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Translating Pain

Translating Pain: Immigrant Suffering in Literature and Culture

Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 320
  • Book Info
    Translating Pain
    Book Description:

    Applying immigrant psychology to literary analysis, Madelaine Hron examines the ways in which different forms of physical and psychological pain are expressed in a wide variety of texts.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8949-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. An Affective Introduction
    (pp. ix-xx)

    This book originates in real life. When I was an undergraduate on exchange in Montreal, I volunteered in a program aimed to help immigrants better acculturate to life in Canada. This program sought to assist newly arrived immigrants in a number of practical ways, for instance, acquiring language skills, resolving legal or financial matters, and most importantly, adjusting to cultural differences. I spent many hours in training sessions, learning about cultural diversity; I was taught, for example, never to touch the heads of Indian children and where to buy exotic types of rice. I will never forget the excitement and...


    • 1 ‘Perversely through Pain’: Immigrants and Immigrant Suffering
      (pp. 3-32)

      I begin this book with a varied set of quotations about immigration to showcase that, from late nineteenth-century America to recent reflections by a French-Bulgarian scholar, the experience of immigration has often been misrepresented. Most saliently, in a number of cultural discourses, the suffering of immigration is often dismissed. Even after a century, Emma Lazarus’ famous words (1883), inscribed on a plaque at the foot of the Statue of Liberty, convey the popular view of immigration: that of embracing the flood of subaltern victims in a redemptory gesture, the nation taking up a saviour role. Implied is the notion that...

    • 2 ‘Suffering Matters’: The Translation and Politics of Pain
      (pp. 33-62)

      Saepe etiam lacrimae me sunt scribente profusae: ‘I often weep when writing so’ (4:3, 95). Thus wrote the poet Ovid two millennia ago in his Tristia, as he contemplated his exile, a fate he described as ‘worse than death’ (3:1, 53). Although he frequently laments that words fail him (3:4, 46), that he’s forgetting Latin (5:7, 56–64), or that words cannot contain all his suffering (1:5, 55), Ovid nonetheless repeatedly manages to describe the cultural hostility and alienation he experiences (5:7, 5:10), the bodily pain that reflects his mental anguish (3:8, 24–34), and the immediacy and continuity of...


    • 3 ‘Mal Partout’: Bodily Rhetoric in Maghrebi Immigrant Fiction
      (pp. 65-82)

      In 1952, some years before writing the canonicalBlack Skin, White Masks(1968), Frantz Fanon penned a brief article on a ‘syndrome’ affecting immigrant patients from the Maghreb – Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco – living in France. Fanon observes that they all exhibit a similar set of symptoms: they insistently complain of indefinable, yet ubiquitous, body pain, that they often dramatize performatively (239). The conclusions of Fanon’s diagnosis? Maghrebi immigrants are deprived of expressing their affectivity (247). Until they are allowed to express their affective experience, they will continue to somatize their sufferings of immigration, be it their isolation (243), insecurity (245),...

    • 4 ‘In the Maim of the Father’: Disability and Bodies of Labour
      (pp. 83-98)

      ‘There had to be an accident’ (‘Il aura fallu l’accident’) (53) says the narrator of Fawzia Zouari’s novel,Ce pays dont je meurs(1999), as she describes the seemingly inevitable accident that condemns her father to a wheelchair. Once crippled, the father becomes an abject object that cannot be looked upon, either by society or by his own family: ‘Handicapped and confined to the house, my father did not exist in the eyes of others. [...] I didn’t dare fix my gaze on him for too long a time’ (55–6).¹

      The body of the first-generation male Maghrebi immigrant remains...

    • 5 ‘Ni Putes Ni Soumises?’ Engendering Doubly Oppressed Bodies
      (pp. 99-118)

      On 8 March 2003, International Women’s Day, 30,000 women took to the streets of Paris. It was a movement called Ni Putes Ni Soumises (‘Neither Whores Nor Submissives,’) that rallied under the manifesto cited above. Most of the demonstrators were young women from thecités, who were protesting the violence in the ghetto and its dismissal by French authorities. The group Ni Putes Ni Soumises came into being after the events of 4 October 2002, when Sohane, a 17-year-old girl from the Balzaccitéof Vitry-Sur-Seine, was burned alive in a dumpster by a 19-year-old youth from a neighbouringcité....

