliferated. She argues that many social institutions, for

example schools that refuse to hire homosexual people or religious groups that seek to

―cure‖ homosexuals, place homosexual people in the precarious position of concealing

their sexual identity in order to have access to work or social groups. In many cases,

once a person‘s homosexuality is revealed, s/he is then punished for having concealed it.

Sedgwick argues that this silencing causes some people to become alienated from their

own sexuality, a terrible violence in an era in which sexuality is a large determining

factor in one‘s identity:

To alienate conclusively, definitionally, from anyone on any theoretical ground the authority to describe and name their own sexual desire is a terribly consequential seizure. In this century, in which sexuality has been made expressive of the essence of both identity and knowledge, it may represent the most intimate violence possible. It is also an act replete with the most disempowering mundane institutional effects and potentials. It is, of course, central to the modern history of homophobic oppression. 78

heterosexuality. ―Homosexual panic‖ is then indicative both of the fragility of the binary heterosexuality/homosexuality and of the institutional power of the law to maintain the binary. Although Sedgwick‘s examples seem dated today after much legal progress has been made in the last two decades in terms of gay rights and visibility, her overall argument about institutionalized homophobia remains relevant. To find evidence of institutionalized homophobia, one need only look to the contemporary debate in the United States about the ―Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell‖ military policy that keeps queer military members in the closet, the prohibition in many countries including the United States against institutional validation of queer relationships, or the public statement made by New York gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino in October 2010: "I just think my children and your children would be much better off and much more successful getting married and raising a family, and I don't want them brainwashed into thinking that homosexuality is an equally valid and successful option -- it isn't."

78 Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet 26.


Sedgwick argues that silence is the most effective means of maintaining heterosexual

control of western discourses and institutions. Not only is the closet an oppressive and

unjust place, according to Sedgwick, but the act of coming out of the closet is a difficult

and never-ending process since heterosexuality is the presumed norm in our society.

LGBTQ people must continually choose when and to whom to come out. This speech act

must continue to be performed, or not performed, according to the queer person‘s

judgment of the social situation and his/her relationships.

Sedgwick grounds homophobia firmly in institutional arenas that are interested in

maintaining heteronormative authority. By controlling the discourse and thereby

closeting (or at least minimizing) homosexual voices, social institutions reify

heterosexuality as the norm and maintain the illusion that it is natural. However,

Sedgwick argues, the precariousness of the binary is exposed in those moments when

―homosexual panic‖ emerges and institutions find themselves involved in violent means

of upholding the closet. Sedgwick argues that it is a futile project to argue for queer

equality through institutions that have based their own marginalization of LGBTQ people

on incoherent discourses. Rather, she maintains, it is more fruitful to expose the

incoherence of these discourses and thereby also the violence of those institutions.

Since the publication of Butler and Sedwick‘s early works, queer theory has seen

a shift in emphasis, abandoning interrogations of the constitutive borders of the

categories heterosexual/homosexual in favor of pursuing examinations of the potential of

bodies to transgress against notions of gender ―coherence.‖ In her book, In a Queer Time

and Place (2005), Judith Halberstam posits the transgendered body as representative of


postmodern reconsiderations of gender binaries. The transgendered body, she argues,

operates through an economy of recognition and misrecognition that deprives the

traditionally gendered gaze of its heterosexist authority and exposes its violence. 79

Grounding her argument in the literary and filmic adaptations of the Brandon

Teena story, the most famous of which is the film Boys Don‟t Cry (Peirce 1999),

Halberstam discusses the transgendered body as complicating the presumed links

between the visual markers of the material body, identity, and the ―truth‖ about a person.

Identity does not necessarily follow from the material body, she argues, and the

transgendered person often masks the material body to make parts of it ―disappear.‖ The

transgendered body then confounds the gaze that seeks a ―coherent‖ gender by

concealing certain gender markers while selective exhibiting others. Halberstam argues

that the film Boys Don‟t Cry illustrates the violence done to the transgendered body by

exposing it, looking at it, and thereby attempting to establish ―truth‖ about a biological

sex (which, according to the heterosexual matrix, should correlate with both the gender

and sexual desire of that person). The transgendered body exposes the heterosexist gaze

to be violent, as well as misguided, when it seeks to establish a ―truth‖ based on the

material body. Halberstam proposes instead that a queer gaze aimed at the ―critical

reinvention of the body,‖ that is, a gaze that is willing to accept seemingly contradictory

and multiple visual markers, is less violent and more capable of understanding complex

―truths‖ about a transgendered person.

79 Judith Halberstam, In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives (New York: New York UP, 2005).


Her most compelling arguments come from her analyses of art. For example, she

discusses the photographic works of De LaGrace Volcano, which explore the mutability

and transformability of the human body, and thereby also its capacity to express

transsubjectivity. Volcano‘s works thematize drag kings, glorify body parts that are

normally considered grotesque or ugly, and demonstrate the mutability of the body

through self-portraits in which Volcano exhibits different identities. In another example,

Halberstam discusses the faux-collage paintings of JA Nicholls that posit bodies as

compilations of features and parts that are often ill-fitting and seemingly at odds with one

another rather than harmonious and coherent. The works of these artists challenge the

viewer to rethink his/her assumptions about the natural body as an ontological basis for

identity and to look at possibilities for altering and reconfiguring the body through

technological and biotechnological means.

