Form, Frame and Allegory in Recent Transnational Short Fictions

By Michael R. Griffiths

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A Sri Lankan Tamil asylum seeker on a leaky boat finds his story interspersed with that of an Australian case worker in a wavering marriage, a ‘spoiled Emirati rich girl’ ridicules a Ukrainian sex worker online, a young Peruvian man cares for his girlfriend while concealing their relationship from her overbearing Gujarati mother. Which recent collection of short stories are these vignettes blurbing from? The answer is that each comes from a separate collection: the first from Maxine Beneba Clarke’s Foreign Soil, the second from Ali Alizadeh’s Transactions, the third from Daniel Alarcón’s War By Candlelight. Yet, in the context of these short stories and their paratexts, this list could ironically also be said to read as a cohesive blurb. Such global short stories of overlap and interconnectivity have become a staple of the transnational publishing world, with such Australian-based writers as Beneba Clarke, Alizadeh, and Nam Le winning multiple awards, making multiple bestseller lists, and joining a wider transnational phenomenon which includes such U. S. based writers as Alarcón and Jhumpa Lahiri. In this essay, I build on the work of Ken Gelder, Wenche Ommundsen, Nicholas Jose, Lachlan Brown and Marita Bullock to proximately examine the way Beneba Clark, Alizadeh and Le—the Australian writers on this list—engage with the transnational by calling attention to the ambivalent position of migrant and diasporic inscriptions of self-reference (Gelder).

Around twenty years ago, Arjun Appadurai coined the term ethnoscape amidst a panoply of –scapes and scales. The term acted, amidst much else, as a means to examine the role of representational technologies (technoscapes in Appadurai’s parlance) in an increasingly globalising world. Appadurai’s classic work entered the scholarly lexicon at that time in such a way as to draw attention to global and transnational encounters and experiences and their increasing mediation through ‘large and complex repertoires of images, narratives, and ethnoscapes to viewers throughout the world’ (35). For Appadurai, the mediation of ethnic collectivities had (and still has) to respond to the changing modes by which disparate collectivities remain connected, albeit in strikingly fickle ways. The literary rendering of such collectivities foregrounds a position of ambivalence in the transnational geography of ethnoscapes with all their manifestations of relative distance (pace Moretti) and proximity (pace Gelder) (Birns).

How, then, might this notable literary mode—the short story and, indeed, its cycles—echo the transnational? How do nuanced strategies of formal engagement structure the relation between reader, writer and the ethnoscapes, technoscapes, literary landscapes and transnational circuits of which they are all necessarily a part? How do the formal elements of fiction shift in relation to newer ethnoscapes and the transnational experiences they reflect? To ask this, is to ask a question about social power in relation to transnational publishing phenomena. As Franco Moretti suggests, ‘[f]orms are the abstract of social relationships: so, formal analysis is in its own modest way an analysis of power’ (66). What follows is an investigation into one particular aspect of the mode of the transnational short story that, I argue, inscribes a position of mobility across ethnoscapes and modal-scapes. The short story does so through key narratological techniques. I want to emphasise from the outset that my interest is not to criticise diasporic writers for their engagement with the vicissitudes and exigencies of the publishing world. Rather, I am interested in their strategies of engagement.[1] If the publishing industry is guilty of exoticisation, then how, I want to ask, do writers (and particularly diasporic writers) who must necessarily engage with the marketing of their identities call the industry itself into question along with the transnational circuits of which it is always already a part. I want to ask this question with particular attention to the formal strategies they employ in the text themselves. What, I want to ask, are the emergent formal parameters of the global ethnoscape as reflected in short fictions and the exigencies to which they are subjected in this globalising world?

