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The Refugee and Forced Migration Bildungsroman: Coming of Age and Coming into Form through Fictions of Home and Exile (Narrative Studies)


After a record-breaking swell in global displacement marking recent years up to 2016-2017, questions surrounding refugees and forced migration, displacement and exile, home and host, have reached new levels of popularity and timeliness. For all the high-stakes discussion, though, there remains a problem, in the tendency of the predominant discourse to eclipse and essentialize, staticize and passivize the Refugee and Forced Migration subject. It is a predilection reproduced in the dynamically growing corresponding surge of interest in Refugee and Forced Migration Studies as well, its own multi- and inter-disciplinary field: one which has been answered by a call from the literary-aesthetic domain. As championed by the Oxford Journal in the Study of Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States (MELUS), the advancement of a new sub-field with Literary Refugee and Forced Migration Studies offers an exciting opportunity to, as asked in its 2016 Special Issue, seek narratives reimagining those subjects of Refugee and Forced Migration experience “as active participants that use rhetorical and aesthetic means to inform, push against, and redefine the mechanisms that construct them as subjects.” In other words, in delineating Refugee and Forced Migration Literature as its own genre, replete with formal as well as thematic elements, as a critical intervention adding nuance, complexity and multi-directional agency; a chance to render visible what it called a “discrete field from which to develop new theoretical paradigms and methods of inquiry.”

My dissertation takes this project further still by advancing what I argue is an especially productive and revelatory sub-genre in the coining of the Refugee and Forced Migration Bildungsroman. The utilization of the Bildungsroman as a literary coming-of-age form offers unique capacities for the narrating character-protagonist as Refugee and Forced Migration subject here, providing a non-traditional kind of lesson in the coming together of education (bildung) with the novel (roman). In a progressive critical reading of narratological techniques employed across three such literary works, I build the Refugee and Forced Migration Bildungsroman as a sub-genre which allows the release(1), expression(2), and connection(3) for the subject of those pieces rendered inside(1-i), outside(2-ii), and in-between(3-iii) by the experience. It is through the narrating character-protagonists building themselves into-being through these stages of discourse, that the broken and fragmentary become pieces of a mosaic, material for the story being told and the subject being built. In so doing, this study determines what the text, as-text, does for both narrator and narratee, its openings and possibilities, insights and intricacies. In bringing the possibilities of the literary-fictional form to its utmost, this Bildungsroman allows for, indeed constructs and demands, an embrace of a different kind of engagement, in feeling, thinking and valuing what traditional forms and dominant systems would fail to include, cannot encompass, or would not recognize (as is critiqued within). The Refugee and Forced Migration Bildungsroman as literary sub-genre, and its unique mosaic-experiential aesthetic therein, becomes one answer to the problem: reading narrative as a precondition to making possible more complex and inclusive modes of discourse.

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