NDQ 84.1/2: Transnational

We are very pleased to open our autumn season of NDQ online by announcing the publication of a special print issue of NDQ titled Transnational.  This project was co-edited by Çiğdem Pala Mull, Sharon Carson, and Gayatri Devi.  Here is their opening collaborative essay explaining the intellectual energies shaping the issue. We’ll be posting a number of articles from the issue in the next weeks in this space.  We look forward to sharing some great work with you!


Guest Editors’ Introduction to Transnational
Çiğdem Pala Mull, Sharon Carson, and Gayatri Devi


Çiğdem Pala Mull

The twentieth century presented us with a world of constant movement, making it increasingly difficult to define nations as separate entities. At a time when traditional allegiances to national identity are being questioned and reexamined, transnationalism offers us a way of thinking and seeing the relationships among and within cultures. Transnationalism emerged as an interpretive framework responding to transformations caused by globalization, including sometimes dramatic shifts in commercial and migratory flow. Increased immigration resulted in multicultural societies, while mass movements of people, ideas, and goods caused the blurring of borders and territories. Transnationalist critique involves the recognition, representation, and analysis of this flow of people, ideas, languages, and cultures across borders.

As a Turkish academician living in Turkey and specializing in American literature, I have always had both the advantage and the disadvantage of looking at texts from the outside. The “transnational turn in American Studies,” for example, encourages scholars from outside the United States to engage their perspectives and include their voices in conversation about literature and culture. Looking at national traditions from transnational vantage points, non-American scholars can contribute to the field, not despite but rather because they read America outside of an Americanized national context.

In her presidential address to the American Studies Association in 2004, titled “Crossroads of Cultures: The Transnational Turn in American Studies,”1 Shelley Fisher Fishkin invited scholars to look at literature beyond the boundaries of nation-states. According to her, “the goal of American Studies scholarship is not exporting and championing an arrogant, pro-American nationalism but understanding the multiple meanings of America and American culture in all their complexity” (20).

This is an invitation for all of us to rethink the categories of the local, regional, and national. This is not a simple comparison of individual nations and cultures, it is a call to go beyond the nation, region, and culture.

According to Emory Elliott in his 2006 ASA presidential address “Diversity in the United States and Abroad: What Does it Mean When American Studies is Transnational?”2 it requires a “genuine inclusiveness and broad international collaboration” (6). Elliott focuses on the expected outcome of this collaboration: “the inclusion of perspectives from abroad [will] resuscitate the study of US culture within an understanding of global dynamics, which [will], in turn, better elucidate the inequities and oppressions that currently plague US culture” (8).

The contributions selected in our issue all demonstrate points of view that allow for a cross-cultural interpretation. Just as the transnational perspective blurs the borders dividing people, nations, and cultures, the contributions in our issue blur the borders separating genres, forms, and disciplines. This issue includes texts involving literary criticism, sociological studies, sociolinguistics, political studies, poetry, personal narratives, documentary, translation, graphic arts, and photography.  Exploring the complexity of   transnationalism from various perspectives, all of them show the ability to see the world through transnational lenses. What unites all of the contributions here is their search for the layers of transnational meanings. If we take Shelley Fisher Fishkin’s “transnational turn” in American Studies as a point of departure, the writers, creators, artists, and translators of these texts all engage in a dialogue involving “the multidirectional flows of people, ideas, and goods and the social, political, linguistic, cultural, and economic crossroads generated in the process” (22). The texts included here focus on areas where specific tensions and cultural conflicts are arising and identify particular tensions between the global and national in literature. They require us to think transnationally, urging us to question, rethink, and reexamine the ideological and theoretical frameworks we use to analyze texts.

This issue is the result of collaboration among many talented people. As a graduate of the UND English Department (MA in 1996 and PhD in 2001), I am extremely proud to be able to contribute to this issue of North Dakota Quarterly as one of the guest editors. I would like to express my thanks and gratitude to my fellow editors, Sharon Carson and Gayatri Devi, as well as to those who handled everything to put this issue together, and all of the scholars, writers, poets, and artists who contributed to this issue. I hope that this Transnational issue of NDQ helps create more movement and intellectual exchange among countries and scholars in different parts of the world.

Sharon Carson

I echo Çiğdem Pala Mull’s thanks and gratitude, first to her and Gayatri Devi for sharing the guest editor labor with me for this project, but also to NDQ Managing Editor Kate Sweney, UND Faculty Editor Shawn Boyd, Fiction Editor Gilad Elbom, Poetry Editor Heidi Czerwiec, and Art Editor Lucy Ganje.

