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Italia senza frontiere/Borderless Italy

Issue cover
Cover Caption: Arrival of the Perugia-bound train at the Spoleto station on 20 June 2016, 1pm. Photo courtesy of Paul Myers Pictures.

Claudio Fogu, Stephanie Malia Hom, Laura E. Ruberto, Editors

Leslie Elwell, Managing Editor

Border Imaginaries: Geographies

The Making of Italians in Tunisia: A Biopolitical Colonial Project (1881-1911)

This essay explores the way in which Italian colonialist imaginary perceived the French protectorate of Tunisia and the Italian migrants settled there. The first part of the paper deals with the relations between French capitals and Italian workforce within Tunisian colonial society. Then I analyse how the colonial regime and the nationalist narratives fostered communitarian fractures breaking the internationalist labor movement. Tunisian case reveales how the diasporas in colonial spaces during the age of high imperialism were interesting political and social laboratories of identities. The paper particularly focuses on how the Tunisian context was a place of peculiar Italian nation-building project based on colonial and racial categories. Italian colonialist imaginary not only included Tunisia in a Greater Italy, but also assessed the Sicilian settlers in French Tunisia as a colonial avant-garde for overseas expansions, especially to Libya. In the end I argue that this Tunisian case study could show us how tight is the link between nation-, race- and class-making processes.

(R)esistenze in conflitto nella narrativa di Anna Messina e Fausta Cialente ambientata ad Alessandria d’Egitto

In this essay, I examine the ways in which Anna Messina’s and Fausta Cialente’s narratives set in Alexandria, Egypt in the interwar period suggest conflicting representations of Italian identity. Relying on the notion of resistance and the different ways to exist/resist in the porous context of the city, I propose that Messina’s Cronache del Nilo recreates a monolithic, idealized vision of the Italian identity within Alexandria’s international community. Her characters strenuously oppose any form of relation and contamination in the name of aesthetic, racial, and national superiority nourished by Fascist ideologies. On the other hand, Cialente’s Ballata levantina represents more complex and hybrid subjectivities that rebel against the homogenization imposed by Fascist propaganda in the colonial settings.

A Mediterranean Woman Writer from Naples to Tangier: Female Storytelling as Resistance in Elisa Chimenti

Italian-born author and scholar Elisa Chimenti (Naples 1883—Tangier 1969), still virtually unknown to English-language readers and scholars (and scarcely known to this day even in France and Italy) devoted much of her life’s work to recording and translating the oral traditions of the people, particularly the women, of Morocco, the country where she elected to spend most of her life, living and teaching Italian­ and other languages in Tangier and effectively becoming at once Mediterranean-Italian and Tangeroise. Chimenti’s cosmopolitanism contrasted deeply with Mussolini’s Mediterranean agenda, and the Fascist regime effectively confiscated her school in Tangier. As a young woman, Chimenti traveled extensively across Morocco, eventually mastering several indigenous dialects of Arabic and Berber. Her prodigious linguistic abilities laid the framework for much of her scholarly and literary works, including multiple collections of indigenous folktales, songs, and oral poetry such a Èves marocaines (1935), Chants de femmes arabes (1942), and Légendes marocaines (1959). She also wrote a series of stories about the European “Petits Blancs,” working-class immigrants, merchants and entrepreneurs–including Italians–who lived and worked in Tangier in the early twentieth century. Chimenti published primarily in French and occasionally Spanish (although she also wrote in Italian), a choice that not only allowed her works to reach a greater readership, but that also reflects the author’s perennial interest—similarly evident in her pedagogical and journalistic endeavors—in facilitating transnational cultural dialogue within and beyond the Mediterranean. Myriad explanatory footnotes and a glossary of Darija Arabic accompany each of her texts and are a testament to the transnational ambitions of Chimenti’s projects. The same is true of the author’s only published novel, Au cœur du harem (1958), translated into Italian in 2000 as Al cuore dell’harem. As in her non-fiction texts, Chimenti’s novel blends influences from Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and pre-Muslim North African beliefs and folklore, in a manner that reflects the cultural métissage of Chimenti’s beloved Tangier, at a time when it was a veritable crossroads of the Mediterranean. Though her influences are many and varied, Chimenti’s texts share a recurrent theme: a focus on women’s voices. Female storytelling and song are central to both the poetic rhythm and the plot of her novel, which is a polyphonic tour de force that captures the oral quality of Chimenti’s diverse transnational influences with remarkable poetic dexterity. In this article, we examine Chimenti’s text as a work of feminist Mediterranean literature that presents female storytelling and community as a means of resisting two interrelated forms of violence: domestic abuse and enslavement, as well as the historical silencing of Moroccan women through the exclusion of their voices and stories from public discourse. In situating her novel within a domestic harem, Chimenti also works on a symbolic level to demystify a space where systems of colonial and gender domination have historically coalesced into an Orientalist, voyeuristic narrative. In Au cœur du harem, this female space is the site of transnational dialogue and debate, where contrasting Mediterranean cultures and value systems intersect, in a manner that reflects the author’s own transnational heritage and work.


