- (Instrumental) Narratives of Postcolonial RememoryIntersectionality and Multidirectional Memory
Writing in the Italian newspaper Il manifesto in 2008, scholar Alessandro Portelli said that the growing publication of literary works by Afro-Italian writers “is the most exciting new development of recent times.” In particular, Portelli pointed out that these works are providing a new understanding of “the very idea of what it means to be Italian . . . these books and these tales are us. . . . Not an Other with whom we have to confront ourselves, but an ‘us’ in which to reflect ourselves” (Portelli 2008, quoted in Triulzi 2012: 109). Although the first scholarly works on the topic date from the 1970s,1 Italy has only recently turned its attention to its colonial past; after decades of neglect, “to the relief and excitement of many scholars,” it can be said to have entered its postcolonial phase (Ponzanesi 2016: 145). Indeed, for a long time, Italian colonialism has been a forgotten, or aphasic,2 chapter of Italian history, despite the fact that, between 1890 and 1943, Italy was an [End Page 95] empire that included the colonies of Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia (named AOI, Africa Orientale Italiana), and Libya (Ponzanesi 2004: 105). However, in the last couple of decades, postcolonial literature in Italian3 has overturned this silence. This growing production is emblematic of how literature can rememory4 (colonial) history, of how fictional narratives can help to shape our engagement with the past, and of how they contribute to our understanding of the present and our “sense of the possible” (Meretoja 2018: 2). I consider rememory here not only as imaginatively recollecting the past (in the present), but also as nurturing a dialogic process of collective decolonization (Suero Elliott 2000: 183). While they renarrate Italy’s colonial history, these works are also pushing forward the re-elaboration of Italy’s collective memory, redefining Italian identity, urging a different apprehension of present-day politics, and therefore opening the space for imagining what the future (of Italy) may look like.
In this article, I argue that these works of literature are instrumental in challenging assumed cultural paradigms, thus joining an increasing tendency in contemporary narrative fiction to reflect “on the ways in which identities are built on the basis of cultural narrative models and practices of narrating the past from national, transnational, and global perspectives.”5 To illustrate and support my argument, I will analyze two recent Italian novels: Gabriella Ghermandi’s Regina di fiori e di perle (2007; Queen of Flowers and Pearls, 2015) and Igiaba Scego’s Adua (2015; Adua, 2017). My analysis is rooted in several concepts of memory, such as postmemory, palimpsestic memory, and multidirectional memory. These concepts help to single out the nuances of these novels’ rememories and point to their gesturing against competitive histories. Furthermore, by introducing intersectionality as a supplemental method of analysis, I show how these novels capture the multiple connected factors that are relevant to understanding contemporary social and cultural realities.
By recasting the history of Italy and its colonies through individual life stories, these two novels stage the intertwining of grands récits (grand narratives) and petits récits (personal narratives) (Lyotard 1984), and thus emphasize the significance of narratives both for identity-making and individual agency, and for collective memory. In “writing back” against the dominant narrative,6 these authors are able to create [End Page 96] history from absences and to supplement the canonical archive with a new one that attempts to overcome the erasure of subaltern knowledge. Next to writing rememories, these novels inject into the literary panorama new strategies of representation that seek to dismantle, or else to make visible, what has been conceptualized as the past’s haunting— that is, “how the past remains simultaneously hidden and present in both material practices and the psyche, in both visible and invisible places” (Cvektovich 2003: 38). Thus, they provide the context to understand the legacy of colonialism in contemporary racism while addressing, on a deeper level, contemporary Italian identity politics. Ultimately, in this article I claim that Italian postcolonial literature is instrumental in opening the “colonial archive” to the wider Italian civil society; in showing how the postcolonial...