Halberstam has been recognized not only for pioneering thought on transgender

and queer identities, but also for being influential in the field of posthumanism.

According to Patricia MacCormack, posthumanism questions humans‘ perceived

independence from, and superiority to, other living and non-living beings. It seeks to

invalidate the notion that ―human‖ is an independent category by placing humans on a

continuum with animals, molecules, and monsters on one end and cyborgs, body

modifiers, and biotechnology on the other. MacCormack writes that posthumanism is a

mode of queer thinking: ―The creation of connections—life as relation not dividuation

is posthuman living. Desire is, put most simply, the need to create connections with other

things, not to have or know but collapse the self with other(s). In this sense


posthumanism is a form of queer desire, or queer ‗life.‘‖ 80 Sexual seduction is a

reciprocal process, she writes, in which each party wishes to change and be changed by

the sexual other. It is a technique of hybridization and change, ―a sexual technique of

queer becomings.‖ 81 Queer theory operates as posthumanist thought because it values

pluralities, coalitions, and hybridities. 82

The turn in queer theory away from interrogations of the constitutive borders

between heterosexuality and homosexuality (as theorized by Butler and Sedgwick,

among others) towards conceptualizing the body as capable of accommodating fluid and

fluctuating identities (Halberstam and posthumanism), brings up questions about the

limitations of queer. For example, as Barry D. Adam points out, queer has never been

wholly successful at moving away from identity politics and redefining homosexuality

and heterosexuality instead as regulatory categories; gay, lesbian, and straight continue to

be popular identity categories (albeit now only three among several). 83 Others have

argued that queer is too trendy, too marketable, and too ―normal‖ to describe the

transgressive nature of what was originally conceptualized as queer. 84 David V. Ruffolo

80 MacCormack 113.

81 MacCormack 115.

82 MacCormack 114. Posthuman thought has been related to feminist thought since its inception. Donna Haraway‘s A Cyborg Manifesto (1991), one of the foundational texts of posthumanism, proposes both a reconsideration of humanity as constituted through cyborg hybridity and a form of feminism that follows a similar model. Haraway argues for a form of feminism that moves away from identity politics to embrace more coalitional and situational, more ―cyborg,‖ forms that come together and mutate as specific causes arise. Donna Haraway, ―A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century,Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New York: Routledge, 1991) 149-181.

83 Adam 22.


argues that queer has become too limited by its insistence on anchoring subjectivity to the

body. He proposes a post-queer theory that focuses instead on the ―potentiality‖ of the

―becoming-body‖ through technology, biomedicine, economics and intellectual thought

to emphasize the hybridities, flows, and alliances that problematize the stable body. 85

Indeed, Ruffolo seems to be proposing that the latest turn in queer theory toward

posthumanism brings it outside the actual parameters of queer and into new territory.

Whether or not queer theory remains the transgressive interrogation of identity

that it was conceptualized to be, the wide ranging questions that queer theory proposes

remain relevant. As long as LGBTQ people struggle to come out of the closet, sexual

identity and its connection with the intelligible body will continue to be important factors

in thinking about the rights one has to self-acknowledgement and self-expression.

Moreover, queer‘s questioning of the heterosexual/homosexual binary has led to an

explosion of identity categories that LGBTQ people can use to describe their individual

experiences, and queer has made it acceptable for some people to remain ―unintelligible,‖

that is, to resist settling into a gender or sexual identity altogether.

By tracing major paradigms in queer theoryits roots in the identity politics of

gay liberation and lesbian feminism, its contestation of the constitutive borders of

84 As early as 1993, Judith Butler predicted the failure of queer once it was limited by its institutional usage and thus deprived of its political power. She writes that queer ‗will have to remain that which is, in the present, never fully owned, but always and only redeployed, twisted, queered from a prior usage and in the direction of urgent and expanding political purposes. This also means that it will doubtless have to be yielded in favor of terms that do that political work more effectively.‖ Butler, Bodies that Matter 228. In 1994, Teresa de Lauretis would famously declare queer theory ―a conceptually vacuous creature of the publishing industry.‖ See: De Lauretis, ―Habit Changes‖ 296-313.

85 David V. Ruffolo, ―Post-Queer Considerations,The Ashgate Research Companion to Queer Theory, ed. Noreen Giffney and Michael O‘Rourke (Farnham: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2009) 379-394.


heterosexuality and homosexuality, its turn toward the mutable queer body to destabilize

gender ontology, and finally its relationship to posthumanism and the post-queerI have

outlined several models for considering queer figures and spaces in contemporary

literature. These models provide both the necessary concepts for examining literary and

filmic articulations of destabilized gender and sexual identity and the methodology with

which to avoid heteronormative readings (or at least to attempt that).

