[New publication] Journal of Postcolonial Writing: Special Issue on Refugee Literature

Journal of Postcolonial Writing: 54 (6) – Refugee Literature

Edited by Claire Gallien

Link: https://www.tandfonline.com/toc/rjpw20/54/6

INTRODUCTION – “Refugee Literature”: What postcolonial theory has to say, by Claire Gallien [Open Access: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17449855.2018.1555206]

A season of wandering. On the camps. From Austerlitz to La Chapelle, passing through Calais, by Laura Genz

Abstract: After the French authorities dismantled the Parisian street camp “La Chapelle” in June 2015, a new wave of struggles began in Paris to support people in situations of migration. Months later, these mobilizations led to the emergence of new associations and collectives which three years on are an absolutely essential part of Parisian activism. This portfolio of drawings represents only a small selection from the series of 269 that Laura Genz completed in Paris over 6 months in 2015, taking part in these mobilizations as an activist. Her drawings are not “illustrations” in the conventional sense. They do not illustrate a story or narrative: they are the story. Neither are the titles given here meant to “describe” them as drawings; instead, they amount to a human and political position statement on the reality of the French and European policies they record. Borders hurt and kill as well as guns.

Forcing displacement: The postcolonial interventions of refugee literature and arts, by Claire Gallien

Abstract: In Postcolonial Asylum, David Farrier explains why refugee experiences have been considered as a “scandal” for postcolonial studies, but also how they have become central to the field, insofar as they reflect the violence and unevenness of the current world order. If geography, political philosophy and law have analysed current “refugee crises”, the literature and arts produced by or about forcefully displaced people have remained understudied. This article affirms that postcolonial theory, precisely because of its situation at the crossroads between social sciences and humanities, offers a unique platform from where to study refugee literature and arts. It also argues that its enduring impact lies in its extraterritoriality, i.e. its capacity to interrogate dominant literary histories defined along national borders, frustrate unilingual visions of national languages and individual conceptions of authorship, and inspire seminal “turbulence” in artistic, critical, and academic practices.

A global postcolonial: Contemporary Arabic literature of migration to Europe, by Johanna Sellman

Abstract: In 21st-century Arabic literature of migration, modernist and earlier postcolonial discourses on exile and migration have been giving way to writings that grapple with subjectivities born of mass migration and the encounter with borders and borderlands. This article puts contemporary Arabic literature of forced or precarious migration to Europe in conversation with postcolonial studies, Arabic literary studies, and border studies. Though Arabic literature and postcolonial literary theory have not been adequately co-theorized, we can draw on approaches from postcolonial studies. The article suggests that the most urgent anti-hegemonic critiques in contemporary migration literature pertain to borders, citizenship, belonging within the kinds of precarity created in contemporary contexts of migration. In border studies, we find multiple approaches to querying borders and borderlands: as barriers that uphold global inequalities, sites of transformations, and liminal spaces from which meanings can be re-imagined.

The more-than-human refugee journey: Hassan Blasim’s short stories, by Rita Sakr

Abstract: This article addresses the representation of forced and clandestine migration in some of Hassan Blasim’s short stories within an interdisciplinary conceptual framework that brings together theories of biopolitics, ecocriticism, human rights discourse, heterotopia, and the aesthetics of “nightmare realism”. Blasim’s short stories offer new opportunities to address territoriality, life and truth at their limits in real and imagined sites where forest and border, human and non-human meet to suggest more-than-human futures for the paradoxical project of reclaiming human rights. By analysing Blasim’s unique representational techniques, through which he mediates material and discursive violence within a combined biopolitical-ecological framework, the article also investigates the potentials and limitations of a more ecologically attuned perspective on freedom of movement and community, based on the claims of the environment rather than the nation.

