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Antigone’s Place: Queer Diasporic Epistemologies of Kinship in Contemporary German Culture

Denise Henschel | University of Cambridge

In the history of political theory, the concept of kinship is predicated on a hidden epistemology of the human as white and heterosexual. Departing from the ancient drama Antigone, the term has been deployed to instantiate ‘culture’ through the reproduction of its own formation. What happens, however, if the story of kinship becomes narrated from a queer diasporic place? In contemporary culture, this paper suggests, queering the very place from which Antigone speaks produces new forms of subjecthood and of kinship. To speak of ‘forms’, thereby is to acknowledge the performative dimension of the text’s aesthetics itself in the interrogation, negotiation and constitution of subjecthood, and of its relationship to the collective. In Olga Grjasnowa’s novel Der Russe ist einer, der Birken liebt (2012) it is the protagonist Mascha’s moving across and beyond identitarian boundaries that allows her to queer the very terms that confine her as someone who is Jewish, migrated, a woman, Azerbaijani and queer. In Olivia Wenzel’s 1000 Serpentinen Angst (2020) it is a dialogical encounter between a Black queer German woman and an unknown voice that queers biological concepts of belonging and origin. Understanding diaspora with Fatima El-Tayeb as a concept that ‘transcends the binary of citizen and foreigner, the linear model of movement from origin to destination’, it is the protagonists’ constitution of subjecthood that queers ethnicity and thus a homogeneous understanding of white Germanness. This complexity is refracted through a range of textual practices that eschew linearity, totality and closure, and instantiate other epistemologies of subjecthood. Ultimately, the paper demonstrates the ways in which such forms of ‘ästhetisches Eigenwissen’ and textual performativity contribute to a critical questioning of discourses and politics of subjectivity in contemporary Germany.


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