Galina Skvortsov and Laura Gibbs


Introduction to GLITS-E: A Journal of Criticism, Vol. 6

The subject of the Mediterranean is one that always seems prone to summarisation, an endless attempt at boiling down disparate ideas and thoughts in an amalgamation with physical, tactile features and socioeconomic facts. Approaching the topic, we seem to always be faced with a dichotomy of what the Mediterranean is versus what it is been perceived as. When considered in and of itself and not in relation to its the Global North, the Mediterranean seems to see itself very differently to stereotypical views. It is at once a world in itself and the centre of the world, a sea surrounded by land, land lapped by the sea.[1]

Given the fragile and complex nature of the topic, what then is the relationship between the ‘real’ Mediterranean and the imagined, constructed Mediterranean? Any description of the Mediterranean is a construct – if everything outside of the ‘facts’ is an idea, the Mediterranean becomes a set of imagined ideals and shared history which binds separate geographies and cultures together. In the literature which depicts the Mediterranean, this constructed idea becomes part of a larger, layered written discourse: a tradition shared and conveyed by images. Literary fragments present tantalising clues to other histories, new forms of conceptualisation and methodology. They attest to variation and evidence new vantage points. They don’t make sense to a historical eye, they show the part of some larger unknown thing.

The purpose of this volume is to approach the Mediterranean as it is experienced, imagined or real, from a diverse range of perspectives, poetic or otherwise. The image of the Mediterranean appears in this journal as refracted light in sea water: always moving, changing, within a pre-existing framework of history and preconceived ideals.

The volume takes a unique approach to the subject through its process. It was conceived during the ‘Writing the Mediterranean’ Erasmus course, which was a Strategic Partnership project hosted by the University of Malta and Goldsmiths, University of London, consisting of students from Malta, Italy, Portugal, Sardinia, Slovenia, Tunisia and England. Convening on the central Mediterranean island for a period of two weeks, talks and discussions fuelled a comparison and exchange of ideas from many varying perspectives. These perspectives from students of different nations about the viewpoints we have carried, absorbed, and projected became the foundation for a series of essays exploring what literature, cinema and art can tell us about the Mediterranean as a profitable space for the exploration of different marginalised narratives.

The value of this approach is its celebration of the ambiguous and slippery concept of the Mediterranean. Individual essays may endeavour to pin down one definition, but the journal as a whole illuminates the multiplicity of the Mediterranean as an imagined place, a real place, an idea, and a collection of ideas.

In ‘Completing the Tower of Babel’, Lucia Toman questions the relationship between diversity and unity through the symbolism of the Tower. Juggling the boundaries between a post-Bable world and Carl Jung’s concept of the ‘wholeness of the Self’, Toman celebrates diversity as prerequisite to unity, articulating that multilingualism bridges a gap between cultures through a shared experience.

Chiara Barni’s essay challenges this concept of unity through the topic of ‘Otherness’, examining the construction of southern identity in light of the perceived Mediterranean imaginary. Barni’s essay maps the evolution of thought, tracing literary portrayals of the Mediterranean south from the Victorian age to E. M. Forster’s reevaluation of the Mediterranean odyssey in A Room with a View.

Roberta Buhagiar, Jana Vella and Jasmine Bajada each examine the Mediterranean within a different contemporary context. Vella questions the role of historicism—or anti-historicism—in postmodern writing, using Sergio Atzeni’s Bakunin’s Son and Almog Behar’s ‘Ana min al yahud’ (I am one of the Jews), to demonstrate that an engagement with history is still evident and valuable in a postmodern age.

Buhagiar explores the Mediterranean in its current political climate, discussing the migrant crisis as a disruption of the ‘Mediterranean Imaginary’ in Youssouf Amine Elalamy’s The Sea Drinkers, and Laila Lalami’s Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits. Buhagiar explores how the modern Mediterranean sea functions as a frustrating ‘geographical impediment’ to social harmony, arguing that Elalamy and Lalami use the trope of the lost child to articulate the inevitable conundrum of postmemory.

Finally, Bajada explores Evelyn Waugh’s attempt to ‘de-label’ the constructed Mediterranean imaginary in his book, Labels. Examining how Waugh explores the Mediterranean through a series of textual postcards, Bajada questions the problematic nature of Waugh’s Eurocentric position, using close textual analysis to demonstrate how he, like many others before him, fails to accommodate the plurality of Mediterranean thought.

Considering the diverse nature of this body of essays and the ideological construction of the Mediterranean that is so evident in many of the texts studied in this volume, it seems that the world is as much an intellectual idea, as it is a physical body, one which philosophically tethers the idea of self and belonging to place and geography. This volume seeks to articulate how the Mediterranean finds itself––as a place and as a collection of ideas––constantly under revision, and as a result it has become the ultimate liminal space in which history, language(s) and ideas intermingle to create productive interdisciplinary approaches to identity, community

[1] Predrag Matvejević, Mediteranski brevijar (Mediterranean Breviary, 1987), [Breviario Mediterraneo, ed. by Claudio Magris, trans. by Silvio Ferrari (Milano: Garzanti, 2011), electronic edition, no pagination]