No country, no cry: Literature of women’s displacement and the reading of pity, by Olivera Jokic

Abstract: This article discusses how works of popular fiction cultivate affective attachments to unstable distinctions between citizens and migrants, “refugees” and “economic migrants”, or “legal” and “irregular” migrants. Focusing on two texts published in the USA between the mid-1990s and 2015 that thematize the fallout from late-20th-century conflicts in former Yugoslavia, the article examines how novels written by women get read as instruments of women’s personal engagement with the politics of nationhood, migration and displacement. The texts encourage sympathetic disidentification from the fictional texts’ female protagonists, and provide formal signals for readers looking to distance themselves from the ambiguities of the protagonists’ status and the gendered violence it entails. The article suggests how such reading, a profitable commodity with middle-class consumers of literary texts, cultivates political imagination that aestheticizes concerns with the violence and uncertainty of all nation-making, and ascribes insecurity to unfamiliar regions and foreign women.

A life without a shoreline: Tropes of refugee literature in Jenny Erpenbeck’s Go, Went, Gone, by Corina Stan

Abstract: Through close engagement with Jenny Erpenbeck’s novel Go, Went, Gone (first published in German as Gehen, ging, gegangen in 2015), this article makes a case for refugee literature as a body of texts by and about refugees which represent migration as part of a shared world. Ostensibly a novel about hospitality, Go, Went, Gone establishes walls, paper(s) and water as tropes of refugee literature, turning them into meditations on habits of thought built into our understanding of language, on the precariousness of foundational narratives, and on what ultimately constitutes a human life. Refraining from offering a solution to the refugee crisis in spite of dramatizing the lessons of ethical hospitality, the novel compels its readers to dwell on the discomfort of a global crisis that requires a political solution which transcends the fatalism of the west’s cultural self-doubt.

The battle of truth and fiction: Documentary storytelling and Middle Eastern refugee discourse, by Valerie Anishchenkova

Abstract: This article problematizes cinematic representations of refugees in documentary film, with a particular focus on documentary depictions of Middle Eastern refugees and the ethical aspects of such representations. It argues that documentary production about Middle Eastern refugees faces two challenges simultaneously: the representational challenges of refugee documentary as a genre, with its potential for exploitation, sensationalism and emotional manipulation; and the orientalist tradition that continues to influence much of the discourse about the Middle East. Two documentary films are discussed as case studies: James Longley’s Iraq in Fragments, which illustrates a number of typical, recurring aspects of orientalist representational discourse in Middle East-focused western documentary film-making; and Matthew Firpo’s Refuge: Human Studies from the Refugee Crisis, which highlights the problematic phenomenon of the singular “Syrian Refugee” image, a persistent media construction since the beginning of the European refugee crisis.

An environmental history of literary resilience: “Environmental refugees” in the Senegal River Valley, by Mélanie Bourlet and Marie Lorin

Abstract: This article explores the relations between an environmental history of the Senegal River Valley (Mali, Senegal, Mauritania), Pulaar literature (oral and written) and the processes of migration. To what extent can literature contribute to furthering both the international debates surrounding “refugees” and literary criticism? The article’s hypothesis is that migrations have produced a pendulum effect, promoting an engagement with a literary resilience in which the Pulaar language is invested with a vital, ecological stake. It asks how this geographical imagination can establish a system of alternative laws, becoming a lever of resistance and adaptation in the face of the trauma of dispossession and exile Why are decisive historical moments of regional and international migratory movement coupled with a difficulty in living off the land (and a sentiment of dispossession) concomitant with greater literary output and activism?

The question of Arab “identity” in Amin Maalouf’s Les Desorientés, by Hanan Ibrahim

Abstract: In Les Desorientés (2013), the Lebanese French author Amin Maalouf calls attention to the chaotic conditions in Lebanon since the civil war and in other Arab countries in the aftermath of the “Arab Spring”. This article argues that Maalouf depicts a situation which could be either apocalyptic or promisingly generative. The protagonist, Adam, is an empathetic observer who sustains a dialogue with different types of otherness and identity, including extremist Islamic and Marxist positions. However, this article draws on the ideas of Peter Václav Zima and Edward Said on subjectivity and exilic identity to suggest that Maalouf here portrays an exilic intellectual who falls short of envisioning any “political” programme that might confront oppressive centres of power. Thus Adam’s final coma and his liminal status between life and death can be seen as epitomizing a reluctance to use exilic privilege productively to resist tyranny and affirm the rights of the subjugated.