Deep appreciation also to all of our contributors for their thoughtful work, their patient collaboration with the editorial team, and in many cases their transnational generosity in presenting very long pieces in English. We are well aware that a key issue in transnational and comparative work is that of translation, including reciprocity of labor when it comes to moving between and among languages. In the spirit of blurred boundaries, we are pleased to include works which place linguistic and cultural translation at their center, as well as some adventures in “blurred genres.”

I have been drawn to transnationalism as a flexible and demanding method of inquiry which seems especially helpful in breaking open routine habits of thought. Transnationalism can become a mode of intellectual and creative work that at its best offers fresh and sometimes helpfully startling juxtapositions among and between places, events, social practices, ideas, historical actors, writers, artistic works, political arguments, and philosophical worldviews. Shifting away from the often “routinized” and nationalistic thinking encouraged by—some would say required by—political dynamics within modern bureaucratized nation-states requires us to critique and often challenge our own presumptions, to question our deepest alliances, and to honestly examine categories of meaning, perception, and value that have been shaped by—and continue to shape—our “national” lenses.

We editors have been acutely aware over the past months that our work together on this Transnational issue of NDQ carried on within a flurry of strong nationalist rhetoric and political action in the nations where many of us work and live. Assertions fly. Heated, sometimes violent conflict flared over borders, walls, markets, primacy. Nationalistic invocations of race. Heritage. Ethnicity. Religion. All have been proffered as markers of legitimate citizenship or essentialist national identities. At the same time, many people within (and crossing between) these same national boundaries argue for more expansive expressions of transnational identity and accountability, for stronger commitments to global justice, for transnational resource equity, and for more, not less, collaborative work across national borders in order to protect humane social and civic life. I especially welcome the varied perspectives among our contributors, the challenging questions they ask us to grapple with, and the insights they offer as we navigate these twenty-first-century crosscurrents.

Gayatri Devi

In one of my favorite pieces in the current issue, the poet Yahya Frederickson describes the telephone: one of the many ubiquitous ways in which immigrants, migrants, refugees, and otherwise exiled folks keep ourselves grounded in our displaced reality—our lives swinging between homelessness, refugee camps, transit and temporary shelters, and new homes. Those who orbit the world without a home, either through choice or by force, await the voice on the telephone from somewhere far away that relays news of a birth, a death, a marriage, a new home, a renovation, a sale, an earthquake, a war, an occupation, a gain, a loss, a quarrel, a forgiveness. An umbilical cord might be its metaphor. Sure, there is the Internet and email, but those who are displaced from home long for the human voice which might or might not know us, but which carries intimate news from India, Pakistan, Palestine, Serbia, Bosnia, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, and other places, news important only to those for whose ears it is meant. It is metonymy as well: on the other side of the voice is the whole human, and another place and time. These phone calls sometimes tantalize the hapless traveler with visions of impossible return. Frederickson’s poem, “Calls to Dabaab,” describes one such phone call. In Frederickson’s poem, the phone call is the fragile flower in the center of an intentional community of displaced Muslims and their allies in the upper Midwest, trying to create a new (old) home in a new land through an act of hospitality: “There’s a tap on the doorjamb—the youngest man walks to the curtain, reaches through, pulls back a tray of cups steaming with sweet, creamy tea. We sip.”

Hospitality, or the lack of it, in the face of displacement is the unspoken motif leading many of the pieces included in this special issue of NDQ. Two essays, Kyle Conway’s “Modern Hospitality,” and Marielle Risse’s “No. The Car Wasn’t Actually on Fire: Understanding Communication in Southern Oman,” engagingly discuss the anxiety of hospitality in the West and the East to their respective “strangers.” Hospitality might also be approached as a larger philosophical choice, a method and an end goal. It is this that Yusuf Eradam, in his delightful “My Life=A Haiku” (the longest entry in this issue), explores with wit and candor. Eradam calls the hospitality afforded by displacement, if one is so lucky, as the spur for his “curiosity for utopias and dystopias, an awareness-raising process of knowing why we seek happiness elsewhere, always somewhere else, always there and in the future, rather than here and now.” That the displacement caused by transnational movement may be seen as an “awareness-raising” process and threshold is perhaps the key take-away of this special issue: beyond the victories, perils, traumas, and trials of often dangerous movement, there is the reporter’s, the scholar’s, the social scientist’s, the artist’s, the writer’s, the photographer’s vantage point on the journey. The exodus is never without its timely witnesses and recorders.

