Dissertation Defense: Aleksandra Starcevic
Candidate Name: Aleksandra Starcevic
Advisor: Peter Pfeiffer, Ph.D.
Title: “Turning ‘Wounds’ into Words: Literary Representations of Loss in the Wake of the Yugoslav Wars and Their Aftermath”
This dissertation examines literary responses to the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s and their aftermath by migrant authors from the former Yugoslavia who write in German. In particular, I analyze Marica Bodrožić’s autobiography Sterne erben, Sterne färben: Meine Ankunft in Wörtern (2007), Danko Rabrenović’s autobiographies Der Balkanizer: Ein Jugo in Deutschland (2010) and Herzlich willkommenčić: Heimatgeschichten vom Balkanizer (2015), and Saša Stanišić’s semi-autobiograhical text Herkunft (2019). Each work under analysis offers unique and multifaceted individual and collective representation and assessment of this topic, illustrating the intricacies of the Yugoslav Wars and their effects. As the authors navigate difficult subjects of war, trauma, loss, and nostalgia, they depict how the Yugoslav Wars and the loss of language, identity, Heimat, and belonging affected them and how they dealt with these traumatic experiences. In my analysis, I compare these various works to discuss the similarities and differences in the authors’ responses to the Yugoslav Wars and their aftermath and also their new life and integration in Germany based on some of the following factors: authors’ ages, gender, where they grew up, when and why they left their home country. Looking at trauma as something that should not be evaluated by direct or indirect exposure to the war and atrocities or by how much one was exposed, I argue that the Yugoslav Wars affected everyone from the former Yugoslavia in some way, even those who left many years before or at the brink of the wars, influenced by the particular lens of their individual experiences. Using theories on identity, Heimat, memory, and nostalgia from various scholars as well as notions of “Third Space” by Homi Bhabha, “imagined community” by Benedict Anderson, and Lieux de Mémoire by Pierre Nora, the study demonstrates the major themes of these texts as they grapple with the human, ethical, and intellectual losses of the wars. This dissertation serves to include a wider range of the literary responses to the Yugoslav Wars and to provide a fuller understanding and more pluralistic view of the discourses about these wars as well as more productive commemoration of the former Yugoslavia, its people, and culture.