Mary Louise Pratt, in attempting to delineate the generic specificity of the short story has argued that, ‘the fact of not being an autonomous text’ but rather always bound in relation to other stories in a collection, ‘reinforces the view of the short story as a part or fragment’ (104). Yet from the genre’s origins in the middle of the nineteenth century it was praised—by Poe and others—for its crucial autonomy. Does this tension between autonomy and dependency, between the short story’s status as simultaneously singular whole and mere part, not perhaps position the short story as the privileged genre to allegorise the transnational? After all, the globalisation of ethnic primordia is striated—at least in Appadurai’s account—by the tension between technologically enabled connectivity and geographical diaspora. I want to suggest that the tension between formal autonomy and a text’s position within a wider set—collection, cycle or otherwise—renders the short story collection as a privileged space for the allegorisation of such tension between transnational connectivity and diasporic experience (Nagel). Just as the novel has been taken as a privileged form for the nation—and therefore, as a site of national allegory—a swathe of recent short story collections have, I argue, increasingly engaged a self-conscious allegorisation of the transnational (Anderson, Jameson). To ask how short stories formally engage transnational ethnoscapes is, then, to ask how literary phenomena engage novel geographies of social power, not the least the transnational itself. Allow me to sketch the kinds of narrative that might be encountered in this swathe of texts.


Metalepsis in Nam Le and Maxine Beneba Clarke

In several of these collections there is a tendency to break the diegetic line between the author and their fictionalised trace as narrator. To speak of this mise en abyme is to speak of metalepsis. Gerard Genette defines metalepsis as: ‘any intrusion by the extradiegetic narrator or narratee into the diegetic universe . . . or the inverse’ (234-5). He notes that this breaking of frames produces effects either ‘comical’ or ‘fantastic’. In Le and Beneba Clarke’s collections, a crucial framing story intrudes (in the case of the former, at the beginning, in that of the latter, at the end) to implicate the authors themselves as a kind of spectral trace on the text, to wry comic (though, nonetheless, critical) effect. The implied author, generated by each text, is subjected to the pressures of the particular personal and cultural histories that mark their respective public profiles. Metalepsis is used comically by these authors to call attention to the difficult pressures that authors from non-Anglo backgrounds face on the Australian literary scene and more broadly. In this context, then, the particular form the metaleptic effect takes is as a signature by which the trace of the author’s relation to their literary career is present in the text itself.

Le and Beneba Clarke’s use of metalepsis figures their respective positions as both diasporics (or the children of diasporics) and also as writers. This foregrounding of the author’s relation to text becomes, for both of them, an organising device for the short story as part or fragment of a wider collection. Le and Beneba Clarke each deal with the question of connectivity by foregrounding their own status as writers and as writers of Australian residence but diasporic origin in either case. Le fictionalises the kind of patronising criticism that he has received as a Vietnamese-Australian writer by having the narrator/protagonist of Le’s collection—‘Nam’— in The Boat’s opening story bombarded by criticisms of ‘ethnic literature’ even as the critics also insist that there’s something profound about tapping into his history as a Vietnamese boat person. ‘Nam’ is told: ‘There’s a lot of polished writing around … you have to ask yourself, what makes them stand out?’ at which point the story foregrounds the ubiquity of the concern by having this interlocutor ‘tag team’ to her colleague who answered slowly as though intoning a mantra, ‘Your background and life experience’ (8). And as it turns out, it is for this reason that we have already been given the mantra that forms the absolute anxiety of the signature, ‘Nam’, who is further told, ‘Ethnic literature’s hot. And important too’ (8). By contrast, another friend in the story congratulates ‘Nam’ on writing about something other than ‘Vietnamese boat people.’ ‘That’s why I don’t mind your work’, the friend says, ‘You could totally exploit the Vietnamese thing. But instead, you choose to write about lesbian vampires and Colombian assassins, and Hiroshima orphans and New York painters with haemorrhoids’ (9-10). In this way, Le frames his intervention, naming the subjects of the other stories (with the exception of lesbian vampires) that make up the rest of the collection. Yet the ‘Nam’ of the stories is embarrassed by the remark. What is foregrounded in such an affect is the dilemma of the migrant writer—ghettoised as ethnic if they write about their own experience of translocation, at risk of being voiceless—not ‘hot’, not ‘important’—if they don’t engage their own ‘exotic’ background (Chow 100).

