ABSTRACT

This article merges the postmodern critical thinking that scrutinizes bias and power in the formation of archival collections with the refugee and asylee resettlement process in the United States. It proposes that the theoretical accumulation of narratives recorded on applications for refugee and asylum status can be conceived of as a theoretical archive, physically boundless and spread across countries of origin, temporary host countries, and countries of resettlement. A postmodern-archivist lens helps to interrogate the implications of what Mireille Rosello calls the “problematic gap” separating what happened to a person and the narrative that is bureaucratically established during the application process; this article explores this “gap” by engaging fieldwork and scholarship from lawyers, field researchers, and humanitarians who critique how application narratives are recorded, processed, and preserved. It then turns to fiction from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Dinaw Mengestu, and Imbolo Mbue that inhabits this “problematic gap,” reading a character in each text as personification of the processes of appraisal, institutional motives, and essentialization of identity. These texts make visible ways in which the application narrative archive operates through what the author calls an “autologic function” that prioritizes familiar forms of narratives while determining who is eligible for refugee status. In turn, the article proposes that these fictional illustrations of autologic processes might inform archival projects focused on inclusion of marginalized communities.

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