Perspectives from the Humanities and Social Sciences

Transnational and Translingual Im/Mobilities

Chair: Sigrid Thomsen (University of Vienna)
Co-Chair: Barbara Gföllner (University of Vienna)

David Fontanals (University of Barcelona)
Catherine Barbour (University of Surrey)
Jean-Baptiste Bernard (University of Zagreb)
Miša Krenčeyová (Independent Researcher/University of Vienna)

Exploring the Challenge to Affective, Epistemological, and ›Domestic‹ Regimes of (Im)Mobility in Henry James’s Short Fiction

David Fontanals

Henry James’s fiction abounds with multiple forms of (im)mobility that shape the construction of his plots, characters, and settings. This is mostly discernible in what has been known as James’s »international fiction«, which features several cosmopolitan reenactments of the dialogue and confrontation between the collective identities of Europe and America. In said works, the act of crossing the Atlantic, both literally and figuratively, becomes the basis of a shifting hermeneutical framework which forces the self to confront his/her »truths«, and, above all, to question the mental, affective and ethical structures/discourses that shape the way he/she looks at, and makes sense of, »reality«. Taking these premises into account, the aim of this paper is to explore the interplay and (de)construction of multiple regimes of (im)mobility in two tales by Henry James from the 1880s: Pandora (1884) and The Patagonia (1888). More specifically, I will focus my analysis on how these stories allow the reader to delve into the way(s) in which characters engage in the (unstable, uncertain, ambiguous) act of observing, reading, and interpreting themselves and the other. Far from giving in to the late-nineteenth-century (stereotyping) deterministic impulse of classifying, fixing and hence hierarchizing reality, which at first might seem to dominate his work, I claim that in these stories James sets out to problematize and undo long-held assumptions, traditions, beliefs, and »domesticated« knowledges, forcing his characters to move, explore, and redefine (inherited) narratives and (presumably unmovable) structures of thought and feeling.

David Fontanals is a historian, English and Spanish philologist, and postdoctoral researcher at the center Theory, Gender, Sexuality — ADHUC at the University of Barcelona. He specializes in the fields of European and American Studies. He wrote his doctoral dissertation on the Austrian writer Stefan Zweig and his politico-ethical commitment to the idea of Europe, and currently is a member of two research projects: one dedicated to recovering the intellectual legacy of the Catalan psychiatrist and thinker François Tosquelles, and the other to the study of »home« in American Literature, in which he analyzes the work of Henry James from, among other perspectives, the fields of (im)mobility studies, domesticity, and New Materialism.

back to top

The Stepmother Tongue: Multilingual Im/Mobilities in Contemporary Iberian Narrative by Women

Catherine Barbour

Drawing on novels by two contemporary women writers of migrant origin writing in Catalan and Spanish, this paper will examine the role of translingualism, the process of moving between languages, in contesting binary notions of mobility and immobility. The analysis centres on Najat El Hachmi’s Catalan-language novel La filla estrangera (2015), an autobiographical account of a first-generation female Moroccan immigrant’s adolescence in Catalonia, and Romanian-Spanish writer Ioana Gruia’s Spanish-language text El expediente Albertina (2016), which explores speaking and writing in a second language in a context of authoritarianism, namely the Ceauşescu regime (1965-1989). Despite their seemingly disparate subject matter, both novels highlight how the first language has come to represent a »site of alienation and disjuncture« (Yildiz, 2012: 204-205) for the female protagonists, with linguistic mobility promising increased social and economic capital. Yet translingual practice is also shown to solidify a certain rupture with heritage languages and cultures, alienating the subjects from their home communities. To what extent does the act of speaking and writing in a second language defy linear perceptions of languages, cultures and mobilities as discrete and bounded? And if, as Steven G. Kellman emphasises, to enter into a particular linguistic community is to jump into a rushing current that is not entirely isolated from other flows (2020: 5), how do issues related to factors such as class, region, ethnicity and gender intersect with the question of language in translingualism, particularly when this relates to minoritized languages?

Dr. Catherine Barbour is a Lecturer in Spanish at the University of Surrey, United Kingdom. She specializes in Iberian literary and cultural studies, with research interests in translingualism, migration studies, gender studies and minority cultures. She is author of the monograph Contemporary Galician Women Writers (Cambridge, Legenda: 2020). In 2018 Catherine was Visiting Fellow at the Institute of Modern Languages Research, School of Advanced Study, University of London on the AHRC Open World Research Initiative Translingual Strand »Cross-Language Dynamics: Reshaping Community«.

back to top

Conflicting Freedom: Lorand Gaspar, Surgeon and Poet in Palestine (1954-1970)

Jean-Baptiste Bernard

The francophone poet Lorand Gaspar (1925-2019), born in Romania’s Hungarian-speaking minority, deported during World War II, studied in Paris and became the head of East Jerusalem’s French hospital in 1954. Until his departure for Tunis in 1970, he also provided care for the Palestinian refugee camps and emergency service during the Six Day War while extensively visiting the region. His stay led to three major works: Sol absolu (1972), a collection of poems structured by the entanglement of migrations and settlements that made Judea/Palestine the moving place that it is today, Judée (1980), a poetic narrative in which the exile of Palestinians on their soil revives the memory of the moving prison that carried the author to deportation, and Palestine année 0 (1970), an essay about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on the region’s history of migrations and multiple Israeli and Palestinian political scopes. This paper will show Gaspar’s approach to mobility, as a tension between the desire to deliver a universal message praising cultural diversity and the difficulty to overcome the traumas of an identity shaped by conflicts and exiles. Extensive use of intertextuality, rejection of political claims for hegemony and a search for inner peace are indeed the fertile side of a work aiming to represent mobility as an exciting opportunity for individuals and communities. That being said, Gaspar’s sometimes over-indulgent sympathy for the Palestinian cause, the constant return of painful memories, as well as the problematic privilege of crossing borders that, in the Israeli-Palestinian context, almost only foreigners can enjoy, will ultimately lead this paper to try seeing how Gaspar’s writings deal with the paradoxes of a humanistic multicultural project in a context where hegemonical discourse tends to reduce mobility to a merely endured, random process.

Jean-Baptiste Bernard is an Assistant of French at the University of Zagreb, Croatia. He earned his PhD in French and Francophone Literature of the University Grenoble Alpes, France, 2016, writing his dissertation about the work of Lorand Gaspar. He also was a teaching doctoral student at the Stendhal University of Grenoble (2010-2013) and at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (2013-2015). After a research project about the teaching of French in the Middle East with the foundation L’Œuvre d’Orient, he was assistant of French language and literature at the Fudan University of Shanghai (2017-2019).

back to top

Looking Closely by Being a Stranger Everywhere: James Baldwin’s Entangled Im/Mobilities

Miša Krenčeyová

The African-American writer James Baldwin (1924-1987) spent much of his adult life between the United States, France, and Turkey – becoming a »transatlantic commuter«, as he liked to call himself. While some critics later celebrated him as the ultimate »transatlantic writer«, from his own perspective, he remained a »stranger everywhere«. At the same time, his stays abroad allowed him to further develop his nuanced understanding of the workings of oppression and racism, particularly within US society. It was in Paris that he could re-articulate what blackness – and whiteness – mean in the United States. It was in a remote Swiss village in the late 1950s, where people have never seen a person of colour before, that he recognized how racism has penetrated history, experiencing what today could be called the effects of the »racialisation of the globe«. Baldwins ‘mobility’ was one of his strategies to escape the labels he was confronted with, one of his ways to (be able to) give those problematic categories back their ambivalence and equally point out their violent elements. Against this backdrop, I focus on the understandings of belonging and positionality Baldwin develops in his non-fiction writings in order to re-consider the notion of agency within the context of the conference theme. Allowing Baldwin’s irritations and (dis-)orientations to enrich our understandings of ‘transnationality’ and ‘mobility’, the presentation will outline what his perspectives can offer to current debates on difference, identity, and solidarity.


Miša Krenčeyová is a freelance lecturer, researcher, facilitator, and educator on issues related to oppression, social justice, and intersectionality. Based in Vienna, Austria, she focuses on anti-discriminatory and power-sensitive educational/empowerment work with diverse groups in theory and practice. In 2019 and 2020, she was a visiting professor at the Department of Development Studies at the University of Vienna. A recent paper she published in Stichproben – Vienna Journal of African Studies No. 37/2019 deals with James Baldwin’s notions of Africa.

back to top