Transnational Narratives in Englishes of Exile 978-1498539456, 1498539459

Monolingual, monolithic English is an issue of the past. In this collection, by using cinema, poetry, art, and novels we

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Transnational Narratives in Englishes of Exile
 978-1498539456,  1498539459

Table of contents :
Contents......Page 8
Prologue......Page 10
Acknowledgments......Page 14
Introduction......Page 18
Chapter 1 Mobility, Virality, and Securityin Hari Kunzru’s Transmission
......Page 22
Mothers Without Frontiers andTheir Affective Maps in The FlowerBridge by Thomas Ciulei and CodeUnknown by Michael Haneke......Page 44
Flowering Exile......Page 62
Diasporic Iranian Writing in English......Page 82
Cultural Hermeneutics......Page 100
The Forked Tongue of Chinese-English Translation at MSU (MandarinSpeaking University?), circa 2015......Page 116
de Gloria Anzaldúa......Page 134
Transnational Perspectives on Romanian Gender and Ethnic Diversity in Ioana Baetica Morpurgo’s......Page 156
Disabling the Binaries, Enabling the Boundaries......Page 174
“Strike Their Roots into Unaccustomed Earth” in an Era of New Genetics......Page 194
Cracked Spaces in-between Brackets......Page 214
“[F]oreigners, Foreigners, My God”......Page 230
Mise en abîme with My Immigrants......Page 252
Epilogue......Page 270
Index......Page 276
About the Authors......Page 280

Citation preview


Transnational Narratives in Englishes of Exile

Transnational Narratives in Englishes of Exile Edited by Catalina Florina Florescu and Sheng-mei Ma


Lanham • Boulder • New York • London

Published by Lexington Books An imprint of The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc. 4501 Forbes Boulevard, Suite 200, Lanham, Maryland 20706 Unit A, Whitacre Mews, 26-34 Stannary Street, London SE11 4AB Copyright © 2018 by Lexington Books All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote passages in a review. British Library Cataloguing in Publication Information Available Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Available Library of Congress Control Number: 2017958987 ISBN 978-1-4985-3945-6 (cloth: alk. paper) ISBN 978-1-4985-3946-3 (electronic) ∞ ™ The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of American National Standard for Information Sciences—Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI/NISO Z39.48-1992. Printed in the United States of America

Share our food Share our homes Share our countries Instead let us Build a wall to keep them out It is not okay to say These are people just like us A place should only belong to those who are born there Do not be so stupid to think that The world can be looked at another way, (now read from bottom to top), —“Refugees” by Brian Bilston Try this exercise: ex-ile, ex-hale, ex-ile, ex-hale, and make sure ex-hale is the last part of your incantation [and] in seven days you’d be home. [Ovid, the exiled, was talking to me during a recurrent imaginary dialogue that I keep having with him in Constanta, formerly known as Tomis]. —“Nomad/‘Romanglish,’” Catalina Florina Florescu


Prologueix Margarita Georgieva Acknowledgmentsxiii Introductionxvii Catalina Florina Florescu 1 Mobility, Virality, and Security in Hari Kunzru’s Transmission1 Tim Gauthier 2 Mothers Without Frontiers and Their Affective Maps in The Flower Bridge by Thomas Ciulei and Code Unknown by Michael Haneke Oana Chivoiu 3 Flowering Exile: Chinese Diaspora and Women’s Autobiography Da Zheng 4 Diasporic Iranian Writing in English Sanaz Fotouhi


41 61

5 Cultural Hermeneutics: Andrei Codrescu as “The Romanian who translated himself into an American” Christene D’Anca


6 The Forked Tongue of Chinese-English Translation at MSU (Mandarin-Speaking University?), circa 2015 Sheng-mei Ma



viii Contents

7 El Mundo Zurdo de Gloria Anzaldúa: Healing Sueños of Nepantlera Activism Mary Louisa Cappelli


8 Transnational Perspectives on Romanian Gender and Ethnic Diversity in Ioana Baetica Morpurgo’s Imigranţii135 Maria-Sabina Draga Alexandru 9 Disabling the Binaries, Enabling the Boundaries: Home-Abroad Divide in the European Migration Crisis Adedoyin Ogunfeyimi 10 “Strike Their Roots into Unaccustomed Earth” in an Era of New Genetics: Diasporic Identity Politics and Genealogy Re-Considered in Jhumpa Lahiri’s “Unaccustomed Earth” Hsin-Ju Kuo



11 Cracked Spaces in-between Brackets: An Analysis of Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictée and Trinh Minh-ha’s elsewhere, within here193 Winnie Khaw 12 “[F]oreigners, foreigners, my God”: Language and Cinema in Jean Rhys’s Good Morning, Midnight209 Yanoula Athanassakis 13 Mise en abîme with My Immigrants Catalina Florina Florescu


Epilogue: Immigration, and Transformation, Innovation Maria Hadjipolycarpou


Index255 About the Authors


Prologue Margarita Georgieva

I have always studied English in denial. First, it was the denial of the language itself. “No, I don’t want to learn English, dad! I want to learn French!” I would protest about this decision of his that would determine my future. I felt that it was a life changer and it would determine me, as a person, myself. After year two at the local language high school in Bulgaria, I knew I read, spoke and wrote English but had no idea if native speakers would understand me. I studied British English from an old Soviet textbook, and I had an American expat Peace Corps volunteer, himself of Indian origin, teach me spoken American English that was more Indian-American-English. My classmates had a running joke about this hyphenated English that we were exposed to. It was the English adaptation of a Bulgarian idiomatic expression for “we’re doomed.” It went like this: “And went the horse into the river.” Back then, we had no idea we spoke an English dialect of our own because we thought we were rebelling. We spoke like that so as to disobey what we referred to as “the System.” Rather than referring to the communist regime, it was about a vaguer notion that we had about education in general. We thought education was against us and that we were learning in spite of it. The System wanted us to pick whether to write in British English or in American English. Are you a traveler or are you a traveler? Do you dream in color or in color? Any mix of the two was impossible. We spoke and wrote Bulgarish instead. In Bulgarish, you drink “watter” with a double t. The moment I could leave home, I bought a bus ticket to France and undertook the lengthy bus journey from Bulgaria to France to learn French. In the bus, I read Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange and discovered some other people also have their own English. I loved the idea of having droogs (Burgess borrowed it from Russian, meaning friends), and I did have a babooshka (grandma) of my own. This would also allow me to expand my own hyphenated English. In view of this hyphen expansion project, I decided ix

x Prologue

that I would study English in France, so that I could learn French. It was probably one of the best decisions in my life. It taught me that there is such a thing as Franglais. Whenever you are not sure about what word to use in English, use a French one instead. Make it sound English. “Would you like a serviette?” And then the word “napkin” starts to sound so ordinary. You sit there with your serviette on your knees, looking at your salad niçoise and think that the sentence “I am done eating” does not even begin to cover the Bulgarian version of it, which stands for “I am full,” “I am satiated,” “I do not want a second helping,” and “I am happy” all at the same time. And then you develop this idea with a sentence structure. And replace your question tags by a non. “You have eaten enough, non?” And then it suddenly sounds offensive to that person. You think they do not understand you. You live with this uncertainty that you might not be understood. Not fully at least. And this is only with two countries and three languages. The moment I decided to leave France, it was to go to Kuwait to teach English. My first encounter with their English was through writing. It came in the form of a short essay. It read: “sometimes the outside of a horse is better than the insides of a man but man must go walk in a good way. the most the man will gets will go take it and so the man can to be success . . . .” It made perfect sense to all of my students. I made very little sense to me. I do not even know where or if to put “[sic]” in this quote. And this is where Kuwait got complicated. My taxi driver was Pakistani; the delivery guy was Indian; the tailor was from Afghanistan, and none of them spoke Arabic. And then we still understood each other in some strange verbally non-verbal way in all of our Englishes. I used to think mine was the proper one but what right have I to claim that, given my origins and present dual French-Bulgarian citizenship? My students would use words like shenou hatha (“what’s that”) to ask me what something was. And then these words acquired also other meanings. They could be used ironically or as a form of protest, a disagreement maybe. How could I be sure? I would call my friend: “Habibi, how are you?” We were kind to one another. But there is a pop-folk song in Bulgaria called Habibi and the word there has all sorts of awful connotations. So now, I have all of these words and their meanings. They have become mine, and I use them. People do not always understand. I am writing this text in Bulgaria now. Today my dad wanted to meet me for lunch. “Let’s meet at 12,” he suggested. “Tamam (OK),” I answered, agreeing. My dad said, “You have changed a lot.” I thought it was ironic how much the language he wanted me to learn has changed from the one I first read from that Soviet textbook. My dad is right, in a sense. All of those Englishes I have experienced, and also made mine, have changed me. They have changed the way I write but also, very importantly, the way I see the world, and people in it. They have changed the way I behave, and even think.



Maybe the beauty of English is just that—its adaptability, the way you can bend it to fit your culture, your identity, the way you can make it yours so that it becomes your second mother tongue. Strangely, that mother tongue is more mine than the forced rigid Bulgarian language I learned by the rules. It seems, my English, contains the hearts and the souls of those I learned it from. It is bright and colorful, hot from the desert, refined by a touch of French perfume, a bit rude too, in a Russian swearword kind of way, and very organized because I also am learning German. I am not sure how this will work out with my Bulgarian-French-English, but I welcome the experience with joy. My experience with hyphenated Englishes is just one of the many explored in this collection. Each of us has a voice in an English that deserves to be heard, even if not always fully understood. We exist.


I was born in Romania and, for fourteen years, I experienced the worst and last years of communism. Growing up, I faced many issues related to inequality and injustice. In 1989, when communism was eradicated throughout Eastern Europe I was a teenager. I had rationed food, was deprived of basic needs, and was exposed to heavy, damaging propaganda. Democracy has always been a word that inspired hope, yet because of its late acquisition in my life, it has also been a reminder of abnormal societies and regimes where justice and peace are not established rights, and consequently one has to fight harder to secure them. We live in highly violent and unstable times when we have to reimagine concepts that we have taken for granted: “liberty,” “freedom of speech,” “equality,” “tolerance,” “human rights,” and others. Still, to make them work better today, here as well as internationally, forums, and public debates should take place where people representing diverse social strata would express their concerns. The topic of immigration has always been part of me personally and professionally. Due to the digital revolution, on the one hand, and the current severe immigration crisis doubled by increased worldwide extreme nationalism and fascist populism, on the other hand, our collection has been carefully edited to include voices reflecting on displacement, shifting borders, and mobility from angles that range from personal to social, economical, and political. The story of the immigrant is everybody’s story, as just the stories of ethnicity, gender equality, religious affiliations, sexuality, and status quo belong to all of us. To isolate ourselves and pretend these narratives do not affect us is dangerous and disrespectful. I would like to thank Professor Sheng-mei Ma for serving as my co-editor on this project. I would also like to thank all collaborators for their keen xiii

xiv Acknowledgments

input on immigration, Englishes, and identity. The reviewers who read and endorsed our collection and thus have helped us promote our arduous work. The artists who let me use their work in my chapter: Simion Cernica, Zarina Hashmi, Andrea Bowers, and Henk Wildschut. By writing a Prologue, Margarita Georgieva has added the lived experience of her several manifested Englishes. Furthermore, I am grateful Antoine Josse granted me permission to use his beautiful painting “La dérive des continents,” a suave and timely cover that aligns with our collection’s humanistic messages. Sometimes, it only takes one small but sincere gesture, such as the hand extended, so that the other knows we care. By so doing, we prove we are here and now available for the one in need of comfort and support. While the two silhouetted and emaciated people stand on a separate piece of land, the desire to help and embrace is more profound than any geographical divide. By extension, this genuine yet simple gesture suggests that what keeps humanity together is our intrinsic goal to live our lives in dignity, away from political nightmares and greediness, while nonetheless striving to equalize our disruptive differences. Then, Josse’s two humans’ painted alluded to embrace is language-free. And that is the reason why I thought his exquisite painting would resonate profoundly with what happens in the world today and the wake-up call for us to help those in dire needs. On a personal level, it was after I had become a mother when I realized what it meant to teach my native Romanian as a second language to M, my son. Over the years, it has been worthy to witness the many versions of Romanian and English that exist in my household. If in the beginning I was frustrated that I did not perform in American English just as well as I could in Romanian, over time it has become clearer and clearer that the ineffable essence of being human refracts our capacity to adapt and never surrender. I will speak with an accent for as long as I live, and I am extremely proud of that. I feel that my accented English pays respect to my European origin and my added confidence reassures all those who are afraid to narrate their stories lest they are marginalized or asked, “So, where are you from?!” I dedicate this collection to all courageous immigrants, exiles, expats, and refugees whose legacy of continuous struggle has also been recorded here. —Catalina Florina Florescu An earlier version of chapter 3 was published as “Flowering Exile: Chinese Housewife, Diasporic Experience, and Literary Representation,” in Journal of Modern Life Writing Studies 5 (2015). An earlier version of chapter 6 was published as “The Forked Tongue of Chinese-English Translation at MSU (Mandarin-Speaking University?), circa 2015.” Journal of Intercultural Inquiry 1.1 (2015): 6–27.



The original version of chapter 10 has been published by the Journal Fiction and Drama (ISSN 2073–042X). The consent and approval of being included in the book collection have been obtained from the editor-in-chief of the journal. Epigraph from “Refugees” by Brian Bilston reprinted with permission. Epigraph from “Nomad/‘Romanglish’” by Catalina Florina Florescu reprinted with permission. Excerpts from “So Mush of Me” by Charlene Rajendran reprinted with permission. Excerpts from Transmission by Hari Kunzru, copyright © 2004 by Hari Kunzru. Used by permission of Dutton, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Also reproduced with permission of Curtis Brown Group Ltd., London, on behalf of Hari Kunzru. Copyright © Hari Kunzru 2004.

Introduction Catalina Florina Florescu

In the 2014 PMLA edition, Professor Simon Gikandi of Princeton University published an editorial titled “Provincializing English” that (in part) constitutes the foundation for our collection. Dr. Gikandi explains that there is no English but Englishes,1 a concept that is not novel and yet not fully embraced by and/or employed in the academic circles. As he argues, “An effective way of dealing with anxieties that English generates is to deprive the language of the ecumenical status of the global and to represent it as one language among many, to provincialize it, as it were.”2 By so doing, we recognize that there is no universal English throughout the world but many standardized Englishes, as well as countless dialects. This proves that we can talk about a plethora of examples manifesting themselves simultaneously in the generic English with other forms to be added. Our collection, Transnational Narratives in Englishes of Exile, is a study about diaspora literature and immigrant experiences, and how the idioms brought and performed by immigrants continue to furrow deep, reshaping the once monolithic, colonial English language. We frame our discourses from its plural rather than limit the language and/or its speakers to singular. The collection starts with “Mobility, Virality, and Security in Hari Kunzru’s Transmission” by Tim S. Gauthier who reflects on globalization qua utopic design. In this scenario, boundaries do not exist and, as side effects, all socio-political and economical systems have fallen apart/or are about to dissolve. As demonstrated in his chapter, the characters are paradoxically not at ease with this novel and chaotic paradigm, and a question persists until the end: In a massively globalized world, where or what is our home? In the second chapter, “Mothers without Frontiers and Their Affective Maps in The Flower Bridge by Thomas Ciulei and Code Unknown by Michael Haneke,” Oana Chivoiu discusses the after effects of post communism in East Europe: xvii

xviii Introduction

granted, these days, people travel more easily, however, in this particular case, the main characters (the mothers) leave their families behind to accept menial and degrading jobs in different countries just so their children will have something to eat and wear. In return, this creates a pattern where kids are raised in a sporadic and/or inconsistent non-traditional manner. For mothers who travel back and forth and who cross borders many times, the situation is even more traumatizing because their transnational identity is anything but rewarding. They exist suspended, floating metaphorically on a new grey cloud in a Europe that has become more and more divided socio-economically. Da Zheng transports us back in time via his “Flowering Exile: Chinese Diaspora and Women’s Autobiography” to a period when Chinese wives were fighting to break their silence and reroute their fixed and narrow domesticity during the early decades of the twentieth century. When their first attempts at narrating their pain of exile surfaced, the women gave birth to a cycle of much-needed female voices deepening the immigrant rhetorical narrative. From Chinese wives balancing their immigrant lives in Great Britain, the collection invites us to travel to Iran via Sanaz Fotouhi’s chapter “Iranian Writing in English.” She starts her essay with a fundamental concept— ahsh—whose closest equivalent would be “a difficult, almost impossible to solve situation.” The author situates her critique around ahsh to emphasize that Iranian literature is marginalized; then, she points out to how its writers continue to seek ways to broaden their audience, so that people get to know Iranians’ struggles, rather than characterize them through harmful stereotypes. Furthermore, in “Disabling the Binaries, Enabling the Boundaries: HomeAbroad in the European Migration Crisis,” Adedoyin Ogunfeyimi introduces stories of real people. The author brings into focus the refugees’ crisis that is currently unfolding in parts of North Africa, Asia, and Europe. The chapter talks about an increased mobility, although this is terrifying and crippling as it reminds us that peace and rights are privileges to only few people. For these refugees, the noun “home” is problematic to define and situate given the random trajectory of the refugees’ journey. Maria-Sabina Draga Alexandru reminds us in her chapter “Transnational Perspectives on Romanian Gender and Ethnic Diversity in Ioana Baetica Morpurgo’s Imigranţii” about the usage of the transnational jargon in cultural and literary studies as it has been employed and revised since the war on terror in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks in the United States, as well as in light of the increased migration and the Brexit phenomenon in Europe, respectively. Focusing on five characters, her chapter on the one hand addresses individualism when it comes to relocation and assimilation, and on the other hand presents a reflection on language as a more or less unifying migrant collaborative, ongoing project. In “Strike Their Roots into Unaccustomed Earth in an Era of New Genetics: Diasporic

Introduction xix

Identity Politics and Genealogy Reconsidered,” Hsin-ju Cheryl centers her argument on a very original idea, that is, how horticulture trespasses its original meaning to suggest yet another view on immigration. The author introduces the trope of displaced people seen as “scattered seeds” which, in return, repopulates our landscape both literally and figuratively. For Winnie Khaw in “Cracked Spaces in-between Brackets: An Analysis of Theresa Hak Cha’s Dictée and Trinh Minh-Ha’s elsewhere, within here,” the argument empowers female writing and women’s desire to break the standard and extremely rigid patriarchal view on one’s immigration. Both writers talk about rootlessness and fractured discourses that are pushed to surface and stick onto the main narrative discourse. Furthermore, in “[F]oreigners, foreigners, my God”: Language and Cinema in Jean Rhys’s Good Morning, Midnight,” Yanoula Athanassakis centers her critique around Sasha’s Caribbean dislocated identity. The female character addresses her anxieties related to gender, linguistic identity, and struggle of self-worth—all issues that are topical and yet could transcend her case easily. Sasha is emblematic because it reminds us of the past colonial readings as a platform to conduct research and open forums. In her “Cultural Hermeneutics: Andrei Codrescu as ‘The Romanian Who Translated Himself into an American,’” Christene D’Anca zooms into the experience of the poet whose body of work has structured his dual lyrical identity for centuries. Translating his native Romanian into English at first, after that Codrescu had mingled native with local until he eventually became fluent in his adoptive language. Like all translations, however, Codrescu’s suffer from their clinical side effects that, like medical trials, vary from day to day. To be displaced does not mean to flee a country and to alter one’s native linguistic heritage, but to accept the change at the deepest levels possible precisely because of our brains’ flexibility. By examining  the  parallel linguistic tracks  of  two MSUs, Michigan State University and its Mandarin-Speaking Undergraduates, Sheng-mei Ma in “The  Forked  Tongue  of Chinese-English  Translation” flips  the  theme  of  Englishes in Exile. Rather than unmediated data or knowledge transfer, Chinese-English translation on campus encodes, scrambles  the  source language  of  Chinese or English so much so that it well-nigh switches  off potential cross-cultural dialogues. Such linguistic code switching turns into an encryption, a forked tongue that “unspeaks” what it alleges to translate from or into. Finally, in my chapter, “Mise en abîme with My Immigrants,” I disengage my writing from a traditional analytical style of secondary sources critique with the purpose of widening our collection’s audience and extending an invitation to reflect on what mobility and globalization truly mean as we cannot but all feel the rippling effects of displacement. By focusing on the works of nine artists and by using a short film, poetry, short stories, and visual

xx Introduction

artworks, I expose how this reversed vicarious experience has enriched me tremendously to the point that it should be passed on to other people interested in hearing stories of immigration. I also suggest that it’s preferable to view English as being transformed and turned into our current heteroglossic language of immigration—Englishes of exile. In the sublime poem “Who Am I, Without Exile?,” the Palestinian writer Mahmoud Darwish ends it in what appears a very enigmatic tone, although deep down, in the recess of our own solitude, we know the answer to his last painful question: “And nothing carries us: not the road and not the house./Was this road always like this, from the start,/ What will we do without exile?”3 NOTES 1. A seminal work in this area is Robert Burchfield’s 1992 Unlocking the English Language. 2. Simon Gikandi, “Provincializing English.” PMLA 129.1 (2014): 1–17. New York, NY. 3. Mahmoud Darwish, “Who Am I, Without Exile?” Fady Jaudah. Poetry Foundation.

REFERENCES Darwish, Mahmoud. “Who Am I, Without Exile?” Fady Jaudah. Poetry Foundation. Gikandi, Simon. “Provincializing English.” PMLA 129.1 (2014): 1–17. New York, NY. Lorde, Audre. “Power.” Poetry Foundation. poems-and-poets/poems/detail/53918

Chapter 1

Mobility, Virality, and Security in Hari Kunzru’s Transmission Tim Gauthier

Globalization, in its utopian configuration, is often touted as the answer to the world’s woes (particularly by its advocates from the West). In that construction, the erasure of boundaries ensures that the flow of goods and labor will ultimately lead to the erasure of difference and the attainment of equality for all (both economic and social). But the dream of globalization, of a world system, is not without its problems. It has become clear that goods are more easily moved than labor, and that human rights are always secondary to economic concerns. In Transmission (2004), Hari Kunzru tackles two principal myths of globalization—that mobility is now a luxury available to all and that utopia will come with the existence of one world culture. Through an exploration of “what lies beneath the rhetoric about seamless networking and open borders,”1 the novel highlights the resistant social strains that would prevent such homogenization, including calling for national identity cards and ridding nations of unwanted asylum seekers. The result in Kunzru’s satire is “Club Europa”—an attempt to brand Europe as an “exclusive continent.”2 The novel thus depicts a world in transition, caught between its homogenizing and heterogenizing impulses. And though the contemporary novel is often challenged by the rapidity with which the globalized world evolves and transmutes, it nevertheless finds itself ideally suited to dramatize and illuminate the paradoxes and conflicts inherent in such portentous change. The dialogic qualities of the novel allow for its maintaining different viewpoints in apparent contradiction with each other, while simultaneously demonstrating their inevitable linkage. Transmission follows the trajectory of three very different individuals. The first is Arjun Mehta, a young Indian who believes he has landed a lifechanging job in Silicon Valley, but is in fact a low-level position with a computer security firm, Virugenix. When downsizing occurs, however, his 1


Tim Gauthier

disposable status means that he is one of the first to be let go. He recognizes that he is part of the labor force the West willfully exploits and then discards at its leisure. In desperation he unleashes a computer virus, hoping that by stepping in and saving the day the firm will give him his job back. The second character, Guy Swift, is young marketing executive, with big ambition, outlined in a document entitled Guy Swift: The Mission. Unfortunately, his company, Tomorrow* (Kunzru puns on this word, with its satirical asterisk, more than once), has run into a number of financial setbacks. The novel follows Guy’s struggles to score a big contract before financial disaster strikes. The third character is Leela Zahir, a young Indian movie actress engaged in filming a Bollywood film in Scotland. And though she appears to be living the life of glamor, we soon see that she is equally trapped, first by the male-dominated industry, but even more so by her mother who treats her as a “slave.” Leela, in the end, will demonstrate a greater degree of initiative than either men, in expressing her desire for mobility. In Kunzru’s satire, each will find himself or herself liberated in different ways by the virus and its contagious properties. Each of these characters is caught up in a significant moment in the history of globalization when delocalization—a dramatic increase in mobility (often not of one’s choice)—is transforming the ways that people imagine their place in the world, their spatial and temporal location, and their sense of belonging to a home or territory. The characters in Transmission struggle, to greater or lesser degrees, with their transcultural condition. These heightened conditions lead to the deployment of governmental and legal mechanisms used to monitor and control the movements of individuals based on their “desirability.” As such, Ronen Shamir argues, mobility is now regulated in large part through “a paradigm of suspicion.” In other words, the movement of individuals is strictly controlled by invoking “the threat of crime, undesired immigration, and terrorism, either independently or, increasingly, interchangeably.”3 Through their respective journeys, both Arjun and Guy will be brought face-to-face with these mechanisms of control, raising questions about terrorism and immigration in the process. Arjun will be pursued by legal and government forces for having committed what is deemed as an act of terrorism. Guy, for his part, initially collaborates with those who would implement these draconian measures, but eventually finds himself, through a series of mishaps, as one of its casualties. Transmission thus captures and dramatizes the lives of individuals caught in the throes of globalization and the regimes of mobility that often dictate and circumscribe the movements of people across the globe. On the surface, there would seem to be very little to connect the themes of Transmission with Kunzru’s previous novel, The Impressionist (2002). It deals with the British Raj in India and its eventual downfall. Transmission,

Mobility, Virality, and Security in Hari Kunzru’s Transmission


for its part, focuses on globalization and interconnectedness in the computer age. Both, however, are concerned with the question of identity and its construction. As Anita Sethi points out, the second novel shares a prevailing theme with its predecessor: “the plight of the outsider trying to make good in an alien environment.”4 But it is also about the degree of agency the outsider is able to exercise within this environment. In The Impressionist, the main character mutates and transforms himself as the cultural situation requires. Pran Nath initially uses this strategy as a means of survival, but he eventually transmutes into a blank slate onto which anything might be transcribed. The novel raises questions about authenticity and the notion of bounded cultures, problematizing those characteristics by which a culture defines its essence. Speaking of the novel Kunzru acknowledges that he wanted “to write about a character who would not remain stable throughout every situation. It would be a way of interrogating whether we are actually immutable or . . . much more context-driven than we care to believe.”5 Interestingly, he also notes that the novel was a chance for him to examine “the whole idea of home and homelessness and belonging.” But he adds that he is “exposing a sort of homelessness that, I think, is the human condition. I think the idea of a natural connection to a place or a natural connection to a society is false. It is a constructed thing and we build ‘home.’ Home is something you make, you build relationships with people and you build relationships with ‘place.’ There isn’t a fascist type of blood and soil connection.”6 Kunzru’s suggestion raises some interesting questions. Are we becoming increasingly “homeless” as the world globalizes? In other words, are those things that once defined “home,” becoming less and less tangible? In both novels, then, Kunzru advocates the idea of identity as a malleable construct, one entirely adaptable to circumstance. His characters respond to the flow of the world, in the first instance embodied in colonization, in the second globalization, by rejecting the encumbrances of predetermined identity, and instead seek a more mutable form of being. At an early point in Transmission, Arjun foresees a moment in time when, “You start to become who you always dreamed of becoming.”7 This concept applies more readily to The Impressionist, in which the protagonist successfully embodies and appropriates an increasingly white and British identity. The facility with which Pran Nath effects this transformation belies Kunzru’s faith in our capacity to transform, chameleon-like, into someone other than ourselves. We can say, however, that both Pran Nath and Arjun, in very different ways, strive to construct their selves through selfimposed exile and willful movement across a number of boundaries, both physical and metaphysical. The author thus expresses the conviction that we can break free from those ties that bind us and that we can exercise agency, dictating our home, our attachments, and our selves. At the same time, he


Tim Gauthier

recognizes that this fairy tale is complicated by the variations in mobility (or the lack thereof), represented in the juxtaposition of Guy Swift and Arjun Mehta. Guy embodies the blindness of the privileged Westerner who tolerates the other for its exoticism and who conceives of the world as a menu laid out for his enjoyment.8 In one scene, he sits eating in a restaurant specializing in Japanese-Lebanese fusion cuisine, entirely “oblivious to its trendsetting collisions of taste and presentation.”9 Guy’s ability to be in any place at any time, and the excessive availability of things, has impacted his capacity to perceive even the most blatant cultural distinctions: “If there was a buffet table in a room, he walked straight up and began to eat. If there was one chair, he sat down. Thailand or Mauritius or Zanzibar or Cancun or Sharm el Sheikh or Tunisia or the Gold Coast or Papeete or Grand Cayman or Malibu. So many places for Guy. All the same.”10 These variations hold no element of wonder or surprise; they all form part of an agglomeration readily at hand. His mobility has erased all difference to the extent that he no longer sees the world before him (a quality that will serve him in poor stead in Dubai). So while Arjun exercises limited mobility, Guy who is better placed to take advantage of the transcultural, ironically demonstrates a blind obliviousness to its possibilities. Ultimately, Guy is ambushed by his own faulty assumptions about globalization. In truth, they are not really assumptions since he has never really given them any conscious thought. “He was, in that respect, innocent. Life had always obliged, always given him what he asked for.”11 Guy is a naïf who takes globalization as a given, and is thus incognizant of the extent to which mobility (and the exposure to difference) is a commodity prized by individuals who do not benefit from the same privilege. And though he does not intend others any harm, his “innocence” will be sorely put to the test. First, in his failed sales pitch in Dubai, where the future does seem to be passing him by, and then during his case of mistaken identity. Nevertheless, it is Guy who scurries across the face of the globe at his leisure looking for a better Tomorrow*, while no such luxury is afforded to Arjun: “He knows what lies above him, the sublime mobility of those who travel without ever touching the ground. He has glimpsed what lies below, the other mobility, the forced motion of the shopping-cart pushers, the collectors of cardboard boxes. At least in India the street people can lie down for a while before being moved on.”12 This passage is one of the few in the text that alludes to the segment of the world’s population that exists below that of the mobile workers such as Arjun.13 After all, Arjun still demonstrates a mobility not even available to his sister, Priti, who must resign herself to working in a call center for an Australian firm. In this regard, Ronen Shamir points to a filtering system that prevents anyone without a “legitimate” purpose from

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entering affluent countries. Arjun has indeed been granted entry, but his position within the system is an exceedingly limited one, prey to the whims of his employers. Kunzru thus casts Arjun as a pawn of the globalized economy— for though he believes he has joined the ranks of the “cosmocrats,” he is really a disposable commodity. So he shares a house filled with other “data bodies,” rank with stale food and smoked cigarettes, watches reruns of Baywatch, and waits to be schlepped off to whatever site is temporarily in need of his services. The position at Virugenix, then, appears as a godsend, legitimizing at least some of Arjun’s aspirations. He recognizes that he is on the outside looking in, but nevertheless feels that he now belongs to something. As a consequence, the loss of this position proves all the more injurious. Part of the devastation comes in the form of embarrassment. Arjun is ashamed to reveal (to his family, in particular) the degree to which he has been manipulated by the system. At the same time, he proves to be surprisingly enterprising: “But it was fixable. All he had to do was treat this situation like any other technical challenge. Parse the problem. Find the bug and deal with it. Because it was not how his story went. He was doing well in America. He was a big success.”14 His unleashing of the Leela virus, then, is an attempt to get his job back, to save face, but also to exercise some agency. So while we might agree with one critic who suggests that the proliferation of the virus is Kunzru’s only means of demonstrating the true effects of globalization, we might also conceive of cyberspace as the only medium through which Arjun Mehta can truly express his desired globalized condition. Because at the moment he unleashes the virus, Arjun begins to exercise autonomy and reject the system into which he has previously sought to assimilate. For though his actions may have unintended consequences, they nevertheless open up avenues of mobility heretofore hidden or unconsidered. Through Arjun, Kunzru implies that we must find ways to disrupt the system, to question accepted dogma about who possesses the right to cross boundaries and establish a place of their own. Schiller and Salazar observe that “each historic restructuring of modes and spaces of accumulation creates new and dynamic relationships between mobility and immobility that empower the few and create conditions of spatialised but connected contestation among the many.”15 The passage seems to suggest that contestation occurs only between the disempowered—those who must compete for the little relinquished by the empowered. The constant shifting of these spaces, however, means that they are also subject to disruption and alteration, that the many may find a way to contest that possessed by the few. In terms of migrants and refugees, the urge to move—to establish one’s place elsewhere—is most frequently depicted as an act of desperation. The truth of the matter, Kunzru suggests, is that it can also be one of affirmation.


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Indeed, one might see the establishment of place beyond the established parameters (birthplace, for instance) as the strongest possible declaration of autonomy. This serves to explain the reaction of “host” nations that often seek to confer second-class status upon the same immigrants who are ostensibly welcomed. Kunzru’s novel thus flirts with the notion of disruption as a means of affirming one’s place. Arjun’s (radical?) act will propel him across boundaries, and allow him to drift free of a restrictive system that seeks to maintain control over all. Given Arjun’s deliberate, albeit unwitting, act of cyberterrorism, the reader might anticipate that the novel would now take a darker geopolitical turn. However, for a novel concerned with globalization, delocalization, and the transgressing of borders, Transmission is a text that curiously offers few references to the terrorist attacks of September 11 or the post-9/11 world within which its characters exist. Connections are drawn primarily in reference to the virus Arjun has unleashed. When Arjun’s computer program begins to replicate, for instance, someone wonders, “Possibly it was some kind of Muslim fundamentalist attack.”16 Later, another person suggests that its proliferation may be the work of the “Al-Qaedas.”17 Although these allusions are sprinkled throughout the text, however, very little is made of terrorism. This is surprising for two reasons. First, the novel was written in the first few months of what we might now term the post-9/11 period. Second, the actions undertaken by Arjun Mehta, although not intended as acts of terror, could still very well be construed as such. So how might one explain this? The most obvious answer lies with the novel’s sympathetic portrayal of Arjun. Yes, he is a lost soul stumbling his way through the globalized world, but there is little question as to where the sympathies of the implied author lie. One might take this even further and suggest that these sympathies extend not only to the protagonist, but also to his actions. Indeed, the text refuses to connect Arjun with terror. Finally, the novel is preoccupied with the responses to terrorism (rather than with the terrorism itself) and the disturbing corollaries in the discourses used by the powers-that-be to conflate terrorists and immigrants. In this narrative, terrorists and immigrants are equally threatening to the sovereignty of the state.18 The state in Transmission is depicted as hyper-vigilant, but also prone to over-reaction. The virus—which has reduced Colorado police departments to using pen and paper19—is treated as a major catastrophe. The government’s response is both unmeasured and hysterical: any attempt to compromise or mitigate our ability to function effectively in terms of our critical infrastructure, whether that be in the realm of telecommunications, energy, banking and finance, water facilitation, government operational activity thresholds or the smooth and unhampered running of our essential

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emergency services must be viewed as taking place within a framework strongly suggestive of deliberate negativization, threat or hostile intent.20

The passage communicates a degree of anxiety that explains the escalation of responses to any action that might be construed as “deliberate negativization.” The statement’s language is vague enough, subjective enough, and euphemistic enough to encompass any action imaginable, so that the net is cast ever wider and pulls in both the guilty and the innocent (as Guy Swift, to his chagrin, will eventually discover). Liam Connell further argues that Arjun’s depiction as a terrorist is most “revealing about the way in which the language of terrorism has been applied to a widening range of activities which might not have colloquially been understood as terrorism in the recent past.”21 As fears have grown in the wake of 9/11 and other such events, so too have our definitions expanded. Similarly, Nikos Papastergiadis argues that the terrorist attacks ignited a sense of uncertainty and vulnerability in Western populations. The nature of the attacks—conducted by men living among their targeted populations and utilizing their own technological advancements against them—resulted in what Papastergiadis terms “ambient fear”—“the phenomenon where fear is so widespread that its sources become unlocatable.”22 The conditions leading to this ambience make it so that everything becomes a possible threat—rendering them increasingly meaningless while simultaneously imbuing them with greater restrictive powers. The absurdity of fostering such conditions is made clear through the text’s treatment of both its protagonist and the virus he unleashes upon the world. For although he poses a double threat—first as migrant, and then as terrorist—there is actually very little about Arjun Mehta that invokes terror. The video he sends to Leela in apology for using her image (itself a pale imitation of the martyrdom videos produced by jihadists) elicits pity rather than fear: “The boy had the haunted face of someone who knows his link to the world is extremely tenuous,” one character thinks.23 His message is subsequently interpreted as the work of a pathetic figure or, at worst, that of a stalker. Such a depiction of the protagonist only serves to highlight once more the disproportionality of the governmental and legal responses. The text thus works hard to undermine and question the legitimacy of each of these fears. Even the effects of Arjun’s actions are downplayed or used for comic effect. The text depicts the results of the Leela virus mostly as a series of temporary inconveniences: Alarms, mostly false, were raised in various U.S. government offices, at power plants, dams and military bases. Lack of technical knowledge contributed to the confusion. In Honduras Leela was suspected of blowing light bulbs in the


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Ministry of the Interior. A man in Ottawa papered his bedroom in silver foil, convinced that his son’s PC had started to emit harmful rays. In Bihar police acting under orders from a regional politician conducted raids on various local markets, confiscating pirated VHS Copies of Leela Zahir films that were believed to be “spreading disease.”24

Earlier, Leela’s mother makes a similar allusion to the contaminating qualities of the virus: “Bahen-chod! What kind of dirtiness are you talking? My daughter has infected who?”25 In this instance, we are meant to laugh at the mother’s outburst, and to recognize the extent to which exposure to difference (even in a Bollywood snippet) is a very good thing. The government and the media both frame the Leela virus as a threat—an understandable and typical response—but the text asks us to question the directionality of these constructions (as does Kunzru). After all, porous borders also mean that we are exposed to ideas and peoples to which we might not otherwise be. In other words, contamination is not always a bad thing. “Implicit in these connections between contagion and global mobility,” Emily Johansen points out, “is the assumption that contagion is necessarily destructive.”26 Citing the OED, Johansen advocates for a more nuanced and at least partially positive reading that also conceives of contagion as a form of influence or sympathy. This is the very attitude adopted by Kunzru, and Transmission—the title announcing its intentions—plays with the positive possibilities of contagion and infection. For it utilizes these notions to undermine the entrenched concepts of immunity and nationality—that bodies and borders are impermeable and unchanging (indeed, unchangeable). In her reading, Johansen points to the novel’s “ambivalent cosmopolitan pose” which alludes to “the imbrication of elite and non-elite cosmopolitanisms, and the ways this can underscore already existing hierarchies and inequalities.”27 Transmission thus underscores the ways in which the beauties and the horrors of cosmopolitanism are inextricably linked. Arjun’s virus, Johansen observes, thus “acts as both warning about global interconnectedness . . . and theorization of another version of cosmopolitanism—one that adapts and transforms through its varied points of contact, and works to disrupt global systems of capital mobility by rerouting them through new or discrepant paths.”28 From this perspective, the virus proves to be both destructive and regenerative. The humor of the novel—its satirical bent—further serves to express an ambivalent relationship with the notion of cosmopolitanism as some kind of curative endpoint for the world’s ills. Again, Kunzru depicts the results of Arjun’s actions in a comic vein. A passage such as the one above is more interested in highlighting the absurd and comedic effects of the virus than in pointing to any serious consequences.

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Arjun’s acts are depicted as largely harmless, if not insignificant, and those with a “lack of technical knowledge” are the true targets of Kunzru’s comic wit. For although the act Arjun commits can be labeled cyberterrorism— the authorities refer to him as a cyber-terror suspect and a terrorist29—the implied author treats him far more gently. Accentuating the relative harmlessness of both the virus and its creator serves to put in relief the draconian and excessive measures governments now deploy as the means of keeping their populations (ostensibly) safe. We might say, then, that the virus unifies through global disunity. Kunzru riffs on the supposed benefits of a single world culture showing a globe turned upside down by the incursions of a lone computer virus. Having said this, there is a much darker novel lying in the shadows of Transmission. The worldwide contagion of the Leela virus also stands as a metaphor for the perceived contamination of immigration and diversity. Legitimate or not, these fears often generate their own very real responses. As Papastergiadis observes, we must acknowledge the ways in which “the dynamics of fear create a specific worldview.”30 And Kunzru’s text is fundamentally aware of these dynamics, for while the novel may seek to celebrate the breaking of boundaries embodied in the computer virus, it nevertheless recognizes that the facility with which borders are crossed and breached also serves to engender its own kind of anxiety, one that is often spurred on by media and government sources (for their own purposes). As Childs and Green observe, “The dark underside of the awareness of globalization is the fear of contamination and corruption, for as the prophylactic borders of the nation become increasingly porous, our capacity to resist the rapid spread of undesirable or hazardous elements is proportionally diminished.”31 For immigration implicitly carries the threat of contagion, particularly through the potential introduction of foreign germs and disease, but also through the admission of foreign agents with the capacity to contaminate and transform the host’s community and culture.32 One might question the legitimacy of such fears, as Kunzru’s text certainly asks us to do, but fears they remain nevertheless. Transmission seeks to point out both the folly of the fears, and the absurdity of the measures put in place to counteract them. The tensions represented and expressed in Kunzru’s novel reflect those of many living in a globalized world—people whose impulse to help others is often stymied or overwhelmed by the need to feel secure. As CharterisBlack points out, “The idea of embracing victims of political repression or economic devastation is counterbalanced by fears of terrorist attack, Islamic fundamentalism and fraudulent asylum seeking. Moreover, the symbolism of a native people threatened by outsiders creates a powerful political myth evoking cultural-historical fears of ‘invasion’ by alien ‘others.’”33 As such, fears of contagion, both pathological and cultural, often serve as the impetus


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for draconian measures aimed at preserving an “imagined community.” Transmission is thus a novel full of unresolved tensions, between a desire for a fluid world and a recognition of the very real obstacles standing in its way. The latter part of the novel turns to confront and question the validity of these obstacles, all the while raising the vision of a world gripped in the those of terror, seeking solace in retrenchment and restriction. While the novel has addressed the measures put in place to monitor and restrict the mobility of its citizens (both physically and virtually), it is only in the final third that it turns its attention to the full humanitarian implications of the increasing implementation of such control. Guy’s innocence and oblivious mobility have logically led to this moment in Brussels—a city Kunzru relentlessly paints as Apollonian and autocratic, replete with statues of King Leopold II and Rue de la Loi (232–33).34 The history of colonial oppression is all around.35 Even the restaurant where the meeting takes place exudes an implied desire for restraint and control. A bust of Leopold also adorns the lobby, and the staff wear “long white tunics, like representatives of a benevolent higher civilization in a science-fiction movie.”36 And the very name of the restaurant, Séraphim, suggests beings of a higher order. In Transmission, then, Brussels is a city fraught with the tensions of both its colonial past and its unification present (and these are not mutually exclusive); because unification does imply an inherent us/them construction. There is something that unites people as Europeans, that distinguishes them from others, especially those migrants who constantly seek to infiltrate, and contaminate, the imagined homogeneity of this continental body (though it must be said that distinctions are made, not always unspoken, between Western and Eastern Europeans). And unification, of course, must deal with its own ghosts. So while the narrator notes that the EU quarter of the city communicates “no hint of fascist grandiosity,” its “restrained anonymity” nevertheless stands as the “outward manifestation of something deeper, which has its origin in the Union’s noble but somehow sinister aim of a final consensus, a termination to the continent’s brutal Dionysiac history.”37 The European Union’s very existence is due in no small part to the two disastrous wars fought on the continent during the first half of the twentieth century, as well as the specters of Nazism, fascism, and totalitarianism—specters that Guy Swift callously and unthinkingly revives in his proposal to brand Europe through its exclusivity. That the storyline of one of the protagonists winds its way to Brussels would seem to imbue the author with prescience. It should not be overlooked, however, that the city is the seat of the European Union, or “the capital of Europe,” as one essayist recently labeled it.38 And the very idea of the European Union being one thing is, of course, preposterous, though this explains the tensions that continue to boil and bubble within that continental body.39

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Not surprisingly, then, this is where Guy seeks to sell the idea of Europe as an exclusionary brand: “we have to promote Europe as somewhere you want to go, but somewhere that’s not for everyone. A continent that wants people, but only the best. An exclusive continent. An upscale continent. And our big idea is to use the metaphorics of leisure to underscore the message.”40 Intentionally or not, Guy juxtaposes, and confuses, the notion of mobility as leisure with that of mobility as necessity. Given his privileged standing, he is incapable of conceiving of the latter. The emphasis on the word “upscale” also makes clear that only those meeting certain economic criteria should be permitted entry. The PEBA pitch as it is referred to—PEBA standing for Pan European Border Authority—seeks to standardize and indeed militarize the protection of borders against the unwanted and unwashed: “The contract was potentially huge. It offered the opportunity to brand the entire combined European customs and immigration regime. Logos, uniforms, the presentation of a whole continent’s border police.”41 The echoes of fascism are indelibly clear. Guy’s branding thus serves to concretize an already-existing exclusivity. This is made transparent when he proceeds to extend the metaphor of Europe as a VIP club, complete with a velvet rope and a bouncer.42 With Club Europa, Kunzru solidifies the idea of privileged mobility for a select few (those he labels “platinum members”) over the (false) mobility of all others. The measures adopted by PEBA seek not only to limit entry, but also aid in the expulsion of unwanted others. Guy’s contract to ensure a homogeneous front against the heterogeneous other also highlights the fact that while capital permits mobility, just as often it is utilized to restrict the movements of others. As Childs and Green observe, “Guy’s crucial pitch plays on these ambiguities between inclusion and exclusion, imagining a territory that is simultaneously open and closed, both hospitable and prohibitive.”43 Migrants and their inherent differences are invited to join, as long as they do not threaten the homogeneity of the nation. So a welcome is extended to the others of the world, but it is founded on an implicit demand for assimilation. The inequalities of the global situation are laid bare. In many ways, however, the novel intends Guy’s philosophy to be read as a satirical reflection upon the approaches to migrants and refugees adopted by many countries within the European Union. Transmission stresses the ultimate futility of such exclusionary endeavors; the fragility of the system is revealed in the end. These borders prove far too permeable to the virus. No amount of uniforms or slogans can prevent such an occurrence. The final irony is that Guy himself will be one of the victims of Project Atomium—the first stage in PEBA’s master plan to become a “real . . . working institution.” After a night of debauchery, he awakens with a hangover in unfamiliar surroundings. Before he can properly get his bearings, he is snatched up in an immigration raid. Through a combination of having had his identification


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stolen and computer malfunction (due to a Leela variant), he is mistaken for an Albanian undocumented immigrant. In detention, he is mistreated and abused, much like any other migrant or refugee. Finally, despite his many protests, he is deported to Albania, his supposed country of origin. Through a series of events, including twenty-six days in a foreign country, Guy eventually washes up on the shores of Italy. His story will make the news around the world and help bring about the downfall of PEBA. Guy now lives in a single-story dwelling in Northumbria, making ceramic pots and offering healing through geopathic realignment. An ex-employee notes, “He wasn’t Guy anymore, it turned him into a freak.”44 The text would like us to believe that this trauma, as well as the kindnesses of a Liberian youth, have led to a complete and utter metamorphosis. And through this unlikely plot twist, Kunzru acknowledges other fanciful and improbable elements of his narrative. The text even asks that we consider Guy as a victim of sorts. His “innocence”— a product of his privileged conditions—has rendered him oblivious to the inequalities from which he so obviously profits. Indeed, this obliviousness is made clear in his advocating for border guards dressed in black shirts. But Kunzru does not paint Guy as evil. He bears no malice toward others: “He didn’t want to change the world, just to be in the lead as it moved forward on its preordained path.”45 At the same time, it is this very disregard for others that can prompt him to propose something as draconian and as oppressive as PEBA. As noted, the comedy of errors surrounding Guy’s “deportation” leads to the disbanding of PEBA, “which was later held directly accountable.”46 But PEBA is not the only casualty of the Leela virus. Virugenix, the security company that hired, and then fired Arjun, also falls victim. The similarities between the two entities are worth noting. The initial success of Virugenix, for instance, leads to a feature in Wired that depicts the company’s “employees as heroic defenders manning the walls of the Internet against the dark, viral hordes.”47 Later, Virugenix seeks to eradicate the Leela virus which itself is referred to as “a swarm, a horde”48—language often used to describe migrants seeking entry into Europe and that also bears some similarity to PEBA’s potential charter. In the end, the computer security firm suffers the same fate: “the company’s senior management was forced to resign en masse . . . within a year the Virugenix brand had disappeared from the world’s screens.”49 Aside from causing worldwide havoc, then, the Leela virus also leads to the downfall of both Virugenix and PEBA, two entities committed to constructing barriers to prevent the entry of “malicious” others. These respective failures, the text suggests, should give us hope in terms of the power these various technologies and agencies will exercise in the future. A number of critics, however, have expressed dissatisfaction with the ending of Transmission. One accuses Kunzru of turning attention upon himself in

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the final section50; another points to the “sleight of hand at the end that turns several disappearing acts into a royal flush of happy endings”51; while another likens the “loopy, if slight rushed, conclusion” to those “of the Bollywood films to which [the novel] pays homage.”52 Kunzru’s text perhaps unwittingly reveals that we still lack sufficient scenarios for envisaging the processes of globalization. While concepts of the global economy are easy enough to demonstrate, notions of a world or global culture are less so. The novel runs up against this conceptual challenge. The critiques of Guy Swift, of Tomorrow* and PEBA, come fairly easily, but it is the imagining of an alternative that proves difficult at this time. For his part, Kunzru resorts to making his characters disappear off the face of the earth. Arjun literally vanishes—manages to “slip so completely away”53—from a motel encircled by ATF agents, while Leela (with the aid of Gabriella) makes her way to the airport and disappears from view. In the process, she frees herself from the slavery or “prostitution” (as one character puts it) enforced by her mother and a film industry that seeks to exploit her beauty and talent. Indeed, she attains what some label as a “supernatural absence.”54 Thus they both achieve a kind of ethereal state, so that they are briefly sighted in various places around the globe—whether it be Jakarta, Paris, or New York—only to vanish once again. This state is the wished-for condition of all refugees and migrants—to move freely in other spaces, and not identified as different. Arjun and Leela (if we read the end in a positive light) have attained a condition where they are no longer tied down by the constraints of nation, work, or even family. And though this is no doubt an idealized construct, the novel does advocate for a world in which exile, as such, no longer exists and where one is free to live an unfettered life where one chooses. To what degree, then, might the novel be read as a celebration of (global) instability and disunity? Or a conviction that the conditions of globalization now permit an individual, in ways unavailable before, to become someone other than himself or herself—indeed, to be several different others than himself or herself? Or that by unloosing oneself from nation, family, and culture one just might become invisible (achieve total autonomy)? That these are very real possibilities the world affords us is a belief to which Kunzru readily adheres, and he entertains these possibilities, presenting the responses to globalization as comedy rather than tragedy. Rather than depicting the migrants’ tribulations in a conventional manner, Kunzru opts instead to use comic touches to underscore the foolish impracticality of a world attempting to close itself off from the inevitable. The satirical-comic side of the novel reaches its apex in the final section, entitled “Noise.” As noted, the farcical descriptions of the government’s pursuit of Arjun, combined with the unlikely manner of his escape, serve to underline the extent to which both our fears and exaggerated responses far


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outweigh the risks posed by perceived dangers. The comic aspect of the novel is further accentuated through a brief contemplation of the role conspiracy theorists now play in global dynamics, here referred to as “Mehtologists,” a term derived from Arjun’s family name.55 Conspiracy theory is here framed as an extreme version of heightened alert, looking for signs and meaning (or even creating it) where none is to be found. The concerns of these individuals are highlighted for comic effect. One scene, for instance, describes their “deciphering” of video footage of Arjun ordering a coffee inside a Starbucks coffee shop. The anodyne conversation between the teller and Arjun is parsed for any possible significance or message. There is very little, short of cabalistic letter substitution, that can be done to extract hidden meaning from this exchange. This has not stopped prominent Leela researchers from claiming variously that (a) Velasquez passed some kind of tool or document to Mehta in the coffee cup, (b) she was in the pay of a governmental agency (probably the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) or (c) the dropouts on the tape were caused by the high-frequency electronic data bursts the Old Ones use in place of human speech.56

The absurdity of possible readings escalates, and the very existence of “Leela researchers” should give the reader a pause. No meaning is to be found in this exchange, and yet meaning the theorists do indeed find. Furthermore, the culmination of Guy’s “comedy of errors” drives home the ludicrous aspect of efforts made to maintain boundaries in an increasingly fluid world. Indeed, this fluidity has been made clear throughout a narrative that has offered a series of incongruous couplings, a curious mélange of things and people only made possible by the conditions of a globalized world: a Bollywood starlet dances on the battlements of a Scottish castle; a young and inexperienced Indian man finds himself in bed with a tattooed bisexual woman in Washington State; and a couple eat at a restaurant specializing in the fusion of Japanese-Lebanese cuisines. Each of these instances testifies to the malleability of a world where seemingly unrelated things and people come effortlessly (though not always) in contact. As Hardt and Negri observe, “The horror released by European conquest and colonialism is the horror of unlimited contact, flow, and exchange—or really the horror of contagion, miscegenation, and unbounded life.”57 Kunzru thus demonstrates a conscious disregard for the darker geopolitical realities his text invokes, offering instead a “what if” scenario in which the principal characters manage to shake themselves free from the shackles of their respective conditions. Schoene, for instance, remarks that, “Together the lovers accomplish the impossible, namely to be in the world, yet lead deglobalised lives.”58 This observation would apply to Guy Swift as well, for

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just as Arjun and Leela find the means to reverse what appear to be inevitable trajectories, so too does he free himself from his cosmopolitan condition.59 In Kunzru’s case, then, the idea of an “unbounded life” seems the greatest privilege of all. For while he has voiced surprise that readers expressed a desire to read the ending as positive, the novel clearly asks us to entertain the notion that Arjun and Leela have attained some degree of immutability, and are no longer tied to their social or familial contexts. Their newfound state, however, pushes the bounds of plausibility. And Guy Swift’s metamorphosis would have carried more weight if he had somehow earned his epiphany rather than having it foisted upon him. We are also meant to believe that the passing kindnesses of a Liberian are sufficient for Guy to recognize the blindness of his ways. As such, the conclusion offers the reader a fairy-tale ending instead of pursuing the bleaker message that permeates the second half of the novel. The inevitability of global demographic change is upon us, and Kunzru welcomes it with open arms. As Michelle Chen notes, “fundamentally, the notion of completely sealing off Europe remains a political fiction.”60 Kunzru, for his part, skewers this fiction in the dismantling of PEBA. So despite providing a satirical and realistic examination of the harsh realities of a globalized world, Kunzru chooses to present a fabulistic ending in which the rich perceive the error of their ways and reform, and the downtrodden hoist themselves free from the shackles of their immobility. In complete contrast to the circumscribed mobility Arjun has experienced throughout the novel, the ending presents a free-floating body that may go wherever it chooses. Because both globalization and transculturality, when formulated in their positive or utopian configurations, presuppose a moment when the blurring of cultural boundaries will also erase any existing power structures or differentials. But it is in the interest of the power structures to maintain their exclusivity—to not blend, to not share. It may seem at times as though transculturality is a global inevitability, but what is difficult to compute within our predictions are the likely effects of this resistance. Kunzru’s commitment to this fairy tale, despite his clear-sightedness and his pragmatism, explains, to some degree, the (hopeful?) ambiguity of the novel’s ending. The sightings of Arjun and Leela place them in different parts of the globe simultaneously, and vary greatly in tone. The novel concludes: One persistent report, mostly from, Pacific-rim countries, has a young man fitting Mehta’s description accompanied by a South Asian woman of a similar age, “tomboyishly” or “punkily” dressed. They are sometimes seen kissing or holding hands. According to conspiracy theorists, there is only one explanation, only one pattern that makes sense.61


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So the novel ends, leaving the reader to decide just what that pattern might be. Despite Kunzru’s protests to the contrary, however, the tone of the ending is positive, communicating that Arjun and Leela have achieved an idealized form of exile.62 They now float freely from place to place, purportedly engaging in a variety of disparate activities (playing field hockey, participating in an anti-globalization demonstration). The passage suggests that they have broken free of their identities and their former selves—Leela no longer dons a sari, but is “punkily” dressed. Arjun, for his part, no longer exhibits the uncertainty that plagued him earlier in the novel. He now displays a determination of which his earlier self could not have dreamed of. The state achieved by Arjun and Leela, then, acts as a counternarrative in its own right. It affirms, against overwhelming odds, that such deglobalized living is indeed possible and that, as such, the horrors of globalization may one day be circumvented. Transmission, against its author’s better judgment, dares to hope for a better world. NOTES 1. Siddharta Deb, “Relevant Intensity.” Rev. of Transmission by Hari Kunzru. New Statesman. (May 31, 2004): 55. 2. Hari Kunzru, Transmission (New York: Dutton, 2004), 239. Hereafter cited in text. 3. Ronen Shamir, “Without Borders? Notes on Globalization as a Mobility Regime.” Sociological Theory 23, no. 2 (2005): 201. Charteris-Black similarly outlines the increased conflation of immigration with terrorism: “Because some immigrants are illegal immigrants and some illegal immigrants are terrorists, an illogical link can be made between terrorists and all immigrants. This link is assisted by the idea that terrorists and illegal immigrants belong to the same social category of ‘criminal’ because they have broken the law.” Jonathan Charteris-Black, “Britain as a Container: Immigration Metaphors in the 2005 Election Campaign.” Discourse & Society 17, no. 5 (2006): 574. 4. Anita Sethi, “Making Connections.” Rev. of Transmission by Hari Kunzru. Sunday Herald. June 6, 2004. 5. “Conversations: Hari Kunzru.” 6. Ibid. 7. Kunzru, Transmission, 10. 8. Zygmunt Bauman describes this dynamic: “The strangers run restaurants promising unusual, exciting experiences to the taste-buds, sell curious-looking mysterious objects suitable as talking points at the next party, offer services other people would not stoop or deign to offer, dangle morsels of wisdom refreshingly different from the routine and boring. The strangers are people whom you pay for the services they render and for the right to terminate their services once they no longer bring pleasure. At no point do the strangers compromise the freedom of the consumer of

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their services. As a tourist, the patron, the client, the consumer of services is always in charge: s/he demands, sets the rules, and above all decides when the encounter starts and when it ends” (28). 9. Kunzru, Transmission, 67. 10. Ibid. 126. 11. Ibid. 123. 12. Ibid. 45. 13. Kunzru made specific reference to this group when he refused the John Llewellyn Rhys prize for his first novel, on the grounds that the newspaper presenting the award—The Mail on Sunday—had “shown itself to be extremely xenophobic” and had exhibited “extraordinary hostility” toward asylum seekers. “If you have the right citizenship and you have money, you can flit across the surface of the Earth. But for other people, their kind of rootedness in place and their inability to move is a sign of their low status, of their oppression under globalisation,” Hari Kunzru, “I am one of them,” The Guardian. November 22, 2003. 14. Kunzru, Transmission, 92. 15. Nina Glick Schiller and Noel B. Salazar, “Regimes of Mobility Across the Globe,” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 3, no. 2 (2013): 190. 16. Kunzru, Transmission, 131. 17. Ibid. 208. Reference is also made to Homeland Security (144) and a Joint Terrorism Task Force (256). 18. See, for instance, Charteris-Black: “Failure to ‘control’ one of these—immigration—is then treated as equivalent to a failure to deal efficiently with the others,” (574). Jonathan Charteris-Black, “Britain as a Container: Immigration Metaphors in the 2005 Election Campaign.” Discourse & Society 17, no. 5 (2006). 19. Kunzru, Transmission, 144. 20. Ibid. 145 21. Liam Connell, “E-terror: Computer Viruses, Class and Transnationalism in Transmission and One Night @ the Call Center,” Journal of Postcolonial Writing 46, no. 3–4 (July/September 2010): 279. 22. Nikos Papastergiadis, Cosmopolitanism and Culture (Cambridge: Polity, 2012), 10. 23. Kunzru, Transmission, 227. 24. Ibid. 146. 25. Ibid. 133. 26. Emily Johansen, “Becoming the Virus: Responsibility and Cosmopolitan Labor in Hari Kunzru’s Transmission,” Journal of Postcolonial Writing 49, no. 4 (2013): 421. 27. Ibid. 422. 28. Ibid. 422. 29. Kunzru, Transmission, 200, 226. 30. Papastergiadis, Cosmopolitanism and Culture, 26. 31. Peter Childs and James Green, Aesthetics and Ethics in Twenty-First Century British Novels: Zadie Smith, Nadeem Aslam, Hari Kunzru and David Mitchell (London: Bloomsbury, 2013): 84. See also Hardt and Negri’s Empire: “The boundaries of


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nation-states, however, are increasingly permeable by all kinds of flows. Nothing can bring back the hygienic shields of colonial boundaries. The age of globalization is the age of universal contagion.” Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000): 136. 32. In this vein, J. David Cisneros contends that in national narratives immigrants are frequently represented “visually and metaphorically” as “dangerous and destructive pollutants.” Cisneros further observes, “When the nation is conceived as a physical body, immigrants are presented either as an infectious disease or as a physical burden. When the nation is conceived as a house, immigrants are presented as criminals, invaders, or dangerous and destructive flood waters.” J. David Cisneros, “Contaminated Communities: The Metaphor of ‘Immigrant as Pollutant’ in Media Representations of Immigration,” Rhetoric & Public Affairs 11.4 (Winter 2008): 570, 572. 33. Charteris-Black, “Britain as a Container,” 565. 34. Kunzru, Transmission, 232–233. 35. King Leopold II is perhaps best remembered for waging the oppressive and brutal colonization of Congo. Rue de la Loi, loosely translated as Law Street, contains many of the government buildings in Brussels, including the Belgian Parliament. 36. Kunzru, Transmission, 233. 37. Ibid. 232. 38. Ian Buruma, “In the Capital of Europe,” New York Review of Books, April 7, 2016. 39. The integrity of the EU has been put in serious question over the last year as a result of the Brexit vote, the constitutional referendum in Italy, as well as the ascent of far-right nationalist parties in a number of countries (most notably the National Front in France). Euroscepticism is certainly on the rise. 40. Kunzru, Transmission, 239. 41. Ibid. 214. 42. Ibid. 239–240. 43. Peter Childs and James Green, Aesthetics and Ethics in Twenty-First Century British Novels, 89. Similarly, Schoene argues that the idea of PEBA “enables Kunzru to expose the fortress mentality of contemporary European Union politics, a politics predicated on the exclusion and even categorical abjection of components unquestionably integral to itself” (146). Berthold Schoene, The Cosmopolitan Novel (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2009). 44. Kunzru, Transmission, 257. 45. Ibid. 124. 46. Ibid. 259. 47. Ibid. 53. 48. Ibid. 107. 49. Ibid. 275. 50. Stephen M, Deusner, Review of Transmission by Hari Kunzru, http://www. January 23, 2011. 51. Carole Ann Duffy, “Our Planet Speeded Up,” Review of Transmission by Hari Kunzru. The Telegraph June 6, 2004.

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52. Michael Dirda, “Things Fall Apart in This Sly Postmodern Fable of Information-Age Displacement,” Review of Transmission by Hari Kunzru, Washington Post,–2004Jun17.html, June 20, 2004. In contrast, Berthold Schoene argues that the novel’s ending “loosens its grip on its characters and events, bringing about a deliberate dis-emplotment, which causes the narrative not so much to unravel as fruitfully to disperse,” (150). 53. Kunzru, Transmission, 270. 54. Ibid. 273. 55. Ibid. 265. 56. Ibid. 266–267. 57. Hardt and Negri, Empire, 135–136. 58. Schoene, The Cosmopolitan Novel, 151. 59. Kunzru’s previous novel, The Impressionist, offers a fairly similar ending for its protagonist who achieves a state of unbelonging. 60. Michelle Chen, “European Countries’ Closing Their Borders to Refugees is Collective Punishment.” The Nation, November 18, 2015. 61. Kunzru, Transmission, 275–276. 62. When an interviewer suggests that there is still a sense of happiness at the end of the novel, “even if it only exists in some mythologized never-never land,” Kunzru responds: “I open the space for a classically romantic resolution here. But then I withhold it slightly: I don’t want to outright condemn nor do I want to give them a traditionally happy romantic ending. In spite of this, it’s interesting that most of my readers do imagine Arjun happy and succeeding at the end. they want him to be with Lila [sic] at the end” (Aldama). One might say that Kunzru deliberately signals the comic farfetchedness of his tale through Guy’s unlikely conversion, but also through the extended “Dungeons and Dragons”-like sequence that sets the table for Arjun’s miraculous escape from the motel in San Ysidro.

REFERENCES Aldama, Frederick Luis. “Postcolonial Imaginings: A Conversation with Hari Kunzru.” Interdisciplinary Literary Studies 8, no. 1 (Fall 2006): 110–117, http:// Bauman, Zygmunt. Community: Seeking Safety in an Insecure World. Malden, MA: Polity, 2001. Brock, Richard. “An ‘onerous citizenship’: Globalization, Cultural Flows, and the HIV/AIDS Pandemic in Hari Kunzru’s Transmission.” Journal of Postcolonial Writing 44, no. 4 (December 2008): 379–390. Buruma, Ian. “In the Capital of Europe.” New York Review of Books, April 7, 2016. Charteris-Black, Jonathan. “Britain as a Container: Immigration Metaphors in the 2005 Election Campaign.” Discourse & Society 17, no. 5 (2006): 563–581. Chen, Michelle. “European Countries’ Closing Their Borders to Refugees is Collective Punishment.” The Nation November 18, 2015. european-countries-closing-their-borders-to- refugees-is-collective-punishment/


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Childs, Peter and James Green. Aesthetics and Ethics in Twenty-First Century British Novels: Zadie Smith, Nadeem Aslam, Hari Kunzru and David Mitchell. London: Bloomsbury, 2013. Choucri, Nazli. “Cross-Border Movements of Populations in a ‘Fair Globalization’.” Development 48, no. 1 (2005): 44–51. Cisneros, J. David. “Contaminated Communities: The Metaphor of ‘Immigrant as Pollutant’ in Media Representations of Immigration.” Rhetoric & Public Affairs 11, no. 4 (Winter 2008): 569–601. Connell, Liam. “E-terror: Computer Viruses, Class and Transnationalism in Transmission and One Night @ the Call Center.” Journal of Postcolonial Writing 46, no. 3–4 (July/September 2010): 279–290. “Conversations: Hari Kunzru.” Deb, Siddharta. “Relevant Intensity.” Rev. of Transmission by Hari Kunzru. New Statesman. May 31, 2004: 55. Deusner, Stephen M. Review of Transmission by Hari Kunzru, January 23, 2011. Dirda, Michael. “Things Fall Apart in This Sly Postmodern Fable of InformationAge Displacement,” Review of Transmission by Hari Kunzru, Washington Post,–2004Jun17.html, June 20, 2004. Duffy, Carole Ann. “Our Planet Speeded Up,” Review of Transmission by Hari Kunzru. The Telegraph June 6, 2004. Gunning, Dave. “Ethnicity, Authenticity, and Empathy in the Realist Novel and its Alternatives.” Contemporary Literature 53, no. 4 (Winter 2012): 779–813. Haiven, Max. “An Interview with Hari Kunzru: Networks, Finance Capital and the Fate of the Novel.” Wasafiri 28, no. 3 (September 2013): 18–23. Hardt, Michael and Antonio Negri. Empire. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000. Johansen, Emily. “Becoming the Virus: Responsibility and Cosmopolitan Labor in Hari Kunzru’s Transmission.” Journal of Postcolonial Writing 49, no. 4 (2013): 419–431. Kunzru, Hari. Transmission. New York: Dutton, 2004. ———. “I am one of them.” The Guardian. November 22, 2003. ———. The Impressionist. New York: Plume, 2002. Leonard, Philip. “‘A Revolution in Code’? Hari Kunzru’s Transmission and the Cultural Politics of Hacking.” Textual Practice 28, no. 2 (2014): 267–287. Liao, Pei-chen. ‘Post’-9/11 South Asian Diasporic Fiction: Uncanny Terror. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. Magnusson, Bruce and Zahi Zalloua (eds.) Contagion: Health, Fear, Sovereignty. Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 2012. Papastergiadis, Nikos. Cosmopolitanism and Culture. Cambridge: Polity, 2012. Schiller, Nina Glick and Noel B. Salazar. “Regimes of Mobility Across the Globe.” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 3, no. 2 (2013): 183–200.

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Schoene, Berthold. The Cosmopolitan Novel. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2009. Sethi, Anita. “Making Connections.” Rev. of Transmission by Hari Kunzru. Sunday Herald. June 6, 2004. Shamir, Ronen. “Without Borders? Notes on Globalization as a Mobility Regime.” Sociological Theory 23, no. 2 (2005): 197–217. Shelden, Ashley T. “Cosmopolitan Love: The One and the World in Hari Kunzru’s Transmission.” Contemporary Literature 53, no. 2 (Summer 2012): 348–373. Zeitchik, Steven. “Hari Kunzru: Speeding Toward a (Cloudy) Future.” Publishers Weekly, June 21, 2004: 39–40.

Chapter 2

Mothers Without Frontiers and Their Affective Maps in The Flower Bridge by Thomas Ciulei and Code Unknown by Michael Haneke Oana Chivoiu In the essay Strangers to Ourselves (1991), Julia Kristeva reminds us that foreignness is not so much an external reality but one within us. She writes: Let us not seek to solidify, to turn the otherness of the foreigner into a thing. Let us merely touch it, brush by it, without giving it a permanent structure. Simply sketching out its perpetual motion through some of its variegated aspects spread out before our eyes today, through some of its former, changing representations scattered throughout history. Let us also lighten that otherness by constantly coming back to it—but more and more swiftly. Let us escape its hatred, its burden, fleeing them not through leveling and forgetting, but through the harmonious repetition of the differences it implies and spreads.1

Encounters with the other are transformative moments that should not be crystallized into grand narratives, trapped in power relations or forced into patterns of sameness and familiarity. This reminder of a cosmopolitan spirit is particularly vital now when the European community welcomes a historical wave of migrants, which brings out of oblivion a long history of European migration when now locals were sometime foreigners and the locals became foreigners somewhere else. On the cusp of the major migrant crisis that started in 2015, European major political governments reevaluate borders and internal political and economic cohesion. According to Pew Research Center analysis of data from Eurostat, the European Union’s statistical agency, “a record 1.3 million migrants applied for asylum in the 28 member states of the European Union, Norway and Switzerland in 2015—nearly double the previous high water mark of roughly 700,000 that was set in 1992 after the fall of the Iron Curtain and the collapse of the Soviet Union.”2 Because of the overwhelming numbers of migrants, ongoing distributions of refugee quotas and 23


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deportations are needed. This relocation makes migration continue within and beyond the European community. In light of this transformative and urgent historical moment where refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq are fleeting war and poverty in hopes of finding a more stable life, the question of Other waves of migrants within the European Union becomes secondary because priorities get reevaluated. With urgency and hope, Eastern European mothers continue their quiet journeys to the West in a quest away from poverty. Unlike the recent massive migrant movement in 2015 that came with a sense of urgency and tragedy originating in migrants’ war-afflicted home countries, Eastern European migrant mothers are a mobile presence that is a discrete and dispersed body moving away from poverty and unemployment. Their patterns of migration are visible as a collective phenomenon especially when looked at from their home countries where their children are left behind growing with one parent, relatives, neighbors, or by themselves. Their diasporic migration within the space of the European Union makes it difficult to identify them as a collective and urgent migrant body. Often times, they remain underrepresented and invisible due to the illegality of their status as citizens and workers. The discrete collective presence muffles the drama and the urgency of their stories where the loss of shared time and presence in the childhood and adolescence of their children is the main theme. While long-distance maternal duty is reduced to an economic expression, the affects surrounding maternal functions undergo profound transformations. Migrant mothers race against time while being conflicted with hope, guilt, and melancholy. These different waves of migration demand our attention to the affective configurations of European and global geopolitical borders. War conditions and uneven economic development produce migration and transformative revisions of borders, citizenship and belonging. Maternal affect however may defy borders and render them passable. An affective complex of optimism, hope, despair, nothing-to-lose, and determination engage the maternal subject of migration in transformative relations with objects such as the other/destination of migration, himself/herself, and home country. A simple definition of affect, according to Jonathan Flatley’s study Affective Mapping: Melancholia and the Politics of Modernism (2009) highlights the relational, intentional, and transformative nature of affects, which “operate according to their own systemic logic; [. . .] involve a transformation of one’s way of being in the world, in a way that determines what matters to one; affects require objects, and, in the moment of attaching to an object or happening in the object, also take one’s being outside of one’s subjectivity.”3 It is the affect that embarks the migrant mother in a journey away from home that interests me in this essay, which aims to explore motherhood as a condition of economic and affective mobility seen from two different vantage points—of

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small and mainstream cinemas that are illuminating the migrant mother experience from the heart of the European metropolis—Paris in Code Unknown by Michael Haneke (2002) and that of an utterly local village at the outskirts of Europe, in Moldova in the documentary The Flower Bridge (2008) by Romanian director Thomas Ciulei. These two films concur in showing that while undocumented mothers migrate in search of ways to provide for their families, their sense of maternal duty remains the only real passport that makes them brave the world away from their children. The purpose of this chapter is to contemplate practices of looking at Romanian migrant mothers both from the perspective of home and abroad. In fulfilling maternal duty, these mothers connect the European metropolis with remote villages at the outskirts of Europe, and inscribe affective maps of Europe. I would like to argue that these maps, as illustrated in these two films, are defying European Union’s geopolitical borders and revising them in versions that are dictated by economic necessity and affect. As shown in these two films, these revisions that are fragile tracings, continue to be relentlessly written by mothers whose maternal duty is to be fulfilled even as one of absence and distance from their children. These affective maps are calling attention to the precarious experience of motherhood and childhood experienced by displaced families in the current context of feminine labor migration taking place between East and West of Europe. The uneven economic development between Eastern and Western Europe generated significant labor migration after the fall of communism in 1989. As a result of post-communist deindustrialization process, eastern economies displaced industrial labor into services, agriculture, small business, and unemployment. After the inclusion of former Eastern Bloc countries in the European Union (2004 and 2007, respectively), labor migration grew exponentially; population from rural and small town communities affected by poverty undertook low-paying jobs in the West to provide for their children who for economic reasons were left behind. Women/mothers are in higher demand than men for jobs in child and elder care, cleaning, etc. Euro-orphans is a phrase commonly used by journalists to refer to a new form of orphanhood resulting from the migration of labor from Eastern and Central European countries to Western Europe. In the absence of one or both parents, euro-orphans undergo a process of self-estrangement in which their personal geography—spatial, social, and emotional is altered and takes new forms that are by no means stable. For these radically marginal citizens, their European citizenship couldn’t have a higher price, more urgency, and less hope. With geo-political borders between parents and children, parents’ lack of legal status in the new country, and economic deprivation, these displaced families inscribe a map of Europe through their specific modes of circulating resources, knowledge, and affect.