Beneba Clarke similarly imprints a trace on Foreign Soil and this signature effect, in turn, bears the trace of the field of literary production and reception. In ‘The Sukiyaki Book Club’, the final story of her collection Foreign Soil, Beneba Clarke emplots the writerly dilemmas of an unnamed ‘young black mother’ working on a collection of stories (including one, titled ‘Harlem Jones’ which matches the second story in Foreign Soil itself). One narrative concerns the narrative the woman is trying to pen—the story of a girl’s anxieties in a Primary School playground. The other narrative in ‘Sukiyaki Book Club’, details the anxieties she herself has in attempting to write this story. The signature narrator, voiced in first person, has been receiving numerous rejection letters for her writing, precisely because they don’t serve as ‘book club material’, as one letter puts it (257). The letter suggests that she rewrite the content of Foreign Soil’s narratives to make them palatable to a bourgeois white audience, since, the letter asserts: ‘Australian readers are just not ready for characters like these’ (257). The fictive letter of rejection continues: ‘The title character in “Harlem Jones.” What can I say? He’s so intriguing—so raw. But what if he didn’t hurl the Molotov in the closing paragraphs? Imagine if that day of the Tottenham riots was ultimately a wake-up call that got an angry black kid back on the straight and narrow?’ (257). As in Le’s The Boat, this signature effect’s role in framing Foreign Soil produces a critique of the politics of literary production in Australia and the social fields it affects—the intimation is that the author cannot foreground contentious questions of race. The reviewer cannot accept a narrative in which a black subject, who has been exposed to such state violence and disposability might (rightly perhaps) resort in a Fanonian mode to violence himself. This is not a framework of possibility for the Australian publishing world as it appears in the story.

So Beneba Clarke and Le each foreground the alterity of their position as diasporic authors through gestures that, in turn expose the publishing industry’s assumptions about those implied readers of diasporic subjectivity as necessarily inscribing ‘the exotic’. Le and Beneba Clarke frame their collections—whether from the outset in the opening story (Le) or in a wry closing gesture (Beneba Clarke)—by reference to precisely the demands of the market, placing themselves at once in an engagement with their marginal position and at the same time aware of and therefore self-consciously resisting the game of the exotic. Self-reference, I argue, becomes a way for the stories to de-anchor themselves from the allegorical assumptions that readers might make of them. As Le seems to say: he could write otherwise than his own experience as the child of Vietnamese refugees and to do so would be deemed authentic by the community of writers within the diegetic frame that he creates. In this way, Le avoids the position of the subject of authentic experience in order, paradoxically, to provide a new meta-level of authenticity to his stories. Le is, here, clearly negotiating the space of the postcolonial exotic, trying to steer between its Scylla and Charybdis, which Huggan usefully describes as the tension arising in ‘a site of discursive conflict between a local assemblage of more or less related oppositional practices and a global apparatus of assimilative institutional/commercial codes’ (28). By foregrounding his capability to write of the victims of Hiroshima minutes before the atomic bomb alongside the romantic aspirations and failures of a small-town Australian teenager, he emphasises the ipseity of each story, its particularity, its absolute locality and realism. The emplacement of the stories is structured paratactically, like much of Le’s prose at the level of the sentence, not subordinating one voice to another, but instead presenting each narrative as worthy of equal ethical consideration (Brown).