In the chapters that follow, I examine from a queer perspective contemporary

literary texts and films, many of which do not posit their characters explicitly as queer. I

do this in three ways. First, I examine the ways in which gender is encoded in the spaces

of the texts and whether or not characters behave in gender-specific ways in those spaces,

as mandated by the heterosexual matrix. For example, in my analysis of Fatih Akin‘s

film Gegen die Wand in Chapter 4, I examine the art of walking in two placesin

Hamburg and Istanbul. The protagonist, Sibel, adheres to the heterosexual matrix with

her feminine walking in Hamburg, but moves outside it when she turns androgynous and

walks with a heavy, masculine gait in Istanbul. Second, I undertake close readings to

identify moments in which a character‘s gender is left unspecified by the narrator and is

thus left to the reader to assume. For example, in my reading of Hermann‘s short stories,

I argue against a body of scholarship that presumes her characters to align with the

heterosexual matrix. When Hermann does not specify the gender of her characters, I read

these characters as possibly queer or as undergoing gender transformations in the text. I

then examine the ways in which space is encoded as gendered to ground my readings of

her characters as queer. Third and finally, I take into consideration whether the aesthetic


mode employed in texts indicates a queer character. In my readings of novels by Emine

Sevgi Özdamar and Bodo Kirchhoff, for example, I argue that heterosexuality becomes

queered when these authors employ the abject and the grotesque to alienate the reader

from these characters and thereby to disallow identification with them during

heterosexual encounters. I thus undertake a queer reading on the formal, narrative, and

aesthetic levels of these texts. It has required careful close reading and attempting to

suspend assumptions that characters fit neatly into the heterosexual matrix. By finding

those tiny indicationsthe lack of a gendered pronoun or the masculine gait of a once

feminine film protagonistand working through their implications, I open up these texts

to new and productive readings of space and the gender/sexuality system.

For both spatial and queer theory, identity has been unmoored from the spatial

and social situation of the material body and recast as always mutable and in flux. Both

fields of theory give us methods by which to understand the ways in which identities, and

gender or sexual identities in particular, are discursively, culturally, and spatially

conceived. At the same time, however, the spatial practices of LGBTQ people in our real

world have indicated that certain spaces and places continue to be important in the

formation and even mutability of queer identity. It is therefore important to my project to

take into consideration both theoretical and real-life examples of spatial practice when I

consider literary and filmic representations of space and gender/sexual identity. In the

section that follows, I ―map out‖ different kinds of spaces marked as queer and thereby

identify such spaces that may also appear in contemporary literature and film.

Queer Space


In the final chapter of his monograph Global Sex, geographer Dennis Altman

evaluates queer theory as a paradigm from which to develop a global politics of sex. In

concluding his examination of a global market that capitalizes on sexual identity, the sex

trade, and sex tourism, among other topics, he pleads for a ―political economy of

sexuality, one which recognizes the interrelationship of political, economic, and cultural

structures, and avoids the tendency to see sexuality as private and the political and

economic as public.‖ 86 His conclusion is that ―[p]ostmodern feminist and queer theories

are relatively unhelpful in constructing this sort of politics because of their lack of

emphasis on political institutions as distinct from discourse, their first-world centrism,

and their lack of interest in social movements.‖ 87 He contends that postmodernism and

queer theory are preoccupied with concepts such as discourse, performance, and play and

thus ignore the material realities and inequalities that operate in the physical world.

Queer theory‘s focus on desire, he argues, sidesteps a reality in which sex habitually also

occurs as a result of power inequalities and economic drives. 88 While I contend that

queer theorists‘ ―preoccupation‖ with desire and performance is actually an examination

of the real lived experiences of people and their material bodies and spaces, Altman does

make a good point. 89 Queer theory is only loosely connected with its roots in queer

86 Dennis Altman, Global Sex (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001) 157.

87 Altman 158.

88 Altman 159.

89 Judith Butler‘s work is commonly misrepresented in secondary literature as ignoring the material body in real space in favor of more amorphous, abstract thinking on constructed identity. However, Butler‘s work actually takes materiality as its central focus, particularly in Gender Trouble and Bodies that Matter, her two most widely received works on gender and queer. In fact, the title of Bodies that Matter plays on a pun,


activism, which is much more concerned with issues of economy, politics, and

establishing territory in public space from which to articulate solidarity in identity.

Indeed, for my examination of the intersections of sexual identity, gender, space, and

movement, it is important to look at how real physical and virtual spaces have been

created by and for LGBTQ people.

