Research - Prof. dr. E. Helena Houvenaghel

Exile & Migration and Myth & History Rewriting

France as the middle-ground.
The French rooting of second-generation refugee authors’ work: Tomás Segovia and Octavio Paz.

I problematize the binary division between country of origin and country of resettlement that is projected onto second generation exiles’ writings. The ‘in-between’ is negatively and vaguely defined as “neither here nor there”. I argue that this binary view and the overlooking of the “in-between” pose a barrier rather than a route to comprehending second generation exiles’ writings. Hence I propose to concentrate on the “middle-ground”. This “middle-ground” concept is a marked departure from the traditional binary way of understanding second generation exiles’ writings.

In the context of two research projects (funded by the Scientific Foundation Flanders / FWO-Vlaanderen and the Special Research Fund / BOF-Ghent University) on second-generation refugee-authored literature, Houvenaghel focused on two authors who were displaced when they were children: Tomás Segovia and Octavio Paz. She unveiled that key concepts in their writings were misinterpreted due to the critics’ focus on the country of origin or/and the country of resettlement. She proposed to move away from this dichotomy by re-interpreting Segovia’s and Paz’ concepts on the basis of a third territory which she called the ‘middle-ground’. In Segovia’s and Paz’ work, the ‘middle-ground’ is France, a country in which both authors stayed several years and whose literature and culture was familiar to them since their childhood. (See article, A gap between Spain and Mexico)

This focus shift towards the ‘middle-ground’ enabled Houvenaghel to shed light on misunderstood concepts in Segovia’s and Paz’ oeuvre. In the case of Segovia, Houvenaghel proposed a new understanding of his concepts of ‘exile’ (See article, A creative exile beyond boundaries), ‘good faith’ (See article, Tomás Segovia’s ‘good faith’ rooted in France). And the ‘un/faithfulness’ to a country (See article, A creative ‘exile’ beyond boundaries and see article, Tomás Segovia’s ‘good faith’ rooted in France).

She illuminated Segovia’s concept of ‘poetry’ and 'theatre' starting from the French ‘middle-ground’ (See article, Tomás Segovia’s concept of ‘poetry’ revisited, see article : Tomás Segovias’ concept of drama revisited). In summary, Houvenaghel showed how Segovia’s concept of both poetry and drama is strongly linked with ethics, rooted in French existentialist thinking.

Houvenaghel re-interpreted Paz’ concept of the ‘rebel’ in the context of human dignity and responsibility, starting from Sartre’s existentialism (See article, The ‘rebel’ in Paz’ work), and his image of the ‘pachuco’ (See article, The ‘zootsuit’ from a French perspective).

Houvenaghel then took this rooting of Segovia’s and Paz’ writing in a French ‘middle ground’ as a starting point for further research on the maps drawn by both authors in their work. She concentrated on the representation of geographical distances and borders in their essays and letters. She showed that Tomás Segovia drew a map characterized by free movement across boundaries and by reducing geographical distances between countries (see article, Towards a cartography of Tomás Segovia). She focused with her collaborators on Segovia’s accounts of his travels through France, Italy, and Spain and thus deepened the understanding of the author’s cartography (See articles, Traveling through Europe). She showed how Octavio Paz, in his letters to Tomás Segovia, invited his correspondent to include new territories in his cartography and to bridge different places by representing distant countries as adjacent (See article, Octavio Paz’ letters to Tomás Segovia: an invitation to redraw the map).

How to cite Houvenaghel’s articles on France as the middle-ground.