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Recherche littéraire/Literary Research

Fall 2019


Edited By Marc Maufort

Daniel Acke, Mark Anderson, Eugene L. Arva, Franca Bellarsi, Valérie-Anne Belleflamme, Thomas Buffet, Ipshita Chanda, Mateusz Chmurski, Wiebke Denecke, Christophe Den Tandt, Lieven D’hulst, César Domínguez, Manfred Engel, Dorothy Figueira, John B. Forster, Massimo Fusillo, Gerald Gillespie, Marie Herbillon, S. Satish Kumar, François Lecercle, Ursula Lindqvist, Jocelyn Martin, Jessica Maufort, Marc Maufort, Sam McCracken, Isabelle Meuret, Delphine Munos, Daniel-Henri Pageaux, Danielle Perrot-Corpet, Frank Schulze-Engler, Monica Spiridon, Jüri Talvet, Daria Tunca, Cyril Vettorato, Hein Viljoen, Jenny Webb

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Isabelle Meuret: Daria Tunca and Janet Wilson, eds. Postcolonial Gateways and Walls: Under Construction. Cross/Cultures, 195. Leiden and Boston: Brill/Rodopi, 2017. Pp. 347. ISBN: 9789004337671.

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Daria Tunca and Janet Wilson, eds. Postcolonial Gateways and Walls: Under Construction. Cross/Cultures, 195. Leiden and Boston: Brill/Rodopi, 2017. Pp. 347. ISBN: 9789004337671.

Postcolonial Gateways and Walls: Under Construction reads like a provocative title for a volume that announces both a certain audacity and cautious urgency. In an age of raging discourses and scathing sentences poured out against migrants, refugees, or caravans by unscrupulous politicians, the reference to an apparently unfinished business – still “under construction” – has the virtue of urging readers to take stock of a situation, assess its potential hazards, and contemplate productive solutions. The planetary commotion prompted by the United Nations Global Compact for Migration makes this volume a seasonable read, and the editors are well inspired to frame their collection of essays not just from a thematical perspective, but also from a disciplinary outlook, so as to interrogate the state of postcolonial studies and think beyond the literary field.

In their introduction to Postcolonial Gateways and Walls, Daria Tunca and Janet Wilson prepare the ground for an edifice organized in four chapters, each addressing aspects that either bind or tear cultures apart. The potent metaphors of ‘gateways’ and ‘walls’ help to conceptualize representations of (dis)connecting forces at play between people and cultures, the latter not limited to nations and ethnic groups, but also encompassing disciplines. This, admittedly, is one of the virtues of the book: it does not spin out metaphors merely for aesthetic benefits; it takes them beyond their face value and aims at ethical ends. Consequently, the organic construction of the volume helps expand the metaphors and engage in thorough discussions of migration flows, literary appreciations thereof, and their attendant complications on a global level.

Ultimately, metaphors help to envisage situations in “more familiar, concrete” terms, Tunca and Wilson note (ix), provided they do not estrange from realities nor reinforce the neo-colonial agenda. Therefore, ‘gateways’ and ‘walls’ themselves are scrutinized as elements that bind or ←293 | 294→bar, on many different levels, not just geographical or political, but also moral or academic. As a matter of fact, the editors are unambiguously making the case for reexamining the discipline of postcolonialism and are inviting readers to unpick metaphors as constructive tools, more specifically in literary spaces and textual occurrences (xi). To avoid lingering on hybrid or border-crossing images that could congeal sterile or deceptive tenets, Postcolonial Gateways and Walls is an invitation to pursue Homi Bhabha’s agenda, and reevaluate signs across cultures.

The architecture of the volume, organized in four main sections, reflects the dynamic and multidimensional perspectives adopted by its authors. The essays included in the first part – “Gateways and Walls: Between East and West” – foreground Turkey, and more specifically Istanbul, as a central trope. Gareth Griffiths’ timely reexamination of Fanon’s discussion of the veil sheds light on the stakes of changing legislation of dress codes – in particular of the Islamic headgear, in Turkey, Europe, or elsewhere. Sartorial impediments once proved powerful weapons of subversion, but the author shows that “clothing borders” still determine colonized subjects whether they don or abandon the veil (18), this time across many spaces and dislocated cultures. Griffiths’ cultural and political contribution is a welcome preamble to the next, more literary, subsections.