Italia come Africa e Africa come Italia: movimenti migratori, confini reali, espansioni immaginarie da S.T. Coleridge a Erri De Luca

This article tackles the question of the territorial boundaries of “italianità,” i.e. defining a place for Italy, through the analysis of some key moments in its discursive construction in modernity. I begin by summarizing the results of my long-standing research into the origins and diffusion of what is named “meridionism,” claiming that the territorialization of Italian-ness starts with the diffusion of the discursive metaphor of “(Southern) Italy equals Africa” in the 19th century, which fostered the racial profiling of Southern Italians as Africans within. This process, I propose, finds its completion in the present migration movements that have brought about the actual arrival of Africa in Southern Italy. By contrast, the bulk of the article focuses on the discursive reversal of that equation in the prophetic works of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s and Erri De Luca.



Passeurs: Narratives of Border Crossing in the Western Alps

This article focuses on representations of passeurs: migrant smugglers across the French-Italian and Swiss-Italian borders. I analyze a heterogeneous corpus of novels, films, and essays published between 1990-2017 that refer to different waves of migration, from World War II to the contemporary migration crisis. I argue that these texts complicate and help question the current criminalization of migrant smugglers most often found in the media and political discourses. In particular, I claim that these discourses confuse or dismiss migrants’ experience of border crossing, as they neglect important ethical and legal differences between smuggling and trafficking, humanitarian actors and professional smugglers. The texts I analyze insist on these nuances, enriching our understanding of the human stakes of “illegal” migrations. Through the analysis of literature and film, I present figures of migrant smugglers who have operated illegally to facilitate migrants, but who must not be confused with human traffickers. For example, in his bio-fiction Il vuoto alle spalle (1999), journalist Marco A. Ferrari gives an uplifting, idealized portrayal of Ettore Castiglioni, an Anti-Fascist Alpinist active during World War II, who smuggled Italian Jews and political opponents to the Fascist regime to Switzerland, including the second President of the Italian Republic, Luigi Einaudi. Francesco Biamonti, who lived at the French-Italian border and was a prolific novelist in the 1980s and 1990s, insists on the professionalism of smugglers who have been traditionally present in the Western Alps. In particular, Biamonti stresses that good passeurs are those who never put the life of their clients (migrants) at risk. Novels such as Vento largo (1991) and Le parole la notte (1994) not only point at the negative effects of globalization in Liguria (Italy), but also lament Europeans’ lack of attention to and understanding of increasing migratory flows, well before the media started talking about a migrant “crisis.” Lastly, I present the work of journalists who occasionally performed the role of “humanitarian smugglers” and later reported their experience in written or cinematic form: Io sto con la sposa, by Gabriele del Grande, Khaled Soliman Al Nassiry, and Antonio Augugliaro (2014); Passeur, by Raphaël Krafft (2017). These works express the authors’ need to reconnect with the professional and anti-Fascist tradition of passeurs in the Western Alps, at a time when there is no alternative to “illegal” border crossing for too many migrants.