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In his study of the modern subject, Flatley explores the aesthetic potential of melancholia and loss and engages with a history of melancholia that traditionally demonizes its presence in one’s life. Flatley attempts to show that we chart our affective maps in moments of self-estrangement, when we distance from ourselves in moments of shudder or displacement. He remarked that “[o]ur affective maps are likely to be especially in need of revision, repair, or invention at moments of rapid social change or upheaval. Just as modernity made the production of cognitive maps more difficult, it also made the assessment of one’s affective surroundings more difficult, not least because of the new scale and scope of the experience of loss.”4 Our affective maps are accompanying our cognitive maps that help us navigate, represent, and find our economic and social positions and fill in the gaps between individual experience and the larger environment. In the context of maternal migration, the family becomes a diasporic reality with new affective maps in dire need of recognition. Flatley explains that an “affective map is neither fixed nor stable.”5 He compares them with Deleuze and Guatarri's rhyzomatic map that is a work-in-progress construction: “always detachable, connectable, reversible, and modifiable, with multiple entrances and exits, with its lines of flight. The tracings are what must be transferred onto the maps and not the reverse.”6 Migrant mothers’ tracings matter because they challenge and illuminate alternative maps for the European community map. I would like to extrapolate Flatley’s concept of affective mapping and discuss it in regard with the migrant maternal subject who undergoes a series of profound transformations in the sphere of maternal identity while reconfiguring new affective trajectories between East and West. It is much more than melancholia that forms the migrant mothers’ affect, which enables new trajectories and maps to form between themselves and their children. ***

Recent Romanian documentaries have received considerably less critical attention and international appeal than the New Romanian feature films, which are fundamentally indebted to the documentary genre. In the article “The Grammar of New Romanian Cinema” Doru Pop examines a shared cinematic language across the Romanian “new wave” authors and identifies elements such as “long takes, fixed camera, Dogma 95 style of lighting, urban settings and minimalism of the storytelling”7 as being characteristic for the stylistic identity of the generation. In addition to these shared elements of style, Pop observes commonalities with the documentary genre in the Romanian contemporary cinema’s “preference for verism, the closeness of cinema to realism, that is the importing of documentary style filming, as it happens

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in The Death of Mr. Lăzărescu or 12:08 East of Bucharest, where the preference for steady camera techniques give the story a strong determination in the objectivity.”8 During communism, the documentary, similarly to journalism or history, had been an instrument of propaganda whose integrity and objectivity have been ideologically compromised. After the fall of communism, the documentary regained its important cultural and social function of observing and documenting realities that deserve collective attention and action. A good number of documentaries have undertaken the task of examining one of the most pressing phenomena in Romanian society—the crisis of many displaced families where migrant parents leave their children behind to work abroad. Documentaries such as Home Alone—A Romanian Tragedy (2010) by Ionut Carpatorea and Teodora Mihai’s debut documentary Waiting for August (2014) have polarized the situation of the children left behind between tragedy and resilience. The documentary Home Alone—A Romanian Tragedy by Carpatorea is a compelling collection of stories of displaced Romanian families that follow a very similar narrative of extreme poverty resulting from deindustrialization that forces parents, primarily mothers, to find work abroad to provide for their children who remain at home. The documentary emphasizes the extreme emotional cost of maternal absence and displacement for children and teenagers who end up committing suicide. They experience profound disorientation and depression in the absence of their main system of reference—parents. Mihai’s documentary Waiting for August follows eight months into the life of seven underage children who live alone in the absence of their single mother who works in Italy and visits them every August. With phone calls and Skype chats, packages, and money mom sends home, the children get by. Georgiana who turns fifteen is the maternal figure who takes care of the house while at the same time manages school and being a child. Mihai, who has experienced being “a left-behind-child” herself when her parents left Romania during the Communist regime, follows the dramatic situation of the seven children growing alone with a refreshing and almost incredible outlook. Critic Boyd van Hoeij aptly observes that Mihai’s invests more attention in small everyday dramas (and glorifies Georgiana’s resilience as substitute maternal figure) than in the underlying severity of the overall situation: “[t]hroughout, Mihai’s approach is so hands-off and non-intrusive (when kids start playing with knives or wires you wish she’d intervene) that much of the actual drama remains buried just underneath the surface.”9 Mihai’s documentary celebrates small acts of resilience without minimizing the precarious and fragile condition of the family displaced between Romania and Italy. In the landscape of Romanian documentaries addressing the pressing problem of displaced families and left-behind children, Thomas Ciulei’s documentary The Flower Bridge draws our attention to Moldova, a former


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Romanian territory, that is today known as the poorest nation in Europe. The documentary follows the life of a family from Moldova for a year and contemplates the simple rural life of an aging father and his three children while paying particular attention to the absence of the mother who works abroad to provide for the family. In documenting life and work routines of the Arhir family, Ciulei is particularly interested in what is not seen and said, in absence and silence, all revolving around the absent mother and the affects related to it. The title of the documentary brings into dialogue two communist and postcommunist traumas. The flower bridge is evocative of the early 90s when Moldova gained independence from the former Soviet Union and opened its borders with Romania, from which it was separated in 1940, as a result of the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact. The Prut River between Romania and Moldova was covered in flowers to celebrate the long delayed reunion after 50 years of separation. In the post-communist context invoked by Ciulei’s documentary, the flower bridge stands as a substitute for the absent mother who sends home flower seeds for the kids to plant and grow. The completion of this bridge however remains indeterminate. In documentary’s narrative language, the maternal absence is represented through long takes of the vast space surrounding the house. There is a sense of sublime emptiness in the slow and long takes of the village, which seem to minimize the physical proportions of the family while magnifying the emotional void that surrounds them. The camera work emphasizes the profound locality of the place where the isolated location of the family makes it hard for them to envision affiliations with the larger European community. Moreover, as Helga Druxes observes in her careful analysis of the documentary’s narrative language, Ciulei’s camera insists on a time-space dimension that eludes contingency with the current context of labor migration: “the main routines Ciulei lavishes with visual attention are antimodern, preindustrial ones: (bread baking, making dumplings, feeding grains to the chickens, sweeping dust and mud out of the family's tight living quarters.”10 Ciulei’s focus on images of poverty and children’s labor routines around the house counterpoint what may appear as a romanticized view of the rural landscape. From this remote vantage point the urban experience remains a vast space of imagination, which becomes, one may assume, synonymous with the maternal experience. Ciulei’s choice to make the mother’s location indeterminate (somewhere in Italy) makes the story of this family less particular and more emblematic to a wave of displaced families and migrant mothers. Another dimension against which the maternal absence is measured is time. The passing of time is measured in agrarian rhythms that go in parallel with the indefinite expectation for the mother to obtain legal documents and reunite the family. Maternal absence has a quintessential quality—it is a life

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cycle measured from seeds to flowers, which translates into another year. Her absence comes with various ways of inventing presence. Mother’s gesture of sending flowers for her children to grow at home, places them in a profound connection of care with the maternal and redeeming powers of nature. A new affective order involving a redistribution of care is gently orchestrated by all family members. Children tend to the flowers, to each other, and to their father. While the flowers are a reminder of a time that passes in separation, it is also a proxy of maternal presence that teaches them attention and care. The most substantial acts of maternal presence happen as voice in the phone conversations. The communication of disembodied voices has a precarity that stems from its disconnection from image. Despite the fact that the voice has the capacity to dub emotions, for the Arhir family it remains inflexible and silent in regard to their emotional status. There seems to be a tacit agreement within the family that only updates about progress or new goals of progress are to be shared. Only progress and work have redemptive qualities for their separation and provide solid reason for hope. In the phone conversations with her children, the mother is the part who always asks the questions with the same strict tone and about the same subject— school and grades. The conversations revolve around exclusively pragmatic issues related to school and household. Emotions are suspended and are to be contained by both mother and children. In the way information circulates between mother and children, we see the maternal need to be reassured about order being in place at home, which in this given situation, refers to school and housework. Work has become the absolute measure of migrant life. During Christmas time, maternal presence is substituted with the gifts she sends home—clothing, sports shoes for the children, and cheese—that introduces the family to new and unfamiliar tastes. The children’s contact via taste with the novelty of their mother’s world reenacts a moment of regression evocative of babies being introduced to new tastes for the first time. Food is a primal connection between mother and child; it forms long-lasting sensory and emotional bridges between the two. The counterpoint of symbolic maternal substitution is the cold reality of her physical absence. Periodically, children send her letters that seem to answer the same questions she asks over the phone. The repetitive and precarious/ factual nature of their exchanges creates a routine that voids the process of meaning and effaces horizons of hope. It is a cyclical paralyzing routine that defies progression. The fact that the documentary provides minimal information about the mother makes her presence increasingly desirable. No images, facts, or emotions characterizing the mother are provided. This major absence makes us imagine only a small fraction of the family’s longing. She literally becomes a subject of imagination.


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Ciulei’s documentary radicalizes the absence of the mother and seems to suggest that home is the only place where she belongs. This may explain the indeterminacy of the mother’s location and the lack of details about her life abroad. She is simply not present in front of the camera with the rest of the family. No picture of her is to be seen in the house. This radicalized absence is a reflection of the current discontent and anxieties of Moldovan society facing large-scale migration. In the article “Globalizing ‘Postsocialism:’ Mobile Mothers and Neoliberalism on the Margins of Europe” Leyla J. Keough observes that social order in Moldova is linked to gender, which makes the absence of migrant mothers from home to be a major site of contention: “[s]tatistics vary, but indicate that anywhere from one-fourth to one-third of the population works abroad, including half of the working population (GRP 2004, World Bank 2004, 2005, IOM 2005). While most migrants are men traveling to Russia, it is women's transnational labor and their absence from families and villages that has provoked considerable anxiety over transformations in the social order.”11 The traditional gendered view of social order in Moldovan society that assigns mothers’ place to be in the house faces a moment of crisis that comes with the imperative to revise definitions of good motherhood in a translational context. Along with motherhood, parenting and family are to be reevaluated beyond conceptualizations grounded in national parameters. In the context of transnational labor mobility, mothers change and adapt their practices to the local and global contexts. They mother in absentia, as material providers, via substitutes from the family or community. They are the embodiment of what Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo and Ernestine Avila coined as transnational motherhood which refers to “the act of mothering in transnational families, generally by mothers who migrated for work and whose children continue to reside in their country of origin. Specifically, transnational motherhood refers to circuits of affection, caring, and financial support that transcend national boundaries.”12 Mother’s absence from home provides the main conduit between local and global identifications and provides the family with a dramatic realization of their cultural predicament. Ciulei’s documentary alerts us to the enduring tensions between local/ national and transnational surrounding emergent definitions of family. The most profound local sites such as the small Moldavian village are participants in the prevailing culture of mobility and transnational affect. The romantic aesthetic of the rural landscape where long takes of the land suggest boundless horizons, translate a dissonant affect vis-à-vis home, which has expanded its horizons to colossal and unknown proportions. The fact that maternal image is effaced throughout the documentary, accentuates absence from the house, and makes presence exclusively abstract and interior. The migrant mother belongs in the imagination and memory of her children where new forms of continuity and presence form. In her

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discussion of transnational work mobility between Turkey and Germany, Barbara Mennel reflects on the underlying psychological conditions of long-distance families: “labor migration produces fantasmatic long-distance intimacies with absent parents or other loved ones on the one hand and substitute kinship affiliations in the localized place of the left-behind on the other hand.”13 Transnational motherhood invites reconsiderations of home, which becomes a place of maternal transit. Maternal absence from home, paradoxically, maintains the stability of the house as she continues to provide longdistance care and resources for the family. While home and motherhood are undergoing transnational recontextualizations, they become notions that are independent of place. While maternal mobility is socially sanctioned at home/Moldova, one may wonder about the extent of maternal mobility across other patriarchal systems. From Ciulei’s documentary we understand that the mobility of the mother has reached a dead end because she lacks resources and legal status, factors that prevent the possibility of a temporary reunification of the family. As seen from the perspective of what is left behind, the maternal experience is one of muted affect. In the brief exchanges with her husband, she is in the position to have to answer the only question that matters—about the legal documents. Her answer is the same: “nothing new, everything is going the same, eternally [. . .] Costea documents don't come. When they come to us they will come in turn. Where can you go without documents?”14 While we do not hear her voice in the conversations with her husband, we can see his disillusionment and growing frustration. The recurrent question places the responsibility on providing a better life for the family almost exclusively on mother’s shoulders. A better life for the Arhirs means a reunited family, a goal where mother’s role is instrumental. In the absence of this, a migrant mother carries the blame of leaving her children behind and separating the family. According to Keough, this rhetoric is recurrent in the discursive landscape in Moldova.15 As she concludes field work and conducts interviews in Moldova, she observes gender disparity in how feminine and masculine migration are regarded: “Interestingly, despite the fact that men leave too, the blame for social disorder is peculiarly focused upon women.”16 Fathers leaving abroad for work do not receive the same moral judgment as mothers as it was traditionally accepted for fatherhood to be reduced to an economic expression only. As transnational motherhood becomes a reality in many households where subsistence depends on maternal mobility, gender roles in parenthood shift as well. Maternal presence resurfaces in moments when the father performs gestures that are traditionally associated with the mother such as tending a sick child, cooking, and cleaning. These practices of order require daily presence and labor. Maternal functions have been transferred to the father and children


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who seem to be perfectly functional in her absence, despite extremely brief moments when their discontent erupts. While this reconfiguration attests to the functionality of the family in the absence of the mother, it also shows what she and the children are missing out emotionally. Moments of intimacy such as cooking together, cutting the hair, or observing each other are not shared between mother and children. The emotional lives of the children are characterized by reservation and containment. This may also be explained by their self-consciousness in front of the camera. They appear to be emotionally flat and quiet, always following closely the household work routines. They seem to be respectful of each other’s emotional struggle, so they try to complete their work routines diligently. Doing this may not give them a sense of progress but rather one of order that keeps disorder from invading all aspects of life. One may only assume that in the absence of the mother, children matured faster or differently than they would have had in her presence. Mothering has become infrequent, nagging, and interrogatory. Mother’s calls are a reminder of dead ends that both parents are facing in different corners of Europe as utterly underrepresented and marginal citizens. In the Arhir family, both maternal and paternal care revolve primarily around work practices—school, household, and land, as a result of the transnational context of the family. One may wonder what parenthood would have been in the presence of both parents. Would mothering be exclusively driven by a pragmatic spirit? Would children have stayed children for longer? The Arhir household’s reliance on agricultural labor means continuous work of the land and around the house. While the father sadly admits that “in a way, I'm stealing their childhood,”17 he relies on children’s work without which they could not subsist. Father and children share the responsibility to provide for the family while cultivating a spirit of order and efficiency in the house. The father initiates the children in various types of work and passes on life skills. Long-distance mothering comes with tremendous limitations and, as Druxes remarks, involves a power discrepancy between mother and child: “parenting via speech acts is much more coercive, militaristic, and routine than the actual gestures of nurturing parenting and familial collaboration on projects like food preparation, spring cleaning, and hair cutting that are shown in leisurely detail. What is being shown to us contradicts the rigid norms of efficiency and speed enforced and expressed through speech.”18 The silence around the emotions circulating in the Arhir family is absolute. There are no words that may provide comfort to the separated family. In the rural world where work appears to be the only shared language, voicing emotions is futile. Actions matter, and they stand as the only measure of reality and progress. Traditionally, labor migration was a masculine practice that naturalized paternal duty to be exercised from outside the house, many times reduced

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to an economic expression. But what happens when mothers leave home and children behind to exercise maternal duty in absentia and as a form of economic expression? Ciulei’s documentary seems to offer Arhir’s story as a testament to a moment of paradigmatic shift in traditional constructions of gender roles and their respective level of engagement in raising children and providing for the family. With the feminization of labor migration happening between East and West of Europe after the integration of former Eastern bloc countries in the European Union, one may see fathers, grandparents, older sibling adopting maternal roles. The idea of childhood undergoes transformations as well—it is certainly shorter as children start to take parental roles and work. Children growing in the absence of parents attest to the emergence of a new form of orphanhood. This situation is still a slow progressing reality in Romania, where grandparents continue to support their adult children and provide care to grandchildren. Often times they become the main parenting figure in the absence of working parents. Their parenting extends to more than one generation and becomes a lifelong function that subscribes to a culture of care that connects generations through a strong bond. What follows explores an aging mother and grandmother who is protective of her adult daughters and their families and provides them with financial resources that allow them to avoid transnational labor migration. In order to provide this care, she embarks on a journey that illuminates motherhood at the crossroads of local and transnational cultures—between Romania and France. In Code Unknown, Haneke explores the immigrant experience in the multicultural space of Paris. As the Austrian director confesses in an interview, the making of this film in French and about Paris has been a form of cultural and linguistic migration into the complexities of a multicultural dialogue involving French, Romanian, an African dialect from Mali, and sign language. Code Unknown brings together a series of “Incomplete Tales of Several Journeys” that initially have only one thing in common—Paris, and gradually reach foreign locations. As they unfold and interpolate each other in a multicultural spirit of representation, we see that they all revolve, in different degrees of proximity, around the only French character in the narrative—Anne Laurent (played by Juliette Binoche). Anne is the embodiment of all the middleclass privileges of the first world—she is financially independent, owns her own apartment, and has a career (she is an actress) that allows her not only complex means of expression and representation but also significant public recognition. Her engagement with patriarchal relations happens on her own terms. This includes maternity as well. Anne gets significantly more narrative attention than any other character; her character is exclusively illuminated through her encounters with other characters who are incidentally all foreigners. Haneke aligns Anne with the vantage point of the local subject who


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experiences the increasingly aggressive and unpredictable life of her city. While Anne is confronted with many unknown codes in her daily life, in the end we see her in a position of power. She changes the code to her apartment in order to prevent Georges, her boyfriend of Serbian origin, from entering. This decision features a symbolic gesture that reclaims a personal or national territory and reinforces it within borders. The French citizen codes the door to her space so that the foreigner cannot enter. Haneke’s vision of multicultural Paris translates the “conscience of a troubled Europe”19 characterized by postcolonial anxieties, xenophobia against the influx of migrants from the former Eastern bloc, and urban violence that resurfaces in everyday life. In this landscape of continuous social, economic, and cultural transformation, we get a glimpse of a turning point in the life of Maria, a Romanian migrant mother (played by Luminita Gheorghiu) who supports her family in Romania by begging in Paris. Unlike the mother from Ciulei’s documentary who works abroad to sustain her family at home, the mother in Haneke’s film works to build a house in her Romanian village to shelter her three-generation family. Maria makes brief but key appearances in the opening and end of the film when we see her in Paris. At the beginning we see her being deported to Romania as a result of an absurd street conflict that she is only tangentially involved in. The argument starts between two young men, both foreigners—one Serbian and one of African descent. The Serbian man throws the wrapping of his croissant in Maria’s lap to the indignation of the African man who insists that the Serbian man owes an apology to Maria. The conflict escalates and is concluded with Maria’s deportation and the African man’s imprisonment. The Serbian is set free because of Anne who intervenes in the conflict. Toward the end, there is a scene with Maria who illegally returns to Paris only to find out that her spot has been reclaimed by others who appear to be of Arabic descent. In a transnational context, home becomes relative to places or transit, undergrounds, ghettos, or households where migrant mothers tend to other families’ children or elders. Transnational mothers are motherland orphans—an orphanhood by abandonment. They are faced with the dramatic paradox of having to leave home countries in order to support their families and provide them with a stable home. While they are willing to leave the same spaces they are trying to protect and consolidate, they end up in places of sheer transience (the begging spot for the aging mother) or are locked in dead-end low-paying and illegal places (as the mother in Ciulei’s documentary). The destination of the transnational mother is what Foucault and Miskowiec defined as heterotopia, a space that is linked to a temporality that is grounded in transience not permanence. The home that mothers leave to embark on their transnational journeys becomes a heterotopia that Foucault characterized as “a place of time in its most flowing, transitory, precarious aspect.”20 The place acquires meaning by

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virtue of the transit it accommodates. For example, Maria’s begging spot is a place of transit situated in front of a store from Paris. When she occupies it, she works toward the fulfillment of her maternal duties. Anonymity gives her a certain degree of immunity against shame. At the same time, it is a place of temporary affective exchanges for the pedestrians who respond to Maria’s statuary performance of pity with sympathy and money. Another heterotopia is Maria’s unfinished house from her native village in Romania, whose construction relies on Maria’s influx of money and implicitly her absence from home. Her accidental presence at home, as it was the case after her deportation, halts the construction of the house. Her random patters of transit in her own house affect the meaning of the domestic space. As motherland orphans, transnational mothers move across heterotopias of transit. As always, Haneke’s cinema gets far in the explorations of affect. Code Unknown makes no exception and presents us with extraordinary forays into the complexities of migrant affect. In the story of Maria, a Romanian mother of adult children who provides for her family from begging in Paris, Haneke explores the maternal affect as martyrdom, manifested as an uncompromising and relentless set of risky actions in the name of maternal duty. Maria’s understanding of her children’s well-being is to build a two-story house for the entire family from her work/begging. It is not clear whether children exploit the maternal dedication of Maria or it is her dream of reuniting all of her children and grandchildren in her house. Regardless of the motivations, Maria subjects herself to this colossal project out of an irrational drive. Begging comes with shame, which Maria hides from her neighbors in the village when she tells them that she works in a school in France. At home she wants to project pride and dignity, and show a life of prosperity in a large house. From all the adults in Maria’s household—husband, adult daughters, and their husbands, she seems to be the main, if not the only provider in the family. The village is economically dead, and based on the unfinished status of the other houses on the main street of the village, one may infer that they depend on money coming from working abroad. Maria’s deportation is seen as a failure by her family, especially by her elder daughter who provides repeated incentives for her mother to leave again. The unfinished house is a reminder of unfulfilled maternal duty. There is no meaning in her return except for the fact that she is reminded she needs to return to Paris in order to finish the construction of the house. As an aging mother at the age of retirement, Maria’s maternal generosity is the subject of sentimental exploitation from her family who encourages her to take the next opportunity to leave and continue to provide for the family. Maria’s departure after deportation is hazardous as she has to travel hidden in a cistern. What makes Maria and her family concur in this irrationality?


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One may wonder why an aging mother would choose migration to provide for a family of adult and apt-for-work children and husband. Aside from the argument that a homeless aging and poor woman can extort more empathy and generosity from a western European, there is the possibility that Maria wants to protect her adult daughters and give them the best possible conditions to mother their own children and not consider migration as a way to provide for them. Maria’s two daughters are facing different stages of their domestic lives—one is a mother and wife, the other one is about to get married. While Maria engages in risky actions such as illegally buying somebody else’s license to sell newspapers or hiding in a cistern along with other migrants to travel back to Paris after being deported, her actions have a subtext that tells her that a good mother would do anything so that her daughters can have a spacious house and share their everyday lives with the loved ones. Paradoxically, the completion of the house relies on Maria’s absence from home. The completion of the house does not guarantee that Maria’s vagrancy could come to an end as the needs of her family seem to be directed exclusively toward her. Her relentless mobility takes place in installments and becomes more difficult and dangerous. As a mother of adult children, Maria’s care for her children is not urgent or immediate. She chooses to be absent in the lives of her children and grandchildren because she knows from her own experience how precious the shared time between mother and her children is. Her mobility is more than providing resources, it is enabling the best mothering conditions for her daughters, at the same time with entertaining the hope that one day she may be with them as a mother and grandmother. Maria’s actions to keep generations together in the village and under the same roof, is highly ambitious in a context of increased labor migration and poverty, especially in rural areas. The post-communist Romanian village became a place haunted only by aging people waiting for their children to visit and carrying the memories of better times. Yet, Maria wants to keep generations in her family together so that they can share the care of the young and the elder. This is the unwritten culture of the village, which she tries by all means to maintain for her family. In the villages there is no viable working force to sustain them as the youths have migrated massively toward cities in Romania and abroad. Their abandonment is gradually transforming villages into human deserts. The transition from the collectivist agriculture system that deprived land owners of their property and made it state property during communism to a privatized agriculture remains difficult after almost 50 years of centralized administration. The post-communist village is not a self-sustained economy anymore but one that relies almost exclusively on consumerism. The village small stores provide what villagers were once able to produce from

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their lands, in addition to merchandise coming from a global economy that connects the most remote places in the world in networks of commodities. Modest traditional houses are disappearing along with institutions that were instrumental for the vitality of the villages. Rural schools hardly have any students in their classrooms. Churches still stand as a source of hope and comfort for the many discontents of rural life. Doctors leave abroad for better paying jobs. Other workers take their skills and anonymity from the Romanian villages abroad where they encounter other degrees of invisibility and marginalization. Some return to build houses that they never live in to show their immigrant success stories. Haneke’s vision of the sheer void in the life of the Romanian village is dubbed by the presence of a storm of dust, an imagery suggesting the lack of meaning surrounding the place and Maria’s return there. The village is a slowly progressing development that depends on the influx of money from abroad. The main street bordered by two rows of large brick houses in different degrees of completion is the image of the post-communist village driven by distorted aspirations. The amorphous post-communist village remains one of the unknown multiple codes suggested in the title of the film. The traditional Romanian village with modest houses and gardens of flowers and vegetables is no longer possible in the context of global labor migration. In her village, Maria feels as an accidental guest after her deportation. In Paris, she is utterly marginal and vulnerable. She is paradoxically a homeless person building a house somewhere far away. These actions make her a good mother because this is what her children expect from her—to provide in order to maintain a status in a community that appears to be made of families where at least one of the adults is working abroad. These expectations subscribe to a culture of material pride and competition where big and unfinished houses are not a story of success, as they are intended to be but one of extreme and irrational struggle. Maria’s position is emotionally complicated. Her work is based on an exchange of money for feelings of empathy and pity. While she is burdened by shame and humiliation and knows that her work is essentially a parasitical action, she still wants to fulfill her maternal duty and finish the construction of the house. At home, she hides from others in the village the nature of her work in Paris and uses the emotional argument that she missed her children in order to explain her return after four months in Paris. When Maria returns to Paris after deportation, she hopes to sell newspapers and stop begging, which would bring dignity to her work. The film concludes with Maria’s begging spot being appropriated by another foreign beggar and missing the opportunity to get a permit to sell newspapers. It is the moment when she faces new and unknown codes of the city.


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Maria’s story of maternal sacrifice shares affiliations with Romanian mythology, “The Legend of Master Builder Manole,” in particular. The story is about Manole who vainly attempts to build a monastery—everything that he builds during the day collapses at night until one night when he had a dream that the completion of the monastery would be possible if he immures in the walls of the building the first woman/wife who would show up at the construction site to visit and bring food to her husband. Predictably, that woman happens to be Manole’s wife, Ana, who is also pregnant. Immensely conflicted between his creative aspirations and the domestic ones, Manole completes the construction by sacrificing his love for Ana who is thus both absent and present in the monastery. Similarly to Ana, Maria is both present (as money influx) and absent from the house. The completion of the house demands maternal sacrifice that her children do not hesitate to ask from her. She is the house itself, just like Ana, the archetype of the sacrificial mother and wife from the Romanian mythology. Transnational mothers building or maintaining a house from far away contribute to contemporary mythologies of maternal affect. The Romanian myth that equates the act of creation with maternity and motherhood has a level of universality that applies to transnational fathers as well. These migrant parents who are juggling presence and absence, home and transit, now and an indefinite-later, and local and global demands, are the homemakers who create and maintain homes in some of the most difficult conditions. Their global citizenship is often times obscured by anonymity as they never seem to belong to a place. However, their journeys continue to trace alternative maps of the world that inscribe families and places in continuously changing configurations. Affectively, transnational parents are always elsewhere, a place where they do not leave, arrive, transit, or belong. It is a place where they are, a stark place that keeps producing itself throughout the journey. Trinh Minh-ha’s poetic sketch of elsewhere inspires us to think about places in the transnational experience not as neighboring but as overlapping: “Every voyage can be said to involve a re-sitting of the boundaries. The traveling self is here both the self that moves physically from one place to another, following ‘public routes and beaten tracks’ within a mapped movement; and the self that embarks on an undetermined journeying practice, having constantly to negotiate between home and abroad, native culture and adopted culture, or more creatively speaking, between a here and there, and an elsewhere.”21 Transnational parents are the cartographers who illuminate new paths and possibilities in the current political maps. Their maps are driven by economic necessity and affect and demand us to see their urgency. The experience of mobility as parental duty invokes a relationship with place that radicalizes the notion of border. As transnational citizens anchored in more than one place, they efface boundaries.

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NOTES 1. Kristeva Julia. Strangers to Ourselves. Trans. Leon S. Roudiez (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991): 3. 2. Phillip Connor. “Number of Refugees to Europe Surges to Record 1.3 Million in 2015.” Pew Research Center: Global Attitudes&Trends. August 2, 2016. http://www.pewglobal. org/2016/08/02/number-of-refugees-to-europe-surges-to-record-1-3-million-in-2015/ 3. Jonathan Flatley. Affective Mapping: Melancholia and the Politics of Modernism (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009): 19. 4. Ibid. 79. 5. Ibid. 78. 6. Ibid. 78. 7. Pop Doru. “The Grammar of the New Romanian Cinema.” Acta Universitatis Sapientiae, Film and Media Studies 3 (2010): 24–25. 8. Ibid. 14. 9. Boyd van Hoeij. “Waiting for August: Film Review.” The Hollywood Reporter. (September 9, 2014) 10. Helga Druxes. “The Panic over Motherhood.” European Cinema after the Wall: Screening East-West Mobility (2013): 65. 11. Leyla J. Keough. “Globalizing 'Postsocialism: 'Mobile mothers and neoliberalism on the margins of Europe.” Anthropological Quarterly 79, no. 3 (2006): 432. 12. Andrea O'Reilly, ed. Encyclopedia of Motherhood (Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2010) 768. 13. Barbara Mennel. “Criss-Crossing in Global Space and Time: Fatih Akın’s (2007).” Transit 5, no. 1 (2009): 3. 14. Thomas Ciulei. The Flower Bridge. (2008). 15. Leyla J Keough. “Globalizing 'Postsocialism:' Mobile mothers and neoliberalism on the margins of Europe.” Anthropological Quarterly. 79, no. 3 (2006): 442. 16. Ibid. 444. 17. Thomas Ciulei. The Flower Bridge. (2008). 18. Helga Druxes. “The Panic over Motherhood.” European Cinema after the Wall: Screening East-West Mobility (2013): 65. 19. Elbert Ventura. “Code Unknown.” Reverse Shot. (July 18, 2007). http:// 20. Michel Foucault and Jay Miskowiec. “Of other spaces.” Diacritics. 16.1, no. 1 (1986): 26. 21. Trinh T. Minh-ha, Elsewhere, Within Here: Immigration, Refugeeism and the Boundary Event (New York: Routledge, 2010): 29.

REFERENCES Code Unknown. DVD. Directed by Michael Haneke. MK2: France, 2000. Connor, Phillip. “Number of Refugees to Europe Surges to Record 1.3 Million in 2015.” Pew Research Center: Global Attitudes&Trends. Accessed


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August 2, 2016.–3-million-in-2015/ Druxes, Helga. “The Panic over Motherhood.” European Cinema after the Wall: Screening East-West Mobility (2013): 55–71. Flatley, Jonathan. Affective Mapping: Melancholia and the Politics of Modernism. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009. The Flower Bridge. DVD. Directed by Thomas Ciulei. Thomas Ciulei films: France. 2008. Foucault, Michel, and Jay Miskowiec. “Of Other Spaces.” Diacritics. 16, no. 1 (1986): 22–27. Keough, Leyla J. “Globalizing ‘Postsocialism:’ Mobile Mothers and Neoliberalism on the Margins of Europe.” Anthropological Quarterly 79, no. 3 (2006): 431–461. Kristeva, Julia, and Leon S. Roudiez. Strangers to Ourselves. New York: Columbia University Press, 1991. Mennel, Barbara. “Criss-Crossing in Global Space and Time: Fatih Akın’s (2007).” Transit 5, no. 1 (2009). Minh-Ha, Trinh T. Elsewhere, Within Here: Immigration, Refugeeism and the Boundary Event. New York: Routledge, 2010. Pop, Doru. “The Grammar of the New Romanian Cinema.” Acta Universitatis Sapientiae, Film and Media Studies 03 (2010): 19–40. O’Reilly, Andrea, ed. Encyclopedia of Motherhood. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2010. van Hoeij, Boyd. “Waiting for August: Film Review.” The Hollywood Reporter. September 9, 2014. Accessed August 1, 2016. review/waiting-august-film-review-736409 Ventura, Elbert. “Code Unknown.” Reverse Shot. July 18, 2007. Accessed August 1, 2016.

Chapter 3

Flowering Exile Chinese Diaspora and Women’s Autobiography Da Zheng

“Changes of Climate,” a book review published in The Times Literary Supplement on November 7, 1952, covered four recently published books. Among them was Flowering Exile (1952) by Dymia Hsiung. According to the reviewer, the book is a fiction that offers “a prosaic account” of a Chinese family in England from 1937 until the present.1 “Houses, gardening, food, conversation, entertainment—Mrs. Hsiung examines them as they come up, and in general passes a favourable judgment upon a country where the Lo family were amiably received, enjoyed themselves and were obviously popular.”2 The short passage in the review stirred up fury and indignation from Hsiung’s husband Shih-I and the publisher. They were particularly upset because the book had been labeled as “fiction” rather than as an autobiography. John Dettmer of the publishing company condemned the reviewer for not able to distinguish between fiction and autobiography. He suggested that Shih-I write to point out that the book is “anything but fiction,” an explanation that they believed would help damage control and promote the sale of the book.3 From the onset of its publication, Flowering Exile faced questions and challenges concerning its literary identification. More striking was the fact that the female author was absent in that heated discussion over this issue. We may wonder why her voice was not heard here and what her view was. A study of the book—its production, content, and context—could help us understand and appreciate better the autobiographical writings by Chinese diasporic women in the twentieth century, and such a knowledge would be critically important for us to understand and appreciate the development of women’s biographical writings. Women’s writings have received serious critical attention since the early 1980s when autobiography became recognized as a “distinct and 41


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distinguishable mode of literature.”4 Many of women’s writings, in the form of letters, diaries, and stories, are essentially autobiographical, and autobiographical writing, as Sidonie Smith has argued, is a form of language for women to break their silence and gain their “position as speakers at the margins of discourse.”5 In other words, by writing their own experiences, women writers manage to “renegotiate their cultural marginality and enter into literary history.”6 Critics have also called our attention to the significance of cultural and historical context in our reading of women’s writing. Lingzhen Wang’s study of modern Chinese women writers in the 1920s and 1930s is a pertinent example here. According to Wang, The emotional identifications and subjective self-perceptions expressed in Chinese women’s autobiographical writings are both historically and socially conditioned and particularly negotiated and produced. They therefore dictate a model of the personal that takes into account historically dominant discourses, social institutions, and cultural conventions as well as individual life histories.7

For thousands of years, Chinese society had been dominated by deep-rooted traditional values and moral codes, such as filial piety, female virtue, and maternal sacrifice, which were vehemently critiqued and assailed as the source of social oppression during the May Fourth Movement in 1919.8 Young women writers, such as Feng Yuanjun, Bing Xin, Ding Ling, and Yang Mo, who grew up under the influence of the drastic cultural movement, enacted “self-and-life negotiation” through literary efforts. Their autobiographical writings—in the form of diaries, letters, or stories—indicate that writing was not only a “personal practice” but also “an act of social engagement.” In other words, writing served as a means for these writers to negotiate their lives, express their views of history, and articulate gendered subject into history.9 Wang’s discussion is illuminating and relevant to reading of Flowering Exile, the first autobiography of a Chinese woman in England. Born in 1905, Hsiung belonged to the same generation of burgeoning women writers mentioned above. She was well aware of the issues being debated nationwide at the time, such as tradition and modernity, gender equality, education, and women’s liberation. Nevertheless, Flowering Exile has its own unique features that distinguish the book from other Chinese women’s writings in China because of its setting in a foreign country where the author, a diasporic housewife, struggled to negotiate her identity in a new cultural and linguistic environment. She had to deal with a set of issues that most of her contemporaries in China did not experience, such as language, decision-making, household management, and relationship with her motherland. The paper will discuss the difficulties and challenges Hsiung confronted in searching for her

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voice in England and their impact on her writing style. It will then study the narrative structure of the book to reveal a subtle, gradual development of the author’s growing sense of self-identity in both domestic space and diasporic community. Finally the paper will argue that writing in this case serves as a means for the Chinese diaspora to reconstruct an imaginary home overseas. In short, Flowering Exile is more than a traditional woman’s autobiographical writing or a simple account of a Chinese family’s life story in England; it represents a diasporic woman writer’s literary efforts to gain her voice and identity, develop her consciousness as a non-traditional Chinese housewife, and reconstruct peace and order in a distant land away from home country. ***

Not long after Flowering Exile was released, Hsiung sent inscribed copies to her three elder children who had returned China in 1948 and 1950 after graduation from Oxford. In one of those copies, she wrote the following: The book originally meant to be a novel, so it could contain true and fictitious elements. Unfortunately, the style was not exactly like a novel. Therefore, it has been changed to be something like an unofficial history. Though it contains nothing more than a woman’s observations, the book may serve as a leisure reading for married women.10

The statement reveals the stylistic changes Flowering Exile has gone through during its creation and the challenges that the author must have endured. It is obvious that the author herself is not certain which genre her book belongs to though she sounds content with its publication. Hsiung’s husband Shih-I was one of the best-known Chinese intellectuals in England at the time. His English play Lady Precious Stream (1934) was a sensational West End success, and he had also published a novel The Bridge of Heaven (1943) and a biography The Life of Chiang Kai-shek (1948), both of which won critical acclaim. Being married to such a famous writer and translator meant that Hsiung rightfully lived in the shadow of a celebrity and performed traditional domestic duties as a housewife and caring mother.11 When she was writing Flowering Exile in 1951, her husband was teaching at Cambridge and residing in a rental property there since commuting on a daily basis would be too expensive and inconvenient; nevertheless, Hsiung had to remain in Oxford, taking care of the three younger children, Deh-Hai, Deh-Ta, and Deh-I, the youngest of whom was only eleven years old and demanded much attention.12 China had just undergone tumultuous political changes. The Communist Party, led by Mao Zedong, had defeated the Chiang Kai-shek regime in 1949.


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It established a revolutionary system that favored the underprivileged working class, and it openly defied the West and was at war against the United States over Korea. To the Hsiungs, these drastic changes in China were particularly unnerving. Their land property in China had been confiscated, and Hsiung was deeply worried about her elderly father because he owned some land and some real estate.13 The safety and welfare of their three elder children in China was also a haunting concern. They were afraid that their children, having received an education in an elite university in the West, could become an easy target in the ideological struggle against Bourgeois influences and intellectuals if they were not discreet in their opinions and actions. England was not a safe haven either. Like many other Chinese compatriots, the Hsiungs became stateless residents stranded overseas after 1949. Shih-I was pro-Chiang Kai-shek government, but the family did not want to openly adopt an anti-communist stance. After all, three of their children and many of their relatives were still in China; returning to their homeland, though not feasible at the moment, was still a strong possibility in the future. Therefore, they had to be extremely cautious in their conversations regarding the political situation and their children in China so as not to draw any unwanted judgment or suspicion. Due to career and financial reasons, writing suddenly gained urgency for Shih-I and the family. His teaching position at Cambridge in 1950 was a temporary appointment, renewable for only a couple of years. Though not a wellpaid job, it was by far more honorable than managing a restaurant. Residing in Cambridge and staying free from familial and social engagements, Shih-I could thus concentrate on teaching and writing as an academian. It was hoped that he would soon be able to complete the novel The Gate of Peace, a sequel to The Bridge of Heaven, and publish some scholarly studies on the history of Chinese drama, novel, poetry, and prose. “Being able to enjoy such a mental pleasure itself is a blessing,” Hsiung reminded her husband.14 While writing and publication appeared to be a sure path for Shih-I to secure a foothold in the academic world, it could potentially become an important source of income as well. In her letters, Hsiung repeatedly detailed the dire financial situation at their Oxford home. “We should do our best to earn money,” she proclaimed. “ [T]he novel [The Gate of Peace], when completed, could bring in £100 if we are lucky.”15 Paradoxically, such a difficult situation stimulated Hsiung’s creative fervor. With Shih-I staying in Cambridge, she penned letters to him almost daily, relating their children’s wellbeing and schooling, food expenses, clothing, budget, birthday gifts, friends and neighbors as well as her frequent thoughts and advice about Shih-I’s health. In the meantime, she started writing essays and stories. Out of her busy domestic duties she squeezed in half or quarter of an hour now and then to jot down a few paragraphs. In June of 1951, she

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began the autobiography project. It was initially intended for her 11-year-old daughter Deh-I, but evolved into a book for women readers. Even though she had been in England for over a decade, all her writings, except for occasional letters, were in Chinese, a language she was comfortable with. After the manuscript was completed in mid-October, Shih-I translated that into English during his winter vacation. And he started negotiation with Peter Davies, the publishing company of his novel and the Chiang Kai-shek biography. Hsiung was very humble about her own literary skills. Never had she expected that her first book would later win praise from Joseph Macleod, a well-respected writer, as “beautiful and elegant, like a fine watercolor, composed with humor and humanity.” Macleod even claimed that “contemporary critics did not have time and ability to appreciate” such high level of literary talent.16 After her manuscript was accepted for publication, she sent a letter to the publisher, expressing her deep gratitude. In that letter, she graciously acknowledged her husband’s assistance in rendering the English translation but added, “. . . we had some heated arguments during the process because he was inclined to use superfluous expressions.”17 She concluded the letter with the following: I am preparing to work steadily on the second book My Father. It would take over a year to complete and might be a somewhat more satisfying book. I understand that my writing is no comparison to my husband’s, but I love to scribble while he is always over-occupied with social engagements. I will urge him to complete The Gate of Peace. As the Chinese idiom goes, “Cast a brick to attract jade.” If my Far From Home [as the book provisionally titled at the time] is a brick, his Gate of Peace will be the jade.18

It should be pointed out that the letter, prepared in proper English format, was written in Chinese, except for the salutation “Dear Mr. Davies” at the beginning and the closing lines “Yours sincerely, Dymia Hsiung” at the very end. Davies quickly responded with warm acknowledgment: Thank you very much for your delightful Chinese letter—the first, so far as I am aware, that I have ever had the privilege of receiving. Your husband writes a very good English hand, but I doubt if it compared with your own beautiful Chinese script, which I am afraid only reinforces the belief I had always held that your Country had nothing to gain and everything to lose by conforming in any degree whatever to the standards of so called western civilization.19

Throughout the entire publishing process, Shih-I helped negotiate the contract, discuss the book title and its cover design, and decide on the advertisements and marketing details. And it was through Shih-I that Hsiung’s name was essentially settled on “Dymia Hsiung” instead of “Dymia Tsai (Mrs. S. I. Hsiung).”20


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Hsiung was sensitive about social expectations of her being a Chinese housewife. Her English language inadequacy, cultural marginality, and feminine subjectivity seemed to have caused her self-perception of weakness and inferiority. It was these factors that caused her writing to deviate from its original plan. The book, subtitled “An Autobiographical Excursion,” started out as a novel, a lofty literary genre that Hsiung soon discovered was too commanding for an inexperienced housewife to undertake. Hardly any Chinese women had ever attempted to write a novel, and there had never been a successful Chinese women novelist in England. In Flowering Exile, Professor Wang advises Sung Hua that he should give up fiction writing simply because their mutual friend Lo Ken, “already famous in the English-speaking world,” is finishing his novel. “Aren’t you wasting your time? I think you’d do better to write something in the line for which you are qualified,” Wang admonishes Sung.21 The detail found its parallel in Hsiung’s own creative experience. Her writing a novel would be a daring act tantamount to an imitation of, and even competition with, her husband. She was treading on thin ice. Before long, she reached the same conclusion as Professor Wang did: since her husband was an accomplished writer and a master of the English language, the only legitimate option available to her, a diasporic Chinese housewife, would be writing about her personal life. Nevertheless, it was not easy to be strictly autobiographical. Hsiung, with a college education in Chinese literature, had a keen interest in literature.22 She loved to portray characters with “distinct personalities.”23 Chapters 13 and 14 of Flowering Exile, for example, are about the family friend Tu Fan, a journalist who grows distant, suspicious, and even critical after a long trip to China. These chapters, in which Hsiung clearly exerted her exuberant creative energy, give a brilliant portrayal of the character Tu and dramatize the painful clashes between her and the Lo Family. Yet such real but unflattering details in the book unfortunately caused some unwanted tension and rift between Hsiung and her friends after the book’s publication. Hsiung felt so perturbed that, as she confessed to her husband, she would soften the tone and replace those details with something less blunt and less offensive to family friends in the future Chinese edition of the book.24 In writing this so-called autobiography, Hsiung also had to consider her audiences in the West who had different cultural sensibilities and political views. She made alterations in her depictions of the characters in order to mitigate the predicament of the diasporas, and tried to present their stories sorrowfully yet comprehensibly to readers of different cultural background. The character Sung Hua deserves our attention. Sung’s story is a subplot that runs parallel but contrary to the story of the Lo family. Sung comes to England with the Lo family, and near the end he succumbs to an incurable disease, a lamentable tragic loss in the book. He has left China in search of freedom.

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Before he was born, his parents had sealed his nuptial ties with a cousin. He then lost both parents in childhood and was brought up by his uncle. After receiving college education in Beijing, Sung felt like a caged bird at home. Going abroad has offered him an opportunity to launch his scholarly career as a published writer. He becomes “a new man” as soon as he boards the ship bound for England.25 More importantly, being abroad offers him a chance to escape from the arranged marriage, and he is intentionally, or perhaps unintentionally, postponing the trip home. As Lien points out, “But your Uncle is making your cousin wait for you to marry her, and you dare not tell your Uncle definitely to break it off. As the days drag slowly on, your conscience pricks you and this is main cause of all your worries.”26 Indeed, writing serves as a means for Sung to accomplish his scholarly dream as well as a pretext to circumvent the moral dilemma. It is in writing that Sung enjoys a temporary shelter from the predicament in which he is hopelessly mired. There are at least two significant differences between the character Sung Hua in the book and his prototype Tsui Chi in real life. The first one is related to their marital status. Unlike Sung, Tsui was already married to his cousin Cheng Tongliu, and they had two sons.27 During his stay in England from 1937 to 1950, Cheng took care of their baby boys and her own elderly father in China while working in a university library. The extraordinary psychological and physical stress took its toll on her frail health. Due to inflation and constant government policy changes, the family simply could not survive on Cheng’s meager salary. Cheng and her father sent letters to Tsui, detailing their dire conditions and pleading for monetary assistance in the late 1940s. To them, Tsui must have made a fortune with royalties from his publications. “If you could manage to send one or two hundred pounds,” Cheng’s father wrote, “all the problems your wife and children as well as I are facing would be temporarily remedied.”28 Truly Tsui had established himself as one of the most celebrated Chinese intellectuals in Oxford with the publication of A Short History of Chinese Civilization (1942). It was an impressive scholarly accomplishment that won rave reviews and high commendations by luminary scholars and writers, such as Laurence Binyon and H. G. Wells. In addition, he published an English translation of Xie Bingying’s Autobiography of a Chinese girl and was completing the manuscript A History of Chinese Fiction. Little did his family in China know that academic publication was anything but lucrative. After dividing his royalties with Innes Jackson, an English writer friend who helped copy-edit the manuscript, there was hardly any money left for Tsui to keep and spare.29 Tsui understood that providing physical and financial support was an obligation he should fulfill as the husband and father, but he could not even afford to pay his own medical expenses abroad. He felt helpless, embarrassed, and guilty as he could not provide financial relief to his family in China.


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The other major difference is that for about 10 years Tsui’s uncle and wife had been repeatedly urging him to return to China, a fact not mentioned in Flowering Exile. Eventually, when Tsui changed his mind and planned to return, his physical conditions worsened, and he soon died of renal tuberculosis on October 28, 1950. The Hsiungs helped purchase a burial plot in Oxford as his permanent home. The Hsiungs kept the devastating news from Tsui’s family in Nanchang for almost a year. Flowering Exile concludes Sung’s story with this passage: He [Lo] bought a grave in the Oxford City Cemetery, and wrote to all Sung Hua’s friends telling them that the funeral would take place next day. All those who could get to Oxford in time came and all the Chinese students in Oxford were there too. Later a marble headstone was erected with inscriptions in both English and Chinese, so that those who wanted to visit it would be able to find it easily.30

In fact, when Hsiung was writing the book in the summer of 1951, Tsui’s death was still a secret to his family in China. In short, Flowering Exile contains many fictitious elements. When a Hong Kong publisher was considering its Chinese-language publication a few years later, Hsiung became wary of the consequences. She explained to Shih-I: I have been pondering over the manuscript in the last few days. Seriously if I changed all the names to real ones, the book would become amorphous, because many details are my invention and have to be edited out. At the time, it was written for the Westerners to see the life of Orientals overseas. There were many writing materials about our family and friends, and they were often lingering in my mind. Using pseudonyms and concealing true identity gave me freedom to invent and not be liable if any mistakes were made. However, if all has to be truthful, no fictitious elements should be allowed . . . I am the only one who knows which is real and which is fictitious, and many details even you would deem real.31

Hence, Flowering Exile is neither a fiction nor an autobiography in the strictly conventional definition. It is an autobiographical account based on the author’s personal life experience abroad with numerous alterations. Its hybrid form of autobiography and fiction bears traces of the author’s self-denigration and hesitation as well as a strong desire for expression, voice, and discovery of identity. By so doing, she blazed the trail for other writers to free themselves from the constraints of rigid literary conventions to get their voice heard and stories told. ***

Flowering Exile, in its hybrid form of autobiography and fiction, does bear some common features of women’s autobiography. Estelle C. Jelinek has

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noted that women writers tend to concentrate on their personal lives, such as domestic duties, family difficulties, children, and close friends.32 As a Chinese housewife’s tale of personal disaporic experience, Flowering Exile has a clear focus on the daily life of the family, children’s education, and family friends rather than emphasizing the sociopolitical affairs outside the household. Nevertheless, Flowering Exile bears some unique traits due to its specific nature. As a story of diasporic experience, it is essentially about routing and rooting, specifically about the Lo family’s attempt to build a new home in a foreign country. During their decade-long stay in England, the Lo family has lived at four different locations because of war, education, or children’s career. These four locations help structure the story, each indicating a distinct stage in the family’s cultural adjustment and adaptation. More importantly, each of these locations marks a new phase in Lien Lo’s transformation from a traditional housewife abiding by traditional norms and rules in China to a strong and capable woman who sets up a mother-centered domestic space in their Oxford home with a broad vision of the community and the world. The old-fashioned house in Hampstead, London, is the first residence of the Lo family overseas. Their flat is extremely confining and restraining. The children are not allowed to run around or play games as they used to do in China because the landlord, who lives downstairs in the lower maisonette, could not tolerate any noise upstairs. Having enjoyed immeasurable pleasure of their spacious old house in China, the Los, especially the children, find it difficult to adjust to their new environment since such restrictions seem “most depressing.”33 However, it is in this house that the family begins the new chapter of their diasporic life. Ken has a prestigious college position in China. Going abroad enables him to be more productive and the children to receive a better education. Lien, affectionate and patient, is a devoted housewife willing to sacrifice her own happiness for the sake of the family. She has no preference of her own: “[I]t doesn’t matter to myself whether I go or stay at home.”34 As soon as they arrive in London, she confronts a major challenge: in China, the family had a large house with many servants, and there was absolutely no need for her to go into the kitchen; once abroad, however, it is financially impossible to hire someone to cook for the family. To ensure the happiness and health of the family and to maintain what Ken calls “an English household,” Lien sets out to learn cooking skills in the kitchen to ensure that the family will be able to enjoy meals together. She learns to prepare English breakfast with tea and toast and cooks a complete Chinese-style dinner all by herself. Preparing meals for the family becomes her “natural duty,” a routine task that she carries out daily.35 She takes up the responsibility with aplomb. Every evening, all family members gather at the dinner table, sharing their


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experiences of the day over a warm dinner Lien has prepared. Her cooking ensures this most joyous moment on a daily basis, nourishes the family, and contributes to their gradual acculturation in England. Being engaged in the domestic arena far away from the home country poses a formidable challenge, but it also creates an opportunity for Lien to prove her strength and fortitude. She quickly adapts to the new linguistic and cultural environment. As the hostess, she entertains both Chinese and English friends with warm affection and sincerity, and their London home soon becomes the favorite site of the transnational community. Chinese friends come to visit and enjoy luncheon or dinner while English friends frequently gather for tea.36 Serving food and tea and entertaining friends offers Lien an opportunity to communicate with others and to express herself, and she becomes symbolically the central force of the household. Meanwhile, she has also become a “connoisseur of tea.” While “Dragon Well” green tea is still her favorite, she has discovered English red tea, with milk and sugar, equally enjoyable.37 The newly acquired taste and appreciation of English red tea indicates an enhanced cultural appreciation and adjustment, a significant development in her acculturation. Not long after the war breaks out in 1939, Ken and Lien are compelled to move to St. Angus, a suburban town, where their children attend school following the government’s order of evacuation. The relocation allows the family to stay together, but it puts much physical strain on the parents, especially Lien, because of her pregnancy. She vows never to “move again” unless they “move back to China.”38 The new home, small but comfortable, seems to offer a temporary shelter physically and psychologically. There is a small garden where the children plant vegetables and flowers, and they could now enjoy more freedom and “make as much noise” as they like. Their future is precarious and unpredictable, but Lien feels “content and happy” because her children seem “content and happy.”39 In this new house, the Los grow more comfortable with the life in England. The children excel at school and enjoy the British education system. The Los now celebrates both English and Chinese holidays. As they become more acculturated, they combine Christmas and Chinese New Year into one, celebrating both holidays with passion and jubilation: decorating their house, preparing holiday presents, and entertaining guests at home.40 Lien continues to carry out her domestic duty as a housewife, with ingenuity and creativeness. Shortage of money and food supplies during the war poses a daunting challenge, yet she manages to make ends meet. In addition, after the birth of their youngest daughter Lung, Lien devotes much of her energy to the baby, who grows up happy and healthy, labeled by their neighbors as “a model child.” Their elder daughter Ling expresses her gracious appreciation, “since Mama had children, she has lost her freedom completely.” “Mama has suffered much more than anyone else.”41

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Lien has become more broad-minded and gained better perspectives on parenting, individualism, and world politics. She is against treating children like “domestic animals.” She cares for her children’s physical health and mental wellbeing. In her opinion, parents should be patient and reason with their children, never resorting to physical punishment, which could “curtail the children’s happiness.”42 Her interest and vision extend beyond domestic chores or activities at home. She is concerned about the war and its traumatic impact on millions of families. She is empathetic with mothers who are “shedding tears while preparing for the celebrations of the coming of the New Year.”43 Even though Lien does not participate in the discussions of “high politics” and war with male guests in the living room, she has a good grasp of politics and offers occasional advice to her husband on important issues.44 In 1943, as the war front has shifted to Russia, schools prepare for returning to London from evacuation. Lien, who is very “economical,” persuades her husband to move to Oxford instead. The family could not only stay together but also should save substantially if their children go to Oxford for education. Indeed, they find a beautiful mansion available for rent. It has a well-cultivated garden, an orchard, and a kitchen garden as well as many trees. In this new house, Lien continues her duty as housewife with pride and authority. She is no longer a stereotypically traditional Chinese housewife, docile and voiceless, emotionally and socially dependent on the husband; still warm-hearted and dedicated, she has grown to become thoughtful, capable, and courageous. She is a master chef, making both English and Chinese meals all by herself, a way that enables her to express generosity and tenderness. Her persistent dedication and contribution make it possible for the family to sail through the rest of the war years and enable her three elder children to complete an Oxford education at a time when scarcity of food supply is a headache to all households. The book underlines the magnificent role a Chinese housewife could play in the community and beyond. Lien has evolved into a central figure in the community and has become the symbolic mother of diasporic Chinese. Chinese students in Oxford all regarded the Hsiung family house as their home abroad.45 In this big “home,” a symbol of family, warmth, and love, Lien plays the role of caring mother to everyone. In fact, she can now feel, with a sense of pride, the connection with women all over the world, regardless of religion, ethnicity, race, or linguistic background. Flowering Exile cites the example of the Roosevelt family to illustrate the significant role women play in the creation of a stable household and prosperous nation. It states, “[A]ll great men owe their success to women.”46 Lien has grown accustomed to the socio-cultural life in England, and she can now “sympathize with the English housewife.”47 This signals a critical shift in her consciousness and


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identity, and it indicates her emotional association with a broad transnational community. The book ends with yet another move in the last chapter shortly after the departure of the three elder children. The family relocates to a Regency house in Cotswold stone. “There were five ancient lofty pines around the house and three magnificent evergreen magnolias on its front wall which faced due south.” The book does not specify the reason why they choose that house except for the statement that it “suited them in every respect.” The Los quickly move in after some “repairs and redecorations.”48 This new home appears to be an idyllic setting where the family will be able to settle eventually. As the only child now left in Oxford, Lung pleads to her mother, “Mama will not go back to China till I have got my degree in Oxford.”49 The book concludes with the following passage. Judging from Lien’s poignant feelings, she is still very much unsettled and still expecting another move in the near future: She loved them [three elder children] dearly, but she loved her youngest child and husband no less. Indeed, she mingled the love of the latter with a sense of duty. She only hoped that one day in the not too distant future her husband would be able to retire from his labors of the pen, when they could return with their youngest child to their motherland to join the three elder children.50

Routing and rooting, the essence of “diaspora discourse,”51 is evidenced in the repeated searching for a home and settlement in Flowering Exile. In so doing, Lien has grown from a subordinate traditional Chinese woman to an independent and decisive individual of the diasporic community. She is still a housewife, but with a broad vision and a capacity to influence the future of her family and the community. ***

Flowering Exile is a Chinese housewife’s tale of her diasporic experience in England and her search for individual voice, and it lays out her passage toward a confident and capable woman both at home and in the community. Ultimately, writing this book allows the author to find peace and stability through construction of a home abroad with literary imagination. It is important to mention “Reflections on Country Life,” a Chineselanguage essay Hsiung wrote in the summer of 1950 and subsequently revised in 1951 for publication in the first issue of the journal Tienfeng Monthly. The essay begins with a story she heard in childhood: country mice admire city mice for the delicious food available in the city, while the latter envy the former for the crops and beautiful landscape in the countryside.

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After they meet and share stories with each other on their migration to the supposedly “ideal” site, they each decide to turn around and return home as they realize that it is a better place to be. Hsiung concludes the story with a philosophical axiom: “But humans are forever experimenting in life.”52 The story is a metaphor about diasporic life and the predicament of diasporas who are perpetually vacillating between “at home” and “away from home,” or yearning for a home return. “Reflections on Country Life” attempts to reconcile with the painful loss of homeland after 1949 and to prove that one might be able to find happiness and contentment through constructing a new home abroad. In this Chineselanguage essay, Hsiung offers some details that are missing in Flowering Exile. For example, she tells the reader how the Hsiung family has turned Heyford Hill House, an abandoned century-old abode in the suburbs of Oxford, into their beautiful new residence with trees and grass, a chicken farm, and a kitchen garden. The Heyford Hill House used to look like an “ancient temple,” dilapidated and dusty, with weeds, cobwebs, and rats running everywhere. After they moved in, the family spent months renovating the house, cleaning it up, and planting grass and flowers in the garden. But the site, now an idyllic home, is infused with memories of pain, death, financial loss, and separation; Hsiung speaks of the wound and bleeding in cleaning up the weeds; she mentions the elder son’s failed attempt to run a chicken farm in the yard as all the chickens died one after another; she states that two of her children have departed for China, and the third one is about to join his siblings in a few months. In short, these painful details are footnotes to the ideal fourth location in Flowering Exile. “Reflection on Country Life” advocates contentment and happiness in diasporic experience. As the essay candidly narrates those details, with no attempt to gloss over the gnawing pain of separation, loss, and homesickness, the reader could sense that the author, who appears calm and composed, is enduing unfathomable distress. Tienfeng Monthly, in which the essay was published, was a Chinese-language literary journal Lin Yutang founded in the United States for diasporic communities outside China. The targeted readers of the essay were Chinese diasporas, who shared similar experience and comparable sentiment with the author. It should be noted that Hsiung has made some seemingly minor, but critical changes in regard to the fourth residence in Flowering Exile. The Lo family moves to that residence in 1948 rather than 1949. The book mentions that all three elder children have already left for China,53 the sister first, followed by the two brothers a year later, to “go back and see how China is reconstructing herself.”54 In real life, however, the Hsiung family moved from Iffley Turn House in Oxford to Heyford Hill House in the suburbs in 1949; their elder daughter went back to China in 1948; and in 1950 two sons followed.


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These anachronistic elements in Flowering Exile must have been deliberately constructed since these details in question took place recently and Hsiung’s memory about them must have been very fresh at the time of writing. This was highly unlikely a case of intentional fabrication meant for either ethical or commercial gain. If the apparent confusion in the temporal sequence had resulted from carelessness, oversight, or memory lapses, Shih-I should have caught it when he rendered the translation of the manuscript. The key to the confusion here is the year of 1949, which marks the political turnover and founding of a communist government in China. A voluntary return to China after 1949 could be perceived as a deliberate and conscious decision, tainted in political colors, and any association with China could be interpreted as pro-Communist inclination. Thus, avoiding such sensitive labeling became a necessity for surviving and safety.55 The word “reconstructing” in Hsiung’s reference to China above is neutral, ambiguous, and devoid of political or ideological undertone. Besides, the anxiety and pain manifested in the essay “Reflections on Country Life” appear noticeably subdued and nearly undetectable in the concluding part of Flowering Exile, turning the fourth house into a nurturing sanctuary that ensures peace and healing solace. These alterations reveal the author’s endeavor, as well as difficulty, in literary reconstruction of a home of peace and order far away from homeland. Indeed, home return, when it becomes practically impossible, can only be realized or experienced through language and imagination. Theodor Adorno, a German philosopher who was in exile in the United States during World War II, made this comment on the predicament of modern man in the twentieth century: “Dwelling, in the proper sense, is now impossible.” “No individual can resists this process.”56 As an intellectual in exile, Adorno was acutely aware of the mutilation he had personally suffered resulting from an involuntary separation from his cultural and linguistic home environment. It was not a coincidence that he drew the analogy between writing and house construction: “For a man who no longer has a homeland, writing becomes a place to live.”57 This is exactly what Flowering Exile has accomplished: Separation from children, deaths and sufferings of friends, social turmoil, and political changes in the home country—all these poignant details are either omitted and altered, or shuffled into the previous three residences, rendering the fourth residence a secluded, trouble-free, and cheerful home environment. An apparently happy ending is designed to please the taste of the middle-class housewives in England and to enable the book more marketable despite the fact that such a reconstruction causes an overtly erroneous chronology as well as the alteration of details. In preparation for the book’s publication, about a dozen titles came up for consideration, and the publisher finally settled on “Flowering Exile.” It contained “a charming sound . . . and is thoroughly applicable to the book,”

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according to Davies.58 But Hsiung liked “Bird’s Nest” instead. It was her favorite choice, and she still used that title in her reference to the book in the mid-1960s. The phrase could very well describe the subjects of family, children, motherhood, and home, an important aspect of this book. To Englishspeaking readers, such a book title, as the publisher rightly suspected, may be misconstrued as dealing with “the subject of birds and their nesting habits.”59 To the Chinese, however, the image of “bird’s nest” carries unambiguous and rich connotations of home and home returning. It is associated with travelers away from home and homesickness. The following are two famous lines from an ancient poem of East Han Dynasty (221–207 BC) that relates deep sorrows of a woman separated from her husband due to war and social turbulence: “Horses from the North find comfort in the north wind, / While birds from the South love to nest on south facing branches.” Similar sentiment is registered in the line “Birds that have traveled afar yearn for a return to the nest,” taken from a poem by Tao Qian (365–427 AD). In other words, distance, homesickness, and yearning for ultimate home returning are a recurring theme often conveyed through images of birds and travelers in Chinese cultural tradition. The image of the bird’s nest therefore is a cultural code loaded with complex connotations and widely accepted by the Chinese, and it indeed underlines the central theme of diasporic experience in Flowering Exile. Near the end of the book is this poignant detail: Sung Hua places a small pot on a tree branch outside his hospital window, and it is meant to be a home for a small bird that he has befriended. Sung leaves food in it daily, a compassionate act through which he imagines a home-returning for both himself and the bird. Likewise, the Lo family’s fourth residence in the end of the book is symbolically Hsiung’s attempt to construct a “bird’s nest,” a delicate but nurturing, vulnerable but protective haven for the family when stranded overseas. As a diasporic housewife, Lien takes care of the family and builds a home in England while cherishing the hope and longing for an eventual return to “their motherland.”60 It is a literary reconstruction out of her resilience, determination, and imagination. The book seems to offer an impression as being overtly sanguine and joyful. The blurb of the book considers Flowering Exile an “easy and amusing reading for the most jaded reader.” “It leaves a fragrant memory, recreating the atmosphere of a little world on its own.” Yet behind this, a careful reader may detect optimism, forbearing, and an intrepid spirit of the female Chinese author in her literary efforts to represent the diasporic experience. It is a literary construction of a home by a Chinese housewife in a country far away from home. Though written and published over a half century ago, it still resonates today in the sense that writing for women was a means to search for one’s voice, express her individualism, and build a space in which she can nurture and enjoy peace.


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NOTES 1. “Changes of Climate,” The Times Literary Supplemet November 7, 1952, 721. 2. Ibid., 721. 3. John Dettmer to Shih-I Hsiung, November 10, 1952. 4. James Olney, Studies in Autobiography (NY: Oxford University Press, 1988), xiv. For a lucid introduction to the debate about autobiographical criticism before the 1980s, see Estelle C Jelinek, The Tradition of Women’s Autobiography: From Antiquity to the Present (Boston: Twayne, 1986), 1–8. See also Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson, Reading Autobiography, 2nd ed. (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minneapolis Press, 2010). 5. Sidonie Smith, A Poetics of Women’s Autobiography (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987), 15, 44. 6. Smith and Watson, Reading Autobiography, 210. 7. Lingzhen Wang, Personal Matters: Women’s Autobiographical Practice in Twentieth-Century China (CA: Stanford University Press, 2004), 21. 8. The May Fourth Movement was a cultural and political event that grew out of student demonstrations and national protests against the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, which was to turn Germany’s territorial rights in China over to Japan rather than back to China. This unprecedented movement led to rapid modernization and nationalism in the 1920s in China. 9. Wang, Personal Matters, 2, 11. 10. Dymia Hsiung, Handnote, c.1952. 11. Dymia Hsiung grew up in Jiangxi. Her father, a progressive educator, ran Yiwu Girls’ School in Nanchang from 1910 onward. As the only child of the family, Hsiung received a good education in childhood. However, it was interrupted after her marriage at the age of 18 as she gave successive births to five children from 1924 to 1932. She went back to school in 1931 and graduated from the Department of Literature and History of National Beiping University in June 1935. Soon after, she went to England to accompany her husband for the Broadway tour of the play Lady Precious Stream later that year. 12. In 1937, when Dymia and Shih-I Hsiung were returning to England after a year-long visit to China, they brought three elder children with them and left Deh-Hai and Deh-Ta behind in China, where they remained until late 1949. Hsiung did not mention these two children at all in Flowering Exile mainly because of foreign readers’ different cultural values and expectations. As she explained, “Foreigners could never understand why you would leave two young children behind.” See Diana Yeh, The Happy Hsiungs (HK: Hong Kong University Press, 2014), 125. 13. Dymia Hsiung to Shih-I Hsiung, c.1951. In the same letter, Hsiung also reminded Shih-I not to discuss in public the death of their nephew, who committed suicide due to unbearable pressure and humiliation caused by hostile village farmers. She was wary of political implications. For example, their son Deh-Wei had recently won a military service award from the government for his intelligence work in Korean War. Even though it was a major recognition in China, Hsiung never mentioned that even to her friends overseas.

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14. Dymia Hsiung to Shih-I Hsiung, October 11, 1951. 15. Ibid. 16. Shih-I Hiusng to Dymia Hsiung, c. 1952. Shih-I translated Macleod’s comments into Chinese for Hsiung to read, and the quote here is my English rendition based on Shih-I’s Chinese translation. 17. Dymia Hsiung to Shih-I Hsiung, April 21, 1952. In another letter, Hsiung recalled that, as they were working on the translation, she sometimes had to “fight for her own life” when she wanted to “cut out a sentence or a word.” See Dymia Hsiung to Peter Davies, June 17, 1955. It was evident that Hsiung tried very hard to maintain her own voice, frequently resulting in heated and fierce argument. Yet it is striking how she significantly toned down this aspect in her self-presentation in the letter to Peter Davies. 18. Dymia Hsiung to Shih-I Hsiung, April 21, 1952. 19. Peter Davies to Dymia Hsiung, April 28, 1952. 20. Ibid., April 1, 1952. 21. Dymia Hsiung, Flowering Exile (London: Peter Davies, 1952), 63–64. 22. When Shih-I Hsiung was working on The Bridge of Heaven, Dymia Hsiung made numerous insightful comments concerning characters and details, and she also reminded her husband to be sensitive to the literary market and readers’ aesthetic taste and cultural values in the West. 23. Dymia Hsiung to Shih-I Hsiung, June 11, 1955. 24. Ibid., July 9, 1955. 25. Hsiung, Flowering Exile, 22. 26. Ibid., 137. 27. Tsui Chi was one of the three best-known Chinese intellectuals in Oxford in the 1940s, the other two being Shih-I Hsiung and Chiang Yee. They all came from Jiangxi and were close friends. Tsui left his two sons and wife in China when he departed for England by himself. This case, though unusual, was not uncommon in the 1930s. In fact, both Chiang Yee and Shih-I Hsiung did exactly the same when they left for England. 28. Cheng Xiele to Tsui Chi, December 22, 1949. 29. Tsui Chi asked Shih-I Hsiung to keep the secret that Innes Jackson helped edit his manuscripts because “he did not want others to know his English inadequacy.” Shih-I Hsiung and Damia Hsiung to Zan Xun, September 23, 1951. 30. Hsiung, Flowering Exile, 286. 31. Dymia Hsiung to Shih-I Hsiung, March 21, 1961. 32. Estelle C. Jelinek, “Introduction: Women’s Autobiography and the Male Tradition,” in Women’s Autobiography: Essays in Criticism, ed. Estelle C. Jelinek (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1980), 6–17. 33. Hsiung, Flowering Exile, 48–49. 34. Ibid., 10. 35. Ibid., 40, 90, 169. 36. Ibid., 70. 37. Ibid., 71. 38. Ibid., 81.


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39. Ibid., 83. 40. Ibid., 120. 41. Ibid., 142, 157. 42. Ibid., 127. 43. Ibid., 91. 44. Ibid., 129–130. 45. Ibid., 158. 46. Ibid., 156. 47. Ibid., 157. 48. Ibid., 286. 49. Ibid., 288. 50. Ibid. 51. James Clifford, “Diaspora,” Cultural Anthropology, 9, no. 3 (1994): 308. 52. Hsiung, Xiangju suoji, [Reflections on country life], Tienfeng Monthly 1, no. 1 (1952), 30. 53. Hsiung, Flowering Exile, 286. In Dymia Hsiung’s Chinese manuscript, the year 1948 was specified as to when the two sons left for China and the family rent the house. See Hsiung, Niaochao [Bird’s Nest]. Unpublished manuscript. 54. Dymia Hsiung, Flowering Exile, 275. 55. Dymia Hsiung alludes to that in her inscription to Deh-Ni Hsiung’s book. Hsiung, handnote, c. 1952. 56. Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia (London: Verso, 1994), 38, 39. 57. Ibid., 87. 58. Peter Davies to Deh-I Hsiung, April 8,1952. 59. John Dettmer to Shih-I Hsiung, April 4, 1952. 60. Hsiung, Flowering Exile, 288.