Indeed, the subsequent disquisitions tackle a variety of authors and texts: In “As Rare as Rubies,” Elena Furlanetto draws perspicuous analogies between Elif Shafak’s The Bastard of Istanbul and The Saint of Incipient Insanities and Salman Rushdie’s best-known novels, thereby pointing to the empowering potential of postcolonial critique for the subaltern. Adopting a similarly diachronic and transcultural perspective Gerhard Stilz elaborates on the intriguing “Bosphorus Syndrome,” not unfamiliar to Orhan Pamuk’s “hüzün,” a culture-induced nostalgia. Stilz’s panoptic observations of peoples expanding along the shores of the glorious river illustrate “this long process of bridging and barring” (56), which makes Istanbul an ambiguous yet promising space. Both Padmini Mongia’s and Marta Dvořák’s essays make audacious assumptions, the former by interrogating Amitav Ghosh’s unacknowledged response to Joseph Conrad, the latter by probing the “dialogic elasticity” of English for writers on the Indian subcontinent.

Part II of the volume, “Under Construction: Nations and Cultures,” constitutes a more uneven or fragmentary set of contributions, due to ←294 | 295→the disparities in tone and intention. The reader may find it slightly more demanding to navigate the many roads borrowed here, from Australian philosophy to West African and Caribbean notions of nation, to Sri Lankan novels, among others. This, though, is not said to disparage the intrinsic quality and highly knowledgeable essays that make up this second section. In “Towards an Australian Philosophy,” Marie Herbillon effectively disentangles and aligns Murray Bails’ complex Pages with the broader postcolonial project which, she insists, must be apprehended through “cultural pluralism” (89) and a rethinking of Enlightenment. Equally ambitious is Bronwyn Mills’ “Image-i-nation” model, which makes for a wide-ranging examination of the concept of nation illuminated by forays into languages and cultures from West Africa and the Caribbean, and significantly upends old premises.

Simran Chadkha’s and John C. Hawley’s essays make for instructive reads that reflect upon the potentialities of literary texts to interrogate the relations between the colonial and postcolonial. “Refugees and Three Short Stories from Sri Lanka” highlights the pedagogical and curative potential of storytelling with a human touch to raise awareness and prompt action. The perusing of such narratives, Chadkha suggests, is part of the academic agenda to prevent the negative stigmatization of refugees. Albeit framed in the context of the Indian subcontinent, her contribution shines a light on the perils of exclusionary identity policies resulting from poor asylum policies across the world. In “Gateway to the Unknowable” Hawley posits historical fiction as indispensable material to deconstruct and reinterpret stories and histories.

Deepika Marya concludes this section by bringing the discussion back to epistemological questions relative to the place of postcolonial literature in the broader context of world literature. In so doing, the author reclaims postcolonial “worldings” to re-imagine a world order, and summons prominent thinkers in the process – Fanon, Auerbach, Wellek, Damrosch, Casanova, Said, Morrison, an all-embracing and over-ambitious demonstration. Still, the recourse to novels by Tayeb Salih, Thomas Mofolo, and Shrilal Shukla does not suffice to substantiate the initial argument, despite the commendable attempt at contemplating unexpected constellations and revisiting scales of comparison. But the author’s references to a history of resistance underpinning world literature to thwart coercive globalizing impulses and promote social justice are noteworthy. In the final analysis, this second part of the book certainly offers much to ponder over.

