This seminar aims at selectively tracing the historical transformation of Middle Eastern and African imaginaries of refugee-migration to Europe. Class participants will be introduced to selected English, French, and Arabic language representations (in translation) across various genres (including literature, performance art, music, film and the vlogo/blogosphere) which question our learned sureties and conventional definition of refugee-ism. (Visual and sonic) texts to be discussed in class include Ghassan Kanafani’s Men in the Sun (1962), Jabra Ibrahim Jabra‘s The Ship (1970), Mahi Binebine’s Cannibales (1999), Yusri Nasrullah’s El Medina (1999), Laila Lalami’s Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits (2005), Larissa Sansour's A Space Exodus (2008), Merzak Allouache’s Harragas (2009), Hassan Blasim’s “Reality and the Record” and “The Truck to Berlin” (2009), Boris Lojkine’s Hope (2014) and Hiwa K’s View from Above (2017). We will use these and other creative works as equally poetical and ethical correctives to the dominant European emplotment of the so-called refugee crisis.
Class participants are invited to shift their focus from often de-individualizing and victimizing representations of refugees as human beings erased from individual presence, voice, and agency to narratives which show refugees as active, politicized and creative agents of their own destiny. Examining the (generic) limits of telling refugee stories the seminar argues for an altered politics of literary and cultural criticism – one that intentionally goes beyond conventional migration studies’ self-assigned tasks of humanitarian advocacy and political consulting.
Presentations and in-class discussions are to trigger off a critical counter-analysis to both the political fiction of factuality and the learned interpretive taxonomies of historical and socio-anthropological migration research on which this fiction rests. Suggesting new ways of understanding the historical presence of refugee migration the seminar at the same time encourages to test out the role of comparative literary and cultural studies within the multidisciplinary field of forced and clandestine migration studies.
Introductory readings (to be read by the first in-class meeting):
- Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, Gil Loescher, Katy Long, and Nando Sigona, “Introduction: Refugee and Forced Migration Studies in Transition,” The Oxford Handbook of Refugee and Forced Migration Studies, edited by Elena Fiddian Qasmiyeh, Gil Loescher, Katy Long, and Nando Sigona. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2014, pp. 1-14.
- Hakim Abderrezak, "Harragas in Mediterranean illiterature and cinema," Véronique Machelidon and Patrick Saveau (eds.). Reimagining North African immigration: Identities in flux in French literature, television, and film. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2018, pp. 232-252.