Reading Speculative Subjectivities: The Second Generation and the Afterlife of Migration
Asha Jeffers, Asha
MetadataShow full item record
This dissertation takes a transethnic, transnational, relational, and comparative approach to literature about the children of immigrants, the second generation. It argues that second generation is a distinct subject position that is shaped but not wholly defined by race, ethnicity, and nation and, as such, ought to be considered across these boundaries. Negotiations of this subject position itself are also inflected by other factors that are not ethnically or nationally bound, including but not limited to gender, sexuality, age, class, and spirituality. I further argue that, by analyzing second-generation texts from diverse contexts and with diverse forms and styles, the central characteristic and themes of second-generation-focused literature can be discerned. The defining characteristic of second-generation texts and their representation of second-generation subjectivity is a focus on intergenerational relationships with immigrant parents or the first generation more broadly and the enduring effects and affects of that generations migration. This characteristic finds its expression through the central themes prevalent in second-generation-focused texts. This project takes up two such themes, the process of coming of age and the relationship between myth, memory, and history, through the analysis and comparison of four nationally and ethnically disparate texts, l thi diem thuys The Gangster We Are All Looking For, Meera Syals Anita and Me, David Chariandys Soucouyant, and Junot Diazs The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. I argue that these texts have a future-facing orientation that might seem at odds with the melancholy tones that suffuse them. Despite being deeply interested in looking backwards at how nations and migrations came to be, the second-generation-focused text always seems to turn towards the future. The past of the homeland and the past of the place of settlement are sites of inquiry but not of experience; there is no back home to remember as an escape from the flaws of here. As such, second-generation-focused texts are deeply invested in imagining futures that are rooted in an understanding of the past but also a necessary distancing from it, and a skeptical approach to the nation and to racial and ethnic essentialisms.