Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Details

Simoes da Silva, A. J. (2012). Globalised cartographies of being: literature, refugees and the Australian nation. In R. Ganguly-Scrase & K. Lahiri-Dutt (Eds.), Rethinking Displacement: Asia Pacific Perspectives (pp. 239-250). United Kingdom: Ashgate.


This chapter considers the figure of the refugee as the displaced individual throughthe reading of a number of Australian literary works, which explore displacement'as an extreme case of a more general modern condition - the powerlessness ofthe individual caught in the grip of vast collective purposes', to borrow Ian Watt's(1959: 218) comments on World War II prisoners of war. Through a critical readingof selected works aimed both at children and adult readers, I consider the roletextual representation can play in creating a different understanding of the subjectpositions of the mass of individuals arriving on Australian shores. Two mainissues are addressed here. First, the role literature can play in the exploration ofan identity politics associated with the experience of the refugee as an 'invisiblevisible'presence (Benbassa 2008). My concern is the idea of refugee selfhood as ashifting and contingent construct that emerges from relations of production at oncehistorical, political, psychological, and affective. The refugee is in this context acomplex site of interaction between past and present, Self and Other, nation andforeign. In my reading of selected literary texts, I trace how this fluid conception ofan identity selfhood is both inflected by and in turn then inflects a broader notionof national unity and exclusion. Further, through a detailed textual analysis ofselected literary texts, I show how literature can contribute to a fuller and subtlerunderstanding of what it means to be a refugee. The second issue concerns theactivist role a number of contemporary Australian writers have sought to play onbehalf of refugees and ofthe very experience offlux associated with displacement.Given the obvious echoes between the writings, the chapter seeks to place thesetexts in a dialogue with the work of social scientists such as Zygmunt Bauman,Giorgio Agamben, Michel Agier, Peter Nyers, and others.