Migrant Identities of «Creole Cosmopolitans»

Transcultural Narratives of Contemporary Postcoloniality

by Nirmala Menon (Volume editor) Marika Preziuso (Volume editor)
©2014 Monographs XII, 187 Pages
Series: Postcolonial Studies, Volume 18


One defining question links the essays of this collection: How do aesthetic and stylistic choices perform the condition of dislocation of the migrant and, in doing so, also put pressure on the seemingly global promise of cosmopolitanism? Migrant Identities of «Creole Cosmopolitans»: Transcultural Narratives of Contemporary Postcoloniality offers a wide array of narratives that complicate the rhetoric of cosmopolitanism and the related discourses of «hybridity». Many such narratives are under-theorized migrations, such as Dalit narratives from India and inter-island migrations in the Caribbean. Collectively, the essays suggest that there are ways in which the forms of the migrant aesthetics, language, and imaginaries may offer new insights in the interactions between practices and discourses of hybridity and cosmopolitanism by examining their precise points of intersection and divergence. This inquiry is especially timely because it raises questions about the circulation, marketing, and consumption of narratives of migration, dislocation, and «diaspora.»
In addition, the collection addresses in at least two significant ways the question about «beyond postcolonialism» and the future of the discipline. First, by questioning and critically examining some foundational theories in postcolonialism, it points to possible new directions in our theoretical vocabulary. Second, it offers an array of reflections around disparate geographies that are, equally importantly, written in different languages. The value that the authors place on languages other than English and their choice to focus on the effect that multiple languages have on the present of postcolonial studies are in line with one of the aims of the collection – to make the case for a multilingual expansion of the postcolonial imaginary as a necessary imperative.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the Editors
  • About the Book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction
  • Part I. Creole Cosmopolitanism(s): Traveling Texts
  • Chapter 1. The Migrant Text: Aimé Césaire’s Hemispheric Gambit and the Editorial Blind-Spot
  • Home: Tropiques’ Hemispheric Push
  • The Francophone Diaspora and the Culture of Reprinting
  • The Migrant Fragment: “Poème”
  • Notes
  • Works Cited
  • Chapter 2. Border Crossings: Cultural Collisions and Reconciliation in Hanan Al-Shaykh’s Only in London
  • Crossing Ethnic Borders
  • Crossing Gender and Sexual Borders
  • Stretching Identity Borders
  • Notes
  • Works Cited
  • Chapter 3. Politics and Belonging in the Music of Turkish-French Rapper C-it
  • Notes
  • Works Cited
  • Chapter 4. Postcolonial Textualities and Diasporic Imagination: Reading Julia Alvarez’s In the Time of the Butterflies (1994) through Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran (2003)
  • Notes
  • Works Cited
  • Chapter 5. Migration Literature and Place: Aleksandar Hemon’s The Lazarus Project
  • Spatial Turns
  • The Smoothness of Globalization
  • The Reading Paradigm of World Literature
  • Globalization and the Migrant Writer
  • The Lazarus Project
  • Planet Earth
  • Works Cited
  • Part II. Hybridity Refracted: Migrant Narratives
  • Chapter 6. Lamming vs. Naipaul: Writing Migrants, Writing Islands in the British Literary Field
  • Writing Islands/Writing Migrants
  • Notes
  • Works Cited
  • Chapter 7. Long-Distance Nationalism: The Filipino Ilustrados Abroad
  • Works Cited
  • Chapter 8. The Hullabaloo about Hybridity in Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss
  • Notes
  • Works Cited
  • Chapter 9. Liminality within Borders: A Study of Baby Kamble’s The Prisons We Broke and Urmila Pawar’s The Weave of My Life
  • Notes
  • Works Cited
  • Chapter 10. Family Desires: Kinship and Intimacy among Japanese Immigrants in America
  • Capturing Desires and Intimacies
  • Japanese Immigration to the Americas
  • Comic Book as Narrative
  • Photograph as Visual Text
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Works Cited
  • Chapter 11. Rethinking Hybridity: Liminality in the Cultural Productions by Black and Asian Women in Britain
  • Liminality vs Hybridity
  • Literature of Liminal Britons
  • Liminality in Cultural Productions
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Works Cited
  • Index
  • Contributors


Nirmala Menon and Marika Preziuso

The idea for this collection came from the wonderful format of the ACLA (American Comparative Literature Association) 2010 conference seminar over three days of enriching and delightful discussions on Cosmopolitanism. One clear outcome was an understanding of the numerous divergences of narratives of cosmopolitanism and hybridity rather than a convergence of thoughts on the concept of cosmopolitanism. Indeed, many of the contributors to this collection further enrich and enhance debates and arguments about the conceptual links and common ground between the “migrant,” the “cosmopolitan” and/or the “hybrid” in postcolonial studies.

