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Natia Gokieli, Humboldt University

  • SOL, H140 Helgonabacken Lund, Skåne län, 223 62 Sweden (map)

Rethinking Identity Schemes: 'Swedish' and 'Immigrant' bodies in literature

  • Name: Natia Gokieli
  • Academic credentials: MA Scandinavian Studies, PhD candidate at the Humboldt University of Berlin

Abstract: “I want us to trade our skins and our experiences”, proposes the bestselling author Jonas Hassen Khemiri (2013) to Sweden’s Minister of Justice in his open letter, offering her a challenging walk through Stockholm’s streets in his non-white, non-Swedish, prejudice burdened, culpable body of an ‘immigrant’. In 24 hours the article was shared 120.000 times on Facebook and was viewed more than 250.000 times on Dagens Nyheter, which makes it to the most shared article in Sweden’s online history. It is not possible to understand this unique impact without considering two facts: first, the letter is deeply embedded in the discourse on 'immigrant literature' shaped by public debates on national culture, multilinguality and multiculturalism. And second, it owes the immense popularity to Khemiri’s public image as an ‘immigrant writer’ and his performative self-positioning to the concept of Swedish whiteness. In the 1990s, when Sweden discovered to be a country of immigration, traditional definitions of Swedishness could no longer hold. While ethnicity became the master code for understanding a new, culturally diverse Swedish society, literature was mobilized to depict and explain the new society. Therefore young authors who debuted in Sweden around 2000 had to position themselves and their work to the authenticity imperative of the time. It is his open letter 13 years later in which Khemiri seems to finally fulfill the expectation of the cultural establishments and instrumentalizes his alleged immigrant body in order to make an 'immigrant experience' accessible for everyone. This paper introduces the strategies of performative imagination of Whiteness and Otherness in the literary texts and arrives at the question: Can these counter-narratives reorganize the prevailing patterns of power? It understands 'immigrant literature' as a discourse where both fictional and non-fictional texts build a circuit with a quality to subvert rigid identity constructions and to put forward what Hjorth (2015) calls the ethical and political responsibility of minority literature and its actors, the power to rethink what it means to be Swedish in the modern globalized reality.

Theme: Minority Culture