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Literary Representations of Migration and Displacement Across Nations and States

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Organizer: Samuel Jaffee

Co-Organizer: J. Engel Szwaja Franken

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Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni recently claimed that migration across the Mediterranean to southern Europe intends to “destroy our identity and our civilization to turn us into undefined citizens of the world and model consumers.” In this echo of the constitutive moment in which the nation is defined by excluding the foreigner, Meloni seeks to place a personal anti-migrant stance within a collective national past of democratic sociopolitical contours. Italy is but one of many states with national politics marked by migration: amid natural disasters, political turmoil, and economic shock, migration urges introspection of national cultures.

This introspection can be situated in a long critical tradition of thinking the tension between a nation’s origin, structure, and function. For Ernest Gellner, modernity is the age of nationalism because an advanced economy needs nations: large groups of people who share a basic education and can communicate with each other, without need for context. Rather than stories making up the national imaginary a priori, nations seek and choose defining stories. Kwame Anthony Appiah’s argument that nations are made of the intersections of “lies that bind” admits that, beyond family structure and village community, the nation presents a “quandary of scale” that inhibits Hegel’s objective of a shared sense of belonging. Appiah’s concept of cosmopolitanism asks us to consider the nation’s obligations to particular human lives: If migrants make the nation, do they make it care? 

In this panel on migration and displacement across nations and states, we consider the extent to which theories such as Gellner’s and Appiah’s intersect with the literary archive. We ask: How does the migrant perspective evaluate cracks in the understanding of identity in societies? How do texts written by migrants reorient national sentiment? Is the nation-state now enjoying a renaissance despite the current century being considered the “age of migration”? Do rhetorical inventions of pasts or futures reorient societies’ directions or provide for compromise and engagement? In what sense is a literary rethinking of cultures through migration a pedagogical project for nations, or an unfinishable conversation?

We welcome submissions on any of these questions, from literature related to migration and national cultures, in any time or place. Examples of topics: 

Relationships between a nation’s values and its languages
Laws, statutes, legal status, citizenship status
Family life, coming of age stories, performative identities, community values
Depictions of nationalism, the construction of regional consciousness, political community
Ecocritical approaches to setting and landscape as arguments of identity
Genealogies of peoples and places at the nation’s margins
Politics of nostalgia, memory, anxiety
Routes of trade and migration
Politics of emigration states exert on diasporas and vice versa

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