Can You Hear Them? Missing Voices of Contemporary Mobilities (2015, CEU, Edited by Vera Eliasova)
By: Vera Eliasova (Editor)
Mobility, in its multiple permutations, across countries, continents, or cultures, has been a major source of inspiration for many writers. Their books are well known, ranging from Homer’s Odyssey to Joyce’s Ulysses and from Jack Kerouac’s On the Road to Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. We have undoubtedly come across many of them in our reading lives. This is because these authors are widely recognized, anthologized, and easily accessible to the reading public.
Inspiration from mobility, however, is not exclusive to them. Artists across the globe experience mobility in their lives and work, but their unique art, deserving of much larger audiences, still escapes our attention. These “missing voices,” as we have come to term them, are absent from the ground of institutionalized knowledge – from our libraries, anthologies, or course syllabi.
Who are these voices, why are they missing, and what can we do about it? Such were the questions posed by the students of the course, Forms of Female Mobility in Literature, which I had the opportunity to teach in CEU’s Department of Gender Studies in Winter 2015. Finding these voices, if only a small portion of them, was our goal. As the semester proceeded, the project accrued layers of importance. We have come to see our task well beyond a mere course requirement or a contribution to literary scholarship; it has become a form of social activism.
The search was an exercise in mobility itself. It was a journey necessitating an appetite for literary adventures and unconventional looking glasses. Students were challenged to explore alternative channels as many of the artists employ alternative publishing practices -- for example, sharing their work online via personal blogs or facebook. Moreover, students needed to translate “missing” texts from their original languages into English.
Students discovered eleven artists. These “missing voices,” now no longer quite missing, have taken us off the beaten track – certainly, beyond the scope of our knowledge of mobility so far, and well beyond the scope of the course itself. They have showed us new perspectives on mobility, new permutations of its already multilayered meanings, thereby outlining new geographies of possible literary adventures. The following are some of the examples.
Mobility entails more than just an opportunity for detached looking. The artists enjoy observing others, be they people, plants or animals, but they also engage in conversation with them or just listen to their stories. The cicadas in Esther Kamkar’s poetry, singing their repetitive love songs, their ancient tales, are one example. In their art, even the most mundane, everyday encounters can be turned into something miraculous. This could be said about the lines of poetry, found like pebbles on the pavement in the streets of Minsk, the home of Lina Kazakova.
Some of these mobilities take a form of escape. Some are arrivals. But one can also be suspended between these topoi, “moving in circles” between the walls of domestic space, like the female speakers of Ana Ristović’s poetry. Or, as Jonathan Benjamin shows us, poetry can be engaged to escape even the most hopeless of entrapments — that of a patient with the stigma of mental illness. Thus poetry, for these artists, is not only a way of staying sane, but a social act of re-writing the walls of these traps, connecting to their readers across them, thereby dissolving these seemingly impervious borders of understanding.
The border between outer and inner worlds may be solid, but at other times it turns out to be permeable. Thus external encounters prompt internal transformations, and the road away from self may lead right back to it. In Maja Klarić’s poetry, for example, traveling in Andalusia instigates the exploration of her own subjectivity, as it is being re-written in relation to others. This theme is quite universally shared. There is solidarity in mobility among fellow travelers and passers-by, and one’s own belonging is often re-defined within such precarious collectivities.
Unknown roads require a new language. But experimentation for the language of mobility does not always lead to an expansion of words, but can entail a return to its raw, referential meanings. Perhaps this is a reason why, as students observed, Ágota Kristóf writes in a strikingly austere style: her exiles, like pilgrims stripped of their home country as well as their mother tongue, are in search for new meanings of words.
For many writers, mobility is not only spatial, but also temporal. They move across time, forming connections with different generations – reaching back to literary ancestors or real-life descendants. Thus Nilgun Marmara, for example, draws riveting but tragic inspiration from the poetry and life of Sylvia Plath. Or Guliaim Aiylchy blogs about walking with her daughter in Bishkek, thereby forming a parental bond to be immortalized in the child’s future memory.
For many artists, mobility takes a form of radical resistance toward the existing status quo. They fight against hegemonic discourses of the body, sexuality, or desire, such as Virginie Despentes whose writing and films, questioning social norms, experimentally transgress gender and genre boundaries. These artists mobilize our attention to the imbalance of power and the impact of their message is multiplied when performed in public. This is certainly true for Pedro Lemebel, whose prose, poetry, performance and political activism involving especially the fight against homophobia, are deeply and powerfully intertwined. Or, for Esther Béjarano, who managed to transform the unspeakable horrors of a Nazi concentration camp into songs of courage and survival. Her life-affirming music keeps mobilizing the audiences even today.
We have listened to these “missing voices” and tried to make them speak in the following essays and reflections. It is our hope that this book will increase their amplitude.
(Due to copyright issues the book is only available for educational purposes. For further information, please contact Vera Eliasova at EliasovaV@ceu.edu)
Please see table of contents attached below: