Perspectives from the Humanities and Social Sciences

Im/mobilities in the Planetary Now: Migration and Diaspora in World Cinema

Chairs: Heike Härting (Université de Montréal), Johannes Riquet (Tampere University)

Isaac Bazié (Université du Québec à Montréal), Simon Harel (Université de Montréal)
Anna-Tina Jedele, Johannes Riquet (Tampere University)
Heike Härting (Université de Montréal)
Smaro Kamboureli (University of Toronto)

»…je m’en vais«: Mary Prince, Diouana, and the Question of Confinement-Mobility in Ousmane Sembène’s La noire de… (1966)

Isaac Bazié, Simon Harel

The acclaimed film La noire de… by the ‘father of African cinema’, Ousmane Sembène, was released in1 966, four years after the short story of the same title was published in the collection Voltaïque. The film thus addresses mobility in various ways: in the story it tells, in the displacement of the literary narrative towards a cinematic one, and in the use of lived experience, the ‘miscellaneous’ newspaper report that inspired both the short story and the film. We will approach this work by mobilizing a diachronic perspective. This will permit us to situate the film with regard to its reception as well as, first and foremost, bring it into dialogue with another narrative: The History of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave, the first written testimony of the experience of slavery by a black woman, first published in 1831 in London, where she was brought by her masters. Against this background, we will explore three forms of displacement in Sembène’s film, reflecting on the lived, narrated, and symbolic (im)mobilities of the female black subject.

Isaac Bazié is a Professor in the Department of Literary Studies at the Université du Québec in Montréal. He has taught in Europe, Africa and North America. In 2016, Isaac Bazié co-created the LAFI (Laboratoire des Afriques Innovantes,, which brings together professors and young academics from various disciplines related to Africa. Professor Bazié's research and teaching focuses on African and Caribbean literatures, the canon of world literature, as well as figurations and theorizations of Africa and the world.

Simon Harel is a Professor in the Department of World Literatures and Languages at the Université de Montréal. He is Director of the Laboratory on Narratives of the Mobile Self and co-director of the Centre de recherche des études littéraires et culturelles sur la planétarité. He recently published La respiration de Thomas Bernhard (Nota bene, 2019). He will publish a collective volume entitled Vies et fictions d’exils (Lives and Fictions of Exile) at the Presses de l’Université Laval. He is currently writing a monograph devoted to the work of Antonin Artaud.

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Caught in the Loophole: Film Aesthetics and the (Im)mobilisation of Migrant Dreams in Xavier Koller’s Journey of Hope (1990)

Anna-Tina Jedele, Johannes Riquet

At the beginning of Xavier Koller’s multilingual Swiss-Turkish film Reise der Hoffnung (Journey of Hope), we see the young protagonist, Mehmet Ali, seemingly being steamrolled by a train. The scene encapsulates Mehmet’s complex relation to the modern routes and networks of mobility. On the one hand, it announces both his versatility as the film’s most mobile subject who can insert himself into the gaps and loopholes of various systems of mobility without being detected. On the other hand, the scene already delineates the limits of the dreams of unhindered mobility that shape the film’s narrative and announces Mehmet’s death in the Swiss mountains caused by this very invisibility. In this paper, we explore the shifting mobilities that structure Koller’s portrayal of a Turkish refugee family’s attempt to reach Switzerland illegally through various means of transportation. Our aim in doing so is to trace how the film outlines a trajectory from hypermobile possibilities to an increasing restriction of mobility both on the level of the story and on the level of cinematic form. Combining recent perspectives on the politics of (im)mobility (see Cresswell 2006, Sheller 2018, Mbembe 2019) with an attention to the spatial, mobile and cartographic poetics of cinema (Cresswell and Dion 2002, Conley 2006), we show that the film critically engages with the role of geography (notably mountains) in Swiss political and national identity discourses. Ultimately, however, we argue that the film not only contributes to (still ongoing) political discussions about Switzerland’s problematic position in relation to European migration policies (Fenner 2003, Laws 2011), but also opens up broader questions about the narrative and aesthetic dimensions of cultural imaginaries pertaining to the entanglement of migration and (im)mobility.

Anna-Tina Jedele is a Doctoral Researcher at Tampere University. In her PhD project, she examines narrative constructions of place in climate change narratives. Her research interests include the cultural implications of the climate emergency, Anthropocene fiction, space and place studies, phenomenology, and posthumanism.

