Dangerous Liaisons. Silences and Absences in Memories and Narratives of Belonging/Displacement by South Asian Migrants and Refugees in Italy

11.01.2024 17:30 - 19:00

Mara Matta | Sapienza Università di Roma


During the last few decades, studies on memories and narratives of migration and forced mobility have increasingly tackled the issue of migrant storytelling as necessarily partial, and yet compellingly vital. Migrants, asylum seekers and refugees often are requested to tell ‛their story’ again and again, in a process of weaving, unweaving and interweaving that results in a sort of Scheherazade effect, where the storyteller omits, erases and invisibilizes, and leaves the spectator or reader in a suspended status of expectation, without ever providing an ending to the story. The reasons may be various, but one of them may be that there is no possible ending, even if the author were to return to the point of departure. This leaves us with the uncomfortable question of what to make of these stories. Beside the understanding of the necessity of these microhistories in order to avoid the alarming threat of hypernationalist – even exclusivist – forms of history, scholars of cultural studies, social scientists and historians, among others, have begun to address the modes of narrating, performing, and representing migration and displacement adopted by the mobile narrators themselves. What do they choose to adopt as a theme? In which way do they – consciously or unconsciously – adapt to their new audience? Do they craft their stories to charm the listener in exotic ways? Rejecting the view that these narratives and performances represent some kind of failed experiments toward the creation of an accomplished retelling of mobility – chosen or forced –, the process of creation and mise en scène of these stories appear to contain an intriguing variety of possible interpretations, none of them moving in the direction of a dismissive reading of these texts as faltering steps toward a more skillful narration of be/longing.

Looking at the writings of a Bangladeshi migrant in Rome, whose memories and feelings of displacement and nostalgia condense on volatile scraps of papers as much as on his well-crafted Memoir, and analyzing the theatrical performance of a group of young Afghan women who strive to recover practices of free expression in texts and acts that leave the audience astonished at the lyrical strength of their emerging subjectivities, I will try to read through some of these narratives and memories by Bangladeshi and Afghan authors in Rome, keeping at the core of my intervention the idea that whatever connection and relationship I might try to create in this process would be but a fragile, fractured and fictional liaison. It remains imprecise and full of silences and absences, dangerously misleading and deeply erratic, like the trajectories of lives it aims to trace as impossibly complete stories.

Institut für Südasien-, Tibet- und Buddhismuskunde
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