The Uncertain Mediterranean Borders of Comparative Literature

Boldrini, Lucia. 2013. The Uncertain Mediterranean Borders of Comparative Literature. In: Adnan Karaismailoğlu and Yusuf Öz, eds. IV Uluslararasi Karşilaştirmali Edebiyat Bilimi Kongresi, "Kültürler ve Değerler Buluşması" / IV International Comparative Literature Congress, "Meeting of Cultures and Values", Bildiriler / Proceedings. Kırıkkale: Kırıkkale Universitesi Yayilari [Kırıkkale University Publications], pp. 441-454. ISBN 978-975-8626-04-5 [Book Section]

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Abstract or Description

For the French writer Paul Valéry, the Mediterranean was a kind of “pre-Europe”; it produced the European man, universal man, Protagoras’s man as the measure of all things; on its shores, peoples and cultures mixed, exchanging blows and trade. Writing from Algeria, Albert Camus saw the inhabitant of a Mediterranean city as having greater affinity with the inhabitants of any other place on the Mediterranean coast (such as Genoa, or Mallorca) than with a citizen of Alsace. The Bosnian-born Predrag Matvejević writes that the Mediterranean is at once a world to itself and the centre of the world. For the Turkish writer Halikarnas Balıkçısı it is itself a continent, separate from Africa, Asia, or Europe. It has been called by some a liquid continent, by others a lake of cultures; more a bridge than an obstacle or a boundary. For the Catalan Manuel Vázquez Montalbán – more of a pessimist, cynical satirist than any of the other writers mentioned so far – the Mediterranean has been a succession of barbarisms that have accumulated and mixed until they produced the hybrid Mediterranean man, who eats oil, olives and aubergines. Matvejević also points out that if the Mediterranean sea is a sponge full of knowledge, it is also full of shipwrecks. Indeed. From Odysseus’s lost ships and shipmates to Aeneas’ journey as a refugee from burning Troy (Dido too, of course, was a refugee), to the refugees and asylum seekers and “economic migrants” of the present, the Mediterranean is still crossed by people who seek to escape violence and destruction, who search for a better life. The fate of Azel in Leaving Tangier, by the Moroccan Tahar Ben Jelloun, or of Anpalagan Ganeshu in The Ghosts of Portopalo by the Sardinian Giovanni Maria Bellu – real and imagined characters who seek entrance to what has been called, with sinister echoes of the Wehrmacht’s Festung Europa, “Fortress Europe” – is a whole world away from that of Aeneas, chosen to found and Empire that would unify the Mediterranean and Europe. Matvejević says that, unlike in Europe, the centres of the Mediterranean are cities, not states or nations. Comparative Literature has often been criticized in recent years – it has even been declared dead, or compromised – for its Eurocentrism and its origins in European nationalism. In my paper I want to ask, what can a Mediterranean perspective offer to Comparative Literature today, and to a reassessment of its history?

Item Type:

Book Section

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

English and Comparative Literature
Research Office > REF2014



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Date Deposited:

03 May 2013 07:28

Last Modified:

23 Jun 2017 15:14


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