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Migrant Imaginaries

Figures in Italian Migration Literature


Jennifer Burns

This book addresses a rich corpus of contemporary narratives by authors who have come to Italy as migrants. It traces the figurative commonalities that emerge across these diverse texts, which together suggest the shape and substance of what might be termed ‘migrant imaginaries’. Examining five central figures and concepts – identity, memory, home, place and space, and literature – across a range of novels and stories by writers of African and Middle Eastern origin, the study elucidates the affective and expressive processes that inflect migrant story-telling. Drawing on the work of cultural theorists such as Sara Ahmed and Michel de Certeau, as well as on recent work in postcolonial literary studies, memory studies, human geography and feminist theory, the book probes the varied works of Shirin Ramzanali Fazel, Amara Lakhous, Mohsen Melliti, Younis Tawfik and many others. Each chapter posits alternative interpretations of the ways in which the interior experience of encounters across territories, cultures and languages is figured in this literature. In doing so, the book moves towards a wider apprehension of recent Italian migration narratives as suggestions of what a new notion of contemporary ‘Italian’ literature might look like, figured at once within and beyond the boundaries of a national literature, a national language and a national cultural imaginary.


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Chapter 2 Memory


Paul Connerton, in his analysis of How Modernity Forgets, states that ‘The history of mass migration is part of the history of modern forgetting’, justifying this powerful claim in terms of the dissociation of national cul- tures from their home experiences and practices, and thus the progressive ‘forgetting of local roots’.1 I cite this claim not to refute it – in the terms of social anthropology, Connerton is presumably right – but rather to call attention to its counterweight, in the form of the acts of resistance to such forgetting which are visible at the level of individuals or of specific migrant collectives, and manifest themselves as acts of narrative memory. Indeed, Connerton himself goes on to recall V.S. Naipaul’s search, in 1950s London, for material with which to establish a career as a writer, and his late reali- zation that in the west London boarding house in which he stayed with a mix of economic and political migrants, he had arrayed before him all the subject matter he could wish for in the form of the stories those individu- als could tell: ‘the people he saw were full of their memories’, Connerton notes.2 This chapter will explore the ways in which migration literature in Italian negotiates, through telling in a number of ways, which include not telling, the desire to remember and also to forget. I will discuss experiences and operations of the mind which are encompassed under the broad head- ing of memory, but incorporate a range of interior movements...

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