Viaggio e viaggiatori italiani nel Seicento: relazioni odeporiche per una nuova geografia del vecchio continente

After the Age of Discovery (XV-XVI), new types of travelers began to replace the great ocean routes to the Indies, with the overland, and more restricted, itineraries of an Old Continent that appeared as a land of new discoveries. Within this process – generally widespread across Europe – the contribution offered by the Italians is still to be defined, often classified as a niche phenomenon, especially compared to the mobility expressed by the rest of the Europeans.

Through a quick review of some published and unpublished texts of Seventeenth-century Italian travelers, the article intends to reflect on the Italian participation in travel culture during the early modern age. A completely new image emerges: Italians as dynamic people. Well-integrated in the continental European circuit, they were confident also with the itineraries of Central-Eastern and Northern Europe, lands well-known to them and part of an Italian geography much more extended than we usually know.


Memory, Identity and Migrant Generations: Articulating Italianità in Twentieth- and Twenty-First-Century Northern England through the Case of Kingston upon Hull

Owing to its geographical location and the collapse of its fishing and shipping industries, the UK city of Kingston upon Hull post-WWII rapidly acquired a reputation as a declining outpost of the British nation with no real links to the rest of the world. Yet, historically, Hull has always been a multicultural city that welcomed different migrant communities. Links with Italy, for instance, date back to the 1500s, as the recent ‘Italian Connections’ exhibition, held in one of the local museums, has shown. This exhibition was then also the opportunity to rediscover and reaffirm the existence of an Italian community in the city. This article presents a selection of stories from members of this community, which emerged during and immediately after the exhibition, as a means of exploring the nature of Hull’s historic Italian community and to analyse the extent to which an ‘Anglo-Italian’ identity emerges in this case. It focuses in particular on two case studies: the Coletta and Bottery families. Hirsh’s notion of post-memory and Bedingfield’s idea of trans-memory are used to investigate how members of these families view their Italian background and construct their identities, how memories are transmitted and “translated” across generations, which external factors impacted on their identity construction, and which image of Italy emerges from their recollections. Being able to discuss their family history matters to this group of people: they see this opportunity both as a mechanism by which to reaffirm their personal histories and heritage and as a way to uncover a hidden aspect of Hull’s past which can impact positively on the city’s future.

Border Imaginaries: Genre

East Coast/West Coast: The Long Tradition of Italian Immigrant Performers

This article discusses the role of the immigrant stage in representing, imagining, exporting and importing, the Italian identity. In particular the essay examines the differences between the Italian Diasporic communities on the  east Coast and in California and the diverse culture dello spettacolo they proposed to both American and Italian audiences.

Re/Writing the Orient: Ludovico Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso, the Thousand and One Nights, and the Hundred and One Nights

Canto XXIII marks a tragicomic turning point in the Orlando Furioso, as the tension sustaining the titular character’s epic stoicism and romantic chivalry falls away to reveal a maniacal anti-hero. This canto’s staging of Orlando’s madness signals a significant extra-textual literary transition, unsettling the binary of medieval and classical literary traditions that Ariosto draws on, and suggesting a novel genre of literary expression. This article explores one avenue by which Ariosto disrupts such ostensible polarities through the dynamic intertextual practice of writing and rewriting the “Orient.”  A close reading of Canto XXVIII’s resounding echoes of the Thousand and One Nights’ and the lesser-known Hundred and One Nights’ frame tales, illuminates the Furioso’s double focus upon movement toward and away from Muslim-Arab cultural affiliation, a push-pull that opens a space of difference where literary traditions can converge neither in reconciliation nor domination of one another. In particular, this paper examines how Ariosto’s poem captures the ambiguous hybridity of the medieval Mediterranean as an ever-shifting terrain defined not only by oppositionality and hostility, but also by curiosity, exchange, and alliance.

