Globalised cartographies of being: literature, refugees and the Australian nation



Publication Details

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


This chapter considers the figure of the refugee as the displaced individual through the reading of a number of Australian literary works, which explore displacement 'as an extreme case of a more general modern condition - the powerlessness of the 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 reading of selected works aimed both at children and adult readers, I consider the role textual representation can play in creating a different understanding of the subject positions of the mass of individuals arriving on Australian shores. Two main issues are addressed here. First, the role literature can play in the exploration of an identity politics associated with the experience of the refugee as an 'invisiblevisible' presence (Benbassa 2008). My concern is the idea of refugee selfhood as a shifting and contingent construct that emerges from relations of production at once historical, political, psychological, and affective. The refugee is in this context a complex site of interaction between past and present, Self and Other, nation and foreign. In my reading of selected literary texts, I trace how this fluid conception of an identity selfhood is both inflected by and in turn then inflects a broader notion of national unity and exclusion. Further, through a detailed textual analysis of selected literary texts, I show how literature can contribute to a fuller and subtler understanding of what it means to be a refugee. The second issue concerns the activist role a number of contemporary Australian writers have sought to play on behalf of refugees and ofthe very experience offlux associated with displacement. Given the obvious echoes between the writings, the chapter seeks to place these texts in a dialogue with the work of social scientists such as Zygmunt Bauman, Giorgio Agamben, Michel Agier, Peter Nyers, and others.

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