The “migrant” has been represented through various avatars, both in critical theory and in creative writing, visual arts and performance; among others, it has been read through the rhetoric of the marginalized, the nostalgic, and the ghettoized. Whereas the migrant has been regularly expressed via these means, their sum total does not exhaust the complex and contesting identities of immigrant populations. Similarly, the notion of “cosmopolitanism” has also been subject to debate within postcolonial studies. The word cosmopolitanism, derived from the Greek word meaning “citizen of the world,” has been used loosely for people who can exist and function comfortably within different cultures. Scholars have often used the word as antithetical to nationalist drives that espouse identification with a single culture or place, wherein the nation is viewed as the conventional and exclusive socio-cultural unit of reference. In this respect, cosmopolitanism fitted ← vii | viii → the narrative of crossing borders and continents. However, critics such as Pnina Werbner have drawn attention to “local” or “rooted” cosmopolitanisms, thus calling for a more complex understanding of a cosmopolitan.

The identity of the migrant has to be considered within these different understandings of the experiences cosmopolitanism reflects, which come also to redefine what is meant by “local” and “global”. The scholars in our collection investigate how these complex patterns of understanding and experience are reflected in works of literature, film, theater and music. This collection:

Defines and elaborates on these complex patterns;

Offers an array of narratives of identity that are produced out of those interactions of places and cultures; and

Discusses the possibilities and limitations inherent in the contemporary cultural representations of the migrant condition.

Through our study of these varied representations of the “migrant,” we also challenge some of the categories and terms that have defined postcolonialism as a discipline in the last decades by addressing a series of questions. How useful is the definition, by recent postcolonial scholarship, of the cultures and identity enacted through and in migration as cosmopolitan? Can a new perspective on postcolonialism come from the stories of inter-migrations or internal migration instead? Are these examples really at the opposite ends of cosmopolitanism in the local-global spectrum? Examples of what we believe are under-theorized migrations include Dalit narratives from India, Caribbean border-migrations, and Italian and Turkish music beyond the national borders.

A defining question that ties together the essays of this collection is: How do aesthetic and stylistic choices actually accentuate the condition of dislocation of the migrant, and by doing so also “trouble” the seemingly global promise of cosmopolitanism? Moreover, can the narratives presented in the collection be the timely manifestations of the fractured local ground of the postcolonial present that is due to put pressure on any pretension of cosmopolitanism? In this respect, we take one specific concept that has been related to postcolonial studies in recent times—hybridity—especially in its relation to questions of sameness/universality beyond localized differences.

The essays in the collection suggest that there are ways in which the migrant aesthetics, language, and imaginations in art forms may offer insights into the state of postcolonial studies, specifically about the interactions between hybridity (particularly in Bhabha’s articulation) and cosmopolitanism. In fact, the experiences of hybridity by and within migrant communities sometimes intersect with, and, ← viii | ix → diverge from at other times the postcolonial theorization of the concept. These essays allow us precisely interrogate the points of intersection and departure. We believe that examining a diverse group of migrant experiences demands a more nuanced vocabulary for hybridities, and it is from this perspective that we make a strong case for the timeliness and novelty of the collection in its introduction. Such an inquiry is especially important because it raises questions of the circulation, marketing, and consumption, or lack thereof, of migrant cultures both in academia and in the literary and artistic markets.

The authors and artists selected in the collection engage in seemingly opposite paradigms in their fields of expertise: ethnicity and its limits; collective and individual memory vis a vis the process of selective memory; the overlappings and differences between cultural translation and linguistic translation; and the differentiation of the migrant experiences through lines of both class and gender. The collection also benefits extensively from the multilingual and transcultural background and expertise of the authors—scholars who live, write, and teach across continents and between languages, constantly pushing the boundaries of academic disciplines to engage in dialogues across and beyond the Humanities in general.

The wide scope of the works of literature, theatre, music, and visual arts that are examined in the articles makes this an important contribution to the scholarly conversation on postcolonial studies, World Cultures and on the practices of and tensions within globalization studies. The collection also intervenes in a significant way on the question of “beyond” postcolonialism and the future of the discipline. It does that in two significant ways: First, by questioning and critically examining some foundational theories in postcolonialism, it points to possible new directions in our theoretical language. Second, many of the works discussed in these essays are set in disparate geographies and more importantly, across languages. Collectively, the essays make the argument that a multilingual expansion of post-colonial imaginative exploration as well as theoretical premises is not just beneficial but imperative for the discipline.