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Then comes a question, opening part III of the volume: “The Border: Wall or Gateway?” This section is probably the least metaphoric, the borders presented in the essays being concrete walls, frontiers, or boundaries. They exist, (have) existed, and/or will exist in texts and contexts, as gateways to build networks of mementos or layers of palimpsests. Claudia Duppé’s conflation and subtle parsing of texts by authors hailing from New Zealand and writing on the Berlin Wall – Cilla McQueen’s Berlin Diary (1990) and Romania-born Kapak Kassabova’s selected poetry and prose – illustrate how a “physical landmark” (196) and “political paradigm” (201) standing as “a symbol of cultural conflict and contact” (194) can ultimately be refracted in a multitude of contexts and serve as a compass to find one’s bearings in an ever-changing world.

The next essays in part III focus on other postcolonial localities, namely South Africa, Canada, and India. Carmen Concilo examines Ivan Vladislavič’s production to discuss the representation of the wall in South Africa’s urban spaces and literature. Drawing on Heidegger, she problematizes “the dialectic between hospitality and hostility” (206) of this “rooted icon” (206). Vladislavič’s works, Concilo argues, bespeak that inclusion and exclusion are not mutually exclusive due to “the need for a philosophy of Mitsein” (216). Vera Alexander’s ground-breaking contribution – “Enclosed: Nature” – beautifully cracks the codes of nature in her inspirational exploration of Carol Shields’s “textual mazes.” She dislocates and re-evaluates the rapports between humans and their environment by ingeniously infusing her ecocritical analysis with garden architecture and horticultural design. Finally, Goldnar Nazideh addresses the issues of mourning and “narrative haunting” (245) through memory images in Ghosh’s The Shadow Lines.

The last section of Postcolonial Gateways and Walls opens yet another building site in the composition of the volume by adding a gendered perspective. Going back to the overarching theme of the book and the global conversation on migration, Elisabeth Bekers compares Caryl Phillips’s A Distant Shore and Chika Unigwe’s On Black Sisters’ Street, which both humanize the plight of displaced persons from Africa to Europe. Phillips and Unigwe push the boundaries of the slave narrative genre by giving access to the personal experience of protagonists faced with the traumatic experiences of eviction, racism, and prostitution. Devon Campbell-Hall deals with the exteriority, materiality, and (in)visibility of aging Asian women’s bodies and confronts the subversive “magical-realist transformation” of “desexed crones” against Graham Huggan’s ←296 | 297→“postcolonial exotic” (281), which the main protagonists of Ravinder Randhawa’s A Wicked Old Woman and Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s The Mistress of Spices strongly resist.

The two remaining essays, respectively by M. J. Daymond and Sissy Helff, have merits but are more peripheral to the main organization of the book. Daymond’s framing and perusing of three authors’ correspondences – Bessie Head, Dora Taylor, Lilian Ngoyi – through a postcolonial lens informs readers about their harrowing experience of living in South Africa under apartheid. It shows how writing was their saving grace, a testament to their resilience in the face of adversity. Significantly, the author suggests, the letters must be appraised in their capacity to “destabilize” not only “socio-political boundaries” but also “conceptual boundaries in postcolonial criticism” (311). Helff’s essay studies masculinities in Tim Winton’s Breath, but “Gendered Gateways,” albeit surfing on the gender wave, falls short of discussing postcolonialism or even the bridging or rescinding forces of gateways. One would have loved to finish on a more definitive or conclusive note, this said without detracting from the quality of Helff’s analysis.

In conclusion, Postcolonial Gateways and Walls certainly deserves the attention of scholars in postcolonial studies. First, its timely and variegated discussions of gateways and walls in multiple contexts open new avenues of reflection, not limited to literary texts, but also crucially grounded in the lived experiences of migrants and refugees, or any other character struggling against objectification or stigmatization. Second, the editors were well-inspired to invite contributions that span a wide range of themes developed across many locations, each substantiated with solid theoretical material equally borrowed from a variety of disciplines. Third, unexpected comparisons of texts following unprecedented re-mappings are truly rejuvenating for postcolonial studies, within the larger frame of world literature. In that sense, the book delivers on the editors’ consistent project in progress, which should inspire all organic intellectuals willing to critically expand a discipline by rethinking its paradigms and premises.


Isabelle Meuret

Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB)

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