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Congrès de la SAES. Université de Lorraine – Nancy – 30 mai au 1 juin 2024

« Frontières et déplacements » / « Crossing / Borders »

Atelier 5 : 

Société d’Études Anglaises Contemporaines (SEAC) / La Nouvelle de langue anglaise

In Ali Smith’s Spring (2019), a character proposes a redefinition of the border: “What if, the girl says. Instead of saying, this border divides these places. We said, this border unites these places. This border holds together these two really interesting different places. What if we declared border crossings places where, listen, when you crossed them, you yourself became doubly possible” (196). Our workshop at the 2024 SAES conference proposes to explore the paradoxical nature of the border (which can be geographical, political, social, mental, generic, aesthetic, linguistic, stylistic, narratological etc…) as a line which marks a separation but may nevertheless be crossed. The title of Salman Rushdie’s collection of essays Step Across this Line (2002) specifically draws attention to the close bond between the border and its transgression, reminding us that the discreet or triumphant pleasure of illicit crossing cannot be experienced unless the line has previously been drawn. The border may therefore be considered as both rigid (corresponding to Deleuze and Guattari’s molar lines or lines of segmentarity) and shifting (opening onto lines of flight and deterritorialization), constraining and challenging, necessary and dispensable.

In her analysis of borderline stories (“Explorer la frontière” in the original French title), Diane Gagneret confirms the ambiguity of the border which both includes and excludes (12) and refers to Quaderni’s 1995 special issue “Penser la frontière” in which Yves Winkin and Tomke Lask define the border as Janus-like: “objet à double face […] la frontière contient autant qu’elle repousse” (60). In his Theory of the Border (2016), Thomas Nail also highlights the two interlinked dynamics of the border as “expansion” and “expulsion” (21). This ambivalence is emblematized by the distinction between the frontier as limes (a hermetic boundary that prevents any crossing) and as limen (a porous border or threshold). On the one hand, borders impose order (b/ordering to use Anna Krasteva’s split term) and tend to “other” whatever or whoever stands on the other side (see Henk van Houtum and Ton van Naerssen, “Bordering, Ordering and Othering”, 2002). In The Origin of Others (2017), Toni Morrison mentions “[t]he spectacle of mass movement [which] draws attention inevitably to the borders, the porous places, the vulnerable points where the concept of home is seen as being menaced by foreigners” (94). On the other hand, as mentioned above, borders may authorize or even encourage crossing and transgression, making it possible to revisit concepts related to margins and center. 

Often perceived as key notions within the fields of postmodernism and postcolonial studies, borders, migration and globalization permeate earlier literary and artistic contexts, and particularly modernism. Assessing in 2008 the evolution of modernist literary scholarship over the previous decade, Douglas Mao and Rebecca L. Walkowitz made it clear that “there can be no doubt that modernist studies is undergoing a transnational turn” (738). Although modernism had long been associated with exile or expatriation (a swarm of figures immediately come to mind, among whom Henry James, T. S. Eliot, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, James Joyce or Ernest Hemingway, to mention but the most famous of the modernist “émigrés”), Mao and Walkowitz insisted that the recent transnational turn of modernist studies was truly innovative in its avoidance of Eurocentrism and tended to “globalize modernism both by identifying new local strains in parts of the world not always associated with modernist production and by situating well-known modernist artifacts in a broader transnational past” (739). Such “increasing emphasis on transnational exchange,” they predicted, “is […] crucially transformative and will certainly remain so for many years” (738). A decade and a half later, one must admit the prediction has not been proven wrong and that the focus on transnationalism and border crossing is still very much alive in modernist studies, as evidenced by the topic of the 2022 EAM (European Network for Avant-Garde and Modernism Studies) conference – Globalising the Avant-Garde – or by the incoming publication of studies such as The Wanderings of Modernism (eds. Yasna Bozhkova, Olivier Hercend and Diane Drouin).

While borders are often examined in relation to the limits of nation-states and explored by migration and diaspora studies, they can extend to a great variety of domains. In terms of aesthetics, the notion of borders and their crossing can be useful to explore the shift from modernism to postmodernism and beyond. In The Location of Culture (1994), Homi Bhabha writes that we live “on the borderlines of the ‘present’, for which there seems to be no proper name other than the current and controversial shiftiness of the prefix ‘post’: postmodernism, postcolonialism, postfeminism” (1). The prefix ‘post’ seems to encompass the ambivalence of the border and its relation to what is situated beyond which, for Bhabha, is “neither a new horizon, nor a leaving behind of the past” (1-2). The ‘post’ or ‘beyond’ may therefore map out a poetics of displacement or “overrun” as “dé-bordement” to quote Jacques Derrida in “Living On” (68), a process which entails a constant shift of limits and borders, be they aesthetic, generic, gender-related, geographical, mental or social. The prefix ‘trans’ likewise points to the crossing of borders between texts (transtextuality), languages (translation), nationalities, communities, cultures, arts, literary genres or genders, thereby challenging notions of binarity as well as rigid categorizations.

