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Towing the Line: Migrant Women Writers and the Space of Irish Writing
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The imagining of the nation as a space in which “we” belong is not independent of the material deployment of force, and the forms of governmentality which control, not only the boundaries between nation states, and the movements of citizens and aliens within the state, but also the repertoire of images which allows the concept of the nation to come into being in the first place.

sara ahmed, strange encounters (98)

The shape of the nation as both real and imagined space depends on the “strangers” who mark the internal and external limits of the “skin” that keeps it in place. From the perspective of the “we” assumed as the constitutive parts of the national body, the “stranger” is she who is already constituted as such on her arrival at the border— whether the physical borders of the juridical state or the internal borders, material, cultural, psychic, that distinguish the “we” who are “at home” from the “strangers” who are “out of place.” For Sara Ahmed, on whose work we are drawing here, the categorical error in the delineation of the stranger undergirds the logic of migrant reception and multicultural aspiration. Whether the gesture of reception is one that rejects or one that welcomes, it effects an erasure of the specificity of the one who is out of place, as the “stranger” is incorporated into the multicultural “we” “as a figure of the unassimilable” that is now appropriated as “ours”—the sign of “our” inclusivity (Strange Encounters 4). As such, this fetishizing gesture occludes both the histories that have produced the stranger as such and the incorporating desire of the “we” whose self-image is invested in the figure of the stranger. It also elides “the political processes whereby some others are designated as stranger than other others.” (Strange Encounters 6) Elsewhere, Ahmed describes these processes in terms of alignment with a particular direction, of falling in line or being out of line with a lineage, particularly a national lineage that, through repetition, forgets the processes through which its own line has been constituted:

Being “in line” allows bodies to extend into spaces that, as it were, have already taken their shape. Such extensions could be described as an extension of the body’s reach. . . . We might speak then of collective direction: of ways in which nations or other imagined communities might be “going in a certain direction,” or facing the same way, such that only some things get our attention. Becoming a member of such a community, then, might also mean following this direction, which could be described as the political requirement that we turn some ways and not others. We follow the line that is followed by others: the repetition of the act of following makes the line disappear from view as the point from which “we” emerge.

In this article, we will explore the confluences of such processes in the context of migrant women writing in Ireland. Our specific focus for this exploration is the Women Writers in the New Ireland Network (WWINI), a network for migrant women writers in Ireland that was initiated as a seed project in 2007 of an Irish Research Council of the Humanities and Social Sciences project hosted by the Migration and Citizenship Research Initiative at University College Dublin. Several of the women writers who comprise the network make explicit that their work involves writing toward their own reorientations and in the process inevitably—not necessarily but often intentionally—disorienting and reorienting the material and imaginary spaces of “national culture,” spaces that make visible the “out-of-place-ness” of the migrant writer. Thus this article has a doubled focus, exploring the re orientation devices at work in the network and in the writing of the women who comprise it, while making visible the impossible constraints imposed on the migrant woman writer by totalizing constructions of an Irish “national culture” or “shared common culture” in academic and, sometimes, literary proscriptions of the space of Irish writing.

The WWINI project was inspired by our mutual interests in the politics and transformative potential of creative expression and cultural practices. At the time, Alice was shifting her exploration of identity, home...


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