REFERENCES Adorno, Theodor. Minima Moralia. London: Verso, 1994. “Changes of Climate,” The Times Literary Supplement 7 November 1952: 721. Cheng, Xiele, to Tsui Chi, 22 December 1949. Hsiung Family Collection, DC. Clifford, James. “Diasporas,” Cultural Anthropology 9, no. 3 (1994): 302–338. Davies, Peter, to Deh-I Hsiung, 1 April 1952. Hsiung Family Collection, DC. ———. to Deh-I Hsiung, 8 April 1952. Hsiung Family Collection, DC. ———. to Dymia Hsiung, 28 April 1952. Hsiung Family Collection, DC. Dettmer, John, to Shih-I Hsiung, 4 April 1952. Hsiung Family Collection, DC. ———. to Shih-I Hsiung, 10 November 1952. Hsiung Family Collection, DC. Hsiung, Dymia. Flowering Exile. London: Peter Davies [1952]. ———. Handnote, c. 1952. Hsiung Family Collection, DC. ———. Niaochao [Bird’s Nest]. Unpublished manuscript, c. 1952. Hsiung Family Collection, Cambridge, UK. ———. to Dymia Hsiung, c. 1952. Hsiung Family Collection, DC. ———. to Peter Davies, 21 April 1952. Hsiung Family Collection, DC.

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———. to Peter Davies, 17 June 1952. Hsiung Family Collection, DC. ———. to Shih-I Hsiung, c. 1951. Hsiung Family Collection, DC. ———. to Shih-I Hsiung. 11 October 1951. Hsiung Family Collection, DC. ———. to Shih-I Hsiung. 11 June 1955. Hsiung Family Collection, DC. ———. to Shih-I Hsiung, 9 July 1955. Hsiung Family Collection, DC. ———. to Shih-I Hsiung, 21 March 1961. Hsiung Family Collection, DC. ———. “Xiangju suoji,” [Reflections on country life]. Tienfeng Monthly 1, no. 1 (1952): 30–35, 29. Hsiung, Shih-I, to Dymia Hsiung, c. 1952. Hsiung Family Collection, DC. ———. to Zan Xun, 23 September 1951. Hsiung Family Collection, DC. Jelinek, Estelle C. The Tradition of Women’s Autobiography: From Antiquity to the Present. Boston: Twayne, 1986. ——— ed. Women’s Autobiography: Essays in Criticism. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1980. Olney, James. Studies in Autobiography. NY: Oxford University Press, 1988. Smith, Sidonie. A Poetics of Women’s Autobiography. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987. Smith, Sidonie., and Julia Watson. Reading Autobiography, 2nd ed. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minneapolis Press, 2010. Wang, Lingzhen. Personal Matters: Women’s Autobiographical Practice in Twentieth-Century China. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2004. Yeh, Diana. The Happy Hsiungs. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2014.

Chapter 4

Diasporic Iranian Writing in English Sanaz Fotouhi

In “So Mush of Me,” (2009) Singapore-based Ceylonese-Malaysian1 poet Charlene Rajendran describes her own sense of identity, ending the poem with the following lines: So mush of me is—muddled. Malaysian, Ceylonese Unsure. My anglicised fancies in tempatan dreams make mush in so mush of me.

Playing with words, “much” and “mush,” she uses English in an innovative way to describe the mixture that makes her hybrid identity, something of which despite it all, she is “unsure.” Casually throwing in a Bahasa Melayu word, “tampatan” (meaning local), she further emphasizes and adds to that sense of diversity of the local and global that reflects her. By simply changing one letter between much and mush, Rajendran alters our expectations of the English language and offers a new and irrecoverable way of understanding her sense of unsure yet dynamic identity. In a similar way, in Susanne Pari’s novel, The Fortune Catcher (1997), the Iranian-American character Layla describes her hybrid childhood in the following way: My childhood was like ahsh, like soup with beans and noodles and spices and yogurt and lemon juice—contrasting tastes and smells and hopes and ideas. It may be true what you say about peacefulness of belonging to one culture 61


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completely, but you forget that I’ve never completely been one thing or another. I was brought up in this country; I am a lot of things.2

Like Rajendran, Pari, an Iranian-American author, mixes English with another language, Persian, here, to reflect the contrasting states of being that is felt by her character. “Ahsh” is a Persian dish, made of a range of flavors and ingredients of noodles, meat, lemon juice, spices, whey, and beans. But “ahsh” is also like mush and it does not only refer to the food. In Persian, if there is an impossible mix or conflict in a situation, where elements are so muddled that they cannot be clearly distinguished, we usually say, it is like ahsh. For example, a love triangle between friends, or a state of living with many different identities and contrasting belief systems, like Pari’s character, a seemingly hard situation to resolve, may be referred to as an ahsh. I begin by drawing an unlikely comparison between the Ceylonese poet and the Iranian-American writer because, despite differences in their cultural background, they share an inherently similar situation: they both inhabit and reflect a cross section of “tampatan” and global identities that are mushed together like “ahsh.” This comparison shows that these writers, and others like them from across the globe, who are, and have been, writing from the marginal spaces of the hybridity of diaspora that they occupy, are aware of the multiplicity of their condition. They know that “diaspora signals an engagement with a matrix of diversity: of cultures, languages, histories, people, places, times.”3 They are aware that in describing their own situation, they must go beyond the singular and adapt multiplicities in their expression to reflect themselves. It is as Makarand Paranjape tells us, that in describing its own condition “the diaspora must involve a cross-cultural or cross-civilization passage. It is only such a crossing that results in the unique consciousness of the diasporic.”4 In this teasing out, reflecting, negotiating, and even criticizing the diasporic space, language can be seen as the single most important tool. This is because language as we know and as Bill Ashcroft points out, “has power.”5 It “provides the terms by which reality may be constituted, and it provides the names by which the world may be ‘known’. The system of values it conveys [. . .] becomes the system upon which social, economic and political discourse is grounded.”6 This gives language users control to reflect and even change the world in which they live. This power lies in the fact that language has what the renowned author and critic Ngugi wa Thiong’o argues “a dual character.” Language according to him is “both a means of communication and a carrier of culture.”7 In this chapter I will engage with the dual character of language, the way it provides power as a “means of communication” and as “a carrier of culture,” through an analysis of the works of diasporic Iranian writers in English. I

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will examine these concepts by looking closely at the use of language in Roya Hakakian’s memoir Journey From the Land of No (2004), Farnoosh Moshiri’s Against Gravity (2005) and her short stories from her collection The Crazy Dervish and the Pomegranate Tree (2004), and Manoucher Parvin’s novel-in-verse Dardedel: Rumi, Hafez and Love in New York (2003). In this analysis, I highlight the power of language for Iranian diasporic people because for them, those who are often marginal, and live at the cross section of multiple identities and realities, the dual power of language becomes extremely important and an empowering exercise. As a “means of communication,” language has the potential to give those who previously did not have voice both in their home and now in their host countries, the ability to speak of their experiences. And as “a carrier of culture,” it provides them with the possibility to use this new language to mix it with elements of their own cultural and linguistic background, to create unique literary spaces that are reflective of their hybrid and diverse experiences and cultures. This approach, however, to engage with a dominant language, namely English, to shift, mix, and make it do what Ashcroft calls “a different cultural work”8 is not new. It has been decades that African, Asian, Caribbean, Indian, and other writers from former colonies and their diasporic communities in other countries than their own, have been engaging with language in this way, to reflect their own hybrid experience. The academic and scholarly study of this type of writing, and its contribution to literary and cultural studies, in various ways, has also been a serious and established field of study. Their significance and contribution to world literatures in English, and English literature in general, has been established through the presence of the texts themselves and their scholarly examination across various platforms and disciplines. While over the years, authors from regions named above, have become well-known and masters for their innovative linguistic and literary engagements that reflect and critique their condition, there has been a small group of emerging, but almost overlooked, diasporic Iranian writers who have also been producing significant work in a similar way. Ever since the beginnings of Iranian mass migration after the Islamic revolution of 1979, Iranian diasporic writers have produced nearly three hundred books of fiction and memoirs in English. However, except for some emerging scholarship, this body of work is still relatively unknown. Missing from the scholarship surrounding them is the emphasis on the similarities of these works to other diasporic ones in English and the contribution that they are making to the arena of world literatures in English and English literature and language in general. Through specific examples, this chapter will also highlight how they make significant contributions in the larger arena of World Literatures in English. In Decolonising the Mind, Ngugi argues how language as a means of communication has several components the sum of which, over generations, leads


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to the construction of a set of values that defines the way people, both as individuals and in relation to their community, see themselves and others. “Values,” he argues, “are the basis of a people’s identity, their sense of particularity as members of the human race.”9 Language, specifically the dominant language of a place, allows for the communication of those personal and communal values. It gives individuals voice for their expression, as well as the power for intersubjective communication and recognition of similarities. This is because as psychologists and philosophers, such as Kelly Oliver believe, our subjectivity—our sense of how we define ourselves—is constituted intersubjectively so “that we come to recognize ourselves as subjects or active agents through recognition from others.”10 And this recognition is constructed through linguistic communication and interactions on numerous levels. Thus, lack of voice, hindrance of access for possibilities of expression, or deliberate silencing of someone else’s voice, is consequently oppressive and can lead to a lack of agency and obliteration of a person’s sense of identity as an individual within a community. This is why, “to possess the [dominant] language,” Ashcroft argues, “is to have the imprimatur of the centre and a share in its pervasive cultural power.”11 Limiting access to linguistic ability, taking away voice and freedom of literary expression through banning of certain literature, censorships, and not letting minority voices and literatures to be heard—both written and oral, both in public and private—is inherently taking away one’s power of having a personal and communal subjectivity and sense of identity. This is why for diasporic Iranian writers the choice to write in English is a deliberate one. It is often, as will be explained later in this chapter, in response to historical and social oppressions in Iran as well as abroad, where individual subjectivities and powers were taken away through silencing, denial of access to the dominant language, or even through stereotyping. It is not surprising that the body of diasporic Iranian writing in English predominantly constitutes women writers, those of ethnically minority backgrounds, or those with alternative social, political, and religious beliefs. Looking at Iranian history, its literary landscape, until the second half of the twentieth century, has been a male-dominated one. As Farzaneh Milani observes in her seminal book Veils and Words, Iranian literature “has long possessed a predominantly masculine character.”12 In it, women have been, until recently, almost “conspicuously absent [. . .] as writers or critics, as makers of literary tradition.”13 Relating this to the tradition of veiling and the strict gender dichotomy that ruled Iranian society until recently (a situation which has, however, changed inside Iran very rapidly in the last decade or so), she argues that women’s voices have been historically subverted. “In a society concerned obsessively with keeping the worlds of men and women apart,” she argues, “with an ideal of feminine as silent, immobile, and invisible, women writers have not found it easy to flourish.”14

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This kind of silencing, however, has not been limited only to women. Throughout Iranian history, both pre- and post-revolutionary, there has been a kind of dominant narrative that excludes people of religious and ethnic minority backgrounds, like the Jews and Baha’is, as well as those with alternative political beliefs. Official narratives of Iranian history, and consequently the literature that gets permission for public exposure, have almost always excluded these minority narratives, to the point that as Nasrin Rahimieh observes, “the construction of Iranian national identity has insisted upon the erasure and elision of gender, language and ethnicity.”15 It is partially in response to this kind of systematic silence and lack of literary presence in Iran, which had denied many the ability of self and literary resonance that the English language has become a favorable means of expression for many in diaspora. Distanced from Iran, the silences, the potential consequences and dangers of speaking out, and the inhibitions that restricted them, many Iranian writers find the new language of their host culture as a promising tool for self-expression and for regaining their sense of subjectivity. This is especially true for those who were doubly marginalized and silenced, namely women of minority background and those with strong alternative political beliefs. In relation to this, some writers are rather self-reflective about how English offers them a new language through which they can express themselves in response to the silences and lack of ability for expression they had faced in Iran. For example, in the opening pages of her book Journey from the Land of No, Hakakian, a Jewish Iranian woman, tells us why she decided to write her memoir, in English, about her life in Iran and departure for America. As a journalist, one day she receives a call from someone asking her to write about the student clashes in Iran in the late 1990s. However, she finds this difficult, “embittered by [her] history,” she is unable to write objectively. Instead, she writes an apology: “the past and the events that followed the revolution had biased me forever.”16 She had concluded that she was not the best person for this. But, instead of accepting this, the other person writes back “tell me about them.”17 However, recalling and sharing the past is difficult because she feels that she does not have the right language for their expression. She had been literally silenced in Persian as a teenager. In a push and pull situation, her teacher encourages her writing skills but warns her that her essays, one of which she pretends she has left in a taxi after marking it, will surely get her into trouble with the school authorities. Then at home her words are destroyed when her expressions, her diaries, and poems, along with all her other books that seemed “unsafe to keep at home” were burnt by her father in their backyard. After this silencing, it is years later in America, and through some encouragement that she gradually realizes that English could be the new medium for expressing what seemed inexpressible in Persian. She tells us:


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To write in Persian would be daunting. Instead of re-examining the memories, I feared that in Persian, I might begin to relive them. Persian could summon the teenager at sea. English sheltered the adult survivor, safely inside a lighthouse. I did not know how to use the language of the censors to speak against them; to use the very language by which I had been denied so much as a Jew, a woman, a secular citizen, and a young poet. The love of Iran was still in my heart, yet I could not return. The irrevocable journey I had made was not the physical one, out of Iran. It was the journey from “no,” from the perpetual denials. And what I had painstakingly arrived at, greater than even the new land, was a new language, the vessel of my flight to vast possibilities.18

It is English, this new language, which does not carry the constraints of Persian and its associations, that gives her the space to recount her story, which eventually becomes her popular memoir. Distanced by time, space, and language from the society that had silenced her, she is free, finally, to shape the boundaries of her own reality. Here, the memoir in English, as opposed to other forms of writing, also becomes important in the process because of what it offers to both the writer and readers. The significance of the autobiographical form in what it offers readers and writers has been the subject of many studies. Suzette Henke’s argument, for example, in Shattered Subjects: Trauma and Testimony and Women’s Life Writing, about the power of memoir will help us understand why the memoir form is significant in the process of gaining voice. She believes that the autobiography form has the “possibility of reinventing the self and reconstructing the subject ideologically influenced by language, history, and social imbrication.”19 The memoir, according to her, “encourages the author/ narrator to reassess the past and to reinterpret the intertextual codes inscribed on personal consciousness by society and culture.”20 This gives the narrator freedom “to rebel against the values and practices of a dominant culture and to assume an empowered position of political agency in the world.”21 This becomes what Henke calls “scriptotherapy”: “the process of writing out and writing through traumatic experiences in the mode of therapeutic reenactment.”22 And it has to do with the very process of writing, the very act of narrativity, which allows the memoir to operate as a therapeutic space of expression. Scriptotheraphy through the process of writing becomes especially powerful for those who have been oppressed: traumatized, tortured, silenced or discriminated against. This is because if we look at the psychology of the oppressed, they have been objectified and their sense of identity and agency taken away from them. One way through which such people can regain that lost sense of agency is through the process of “bearing witness to oppression and subordination.”23 Oliver believes that those affected by this kind of trauma can heal themselves “by taking up a position as speaking

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subjects”24 and being recognized by others as sharing the same human feelings. In this process, the memoir, due to its emphasis on recalling and engaging with personal experiences provides the perfect space through which this kind of recognition can play out. This becomes even a more powerful space of self-reassessment and reinvention when done in a new language. In a new language, the narrators are now forced to distance themselves from the language—the very building block—that had framed and constructed the oppressive space and defined their identity and it also gives the narrators new audiences who can read and acknowledge their shared human experiences. I see this as an important reason for the popularity of the memoir form in English for Iranian writers.25 We also have to keep in mind that the majority of these diasporic Iranian narratives, such as Hakakian’s, are being written in a new country, where as migrants/diasporics the narrators are still new and not fully integrated into their host cultures. The act of writing in the language of the host country, gives them the ability to be heard, and more importantly recognized. This gives the authors a newly gained sense of subjectivity, presence, and agency. We see this clearly in Hakakian’s narrative progression. At first she is reluctant to write about her past because she is traumatized by it and she doesn’t believe in herself. But because she begins to write in English she finds an encouraging audience through her friend, who recognizes her story and voice. It is as the result of this appreciation and recognition through this new language that she gains enough courage to fully delve into writing her internationally acclaimed memoir. This process allows her to eventually regain her subjectivity, and overcome the oppression of silences that she had faced in Iran through silences in Iran and through stereotypes abroad. For fiction writers too, engagement with finding a language that expresses their complicated situation also appears to be a recurring agenda. For instance, this is a clear theme in the writings of Iranian American author Farnoosh Moshiri. In Against Gravity, Roya, a young Iranian single mother, a political activist who had been imprisoned in Iran for her political beliefs, and who has escaped and found her way to America through Afghanistan and India, continuously dreams of the seemingly impossible state of becoming a published writer. She says, Since childhood I’d had two dreams—one to become a physician and the other to write a book. The government took the first dream from me, but the second grew stronger when I lost the first. . . . every night when I closed my eyes to sleep I imagined the shape of my book, its jacket, and my name on it. I didn’t want fame, all I wanted was a book so that would remain in this world, so that I wouldn’t die after my death.26


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However, even though she speaks several languages, this is something she can’t feel she can do in her native language because she was forced to leave Iran in her 20s, and the dominant, often male voices that surrounded her, and her own alternative position, did not give her the sense of security to explore this. She tells us: I felt that I was uprooted and misplaced from home before I’d had a chance to form a solid identity. I wished I had known only my native tongue in a refined way . . . I wrote small, ordinary poems and incomplete, immature sketches, only for myself, and hid them among my clothes, and the idea of publishing a book in the future was a dream as impossible as becoming attractive or eloquent.27

Yet, it is only when she leaves Iran and meets an old Iranian writer in India, who falls in love with her and encourages her, that she begins to write. Until then, she had been reluctant to write. However, once she starts, she can’t stop. She obsessively writes her manuscript throughout her journey under the most difficult of conditions. However, when she reaches America, it suddenly dawns on her that what she is writing is useless because no one can read it or relate to it. However, like Hakakian, it takes some time for her to start writing again in this new language. It is only when she has settled slightly, and found a job that she gains the confidence to start writing in English. Only then she enrolls in a creative writing program where she earns this new creative language with which to narrate and write her memoir anew. This becomes her goal and passion in life, giving her a sense of purpose and a point of identification where she begins to gradually be recognized in her community as a writer. However, in addition to being a means for regaining their voice, this new language is also a way for many Iranian writers to communicate with those in their host country. After the 1979 revolution, millions left Iran and resettled across the globe. The majority of them who arrived in other countries without mastery of the language of their host country, often occupy an ambivalent and marginal space. Like other diasporic communities, they too faced the difficulties of resettlement, exile, and identity crisis. Among those who left, especially those who went to America, many faced a double exile. Besides the difficulties of migration, they also faced the burden of contradictory images which had formed popular Western understandings of pre- and post-revolutionary Iran and its people. While prerevolutionary Iran was idealized as an exotic locale, post-revolutionary Iran reflected a rather negative image for the Western (particularly American) psyche. This is namely due to the tensions that erupted following the American hostage crisis, an ordeal that lasted 444 days beginning in 1979 when a number of Americans were held hostage at the American embassy in Tehran.

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This event, which at the time of its occurrence, and long after, pre-occupied American nightly news, reflected Iranians as terrorists, religious fanatics, and anti-Western. It became the dominant narrative of framework through which the Iranian population was seen. The reverberations of this still continues to affect the way Iranians are seen. This, coupled with the later events of 9/11 and Iran’s ongoing political tensions with the West (particularly over nuclear deals), has generally given Iranian migrants, especially in the early days after the revolution and 9/11, a negative reflection. Consequently Iranians who migrated to America were stereotyped as terrorists and religious fanatics and even at times directly discriminated against. This space into which they arrived has “othered” the Iranian diaspora. It has hampered their integration into the new communities as accepted members of the society. Consequently the negative imagery that surrounded them and their culture rendered them invisible, marginalized, and silenced. In all of this, initially many, like Hakakian and Roya did not have the right linguistic ability or the confidence to communicate or speak against this situation and how they were represented. This meant that many of them were transported from one oppressive context where their voices were taken away from them by the dominant discourse, to another where again they could not speak up confidently and had no voice for themselves against another dominant discourse that was defining them. It would be years before we began to see some serious writing by Iranian writers to emerge in English that presented any kind of counter-narrative in the host country.28 This is because solely mastering the linguistic ability and deciding to communicate in English, even if they have the right intentions, may not be enough for a narrative to be comprehensively told and understood in the new setting. As we all know, language and its employment, as Ngugi also points out, do not exist in the vacuum of perfect mastery of syntax and grammar. If writers solely learn the language without the necessary cultural engagement or reflection, the narratives themselves can become incomprehensible and non-reflective, causing more confusion and distance instead of recognition and assimilation. Moshiri reflects on the dangers of mastering a language as a means of communication but without correct cultural appropriation in a short story “The Story of Our Life,” in her collection the Crazy Dervish and the Pomegranate Tree. Here, an unknown narrator is responding to a letter from a long-lost friend who has been in touch after fifteen years, from Iran, a country they used to call “Dustland.” The narrator responds to his or her friend’s enquiry about not having to become a writer: “In your kind letter . . . you regretted my wasted talent. “You could have become a writer,” you write. “What happened? Why did you stop writing?”


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I never stopped writing, my dear. I’m still writing and will write to the end. [. . .] But . . . I stopped writing in our native language. Lack of contact with our land, the people and the language itself made it impossible for me to continue thinking and writing in our language. It was dead for me. So it took me a good while to master the language of the country I was residing in.29

However, the narrator soon reveals that while he or she wrote obsessively day and night for years, weaving a tall tale that was supposedly the story of his or her life, even though the story is written in English, it becomes so convoluted and complex that it appears incomprehensible and “ambiguous” to publishers, agents, and readers in his or her new setting. Not only this, but the nameless and genderless narrator is also aware that the story of his or her life has changed so much both because of the new language, the culture in which they now live, and because of the passage of the time that it may be unrecognizable even to those who are in it. As they write: I’m writing in a language you do not know, but about a life you’ve lived. In the long process of telling the story, I thought about it, imagined it, dreamed it, and wrote it in so many forms, so many times, that the story changed into something else and I lost the real one altogether. I have created a new story which is not the story of our life and will not stay the way it is.30

This awareness that simply adapting a language and writing in it may be a point of communication but not enough to reflect their proper and personal experiences, in fact, is the cause for much creative engagement with language for diasporic writers. This as Ngugi also argues is because “there is much more to it,” in terms of language being only a means of communication. As he asserts, “communication between human beings is also the basis and process of evolving culture.”31 For diasporic writers to truly reflect their own hybrid condition, which is a crossing between their home and host cultures, they must also manipulate and adapt the language to reflect the hybridity of their newly found culture and sense of identity. This is where language becomes the carrier of culture. Culture is an accumulation of a series of historical and social attributes that have been communicated and passed down generationally. Language plays such an integral part in the way culture is formed and communicated that Ngugi simply calls this complex connection between language as a carrier of culture as “language as culture.” Language as culture has several important aspects, one of which is that it “is as an image-forming agent.”32 This means that our conceptions—of ourselves as a people, individually and of others, collectively—is constructed through those pictures and images. Similarly, our ability to “confront the world creatively is dependent on how

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those images correspond or not to that reality, how they distort or clarify the reality of our struggle.”33 Language as culture then is a mediating factor for every human being. As Ngugi believes, it is the element “between me and my own self, between my own self and other selves; between me and nature.”34 An important aspect of language as culture is that it is specific. This means culture transmits or imparts images and realities through a language. However, this is not universally true, as we saw in the case of Iranian writers in English. The possession or mastery of a language will give voice but does not necessarily mean that certain aspects of a culture are communicated through or understood. As Ngugi argues, “a specific culture is not transmitted through language in its universality but in its particularity as the language of a specific community with a specific history.”35 While language as culture and its transmission might be a straightforward process for people who share a similar and singular history and social background, this is certainly not the case for people who have migrated. For them, theirs is a culture of hybridities and multiplicities of languages, allegiances to different countries, cultures, and histories. They are in the words of Brinda Bose, inhabitants of “that third space, where boundaries are blurred and cultures collide, creating at once a disabling confusing and an enabling complexity.”36 It is a state for cross-contamination, where as Shukla & Shukla observe “the conception of hybridity, of the contaminated and impure space of the migrants, implies the mixing two or more than two and engendering the new.”37 It is the space of “unity in diversity, the existence of many within one.”38 This fertile “bifocal”39 space, inevitably leads to the production of “newness.” A new kind of culture is constructed at the junction of these, sometimes, contrasting, spaces. This “culture” itself thus needs a new language which has to be constructed at the cross-sections of these multiplicities. While those who have been exposed to this situation longer, such as Indian, some Asian, African, and Caribbean writers, have mastered and explored the linguistic and literary possibilities for the expression of this hybrid space, the Iranians, who are relatively new to this condition and still grappling to come to terms with it, seem to have only started their own hybrid linguistic and literary exploration. For the Iranians, this has, consequently, led to the creation of some fascinating intersecting literary spaces. However, just as the singular narrative has the dangers of being understood only by a select few, this intersection too also has the potential to suffer the same fate. Many writers are aware of this, and some approach this very self-consciously, explaining elements for their readers to make their position clear before even commencing their tale. In the body of diasporic Iranian writing in English that I have examined so far, perhaps, no other author does this more poignantly and self-consciously


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than Parvin in his novel-in-verse Dardedel: Rumi, Hafez and Love in New York (2003). Set in New York, it tells the story of an aging Iranian-American academic, Professor Pirooz, who is facing existential questions about his own sense of confused identity, to the point that he goes to an American desert one night to commit suicide. As he pours his heart out to nobody, two cacti plants nearby engage him in conversation: they happen to be the reincarnated and literally deserted Iranian poets Hafez and Rumi. After reconciling with him, Professor Pirooz returns to New York, where Hafez and Rumi also join him but now reincarnated as modern-day New Yorkers who set out to explore and reconstruct themselves as more relevant people in the modern society. Hafez at some point becomes a taxi driver and Rumi reincarnates in a variety of forms including a modern poet. Parvin begins the book very eloquently, knowing the confusion that can already start with the foreign word dardedel in the title. That is why in the very first words of the introduction he asks, “Do you know this Persian word, dardedel?”40 He quickly explains this in plain English: In English we could call it a heart to heart talk, yet a dardedel is so much more than heart to heart, and so much more than talk. Darde means ache. Del means heart. But put together they mean one and another sharing the most private, sincere and important things. Dardedel unchains us from the burdens of our isolation and loneliness. By uniting our soul with another, and our deepest thoughts and feelings are set free, without the shame of judgment or the fear of betrayal. It is this absolute trust that makes dardedel so special and so sacred. This book called Dardedel is my dardedel with you.41

Here, at the outset of the book, Parvin uses this as a launch pad to introduce the hybridity of the novel, and the character of Professor Pirooz. This explanation sets the entire tone of the novel. Readers know that this is a tale that is constructed at the intersection of the Iranian and American cultures and literatures. When Parvin begins the book by asking what dardedel means, he italicizes it, a convention that in English indicates a foreign word. However, once this word is used and explained, he stops using italics. The subtle action of not italicizing the word indicates that he believes that he has educated his readers with this new word and its meaning. It is no longer entirely foreign in the context of the book. It has become part of the vocabulary and the specific culture that the book is representing. But the non-italicization also takes on another dimension. It means he has transplanted one word from Persian into the English language, to the point that it becomes a natural, unquestioned, part within the narrative. But it has

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the potential to go further than that. Since it appears in the title of the book, it becomes engrained in the readers’ mind beyond the book, certainly also raising questions in the minds of those who may not read the book but will look it up and learn its meaning. But the use of this word in this way has greater than a simple semantic reference. It demonstrates an allusion to the hybridity of Professor Pirooz’s sense of identity and opens a portal for offering a new kind of cultural understanding. Professor Pirooz is a man who is extremely confused by his multiple identities and national allegiances. The issues that concern him, which have driven him to near suicide, are the problems that bother most Iranian migrants: a sense of displacement, lack of connection with people in his host country, and the kind of historically driven political hostility that places him in an awkward social situation. More importantly, he feels like he has been disconnected from his Iranian self and cultural connection in his attempt to try to become singularly American to fit in. This is why when the poets, literally deserted in the American landscape (metaphorically showing their redundancy and the fact that they have been forgotten), engage him in conversation they remind him of the other aspects of his identity that he had forgotten in his attempt to fit into the defined American that he had tried so hard to become. However, after a night of dardedel with the poets, having been convinced by them to live for at least another year, Pirooz leaves with a sense of hope brought about by realizing and being reminded of a rich and forgotten cultural background. This encounter re-awakens parts of his Iranian identity that he had suppressed on which he can now draw to construct a new sense of self. What is important to note here, is that Parvin draws upon a very unique aspect of Iranian cultural identity, namely its close connection to a rich literary tradition, to demonstrate this need to acknowledge and celebrate this hybridity. The body of a country’s literature, as Ngugi also argues, is a reflection of that specific culture. As he puts it, “language carries culture, and culture carries, particularly through orature and literature, the entire body of values by which we come to perceive ourselves and our place in the world.”42 In the Persian culture’s exclusive and unique engagement with its literary traditions as a marker of cultural identity, what must be pointed out is the importance of the poetry and figures of Rumi and Hafez. As Parvin also observes in the introduction, “Persians feel at home in poems.” That he uses poetry and poets as a trope for saving Professor Pirooz from death—and revitalizing aspects of his Iranian/home identity—emphasizes the importance of poetry in the Iranian culture for the non-Iranian readers. The introduction of Rumi and Hafez, in this fun and modern way, thus becomes a platform for transmitting cross-cultural understanding through reference to Iranian literary traditions. As mentioned, until recently, much of the dominant and popular understanding and representation of Iran in the


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West had been framed in reference to terrorism, the hostage crises, and political situations. Aside from those who seek out to understand Iranian culture actively, little serious attention has been paid to highlight the building blocks that make up the Iranian culture beyond those terms. In a small way, Parvin’s narrative attempts to open up, and introduce readers to those neglected, yet important aspects of Iranian culture in the West. More importantly, this poetic salvation also points to the necessity of embracing the state of hybridity for the diasporic subject, something that many struggle with as they try to smoothly integrate and blend in their host societies. As Parvin tells us, this is something that he had struggled throughout his own settlement in America, and Professor Pirooz is a reflection of his own condition. In fact he is very self-reflective about this in the introduction of the book as he tells us about his life and the emptiness he felt despite his academic success in the United States. He reveals “as I climbed the academic ladder I felt emptier at each rung. Emptiness, like a cancer of the soul, invaded me, established roots in me, and grew in me.”43 He finds engaging in poetry in the creative way he has said in the book as the antidote to the emptiness. As he tells us: “this book [. . .] is my dardedel with you [. . .] in [it] has been a healing effort—a dardedel free of all literary restrictions, personal fears and pretensions, a dardedel where science and spirituality clash, where modernity and history clash, where the soul of man is mended, if only on paper temporarily.”44 In a sense the entire exercise, both in the way it is written and what it is meant to reflect for readers, can be read as a manifesto for embracing and celebrating this hybrid culture of Iranian diaspora and finding the right language for its explanation. The process of writing it, for the author, appears to be one of extreme ecstasy and embracing of multiplicities of his identity. Parvin says that the entire book is written in verse to honor Hafez and Rumi. To engage with them, “to translate them,” he writes, “I drink their poems until I am intoxicated, then I assume my American identity and write what I’m experiencing.”45 And the outcome is truly reflected in the blending of the two cultures that he inhibits. I realize that I am an accented noise in America. I speak with an accent. I think with an accent. I feel, love, dream, and write with an accent. I am an accent. I will die with an accent. I’ve accepted this condition about myself. Dear reader, please do the same.46

Above are the lines Parvin writes to end the introduction of his book and I think they can be used to also wrap up the issues touched upon in this chapter. I began with an unlikely comparison between an Iranian and Ceylonese poet. Yet, I come back to that comparison now, something that I feel Parvin’s

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words above convey. Throughout this chapter I have examined how through their specific use of language and its dual function as a medium of communication and as a carrier of culture, Iranian writers are reflecting and reconstructing their sense of hybrid identity. However, what needs to be added is that despite their specificity, they are also universally true. That is why when I read Rajendran’s words, about her Ceylonese experience, I identify with it as much as I read the above words by Parvin which is essentially about his Iranian experience. These narratives, aside from being spaces through which the narrators regain their sense of identity through the specific language of English, also become spaces for recognition of similarities—not only by those in the host country, but also by those who occupy a similar situation from different cultural backgrounds. This is because these kinds of narratives—narrated through the common language of English, but demonstrating the specific hybrid culture of people in diaspora—open up a space of recognition of similarities. As Oliver reminds us, a significant part in the process of regaining subjectivity is recognition and being recognized by those who previously did not recognize or only saw a group in light of a series of stereotypes. Recognition here is about providing a space for human connection where “when he can see something familiar in that other, for example, when he can see that the other is a person too.”47 Narratives like the ones examined above, through a common language, contribute to this space of understanding by opening up and celebrating the shared experiences, and highlighting beautifully the unique aspects of diasporic cultures. NOTES 1. Ceylonese refers to Singaporeans of Sri Lankan origin whose ancestors came to Singapore before the independence of the island. In Singapore, Ceylonese / Sri Lankans occupy an interesting space and are referred to as Others or Indians. 2. Susanne Pari, The Fortune Catcher (New York: Warner Books, 1997), 421. 3. Joel Kuortti, Writing Imagined Diaspora: South Asian Women ReshapingNorth American Identity (New Castle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2007), 3. 4. Makarand Paranjape, “Writing Across Boundaries: South Asian Diasporas and Homelands.” In Diaspora and Multiculturalism: Common Traditions and New Developments, edited by Monika Fludernik (Amersterdam: Rodopi, 2003), 239. 5. Bill Ashcroft, Caliban’s Voice: The Transformation of English in Post-colonial Literatures (New York: Routledge, 2009), 1. 6. Ibid., 1–2. 7. Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Decolonzing the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature (London: James Curry, 1981), 13. 8. Bill Ashcroft, Caliban’s Voice: The Transformation of English in Post-colonial Literatures. (New York: Routledge, 2009), 3.


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9. Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Decolonzing the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature (London: James Curry, 1981), 13. 10. Kelly Oliver, Witnessing: Beyond Recognition (London: University of Minnesota Press, 2001), 4. 11. Bill Ashcroft, Caliban’s Voice: The Transformation of English in Post-colonial Literatures (New York: Routledge, 2009), 42. 12. Farzaneh Milani, Veils and Words: The Emerging Voices of Iranian Women Writers (Syracuse: University of Syracuse Press, 1992), 1. 13. Ibid., 1. 14. Ibid., 2. 15. Nasrin Rahimieh, “Marking gender and difference in the myth of the nation: a post-revolutionary Iranian film.” In The New Iranian Cinema: Politics, Representation and Identity (London: I.B. Tauris, 2002), 238. 16. Roya Hakakian, Journey from the Land of No (Auckland: Bantam, 2004), 13. 17. Ibid. 18. Ibid., 15. 19. Suzette Henke, Shattered Subjects: Trauma and Testimony in Women’s Lifewriting. (New York: St Martin’s Press, 2000): xvi. 20. Ibid., xii. 21. Ibid., xii. 22. Ibid., xvi. 23. Kelly Oliver, Witnessing: Beyond Recognition (London: University of Minnesota Press, 2001), 4. 24. Ibid., 7. 25. I deal with the importance of the memoir in depth elsewhere in my book, The Literature of the Iranian Diaspora: Meaning and Identity since the Islamic Revolution. See in particular the chapter entitled “The Memoir.” 26. Farnoosh Moshiri, Against Gravity (London: Penguin Books, 2005), 119. 27. Ibid., 113. 28. Although Iranians began to migrate in large numbers in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Iranian writing in English did not really become visible as a body of work, for nearly two decades, until the early 2000s and onward when we began to see the first wave of Iranian women’s memoirs emerge in the Western/English speaking market. 29. Farnoosh Moshiri, “The Story of Our Life.” In The Crazy Dervish and the Pomegranate Tree (Washington: Heron Press, 2004), 117. 30. Ibid., 121. 31. Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Decolonzing the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature (London: James Curry, 1981), 14. 32. Ibid., 15. 33. Ibid. 34. Ibid. 35. Ibid. 36. Brinda Bose, “Footnoting History: The Diasporic Imagination of Amitav Ghosh.” In In Diaspora, edited by Makarand Paranjape (New Delhi: Indialog, 2001), 239.

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37. Sheobhushan Shukla, & Shukla Anu. (eds), Migrant Voices in Literatures in English (New Delhi: Sarup & Sons, 2006), 5. 38. Ibid. 39. Ibid. 40. Manucher Parvin, Dardedel: Rumi, Hafez and Love in New York (New York: Permanent Press, 2003), 5. 41. Ibid. 42. Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Decolonzing the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature (London: James Curry, 1981), 14. 43. Manucher Parvin, Dardedel: Rumi, Hafez and Love in New York (New York: Permanent Press, 2003), 10. 44. Ibid. 45. Ibid. 46. Ibid. 47. Kelly Oliver, Witnessing: Beyond Recognition (London: University of Minnesota Press, 2001), 9.

REFERENCES Ashcroft, Bill. Caliban’s Voice: The Transformation of English in Post-colonial Literatures. New York: Routledge, 2009. ———. Gareth Griffiths and Helen Tiffin. The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Post-Colonial Literature. London: Routledge, 1994. Bose, Brinda. “Footnoting History: The Diasporic Imagination of Amitav Ghosh,” In In Diaspora, edited by Makarand Paranjape. New Delhi: Indialog, 2001. Farman-Farmanian, Sattareh. Daughter of Persia: A Woman’s Journey from her Father’s Heram through the Islamic Revolution. Auckland: Corgi press, 1992. Hakakian, Roya. Journey from the Land of No. Auckland: Bantam, 2004. Henke, Suzette. Shattered Subjects: Trauma and Testimony in Women’s Life-writing. New York: St Martin’s Press, New York, 2000. Kuortti, Joel. Writing Imagined Diaspora: South Asian Women Reshaping North American Identity. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing 2007. Milani, Farzaneh. Veils and Words: The Emerging Voices of Iranian Women Writers. Syracuse: University of Syracuse Press, 1992. Moshiri, Farnoosh. Against Gravity. London: Penguin Books. ———. 2004. “The Story of Our Life,” In The Crazy Dervish and the Pomegranate Tree. Washington: Heron Press, 2005. Ngugi wa Thinongo. Decolonzing the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature. London: James Curry, 1981. Oliver, Kelly. Witnessing: Beyond Recognition. London: University of Minnesota Press, 2001. Paranjape, Makarand. 2003. “Writing Across Boundaries: South Asian Diasporas and Homelands.” In Diaspora and Multiculturalism: Common Traditions and New Developments, edited by Monika Fludernik. Amsterdam : Rodopi, 2001.


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Pari, Susanne. The Fortune Catcher. New York: Warner Books, 1997. Parvin, Manucher. Dardedel: Rumi, Hafez and Love in New York. New York: Permanent Press, 2003. Rahimieh, Nasrin. “Marking gender and difference in the myth of the nation: a postrevolutionary Iranian film,” In The New Iranian Cinema: Politics, Representation and Identity. London: I.B. Tauris, 2002. Rajendran, Charlene. “So Mush of Me.” Mangosteen Crumble, May 8, 2009. http://, 1999. Sabri-Tabrizi, Gholam Reza. Iran: A Child’s Story, a Man’s Experience. New York: International Publishers, 1989. Shukla, Sheobhushan & Anu Shukla (eds). Migrant Voices in Literatures in English. New Delhi: Sarup & Sons, 2006.

Chapter 5

Cultural Hermeneutics Andrei Codrescu as “The Romanian who translated himself into an American” Christene D’Anca

Hermes stole Apollo’s cattle. He performed the act with such stealth as to remain undetected, and only after using pieces of one of the animals to create the lyre was he found out, but the instrument impressed Apollo so much, he forgave Hermes in return for the instrument. Shortly after, Hermes invented the lyre that left Apollo equally impressed, who bartered his golden staff for the instrument. When the staff proved to be an inadequate payment, Apollo instructed Hermes where to go in order to learn augury. To further aid in the reconciliation process Zeus bid Hermes to cease lying, stealing, and cheating, to which Hermes replied: “I will be responsible for the safety of all divine property, and never tell lies, though I cannot promise always to tell the whole truth.”1 The entirety of Hermes and Apollo’s relationship was founded upon theft, deception, barter, and negotiation. Arguably, all of these telling traits constitute translation, an amalgamation of ever elusive concepts that negate a fixed definition, but which are relied upon, like the ancient messenger, to faithfully relay messages, even if not the whole truth. Hermeneutics is derived from the god Hermes,2 and considering his various roles, he is the ideal representative for a theoretical model dependent on reason to decipher the truth of an exchange.3 As a go-between among men and Gods he is the unequivocal translator of both language and culture, altering his messages to encompass linguistic comprehension, but, more importantly, to make sense to the receiver. In other words, engaging in translation requires the translator to know the meanings of words in a foreign language,4 while also being familiar with the foreign belief system. Hermes was allowed such a slippage by virtue of his hybridity, along with his mythological status. Pure translation, however, is rarely orchestrated with the same exactitude, as will be evinced through Andrei Codrescu who found himself in the United States at the age of nineteen, in 1966, in order to spend the next fifty years of his 79


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life translating not just words, but experiences, and arguably an entire culture. Jacques Derrida’s attack on logocentrism5 rightly asserts that meaning can never be guaranteed, and there is no central hub for absolute reality, making it difficult to simply glide across translation in order to construct meaning for another. Accordingly, Derrida also states “Il n’y a pas de hors-texte.”6 There are no outside texts specifically because our world is governed by texts that are in turn used to define it, and which are just as unstable as that which they delineate. Language is always inside, as an all-encompassing and inclusive entity. Further, language ex officio defines everything, in that as soon as a thought has occurred, a way of communicating it, a form of language constructed by words per se, is devised. However, just as there are “no ideas but in things,”7 words are not born ex nihilo, but rather through a Faustian understanding in which “In the beginning was the deed!”8 It is physical space that orders the universe, not the words used to describe it, but ultimately, words wield greater power because they grant access to everything that is physically encountered, providing a means for it to be understood. As such, words can be posited as sturdier than the things they represent. However, ideas, words, and things all lack a means of being truly conceptualized due to their constant shifting and ambiguous nature, providing the underpinnings for translation as endless chains of interpretation in which words refer to other words, almost infinitely approaching a transmission of cultural values. It is prima facie plausible to postulate Heidegger’s ontological conceptualization of the hermeneutical circle9 as a logical means of interpreting the distinction between language and culture, in which the two components integral to the art of translation are inextricable, creating a closed methodology within the practice. In short, according to this model, language must be contextualized socially, culturally, and historically, or otherwise it fails to be understood. Such an interpretation is not wrong, but does not account for the structurally intrinsic open-ended nature of translation in which the negotiations necessary to reach equilibrium between the source and target languages can be achieved outside the circular model. In fact, translation often occurs best from an Othered perspective that can underscore the idiosyncrasies borne by culture and language as opposed to unflinchingly internalizing them. Consequently, Western culture harbors a deep-seated connection between translation and migration’s more forceful counterpart, exile, harkening back to the mythical tower of Babel. Even as the creation of a motely of languages did not ultimately prohibit communication, translation served as a means for navigating the linguistic confusion, but did not necessarily provide an incontestable solution. However, translation must not be regarded as a consolation for another, incomplete state of communication. On the contrary, the everdesperate human need for contact has bred numerous creative branches for the transmission of ideas, allowing for multiple means of conveying similar

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ones. Regardless of its origin, translation has been incredibly fruitful linguistically and culturally. As regular results of migration and exile, translators become wordsmiths in search for a new medium, and the process undergone is often obfuscated in favor of the end result that rests atop an artificial, unblemished patina that hides the translator’s original linguistic blunderings. As such, the movement inherent within migration suffers “the stigma of spatial dislocation that it is the historian's task to remove from history,”10 much like it is the translator’s task to remove from text. In other words, inconsistencies must be eliminated in order for the product to be perceived as polished. However, this is rarely the case, and even the most edited text bears the emblem of its maker, underscoring the peculiarities of translation as it displays them through its distinct means of articulation that remain laden with ethnographic traces, furnishing a newly translated text with novel methods of description, and new critical sensibilities. For Andrei Codrescu, exile and translation are also inextricable. Cultural and linguist translations are often dichotomized, and accordingly dealt with separately. However, for Codrescu, translation is surreal—a catacomb for Suassurean theory where not only can the signifier and signified never meet, but the signifier is in perpetual motion, taking on a dynamic role that negates its very existence. Through translation the signifier ultimately refuses to cooperate even in its most miniscule task of meaning something, simply by virtue of often times being unable to mean anything. There exists the erroneous assumption that a phrase from the source language can be recoverable in the target language, but it cannot.11 Translation does not facilitate understanding, but rather superficially masks its absence. It relies on an alchemy of words in which the translator can perform the necessary linguistic sorcery to convert one language into another, often more desirable one. The best alchemy converts so well as to leave no traces of the original, and through this replacement initial meaning and comprehension are lost, while altogether new means of communication spring forth to fill the gap in understanding. Nevertheless, the process always necessitates a loss, even when it can, at least in part, become recuperated through tracing the words to some simulacrum of an origin. The Romanian language, much like most others, has undergone numerous changes since the third century, but it has uniquely chosen which facets of its mutations it would retain. It has gone from its Dacian beginnings to Latin, and never looked back, to this day remaining the only country within Eastern Europe to claim a Latinized language.12 Even as it retained some of its roots, and introduced Slavic words, the language betrayed the country’s autochthonous predilections, and consequently clung to its initial wave of change in which the Dacian people warmly welcomed their Roman conquerors who


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appealed to their senses and with whom they willingly and deliberately intermingled, creating the Latin-based Romanian language, culture, and society.13 However, in Romanian recent history, specifically the Communist era, there were those who were either unwilling to continue living in Romania and immigrated in order to escape the totalitarian regime, or who were exiled involuntarily. Generally these exoduses lead Romanian writers, poets, and artists into Western countries such as France, Italy, Spain, and Portugal. Yet many others migrated to the United States that unlike the aforementioned countries did not possess a fully Latinized language. With the small pre-, and larger post-Communist era migration into the United States, the alchemy of translation began, bringing into question whether it has ever ended. Codrescu provides a contemporary example of how it has not. He continues to imbue the English language with the distinct flavor of Eastern Europe, never having abandoned his native ways of conceptualizing the world, which consequently affect the ways in which he uses language. Much like Thackeray’s masks and mirrors,14 Codrescu’s reflections are twofold; he brings to the forefront of his American audience the intricacies of his Romanian heritage while simultaneously relying upon his estrangement as a measure of distance in order to provide his readers with fresh perspectives of themselves. “A Petite Histoire of Red Fascism”15 effectively uses Western notions of communism and blends them with the reality of Codrescu’s communist past in order to detail the plight of the people living under the regime in terms that an audience outside those confines would understand. However, when ascribing doxastic logic upon another, the results are laden with assumptions. A translator can only ever approximate how another culture inhabits its language, and so translation is at best asymptotic. Codrescu approaches cultural translation by appealing to an American society that is highly invested in its individuality by portraying those from within communism as entities who are identified: only by their masks of inert proletarian matter.16 He inverts the familiar fear of the Other and transposes it upon the self. The people he brings to life in his poem have become so demoralized as to no longer respond to the most basic essence of humanity, the self, that is at the crux of the building blocks for larger concepts such as self-fulfillment, and more importantly, self-preservation. The American emphasis on the self is brought to the forefront as the individual’s status in the communist society is affronted by its clear extraction; the capitalized “Nobody and Not Self” brings into focus the individual’s absence. The blurring of faces into the masses urges a

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Western audience to examine their initial reactions to the imagery of automaton statue-like citizens. The erasure performed on the self in the East helps elucidate the importance of the self in the West. At the point that Codrescu finds himself spatially reconfigured, he appropriates the language most representative of his liminality, using translation as the sand that fills the gap between the rock of his birth, and that of his current nation-state. The bridge will never solidify and will constantly need patching. Yet, while permeating deeper into the American culture, shedding various husks of past identities, his newfound persona does not penetrate to his core, allowing his translation to exist as a subtle reminder of his origin, a literary return to a homeland from which he was exiled, and to which he no longer wishes to physically return. He evokes the “inert masses” to once again juxtapose his ossified past and his current audience that is comprised of a society preoccupied with life and movement. Those in the former regime who were lumped together are only ever allowed freedom long enough to “respond to questioning.”17 Individualization is a state-controlled activity, and free speech, a cornerstone of American society, is doled out in rations when it suits the state apparatus. The newly molded individual who has been broken away from a larger malleable clump is further contorted, like putty, to respond to questions. The individual echoes the state endorsed vox populi as if it were truth, confirming what had already been affirmed from the top down. Like a grade-school child plucked from his fellow classmates, he stands in front of the instructor regurgitating the day’s lessons as is expected of him, awaiting his release back into the fold where he may join the silence and inertia of the rest. Unlike for a grade-school child, here the punishment for misspeaking is direr. Translation in this instance occurs on multiple levels. For those born in a country that was borne from an ideology that brought about a world changing revolution, the image of inert masses adhering to a totalitarian regime seems unfathomable. Yet, as a result of American history, the tides of revolution that were about to overtake Eastern Europe are all the more apparent throughout the poem, inspiring simultaneous sentiments of gratefulness for no longer being in that position, and a sense of foresight of what is yet to come. Translation becomes complete when East and West blend their history and their present, enabling the reader to gloss over any intrusive concepts that might otherwise jut out like native words casually trickled throughout conversation in a foreign language, refusing assimilation. Codrescu’s facility with creating this work demonstrates his slippage into the American persona, in essence translating himself through the power of language which allows him to interrogate his birth country from the position of an outsider. His words inflict the same investigatory presence upon his native nation that it inflicts upon its citizens. He is the Other at home and abroad.


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No longer threatened by the regime, Codrescu is free to make evident the choreographed falsity coursing through the system in which interrogation “generates enough energy” and “excitement” to prompt those at the top to pay attention to the masses just long enough to maintain the appearance of a “twolevel discourse,” even during a single-sided conversation—the masses will never actually be heard, and no one is under the illusion that it is otherwise.18 In other words, the masses are being granted lip service alone, and they are fully aware of their situation. Roles were designated at birth, and everyone knew their part. State-run interrogations depended on the participants to either ask the correct questions or provide the recited answers, which in turn fueled further jubilation that achieved little but demonstrated rehearsed exuberance for the government. These interactions repeated frequently enough to fully translate the already inert body of citizens into an amorphous clod of programmed denizens. The masses adhered to their proletariat existence and the government partook in a self-congratulatory frenzy. To immortalize the success of such government programs those in power commissioned commemorative structures to be strewed throughout the various cities, which were accordingly built by the same population whose submissiveness was being celebrated.19 The physical space has been altered by communism,20 leaving a bad taste in Codrescu’s mouth as he watched from afar what was happening to his country. Beginning in 1974 large demolition and reconstruction projects began taking place throughout Eastern Europe in which centuriesold buildings, the infrastructures of European architecture, were ultimately bulldozed in order to create massive block housing and more utilitarian buildings. Romania was not exempt from the destruction, and many towns and cities throughout the country suffered this architectural translation. Many of the more large-scale projects would be abandoned following the fall of communism in 1989, but the consequences of their initial existence would not be erased. Perhaps the most self-indulgent example of such construction is the ironically named Palatul Poporului, or the House of the People, the pet project that would require the leveling of eight square kilometers of historic land in the center of Bucharest, and the eradication of numerous medieval structures with historical relevance, including three monasteries, twenty churches, three synagogues, two theaters, and a more modern Art Deco sports stadium.21 Far from benefiting from the overly elaborate 1100-room structure that was supposedly dedicated to the masses, tens of thousands of people were displaced with little or no notice, and the country was impoverished for years as the bills for erecting this monument were unsustainably enormous. The sentiments that surged throughout the country in the face of these urbanization projects entered the dynamic of how the people viewed their

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situations, and became the matter that Codrescu tried to translate for a Western public. These efforts were directly juxtaposed with the structures typically celebrated in America such as the White House, the Statue of Liberty, and overall westward expansion that provided large numbers of inhabitants with homes. In the event his approach had been too subtle in “A Petite Histoire,” Codrescu addresses the issue and his position on it more directly in “Mnenogasoline” in which he names the dictator, Ceauşescu who had oppressed countless citizens. As those Ceauşescu had enslaved for decades await his arrival in hell, he remains unmoved by their plight in death as in life, and he was ordering the demolition of the ancient capital to make room for statues of himself. A sixteenth-century church gave way to a badly executed bronze head.22 Despite having left Romania well before most of the destruction had begun, Codrescu feels the communal rage of his “mutual country” that he had shared with those who had to endure the hardships of a totalitarian regime, watching their heritage be systematically destroyed. The masses from “A Petite Histoire” are seen here angrily enacting revenge for the acts of destruction they were coerced to commit, nolens volens participating in the eradication of their own territory. Like zombies, the masses used their hands to create vile structures for and with the “badly executed” brass. Codrescu would not be an accessory to these grand thefts of culture. Thus the conversation continues, and he has not yet ceased to situate the many instances of subjugation experienced by Romanians within his repertoire of translations. Further, Codrescu cannot acknowledge himself without positioning his existence in context with his past. He understands the ways of identity as he writes: “My mind grew too big for the Balkans” said Tzara. The mind is a rapacious beast whose appetites outgrow geography. Freedom is a greedy appetite of the mind . . . . This hunger is at the core of poetic exile, its need to establish an atemporal, a-special identity capable of taking on all the temporality and localities of its habitations.23

The mind is not fettered geographically, but it is rooted temporally and physically, hence the poet’s need to constantly search for an atemporal atmosphere that would allow for a divide between the self and the self’s surroundings. He wishes to find a common language in which the past and present can communicate. The most effective way of attempting to define the elusive “I” is to trace its origin and excavate its past. In other words, Codrescu cannot translate himself without translating the history that created him. Ludwig Wittgenstein interrogates whether such translation can occur while Jean-François Lyotard answers with a definitive no and Codrescu continues to strive.


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Nevertheless, even as Codrescu looks away from the possibility of permanently living in Romania, or anywhere else in Europe, he endeavors to communicate his previous experiences and memories. Walter Benjamin, via Henri Bergson, reminds readers of the antithetical relationship between the vita activa and vita contemplativa,24 paralleling a Saussurean reading in which language and culture become tangled in the discrepancy between signifier and signified, each failing to fully demonstrate the other. Codrescu’s attempt at recounting experiences or memories using language can thus seem futile. In a Faustian sense, the word, or the vita contemplativa is a mere form of artifice for the deed, the root of agency, unable to define it, much less to convert it. Praxis finds no shelter in translation. Still, focusing solely on translation’s product becomes problematic as it negates the complicated path that allows for the full transference of ideas. Even with the aforementioned well established conventions that position translation as a result of a synchronous understanding of language and society, it still often reflects its Latin roots in which translatus literally means to “carry across,” depicting translation as a ferryboat merrily transporting words from one language to another while ignoring the conditions of the water it finds itself in. When translation is equated to a simple transfer of words that hold similar contextual and cultural meanings, it is not enough. For example, a qualifying statement might be needed when translating Shakespeare’s “Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?” for use in Iceland, despite the large number of English speakers. Similarly, the House of the People has often been compared to the Pentagon in size, and the Versailles in appearance and function, but both of these bear positive references, and while the connections are not wrong, they do not convey the horrific ramifications of the structure that served as a death knell of an entire nation for the better part of a decade. These are the finer nuances and details of translation with which Codrescu works, molding not just language, but its most arbitrary elements to fully deliver meaning; sometimes his poetry needs to be surreal or abstract in order to convey his message. When he cannot fully convey an idea, his vagueness allows for his audience to interjecting their own ideologies into his work. Codrescu does not lie, but artistically reports only the most essential aspects necessary to translation. Thus the art of translation does not reside within the exactitude of word transference, but in the process of arriving there, and the response it elicits from its audience. After all, when words are spoken, it is not the words that become the center of attention, but rather the things they mean.25 Codrescu, through various formats, recreates the Other in the form of a tangible concept in the desired language, namely English. He constructs Eastern Europe in terms of Western understanding. Much like Goethe’s Faust

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who operates in a similar manner, opening with a well-known passage from the Gospel of John, Codrescu also conjures translation while relying on its instances of familiarity to guide his work into rendering the new. By splaying open the inner workings of his craft he makes visible the process in order to soften the blow of the finished product. Thus, the demonstration of the train of thought involved in the transition between the source language and the target language mediates the assault potentially performed upon an unsuspecting reader unfamiliar with a work’s ontological origins. Such an act constitutes a total deconstruction of the original, and its subsequent restructuring in a new territory that is not always suited to receive it, rendering the original unfaithful to the translation.26 The conceptual inversion of the conventionally understood relationship between original and translation indicates the ways in which both members are displaced in the process. The original’s entrance into the translated world comes with the responsibility of seamlessly fitting in, which it cannot do, and thus deprives the translation of it a perfect matching puzzle pieces. Nevertheless the translated, transferred, ferried original is present, rebuilt from its previous position, and cannot be ignored. It stands erect, forever altering the skyline of its new language and culture, becoming a part of it as it simultaneously introduces parts of its old self. While one of language’s greatest shortcomings is its inability to fully describe the world, this example should make apparent that it is a mistake to separate the world from the language used to describe it. They are one and the same, but unfortunately language, and by extension translation, muddles the pure conveyance of thought.27 Without proposing any Wittgensteinian, Russell-inspired solutions to the translation conundrum, such as Wittgenstein’s infamous picture-theory in which he proposed that every object has a word attached, and language simply mirrors the world, or that translation is a language-game to be played, and if all the rules are followed translation occurs, this paper only concedes that translation’s irrevocable existence, and necessity, must be acknowledged. ***

One of the central tenets of translation is its desire to be understood. Desire depends upon lack wherein desire fulfilled is desire suspended. Desire is also a drive in that each time a facet of it is fulfilled, it shifts, and always demands. Deleuze and Guattari position desire as a trap.28 The desire for accurate translation traps the translator in a labyrinth of edits and rewrites, constantly attempting to ameliorate his work, reaching for some pure form of expression in denial that it simply does not exist. Andrei Codrescu has evaded this trap, as evidenced in his interview with Josh Cook for Bookslut in 2012, in which he stated “the words in your head cannot be archived by


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any known means.”29 Thus for him the barrier to translation is not language, but rather the impossibility of transferring words from the mind to the outside world. Further, Codrescu believes, with Roman Jakobson, in a primordial Ur-language from which all others are derived, rendering the concept of polyglotism to the genre of fiction because in his reality “everyone can speak every language [. . . and] when my writing works well you can hear the hum of that Ur-language in every sentence.”30 Codrescu has prolifically explored his personal translation into an American, constantly reexamining the various manifestations of his new persona with an emphasis on the process of arriving to it. He operates in a Proustian accordance with Deleuze’s observation in which: Combray reappears, not as it was or as it could be, but in a splendor which was never lived, like a pure past which finally reveals its double irreducibility to the two presents which it telescopes together: the present that it was, but also the present which it could be.31

Codrescu translates his experiences ex post facto, as could not have been conceptualized at the time of his, albeit brief, subjugation. Moreover, he writes a past, and consequent present, for others in ways in which they can only process after a healthy dose of confabulation. His trajectory from communist expatriot to American citizen is, by virtue of translation, fabricated. Codrescu understands the end goal, and works backward in order to produce the desired objective. His Romanian Combray capitalizes on the amounts of familiarity and nostalgia needed to incite interest from an audience, and he delivers a calculated ration of translatable qualities. He uses his words to build a bridge between cultures, and languages, and his corpus of works attests to the varied paths he has taken toward defining his American self; there is no authoritative work that takes precedence over the others in demonstrating Codrescu’s prowess with cultural alchemy. When he received the proposal to film a documentary that would take him zigzagging across the United States in a car à la Kerouac’s On the Road, he immediately perceived a new opportunity for translation, stating “here was a chance for me to transform myself once more, to begin again. I love being born again.”32 He looks to the present always as a result of the past, understanding that translation is dependent upon the relationship between the two. Further, even as he understands the impossibility of his quest, he is nevertheless driven by the desire to achieve a perfect translation, constantly redeveloping his persona in search for the epitome of what it means to be American. The documentary offered Codrescu the prospect to hone his “specialty” through participating in a project unlike any he had worked on before, while also discovering, at close range, numerous versions of an American self. He

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embraced the road trip as a symbol for his connection to the other, seemingly more authentic Americans such as Henry Miller, John Steinbeck, or Jack London who had undergone the same rhizomatic journey. Codrescu translated himself by stepping into the footprints of noteworthy predecessors, while his sui generis translation offered a flagrant yet humorous commentary of his findings, once again informed by his origins. Codrescu is never unaware to his ever-present impediment to translation in which his self-creation, or recreation, is only ever a facsimile of truth. As he continues his translation across America he makes his way to Las Vegas, a trademark of American indulgence, and after partaking in the typical activities, he visits a cookie-cutter wedding chapel that specializes in the slow destruction of the institution it professes to uphold, or at the very least get underway. The experience is likened to having entered the conveyor belt to an expedited American Dream. As he forages for the distinctly American aspects of the chapel, he recounts how the receptionist “whispers to me that she’s a Polish writer working here for her book on America. She’s undercover, like everyone else, it seems to me. In America we are all aliens with very obvious accents working undercover for the American Dream.”33 The receptionist provides a prime example of how the translated identity is never singular, but always comprising a hybridization of two or more cultures to make sense of itself. Moreover, she makes evident the self-awareness necessary for her pursuit in which she acknowledges her separation from a fully Americanized life, and identifies herself as a perpetual outsider. If the words spoken do not draw attention to the speaker’s heritage, the way they are spoken does. The slightest inconsistency can be easily perceived, but luckily Codrescu does not endeavor to partake in a universally acknowledged activity that essentially relies on assimilating the self to fit in with the masses. Translation can be compared to Codrescu’s depictions of previous experiences with the proletariat in which the circular patterns of society are evinced, and from which translation does not serve as an escape, but a reminder of what was. In this sense translation is used to create uniformity. However, he is not replicating the same behaviors he vehemently protested against in his attempts at translating himself into an American. According to Walter Benjamin: Our translations, even the best ones, proceed from a wrong premise. They want to turn Hindi, Greek, English into German instead of turning German into Hindi, Greek, English. Our translators have a far greater reverence for the usage of their own language than for the spirit of the foreign works.34

By refusing linguistic subjugation and insisting on maintaining his individuality, Cordrescu succeeds in translating himself into another version that can


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strive in a new land. Assimilation is generally the goal when entering a new territory, and Codrescu does so by knowingly, or not, adhering to Benjamin’s prescriptions for proper translations that does not favor one language over another in which the target language plays host to a translation as long as it behaves itself and follows the house rules, but rather in which a target language engages with its guest, sharing in the task of conveying a message. Codrescu’s linguistic alchemy does not turn lead into gold—it melts both and creates an alloy. ***

Translation, however, is not a solitary activity. To translate is to enter a realm in which millions of people already exist and to seduce them into comprehending a foreign work and accompanying ideology through a makeshift lens created specifically to replicate their understanding of the world. Codrescu translates himself specifically by highlighting the differences. Contradictions between his depictions and the larger landscape for which they were created are noted, but not resolved. He does not mask the disparity between the environment in which he was raised and that in which he is attempting to assimilate, but rather feeds off of the incongruity in order to present a unique persona that is both relatable, yet perceived as quixotic. He draws in his audience by not handing them what they would most easily understand, but rather by building a mystery of self; his work is understandable just enough to not alienate while still maintaining an adequate distance to pique curiosity and motivate his audience to want to translate for themselves. Thus translation bears its true scope as a bridge between ideas where the two sides meet in the middle. Codrescu pushes his thoughts forward until the midpoint where he must relinquish control in order for the other side to take over and drag the translation onto foreign shores. These transported ideas become resuscitated accordingly and take up residence in their new land, blending in and pulling out, imparting knowledge, and leaving behind slivers of their former selves. Hermes’s childhood antics translated into a relationship between himself and Apollo, a greater understanding of interpersonal dynamics, and a lesson that would set perimeters for future activities. He mediated Zeus’s directive with his own caveat, adjusting his boundaries accordingly. The episode of cattle theft and subsequent translation of cattle into lyre, with its ensuing exchange of things, ideas, and words, affected all parties involved. In short, translation disrupts the self, and the other. Andrei Codrescu, through his unwavering effort of finding a place for himself in America, without completely molting his identity, has molded translation to his benefit. Like the Dacians who declared themselves Roman while being unable to exterminate all of their Slavic roots, Codrescu has accentuated the intricacies of

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translation as he wholeheartedly affirmed himself as an American, with a thick Romanian accent and Eastern European quirks. NOTES 1. David Adams Leeming, Ed., The World of Myth (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), p. 165. 2. Ernest Klein, A complete etymological dictionary of the English language: dealing with the origin of words and their sense development, thus illustrating the history of civilization and culture (Oxford: Elsevier Press, 2000), p. 344; and David Couzen Hoy, The Critical Circle (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981). 3. Jean Grondin, Introduction to Philosophical Hermeneutics (Yale University Press, 1994). 4. The implication is that along with word meaning, the translator also understands word order, the principles of grammar, among all other intricacies of the language. 5. Jacques Derrida, “Linguistics and Grammatology,” Of Grammatology, Trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976), pp. 27–73. 6. Jacques Derrida, “The exorbitant question of method,” Of Grammatology, Trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976), pp. 157–164. 7. William Carlos Williams, “Paterson,” The Cambridge Introduction to Twentieth-Century American Poetry, Ed. Christopher Beach (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003). 8. J. W. Goethe, Faust, Trans. Walter Arndt, Ed. Cyrus Hamlin (New York: Norton and Company, 2001), line 889. 9. Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, Trans. J. Macquarrie and E. Robinson (New York: Harper & Row, 1962). 10. Michel Foucault, Archeology of Knowledge and Discourse on Language, Trans. A. M. Sheridan Smith (New York: Pantheon Books, 1972), Introduction. 11. Jean-François Lyotard, The Differend: Phrases in Dispute (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988). 12. Alexandru Niculescu, Outline History of the Romanian Language (Bucharest, Romania: Editura Științifică și Enciclopedică, 1981), p. 16. 13. Constantin Giurescu, The Making of the Romanian People and Language (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1972), p. 98. 14. William Mackpeace Thackeray creates drawings to illustrate social themes (most notably in Vanity Fair), using masks and mirrors as props for his characters to demonstrate his ability to strip away deception. For a more in-depth discussion, see Judith Fisher, “Image versus Text in the Illustrated Novels of William Makepeace Thackeray,” Victorian Literature and the Victorian Visual Imagination, Eds. Carol T. Christ and John O. Jordan (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), pp. 60–87.


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15. Andrei Codrescu, “A Petite Histoire of Red Fascism,” Comrade Past & Mister Present (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Coffee House Press, 1986), pp. 102–103. 16. Ibid. 17. Ibid. 18. Ibid. 19. Ibid. 20. J. M. Diefendorf, “Urban Reconstruction in Europe after World War II,” Urban Studies 26, no. 1 (February 1989): 128–143. 21. Lidia Anania, et al., Bisericile osândite de Ceaușescu. București, 1977–1989, (Bucharest: Editura Anastasia, 1995). 22. Andrei Codescu, “Mnemogasoline,” Belligerence, Poems, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Coffee House Press, 1991), p. 49. 23. Andrei Codrescu, The Disappearance of the Outside: a Manifesto for Escape, (Massachusetts: Addison Wesley Publishing, 1990), p. 55. 24. Walter Benjamin, Illuminations, Trans. Harry Zohn (New York: Schocken, 1969), p. 154. 25. Jean-François Lyotard, Discours, Figur (Paris: Klinksieck, 1973). 26. This is a direct reference to Borges' quote “The original is unfaithful to the translation,” in regards to Henley's translation of Beckford's Vathek. 27. Ludwig Wittgenstein, “Some Remarks on Logical Form,” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society Supplement 9 (1929): 162–171. 28. Gilles Deleuze, with Félix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus, Trans. Robert Hurley, et al., (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1992), p. 170. 29. Josh Cook, “An Interview with Andrei Codrescu,” Bookslut Online Journal, Features (December 2012). 30. Ibid. 31. Gilles Deleuze with Félix Guattari, Difference and Repetition, Trans. Paul Patton, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), p. 85. 32. Andrei Codrescu, Road Scholar: Coast to Coast Late in the Century (New York: Hyperion, 1993), p. xiv. 33. Ibid., p. 176. 34. Walter Benjamin, “The Task of the Translator: An Introduction to the Translation of Baudelaire's Tableaux Parisiens,” The Translation Studies Reader, Ed. Lawrence Venuti, (London: Routledge, 2000), p. 22.

REFERENCES Adams Leeming, David, Ed. The World of Myth. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991. Anania, Lidia; Luminea, Cecilia; Melinte, Livia; Prosan, Ana-Nina; Stoica, Lucia; and Ionescu-Ghinea, Neculai, Bisericile osândite de Ceaușescu. București, 1977– 1989. Bucharest: Editura Anastasia, 1995.

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Benjamin, Walter. Illuminations. Trans. Harry Zohn. New York: Schocken, 1969. ———. “The Task of the Translator: An Introduction to the Translation of Baudelaire’s Tableaux Parisiens.” The Translation Studies Reader. Ed. Lawrence Venuti. London: Routledge, 2000. Codrescu, Andrei. “A Petite Histoire of Red Fascism,” Comrade Past & Mister Present. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Coffee House Press, 1986. ———.“Mnemogasoline,” Belligerence, Poems. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Coffee House Press, 1991. ———. The Disappearance of the Outside: a Manifesto for Escape. Massachusetts: Addison Wesley Publishing, 1990. ———. Road Scholar: Coast to Coast Late in the Century. New York: Hyperion, 1993. Cook, Josh. “An Interview with Andrei Codrescu,” Bookslut Online Journal, Features (December 2012). Deleuze, Gilles; with Félix Guattari. Anti-Oedipus. Trans. Robert Hurley, et al. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1992. ———. Difference and Repetition. Trans. Paul Patton. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994. Derrida, Jacques. “Linguistics and Grammatology,” Of Grammatology. Trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976. ———. “The exorbitant question of method,” Of Grammatology. Trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976. Diefendorf, J.M. “Urban Reconstruction in Europe after World War II,” Urban Studies, 26, no. 1 (February 1989): 128–143. Fisher, Judith. “Image versus Text in the Illustrated Novels of William Makepeace Thackeray,” Victorian Literature and the Victorian Visual Imagination. Eds. Carol T. Christ and John O. Jordan. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995. Foucault, Michel. Archeology of Knowledge and Discourse on Language. Trans. A. M. Sheridan Smith. New York: Pantheon Books, 1972. Giurescu, Constantin. The Making of the Romanian People and Language. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1972. Goethe, J W. Faust. Trans. Walter Arndt. Ed. Cyrus Hamlin. New York: Norton and Company, 2001. Grondin, Jean. Introduction to Philosophical Hermeneutics. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994. Heidegger, Martin. Being and Time. Trans. J. Macquarrie and E. Robinson. New York: Harper & Row, 1962. Hoy, David Couzen. The Critical Circle. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1981. Klein, Ernest. A complete etymological dictionary of the English language: dealing with the origin of words and their sense development, thus illustrating the history of civilization and culture. Oxford: Elsevier Press, 2000. Lyotard, Jean-François. The Differend: Phrases in Dispute. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988.


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———. Discours, Figur. Paris: Klinksieck, 1973. Niculescu, Alexandru. Outline History of the Romanian Language. Bucharest, Romania: Editura Științifică și Enciclopedic, 1981. Williams, William Carlos. “Paterson,” The Cambridge Introduction to TwentiethCentury American Poetry. Ed. Christopher Beach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. Wittgenstein, Ludwig. “Some Remarks on Logical Form,” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society Supplement 9 (1929): 162–171.

