Statelessness and the Poetry of the Borderline: André Green, W.H. Auden and Yousif M. Qasmiyeh

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Every conflict brings its refugees, but the wars of the twentieth century produced population movements on a new scale. The peace of these wars was almost as bad as the fighting: for every border re-drawn, every treaty signed, millions shifted. They shift still. Traumatic testimony has long been the life-writing genre of choice for those wanting to give voice to the dispossessed. But can trauma really capture the complexity of this territorial violence? There are many ways of moving across a border, or, as is the case for millions today, living on a border. In his 1976 essay, ‘The Borderline Concept’, the psychoanalyst, André Green wrote: ‘I can be a citizen or heimatlos (homeless), but to “be” borderline – that is difficult for me to imagine'. This article takes Green's writing on the borderline as a starting point for reflecting on the condition of statelessness. For Green, to think seriously about the borderline is to risk an imagination adequate to its shifting geographies – frequently, he compares the task of imagining borderline states to the writing and reading of poetry. How might we describe a poetry of the borderline? And how might such descriptions help us think again about the geographies of modern writing? The second part of this article turns to two poets from different ends of the same history of exile and displacement: Auden, whose voluntary 1939 departure from England coincided with the first convulsions of national frontiers in Europe, its colonies, protectorates and mandates, and the Oxford-based Palestinian, Yousif M. Qasmiyeh, whose writing captures the reality of borderline existence with a particular clarity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1331-1354
Number of pages24
JournalTextual Practice
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 5 Nov 2015


  • Refugees
  • statelessness
  • poetry
  • exile
  • Psychoanalysis
  • borderline
  • late modernism
  • Andre´ Green
  • W.H. Auden
  • Yousif M. Qasmiyeh


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