Alienation and estrangement in Dinaw Mengestu’s All Our Names
In this article I explore issues of negotiating cultural identity in new geopolitical spaces as presented in Dinaw Mengestu’s All Our Names. I examine the portrayal of a liminal character living in Uganda and America and how the author narrates his daily experiences of negotiating identity in order to underscore the power of hierarchies of ethnicity, class, race, and nationalistic discourses at play in determining who belongs and who does not. I analyse the ways in which names are used as narrative strategy to show that identity is never singular or fixed but plural and continuous. I explore how, through Isaac’s unnaming, naming, and renaming, Mengestu contests the fixity of names and identity by indicating naming as a processual act and how a person’s identity is layered and thus cannot be fully contained within a single marker. Drawing upon the concepts of hybridity, third space, and cosmopolitanism, I demonstrate how subject position and cultural identity are not fixed into definite categorical distinctions but are fluid concepts. Mengestu does not only raise possibilities of belonging beyond the confines of a nation or community, but also presents a cosmopolitan world where negotiation and belonging is difficult because of power differences, racism, marginalisation, and discrimination.
Keywords: cultural identity, cosmopolitanism, hybridity, alienation, racism.