Chapter 6

The Forked Tongue of Chinese-English Translation at MSU (MandarinSpeaking University?), circa 2015 Sheng-mei Ma

Purely by chance, I first stumbled upon my home institution’s mysterious engagement of the “Year of China (The China Experience: An MSU Exploration of Arts and Culture)” in an August 2014 funding request by Michigan State University Museum to mount the photograph exhibition “Seeing China.”1 This museum request confirmed a November 2013 invitation from the MSU Federal Credit Union Institute for Arts & Creativity at Wharton Center to participate in the planning of a joint performance by the Guangzhou Acrobatic Troupe and an American modern dance company in the 2015–2016 season “as Michigan State celebrates China that year.”2 These initiatives turn out to coincide with Broad Art Museum’s “Future Returns: Contemporary Art from China,” Wharton Center’s Shen Yun Performance,3 and a host of on-campus activities. The coordination among myriad university units and committees was bound to be a herculean effort but, in this case, befuddlingly low key, without any fanfare associated with a university-wide celebration. In normal circumstances, such university-wide campaigns would be quite visible through the student newspaper and social media, blazoned on banners across campus, such as the 2014–2015 Project 60/50 celebrating civil and human rights. By contrast, the Year of China may transpire without many of its faculty and students noticing it. Surely due to difficulties of organizing a gargantuan university bureaucracy, the unintended result was a Janus-faced initiative that appeared to throw a big party in appreciation of Chinese constituency, while avoiding any pushback of China-bashing in the rust belt notorious for Japan-bashing of the 1980s. One of the casualties of Japanbashing was Vincent Chin, mistaken for a Japanese and bludgeoned to death by two laid-off automobile workers in Detroit in 1982.4 No doubt it was silly paranoia on my part over an organization’s unwitting forked tongue, but it appears that in the year of our Lord 2015, we shall 95


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not have the year of the docile Sheep after all, but of the rising Dragon, to celebrate the bounty the dragon’s sons and daughters have brought us. Indeed, the number of mainland Chinese students at MSU has grown exponentially in recent years, totaling 61 percent of international student population in 2013, which collectively contributed $250 million a year to the local economy.5 No one can deny that with their enviable purchasing power, these dragon seeds have helped revitalize an MSU long plagued by economic woes in the new millennium. To rephrase Eugene O’Neill’s play set in a bar of broken dreams and alcoholics, “The Chinaman Cometh” to prolong the life of MSU, an increasingly Mandarin-speaking university in terms of Confucius Institute course offerings and the Beijing accent of flocks of Chinese students flitting across campus. This foreign influx to sustain American institutions of higher education is nothing new, having already been ridiculed at USC (University of Southern California as University of Southern Chinese), UCI (University of California, Irvine as University of Chinese Immigrants), and elsewhere. Lansing’s local newspaper has also reported on the unfamiliar ways of young Chinese nouveaux riches driving BMWs, paying cash for mansions in posh neighborhoods, and one mysterious Chinese student group boasting of monopolizing all Oriental grocery stores in East Lansing and the adjacent Okemos. There was some bad press, though, such as an alleged MSU “Chinese student gang” calling itself Chengguan after mainland China’s municipal control agency. Some gang members were accused of an assault and two admitted that their Infiniti and Mercedes-Benz did sport Chengguan stickers resembling police badges.6 In the fashion of, for instance, Beijing municipal agents’ blue shield-shaped shoulder insignia, these badges showed four bold Chinese characters “City Control Law Enforcement” in the center, capped by “East Lansing” in English rather than “Beijing,” a demonstration of “creative” bilingualism. Negative media coverage aside, such general flaunting of wealth has, arguably, underwritten area prosperity, specifically, foreign import car dealers, housing markets, restaurants, retail stores, and, of course, MSU itself.7 Now that it is upon us, Middle Kingdom upon Middle America, this paper focuses on their discursive and symbolic contact through Chinese-English translation in novels and film captions used in MSU classes, in museum exhibition labels, in music performance programs, and in flyers and online materials. Off campus, Chinese restaurant and grocery store signs, menus, foodstuff displays, and cinema lineups represent a continuation from university life to everyday pop culture. The coming of the Chinese, both the people and their language and culture, necessitates code-switching in communication between the guests’ Mandarin and the host society’s English, the lingua franca of globalization and the main reason for Chinese students to venture here in the first place. Yet the codeswitching in instances cited above leading up to and throughout MSU’s Year

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of China suggests that rather than unmediated data or knowledge transfer, such translation in fact encodes, scrambles the source language of Chinese or English so much so that it well-nigh switches off potential cross-cultural dialogues. The source and target language may not even overlap much in certain instances; the translation is fraught with slippages and occlusion, consciously or not. In the worst-case scenarios, Chinese students and the English-speaking public come to decode separate versions of things from documentary titles, museum exhibition labels, and music performance programs, a process that represents the object or the event from the Sino-centric versus U.S.-centric perspective, producing diametrically opposed narratives. In search of parallel, equal, and mirroring cultures through side-by-side translation, each linguistic group finds what it wishes to find—no different from Google searches: China’s uniqueness or America’s incommensurability. Despite the good intentions of cultural negotiation to elucidate, linguistic code-switching turns into an encryption, a forked tongue that “unspeaks” what it alleges to translate from or into. Rather than coexistence and complementarity, Chinese-English translation is the site of contestation of two MSUs: within an English-speaking MSU are secreted pockets of Mandarin-Speaking Undergraduates with very deep pockets. The pitting of two MSUs in supposedly one entity conjures up the image of a forked tongue, a duality stemming from the same root. Translation, by definition, hinges on that shifting indeterminacy. In the vein of Platonic-Germanic romantic philosophy, Walter Benjamin pontificates that “The Task of the Translator” is to seek out pure language, a metaphysical intention beyond words since “all translation is only a somewhat provisional way of coming to terms with the foreignness of languages.”8 As the meaning of words resides in “emotional connotations,” which a faithful translation could never hope to cover, a translator should aim instead at pinpointing the essence of language. Thus, Benjamin concludes that “Meaning is served far better—and literature and language far worse—by the unrestrained license of bad translators.”9 In the name of “translational license,” Benjamin appears to sanction MSU translations’ unspeaking of the original tongue. Yet Benjamin’s highfalutin, mystical musings of the oneness behind all beings fall far short of MSU’s here and now. Rather than the highest of spiritual intentions, the forked tongue targets political expediency and springs at times from linguistic inefficacy. In lieu of a German theorist, what transpires when the Middle Kingdom meets the Midwest evokes the quintessential transformer-trickster Monkey from the eponymous sixteenth-century classic by Wu Cheng’en. Arthur Waley translated the fantasy of a Tang dynasty monk Tripitaka traveling to India to acquire Buddhist sutras, under the protection of his half-deity, half-demon disciples of Monkey, Pigsy, and Sandy. The story crystallizes the very notion of cultural translation, as Tripitaka, a historical figure, not


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only physically journeyed to India but also learned Sanskrit and translated the scriptures into Chinese, in part inaugurating Buddhism in China. Monkey himself boasts of the magic power of 72 transformations, plus the ability of self-cloning by plucking and blowing on his body hairs, literally, breathing life into them. Monkey personifies the restive energy, the irrepressible gusto of a modern China and its citizenry dispersed (self-splitting?) to the four corners of the world. What is fun and game to a child-like Monkey has morphed, in China in Ten Words (2011), into the common practice Yu Hua relegates to Huyou, translated as “bamboozle” in accordance with the Chinese original’s euphemistic tone to veil the suggestion of “deceit, treachery.”10 In his terribly abridged translation, however, Waley took great liberty in revamping (bamboozling?) the original. One example would suffice. At the outset of Tripitaka’s journey toward the west, a hunter saves him from the tiger’s mouth, literally. Yet a hunter’s diet ill fits a vegetarian monk. To remedy that, the hunter’s mother and wife undertake considerable pains: The mother “asked her daughter-in-law to take down the smaller pot, heat it to burn off the oil grease, brush it a couple of times, wash it repeatedly, and then put it on the stove. She put in half a pot of boiling water, then dumped it. She took some leaves from the mountains to boil for tea and soup. Then she used grains and millet to make a pot of rice. Then she prepared and cooked dried vegetables. She put two bowls on the table.”11 This long passage detailing an elaborate ritual of cleansing is reduced to one word “salad” in Waley’s translation.12 As erudite as he was, Arthur Waley would have been keenly aware that average Chinese do not enjoy raw vegetables called salad, not today and definitely not in the Tang dynasty. Such revisionist translations continued in Howard Goldblatt’s selective rendering of the Nobel laureate Mo Yan’s Red Sorghum (1987, 1993), Karen S. Kingsbury’s and Julia Lovell’s translations of Eileen Chang, just to name a few noted examples in modern Chinese literature. To be fair, translation is exhausting, largely unappreciated work, and revisionism occurs not only between two languages, but between two genres within the same language, evidenced by Zhang Yimou’s filmic adaptation of Red Sorghum (1987). Even in the closest of professional and personal relationship, such as that of Yu Hua and Allan H. Barr’s China in Ten Words, the translation is still not above some transposing and editing. Given that both sides—Monkey’s hairs and Waley’s heirs—are still game in this cross-cultural “paraphrasing,” what has given me pause at MSU may not seem so out of the ordinary. MSU Journalism professors’ documentary Imported from China (2013) on the upsurge of Chinese students was what first alerted me to the unwitting doublespeak. The documentary interweaves interviews of Chinese and American students, MSU and Lansing school administrators, and student parents. It chronicles Chinese student life and local reactions. Tensions flare between roommates from different backgrounds and

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behavior patterns. While Chinese students see their expensive cars as gifts from their parents to allow their sons and daughters away from home to “feel secure,” local resentment erupts in the spray painting of such cars at Cherry Tree Apartment parking lot where many Chinese reside. Ironically, the gifts create a sense of insecurity after the vandalism. The documentary also alludes to the USC double homicides of Chinese graduate students in their BMW, which occurred on April 11, 2012. The film’s DVD case, as well as the YouTube and social media advertisement, for that matter, is a shot inside an airliner prior to takeoff. (This is in fact a film still from the very beginning of the documentary. See https://www. In the foreground blocking over four-fifth of the image is a canvas backpack, its flap located right at the center showing a sewn-on leather patch. Instead of Levi’s jeans or other name brands, the logo is split in half: the top half printed with “IMPORTED FROM CHINA”; the bottom its supposed translation zhongguo chuko (中国出口), separated by a line of aerial wake from two airplanes flying in opposite directions. Zhongguo chuko, however, means China Exports and is expressly not the English title, which should be zi zhongguo ruko (自中国入口), hence violating the traditional four-character idiom format and the Chinese self-image, to which I will return. Since the documentary filmmakers are Americans, they may have relied on others for the Chinese title, resulting in an unconscious sleight of hand in naming. The Chinese title begins to make sense with the top one-fifth of the image, which is a peek over the backpack at a cabin full of dark-haired young Chinese putting their luggage into overhead bins, apparently en route to the New World for study. The dual titles allow English speakers to gravitate to Imported from China, which happens to be at the top of the split logo and more prominently displayed. The American subjectivity and Western gaze are ensconced in the distance of witnessing and surveilling the very first step Chinese foreign students take to be in “our” midst. That the beginning of their long journey from there is otherwise unknown to Americans increases the sense of an all-seeing eye. Not to mince words, the viewpoint resembles Panopticon surveillance, launched from behind the backpack, an invisible fourth wall, as it were, catching the Chinese subjects unawares, without any of them looking back.13 The all-seeing eye remains unseen, omniscient, studying goods from afar. A Foucauldian control seems to be challenged somewhat by the three lines of ever-larger fonts below the split logo: “In the next 100 years, we are linked together. / Whether we like it or not, / we are linked together,” which are the very last words of the documentary. The three lines are an intensification not only through repetitions but also through the swelling fonts, which match, one imagines, the rising voice and emotion. But if the “we” in the reprise is English-speaking hosts, it intimates a resolve to work


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together, given the symbiosis of Chinese capital and American higher education, or more broadly, the symbiosis of the two superpowers. There is an odious ring, though, of American xenophobia from Walt Disney’s Lady and the Tramp (1955). The duplicitous, marauding twin Siamese cats intone, in the “Oriental” pentatonic scale, no less: “We are Siamese, if you please. / We Are Siamese, if you don’t please . . . If we like, / we stay maybe for quite a while.” Repetitions of foreign invasive species threaten homeland security, in Disney’s wholesome magic kingdom then and once again now. The silly, nursery rhyme-style “if you please” and “if you don’t please” harden into “whether we like it or not,” a warning of sorts. The subliminal message of us versus them informs both the control of a Panopticon gaze and the danger of the next century of codependency. By contrast, Chinese viewers—mostly on-campus Chinese students in the documentary’s debut—would no doubt zoom in on the sole Chinese characters at the very center of an English-only ad. The four Chinese characters of 中国出口establish their first impression: their story is being told and, more importantly, told from a Chinese angle, implicit in the Chinese title China Exports. That these four words are besieged by English words compounds the sense of isolation, echoing the marginalized image of Chinese passengers near the edge of the poster. China Exports, furthermore, stresses the active agency of the point of origin, not that of the place of destination, that is, the United States, inherent in the English title Imported from China, where the passive voice downplays China’s role. Note that the airplane is yet to take off, so the Chinese students remain on Chinese soil, about to be exported. This fact elicits varying responses. On the one hand, Americans tend to view the young passengers from a distance, say, from the United States, because they by and large do not share the experience of studying overseas for four years or longer, in spite of American colleges’ overseas exchange programs for considerably shorter periods of time. On the other, Chinese students at MSU would not only identify with those passengers going through what they have gone through not so long ago but they may wax nostalgic over fellow countrymen still on home soil, with their humanity or Chineseness intact, prior to depreciation as merchandise or as ones whose sole purpose is perceived by the host society to be the consumption of merchandise. In the history of Asian diaspora in the United States the documentary’s title harks back to the somewhat commercial term FOB, the unflattering slur against new arrivals who are likened to goods “fresh off the boat.” But an earlier moment of hurt is often repackaged into a badge of honor and identity in ethnic consciousness. To wear one’s shame on the sleeve suggests owning and in control of that painful memory. It is but natural for the eye of English speakers to bounce off those four Chinese characters, which crystallize the unfathomable, hence exotic,

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otherness of the subject matter. Simply put, Chinese words are unreadable, their meaninglessness intensifying Oriental inscrutability. This invokes the title Imported from China, as if foreign substance is taken into America’s body politic, assimilated or not. The oral-digestive metaphor is amazingly apt, as I indicated that Imported from China should be rendered zi zhongguo ruko, (自中国入口). Ruko means “enter mouth” or import, whereas chuko means “exit mouth” or export. Both terms intersect the human body with body politic, a body’s eating and consumption of food with a society’s trading and consumption of goods. Accordingly, Chinese students would be immediately taken by the affective, ethnocentric power of 中国出口, literally, “Middle Kingdom exit mouth (export).” While “China” sounds to Chinese ears unfamiliar, alienating as a name given by the West after the First Emperor of Qin (Ch’in in the Wade-Gile Romanization), Chinese see themselves as connected more closely to the Han dynasty succeeding Qin. Furthermore, the name zhongguo (中国 Middle Kingdom) strikes a chord with those holding the belief of Chinese centrality. What to Americans is the nonsensical ideogram国 (guo or Kingdom) is instinctively given the meaning of stereotypical, Oriental meaninglessness. By comparison, 国 to Chinese readers comprises a piece of jade (玉) inside a protective square, which takes the very shape of ko or mouth (口). Hence, for Chinese students at MSU, that precious jewel is out of the mouth, out of the body: they are the jade devoid of its proper context, which is China itself, and no longer as prized. (Incidentally, the quintessentially Romeo character born with a piece of jade in his mouth is Jia Baoyu or Jia Precious Jade in the classic Dream of the Red Chamber.) This may smack of Ezra Pound’s poetics of the splitting of Chinese ideograms in The Cantos (1915–1962), but verbal associations are powerful undercurrents running just below conscious cognition. A case in point: if the simplified script, 中国, is replaced by the traditional script, 中國, mainland Chinese students trained in simplified scripts may be put off by rather than drawn close to their motherland, now looking different with a defamiliarizing name. This is exactly how someone accustomed to traditional scripts would feel looking at the uncanny jade locked inside a Chinese box. The identification with the four Chinese characters is further countenanced by the poster’s smattering of the Chinese communist national color of red and the five stars from the national flag. Given the empathy, Chinese students, who are by definition bilingual, read the three lines of swelling fonts below the logo as bespeaking Chinese determination to stake a claim to the New World, a collective will to power consistent with the post-Mao China’s social Darwinism. In terms of museum exhibits, one wonders about the need for bilingual translation at all on a practical level. Museumgoers who are Chinese students are all bilingual, otherwise they would not be able to attend MSU. English labels alone suffice to introduce the artwork, so long as keywords such as


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artists’ Chinese names and artwork titles are retained in parentheses to clarify Romanization of a language fraught with homophones. It would be beneficial, in fact, to challenge Chinese students to decipher English labels without the accompanying Chinese ones. The reverse cannot be said for American visitors, only a tiny portion of whom are proficient in Chinese. In other words, the practical function of Chinese labels remains unproven, which has led to unequal pairings of translations. Broad Art Museum exhibits have bilingual labels, except certain kinds of artwork when it first opened; MSU Museum exhibits originally planned to have labels “presented in both English and Chinese. The English labels will be translated by a MSU student intern who is majoring in Chinese and minoring in Arts and Culture Management.”14 Given the complicated task of cross-cultural mediation, professional translators with native fluency in the two languages are called for. The MSU Museum labels did not pan out the way it was announced online and in intramural communications. Judging from the few Chinese characters for the exhibit, including the nine characters for the title “Seeing China: Photographic Views and Viewpoints,” it is just as well that Chinese translation was not attempted. In point of fact, individual photographs in “Seeing China” did not come with explanatory labels at all in the first few weeks of the exhibition, except each photographer’s general artistic statement, all in English and untranslated. Weeks later, bare bone English labels comprising the subject, place, and year showed up on post-it notes below the photographs. To sum up, bilingual labels are not required insofar as practical audience reception is concerned. Their uneven existence throughout two museum exhibits testifies to that, or bilinguality would characterize every single label right from the start. If half of such Chinese-English translations are Greek to the majority of visitors, then the cause of such displays must be sought elsewhere, namely, ideologically and emotionally. The adjunct curator of “Future Returns” is Chinese and, conceivably, the labels are constructed in Chinese and rendered subsequently in English. Contemporary artworks from China, likewise, are created inside China and transported here. So it is fitting that bilingual pairings adorn all the artworks, yet this hypothesis is self-defeating as certain artworks come with English labels only in the early stages of the exhibition. Rather, these selective pairings manage to accomplish the appearance of an equal partnership, when the bulk of guests would be drawn to English only. The reason for bilinguality lies in the impression of an equivalent, comparable Sino-U.S. relationship, which is both ideological and affective in terms of how an ethnocentric subject believes and feels. A Chinese would be pleased by the presence of his or her native tongue, although that part of the labels serves hardly anyone else in the room. A psychological return consummates itself in the home language. On the other hand, quite a few Americans would be reassured by half of the labels that escape them, their

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liberal, cosmopolitan impulse assuaged, ironically, by enigmatic expressions from an enigmatic Orient. Dig-a-hole-to-China is a childhood game reprised compulsively in adulthood because the dark half, the shadow self, lies within America’s own heart. Exhibition labels, to be sure, are instrumental to any museum experience. Michael Baxandall in “Exhibiting Intention” contends that museum exhibitions involve three players: “makers of objects, exhibitors of made objects, and viewers of exhibited made objects.”15 Insofar as the mediator in between is concerned, “[w]hat the [exhibition] label says is not in any normal sense descriptive. It does not cover the visual character of the object. To do so would involve an elaborate use of measurements and geometrical concepts and reference to the representation elements, and would in any case be otiose, since the object is present.”16 As a result, Baxandall defines the museum experience as “the contact in the space between object and label,” which is an “intellectual space in which the third agent, the viewer, establishes contact between the first and the second agents . . . the word label [denotes] the element of naming, information, and exposition the exhibitor makes available to the viewer in whatever form.”17 That form at MSU exhibits entails ChineseEnglish translation labels, markedly complicating the three-way relationship Baxandall posits. The fourth element of Chinese language labels intensifies that which already exists in many exhibits of foreign cultural objects, namely, Romanized proper nouns, or even foreign scripts, in parentheses amid English language labels. When the common museum practice is to retain proper nouns and keywords in foreign language and gloss them in English, MSU exhibits appear to put far more weight on the Chinese language explanatory remarks. Yet for most museumgoers at MSU, the fourth element of Chinese labels may just as well be the Stanislavski fourth wall. They expressly do not explain; an English speaker simply sees past them. The objects are then twice removed, shrouded in visual as well as linguistic mystique, elevated to a quasi-independence from the exhibition context at MSU for English language viewers. Discursively, this must be how a new empire presents itself, on its own terms and in its own tongue. Broad Art Museum’s “Future Returns: Contemporary Art from China” exhibition ran from October 30, 2014 to March 3, 2015. The title of the exhibition is called in Chinese: Weilai de huigui: laizi zhongguo de dangdai yishu (未来的回归: 来自中国的当代艺术). A subtle change occurs between the Sino-English titles, raising the specter of perspectives. “Future Returns” comprises a subject and a singular verb, both words abstract and ill-defined, denoting amorphous temporality and spatiality: a time future is to double back to somewhere and/or some point in time. The undisclosed riddle is answered in the subtitle, whereby Chinese contemporary art stands in for the future. Reminiscent of the 1980s series of films Back to the Future, the English title


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smacks of sci-fi a-chronology. The Chinese title Weilai de huigui (未来的回归), by contrast, stabilizes the volatile futuristic tenor in that it consists of one single subject, literally, “the return/retrocession of the future,” or “the future’s return/ retrocession,” which, combined with the subtitle’s allusion to China, suggests that Chinese contemporary art folds both future and tradition onto itself. This implication of tradition arises from the word choice of “retrocession” (huigui), a term used in such nationalistic catchphrases as “return to the motherland” (huigui zhuguo) and “return to the mainland” (huigui dalu). Hong Kong and Macau have been retroceded from Britain and Portugal to China in 1997 and 1999; Taiwan is pressured to do so in the foreseeable future. Indeed, psychic retrocession manifests itself in a nostalgic homecoming for Chinese visitors to the exhibit. All such rumination on bilingual titles is a moot point when it comes to posters at MSU’s International Center and elsewhere on campus. These posters practically reverse the proportion of the two languages. “Future Returns” is the only line of English, flanked by large Chinese characters, some fine print on Broad Museum buried at the lower right-hand corner. Even the exhibition dates are in Chinese; English speakers must make an educated guess as to the month and day. Most English speakers would be stumped by the posters’ utter inexplicability, a large dose of mystique for sure, but quite ineffective as advertising. “Future Returns” is divided into three sections, although the logic of the division eludes many guests: “Culture and Re-Mapping”; “Reality and Possibility”; and “Future and Imagination.” A wide range of art pieces—sculpture, painting, photograph, installation—in the first two sections are adequately translated, the last section of “Future and Imagination,” however, not at all, with only English explanations when the show first opened. “Future and Imagination,” harking back to the keyword in the overall exhibition, ought to provide a bang and a finale to the museum experience. Instead, the five videos in “Future and Imagination” are documentaries, short features, and performance arts without bilingual titles and explanations. Miao Xiaochun’s “Restart” (2008–2010) is a computer-generated shot that runs 14:22 minutes. He Yunchang’s “Wrestling with 100 People” (2001) records in 12:41 minutes the artist doing exactly that with a long queue of challengers. He’s “Dialogue with Water” (1999) shows the artist hung upside down holding a dagger barely touching a running brook, which lasts 11:23 minutes. Geng Yi’s “Barking” (2014, 20:27 minutes) documents Beijing’s stray dogs in a bleak, ruinous cityscape, including open-air dog meat markets. Zhang Yanfeng and Zhou Gang’s “Big Wuhan City” (2014, 15 minutes) captures a city in transition with all its abjection and degradation. The five pieces are given diverging presentations. Miao’s computer-generated shot occupies the largest screen across a whole wall with the sound blaring out of the amplifiers right at the entrance to this collective space recessed like a den, where viewers

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can sit and enjoy. To the side are two tiny computer-sized monitors where He’s performance art pieces are displayed, with no sound. By entering into a deeper compartment, a dimly lit cul-de-sac, two medium-sized screens facing each other at odd angles play “Barking” and “Big Wuhan City,” with two headsets, one for each documentary. However, the headphone for “Barking” had remained mute in the several visits I paid to the museum. Without the headphone, visitors would be bombarded by Miao’s soundtrack for “Restart.” China’s imaginary future as well as lived reality at present evince preferential treatment in a hierarchical structure, there as well as here thousands of miles away. Without accompanying Chinese labels as in all the other artworks, these five avant-garde, transgressive, and disturbing videos rife with animal cruelty and inhumanity seem assuredly banned in China, hence designed for Western consumption. In the museum’s overall layout, they are positioned away from the other exhibits. Ascending the narrow stairs, visitors reach the second floor to view “Future Returns.” They would instinctively follow the contour of the stairs into the inviting open space of large display rooms bathed in natural and semi-natural light. Only the most contrarian and agoraphobic would reject the architectural design and make a sharp left turn into the dark corner where “Future and Imagination” resides, where it appears secreted away from the exhibition proper. A foyer of sorts precedes the recess into “Future and Imagination,” a foyer equipped with a bank of computers on what appear to be children’s games over the construction of Chinese ideograms and other signs. That setup of fun and game further augments the sense that visitors are now taking leave of the exhibition. Of course, the dark hole of a space may be owing to the dim lights required for video showing. Architecturally, Zaha Hadid-designed Broad Art Museum resembles several pieces of scrap metal crushed together and then unfolded and recycled. The museum thus comes with multiple sharp angles for outside looks rather than display space inside. Relegated to one such corner, “Future and Imagination” proffers a nightmarish vision of what has come to pass, an exclusive viewing of China’s dirty linen hung out to dry. This airing of dog eating and ecological-socioeconomic degradation are unlikely to be met with general Chinese approval; consequently, those directly involved may have opted to recede from view, from any visible role in Chinese-language exhibition labels. On a return visit on February 5, 2015, I was delighted that Chinese-language labels were added, which proved either the makeshift nature upon the exhibition’s inception or the subsequent pressure to make the exhibition labels consistent. During Broad Art Museum’s October 30, 2014 opening ceremony of “Future Returns” exhibition, MSU student group, The Silk Road Chinese Orchestra, performed twelve traditional pieces with traditional musical instruments. Its program opens to a list of the dozen pieces on the left verso


Sheng-mei Ma

page and a brief explanation of instruments on the right recto page. The titles of the twelve pieces on the left are bilingual and arrayed in two columns. In striking red, each of the twelve Chinese titles is itemized against an otherwise all-black program. Take for instance the first title: “好日子 [Hao rizi, A Fine Day], 2 min, 40 sec.,” which the right-hand column simply translates as “Orchestra,” presumably an orchestral piece employing all instruments. The second title confuses even more: “火把节恋歌 [Huobajie liange], 5 min,” which is rendered as “Liuqin + Percussion, Andrea + Howie,” presumably a duet and the first names of the two musicians. Liuqin and other instruments are explicated on the right recto page of the program. Huobajie liange in fact means “The Love Song of Torches,” but the accompanying English translation merely details the kinds of instruments and performers. The Chinese titles are neither translated in the right-hand column nor Romanized—the Romanized brackets are provided by me. This may well be a sign of linguistic incompetence and failure of imagination, that is, the inability to conceptualize from the viewpoint of non-Chinese, the bulk of the opening ceremony guests. An infelicity with English does seem to mar the program, as “Instruments” on the recto page lists randomly, not in alphabetical order, eleven or so instruments. The instrument Hulusi for the eleventh piece on the verso page is not explained at all on the recto page. Likewise, certain instruments that are explained do not show up on the verso page; one has to conclude that they belong to the orchestra instead. This shoddy, amateurish program belies the professional look of the troupe in bright red, well-tailored qipao (women’s long robes) and black Western suits and ties. The flawed program, however, derives as much from rhetorical ineptitude as from cultural reluctance, indeed aversion, to imagine. Chinese insistence on the supremacy of its language eerily simulates American self-centeredness of brazenly expecting non-English speakers around the world to acquire English in order to communicate with Americans. (Curated by Americans, MSU museum’s “Seeing China” may have felt compelled to make an effort at translation to avoid that perception, only to be scrapped in the end.) A superpower’s sense of superiority is contagious, shared by the erstwhile The Ugly American (1958) and by the expanding Chinese “soft power,” contemporary art and traditional music included. Even the irony of Chinese students sojourning in U.S. institutions of higher education does little to inspire the Silk Road Orchestra to become a two-way road linguistically. On the contrary, that irony may have deepened ethnocentrism over Chinese characters, eye-catchingly red yet baldly unglossed, all unadulterated in a purist sense. This cultural high ground is a throwback to postwar American exceptionalism. Whatever the cause, the Chinese titles in red are utterly divorced from the sea of English words in black on the program: the Chinese titles remain codes inaccessible to English speakers, “whether we (they?) like it or not.”

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This overestimation for the host community’s linguistic capability has played out locally. For several months after its relocation to Trowbridge Plaza at Harrison and Trowbridge, the grocery store 大华 (Da Hua) displayed its sign in Chinese only, the English name “Greater China” not added until much later. Among the hassle of moving a business and its stock, to have two English words—Greater China—painted on the store sign should be the least of one’s worries. As a business, this oversight clearly had little effect on sales from the Chinese clientele. Arguably, English-speaking customers would not have been able to tell that Greater China had moved to the crossroads until the English title was up. Likewise, since its opening in 2013, the Korean restaurant 大長今 near campus, at the intersection of the area main drag Grand River Avenue and Bogue Street, calls itself exactly that. 大長今 or Dae Jang Geum is the title of the 2003 Korean TV series on traditional Korean cuisine featuring Lee Young-ae, wildly popular throughout Asia and Asian diasporic communities. The Chinese characters used on the storefront ought to be intelligible to East Asian customers from China, Korea, and Japan, all three countries drawing from the traditional script of the Chinese language. It would be a test of courage, though, for Americans to venture into a restaurant with an unknown name. Not far from the Korean restaurant at the end of 2014 was a construction site for new student apartments. Two billboards advertised the hip logo and contact information of the company (“eL The Element”), while “Now for Leasing” was prominently displayed in English and in Chinese respectively. On Michigan Avenue on the other side of the campus, Midtown Apartments advertised their rental property through the logo “MIDTOWN 家,” with a brief explanation online that the company included the Chinese character “home” to “start a conversation with our community about the value of engaging international students.” Midtown Apartments were clearly targeting Chinese students, or the “conversation” would have had to be in Hindi, Korean, Russian, and so forth to be truly international and multilingual. “MIDTOWN 家” is euphemistic businessspeak: neither is it situated in Midtown Manhattan nor home to Chinese-speaking students. In local newspapers and media, foreign import cars, realtors, and other businesses have consistently resorted to English-Chinese ads, less for the perception of an equal Sino-U.S. relationship, as in the case of campus museums, than for profits from Chinese students. On MSU campus, a recent event also highlighted the parallel tracks of Chinese students and the university community at large. Throughout October and November, 2014, Chinese students had manned tables at two nerve centers on campus, Wells Hall lobby and near the Rock,18 with drawings of a huge heart scribbled with, in Chinese, Feicheng wurao (If no sincerity, then keep away), a four-character idiom frequently used in China’s dating agencies and advertisements. More importantly, it is the title of a hit Jiangsu TV dating


Sheng-mei Ma

show since 2010. Such concerted efforts, including MSU Chinese Student Association website, paved the way for China’s Singles Day on November 11, 2014, the largest online shopping day on Alibaba and Chinese cyber commerce. Among MSU’s Chinese students, it was less a day of shopping frenzy than a Valentine’s day when single males and females, symbolized by the four ones in the date, met, commiserated, and befriended one another. Since on-campus promotion had been conducted exclusively in Chinese, English speakers, sincere or not, were automatically kept away from this Chinese Valentine’s. Contrary to the nineteenth-century ghetto of Chinatowns eking out a living, new ghettos are shaping up in our midst, resembling luxury high rises with twenty-four-hour concierge and affluent gated communities that bar other races and linguistic communities. China’s Singles Day on the MSU campus encouraged dating and mating with one’s own kind. Michigan State University Museum’s exhibition “Seeing China” ran from January 19 to August 30, 2015. The “Seeing China” exhibit includes six photographers capturing The Forbidden City’s trees, the Great Wall through the polluted haze, Guangzhou’s traditional neighborhoods threatened by gentrification, The Three Gorges Dam, the “Emperor’s River,” a canal linking Beijing and Hangzhou, and Luis Delgado’s Cuentos Chinos Attributed to Dr. Achoo. The exhibit of contemporary photographs is contrasted with historical stereographs by James Ricalton and others. The exhibit’s publicity brochure comes with a vertical heading of “The China Experience: An MSU Exploration of Art and Culture,” topped by a red Chinese-style square seal inscribed in ancient seal script 文化術藝 (wenhua shuyi, namely, Culture Art). Beyond the fact that “Art and Culture” is reversed in translation, the phrase shuyi also inverses yishu (art). Certain ancient texts do use shuyi, but it refers to “exegesis of classics, skills or craftsmanship, oracle and divination” rather than “art” per se. The designer of this vertical logo for the exhibition may have been overly cavalier regarding the proper word order of classical Chinese, that is, top to bottom and right to left. Therefore, the seal is presented from left to right, which would match the word order of “Art and Culture.” This arrangement runs counter to the practice of seal carving and traditional Chinese scripts, though. The confusing transposition of shuyi, furthermore, amounts to turning topsy-turvy the English spelling of “art” into “tra.” Upon the opening of the exhibit, shuyi has been changed back to its proper order, yishu; however, the four words remain going from left to right and hence “culture art.” The seal and its ancient script are decorative, nearly extraneous to “Seeing China” for Western eyes, which by and large find the Chinese language unintelligible, let alone the bizarre seal script. Ironically, the subject matter of China and its language lapse in the exhibit’s heading or logo into ornamental wallpaper; “Seeing China” fails to see its own emblem for what it really is.

The Forked Tongue of Chinese-English


Apparently unconscious of the forked-tongue effect, the two MSUs have been talking past in more cases than to each other in this “live streaming” of Chinese-English translation in 2015. Given that “In the next 100 years, we are linked together,” let us progress to a dialogic, heteroglossic cacophony of many tongues as in the proverbial Cantonese many-mouthed bird; let us resist the temptation to regress into either the biblical, duplicitous snake or the wrathful God of vengeance. To seek the harmony among the exhibited object, its label in English, and its label in Chinese—or among China, America, and the translation in between—is a task not only for MSU’s “hidden” agenda19 for the Year of China but also for Beijing’s open agenda for China’s century. NOTES 1. E-mail to the author, “Re: Delia Koo Grant Application, July 2014,” from Asian Studies Center on August 6, 2014. 2. E-mail to the author, “Re: China Project Wharton Center Invitation,” on November 18, 2013. 3. Shen Yun Performing Arts group presented two shows on February 11–12, 2015 at MSU’s Wharton Center. Shen Yun is famously the artistic arm of Falun Gong, a religious sect banned inside China as a subversive organization and its followers allegedly persecuted by the communist government. Uncertain about the university politics behind the Year of China activities, one is struck by the precarious balancing act of official positions from Confucius Institute and other entities, on the one hand, and of potentially dissident groups, on the other. 4. Sheng-mei Ma, “Vincent Chin and Baseball: Law, Racial Violence, and Masculinity,” in The Deathly Embrace: Orientalism and Asian American Ethnicity (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000), 76–93. 5. Anthony Herta, “NCG Cinema Shows First Mandarin-Language Film.” Lansing State Journal, October 23, 2014. 6. An assault at an Okemos Karaoke bar by the alleged “Chinese student gang,” on January 31, 2014 and the ensuing trial were widely reported in newspapers and media. See Michael Kransz’s “An Alleged Chinese Gang Beating,” and Kevin Grasha’s “Chinese Gang at MSU?” The latter source detailed that “two witnesses . . . admitted being members of the MSU student Chengguan group. One is a mathematics major who drives an Infinity [sic]. The other, a finance major, drives a MercedesBenz. It is not uncommon for the university's nearly 4,000 Chinese undergraduates to drive luxury vehicles.” Ironically, on Sunday, February 8, 2015, fourth-fifth of the front page in Lansing State Journal featured MSU President and her 10-year accomplishment (Lindsay VanHulle’s “A Statewide Vision”), while the remaining onefifth, a single left-hand column, was devoted to Kevin Grasha’s report on the “case surrounding ‘chengguan’ group” (“Answers Elusive in MSU Bullying Trial”). The juxtaposition of MSU President and Chengguan eerily implies two MSUs—one official, the other underground and covert.Ryan Sequanda reported in the MSU campus


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newspaper, The State News, on June 16, 2015 that one of the accused, Meng Long Li, a 25-year-old MSU alumnus, was found guilty of assault with a dangerous weapon and assault and battery on June 4. He faced up to four years in prison. 7. Matthew Miller, “East Lansing's burgeoning Chinese population driving growing number of specialty businesses,” Lansing State Journal, May 4, 2014. Accessed May 2014. 8. Walter Benjamin, “The Task of the Translator,” in Illuminations, trans. Harry Zohn (New York: Shocken, 1969), 75. 9. Ibid., 78. 10. It is significant that Allan H. Barr’s translation of Yu Hua’s China in Ten Words retains the ten Chinese phrases, with the ten 2-character Chinese phrases and their single-word English translations arrayed on the book cover, the table of contents, and the chapter heading. When the book concludes with “bamboozle,” a coinage that is unique to contemporary China, Barr even embeds the Chinese original within the opening of that chapter, something he has refrained from throughout the previous nine chapters. Barr is far from deploying Chinese as an exotic ornamental design so often found in Chinese-English layout; rather, Barr suggests that much of the original phrase eludes English translation, the very existence of the foreign phrase testifying to that. 11. Wu Cheng’en, Xiyouji, trans. Sheng-mei Ma (Taipei: Diyi Book, n.d.), 133. 12. Wu Ch’eng-en, Monkey, trans. Arthur Waley (New York: Grove, 1943), 123. 13. Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Pantheon, 1977), 195–228. 14. E-mail to the author, “Re: Delia Koo Grant Application, July 2014.” 15. Michael Baxandall, “Exhibiting Intention: Some Preconditions of the Visual Display of Culturally Purposeful Objects,” in Exhibiting Cultures: The Poetics and Politics of Museum Display, ed. Ivan Karp and Steven D. Lavine (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1991), 36. 16. Ibid., 35. 17. Ibid., 37. 18. The Rock is a boulder in front of the Auditorium along Farm Lane. MSU students take turns painting the Rock for various upcoming activities and causes. 19. The only public announcement so far came in the form of an MSU College of Arts and Letters electronic newsletter on January 23, 2015. Among “News and Events,” there was a line on “MSU China Themed Year to Run February 2015 to August 2016,” but without further elaboration of specific programs. Intriguingly, the Year of China was rephrased as the China Themed Year, and the duration was pushed back and lengthened to eighteen months. To date, there was no university-wide publicity other than this e-memo within the College of Arts and Letters.

REFERENCES Baxandall, Michael. “Exhibiting Intention: Some Preconditions of the Visual Display of Culturally Purposeful Objects,” In Exhibiting Cultures: The Poetics and

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Politics of Museum Display, edited by Ivan Karp and Steven D. Lavine, 33–41. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1991. Benjamin, Walter. “The Task of the Translator,” In Illuminations, translated by Harry Zohn, 69–82. New York: Shocken, 1969. Chang, Eileen. Love in a Fallen City. Translated by Karen S. Kingsbury. New York: New York Review Book, 2007. Chang, Eileen. Lust, Caution. Translated by Julia Lovell. New York: Anchor, 2007. Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish. Translated by Alan Sheridan. New York: Pantheon, 1977. “Future Returns: Contemporary Art from China.” Broad Art Museum. Michigan State University. 547 East Circle Drive, East Lansing, MI 48824. October 30, 2014 to March 3, 2015. Grasha, Kevin. “Answers Elusive in MSU Bullying Trial: Case surrounding ‘Chengguan’ Group Fails to Clarify Issue.” Lansing State Journal. February 8, 2015. 1A, 2A. Grasha, Kevin. “Chinese Gang at MSU? Prosecution in Assault Trial Says Yes.” Detroit Free Press. January 30, 2015. Accessed February 5, 2015. http://

Herta, Anthony. “NCG Cinema Shows First Mandarin-Language Film.” Lansing State Journal. 23 Oct. 2014. Accessed Oct. 23, 2014. article/2014/10/mandarin-film-ncg. Imported from China. Directed by Geri Alumit Zeldes and Troy Hale. East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University, 2013. Documentary. Kransz, Michael. “An Alleged Chinese Gang Beating, a Water Pitcher and a Karaoke Club: Five-day Trial Awaits Verdict.” The State News, February 5, 2015. 7. Accessed February 5, 2015. Lederer, William J., and Eugene Burdick. The Ugly American. New York: W. W. Norton, 1958. Ma, Sheng-mei. The Deathly Embrace: Orientalism and Asian American Identity. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000. The Manchurian Candidate. Directed by John Frankenheimer. Los Angeles, CA: United Artists, 1962. Miller, Matthew. “East Lansing's burgeoning Chinese population driving growing number of specialty businesses.” Lansing State Journal, May 4, 2014. Accessed May 4, 2014. NEWS01/305040065/East-Lansing-s-burgeoning-Chinese-population-drivinggrowing-number-specialty-businesses. Mo Yan. Red Sorghum. Translated by Howard Goldblatt. New York: Viking, 1993. MSU College of Arts & Letters electronic newsletter on “News & Events 1/23–2/15.” Message to the author. January 23, 2015. E-mail. college-of-arts-and-letters@ “Re: China Project Wharton Center Invitation.” Message to the author. November 18, 2013. E-mail. “Re: Delia Koo Grant Application, July 2014.” Message to the author. August 6, 2014. E-mail. Red Sorghum. Directed by Zhang Yimou. New York: New Yorker Films, 1987.


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“Seeing China.” Michigan State University Museum. 409 West Circle Drive, East Lansing, MI 48824. January 19 to August 30, 2015. Exhibition. Sequanda, Ryan. “One year and two trials later, alumnus found guilty of karaoke bar assault.” The State News, June 16, 2015. Accessed June 16, 2015. Shen Yun Performing Arts. Presented by Michigan Falun Dafa Association. Wharton Center–Great Hall. Michigan State University. 750 East West Shaw Lane, East Lansing, MI 48824. February 11–12, 2015. VanHulle, Lindsay. “A Statewide Vision,” Lansing State Journal, February 8, 2015. Web. February 8, 2015. 1A, 7A. Wu, Ch’eng-en. Xiyouji. (Journey to the West). Taipei: Diyi (First) Book, n.d. ———. Monkey (Xiyouji or Journey to the West), translated by Arthur Waley. New York: Grove, 1943. Yu Hua. China in Ten Words. Translated by Allan H. Barr. New York: Anchor, 2011.

Chapter 7

El Mundo Zurdo de Gloria Anzaldúa Healing Sueños of Nepantlera Activism Mary Louisa Cappelli

The U.S.-Mexican borderland has historically been a vulnerable geopolitical space for peoples from Mexico and Central America seeking refuge from economic and political insecurity in their homelands. Since 2013, 11.6 million immigrants from Mexico and 3.2 million immigrants from the Northern Triangle of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras have taken up residence in the United States with ten million immigrants calling California their home.1 While an unprecedented refugee crisis from the Middle East to Africa spread across the globe, the chokehold of neoliberal policies and narco-violence from bandas criminales (criminal gangs) has taken its toll on peoples in the Americas turning the U.S. borderlands into dynamic and sometimes violent hybridized “ethnoscapes” in which the dispossessed global poor migrate to the affluent metropolitan centers of the Global North.2 The increased politicization of the U.S.-Mexican border escalated during President Trump’s 2015 presidential campaign when he depicted migrants as “criminals, drug dealers, rapists,” and other perceived misfits in need of monitoring.3 President Trump’s border politics reinstates a dialectical worldview of binary divisions in which the First World imposes its totalizing ideology of white male privilege over its racialized, ethnic, gendered others. To this end, Trump calls for the securitization and hardening of the borders to keep out the “bad” people in order to “make America great again.”4 His administration currently plans to build a 6.5 million dollar physical pre-cast concrete thirty-fiveto five hundred-foot wall on the 1,300-mile unfenced southern border between Mexico and the United States.5 While Trump argues that the securitization of borders is a necessary measure to protect against threats to mainland security, a militarized border creates violent conditions for the poor multitudes seeking economic and social justice.6 Sadly, a militarized border channels migrants to perilous “crossing points,” resulting in hundreds of deaths every year.7 113


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For many, Trump’s vitriolic border politics incites fear of socio-economic and political destabilization by an influx of non-white “others.” Unfortunately, brown ethnic migrants from Central America live without the protection of contemporary refugee status as defined by the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees.8 Under the 1951 designation of what constitutes a refugee, a person has to be seeking asylum due to “targeted persecution by their own governments.”9 This definition leaves little protection for many of today’s survival migrants—those families crossing the U.S. border due to food and water insecurity, collapsing ecosystems, human rights deprivations, violence, and the increasing instability of state systems.10 Alexander Betts defines “survival migrants” as those people “outside their country of origin because of an existential threat for which they have no access to a domestic remedy or resolution.”11 Within these raw survival spaces, dispossessed peoples live in the violent borderlines of conflict and survival. To live in these ethnoscapes means to experience la herida abierta (the open wound) of contrasting worldviews, languages, and human rights violations “where the Third world grates against the First World and bleeds.”12 In this vulnerable space, the blood of dispossessed peoples merge, creating yet another world—a border culture. The open wound is both literal and metaphorical, shaped by a violent history of colonization, conquest, devastation, and current U.S. Foreign Policy in Mexico and Central America. Revisiting the writings of Gloria Anzaldúa offers hope and a necessary counter-hegemonic discourse of witness and testimony for the dispossessed ethnic multitudes seeking socioeconomic security and political conflict resolution. Anzaldúa’s valuable models for ethnographic listening and ethico-political engagement provide a bridge enabling marginalized peoples to testify to social injustice and exclusionary border politics and to negotiate a passage to Nahuatl—an awakening of indigenous consciousness rooted in pre-conquest Aztecan history.13 For Anzaldúa, indigenous Nahuatl intermingles with Spanish and English in a back and forth movement to create an inclusive world capable of speaking in many tongues. In this liminal borderland between different worlds and cultural systems, switching codes and languages becomes a resistance strategy against the monocultural values of the dominant culture. By melding standard Spanish, standard English, Tex-Mex Spanglish,14 and Nahuatl, Anzaldúa creates a new language, a Chicana language that sanctions the multiplicity of cultural values and perspectives. Readers who are not fluent in Spanish are confronted with confusion and misinterpretation—experiencing the same bewilderment that borderland peoples confront in their daily lives.15 It is within my Los Angeles Nepantla Workshops conducted between 2013 and 2016, where “cultures meet, clash, and grapple with each other, often in contexts of highly asymmetrical relations of power” that writers engage in the politics of identity construction.16 As Homi K. Bhabha reminds us: “Hybridity

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has the power to destroy hierarchy tout court” and “is itself a politics of difference, setting differences to play across boundaries.”17 The project of El Mundo Zordo subverts the dialectic of binary divisions and dismantles the xenophobic house of hate and fear. Here, writers challenge dominant political discourses and resist linguistic and ethnic homogeneity producing decolonizing writings and reflections that are both radical and demanding of political attention.18 In their auto-ethnographic production, I examine how these aspiring writers struggle to form an identity by “working-out” their “in-betweenness” of belonging and non-belonging in an engaging dialectic that writes its own history and creates possibilities for intercultural dialogue and community.19 To explore this discursive site of articulation and rearticulation, I specifically look at the shifting linguistic and cultural codes in the auto-ethnographic cultural production of writers living in what Mary Louise Pratt refers to as the “contact zone.”20 I embrace the Chicana Language and its sometimes jarring movement between English and Spanish to examine the poetics of Anzaldúa’s Nepantla (a Nahuatl term for in-between space) as an emancipatory project that gives voice to deterritorialized people living in diverse ethnoscapes sculpted by transnational migration and globalization processes. I explore the construction of exilio y insilio (exile and inner exile) identity of borderland peoples who have been traditionally marginalized and “left unimagined” in a politics of exclusion that has “historically existed for ethnic minority groups within this US-Mexico contact zone.”21 I acknowledge Denzin’s auto-ethnographic methodological shift toward the enactment of lived cultural lives and experiences, which struggles with the distinctions between nosotros (us), ellos (them), insilio (inside), exilio (outside) and the hardened linguistic walls erected to privilege dominant discourses. It is within this space between self and el espíritu del mundo (the spiritual world) that consciousness unfolds to produce new conocimientos (knowledge) to revision the world. This chapter hopes to show how Anzaldúa’s mestiza (mixed race) rhetoric of spiritual conocimiento (knowledge) gives rise to a new geopolitics of the spirit, a visionary worldview of social and political transformation that resists, subverts, and challenges master narratives of racialized stereotyping and subjugation of non-white “others.”22 In these transitional spaces of multiple perspectives, the children of migrants from Mexico and Central America share their histories, embrace their ambiguities, and explore what it means to truly live in the Borderlands of the United States. I The first gash to la herida abierta (the opened wound) occurred with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo of 1848 in which Mexico


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surrendered the territories of Texas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming to establish El Rio Grande as the southern boundary. As Anzaldúa observes, before the wound heals, “it hemorrhages again”; this time with the 1982 devaluation of the peso, the 1994 passage of Proposition 187, and then the 1994 signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which Indigenous communities considered to be a “death certificate” to its peoples and livelihoods.23 NAFTA’s ruinous clenches have spread throughout Central America strangling its peoples and ecosystems and intensifying the struggle for survival. “In different ways, both regions have lived the violent impact of neo-liberalism: the invasion of foreign investment, increased production for export, unemployment, migration, increased militarization of communities, the infiltration of drug trafficking, and rampant violation of human rights.”24 It is the subsistence struggle itself that melds the “lifeblood of two worlds merging to form a third country, a border culture,” which has both homogenizing and heterogenizing effects.25 Rather than emphasize the diasporas of dispossession and displacement of “here” and “there,” “self,” and “other,” Anzaldúa constructs an alternative space of interconnectness and spiritual activism offering ontological, metaphysical, and political resistance strategies for survival and transformation. As she explains, when people identify with others they do not necessarily restrict themselves to their “ethnic, racial, religious, class or national classifications.”26 In this way, “though most people self-define by what they exclude, we define who we are by what we include.”27 She refers to this as a “new tribalism,” which traverses these fissures by building bridges to ascend exclusionary identity constructions. Anzaldúa’s Left Handed World of El Mundo Zurdo (2008) has materialized highly fluid spaces of alliances of open-minded peoples who can forge commonalities and shared experiences “enabling diverse peoples with their specific oppressions, solutions, and beliefs to work together to bring about revolutionary change.”28 For Anzaldúa “the left hand is not a fist pero una mano abierta (but an open hand) raised with others in struggle, celebration, and song.”29 In esta cancíon de voces diferentes (song of varied voices) we sing songs of transformación y liberación (transformation and liberation) singing past the oppositional cacophony of anti-immigration discourse and identity politics. Anzaldúa’s spiritual activism fosters a euphony of healing sueños (healing dreams) where borderland peoples open their hearts and share their human vulnerabilities and venture into that mysterious place within each of us. In this transformative space Anzaldúa shows how language and words embody the world and enact reality shifts and produce healing manifestations with materializing force. She writes:

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Because we use metaphors as well as hierbitas or curing stones to effect changes, we follow in the tradition of the shaman. Like the shaman, we transmit information from our consciousness to the physical body of another. If we're lucky we create, like the shaman, images that induce altered states of consciousness conducive to self-healing. If we’ve done our job well we may give others access to a language and images with which they can articulate/express pain, confusion, joy, and other experiences thus far experienced only on an inarticulated emotional level.30

Directing the way for borderland peoples to articulate their joy and suffering provides a catharsis and cleansing of emotion. Anzaldúa explains in Borderlands how “an image is a bridge between evoked emotion and conscious knowledge; words are the cables that hold up the bridge.”31 In her poetics and theoretical praxis, Anzaldúa the Nahatul Coalitcue (skirt of serpents) is a goddess of life and death, invested with powers to join opposites from the underworld.32 Anzaldúa describes the Coatlicue state as a decolonizing process capable of synthesizing contradictions of the mind and soul. The Coatlicue state opens up a poetic space of images and metaphors for the catharsis of psychic and cultural healing. As the curandera of the conquest, (healer of the open wound) Anzaldúa shows borderland peoples how to bridge the anxiety of living within the marginal edges of oppression and cultural ambiguity. To be a curandera (healer) is be a creative agent of transformation, able to change oppressive forces of internalized colonization into radical spaces of resistance and growth. Si, la imaginación es muy ponderosa (Yes, the imagination is very powerful), capable of “speaking across the divide” in an intercultural dialogue of interconnectedness. As a form of linguistic agency and resistance, the imagination provides a space to envision the curative healing of our historical wounds and the restoration of nuestra dignitad cultural y tradicional (our cultural and traditional dignity).33 ***

Although the past is history, we must keep the torch of our ancestors alive in our memory to inform our present-day processes. In so doing, we can “be the healing of the wounds” integrating private spaces with public issues to transform unjust social spaces. Anzaldúa writes: “I struggle to ‘talk’ from the wound’s gash, make sense of the death and destruction, and pull the pieces of my life together, I yearn to pass on to the next generation the spiritual activism I’ve inherited from my cultures.”34 This new form of mestizaje (mixed ancestry) resistance emerges when we attune our inner consciousness in order to become agents of social change. Anzaldúa’s spiritual activism tasks


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the reader with challenging himself or herself with self-realization and selfrenewal and to bridge this inner awakening with outward directed actions to bring about social and material change. For Anzaldúa, “Nothing happens in the real world unless it first happens in the images in our heads.”35 In this sense, the outer and inner merge simultaneously influencing and shaping each other to create “El Mundo Zurdo, a path of a two-way movement—a going deep into the self and an expanding out into the world, a simultaneous recreation of the self and a reconstruction of society.”36 It is through the act of writing and the act of sharing cultural stories that “healing, self-growth, and cultural critique” takes place.37 Anzaldúa writes: “I am act of kneading, of uniting and joining that not only has produced both a creature of darkness and a creature of light, but also a creature that questions the definitions of light and dark and gives them new meanings.”38 Rather than trying to resolve the paradox, Anzaldúa courageously decides to embrace the conflicts and contradictions in order to move toward peaceful resolution. The act of writing becomes both a political tool of resistance and an antidote to historical erasure and human suffering enabling borderland peoples to embrace the personal, political, and socio-cultural contradictions.39 In this imaginative space, liberation from restrictive dualistic thinking occurs. ***

Nepantleras (visionary cultural workers) facilitate the liberation from the privileged binarism of Empire and nation-state into a “hybridness” and threshold between old and new realities of belonging and non-belonging where people traverse complex socio-political realities and languages to discover a kindred space of humanity. Nepantleras emerge as guides and act as intermediaries between cultures to create a shared humanity.40 Gloria Anzaldúa was a Nepantlera—capable of freely moving between divergent worlds and groups of people to envision new transformative possibilities.41 Her aesthetics offer a pedagogical pathway to have students explore their own inner curanderas (healers) to discover their desconocimientos (ignorance)— borderland existence, and “spots” in their historical memories.42 In my own writing workshops,43 I synthesize what Ana Louise Keating refers to as Anzaldúa’s shaman aesthetics to engage students in the process of writing as a form of personal discovery and social agency.44 Reading and responding to Anzaldúa’s writing and ethno-poetics produce literary ethnographies and interdisciplinary models of ethnographic listening, which engages writers in cross-cultural dialogues and ethical commitments to economic and social justice. To read and hear these voices is to join in compassion and “deep learning” of the “other” so that the “the lesson truth is not held in one consciousness,” but “explodes toward the other.”45 Here, words cleanse the psychic wounds; theory is humanized and becomes a praxis for healing and reintegration.

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The curandera (healer) process enables writers to address the political discourse of anti-immigrant xenophobia and confront, accept, and travel through and beyond their own desconocimientos (ignorance) to a new place “where a new kind of self” is created.46 On this journey, writers create their own transformative “shamanic topos” (a spiritual guide map). These “topos” are a form of “affective mapping” and provide direction and a path to negotiate a way through the “coexisting realities” and internalized systematic oppression that borderland peoples encounter on their social landscapes.47 According to Jonathan Flatley, affective mapping “enacts critical vigilance” as it “traces the paths, resting places, dead ends, and detours we share with others, including those who came before us.”48 Through the mapping of topos, writers learn to embrace their individual histories. On this journey, writers delve into their imaginative powers to explore ways to shift past the destructive systems of racism, gender injustice, and social inequities that limit human potential.49 Language becomes a forceful conduit for creating personal and intercultural awareness—the first step in conceiving material change. Writing becomes a way of talking back to hate discourse that normalizes a type of biopower violence, that aligns Mexican-immigrants with “rapists,” “killers,” and general “bad ones,” who are responsible for all the major “violent crime in our major cities.”50 Writing is the weapon against the violent rhetoric that constructs a class of “inferior and sub-human” people “because of their perceived immigrant status.”51 In these workshops, writers write, share their works, and listen. In “giving up that hatred,” writers participate in a critical engagement of organic knowledge production and ethnographic listening of the subjectivities produced.52 Later in this chapter, I will show how the imagination inspires the writing to unite, transverse, and subvert Trumpesque intolerant hate rhetoric that aligns immigration with the “war on terrorism.”53 By engaging in reflection and sharing their vivencias (experiences) and observing how other vivencias are shaped by power relations, writers engage in a form of social justice scholarship. Anzaldúa writes: “The ability of story (prose and poetry) to transform the storyteller and the listener into something or someone else is shamanistic. The writer, as shapechanger, is a nahual, a shaman.”54 Anzaldúa’s “To Live in the Borderlands,” is the first poem I share with my writers, and, in most all instances, the poem opens the floodgate of social-emotional recognition of what it is truly like to be a “wounded” “half-breed” living in a privileged white American society. Employing both Spanish and English, she raises awareness of the deep personal, racial, cultural, and political struggle borderland people face. “To Live in the Borderlands” In the Borderlands you are the battleground where enemies are kin to each other;


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you are at home, a stranger, the border disputes have been settled the volley of shots have scattered the truce you are wounded, lost in action dead, fighting back55;

Anzaldúa shares her most powerful vivienca expressing the psychic battleground of living in borderland spaces without ever feeling a true sense of belonging. Her powerful images and metaphors offer writers a human connection and a transformative path toward self-healing in order to survive “the razor white teeth” that wants to “shred off your olive-red skin.” She admonishes that in order to survive “you must live sin fronteras,” (without borders) and “be a crossroads.” In my workshops, writers talk back and share their own scars and wounds. In these ethnic texts and contexts, we are privy to the vivencias and stories of dispossession, non-belonging, and resistance. These writers listen and uncover their voices and their histories and in so doing provide valuable insight into the politics of being and living in the multiracial contact zone of the borderlands. I want to share some of the Anzaldúa-inspired shamanic topos from my Curanderas of the Conquest Workshop giving voice to how borderland peoples wield the pen, confront anti-immigrant hate rhetoric, and work through cultural ambiguity “to survive the borderlands” and “live sin fronteras.”56 In these poetic expressions we witness how language is constituted to reflect cultural and political representation and what Edward Said refers to as the “unhealable rift between a body and a native place, between the self and its true home.”57 The exiled feels a sense of destabilizing loss for his home and his ancestral roots and what was “left behind forever.”58 For Said, exile is a powerful imparting of loss and suffering. Writing in the space of Nepantla offers students a safe space for postcolonial hybrid identities to engage in a politics of participation and steadily bridge “realities, systems of knowledge, and languages” and confront the “here” and “there” of “an historical time and geopolitical space.”59 Yet, as Anzaldúa reminds us, like life itself, “Nepantla is painful, messy, confusing, and chaotic; it signals unexpected, uncontrollable shifts, transitions, and changes. Nepantla hurts!”60 These shifts are seen in the oppositional tropes when writers employ their native tongue and switch back and forth between linguistic codes, Spanish and English, to reveal the dialectical power struggle of cultural boundaries and fixed identities. Auto-ethnographic in substance, the poems are what Pratt would consider “representations that the so defined others construct in response to or dialogue” with circulating political discourses.61 These borderland writers are among those who have made it through the system in spite of the exclusionary educational politics. They are

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as Anzaldúa describes—the Trojan mulas (mules) infiltrators of the system bringing with them political expressions of personal and cultural resistance and new ways of seeing the world.62 They are the workhorses of the system carrying generations of historical oppression on their backs. I purposefully leave these poetic texts in their original states and do not translate them in order for the reader to experience the vulnerability and struggle of living in the borderlands. One of the first mulas is Ruben Espana who writes about his native homeland—Méjico: Nuestras ciudades están llenas de corrupción! Sus políticos son impotentes. La ausencia de dinero en sus bolsillos. Sits in piles in front of wicked men. Sangre tinta tus calles Crystal glitters within your borders. No hay comida en los estómogos de tus hormigas Y tu no haces nada! 63

In this poem, Ruben risks the sharing of his personal feelings to articulate his anger, sentiments, and nostalgia of being rendered as Homi K. Bhabha calls “unhomed” from his native land. Yet, Reuben acknowledges that Mexico, estás in mi sangre (you are in my blood), in spite of its political impotence, corruption, and poverty where even the ants are starving. Written mostly in Spanish, Ruben narrates his despair, fragmentation, loss, and alienation leaving only four fragmentary phrases in English suggesting that Mexico and its “beautiful features” has been a battlefield of “wicked men” vying for control of the crystal methamphetamine trade. In Tijuana alone, there are close to twenty thousand tienditas (small markets) selling cocaine packets to locals and tourists willing to cross the border. Ruben’s declarations in English and Spanish charge America for el sangre (the blood) and yet another abierta herida (open wound) that spills onto the streets of his motherland.64 Ruben cannot erase these images from his memory; although he lives in Los Angeles and attends UCLA, he can never renounce the longing for his ideal notions of his homeland. Llevo tu marca permanentemente (I carry your permanent scar), he writes turning his nostalgia into a discourse on physical and psychic scars and ruptures. These same contradictions can lead to personal awareness and liberating transformation through the realization of an inner strength to thrive and grow in different locations. He refuses to erase his homeland, and his history. “Tu No estás muerto,” (You are not dead), he writes. In his final declaration delivered in English, he despairs: “You are lost.” Although Reuben integrates both Spanish and English in his writing, his final line reveals


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that to live in America means to privilege English and so he will subsume his heritage, his language, his history into the great American melting pot. Many of the writers in my workshop reveal the contradictions of speaking, living, and writing in both Spanish and English and the difficulty of subordinating their native tongue in order to survive in the borderlands. One such writer Healer Joymee Cruzado expresses the shifts in her reality as she awakens to her experience of living in the margins of two cultures. In her poem entitled “De Novo,” Joymee Cruzado writes: “De Novo” Despierta de nuevo! Cold air invades my lungs like the first gale of winter over dry autumn leaves. En este día that I wake, yo soy la misma I am this and that, Todo y nada Panic settles in the pit of my stomach, Bliss interrupted. As I toss and turn, I wonder. Is this all real? 65

Joymee’s poem speaks directly to the borderland experience of negotiating culture and boundaries of fixed self and difference of waking up la misma (the same), “this and that,” todo y nada (all and nothing). Anzaldúa poignantly describes this as a liminal space of displacement—el lugar en medio—a place in the middle of extreme opposites, which for Joymee is the only possible home for the moment. As a Mexican immigrant living in the borderland spaces, Joymee awakes una personaje diferente (a different person) every day, responding to the “bustling” of daily life that surrounds her. Her contemplation on her absence of sleep provokes sentiments of groundlessness in another space, not home, not country, but a disconnected subjectivity that awakens in a foreign soil. Uprooted Joymee finds comfort in a sleep that transcends human emotions of sorrow and loss. But her “bliss” is interrupted, by the “panic” and reality that even when resting seeps into the “pit of her stomach.” Joymee’s body is sickened from living between two extreme worlds; like Anzaldúa her struggle and trauma is experienced deeply within her body and expressed in the process of writing.66 It is in the act of Nepantla that Joymee’s psychic wound is verbalized to form a recognition of its physical presence in her body. Like Anzaldúa, “the female body is a gateway through which a woman can access her language.”67 Joymee’s poetic expression of her physical wounds becomes the cicatriz (scar), which becomes the healing bridge to link the splits and fractures of her identity.68 For other writers, border consciousness becomes an opportunity to reconnect to their ancestral roots and remember their migration histories. In these texts, we witness how “[Border thinking] works toward the restitution of the

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colonial difference that colonial translation attempted to erase.”69 These texts challenge colonizing epistemologies that homogenize perceptions, histories, and meaning-making. Here, we witness how writers dismantle socio-cultural programming and discursive erasure to recover their historical truths. Mexican-American David Castillo addresses his subaltern position, his exilio experience, and his longing for his ancestral roots. He has been “distanced from his indigenous ancestors” and no longer speaks their language.70 His mind has been “colonized” and a “new religion” imposed “upon his people.” 71Today, he has little understanding of his cultural roots and “speaks a language of imperialism—a language that has incarcerated my consciousness, and replaced it with an image of a false god.”72 As difficult as it is for him, he acknowledges that he carries his ancestral cells within him and the pain of their past. “I am my people,” he states.73 “My people that were raped, murdered, and betrayed.”74 In Trump’s America he feels that “being brown is a crime” and society views him as “a monkey,” “an unsuccessful brown boy” in a world that expects little from him in the way of socio-economic contributions.75 Castillo attempts to make sense of his indigenous heritage, attempts to understand his past and current position in American society—a task that becomes a radical step toward his socio-psychic integration and essential for an inclusive democracy. He recognizes that he must embrace his history, his heritage. “I must know who I am, with new knowledge on how to understand myself. I must be proud of what I am, rather than desperately try to fit into a society that has enslaved our minds.”76 Castillo has produced a resistant narrative that is urgent, articulating a narrative expression that stakes a historical claim in his oppression and the meaning of his life. His personal pronoun “I” embraces the complexities and ambiguities of living the insilio/exilio (inside/ outside) the American experience. His imperative that he must know who he is with “new” knowledge becomes the radical proclamation of hope in a society that attempts to erase his heritage and discount his existence. Castillo’s auto-ethnographic prose testifies to how the personal is political. His writing bears witness to five hundred years of historical oppression and the contemporary “crises of capitalism” and neoliberal policies that have impacted indigenous peoples throughout Central America.77 In other discourses, writers examine their suppressed history while trying to honor the reason for their parents’ journey to America. They share painful memories of historical truths and realities unknown by many Americans of how military guerilla forces terrorized their native countries forcing their parents to flee for safety. Salvadoran-American student, Vanessa Rodriguez, testifies to U.S. involvement in El Salvador providing a personal account to existing historical records of the $7 billion military aid package first administered under Ronald Reagan. Rodriguez writes about the intensity of the civil war and how her parents “crossed the border escaping the war in El Salvador in 1980” because


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they “did not want to join the guerillas.”78 Between 1980 and 1992, militarized death squads murdered and disappeared 70,000 civilians. From community leaders to priests and nuns, none were spared. Archbishop Oscar Romero was murdered praying at the altar shortly after he had publicly condemned the killing of civilians. In December 1980, four U.S. churchwomen were brutally raped and murdered because of their commitment to work with El Salvador’s vulnerable peoples. Vanessa recalls how her mother “slept terrified. Guns going off any second, bombs, huge loud explosions that would shake your house.” The U.S. Army School of the Americas (now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation) trained many of the Salvadoran soldiers who committed these atrocities, including death squad leader Roberto D’Aubuisson.79 “All those guns that the guerilla had were because the US, they were the ones in charge to distribute them to the guerilla,” Vanessa writes. Perhaps the most tragic impact of the war was felt by her mother who witnessed “her best friend murdered at the age of fifteen, right before her quinceanera (fifteenth birthday). The guerilla had killed her and put her in a plastic bag and left her in front of her doorstep because her dad was one of the jurists that worked for the Salvadoran government.” Rodriguez carries her parents’ history in her consciousness “like a tattoo,” offering vivid details of what it is truly like for children of survival migrants to live in the borderlands and harbor memories of their parents’ terror and sadness. Another writer, Guatemalan-American Luis Manrique recalls how his father came from the impoverished village of Taxisco, Guatemala, and joined the military in “1978 when he was the age of 13.”80 Manrique’s father, now in his early 1950s and a general in the army, fought in the thirty-six-year civil war—one of the most violent episodes in Guatemalan history. Under the scorched-earth policy of Efraín Ríos Montt, 200,000 civilians were massacred or forced to disappear—barbaric tactics, which according to Amnesty International were supported by the then-president Ronald Reagan.81 Other international human rights organizations have reported ruthless repression of indigenous and peasant populations by military and paramilitary forces in Guatemala and El Salvador during the early 1980s.82 Recalling his father’s collusion in the genocide, he reports of the “slaughters,” “beheadings,” “rape,” of “whole villages of indigenous Maya.” Manrique is aware that the CIA trained the Guatemalan army and paramilitary “y fue responsable de la matanza de los pueblos indios (was responsible for the massacre of Indian villages).” American involvement in backing repressive regimes in Central America has an entangled history of influence by U.S. foreign policy to create conditions favorable to U.S. commercial interests.83 Unfortunately, these policies have led to torturous conditions for Guatemalan citizens forcing tens of thousands to flee and seek safety from armed conflict and repressive regimes. Manrique’s mother was one of the 400,000 who fled her country between

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1960 and 1995. She came to the United States in the 1980s as one of the many asylum seekers; she, like the majority of other Guatemalan asylum applicants was denied asylum and was forced to enter illegally. Manrique grew up “sin un padre” (without a father) in Los Angeles. About his father he writes, “Mi padre es un gran hombre” (My father is a great man.) Manrique joined the military in 2016 enlisting in the U.S. Army. His life is a testament to U.S. foreign policy and to a life lived in the borderlands of historical interpretation. Manrique and Rodriguez are the children of displaced undocumented parents who were part of the mass exodus of one million Salvadorians and Guatemalans who fled their homeland between 1981 and 1990. The Reagan administration did not grant the Manriques and Rodriguezes political asylum as it denied any violation of human rights. At the same time, Reagan denied displaced peoples from Central America asylum, he granted political asylum to Iranians (60 percent), Afghans (40 percent), and Poles (32 percent).84 Their narratives testify to a politics of prejudice and a direct a violation under the 1951 Refugee Convention, which denied political asylum to Central American Refugees with impunity. Manrique and Rodriguez provide other perspectives to the dominant narratives that have become so deeply implanted in our historical memories. What their parents’ eyes have seen, the children have seen. Caught physically and psychologically between worlds, both writers try to make sense of their histories. It is here where writers struggle to talk from the wound’s gash, lies the power to untangle political memory from misleading histories. Their testimonies open an interrogative space to examine how cross-border migration was precipitated by violent civil unrest. They further testify to U.S. collusion in the militarization of Mexico and Central America and the creation of U.S. borderlands. In other discourses, writers reflect on the complex struggles of living within multi-ethnic, multiracial suburban zones. More importantly, they offer vivid historical details of what it is truly like for non-white multiracial youth to live daily in America. These narratives offer an opportunity for self-reflection to examine hegemonic structures of race and class, weaving a series of intersecting subject positions in which writers “undertake to describe themselves in ways that engage with representations others have made of them.”85 For example, African-Mexican Spencer Willison writes that to live in the fissures of Black and Brown America means to “live paycheck to paycheck” and to share cramped urban spaces with “gangs” and “crews,” where in the “dash for success, there is no room for failure.”86 Willison, who feels rejected by both African and Mexican communities, shares his challenges of growing up a poor minority in the ethno-borderlands of America. “Not black enough” and “not Mexican enough,” he lives between two cultures, rejected by both. His only hope is to make his way out of this dualistic chokehold of gunfire


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and gang violence. Because if he doesn’t, there is no life. Afro-HonduranAmerican Gersan Osorio shares another perspective, which entails: “the search for libertad waking up/to a ‘Buenos Días’ and the smell of sweet plátanos fritos./Mi mamá en la cocina with a smile of joy to see her hijo live another day.”87 Osorio narrates his early rise at 5 a.m. to drive two and a half hours to school to a white neighborhood where he is stared at “like I don’t belong.” He observes: “The dark side of the city/ dead bodies and lonely children/ divorced families and mother’s cries” in a world that stereotypically assumes that every Latino is from Mexico.88 Willison and Osorio share their discourses to speak of race in black and brown hyphenated terms, removing white as the center of their families and communities. In the neighborhoods where Willision and Osorio live, whites are not the majority and their realities are different. They articulate the sacrifices made in the name of survival providing a historical frame to examine the injustices of Black/Brown realities and another multiracial perspective of what of what Edward Said refers to as living within the “perilous territory of not-belonging.”89 In all these works, poets writing in the ethno-borderlands expose privileged hierarchies, racial discrimination, and constructions of racialized inferiority based in some cases on their non-whiteness, and, in others, their multiracial identity. Within these cultural imaginaries, multicultural voices occupy the same urban ethnoscape and encounter a diverse range of lived experiences. It is in this complex space of overlapping subjectivities, we witness how the raw material of pain and suffering bleeds onto the page to articulate a politics of resistance against the systematic oppression that encloses them. Anzaldúa takes this blood to imagine a Second Coming of El Mundo Zurdo in order desparrarmar conocimento (spread knowledge) that “the act of writing” is “the act of making” soul.90 In this world, revolution is fought with words, not with guns, and it is powered by imagination and solidarity.91 The articulation and sharing of the writer’s personal borderland experience create a meaningful cross-cultural dialogue of communication and understanding. Here, writers learn to embrace their ethnic, racial, and class differences and accept the differences of others in order to live in “un mundo donde quepan muchos mundos” (a world, where many worlds fit).92 Anzaldúa’s pedagogy of Nepantlera activism enables marginalized writers to “pierce through the mystery” in the “quest for self” to build their own universe of El Mundo Zurdo in which the gashes to their souls begin to heal and marginalized people can transform dominant discourses and use them in their own-self-actualization.93 Behind the aesthetics, is a powerful political consciousness of resistance that invites a critical awareness that tasks the writer to actively engage in the writing and “making” of his and her stories (Gramsci 59). To thrive he or she must be willing to take on la lucha contra el despojo y identidad cultural (the struggle against dispossession and cultural identity.)

