WRITING TRUTH TO POWER: JONAS HASSEN KHEMIRI'S WORK IN STOCKHOLM AND NEW YORK
Helena Wulff (Stockholm University)
Paper short abstract:
Drawing on a literary anthropological study of migrant writing in Sweden, this paper explores the work of Jonas Hassen Khemiri in Stockholm and New York. How come an open letter, a play and a novel that address issues of racial profiling and terrorist crimes in Sweden matter in the United States?
Paper long abstract:
In my literary anthropological study of migrant writing in Sweden, focusing on fiction and journalism, the comparative perspective accentuates diversity. More often than not, this is cultural diversity as a contested issue, such as experiences of exclusion, even racism. Theoretically, the study combines ideas on world literature as the circulation of literary work from national to global contexts, and ideas on art worlds as social worlds. This paper explores the work of Swedish writer Jonas Hassen Khemiri, of partly Tunisian origin, in terms of cultural translation and comparison between Stockholm and New York. I discuss three texts by Khemiri in different writing genres: firstly, an open letter to Sweden's Minister of Justice which went viral in 2013 and was also published in the New York Times, about racial profiling in Stockholm; secondly, the play I Call My Brothers, written in response to a failed terrorist attack in Stockholm in 2010 and staged in New York; thirdly, the award-winning novel Everything I Don't Remember selected as a 2016 Times Literary Supplement Book of the Year. So why would Khemiri's open letter, play and novel that address new issues of power, stereotypes and physical appearance in Sweden matter in the United States, with its deep-rooted diversity? The conclusion is that the international success of these pieces has nothing to do with Sweden or an interest in Swedish contemporary life, but can be understood as local variations on the global themes of terrorist crimes and racial profiling.
Aesthetic encounters: the politics of moving and (un)settling visual arts, design and literature