The Creativity of Displacement: Ernesto Volkening as Essayist and Cultural Translator in Colombia, 1934-1983
Based on archival research in Colombia and Germany, this dissertation examines Ernesto Volkening’s work as an essayist, literary critic, and cultural mediator in Bogota. Volkening immigrated to Colombia in 1934 to escape political persecution in Nazi-Germany. In Bogota, he established himself as a literary critic of European and Colombian literature, as essayist and film commentator, and as editor of the magazine Eco: Revista de la Cultura de Occidente. Writing in Spanish, he presented German writers and intellectuals to his Colombian audience. Today, he is still remembered as the first critic of Gabriel García Márquez. As a go-between figure between cultures and mentalities, languages and geographical regions, Volkening located his life in the intermediary space of a “sixth continent.” Through writing, he negotiated his own position and influenced the image of German culture in his adoptive country. The first two chapters of this dissertation retrace Volkening’s formative years in Europe and his professional accomplishments in Colombia by focusing on his own narration of his life story and his creative response to the experience of physical displacement. The third chapter presents a close reading of Volkening’s fictionalized account of his visit to Antwerp, the city of his childhood, in 1968, suggesting that the actual city served as a mnemonic devise for Volkening. Heimat — not any longer contained by a geographical place — turned into an ideational concept to be preserved in writing. Chapter four engages the genre of the essay as Volkening’s preferred medium for cultural transfer. The essay, I argue, allows for a unique, non-authoritative way of introducing "cultural goods" into a foreign setting, but also contributes to their transformation. Chapters five and six address translation as the moment in which culture gains its specific shape. By analyzing select essays and editorial choices for the Hölderlin-issue of Eco designed by Volkening on occasion of the poet’s 200th birthday in 1970, I discuss Volkening’s role as editor, translator, and mediator between Latin-American and German literatures, cultures, and languages.