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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 4 Place and Space


To identify a body of writings as ‘migration literature’ posits movement across geographical space as somehow inherent to the stories that those writings tell and the ways in which they tell them. Indeed, in all the texts to be discussed in this chapter, including the majority which do not explicitly narrate a journey from one country to another, the imaginary which colours and animates the narrative is built upon notions of mobility. ‘Immigration’ might suggest a simple passage from one nation state to another, from origin to destination, but in all cases I shall discuss, arrival and even pro- longed residence in the destination country is articulated through a sense of continued displacement or restlessness, a sense of being also elsewhere. This sense is, as the previous chapter demonstrated, a product in large part of the feeling of absence from and loss of home, with all the emotional and cultural load which accrues to that term once it is left behind, but also of the investment in possibility, the faith in a dif ferent experience in the future, which motivated departure. In other words, the completion or resolution which a single journey from origin to destination might imply is disrupted by a tension back towards the point of departure – the possibil- ity/dream of return – and a simultaneous tension forwards towards other possible movements. As a range of novels will illustrate in this chapter, the territory of the destination country, Italy, and the territory of the migrant’s imaginary in that location,...

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