Original Research

Reframing migrant identities: Namelessness and impersonation in Dinaw Mengestu’s All Our Names

Nick M. Tembo
Literator | Vol 40, No 1 | a1581 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/lit.v40i1.1581 | © 2019 Nick M. Tembo | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 22 December 2018 | Published: 19 August 2019

About the author(s)

Nick M. Tembo, Department of English, University of Malawi, Zomba, Malawi; and Department of Literary Studies in English, Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa


Drawing on Jacques Derrida’s rationality about the decentring force of language and texts, postcolonial theorist Homi Bhabha uses Derrida’s notion of dissemination as a telling metaphor for transcending the idea of boundaries. Bhabha avers that dissemination is ‘that moment of the scattering of the people that in other times and other places, in the nations of others, becomes a time of gathering’. His application of the notion of dissemination entails challenging notions of borders and historicity located in the idea of national identity. In this article, I explore the numerous ways in which dissemination is presented as a site for re-examination, refashioning and reinvention of the identity of the African protagonist in Dinaw Mengestu’s All Our Names. I critically analyse the sojourner conceit in the novel in the light of impersonation as a narrative technique that the author employs to exemplify how the trope of namelessness reflects and inscribes notions of nomadic and migrant identities. This theme is evident in the anguish and trauma of the dislocated subject’s search for belonging and for a sense of self-worth. This anguish is deepened by the racial fault lines that are also inscribed in the novel. I demonstrate that the problem of race performs a difficult task in the narrative, helping to expose ‘some of the ways in which the African other is excluded from dominant discourse and rendered invisible through the racially demarcated topography’ when he is away from his natal home.


Dissemination; sojourner conceit; nomadic lives; namelessness; impersonation; reinvention of identity; racial fault lines.


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