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El Zurdo Mundo calls on writers to risk a cartwheel in the air, an imaginative process, which tasks them to truly listen in order to move beyond restrictive cultural and ethnic patterns. Nepantla provides radical opportunities to release hyper-individualized, hyper-cultural, and hyper-racialized scripts that undermine empathy for others and prevent humanity from connecting in a shared community. A space of collective humanity acknowledges differences and celebrates our shared belonging in el espíritu del mundo.94 In gathering our consciousness, Anzaldúa challenges readers and writers to truly engage in an active and compassionate listening of the “other” in order to truly see ourselves in the “other.” This is the transformative power of language and creativity—El Zordo Mundo—a bridge to compassion for all earth’s multitudes. NOTES 1. Jeanne Batalova and Jie Zong, “Mexican Immigrants in the United States,” Migration Information Source (2014), mexican-immigrants-united-states 2. I use Arjun Appadurai’s definition of “ethnoscape” to mean the diversity of peoples from immigrants to tourists and exiles to refugees that occupy the unsettled global landscape in which we live. See Arjun Appadurai, “Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy,” in The Phantom Public Sphere, ed. Bruce Robbins (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993), 269–295. 3. In his 2016 Presidential announcement, Trump charged Mexico for sending “people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” Michelle Ye Hee Lee, “Donald Trump’s false comments connecting Mexican Immigrants and crime,” The Washington Post, June 17, 2015. Campaign 2016. 4. Ibid. 5. Michael D. Shear and Emmarie Huetteman, “Trump Insists Mexico Will Pay for Wall After U.S. Begins the Work,” The New York Times, 2017, A13. 6. Reece Jones, Violent Borders: Refugees and the Right to Move (New York: Verson, 2017), 479–480. 7. International Organization for Migration, “Fatal Journeys.” Tracking Lives Lost during Migration (Geneva: Switzerland, 2014), 53. 8. Alexander Betts, Survival Migration: Failed Governance and the Crisis of Displacement (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2013), 13. 9. Ibid., 3. 10. Ibid., 10. 11. Ibid., 23. 12. Anzaldua uses the term bleeds both literally and metaphorically. Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (San Francisco: Spinsters/ Aunt Lute, 1987), 3.


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13. I use Antonio Gramsci’s definition of ethico-political to mean the ethical and political approach to social justice. See Antonio Gramsci, The Antonio Gramsci Reader, ed. David Forgacs (New York: New York University Press, 2000). 14. Tex Mex is a combination of both English and Spanish usage, also known as Spanglish or Tex-Mex Spanglish. 15. Tereza Kynclová, “Constructing Mestiza Consciousness: Gloria Anzaldua’s Literary Techniques in Borderlands/La Frontera—The New Mestiza,” Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self Knowledge 4 (2006): 53. 16. Ibid. 17. Qtd. in Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire (Cambridge: Harvard University Press), 2000, 146. 18. See P.T. Clough, “Comments on setting criteria for experimental writing,” Qualitative Inquiry 6, no. 2 (2000): 278–291; Norman K. Denzin, Interpretive Autoethnography: Qualitative Research Methods (Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2014), Kindle Edition. 19. James Berlin, Rhetorics, Poetics, and Cultures: Refiguring College English Studies. (Urbana: NCTE, 1996), 188. 20. Mary Louise Pratt, “The Art of the Contact Zone,” Profession (1991): 34. 21. Jaime Armin Mejía, “ARTS OF THE U.S.-MEXICO CONTACT ZONE,” in Crossing Borderlands: Composition and Postcolonial Studies, eds. Andrea A. Lunsford and Lahoucine Ouzgane (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2004), 172. 22. To be a Mestiza is to be a woman of mixed race both indigenous and Spanish. “Anzaldúa writes: As a Mestiza, you are automatically expressing multitudes of races, cultural and ideological terms into one word.” (Anzaldúa, 1987, 4–10). 23. Theresa J. Wolfword, “A Convergence of Globalization and Militarization,” in There is an Alternative: Subsistence and Worldwide Resistance to Corporate Globalization, eds. Veronika Bennholdt-Thomsen, Nicholas Farclas, and Claudia Von Verlhof (London: Zed Books, 2001), 148. 24. Martha A. Ojeda and Hennessy Rosemary, NAFTA From Below: Maquiladora Workers, Farmers, and Indigenous Communities Speak Out on the Impact of Free Trade in Mexico (San Antonio: Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras, 2006), 135. 25. Anzaldúa, Borderlands, 3. 26. Ibid. 27. Gloria Anzaldúa, “(Un)natural bridges, (Un)safe spaces,” in The Gloria Anzaldúa Reader, ed. AnaLouise Keating (Durham: Duke University Press, 2009), 245. 28. AnaLouise Keating, “‘I'm a citizen of the universe’: Gloria Anzaldúa's Spiritual Activism as Catalyst for Social Change,” Feminist Studies (2008): 63. 29. Ibid., 63. 30. Ibid., 122. 31. Ibid., 91. 32. Anzaldúa, Borderlands, 69. 33. Ibid., 121. 34. Gloria Anzaldúa, “Let us be the healing of the wound,” in The Gloria Anzaldúa Reader, ed. AnaLouise Keating (Durham: Duke University Press, 2009), 314. 35. Anzaldúa, Borderlands, 87.

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36. AnaLouise Keating, “I’m a citizen of the universe”: Gloria Anzaldúa’s Spiritual Activism as Catalyst for Social Change.” Feminist Studies (2008): 59. 37. The Gloria Anzaldúa Reader, 319. 38. Anzaldúa, Borderlands, 81. 39. Carol Pearson, “Writing from the Outside in: Constructs of Memory and Chicanas as Private Eyes in Three Detective Novels by Lucha Corpi,” Interdisciplinary Studies 4, no. 1 (2006): 38–51. 40. Gloria Anzaldúa, “Speaking Across the Divide,” in The Gloria Anzaldúa Reader. ed. AnaLouise Keating (Durham: Duke University Press, 2009), 293. 41. AnaLouise Keating, “From Borderlands and New Mestizas to Nepantlas and Nepantleras: Anzaldúan Theories for Social Change,” Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge (2006): 2. 42. Ibid., 7. 43. I have been conducting Nepantla Workshops in the Los Angeles between 2013 and 2016 with students from South and Central America in an afterschool program known as the writersalon. 44. Anzaldúa, “Speaking in Tongues,” 30. 45. Wanda Alarcón, Cindy Cruz, Linda Jackson Guardia, Linda Prieto, & Sandra Rodriguez-Arroyo, “Compartiendo Nuestras Historias: Five Testimonios of Schooling and Survival,” Teacher Education Faculty Publications, Paper 77 (2011). 46. Anzaldúa, Borderlands, iii. 47. AnaLouise Keating, “Speculative Realism, Visionary Pragmatism and PoetShamanic Aesthetics in Gloria Anzaldua—and Beyond,” Women’s Studies Quarterly 40, nos. 3–4 (2012): 61. 48. Rosemary Hennessy, Fires on the Border: The Passionate Politics of Labor Organizing on the Mexican Frontera (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013), 79. 49. Ibid., 53. 50. Carolina Moreno, “9 Outrageous Things Donald Trump has Said About Latinos,” The Huffington Post (August 21, 2015). 51. Arturo J. Aldama, “No Somos Criminales: Crossing Borders in Contemporary Latina and Latino Music,” in Performing the US Latina and Latino Borderlands, eds. Arturo J. Aldama, Chela Sandoval, and Peter J. García (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2012), 366. 52. Anzaldúa, Borderlands, 37. 53. Michelle Ye Hee Lee, “Donald Trump’s false comments connecting Mexican Immigrants and crime,” The Washington Post, June 17, 2015. Campaign 2016. 54. Anzaldúa, Borderlands, 88. 55. Ibid., 194. 56. Ibid., Borderlands, 119. 57. Edward Said, “Reflections on Exile,” in Reflections on Exile and Other Essays, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002), 173. 58. Ibid. 59. Min-Zhan Lu, “Composing Postcolonial Studies,” in Crossing Borderlands: Composition And Postcolonial Studies, eds. Andrea A. Lunsford and Lahoucine Ouzgane (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2004), 12.


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60. AnaLouise Keating, “From Borderlands and New Mestizas to Nepantlas and Nepantleras,” 9. 61. Pratt, “The Art of the Contact Zone,” 184. 62. Gloria Anzaldúa, “The New Mestiza Nation,” The Gloria Anzaldúa Reader, ed. AnaLouise Keating (Durham: Duke University Press, 2009), 207. 63. Ruben Espana, “Mexico.” Writersalon (2013). n. pag. Web. 28. October 2015. This poem is written without translation in order for the reader to experience firsthand the struggle of understanding most survival migrants face in America. 64. In conversations with Ruben, he has recognized how the complicated relationship between Colombian’s FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and the U.S.-Colombia Action Plan and War on Drugs that has in fact accelerated drug trafficking in Mexico. 65. Joymee Cruzado, “De Novo,” Writersalon (2013) n. pag. Web. 28. October 2015. This poem is purposefully left without a translation. 66. See Tereza Kynclová “Constructing Mestiza Consciousness: Gloria Anzaldua’s Literary Techniques in Borderlands/La Frontera—The New Mestiza,” Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self Knowledge 4 (2006): 6. 67. Ibid. 68. Anzaldúa, “let us be the healing of the wound,” 313. 69. 69 Mignolo, Local Histories/Global Designs: Coloniality, Subaltern Knowledges, and Border Thinking (Princeton University Press, 2012,) 3. 70. Castillo, David. “In Conversation,” Writersalon (2017) n. pag. Web. 20. June 2017. 71. Ibid. 72. Ibid. 73. Ibid. 74. Ibid. 75. Ibid. 76. Ibid. 77. Denzin, Interpretive Autoethnography, 692–701. 78. Vannessa Rodriguez, Nepantla Workshop, Los Angeles, California (2014, March). 79. Inside Story Americas, “The School of the Americas: Class over?” Al-Jazeera, September 20, 2012. 80. Luis Manrique, Nepantla Workshop. Los Angeles, CA (2016, June). 81. Noam Chomsky, Turning the Tide: U.S. Intervention in Central America and the Struggle for Peace (Boston: South End Press, 1985), 29. 82. Susan Gzesh, “Central Americans and Asylum Policy in the Reagan Era,” Migration Policy Institute (2006). 83. Chomsky, Turning the Tide, 158. 84. Susan Gzesh, “Central Americans and Asylum Policy in the Reagan Era.” 85. Pratt, “The Art of the Contact Zone,” 183. 86. Spencer Willison, “Black on Brown,” Writersalon (2015) n. pag, Web. 28, October 2015.

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87. Gerson, Osorio. “Not Mexican.” Writersalon (2015). n. pag. Web. 28. October 2015. 88. Ibid. 89. Said, “Reflections on Exile,”177. 90. Anzaldúa, “Speaking in Tongues,” 30. 91. Gloria Anzaldúa, This Bridge We Call Home: Radical Visions for Transformation (New York: Routledge, 2002), 5. 92. The rhetoric of “a world where many worlds fit,” derives from the Zapatistas. For more on borderland pedagogy see: Suzanne Bost and Frances R. Aparicio, The Routledge Companion to Latino/a Literature (New York: Routledge, 2013), 98. 93. Krishna Sen, “Post-Colonialism, Globalism, Nativism: Reinventing English in a Post-Colonial Space,” in Identity in Crossroad Civilisations: Ethnicity, Nationalism and Globalism in Asia, eds. Erich Kolig et al. (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2009), 120. 94. See Bill McKibben’s concept of hyper-individualism in Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and The Durable Future (New York: Holt Paperbacks, 2007).

REFERENCES Alarcón, Wanda; Cruz, Cindy; Jackson, Linda Guardia; Prieto, Linda; and RodriguezArroyo, Sandra. “Compartiendo Nuestras Historias: Five Testimonios of Schooling and Survival.” Teacher Education Faculty Publications Paper 77 (2011). Aldama, Arturo J. “No Somos Criminales: Crossing Borders in Contemporary Latina and Latino Music.” In Performing the US Latina and Latino Borderlands, edited by Arturo J. Aldama, Chela Sandoval, and Peter J. García, 365–381. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2012. Anzaldúa, Gloria. Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. San Francisco: Spinsters/Aunt Lute, 1987. ———. “El Mundo Zurdo.” In This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, edited by Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa. New York: Kitchen Table/Women of Color Press, 1983. ———. “Let us Be the Healing of the Wounds.” In The Gloria Anzaldúa Reader, edited by AnaLouise Keating. Durham: Duke University Press, 2009. ———. “Speaking Across the Divide.” In The Gloria Anzaldúa Reader, edited by AnaLouise Keating. Durham: Duke University Press, 2009. ———. “Speaking in Tongues.” In The Gloria Anzaldúa Reader, edited by AnaLouise Keating. Durham: Duke University Press, 2009. ———.“The New Mestiza Nation.” In The Gloria Anzaldúa Reader, edited by AnaLouise Keating. Durham: Duke University Press, 2009. ———. “Metaphors in the Tradition of the Shaman,” In The Gloria Anzaldúa Reader, edited by AnaLouise Keating. Durham: Duke University Press, 2009. ———. This Bridge We Call Home: Radical Visions for Transformation. New York: Routledge, 2002.


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———. “(Un)natural Bridges, (Un)safe Spaces,” in The Gloria Anzaldúa Reader, edited by AnaLouise Keating. Durham: Duke University Press, 2009. Appadurai, Arjun. “Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy.” In The Phantom Public Sphere, edited by Bruce Robbins, 269–295. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993. Batalova, Jeanne and Jie Zong. “Mexican Immigrants in the United States.” Migration Policy Institute (October 9, 2014), accessed October 2, 2016, Berlin, James. Rhetorics, Poetics, and Cultures: Refiguring College English Studies. Urbana, IL: NCTE, 1996. Betts, Alexander. Survival Migration: Failed Governance and the Crisis of Displacement. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2013. Bost, Suzanne and Frances R. Aparicio, The Routledge Companion to Latino/a Literature. New York: Routledge, 2013, 98. Castillo, David. “In Conversation.” Writersalon. (June 20, 2017). n. pag. Web. 07. October 2017. Chambers, Rylee. “Second Skins.” Writersalon (October 28, 2015), accessed July 12, 2016, Chomsky, Noam. Turning the Tide: U.S. Intervention in Central America and the Struggle for Peace. Boston: South End Press, 1985. Cruzado, Joymee. “De Novo.” Writersalon (October 28, 2015), accessed July 12, 2016, Denzin, Norman K. Interpretive Autoethnography: Qualitative Research Methods. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 2014. Kindle Edition. Dirlik, Arif. “The Postcolonial Aura: Third World Criticism in the Age of Global Capitalism.” Critical Inquiry 20, no. 2 (1994): 328–356. Espana, Ruben. “Mexico.” Writersalon (October 28, 2015), accessed July 12, 2016, Gerson, Osorio. “Not Mexican.” Writersalon (October 28, 2015), accessed July 12, 2016, Hardt, Michael and Antonio Negri. Empire. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000. Hennessy, Rosemary. Fires on the Border: The Passionate Politics of Labor Organizing on the Mexican Frontera. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013. International Organization for Migration. “Fatal Journeys. Tracking Lives Lost during Migration.” Geneva: Switzerland (2014): 53. Inside Story Americas, “The School of the Americas: Class over?” Al-Jazeera, September 20, 2012. Jones, Reece. Violent Borders: Refugees and the Right to Move. New York: Verso, 2017. Keating, AnaLouise, “I'm a citizen of the universe: Gloria Anzaldúa's Spiritual Activism as Catalyst for Social Change.” Feminist Studies 34, nos. 1–2 (2008): 53–69. Keating, AnaLouise. “From Borderlands and New Mestizas to Nepantlas and Nepantleras: Anzaldúan Theories for Social Change.” Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge 4, No. 3 (2006): Article 3.

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Kynclová, Tereza. “Constructing Mestiza Consciousness: Gloria Anzaldua’s Literary Techniques in Borderlands/La Frontera—The New Mestiza.” Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self Knowledge 4 (2006): 53. Lee, Michelle Ye Hee. “Donald Trump’s false comments connecting Mexican Immigrants and crime.” The Washington Post, 17 June 2015, Campaign 2016. Lu, Min-Zhan. “Composing Postcolonial Studies.” In Crossing Borderlands: Composition And Postcolonial Studies, edited by Andrea A. Lunsford and Lahoucine Ouzgane. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2004. McKibben, Bill. Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and The Durable Future. New York: Holt Paperbacks, 2007. Mejía, Jaime Armin. “ARTS OF THE U.S.-MEXICO CONTACT ZONE.” In Crossing Borderlands: Composition And Postcolonial Studies, edited by Andrea A. Lunsford and Lahoucine Ouzgane. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2004. Mignolo, Walter. Local histories/global designs: Coloniality, Subaltern Knowledges, and Border thinking. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012. Moreno, Carolina. “9 Outrageous Things Donald Trump has Said About Latinos.” The Huffington Post, August 21, 2015. Ojeda, Martha A. and Hennessy Rosemary. NAFTA From Below: Maquiladora Workers, Farmers, and Indigenous Communities Speak Out on the Impact of Free Trade in Mexico. San Antonio: Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras, 2006, 135. Pearson, Carol. “Writing from the Outside in: Constructs of Memory and Chicanas as Private Eyes in Three Detective Novels by Lucha Corpi.” Interdisciplinary Studies 4, no. 1 (2006): 38–51. Pratt, Mary Louise. “The Art of the Contact Zone.” Profession (1991): 33–40. Rodriguez, Vannessa. Nepantla Workshop. 20, March 2014, Gilbert Hall, Los Angeles, California. Said, Edward. “Reflections on Exile,” in Reflections on Exile and Other Essays, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002. Sen, Krishna. “Post-Colonialism, Globalism, Nativism: Reinventing English in a Post-Colonial Space.” In Identity in Crossroad Civilisations: Ethnicity, Nationalism and Globalism in Asia, edited by Erich Kolig, Vivienne SM. Angeles, Sam Wong. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2009. Shear, Michael D. and Emmarie Huetteman. “Trump Insists Mexico Will Pay for Wall After U.S. Begins the Work.” The New York Times, January 6, 2017, A13. Wolfwood, Theresa J. “A Convergence of Globalization and Militarization.” In There is an Alternative: Subsistence and Worldwide Resistance to Corporate Globalization, edited by Veronika Bennholdt-Thomsen, Nicholas Farclas, and Claudia Von Verlhof. London: Zed Books, 2001. Willison, Spencer. “Black on Brown.” Writersalon (October 28, 2015), accessed July 12, 2016,

Chapter 8

Transnational Perspectives on Romanian Gender and Ethnic Diversity in Ioana Baetica Morpurgo’s Imigranţii Maria-Sabina Draga Alexandru In 2001, Azade Seyhan, an important promoter of transnationalism, stated in her book Writing Outside the Nation that “the contemporary tales of migration, exile, and displacement are often seen as mirroring the fragmented consciousness of postmodern culture itself.”1 Multiple dislocations/relocations lead to a fragmentation of identity and a questioning of the importance of nation as a vital component of who somebody is. Since the publication of Seyhan’s book, postmodernism has been seriously questioned and even considered to have ended,2 and we have seen returns of nationalism in forms such as the war on terror caused by 9/11 and, more recently, by the global refugee crisis, or Brexit. Yet the jargon of transnationalism has been increasingly employed in the humanities to describe situations produced by contemporary cross-border movement and to provide new perspectives on practices, discourses, and products associated with this movement and its effects on both the source countries and the target countries. In 2009, Steven Vertovec proclaimed transnationalism to be everywhere and described it as “a widespread interest in economic, social and political linkages between people, places and institutions crossing nation-state borders and spanning the world.”3 This shift of emphasis from a “fragmented consciousness,” marking the loss that occurs through migration rather than the gain that comes with it, onto “linkages between people, places and institutions” reconceptualizes the drama of dislocation as an opportunity to form new connections rather than as a loss of the old ones. In an increasingly global world, in which changing location has become the status quo, places are no longer as different as they used to be, nor are certain places objectively better than others, or at least not enough to fully justify people’s decisions to relocate. In their countries of adoption, migrants often come across problems reminiscent of those at home, which, rather than a cause of disappointment, 135


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is in most cases an opportunity to open up the perspective toward a wider understanding of what migration itself, with its good and bad aspects, actually implies. It is the often unexpected gains and difficulties of transnational relocation that Ioana Baetica Morpurgo’s 2011 novel (and, at the same time, collection of interconnected stories) Imigranții (The Immigrants)4 focuses on. The stories of the five protagonists, of different ages, educational backgrounds, and sexual orientations, seem at first sight unrelated and internally fragmented, yet form a continuum, being connected through discrete references across each other throughout the novel, as well as the common topic, that of life in conditions of permanent or temporary relocation. Each story is built around one character, picturing his/her position in time and space at the moment of narration, but also in relation to their present and possible future. As a whole, Morpurgo’s novel is a story told synechdochically, in terms of parts that make up a version of the whole, which gives a fair sample of possible versions of Romanian migration to the United Kingdom without attempting to cover everything that can be said about the topic. Having all grown up under communism, with the limitations imposed by a political system that promoted corruption and doublethink, the five characters live through moments of disillusion in the light of which they revisit their past experiences and reconcile themselves with the possibilities their future seems to hold for them. I will argue in this chapter that, through this particular way of patching together fragments of individual narratives within one individual consciousness, as well as through its treatment of language, Imigranții illustrates the transition from a fragmentary migrant consciousness to the understanding of transnationalism as a dynamic set of links between very different people who share a common historical predicament. Furthermore, within the context of contemporary, young Romanian literature, Imigranții is marked by a gesture of leaving behind a dimension of mere sensationalism that was fashionable throughout the nineties, like a kind of ritual liberation of language from communist and traditionalist restrictions. Before leaving for England, Ioana Baetica was known to the Romanian reading audience as part of the group of post-December “fracturist” writers built around the literary circle “Litere 2000” and the literary journal Fracturi (Fractures) run by the then insurgent poet Marius Ianuș. “Fracturism” takes the aesthetics of the generation of the 1980s (represented particularly by Mircea Cărtărescu and Alexandru Mușina) further, aiming at a new version of humanism and inviting a redefinition of the self that emerges from the fractures suffered by a generation that had decided to turn against the establishment. Apparently a mere exacerbation of indecent (sometimes shocking) language, full of sexual reference and swearwords to the point of vulgarity, fracturism was in fact aiming at extreme freedom, a poetic reaction against

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the limitations of the communist regime and of the long transition period that followed.5 In an article in România literară that compares Fișa de înregistrare to Baetica’s second book, Imigranții, Cosmin Ciotloș shows that, while the former book drew the readership’s attention merely because of a favorable conjuncture that allowed for good publicity, the latter, despite the unequal writing, definitely has its merits and is a very accomplished novel. Ciotloș also notices Baetica’s conscious effort to leave behind the clichés in her earlier writing and turn the experience to good account, to produce a much better structured, less gratuitously defiant and certainly much more engaging narrative.6 Imigranții belongs to a more mature, structured phase in Baetica’s career, corresponding to a more conscious, controlled use of language which, at the level of content, also corresponds to an increased interest in global connectivities. Also, at this post-Brexit point in time, when a certain part of the public opinion in the United Kingdom publicly manifested its hostility toward immigrants, Baetica’s account, with its variety of perspectives (rather than unequal writing) and its autobiographically inspired honesty, seems particularly timely. There are five narrative voices in Imigranții: Răzvan, the gay human rights PhD student who researches secret CIA prisons in Eastern Europe and tries to figure out who he is as he works on his PhD; Maria, the second-rate painter who has married “her parents’ dreams” in the shape of a sophisticated art dealer who has brought her to England but fails to provide an answer to most of her questions; Traian, the young professional with a very well-paid job in the city of London (the business area of the metropolis), but with a broken heart; Sabina, the middle-aged peasant from a village near Botoșani, the typical transnational full-time care giver, ironically employed by a xenophobic old man dying of cancer; and Gruia, an undocumented gypsy fiddler who earns his living at a Balkan restaurant and who allows himself to be run over by a car after he impulsively murders a prostitute he is in love with. These characters discreetly cross each other’s stories and, without really knowing each other, come in touch briefly at crucial points of the narrative, so that each of their stories makes full sense only as connected to the others. There is one more flat, symbolical, itinerant character who lacks the others’ complex psychology, yet instead has a much stronger claim at being representative of a certain post-communist Romanian attitude that Baetica notices and implicitly rebuts. He pervades all stories and seems to be a mask the narrator wears sometimes in order to be able to observe the characters’ actions without being noticed. His name is Victor Preda and he is a kind of silent embodiment of the people who manifested in the streets during the 1989 anti-communist revolution in Romania, but also, at the same time, of a certain kind of eternal Romanian critical spirit that fails to be effective because it is passive and contemplative. As he silently criticizes the new government and


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their failure to contribute to the progress of Romanian society and is always disappointed not only with how post-revolution Romania has turned out, but also with everything else, the others pass him by at the Romanian Cultural Center, in the park, at the cinema or online. As he tries to while away his time, between an attempt to connect with friends on Yahoo messenger and a quick look at a dating site, Traian discovers a blog. This blog features Victor Preda making comments on the forces that triggered the Romanian revolution with the superiority felt as legitimate for someone coming from Timișoara (the city where the anti-communist movement started). Preda speaks a kind of signature Romanian with local particularities (the analytic Dative case with the preposition “la” instead of the standard synthetic form): “One would have had to feel an enormous fury. Ayeeee, aye aye aye . . . . One would have had to think, I have nothing to lose. Either they shoot me or we do something. (. . .) That's why it started in Timișoara.”7 Traian’s gesture to move on to another website is an implicit comment on the part of the author herself as to the rather clichéd and useless nature of such endless, but not very fruitful, discussions as to what it means to be a revolutionary. A voice that is also present in the novel is that of the implied author/narrator, who collaborates in different ways with each of the protagonists in the telling of individual stories and ultimately dissolves the five voices, despite their differences, into one heterogeneous, hybrid, collective voice. In fact, an informed critical reading of Imigranții could start at the end, with the postscriptum, which pulls all the threads together. This is done by resuming them all in the manner of the realist convention, as facts that “really happened” and were arranged in this form by The Great Puzzler, the author/narrator, who mysteriously signs “Uther Pendragon” (King Arthur’s father in the Round Table legends, hence an authoritative father figure). The post-scriptum gives indications as to how each character’s voice should be read, as well as to the importance of the narrator-reader deal in the perception of a literary text. We thus see the characters as if performing under the supervision of a creator’s eye that only intervenes when his presence is necessary and whose name, The Great Puzzler (expressed precisely so, in English) precedes the signature “Uther Pendragon.” As this narrator figure explains in the post-scriptum, some of the characters in the novel, considered more independent, are granted more autonomy, whereas others need more guidance and are bound to receive it: I left Răzvan to manage on his own, as well as he can. To be honest, he seemed a rather articulate guy to me, it looked as if he was well grounded in reality and he could find his way around. (. . .) Maria, I had to keep an eye on. She's too young, she was only twenty-three when the story started. She hasn't really grown up yet and she’s read too many theory books that have put lots of harmful ideas in her head. (. . .)

Transnational Perspectives on Romanian Gender and Ethnic Diversity


With Gruia it was easier. I intervened directly and he accepted it like a good guy. (I also paid him, it's true.) (. . .) Traian? Traian was tired and sad most of the time. He went through enthusiastic phases and then sank in the moor of his own loneliness, out of which it was really hard for me to pull him and get him to do his job. (. . .) Sabina wouldn't even hear about it. (. . .) She had so many chores on her plate. If someone like me had nothing better to do, then “Fine! Do it yourself!” (. . .)8

These postscript notes on the characters’ positions on having their stories told cast a very faithful light on each character’s psychology. If we go back and reread the novel after reading the post-scriptum, it becomes clear that their attitudes toward someone writing their lives down corresponds to the degree of self-awareness each of them has reached. It is a classic tenet of Freudian and post-Freudian psychology and psychoanalysis that an important point in the healing of any kind of psychosis, trauma, or personal crisis is the patient’s capacity to put it in a coherent narrative. Interestingly enough, the one character who refuses to collaborate in the telling of her story is Sabina, the peasant woman who only wants to earn enough money to send home to her father and son and dreams of finding a little love for herself. In Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, Dilsey, the black family servant faithful to a family torn by all sorts of issues, is somewhat like Sabina in this respect. While her perceptions are the most coherent and she is actually the only character in the novel who can be deemed sane by conventional standards, she never questions her predicament, hence finds little reason to be unhappy. Likewise, Sabina takes life as it is, in a totally unsophisticated way, and tries to derive no philosophical conclusion from what happens to her. In this sense, she is arguably the happiest of the five characters and the one who, in the end, is the most settled. Almost ironically at the beginning, this is so despite her having to face occasional xenophobic threats from anonymous gangs looking to intimidate immigrants, and even the indirect xenophobic comments made by her employer, Mr. Ferguson, who votes for UKIP9 in elections, yet at the end makes her his unique heir in his will. It is Sabina’s great capacity for understanding the others, for love and care—one of the most traditional women’s role, that of being a caretaker, which is natural to her—that seems to earn her the others’ love and finally integration in her adoptive country. The extent to which the author identifies with the characters is not negligible. As she confesses in an interview, the less similar she feels to a character, the more accomplished the character is (that is, more credible). It appears from here that, when the author can take a distance from a character, this character is free from the author’s confusions, which contributes to his/ her coherence. Sabina appreciates England for the good things and doesn’t worry about the bad ones, as she has been through poverty and the failure


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of a hasty marriage she committed to because of an accidental pregnancy. Maybe because of this positive, kind outlook on life, she unexpectedly finds happiness next to the old man’s prison-returned son. At the end of the story she is even richer, as her former boss leaves everything he owns to her (a fortune she will eventually share with her husband, the son whom the old man despises). The element of farce relaxes the seriousness of the rest of the book and brings a positive note to the less fortunate characters in the novel. It almost seems that the other characters’ unhappiness and imperfect capacity to integrate are the result of their educated sophistication. The background that inspired the novel was Ioana Baetica Morpurgo’s own relocation to the United Kingdom as a PhD student, like Răzvan, studying anthropology at the University of Exeter. She then stayed through marriage, like another character, Maria. Unlike Maria’s, however, Morpurgo’s relocation, not without its drawbacks and moments of insecurity, seems to be a fulfilling one, having enriched her perspective on the diversity of today’s world in a way that reflects successfully in her fiction. She generally denies having much in common with her characters, beyond a few mere factual coincidences arising from their common status as immigrants. She often expresses her radical political thoughts (again, like Răzvan), despises Romanian racism (as shown by the privileged position given in the narrative to Gruia, the Rroma character), and believes in professionalism (like Traian, the highly accomplished London-relocated stock broker who used to excel in mathematics). For Morpurgo, there is a necessary dignity and self-acceptance that must be maintained when one goes through the experience of migration and the difficulties of reinventing home in a foreign country. She answers a question about the trauma of dislocation in an interview in the following terms: Am I integrated? The question I ask myself more often is, are people here integrated in an extremely separatist (class obsessed, as they call it) culture, in which the only current way in which you can belong to a population mass is through consumerism. And consumer culture is a global one, it makes no difference where you are coming from and going to, but only if at this particular moment you are in a shopping mall or not. The thing is, what makes me feel I don’t fully belong to the world here is the same stuff that makes me feel a stranger even at home. Mal du début de siècle. . . . Nobody belongs to one particular place any more, but to a certain number of aspirations that are perfectly translatable from one society to another.10

The global proliferation of consumer culture, which has erased some of the differences between countries, is to Morpurgo a kind of general perverter of human conscience across all borders, which makes us all hardly integrated, wherever we are and whether we are talking about people on one side or

Transnational Perspectives on Romanian Gender and Ethnic Diversity


another of what used to be the iron curtain. Her criticism of a world driven by commercial interests, which alienates people, amounts to an attempt at casting the cliché of the lonely immigrant onto all the citizens of today’s world. Unlike Baetica’s debut novel, Fișa de înregistrare, harshly criticized by some Romanian literary critics, Imigranții turns the shocking, taboo-breaking fracturist aesthetic to good account by tackling the difficulties of the dislocation trauma: a leap from a fractured rhetoric to fractured migrant identities. Language is an important level at which these identity fractures are reflected, both in the sense of using Romanian (in which the novel is written) versus English (the language of the place where the plot is set) and in the sense of particularities of expression specific to each character. In using certain expressions in English in the middle of her Romanian text, Morpurgo asserts a reality that is central to the very focus of this novel, which is essentially about translation in the concrete and figurative senses of this word: the actual untranslatability of all languages and, related to it, the difficulty of people to communicate against cultural borders. This is true in the whole novel, but is especially prominent in the first three narratives, which center on Răzvan, Maria, and Traian, the intellectuals whose worries are often expressed in language that wavers between the two languages in which they live. English, the protagonists’ second language, sometimes blocks honesty in communication, as is the case with Sabina, who is quite religious, but feels it hard to confess in English.11 For other characters, however, English has the advantage of allowing more difficult thoughts or feelings to be expressed, as is the case with Răzvan. He often uses English to express his gay inclinations toward Ravi (my chest cannot contain such vastness of emotions12), which he knows would be discouraged in his conservative native Romania. The mixture of languages most often plays the part of drawing a distinction between a character’s inner landscape—usually in Romanian—and the outer landscape of their life in London, as is the case especially with Maria and Traian. The five stories are not exactly monologues, but hybrid discourses, some of which mix a first person with a third-person singular point of view, depending on the guidance/freedom balance granted each character by The Great Puzzler’s principles quoted above. There are important stylistic variations that single out each character to the point where their hesitations and insecurities are recorded in the language they use. Maria’s chapter is, again, probably the most convincing in its stylistic use of the two distinct languages to mark the protagonist’s wavering between familiarity and estrangement also because we see Maria struggling, as we go along, with an interior conflict that is at least partly caused by her indecisions. As someone who “hasn't really grown up yet,”13 according to The Great Puzzler in the post-scriptum, she needs narratorial guidance. The guidance The Great Puzzler confesses to having given her is visible in the comments to her actions he makes between square


Maria-Sabina Draga Alexandru

brackets, such as “Maria exaggerates. She needs to exaggerate whenever she has to persuade herself of something” or, in response to her noticing her incapacity to “love a man who has lost his dignity,” the puzzler adds “I don't know what she's referring to, so I won't comment.”14 The middle chapter, focusing on Maria, seems the most complex and varied from the point of view of English versus Romanian language use, as well as in terms of the narrative technique put to work in negotiating between the character’s inner thoughts and The Great Puzzler’s control of her. It is also the chapter that describes in the most gradual manner the character’s transition from being pro-UK (i.e., in love with her husband and the environment he has brought her to) and the disenchantment that sets in later, little by little, as she begins to suspect that her husband may be cheating on her and she grows to know and dislike his friends, whom she finds cold, pretentious, and superficial. As we follow her along this process, the gradual separation between Romanian and English parallels her gradual understanding of the superficiality of her own decision to marry Dorian, as well as her difficulty to adjust to a place that functions by principles different from hers. Thus, for example, in the section in which Maria looks back upon her childhood, there is no word in English other than when she describes her first English lessons at school, which feels like getting access to a previous life in the “United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland”15 (expressed as such, in English). In the sections that are closer to the narrative present, Maria describes the society around her in terms of activities her husband Dorian’s friends are involved in or the attitudes they espouse, which are named in English (life-coaching, art therapy, free-your-carefree-spirit-once-again, Alexandra technique, aqua fitness16). This is so because there are no exact equivalents in Romanian for them, but also because she feels different from these friends, whose interests are not her interests. At the end of the description of an evening with them, she exclaims to herself in English (as if symbolically addressing them): Damn you, loveless lot! Selfish, self-obsessed belligerent lot! I shall never become one of you!17 and then adds in Romanian: “Seven million souls in London . . . I feel so lonely . . . .”18 The narrative comes back to unmixed Romanian when, on her unwelcome discovery that she is pregnant, Maria records a long and complex dream about alienation. Honest, undisguised thoughts she thinks to herself, as well as dreams, are thus always in Romanian, whereas English is reserved to acquired, superficial thoughts which correspond to a mask she tries to wear as an immigrant. The dissociation of languages in the Maria chapter matches an itinerary of gradual dissociation between her true allegiances and the environment where she has relocated and which seems increasingly foreign to her. There are selfdefensive cues against xenophobia in all of the five stories, but the most complete belongs to Maria. Despite her initial confusion, it is Maria—passionate

Transnational Perspectives on Romanian Gender and Ethnic Diversity


about theorizing as she is, according to The Great Puzzler—that describes in the most concise manner what the various degrees of integration in a foreign society imply: I have already reached the third stage in stating my citizenship. The first stage lasted a little more than a year after my arrival to the U.K.; I used to say I was Romanian with a certain pride, I don’t remember why. Then, during the second brief stage, when somebody asked me I would answer apologetically, as if sorry I had to admit to where I came from. Now, as I said, I have reached the third stage, where I take “I am from Romania” out of my pocket like a knife and wave it defensively in front of whoever happens to be inquiring. “I’m from Romania, so what?! Do you have a problem with that?!”19

This raises an issue that persists in the novel, which is actually a mentality issue Morpurgo is clearly interested in problematizing: that of an internalized inferiority complex of Romanians who, when going abroad, sometimes feel they first have to prove themselves in the Western world, to internalize its standards, deemed better in terms of a set of cultural myths formed under communism. The difficulty to integrate is thus also related to a feeling of permanent foreignness, which is maintained by the difficulty one feels to live up to what, in one of the first studies dedicated to Imigranții, significantly entitled “We Are All Foreign Here,” Cristina Chevereșan calls “the Western Dream”: Much of the writer’s effort to capture different types of dis-/re-location experiences in the British capital city is directed at observing how the Western Dream has turned out for various people who have given in to its lure, and how the whole rhetoric of upward mobility fits into the problematic Third Millennium context. Apart from featuring miniature life-narratives which recreate the larger picture of Romanian immigration to the United Kingdom throughout the 2000s, the book brings to the fore some of the political, social and cultural debates of the decade, juggling with the conflicting notions of rupture and return, estrangement and nostalgia, and walks the thin line between fictional memoir, essay and a documentary of a challenging age.20

Chevereșan uses this Europeanized version of the American Dream, which includes a similar mirage (hence unrealistic) factor to insist on the ways in which Imigranții blends miniature individual vignettes with big-picture concerns of contemporary Romania as she recreates “the larger picture of Romanian immigration to the United Kingdom throughout the 2000s.” I would like to further suggest that this novel/story hybrid collection uses geographical relocation (which also provides the context for a relocation, or putting in perspective, of some of the dominant issues at home) to question some of the


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surviving Romanian prejudices concerning race, gender, ethnicity, and even class. This involves an implicit discussion of a certain historical marginalization of Romanianness which is often associated with a kind of minority status, extended to the whole nation. I will come back to this in my analysis of the significances of minority status in Morpurgo’s Imigranții further below. At this point, I would like to discuss the pressure of this belief in the Western dream and, following from it, the fact that the decision to return home after emigrating is usually interpreted as a sign of failure. This seems to be one of the problems at the heart of Traian's story. The 36-year-old who is highly successful in IT in the City of London (the business district of the metropolis, associated with the image of one of the best places in the world to make money) lives through the tragedy of seeing his marriage fall apart within a month, precisely because of this kind of incompatibility between the two people’s dreams for the future. Whereas for Traian there is no question that a life in London, with the perks he already enjoys, is to be preferred to anything else, for his wife Simona the prospect of a good job in Bucharest, coming in a package with the comfort of staying at home as opposed to needing to readjust somewhere else, is her alternative of choice. While Traian is allowing himself to become immersed in the tragedy of this loss, which he accepts without understanding and, at the same time, revisits memories of childhood as if in an effort to find solace in that better time of his life, his mourning over lost love does not stop at the Simona episode. As he, rather atypically, decides to resort to the services of a luxury escort agency, more in an impulse to splurge that comes out of a strong feeling that the money he earns is no good to him and is certainly no antidote to his unhappiness, Traian unexpectedly discovers that Alina, his very first love, his childhood girlfriend, of whom he had lost track completely for some time, lives in London as a luxury sex worker. Even though, out of the five characters, Traian is the most successful financially, purely through personal merit, he is also the unhappiest and the most confused of them all. As the narrator records his attempts to understand the world in mathematical terms (which fails him completely when it comes to trying to explain life), his story is told in the third-person singular. This is not out of an attempt to control him (as is, partially, the case with Maria), but because Traian, sunk in his depression, cares too little to even want to collaborate in something that seems to him as futile as the telling of his own story. And yet, it is learning to tell the right story, or to give the events in one’s own life the right interpretation, that the Traian chapter seems meant to teach us. Alina’s presence, in this sense, plays a very important part, together with her Barbie doll, which seems to bring together her childhood dreams with her disappointments, but also a warning as to the dangers that arise from believing in the Western dream too much.

Transnational Perspectives on Romanian Gender and Ethnic Diversity


There is one episode in his childhood that sticks in Traian’s memory, and whose importance we realize only in the next chapter (that of Traian’s chance encounter in the London luxury brothel). His friend Alina had a Barbie doll, sent by remote relatives from abroad, and which she cherishes despite the doll having a small defect: a disjointed leg, which, rather than being a shortcoming, makes the doll even dearer to the girl. Upon having her first period (hence symbolically crossing into adulthood), Alina decides to bury her Barbie in the garden of her parents’ house in Sibiu, under a cherry tree, with all the rituals of a traditional burial. When, many years later, Traian and his childhood friends (with the exception of Alina, who was nowhere to be found) go back to the place and unbury Barbie, they discover that “her princess clothes are torn to shreds” and that “her face colors had faded like those on the faces of ancient statues.”21 The friends put the doll back in her grave and, after a brief moment of disappointment, forget all about it, with the exception of Traian, who has nightmares afterward. Earlier in the Barbie section, in passing, we find that the unburial scene takes place after Traian and Alina’s chance encounter in the London luxury brothel. So, when he plays a mock version of hide-and-seek with his childhood friends, Traian knows why Alina “is hiding too far to be found.”22 The specter of the disintegrating doll, whose leg has come apart completely as she lay buried for over twenty years, stands, in the light of what we find out in the next chapter, for childhood dreams being totally perverted in a consumer culture one is made to believe in, but which is, blatantly, one of lost innocence. As a fantasy “fairy” in a Western luxury brothel, Alina lives a version of her Western dream of sorts, for which the price to pay is probably similar to Traian's broken-hearted awareness, after the failure of his marriage, that financial success is not enough. As he muses over a soya latte later on, trying to remember as many childhood details about Alina as he can, and to also tell them apart from his memories about his passion for numbers, Traian concludes, in his chapter’s open ending, that he needs to transcend his mathematical skills in order to figure out his own confusion. This, all of a sudden, seems connected to figuring out Alina, which, in the chapter’s open ending, is about enabling oneself to see beyond the logic of mathematics: “Alina is outside the geometrical figure inside of which I am now squatting. If I tie myself to her with two strings, one of the past, the other one of the present, I'll be able to find my unknown.”23 Traian’s unknown seems to hide precisely in overcoming the pressure to conform to the standards of his current life, no matter what it takes. As in his mind Alina’s image as a fantasy fairy in a brothel obsessively overlaps with that of the decaying Barbie, the reader is bound to realize that Alina’s Barbie is lame because she has a rusty hip bone that has come undone. While she gives her friends a fairy-tale explanation as to why this is the case—that Barbie’s had a hip fracture because her parachute wouldn’t open in the jump


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from a plane24—we do gather that the Barbie sent to Alina by her relatives in the West is a second-hand one. As she identifies with her much desired doll, Alina grows up with the acceptance of her own second-handedness, which ultimately makes her accept a second-hand version of the Western dream. As he realizes at the end of his chapter, Traian, who has also made compromises, fares scarcely better than she does. It is actually in overcoming the internalization of one’s own inferiority complex that happiness might be found, and for this, like Traian, one has to learn to see beyond the frameworks of one’s immediate predicament. In an article entitled “Minority as Inferiority: Minority Rights in Historical Perspective,” Andre Liebich notices that “minority rights developed as an indemnity offered to defeated parties”25 and therefore they are a partial compensation to the very fact of one’s having a minority status forced upon one through political decisions or cultural conditioning. While concluding that minority rights are actually not at all equivalent to human rights, Liebich traces a whole history of such compensations received by Eastern European states from Western countries, who were claiming that thus they were finding solutions to a so-called Eastern Question. In a similar spirit, Morpurgo’s interest in minorities and their rights and treatment by various societies is not only an extension of her inquiry into the difficulty to adapt to new circumstances, but also, at a wider level, into how these difficulties are at least partially induced by conditionings that arise from the geopolitical structures of the world we live in. Thus, in her novel, the opening chapter and the closing one, which frame the other characters’ narratives, foreground minority status. In the opening chapter, Răzvan, a human rights international PhD student at the UCL, announces these concerns about how the bigger discourse that contains one’s individual self is linked to individual decisions. In his story, his work on CIA political prisons is intertwined with his own attempts to figure out who he is as a gay man and as a mixed ethnic Hungarian and Romanian living in the United Kingdom. Răzvan thinks in the bilingual jargon of the international student, whose professional interest in human rights is deeply intertwined with his own rights as a double minority. He is inadequately equipped to return to Romania and face homophobia and other forms of prejudice there, as his individual encounters show when he goes to research the NATO basis on the Black Sea coast. In his chapter, pages in Romanian alternate with whole untranslated pages in English, just as his thoughts about life alternate with his thoughts about his work, especially toward the end of the chapter, as if the whole chapter was meant for the bilingual reader. Răzvan is situated not only between two countries and their languages, but between their cultures, discursive habits, and manners of thinking, with which he constantly has to struggle. He is in love with Ravi, an Indian young man destined by his family to do an arranged marriage and

Transnational Perspectives on Romanian Gender and Ethnic Diversity


return to India, and thus learn to deny his gay inclinations. At the same time, in the group of friends he meets with periodically, the so-called Lostwithiel group, who organize the series Lectures on Everything (which bear the exact title of the cultural meetings Morpurgo herself organizes26), Martin, a poet, is unhappily in love with Răzvan, whereas their friend Anne is unhappily in love with Martin. Significantly in this novel about stories that people tell, Martin commits suicide after losing his diary, which is a whole repository of the stories that make up his life, therefore his own story. This statement of the fact that we are nothing without the stories we tell is also a statement of the fundamental loneliness of every human being. In this sense, each of us is an insufficiently integrated minority. If Răzvan is the one whose story opens the novel, the last part also centers on a minority character, Gruia, the gypsy—a true nomad in more than one sense of the word, who goes as far in stating his refusal to integrate within repressive societal structures that he commits the ultimate, inexplicable gesture: he kills the woman he is in love with at the end of their lovemaking and then kills himself. This section is the most innovative as regards the way in which it is narrated, in the second-person singular. Thus, if Răzvan owns his section with the entire power of his creative intellectual mind (despite his own insecurities at the personal level), Gruia is the one who seems to need to be told what to do. He symbolically tolerates the interpellative second-person singular mode up to a point, while he is adrift in a London where he is never at home, as he has never been at home anywhere else, after which he emerges from it in a violent, and all the more persuasive, statement of his inadaptation and despair. Gruia’s character seems to be created by Morpurgo precisely in order to problematize the status of Rroma people in today’s world, but also, precisely because of this, to create an environment for conventions to be challenged. Gruia seems to be the hero and, at any rate, the voice that enjoys the privilege to draw conclusions. Whereas their marginalization in Romania is extreme and subject to a seemingly impossible vicious circle in which conservative mentality is in competition with the Rroma criminality rate, the reputation of Romas of Romanian origin in Europe is also very problematic. In contrast, Gruia, the rule-breaker par excellence, is also the convention-breaker and in this sense, despite his anticonventionalism, the sanity preserver and the promoter of progress as opposed to passive yielding to convention. As he briefly crosses Sabina’s path, he brings her to life and out of her resigned acceptance of her lot by reawakening desire in her heart. Even though at the end Gruia is sacrificed on the altar of his utter refusal to conform (unlike the other characters, who do make compromises), Morpurgo constructs his unadaptability as heroism, by giving him the benefit of the last word and also the narrator’s apologies for being unable to turn the world we live in into a better one:


Maria-Sabina Draga Alexandru

We will all continue to live our personal dramas, to fight for causes that seem just to us, to wipe wounds away, to drive away fears, to consolidate our careers and our loneliness. (. . .) But to you I wanted to say this: I am very, very sorry. Yours, Uther Pendragon27

The narrator’s gesture of asking Gruia for forgiveness at the very end of the novel is a symbolic attempt at acknowledging that this Gypsy fiddler who acts impulsively, who prefers murder to compromise, is a lot more honest to himself and to the world than all the other, more sophisticated characters. Whereas the others yield to received ideas and occasionally give up on some of their principles for the sake of others, Gruia symbolically stands for the unconscious of the whole group, as he is the only one who expresses openly his thoughts and feelings that all of them share. The narrator’s speculations in the post-scriptum suggest that one ideal solution for most of the characters to solve their existential problems would have been if they had known each other and faced relocation (as well as the other life issues they are going through) together, as opposed to each on their own. This implies that, different as they may be, each of them might have been closer to reaching their goals if they had tried alongside someone else in the group. Thus, at a time when she is feeling increasingly lonely in London and, what is worse, increasingly alienated from her husband Dorian, Maria goes to see a Romanian film that she enjoys and hears a comment made by Răzvan that she resonates with. In the middle of Traian’s sad, depressive attempts to come to terms with himself, the possible interactions he might have had with the other characters cast light on the various aspects of his personality: If they were ever to meet, Răzvan would seem an interesting guy to him, and Maria, a beautiful girl—which they are. Gruia, he would figure out quickly, as in a flash, and then he would forget him among other flashes. Sabina wouldn't probably touch him at all, which is a pity. In fact, had Maria met Traian before, when they were both in Bucharest, she might have loved Traian as he deserves.28

This is an indirect analysis of Traian’s potential to open up to other people, but also of his limitations, his rather superficial elitism that stands in the way of his enjoying the satisfaction of inter-human bonding to the full. His tragic outlook on life is also the result of his difficulty to open up to people, because he lives too much in the mathematical world of his brain. This message of togetherness as the solution to all troubles is actually about communication between people and, ultimately, across various barriers, be they created by language, education, or various personal options.

Transnational Perspectives on Romanian Gender and Ethnic Diversity


This brings us back to Vertovec’s reconceptualization of transnational relocation, which should be seen as an opportunity for increased connectivities rather than as a drama of loss, as well as to the issue of language, the main important connector between the five characters. Romanian, which Răzvan, Maria, Traian, Sabina, and Gruia share, is also the language in which Morpurgo chooses to write, despite her living in the United Kingdom. Even though “bilingual” is a term that applies to some parts of the novel—with the Romanian and the English fragments playing their own parts in depicting the various instances of dissociation of consciousness the characters experience in their geographical, as well as personal dislocations—the main language of Morpurgo’s writing is Romanian. This is not just a statement of allegiance to a language and a culture or an opportunity to ponder over one’s choice to use a language over another. It is also the result of an option to use a whole repertoire of untranslatable idioms and phrases in both English and Romanian. Many pages in the novel are tests about how far translation can go as a bridge between cultures, how much can be translated and what cannot and should not be. Writing in Romanian while living in England or elsewhere is a choice made by many expatriate writers for reasons most often related to staying true to their identity as writers. A notorious case in point is Norman Manea, professor of European Culture at Bard College, who has lived in the United States since 1988 and for whom Romanian still is the language of his creative writing, translated into English by other people. Morpurgo makes the same choice, while perpetually reassessing the significance of each of the two languages in her life, whose simultaneous presence creates a splitting that feels like an adultery. There is an echo, a kind of boomerang effect between the author and her readers when writing in Romanian, even though English is a more flexible language: “Ideas flow more naturally in English for me, but somehow finally set in more pertinently in a text in Romanian. Well . . . some people have no choice, they are forced to adultery.”29 The role of English in Imigranții (as much as it is present: short cues that express ideas or remarks that would seem to the author less accurate in Romanian) seems to also be a bequest of global writing, inaugurated by postcolonial writing in English, where native words were sprinkled through the text to give it more authentic flavor. Salman Rushdie is a notorious example in this respect. Yet, if we take into account Morpurgo’s confession that in her working notebooks English and Romanian sentences alternate, as some thoughts seem better expressed in Romanian and others in English, this might be a feature that makes Imigranții representative of a cultural bilingualism shared by many people situated in the global migration zone. In the telling of this hybrid story, in which six voices merge into one heterogeneous collective voice, problematic issues related to gender and ethnic


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relations in Romania are relocated in a UK context. Thus, some social fractures in their country of origin are reread through the lens of the dislocation trauma each of the characters goes through. The titles of the sections each character-focused chapter is made of do not necessarily follow the evolution of the respective characters, but a philosophy of the whole novel, interested in the evolution of immigrant consciousness on various social, educational and identity-related levels. Through this act of narrative transposition (which follows geographical displacement), some answers are found in each individual story to questions about individual identity in relation to the others in postcommunist Romania. The tension between the two languages that feature in the novel is one powerful way to reflect on the tensions inherent in the condition of the migrant, positioned, through the six characters, on different levels of integration within the host country, ranging from “almost Englishness” to a kind of perpetual foreigner status. NOTES 1. Azade Seyhan, Writing outside the Nation (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2001), 4. 2. Rosi Braidotti, Transpositions: On Nomadic Ethics (Cambridge: Polity, 2006). 3. Steven Vertovec, Transnationalism (London and New York: Routledge, 2009), 1. 4. Ibid. 5. Ioana Baetica’s first book Fișa de înregistrare (Registration Card, Iași and București: Polirom, 2004), made of four stories and a novel, was a fracturist text, sharply attacked by some critics. Bianca Burța in Observator cultural (July 2004) denounces its gratuitous licentiousness and its exhibitionist use of many undigested literary references. 6. Cosmin Ciotloș, Cronica literară: Fișa de înregistrare, România literară 36, 2011. Posted October 2011. Accessed January 3, 2015. 7. Ioana Baetica Morpurgo, Imigranții. Iași and București: Polirom, 2011, 220. Translations mine unless noted otherwise. 8. Ibid., 375–376. 9. The UK Independence Party, known for its Eurosceptic and right-wing populist political views. 10. Vlădăreanu, Elena. “Ioana Baetica Morpurgo: ‘Ma simt ca-ntr-un adulter: maritata cu o limba, traind cu alta,’” Interview with Ioana Baetica Morpurgo. http://, posted 04-022012, accessed March 10, 2016. All translations mine. 11. Morpurgo, Imigranții. 259. 12. Ibid., 46. 13. Ibid., 375. 14. Ibid., 138.

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15. Ibid., 171. 16. Ibid., 132. 17. Ibid., 133. 18. Ibid., 133. 19. Morpurgo, Imigranții. 142. Trans. Cristina Chevereșan, “We Are All Foreign Here”: Stories of Re-/Dis-Location in Ioana Baetica Morpurgo’s Imigranţii. Between History and Personal Narrative: East European Women’s Stories of Migration in the New Millennium. Eds. Maria-Sabina Draga Alexandru, Mădălina Nicolaescu and Helen Smith. Vienna, Zürich and Berlin: LIT Verlag, 2014, 203. 20. Cristina Chevereșan, “‘We Are All Foreign Here’: Stories of Re/Dis-Location in Ioana Baetica Morpurgo’s Imigranții, in Between History and Personal Narrative: East Europeam Women’s Stories of Migration in the New Millennium,” eds. MariaSabina Draga Alexandru, Mădălina Nicolaescu and Helen Smith, Vienna and Berlin: LIT Verlag, 198. 21. Morpurgo, Imigranții, 236. 22. Ibid., 233. 23. Ibid., 257. 24. Ibid., 227. 25. Andre Liebich, “Minority as Inferiority: Minority Rights in Historical Perspective,” in Review of International Studies (2008), 34, 243. doi:10.1017/ S0260210508008012. Accessed February 1, 2017. 26. Ioana Baetica Morpurgo, in Contemporary Romanian Writers, http://www., posted 2008. Accessed March 30, 2016. 27. Morpurgo, Imigranții, 377. 28. Ibid., 203. 29. Vlădăreanu, Elena, Interview (see note 10).

REFERENCES Baetica, Ioana. Fişă de ȋnregistrare. Bucureşti: Polirom (Ego. Proză), 2004. Print. Baetica Morpurgo, Ioana. Imigranții. Bucureşti: Polirom (Ego. Proză), 2011. Print. Braidotti, Rosi. Transpositions: On Nomadic Ethics. Cambridge: Polity, 2006. Burța, Bianca. “Vlada scrie un roman fracturist.” Observator cultural 230, July 2004.*articleID_11352articles_details.html. Posted July 2004. Accessed January 3, 2015. Web. Chevereşan, Cristina. We Are All Foreign Here: Stories of Re-/Dis-Location in Ioana Baetica Morpurgo’s Imigranţii. Between History and Personal Narrative: East European Women’s Stories of Migration in the New Millennium. Eds. MariaSabina Draga Alexandru, Mădălina Nicolaescu and Helen Smith. Vienna, Zürich and Berlin: LIT Verlag, 2014, 197–210. Ciotloș, Cosmin. “Cronica literară: Fișa de înregistrare.” România literară 36 (2011). Posted October 2011. Accessed January 3, 2015.


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Liebich, Andre. “Minority as Inferiority: Minority Rights in Historical Perspective,” Review of International Studies 34 (2008): 243262. doi:10.1017/ S0260210508008012. Accessed February 1, 2017. Seyhan, Azade. Writing outside the Nation. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton UP, 2001. Vertovec, Steven. Transnationalism. London and New York: Routledge, 2009. Vlădăreanu, Elena. “Ioana Baetica Morpurgo: ‘Ma simt ca-ntr-un adulter: maritata cu o limba, traind cu alta’.” Interview with Ioana Baetica Morpurgo. http://www., posted 04–02–2012. Accessed March 10, 2016.

Chapter 9

Disabling the Binaries, Enabling the Boundaries Home-Abroad Divide in the European Migration Crisis Adedoyin Ogunfeyimi In his 2002 article “Toward A New Map for European Migration,” Russell King from the Center for Migration Research and School of European Studies blurs the many binaries that have long constituted interpretive models for European migration studies. These binaries include but are not limited to: force versus voluntary, internal versus international, home versus abroad, and legal versus illegal. King recasts these migration borders, claiming that the migrant situations that generated such dichotomies no longer reflect newly emerging European migration patterns, some of which he describes as the “new international division of labor, the new European geopolitics after the cold war, new motivations of migrants,” etc.1 On that note, he calls for a more integrated approach to European migration studies, an approach, as he argues, that requires “interdisciplinary” lenses “enriched by comparative studies.”2 While King and others have argued for a transnational approach that blurs existing dichotomies, this chapter demonstrates that experiences of the new migrants in Europe in the last few years still recognize and blur these dichotomies. In exploring this nuanced dimension of the continent’s migration studies, I draw on the home-abroad divide to describe how migrants shift the notion of home between homeland and host-country and within liminal spaces to confront their exilic dilemmas. Significantly, this study reconsiders the home-away divide in the current European migration crisis to understand new dynamics and dilemmas that confront the migrants as they envision and create a place they can comfortably live. ***

Home has often been used in opposition to away/abroad in migration studies.3 This divide evokes a number of implications on how home is defined, 153


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imagined, experienced, and lived. If away/abroad, for instance, refers to a distant, non-familiar place, home will mean a nearby, often accessible, location. Relying on Lain Chamber’s oppositional model, Sarah Ahmed describes home as “the familiar space” and away as “a strange land.” Ahmed clarifies her claim: “when one was at home, one would be a member of the family, a neighbour, a friend, and when one left home one would become the stranger.”4 Her illustration opens up two key phrases—being at home and leaving home—to further illuminate the divide between home and abroad/ away. To be at home is to be in company of others who share similar identifications and orientations with you. To leave home is to be elsewhere and away from a familiar environment and people and to inhabit a strange place and act as a stranger. It is not that one prefers to be a stranger or acts as if one is in a strange place, but that such a new place has already named one as such because family, friends, neighbors, and everything else that constitutes home are no longer present in the new location. Home therefore connotes a site from which one emigrates while away/abroad figures as a place to which one migrates. In this new place (away/abroad), one must negotiate belonging, adapt to contested landscapes, and recreate a homely geography. In home, an ideal home, belonging is already given, adapting is not imperative, and hospitality is embedded. Being at home, to reiterate Martin Heidegger, is to map and foreground spatial relations co-constituted, sustained, and reproduced by humans and their environment. In “Building, Dwelling, and Thinking,” Heidegger invokes the ontological phrase, being-at-home, to suggest familiarized places where one frequents, labors, and traffics: “The truck driver is at home on the highway . . . ; the working woman is at home in the spinning mill . . . ; the chief engineer is at home in the power station . . . .”5 This relation is defined by the frequent, recurrent presence of the driver, woman, and engineer. If we substitute “highway” and “spinning mill” with “waterway” and “gendered mill,” respectively, such places will not only delink the shared relation between the subjects (truck driver and working woman) and the places, but the familiar places will also turn into distant spaces because the subjects will no longer be at home. Migration scholars have also, however, blurred the home-away/abroad dichotomy.6 Ahmed faults the oppositional model that separates home from away/abroad because the model undermines the complex notion of home. For instance, this approach defines home as a familiar place and away/abroad as a place of encounters with strangers. She argues, instead, that home itself already engenders, includes, and embodies strangeness: “there is always an encounter with strangerness at stake, even within the home: the home does not secure identity by expelling strangers, but requires those strangers to establish relations of proximity and distance within the home.”7 Strangerness indexes

Disabling the Binaries, Enabling the Boundaries


home as a contested place of encounters. Strangers no longer associate with only away/abroad nor friendships manifest as given at home, because one can be at home overseas and homeless at home or, as King puts it, quoting Jenson and Golbert: “one can be homeless at home and transnational at home.”8 This divide further problematizes migration as if migration and migratory process is constructed as a binary, linear process, that is, as a move from home to outside home (away/abroad) and sometimes back home again. This simplistic conception of migration overlooks the liminal dimension of home which is constructed as the very journey itself because journeys, as Ahmed, Mallet, and others claim, are sites of encounters between leaving home and traveling away/abroad, where we feel comfortable but, sometimes, are dislocated, disoriented, and estranged. Home, contrary to Mallett’s view, is not always “a place of origin” and “point of destination” but is always grounded in between spaces, which are sometimes disorientating but also reassuring. Migrants may, in between these spaces, find a temporary place that grants them insights to permanently hospitable, secure places, but may also wander, endlessly, in these liminal spaces and never arrive their destinations even if they always want to reach such destinations. Home is therefore sedentary and fluid, fixed and transnational, multispatial, multi-temporal, here and/or there, permanent and/or temporary, etc. This multivalent dimension suggests that home is not limited to or by place and time; it is trans-temporal and trans-spatial. It does not just occur between spaces but in-between spaces, and does not always manifest in opposition to what is not familiar, experienced, embodied, pleasurable, affective, or peaceful. One can experience home in an unusually strange place. And one can encounter discomfort in one’s home, that is, in one’s birthplace or even in places considered to be homely. For instance, one’s home can be gendered, sexualized, and dehumanized.9 It is for this nuanced sense of home that migration scholarship frowns against the comforting, ideal notion of home. For them the idea of a comforting sense of home will discourage alternative thinking and the need for migrants to question, confront, and push against their exilic conditions. While this critique is important for migrants because it allows them to question their migratory condition in their host-place for a better livelihood, many migrants really do not care as long as they experience peace with their host-place, especially when their migration is motivated by wars. While the multilayered notion of home has deconstructed the home-abroad divide, experiences of migrants still reify and transcend the divide. Migrants blur and reiterate the divide on the basis of how they encounter their host places, how they perceive and inhabit home, and whether or not they feel at home in such places. For instance, if migration is motivated by wars, migrants’ ultimate goal will be peace. Host places that offer them peace


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often translate into homes. Absence of peace redesignates their host places as unhomely. On the other hand, migrants invoke/ascribe their homeland experiences not only to respond to their exilic dilemmas about their discouraging migratory experiences, but also to negotiate and create new homely places for themselves in order to compensate for the absence of such experiences. This compensatory role is particularly significant as it helps migrants to relive and reencounter comforting memories they have once shared and experienced in their birthplace. The memory of home they call upon or recall is both physical and symbolic. Even though the divide between home and away is blurry, ambiguous, and slippery, we should, Ahmed warns, also recognize that such a divide exists and is marked by our ways of being in the world, how and where we feel at home. She, however, adds that home should not be reduced to a static concept. This is so because some migrants still consider their birthplace homely for affective reasons—marriage, religion, food, etc.—than their host-place even though they feel at home in the latter. Studies in migration have theorized this migratory condition through the “myth of return.”10 This phrase refers to migrants’ attachment to their homelands and the desire to return to homelands without necessarily taking such a flight. It is often invoked to account for how migrants identify, depict, perceive, and experience home, how this homeland attachment helps them to sustain their continued relations with people back home, and how the reproduction of their homes allows them to readapt to their host-countries. More often than not, migrants only imagine their emigration but never really return. Al-Rasheed succinctly describes this mythical migration condition as consisting of two elements: “myth” and “return.” He goes further: “In common usage, ‘myth’ implies reference to the realm of imagination and creativity. It invokes images anchored not necessarily in the ‘real’ world, but in that area of belief and thought which may or may not be subject to objective verification. In contrast, ‘return’ . . . refers to a concrete movement, an actual physical displacement, a migration or more accurately a re-migration to a point fixed in space.”11 The juxtaposing of myth and return suggests that migrants’ desire to return merely operates as an affective gesture toward a place, but a move that remains pending until such a gesture manifests as the actual move. al-Rasheed reiterates this affective move in her description: “When someone is described as believing in the myth of return . . . this implies that the person entertains the idea of returning to this fixed point, whether a country with known boundaries, or a region with loosely defined borders.”12 The myth of return raises two implications. First, it reemphasizes the physical and fixed notion of home. Second, the myth excludes actual returnees to their homelands. Scholars in migration studies have reconstructed this

Disabling the Binaries, Enabling the Boundaries


myth to respond to these implications.13 Zetter argues that the mythology focuses on homeland rather than return which he, as well as Bolognani, believes is rooted in the notion of home. If migrants mythologize home rather than return, the myth, Zetter claims, should be reconstructed as “myth of home” and the “myth of return home” because return itself is a real and tangible process.14 Unlike Zetter, Bolognani accommodates returnees (British-Pakistanis) in her exploration of the myth of return by focusing on how the migrants both mythologized and immigrated to their homeland, and how their return to the United Kingdom also motivated the diasporic Pakistanis to visit their homeland. This migratory cycle of the migrants disables the boundary between mythology and reality. While the myth of return figures in a multidimensional way, the rhetorical purposes evoked by the myth have been consistent in migration studies. Emphasis on the consequence of the desire to emigrate often constitutes the crux of the conversation on the subject in migration studies. For instance, the view expressed by Zetter on the myth of return reveals ways in which Greek-Cypriot migrants mythologize their return to not only sustain their continued attachment with their homelands but to also readjust and readapt to their exilic conditions. In exploring this multidimensional rhetorical purpose, Zetter harmonizes concepts of adaptation, what he calls an integration process, and myth of return. Describing adaptation, Bolognani draws on “homeland attachment” and the “myth of return,” both of which are motivated by political expediencies (e.g., contemporary global events) and cultural exigencies (transcontinental marriage, burial rites, etc.) to show why and how British Pakistanis imagine, desire, and manifest their affection for their homeland by traveling back home, and how their homeland experiences have consistently reinvigorated other British Pakistanis to visit their country of origin. I have examined the multiple dimensions of home in migration literature—its fluidity, physicality, trans-nationality, liminality, affectivity, hospitality, etc. The nuanced dimension of home reaffirms and deconstructs the home-abroad divide. This complex notion of home manifests in how home is constructed as a physically fixed place, symbolically significant arena, and situated liminal space. The intricate concept of home is further reinforced by the myth of return/home and, in particular, by the way the myth is deployed by migrants to recreate a symbolically grounded image of their homelands with which they confront, resist, and adapt to their exilic conditions. This chapter shows different ways a select number of migrants in Europe shift home, back and forth, as a place of origin and sometimes as a “diasporic space,” as a permanent and temporary concept, as here and there, and as sedentary and mobile idea. Second, it reveals how migrants reuse these multidimensional notions of home to negotiate a hospitable place for themselves, confront their exilic conditions, and compensate for their cultural, economic,


Adedoyin Ogunfeyimi

social, and affective losses. Third, it reconsiders—rather than discards— existing dichotomies that are becoming less significant in migration studies. ***

In this section I draw on the stories of the migrants to reflect on their journey to Europe and lives on the continent and to discuss the multilayered ways home manifests in their stories and how these manifestations reaffirm and trouble what Andits describes as an “antisedentarist paradigm of home.”15 In order to describe the experiences of the migrants, this chapter broadly relies on The Guardian and CNN not merely because they have established a popular ethos in news reporting, but because they featured the migrants’ stories that have profoundly shaped and extended the conversation on home-abroad divide in migration studies. For the most part, the stories of the migrants appear in excerpts, which are also cross-referenced with the testimonies of other migrants who lived in the same host countries. In many cases the migrants’ stories underscored their desperate search for home—a hidden, peaceful, and inclusive place. This place or a semblance of it constituted home for the migrants. Migrants who left their homelands because of the ravaging, war-torn conditions identified a peaceable site as a homely place. Those who immigrated to Europe for an economic reason assigned home as a place that offered them job opportunities. For others, peace and work authorization without inclusion were not substantial enough to make them feel at home without inclusion. Inclusivity offered these migrants a sense of belonging and acceptance in their host countries. Some migrants were fortunate to locate these homely places, while others who searched for these places were dislocated and, instead, wandered endlessly, but were never able to reach and inhabit such places. Some returned to their homelands as alternative homes, others mythologized their returns and were stuck between returning home and staying abroad and between their search for home and the struggle for survival in the liminal space of migration. Significantly, the migrants’ multilayered experiences underscore the transnational and sedentary notion of home. “Why I Fled: New Migrants in Italy Share Their Stories,” a report published by CNN, documented the stories of six Africans and Middle Easterners and the reasons why they left their homelands for Europe (and Italy in particular). One of them was Ajmal Sadiqi, who migrated from Kabul in Afghanistan. Sadiqi left his homeland because of the terrifying war that had ravaged his country for the last fifty years. He could no longer cope with the feeling of fear and the random shootings that targeted any walking bodies on the streets. He was particularly scared that he was no longer safe and could be killed at any time: “even if you’re not aligned with anyone, you can just

Disabling the Binaries, Enabling the Boundaries


be going to the market and you end up dead.”16 Sadiqi had tried to travel to Germany and the United Kingdom for better opportunities, but was turned down. Presently, he is in Italy, comfortable in the midst of nothingness: “Afghanistan has been at war for fifty years and things are never going to change. Here, I have nothing, but I feel safe. I can walk on the street without being afraid.”17 Sadiqi’s response revealed his ultimate goal in Europe: safety. His body was no longer threatened, confronted, or interrupted by the phobia of death on the streets of Italy. He now walked on the streets as a freed man both in his thoughts and body. Because this safety and freedom were not contingent on what he owned or possessed, his nothingness (“I have nothing”) could not intercept his safety and freedom. And since his vision of home was safety, Europe (“here”) figured as alternative home for him. Sadiqi invoked the word “nothingness” to not only express his regret for his loss, but to amplify his safety. He demonstrated this safety through his relation between his body and the new place (street), a relation that transcends fear. His body no longer figured as a threatened site in public space, and streets on which the body once experienced this threat no longer threatened the body. His body and walk were now at peace and at home with the street. However, Sadiqi never ceased from re-living his horrifying experience in his homeland. For instance, the statement, “I have nothing,” memorialized his comfort in his birthplace; his safe walk on the streets of Europe implicitly evoked his fear on the streets of Kabul. While he basked in the euphoria of safety, this newly found safety also reminded him of the horrors of his birthplace. There was no doubt that he felt safe and was at home in the host country. However, home, from his migratory experience, is not just contingent on and constituted through immediate needs and new places, but its constitution and contingence is constantly expanded, altered, and modified as new needs arise and create more voids for migrants to fill. Home as safety is not fully attained but always evolves, sheltering migrants but also dislocating them as they (migrants) are confronted and constrained by new demands. Sadiqi came to Europe for safety but his impoverished condition motivated him to migrate to the United Kingdom and Germany for better opportunities. Unlike Sadiqi, who found Europe homely for safety even if he could not fully live in the continent as he expected, Idah Yaro, another migrant in Italy, did not experience safety. Yaro was an undergraduate who majored in economics at the University of Jos, Plateau, in the northern part of Nigeria. He moved to Italy to avert the increasingly menacing insurgence in the world’s largest black nation. Boko Haram, a terrorist group, has murdered, injured, and kidnapped hundreds of people, many of whom were minority groups in the northern region. CNN tracked Yaro’s move from Nigeria to Libya, from Libya to Malta, and from Malta to Sicily. Yaro’s experience in Malta and Sicily was replete with a sense of homelessness: “I came because I wanted


Adedoyin Ogunfeyimi

some peace—that’s why I ran. But I have found no peace; I was detained for a year and a month in Malta. They don’t care about you here. If somebody dies they don’t care they just put you in a grave and that’s it. They don’t try and find your family. I feel like it’s all upside down.”18 Yaro invoked a number of words—peace, care, family—to underscore the notion of home.19 Heidegger deploys peace and care to conceptualize dwelling which also refers to home in migration studies. For Heidegger “to dwell, to be at peace means to remain at peace within the free, the preserve, the free sphere that safeguards each thing in its essence.”20 But Heidegger also pushes the notion of dwelling beyond what we can gain to how we can respond to our surrounding. For Heidegger to dwell is “to cherish and protect, to preserve and care for, specifically to till the soil, to cultivate the vine.”21 Family, which is the third lexical item, is always associated with home, what Mallett describes as “the birth family dwelling.”22 However, family as a marking feature of home has long been contested in migration studies.23 Yet its mention in Yaro’s response still resonates with its traditional idea. Yaro’s state of being negated the notion of home because the homeliness of the words was already contested and negated by the negative lexical items, “no” and “don’t” (no peace, don’t care, etc.). This negation rendered Yaro homeless because he could not attain the very peace for which he came to Malta, and he was already dislocated in his homeland through the harrowing terror of the Boko Haram group in Northern Nigeria. His complex migratory condition reasserts the placelessness of home, that is, the idea that home is neither here nor there, and that home is not always grounded or given as a “point of destination,” as a place we often long for in order to alter what disturbingly besets us or validates what we curiously search for. Ultimately, home is no-where. According to the CNN report, Yaro left from Malta to Sicily where “he’s been sleeping on the streets of Catania or sometimes at a facility of the Catholic Charity Caritas.”24 Yaro’s story embodied the broader narrative of exclusion among the migrants in Malta. In the article, “Doctor, Artist, Engineer, Blogger: Human Stories of Malta’s Own Migration Crisis,” The Guardian addresses the crisis of exclusion in Malta. Dr. Ahmed Bugri, one of the people who participated in the interview identified inclusion as the key problem of the small nation. Bugri curiously posed a question on the fate of the refugees who stayed in Malta in the post-migration crisis. He revealed that the migrants were now “living on the periphery,” and that in ten years their poor condition will spread across the Malta public space. In spite of this telling condition of Malta, the story of Omar, a Sudanese, who came to Malta, offered a counter-narrative to Yaro’s account of the nation. Sudan, like Northern Nigeria, erupted in a protracted war. Many Sudanese including Omar considered asylum as a panacea to the crisis. Omar, like many war refugees, wandered into forests and deserts to find a more secure place.

