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Feats of Survival: Refugee Writing and the Ethics of Representation

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The Ethics of Survival in Contemporary Literature and Culture
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Abstract

This chapter examines the ethics of reading and interpreting recent refugee texts. It focuses on the politics of representation when refugee voices are subject to mediation by translators, narrators and editors. Drawing on Judith Butler’s theories of precarity, and in light of new citizenship practices that argue for more inclusivity, this chapter evaluates responses to refugee narratives ranging from the critical to the empathetic. It examines Abu Bakr Khaal’s novella, African Titanics (2008); the “retold” stories of detainees and asylum seekers in Refugee Tales (2016, 2017 and 2019) and Behrouz Boochani’s political memoir, No Friend but the Mountains (2018) for their modes of production and narrative strategies. It argues that these discourses generate awareness of the systemic inequalities underlining the condition of refugees and asylum seekers.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    See Nail (2015) and Maley (2016).

  2. 2.

    The UNHCR reports that by June 2019 there were 79.5 million forcibly displaced people including 26 million refugees (half of whom are under 18) and 4.2 million stateless people; see UNHCR, “Figures at a Glance”; http://www.unhcr.org/en-us/figures-at-a-glance.html. Accessed 6 March 2021.

  3. 3.

    The term “crisis” refers to the threat refugees pose to border security; it is used to stop them from reaching sovereign territory and so justify their detention; see Fleay (2019, 519–520, 531).

  4. 4.

    Woolley (2014, 13).

  5. 5.

    Woolley (2014, 209).

  6. 6.

    Lokuge (2021, 6).

  7. 7.

    Ní Mhurchú (2014, 170).

  8. 8.

    Mann (2017, 3).

  9. 9.

    Butler (2016, 24).

  10. 10.

    Butler (2016, 41).

  11. 11.

    Critics argue that Butler’s new humanism occludes other positions with “a veil of ignorance” or “white amnesia” (Danewid 2017, 1676, 1681); that she universalises the human subject, predicated as a “wounded and injured, but essentially innocent western subject” (Thobani 2010, 135) as interchangeable with the victimised subject who is mourned; and that her mandate for empathetic engagement and ethical responsibility marginalises the systemic nature of precarity and its roots in colonialism. In summary, Butler’s western orientation is critiqued for ignoring the postcolonial project of responding to historical situations of oppression, inequity and injustice as likely causes of today’s migrant exodus.

  12. 12.

    Butler (2016, 41).

  13. 13.

    Butler (2016, 49).

  14. 14.

    Pedwell (2014, x).

  15. 15.

    Khorana (2018, 305).

  16. 16.

    Bhabha (2015, 20).

  17. 17.

    Anon (n.d.), the anonymous, undated review in Nahla Ink Online Journal.

  18. 18.

    Khaal (2014, 3).

  19. 19.

    Korte and Zipp (2014, 3).

  20. 20.

    Khaal (2014, 122).

  21. 21.

    Khaal (2014, 122).

  22. 22.

    See also Butler (2016, 25).

  23. 23.

    See also the anthologies edited by Rosie Scott and Thomas Keneally (2013), Lucy Popescu (2016), Olumide Popoola and Annie Holmes (2016).

  24. 24.

    See Nandi (2013/14, 153–154) and Spivak (1988).

  25. 25.

    See, for example, the Australian memoirs by Do (2010) and Deng (2016); the latter was co-written with Ben McKelvey and proceeds go to the John Mac Foundation “to further education and justice in Australia and South Sudan”.

  26. 26.

    Braun (2016).

  27. 27.

    Herd and Pincus (2016, 142).

  28. 28.

    Herd and Pincus (2016, 150).

  29. 29.

    Herd and Pincus (2016, 138).

  30. 30.

    The Middle English reads: “And smale foweles maken melodye,/ That slepen al the nyght with open ye /(So priketh hem Natúre in hir corages), /Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages” (Chaucer 1988, 23).

  31. 31.

    Herd and Pincus (2016, vi).

  32. 32.

    Butler (2016, 19).

