Multiple positioning: Responses to cultural difference in readings of Abdulrazak Gurnah's novel by the sea

Christa Knellwolf King*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


This article develops the argument that world-making engenders empathy in readers of imaginary worlds. It employs positioning theory as a methodological framework to argue that the emotional responses of readers of literary texts differ subtly from empathy. Since readers relate to the characters and cultural contexts of an imaginary text at various narrative and thematic levels, it proposes that comprehending a literary work is a process of multiple positioning. This essay applies these arguments to an interpretation of Abdulrazak Gurnah's By the Sea. Reading the different forms of attachment elicited by this postcolonial novel, this author claims that Gurnah's novel challenges the possibility of singular and simplistic attachment and instead prompts multiple positioning. Multiple positioning characterizes the interpersonal relations that are engendered by the different narrative perspectives and voices of the text. Multiple positioning is described as a crucial factor in readers' responses to descriptions of cultural difference because it encourages readers to open up toward cultural difference and, indeed, creates affinities between literary characters and text-worlds, as well as with the real cultural communities referred to by them.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)185-204
Number of pages20
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Abdulrazak Gurnah
  • Affect
  • Emotional and cognitive empathy
  • Positioning theory
  • Postcolonial criticism
  • Theories of emotion
  • World-making

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Literature and Literary Theory


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