The ghostly matter of asylum in Kivu Ruhorahoza’s A Tree Has Fallen (Europa)




Kivu Ruhorahoza, Avery Gordon, asylum, African cinema, Ghostly Matters


This paper applies Avery Gordon’s insights in Ghostly Matters to Kivu Ruhorahoza’s 2019 film, A Tree Has Fallen, and vice-versa. For Gordon, the ghost reveals visibility itself to be “a complex system of permissions and prohibitions.” The ghost is a case, as Gordon puts it, of “visible invisibility,” of seeing that one is not there. In Ruhorahoza’s film, the protagonist, Simon, is an African asylum seeker in the UK, now a ghost. Even before he becomes ghostly matter, Simon is already ghostly: he is held in limbo, consistently denied, deemed threatening, highly visible yet rendered invisible, a figure whose claims to a past are deemed invalid in official channels. For Gordon, the ghost is a liminal presence, “what appears dead, but is nevertheless powerfully alive.” In Ruhorahoza’s film, the protagonist appears to be alive, but is nevertheless powerfully dead. Gordon notes the refusal of modern social scientists to acknowledge, or to speak to ghosts: what happens when British subjects speak to its African ghosts, and vice versa? This paper investigates what the ghostly relations in the film suggest about political subjectivity, visibility, and the politics of asylum. Potentially, the essay offers a reading of what may no longer be visible in Ruhorahoza’s film, as the essay was written before Ruhorahoza edited A Tree Has Fallen, transformed it, and re-titled it Europa.


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Author Biography

MaryEllen Higgins, Pennsylvania State University

MaryEllen (Ellie) Higgins is Associate Professor of English at the Pennsylvania State University. Her books include The Western in the Global South, coedited with Rita Kerestezi and Dayna Oscherwitz, and Hollywood’s Africa After 1994.


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How to Cite

Higgins, M. (2019). The ghostly matter of asylum in Kivu Ruhorahoza’s A Tree Has Fallen (Europa). Tydskrif Vir Letterkunde, 56(1).



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