Tracing survivance in transnational fiction

Graduate Student Spotlight: Yasmine Lamloum

PhD student in Literature and Cultural Theory

In 1999, the Anishinaabe writer and critic Gerald Vizenor put forth the concept of survivance, which has been incredibly influential for the understanding of the lives, histories and creative literatures of Native American peoples. Vizenor acknowledges that survivance is related to“survival,” but it also means more than that, as the term is imbued with empowering andagential traits. In other words, survivance is a portmanteau for survival and active resistance against genocidal violence and the assimilation of Native Americans. Despite the widespread use of this term for interpreting Native American Literature, survivance has not been used so
much for comprehending other world literature, and thus in my work I want to explore the value and the relevance of this concept to understanding other literatures, specifically contemporary transnational fiction.

I examine survivance in refugee novels, as well as post-colonial and historical narratives.The texts I look at are from countries such as Pakistan, Morocco, and Lebanon where their protagonists share experiences of dislocation, resettlement, and hope. For example, I apply survivance to novels such as Exit West by British-Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid and Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits by Moroccan novelist Laila Lalami. Using survivance as an analytic tool in transnational literature proves valuable for articulating how scholars, writers, and artists from different regions counteract and redress the consequences of structural violence and the destruction of their economy and habitat. Enriched by questions about
gendering and power, the concept of survivance foils the construction of the marginalized “other” as a victim by dominant discourses.