Inquiry, the Exotic and Allegory

As Graham Huggan’s work on the Postcolonial Exotic has shown, knowledge can also be disavowal. This is the nature of the exotic, instances of which ‘tend to repress the very cultural differences they are designed to affirm’ (18). This is the strange paradox of such an ethics of literature that putatively grounds—yet in fact unsettles—the empathetic response that fictions have often been popularly understood to precipitate. If the ethics of reading is supposed to be emergent from an imaginative relationship with another whose distance from one’s own experience is breached through such imaginings, then the exotic must be viewed as a dangerous precipitant to a kind of quasi-empathy, since what the reader engages through the exotic is precisely the false object of repressed difference that nonetheless functions to present such an experience of reading as an authentic knowledge of the other. The Postcolonial Exotic contends that much mainstream postcolonial fiction is produced and marketed with precisely such notions of ideal readers in mind: the very readers that transnational writers such as Beneba Clarke and Le might unsettle with her and his respective uses of metaleptic self-reference. A particular form of postcolonial novel, in Huggan’s view specifically earns its readership and its credentials for such international prizes as the Booker from its capacity to inscribe an exoticised experience. Such novels might be critical of colonialism precisely as they unwittingly engage in their own exoticisation. Salman Rushdie’s Bombay, then, becomes less either a realistically accounted-for space or even a particular vernacular experience, than a commodified and exoticised account where its voicing of such vernacular space is valued because of its pandering to extreme desires for difference—even to the point of caricature. It would seem that the short story cycles of those writers I have mentioned, then, risk falling victim to precisely such readerly demands. This is so—amongst other reasons—because of the brevity of each discrete story: they are precisely short, meeting the demand for an experience of otherness in one sitting. The capacity to provide a narrative fit for one sitting is what the short story form has promised since its emergence with modernity. Collections from Dubliners to Winesberg, Ohio operate through an entangled geography of the town—of the local.  Yet transnational collections such as those by Le, Beneba-Clarke and Alizadeh are striated by circuits both transnational and (in Gelder’s sense) proximate. Such U.S.-based postcolonial writers as Lahiri can offer their reader a short, easily consumed narrative of, in Lahiri’s case, diasporic Bengali families, their children attending Ivy League schools, experiencing mobility, romance, loss, all that makes for a fine and finite experience of a diaspora known well to the author. Daniel Alarcón’s War By Candlelight is more ranging in its distances and proximities. In the opening story, ‘Flood’, Alarcón suggestively names the Lima slum where the story is set ‘Siglo XX’. This Hispanophone invocation of ‘twentieth century’ gestures to a possible allegorisation: the slum itself as metonym for global poverty. Yet, as the story progresses, the complicity of these characters with the violent apparatus of the Peruvian state lends the setting such a local specificity that it is hard to imagine plausibly reading Siglo XX as an allegory for global slums more generally without doing violence to the particularity of Alarcón’s narration. Le’s and Beneba-Clarke’s texts are marked by explicitly metaleptic fragmentation of frames—more directly addressing the implied author’s status to the implied reader.

If Huggan is right to some degree about the marketing of the exotic, he perhaps does not consider the degree to which this uneasy position marginalises the authors who are conscripted into its trappings by the way their books are marketed—consider the unwanted editorial advice that the author in ‘The Sukiyaki Book Club’ receives. One can argue that Le and Beneba Clarke’s metaleptic invocation of their exotic positioning within the ethnoscape of literary fiction is one line of escape from this predicament. Through formally calling attention to the conundrum of exoticism, Le and Beneba Clarke challenge it, staking a claim to a position that neither denies the trappings of the exotic nor becomes subsumed by it. The unequal representational economy, wherein some exist to be represented and others to be the consumers of such representation, demands interrogation. As Homi Bhabha has famously asked, ‘Where does the subject of global inquiry, or injury, speak from? To what does it bear relation? From where does it claim responsibility?’ (6) For Bhabha, then, questions of homely belonging are necessarily embedded in the dispersion between the privileged position of being able to ask questions about the other (if not to know this other—inquiry is not knowledge) and the exposure to the suffering and injury of the other. To ask: from where does the global subject speak is to assess a field of the transnational in which some suffer and some observe that suffering (whether passively, actively, with compassion or apathy). Such sympathy ostensibly relies on the precarious capacity to know proximately. In Alizadeh, Beneba-Clarke and Le’s respective collections, parataxis undoes Bhabha’s binarism (subject of inquiry and of injury) with its refusal of subordination (of the clause, of the story, of the subject).

I have so far relied on an unstated premise: not only that there is some significance to metaleptic reference to the signature of the author—the name Nam, the similarity of the protagonist in Beneba Clarke’s story to her own experience and literary career. But also that, in the hands of a diasporic writer, this metaleptic signature-effect functions to both produce and critique any allegorisation of ethnicity. It is uncomfortable not the least because the aspiration of many of the writers I have mentioned would (I will assume) be toward the intimacy of realism. Two figures here spring to mind: Fredric Jameson and Derek Attridge. The former because he so famously proclaimed all third world fictions ‘national allegories’, and the latter since, in his study of J. M. Coetzee he declared the insurmountability of allegory in light of the act of interpretation; Attridge shows that to interpret, indeed, to read is to move irreversibly to the terrain of a more or less allegorical function. If, then, the writings of diasporic authors—like all fictionings, if Attridge is to be believed—are allegorical, then we must ask, what is it that is being allegorised in the increasingly widespread mode of writing that connects these interconnected fictions of the global under the signature of migrant writers? It would clearly no longer be national allegory. Just as Le’s stories move from Australia to Colombia, as Beneba Clarke’s move from London to Jamaica, as Alizadeh’s shuttle from Amsterdam to South Africa, so too the objective correlative of nation is consistently effaced. What is instead being allegorised is connectivity and transit itself and the increasing place it takes up in so many twenty-first century lives. In other words, there may be something about the gestures and devices employed by diasporic writers of collections of short fiction and the task of allegorising the global, of the fetishised premise of global connectedness per se.

