Academic journal article Hecate

The Politics of Nostalgia: Community and Difference in Migrant Writing

Academic journal article Hecate

The Politics of Nostalgia: Community and Difference in Migrant Writing

Article excerpt

In this paper I examine the ways nostalgia is discursively constructed in two Australian texts to conceal, justify or disrupt certain political/aesthetic investments in social relations of power. In these terms I analyse an article published in Quadrant and Antigone Kefala's novella The BoardingHouse. The question central to this paper then is, whose nostalgia is constructed and mobilised where Migrant subjects and Migrant writing are associated with nostalgia; that is, how do particular displacements operate in this equation. In other words, how do the social distinctions of class, race, and gender signify in the discourses used to describe and define Migrant subjects and Migrant women's writing. And according to these discourses, how are nostalgic subject positions produced as the site where ideas of home, community and subjectivity are either problematized or conflated in ways that reproduce implicitly oppressive conceptions of place and identity for Migrant women. So examining the production of ideas of subjectivity and community together with the aesthetic/political assumptions that inform the reception of Migrant women's writing is critical for feminist conceptualisations of difference.

Nostalgic subject positions reconstruct ideas of the unified subject according to essentialist notions of the home, community and continuity so that the contradictory material processes in and by which meanings and social subjects are simultaneously formed and changed are obscured. Thus the question of subjectivity and its relation to ideas of change is also crucial, particularly where conservative ideas of the Migrant subject signify both an Anglo Australian desire for an essential community continuity and also its disruption.

For example, in an article entitled "Alienation: Embracing the Destroyer" written by T. D. O'Reilly and published in Quadrant at the height of the immigration debate last year, nostalgic subject positions are produced by and used to justify and conceal racist and sexist discourses in the debates around migration and multiculturalism.(1) The article is a particularly explicit example of the ways Anglo Australian nostalgia for an undifferentiated, masculine Australian identity is produced and justified through essentialist ideas and criticisms of Migrant subjects as contagious carriers of nostalgia. So the text feminises and devalues ideas of the Migrant presence in Australian culture and society around the ways Migrant nostalgia disrupts and decentres Anglo masculine constructs of Australian history and community. According to this approach the masculine space of Australian history is being colonised by feminists together with Migrant nostalgia and multiculturalism, (the latter are conflated in O'Reilly's article).

Moreover, O'Reilly's article constructs and addresses a lower middle class and working class audience by representing multiculturalism as the result of some sort of an insensitive and wimpy upper middle class liberalism which has condoned unrestrained immigration to the detriment of the typical Australian suburb, that is, to the detriment of a type of working class male Irish Australian `glory days' idea of Australian culture and history, "when people were class, rather than income conscious".(2) Indeed, O'Reilly locates Australian history in the lower middle class and working class suburbs at a time before supermarkets and high rise apartments emasculated the suburban home. An era when:

Everyone knew everyone else and gossip was usually benign. Most of the men were white collar workers. A few, like my dad, were tradesmen. It was before career women and tradespersons entered the vocabulary.(3)

The text's ideologically conservative assumptions about the degree to which feminists and Migrants have colonised Australian history are constructed in ways that obscure discursively produced relations of power in Australian cultural practices. Furthermore, the very liberalism the text criticises for discounting economic and demographic factors in the immigration debate is used to compare imperialistically O'Reilly's experience of alienation to Aboriginal alienation. …

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