We have divided the essays in two sections. The first section includes articles that address what we call the “Creole” aesthetics at work. In the spirit of the conceptual dissection that runs throughout the collection, we intend “Creole” somewhat differently from the deracialized individual whose identity is defined solely by his/her attachment to a place, a locale (the experience of Caribbean Creoleness is a valid case in point). Creole, to us, is always already an unfinished product of various influences and variants, which makes it in its turn extremely receptive to further difference in among others, multiple locales.

The study of the writing strategies and aesthetics in the works considered allows us to problematize the question of a cosmopolitan identity using the Creole trope; ← ix | x → that is, we reflect on several experiences of displacement less as inherently transgressive, and more as characterized by different agendas and varying in motives, enactments in and across space, and outcomes in terms of individual and collective identity. “Presencing in the boundaries,” (p.94) as Homi Bhabha elaborates, can be an empowering position, but it is a position that the migrant journeys towards, rather than embodying it by his or her adoption of a culture or being adopted by a new country.

The collection begins with Alex Gil’s ‘The Migrant Text’ where he argues that like people, texts too often migrate by choice or compulsion and are transformed in the process. As they develop, these shifting identities, these texts, too develop a sense of home and a sense of diaspora. To examine this notion of the traveling text and its transformations, Gil looks at the writings of the Martiniquean author Aimé Césaire and specifically examines the various versions of some of his major works. Hanadi Al-Samman in the second chapter looks at the relationships between roots and routes in her analysis of Hanan Al-Shaykh’s novel Only in London. This diasporic text looks at the hyphenated and hybrid habitat of Arab identities in London. Samman argues that in the process of migration the characters of these novels discover that self-affirmation does not necessarily mean a renunciation of their Arab identity. They learn to negotiate the gains and losses of hyphenated identities and to appreciate flexible citizenship, thereby forsaking homeland longings and engendering new belongings articulated through the dialogic relationship between roots and routes.

Annedith Schneider in her article about Turkish rap music makes the argument that the oppositional character of rap music may not be a threat to French democracy but rather a willingness to participate in national debates. Does their critique of their position within French society, Schneider asks, indicate a desire for belonging, as is the case with many other rap groups, or does their choice of Turkish signify a rejection of French identity instead?

Like Alex Gil, Marika Preziuso takes us to the embodiment of the “text” in her essay comparing Julia Alvarez’s In the Time of the Butterflies and Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran. The article examines how the novels’ paratext shapes and defines their production, circulation and consumption; what Preziuso calls their literary geography, producing interesting and at times controversial responses from readers and critics.

Preziuso’s article is a good pre-text to Søren Frank’s theoretical discussion of the return of space as central to postcolonial narratives. Taking a cue from the sociological discussions of space and the discursive notions of place, Frank addresses the reason for the return of spatiality in the era of globalization and its seeming placelessness. Frank takes Aleksandar Hemon’s The Lazarus Project as his point of inquiry to understand this apparent paradox.← x | xi →


XII, 187
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2014 (August)
Migration Cosmopolitanism Postcolonialism Language Diaspora
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 187 pp., num. ill.

Biographical notes

Nirmala Menon (Volume editor) Marika Preziuso (Volume editor)

Nirmala Menon is Assistant Professor of Literature at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Indore, India. She received her doctorate at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Her areas of expertise include postcolonial literature and theory from India, especially in multilingual narratives. She has written and published in areas of translation studies and regional language literatures in India. Dr. Menon is a member of the Postcolonial Studies Association (PSA) and is a reader and reviewer for publications such as Journal of Postcolonial Writing, Postcolonial Text, and Cambridge Journal of Postcolonial Literary Inquiry. Her current working projects include a monograph and a digital humanities database. She is an executive member of the Editorial and Internationalisation Committee of Open Library for Humanities (OLH). Marika Preziuso is Assistant Professor of World Literature at Massachusetts College of Art and Design (Mass Art) in Boston. She received her PhD in comparative literature from Caribbean women writers at the University of London. Her areas of academic interest include contemporary literature by immigrant writers in the United States, Latin@ literature, postcolonial literature, and gender and cultural studies. Dr. Preziuso is particularly interested in interdisciplinary narratives of twentieth-century and contemporary migrants through literature and the visual arts. She currently leads the Committee for the Visual Arts of the Caribbean Studies Association (CSA).


Title: Migrant Identities of «Creole Cosmopolitans»
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