Jameson’s essay has been rightly taken to task—by Aijaz Ahmad amongst others—for (amongst many other things) essentialising the difference between so-called ‘Western readers’ and their ‘third world’ counterparts.  In his essay on ‘National Allegory’, he suggests, provocatively (and, ultimately unconvincingly) that a certain historical teleology applies across national spaces of enunciation; a move that places the so-called ‘third world’ writer in a position of belatedness in relation to his postmodern, first world counterpart. For the latter, there is, for Jameson, a certain déjà vu implicit in the writing of nation s/he finds in the third world novel. Take such a remark as that which I will now take the liberty of quoting in full:

[As] western readers whose tastes (and much else) have been formed by our own modernisms, a popular or socially realistic third-world novel tends to come before us, not immediately, but as though already-read. We sense, between ourselves and this alien text, the presence of another reader, of the Other reader, for whom a narrative, which strikes us as conventional or naive, has a freshness of information and a social interest that we cannot share. The fear and the resistance I’m evoking has to do, then, with the sense of our own non-coincidence with that Other reader, so different from ourselves; our sense that to coincide in any adequate way with that Other ‘ideal reader’—that is to say, to read this text adequately—we would have to give up a great deal that is individually precious to us and acknowledge an existence and a situation unfamiliar and therefore frightening-one that we do not know and prefer not to know (66).

Le and Beneba Clarke invert Jameson’s notion of an ‘Other ideal reader’. Taking account of the implied reader, and, indeed, the signature of the author in their relation to the striated field of the transnational Jameson hierarchises the relation between the third world and the first. Instead, paratactic strategy allows us to begin to ask what depiction of global subjectivities and relations is being produced in popular representations. Who, we must ask, is the ‘Other reader’ of the global fiction? Where Jameson’s ‘other reader’ was necessarily (and problematically) a third world reader, Beneba Clarke’s signature critiques instead the ‘Other ideal reader’ of the ‘Sukiyaki Book Club’ and interpellates another ideal reader. This latter reader might be more self-conscious about her precarious positionality than Jameson’s ostensibly naïve third world reader. As such the metaleptic function of these texts presupposes a form of self-reference that Jameson withholds from the third world reader. The position of the diasporic writer of short fiction implies the need to self-consciously interpolate their potentially uncritical—indeed, exoticising—reader. What metalepsis accomplishes for these authors is an unweaving of the allegorical in the writing of the transnational.

Numerous other such self-referential strategies can be identified for both engaging and subverting the primacy of the ‘other ideal reader’ as the subject of the Anglo-western book club. Alarcón, Le and Beneba Clarke undo the possibility of national allegory in the opening story to his collection War By Candlelight. Pace Attridge, in this and many such transnational short fictions, the possibility of allegory risks limiting the characters as irreducible instances of ‘concrete experience’—a concreteness that Spivak names ‘patafiction’. This fictional orientation to the concrete refuses allegory and reinscribes the particular.


Alizadeh and the Relations of Injury

Yet, while Alarcón undoes the assumptions of the Anglo-Western reader and critic in order to break down the conditions of reception that would see the diasporic writer as necessarily producing allegories, this does not mean allegory is inherently oppressive. Ali Alizadeh foregrounds interconnectivity by interweaving characters across stories in his collection Transactions and he does so in a mode that produces a novel form of allegory—one that does not reduce to the national allegory of Jameson’s prescription. If the stories in Dubliners were supposed, in their interconnectivity, to testify to the specificity of place then what is the location of Alizadeh’s spoiled Emirati, or the Ukrainian sex worker she torments remotely? It is precisely interconnection that Alizadeh allegorises—a form that had for a modernist such as Joyce been about place is now rendered as a depiction of a certain kind of placelessness. In a global context for which locales are increasingly interchangeable, the fictioning of place gives way to the allegorisation of such ubiquity.

