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Maghrebi Narratives of Migration and the Remythologization of the Mediterranean




College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Date Range



This paper examines the interplay of ancient myths and 21st century realities in recent Maghrebi literature of clandestine cross-Mediterranean migration. Fleeing the legacies of colonialism and the inequities of the postcolonial world-system, undocumented migrants from the global South cross the militarized waters of today's Mare Nostrum in hopes of remaking their lives in the Eurozone countries of the sea's northern shores. On their journeys they confront not the monsters and cannibals of Mediterranean mythology but a high-powered surveillance apparatus mobilized by the region's national governments and by the European Union. Although somemigrants manage to enter Fortress Europe and lead underground lives there, thousands are detained and deported. Moreover, many die when the rickety craft on which they make their calamitous odysseys capsize, a tragedy that Iain Chambers describes as the brutal vernacularization of the mythical Mediterranean. For his part, the Sicilian writer Vincenzo Consolo has likened the corpses of migrants lying on the seabed of today's Mediterranean to the dead souls with whom Odysseus converses in Hades. Following Consolo, I argue that the significance of today's literature of clandestine migration consists partly of its attempt to listen to the stories of the victims of the crossings and to narrate the meanings that their brutally foreshortened lives might disclose to the living. Furthermore, I avail myself of Edgar Morin's twofold claim that the Mediterranean must be demythicised and remythicised to argue that this literature can serve as a seedbed for new and more humane conceptions of the region's identity.

Conference Name

Mediterranean Topographies: Comparative and Interdisciplinary Approaches to Mediterranean Studies

Conference Location

Ann Arbor, MI

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