Disabling the Binaries, Enabling the Boundaries


When Omar was asked if his stay in Malta was worthwhile, his response was passionately favorable to the host country: “Oh yes! Malta is a good place. The people of Malta are very good, very kind. Some refugees want to go to America but I have shine here . . . .”25 Omar experienced Malta differently. Unlike Yaro, Omar felt at home with the host nation and with the citizens because he encountered Malta and the Maltese as hospitable place and people respectively. Besides the hospitality of the European state, Omar’s affinity for Malta was, in part, due to his work and convenient pay (“I have shine here,” that is, earned good pay). With his comfortable pay, Omar was not willing to migrate elsewhere even though his friends envisioned a move to America. Perhaps, he might still consider other European nations if the need for better opportunities arose. But in the moment, he seemed to have grounded Malta as his fixed, final destination. His perception of the host state contests the fluid, endless, and placeless notion of home, the idea that we cannot fully live and embody. Yaro, Omar, and Sadiqi left the conflict-ridden zones of Sudan, Afghanistan, and Northern Nigeria to salvage their lives from the ravaging terrorists. But for Mahmoud Shubat, a Syrian, leaving homeland was not to avert death, but to resist the urge to kill others. Shubat left Syria in the midst of the war between ISIS and Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president. His choice forced him to abandon his four children in Syria. His ultimate goal was to avert joining ISIS or similar parties. While he stayed in Italy, Shubat planned to send money to his children and, in the long run, reunite with them: “If I stayed Syria, I would have to be part of one party or of ISIS. I’d have to take up arms and kill people. But I don’t want that. I only want to take care of my children . . . I want to be reunited with my family. If I can find a job I can send money to them. They have nothing.”26 Shubat migrated to Europe because of his drive to care for his children. Caring for his children would also compel him to stay back in Syria. But Shubat understood that his presence in his homeland would force him against his will—the ethical stance to avert killing innocent Syrian citizens. For this reason, going abroad was the only viable choice for him to translate his caring ethos into the home he envisioned for his family, but more importantly to sustain his ethical stance against the urge that he anticipated if he stayed back in Syria. Shubat’s migratory condition revealed a layer of the notions of home and its implications for migration studies. Shubat depicted Syria as home, but not homey enough to constitute a site on which he could live to build and sustain his family. For this reason, he foregrounded overseas as an alternative space to nurture his family. But his predicament abroad impeded him from returning to and caring for his children. This constraint shifted him between his Syrian home and his family and between his escape overseas and the struggle to care for his children. Home, for Shubat, figures in the realm of contemplation, that is, in what is possible to relive imaginatively,


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but was never attainable; in what is so near to one’s heart, but is at the same time also distant. This contemplative realm rendered Shubat homeless even if it granted him a sense of belonging. But this belonging even traumatized him as he constantly lived in the myth of returning to his homeland, but failed to actualize such a desire. None of these migrants returned to their homelands even if their migratory experiences were not pleasant in their host nations. And it is fair to say that none of them, except Omar, was also at home with himself in Heideggerian sense of home—a way of being at peace with oneself—because they lacked such an ontological experience. So, what does it mean then to remain in places where you don’t really live and where you are not wanted? If the migrants refused to return but confronted their discomforting experiences, what implications might their choice have for the ways we construct and understand home and abroad in migration studies? The migrants’ way of being was not necessarily grounded in the ontology of home as a place with which they find safety, comfort, shelter, clothing, food, etc. Of course, they desperately and daily sought all these necessities for their survival in Europe. Home, for the migrants, lies between being a desirable comforting place, a place where the migrants sought but were unable to reach and live, and a distant homeland, where the migrants hesitantly wanted to return, even if they were affectively attached to it. This liminal condition therefore figured home as a contemplative place where the migrants anticipated a better condition. By insisting on living abroad therefore, the migrants assert a form of ontology that resisted an attempt to relive the material conditions they once experienced in their homelands, even if they still experience a similar situation abroad. However, Babacar Diagne, a Senegalese, defied this anticipatory and transient construct of home because he actually returned to his homeland. According to The Guardian, Diagne traveled to Italy 12 years ago to improve his economic condition vis-à-vis his social status. His aim was to “return like a king, with enough money to buy a boat, house, car and to send his children to good schools.”27 To accomplish this goal, Diagne worked many jobs including peddling items, washing dishes, and working at a warehouse in Genoa, Corsica, and Florence. In spite of these daily rigors of labors, he could not pay his rent nor send money home. In fact, he, according to The Guardian report, had to request money from home to help pay his rent. His failure to cope with his migratory condition forced him to return to Dakar. But his reception in his homeland was by no means hospitable: “People look at you with disgust when you return . . . . They said: Why are you here, why are you not in Europe? Other people managed it—look at their houses . . . I always tell these young men . . . stay here. You do not know what awaits you there. There is nothing. You will suffer.”28

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Daigne’s return to Senegal reaffirms the divide between home and abroad; home (Senegal) as a point of departure, a place where you emigrate and abroad (Italy) is a point of arrival or where you move to. This dichotomy also figured in how Daigne ordered his response in a binary form: “why are you here” versus “why are you not in Europe”; “stay here” versus “what awaits you there.” Besides this oppositional discursive relation, Daigne’s return and reception also evoked nothingness and suffering to delineate home (Senegal) from away (Italy). While studies in migration have also contested this divide, claiming that one’s home may become one’s strange place and strange places may transform into one’s home, Daigne’s experience did not account for this fluid relation as his experience grounded home as a corporeally permanent place and positioned abroad as a distinctly temporary, unknown place. However, this divide was troubled by the reception of the Senegalese whose idea of return depicted failure, and who perceived the returnee as a disabled body who could not confront (“manage”) his unnerving conditions as others did (“other people managed it—look at their houses”). Daigne’s return and his reception by other Senegalese casts home as a conflicting concept that, on the one hand, constitutes a place where we return to compensate for a discomforting place, but also as a place that imposes social demands from others without which you cannot live nor have reasons to be. Hence, home is instrumental and ontologically so; that is, it manifests as a way of being and a site of survival. Speaking of home as a site of survival, the languages of the host countries evoke this instrumental vis-à-vis ontological dimension of home, but also deprive the migrants of homely places which they anticipated. This linguistic constraint further pushed the migrants away from their expected homes. Host nations such as the United Kingdom, Germany, and other European countries mandated the use of their languages as pre-conditions for (economic) integration. For instance, migrants who learned to speak these languages well expected to gain more access to available job opportunities. But oftentimes, some of these migrants could not “fluently” speak these languages as they broke down at the phonetic and phonological levels. With this performance, migrants were perceived as incompetent through their accent in the languages and, as such, were considered less qualified for the available jobs. This disqualification also rendered these migrants homeless because they could not inhabit the linguistic domain of English that could afford them the full access to such job opportunities, and, on that note, they could not survive outside the linguistic conditions; hence, they perpetually inhabited their marginal condition. Writing on this language situation, Emine Saner of The Guardian brought the voices of the migrants in the United Kingdom to bear on this subject. One of these migrants was Abdul, who moved from Afghanistan. Abdul migrated


Adedoyin Ogunfeyimi

to the United Kingdom at fifteen but without any experience in English. He, however, learned the English alphabet to satisfy the language conditions in order to gain access to job opportunities. Despite this learning experience, Abdul could not secure a job: “Now I am better, but can’t get a job.”29 Saner went further to elaborate on the language condition of Abdul and his friends in the United Kingdom, “when I went for a job, they asked me for qualifications which I haven’t got. One of my friends did a mechanic [course] in college and he gets paid more than me.”30 “He can’t apply until his English is better. I am a good mechanic now, but my English is not enough, and they pay me less.”31 However, the United Kingdom amended the post-entry language condition; spouses of the British citizens who planned to join their families had to pass the English language test.32 Uncomfortable with this immigration condition, two British citizens, Saiga Bibi, a Pakistani, and Saffana Ali, a national of Yemen, recently challenged the language requirements that barred their spouses from coming to the United Kingdom. They claimed that the pre-entry language proposal “breached their rights to a private and family life under article eight of the European convention on human rights.”33 The Supreme Court, however, rejected their prayers and reaffirmed the pre-entry language requirement. The proposal troubled and accented the more traditional notion of home: home as family. English constitutes a way of making and unmaking home by uniting and dividing families, undermines marital bonds that constitute ways of being together for families, and suspends, almost endlessly, the formative process of family-oriented notion of home. In this case language disrupts home, shuts spouses out of home, and forces them (spouses) to live outside and apart from their home. The court case with an emphasis on article eight has implications for the post-Brexit European migration status. The exit of Britain from Europe wholly renders the article impertinent. This means that the citizens of United Kingdom and the European member states who live in Britain can no longer invoke the article or any article in the European human rights convention if their rights are violated or perceived to be so. This article and many others were drafted by a few European member states to address human rights questions. The articles came into effect in 1953, and have since then provided a guide on the human rights needs among the EU member states. Besides the article eight that speaks on the language condition in Britain, article 2 of protocol 4 of the European convention offers relevant implications to European migration in a post-Brexit era: 1. Everyone lawfully within the territory of a State shall, within that territory, have the rights to liberty and freedom to choose his residence 2. Everyone shall be free to leave any country including his own

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3. No restrictions shall be placed on the exercise of these rights other than such are in accordance with laws and are necessary in a democratic society in the interest of national security and public safety for the maintenance of order public, for the prevention of crime, for the protection of health or morals or for the protection of rights and freedoms of others.34 Not that the article went in favor of the two British citizens when they invoked it. It is imperative, however, to note that the Brexit has completely foreclosed the citizens’ rights to hearing on matters that concern their private and family lives. The Supreme Court’s President, Lord Neuberger, acknowledged the possible infringements of article 8, even if he ruled against this possibility. But the Brexit has invalidated this possibility. Therefore, the exit of Britain from EU no longer guarantees freedom to any migrants in Europe to move to the United Kingdom. Such migrants who seek to enter the United Kingdom must satisfy the nation’s migratory conditions. On the other hand, migrants in the United Kingdom can no longer appeal to article 8 or any other ones in the EU human rights convention for safety and protection. To this end, Brexit recasts EU migration regulations by delegitimizing the articles that constitute safety for the migrants in the United Kingdom and others who intend to enter the United Kingdom. In this last part of this chapter I want to foreground home as it is evoked by the migrants in the process of navigating the contours of their migration. In “Ten Borders: One Refugee’s Epic Escape from Syria,” Nicholas Schmidle recounted the bumpy escape of Gaith with many other Syrians to different European countries. According to Schmidle, Gaith was a law student at the University of Damascus and planned to practice as a judge when he completed his degree. Before he migrated to Europe, he worked two jobs: “stocking shelves and making falafel at a supermarket” to support his family.35 In 2013 Gaith married his longtime friend. He left Syria in the belief that he would be called up to serve in the national army, and, even more frightening, that he would, in the process, kill others. The first time he tried his escape to Europe, Gaith was arrested for using an international passport that belonged to an Italian. The Italian immigration authorities queried, imprisoned, released, and later deported him to Syria. He tried to escape again, and, this time around, he successfully maneuvered the stringencies of the borders to get to Sweden. But his experience was nonetheless bumpy: “I swear, I’m done. . . . That is it. My whole life is gone. . . . All I ate today was plain bread. I’m losing my mind. I want this to end. . . . I’m about to die. . . . Why did you ever tell me to come? I was having the best days of my life, getting married and planning to graduate. Now I am like a homeless person.”36 Gaith made this emotional statement when he heard that one of his friends, Osama, had arrived in Austria while he was still negotiating his way across


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the Turkish border. Gaith’s response was not in any way different from others, but raised genuine concerns about how spaces between homeland and host-land dislocate migrants as they meander through the silhouette of migration, and how their experiences compel them to delineate homely space from distant space. Gaith used the following choices of words—done, gone, cold sweat, end, die—to construct the unhomely condition of liminal space of migration and to reinforce the irreplaceable notion of home (Syria) regardless of the problems that confront it. Gaith’s mode of remembering reiterates Gaston Bachelard’s description of home, one which we remember with more tonality than how we remember or inhabit memories of other places.37 Interestingly, Gaith restored Syria as more homey than Turkey, the former which he gleefully left to avert being a victim of war or a killer. He remembered his homeland experience not because Syria was at this moment more peaceful than his host country (Turkey), but because he intended to express his frustrations that rendered him homeless. Gaith’s remembering of Syria at this moment casts home as an alternative space (of habitation) often called up, remembered, and sentimentalized to offer respite even when it (home) does not promise such. While Gaith remembered Syria as an alternative place, he never actually returned there, but was stuck between finding a better place and memorializing his beautiful Syrian past. This was the very condition that even rendered him more homeless since he could neither go forward nor return home (Syria). But migrants also transform these liminal conditions into navigable spaces through new technologies. Schmidle’s account of Gaith’s escape revealed how the migrants used Facebook, WhatsApp, walkie-talkie app, and other apps to create accessible, fast, and cost-effective modes of communication for the migrants. Schmidle cited Abu Amar, a Syrian and an asylum seeker, who studied how smugglers used maps to navigate the borders. According to Schmidle, Amar created a Facebook group called, “The Asylum and Immigration Without Smugglers” and posted relevant immigration information to prospective migrants. The migrants who lost their ways often called upon Amar to help them reidentify and renavigate the ways. Amar received and responded to messages every moment. Schmidle summed up Amar’s role thusly: Abu Amar recently told me, “Sometimes I get a call when I am just about to go to sleep: ‘We are stuck in the middle of the forest—can you help us?’ I go to sleep between 5 and 6 a.m., sleep until about 2 p.m. Very few people reach out to me then.” He had established his own channel on Zello, a walkietalkie app, becoming a real-time Harriet Tubman. “I’ve been told that if you go into any coffee shop in Syria these days people are talking about me and asking for my number”38

Disabling the Binaries, Enabling the Boundaries


As useful as the digital space and the instruments for the migrants, smugglers did not see this digital gesture as a kind response to the migrants but as a threat to the smuggling economy. Nonetheless, the digital dimension of the migratory experience provided a dwelling place in forms of directions, networks, and linkages in those contouring spaces, making such places navigable and creating platforms with which lost relations can reconnect with one another. The technological space helps to reroute migrants away from border restrictions and create communities that helped them to manage their tensions. This space therefore casts home as an alternative passable place through which migrants direct and redirect their movements. ***

This chapter has examined a panoply of ways with which these migrants have perceived and performed home with reference to their homeland and abroad/away. In exploring this barrage of ways, this chapter has also emphasized the motivations that informed the ways these migrants identified home as both homeland and host-nation. And because understanding of home is rhetorically constructed, this chapter also considered some of the ways migrants invoked home to negotiate their identity and belonging. Based on the review of the literature on home and away/abroad and the experiences of the migrants in Europe, this chapter contests that blurring the home-away/ abroad divide does not reflect the diverse multilayered dimensions of home because the experiences of the migrants both recognized and transcended this divide. For some of these migrants, the presence of war in their homelands never made their birthplace any less than home. Even though others found safe places in their host countries, their homeland memories often interrupted and confronted them. To others, their homelands being ravaged by wars was no longer a safe place to return. Rhetorically speaking, migrants often called up the memories of their homelands to compensate for their disorienting and dislocating experiences in their host countries. There was also a language dimension to the migrants’ complex conditions: language that offered a means of integration for social recognition, employment opportunities, etc., also undermined the migrants’ linguistic identity with which they sustained their ties to their homelands. For instance, many host countries such as the United Kingdom, Germany, etc. introduced their languages to integrate the migrants into their economic and social fabrics. The United Kingdom mandated English as a pre-entry language qualification. While the integration policy intended to welcome the migrants as recognizable members of the host nations, this integrative approach also created a colonizing effect on the linguistic identities of the migrants by distancing them from their lingo-cultural identity. The effect of this language policy


Adedoyin Ogunfeyimi

forced the migrants to live in a linguistic limbo—finding home through the host languages but also living apart from their homelands. Home, as envisioned, imagined, and inhabited by the migrants, evoked a safe place for the migrants but also interrupted the possibilities for such a place as it dislocated the migrants. It therefore means that home does not merely project a safe place/space, physically constructed, imaginatively produced, economically hospitable, culturally inclusive, politically friendly, and socially compensatory but one that also invades, disrupts, destabilizes, and holds to ransom the imaginations and memories of the migrants as they sought to fully live, inhabit, and own it. This is because home as envisioned by the migrants was not only constituted through the geography of the new place as inhabited, albeit temporarily so, but figured as a linkage between the host countries with the vivid, and sometimes faint, memories of the homelands, and the way their homelands and host countries complemented and sometimes contested each other. This fluid and fixed notion of home also has implications for not only how we imagine and construct our teaching, but also how we recognize exclusion and create inclusive classroom space. Thinking about the relation between migration and pedagogy, how does the ecology of migration that is constituted through the new media and mapping tools matter pedagogically? How might home in the Heideggerian sense provide us the resources with which we can create a pedagogically inclusive classroom environment for “outsiders”? On the other hand, how might the discomforting sense of home be repurposed to trouble the condition of complacency in thinking and critical engagement within and outside classrooms? And in what way might this help us to develop critical approaches to knowledge production? If the migrant bodies are rendered, continuously, as traveling bodies through their migratory experiences, what might the traveling bodies as a way of being allow us to grasp in the way we think about learning? In other words, how might the metaphor of traveling bodies help our students see learning and knowledge production as a lived, embodied way of life, an idea that transcends the classrooms? While I am not proposing any specific ways to respond to the relation between migration and pedagogy, I believe that these questions will offer a starting point and a guide for academics and scholars who are interested in considering the place of home in the context of classrooms and teaching. NOTES 1. Russell King, “Towards a New Map of European Migration,” International Journal of Population Geography 8, no. 2., 106.2. Ibid., 2.3. Sarah Ahmed, “Home and Away: Narratives of Migration and Estrangement,” International Journal of Cultural Studies 2, no. 3 (1999): 329–347; Shelley Mallet,

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“Understanding Home: A Critical Review of the Literature,” The Sociological Review 52, no. 1 (2004): 62–89. doi:10.1111/j.1467–954x.2004.00442.x.; Ibid., 89—106.4. Ibid., 339–340.5. Martin Heidegger, “Building Dwelling Thinking,” In Poetry, Language, Thought, Translated by Albert Hofstadter. New York: Harper Colophon Books, 1971, 347–348.6. Ibid., 329–347; ibid., 86–106; ibid., 313–331.7. Ibid., 340.8. Ibid., 102.9. Ibid., 77.10 Madawi al-Rasheed, “The Myth of Return: Iraqi Arab and Assyrian Refugees in London,” Journal of Refugee Studies 7, no. 2–3 (1994): 199–219. doi:10.1093/jrs/7.2–3.199.; Roger Zarretta, “Reconceptualizing the Myth of Return: Continuity and Transition Amongst the Greek-Cypriot Refugees of 1974,” Journal of Refugees Studies 12, no. 1 (1999); Martha Bolognani, “The Myth of Return: Dismissal, Survival, or Revival? A Bradford Example of Transnationalism as a Political Instrument.” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 33, no. 1 (January 2007).www. Ibid., 200–201.12. Ibid.3. Ibid., 1–22; ibid., 59–76.14. Ibid., 6.15 Petra Andits, “Rethinking Home, Belonging, and the Potentials of Transnationalism: Australian Hungarians after the Fall of the Berlin Wall.” Ethos 43, no. 4 (2015): 313–31.doi:10.1111/etho.12101.6 Karl Penhaul and Vasco Cotovio, “Why I left: New Migrants in Italy Share their Stories,” CNN. com, April 24, 2015 n.p.7 Ibid.8 Ibid.9 Ibid., 347–348; ibid., 329–347; ibid., 62–89.20 Ibid., 351.21 Ibid., 351.22 Ibid., 73.23 Ibid., 329–347; ibid., 86–106.24 Ibid.25 “Doctor, artist, engineer, blogger: human stories of Malta migration crisis,” The Guardian, May 3, 2016.26 Ibid.27 Ibid.28 Emine Saner, “‘I can’t speak properly, I am different’: do you need to speak good English to be a good citizen?” The Guardian, August 7, 2015.29 Ibid.30 Ibid.31 Ibid.32 Ibid.33 European Conventions for Human Rights Strasbourg: Council of Europe, 1950.34 Nicholas Schmidle, “Ten Borders: One Refugee’s Epic Escape from Syria,” New Yorker, October 26, 2015 magazine/2015/10/26/ten-borders35 Ibid.36 Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space Translated by Maria Jolas. Boston: Bacon Press, 1994.37 Ibid. 2. Ibid., 2. 3. Sarah Ahmed, “Home and Away: Narratives of Migration and Estrangement,” International Journal of Cultural Studies 2, no. 3 (1999): 329–347; Shelley Mallet, “Understanding Home: A Critical Review of the Literature,” The Sociological Review 52, no. 1 (2004): 62–89. doi:10.1111/j.1467–954x.2004.00442.x.; Ibid., 89–106. 4. Ibid., 339–340. 5. Martin Heidegger, “Building Dwelling Thinking,” In Poetry, Language, Thought, Translated by Albert Hofstadter. New York: Harper Colophon Books, 1971, 347–348. 6. Ibid., 329–347; ibid., 86–106; ibid., 313–331. 7. Ibid., 340. 8. Ibid., 102. 9. Ibid., 77. 10. Madawi al-Rasheed, “The Myth of Return: Iraqi Arab and Assyrian Refugees in London,” Journal of Refugee Studies 7, no. 2–3 (1994): 199–219. doi:10.1093/ jrs/7.2–3.199.; Roger Zarretta, “Reconceptualizing the Myth of Return: Continuity and Transition Amongst the Greek-Cypriot Refugees of 1974,” Journal of Refugees Studies 12, no. 1 (1999); Martha Bolognani, “The Myth of Return: Dismissal, Survival, or Revival? A Bradford Example of Transnationalism as a Political Instrument.”


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Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 33, no. 1 (January 2007).www.tandfonline. com/doi/pdf/10.1080/13691830601043497 11. Ibid., 200–201. 12. Ibid. 13. Ibid., 1–22; ibid., 59–76. 14. Ibid., 6. 15. Petra Andits, “Rethinking Home, Belonging, and the Potentials of Transnationalism: Australian Hungarians after the Fall of the Berlin Wall.” Ethos 43, no. 4 (2015): 313–31.doi:10.1111/etho.12101. 16. Karl Penhaul and Vasco Cotovio, “Why I left: New Migrants in Italy Share their Stories,”, April 24, 2015 italy-migrant-stories/. n.p. 17. Ibid. 18. Ibid. 19. Ibid., 347–348; ibid., 329–347; ibid., 62–89. 20. Ibid., 351. 21. Ibid. 22. Ibid., 73. 23. Ibid., 329–347; ibid., 86–106. 24. Ibid. 25. “Doctor, artist, engineer, blogger: human stories of Malta migration crisis,” The Guardian, May 3, 2016. 26. Ibid. 27. Ibid. 28. Ibid. 29. Emine Saner, “‘I can’t speak properly, I am different’: do you need to speak good English to be a good citizen?” The Guardian, August 7, 2015. 30. Ibid. 31. Ibid. 32. Ibid. 33. Ibid. 34. European Conventions for Human Rights Strasbourg: Council of Europe, 1950. 35. Nicholas Schmidle, “Ten Borders: One Refugee’s Epic Escape from Syria,” New Yorker, October 26, 2015 36. Ibid. 37. Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space Translated by Maria Jolas. Boston: Bacon Press, 1994. 38. Ibid.

REFERENCES Ahmed, S. “Home and Away: Narratives of Migration and Estrangement.” International Journal of Cultural Studies 2, no. 3 (1999): 329–347. doi:10.1177/136787 799900200303.

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al-Rasheed, Madawi. “The Myth of Return: Iraqi Arab and Assyrian Refugees in London.” Journal of Refugee Studies 7, no. 2–3 (1994): 199–219. doi:10.1093/ jrs/7.2–3.199. Andits, Petra. “Rethinking Home, Belonging, and the Potentials of Transnationalism: Australian Hungarians after the Fall of the Berlin Wall.” Ethos 43, no. 4 (2015): 313–331.doi:10.1111/etho.12101. Bachelard, Gaston. The Poetics of Space. Translated by Maria Jolas. Boston: Bacon Press, 1994. Bolognani, Marta. “The Myth of Return: Dismissal, Survival, or Revival? A Bradford Example of Transnationalism as a Political Instrument.” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 33, no. 1 (January 2007). 59–76. pdf/10.1080/13691830601043497 “Doctor, Artist, Engineer, Blogger: Human Stories of Malta Migration Crisis.” The Guardian, May 3, 2016. European Conventions for Human Rights. Strasbourg: Council of Europe, 1950. Heidegger, Martin. “Building Dwelling Thinking.” In Poetry, Language, Thought. Translated by Albert Hofstadter. New York: Harper Colophon Books, 1971. King, Russell. “Towards a New Map of European Migration.” International Journal of Population Geography. 8, no. 2. (2002): 89–106 Mallett, Shelley. “Understanding Home: A Critical Review of the Literature.” The Sociological Review 52, no. 1 (2004): 62–89. doi:10.1111/j.1467–954x.2004.00442.x. Penhaul, Karl and Vasco Cotovio. “Why I left: New Migrants in Italy Share their Stories.”, April 24, 2015 italy-migrant-stories/ Reynolds, Nedra. Geographies of Writing: Inhabiting Places and Encountering Difference. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University, 2004. Saner, Emine. “‘I can’t speak properly, I am different’: do you need to speak good English to be a good citizen?” The Guardian, August 7, 2015 Schmidle, Nicholas. “Ten Borders: One Refugee’s Epic Escape from Syria.” New Yorker, October 26, 2015 Zarretta, Roger. “Reconceptualizing the Myth of Return: Continuity and Transition Amongst the Greek-Cypriot Refugees of 1974.” Journal of Refugees Studies 12, no. 1 (1999): 1–22.

Chapter 10

“Strike Their Roots into Unaccustomed Earth” in an Era of New Genetics Diasporic Identity Politics and Genealogy Re-Considered in Jhumpa Lahiri’s “Unaccustomed Earth” Hsin-Ju Kuo Identity is always a key concern in immigrant narratives, being so important that it has come to form a discourse of identity since the second half of the twentieth century. Minority literature, diasporic writing, and immigrant narratives automatically associate the concept of identity with the production of such discourse. As for identity formation itself, views of this are divided roughly into two competing camps, based on the concepts of “biological determination” (also known as biologism) and “social constructionism”; the debate over the key meaning of human behavior and self-identity can be seen as paralleling the split between Constructionism and Determinism. Since the 1970s, social constructionism has become increasingly prevalent, with its adherents arguing that “race” and “ethnicity” are ideological categories concealing a pseudo-biological notion which has been utilized to rationalize and advocate unequal treatment of ethnic groups. However, the completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003, which revealed much in terms of our biological ancestry, has also raised ethical questions regarding the nature of race and self-identity, especially in terms of maternal ancestry. Given the emerging ascendancy of biogenetic accounts of human life in the wake of the completion of this project, the concept of biologism has reenergized old debates about sameness and difference in identity origination mechanisms, even leading to a rise in racialized politics. This issue is even more pivotal and controversial in today’s era of increasing globalization, as the impact of genomics on mapping human genealogy has raised the issue of whether the term “race” denotes any biological reality. In an era of significant transnational flows of people, materials, and ideas, 173


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immigrants’ cultural as well as psychological effects on their new homelands are being portrayed as more elaborate and complicated as national, racial, and cultural boundaries are becoming more blurred. In the field of the social sciences, a considerable number of studies have explored the uneasy relationship between biogenetics and the identity politics of race, ethnicity, and nation.1 Such works reexamine the varied meanings and connotations of racialized politics, ethnicity, and even national identities in the milieu within which notions of genetics and biomedical science are still unsettled. Covering an array of issues related to race and ethnicity from macro (global and national) to micro (local and individual) levels, these studies aim to unravel the concept of identity coproduced by science and politics, and further explore the ways in which new genetic knowledge is affecting and redirecting the discursive formation of ethnicity and race. In order to examine human identity in a diasporic context embedded in a post-genomic era, the first step is to clearly articulate the ethics of how “race” is understood by scientists and interpreted by humanists, and to advance an understanding of diaspora as a network, interchange, and circulatory system that transcends the concept of “primordial kinship” in the search for roots from an ethno-cultural perspective. Cultural alienation, and the consequent loss of identity, crystallizes central issues in diasporic discourse. The resulting pain of displacement continues to hurt not only the immigrants themselves, but also their second- or even third-generation descendants, who may be rendered incapable of belonging to the country of their birth. Indeed, the tragedy of estrangement is felt by the descendants as much as by the new arrivals, because the sense of estrangement grows more intense in proportion to the sense of affinity they feel with their roots. In this paper, I will analyze Jhumpa Lahiri’s short story “Unaccustomed Earth,” the eponymous first story in a collection which presents a diasporic narrative of three generations—Ruma the protagonist, her parents, and her son, Akash; I will approach the controversially mingled issues of race, ethnicity, and cultural identity by revisiting the dialectic between the concepts of biologism and identity as a social construct. By examining the interweaving notions of race, kinship relationships, and family genealogy through the lens of literary analysis, a more sophisticated understanding of the tangled, heterogeneous process of identity formation within the South Asian diaspora can be obtained. To better embrace the full view of racialized politics in Lahiri’s immigrant writing, the following analysis will focus on how horticulturality is associated with the ideas of genealogy and kinship that delineate the saga of a South Asian immigrant family, and on the reexamination of father- and mother-daughter relationships, as the links that enable the continuity of family genealogy, through the lens of neoliberalism. The following is an attempt to historicize diasporic writing and its critiques of the notion of whether immigrants’

“Strike Their Roots into Unaccustomed Earth” in an Era of New Genetics


identity is socially constructed, or inherent. In view of Lahiri’s story, in what ways should “kinship,” as a trope of biologism, be reconsidered in a transnational context? What beliefs continue to be shared by immigrant parents and their second-generation children when the traditional family values in the original culture clash with neoliberal viewpoints that treat family relationships very differently? What is a woman’s role, a daughter’s in particular, in the neoliberal family as well as in a transnational context? In practice, the idea of “race as construct” does not acknowledge the existence of distinctive racial characteristics, and how ethnic bodies are purposefully “racialized” by the mainstream culture. In the story “Unaccustomed Earth,” for example, Lahiri notes that, even if second-generation South Asian immigrants try to adopt U.S. culture, they still remain marginalized by the white society due to their visible membership of a racial minority. Immigrants’ eagerness to engage in the majority culture and claim their place in U.S. society will thus be impeded. ***

Since it is widely accepted that the arbitrariness implanted in the categories of race and ethnicity should not be accepted as ways of grouping people, the majority of the social sciences apply their preferred axioms, “context matters” or “social construction,” when referring to identity generation. While there are several strands of constructivism, all support the general belief that social identities are products of human agency.2 In other words, how human beings define each other and deal with the Us-Them relationship is not natural, but a product of conscious effort to make the Us-Them labels politically and culturally significant. Most importantly, the formation of identity is considered as a fluid and flexible process. Recent genetic evidence has been altering and refashioning ethno-scapes, raising many ethical, cultural, and political implications, with much research being carried out under the banner of positivism. Therefore, in terms of personal identity, the academia needs a nuanced, reflexive view to go beyond the dichotomous debate surrounding “constructivism” and “essentialism.” In this context, DNA studies “function as ‘immutable mobiles’ that maintain aspects of their ontological qualities throughout their journey, yet at the same time acquire new and partly contradictory meanings and functions in different settings,”3 which means the research field needs a more sophisticated way to approach how concepts of identity, race, and even kinship are formed. In this new age of genetics, the changing dynamics of racial classification trumps the fixity of racism/racialization and highlights the fluidity inherent in identity politics. Not only has new genetic knowledge disrupted the praxis from which ethnic identities and racial politics are managed, experienced, and


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debated, but it has also subverted the currently existing social schemes which are both conserved and modified at the intersection of nature/essentialism and culture/constructivism. ***

The image and use of horticulture is vital in further interpreting the discourse of racial identity as represented by kinship and family genealogy. The metaphor of immigrants as “seeds scattered/spread”4 to foreign lands serves as the epigraph to Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth, a title borrowed from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s preface to The Scarlet Letter, “The Custom House”—“Human nature will not flourish, any more than a potato, if it be planted and replanted, for too long a series of generations, in the same worn-out soil. My children have had other birthplaces, and, so far as their fortunes may be within my control, shall strike their roots into unaccustomed earth.”5 This passage sheds light on the sense of cultural displacement of immigrant characters, and their struggle to put down roots in the United States. This title and epigraph to Unaccustomed Earth introduce the intertwined issues of naturalization and generational succession that organizes the eponymous story “Unaccustomed Earth.” Hawthorne’s epigraph suggests that uprooted beings can flourish in alien soil, and while this may be a popular belief among potential immigrants, they will not necessarily prosper in the host country, be it the United States or elsewhere. Though the popular belief in American Dream may be true for white Americans like Hawthorne, this concept of the American Dream may not apply for some unassimilable aliens like people of color. No matter what, the ideal encompasses a transforming power that connects all the disparate peoples from different areas of the globe who decide to settle in the United States. The concept of the American Dream is associated with a “national motto,” stated as the “most immediate component of an American identity,”6 which demands that immigrants engage in cultural assimilation. The assimilation mode and the concept of reconstructing a cultural identity in diasporic contexts have also been exalted by Lahiri’s precursor, Salman Rushdie, who once noted: “[w]e pretend that we are trees and speak of roots. Look under your feet. You will not find gnarled growths sprouting through the soles. Roots, I sometimes think, are a conservative myth, designed to keep us in our places.”7 Yet the author intends to have this celebration of cultural assimilation reconsidered and reexamined, for this popular belief in American Dream may apply for white majority Americans like Hawthorne, but for unassimilable alien immigrants There may exist an enormous gap between white ideals of Hawthorne’s and American Dreams of people of color.

“Strike Their Roots into Unaccustomed Earth” in an Era of New Genetics


Ironically, praising the reinvigorating powers of immigrant movements is not Lahiri’s focus when she cites Hawthorne’s passage. To a certain extent, Hawthorne’s quote evokes deeper thoughts about long-term ramifications of diasporic movements. The themes of the collection actually questions Hawthorne’s promise, of a progressive, teleological trajectory, and Lahiri’s stories in Unaccustomed Earth show “transplantation to be an uncertain, wayward process, yielding unanticipated benefits as well as setbacks.”8 It turns out that kinship congruity, an indication of diasporic reviving in the horticultural analogy that Hawthorne alludes to, appears in “Unaccustomed Earth” as an ambivalent site, wherein transnational, gender, and familial relations between two generations all intrude and further remap the course of the immigrant trajectory, complicating an anticipated dialectical discussion of identity and sense of belonging in the diasporic context. In the story, the horticulture metaphor is used to reexamine Hawthorne’s epigraph of “striking roots in the unaccustomed earth.” Ruma’s father devotes all his free time attending his garden, and thus the recurrent images of horticulture or gardening in the story serve as a significant physical as well as mental space for him. According to Ruma’s description, gardening has long been her father’s passion, and he would “work outdoors in the summers as soon as he came home from the office, staying out until it grew dark. . . . It was something he’d done alone; neither Romi nor Ruma had ever been interested in helping, and their father never offered to include them.”9 The image of Ruma’s father working with the plants in his garden again echoes the theme of replantation in Hawthorne’s passage—“strike their roots into the unaccustomed earth.” Lahiri uses a botanical metaphor to express the process of acclimatization, and the sustaining of the blood links and lineage among family members in a foreign land. Gardening has become a passion as well as an obsession representing a self-actualizing process of rerooting to Ruma’s father. Through the horticultural metaphor, Lahiri compares immigrants’ diasporic life to plant life. The diligent gardening and the horticultural terms Lahiri uses to describe Ruma’s father, to certain extent, denote immigrants’ efforts to become accustomed to a new world while retaining their own cultural roots. The practice of planting herbs that originated in India can be considered as a kind of “grafting,” toppling the rigid barriers that used to exist between continents and nations. Ruma’s father may finally metaphorically “graft” himself onto American life through his role of a model South Asian American who earns enough to be recognized as a successful middle-class man. Circumventing economic methods for assimilation, Ruma’s father asserts his agency, and thus the horticultural images of “grafting” or “transplanting” illuminate his original and adoptive bonds, thereby affirming his ability to choose his own fate.


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To strike a root in the unaccustomed earth means to reconstruct the continuity of life and family kinship genealogy, in such a way that the trauma of displacement caused by immigration can be worked through in this imagery, and so that there is the hope for as well as the possibility of a viable future. The image of genealogical continuity embodied in horticulture comprises all thoughts and visions of diasporic life, and thus identity can be generated from this. The analogy drawn between horticultural praxes and “ties of blood” is that in both cases the question of parentage is comprehensible. The parallelism between human and botanical reproduction is based on Biblical allusions and classical literature, in which horticulture is associated with human birth and death. As Ellerbeck notes, the “horticultural metaphor in the early modern period elucidates the complexities of familial relations” since the modern family tree serves as an “expression of genealogical connection, demonstrating lineage by specifying a person’s ancestors through the recognizable referent of the tree.”10 At first, Ruma’s father casts rerooting as adaptation to a new environment using recognizable images, and then he imbues horticulture with positive notions of possibility and forward development—as he is a culturally and socially “transplanted” immigrant who straddles two worlds, with his identity not fixed to either one. The garden, be it of family-of-origin or of Ruma’s nuclear family, serves as a trope as well as a representation that is associated with the losses incurred by cultural displacement and a way of working-through regeneration for immigrants. By referencing botany, Lahiri’s use of the transplanting and rerooting metaphor draws from the discourse of horticulture, by which the lexical item “root” is used figuratively to imply the origin of a familial structure or genealogy. Following through on this metaphor, Ruma’s father envisions that his “family tree” will again take root in the soil of the United States, and his family will continue to prosper in the soon-to-be homeland, changing the outline of both his familial structure as well as its history. The horticultural metaphor indicates how those Indian herbs and plants grow from “foreign” seeds and gradually become “native” to the U.S. soil. Ruma’s father would like the Indian plants to be rooted in the foreign soil, and this indicates a process of “domestication,” as immigrants work to become naturalized as genuine Americans, no longer just guests in the country. The plants in the garden and the whole process of transplantation, in effect, serve as an analogy delineating how diasporic subjects survive in host nations and further become part of the nation by refixing their roots there. This form of survival politics accords with Salman Rushdie’s noted definition of diasporic identity: What does it mean to be ‘Indian’ outside India? . . . What are the consequences . . . of refusing to make any concessions to Western ideas and practices? What

“Strike Their Roots into Unaccustomed Earth” in an Era of New Genetics


are the consequences of embracing those ideas and practices and turning away from the ones that came here with us? These questions are all a single, existential question: How are we to live in the world?11

To survive or even simply prevail in cultural displacement, Ruma’s father has to develop horticultural skills as his own “technologies of self,” a Foucauldian strategy by which he represents to himself his own self-understanding in the practice of everyday life. For one thing, the garden serves as an emblem that is associated with the host country, the “unaccustomed earth” that the immigrants have to strike their roots into. For another, the garden represents an effort at cultural hybridization, yielding vegetables and fruits for the family’s traditional Indian culinary practices. Her father “had grown expert over the years at cultivating the things her mother liked to cook with” and had “toiled in unfriendly soil, coaxing such things from the ground.”12 Metaphorically speaking, located between the private and public domains, the garden serves as a transit space that helps Ruma’s father adapt himself to the U.S. culture. For example, he has gotten into the habit of calculating the exact distances between various locations, giving the impression that he has made every effort to identify himself as some authentic American white males who would count the exact mileage to pride themselves on cars and mobility. This behavior shows his endeavor in assimilating and identifying with this new place, thus anchors his sense of belonging in the here and now. Furthermore, he also initiates Akash, his grandson as a representative of third-generation diasporic subjects, into the arts of gardening, an act symbolizing placing the family genealogy of cultural roots and identity into the host country, the so-called unaccustomed earth. The process of transplantation and Ruma’s father’s enthusiasm for horticulture help reinforce his determination to reconnect the family to the chronicle and legacy of immigrants in American history, although it is a seemingly partial and fragmentary one. He purchases the plants, seeds and manure, and works hard at gardening, though he knows that Ruma and Adam will not participate. In a way, he is showing his daughter, a Bengali Indian American, the value of “striking roots into unaccustomed earth,” namely a refashioning of cultural hybridity. The plants here are, of course, a symbol of uprooted diasporic subjects’ need to replant their roots and fix them deeply in foreign earth, a goal they make every effort to achieve. In other words, they have to immerse themselves in the host country and assimilate. Upon creating a garden for Ruma and Akash, Ruma’s father determines to leave them and continue on to Europe. When Ruma asks for an explanation, he clearly states that he is “not at home” in Ruma’s house: “It is a good place, Ruma. But this is your home not mine.”13 It is noteworthy that, at the end of the story, Ruma lingers for a moment in the garden, watching Akash working


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and playing there. The closing scene here is reminiscent of two quite opposite scenarios. One is the diasporic subject’s quest for comfort in the host country, and how this may fail. The other is the manner in which Akash has been taught by his grandfather to take care of a garden, although the only thing he plants is some Lego, from which nothing can grow. What message is Lahiri trying to convey about the prospect of immigrants’ assimilation into mainstream culture? As immigrants, will the three generations of Ruma’s family be able to prosper in the United States? What kind of identities will they forge for themselves? When comparing race-based issues with actual praxes in the United States, it can be seen that although on the surface mainstream society praises multiculturalism and attempts to treat immigrant issues in a race-neutral manner, in reality race and ethnicity are still key issues in debates about immigration. Moreover, there are still concerns about the binary division of racial categories and constructivism as the master trope in explaining race. It is evident that the burden of becoming de-racialized has always been put on “ethnic” people, and ethnic minorities are often told that racial differences are created and constructed, and thus they can form their own identities with their individual free will. Yet racialized politics is, in effect, a reality that ethnic minorities have to confront in their everyday lives, as the mechanisms of racism still exist, even if sometimes only in a subtle and elusive way. In the discussions of racialized immigrant life and the “New Face of America,” the progress that has been achieved in “accommodating ethnic and racial differences in the community . . . has never been free from undercurrents of interracial tensions and conflicts.”14 Various forms of discriminatory racialization are thus still working within a seemingly multicultural society. With regard to the notion of race, the emphasis on racial identity as an invention, and the seeming “color blindness” implicitly embedded in the social constructivist view, is, in fact, as dangerous as blunt racism. It ignores the power imbalances between white mainstream society and those who have been labeled as ethnic. Racism will never disappear automatically or on its own, as it is deeply rooted in society’s unconscious stratification. The claim that racial identity is a social construction thus seems to be a myth for most ethnic minorities. In the eyes of the white majority, such people are defined by their ethnic traits, and prejudices and stereotypes arise because of this, be they positive or negative. The materialist explanations of racial ontology as constructed may not be sufficient to explain the real world. A social constructivist stance cannot explain why an array of cultures has developed concepts of racial classification on the basis of phenotypic features, such as skin color and other physical characteristics. Neither can a social constructivist approach help explain the commonalities regarding race found in various cultures. This is because the concept of race “continues to play a fundamental role in structuring and representing the social world.”15

“Strike Their Roots into Unaccustomed Earth” in an Era of New Genetics


Focusing on issues relating to in terms of familial kinship, researchers must carefully stress the significance of flexibility in identity politics in relation to race and genetic knowledge, yet at the same time warn of its potentially disastrous by-products, such as racism, racialization, and racial stratification. For instance, in analyzing the notion of “race-kinship congruity,” Peter Wade builds on existing scholarly approaches in which the conventional style of racial thinking with regard to kinship is based on “notions of ‘blood’ and the transmission of ‘natural’ and ‘cultural’ traits,” with a clearly defined racial identity deeply embedded in kinship, and vice versa.16 Yet by drawing on the example of “mixed-race” population, Peter Wade also proves that new modes of kinship function as controversial sites where existing thoughts about race are paradoxically being not only reinforced but also challenged and destabilized.17 The changing dynamics of individual/collective classifications and or connections between race and kinship indicate that race-kinship conformity is not merely an ahistorical construct, but varies depending on context. Based on a theoretical foundation, the concept of kinship is presented as a hybridized construct that conjoins and mingles the two realms of nature and culture. Kinship serves as an important lens through which one scrutinizes and reexamines the ideas of race, ethnicity, and immigrant identity formation in “Unaccustomed Earth.” As for Ruma’s father, his efforts to accommodate himself to the United States are vigorous; he shows no nostalgia toward his country of origin. The family’s periodic trips to India cannot be considered homecomings of diasporic subjects, but rather a burden and strain, as Ruma’s father used to encounter the same feelings of homelessness and loss while living in India as he did in the United States: “those trips to India were always epic, and he still recalled the anxiety they provoked in him . . . keeping documents in order and ferrying his family safely so many thousands of miles.”18 The only reason for these journeys is Ruma’s mother and a sense of guilt toward his family: “[b]ut his wife had lived for these journeys, and until both his parents died, a part of him lived for them, too. And so they’d gone in spite of the expense, in spite of the sadness and shame he felt each time he returned to Calcutta, in spite of the fact that the older his children grew, the less they wanted to go.”19 As a first-generation immigrant moving to the United States, Ruma’s father was determined that his family would strike their roots of cultural identity firmly and deeply into the unaccustomed earth of the United States, despite the difficulties. In addition to his flexibility when migrating from India to the United States, the ease with which Ruma’s father moves is connected to his love of travel.20 After the death of his wife he retires from the pharmaceutical company where he had worked for decades. He then begins traveling through Europe, a continent he had never been to before. In contrast to her father’s mobility, Ruma feels ensnared in her domestic terrain, though also secure. When she gets pregnant and gives birth, she


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empathizes with her mother and feels that their lives are very similar. Her mother is a first-generation immigrant woman who is metaphorically a captive in her private domain, a development that could be anticipated from the process of immigration. Ruma shows her ambivalence toward mobility by saying that she didn’t understand how her mother had moved to a foreign place for the sake of marriage, “caring exclusively for children and a household.”21 This is a pivotal idea among diasporic subjects when discussing mobility and agency in terms of gender. By presenting the different attitudes and ways of dealing with relationships that Ruma and her father adopt in changing locales, Lahiri demonstrates the different ways in which male and female diasporic subjects react to transnational movement and their experiences in the diaspora. ***

The portrayal of horticulturality in the work denotes a false genealogy initially intended for a paternal and patriarchal inheritance. In a way, Ruma’s relationships with her mother and father reflect two axes of intertwined diasporic discourse. Ruma’s father, as a representative of Indian patriarchy, wants a central and unyielding position for himself and his lineage in the host country, and struggles for assimilation. In the same way he has inspired his daughter, Ruma, to be self-reliant and take a positive attitude toward her own life. Individual agency is thus something he considers necessary to survive as a Bengali Indian American in the country. Unfortunately, Ruma’s father underestimates the difficulties that women encounter in comparison to men. Ruma’s father hopes Ruma will adopt Mrs. Bagchi as a role model, as she had completed her doctorate in statistics and taught at Stonybrook University, and is financially independent, with a complete control of her own life.22 As an “exceptional” female figure who was “adamant about not marrying, about never sharing her home with another man” in a traditional Bengali diasporic context, her Western style of clothing, appealing resolution, and determination in assimilating into mainstream American society all appeal to Ruma’s father, and thus he would like his daughter to look up to her in spite of her masculinity. Hers is exactly the kind of life he would envisage for his descendants, be they male or female. Paradoxically, he ignores the fact that Mrs. Bagchi achieves individual liberty and agency by rejecting the demands of Indian patriarchy, which require women’s submission to and sacrifice for the family. In this case, Ruma’s mother, who has devoted her life to her husband and children, serves as a foil to Mrs. Bagchi, who rejects the constraints of family obligations and Indian traditions. In other words, Mrs. Bagchi pushes away kinship in exchange for freedom, in contrast to Ruma’s father’s efforts to continue his familial pedigree in this newly accustomed earth.

“Strike Their Roots into Unaccustomed Earth” in an Era of New Genetics


Despite the fact that Mrs. Bagchi can only live the way she does by having rejected the traditional marriage and family duties practiced in Bengali culture, Ruma’s father cannot help but compare his wife to her by indicating that “his wife had not been built to live on her own” and how she was the opposite of Mrs. Bagchi.23 In a way, this expression also reveals the sense of guilt that Ruma’s father feels about dragging his wife from Calcutta, India to Boston, forcing her to settle in a new land. It is this burden and spousal responsibility that he would like to be relieved of, and thus he hopes that his descendants can be more independent as well as successful figures, as defined by neoliberalism that approves both individuality and self-reliance. For Ruma’s father being a genuine American means more than just U.S. citizenship, it also means achieving a successful career. By using a set of natural as well as genealogical associations in a diasporic context, Ruma’s father insists on the success of this process of naturalization, expecting that his family tree will grow into and become a part of its adoptive country. The concept of self-reliance, as constructed in terms of neoliberalism, has played a vital role in forming the immigration politics of the United States in the last two decades. In the story, Lahiri implicitly delineates how Ruma’s father has fallen victim to the discursive formation of neoliberal ideas about self-sufficiency and the continuation of his lineage. Since the immigration reform discourse of the mid-1990s, it has been clear that “family values” and “economic concerns” are inseparably connected when referring to the U.S. immigration system. Early on January 20, 2004, President Bush argued in his State of the Union Address that the U.S. government needed to “reform our immigration laws so they reflect our values and benefit our economy.”24 In other words, according to his argument, a viable immigration system should reward those immigrants who work hard to support their families and contribute to the U.S. economy at the same time. To justify neoliberal reform measures on immigration, neoliberal ideas and family values mutually support each other to meet market demands. The official statement has displayed how U.S. Congress has used political, social, and cultural arguments to justify neoliberal reform measures on immigration. The resulting immigration policies were greatly influenced by the values of nuclear families and neoliberalism. In the United States, the “ideal” immigrant was portrayed as “a self-sufficient neo-liberal subject whose financial contributions outweighed their usage of public services.”25 According to the reform discourse, traditional heteronormative family structures act as an important network which can be effective in educating the second-generation children, who would eventually develop into hard-working and law-abiding subjects. Ruma’s father absorbed and internalized the ideology imposed by the U.S. policy, which used cultural and social rationale to justify neoliberal reforms in the immigration system. He wants Ruma to be self-sufficient. He himself has worked for a pharmaceutical


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company for several decades, and believes that this is the only true definition of “success.” In a way, Ruma’s father has partaken of the power hegemony and oppressive structure inherent to neoliberalism. As Dana-Ain Davis states, “[n]eoliberal practices pull into its orbit a market of ideas about a lot of things including the family, gender, and racial ideology.”26 In the case of Ruma’s family, this means that her father has taken the logic of the market economy as the core value in the establishment of familial relationships. In neoliberal ideology, the triumph of the individual is unreservedly realized and related to one’s personal career, as seen in material terms. Though biased, Ruma’s father has formed his identity on such neoliberal beliefs, and tries to convince Ruma that work and self-reliance is important not only for financial stability but mental stability.27 In the eyes of Ruma’s father, however, the inequalities caused by various personal differences, such as gender, race, and class, have been concealed by using the logic of neoliberal capitalism and one’s economic contribution to society in order to remake one’s self-identity. However, this process, as constructed and framed by capitalist notions, cannot be equally actualized by every member of society. In addition to the notion of neoliberal racism, Ruma’s situation of being a Bengali Indian American woman and a mother in the United States can also be “subsumed under the auspices of meritocracy”28 in a society dominated by neoliberal ideas. As both a woman and a racialized subject, Ruma’s decision to stay at home and care for her child has raised her father’s concern and anxiety, due to his belief that all individuals should be self-reliant, without exception. Davis, again, provides a sound explanation of this process: “[I]n a neoliberal society, individuals are supposedly freed from identity and operate under the limiting assumptions that hard work will be rewarded if the game is played according to the rules. Consequently, any impediments to success are attributed to personal flaws.”29 This mechanism explains why Ruma’s father always feels uneasy and dissatisfied with his daughter choosing to be “unemployed” and stay at home taking care of her family. In her father’s view, this is simply a way of not being self-sufficient, and thus an indication of her “personal flaws.” What Ruma’s father has ignored is that she actually shows her agency in her choice to be a full-time mother instead of a career woman like Mrs. Bagchi. In this context, neoliberalism has effectively camouflaged itself as a moral-laden value secured firmly to what ostensibly individual virtues are, producing a society that claims to be non-racialized and non-gendered. Ruma’s father fails to acknowledge the role neoliberalism has played in the everyday structures of society, and in what ways these configurations are disguised as individual qualities related to one’s personal work output or economic contribution to society. Given the pressures of naturalization that can overwhelm the structure of nuclear families, male immigrants tend to work toward achieving economic

“Strike Their Roots into Unaccustomed Earth” in an Era of New Genetics


security and financial independence. As Susan Koshy points out, “intergenerationality is constituted by an obligation and an urgency to reproduce cultural identity and economic success to compensate for the parental losses of dislocation,” and to “accrue cultural capital within competitive diasporic social networks, and to neutralize the liabilities of minority status.”30 The first-generation’s aspirations with regard to improving their economic status, thus achieving “economic mobility,” as well as for the continuity of their cultural-racial identity, has thus been transformed into a parental demand that children become high-achieving professionals, as this offers the strongest guarantee of future economic security. According to Ruma’s father, the only indication of success in “striking roots in unaccustomed soil” depends on whether or not his children can be economically independent, based upon his definition of self-reliance. Ruma worked 50-hour weeks for years, earning a six-figure salary, while her brother “Romi was still living hand to mouth.”31 Ruma cannot help but feel unfairly treated by her father, as she was forced to take on a role that did not suit her—that of her father’s oldest son. The story suggests that, within this difficult process of immigrant acclimatization, the burden of accommodation sometimes falls overwhelmingly upon women, as well as the second generation, with regard to fulfilling parental expectations, in particular within a patriarchal system. Feeling disappointed, Ruma’s father discovers that Ruma has now resembled his wife so strongly that sometimes he could not bear to look at her directly, and this is not only in her appearance, but also her attitude toward her life and career. When they discuss Ruma’s future, she “realized she’d never explicitly told her father that she intended, for the next few years, to be at home . . . taking care of two children, just like [her] Ma did.”32 The only response from her father is “[s]elf-reliance is important.” This moment indicates an implicit confrontation in the father-daughter relationship. Ruma understands that her father can never be supportive and proud of her being a housewife raising two children the way her mother had. So when her father replies “[w]ill this make you happy,” she knows that “you” refers to her father.33 Ruma’s father has juxtaposed his wife’s and daughter’s conditions in terms of both nature and culture. In addition to her physical appearance, Ruma now also inherits “cultural practices” from her mother, attending the house chores and caring for the young child, which disappoints him. Like his wife once was, Ruma’s father thinks that his daughter is now isolated in this new place, overwhelmed, caring for a young child. Ruma’s situation reminds him of the early years of his marriage, “the years for which his wife had never forgiven him” for bringing her to the United States and forcing her to live in a foreign country.34 He thought his daughter who has been nourished in


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Western education would have a different kind of life from that of his wife, and that she would work and be self-reliant. He never expected that someday his child would resemble either of her parents, and certainly not his wife. At this point, Lahiri tries to show that Ruma’s father would like his daughter to be economically independent and self-reliant, a “new woman” that fits the neoliberal view of a successful middle-class person. Ironically, Ruma’s father fails to realize that the definitions of “self-assertion” and “self-reliance” are dynamic and not merely limited to his neoliberal explanation of what a successful individual is. He pursues a modern view of progress and a white, bourgeois praxis of subjectivity formation. This interpretation of selfhood and agency can only be an option but not a requirement. According to Ruma’s father, a new version of a South Asian woman should act like Ms. Bagchi, who courageously flees from traditional female roles and embraces the Western values of becoming independent by working hard, by rejecting marriage and by gaining a good career. His wife reminds Ruma’s father of the old South Asia and the culture that he wants to leave behind. His interpretation of Western values incorporates an attempt to assimilate into mainstream society, with its work ethic and extreme individualism. Frustrated by Ruma’s decision to quit her job as a lawyer and stay at home caring for her son, her father feels the plans he had for his family in America have been jeopardized and that the second generation may not achieve his American Dream. As a Bengali Indian American, Ruma chooses another path that parallels her mother’s, a traditional South Asian woman who places her husband and children’s interest over her own. Ruma is also devoted to her child and her family, so instead of pursuing a successful life defined by neoliberal values of self-realization, she chooses to simply be a wife and mother. Yet, this decision confuses Ruma’s father, as he believes that successful immigration means being completely assimilated to the new society, and achieving success and recognition by having a professional career. The intensity of the relationship between Ruma and her father is multilayered. On the surface, Ruma’s father encourages her to embrace assimilation and be an independent woman like Ms. Bagchi, who defies traditional Indian gender codes. On the other hand, however, the ideal image he has projected upon Ruma represents another ideology that appears to be benign and liberal, but is still based on dominance. What if Ruma refuses to participate in the job market, but instead chooses to be a housewife taking care of her family? What if Ruma has chosen a way to practice her own freedom without having a career? Even more importantly, the neoliberal framework Ruma’s father aspires to actually denies the existence of any inherently ethnic characteristics. The neoliberal view ignores race and gender inequality; immigrants are evaluated

“Strike Their Roots into Unaccustomed Earth” in an Era of New Genetics


based on their personal abilities, which thus reveals if they are desirable in the U.S. labor market, and whether they can be accepted as valid members of mainstream culture. In this model, if immigrants struggle and then fail, it is their own fault and not a consequence of racism or discrimination. In general, for an immigrant in the United States the “neo-liberal rhetoric seemed to suggest that these aspects were merely a matter of personal choice and individual merit, not a question of an immigrant's racial or ethnic background.”35 The gloss of individual autonomy and liberalism which emphasizes market economy and free competition without restrictions, in fact hides the existence of racial discrimination. As a Bengali Indian American woman, Ruma’s experience serves as an embodiment of the typical middle-class intellectual trajectory—she is well-educated and has a successful career after graduating from university. Yet her choice to be a housewife taking care of her family provokes her father’s criticism, whose disappointment represents another mode of oppression disguised as “progressive, open-minded, and aggrandized individualism,” a kind of neoliberal American Dream. Ruma’s struggle again shows that cultural identity can never be smoothly transplanted or constructed. It is not easy for her to construct or form an assertive self-identity out of individual free will. To take root in U.S. culture will be a far more difficult process than Ruma’s father can imagine. The paternal lineage sheds light on the third generation, the grandson Akash. As Ruma’s father notes, “[o]ddly, it was his grandson, who was only half-Bengali to begin with, who did not even have a Bengali surname, with whom he felt a direct biological connection, a sense of himself reconstituted in another.”36 The scene of Akash’s planting Lego pieces along with the postcard that Ruma’s father intends for his companion, Mrs. Bagchi, implicitly reveals an untold sense of loss. Planting scene serves as a metaphor to echo Ruma’s father’s dream of taking root in the U.S. soil, a representation of continuing his family genealogy. Ye the plastic toy pieces and wooden blocks cannot grow and produce a prosperous garden, which may fail his dream. In addition, the buried postcard also indicates his relationship with Mrs. Bagchi may end prematurely. As the delineation of his character in the story, Ruma’s father has never been given a name. This nameless father figure actually appears as a man who is always searching for a sense of belonging yet never gets one. This is the subtly bitterness the story conveys. Lahiri would like to destabilize the celebratory tone assimilation about cultural replacement in terms of the neoliberal view of economic success, as displayed by the symbolic ritual of “striking roots into unaccustomed earth.” After all this work, Lego pieces and wooden blocks are not seeds that can to produce new life. Yet, by showing the scene of Lego being planted into the soil, Lahiri aims to interrogate the dominant ideology of transnationalism


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which has emerged since the 1990s. In reconsidering the question of transnationalism in Asian American studies, Sau-ling Wong contends that there are certain risks regarding uncritically embracing a de-nationalized, deterritorialized perspective while dealing with immigrant narratives, and this is especially true for Asian American studies.37 Though the above argument also invites criticism, very few people question that at the turn of the century “transnational subjects,” who are quite different from the previous Asian American immigrants, are a prominent phenomenon. Globalized and transnational capitalism has altered the landscape of socio-political and historiccultural configurations in diasporic studies. For Lahiri, the idea of the transnational subject of de-nationalization and de-territorialization, as represented by Ruma’s father, may lead to a disembodiment of racial, gender, and hierarchical inequality, as neoliberalism and multiculturalism tend to ignore the differences among minorities and treat them as abstract subjects. In this case, the inner power structure concerning race and ethnicity in society may still remain intact. Whether or not Ruma’s diasporic family can take root in the U.S. society without any struggles thus remains in question. Whatever happens, it will not smoothly follow the scripts Ruma’s father has written for his descendants. There will still be obstacles to overcome in society for the second-generation immigrants, and for women immigrants in particular. Lahiri points out that cultural assimilation has ignored the constraints of ethnicity, as well as the lack of agency among immigrants, and put the burden of successful self-actualization upon the immigrants’ shoulders, rather than society’s. Through Ruma and her father’s opposite attitudes toward cultural adaptation in diasporic context, Lahiri reexamines the patriarchal and Eurocentric view of the process of immigration to the United States, and challenges the neoliberalist assimilatory ideology. Ruma has been situated between two worlds, oscillating between the one dominated by white society and the other reality saturated with cultural dissociation. South Asian Americans feel a “black/white binary exerts a pull” on them, and feel that “they straddle the monochromatic racial boundaries of the United States,” for sometimes they seem to show an acceptance of the racial status quo, but “in other contexts, they explicitly identified as nonwhite and resisted anti-black racism.”38 The ambivalent identity status of “both-and” and “neither-nor” leads to an identity disorientation and melancholia. “Racial melancholia” is an issue that arises when discussing the identity politics of second-generation immigrants.39 Born and raised in the United States, the so-called Asianness of such individuals, or connection with their parents’ original country, has been lost, while at the same time they are treated like foreigners by mainstream white society. The “ideal” of whiteness or complete acceptance as “authentic” Americans can never be achieved. Under this ambivalence, those immigrants’ descendants

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have to deal with the “neither-nor” predicament. For South Asian immigrants, as in this case, they have long been struggling to make themselves visible or distinct, even when they undergo the process of acculturation.40 It is distressful that, in a way, they are defined by their biological traits of physical appearance with their ethnic features demarcating the difference and deepening the sense of disorientation in immigration. The future generations of immigrants cannot be set up for a certain or fixed teleology. Different to Hawthorne’s proclamation, the author transforms the space of horticulture into one with an uncertain agency which does not necessarily promise an intergenerational mode of assimilation in a foreign land or alien culture. In contrast, Ruma’s mother has never talked about putting down roots. When Akash is born the only thing Ruma’s mother told her was that he “was her flesh and blood, her mother had told her in the hospital the day Akash was born.”41 This intimate conversation between daughter and mother reveals a symbolic continuity of maternal lineage, a connection that deals with love only. The phrase “[h]e is made from your meat and bone” engendered Ruma to concede the existence of something beyond rationality and logical reasoning in everyday life. This passage reveals the different, even opposite, viewpoints with regard to how maternal and paternal lineage treat kinship. The story “Unaccustomed Earth” stages the concept of inheritance in a diasporic context, defining it as multiple imaginative task of interpretation. It is interesting that Lahiri’s stories reveal different perspectives than those of Hawthorne, presenting a diasporic version from Bengali immigrants. In depicting these diasporic characters’ varied forms of accommodation and sense of belonging generated by transnational flows, Lahiri intends to problematize the issue of naturalization in immigrant history in the United States through the lens of literature. By “weaving in and out of other geographies, other languages and cultures,”42 the inter-generational narrative, kinship networks, and forms of attachment in “Unaccustomed Earth” serve as the channels of negotiation and communication in the diasporic context in the United States. In addition, Lahiri has developed an alternative explanation of inheritance as part of the unforeseen generations of heterogeneity and alterity. Derrida noted that inheritance and lineage could be wrung from a “deterministic biological model of genetic transmission,” and then be perceived as multiple interpretations of the past.43 Therefore, in this story, inheritances are neither transparent nor obvious, thus demanding a confrontation with uncertainty and heterogeneity in the process of negotiating a new immigrant legacy. The original version of this paper has been published by the journal Fiction and Drama (ISSN 2073–042X). The consent and approval of being included in the book collection have been obtained from the editor-in-chief of the journal.


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NOTES 1. One of the most notable projects concerning genetic study is entitled “Public Understanding of Genetics: A Cross-cultural and Ethnographic Study of the ‘New Genetics’ and Social Identity,” sponsored by the European Union in 2004. 2. John L. Comaroff, “Ethnicity, nationalism and the politics of difference in an age of revolution,” International Studies in Global Change 7 (1995): 243. 3. Katharina Schramm et al., “Introduction,” in Identity Politics and the New Genetics: Re/Creating Categories of Difference and Belonging, ed. Katharina Schramm et al. (New York: Berghahn Books, 2012), 22. 4. A “diaspora” is any sizeable community from a particular region residing overseas, sharing bonds of ethnic identity. The etymology of “diaspora” is from the Greek verbs meaning “scatter” and “disperse.” With regard to migratory experience, “diaspora” initially referred to the dispersal of Jews forced into exile. James Clifford summarizes William Safran’s definition of diaspora, suggesting it is based on “a history of dispersal, myths/memories of the homeland, alienation in the host . . . country, desire for eventual return, ongoing support of the homeland, and a collective identity importantly defined by this relationship” (305). Diaspora thus encompasses “exile” and “displacement,” with expatriate immigrants seen as seeds dispersed to strike their roots in foreign soil. 5. Jhumpa Lahiri, Unaccustomed Earth (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008), 1. 6. Jim Cullen, The American Dream: A Short History of an Idea That Shaped a Nation (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 5–6. 7. Salman Rushdie, Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981–1991 (New York: Random House, 1992), 86. 8. Susan Koshy, “Neoliberal Family Matters,” American Literary History 25, no. 2 (2013): 356. 9. Lahiri, Unaccustomed Earth, 16. 10. Erin Ellerbeck, “Adoption and the Language of Horticulture in All’s Well That Ends Well,” SEL Studies in English Literature 1500–1900, 51, no. 2 (2011): 312. Erin Ellerbeck makes a thorough examination of the cultural practice of horticulture and its metaphorical expression in explaining familial relationships. The exact origin of the family tree remains an unclear puzzle, but the image can be dated back to the twelfth century, when Jesse trees, artistic representations of the genealogy of Christ, became popular. 11. Rushdie, Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981–1991, 17–18. 12. Lahiri, Unaccustomed Earth, 16. 13. Ibid., 52. 14. Shyh-Jen Fuh, “‘New Face of America’? The Problem of Race and the Identity Crisis in Roley’s ‘American Son’,” NTU Studies in Language and Literature 28 (2012): 36. 15. Michael Omi and Howard Winant, Racial Formation in the United States (New York: Routledge, 2014), 124.

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16. Peter Wade, “Race, Kinship and the Ambivalence of Identity,” in Identity Politics and the New Genetics: Re/Creating Categories of Difference and Belonging, ed. Katharina Schramm et al. (New York: Berghahn Books, 2012), 80. 17. Ibid., 81–85. 18. Lahiri, Unaccustomed Earth, 8. 19. Ibid., 8. 20. Ibid., 3. 21. Ibid., 10–11. 22. Ibid., 8–9. 23. Ibid., 29. 24. George W. Bush, “State of the Union Address,” January 20, 2004, accessed August 5, 2016. 25. Christina Gerken, “Neo-Liberalism and Family Values in 1990s Immigration Reform Discourse,” disClosure: A Journal of Social Theory 17, no. 1 (2008): 60. 26. Dana-Ain Davis, “Narrating the Mute: Racializing and Racism in a Neoliberal Moment,” Souls 9, no. 4 (2007): 353. 27. Lahiri, Unaccustomed Earth, 38. 28. Davis, “Narrating the Mute: Racializing and Racism in a Neoliberal Moment,” 350. 29. Ibid., 350. 30. Koshy, “Neoliberal Family Matters,” 357. 31. Lahiri, “Unaccustomed Earth,” 36. 32. Ibid., 38. 33. Ibid., 36. 34. Ibid., 40. 35. Gerken, “Neo-Liberalism and Family Values in 1990s Immigration Reform Discourse,” 65. 36. Lahiri, Unaccustomed Earth, 54. 37. Sau-ling Cythia Wong, “Denationalization Reconsidered: Asian American Cultural Criticism at a Theoretical Crossroad,” Amerasia Journal 21, nos. 1–2 (1995): 12. 38. Sunaina Maira, “Mixed Desires: Second-Generation Indian Americans and the Politics of Youth Culture,” in Displacements and Diasporas: Asians in the Americas, ed. Wanni W. Anderson and Robert G. Lee. (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2005), 238. 39. Anne Anlin Cheng , The Melancholy of Race: Psychoanalysis, Assimilation, and Hidden Grief (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 12. 40. Aparna Rayaprol, “Being American, Learning to be Indian: Gender and Generation in the Context of Transnational Migration,” in Transnational Migration and the Politics of Identity, ed. Meenakshi Thapan. (London: Sage, 2005), 134–135. 41. Lahiri, Unaccustomed Earth, 54. 42. Wai Chee Dimock, Through Other Continents: American Literature across Deep Time (Princeton: Princeton UP, 2006), 3. 43. Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning and the New International, trans. Peggy Kamuf (New York: Routledge, 2006), 18.