Readers are rewarded for their diligence by discovering that the Emirati girl who remotely torments a Ukrainian sex worker in an early story is, in fact, the daughter of the sex worker’s lover. Similarly, a mysterious, Australian-born girl of perhaps Turkish or Afghan descent (we are made to guess at her origins) repeatedly returns across the stories to punish those guilty of exploitation and particularly that which masquerades as philanthropy. In one of the earliest stories in Transactions, ‘The Fool’, this figure of revenge poses as a lesbian internet date for a British woman named Cherie Stevenson—a woman who has become rich espousing post-Thatcherite neoliberal solutions to issues of poverty and dispossession—before killing her (4-19). In another, ‘Death’, she kills the head of a Christian charity based in Africa, Anna Heinesen, who has been knowingly allowing her charity to serve as a front for her brother’s sex trafficking efforts (132-42). In this way, the figures who are inscribed in the story are metonymic of broader global phenomena rather than figures of realism. The connectivity of these stories is often mediated by representations of the internet and other figures of transit. The anonymous protagonist of the revenge stories emails her ‘mother’ from Airport transit lounges. Many of the encounters we have with the Emirati heiress are through her online personality ‘The Alchemist’, itself a metafictive reference to the Paulo Coehlo novella of which she espouses fandom; here, fiction itself becomes an emblem of globalisation’s turn toward cultural homogeneity.

The irony of course is that Alizadeh’s allegories of interconnectedness figure the failure of connectivity envisaged in a purely neoliberal mode. For neoliberal globalisation, connectivity is supposed to lead to freedom through the increasing liberalisation of markets—the structural adjustment that equates the flows of capital with the equal distribution of agency. What Alizadeh’s story narrates is precisely a diegetic world in which such connectivity renders as exploitation. Cherie Stevenson and Anna Heinesen are revenged precisely because they exploit such neoliberal connectivity—the traffic in women, neoliberal philanthropy etc. Alizadeh’s stories are a dream-work of other-globalisation (autre-mondialization) in which the negative labor of violence comes to bear on the banality of everyday connectivity qua exploitation.

Rather than employing an opening fragmentation of the frame by reference to the author’s proper name (as in Nam Le’s ‘Nam’ or the anonymous narrator of the ‘Sukiyaki Book Club’), Alizadeh’s stories of connectivity enweave a metalepsis that functions by mutually entangled stories. They eschew the anxious position of the writer’s own implication in a market of fictions driven by exoticising desire. Nonetheless—whether through self-reference or its avoidance, in all these ways, the play of diegesis in each writer seeks to disrupt the allegorisation of an abstract and objective global Weltanshaung. The reader can no longer read these representations as authentic and transparent depictions of globalisation since such a view emerges (as it does in Alizadeh’s fiction) precisely in the implication that the experience of the globe is one of networked relations and not one that can be encountered from any particular vantage. To see the global becomes, precisely, to encounter a partial, imagined view of several nodes in a wider network. When metaleptic framing is deployed as that used in the cases of Beneba Clarke and Le, something slightly different happens, since in that case, the writer is thematised in such a way that their specific experience is not only foregrounded but foregrounded in relation to the experience of being a migrant and, more so, a migrant writer.

Transnational short fictions by diasporic writers reconfigure and complicate the relation between the subject of inquiry and the subject of injury, and they do so through the interplay between the signature of the career of the writer and the place of the implied reader. The transnational subject of inquiry is, so often, the privileged first world reader, engaging with the exotic fictions of an imagined global south; this was the terrain of the laws of genre that Jameson aimed to sketch. The subject of injury is, in turn, so often the southern, third, or fourth world subject. What the global short story—some of whose Australian instances I’ve traced at length—does so often is to proffer a depiction of these relations only to subvert them. A frequent strategy is to reveal the injured dimension of the subaltern subject to the privileged first world reader, unsettling their ability to read with casual distance and exoticising desire.