Two pieces in particular, Daniela Koleva’s “Migrants, Refugees, and Games of Othering: An Eastern European Perspective,” and Marc-Antoine Frébutte’s “Balkan Beats: Migrations, Stories, and Memories,” address the current historical exigency of the large-scale movement of political refugees fleeing execution, incarceration, and poverty from various parts of the Middle East and South Asia to Eastern and Western Europe. Frébutte’s photographs and stories of refugees and migrants at various camps and transit points along the so-called “refugee route” linking the Middle East, Central Asia, and Southern, Eastern, and Western Europe are powerful reminders that for many who are displaced, home is a space always expressed in terms of time, in terms of the future, an essential unknowable, a sheer act of faith.

Koleva’s piece problematizes the new narratives of arrival and “othering” of refugees in Eastern and Western Europe by making visible the old palimpsest of othering engendered by the oppositional histories of the Eastern and Western blocs and their specific casualties in Eastern Europe at the end of the Second World War, and which remains as the repressed content of the hope-filled manifesto of the newer European Union. M. Önder Göncüoğlu’s discussion of Lebanese novelist Amin Maalouf’s Ports of Call, the story of a doomed marriage between a Muslim Ottoman and a Jewish woman in the chaotic aftermath of the Second World War, likewise explores the idea that “we are what we are becoming,” with the novel representing a “dream of an ideal world making room for all differences, where Jews, Arabs, Turks, and Armenians live side by side against separation,” a “healing device.”

For another remarkable iteration of utopian imagination, we are excited to publish our co-editor Çiğdem Pala Mull’s original “Translation of Excerpts from Darürrahat Müslümanları (Muslims of the Peaceful Country) by İsmail Gaspıralı.” This will be the first appearance of Gaspıralı’s Turkish utopian narrative in English.

Closer to home, Lois Roma-Deeley, Patricia Catoira, and Ute Kraidy explore our own experiments in “othering”: U.S./Mexico relations and U.S./Cuba relations. Like Frébutte’s Balkan photographs, Kraidy’s graphic “Frontera” calls to mind the human casualties that must forever resist the propaganda machines that camp out at borders, minimizing complex civil and national identities into rabble-rousing slogans engineered to be broadcast from the wall of discrimination. Lucy Ganje’s visual piece, titled “Borderlines: Accounts Paid, Accounts Due,” asks us to question the nature of borders between/within Indian Country and the United States.

An alternate version of America emerges from the quiet nostalgia of a seventies immigrant childhood in Cleveland, Ohio, in Gulchin Ergun’s “Remembering Sunny Acres.” An America where the Turkish language and Turkish meals met and shook hands with standard American fare (whatever that is), albeit awkwardly; an America where there was room for different voices, different accents, and different customs. In a particularly telling detail, Ergun notes that her Muslim family now includes barbecued pulled pork, a haram or proscribed food, at Turkish get-togethers, something that would have been unthinkable in a first-generation immigrant household. America assimilated its immigrants; immigrants, in turn, adopted America and its customs. It is a story that many of us can attest to from our own lives.

A similar spirit of genuine curiosity, a confident outreach to what is new and strange, a yearning for similarities envelop Cody Deitz’s translations of poems from the Argentine poet Alberto Girri, and Gilad Elbom’s tribute to the missing referent of heavy metal music. It is this fearless and open-hearted curiosity that is the essence of hospitality. In one of Frébutte’s Balkan photographs, Qamar, a thirty-four-year-old Pakistani refugee at the Miksaliste help center in Belgrade, spends his days serving tea and coffee to other refugees. A member of a persecuted religious minority in his own country now waiting for asylum in Europe, Qamar’s tent displays his motto: “Love for All, Hatred for None.” We offer the following sampling of transnational writing and art in the spirit of “Balkan Beats” and Qamar’s hospitality.


1Fishkin, Shelley Fisher. “Crossroads of Cultures: The Transnational Turn in American Studies.” American Quarterly, vol. 57, no. 1, 2005, pp. 17-52.

2Emory, Elliott. “Diversity in the United States and Abroad: What Does it Mean When American Studies is Transnational?” American Quarterly, vol. 59, no. 1, 2007, pp. 1-22.

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