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REFERENCES Anderson, W. W., and R. G. Lee. Displacements and Diasporas: Asians in the Americas. New York: Rutgers University Press, 2005. Cheng, A. A. The Melancholy of Race: Psychoanalysis, Assimilation, and Hidden Grief. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. Gerken, Christina. “Neo-Liberalism and Family Values in 1990s Immigration Reform Discourse.” disClosure: A Journal of Social Theory 17, no. 1 (2008): 45–71. Clifford, James. Routes: Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth Century. Boston: Harvard University Press, 1997. Cullen, Jim. The American Dream: A Short History of an Idea That Shaped a Nation. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. Davis, Dana-Ain. “Narrating the Mute: Racializing and Racism in a Neoliberal Moment 1 2.” Souls 9, no. 4 (2007): 346–360. Derrida, Jacques. Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning and The New International. New York: Routledge, 2012. Dimock, Wai-Chee. Through Other Continents: American Literature Across Deep Time. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006. Ellerbeck, Erin. “Adoption and the Language of Horticulture in All's Well That Ends Well.” SEL Studies in English Literature 1500–1900 51, no. 2 (2011): 305–326. Fuh, Shyh-Jen. “‘New Face of America’? The Problem of Race and the Identity Crisis in Roley.” NTU Studies in Language and Literature 28 (2012): 33–58. Lahiri, Jhumpa. Unaccustomed Earth: Stories. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008. Omi, Michael, and Howard Winant. Racial Formation in the United States. New York: Routledge, 2014. Schramm, Katharina, David Skinner, and Richard Rottenburg. Identity Politics and the New Genetics: Re/creating Categories of Difference and Belonging, Vol. 6. New York: Berghahn Books, 2012. Rushdie, Salman. Imaginary Homelands, Essays and Criticism 1981–1991. New York: Random House, 1992. Koshy, Susan. “Neoliberal Family Matters.” American Literary History 25, no.2 (2013): 344–380. Wade, Peter. “Race, Kinship and the Ambivalence of Identity.” In Schramm, Katharina, David Skinner, and Richard Rottenburg. Identity Politics and the New Genetics: Re/Creating Categories of Difference and Belonging. New York: Berghahn Books, 79–96. Willis, Katie. “Transnational Migration and the Politics of Identity–Edited by Meenakshi Thapan.” Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography 28, no. 3 (2007): 364–365. Wong, Sau-ling C. “Denationalization Reconsidered: Asian American Cultural Criticism at a Theoretical Crossroads.” Amerasia Journal 21, no.1–2 (1995): 1–27.

Chapter 11

Cracked Spaces in-between Brackets An Analysis of Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictée and Trinh Minh-ha’s elsewhere, within here Winnie Khaw Often stories can be intricately linked together to fill in the missing pieces of each other. In elsewhere, within here (2010), Trinh Minh-ha tackles the broadest areas of humanity, nature, and relationships; meanwhile, in Dictée (1982), Theresa Hak Kyung Cha peers through the cracked spaces between people, places, and things. In elsewhere, within here, Minh-Ha, a worldrenowned Vietnamese filmmaker, writer, literary theorist, and composer, locates both material and immaterial boundaries as sites enforcing a binary understanding of difference. This binary opposition upholds the logistics of domination, which in fact reveal the national insecurities prompting separation and enclosure. Meanwhile, Dictée, an exceedingly deliberate and meticulous work, not only in diction but the arrangement, withholding of words, and the languages in which they reside, is not so much a “‘re-scripting of Korea’s history” as a delicate fingertip explorations of the cracked spaces imperfectly concealed in the linear, realist, textually transparent historical and/or literary narrative.1 Using multiple literary techniques such as collage and quotation, storytelling and folklore, historical and cultural allusions, and tacit performance in elsewhere, within here (2010), Trinh Minh-ha travels by way of silence, absence, and fractured language through displacement, exile, and biopolitical constraint. She questions the established construction of knowledge and arrives at a decontextualized place of perplexing ambiguity. Persistently decentering traditional philosophical and political frameworks, Minh-ha resists the notion of a singularity that promotes “institutional, societal, and civilizational forms of sexism and androcentrism,” as described by Sandra Harding and Uma Narayan in “Introduction. Border crossings: Multicultural and Postcolonial Feminist Challenges to Philosophy (Part I).”2 Minh-ha seeks to fragment the reification that excludes, marginalizes, and circumscribes. 193


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Instead, she advocates hybridity and heterogeneity, which is perceived as uneven and unsettling and meditates on the existence of the liminal, as all overlap in multivalent confluence. Though “virtual boundlessness in globalization is widely praised as the overcoming of frontiers,” Minh-ha identifies the consequences as disintegration with the aim to divide, subjectify, and control; the result was divergent and imbalanced.3 A quasi-neurotic dread of the other has led to massive restrictions on freedom of movement in the body and thought. Unmoving, Minh-ha continues her exploratory travels, viewing voyage as a kind of resituating of boundaries. A possible response in Minh-ha’s defense is that, alternatively, the reader can see her work as a critical and creative conflux of the political and the aesthetic experience, not necessarily insisting on pointed statements. In “Aesthetic Interrogation of Refugeeism, Migration and a Post-September 11 World by Trinh Minh-ha,” Shinhyung Choi introduces what some consider Min-ha’s “tenuous presentation of the issue” as an “invitation to more attentively engage” with the text, and that consequently, the reader would find herself or himself with an “increased sense of investment.”4 Ultimately, amid numerous others methods of approach, the reader/viewer may discover an impressively resonant experience by perceiving elsewhere, within here as more reflective of Minh-ha’s personal position than a coherent summary of specific politics. Meanwhile, cultural critic Rey Chow insists on the broader application of Deleuze’s study of Foucault, asking that her audience look at “postcolonial” in a sense other than the repression understood within the cultural logic of postcolonial thought in general; that the “repressive-liberatory terms” dominating such reasoning must give way to acceptance of functioning within “a web of current discursive articulations in the twenty-first century.”5 ***

The organic intervention of popular memory, oral tradition, and folktale wisdom potentially prevents storytelling from lapsing into the otherwise characteristically inescapable narrative of male privilege conjoined with female invalidation. Minh-ha describes how “tale telling functions as a cultural marker, a political pointer, and an artistic quest . . . excel[ling] in its powers of adaptation and germination.”6 By reimagining, redefining, and reformulating deadened, preconditioned standards of judgment, Minh-ha radicalizes the possibilities of reflexive poetical language to subvert the historically prescriptive practices continually perpetuated by hierarchical and linear categorizations, such as power relations. In “Nature’s r: A Musical Swoon,” a chapter of elsewhere, within here, Minh-ha discusses how in nature, connections and linkages are made prevalent and different notes come together in harmony.7

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Nature is not still; it is simultaneously animated, and it animates while it has and gives spirit to the artwork in which it is depicted. Likewise, Minh-ha’s writing is not a text stagnant on the page, but an embodied practice, a living experience. Rather than moving forward in a progression of ideas and “subscrib[ing] to scholarly protocols,” Minh-ha prefers to dwell on loose associations and ambiguous interconnections.8 For example, recognizing the dangers of antithetical dichotomies, she destabilizes the seemingly irreducible differences between refugeeism as an escape and a home as a permanent location. Asserting that although refugeeism is indeed a state of rootlessness, home is a migratory place to be carried within. From another view, refugeedom, defined by Minh-ha in Part II “Boundary Event,” is “an escape without a set direction, often marked by refusal in countries in which refuge is sought.”9 The label of being “resettled” frequently given to those with refugee status disavows the continuing process of movement and restive anxiety following in the wake of displacement. According to Minh-ha, receptivity is “a two-way movement . . . [that requires the person] to turn into a responsive mold . . . a simultaneously passive-active process” which gracefully yields to “rhythm, what lies in-between night and day and makes possible their process of alternation in alterity.”10 Minh-ha pursues dilemmas, variables, breaks in contiguity, and what is usually seen as smooth and linear. Tangentially, the revolutionary tactics inherent in the discipline of performance art, the act, and art of performing (i.e., Noh theatre, Basho’s poetry), renders perceptible the liberation brought to light by postponement, suspension, abeyance, and ambivalence. Creativity, storytelling, and learning are all instrumental in jumbling the entrenched systems of power intending to override the rights of individuals, minorities, etc. to agency. Hybridities at various boundary events cast a light on similarities and intersections, as opposed to the idea that seemingly disparate spaces allow only for isolation from each other. ***

The 9/11 fall of the Twin Towers precipitated an instinctive reaction against anyone perceived as the enemy, whereas Minh-ha counsels “waiting while remaining loyal to the call of one’s heart . . . which has an active [not passive], dynamic quality” meaning that patience and humanity are not useless, sentimental considerations.11 In the modern period, political monitoring has grown to an extraordinary extent never before historically possible. Now, by utilizing the near-infinite abilities of technology, bodies can be contained indefinitely and reviewed continually, not only in physical prisons but also when carrying on daily life activities—watched, scrutinized, or reviewed “for reasons that differ in as much there are various political systems spread


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across the globe.”12 According to Chow in “Postcolonial Visibilities,” the theme of confinement in Michel Foucault’s 1960–1970s works exemplifies ahead of the “post-9/11 global scene [as] demonstrations of Foucault’s arguments about the omnipresent and omnipotent reach of technologicalcum-ideological surveillance under the guises of our neoliberal society.”13 As previously mentioned, walls keep out enemies, but perhaps the citizens inside have a different cause for concern, in that they are contained, possibly kept ignorant and isolated from the outside world. Yet, people nowadays can be nomads of the world, always on the move, in mind and voice, particularly those in privileged countries without being physically present in the locations of actual occurrence. Minh-ha arrives at a point of departure where she decides that the only viable survival strategy, in a world that has seemingly flattened borders while constructing metaphorical prisons for the ever-elusive foe, is to shift focus from partially self-induced terror to expanding one’s understanding of what constitutes positions of authority. Minh-ha means to broaden the awareness and recognition of other lives and how they matter, and not allow thoughts to settle into sedentary complacence. In a controversial twist, to label terrorists as a faceless force of horror is to dismiss the opportunity to understand their malignant but human agendas and methods without succumbing to them and thereby best counteract their corrosive acts of terror. By making terrorists a shadowy boogeyman, we amplify their powers and abilities to frighten us; in our fear, we cease to think in a rational manner and strike out blindly, which can be seen in American reaction directly after the 9/11 attacks. From a different viewpoint, a large number of people claim that The West is the victim; in reality, the real victims are those closest in proximity to terrorist activity. This claim is not to downplay the troubles of more privileged states, but to address how by not giving immigrants a place to stay, by telling them to “go home” to a war-ravaged and terror-ridden country, the West is forcing them back into the scene of a crime. Minh-ha explains that the boundary event can be found in the interlude between beginnings and endings, twilight, threshold, wanderer and stranger, land, and more; it becomes a passage of sorts, colored in hues of gray. Foucault also speaks of a “‘gap,’ and ‘disjunction’ between two semiotic orders, a kind of virtual connectivity that exceeds the readily perceptible, empirical dimension.”14 Thus, Minh-ha conceives of these cracks as the unperceivable pathway, even more difficult, to use a metaphor, to cross than a monkey’s bridge (a bridge of slender bamboo used by the Vietnamese in rural Vietnam to cross rivers and canals). Stressing interdependence in the present fearful atmosphere, Minh-ha creates a space for contemplation even as her persistent digressions make strange her subject matter. In elsewhere, within here, Minh-ha situates the refugee, exile, and migrant with their “history . . . of

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instability, fluctuation and discontinuity” on a collision course with monolithic assimilation, as well as over, around, and through the walls erected to close in and shut out.15 These instances of partitioning include policies developed with the aim to carry out in thought what has been attempted in concrete examples of barbed wire in places such as the Israeli West Bank barrier. Therefore, contradictions abound, Minh-ha believes, in “master discourses” professing to advocate for globalization with its accompanying development of massive movements of people, knowledge, and technology. ***

Seeking to protect spaces from appropriation, she blurs distinctions contributing to separation, throwing windows open in the theoretical fortifications of totalizing wholes. She argues against the notion of walls in most if not all forms for their fundamentally divisive nature; rather, supporting the transmutation of boundaries into passages and points of entry from compartmentalized knowledge and experience. All superpowers are gated communities with officials in power that control the flow of people in and out, decide on quotas and laws, and assign the statuses of refugee, and decide on immigration. Defying this fairly arrogant posturing paraded by various “strong” nation states with bitter words such as “we’ll build tunnels” and “let them build their wall,” some affected people view these barriers as an open challenge, an invitation to breach barrier with impunity. Consequently, mighty governments worldwide live in perpetual fear and find that “every official triumph is spiked with heavier doses of anxiety.”16 The wall event becomes a figural manifestation of encirclement and insulation as well as national pride. In negative relation to this assumption, “women are trapped within the frontiers of their bodies and their species,” their “sorry condition” in a “maledominated society” is an artificial social construct made natural. Haida elder Florence Edenshaw’s answer to an anthropologist’s question regarding what action a woman should take to gain self-respect is to dress well and stay home. Minh-ha’s interpretation of the statement is that such exposure “opens the door to a notion of self and home that invites the outside in, implies expansion through retreat.”17 As a woman of color, from what is considered a “Third World” country, Minh-ha recognizes women as disenfranchised and exiled from centrality to the borderlands of potential. Women are in the process of examination stresses the importance of the interdependent and interplaying relationship between the two words on either side of the abbreviated dash in conveying meaning. Being identified as a woman does not entail a universal sameness of the individual; although conditions may repeat themselves, feminism ought to be a liberating force for everyone, not a means of reiterating the existing power structure.


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Minh-ha incorporates an eclectic convergence of tools in deconstruction and identification with exotic cultures (i.e., foreign to Western thought, such as that of Asian philosophy) to interpolate and dismantle the foundations of Eurocentric patriarchy and inequality. Her refusal to reside in the “comfort of conventional categories” and “speak within authorized boundaries” has garnered considerable attention, both positive and negative.18 The diurnal and nocturnal semi-darkness dominate the time and place in which her text lives. Despite appreciating Minh-ha’s theoretical contributions and critical creativity in her efforts to adjust logo-centric perceptions, scholars such as Herman Rapaport criticize what they see as a mélange of “rough-cut . . . French theory” and obscure references. Particularly, Minh-ha’s use of deconstruction makes her vulnerable to “reproach [due] to deconstruction’s lack of a coherent political agenda, let alone the pragmatic means to carry an agenda out.”19 In contrast, Rey Chow contests that the extensively studied subject of postcolonialism consciousness is overly steeped in political exclusivity. There is an “outside” constitutive of Europe’s institutions of knowledge production and by default, an “inside” in which postcolonial thought resides; however, since the 1960s, the mass social struggles involved in the assertion of identity-related particularisms are inextricably entangled with the commoditized media frame. A political economy of representation and performance—the definitively visible. Therein is a rather different war than the one Minh-ha is figuratively fighting, meaning that while Minh-ha focuses on the abolition of delimitation, Chow sees that by being forced into competition for the visual field, postcolonial insurgencies must address a “contradictory set of conditions” guided toward discrediting as well as celebrating agency—drawing lines that cross over and under each other in confused scrawls.20 Chow observes Karl Marx’s legacy and concludes that it lies in his foresight of a future “in which the artificiality, artifactuality, and potency of the commodity will usurp the significance of ‘the original’ that is human labor.”21 ***

Dictée (1982), by late postmodernist Korean-American writer, artist, and filmmaker Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, is a difficult work to situate in terms of aesthetics and genre, but also in regards to its self-consciously interlinked geopolitical and socio-cultural agenda. Dictée scholar Sue-Im Lee explains that the text’s interrogation of form, subjectivity, and ideology is “suggestive of a new form of Asian American subject representation, a postmodern, antirealist subject whose empirical substantiality is not generated through the ‘intelligible whole’ of plot nor whose social identity is categorizable within ascriptive terms of the majority culture.”22 However, Dictée is less concerned with finding a secure place to rest—there is no such place for refugees/

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exiles—than calling into question the complexities of the boundaries of language, interpretation, translation, presentation, movement, silence, subjectivity, biopolitics, and of course, geography (i.e., the two Koreas). Within the context of postcolonial Asian American literature, where does Dictée fit, if it fits? Undoubtedly, Dictée belongs in the group of minor literature, defined as that which a minority constructs within a major language. Set during the Korean independence movement against Japanese colonization (1910–1945) and enriched with Greek mythology and Korean legends, Dictée consists of poetry, memoir, performance art, visual/photography art, and montage. The boundaries mentioned above include interchanged French, English, bits of Chinese—the speech of world powers and imperialists. Interpretation, the reader’s uneasy grappling at understanding of authorial intention and meaning, and translation from actual experience of an event to written letters on a page; how they come to the forefront of reading and comprehension. Articulated punctuation, blank sections, incomplete sentences, and movement, across spatial and temporal circumstances, generations, and personalities breathe into the text. Then, there is silence; much of the character’s thoughts never formalize into verbal speech, as well as subjectivity. It is then that Cha’s perception of history comes into view, shedding light on how she eludes the definition of what a single work ought to be. Finally, biopolitics, the exercise of political and social power by the Japanese over the Korean people, enters into our understanding of Cha’s message. ***

Here, the encompassing influences of major and majoritarian global “actors,” the Japanese and the American imperialists, are witnessed and explicitly named. They pressure the Korean and American-Korean women who tell their stories in voices made hesitant by a lifetime of living under patriarchy as reinforced by ideological state apparatuses such as religion (i.e., Christianity), philosophy (i.e., Confucianism), neo-imperialism (i.e., Japan, United States), etc. Dictée covers decades of Korean history and exile in the United States through collected fragments of women’s stories, leading to a multiplicity of interpretations pertaining to character, history, folklore, and identity. Although the passage below is often seen as a reference to Persephone and Demeter (even by UC Berkeley Press as stated on Dictée’s back cover), Michelle Black Wester points to the Korean myth of how Princess Pali, a young girl abandoned at birth, goes to the underworld to retrieve medicine that will save her dying parents.23 This kind of mistaken cultural identity shows how the Classical Western tradition is imprinted onto our egocentric consciousness, dominating the circulation of texts to an audience already accustomed to a singular reading of many texts.


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Mother-daughter relations dominate the continually evolving text as the daughters tell the stories of their mothers; this crucial form of organization in Dictée centers on “a circle within a circle, a series of concentric circles” which continually return to past references and history.24 However, this reading proves debatable in that critics excessively infer meaning from the settings of Cha’s personal life as a member of a minority group, thus sealing identity as a determinate rather a hybridizing possibility of cultural insight into problems.25 Referred to as cultural ownership, the very idea that Cha’s work can be compartmentalized into the confines of a single perspective irks critics who perceive Dictée as a revelatory meditation for anyone who has undergone cultural severing, the loss of homeland and tradition, and the division of land and family. In replying to both arguments, Cha intends to speak on behalf of Koreans and Korean-Americans during the Japanese Occupation and in her use of an experimental epic structure with all its ramifications, she addresses larger world concerns. To the present day, there is not a united Korea. The hopes of cohesive national identity dwindle as time passes; the North and South grow accustomed to and embrace the distance, the unhealed rupture between them. The map of a divided Korea speaks eloquently enough in political terms. Cha passes by “official” histories to reflect upon, rather than record, the war. Caught in the opposing push and pull between the communist North and capitalist South, power flows back and forth like water in a tilting bowl; the people are forcefully fixed into place. In the passage below, Cha illustrates how the process of acquiring U.S. citizenship (with the accompanying accouterments of documents, photographs, and halting speech, evidence of nationality—the same mediums Cha uses in Dictée) under duress, the character loses her previous Korean identity beneath the stamp of U.S. recognition next to her signature; the proof of her unwilling acquiescence to the erasure of her heritage. An unresolvable tension lurks between man and woman, the “stronger” and the “weaker,” the “powerful” and “the helpless,” the speaker and the excepted/the spoken for. “He is the husband, and she is the wife. He is the man. She is the wife. It is a given.”26 The first sentence by its order emphasizes the power of the husband and the necessary submission of the wife in the assigned roles, and the second reveals how the husband can be a man as well, and indeed take on any identity he pleases, whereas the wife must remain subservient. In every aspect, the woman is a repressed subject; as a counterargument to a patriarchal system that is encountered all over the world, Cha introduces the strong heroines of history, Joan of Arc and St. Theresa, into the text, thereby making manifest the unsound logic feeding into the idea of female inferiority. If Cha’s intended aim for her characters is to resist oppression, her counter-narrative of individual events and personal

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experiences addresses more than simply overlooked grievances in history. In addition, she queries the overwhelming force of Western ideology over that of the East, while using parallelism of their hierarchical subjugation of women. Trying to show the balancing identity as discrete yet intermingled with heritage and the necessarily violent nature of revolution in matters of self-determination. While considering this echelon, Cha may be reaching deeper using ironically lofty terms, “deliverer of nation[s]” to describe women who were human and not only icons.27 Alongside the evidence, Cha critiques the primarily gendered telling of history, which implicitly, when not overtly, castigates the female for her innate sex by omitting her from the story of civilization.28 Furthermore, Cha juxtaposes accepted genuine historical artifacts (photographs, visuals of anatomy, letters, maps, etc.) with women’s personal traits relating to their feelings, sacrifices, loves, and fears. The very opportunity to tell their stories may, in a very small way, begin to mend a long-festering, gaping injury—the lingering trauma of “history, the old wound.”29 Collapsing one woman’s story into another, with each speaking to others, forming the shapes of one another, Cha “illuminates the female agencies erased from patriarchal/colonial discourses and calls for the immigrant lives fragmented and suppressed by cultural estrangement.”30 Her memories of her mother, as well her mother’s own memories, contributes toward establishing a collective solidarity clustered around the hope of national belonging. ***

Hyo Kim cautions that “claiming Dictée as belonging to any tradition . . . relies on a strategic misreading . . . that must finally silence the productive illegibility of the text.”31 Analyses focusing on form over content (or reverse) do not necessarily exclude each other, yet readers tend to concur that Dictée constitutes a poststructuralist political resistance. However, the critical disagreements rise over where to place the most emphasis. More problematically, cultural positioning particular to one reader due to his or her own ideologies will likely cause him or her to overlook or otherwise disregard certain elements of the text. This sense of unsettlement leads to angst over how to understand on even on a primary epistemological level. Sunn Shelley Wong expounds upon how the “modes of literary and . . . cinematic production . . . undermine each other through a process of reciprocal critique.”32 According to Jennifer Cho, dominant beliefs on Korea’s colonial and wartime history in the American imagination have consigned the nation as well as displaced its populations to come to the United States, “to the realm of subjugated knowledge.” The official discourse furthered by the United States has led toward writing over outbursts of historical memories


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regarding unresolved grievances of minority others. Cho develops a specific term, mel-han-choly—“a hybridized form of melancholy and Korean han (a culturally specific grief)”—in order to demonstrate Cha’s use of this word to “defer historical closure.”33 Freud’s conception of melancholy as “a state of unfinished mourning,” causes the subject to internalize loss into a part of self which forms the foundation of mel-han-choly and integrates han. Elaine Kim defines han as “the sorrow and anger that grow from the accumulated experiences of oppression shared among the Korean people.”34 By remaining within the realm of mel-han-cholia, Cha rejects pressure to relinquish a past of wrongs, but works to belong as an immigrant seeking American citizenship as a balm for all wounds. The narrator brings to the fore Korea’s colonial history and current national division, exemplifying the denial of finitude and full recovery. “Discontinuity, fragmentation, [and] episodic unfluency” constitute narrative disruptions which startle and bewilder the reader into pondering the wherefores of the normative status quo, baffling anticipation, and indeed expectations that he or she assumes will be fulfilled.35 Although Cha begins sections with an invocation to the Greek Muses, the reader cannot immediately assume that she refers only to famous divinities of Western Civilization. By replacing the Muse of Music (“the Giver of Delight” and in late Classical times, Lyric Poetry) Euterpe36 with a non-existent Muse, Elitere, Cha focuses on the fact that a book can convey no sound in and of itself, but that her text is a silent collectivity of unheard, pained, stammering utterances. Cha’s avantgarde strategies of proliferating borders in Dictée allow for nearly countless possibilities of insight within a constantly shifting aesthetic framework containing “individual somatic concerns, mythic plights, and political occupation.”37 The collocation of sources considers the text as a carefully curated archive sliding between personal, ideological, and historical selfhood. Within the categories of personal, ideological, historical selfhood while excluding the grammatical markers that divide the ideals, Cha examines how punctuation marks indicate the existence of dictation, the usual means of directing the reader on how to read. For Cha, the halting speech of the speaker poising between two or more tongues is a signal of political occupation and artistic alienation. In another section, a poem speculates “What nationality, or what kindred and relation . . . what stray ejection misplaced . . . neither one thing nor the other . . . what transplant to dispel upon.”38 The usage of the word “dispel” has an intriguing definition as well as connotation of being rid of, to make disappear, to release out of a body—all of which contribute to the experience of exile. Dictée expresses the longing to return home and the yearning to recover from the loss of identity. The character(s) in Dictée exist in a state of perpetual anxiety because of their linguistic uncertainty and perform in an affected manner that takes the form of unsettled stutters.

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In particular, Minh-ha and Cha scrutinize the tyrannized condition of nonwhite women, with Minh-ha regarding “Third World” women and their almost entirely overlooked status in relation to their “First World” counterparts, and Cha writing more specifically for Korean-American women as well as immigrant minorities who experience Otherness. Minh-ha arrives at a similar conclusion to Cha and other feminists: women generally endure not only institutionalized and systematized oppression, but also social and economic repression as well as suppression of their individuality, intelligence, feelings, and opinions. As in her other works, such as Women, Native, Other (1989) Minh-ha cautions against making feminism an occupied territory, hoping instead to create an open space for shared female experiences.39 Critics have referred to Cha and Minh-ha as writers—in addition to being creators of other mediums) of feminist, or more controversially, postfeminist works. Both strive to uncover a non-privileged female Other in ways that grapple with the essentialist notion of “an innate womanness,” in Minh-ha’s words, whether “defined by men or championed by women.”40 From Cha’s critical feminist perspective, immigrant women suffer multilayered kinds of dis-identification as well as dislocation. Dictée frequently takes the form of an auto-ethnography in the sections involving women talking to women. Another technique Cha uses is the second-person viewpoint, certainly in order to close the distance between reader and subject as is expected, but more implicitly, to unfold the scene outward to the reader, allowing the reader to step inside. In elsewhere, within here Minhha takes a different, more mobile, tactic: refusing to directly engage with forms of systemic patriarchal power, she instead flows through and around its effects, thereby overcoming its pervasive and overwhelming influence. Cha’s work takes place in the aftermath of forcefully exercised mechanisms of power, and reacts to the overt trauma of the situation; whereas, Minh-ha’s later text contends with the less visible scars left by internalized submission, and adjusts her approach accordingly. ***

According to Minh-ha, individuals in general must oppose persuasion to become an integrating element so that they may still have an opinion that can be heard. Yet, perhaps paradoxically, fasting verbally and linguistically and learning language again unbolts new ways of thinking and approaching problems which formerly appeared answerable only by hardened solutions. When asked how “she catches silence on the page” in a 2011 interview with Your


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Salonniere at Berkeley, Min-ha “describe[s] listening to incense burning,” thereby enunciating how profound contemplation on meaningful ambiguity permits border-crossing reflections in ways that perhaps only listening in quiet can. By choosing not to verbalize and possessing the willpower to withhold speech, by giving a comma, so to speak, between phrases, to allow for a different kind of conversation, Minh-ha interrupts conventional dialogue, which often encourages the luxury of speaking at and over the other person. Dictée employs another method of rattling the cage of oppression; every word finds itself delivered through shaky means, carried over suspensions of inexpressible moments, stepping around and past interruptive punctuation signifying demarcations—the usual usage of periods, commas, and interrogative marks. It suddenly becomes a minefield, or alternatively, an abyss to cross—a separation. The frequent insertion of rifts in the text permit the reader access to take part in the revealed stories and to reach toward pluralistic understanding. “A mixture of translation exercises, poems, photographs, official documents, and personal journals,”41 the genre-collating Dictée uniquely represents a forceful upheaval of normative critical values by tracing the contours of whispers. In spite of the repressive ideology promulgated in Western as well as Eastern civilization, Dictée empowers the disenfranchised, particularly women, to speak, just a little, what before they had been unable to say. While Dictée aims toward recovering specific experience and context, elsewhere, within here dwells upon absence and an open culture. Both resist modern imperialism in its myriad forms, as well as finite closure and its ramifications for the history of a people, and individual identity. In Dictée, Cha constructs a clear counter-discourse to First World patriarchy, whereas in elsewhere, within here, Minh-ha slips inside traditional assumptions and claims of authenticity so as to disrupt and expose their shaky standing. For Cha, the story of the Korean diaspora, and the resulting sense of disidentification and dislocation, complicates the understanding of being AsianAmerican; due to the subject matter, Cha’s work is categorized as a search for that Asian-American personhood, but she herself stretches further, putting the American empire and Japan’s imperialist past under a microscope to examine the former’s validity and invasive, pervasive influence, and the latter’s lasting effects. Minh-ha’s essays, while equally critical of preconditioned notions relating to power politics, female subjugation, and closed immigration policies, frame the postcolonial world and the perceived Other in a portrait redrawn to foreground possibilities. In the hands of Minh-ha and Cha, the language used in putting forth tolerance, hyphenation, and continual questioning, becomes a precise incision into substance and presentation of that matter. Paradoxically but naturally, the ends and means are blurred until they cohere into a wholly new amorphous

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shape. However, the two works differ as well, and these differences can reach across the spectrum into entirely new horizons. Minh-ha sifts, shifts, moves in-between, transitions, in a gentle but determinedly fluid manner, to universal themes that nevertheless speak to specificity without particularity; Cha’s approach, although markedly more aggressive, with definite implications of guilt and anger, is at the same time strangely more tentative in its intercultural poetics. Simplistically speaking, the disquieting, tragic sense of desperation fraying at the edges of Dictée, pulsing in its melancholy, looks back at the past, in contrast with the serenity and active passivity in elsewhere, within here, which looks to the future; nevertheless, they converge on the present, though of course, approaching this present time from opposite vantage points affects their views on what it means and what it is. NOTES 1. Michelle Black Wester. “The Concentric Circles of Dictée: Reclaiming Women’s Voices through Mothers and Daughters’ Stories,” Journal of Asian American Studies 10, no. 2 (2007): 169–191. 2. Sandra Harding and Uma Narayan. “Introduction. Border Crossings: Multicultural and Postcolonial Feminist Challenges to Philosophy (Part 1),” Hypatia 13, no. 2 (1998): 1–6. 3. Trinh T. Minh-ha. Elsewhere, Within Here: Immigration, Refugeeism and the Boundary Event (London: Routledge, 2010), 1. 4. Shinhyung Choi. “Aesthetic Interrogation of Refugeeism, Migration and a Post-September 11 World by Trinh Minh-ha,” Darkmatter Journal (blog), September 19, 2016, aesthetic-interrogation-of-refugeeism-migration-and-a-post-september-11-world/. 5. Rey Chow, “Postcolonial Visibilities: Questions Inspired by Deleuze’s Method,” in Deleuze and the Postcolonial 2010, eds. Simone Bignall and Paul Patton (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2010), 1. 6. Trinh T. Minh-ha. Elsewhere, Within Here, 28. 7. Ibid., 59. 8. Herman Rapaport. “Deconstruction’s Other: Trinh T. Minh-ha and Jacques Derrida,” Diacritics 25, no. 2 (1995): 98. 9. Delila Omerbašić. “Elsewhere, Within Here: Immigration, Refugeeism and the Boundary Event. By Trinh T. Minh-ha.,” Journal of Refugee Studies 26, no. 2 (2013): 310–311. 10. Trinh T. Minh-ha. Elsewhere, Within Here, 56–57. 11. Ibid., 23. 12. Ibid., 152. 13. Rey Chow, “Postcolonial Visibilities,” 154.


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14. Ibid., 3. 15. Trinh T. Minh-ha. Elsewhere, Within Here, 5. 16. Ibid., 33. 17. Ibid. 18. Herman Rapaport, “Deconstruction’s Other,” 98. 19. Rey Chow, “Postcolonial Visibilities,” 61. 20. Ibid., 161. 21. Ibid., 162. 22. Sue-Im Lee. “Suspicious Characters: Realism, Asian American Identity, and Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s ‘Dictée’,” Journal of Narrative Theory 23, no. 2 (2002): 227–258. 23. Michelle Black Wester, “The Concentric Circles of Dictée,” 169–191. 24. Theresa Hak Kyung Cha. Dictée, 173. 25. Sue J. Kim, Critiquing Postmodernism in Contemporary Discourses of Race (Springer, 2009), 48. 26. Theresa Hak Kyung Cha. Dictée, 102. 27. Ibid., 37. 28. Ibid. 29. Ibid., 33. 30. Min-Ah Cho. “Disturbing the Sacred Stories: The Lives of Sts. Thérèse of Lisieux and Joan of Arc in Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictee.” Magistra 18, no. 1 (2012): 50. 31. Hyo Kim. “Depoliticising Politics: Readings of Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictée,” Changing English 15, no. 4 (2008): 467–475. 32. Sunn Shelley Wong. “Unnaming the Same: Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictée,” in Writing Self, Writing Nation: A Collection of Essays on “Dictee” by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, eds. Elaine Kim and Norma Alarcon (Berkeley: Third Woman Press, 1994), 103–140. 33. Jennifer Cho. “Mel-han-cholia as Political Practice in Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictée,” Meridians 11, no. 1 (2011): 36–61. 34. Elaine H. Kim. “Home is Where the Han Is: A Korean American Perspective on the Los Angeles Uprisings,” in Asian American Studies: A Reader, eds. Jean YuWen Shen Wu and Min Song (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2000), 127–143. 35. Sue J. Kim, Critiquing Postmodernism in Contemporary Discourses of Race, 48. 36. Stella Oh. “The Enunciation of the Tenth Muse in Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictée,” Lit: Literature Interpretation Theory 13, no. 1 (2002): 1–20. 37. Josephine Nock-Hee Park. “What of the Partition’: Dictée’s Boundaries and the American Epic,” Contemporary Literature 46, no. 2 (2005): 213–242. 38. Theresa Hak Kyung Cha. Dictée, 20. 39. Pratibha Parmar and Trinh T. Minh-ha. “Woman, Native, Other,” Feminist Review, no. 36 (1990): 65–74. 40. Ibid., 67. 41. Min-Ah Cho, “Disturbing the Sacred Stories,” 50.

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REFERENCES Cha, Theresa Hak Kyung. Dictée. California: University of California Press, 2001. Cho, Jennifer. “Mel-han-cholia as Political Practice in Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictée.” Meridians 11, no. 1 (2011): 36–61. Cho, Min-Ah. “Disturbing the Sacred Stories: The Lives of Sts. Thérèse of Lisieux and Joan of Arc in Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictée.” Magistra 18, no. 1 (2012): 50–65. Choi, Shinhyung. “Aesthetic Interrogation of Refugeeism, Migration and a Post-September 11 World by Trinh Minh-ha.” Darkmatter Journal (blog), September 19, 2016. aesthetic-interrogation-of-refugeeism-migration-and-a-post-september-11-world/. Chow, Rey. “Postcolonial Visibilities: Questions Inspired by Deleuze’s Method.” In Deleuze and the Postcolonial 2010, edited by Simone Bignall and Paul Patton, 1–165. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2010. Harding, Sandra and Uma Narayan. “Introduction. Border Crossings: Multicultural and Postcolonial Feminist Challenges to Philosophy (Part 1).” Hypatia 13, no. 2 (1998): 1–6. Kim, Elaine H. “Home is Where the Han Is: A Korean American Perspective on the Los Angeles Uprisings.” In Asian American Studies: A Reader 2000, edited by Jean Yu-Wen Shen Wu and Min Song, 125–145. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2000. Kim, Hyo. “Depoliticising Politics: Readings of Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictée.” Changing English 15, no. 4 (2008): 467–475. Lee, Sue-Im. “Suspicious Characters: Realism, Asian American Identity, and Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s ‘Dictée’.” Journal of Narrative Theory 23, no. 2 (2002): 227–258. Minh-ha, Trinh T. Elsewhere, Within Here: Immigration, Refugeeism and the Boundary Event. London: Routledge, 2010. Minh-ha, Trinh T. and Pratibha Parmar. “Woman, Native, Other.” Feminist Review, no. 36 (1990): 65–74. Oh, Stella. “The Enunciation of the Tenth Muse in Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictée.” Lit: Literature Interpretation Theory 13, no. 1 (2002): 1–20. Omerbašić, Delila. “Elsewhere, Within Here: Immigration, Refugeeism and the Boundary Event. By Trinh T. Minh-ha.” Journal of Refugee Studies 26, no. 2 (2013): 20–311. Park, Josephine Nock-Hee. “What of the Partition’: Dictée’s Boundaries and the American Epic.” Contemporary Literature 46, no. 2 (2005): 213–242. Rapaport, Herman. “Deconstruction’s Other: Trinh T. Minh-ha and Jacques Derrida.” Diacritics 25, no. 2 (1995): 98. Wester, Michelle Black. “The Concentric Circles of Dictée: Reclaiming Women’s Voices through Mothers and Daughters’ Stories.” Journal of Asian American Studies 10, no. 2 (2007): 169–191. Wong, Shelley Sunn. “Unnaming the Same: Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictée.” In Writing Self, Writing Nation: A Collection of Essays on “Dictee” by Theresa Hak


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Kyung Cha 1994, edited by Elaine Kim and Norma Alarcon, 103–140. Berkeley: Third Woman Press, 1994. Wu, Ching-Yu. “Language, History and Loss in Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictée.” Master’s thesis, State University of New York at Binghamton, 2007.

Chapter 12

“[F]oreigners, Foreigners, My God” Language and Cinema in Jean Rhys’s Good Morning, Midnight Yanoula Athanassakis Good Morning, Midnight’s protagonist, Sasha Jensen, refracts the uniquely Caribbean experience of dislocation through the modernist aesthetic of detachment. Rhys’s female protagonists refuse to comply with networks of power outside of their control. The disturbingly ambiguous nature of Jean Rhys’s characters reveals the complex intersectionality of race and gender in “foreign” bodies. Their movement signals an implicit critique of unjust hegemonic structures (patriarchal and colonial) and foreshadows recent developments in postcolonial feminist studies. Rhys’s move to the realm of the visual is an attempt to look anew at how foreigners are apprehended in skewed and unjust ways. The West Indian roots of Dominican-born Jean Rhys are often referenced solely in terms of her engagement with Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (vis-à-vis Wide Sargasso Sea). Rhys’s rise to fame because of Wide Sargasso Sea (1966) has veritably eclipsed her other artistic contributions to transnational Anglophone Caribbean literature. Rhys’s heroines make for an unappealing read; their stories are rife with selfishness, prostitution, abortion, poverty, addiction, and self-loathing. The protagonists in her fiction do not care for traditional ideals of morality or “womanhood.” Instead, they go on with their lives, violating multiple societal codes, and Rhys offers readers no resolution. As Lesley McDowell commented when reviewing a recent biography on Rhys, Lilian Pizzichini’s The Blue Hour (2009), Rhys’s own life is similarly the “kind of narrative we don’t really want to read in a post-feminist age.”1 Indeed, Rhys’s work does not inspire a sense of liberation, and while her own biography is complicated, trying to map such an agenda and modernist aesthetic onto Rhys is to misread her strategic anxiety-producing stories about “foreign” females trying to “make it” in London and Paris. 209


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As modernism and postcolonialism shore up against one another, Rhys’s writings are an expression of the sociopolitical challenges facing a racialized, sexualized “foreign” subject suspended in space between shifting national tides. Rhys writes at a time when, as Urmila Seshagiri suggests, “the exhausted limits of modernist form revealed the lineaments of postcolonial fiction.”2 In Good Morning, Midnight (1939), the realm of the visual, as opposed to the purely textual, is a powerful site for the mapping of resistance against the traditional bildungsroman. While Sasha Jensen’s embodiment of flânerie departs from its traditional modalities, the visual regime of the novel becomes increasingly important as a politically subversive statement against institutionalized narratives of successful subject formation. Good Morning, Midnight’s 1939 publication marked a time when, as Jed Esty has so eloquently argued in both Unseasonable Youth (2011) and A Shrinking Island (2003), Britain was in turmoil over a sense of its own decay. Esty unpacks the intersections between modernist aesthetics and imperial designs and illuminates how national “contraction” leads to modernist rejuvenation and creativity.3 Esty acknowledges that this injection of energy registers differently for Caribbean subjects than it does for British ones.4 Simon Gikandi similarly contends that for Anglophone Caribbean subjects, “only by subverting colonial modernism could these writers become modernists.”5 Gikandi highlights the challenge of Caribbean authors writing themselves out of colonial modalities of modernism using “a European language already loaded with Eurocentric figures.”6 Esty and Gikandi both make the point that it is reductive to assume that a writer of Rhys’s caliber is simply not capable of authoring a fuller narrative with a traditional and more pleasing aesthetic. Rhys categorically refuses the impulse to write growth and maturation into the stories of her protagonists. Even in our age of new media and literary experimentation, the bildungsroman novel in particular is, in the words of Tobias Boes, “at once one of the most vexing, but also one of the most fruitful contributions that German letters have made.”7 Boes’s historical survey of the bildungsroman tradition reveals that it has been an especially empowering form for social misfits, including women and, in the 1980s and 1990s in particular, the fields of “post-colonial and minority” studies.8 In broad terms, the bildungsroman is a novel of formation and growth in which the protagonist traverses the period between youth and maturity and is socialized into a heteronormative structure of nationally inflected subjectivity.9 The process of subject formation is a blueprint for the modernist bildung. But what happens when Sasha Jensen, constantly hovering closer to death than to birth, unravels this blueprint? Instead, readers must imagine why stunted emotional growth and self-destructive behavior might be normalized for women like Sasha Jensen.10 Reflections, glass, colors (both in nature and in terms of race), and appearance are undeniably central to Good Morning, Midnight.11 Rhys’s

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narrative tactic is one that challenges readers to look anew at institutionalized forms of colonialism, racism, and sexism. Rhys’s women undergo processes of de-formation (somatically and psychically) that demonstrate how the bildungsroman becomes unhinged when it interdigitates with peripheral and expendable lives. Sasha Jensen, the protagonist of Good Morning, Midnight, wanders the streets of Paris and operates under a haze of general malaise: “I’ve had enough of these streets that sweat a cold, yellow slime, of hostile people . . . . I’ve had enough of thinking, enough of remembering.”12 Rhys’s modernist, fragmented text (marked by ellipses, italics, parenthetical digressions, and stream-of-consciousness narratives) operate to “silence” Sasha. Although these “gaps” in the writing are certainly an opportunity for readers to engage in meaning making, they are also quite literally an omission of words. While at times we may be frustrated by Sasha’s “failure” to verbalize her rich interior dialogue, her silence reveals the problem inherent in expecting an alienated subject to “speak.” Continuing her review of the latest Rhysian biography, The Blue Hour, Lesley McDowell states that we like to view female modernist writers as empowered: “It’s been a feminist project, quite rightly, to see them as autonomous subjects who forged their own paths through a male dominated world.”13 Sasha Jensen is not empowered, and like most of Rhys’s protagonists she lives under a condition of anachronism wherein the things she desires that could sustain her (i.e., financial independence and gender equality) are not yet accessible to her. In a 1972 piece on Jean Rhys in the New York Review of Books, V.S. Naipaul understood the fact that she herself “might have been a riddle to others” but “she never sought to make her experience more accessible by making it what it was not.”14 Rather than become “a novelist of manners,” writes Naipaul, “she avoided geographical explicitness.”15 While earlier waves of modernists adhered to the “novel of manners” and the bildungsroman tradition, Esty notes that writers like Rhys express “a resistance to the twin teleologies of the classic bildungsroman: adulthood . . . and nationhood.”16 This resistance to normalized discourse of empire and standard plotlines comes at the price of tone-deaf critics easily dismissing Rhys as simply “writing what she knows.”17 Part of what is so difficult about Rhys’s fiction is what comes off as the absolute self-absorption of her “heroines.” They seem to care for nothing and do nothing and, as Naipaul elsewhere notes, they are “from nowhere.”18 If adulthood and nationhood are part of a “contractual” agreement of entering into the bildungsroman process, then it is all the more fascinating that Sasha seems perpetually listless and stateless. Rhys’s Sasha Jensen appears a disinterested subject but her “statelessness” and silence are wielded by Rhys as a veiled critique of British nationalism.


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Jean Rhys, herself an exilic subject, was renamed “Jean Rhys” from Ella Gwendolen Rees by none other than Ford Madox Ford. Rhys was ambivalently floating from abortion to affair to prostitution at a time when ideals of femininity precluded sexuality.19 Rhys’s Creole heritage, her tensionfilled relationship with her family and roots, and her battle with alcoholism undoubtedly make it onto the pages of her works but certainly do not equal the sum total of her talents. Leah Rosenberg points out that Rhys’s biography appears to destabilize her identity as a Caribbean subject: a white woman from a privileged Dominican family who would go on to be a celebrated modernist writer hardly reads like the “down-on-your-luck” stories of her destitute protagonists.20 And yet Rosenberg also makes it clear that Jean Rhys and Claude McKay (both Caribbean writers) were intent on “exposing the racialized and sexual politics of modernized aesthetics.”21 The issue of reading the reticence and silence of Rhys’s protagonists is a complicated undertaking. Rhys’s fiction features disjointed, hybrid, and fractured female characters who seem to lack any type of agency but are nonetheless champions of survival. Good Morning, Midnight is the last of four books Rhys completed before her 27-year absence from publishing.22 This is also the last book in a series of four that Rhys published in the 11 years after World War I: Quartet (1928), After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie (1930), Voyage in the Dark (1934), and Good Morning, Midnight (1939). The four books are set in Europe, all the female protagonists are loosely based on Rhys’s own life, and they appear to be linked to one another as if they could be simulacra of the same woman. As Mary Cantwell shares of her interview with Rhys, Rhys blurs the lines between fiction and autobiography: “Whenever I asked about one of them— Jean Rhys’s women they’ve been called—she replied with ‘I.’”23 The purposeful silence of Rhys’s women has disturbed readers and critics alike. Carol Anne Howells wonders in what manner Rhys’s “fiction [is] so multiple, so secretive, that it constitutes a kind of blankness onto which critics can project their own ideological interests?”24 Rhys’s terse style mirrors the manner of Sasha’s dialogue; all of Rhys’s women, like Rhys herself, engage in troubling silence punctured by ambivalent remarks on the forms of systemic oppression they observe and encounter. The compulsion in Rhysian criticism is to name one social construction that Rhys is resisting. In earlier work, gender was most commonly pointed to as the reason for failure and pain in Rhys’s oeuvre. More recent criticism has broadened the possibilities. Judith E. Dearlove reconsiders her earlier assessment of Rhys and finds it limiting: “I have realized that Rhys’s significance extends beyond gender boundaries.”25 Dearlove goes on to offer economics as the main reason why Rhys’s heroines fail.26 This, however, does not do

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justice to Rhys’s multifarious characters and their difficult circumstances (where economics are only partly to blame). Helen Carr, writing a year before Dearlove, warns of the danger of ascribing all problems to the echelon of the monetary and stresses the need to pay attention to Rhys’s critique of various forms of subjugation: “If there is any one form of oppression privileged over others in Rhys’s work, it is the power of money, but even that is never seen in isolation.”27 Rhys avoided making direct statements both about her novels and in her novels; she resisted reductive readings that categorized her characters and writing as following a singular agenda. When Cantwell asked Rhys about a “British television production of one of her novels [that] was so distorted as to make the [Feminist] Movement the message,” Rhys expressed that she was upset about the misrepresentation: “[I was] so depressed, I swore I’d never write again. I just wanted to say about life, not about propaganda.”28 Alexis Lykiard, a close friend and author of a memoir about his time with Rhys, seems to have his finger on the pulse of her spirit when he says of her, “She always, from her earliest days in Dominica, identified with the oppressed, the underdog and the black, and the rest of her long life in Europe never caused her to change her views on that score.”29 Lykiard instinctively knew that Rhys would not, as Dearlove and Carr at times propose, focus solely on gender as the source of the “scorn and loathing of the female.”30 ***

Good Morning, Midnight’s Sasha Jensen refracts the uniquely Caribbean experience of dislocation and homelessness. Sasha is in her early 40s and as such she is the oldest of the four women in Rhys’s post-World War I series. She is of obscure origins, not clearly British, but probably at least has British citizenship. Sasha is an addict who spends most of her time in altered states that parallel her waking world: she is often dreaming, drinking, taking barbiturates, or fantasizing. From her autodiegetic narrative we learn that she used to live in Paris and both lost a baby and attempted suicide there, and that she has traveled around Europe and was once married. She is living in England and comes to Paris for a short vacation, where she meets characters that are equally peripheral: there is Serge Rubin, the Russian Jewish artist, René, the gigolo, and the commis voyageur, who is aggressive and uncannily threatening.31 Sasha believes that her deteriorating beauty is the only thing that has allowed her access to material wealth. Much of the novel is devoted to Sasha’s wanderings around the streets of Paris, her stints in bars, and her seedy hotel room. Sasha’s obscure origins and descriptions of England configure it as a xenophobic and masculinized country, and Sasha’s encounters with the expatriate community in Paris only further solidify her feelings of alienation. Sasha


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reads much like Rhys’s other dislocated West Indian women: “I have no pride—no pride, no name, no face, no country. I don’t belong anywhere. Too sad, too sad . . . .”32 She has no clear home, she does not express nostalgia for Britain, and there are many instances where she is associated with the Caribbean.33 Sasha is troubled when she has to declare her nationality in the paperwork at the hotel: “Name So-and-so, nationality So-and-so. . . . Nationality —that’s what has puzzled him. I ought to have put nationality by marriage.”34 Sasha’s discomfort is in large part due to her unwillingness to champion nationalism as something valuable. Her collective experiences expose the offshoots of colonialism as they feed nationalism and she cannot cleanly pull the two apart. While analyzing Sasha’s cagey relationship to names and nationality, Veronica M. Gregg proposes that in this vein, “Sasha constructs herself as constitutive Otherness.”35 Yet Sasha’s “Otherness,” her foreignness, is never clearly stated, as in the scene at a hotel when Sasha longs for a room. Sasha desires room 219, one with more light and space because she feels that it will help her “escape” from her “fate.”36 Sasha thinks to herself that she will be “on a different plane” if she has a new room with light, but it turns out that the room is taken.37 While Sasha waits to find out if it is occupied she listens to the heedless banter of two employees as they discuss how “foreigners” are troublesome and suspicious of the French, thinking that they are being cheated out of money: “‘My God,’ says the receptionist, ‘foreigners, foreigners, my God. . . .’”38 After overhearing them, Sasha thinks that she understands the clerk, that she knows “all about him,” presumably because he was the one to apply the template of identity politics to an economic exchange, and to specifically denounce non-French customers.39 Sasha “anxiously” listens to the conversation and her anxiety only increases as she searches for a different way to alter her fate—a less expensive one.40 Sasha cannot afford room 219 and realizes that economics slice through her fate in harmful ways. Rhys is not content to let the reader analyze such scenes as examples of racism or xenophobia, her authorial style is one that undermines the simplification of complex identity politics. The recurring mention of and connection to Martinique also paints Sasha’s character with the brushstroke of the foreign Caribbean subject. First, Serge Rubin (the Russian Jew) plays “some béguine music, Martinique music,” which launches Sasha into a fantasy of “lying in a hammock” by the sea.41 Serge then asks her to dance with him but she refuses, instead letting him dance alone in a West African mask that he made, “straight from the Congo.”42 Leah Rosenberg lays bare the double alienation of the African mask: “modernism tended to homogenize Africa” and “by showing a Russian Jew making African masks, Rhys emphasizes the constructed nature of the primitive in modern art.”43 Sasha, always aware of construct and how to reconstruct oneself by performing constructs, is undoubtedly conscious of the layers of irony. Somehow Serge creates a space of twinned alienation for

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them both. While it doesn’t comfort Sasha, it creates space for critique of the masks that are “made” by him but “straight from the heart” of Africa. The numerous and strong associations between Sasha and the Caribbean continue as she spends time with Serge. After they talk and drink, he tells her of the “Martiniquaise,” the mulatto woman who lived by him in London. Serge describes how he once found her drunk and crying, and Sasha thinks he is mocking her: “‘Exactly like me,’ I say. ‘I cried, and I asked for a drink.’ . . . Is he getting at me?”44 Sasha interprets this as a direct judgment on her drinking and her own sense of disarray. Although Serge assures Sasha that he is not talking about her, the association remains strong, especially as he describes how cruel the people in the house were to the Martiniquaise: “She said that every time they looked at her she could see how they hated her, and the people on the streets looked at her in the same way. . . . She told me she hadn’t been out, except after dark, for two years.”45 Serge notices that the other women in the house looked at the Martiniquaise with “cruel eyes” and asks Sasha if “perhaps all women have cruel eyes. What do you think.”46 Sasha refuses to acknowledge the role that gender plays in systemic forms of oppression and states, “most human beings have cruel eyes.”47 Serge continues with his story and comments that he observed a little girl who was “seven or eight” and stuck her tongue out at the Martiniquaise because “she knew so exactly how to be cruel and who it was safe to be cruel to.”48 Serge reveals that he understands damaging results of ugly behavior and could be sharing the story as a way to connect with Sasha. Whatever his intentions, Sasha does not agree with Serge’s reading of his interactions with the child. To Sasha’s mind, all humans hold the possibility for cruelty but especially so when faced with people who reflect back to them forms of their own humanity with slight aberrances. This sense of the uncanny unhinges characters in Rhys’s writing and often sends them into tailspins of confused emotions and rage. Serge expresses hatred for the house where he witnesses the interaction and says that London gave him the feeling of “being suffocated, as if a large derrière was sitting on [him].”49 Serge notes that “one must admire Nature” because the child knows how to navigate naturalized forms of violence but what is most disturbing about Serge’s comment is that the reader cannot tell if he thinks racism is natural and biological or if he identifies it as a social construct.50 Sasha’s immediate response is to challenge Serge’s ideas of “Nature” as a valid reason for the child’s hatred and she says, “Well some people feel that way and other people, of course, don’t. It all depends.”51 Her attempt to challenge the idea that it is natural for people to act as the child did, to mimic learned racist and sexist behaviors, is met with the same dead end and suffocation that Serge ascribes to London. Serge ignores her and says he needs to go. London and Paris are thus conflated into similarly unwelcoming places for Sasha as one person seems to mimic the ill behaviors of another like a contagion that she cannot escape.


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Sasha’s nocturnal lifestyle and wanderings closely mirror those of the Martiniquaise, as does her paranoid certainty that people are staring and sneering at her. A further instance of Sasha’s Othering is when she is propositioned by a man in London and asked: “Can you resist it?”52 Here, “it” is the temptation to have relations with this man—or so we are led to believe. Sasha replies that she can easily withstand him: “very coldly. I can resist it, just plain and Nordic like that, I certainly can.”53 Implicit in her adoption of a “Nordic” coldness is that it is not native to her. The racialized stereotypes continually confronting Sasha suggest that she inhabits and performs them or projects them onto herself all the while knowing that they will cause her further anxiety and sadness. Sasha’s internal dialogue ruptures the fabric of the text, interrupting her own story and exposing her troubled relationship to language; it allows readers access to her manner of thought. When a man picks her up, misreading her cheap coat as one that signals wealth, they have a “mad conversation” and she “feel[s] like a goddess” after half a glass of Pernod.54 As they talk and drink more, the man starts complaining about receiving a letter from a girl asking for 300 francs; he invites Sasha up to his flat and she agrees, but he is perturbed that she is drunk and even more so because she claims to have “‘had nothing to eat for three weeks.’ (Exaggerating, as usual).”55 Sasha is a talented and astute manipulator of social codes and languages. She knows that the man will flee once she gestures toward her poverty or starts “giggling more loudly” (i.e., she is no longer charmingly tipsy, but acts like a drunk).56 Lest we think that Sasha does this mistakenly, she indicates to the contrary: “And did I mind? Not at all, not at all. If you think I minded, then you’ve never lived like that before, plunged in a dream, when all the faces are masks and only the trees are alive and you can almost see the strings that are pulling the puppets.”57 Sasha, sensing that he has inevitably misunderstood her, takes the “strings” and acts as puppeteer, willfully sending him packing. But Sasha rarely verbalizes her subversive thoughts. Words fail her, language fails her in that it is not only ultimately the vehicle for her own marginalization, but her command of it—her verbal command—is inhibited by her fear and altered states. Unlike Serge, who seems content in his “speechifying,” Sasha finds verbal communication a problematic medium. ***

Sasha’s episode with “Mr. Blank” demonstrates both her multifaceted issues with language and her reliance on the medium of visuality. When Mr. Blank, Sasha’s English employer in Paris, asks her to take a letter to “the kise,” Sasha is too embarrassed to ask him to clarify: “Kise—kise. . . . It doesn’t mean a thing to me.”58 Sasha frantically wanders around the building, all because the British Mr. Blank mispronounces the French for La caisse (the

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cashier) and she does not want to “seem rude” by correcting him.59 Sasha composes a cutting answer to Mr. Blank’s accusations that she is “halfwitted” and “hopeless,” but she does not end up verbalizing it: “Did I say all this? Of course I didn’t. I didn’t even think of it.”60 Sasha’s command of French is better than Blank’s. By correcting him in a language that is foreign to both of them, he would be doubly embarrassed. In Sasha’s imaginary retort to Mr. Blank, she acknowledges that there must be people like her, “slightly damaged in the fray,” so that there can be powerful people like him: “Isn’t it so, Mr. Blank? There must be the dark background to show up the bright colors.”61 Sasha configures and dissolves herself into the “dark background,” symbolically linking herself to blackness. She demarcates a space for herself in darkness because she knows that Mr. Blank relegates her to the periphery of society. Her racialized visual metaphor is inescapably ironic: she is the “dark” periphery while Blank is the “light” at the center. Her jaded relationship to language leads to her frequent verbal impasses, but through her description of her dreams and waking visions, the reader is privy to Sasha’s complex world of silent participation in—and contemporaneous critique of—society’s judgments of her.62 More than Rhys’s other protagonists Sasha is maddeningly silent, but Rhys pens an even fuller interior dialogue that complicates Sasha’s reticence. As Anne B. Simpson suggests in her psychoanalytic reading of Good Morning, Midnight, “Unlike Rhys’s previous heroines, Sasha has an apparent haplessness and weakness that are belied by the narrating strategy Rhys accords her.”63 The modernist tradition of the flâneur (which Walter Benjamin defines as a kind of social critic), necessarily occludes Sasha from its borders; nevertheless, Sasha’s urban wanderings—where her visuality becomes paramount—flag her as a type of flâneur. Benjamin writes about the figure of the inherently male flâneur as one who dissolves into the crowd, a man of leisure who takes in images; he is the “priest of the genius loci.”64 Benjamin proposes that Parisians made Paris into a city of flâneurs, of wandering men taking in the city as their own personal landscape.65 Sasha cannot successfully operate within this elitist and hypermasculine model of flânerie. When she wanders the streets of Paris, her consciousness informs the reader that she feels as if people and buildings are staring at her: “Then they step forward, the waiting houses, to frown and crush. . . . Frowning and leering and sneering, the houses, one after the other.”66 This is not the young Baudelaire that Benjamin admires as he slips into crowds, collapsing women and objects into the same category for his scopic and bodily pleasure. Rather, this is a woman who roams the streets in a state of heightened fear and paranoia, certain that she will be swallowed up by her surroundings. Yet one could think of Sasha as at least enacting some facets of the classic flâneur for she is a type of social critic; given her gender and marginality, her form of flânerie would have to be an alternate one. Anke Gleber focuses on


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the turn of the century and uses 1920s Berlin to talk about women and female flânerie. She proposes that female flânerie is absent in the early representations of the flâneur because women were largely denied access to the public sphere.67 Single women strolling the streets were suspect and seen as tainted: “The female flâneur still runs into a degree of scrutiny . . . and forms of surveillance, suspicion, and harassment that her male predecessors and contemporaries do not expect to encounter.”68 Pegging Sasha as a flâneuse—or a failed flâneur for that matter—is problematic because it ignores the social inequities that plague her. Gleber searches for agency in the figure of the flâneuse and ends by proposing the cinema as the space where the unfettered female gaze can partake in visual pleasure and “socially sanctioned scopophilia.” Scopic desire is satisfied by the hyperrealism of film: “the mediated gaze through the eye of the camera . . . grants the female spectator a relatively uncontrollable gaze . . . .”69 I depart from Gleber and am uncomfortable with the idea of female spectatorship in the cinema as a “synonym” for female flânerie. How can a mediated, machinated, and—certainly in the early years of cinema—male representation in the cinematic realm serve as a substitute for walking the streets? Gleber rightfully gestures to her evolved definition of what the cinema can mean for women when she writes that the “female flâneur can become a prototype for gendered spectatorship in the cinema.”70 For Sasha, the cinema is not a substitute for reality, and her experience in it is fraught with misidentification. Enjoyable as it may be, female agency does not seem to prosper within the walls of the theater—at least not in the same way that the possibilities of female flânerie suggest. Sasha frequently thinks about people’s eyes and is fixated on seeing and being seen. For example, she notices that the hotelier has “a glassy and unbelieving eye,” while at Théodore’s restaurant, she is sure that “everybody in the room is staring.”71 Nevertheless, as much as Sasha feels subjected to the looks of others, she herself frequently stares. She is aware of the dangers of voyeuristically gazing at others and one instance in particular articulates her sense of vulnerability. She watches a woman applying make-up through the window and when the woman notices her staring, “she averts her eyes, her expression hardens. I realize that if I watch her making-up she will retaliate by staring at me. . . .”72 Sasha prefers to look out but not to be looked at, and in fact, she is paralyzed by fear when she knows people are watching her.73 ***

Sasha’s barbiturate-induced dream of the London Exhibition further demonstrates her fear of objectification and the terror she experiences when she thinks she might literally turn into an object. The placards further estrange

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Sasha from a sense of belonging and subjecthood: “This Way to the Exhibition, This Way to the Exhibition. But I don’t want the way to the exhibition— I want the way out. There are passages to the right and passages to the left, but no exit sign. . . . I walk along with my head bent, very ashamed, thinking: ‘Just like me—always wanting to be different from other people.’”74 Signs in the tube should point to an exit, but they instead mock Sasha and solidify her feelings of alienation.75 Not only can she not physically escape from the London Exhibition but there is no respite from her physicality, which racializes and sexualizes her in a unilateral push to keep her relegated to the realm of the object. Her dream ends in violence when a “little man” tells her that he is her father: “‘Remember that I am your father.’ But blood is streaming from a wound in his forehead. ‘Murder,’ he shouts, ‘murder, murder.’ Helplessly I watch the blood streaming. At last my voice tears itself loose from my chest. I too shout: ‘Murder, murder, help, help.’”76 Unlike in her waking moments when Sasha wants to see (and in fact sees) the Exhibition in Paris by night, in her dream she tries at all costs to escape the violence of the London Exhibition (where people see exhibits, where she will be exhibited and become the exhibit). Her terror propels her to demonstrate to her father, to fictional future onlookers, and to herself that she sees this as “murder.” Her disembodied voice signifies that it belongs to a body and to a disenfranchised subjectivity; nonetheless, Sasha refuses to be exhibited and completely objectified, and it is in this way that she thinks she chooses “to be different from other people.” Digressions such as those of the London Exhibition buttress the filmic quality of the text. There are many ways in which Rhys’s text can be spoken of as a filmic experience and nothing points to this more clearly than Sasha’s own disambiguation of her visual experiences: “My film-mind . . . (‘For God’s sake watch out for your film-mind. . . .’).”77 She is aware of her ability to manipulate social signifiers and perform them, thus coding herself as she wishes. Also revealed more plainly than earlier in the novel is how Sasha’s visual experiences bleed into one another—she understands the way she looks by imagining how she looks to others. Right before she chastises her “film-mind” she imagines a sequence that is akin to an excerpt from a screenplay: “I am in a little whitewashed room. The sun is hot outside. A man is standing with his back to me . . . . I am wearing a black dress, very short, and heel-less slippers. . . . Now he ill-treats me, now he betrays me.”78 Sasha envisions herself in a movie where she is the protagonist, and she describes her imagined scenario much like she relates the plot of the movie she watched earlier. The cinema encourages Sasha’s misidentification with the characters and with the audience, and it solidifies her tendency to view herself as if looking through a camera lens. Sasha’s first two short references to the cinema reveal little about the films: “At four o’clock next afternoon I am in a cinema on


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the Champs Elysées, according to the program. Laughing heartily in the right places.”79 The film allows her to laugh with others, instead of getting laughed at by others—it produces an opportunity for Sasha to gain a sense of sociopolitical assimilation. Whether or not she picks up on the cultural cues of the film, her choice to laugh “in the right places” is significant. Sasha is a master manipulator and identifier of the hegemonic code of conduct. Even while she may not find something funny, Sasha’s laughter is a choice to collude. Next, Sasha uses the cinema as a way to legitimize her habit at a bar: “I ask him to tell me the way to the nearest cinema. This, of course, arises from a cringing desire to explain my presence in the place.”80 She again attempts to veil herself under the cloak of cinema in order to fit in. The longest interaction with film comes at the Cinéma Danton, where Sasha watches the majority of it but leaves because it “shows no signs of stopping.”81 Again we see Sasha laughing heartily “till the tears come into [her] eyes” because she identifies with “the good young man” in it. She says she “really [is] O.K.” after the cinema because she—misguidedly—identifies with both the audience and the actor.82 Rhys may be using film in her text to operate like her text. Sasha identifies with the protagonist of the film at Cinéma Danton (a young man) when actually they are polar opposites. In the exchange with Mr. Blank, Sasha demonstrates that she would rather be fired than assert herself to her employer and she also ultimately fails to complete her task (to deliver the letter correctly). In the film, the young man does both: “He interrupts intimate conversations, knocking loudly, bringing in letters and parcels, etcetera, etcetera. . . the good young man is triumphant. He has permission to propose to his employer’s daughter.”83 The film may be imbued with traces of the comic, but Sasha is not able to distinguish between the comic and the tragicomic—or even the plain tragic—when reflecting on her own life. She proves incapable of mobilizing the agential possibilities that film holds. Yet the way that she misidentifies with the film might be the same way that Rhys is coaxing some of us to creatively misidentify with Sasha. ***

The linguistic and physical code switching of Rhys’s heroines has led to a palpable anxiety among critics. While it seems that Sasha wants to “fit in,” it is not altogether clear that she wants to fit in with a particular kind of people or that she might actually be actively resisting classification. At times she wants to be at ease in the company of chic Parisians, at others she wants nothing more than to have Serge accept her. As I noted earlier, critics have long read Rhys’s heroines as wounded and disenfranchised women and they have expressed frustration in the way in which Rhys seems to avoid direct statements about, and engagement with, ideological structures. Colette Lindroth

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asserts that “Rhys’s fiction is a haunted world” that Rhys achieves through “the hazy ambiguity, the ‘not-quite-there’ quality of her description.”84 Lindroth asks us to think about how, both biographically and fictionally, Rhys’s reticence and evasive prose points us to the strong sense of survival and identity these victimized women possess: “In the maelstrom of their lives, one constant remains: themselves. This sense of identity, of a self which can be relied on when nothing else can be . . . .”85 But why can’t we think of Sasha’s sense of self, ego, and subjectivity as possessing the same hazy and “‘notquite-there’ quality” that we readily acknowledge in Rhys’s prose? While critics hesitate to leave Rhys’s protagonists identity-less, this seems to be their modus operandi. The agency inherent in such a move has been dismissed. Sasha’s internal dialogue at the end of the novel demonstrates her own sense of fractured identity. She imagines herself cinematically and is the picture of a woman getting woefully objectified by her own internal gaze. Sasha cries as she feels abandoned by René, and her schizophrenic internal voice mocks her: I cry in the way that hurts right down, that hurts your heart and your stomach. Who is this crying? The same one who laughed on the landing, kissed him and was happy. This is me, this is myself, who is crying. The other—how do I know who the other is? She isn’t me? Her voice in my head: “Well, well, well, just think of that now. What an amusing ten days! Positively packed with thrills. The last performance of What’s-her-name And Her Boys or It Was All Due To An Old Fur Coat. Positively the last performance . . . .”86

“The other,” as Sasha terms it, is her internal gaze given voice. Sasha’s thoughts that she is performing herself, that this is the “last performance” of Sasha as we know her, implies that Sasha is conscious of her capabilities. Just as the right coat, hat, laugh, or dress will change her destiny (and perpetually fail to do so), so will the right alliance with an identity category bring her relief from her anxiety-riddled life (likewise, she realizes that this is a dangerously false hope). The sadistic nature of her internal voice/gaze, her “other,” illuminates the self-hatred in which Sasha engages and the theatricality with which she combats it. Sasha’s fixation with changing herself outwardly is a metaphor for what she envisions for herself inwardly: “I must go and buy a hat this afternoon, I think, and tomorrow a dress. I must get on with the transformation act.”87 Her transformation act is always forward-looking, she uses the language of futurity to express what she desires: “I want to have a bath. I want another dress. I want clean underclothes,” because, as Sasha admits, “there is always tomorrow.”88 But before her hair, like her identity, can be good, it must be cleansed, its native qualities bleached in order to attain the perfect hue: “First


Yanoula Athanassakis

it must be bleached, that is to say, its own colour must be taken out of it—and then it must be dyed, that is to say, another colour must be imposed on it. (Educated hair. . . . And then, what?).”89 Sasha makes legible her dexterity in dealing with the imbricated layers of race and gender, she understands the power of “bleaching” herself to mute her Creole identity but she stops short of feeling a sense of agency. Once her hair is bleached and dyed and is “educated hair,” it still does not grant her access to the power she desires. Racial passing in this case is complicated by its intersectionality with gender. Sasha cannot untether constructs of race from gender and is also perplexed to confront class, or “education,” as an exclusionary tactic. While the trope of her hair can certainly be read as a metaphor for what she must do with her Otherness (her “Caribbeanness”) in order to “pass” as a desirable woman, it can also be read as a diatribe of the frivolous rules defining women’s lives and their sense of autonomy. Rhys refused to identify herself or her heroines as engaging a particular political agenda. In an interview with Mary Cantwell, Cantwell asked Rhys about the palpable bitterness toward men in her novels: Cantwell: “Yet there’s a lot of rage, mostly aimed at men, in your novels.” [Cantwell quotes from Quartet] (“Sob stuff, sex stuff. That’s the way men talk. And they look at you with hard greedy eyes. I [Marya] hate them with their greedy eyes.”) Rhys: “However much you cut, or how careful you are, your own feeling will come through. But on the whole I’m rather sorry for everybody. . . . I’ve reached that stage.”90

While Rhys readily acknowledges that her anger toward men is a part of her novels, she appears, at this late stage of her life (at eighty years old, five years before her death) to have reconsidered the “early Rhys,” and is now “rather sorry” for all types of people. Although published thirty-five years before her discussion with Cantwell, Rhys’s ending in Good Morning, Midnight gestures to the same sentiment that she shares in her interview. Sasha waits in bed and expects René to come back to her room and make love to her; instead, it is the commis: “. . . his mean eyes flickering. . . . I look straight into his eyes and despise another poor devil of a human being for the last time. For the last time. . . . Then I put my arms around him and pull him down on the bed, saying ‘Yes—yes—yes. . . .’”91 Sasha’s parting thoughts, that she will despise somebody one “last time,” leave the reader in the land of ambiguity where the possibilities ominously loom: there could be another suicide attempt by Sasha or an act of lethal violence against her by the commis.92 These are the murky waters of Rhys’s heroines, where nothing is certain, not even death.

“[F]oreigners, Foreigners, My God”


We find Sasha in the aftermath and throes of the trauma of death, impoverished dislocation, and addiction, where she desires all that is other and seems intent on expiring. I propose that this is not Sasha’s telos. Instead, her sojourn in Paris exacerbates a state of pain that drives her toward transformation. While she is in the depths of despair, it might be thought of—vis-à-vis Sasha’s survivalist instincts—as a place of no return, but in the sense that she cannot return to the same state in which she arrived in Paris. ***

Good Morning, Midnight reveals a simultaneous decline of “Englishness” and a desperate desire for it. But it also (and more importantly) betrays a deep anxiety about how racialized sexuality diverges from traditional narratives of stability and growth. While most critics emphasize gender and sexuality in Rhys, Naipaul instead focuses on the intricacies of her writing and the way she resists hegemony rather than avoiding it even in her refusal to create a fixed location and background for her stories: “She never ‘set’ her scene, English, European, or West Indian. . . . She was outside that tradition of imperial-expatriate. . . . She was an expatriate, but her journey had been the other way round, from a background of nothing to an organized world with which her heroines could never come to terms.”93 My reading of Rhys’s oeuvre points to the institutionalized and asynchronous denial of political legitimacy to her characters—one that she undoubtedly felt herself. In Gikandi’s “Provincializing English” he notes that in his own childhood, English was “both pure and dangerous” and “seen as an embodiment of the civilizational mission of colonialism.”94 Gikandi questions the civilizational pull of English and Englishness and wonders about the possibilities of postcolonial writers producing literature that creates “autonomy” and selfhood: “Caught between the need to imagine sovereignty and the use of a language that represented its negation, postcolonial writers wrote under the torsion of linguistic anxiety.”95 While seemingly quiet, Sasha Jensen is full of anxietyinducing thoughts about belonging, language, foreignness, and sexuality. The broader sense of unease that haunts Good Morning, Midnight dismantles the possibility of passive absorption into the narrative of Sasha’s life. Certainly, linguistic anxiety in part justifies the frequent “silence” of Sasha; but that silence is also a mechanism that Rhys employs to critique the unfeasibility of autonomy in a moment of colonial decay and systemic gendered and racial oppression. She understood the highly charged historical moment of Sasha’s story. Rhys obviates the readers’ need for stability and closure precisely because to do so would be to give in to the normalization of colonial discourse that exoticizes and occupies in equal parts.


