Harboring narratives : notes towards a literature of the Mediterranean



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Through the reading of several novels and movies produced in Arabic, French, and Italian between the 1980s and the 2000s, in this dissertation I provide a literary and transmedia contribution to the field of Mediterranean studies. Responding to the challenge brought by the regional category of Mediterranean to singular national and linguistic understandings of literature and cinema, I employ a comparative and multidisciplinary methodology to read novels by Baha’ Taher, Abdelwahab Meddeb, Abdelmalek Smari, and movies by film directors Merzak Allouache, Abdellatif Kechiche, and Vittorio De Seta. I define these works as “harboring narratives,” as they engage with the two shores of the Mediterranean in a complex process of interiorization and negotiation, opening routes of meaning across languages, societies and cultures. As they challenge constructions of otherness that materialize in present-day conflicts in the region, the works of these novelists and filmmakers give voice to a perspective on the Mediterranean radically different from that upheld by the “paradigms of discord.” Whereas according to these paradigms there is nothing in the Mediterranean but an iron curtain, these works present migration and conflict, historiography and religion, intimacy and translation as experiences shared across countries and societies in the region. By following routes of meaning that draw together the linguistic, the geographical, the economic, the historical, and the religious, I study how these novelists and filmmakers establish relationships between “horizons of belonging” and “elsewhere,” selfhood and otherness. In so doing, I respond to Kinoshita and Mallette’s call for challenging the “monolingualism” inherent in our contemporary ways of reading linguistic and literary traditions. As I show how the routes of meaning opened by these novelists and filmmakers across the region lead to hope that one day we will rejoice in sharing a common Mediterranean shore, however, I caution against easy enthusiasms. These novelists and filmmakers urge us to respond to the challenge of the present-day conflicts they address in their works, and a shared Mediterranean shore will eventually appear on the horizon only after we overcome monolingual conceptions of selfhood and otherness, setting sail towards a shore we have never seen.