Heimat and the place of humans in the world: Jenny Erpenbeck’s 'Heimsuchung' in ecocritical perspective

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This essay considers the human-nature relationship in modern Heimat (homeland) discourse, and its depiction in literary representations of Heimat. The first part examines the environmental turn in thinking on Heimat in the 1970s, and shows how it was part of a wider shift in the understanding of Heimat which has paralleled developments in both spatial and ecocritical theory. It proposes that literary representations of the homeland have a contribution to make towards facilitating an alternative form of dwelling involving a new kind of attachment to place and a non-dualist relationship with nature. The second part of the essay examines Jenny Erpenbeck’s novel, Heimsuchung (Visitation, 2008), which tells the story of a summer house built in the 1930s on a lake near Berlin from the perspective of its successive occupants. Gernot Böhme’s ecological nature aesthetics and material ecocriticism are drawn on as “new humanist” and “posthumanist” theoretical frameworks giving respective insights into Erpenbeck’s account of efforts to make the place a home and of the experience of it as homeland. The figure of the gardener, who is read as personifying the homeland, is interpreted as a further way of articulating a conception of Heimat which undermines the nature-culture dualism.
Original languageEnglish
JournalNew German Critique
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • heimat
  • Jenny Erpenbeck
  • material ecocriticism
  • posthumanism
  • nature aesthetics


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