Concealing African Art: Ardengo Soffici and Carlo Carrà’s Ambivalent Primitivism

Post-colonial scholarship on Italy is an important field, but has not adequately examined the reception of ‘primitive’ art before and during Fascism.  For instance, Italian primitivism before World War I has been studied, but its implications with respect to colonialism, racism, and the transnational rise of a formalist approach to modernism have yet to be fully explored.  Unfortunately, Italian artists’ disavowal or modification of their primitivism has contributed to this. In order to remedy this, my paper traces how Ardengo Soffici and Carlo Carrà’s appropriation of African sculpture was replaced by a preference for folk or naïve art in writings and works of art.  I also consider futurist primitivism between the wars, since artists such as Fortunato Depero and Enrico Prampolini also shifted their approach; after the invasion of Ethiopia, their celebration of African-American’s modernity was expelled in order to configure a colonial iconography during late Fascism.  Eventually, racist critics and publications such as La Difesa della razza simultaneously rejected and relied on primitivist avant-gardism, adding yet another layer to this complex dependence.  In general, Italian artists absorbed and later dismissed exotic primitivism, which had been mostly used as a critique of the West, to renew Italian culture according to nationalist conceptions.  The range and number of works that referenced Africa and its culture demonstrates the complex nature of this reliance/disavowal, revealing Italy’s fraught relationship to the exotic. Moreover, a similar approach that minimized the role of African art within modernism was employed in the United States, which also obscured certain aspects of Italy’s primitivism.

Il visuale italiano nella crisi della cittadinanza. L’Italianness nei dispositivi di cattura neoliberali del “Migrant Cinema”

L'articolo, adottando un approccio transdisciplinare e intersezionale vicino ai cultural studies, alla visual culture e ai critical migration studies, tenta di ricostruire lo spazio di articolazione italiano della crisi discorsiva dello spazio europeo, analizzando in che modo le produzioni visuali italiane esprimono l'attuale crisi discorsiva della cittadinanza. All’interno del panorama visuale italiano dedicato al tema, alcune produzioni visuali finiscono per ricadere in un sistema di cattura neoliberale di rappresentazione della cittadinanza che qui viene definito ‘Migrollywood’, un sistema che invisibilizza la vita delle nuove generazioni di italiani (New Italians of color) all'interno della rappresentazione della migrazione. Attraverso la lettura contrappuntistica di due produzioni visuali del campo artistico-cinematografico: il documentario 18 Ius Soli (2011) del regista italo-ghanese Fred K. Kuwornu e il lungometraggio Per un figlio (2017) del regista italo-srilankese Suranga D. Katugampala, l'articolo indaga come viene rappresentata l’identità italiana (Italianness) e in che modo il visuale è in grado di costituire un metodo per una contro-epistemologia di decolonizzazione della cittadinanza e dei suoi confini interni, dislocando il punto di vista privilegiato – di razza, genere, classe, religione, ecc. – del cittadino italiano.

La trilogia del naufragio di Lina Prosa (2003-2013) : un teatro tra due frontiere

Sin dalla fine del XX° secolo l’Italia ha visto arrivare sulle proprie coste centinaia di migliaia di migranti che, rischiando la propria vita, attraversano con mezzi di fortuna il Mediterraneo, frontiera sommersa tra l’Africa e l’Europa, con la speranza di costruire una vita migliore. Molti di questi uomini e di queste donne perdono la vita durante la traversata, altri riescono a raggiungere le spiagge siciliane sotto lo sguardo sorpreso dei turisti italiani e stranieri.

In Italia, questi uomini e queste donne sono accolti dalle autorità italiane che li inviano in campi di transito lontani dalle zone urbane. Spesso si ritrovano nel nord della penisola, isolati in valli alpine in attesa che venga esaminata  la loro domanda di asilo. In questi campi sono confrontati a due nuovi ostacoli il più delle volte insormontabili : le Alpi e la neve, esattamente come gli emigranti italiani in Il cammino della speranza di Pietro Germi che nel dopoguerra cercavano di raggiungere la Francia.

Il teatro di Lina Prosa drammaturga e regista siciliana (Premio della critica teatrale italiana 2015) fa di questa condizione migratoria contemporanea e della questione della frontiera il fulcro della propria scrittura drammatica. Con La Trilogia del naufragio (2003-2012) entrata nel repertorio della Comédie française dal 2011, rappresentata al Piccolo teatro di Milano nel 2016, Lina Prosa dà voce a Shauba e a suo fratello Mohamed confrontati al dramma ed alla violenza della migrazione. Lampedusa beach, Lampedusa snow et Lampedusa way fanno entrare gli spettatori all’interno di questa tragedia umana contemporanea attraverso il punto di vista dei protagonisti della Trilogia facendo condividere lo sguardo critico con cui osservano la nostra civiltà occidentale, cittadella chiusa nelle proprie frontiere.

