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Staging Memory

Myth, Symbolism and Identity in Postcolonial Italy and Libya

Stefania Del Monte

Memory in postcolonial Italy and Libya has been used, reinterpreted and staged by political powers and the media. This book investigates the roots of myth, colonial amnesia and censorship in postwar Italy, as well as Colonel Gaddafi’s deliberate use of rituals, symbols, and the colonial past to shape national identity in Libya. The argument is sustained by case studies ranging among film, documentary, literature and art, shedding new light on how memory has been treated in the two postcolonial societies examined. The last part briefly analyses the identity transformation process in the new Libya.
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Chapter 2: Memory in Postcolonial Libya: National Identity from Alienation to Self-Awareness


← 68 | 69 → Chapter 2: Memory in Postcolonial Libya: National Identity from Alienation to Self-Awareness

This Chapter aims to demonstrate how the staging of memory, in postcolonial Libya, has played a fundamental role in the development of national identity. A brief historical background helps to better understand Colonel Gaddafi’s use of the colonial past as a means to try and build a sense of nation among the Libyans, while also strengthening his political position. In line with Anthony Smith’s theory, according to which nationalism is the most compelling identity myth in the modern era,154 and with Wilbur Zelinsky’s idea that modern states could never exist, nor operate effectively, without an adequate body of symbols and myths,155 the Colonel’s heavy use of rituals and symbols is also analysed. The dictator’s attempt to nurture collective memory and social cohesion through the representation of symbolic narratives, found its highest expression in the publication of The Green Book and the promotion of the ‘Third Universal Theory’ as an efficient political, economic and social tool.

Shifting the focus from Gaddafi towards other important (but sometimes neglected) sources, the last part of this Chapter also examines the work of two eminent Libyan artists – writer Ahmed Ibrahim Fagih and sculptor Ali Wak Wak – with the aim of analysing the subject of a staged memory in postcolonial Libya from a different perspective. Fagih’s writings are extremely useful in understanding the effects produced by Gaddafi’s memory manipulation in the postcolonial Libyan society, highlighting a...

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