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Journal of World History 12.1 (2001) 248-252

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Book Review

Borders, Exiles, Diasporas

Borders, Exiles, Diasporas. Edited by ELAZAR BARKAN and MARIE-DENISE SHELTON. Cultural Sitings Series. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998. Pp. xiv + 342. $49.50 (cloth); $18.95 (paper).

Given the aggravated flows of globalization we now experience on the home front as well as the siren call of postcolonial hybridity, semiotic mobility and mixture turn the landscape of national belonging into a more hybrid ethnoscape of transnational becoming. Capitalist flight and informational imbalance, not to mention cybernetic hypertechnologies of interconnection, create a world in flux and geopolitical becoming. "Homeland" is becoming an uncanny mess of globalization and localizing forces that disturb the frameworks of nation-state modernity and national canons of self representation.

Tropes of traveling and figurations of cultural-political displacement have emerged, thereby, to pack ambivalent ingredients and historical discrepancies into the uneven makings of some "imagined transnational community." Migrants of labor class and professional management expertise; tourists of exotic otherness; pilgrimages to and from ex-sites of the sacred; nomads of stateless becoming; borderlands of transcultural shuttling; diasporas of ambivalent belonging; exiles of coerced or principled distancing--all these and more now call out to be articulated and historicized as constituencies of refigured postcolonial identity within the emerging global/local antidiscipline (literary/ historical/anthropological) [End Page 248] James Clifford calls "transnational cultural studies."

Borders, Exiles, Diasporas, edited by Elazar Barkan and Marie-Denise Shelton, calls upon the tradition-laden, comparatist, and learned resources of the American Comparative Literature Association to figure three dimensions ("concepts") of such transnational flows in literary authors as diverse as Reinaldo Arenas, Doris Lessing, Paul Celan, Walter Benjamin, Edmond Jabès, Antonin Artaud, Michelle Cliff, Salman Rushdie, Lëila Sebbar, J. M. G. Le Clézio, and others, as well as in diverse sites of cultural-national production from Germany to Los Angeles, London, Cuba, Africa to Paris, Algeria, Palestine, Israel, Egypt, and back. (Asian spaces and concerns oddly fall off this globe.)

In their introduction to this rich, eclectic, and somewhat overextended collection, Barkan and Shelton call attention to the makings of a mobile "global village such that 'global' conveys not only the idea of efficient communication but also border crossings, immigration, and relocation as common experiences." Eighteen essays are thus collated to focus on "borders, exiles, and diaspora primarily as themes in literary representations," though of course style, voice, language, angle of cultural-political vision all come into play in the makings of these explanatory transnational categories.

If, as the editors suggest, "innumerable groups are increasingly categorized as minority cultures" by the U.S. postmodern law of hybridity and flux, many want to get in on the re-interpretive rush to minoritize the transnational meta-narrative and to disturb imperial canons of modernity. Ronald Bush, for example, rereading Ulysses through the immigrant Indian lens of Rushdie's Satanic Verses, can retroactively proclaim that Joyce "gave the postcolonial urban diaspora literary form." Such a remarkable claim seems a truism within diaspora discourse, now that (affirm the editors) "diasporic existence in its all-inclusive terms has become culturally and politically affirmed around the globe." (Needless to say, not all diasporic communities are progressive in their ethno-fundamentalist, neo-national agendas; as Benedict Anderson has warned, "exile is the nursery of nationality" and long-distance nationalisms of various stripes.)

"Diaspora" and "exile" here bleed unhelpfully into one another, suggesting some prolonged or weakening tie to the myth of return and lure of the homeland, resulting in an "explanatory paradigm" that is not just malleable but amorphous, utopic, and at times all too obscure. The logic of affirming "neither" this "nor" that political identity and a certain polymorphous rootlessness haunt the ambivalent codes of the postmodern diaspora. "Border" markings of culture, like some willy-nilly [End Page 249] synthesis of exile and return, often presume instead some third space of interculture, refusing the political, linguistic, and cultural boundary of the nation: As Rena N. Potok points out in her finely adjudicated in-between study of the "Palestinian-Israeli" writing, the Arabs of Israel can justly...