The effort to claim territory and thus establish visibility in public spaces is a long-

standing strategy of queer activists for seeking legitimacy in heteronormative culture. 90

According to Anne-Marie Fortier, this effort to claim territory arises out of the so-called

―queer diaspora.‖ 91 ―Diaspora‖ refers in this case to the large-scale exodus of LGBTQ

people from intolerant home communities and families into more ―queer-friendly‖ spaces

like metropolitan cities, online communities, and small networked groups, many of which

connect LGBTQ people across global distances. According to Fortier, communities of

the queer diaspora are not based on solidarity of identity or spatial permanence, but rather

―turn instead toward contingency, indeterminacy, power, and conflict‖ and operate along

―axes of difference in their numerous local and global manifestations.‖ 92 These

communities operate with the goals of providing safety and comfort from often

dangerous public spaces, as well as helping LGBTQ people deal with the emotional

emphasizing the double meaning of ―matter‖ as both a verb and a noun. In other words, materiality does matter, and she unpacks this pun in the introduction of her book.

90 See: Brent Gordon Ingram, et al, Queers in Space: Communities/Public Spaces/Sites of Resistance (Seattle: Bay Press, 1997).

91 Anne-Marie Fortier, ―Queer Diaspora,‖ The Handbook of Lesbian and Gay Studies, ed. Diane Richardson and Steven Seidman (London: Sage Publications, 2002) 183-195.

92 Fortier 183.


difficulties of coming out. 93 Queer diaspora provides a progressive way of thinking about

community in our age of global mobility and transnational spatial practices:

[T]hese [discourses on the queer diaspora] could bring to light the ways in which new forms of solidarity, attachment and reterritorialization come about in a world largely defined in terms of flows, scapes and mobilities. For one of the fascinating aspects about diasporic identities and cultures, is how they are shaped through both movement and attachment, how they are at once deterritorialized and


As Fortier explains, the notion of a queer diaspora works to dismantle normative notions

of place and identity. Existing on the margins, and embedded in the ―between‖ spaces of

larger heteronormative society, the diasporic queer space can only be a temporary safe

haven for LGBTQ people.

Queer communities have been relegated historically to rather diffuse and

marginalized (even virtual) communities in part because of a large degree of intolerance

in both private family space and mainstream public space. Objections to queer identity

expression in public spaces are most often based on the belief that sexuality belongs to

the private realm. 95 Queer activism, finding its roots in the feminist argument that the

private is political (and thus public), has fought against the notion that space can ever be

neutral with regard to gender and sexual identities. As Gordon Brent Ingram argues,

―Virtually every wave of homosexual, lesbian, gay, and queer activism in the twentieth

93 Fortier 191-2.

94 Fortier 194.

95 It should be noted that the concepts ―public‖ and ―private‖ are historically and culturally variable. The arguments in discussion here refer to twentieth century Western bourgeois notions of public and private spaces, in which family life and sexuality are associated with the private home sphere and in which the public sphere is the arena for gaining social legitimacy.


century has questioned or actually confronted the ‗heterosexist‘ dichotomies of public

and private space.‖ 96 Queer activists argue that the division of public and private realms

disavows queer sexualities because it delineates and reserves private space for

reproductive sex while deeming sexuality in the public sphere as ―inappropriate.‖ 97

According to Wayne D. Myslik, the belief of many heterosexuals that sexuality

should be kept from the public sphere stems from a blindness regarding their own

displays of sexuality in public. 98

He writes:

most people are blissfully ignorant of the degree to which sexuality, and in particularly, heterosexuality, permeates space. Illustrative of this ignorance is the often heard statement that gays would be tolerated if they didn‘t ‗flaunt‘ their homosexuality. Inherent in this statement is the assumption that heterosexuality is itself not flaunted or expressed outside the home. 99

Heterosexuality is visible in public spaces through symbols like wedding rings, baby

showers, and family photos displayed in works spaces, as well as actions performed by

heterosexual couples such as holding hands, hugging, or kissing in public.

While heterosexuality might be normalized for heterosexuals in public space,

LGBTQ people face constant reminders of the prohibition against their own expression of

affection or identity in most spaces. Gill Valentine argues that public displays of queer

96 Gordon Brent Ingram, ―Marginality and the Landscapes of Erotic Alien(n)ations,‖ Queers in Space:

Communities/Public Places/Cites of Resistance, ed. Gordon Brent Ingram, et al (Seattle: Bay Press, 1997).


97 Wayne D. Myslik, ―Renegotiating the Social/Sexual Identities of Places: Gay Communities as Safe Havens or Sites of Resistance?‖ Bodyspace: Destabilizing Geographies of Gender and Sexuality, ed. Nancy Duncan (London: Routledge, 1996) 156-169.

98 Gill Valentine, ―(Re)negotiating the ‗Heterosexual Street‘,‖ Bodyspace: Destabilizing Geographies of Gender and Sexuality, ed. Nancy Duncan (London: Routledge, 1996) 149.

