A European Utopia: Maxi Obexer’s Materialist Intervention

Friday, July 14, 2017
Melville Room (University of Glasgow)
Friederike Eigler , Department of German, Georgetown University
In Material Feminisms (2008), Hekman and Alaimo attribute the neglect of the material in the early 2000s to the dominance of post-structuralism. They do not advocate abandoning the lessons of the linguistic turn but “radically rethink materiality, the very ‘stuff’ of bodies and natures” (6). Against this backdrop, I focus on Maxi Obexer’s essay titled, “Warum in Utopien denken?” that challenges the latest anti-immigrant backlash in European discourses and policies by evoking a vision of the continent that has a material grounding. Juxtaposing a dominant European view with what she posits as the refugees’ vision of Europe, Obexer asks who “needs Europe? Whose utopia, whose country is it?” She contrasts “us” (Europeans) who watch “them” (the refugees) from a comfortable distance while disregarding their claims to self determination, claims she associates with the decision to leave one’s homeland in response to civil war, terror, and destruction of livelihoods -- and to visions of another, safer life tied to the European continent. My paper examines this material dimension of Obexer’s essay, including her claim that experience (of refugees), discounted in post-structuralism, produces new forms of knowledge about Europe. I also discuss a contradiction that informs her argument: While Obexer speaks compellingly in the name of refugees she also calls on us to recognize the refugees’ agency (instead of seeing them as victims or as threatening “other”.) This raises the larger question of the role of progressive European writers and intellectuals who speak on behalf of refugees in the recent migration crisis.