GIS-MOMM Congress: Refugee Literature Workshop

Claire Gallien organizes a Refugee Literature Workshop at the next GIS-MOMM Congress that will take place on 6 July in Paris, INALCO (65 rue des Grands Moulins, Paris 13e, Room B 3.03). The speakers: Mariangela Palladino, Frédérik Detue, Melissa Chaplin, Nathalie Bontemps, Catherine Coquio, Valerie Anishchenkova, Corina Stan, Bénédicte Letellier, Olivera Jokic, Claire Gallien. Lire le programme.

« The current refugee crisis affecting large parts of the Middle East and the Mediterranean world today has given new prominence to the corpus of refugee literature written by Arab writers in Arabic, English, French, and other European languages. This workshop aims to unpack the category of ‘refugee literature’ and its ideological underpinnings as it relates to question of nationalism and neo-imperialism, but also as it questions and reshapes national literatures by taking refugees out of quarantined zones and into shared literary, cultural, and social spaces.

The speakers of the workshop aim to interrogate the validity of the category of ‘refugee literature’ not only because it homogenizes vastly disparate experiences and capitalize on suffering and pity, but also because it is established on the premise of a binary opposition with the equally problematic concept of ‘national literature.’ What does this sub-category reveal about the position of refugee literature in relation with national canons and the idea of the nation? By using the category, are we not, as scholars and critics, reproducing an asymmetrical power relation that ultimately reproduces the confinement of these writers to a sub- or minor genre?

Related to other forms of trauma literature, the workshop reflects on the translation of refugee experiences. Does one have to be a refugee to write refugee literature? How can the experience be translated, and by whom? Non-written forms of cultural productions, such as oral literature, shall be taken into account, along with the conditions of production, collection, and transmission of refugee experiences in the camps and the role/commitment of translators in the West and beyond.

Finally, the workshop invites comparison between the various recuperations of the term ‘refugee’ by the authors themselves and the status of refugee literature in various countries of the Middle East, North Africa and Europe, but also in Iran, Pakistan, and India. Why would a writer prefer to resort to the elitist category of ‘exile’ rather than call her/himself a ‘refugee writer’? How does refugee literature reconnect with Shahrazad’s paradigmatic interpretation of literature as refuge? Would not the concept of ‘displacement’ be more fitting to characterize texts which relate an experience of displacement but also fundamentally displace categories (author, translator, editor, inside, outside, fiction, surreal, real…) and readers? » (Claire Gallien)