Take, for instance, Alizadeh’s characters, who frequently come from the global south but refuse to act as merely passive recipients of violence. What these fictions also do is reveal the complex transactions (to use Ali Alizadeh’s word) by which lateral relations of violence are no longer distributed in binaries but also laterally—from subaltern to subaltern. If the relations of injury are transnationally distributed, then relations of privilege remain unequally located in the Global North. What this does, amidst much else, is trouble the exoticising reader’s capacity to act either as touristic subject or, indeed, the subject of inquiry for whom systematic top down relations of force, power, agency, and blame can be apportioned and organised. Alizadeh, Le and Beneba-Clarke respectively render a nuanced metaleptic cycle of narratives, which render proximate the distribution of transnational injury that so remains distanced from the reader in the transnational technoscape.

The spoiled Emirati rich girl never writes to Cherie Stevenson. Alizadeh’s final narrator is ‘sick of writing in English’ (Transactions 217). From what book am I blurbing?


Michael R. Griffiths is Lecturer in the English and Writing Discipline at the University of Wollongong. He received his PhD in English from Rice University in 2012 and was INTERACT Postdoctoral Fellow at the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society at Columbia University from 2012 to 2014. His work has appeared in such venues as Settler Colonial Studies, Discourse, Postcolonial Studies and Postmodern Culture amongst many others. Griffiths edited the book Biopolitics and Memory in Postcolonial Literature and Culture (Ashgate, 2016) and co-edited a special issue (with Bruno Cornellier) of Settler Colonial Studies titled: ‘Globalising Unsettlement’. His current monograph project, tentatively entitled The Distribution of Settlement: Indigeneity, Recognition and the Politics of Visibility is under contract at the University of Western Australia Publishing.



[1] I want to acknowledge the influence of Merlinda Bobis, Michelle Cahill and Roanna Gonsalves on my thinking here. Each of these friends have made me aware of the double binds to which writers of fiction in Australia are subject when they engage the transnational.


Works Cited

Alarcón, Daniel. War By Candlelight. New York: Harper Collins, 2005.

Alizadeh, Ali. Transactions. St Lucia: U of Queensland P, 2013.

Appadurai, Arjun. Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1996.

Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Origins on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso, 1991.

Attridge, Derek.  J. M. Coetzee and the Ethics of Reading. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2004.

Beneba Clarke, Maxine. Foreign Soil. Sydney: Hachette, 2014.

Birns, Nicholas. Contemporary Australian Literature: A World Not Yet Dead. Sydney: Sydney UP, 2015.

Bhabha, Homi. ‘Unpacking My Library Again.’  The Journal of the Midwest Modern Language Association 28.1 (Spring, 1995): 5-18.

Brown, Lachlan. ‘Worlds Apart: Nam Le’s The Boat and Ali Alizadeh’s Transactions.’ Transnational Literature 7.2 (2015). <https://dspace.>.

Bullock, Marita. ‘Trafficking in Words: On the Politics of Writing, Cross-Border Mobility, and Nam Le’s The Boat,’ Antipodes 29, 2 (2015): 461-77.

Chow, Rey. Writing Diaspora: Tactics of Intervention in Contemporary Cultural Studies. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993.

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Le, Nam. The Boat. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008.

Moretti, Franco. ‘Conjectures on World Literature’ New Left Review 1 (January-February 2000): 54-68.

Nagel, James. The Contemporary American Short-Story Cycle: The Ethnic Resonance of Genre. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 2001.

Ommundsen, Wenche. ‘Transnational Imaginaries: Reading Asian Australian Writing.’ JASAL 12.2 (2013).

Pratt, Mary Louise. ‘The Short Story: The Long and the Short of It.’ The New Short Story Theories. Ed. Charles May. Athens: Ohio UP 1994.

Spivak, Gavatri Chakravorty. ‘Theory in the Margin: Coetzee’s Foe Reading Defoe’s “Crusoe/Roxana.”’ English in Africa 17.2 (1990): 1-23.


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