The act of human migration is itself a radical immersion into the otherness of another culture, an experience that takes place on the very borders of subjectivity. At these borders, the feeling of alienation can dominate a migrant’s existence, due to the displacement of their spatial and psychic references. Within this frame, the migrant subject has recourse to fantasy, a concept defined by Jacques Lacan as driven by the question: what does the Other want from me? While an answer to this question evades any direct answer, it gives the subject an image to strive towards, thus disguising the antagonism that pervades their existence. In the case of the migrant, the desire of the Other is founded by the figure of the ‘ideal migrant’, an acculturated subject able to traverse their foreign surroundings without fault. Certainly, such an image prevails in contemporary society through celebrities who have effectively succeeded in their country of migration, yet similar relationships are perhaps more common and potentially damaging in more localised forms. In this paper, the dramatisation of this concept will be explored in recent representations in modern literature, specifically the short stories “Further South” and “The Dignity of Labour” by Asian-Australian writers Isabelle Li and Roanna Gonsalves. In both stories the “ideal migrant” is conjured from a sense of surrounding otherness, allowing the migrant to seemingly anchor themselves in their new environment. Equally, both stories showcase fantasy and its eventual rupture, with Li’s story depicting the trap of infinite alienation, while Gonsalves’ presents the potential for emancipation from this deadlock through the gesture of shared solidarity.
Migration, modern literature, Jacques Lacan, fantasy, alienation, work, idealisation