While prescriptive and normative theories of literary and artistic genres have tended to erect hermetic borders between categories, practitioners have highlighted the porosity of generic frontiers in works of art that resist framing and let various literary forms (fiction, essay, biography, historiography…) and semiotic systems (text and image for instance) interact, leading to the creation of such hybrid genres as biofiction, the graphic novel, prose poems, documentary theatre or hydrid art when artists work with frontier areas of science and emerging technologies. In the 1993 Bristol art exhibition Disrupted Borders and his edited book Disrupted Borders: an Intervention in Definitions of Boundaries, photographer Sunil Gupta reflects on ‘otherness’ and endorses the plurality of art-making practices, while in his 2021 experimental collection about:blank, Adam Wyeth, the SAES conference guest writer, defies categorisations by interweaving prose, poetry and drama. In this respect, Wyeth follows in the footsteps of famous modernists such as Virginia Woolf, who famously conceived of her novel The Waves as a play-poem and endeavoured to blur the boundary between short fiction and essays, between genres perceived as either minor or major (on this subject see Christine Reynier’s Virginia Woolf’s Ethics of the Short Story).

The novella itself is a hybrid form that challenges the borders between the novel and the short story. It has become rather common for writers to publish a group of novellas instead of bringing them out as short novels as was the case in earlier decades—Byatt’s Angels and Insects (1992), Allan Gurganus’s Local Souls (2013) may come to mind. This practice gives those texts a new status which may enable us to reflect upon them as cycles, diptychs, or triptychs… How different is it to read them separately or as a group? How do they inform one another? Reading beyond textual borders may enable readers to grasp unsuspected, unexpected, elements. Writers also fiddle with such borders when they revise stories that were initially published in magazines and expand them into novels. Short story cycles such as Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine(1984; 1993) or Jamaica Kincaid’s Annie John (1985) also question the very notion of border, Erdrich going beyond borders by expanding one of her collections almost ten years after its initial publication. Raymond Carver’s textual manipulations may be taken into account as well—though some of them were made by editors, he did rewrite and republish the same stories over and over again. Other examples could include Alice Munro’s Lives of Girls and Women(1971)—which, though it was advertised as a novel, really is a short story collection for, to use Munro’s own claim, “Short stories, yes. Novels, no” (see her 1996 introduction to her Selected Stories). Colleagues interested in short fiction may also look up the special issue of The Journal of the Short Story in English devoted to “Borders, Intersections and Identity” (75, Autumn 2020).

Borders and their crossing may also be related to Leslie Fiedler’s 1969 essay significantly entitled “Cross the Border—Close the Gap,” in which the literary critic defined as one of the features of postmodernism the erosion of the distinction between elite and popular culture, an aspect Fredric Jameson identified as part of a series of effacements of “key boundaries and separations” (128), which writers and artists have put into practice. In drama, immersive theater breaks the fourth wall by removing the stage and immersing audiences within the performance itself. Other, more metaphorical or symbolical, borders might also be envisaged, such as the “fractured borders” Mary K. DeShazer explores in relation to women’s cancer literature, when, to quote Audrey Lourde’s elegy, “death is a fractured border”, or the borderland between sanity and madness (Gagneret 275-81).

Literature and visual arts also register the new configurations of a globalized world viewed as a zone of transnational migrations, exiles and displacements, a place of cultural and political diasporas. In these “border and frontier conditions” (Bhabha 17), lines are shifting, walls are brought down, polarities are challenged and the distinction between the centre and the periphery is no longer valid. Anna Krasteva rightly points to the paradox of asserting the fixity of borders at the time of globalization which “describes the debordisation of the world” (17). Border theories (predominantly drawing from Mexican-US border theory) have become a widespread field of study which envisage the border not only as a specific and actual site but also as a metaphor, a function, a conceptual tool (Castillo 184), and even for some critics as “the governing trope of the postmodern” (Welchman 175). However, literature and visual arts also portray a contemporary world in which communal and social divides are violently reasserted, sometimes under the concrete form of stockades, barbed wire fences, walls and separations, as emblematized by John Lanchester’s dystopic novel The Wall (2019), Ali Smith’s Seasonal Quartet (2016-2020) or Zadie Smith’s “Fences: A Brexit Diary” (2019), which all expose the fencing off of Britain. In the aftermath of Brexit and in the midst of the refugee crisis (see the mysterious black doors characters step through to be teleported to a foreign country in Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West (2017)), writers and artists question the borders of Britishness, revisit the state of the nation novel and interrogate the political decision to close off borders to prevent the arrival of migrants or refugees. 

This workshop organised jointly by the Société d’Études Anglaises Contemporaines (SEAC) and the Journal of the Short Story in English welcomes proposals that address the concepts of borders and crossing from a wide range of perspectives, the directions suggested above being non-exclusive. Papers may take as their focus British literature and visual arts of the 20th and the 21st centuries. Contributors may also turn to the genre of the short story in English from the 19th to the 21stcenturies. 

Proposals for papers in English (300 words + short bibliography) and a brief biographical note should be sent jointly to Vanessa Guignery (vanessa.guignery@ens-lyon.fr) and Gérald Preher (gerald.preher@univ-artois.fr) before November 30th 2023.

Papers will be submitted for publication to the peer-reviewed journals Études britanniques contemporaines or The Journal of the Short Story in English.

Selective bibliography

Anzaldúa, Gloria. Borderlands/La frontera: The New  Mestiza. Spinsters/Aunt Lute, 1987.

Berman, Jessica. “Transnational Modernisms.” The Cambridge Companion to Transnational American Literature. Cambridge UP, 2017. 107-121.

Bhabha, Homi. The Location of Culture. Routledge, 1994.

Brambilla, Chiara et al. Borderscaping: Imaginations and Practices of Border Making. Ashgate, 2015.

Castillo, Debra A. “Border Theory and the Canon.” Post-Colonial Literatures. Expanding the Canon. Ed. Deborah L. Madsen. Pluto Press, 1999.

Dell’Agnese, Elena and Anne-Laure Amilhat-Szary. “Borderscapes: From Border Landscapes to Border Aesthetics.” Geopolitics 20 (2015): p. 4‑13.

Derrida, Jacques. “Living On.” 1977. Trans. James Hulbert. Deconstruction and Criticism. Harold Bloom, Paul de Man, Jacques Derrida, Geoffrey H. Hartman, J. Hillis Miller. Continuum, 2004. 62-142.

DeShazer, Mary K. Fractured Bodies: Reading Women’s Cander Literature. U of Michigan P, 2005.

Fiedler, Leslie. “Cross the Border – Close the Gap.” 1970. The Collected Essays of Leslie Fiedler. Vol. II. Stein and Day, 1971. 461-485.

Foucher, Michel. L’Obsession des frontières. Perrin, 2007.

Foucrier, Chantal, et Daniel Mortier dir. Frontières et passages : les échanges culturels et littéraires. Presses Universitaires de Rouen, 1999.

Gagneret, Diane. Explorer la frontière : Folie et genre(s) dans la littérature anglophone contemporaine. Thèse de doctorat. ENS de Lyon, 2019. https://theses.hal.science/tel-02458256

Gupta, Sunil, ed. Disrupted Borders: an Intervention in Definitions of Boundaries. Rivers Oram, 1993.

Journal of Borderlands Studies.

Krasteva, Anna. “Spaces, Lines, Borders: Imaginaries and Images.” Borderscaping: Imaginations and Practices of Border Making. Ashgate, 2015, p. 13‑26.

Le Ménahèze, Sophie, et Nathalie MartiniÈre, dirs. Écrire la frontière. PULIM, 2003.

Lojo-Rodríguez, Laura Jorge Sacido-Romero and Noemí Pereira-Ares, eds. Borders, Intersections and Identity in the Contemporary Short Story in English. Spec. issue of The Journal of the Short Story in English. 75 (Autumn 2020).

Mao, Douglas, ed. The New Modernist Studies. Cambridge UP, 2021.

Mao, Douglas, and Rebecca L. Walkowitz. “The New Modernist Studies.” PMLA 123.3 (May 2008): 737-748.

Morrison, Toni. The Origin of Others. Harvard University Press, 2017.

Nail, Thomas. Theory of the Border. Oxford University Press, 2016.

Parret, Herman, et al. Ligne, frontière, horizon. Mardaga, 1993.

Patterson, Anita. Race, American Literature and Transnational Modernisms. Cambridge UP, 2009.

Popescu, Gabriel. Bordering and Ordering the Twenty-First Century: Understanding Borders. Rowman & Littlefield, 2012.

Reynier, Christine. Virginia Woolf’s Ethics of the Short Story. Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.

Rumford, Chris. “Introduction: Theorizing Borders.” European Journal of Social Theory 9.2 (2006): 155-169.

Rushdie, Salman. Step Across this Line. Collected Non-Fiction 1992-2002. Random House, 2002.

Schimanski, Johan, et Stephen F. Wolfe, dirs. Border Aesthetics: Concepts and Intersections. Berghahn, 2017.

Van Houtum, Henk, et al. B/ordering Space. Ashgate, 2005.

Van Houtum, H. and Van Naerssen, T. “Bordering, Ordering and Othering.” Tijdschrift voor economische en sociale geografie 93 (2002): 125-136. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9663.00189

Welchman, John C., ed. Rethinking Borders. Macmillan, 1996.

Wilson, Thomas M., et Hastings Donnan, eds. A Companion to Border Studies. Wiley-Blackwell, 2012.

Winkin, Yves, dir. “Dossier : Penser la frontière.”  Quaderni : La revue de la communication 27 (1995): 60-120.