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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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It is not my intention to of fer conclusions to this study of migrant imagi- naries as expressed through the first twenty or more years of migration literature in Italian. As outlined in the introduction to this book, the pur- pose of the study has been not to close but to open more widely discussions about the imaginative and af fective properties of the texts discussed. My chapters have sought to pose questions, rather than to answer them, about the impact of this literature on cultural imaginaries which might enunci- ate specific life experiences and connect individuals in ways as inf luential and arresting as those by which social practice and political policy might aim to encourage community cohesion. With these aims in mind, Chapter 5, ‘Literature’, drew together both internal and external perspectives on that topic, by analysing expressions in the texts themselves of reading and writing, and then moving outside the texts to consider the forms and pos- sibilities of migration literature within a wider panorama of contemporary Italian literature. In this sense, there is little more to add to the perspec- tives suggested in individual chapters and consolidated in the latter part of Chapter 5. One outcome of the enquiries into all of the selected figures in this study merits clearer articulation at this point, however. This is perhaps best described as the expansion not only of the field of Italian migration literature, but more compellingly, of the frame of reference to which these figures af ford...

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