Of Bodies and Borders: Navid Kermani, Elfriede Jelinek and Jenny Erpenbeck on Migration

Friday, July 14, 2017
Melville Room (University of Glasgow)
Monika Shafi , Foreign Languages and Literatures, University of Delaware
My talk will analyze how three contemporary authors, Navid Kermani in his essay Einbruch der Wirklichkeit: Auf dem Flüchtlingstreck durch Europa (2015), Elfriede Jelinek’s dramatic text Die Schutzbefohlenen (2013) and Jenny Erpenbeck’s novel Gehen, Ging, Gegangen (2015) respond to the current refugee situation in Europe.  Kermani, accompanied by the photographer Moises Saman, traveled to Budapest, Ismir, and Lesbos documenting the abysmal conditions of refugees; Jelinek’s sweeping account juxtaposes the voices of refugees and Austrians in the context of European literary traditions; and Erpenbeck’s novel tells the story of a retired German professor, who befriends a group of African men and eventually turns his house into a shelter for them. While different in genre and narrative approach the works stress both the physicality of migration, the violation and obliteration of bodies, and the discursive power of the nation state controlling the refugee body. I will draw in my analysis on the political philosopher Joseph Carens (The Ethics of Immigration, 2013), who compared contemporary citizenship laws to feudal class privilege because both restrict the social mobility of poor citizens. He argues that global inequities of staggering proportions invalidate rigid state control over borders, which therefore should be open. In addition to addressing this conflict between political interests and moral obligations, the three authors also attend to the link between climate change and migration thus placing the debate within the larger context of the Anthropocene.
  • Monika Shafi_Of Bodies and Borders_ Glasgow Conference_July 2017.docx (33.6 kB)