Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Migration And Literature by Søren Frank: Comparative Analysis of Migration Literature

 Human beings used to be hunter gatherers in a distant past. They were eternal migrants, nomads who travelled across the globe in search of greener pastures. In time, with the advent of fire and agriculture, they turned into settlers. Civilisations flourished on river beds and common men stopped venturing out of their comfort zone. Long travels were for adventurers and pilgrims, who were looked upon as outliers and bearers of exotic tales. Merchants and conquerors were the others who travelled.

Although most of the humans were domesticated and never travelled outside their villages for generations, all their epics and legends were about travels- be it Ramayana or Odyssey, Exodus or Hijrah, we romanticised travelling. It was the two major wars, decolonialised nations and advent of cheaper technology in the Twentieth century that provided the intent and capability for a normal person to venture out into the open world. To earn knowledge, livelihood or to avoid persecution, mass migration became a norm in the last hundred years. This trend changed literature as we know it. 

Migration and Literature is an attempt by Søren Frank to make sense of migration literature. He tries to unfurl the sociological and aesthetic aspects of migration literature- its social and formal aspects (a study on why it is written and how it is written). He makes a distinction with travel literature, one that has some commonalities with migration literature because both of them attempt to make sense of a strange place, it's language, politics and culture with an outsider's lense. But travel literature has a closure to it. The shock that the author experiences is meant to be erased by his homecoming, when everything go back to normal. But migration literature doesn't have that privilege. Migration experiences changes the migrant and even homecoming gets problematic to him as we can see from some examples in the book. 

Søren Frank explains the basic character of migration experience consisting of territorialisation, deterritorialisation and reterritorialisation. These factors prevent him to be deep rooted to a place or culture. The author proposes a rhizomisation of roots, were instead of a single root, migrant has a network of interconnected roots like a rhizome. Migrant stops being a centralized entity and exists with multiple centers like an ellipse and continuous oscillation between these centers of familiarity and strangeness characterises migratory experience. (The book cover has an egg drawn on it which basically symbolises this multi centered entity of migrants and migration literature.) 

The author explains migration literature by comparing the novels of four contemporary novelists- Günter Grass, Milan Kundera, Salman Rushdie, and Jan Kjærstad. He attempts to define the commonalities of migration literature using the work of these writers and also explain how the difference in migratory experiences makes each of them unique. Søren Frank examines four aspects of each of the writer to explain their migratory themes- authorial biography, character biography, social context of the novels that explains how the spatial and temporal aspects (space and time) of the displacement are dealt and narrational form of the novels. 

Three of the authors selected by Frank are migrants, but he believed migration is a social process that leaves its marks on non migrant writer also. To illustrate this, he selected Jan Kjærstad as his fourth novelist. Exile of Grass was due to his German guilt after World War II and his writing was an answer to the question on how to write fiction after Auschwitz. Kundera fled Czechoslovakia after the Russian invasion. His writing was a reaction to the invasion and his loss of Czech nationalism. Rushdie's post colonial writing was deeply entrenched in the duality of East and West, at times conflicting and at times compromising with each other. Kjærstad wrote against the Scandinavian need to resist globalisation. He identified the need for glocalised society- global evolving to local and local getting convoluted to global. 

One of the main impact of migration is in the destruction of causality in novels. The 'cause and effect' structure of novels became obsolete. Story telling as a means to preach a message is stopped. The concept of a superior narrator is demolished. Migratory novels became multi centered- temporally, spatially and narratorially. Instead of deep rooted and pure national identities, glocalised identities with interconnected rhizome like roots started inhabiting the novels. Themes took centerstage instead of structural plots. Modern novel is touted as flawed masterpieces that reflects the fragmentation of reality caused by the oscillatory migratory experiences. 

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