Homelessness and the refugee: De-valorizing displacement in Abdulrazak Gurnah’s By the Sea
Journal of Postcolonial Writing
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© 2015 Taylor & Francis The use of postmodern discourses of movement to analyze literary works involving migration has contributed to a valorization of displacement, which tends to be seen as both inherently resistant and creatively productive. While such approaches have been important for problematizing hegemonic mobilizations of “home”, there is also a danger in reading movement as constitutive of the (post)modern world. In particular, such frameworks often overlook the experiences of those who are forcibly displaced. Critical investment in tropes of migrancy may unwittingly recycle imperialist assumptions by producing imagined spaces of alterity that serve to liberate the centred, “at home” subject at the expense of historicized experiences of homelessness. Abdulrazak Gurnah’s 2001 novel By the Sea represents one such historicized experience, that of its protagonist, asylum seeker Saleh Omar. This article argues that, through its narrative investment in houses and household objects and in the importance of narrative for creating a sense of home for its migrant protagonist, Gurnah’s novel poses a challenge to an aesthetic valorization of displacement. Furthermore, rather than identifying an individualist investment in homelessness as a route to authorship, By the Sea posits storytelling rooted in the domestic sphere as an alternative, restorative migrant aesthetic practice.
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