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Between Migration and Diaspora: Formal Meditations on SWANA Narratives of Displacement

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Organizer: Leila Pazargadi

Co-Organizer: Talar Chahinian

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This seminar seeks to explore narratives from writers moving in and out of Southwest Asian and North African countries, particularly, as they experience themes of loss, displacement, exile, and im/migration. When considering both fictional and non-fictional works resulting from regional flashpoints necessitating movement, these narratives can take on a sense of urgency as they attempt to reconcile the writer’s relationship with the nation. While literary discussions about SWANA migrant narratives point out that works do not necessarily have to engage the political, the lines between personal and political are often blurred throughout the creation of exilic cultural production. Whether expressed in dramatic, prose, poetic, or autobiographical forms, SWANA writers have meditated on questions concerning the nation, identity, exile, im/migration, assimilation, and acculturation as they reconcile what it means to be “othered” elsewhere. From a literary perspective, formal questions about aesthetics arise throughout these narratological cycles. How do the aesthetics and the vehicle for storytelling change throughout the thematic search for home? Do varying national and transnational literary oeuvres take on similar or recognizable aesthetics as they seek to simultaneously juxtapose the loss of home with the search for belonging? Moreover, how are regional works and their formal aesthetics impacted by the colonial and postcolonial histories of Southwest Asia and North Africa? Much like the physical borders they must negotiate, SWANA writers often play with the permeability of formal limits, at times opting for hybrid genres. In this vein, this panel seeks to explore narratives that pay particular attention to form as they ruminate on themes of identity and belonging occasioned by both historical and current experiences of displacement, migration, and loss.  In addition to papers that explore the formal qualities of texts, we invite papers that examine how SWANA narratives of migration challenge our conception of the world literary space. In other words, how do these texts of and about movement travel themselves? Can the literature of migration evade the colonizing forces of the Western literary canon? How do national literary languages fare within the politics of these texts’ circulation? In more recent years, as “diaspora” is replaced by “migration” in providing an ontological framework for understanding displacement, do we still find examples of literary transnationalism that reject the assimilationist drive of border politics?

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