The Nation-State and Diaspora: The Case of Arab-American Writers
Jumana Bayeh (Macquarie University).
Wednesday, 21 January 2015, 1pm to 2pm
Seminar Room 3, ODID, 3 Mansfield Road, Oxford OX1 3TB
Hosted by International Migration Institute
About this event
This presentation is part of the IMI Seminar Series, Hilary term 2015<.
The relationship between the nation-state and diaspora has been well explored in sociology and anthropology, where the two terms are often seen as opposites that both inform and constitute one another. Scholars of politics and international relations are also interested in diaspora and see it as a useful model to examine how transnational communities operate across and between the boundaries of the state. While this paper draws on these social science-based approaches to diaspora and nationalism, it does so by focusing on how literature composed by diasporic writers engages with and complicates the notion of the nation-state. This is important because of the dominant approach in literary studies that classifies literary texts in nationalist terms. Such an approach does not disregard the writings of migrant, transnational or diasporic authors, but it does impose a national frame on a body of work that is produced outside of a single national tradition.
Assessments of Arab-American fiction illuminate this clearly. Critics have identified three ways to classify this work. Some have argued that Arab-American writing is Arab fiction written in English, others suggest that it is part of an American literary history, while more recent critics elect to celebrate Arab-American fiction’s hybrid status. In all these assessments, however, what is overlooked is the migrant and diasporic features that permeate the texts. Such features, if discovered, not only prompt readers to rethink the nation-state model but also call for new ways to analyse literary texts that do not fit existing, nation-biased critical models.