Writing a New Path in Mohammed Massoud Morsi’s The Palace of Angels
In a previous issue of Meanjin, Winnie Dunn wrote, ‘A critically conscious reader can see Australia through the literature that is missing just as equally as they can through the literature that exists.’ For Dunn, the literature that is ‘missing’ is work by Australians from minority and migrant communities, Indigenous Australians and people of colour or those from non-Anglo backgrounds. While I do not disagree with Dunn, I’d like to suggest that a critically conscious reader—whether in Australia or elsewhere—will further ask: what is missing when we read literature as a reflection of national boundaries, as a site where national identity is represented and given narrative shape? This is an important but deeply challenging question since the field of literary studies has long used the nation to categorise fiction, and has explained literature’s function through its capacity to define a nation’s culture and identity.
We see this clearly articulated in Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities (1983), where he famously proposed that nations are ‘imagined’ through various forms of print culture, including fiction. Drawing specifically on the ‘old-fashioned novel’, Anderson illustrated how, through the interaction of characters and storylines, these texts ‘provided the technical means for “re-presenting” the kind of imagined community that is the nation’ (Anderson, 26). Anderson’s ground-breaking work inspired Homi K. Bhabha’s edited collection Nation and Narration (1990). In that volume, Timothy Brennen noted the historical correlation between literature and nationalism, arguing that the study of the former has its ‘roots in a philological tradition first formulated with the idea of nations in mind, in the very period when modern nation-states were first being formed’. This ‘interplay’, he continues, between fiction and the nation is ‘everywhere behind contemporary criticism, but rarely expressed openly’ (Brennen, 44).
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