Olivier Masset-Depasse’s Illégal: How to Narrate Silence and Horror


Like many influential contemporary thinkers, Arjun Appadurai and Giorgio Agamben suggest that globalization invites us to rethink our relationship with the nation or “postnation” (Appadurai; Agamben). One emblematic figure crystallizes the urgency of such a challenge: the refugee (Nyers; Shemak; Bohmer; Chetail). In European urban centers–regardless of whether we speak as refugees, to refugees, or about refugees–complex transnational dialogues emerge. They often occur between people who do not speak the same language and who have neither the same history nor culture, but still want to or have to share the here and now.

Recent fictional accounts of the difficult and often violent encounters that develop around the figure of the refugee restructure the “we” that constitutes the postnation. Olivier Masset-Depasse’s Illégal (2010), and Chris Cleave’s The Other Hand (2008) have helped me formulate the hypothesis that the presence of the refugee inaugurates a global crisis of storytelling–both for those who are asked to justify their presence in a new country and for those who listen to testimonies.

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