From the Subaltern to the Female Nomad in Narratives of Transnational Migration by Jhumpa Lahiri and Monica Ali
Maria-Sabina Draga Alexandru (University of Bucharest, Romania) [BIO]
Definitions of migration have changed in the last decades as our increasingly global world has been shrinking. Deleuze and Guattari differentiate the ‘migrant’ from the ‘nomad’ in A Thousand Plateaus, showing that for the latter nomadic trajectories matter more than fixed points on them. The nomad’s identity and stability does not depend on the places he/she goes through, but on the symbolic home he/she carries along on the journey. This emphasis on the process rather than the state in identity definitions is repositioned by Rosi Braidotti in the context of a new millennium reinterpretation of nomadology from a feminist perspective. In her work Nomadic Subjects Braidotti defines nomadism as being ‘not fluidity without borders but rather an acute awareness of the nonfixity of boundaries’, which is tightly connected to the continuous becoming of the self that characterises contemporaneity.
Braidotti relies on the complexity and subversive nature of the female presence in culture when she notices that the feminist movement ‘has provided stability amid changing conditions and shifting contexts’, so that women are to her paradigmatic nomads. If to Judith Butler femininity is nothing but a matter of culturally-conditioned performance within the endless war of ‘gender trouble’, Braidotti’s female nomad takes this performance across borders. Migrant female identity thus becomes an instance of performance within a double subaltern position: both gendered and ethnic. In theorising a discursive/textual nomadism that can better express the ‘molecularisation of the self’ which she sees as characteristic of the new millennium, Braidotti shows that this fluid female continuum provides ways to reflect what she calls ‘my desire for nomadism, that is to say, my desire to suspend all attachment to established discourses’. Such established discourses are the ones that entrap women within rigid subaltern categories that, as Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak puts it, deny them the right to speak.
This paper discusses the process of acquiring a voice through a revaluation of a limiting migrant condition as a more empowered nomadic one in narratives of female dislocation/relocation in the novels Brick Lane (2003) by Monica Ali and The Namesake (2004) by Jhumpa Lahiri. I shall rely on theoretical tools derived from subaltern studies as an area of enquiry into the differences between a centre and its margins and therefore as a space of intersection between postcolonialism and gender studies. I shall use the primary texts to problematize Gayatri Spivak’s concept of the “resident alien” as an agent of cultural change and Homi Bhabha’s “Third Space” of discourse where meaning is the dynamic outcome of a perpetual process of meaning production. This happens through the female protagonists’ performance of a more empowered condition and through a performative use of language that makes it possible to inhabit the space of the target culture.
My comparative analysis of the two novels will examine the discourses built around the two female protagonists as they develop in relation to the different (British and American) contexts of their relocations. I shall use these concrete examples as case studies on which I shall base my attempt to show that female migrants’ double subaltern position – as ethnic and gendered ‘others’ – is a strategic point from which a discourse of emancipation is built on a common ground between postcolonialism and gender studies.