‘Recording/Remembering Mobility’ -ASMCF/SSFH PG Study Day
The panel ‘Recording/remembering mobility’ had a further common theme of inclusion versus exclusion across different types of mobility. Antonia Wimbush’s paper, ‘Postcolonial mobility: Empowerment of exile’ focused on Véronique Tadjo, an Ivoirian writer and lecturer born in Paris, a Fulbright scholar with a Sorbonne doctorate. Antonia showed how Tadjo, a cosmopolitan writer, experienced a sense of exclusion from her father’s native Akan language and culture, as explored in the 2010 book Loin de mon père. Tadjo is an example, Antonia argued, of how Francophone writers can experience cultural hybridity as exile. Fabienne Cheung’s paper ‘Récits d’Ellis Island: Georges Perec’s migratory journey’ examined the 1980 film by Perec and Robert Bober, showing how the attempted objectivity of its documentary aspects contrast with the highly personal dimensions introduced by Bober and Perec, and their radical sense of non-belonging – Bober’s grandfather was among the 2% of immigrants refused entry at Ellis Island, while Perec’s family, caught up in the Holocaust, never had the chance to get there. This sense of exclusion is contrasted in the film with the experience of the majority of visitors to the island, Americans whose family had entered the USA through Ellis. Fabienne demonstrated Perec’s questioning of how identity is constructed around a sense of belonging or non-belonging. Finally, Fanny Louvier’s paper highlighted the lives of French female domestic servants in the period 1900-1940, and the complex social mobilities that they experienced. These servants frequently wrote about the novelty of encountering new kinds of food in service. Eating ‘upper-class’ food (and taking knowledge of it home) could supply a sense of successful mobility, a new identity that was embraced. Alternatively, preserving local food customs of their region of origin could be a way to maintain a sense of identity while in service. The acquisition of new cultural forms could leave domestic servants with a sense of double exclusion – mocked by their culture of origin and disdained by their employers: Fanny discussed this in terms of ‘the hidden injuries of class’. The discussion showed that all three papers had in common the idea of exclusion as the flipside of mobility – puncturing the often uplifting narratives of mobility and adding a mournful or melancholic aspect.
Richard Bates, University of Nottingham