Il nostro studio si propone di analizzare la rappresentazione e il senso della nozione di frontiera nella Trilogia del naufragio. Ci interrogheremo sui mezzi linguistici che rendono concreta la presenza della frontiera nel teatro di questa autrice siciliana e su alcune soluzioni sceniche adottate per renderla visibile.


“A invençó do Brasile”: Juó Bananére and Non-Italian Italian literature

This essay focuses on the fascinating case of Juó Bananére, a comic writer of the Italian diaspora in Brazil, to propose an experiment in how literary historians might conceive of Italian Literature from perspectives immanent to Italy’s various global interactions. By approaching Bananére, a non-Italian, outside of Italy, who chose to write as though he were Italian, in a language only an Italian immigrant could have realistically spoken, this essay offers one such perspective.

Border Imaginaries: Politics

Dante's Afterlife in Argentina

In the 1890s, Bartolomé Mitre (President of Argentina from 1862-1868) published a Spanish translation of the Divine Comedy that was as key to the diffusion of Dante in the Río de la Plata as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s English translation (1867) was in the U.S. This article examines Mitre’s motives for dedicating a decade of his life to the translation, as well as his mission to bring European (and specifically Italian) high culture to his fledgling nation. I have found Mitre’s reading of Dante to have important resonances with the readings of Risorgimento Italians such as Mazzini, who associated Dante with political unity, morality, and high culture. This study also examines Mitre’s role as an advocate of Italian immigration to Argentina.

Jewish Refugee Women, Transnational Coalition Politics, and Affect in Ebe Cagli Seidenberg’s Come ospiti: Eva ed altri

Writing across and beyond borders evokes at once the human aspiration to connectedness and the reality of a divided world invested in particular interests. For Ebe Cagli Seidenberg, the act of writing emanates from the Fascist racial laws of 1938, which forced her – a young Jewish Italian woman – to leave her native Italy and find refuge in the United States. The production of a five-volume series entitled Ciclo dell’esilio obbligato [Cycle of the Forced Exile, 1975-91] is a testament to that unwanted separation and the implications that borders have on processes of self and communal identity, hybridization and exclusion. Come ospiti: Eva ed altri (1991) is the last volume of Ciclo and the focus of this essay. The novel is a portrayal of a small community of European refugees gathered in the hills of Berkeley, California. This essay explores two different articulations of coalition politics and borders in Come ospiti: the first one emphasizes affect, gender and class relationships, and the destructive effects of silencing and social masking, especially in relation to women and motherhood. On another level, and perhaps as a counterpoint to the impermanent female alliances of the story, coalition politics is articulated through the quest for literary interlocutors across national and linguistic borders. The result, I contend, is a liminal literary space molded on a national tradition but set to achieve a transnational status.

Soli al Mondo: The Recourse to "Sovereigntism" in Contemporary Italian Populism

"Sovranismo" has become the “go-to” word to use in contrasting those advocating “take back control” and nationalism against the “globalists” who are the bête noire of populism. This paper discusses the recent provenance of the word and the impluses that underlie it. It then considers the various arguments for sovranismo more broadly. The final section discusses the actual history of state sovereignty and suggests that current usage lacks much understanding of its complexities.

Black Italianità: Citizenship and Belonging in the Black Mediterranean

This article discusses the fraught relationship between legal citizenship and Black belonging as depicted in the works of two Black Italian women writers. The protagonists in the short story “Salsicce” (“Sausages”) by Igiaba Scego and the novella Kkeywa: Storia di una bimba meticcia by Carla Macoggi resist multiple forms of dispossession and struggle to hold on to the autonomy of their self-identification and cultural attachments. Both Scego and Macoggi affirm the necessity to reclaim the power of self-definition, self-representation, and political agency when reckoning with the citizenship project and its inherent exclusions. Thus, these writings showcase the importance of studying the dynamic body of Black literature in Italian and offer us insight into some of the racialized, gendered, and religious negotiations of Italian sociopolitics for Black people navigating life throughout Italy and the Mediterranean.