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NOTES 1. Lesley McDowell, “Jean Rhys: Prostitution, alcoholism, and the mad woman in the attic,” The Independent, May 3, 2009, 2. Urmila Seshagiri, “Modernist Ashes, Postcolonial Phoenix: Jean Rhys and the Evolution of the English Novel in the Twentieth Century,” Modernism / Modernity 13.3 (September 2006): 487. 3. For more, please see the introduction to Jed Esty’s A Shrinking Island: Modernism and National Culture in England (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004), 1–22. 4. Two other noteworthy books that explore the clashes and parallels between modernist ideology and empire are Colonial Odysseys: Empire and Epic in the Modernist Novel by David Adams and Sapphic Primitivism: Productions of Race, Class, and Sexuality in Key Works of Modern Fiction by Robin Hackett. 5. Simon Gikandi, Writing in Limbo: Modernism and Caribbean Literature (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1992), 256. 6. Ibid., 15. 7. Tobias Boes, “Modernist Studies and the Bildungsroman: A Historical Survey of Critical Trends,” Literature Compass 3.2 (2006): 230. 8. Ibid., 231. 9. The protagonist usually undergoes some form of loss that is related to his departure from home. He begins a long maturation process that is marked by clashes with the hegemonic social structure, and lastly, he emerges at the end with a space carved out for himself in society. In his sociohistorical study of the novelistic tradition in nineteenth-century Europe, Franco Moretti posits that the process of maturation is a bolstering of the Ego wherein the “Bildungsroman attempts to build the Ego” by privileging youth as the “most meaningful part of life” (11, 3). Beginning with Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister, which marks the birth of the bildungsroman tradition, youth is the most highly prized trait in this genre of the European novel (3–4). 10. I would like to thank Jed Esty who first introduced me to Jean Rhys’s earlier work and taught a memorable seminar on the bildungsroman in which we read her writing in conversation with George Lukács and Franco Moretti (among others). 11. Elaine Savory’s chapter on Rhys’s use of color in Voyage in the Dark is central to any discussion of color in Rhys’s fiction. Savory writes about the color politics of Rhys’s heroines and their choice of hues (why they pick out certain colors, what they mean, and how it marks them as connected to the Caribbean). 12. Jean Rhys, Good Morning, Midnight (1939; repr., New York: W. W. Norton & Company Inc., 1986), 43. © HarperCollins Publishers LLC. 13. Lesley McDowell, “Jean Rhys: Prostitution, alcoholism, and the mad woman in the attic.” 14. V.S. Naipaul, “Without a Dog’s Chance: After Leaving Mr. MacKenzie by Jean Rhys,” New York Review of Books, May 18, 1972, articles/1972/05/18/without-a-dogs-chance/.

“[F]oreigners, Foreigners, My God”


15. Ibid. 16. Jed Esty, Unseasonable Youth: Modernism, Colonialism, and the Fiction of Development (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 3. 17. Ibid. 18. V.S. Naipaul, “Without a Dog’s Chance: After Leaving Mr. MacKenzie by Jean Rhys.” 19. The infamous affair between Ford Madox Ford and Rhys was often considered to be the sole reason for her success and the source of her novelistic inspirations. See for example, Joseph Wiesenfarth’s Ford Madox Ford and the Regiment of Women: Violet Hunt, Jean Rhys, Stella Bowen, Janice Biala. Wiesenfarth’s unforgiving portrait of Rhys as a “drunken, nymphomaniacal liar” is a surprisingly recent commentary on a dated historical thread of relegating Rhys to a pseudo-autobiographer with a talent for bedding men, not writing fiction (89). Earlier studies of Rhys are guilty of the same dismissal of Rhys as simply writing about herself and only about herself and her own stories on the pages of novels. See, for example, Thomas Staley’s Jean Rhys: A Critical Study (1979) and Paula Le Gallez’s The Jean Rhys Woman (1990). 20. Leah Rosenberg, “Caribbean Models for Modernism in the Work of Claude McKay and Jean Rhys,” Modernism / Modernity 11.2 (April 2004): 219. 21. Ibid. 22. Pierrette Frickey, introduction to Critical Perspectives on Jean Rhys (Washington, DC: Three Continents Press, 1990), 3. 23. Mary Cantwell, “A Conversation with Jean Rhys,” in Critical Perspectives on Jean Rhys, ed. Pierrette M. Frickey (Washington, DC: Three Continents Press, 1990), 23. 24. Coral Ann Howells, Jean Rhys (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1991), 5. 25. Judith E. Dearlove, “The Failure of the Bildungsroman: Jean Rhys and Voyage in the Dark,” Jean Rhys Review 8.1–2 (1997): 24. 26. Ibid., 29. 27. Helen Carr, “Feminist and Postcolonial Approaches to Jean Rhys,” in Jean Rhys (Plymouth, UK: Northcote House, 1996), 12. 28. Mary Cantwell, “A Conversation with Jean Rhys,” 23. 29. Alexis Lykiard, Jean Rhys Revisited (Exeter: Stride Publications, 2000), 111. 30. Jean Rhys, Voyage in the Dark (1934; repr., New York: W. W. Norton & Company Inc., 1982), 81. 31. Rhys, Good Morning, Midnight, 32. 32. Ibid., 44. 33. For an extended and well-argued discussion of Sasha’s Creole identity see Erica L. Johnson’s chapter on flânerie in Good Morning, Midnight. Johnson sees Sasha as a failed flâneuse, in part because of her failure to construct or claim a private place (50). She suggests that Sasha, as a postcolonial subject, is inhibited by the dominant gaze, which leaves her without a geographic and/or psychic sense of privacy. 34. Rhys, Good Morning, Midnight, 14. 35. Veronica M. Gregg, Jean Rhys’s Historical Imagination: Reading and Writing the Creole (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995), 154. 36. Rhys, Good Morning, Midnight, 37. 37. Ibid. 38. Ibid.


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39. Ibid. 40. Ibid. 41. Rhys, Good Morning Midnight, 92. See Jess Isacharoff for a fuller treatment of Serge and Sasha’s interplay and the identity politics at stake, “‘No Pride, No Name, No Face, No Country’: Jewishness and National Identity in Good Morning, Midnight.” 42. Rhys, Good Morning Midnight, 91. 43. Rosenberg, “Caribbean Models for Modernism in the Work of Claude McKay and Jean Rhys,” 232. 44. Rhys, Good Morning, Midnight, 95. 45. Ibid., 96. 46. Ibid., 97. 47. Ibid. 48. Ibid., 98. 49. Ibid. 50. Ibid. 51. Ibid. 52. Ibid., 136. 53. Ibid. 54. Ibid., 87. 55. Ibid., 90. 56. In her chapter on signifying modes and linguistic codes in Good Morning, Midnight, Sylvie Maurel posits that Sasha’s manipulation of social and linguistic codes is intricately linked to her Creole identity. Maurel understands Sasha’s “parodic expertise” as a type of subversive mimicry linked to her Caribbean roots (108–115). 57. Rhys, Good Morning, Midnight, 90. 58. Ibid., 25. 59. Ibid., 27. 60. Ibid., 29. 61. Ibid. 62. Rachel Bowlby argues that Rhys’s novel should be understood as an ironic exercise of the impasse: “structured like a rhetorical impasse too. . . . As an impasse, and as the story of an impasse, the novel does not pretend to go very far. But as a woman’s story written by a woman, it claims with ironic precision to be unconvincing” (57). 63. Anne B. Simpson, “Good Morning, Midnight: A Story of Soul Murder,” in Territories of the Psyche: The Fiction of Jean Rhys (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), 88. 64. Walter Benjamin, “The Return of the Flâneur,” in Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings, Vol. II 1927–1934 (Cambridge, Harvard UP: 1999), 264. 65. Ibid., 263. 66. Rhys, Good Morning, Midnight, 32. 67. Anke Gleber, “Female Flânerie and the Symphony of the City,” in Women in the Metropolis: Gender and Modernity in Weimar Germany, ed. Katharina von Ankum (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 71. 68. Ibid., 74. 69. Ibid., 83.

“[F]oreigners, Foreigners, My God”


70. Ibid., 84. 71. Rhys, Good Morning, Midnight, 14. 72. Ibid., 34. 73. In Lacan’s formulation of the voyeur and the gaze, when the voyeur (Sasha) is met with an oppositional look (the woman)—surprised by it, in fact—she realizes that she is a “subject sustaining [her]self in a function of desire” (85). 74. Rhys, Good Morning, Midnight, 13. 75. In Anne B. Simpson’s psychoanalytic interpretation of Sasha’s dream sequence, she reads the gushing wound as an allusion to Sasha’s own genitals and proposes that Sasha may be implicating herself in this imaginary murder of her father (95); Simpson suggests that Sasha may have been abused as a child (we might remember here that there have been whispers of abuse in Jean Rhys’s own childhood), and thus she is directing her rage onto her father (96). 76. Rhys, Good Morning, Midnight, 13. 77. Ibid., 176. 78. Ibid. 79. Ibid., 16. 80. Ibid., 106. 81. Ibid., 108. 82. Ibid. 83. Ibid. 84. Colette Lindroth, “Whispers Outside the Room: The Haunted Fiction of Jean Rhys,” in Critical Perspectives on Jean Rhys, ed. Pierrette M. Frickey (Washington, DC: Three Continents Press, 1990), 85. 85. Ibid., 89. 86. Ibid., 184–185. 87. Ibid., 63. 88. Ibid., 63, 145. 89. Ibid., 52. 90. Mary Cantwell, “A Conversation with Jean Rhys,” in Critical Perspectives on Jean Rhys, ed. Pierrette M. Frickey (Washington, DC: Three Continents Press, 1990), 25. 91. Rhys, Good Morning, Midnight, 190. 92. Savory, like a number of critics, rightfully draws a parallel between Sasha and Molly Bloom in Joyce’s Ulysses. Savory claims that Sasha “is moving entirely beyond a place where she can understand feeling at all,” a zombie-like state (131). 93. V.S. Naipaul, “Without a Dog’s Chance: After Leaving Mr. MacKenzie by Jean Rhys.” 94. Simon Gikandi, “Provincializing English,” Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 129.1 (January 2014): 8. 95. Ibid., 9.

REFERENCES Adams, David. Colonial Odysseys: Empire and Epic in the Modernist Novel. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2003.


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Benjamin, Walter. “The Return of the Flâneur.” Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings, Vol. II (1927–1934). Cambridge, Harvard UP: 1999, 262–266. Boes, Tobias. “Modernist Studies and the Bildungsroman: A Historical Survey of Critical Trends.” Literature Compass 3.2 (2006): 230–43. Bowlby, Rachel. Still Crazy after All These Years: Women, Writing and Psychoanalysis. London: Routledge, 1992. Cantwell, Mary. “A Conversation with Jean Rhys.” Critical Perspectives on Jean Rhys. Ed. Pierrette M. Frickey. Washington, DC: Three Continents Press, 1990, 21–34. Carr, Helen. “Feminist and Postcolonial Approaches to Jean Rhys.” Chapter 2. Jean Rhys. Plymouth, UK: Northcote House, 1996, 11–20. Dearlove, Judith E. “The Failure of the Bildungsroman: Jean Rhys and Voyage in the Dark.” Jean Rhys Review 8.1–2 (1997): 24–30. Emory, Mary Lou. Jean Rhys at “World’s End”: Novels of Colonial and Sexual Exile. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1990. Esty, Jed. A Shrinking Island: Modernism and National Culture in England. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004. ———. Unseasonable Youth: Modernism, Colonialism, and the Fiction of Development. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. Frickey, Pierrette. Introduction. Critical Perspectives on Jean Rhys. Washington, DC: Three Continents Press, 1990, 1–13. Gikandi, Simon. Writing in Limbo: Modernism and Caribbean Literature. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1992. ———. “Provincializing English.” Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 129.1 (January 2014): 7–17. Gleber, Anke. “Female Flânerie and the Symphony of the City.” Women in the Metropolis: Gender and Modernity in Weimar Germany. Ed. Katharina von Ankum. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997, 67–88. Gregg, Veronica M. Jean Rhys’s Historical Imagination: Reading and Writing the Creole. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995. Hackett, Robin. Sapphic Primitivism: Productions of Race, Class, and Sexuality in Key Works of Modern Fiction. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2004. Howells, Coral Ann. Jean Rhys. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1991. Isacharoff, Jess. “‘No Pride, No Name, No Face, No Country’: Jewishness and National Identity in Good Morning, Midnight.” Rhys Matters: New Critical Perspectives. Eds. Kerry L. Johnson and Mary Wilson. New York: Palgrave McMillan, 2013. 111–130. Johnson, Erica L. “The Walls Have Eyes: Creole Errance in Good Morning Midnight.” Home, Maison, Casa: The Politics of Location in Works by Jean Rhys, Marguerite Duras, and Erminia Dell’Oro. Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Presses, 2003, 39–62. Lacan, Jacques. “Of the Gaze as Objet Petit a.” The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis. New York: Norton & Company Inc., 1978, 67–122. Le Gallez, Paula. The Rhys Woman. London: McMillan, 1990. Lindroth, Colette. “Whispers Outside the Room: The Haunted Fiction of Jean Rhys.” Critical Perspectives on Jean Rhys. Ed. Pierrette M. Frickey. Washington, DC: Three Continents Press, 1990, 85–90.

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Lykiard, Alexis. Jean Rhys Revisited. Exeter: Stride Publications, 2000. Maurel, Sylvia. “Good Morning Midnight: ‘Every Word I Say Has Chains Round Its Ankles.’” Jean Rhys. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998, 102–127. McDowell, Lesley. “Jean Rhys: Prostitution, alcoholism, and the mad woman in the attic.” The Independent, 3 May 2009. Moretti, Franco. “The Bildungsroman as Symbolic Form.” The Way of the World: The Bildungsroman in European Culture. London: Verso, 1987, 3–13. Naipaul, V.S. “Without a Dog’s Chance: After Leaving Mr. MacKenzie by Jean Rhys.” New York Review of Books, 18 May 1972. articles/1972/05/18/without-a-dogs-chance/. Pizzichini, Lilian. The Blue Hour: A Portrait of Jean Rhys. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2009. Rhys, Jean. After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie. 1931. New York: W. W. Norton and Company Inc., 1997. ———. Good Morning, Midnight. 1939. New York: W. W. Norton & Company Inc., 1986. ———. Quartet. 1929, 1937. New York: Norton and Company Inc., 1997. ———. Voyage in the Dark. 1934. New York: W. W. Norton & Company Inc., 1982. ———. Wide Sargasso Sea. 1966. New York: W. W. Norton & Company Inc., 1982. Rosenberg, Leah. “Caribbean Models for Modernism in the Work of Claude McKay and Jean Rhys.” Modernism / Modernity 11.2 (April 2004): 219–238. Savory, Elaine. “Writing Colour, Writing Caribbean: Voyage in the Dark and the Politics of Colour.” Jean Rhys. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge UP, 1998, 85–105. Seshagiri, Urmila. “Modernist Ashes, Postcolonial Phoenix: Jean Rhys and the Evolution of the English Novel in the Twentieth Century.” Modernism / Modernity 13.3 (September 2006): 487–505. Simpson, Anne B. “Good Morning, Midnight: A Story of Soul Murder.” Territories of the Psyche: The Fiction of Jean Rhys. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005, 87–109. Staley, Thomas. Jean Rhys: A Critical Study. New York: Palgrave McMillan, 1979. Wiesenfarth, Joseph. Ford Madox Ford and the Regiment of Women: Violet Hunt, Jean Rhys, Stella Bowen, Janice Biala. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2005.

Chapter 13

Mise en abîme with My Immigrants Catalina Florina Florescu

To J, with whom I emigrated To M, our son

Objects seen in a mirror appear closer (than they are), as the safety travel precaution is written on cars’ mirrors. While borders are not physical objects, custom checkpoints are. Passports are tangible and have an expiration date. Sometimes acquiring visas could be a nightmare. People transiting cannot ever pack everything in their luggage. Over time, via customs and language we become a synecdoche of our countries of birth, a country that is perpetually reconstructed in and manipulated by memory. Of course we leave things behind by necessity. We say goodbyes, we hug wanting to have the other’s imprint on us like a permanent tattoo. Those left behind—along with the home country—morph into objects seen in a (blurred) mirror. We transition constantly as we experience shades and tales of immigration. I have spent eighteen years in the United States. First, I was a graduate student on a student visa. After I completed my doctoral degree, I had a temporary working visa, a guaranteed agreement between the Romanian and American governments. When that expired, I was on my spouse’s working visa as a dependent. Then, we both applied and became legal aliens/residents. Finally, we are now citizens of this country. Just this brief enumeration that leaves behind many details (some with bitter, however fleeting side effects) that spanned over eighteen years is evocative (to say the least) and could constitute the subject of prolonged discussions. But for the time being, I will just narrate a quasi-comic encounter. The day immediately after I became an American citizen, I went to meet my students for the first time for one of my spring courses. One student arrived early and poked her head in the classroom. Since I was already there, she said: “Is this non-Western Women’s Literature?” I replied in the affirmative. She 231


Catalina Florina Florescu

continued, “Do you mind if I come in?” I said, “Of course, no. Come in, come in.” I cannot remember all the other lines after this introductory exchange, but pretty early in our conversation, the student said: “Where are you from?” Do I have to remind you that I came to the university with a new sense of identity, an identity that did not actually seem new as I was expecting to become an American? It was a long-awaited confirmation nonetheless; the projected anticipation became official. When the student asked me genuinely, “Where are you from?” I smiled and said, “From Romania.” I laughed because I was an American a few hours before coming to school and the news was still fresh to me. Why did I not say that I was an American? That’s most likely because I did not want to share with my student the story of my immigrant life, my dual identity, and my ever-constant necessity not to be bothered by a fixed and dangerous nationalism. I knew that she asked about my place of birth because my English was accented with attractive foreignness. I knew that my English was perfectly fine, but it contained that touch of otherness. She did not know why I was smiling, though, so I kept that information my cherished secret. Funny as this innocent exchange was, having studied, discussed, and opened myself to a variety of stories related to immigration, I knew that the question could be explored from different angles. I knew that the encounter, literally in less than twenty-four hours since “Pledging Allegiance” would be emblematic for how I would introduce myself in the future: I am a Romanianborn American citizen. The hybrid begs a series of quintessential questions: How authentic am I? Who exactly am I? What am I? How’s my Romanianness persevered miles and miles away? How are the staple American routines and national holidays feel now that I am officially an American? Tempting as it is to answer all these questions, I know it would be better and more mature to leave the specificity of my case behind because explaining or, worse, justifying one’s identity may take hours, if not entire weeks—and it would invariably feel incomplete. We are evolving according to our environments and choices. I realize that the place of birth, as far as I am concerned, was random—an accident. The host country was, on the other hand, chosen. Still, I do not feel “in-between,” but more a global citizen, a human of this world. Over the years, having immersed myself into other people’s transplanted identity, I have been able to make my own immigrant-qua-now-American identity more beautifully explorable. These days I introduce myself as an incomplete project whose very existence relies on the continuous dialogue among people who struggled, have struggled, and will struggle with multi-layered identities. By welcoming others in my life, on the other hand, I become a reversed vicarious site of continuous exploration and excavation. Displaced people are the new archeological project as we excavate and deposit layers upon layers of our shifting global identities. We evolve and replenish our images. We

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become digital nomads transferring and uploading our experiences in video chats and countless photos, as well as hoping on planes, trains, cars, busses, and boats. My experience becomes translucent and/or tangent with so many others’. To me, the immigrant is then heteroglossic,1 to borrow for my own purpose one of Mikhail Bakhtin’s concepts. There is not one clear individual but many voices deepening the much-needed communication on dignified immigration identity. The immigrant is the embodiment of diversity as long as we realize that every single account matters and that there is not a hierarchy or taxonomy when we discuss immigration. To prove that heteroglossia is the idiom of immigration, I will use nine sources that could stand autonomous in relationship to one another but that would create analytical “borders,” something that people are morally obliged to cha(lle)nge socially. Furthermore, I am all these examples that are but a small portion in the growingly expanding heteroglossic immigrant rhetoric. I am Ellis, a short film by JR (written by Eric Roth); I am Anamika Nair’s poem “Who Am I”?; I am Simion Cernica’s photos from “America”; I am Zarina’s visual series “Home Is a Foreign Place”; I am Andrei Codrescu’s “Bi-lingual”; I am Bouchra Khalili’s “The Mapping Journey Project”; I am Henk Wildschut’s photos from his Calais’s series; I am Andrea Bowers’s ”Papillon Monarque, Migration is Beautiful”; and, finally, I am “Mother Tongue” by Amy Tan. Delivered at the MLA’s annual convention in 2017 in Philadelphia in a panel titled “Refugees, Exiles, and Migration: Past and Present Journey,” a panel selected as part of the Presidential Address on the annual theme, “Boundary Conditions,” this final chapter talks about immigration and its unique perspectives on the global human evolution via media outlets. I address issues related to immigration in our contemporary world, where distances seem irrelevant as long as people have access to the Internet. The desire to migrate cognitively and emotionally on a daily basis gives these dislocated persons (and me) a kind of transparence and it may facilitate our acceptance as immigrants-qua-travelers. To maintain the rawness of all these sources that have helped me understand the complex issues of immigration, I will not engage in any outside/secondary sources. That would interfere with my equally raw and critical response to them. All these primary sources can be found online and could be studied at one’s own leisure that, in return, could lead into experiencing a nomadic state of being via literature and art. Released in 2015 by the internationally acclaimed French photographer JR, the short film Ellis, had a strategic promotional campaign that made it easily available to a world-wide audience. The short film was shot on what used to be the Ellis Island Immigrant Hospital abandoned in 1954 and the first scenes zoom in on the worn out walls. Actor Robert de Niro is the only character in that short film. His first lines are: “I remember the sound of the


Catalina Florina Florescu

wind as I was falling asleep.”2 The symbiosis between the pronoun “I” and the verb “to remember” is without a doubt part of all immigrants’ rhetoric of dislocation. The man also remembers what he left behind, the circumstances of his unique departure: his father died, and his mother told him upon his departure to be “a good man.” The first disruption in his destiny was on account of his father’s death with a mother willing to accept her double male loss. Until the actor resumes his narrative, the camera pans out into the abandoned rooms of the Immigrant Hospital and, depressing as those are, there is a stark contrast with the sunlight that refuses to be silent and reveals the inside of the establishment. The silent rooms, touched by the sunlight, make the man continue his recollection by adding, “It wasn’t always empty. They all had to come down here. People would line up holding their suitcases and children, holding on to them for dear life.”3 They made it to the new place, but there is no guarantee they could live here; they could be deported if they did not pass the physical examination, which, necessary as it may be, also suggests the reality of people coming from foreign places and bringing with them more than a language, traditions, and the like; they could also bring diseases and they could contaminate the host country. Point in fact, the man is denied access to the United States. He is told to “Go back,” to which, confused and tired, the man asks, “Where?” only to receive the blunt answer “Back home.” This is not an option for the man; his mother told him to be good and she would not expect him “back home.” But without being cleared medically, the only option is to hide, and to start an existence in exile in hiding—a double, more scarring dislocation. He is not even an immigrant but a person forced to flee, always on the run, and in his case, ironically, in an enclosed space. He is captive in that Immigrant Hospital. This speaks volume about other immigrants’ experiences that may not end up as planned, where the hope of a better life is just an idea that refuses to be materialized. The new place becomes frustrating because the doctor’s examination focuses on selection: who should and who should not enter, pass over the invisible barbed fence of the new country’s medical checkpoint. The doctor’s decision does not speak about remedies, about being helpful and offering treatments, or having plain sympathy and trying to come up with solutions rather than humiliation. He seems to have forgotten that he took an oath to Hippocrates, and now he is part of a political machine of controlling the population. He follows orders and protocol. The main character is anonymous, without a name. With his being in hiding in the new place, he experiences the other side of exile realizing that hope may be tricky and that acceptance comes with a price. He finds another person in his situation with whom he bonds. But she dies soon. Because a proper burial is not possible, the man dumps her body in the Hudson River and the camera makes sure that the image presented in this key scene is that

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of the Statue of Liberty. Holding her torch as symbol of hope, the camera immediately switches to its reflected, upside down, and non-linear image of the iconic architectural symbol of “Many people’s ancestors [who] have passed through the island on the way to America with hopes of new life and a fresh start filled with opportunity.”4 After this scene, the music reaches its climax to juxtapose two distinct scenes. Previously, photos of immigrants who did stop at Ellis Island were plastered on preterit walls so that the rooms (now abandoned) somewhat look vibrant again. Contrapuntally, after the man buries the woman’s body, he enters a room with images of people who are currently or have most recently been struggling with immigration. By so doing, the film allows us to think about immigration today. Ellis Island is not a point of transit for people who come to the United States. Ellis Island is an icon now. But immigration is not about statistics; it is about so many individual stories that need to be stitched together for collaborative narratives of immigration. Without paying attention, as the man warns us, their lives will be lost: “I am the ghost of all who never got to go there, and the ghost of all those who would never go there.”5 The short is framed between “I remember” (in the beginning) and “there” (at the end). The adverb of location and spatiality poignantly suggests that not all dislocated people will find their “there,” alliteration intended. On the other hand, there is no clear “there,” as the adverb shifts, as people today do not stop at one certain checkpoint of transit, but many, some of which being extremely dangerous. The adverb also implies that “there” is more to one’s decision to move out, to abandon, or to be recommended to leave behind his/ her country of birth. And, finally, that “there” is actually still weaving its spatiality as people transit borders carrying invisible (yet heavy) suitcases packed with stories and vaguely sketched plans. I am Ellis because the first airport where I landed was John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. Ever since I moved on the East Coast, I see the Statue of Liberty when I go to work. I see it from afar, though, a presence that demands fulfilled respect to all who are here and those who will come. The Hudson River separates New York from New Jersey and, since I am in its vicinity daily, I remember my Tulcea, a place in Romania where I grew up, a place caressed by the Danube River. I see the water of the Hudson River, but it’s always anonymous, as water is water in all places and languages. This non-verbal approach gives me comfort and reassurance in the beauty of being a global rather than a local citizen. Still, what may change is how rituals have their own hard time adapting to the new place. Once the country is removed, the rituals hang loose and, weird as it may seem, the rituals become singularized, and for Nair (the next “stop” in my journey) that is far from ideal. In her poem “Who Am I”?, she speaks about collective identity. What happens to us when we abandon the country


Catalina Florina Florescu

of birth? We pack our memories, our native language is our terra firma (but not indefinitely); however, if the nation itself is not there with us, these practices and rituals, according to Nair, pale in comparison and significance. When the author writes that “njaan aara” is going to be disregarded both by her kids and grandparents (“in a language my children will never recognize/ in an accent my grandparents will never understand”6), Nair problematizes her sacrifice. She is a woman whose “Brooklyn tongue cannot form Hindu prayers.”7 Nair finds herself in a delicate position: unlike her grandparents, she is removed from India. She has developed a “Brooklyn tongue” and struggles to say her prayers in Hindi. I doubt she forgot her native language, as that would oversimplify her situation. I am not sure how much of this Brooklyn tongue she has managed to absorb and how much she uses it daily since at one point she asks, “Can I bleach my skin to match my voice?”8 She may find herself in that phase of being an immigrant when she experiences two languages simultaneously, both too vividly conversing in an overlapped manner in her mind. Even more importantly, Nair realizes that her kids, if they will ever speak Hindi, that would be an even more altered form of the language. She feels she has failed to pass on her linguistic heritage because she thinks her children will speak an improper Hindi, a Hindi with an accent, a Hindi in which expressions do not make sense, and a Hindi butchered and mispronounced. She blames herself because of her assimilation and usage of this “Brooklyn tongue,” a what seems to be still a not fully embraced presence in her life. I am definitely Nair because even though I taught my son Romanian, he cannot understand many expressions and some sounds (that have diacritics) are funny to his ears. I am also Nair because I came here and have let assimilation imprint on my brain at my own pace. Finally, I am Nair because the phenomenon of uprooting oneself is sneakier than it appears. One cannot bring a nation with oneself. One feels one’s roots aerial, at most, when people in one’s country celebrate a ritual and we, miles and miles away, try to be present there only to realize the unavoidable disconnect despite our haptic lives; tactility in this digitalized context reminds us of only at the surface contact with our left behind original location(s): “a woman whose only memories of Diwali are the flickering lights,”9 as Nair also seems to agree. Immigration in this context speaks openly about scars that do not heal and about wounds that remain open. Leaving on the rim of memories, one may feel dizzy and fall in an ever tantalizing, Fata Morgana past. The feeling of being exploited and/or inadequate seems to be the case in Cernica’s untitled series that every now and then he hash tags “America.” The series “America” is a harsh, undiluted reality. Immigrants come here and they work very hard to establish their new lives, but that is never easy. On the contrary, that journey may be formulaic, in a sense, since it contains elements

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of longing for the native country, unequal or fluctuating dosages of assimilation to the new one, and bits and scraps of feeling in between spaces—an alien with a human face. The series has an interesting subtitle, “I am here to help America.” Describing his own project, the artist says, “[u]nder this [series] I submit related projects not yet possible to classify—a term that can replace temporary the complexity, confusion, alienation, triumph, philosophical uncertainty, social failure, political correctness and many more deserted insinuations of the (American) Dream.”10 Furthermore, the series illustrates the daily struggles of immigrants at their shot of a better life. Simultaneously, the photos speak of a more palpable United States, a vision that contradicts or juxtaposes what most people usually think of this country. The streets, the settings, the overall composition of these conceptual photos are taken without a filter of fabricated glamour. They are unmistakably genuine. The artist started this project immediately after he came to the States, this time for good (he had visited the country before). I met his works while playing my annual summer role as tourist in Romania. Cernica had an exhibition in Bucharest at National Museum of Contemporary Art (MNAC) in 2014. The encounter was highly ironic. I was on vacation in my country of birth and what the artist created in his conceptual photographic series was resonating highly with my deposited yet whimsically shifting receptions of America. The photos show a side of immigration that borders with poverty, insecurity, and pariah status. The common element that appears in these photos is a sign on a cardboard that reads “I am here to help America.” What makes the sign even more poignant is its juxtaposition to the other visual elements. In one photo, the sign is placed next to a shopping cart that is empty of food or other items, but has written signs that bring into discussions issues of beauty and visibility. In another photo, there is a dog that sits on some ordinary steps; in front of the dog there is a book whose title reads, “Created Equal,” and below that book there is the sign “I am here to help America.” In yet another photo, a mattress, ready to be disposed, is propped against an electric pole. The mattress ran its course and is going to be replaced with a new one. To me, however, the mattress does not look that old, but this is the United States and the photographer reminds us we are in the heart of moody, wasteful consumerism. In the center of it, just casually, sits the sign. In another photo, a man in a plaid shirt holds the sign in front of his upper torso and face. We read the sign and look at the location that seems to be taken in a fancy residential area, with abundant trees and big houses. In all these conceptual photos, Cernica creates a dialogue between the mundane, everyday objects and the ominous sign. Via its short, matter-offact, raw, and honest choice of words, the sign invites us to address realities that are not even hidden but in plain view yet still disregarded. The cardboard


Catalina Florina Florescu

sign brings to mind homeless people who communicate with us via frugal messages. When I saw Cernica’s photos, it was the sign that immediately attracted me. I was in Romania, it was summer (my favorite season because I can travel at leisure), and I was with my relatives and best friends. I was momentarily paused from the States. I was experiencing my annual hiatus from my host country. I am Cernica’s project because I have been here, in the States, to help America. I taught and I am still teaching countless students, participated and continue to participate in conferences, and have reached out to people in my communities via art and literature related projects. I have compared my status to the myth of Demeter and Persephone given, in the original, the ratio of Persephone’s time spent with her mother versus her time spent with Hades. Just to clarify, I do not think my experience in the States is like Persephone living with Hades, despite my challenges. Paradoxically, the more time I spend in my host country, the more I feel like a tourist in Romania. I do not regularly stay in touch with the socio-political news and events that happen there in part because of lack of time. When I am there, I pause my Americanness and immerse in my Romanianness, knowing that I would return in a few weeks. This is probably one reason why when I saw Cernica’s photo taken at the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco that hit home hard. In the photo, a man holds the sign “I am here to help America,” and he is positioned against a street sign that reads John F. Kennedy. Above it, there is another street-like sign that reads “End.” In a phone conversation with the artist, Cernica said that he did not place the “End” sign on top of John F. Kennedy just as I had thought before. It was simply because that part of the park ended there. The noun “end” did not mean anything else but its denotation. The image is personally representative for me because (like I stated earlier) when I first came here, I landed at JFK, in New York. That was not the end of my then journey because I took another plane to Chicago and then a train to West Lafayette, Indiana, where I was about to start my graduate years at Purdue University. Furthermore, my encounter with Cernica’s photos has made me rethink Zarina’s series “Home Is a Foreign Place” (1999). The Indian-born American artist, before coming to the States, lived in India, Thailand, Japan, Germany, and France. Unlike me, who travel abroad annually, she actually lived there. She did not subject herself to the pressure of ideological assimilation because she did not have to. Of all the places, she decided to remain in the United States. In her work that comprises thirty-six pieces, Zarina uses a grid of six by six. While all the images have the same shape and size, what is inside them varies. She combines minimal, abstract designs accompanied by a word

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Figure 13.1  Simion Cernica. JFK End (SF). Courtesy of the artist. 2014.



Catalina Florina Florescu

in Urdu, her mother tongue. Some words that she uses are “doors,” “border,” “country,” and “threshold.” Considering her overall message, chromatically she is very discreet. All thirty-six rectangles start from white, a clean slate in my view, to reinforce the randomness of our birthplace. But on the white, there is placed the design and the word in Urdu. Still, one can read these visuals from left to right, top to bottom, right to left, up and down, etc. There is no specific way to contemplate this work, thus emphasizing its randomness.

Figure 13.2  Zarina. Home Is a Foreign Place. 1999. © Zarina; Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York.

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However, as if by reflex, I do want to start with the first drawing, then what arrests my attention is its blueprint quality. It looks like one very rudimentary abstraction of a house: it has an entry, two big areas, and six smaller ones. Another drawing is simply separated by one line. Yet another drawing has one half darker and the other half lighter. Still another is just simply black. The last one in this grid resembles an envelope. If one connects diagonally the first drawing on the top left with the one at the right bottom, Zarina’s “Home Is a Foreign Place” in which words with dual presence are introduced— “threshold,” “doors,” “border”—then we can see why there is a good message when we associate home with foreignness. Zarina’s extremely simplistic yet magnificent drawings pull us in a discussion about the variable semantics of foreignness. The first blueprint in this series would erase its lines over time; a letter from a dear one left behind may not reach us; or what used to be familiar and in proximity lives only in the ever shrinking space of memory. Zarina invites us to protect what we have and to respect what we encounter. I am Zarina’s “Home Is a Foreign Place” because my real home is not the one in which I live right now but always an a priori blueprint, a memory ready to be sent out, a site at a crossroads. Furthermore, Codrescu’s “Bi-lingual” is a piece of seventeen lines that is hard to define: is it a poem in prose, a flashstory, or a writer’s statement about his dual identity? The last one seems the closest to my understanding because of its selected words that present the author’s bilingual state of mind. The piece starts with a strong statement, “I speak two languages”11 and it ends with the adjective “free” followed by an ellipsis. In this short piece, Codrescu, who has spent decades in exile, (almost) creates an allegory between two languages, although it is impossible to determine which one plays the role of the good one and which of the bad one. A statement like this helps me understand the internal conflict that the two languages subjugate the author to: “The acquired language is permanently under the watch of my native tongue like a prisoner in a cage.”12 The two languages are rivals and that is an interesting reversal because what Codrescu may say is that no language wants to be called “second.” As soon as he is confident in his performance in the new language, as soon as he has mastered it, the language demands its supremacy over the other, almost suggesting that there is some linguistic jealousy between the self that knew only Romanian and the self that now knows two. But it may also imply that the mother tongue is so aggressive, manipulative, and possessive because it already lost (literally) its land and foundation. One packs one’s essentials, but one cannot pack a country, and Codrescu visibly points to the hurt that may go wider and wider inside the mother tongue. Without its land, a mother tongue is weak and feels cornered in. I am Codrescu because I have existed in several linguistic alterations that varied from 100 percent Romanian to bits and scraps of English placed in my


Catalina Florina Florescu

native lexicon to full immersion in English via my studies, books, presentations, and teaching, to finally hybridization, that is, Romanglish13 (or what I speak with my son). By combining two languages, one may see varied and alternating results. Codrescu also states that the sheer competition between the two languages has saddened him, “while the native tongue is beginning to translate it [English], a big chunk of my mind has already detached itself and is floating in space entirely free. . . .”14 Codrescu, then, ends in a somber tone suggesting the pressure one constantly carries within oneself while living in paralleled and/or intersected spaces: here/there; mother tongue/adopted language; native/naturalized. He craves for freedom and hopes one day these languages will stop competing, and maybe then he will be free at last. Interestingly, issues related to being free and having rights are presented next. Khalili is a Moroccan-French artist who creates works that talk about the extremely dark side of immigration. In her video installation titled “The Mapping Journey Project” (2008–2011), she documents the story of eight people who had to flee their country of birth and travel illegally. She lets these eight individuals speak for themselves and trace with a permanent marker the perilous and inhuman journey that they undertook from their very certain starting point of departure until a destination that may frustratingly be yet another point of departure. Khalili tapes the voices of these people. The impact of hearing their story uttered in their own voice doubled by our watching of their hands marking the map is extremely shocking and it reveals the uncertainty of some people’s lives. One minute, they are in their country of birth, then, in another minute, they start walking and walking and use illegal routes of transportation and risk their lives. Unlike collective exodus, this project is about individuals who take charge of their lives if their societies and/or governments did not provide safety and decency. These people are courageous to assume all risks and their stories, while we listen to their voices and look at their hands rewriting the map of the world at war are a reminder of uncountable others stuck in hell. In an intentionally simplified version of these journeys, the artist recreates them by inserting the name of the places each individual stopped and then connecting them with a simple line. Placed on a dark blue background, the result resembles constellations. Unlike stars which are too far away to touch, these people are tangible and yet we cannot or do not want to listen to their tragedy. I saw their stories at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and the huge screens put together in the same place made visitors replicate, even if at an infinitesimal scale, their painful journey, because we walked, too, as they had done, and we became, if only briefly, one/together.15 Curated as an imperfect labyrinth, the screens, when we move from one to the next, suggest how intricate these lives are. Once we leave the safe space of the exhibition,

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Figure 13.3  Henk Wildschut. Shelter. Calais, France, 2006.

once we have discovered our way out, we need to find a viable solution for them, too. Wildschut’s photos from his Calais series present the same atrocious journey.16 The photographer documents the temporary sheltering of people who had to flee their countries: Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, and Nigeria. Calais is a port in France. Those who are stuck here hope to cross the English Channel and get to the United Kingdom. Calais is the main ferry crossing between France and England. Refugees have started to build their temporary housing in a part of Calais that is clearly delimited and that has been given a derogatory name, “The Jungle.” On closer look, it is indeed a jungle because these refugees have improvised their shelters by using waste materials that they found nearby. The result is shocking, but it also speaks volume of our overall indifference as well as their undefeated resilience of not giving up. After they have traversed miles to this point, Calais is not the place where they want to end their journey. The fact that they create tent-like structures made out of waste materials is neither sanitary nor safe. The tents address issues related to migration and demarcation. These refugees build


Catalina Florina Florescu

their housing in a very ingenious way by erecting a structure that they know is only temporary. However, like Khalili, Wildschut does not want us to look passively at these images. He wants us to do something, especially since the photos, despite being taken quite recently, seemed to have reached a critical point. When these people originally stationed themselves in Calais, they could not predict that Brexit would disrupt their plans. That is, with the United Kingdom soon to exit the European Union and with alarmingly nationalist trends worldwide, these people have slim chances to follow their original plan of crossing the English Channel. I am part of the humanitarian gesture of these two artists’ initiative because I believe there are so many funds that could be activated immediately to help people who live in sub-human conditions. There are many foundations and sites where we could show our support.17 The aaahs and ooohs, or what I would like to call the onomatopoeia of our short-lived ad hoc despair, would not do any good to these people who lost everything but their lives. If we choose to just look passively, we cannot consider ourselves any better than those who are to blame for their misfortune. Wildschut suggests, and I agree, that we should promote this and other related news about refugees so we learn about their conditions and above all help. His series is about activism and emerging communities of trust rather than contemplating passively these fragile encampment sites. Point in fact, Bowers’s ”Papillon Monarque, Education, not Deportation” created in 2014 brings into focus the insect that travels the most from this category. It is also a pretty large butterfly, easily recognizable because of its orange and black chromatics. Because it feeds on the poisonous milkweed, this butterfly becomes poisonous too and it resists attacks from predators. Bowers has two great works in this series that are appropriate for this last chapter. They both depict the same monarch butterfly and the message is slightly different: one has the caption “Migration Is Beautiful” and the other “Education, not Deportation.” The artwork consists of a huge butterfly that is drawn on pieces of cardboard put together to create a flat surface ready to be painted. It is interesting that the cardboard the artist uses in her pieces is also repurposed by refugees who have to improvise their habitat conditions (like those in Wildschut’s photos) or those who remind us about how immigrants are here to help America (like in Cernica’s photos). I am this butterfly because over the years I have grown resilient to people who (because of my accented English) constantly ask me where I am without realizing that at one point in their lineage one of their relatives was their own monarch butterfly traveling from one place to another. I am also this butterfly because, year after year, I become more and more immune to narrowminded concepts or comments about how cold it is in Romania in winter (it’s

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Figure 13.4  Andrea Bowers. Papillon Monarque, Education, not Deportation. 2014.

basically the same as where I live right now); or if I know Russian because I know Romanian (they do not know that Romanian is a Romance language like French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese; some are quite shocked to find out that Romanian is Latin based). Finally, the last one in this chapter qua post scriptum is Tan’s “Mother Tongue.” I teach this text to my students because I want to remind them of the many Englishes that exist in this world. There are countries where this language is official: England, the United States, India, Nigeria, and Australia. English has a strong, personalized accent in all these countries. Then, there is the type of English that is introduced as a foreign language (like in my case), and that is almost exclusively done by non-native speakers. From the beginning, learners will be exposed to a textbook of English full with idioms and grammar lessons taught by someone whose English is not native. Furthermore, there is another genus of learners of English: those who, like Tan, were exposed to a formal English taught in school and an informal one at home. There, at home, Tan, the child and later the teenager, juxtaposed her parents’ broken English to her learning for SATs diligently and composing essays with fixed structure: thesis statement; body of paper with topic sentences; and a conclusion. That informal English is the one that the author cherishes because she can see the official one in a better light. Or, as the author admits, “It has


Catalina Florina Florescu

become our language of intimacy, a different sort of English that relates to family talk, the language I grew up with.”18 English is then improved because Tan engages in grammatically incorrect yet extremely comforting intimate English. This way, language soothes its tough edges and it’s humanized. To conclude, this chapter, as well as our collection, has presented the many variations of Englishes spoken and performed heteroglossically. It also introduced artists’ works to present the topic of immigration from a more interdisciplinary and complex vantage point. Above all, the emphasis that I feel it’s urgent to repeat is that it is not one English in the world because to think that means to cut by more than half the number of its speakers globally and to deny them access into this linguistic phenomenon. Admitting there is one English implies exposing the language itself to extinction. At this point in time, monolingual English has already been exposed to Englishes and, no matter how much monolingual English speakers would want to make sure their monolingualism remains pure and strong, that is, realistically speaking, impossible. More and more speakers of Englishes confirm the irreversibility of what used to be once monolingual English; furthermore, they are proud to be interpreting monolingual English in what appears to be a heavily growing process. Consequently, we ought to revise the supremacy of the monolingual English and instead embrace its reality, that is, its plurality via Englishes. Following this realistic and respectful reasoning, the one who is not born in English can and should birth one’s own English by adapting it to one’s needs. Therefore, as Simon Gikandi argues, “English can be celebrated not as part of a global drive toward monolingualism but as part of the diversity and plurality of world languages [because] there are many varieties of English, each with multiple registers.”19 Moreover, in a TED Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story” (2009), Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie spoke about the extreme devaluing effect of seeing things and people from one side. One of the bold statements that she made was that as long as we keep showing people from one angle exclusively, we repeat and perpetuate one limited and invariably redundant perspective. Similarly, I chose to end this collection with a chapter composed from an exclusively personal note that intermingled with nine stories because all of them represent me and other people in my situation. But that was not the only intention. I wanted to make readers aware of the heteroglossic stories that are in and around us. Immigrants, refugees, exiles, expatriates are all variations of being human in our highly unstable, inhumanely violent times. Adapting to a new country and adjusting our identity comes with a heavy price: to some, as mild as nostalgia, to others, as severe as depression. Therefore, listening to these stories throughout the collection reflects how language is expressed and how it forms and spreads our ideas, fears, and victories. It is never one story just as it is never one English. There are others ready to enter

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in a heteroglossic immigrant dialogue that has been furthered by our Transnational Narratives in Englishes of Exile. It’s high time we stop, listen, and participate in our collective history of global mobility. After years and years of migration, we have eventually learned how to embrace our native land, a Penelope grafted on our skin, because we accept that our mythopoeic home is in perpetual motion, leaving behind hundreds of thousands of loose threads. NOTES 1. Mikhail Bahktin’s “heteroglossia” was introduced in his book Discourse in the Novel (1934) to revolutionize our perception on the fictional discourse and allow us to see its potential, full of different voices, layered within a narrative. 2. JR. Ellis. (USA: Emerson Collective & Unframed, 2015). 3. Ibid. 4. The Ellis Island Immigration Museum’s Official Site. 5. JR. Ellis. (USA: Emerson Collective & Unframed, 2015). 6. Anamika Nair. “Who Am I?” Poetry Soup. who_am_i_459784 7. Ibid. 8. Ibid. 9. Ibid. 10. Simion Cernica’s Personal Site. “#America. Ongoing project.” http://www. 11. Andrei Codrescu. “Bi-lingual.” Crossing into America. Eds. by Louis Mendoza and S. Shankar (New York: The New Press. 2003), 72. 12. Ibid. 13. I would warmly recommend readers to discover my original linguistic journey’s traps and steps in “Disappeared,” published in EAPSU: A Journal of Critical and Creative Work. 14. Andrei Codrescu. “Bi-lingual.” Crossing into America. Eds. by Louis Mendoza and S. Shankar (New York: The New Press. 2003), 72. 15. Another important exhibition is the one presented in Washington, DC: http:// 16. Some of these photos were part of “Insecurities: Tracing Displacement and Shelter,” exhibited at Museum of Modern Art in New York City: https://www.moma. org/calendar/exhibitions/1653 17. These three sites/organizations can help readers familiarize themselves with the plight of the refugees and, hopefully, start doing something:, https://www. and 18. Amy Tan. “Mother Tongue,” The Writer’s Presence. Eds. by Donald McQuaade and Robert Atwan. 7th Edition (New York: Bedford. St. Martin’s. 2012), 232–237. 19. Simon Gikandi, “Provincializing English.” PMLA 129.1 (2014): 1–17.


Catalina Florina Florescu

REFERENCES Cernica, Simion. “#America. Ongoing project.” America.html Codrescu, Andrei. Crossing into America. Eds. by Louis Mendoza and S. Shankar. New York: The New Press. 2003, 72. The Ellis Island Immigration Museum’s Official Website. Florescu, Catalina Florescu. “Disappeared.” EAPSU: A Journal of Critical and Creative Work. 7 (2010): 78–89. Gikandi, Simon. “Provincializing English.” PMLA 129.1 (2014): 1–17. JR. Ellis. Emerson Collective & Unframed, USA, 2015. Nair, Anamika. “Who Am I?” Poetry Soup. who_am_i_459784 Tan, Amy. “Mother Tongue,” The Writer’s Presence. Eds. by Donald McQuaade and Robert Atwan. 7th Edition. Bedford. St. Martin’s. New York, 2012, 232–237.

Epilogue Immigration, and Transformation, Innovation Maria Hadjipolycarpou

In a world that endorses global communication and connectivity, brought about by technological innovation and increasing mobility, the immigrant faces a primal human experience. What can we learn from immigrants in terms of the ways they transform themselves? How do they move from isolation and marginalization to innovation and leadership? How do they tackle those voices that urge them to stay put and resist change? The immigrant journey is, among other things, a journey toward finding new allegiances; a movement toward taking an opportunity to develop a different point of view about themselves as well as their role in a particular society. Often, such journey involves forming or joining new communities within their own ethnic and/or linguistic boundaries. What is more difficult, however, especially for those of us who have the chance to become permanent residents in or citizens of a new country is the challenge to become integral members of already-established communities. As immigrants we come to embrace norms, practices, and emotions very different from those of our native countries. In that sense an immigrant’s journey involves one of humanity’s most universal and progressive activities—learning. Active and eager to learn, immigrants find new ways to plug into unfamiliar situations. Leaving their native countries and reestablishing themselves in a new place, immigrants are, in a way, reborn into a new language. As they use the English language through their work as doctors, scientists, writers, musicians, teachers, researchers, and entrepreneurs, they not only transplant their diverse pattern of thinking, they transform it. These hard-working professionals offer new words to the English language and create “Englishes” for many essential fields—from labor and creativity through art and music to business and computer science. 249

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Learning new codes of behavior and communication, finding innovative ways to articulate the multiplicity of their experiences, immigrants contribute new ideas to growing economies. Taking on a new name, signifying their transformative and powerful rebirth into the new language and new culture, often marks their new identity. A striking example of such transformation, which even inspired Shakespeare’s Othello, comes from al-Ḥasan ibn Muḥammad al-Wazzān al-Zayyātīor  al-Fāsī, also known as Leo Africanus (1485–1554), an Islamic scholar from the Kingdom of Granada on the Iberian Peninsula. For 400 years, Leo’s writings remained a principal source of Europe’s information about Islam.1 As a Muslim fearing the persecution by Catholics in Granada, Leo was among a group of Muslim elites who immigrated to North Africa. While traveling on one of his commercial and diplomatic missions, he was captured by Christian pirates and enslaved. Due to his extraordinary intelligence, which immediately became evident, Leo was presented as a “gift” to Pope Leo X. After freeing him, the pontiff persuaded him to profess Christianity in 1520. Under the new name of Giovanni Leone (John Leo), he learned Latin and Italian and taught Arabic in Rome. His openness to adopting a new identity was largely responsible for his success and reputation throughout the centuries. Like Rome during the Renaissance, New York (along with other cities, in the United States and elsewhere) encourages contributions by highly educated immigrants who breathe new life into old industries. Ukrainian Jan Koum, developer of Whatsapp; Russian Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google; Greek Arianna Huffington, founder of The Huffington Post; Hungarian Andrew Grove, founder of Intel; South African Elon Musk, founder of aerospace manufacturer Space X, and auto company Tesla are just a few of the leading figures who remind us of how immigrants cannot only survive but thrive. Foreign-born and U.S.-educated researchers have taken over Silicon Valley and their innovative projects have transformed the world: Deepak Aatresh from India and Felicia Borkovi from Romania founded Aditazz, which aims to revolutionize building construction; Taher Abbasi, Shireen Vali, and Pradeep Fernandes founded Cellworks, designing new therapies that target a range of health issues; Amit Jain from India and Roger Hajjar from Lebanon, who studied at Boston University, started high-definition video wall maker Prysm.2 Beyond research, leadership, and entrepreneurial invention, artists, curators, writers and educators pioneered global, cultural, and linguistic communication with art exhibits and publications in many countries and languages. Syrian-born artist Mohannad Orabi and art historian Maymanah Farhat organized exhibitions in Dubai, Beirut, and London, presenting a side of Syria’s recent history that lies beyond the talking points of the news media. The

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artistic work of Albanian-Italian artist Anila Rubiku deals with such issues as the immigrant experience (Venice Biennale 2011); dictators and their toxic egos (Tel Aviv Museum 2014); the “meaning” of home (Hammer Museum, LA, 2013); the future of “Cities and Democracy” (Venice Architectural Biennale, 2008); “Albania: women, justice and the law—Abused women imprisoned for murdering their ‘men”’ (5th Thessaloniki Biennale, 2015).3 The curating work of Greek and Roman art by Greek-born archaeologists and art historians, Angelos Chaniotis, Nikolaos Kaltsas, and Ioannis Mylonopoulos for a New York exhibit at the Onassis Cultural Center entitled “A World of Emotions: Ancient Greece 700 B.C.–A.D. 200” emphasizes the central role of emotions in politics, culture, institution, and domestic life in ancient Greek, and by extension, modern society. The difficulty of reading emotions in cross-cultural situations accurately is another aspect demonstrated in the exhibit making the public aware of possible miscommunications that occur due to misjudgment of another’s emotions.4 Swiss-born Professor and theoretical cosmologist at Imperial College, London, Roberto Trotta, published At the Edge of the Sky: All you Need to Know about All-There-Is (2014), aimed at eliminating jargon in scientific research. With only a thousand words at his disposal, Trotta tells the tale of the Big Bang and the birth of the universe all the way through to theories of its future, thus opening a dialogue with the public about centuries-old issues about astronomy and cosmology.5 Despite an unstoppable frenzy of global technological, scientific, and artistic innovation and development of ideas, women represent only a small segment. Out of a total of 52 percent of U.S. innovators (with either one or both parents born outside the United States or not U.S. citizens) only 12 percent are women.6 Often, the multivalent roles of women as caregivers, mothers, housewives, and laborers undermine the quality of their personal and professional lives. At the same time large numbers of immigrant women who contribute to the global economy remain unrecognized working either as laborers in sweat shops or as sex slaves in the multimillion-dollar industry of sex trafficking. Of the 4.5 million victims forced into exploitation worldwide, 98 percent are women and girls. Their stories of survival deserve to be heard. This volume, among other things, captures a wide range of experiences of immigrants—human beings whose efforts to find a home in the world captures a similar effort to find a language that feels and sounds familiar—a language of their own. To address the question of one of the contributors in this volume, “In a massively globalized world, where or what is our home?” immigrants who move from the margins of society to success and acknowledgment respond that they gain a sense of belonging through their intellectual work, which begins and ends with language—the languages of business, of academic institutions, of politics, of networking, and of emotions. For before individuals start to feel at home in a nation at an official level by

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acquiring citizenship, they start to belong unofficially by learning ways to make themselves understood. At the same time innovation, technology, and entrepreneurial work offer them a passport to a global, trans-regional and trans-temporal citizenship. The space of such global citizenship is occupied by partnerships, allegiances, and relationships that begin with language, that is, plural Englishes. NOTES 1. Aakanksha Gaur, “Leo Africanus: Islamic Scholar.” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica Inc., 2014. Web. July 20, 2017. See also: Natalie Zemon Davis, Trickster Travels: A Sixteenth Century Muslim Between Worlds. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006. 2. Yatin Mundkur, “Immigrant Entrepreneurs: Vital for American Innovation.” Techonomy, January 22, 2014. Web. July 20, 2017. 3. The Foreign Policy Magazine Editors. “A World Disrupted: The Leading Global Thinkers of 2014.” Foreign Policy Online. Web. July 20, 2017. 4. Angelos Chaniotis, “A World of Emotions: The Making of an Exhibition.” The Institute Letter Spring 2017. Princeton: Institute for Advanced Study, 2017, pp. 12–13. 5. Roberto Trotta, “The Power of Simplicity: Explaining All-There-Is with the Most Common Thousand Words.” CAPJournal 16 (December 2014), pp. 5–7. Web. July 20, 2017. 6. According to the 2016 survey of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), immigrants are responsible for a large and vital component of U.S. innovation: more than 35.5 percent of U.S. innovators were born outside the United States. Another 10 percent were born in the United States but have at least one parent born abroad. More than 17 percent are not U.S. citizens, yet they are making invaluable contributions to U.S. innovation. Adams Nager, David M. Hart, Stephen Ezell, Robert D. Atkinson, “The Demographics of Innovation in the United States.” ITIF Online, February 24, 2016. Washington: Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. Web. July 20, 2017.

BIBLIOGRAPHY Chaniotis, Angelos. “A World of Emotions: The Making of an Exhibition.” The Institute Letter Spring 2017. Princeton: Institute for Advanced Study, 2017, pp. 12–13. Davis, Natalie Zemon. Trickster Travels: A Sixteenth Century Muslim Between Worlds. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006. Gaur, Aakanksha. “Leo Africanus: Islamic Scholar.” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica Inc., 2014. Web. July 20, 2017. Mundkur, Yatin. “Immigrant Entrepreneurs: Vital for American Innovation.” Techonomy, January 22, 2014. Web. July 20, 2017.

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Nager, Adams, David M. Hart, Stephen Ezell, and Robert D. Atkinson. “The Demographics of Innovation in the United States.” ITIF Online, February 24, 2016. Washington: Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. Web. July 20, 2017. The Foreign Policy Magazine Editors. “A World Disrupted: The Leading Global Thinkers of 2014.” Foreign Policy Online. Web. July 20, 2017. Trotta, Roberto. “The Power of Simplicity: Explaining All-There-Is with the Most Common Thousand Words.” CAPJournal 16 (December 2014), pp. 5–7. Web. July 20, 2017.


accented English, xiv, 232, 244 Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi, 246 affect, 24, 205, 257 American Dream, the, 176 Anglophone literature, 209–10, 256 autobiography, vii, xviii, 41–42, 45–48, 56–57, 59, 66, 212, 259 Bakhtin, Mikhail, 233 Benjamin, Walter, 86, 89, 91, 93, 97, 110–11, 217, 227–28 bildungsroman, 210–11, 223–25, 228–29 “Bi-lingual,” 96, 101–2, 104, 106, 146, 149, 241, 256 borderlands, 113, 115, 119–22, 124–32, 197 boundaries, xvii, xviii, 1, 3, 6, 9, 14–18, 30, 38, 66, 71, 75, 77, 90, 115, 120, 122, 153, 155–57, 159, 161, 163, 165, 167, 169, 171, 174, 188, 193–94, 197–99, 206–7, 212, 249 Bowers, Andrea, xiv, 245 Brexit, xviii, 18, 135, 137, 164–65, 244 Broad Art Museum, 95, 102–5, 111 Caribbean fiction, 224–25, 228–29 Central America, 114–15, 124–25, 129 Cernica, Simion, xiv, 233, 247–48

Chinese diaspora, xviii, 43, 46, 52–53, 58, 100, 256–57 Chomsky, Noam, 130, 132 cinema, xix, 25–26, 35, 39, 40, 76, 78, 96, 109, 111, 138, 201, 209, 218, 220–21, 255, 257 citizenship, x, 17, 19, 24–25, 38, 143, 200, 213, 252 Codrescu, Andrei, vii, xix, 79, 81, 87, 90–91, 93, 233, 247–48 colonization, 3, 18, 114, 117 communism, xiii, xvii, 25, 27, 36, 82, 84, 136, 143 contagion, 8–9, 14, 18, 20, 216 contemporary fiction, 20, 256, 258–59 culture, xi, xix, 1, 3, 9, 13, 17–18, 20, 25, 30, 33, 36–38, 61–63, 66–76, 80, 82–83, 86–89, 92, 95–97, 102–4, 108, 110, 114, 116–18, 122, 125, 128, 132, 135, 140, 145–46, 149, 175–81, 183, 185–92, 198, 204, 224, 228–29, 250–51, 256–58 Darwish, Mahmoud, xx deindustrialization, 25, 27 Deleuze, Gilles, 91, 93 Derrida, Jacques, 80, 91–92, 191–92, 205, 207


256 Index

diasporic literatures, 63–64, 75–76 digital, xiii, 167, 233, 236 diversity, xviii, 9, 61–62, 71, 127, 135, 140, 233, 246 Eastern Europe, xiii, 10, 24, 33–34, 81– 84, 86, 91, 137, 146, 158, 257 education, not Deportation, 245 Ellis, 233, 235, 247–48 El Mundo Zurdo, 113, 115–19, 121, 123, 125–27, 129, 131, 133 elsewhere, within here, xix, 5, 122, 154 Englishes, i, iii, x, xi, xiv, xvii, xix, xx, 245–47, 249, 252, 255 ethnicity, 20, 51, 65, 109, 131, 133, 134, 144, 173–75, 180–81, 188, 190 Euro-orphans, 25 European Union, 10–11, 18, 23–25, 28, 33, 190, 244 exile, i, iii, v, vii, xiv, xvii, xviii, xix, xx, 3, 13, 16, 41–43, 45–49, 51, 53–59, 68, 80–82, 85, 115, 120, 127, 129, 131, 133, 135, 190, 193, 196, 199, 202, 228, 233–34, 241, 246–47 Flatley, Jonathan, 39, 40, 119 Florescu, Florina Catalina, v, xiv Flowering Exile, xiv, xviii, 41–43, 45–49, 51–59 foreigners, xix, 23, 34, 56, 188, 209, 211, 213–15, 217, 219, 221, 223, 225, 227, 229 Foucault, Michel, 39, 40, 91–92, 110– 11, 196 fragmented consciousness, 135–36, 211 frontiers, xvii, 23, 25, 27, 29, 31, 33, 39, 194, 197 gay, 137, 141, 146–47 gender, xiii, xviii, xix, 9, 30, 33, 42, 64, 70, 76, 113, 119, 135, 137, 139, 141, 143, 145, 147, 154, 177, 186, 191, 201, 209, 218, 223, 227, 256, 259 genealogy, xix, 173, 182

genetics, 173, 177, 179, 181, 190 global studies, 17, 19, 20, 39, 40, 128, 132–33, 157, 174, 188, 190, 256–59 Guattari, Félix, 91, 93 gypsy, 137, 147–48 hermeneutics, xix, 81, 89, 91, 93 heterogeneity, 189, 194 heteroglossia, 233, 247 home, v, viii, ix, xvii, 2, 14, 25, 30, 44, 53, 63, 70, 85, 95, 100, 107, 113, 125, 131, 139, 144, 154, 169, 174, 177, 206, 231, 245, 251 horticulture, 176, 189, 192 human rights, xiii, 1, 95, 116, 137, 170, 242 hybridity, 62, 70, 74, 79, 114, 179, 194 identity, viii, xi, xiv, xix, 1, 3, 26, 48, 52, 65, 70, 72, 77–78, 85, 100, 116, 122, 149, 154, 167, 176,180, 187, 198, 200, 206, 221, 235, 241, 256, 258 immigrant, viii, xiii, xiv, 6, 12, 33, 37, 119, 122, 137, 142, 150, 176, 180, 190, 203, 239, 245 integration, 33, 69, 118, 123, 143, 150, 157, 163, 167, 194 International Organization for Migration, 132 Josse, Antoine, xiv JR, 233, 247–48 Khalili, Bouchra, 233 Kristeva, Julia, 23, 39, 40 language, 19, 20, 27, 32, 46, 48, 52–53, 62, 65, 72, 81–82, 84–85, 89, 90–93, 96–97, 100–103, 113, 123, 135, 147, 161, 170, 209, 223, 276, 279 migration, 73, 88, 100, 152, 160, 188, 190, 212, 264;


labor migration, 13, 18, 22, 37, 40, 50 migrant psychology, 157, 159 MLA Presidential Address, 253 mobility, 60, 163, 202, 269 poverty, 44–45, 47, 56, 141, 159, 229, 236, 257 refugees, 5, 14, 25, 31, 39, 59, 60, 134, 145, 152, 180–81, 253, 263, 256, 267 relocation, 44, 70, 127, 156, 160, 168, 278 Romanglish, 5 security, 7, 21, 23, 29, 31, 41, 88, 120, 133, 144, 160, 185, 205, 257


semantics, 261 silence, 18, 48, 52, 62, 86–87, 232, 244 technology, 215, 217, 272–73 terrorism, 22, 26, 29, 36, 94, 139 transnational, 1, 3, 8, 17, 37, 40, 50, 53, 58, 72, 135, 155, 163, 169, 172, 191, 202, 211, 229, 278 Wildschut, Henk, 14, 253, 263 women’s writing, 7, 19, 61–62, 66, 68, 96, 149, 159, 221, 223, 249, 277–78 world literatures, 83–84

About the Authors

Catalina Florina Florescu was born in Romania. She earned her bachelor’s degree from University of Bucharest, Romanian literature (major), American literature (minor). She holds a master’s degree and a PhD in comparative literature from Purdue University. She teaches Introduction to Cultural Studies, Twenty-first Century Dramatic Texts as Inter-Cultural Dialogue, Immigration and Englishes, American Drama, Critical Writing, The Individual and Society, Romanticism and the Modern World, and Cinema at Pace University in New York City. Her books are in permanent libraries worldwide as well as at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. She is the author: Transacting Sites of the Liminal Bodily Spaces (literary criticism; narrative medicine; human body);  Disjointed Perspectives on Motherhood  (mothers in literature and motion picture; feminist criticism);  and Inventing Me/Exerciţii de retrăit  (memoir). Her collection of plays will be published in a trilingual edition (Romanian-English-French). Her plays will have staged readings at the Romanian Cultural Institute in New York and Paris, as well as at Teatrul Dramaturgilor in Bucharest. She plans to have her plays staged as part of theatrical festivals. She delivered papers at Harvard, Sorbonne, and New York University. Her Scrabble Cancer Poster was presented at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC and at Boston University. She has a volume of poems ready for publication, The Night I Burned My Origami Skin. She is working on a collection of flash stories titled Not Yet. And she plans to develop a series of mini-dialogues/monologues with other writers and students. For more information about her work, follow her on LinkedIn drflorescu. Sheng-mei Ma is a professor of English at Michigan State University in Michigan, USA, specializing in Asian Diaspora/Asian American studies and 259


About the Authors

East-West comparative studies. His eight single-authored books in English are: Sinophone-Anglophone Cultural Duet (2017); The Last Isle: Contemporary Film, Culture and Trauma in Global Taiwan (2015); Alienglish: Eastern Diasporas in Anglo-American Tongues (2014); Asian Diaspora and East-West Modernity (2012); Diaspora Literature and Visual Culture: Asia in Flight (2011); East-West Montage: Reflections on Asian Bodies in Diaspora (2007); The Deathly Embrace: Orientalism and Asian American Identity (2000); and Immigrant Subjectivities in Asian American and Asian Diaspora Literatures (1998). His co-edited book Doing English in Asia: Global Literature and Culture is published in 2016. He co-edited and translated Chenmo de shanhen (Silent Scars: History of Sexual Slavery by the Japanese Military—A Pictorial Book, bilingual edition, 2005) as well as co-edited The City and the Ocean (2011). Sanshi zuoyou (Thirty, Left and Right) is his Chinese poetry collection (Shulin 1989). He also published numerous articles and book chapters on literature, film, and global culture. He has taught at University of Washington, Indiana University, James Madison University, Korea University (adjunct professor), and Providence University in Taiwan (chair professor). Margarita Georgieva in interested in gothic, fantasy, and fantastic literature, as well as in literature for children and young adults. She is the author of The Gothic Child (2013) and has contributed to several editions children in literature, among which Global Perspectives on Death in Children’s Literature (eds. Lesley Clement and Leyli Jamali, 2015). Most recently, she has contributed to the The Cambridge Guide to the Eighteenth-Century Novel, 1660–1820 (ed. April London, upcoming) with entries on Elizabeth Bonhote’s contribution to the sentimental and gothic genre. Dr. Margarita Georgieva has taught English language in France and Kuwait, and is currently living and working in Bulgaria. Tim Gauthier is currently serving as director of the Multidisciplinary Studies and Social Science Studies programs in the Department of Interdisciplinary, Ethnic, and Gender Studies at University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV). His research focuses on contemporary fiction and spans post-colonial concerns and artistic reactions to social and personal trauma experiences. In addition to peer-reviewed publications, he is the author of Narrative Desire and Historical Reparations—a study of A. S. Byatt, Ian McEwan, and Salman Rushdie (Routledge, 2006), and Post-9/11 Fiction, Empathy and Otherness (Lexington Books, 2015). He is a currently working on a project tentatively titled The Consequences of Terror. Oana Chivoiu earned her doctoral degree with a dissertation titled “Lost and Found: Mid-Nineteenth Century British Literary Imagination of Crowds,” defended successfully at Purdue University, July 2017. She writes about

About the Authors


motherhood, migration, and affect. Her articles, book chapters, and film reviews have appeared in Études Francophones, Disjointed Perspectives of Motherhood, Senses of Cinema, Short Film Studies, Film International, and World Film Locations series. She teaches literature and film courses at South Louisiana Community College. When not teaching, she travels to show the world to her children and pursues her passion for photography. Da Zheng, who received his PhD in English from Boston University, is a professor of English at Suffolk University. His research interests are in American literature, Asian American literature, and Chinese diasporic writers. In addition to research articles that have been published in academic journals, he is the author of Moral Economy: American Realistic Novels in the Nineteenth Century (1996), and Chiang Yee: The Silent Traveller from the East (2010), which won the Chinese American Librarians Association’s “CALA 2010 Best Book” award in 2011. His current project is a literary biography of ShihI Hsiung, a Chinese playwright and novelist. Sanaz Fotouhi holds a PhD in English literature from the University of New South Wales. Her book The Literature of the Iranian Diaspora: Meaning and Identity since the Islamic Revolution (IB Tauris, 2015) is a pioneering study of the body of Iranian writing in English. Sanaz is also a creative writer and filmmaker. Her essays and short stories have appeared in journals and anthologies in Australia and Asia including in The Southerly, and the Griffith Review. Sanaz is also the coproducer of the award-winning feature documentary Love Marriage in Kabul (2014) which was shortlisted for a Walkley in Australia. Currently she is the director of the Asia Pacific Writers and Translators, a literary networking organization based in Australia which holds an annual networking event in a different country in the region. Christene d’Anca is currently working on her PhD in comparative literature with an emphasis in translation studies and Medieval studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her research interests include female patronage and networks of women in the Middle Ages, medieval gender and culture, death and grieving in medieval literature, French medieval chronicles and genealogies, art history and literature in twentieth-century communist-era Eastern Europe, and the philosophy of memory. Mary Cappelli is a graduate and interdisciplinary scholar from USC, UCLA, and Loyola Law School, where she studied anthropology, theater film and television, law and literature. A former lecturer at Emerson College, she is the director of, a non-profit organization, which researches the impact of globalization and neoliberal policies on indigenous mothers in


About the Authors

Central America and Africa. Her research and advocacy synthesizes media, literature, legal anthropology, and law. Maria-Sabina Draga Alexandru is associate professor of American studies at the University of Bucharest. Her main research interests are transnational multiethnic narratives, gender in postcolonial and postsocialist studies, interactions between narrative and performance in contemporary global literatures in English. She has published articles in journals such as Comparative Literature Studies, The Journal of Commonwealth Literature, Perspectives, The European Journal of American Culture etc. and books such as: The Postmodern Condition: Towards an Aesthetic of Cultural Identities (University of Bucharest Press, 2003); Identity Performance in Contemporary Non-WASP American Fiction (University of Bucharest Press, 2008); Between History and Personal Narrative: East-European Women’s Stories of Transnational Relocation (co-edited; Vienna and Berlin: LIT Verlag, 2013); Performance and Performativity in Contemporary Indian Fiction in English (Leiden and Boston: Brill Rodopi, 2015). She is currently completing a book on the global outreach of twentieth-century American culture. Adedoyin Ogunfeyimi was a Fulbright scholar and a Walter J. Vollrath distinguished fellow at the University of Wisconsin in Madison where he received his PhD in English with an emphasis on rhetoric and writing studies. Dr. Ogunfeyimi focuses his research on how disenfranchised groups deploy their cultural ethos to negotiate a hospitable ecology for their survival. While working on his doctorate, he initiated the “Wisconsin School of Rhetoric” lecture series that won the Rhetoric Society of America Special Event Award. Presently, he is on the faculty at the Institute for Writing and Rhetoric in Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, where he teaches writing courses and participates in a data-driven writing research project on the pleasures of writing. Hsin-Ju Kuo received her PhD in foreign languages and literature, with an emphasis on diaspora and transnational studies, from National Cheng Kung University at Tainan, Taiwan. She is currently director of the Language Center at China Medical University, Taiwan, and assistant professor at the Center for General Education, CMU, Taiwan. Her research and teaching interests include transnational women studies, ethnic studies, and medical humanities. Winnie Khaw graduated magna cum laude from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire with an English M.A. (concentration in creative writing). In addition to publications of creative works, her essays are featured in Empty Mirror Books, The Philadelphia Review, and Eclectica literary journal. She

About the Authors


was an associate editor for Pleiades Review, and a book reviewer for Santa Fe Writers’ Project, American Micro Book Reviews, Necessary Fiction, and Fjords Review. Regarding her present situation,  her screenplays have placed in several contests and festivals, and she plans to continue pursuing screenwriting. Yanoula Athanassakis  received her PhD in English (American literature), with a global studies emphasis, from the University of California at Santa Barbara, USA. She is cofounder of the Environmental Humanities Series at New York University (NYU) and assistant vice provost for Academic Affairs, NYU, USA. Her book, Environmental Justice in Contemporary US Narratives (Routledge, 2017), examines post-1929 U.S. critical and artistic interrogations of environmental disruption. A former Mellon  American Council of Learned Societies New Faculty Fellow (2012–2014) and Literature Fellow at UC Santa Barbara’s College of Creative Studies (2011–2012), her research and teaching interests include American literature, the environmental humanities,  animal studies, food studies,  race and ethnic studies, gender studies, globalization, and environmental justice. Maria Hadjipolycarpou holds a PhD from the University of Michigan and is lecturer in the Classics Department at Columbia University and  adjunct assistant professor in the Department of European Languages and Literatures at Queens College in New York. Her research and teaching focuses on self-narratives in the Mediterranean and the connection of history and autobiography. Her most recent publication “The Nation of Saints: The National Theological Rhetoric of Archbishop Makarios III (1913–1977)” was published by the Journal of Modern Greek Studies in May 2015. She is currently revising a monograph entitled Lives in Disguise: Autobiography in the Modern Mediterranean.​​