99 Myslik 159.


affection often create outrage because they demonstrate just how precarious the

construction ―normal‖ is. Referring to Judith Butler‘s concept of gender performativity

and the compulsory repetition of performance required to maintain the phantasm of

heteronormativity, Valentine argues for a similar understanding of space: ―The straight

street or office environment do not pre-exist their performance, rather, specific

performances bring these places into being and these spaces are themselves performative

of particular power relations.‖ 100 In line with Butler, Valentine argues that by

understanding heterosexual space as something performed, it can then be denaturalized,

undermined, and claimed for queer expression. 101 However, Valentine states, regulatory

regimes exist specifically to reproduce the ―heterosexual street‖ and to protect it from the

―threat from sexual dissidents (re)negotiating the way everyday spaces are produced.‖ 102

This regulation happens through a multitude of heteronormative symbols and actions

(discussed above), advertisements and media that implicitly reinforce heterosexuality as

―normal,‖ and more conscious homophobic attacks on LGBTQ people in both queer and

heteronormative spaces. 103

According to Jean-Ulrick Désert, every space, whether public or private, is

sexually charged and often in multiple ways: ―The possibility of any space is latent until

the moment it doubles and is devoured by the contradictions of its program and the actual

100 Valentine, ―Queer Bodies and the Production of Space154.

101 Valentine, ―(Re)negotiating‖ 146.

102 Valentine, ―(Re)negotiating150.

103 Gordon Brent Ingram, et al, ―Surveying Territories and Landscapes,Queers in Space: Communities/ Public Places/Cites of Resistance, ed. Gordon Brent Ingram, et al (Seattle: Bay Press, 1997) 92.


events of its construction, use, and eventual destruction. A queer space is an activated

zone made proprietary by the occupant or flaneur, the wanderer. It is at once private and

public.‖ 104 All space has a latent sexual charge that must be ―activated‖ by its occupants,

and the activation of queer space can come in any number of forms. Valentine argues

that a queer space can be created by a certain kind of music or the dress or body language

of its queer inhabitants. A queer space is created when a space becomes intelligible (to

use Butler‘s phrase) to its inhabitants as such: ―Often it may be not so much what is there

but what is missing, the wedding ring for example, that marks out (an)other identity.

Thus through these fleeting glances or cruising, dykes can produce ‗gay(ze) space.‘‖ 105

Indeed, according to Désert and Valentine, any space can be queer when certain signals

bring the space‘s queerness out of latency and into explicit intelligibility. Heterosexuals

do not always recognize that they are in a queer space. The power of the queer space,

then, is that it undermines the heterocentric norm, even if only fleetingly. 106

Although many opponents of queer expression argue that queer should remain in

the private sphere (if it is to exist at all), people with queer sexualities have had, in many

cases, little choice but to pursue sexual encounters in the public sphere. LGBTQ people

have had difficulty, historically and even today, bringing partners home when they live

104 Jean-Ulrick Désert, ―Queer Space,‖ Queers in Space: Communities/Public Places/Cites of Resistance, ed. Gordon Brent Ingram, et al (Seattle: Bay Press, 1997) 21.

105 Valentine, ―(Re)negotiating150. Valentine gives the examples of kd lang and Melissa Ethridge as artists whose music could contribute to the creation of a queer space in the 1990s. More current examples would be contingent upon contemporary music styles. Also, Valentine quotes Lisa Walker‘s term ―gay(ze) space,‖ from her article ―More Than Just Skin-Deep: Fem(me)ininity and the Subversion of Identity,Gender, Place and Culture: A Journal of Feminist Geography 2.1 (1995): 75.

106 Désert 21; Valentine, ―(Re)negotiating‖ 148, 150-152.


within a heteronormative household or rent from property owners who discriminate on

the basis of sexuality. Public places like parks, parking lots, and public restrooms, as

well as bathhouses and bars, have been places for LGBTQ people to meet. 107 Gordon

Brent Ingram writes that many of the public efforts to repress queer expression have

centered on reappropriating public spaces where LGBTQ people mingle:

Today, the forces that are working to destroy these public queer spaces are growing in number as urban populations increase, natural areas dwindle, and social groups diversify. A disturbing consequence of this competition for space is the increase in violence against women and gay men in public areas. Less noticeable is the ‗homophobia by design‘ of many park agencies, municipalities, and governments. 108

He also points out that, contrary to the commonly held notion that parks and public

leisure spaces are asexual spaces, many were, in fact, designed as spaces in which

sexuality would be put on display and under surveillance:

Many of the city centre parks in North America and Europe were first established or were redesigned in the late nineteenth century with an emphasis on the public promenade, the male gaze, suppression of public sexual contact, and team sports as a means to lift up working-class morality. Such public parks have usually been programmed for what are sometimes conscious displays of androcentric heterosexual desire, courtship, and conquest. 109

Ingram, et al, argue that public spaces where LGBTQ people have traditionally met are

being increasingly privatized or semi-privatized, and that once they are privatized, they

become heteronormative spaces. The shopping mall is a common example of a semi-

107 Gordon Brent Ingram, ―‗Open‘ Space as Strategic Queer Sites,Queers in Space: Communities/Public Places/Cites of Resistance, ed. Gordon Brent Ingram, et al (Seattle: Bay Press, 1997) 119. See also:

Ingram, ―Marginality‖ 46 and Ira Tattelman, ―The Meaning at the Wall: Tracing the Gay Bathhouse,Queers in Space: Communities/Public Places/Cites of Resistance, ed. Gordon Brent Ingram, et al (Seattle:

Bay Press, 1997) 391-406.

