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zadie 13

zadie 13

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University of Tulsa
Women Writers, Global Migration, and the City: Joan Riley's "Waiting in the Twilight" andHanan Al-Shaykh's "Only in London"Author(s): Susan Alice FischerSource:
Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature,
Vol. 23, No. 1, Where in the World IsTransnational Feminism? (Spring, 2004), pp. 107-120Published by:
Stable URL:
Accessed: 01/12/2010 05:52
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Tulsa Studies inWomen's Literature.
Women Writers, Global Migration, and the City: Joan Riley's Waiting in the Twilight nd Hanan Al-Shaykh's Only in London
Susan Alice Fischer Medgar Evers College of the City University of New York
Studies of women's fictional representations f the city have often relied upon sometimes useful, but increasingly verworked notions, such as that of the bourgeois flaneur positioned as a detached and privileged male observer of the urban environment.1 Such traditional paradigms fail to account for women's complex realities in the global city. A shift in analy sis is necessary to examine the portrayal of characters whose presence in the city is the result of women's migration brought about by the pressures of capitalism and postcolonialism and whose experience calls into question the very definitions of home, belonging, nation, and identity.2 rawing on concepts that have characterized eminist and postcolonial analyses, such as "borderlands" nd "interstitial pace," tudies of the politics of space fur ther an analysis of contemporary women's urban fiction by looking at the ways in which space is constructed in terms of difference and privilege.3 In Edge of Empire: Postcolonialism nd the City, Jane M. Jacobs reminds us that "because of the primacy of the spatial in imperial projects, post colonial politics is also often explicitly spatial" and that the "city is also an important component in the spatiality of imperialism."4 eferring to Roland Barthes's claim that "the city is the very 'place of our meeting with the other,"' Jacobs looks at the ways "constructs f difference and privilege" manifest themselves concretely in the city (p. 4). Jacobs rightly points out that, as sites of meeting and exchange, cities also have the potential for the "destabilisation of imperial arrangements" nd other relations of power, seen in "the negotiations of identity and place which arise through dias poric settlements and hybrid cultural forms" p. 4). Thus the literature f migration to the global city calls for an examination not only of the repre sentations of particular geographical places but also of the protagonists' engagement with such locations and specifically with the social spaces of work, housing, and leisure. Such an analysis should look at how migrants to the global city are excluded through constructed notions of privilege and difference and how they, in turn, resist by recreating a sense of belong ing and identity. Literary representations of migration to the global city illustrate how 107
postcolonial power, involving "diverse roups far beyond the boundaries of the metropolis," is reproduced ocally in the city.5 A focus on the global city and on the different ways in which "places and people are represented in a context of power and inequality," ohn Eade writes in Placing London, enables not only a representation of "economic and political changes but also a reworking f people's understanding of the world around them" (pp. 15-16), as globalization has as much to do with the movement of people as it does with goods and capital.6 According to Eade, postcolonial migration "has created a metropolis where struggles around racial and ethnic differ ences engage with a colonial heritage of beliefs and practices concerning insiders and outsiders" (p. 16). As women represent half the world's migrants, this engagement is also gendered.7 Contemporary women's writ ing about migration to London illustrates ot only the economic, political, and social pressures that lead to and characterize women's experiences of London, but also the ways in which migration "places the discourse of 'home' and 'dispersion' n creative tension, inscribing a homing desire while simultaneously critiquing discourses of fixed origins."8 hus a study of contemporary urban migrant literature should examine the representa tion of public space, particularly as it relates to access, power, and the recreation of identity. As Carole Boyce Davies further points out, "the convergence of multiple places and cultures . . . renegotiates the terms of Black women's experience [and] their identities," and their writing "rede fines identity away from exclusion and marginality" (p. 4).9 Women authors write about migration to London in their fiction in many different ways; urban space is gendered, racialized, and sexualized, and class differentiation also underscores the experience of migration and the city. London topography ecomes a space where contemporary women writers explore these experiences and project a revised sense of identity and community as they examine their places in the world. While contem porary women's fiction set in London is rich with examples, the focus here is on two novels about women's migration to London: Joan Riley's Waiting in the Twilight 1987), about post-war Jamaican immigration, and Hanan Al-Shaykh's Only in London (2001), about much more recent Arab immi gration.10 lthough detailing quite different experiences, both novels cen ter on the ways the protagonists struggle to find places for themselves in a city where global relations of economic, political, and social power mar ginalize them. Riley's aptly named novel Waiting in the Twilight is about Adella Johnson's shrinking horizons as she moves from her childhood home in Beaumont, in the Jamaican countryside, to Kingston and from Kingston to 108

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