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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Counter-discursive strategies in first-world migrant writing Fachinger, Petra


This thesis offers an analytical discussion of contemporary fictional and autobiographical narratives by migrants who write in a language other than their mother tongue and/or grew up in a bilingual environment. While not all literature by ethnic minority writers is necessarily concerned with the experience of growing up in or living between cultures, the present study deals with those writers whose texts self-reflexively and counter-discursively seek to define and express individual identity at the interface of two or more cultures. The writers discussed not only move spatially between places but also shift emotionally and intellectually between different languages and cultures as well as literary texts from these cultures. The focus is on language and the literary text itself as it becomes the site for an interaction of cultural codes. The methodology adopted draws eclectically on theories which explore the space between" from anthropological, linguistic, post-colonial and feminist perspectives. The thesis examines different textual paradigms of countering dominant discourses as found in ten representative texts from Australia, Canada, Germany and the United States which have been chosen to cover a range of cultural experience. The texts discussed are: Angelika Fremd's Heartland and Josef Vondra's Paul Zwillinq; Caterina Edwards' The Lion's Mouth, Henry Kreisel's The Betrayal and Rachna Mara's Of Customs and Excise; Franco Biondi's Abschied der zerschellten Jahre: Novelle and Akif Pirincci's Tranen sind immer das Ende: Roman; Sandra Cisneros' The House on Mango Street, Eva Hoffman's Lost in Translation: A Life in a New Language and Richard Rodriguez' Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez. It is shown that self-reflexive negotiation of Self and Other in the text takes different forms depending on the writer's ethnic and racial background, his/her gender and the adopted country's social and political attitudes toward the newcomer. Re-writing, however, which is understood as an intentional, political dialogue with specific texts, is a recurrent counter-discursive strategy in the texts discussed. Finally, the thesis argues that the re-writing of traditional literary genres, such as Novelle, short story cycle, autobiography, Bildungs roman and quest novel, rather than of a particular text, as in other post-colonial contexts, is the most prevalent form of "writing back" in migrant literature. Texts written by migrants not only creatively revise literary conventions, challenge the concept of “national literature" and undermine canonically established categories, but also defeat attempts to approach a text with a single "appropriate" theory to reveal the strategies and the effects of cultural hybridity.

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