108 Ingram, ―‗Open‘ Space96.

109 Ingram, ―‗Open‘ Space102.


privatized, and thus heteronormative, space. Perceived by many as a public space that

anyone can enter, the shopping mall is actually a private space where businesses advertise

in heteronormative fashion and displays of affection can be regulated by private security

forces. 110 This is not to say, however, that spatial politics have not improved in recent

decades for LGBTQ people seeking a private space. Ingram, et al, write that it has

become increasingly easier in recent years for LGBTQ people to find appropriate

housing, for example, as sympathy for queer equality has increased. 111

Weary of occupying marginal spaces that rely on invisibility and secrecy to avoid

raids and surveillance, queer communities have made great strides since the late 1960s in

claiming public space within which to express queer identity openly. The ―gay ghettos‖

of many major citiesfor example the Castro District in San Francisco, Dupont Circle in

Washington DC, the Marais in Paris, and Nollendorfplatz in Berlin, among many

othersprovide spaces for LGBTQ people to meet and be openly ―out‖ in public, thus

validating queer identities in a way that is not possible in most other spaces. 112 Serving

as a gathering point for LGBTQ people, these spaces represent a queer alliance with often

110 Valentine, ―(Re)negotiating149. See also Gordon Brent Ingram, et al, ―Placemaking and the Dialectics of Public and Private,Queers in Space: Communities/Public Places/Cites of Resistance, ed. Gordon Brent Ingram, et al (Seattle: Bay Press, 1997) 297.

111 Ingram, ―Placemaking297-8. Ingram, et al. also argue that although appropriate housing is becoming increasingly available to LGBTQ people, this has resulted in a dynamic in which only LGBTQ people with the economic means actually have the right to practice their sexuality in private spaces. People who cannot afford to rent or own in queer friendly places remain in the public sphere. The privatization of sexuality, so to speak, has become a class issue as well as one of individual rights.

112 There are, of course, varying degrees of difference between the ―gay ghetto‖ and the city in which it is situated. For example, Nollendorfplatz might house more visibly gay-owned businesses, but LGBTQ people are generally well accepted in most areas of Berlin. The same is true of San Francisco and other cities with long histories of queer activism.


considerable financial and political power, unified in its consumption and voting. 113

These spaces are the bases for political representation in local and federal government,

and thus larger scale social acceptance.

The ―gay ghetto‖ is not simply a queer paradise, however. Gill Valentine argues

that however liberating the gay ghetto may seem for those who enjoy it, ghettoization can

effectively limit the challenge to heteronormativity in most other everyday spaces. 114

Furthermore, spaces marked as queer become easy targets for homophobic attacks. In

Myslik‘s (1996) study examining gay men‘s perceived safety in ―queer spaces,‖ he found

that although most gay men reported feeling safer in those areas than in heteronormative

spaces, they were up to 28% more likely to be attacked in a space marked as queer than

in a heteronormative space. 115 Another problem with the gay ghetto, according to

Ingram, is that it tends to export a singular image of queer identitythat of the middle

class, white, gay manand this erases the very multiplicities of identity and sexual

expression that exist within the queer community. Ingram attributes this phenomenon to

113 Valentine, ―Queer Bodies146.

114 Valentine, ―Queer Bodies147. In making this statement, Valentine references Lawrence Knopp, ―Sexuality and the Urban Space: Gay Male Identity Politics in the United States, the United Kingdom and

Australia,Cities of Difference, ed. Ruth Fincher and Jane M. Jacobs (London: Guildford Press, 1998) 149-


115 He attributes the increased attacks in queer spaces to intelligibility. Most gay men, he writes, change their behavior, either consciously or unconsciously, to make themselves less intelligible as gay men in heteronormative spaces. Paradoxically, the men in his study reported feeling safer to express their sexual identities while in queer spaces, thus making them more likely to be targets of attack. An interesting corollary to Myslik‘s study is Valentine‘s report that although gay men are more likely to be attacked by men in cruising areas, there is less differentiation in terms of space or gender for attacks on lesbians. Lesbians are much more likely to be attacked in heteronormative spaces than gay men and their attackers

may be either men or women. Valentine contends that in many cases, it is difficult to ascertain whether the motivations for attacks against lesbians are seated in homophobia or misogyny. This double motivation for attacking a woman who deviates from norms of gendered appearance or behavior might explain the reasons

why lesbians are more likely to be attacked in heteronormative space than gay men. Ingram, ―Marginality40 and Valentine, ―(Re)negotiating149

Myslik 162, see also


a capitalist economy, in which certain companies have learned to capitalize on queerness,

catering to LGBTQ people with a narrow selection of brands and styles. Likewise, in

areas where queer has become fashionable, the gay ghetto has become increasingly

commodified. This is a problem for inhabitants of the gay ghetto who do not wish to be

treated as the exotic Other for heterosexual ―tourists.‖ 116

This homogenizing image of queerness has global ramifications, according to

Dennis Altman. With a global distribution of the homogenizing image, local queer

cultures around the world are being forsaken in favor of looks and identities associated

with ―Western‖ homosexuality: ―Homosexuality becomes a particularly obvious measure

of globalization, for the transformation of local regimes of sexuality and gender is often

most apparent in the emergence of new sorts of apparently ‗gay‘ and ‗lesbian,‘ even

‗queer,‘ identities.‖ 117 He states that the bakkla in the Philippines or the kathoey in

Thailand, for example, are identities connected with behaviors that the Western world

would associate with homosexuality, but that the individuals who identify as such do not.

