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Webiar Series 1 - Talk 1

WINTER Webinar Series:
‘Migration, Life Writing, and the Spectacle of the Migrant Body in Distress’

Date: 4 March 2022 (Friday)

Time: 10 -11 AM CET (5 -6 PM HKT)
Title: Migration, Life Writing, and the Spectacle of the Migrant Body in Distress

Speaker: Professor Mita Banerjee (Chair of American Studies Obama Institute for Transnational American Studies, Department of English and Linguistics, Johannes Gutenberg University, Mainz, Germany)


This paper explores the practice of “unseeing” the spectacle of the migrant body in distress. It argues that we may need to take recourse to the notion of a “future anterior” when looking at lives that are about to be lost in the Mediterranean Sea. Drawing on the work of Judith Butler and Christina Sharpe, it zooms in on the moment when a migrant boat first signals that it is in distress. What if we imagine that unless we intervene, the migrants on this journey will have perished at sea?

In this vein, this paper superimposes Charles Heller’s and Lorenzo Pezzani’s film Liquid Traces: The Left-to-Die Boat Case (2014) and Yusra Mardini’s autobiography Butterfly. Heller and Pezzani explore the ethical catastrophe of a world community looking on as a boat capsizes on the journey from Libya to Lampedusa. Similarly, Mardini recounts the agony of being lost at sea, half-way between Izmir and Lesbos. Juxtaposing cultural theory with life writing research, this paper suggests that the politics of a future anterior may be crucial for making us take action, each in our own specific ways, to save migrant lives while we still can.

About the speaker:

Mita Banerjee is Professor and Chair of American Studies at the Obama Institute for Transnational American Studies at Johannes Gutenberg University, Mainz, Germany. Her research interests include ethnic American literature (Ethnic Ventriloquism: Literary Minstrelsy in Nineteenth-Century American Literature, 2008), issues of naturalization and citizenship (Color Me White: Naturalism/Naturalization in American Literature, 2013), and medical humanities (Medical Humanities in American Studies: Life Writing, Narrative Medicine, and the Power of Autobiography, 2018). She is a Principal Investigator in the Collaborative Research Unit “Human Differentiation” and co-speaker of the research training group “Life Sciences, Life Writing: Boundary Experiences of Human Life between Biomedical Explanation and Lived Experience,” which is funded by the German Research Foundation.

TE Winter Webinar_Migration, Life writing and the Spectacle of the Migrant Body in Distres
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