    • 6 ‘Pathologically Sick’: Metaphors of Disease in Beur Texts
      (pp. 119-132)

      In the previous chapters, I have pointed out that a generalized sense of dis-ease, ormalaise, pervades Maghrebi fiction. Symptomatic bodily rhetoric depicts fathers as silent cripples, mothers as bodiless hysterics, or Beur women as victims of sexual abuses. What is more, Kassovitz’s film,La Haine, and Charef’s classic novel,Le Thé au harem d’Archi Ahmed, have engendered a generic narrative of Beur youth culture – characterized by corporal violence, drugs, and death – that is difficult to evade.

      This chapter explores cases of Maghrebi authors – specifically Smaïl, Kacem, Zouari, and Zitouni – who most explicitly and purposefully take up metaphors of illness...


    • 7 ‘Zombification’: Hybrid Myth-Uses of Vodou from the West to Haiti
      (pp. 135-154)

      In their article ‘Working with Haitian-Canadian Families’ (1998), Canadian psychologists Gopaul-McNicol and colleagues discuss therapeutic interventions for Haitian immigrants referred to them for mental health services. They explain that treatment should include both ‘assisting families with concrete needs’ such as food, clothing, shelter, and ‘translation for those unable to communicate in English or French’ (235), but they also draw attention to the ‘traumatic experiences’ that these immigrants may have experienced as a result of sociopolitical and environmental conditions in Haiti (235). Most importantly, they emphasize the need to understand the cultural factors that shape the psyches of Haitian-Canadian immigrants – in...

    • 8 ‘Zombi Fictions’: Vodou Myth-Represented in Haitian Immigrant Fiction
      (pp. 155-184)

      As we have seen in the previous chapter, the cultural signifier of Haitianvodoumay connote a constellation of contradictory emotions. As a result, Haitian writers find themselves in a precarious position when espousingvodouthemes in their fiction. Some writers might choose to affirmvodouin their work, as it represents Haiti’s cultural heritage and is a symbol of Black resistance. Others, fully aware of the sensationalist depiction of voodoo in the West and the deprecation of Haiti as the ‘poor,’ ‘barbarian’ Black Republic, might seek to resist these stereotypes in their fiction. However, since 1957vodoualso is...


    • 9 ‘Painless’ Fictions? Czech Exile and Return
      (pp. 187-206)

      These two quotes – one by a Czech émigré, the other by a Czech national – reveal the contradictory sentiments that I will elaborate in this chapter, as I focus on the problematical return of Czech emigrants ‘home’ to the Czech Republic after the fall of Communism. Under the communist regime, from 1948 to 1989, an estimated 550,000 people, or 3.5 per cent of the population, emigrated from Czechoslovakia, to become immigrants in other countries (Pehe 23). After the 1989 Velvet Revolution, thousands of these people returned, with high hopes of coming ‘home.’ Upon their return, however, they often faced resentment, xenophobia,...

    • 10 ‘The Suffering of Return’: Painful Detours in Czech Novels of Return
      (pp. 207-226)

      Novels about an immigrant’s conclusive return home are rare. Rarely do political circumstances change so dramatically as to bring lasting peace and political and economic stability to enable immigrants to permanently return ‘home.’ Haitian or Algerian immigrant writers, for instance, cannot fathom permanently resettling in their war-torn, politically unstable, and economically deprived homelands. Even when the homeland is relatively stable, immigrants are reluctant to re-emigrate; they have settled in their new country. Most importantly, for writers, the literary institutions and readership that support their writing are located in the West. For example, one cannot imagine that such canonical immigrant writers...

  9. For a Responsive Conclusion
    (pp. 227-238)

    Public perceptions and policies regarding immigration have changed dramatically since I began this book, some five years ago. During this time, twelve million people became new immigrants, and 150 million people worldwide became refugees (International Migration Outlook). The events of 9/11 and the subsequent ‘War on Terror’ have radically reshaped attitudes and laws concerning immigration.¹ In Europe, we observe increased anti-immigrant sentiment, with the rise of rightwing groups and leaders such as Vlaams Belang, Jörg Haider, Jean-Marie Le Pen, and the assassinated Pim Fortuyn; in Australia in 2004 there were anti-immigrant riots and in 2005 riots by disenfranchised Beur youth...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 239-254)
  11. References
    (pp. 255-276)
  12. Index
    (pp. 277-300)