Young people around the globe are parting from such local categories of identification to

identify increasingly with Western sexual and gender identity categories. However,

Altman argues, it would be a mistake to equate Western queerness with its non-Western

copies: ―Walking through the ‗gay‘ area of Tokyo‘s Shinjuku you will see large numbers

of young men in sneakers and baseball caps (or whatever happens to be the current ‗gay‘

look) but this does not mean they will behave or view themselves in the same way as

116 Ingram, ―Marginality40 and Valentine, ―Queer Bodies147.

117 Altman 100.


equivalent young men in North America or northern Europe.‖ 118 Indeed, while many

traditional local forms of non-heterosexual identity are being erased in the age of

globalization, the change is not as monolithic as one might imagine. As Altman has

pointed out, sexual identity is facing the same ―glocalization‖ that many other American

exports have undergone.

Even with the problems associated with a delineated queer spaceits availability

as a target for homophobic attacks, its tendency to erase multiple identity categories in

favor of a singular image of the middle-class white gay man, and its export of that image

with worldwide consequencesthe existence of queer space is considered by many to be

necessary for the well-being of LGBTQ people and the advancement of their cause in

social politics. Ingram, et al, argue that it is important for the self-perception of LGBTQ

people to have a space to express their affections and identities openly: ―Placemaking has

achieved more than the temporary assertion of control over points and territories. These

experiences continue to transform how we view ourselves and our inherent rights, as well

as how we move within our communities and across neighbourhoods and landscapes.‖ 119

Myslik writes that queer spaces can have symbolic meaning, even for people who do not

inhabit them. Knowing that spaces like The Castro exist can be enough to help

individuals who feel isolated in their own spaces have a sense of community and

legitimacy. 120

118 Altman 100.

119 Ingram, ―Placemaking296.

120 Myslik 168.


Following my previous discussion of queer and spatial theory, and specifically

how those two fields of theory posit identity as constructed, mutable, and unfettered from

traditional material signifiers, the question here remains: can a queer spatial practice

preserve the fluidity of identities and alliances posited by queer theory or must the

staking of territory also mean the establishment of a singular core queer identity? Jean-

Ulrick Désert has proposed a way of thinking about space that turns away from identity

as its basis and thus perhaps answers that question:

Queer culture would not be queer if there were no other culture from which to establish its difference. I argue that to reinforce an isolationist stance rather than engage in an evolution of perpetual differences would be detrimental to any notion of a living queer culture. Queer culture exists because of the dominant normative culture. And in many instances the fluidity and blur between the cultures are the very richnesses and contradictions that should be embraced. 121

Indeed, Désert draws from Butler‘s assertion that heterosexuality requires homosexuality

as its constitutional border to claim that queer does the same thing and should be

empowered by it. He argues that by embracing the differences between queer culture and

heterosexuality, as well as between queer cultures, non-heteronormative spatial practices

can proliferate. Désert‘s concept of spaces created out of ―differences‖ runs counter to

dominant notions of space and place based on ―sameness‖ of identity.

According to Ingram, the potential already exists for transforming

heteronormative space into hetero-queer space, since spaces are inherently layered with

disparate modes of desire: ―Cities and more natural terrains have supported layered and

often contradictory social transactions related to queer communality, love, and sex that

involve and are between sites. These cumulative interactions and the associated

121 Désert 19.


environmental constraints and opportunities can be called the ‗queerscape.‘‖ 122 The

potential to transform any space into a ―queerscape‖ exists because LGBTQ people

already inhabit heteronormative space, either at the points of the queer network that exist

within heteronormative space, or invisibly in those queer spaces that are created through

fleeting glances and mutual recognition of queerness, or in the ―gay ghettos‖ that exist at

the margins. The political implications of a new ―queerscape,‖ or a new hetero-queer

space, would be the dismantling of barriers to LGBTQ people in public and private

spaces. It would mean the dismantling of the patriarchal division of the public/private

binary and a correction of the commonly held disavowal that a space can ever be neutral

of the gender and sexual styles of those who inhabit and construct it. As Ingram has

written: ―The landscape is never just a backdrop; it transforms and is in turn transformed

through pleasure, danger, sacredness, and contentiousness in the process of its use as

queer site. And such cultural processes are extending well beyond bedrooms, closets, and

dark outdoor sites of anonymous sex.‖ 123 Indeed, hetero-queer space is space that already

exists, either latently or explicitly, and it is precisely the kind of space that I will

demonstrate exists explicitly in contemporary texts and films.


