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Refugee-Terrorist-Revolutionary: American War as Antiwar Literature

Guest lecture by Dr. Kelly Polasek (Wayne State University, USA)

This talk considers Omar El Akkad’s 2017 novel American War as an American refugee story that uses the literary strategy of speculative extrapolation to draw connections between historical refugee crises of the past century and other pressing social issues including US antiblack racism, militarism, imperialism, and climate change. Sarat’s cumulative life experiences enable contemporary readers to conceive of the US’s centuries-long history of imperialism and chattel slavery—global and local trajectories of terror and violence—in a single individual’s short lifespan. The novel’s plotting critically engages with the US’s dominant national narrative by extrapolating fictitious yet plausible near-future events that are clear parallels to actual historical and/or ongoing events (for example, the indefinite detention of “enemy combatants” at Guantanamo Bay military prison). By setting the novel in the late 21st century, I argue, El Akkad shapes a particular form of antiwarsentiment that recognizes war, forced migration, international and domestic racisms, gender-based violence, and climate degradation as intersectional.

Dr. Kelly Roy Polasek is an Intermittent Lecturer at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor in the Comprehensive Studies Program where she teaches a Summer Bridge Scholars Program reading/writing seminar focused on racism and antiracism in the United States. Kelly received her Ph.D. in English with a concentration in Literary and Cultural Studies from Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, where she also taught in the Composition and Gender, Sexuality, & Women’s Studies programs. Her research focuses on 20th and 21st century antiwar literature, aesthetic theory, gender and sexuality, and visual culture.