Past Event

Italy’s Decolonization: Multidirectional Memories of Empire’s End

February 7, 2019
6:00 PM - 8:00 PM
Heyman Center, 2nd Floor Common Room

Presenter: Pamela Ballinger (University of Michigan)

Respondent: Victoria de Grazia (Columbia University)

Moderator: Konstantina Zanou (Columbia University)

Scholars have typically characterized Italy’s decolonization as abrupt and having little resonance in the peninsula at the time or subsequently. In this paper, I challenge this interpretation by demonstrating the visible and deeply felt impacts of repatriation by Italian settlers to the metropole at the time of events and the continued, if selective, visibility of these experiences in public debates during succeeding decades. In particular, I examine films and novels, arenas for which most scholars (with notable exceptions, e.g. Ben-Ghiat and Baratieri) posit an explicit silence about imperial defeat and repatriation that instead become displaced onto other themes. Re-reading such cultural artefacts, I argue, raises the possibility of what Michael Rothberg has deemed the work of multidirectional memories, “subject to ongoing negotiation, crossreferencing, and borrowing.” Writing specifically of the Holocaust, slavery, and colonialism as “singular yet relational histories,” Rothberg urges that “experiences of particular suffering can be brought into dialogue with each other.” Rather than treat an influential film like Antonioni’s l’Eclisse as telling a story of an absent or amnesiac Italian decolonization (as Pinkus has), then, we instead may see it as encoding multidirectional memories: of fascism, of Italian colonialism, of the experience of Italians in other powers’ colonies, and so on. Whereas a notion of psychological displacement implies a unidirectional movement (uncomfortable ideas or images about a subject are moved into a more acceptable realm), the multidirectional concept allows us to recognize and acknowledge a wider play of associations and connections, thereby rethinking the complex reception of Italian decolonization within the metropole.

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Part of the Italian and Mediterranean Colloquium. This event is sponsored by The Department of Italian, The European Institute, & The Society of Fellows and Heyman Center for the Humanities.