On Brancato's Afro-Europe: Texts and Context

This is going to be a very small post as I'm far behind my writing schedule - yes, I'm still stuck on my chapter about religious discourses and religious arts. There has just been too much interesting literature that has been suggested to me following the presentation I did in London about a month ago, no!, its actually already almost two months ago.

Anyway, two weeks ago I have been at the Research Day at the Department of African Studies at Humboldt University here in Berlin, the department at which I did my undergraduates before I went to SOAS for an Erasmus exchange year and somehow got stuck in London ... Among other interesting presentations, Sabrina Brancato presented an exciting paper entitled Burning Heaven: The Image of Europe in African and Maghrebi Migration Narratives. Here, she discussed the image of Europe that is presented in the narratives of predominantly male migrants of African and Maghrebi origin living (and writing) in Italy and Spain in particular and argued for their significance for maintaining and challenging existing discourses about migration as well as Europe:

In the past two decades the European literary scene has witnessed a proliferation of fictional and testimonial works dealing with the experience of migration. The authors of those narratives come from all corners of the world and, in most cases, have a direct experience of displacement. Addressing issues of identity construction, integration in a new environment, intercultural encounters and dynamics of exclusion, these texts have, in the first place, a high political value. In fact, in so far as they can provide an articulate understanding of how displacement affects individual and communal psychology and behaviour, of the societal changes taking place both in sending and receiving countries, and of the ways different cultural contexts relate to one another, migration narratives can be a crucial tool to tackle urgent problems of inequality, racism, subalternity and disaffection among migrant communities. They are, in short, relevant to both governmental policies and social initiatives, although, unfortunately, they are seldom known to political actors and, therefore, hardly ever used for productive political and social scopes. [….] The few books addressing migratory issues which reach a large public (and occasionally become bestsellers) are, most often than not, sensationalist narratives depicting very extreme situations which might not reflect the more ordinary experience of the larger number of migrants. These narratives, moreover, often revolve around situations of victimisation in the mother country with a journey culminating in the achievement of emancipation in the West, as it is the case with life stories about children forced into war or oppressed women. The popularity that narratives such as Ayan Hirsi Ali’s Infidel or Waris Dirie’s Desert Flower achieve among Western readerships is obviously not unrelated to the fact that they offer a rather flattering view of the West and do not ‘threaten’ the founding principles on which the Western sense of self-righteousness relies. We therefore have to interrogate the function of these dominant discourses and their impact on the general view of migrants in the West. We should ask ourselves, for example, if and how such narratives help tackling urgent societal issues such as the growing islamophobia among Western citizens. A negative answer should obviously not diminish the value of such works but would certainly make more urgent the promotion of alternative narratives offering less dichotomic and more multifaceted views, a way out of the unproductive ‘the West and the Rest’ paradigm. (from a paper presented at the Department of African Studies, Humboldt University, on the occasion of the Research Day, 3 July 2009)

Now, just a few minutes ago I found an email circular in my inbox announcing the recent publication of Brancato’s book Afro-Europe: Texts and Context. Obviously I haven’t read it yet and probably will not find the energy to do so any time soon but let me just copy the blurb (what a horrible word for such an important piece means of quick information about a book) for those of you who might be interested:

This book explores new literary and cultural configurations in contemporary Europe providing insight into a thriving but yet little-known cultural phenomenon. Its focus is on the literary production of people of African origin as well as on the various socio-political contexts, theoretical paradigms and institutional discourses in which it is conceived, circulated and received. The essays contained in this volume contribute to spreading knowledge about Afro-European cultures and to establishing Afro-European studies as a crucial field of research. The author outlines a theoretical framework for comparative work across national and linguistic borders. She simultaneously traces the development of Afrosporic literatures in largely unexplored contexts such as southern European countries and points out trends in thematic concerns and narrative strategies across genres and nationalities. Analysing the formation of transcultural identities in a European context and the trans-formative potential of narratives engendering intercultural dialogue, this book addresses key issues concerning the dynamics of conviviality and the predicament of Europeanness.

Well, if you’re interested in the book you can find it for a reasonable EUR 19.80 at Amazon.de.

Alright, I’m off to bed for now and back to computer, notes, and books for another round of chapter writing tomorrow …

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