In this chapter, I have traced major theoretical shifts in spatial and queer theory.

Significantly, both of these theoretical fields have experienced a major paradigm shift

around 1990 towards poststructuralist themes and methods. Perhaps in itself, the shift in

122 Ingram, ―Marginality‖ 28-9.

123 Ingram, Gordon Brent. ―‗Open‘ Space‖ 123.


both spatial and queer theory towards poststructuralism is not surprising, since major

paradigm shifts often have influence across different bodies of theory. What is striking,

however, is that this paradigm shift that questions the viability of stable identity

categories also finds expression in popular fictional German literature and film since

1990. I understand this phenomenon to mean that the destabilization of identities is not

only a subject of intellectual debate, but marks a larger shift in our culture as well.

In the chapters that follow, I examine the ways in which protagonists‘ habitation

or traversal of different kinds of spaces affects their sexual or gender expression. In

Chapter 2, I discuss two short stories, Judith Hermann‘s ―Sonja‖ (1998) and Angela

Krauß‘s ―Die Überfliegerin‖ (1995), and one film, Fatih Akin‘s Auf der anderen Seite

(2007), focusing on the implications of domestic spaces and the transitional spaces of

travel in their treatment of queer. I argue that queer can be represented aesthetically not

only through the presence of a gay/lesbian/queer protagonist, but also as a narrative

standpoint or aesthetic mode. Similarly, I show that in these texts, queer spaces are not

relegated to the gay ghetto, but rather, are central to various spatial constructs. In

Chapter 3, I examine the larger body of works of two contemporary authors, Bodo

Kirchhoff and Emine Sevgi Özdamar, both of whom send their protagonists into foreign

spaces. They employ the abject and the grotesque, respectively, to alienate the reader

from heterosexual desire and to represent aesthetically the strangeness of the sexual

encounter in foreign space. Finally, in Chapter 4, I propose that androgyny is a

specifically poetic form of queer, if one that no longer exists as an identity category. I

discuss Christian Kracht‘s protagonist in 1979 (2001) as a person whose anxiety


regarding sexuality corresponds to his spatial disorientation and who is more comfortable

inhabiting Foucaultian non-places rather than those places where identity might be more

firmly established. His friend Mavrocordato, an androgynous alchemist, is more capable

of navigating space and orienting the narrator. In Judith Hermann‘s ―Sommerhaus,

später,‖ (1998), the first-person narrator moves between Berlin, a city where free-floating

identification, bisexuality, androgyny are the narrator‘s preferred modes, and a house in

Brandenburg, where s/he would be more likely assigned a female gender. I argue that her

ambivalence regarding space is reflective of her gender ambivalence as well. Finally, in

Fatih Akin‘s Gegen die Wand, I examine Sibel‘s gender in two citiesthat is, her

femininity in Hamburg and her androgyny in Istanbuland argue that she negotiates a

position between femininity and androgyny by the end of the film. In each of these

examples, I take models from spatial theory to interpret the characters‘ perceptions and

constructions of space based on their mobility, as well as from gender theory to

understand their gender and sexual mutability.


Chapter 2: The Centrality of Queer in Contemporary Representation

In the previous chapter, I outlined various, and often competing, definitions of

queer. In each instance, queer represented an identity category or a non-heteronormative

position regarding gender roles, behaviors, and/or expectations. As discussed, queer has

a range of meanings and can describe same-sex desire, a position outside the

heterosexual/homosexual binary, or even non-heteronormative heterosexuality. In this

chapter, I examine aesthetic renderings of queer in both literature and film and interrogate

multiple modes of queer. How does queer appear in literature and how does film render

queer differently? Are representations of queer limited to the presence of gay/lesbian/

queer characters or can queer also be an aesthetic framework? What kinds of queer

spaces exist in literature and film? This chapter focuses on two literary texts and one film

in which queer is a central theme or narrative standpoint: Judith Hermann‘s short story

―Sonja‖ (1998), Angela Krauß‘s longer story ―Die Überfliegerin‖ (1995), and Fatih

Akin‘s film Auf der anderen Seite (2007). 124 All three are considered mainstream, even

popular, literature and film (i.e., not commonly categorized as gay/lesbian/queer), and

each of these texts feature gay/lesbian/queer characters who travel or whom the

protagonist encounters during travel. By examining popular texts that employ queer in

different manners, I demonstrate the multiple ways in which queer is becoming central to

cultural representation. Moreover, by examining the spaces of queer encounter in these

texts, I show how literature and films imagine queer and hetero-queer spaces.

124 ―Die Überfliegerin‖ has not been translated into English and therefore does not have an official English title. Translated directly, the title means ―the woman who flies over.‖ The film Auf der anderen Seite has the official title The Edge of Heaven, but the German title translates literally to ―on the other side.‖ I will discuss the meanings of both these titles over the course of the chapter.