Johannes Riquet is Professor of English Literature at Tampere University. He is the author of The Aesthetics of Island Space: Perception, Ideology, Geopoetics (OUP, 2019) and co-editor of Spatial Modernities: Geography, Narrative, Imaginaries (Routledge, 2018). His research interests include spatiality, the links between literature and geography, travel writing, diaspora, and mobility. He is the Principal Investigator of the collaborative project Mediated Arctic Geographies (Academy of Finland, 2019-2023) and directs the research group Spatial Studies and Environmental Humanities at Tampere University.

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Ideologies of Mobility, Disease and Planetary Contemporaneity in Alfonso Cuarón’s The Children of Men (2006)

Heike Härting

A post-global dystopia of infertility and environmental devastation, The Children of Men presents a cinematographic anatomy of what Achille Mbembe calls the »war on mobility« (2019). Focusing on the rescue of a pregnant black woman and the incarceration of immigrants, the film dramatizes forced mobility as an outcome of the failures of globalization and structural racism. Many critics have lauded the film for replacing »the lack of a meaningful historical experience« (Zizek 2007; Udden 2009), brought about by global capitalism, with a »material reality« – generated through the film's use of long takes and documentary-style hand-held cameras – »grounded in …a totalized historical experience« (Isaacs 2016). In this paper, however, I argue that effecting such »a totalized experience« hinges on both the continuous regulation of the black female body’s mobility and the perpetuation of an apocalyptic global present. By drawing on Saidya Hartman’s notion of the arrested mobility of black women at the turn of the 20th century, Giorgio Agamben’s notion of planetary »contemporaneity«, and Walter Benjamin’s materialist concept of the historical Now, this paper challenges the cinematic »romancing« (Toni Morrison) of the black reproductive body, and its apparent liberation into an uncoerced mobility, in the service of an anthropocentric and white vision of global survival. The latter, I argue, remains tied to the film’s contradictory metaphor of the boat as a laboratory, aptly named the »Human Project«, suspended in outer space, signifying flight and incarceration, hetero-temporalities and non-spaces.

Heike Härting is Associate Professor of English Literature in the Department of World Literatures and Languages at the Université de Montréal. She co-directs the Research Center for Planetary Literary and Cultural Studies. She specializes in postcolonial and globalization studies with a focus on African literatures, global violence, and Canadian postcolonial fiction. She has also worked on cosmopolitan film theory, narrative theory and rhetoric, focusing on the development of a postcolonial aesthetic and politics of metaphor in contemporary Caribbean and Canadian fiction.

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Tia and Piujuq (2018): Im/mobility and Relationality

Smaro Kamboureli

This paper examines how non-realist modes of representation offer alternative ways of thinking about im/mobility as both the cause and effect of contained or managed crisis. In the Inuit film Tia and Piujuq (2018, dir. Lucy Tulugarjuk), the discrepant condition of crisis – its simultaneous exceptionalist, iterative, and generative nature – is connected as much to the im/mobility of Syrian refugees as to the Inuit’s colonial history and resurgence. Ten-year-old Tia, a Syrian refugee girl settled in Montreal, comes to terms with her alienation by crossing a magic portal that transmits her to Nunavut where she finds in Piujuq the friendship that the internalized racism of the children in her Montreal neighborhood deny her. Filtered through Tia’s consciousness, the film deploys Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (Inuit technologies of knowledge) to help us imagine plausible (but as-yet unrealized) constructive relations across vastly different cultural backgrounds. Via different technologies and tropes, including the hybrid text by Inuit artist Germaine Arnaktauyok which serves as Tia’s guide, and through the friendship and mediation of Piujuq, the film recasts im/mobility as a temporal and spatial condition that need not remain circumscribed by the governmentality that characterizes the management of crisis.

Smaro Kamboureli is a Professor in the Department of English at the University of Toronto, where she holds the inaugural Avie Bennett Chair in Canadian Literature. She is the founder and general editor of the TransCanada Series of books at Wilfrid Laurier University Press. Her book Scandalous Bodies: Diasporic Literature in English Canada received the Gabrielle Roy Prize for Canadian Criticism. Her most recent publications include Writing the Foreign in Canadian Literature and Humanitarian Narratives, a University of Toronto Quarterly special issue that she guest-edited.

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