A Woman Leaving Twice to Arrive: The Journey as Quest for a Gendered Diasporic Identity in Anne Devlin's after Easter

Article excerpt

Global mobility, a widespread phenomenon of our era, tends to implicate vast numbers of people in large-scale migrations between regions, countries and even continents, making them face the sense of being uprooted and the concomitant need to remould their identity under the new conditions. The crossing of geographical and cultural borders, however, is not necessarily just traumatic without psychological gain or spiritual growth. To quote Ian Chambers, the experience is likely to generate "a form of restless interrogation" (1994: 2) since:

   to come from elsewhere, from 'there' and not
   'here', and hence to be simultaneously 'inside'
   and 'outside' the situation at hand, is to live at the
   intersections of histories and memories,
   experiencing both their preliminary dispersal and
   their subsequent translation into new, more
   extensive, arrangements along emerging routes
   (1994: 6).

The multifaceted interaction between subject and location has become the focal point of a range of social and cultural discourses, conspicuously that of literature. Considering its century-old commitment to the negotiation of and critical engagement with questions of identity and both communal and individual renewal in the theatre, an allegedly heterotopic site of representation, drama can be seen as a genre particularly relevant to staging journeys which lead towards a significant relocation of the self. In her seminal book The Geography of Modern Drama Una Chaudhuri argues that the concept of home is usually structured around the oppositional tropes of "belonging and exile", whose interplay carries ambivalence regarding affiliation and its "incontestability" (1997: 12). Dislocation and homelessness evoke "a new geopathology", she says later, according to which

the exhausted poetics of exile and the defunct heroism of departure are replaced, more somberly but no less successfully, by the anxiety of immigration [...] figured as a search for a new and compelling narrative of self-definition (Chaudhuri, 1997: 175).

Thus in the postmodern era the discourse of 'home' undergoes substantial rewriting and the quest to achieve a viable diasporic identity involves the retelling of stories and the generation of counter-narratives to forge a bridge between self and Other. Instability, as experienced by migrants, tends to inspire the construction of a kind of new stability, whose main feature is that it remains open to further challenges.

The urging relevance of exilic perspectives to the drama and theatre criticism of our time was tellingly demonstrated by the publication of a special issue of the Toronto-based journal Modern Drama in spring 2003. Beginning her introduction to its varied collection of essays Silvija Jestrovic underscores the dynamics of the new situation as well as finds it timely and appropriate to reconfirm a significant aspect of the theatre, namely the Phoenix-like capability of reviving its humanising functions:

   The relationship between theatre and exile is
   perhaps now more complex than ever before. On
   the one hand, modern technology of both art and
   warfare enables a theatricalization and
   fictionalization of destruction, loss, dislocation,
   and trauma; on the other, theatre is still a means of
   transcending the experience of exile, of turning
   trauma into a creative force and turning the no
   man's land between language and cultures into a
   fruitful soil (2003: 1).

Not surprisingly, the implications of global communication have impacted both the choice of subject matter and the ambition to experiment with forms, styles and technique in contemporary world theatre. The most complex treatment of the joint themes of living at the borderland of cultures and responding to the pressures which emerge during the necessary reformation and re-inscription of identity seems to be offered by plays in which the constraints of exilic existence are imbricated with narratives of race, ethnicity, gender or generational tension, and the concerns they evoke. …