  33. 33.

    Fitzgerald (2019, 231).

  34. 34.

    An Australian Border Force Act passed in July 2015 imposed a two-year imprisonment for release of unauthorised information about the IDCs; see Fleay (2019, 86).

  35. 35.

    Refugee Status Determination on Manus Island Regional Processing Centre was determined by Papua New Guinean Government in a Regional Resettlement Arrangement whereby Australia ceded management responsibility; see Wallis and Dalsgaard (2016, 3). Complaints by Australian guards and the Papua New Guinean workers that they could no longer tolerate working in the camp were also influential (Fitzgerald 2019, 238).

  36. 36.

    See Wahlquist (2019). The Victoria Premiere’s Literary Awards waived the criterion that applicants be Australian citizens.

  37. 37.

    In 2021 Boochani is Ursula Bethell Writer in Residence at the University of Canterbury; https://www.canterbury.ac.nz/news/2020/uc-writers-in-residence-2021-vana-manasiadis-and-behrouz-boochani.html.

  38. 38.

    Boochani (2018, 124 (fn 6)).

  39. 39.

    Elliott (2019).

  40. 40.

    Boochani (2018, xxviii, 362).

  41. 41.

    Boochani (2018, xxv).

  42. 42.

    Boochani (2018, xv).

  43. 43.

    Foucault (1984, 3).

  44. 44.

    McWatters (2013, 204, emphasis in original).

  45. 45.

    Boochani (2018, 175).

  46. 46.

    The crisis came as a four-day riot in February 2014, in which one man was killed, after the Manus IDC refugees learnt that there was no hope of entry into Australia, when the Australian Immigration Minister warned: “either you go back to your countries or you will remain on Manus Island forever” Boochani (2018, 125, 313).

  47. 47.

    Boochani (2018, 294–295, 255, 257).

  48. 48.

    Boochani (2018, 263). Boochani was brought up during the Iran-Iraq war of 1980–88. His reflections on the Kurds’ long-term struggle against oppression focus on the chestnut oak forest that surrounds his village, a symbol of salvation and sacrifice. Kurdish civilians caught between the opposing forces of Iraqui Ba’athists (Arab nationalists), Iranian zealots and Peshmerga (Kurdish militia) found asylum in a chestnut grove; with the deaths of many “chestnuts became the solace for buried dreams”; Boochani (2018, 259).

  49. 49.

    Boochani (2018, xxxxiii).

  50. 50.

    Boochani (2018, ix).

  51. 51.

    Boochani (2018, ix).

  52. 52.

    Boochani (2018, vii).

  53. 53.

    Fleras (2017, 25).

  54. 54.

    An activism that engages with the “politics of death”; Rygiel (2014, 62).

  55. 55.

    Muir (2017) and Herd (2016). This period was recommended by a cross-party parliamentary enquiry in 2015.

  56. 56.

    Parliament. JCHR. Government Response to the Committee’s Sixteenth Report of Session 2017–19 (2019, 10, 14).

  57. 57.

    Manne (2018).

  58. 58.

    Boochani (2018, ix).

  59. 59.

    “Anon Behrouz Boochani Wins National Biography Award” (19 August 2019).

  60. 60.

    Butler (2016, 9–11).

  61. 61.

    Ian Rintoul from the Refugee Action Coalition, Sydney, reported in early March 2021 that refugees held on Manus and Nauru are currently being released in an ad hoc manner from Detention Centres and hotels into Australian society, indicating a tacit recognition that detention is no longer tenable. See http://www.refugeeaction.org.au/?p=15834; http://www.refugeeaction.org.au/?p=15848; http://www.refugeeaction.org.au/?p=15850.

  62. 62.

    Boochani (2018, xxix).

  63. 63.

    See Sakr (2018).

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Correspondence to Janet M. Wilson .

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Wilson, J.M. (2021). Feats of Survival: Refugee Writing and the Ethics of Representation. In: Freiburg, R., Bayer, G. (eds) The Ethics of Survival in Contemporary Literature and Culture. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-83422-7_4

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