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MLN 122.2 (2007) 400-422

Between Hostility and Hospitality:
Immigration inContemporary Spain
Tabea Alexa Linhard
Washington University in St. Louis

The history of the black Atlantic yields a course of lessons as to the instability and mutability of identities which are always unfinished, always being remade.

—Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double-Consciousness

Not unlike the traumatic memorization of the Spanish Civil War and its aftermath, current literary representations of immigration in Spain are often discussed in relation to those in cinema as well as other forms of mass media.1 Film certainly has received far more critical attention than literature in studies of immigration, and the reasons for this may be obvious: in spite of the unequivocal control that the camera's gaze may have, the particular language of film may be more suitable in order to address the crucial question that also informs this essay, namely, who has the right and the responsibility to narrate the becoming of post-national Spain? [End Page 400]

Film production, after all, often is a transnational endeavor from the beginning, and a "transatlantic traffic" to use Paul Julian Smith's term, is radically influencing recent cinematic exchanges between Latin America and Spain.2 Yet it is important to emphasize here that different genres like film or literature do not function independently from one another, and today, within a cultural studies and interdisciplinary paradigm, it is necessary to discuss the representation of immigration through a complex and multi-layered system of representation, where such issues as production and consumption cannot be ignored.3

Considering the particular case of recent literary texts, it is of crucial importance to understand not only the transatlantic, but also transmediterranean traffic that informs contemporary representations of migration in Spanish literature. In this particular essay, the transmediterranean traffic will be under scrutiny, not only because the principal texts under discussion, José María Merino's "El séptimo viaje" and Lourdes Ortiz's "Fátima de los naufragios" deal with immigration from Africa, but also because these texts reveal a spectral Orientalism via the enigmatic presence of certain tropes and figures that speak to ways in which Spain has imagined the Arab world. Both stories consist of complex and somewhat messy layers of representation, layers where the history of the Spanish relationship with Arab culture, and the history of Colonialism and Orientalism intersect. Both stories display the need for a radical change in the discourse and fabric of literature, revealing a different literary history of the future. Ultimately, in these two stories postcolonial ghosts materialize, revealing a profound melancholia that, I would argue, lies at the core of any literary engagement with immigration in recent Spanish literature. [End Page 401]

Unknown, Inassimilable, Interruptive, and Present

"A specter," explains Jacques Derrida in is a "paradoxical incorporation, the becoming-body, a certain phenomenal and carnal form of the spirit" (6). It is, to continue using Derrida's terms, a non-object, a non-present present, and a "being there of an absent or departed one" (7). The specter, Derrida also argues "is always a revenant. One cannot control its comings and goings because it begins by coming back" (11). The author also argues that a concern for justice is what lies underneath the urge to speak in terms of ghosts or revenants in the first place.4

The appearance of colonial and postcolonial ghosts in Spanish literature and Spanish mass culture is not always evident, particularly because a nation-wide engagement with the colonial past and its postcolonial and neocolonial consequences is a relatively recent phenomenon. Such an appearance has been discussed in film and other forms of visual culture, but not to the same extent in literature. Isabel Santaolalla argues:

If Spanish mass culture shows a surprising indifference to the country's colonial history, this is surely partly due to the fact that—in contrast to, say, Britain—the idea of empire is almost totally absent from the collective imaginary of present-day Spaniards, of whatever social class or economic background. The length...


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