Ursula Kluwick

The Postcolonial Mediterranean 

The expression “postcolonial ocean” is likely to evoke by now familiar concepts, such as the Black Atlantic and similar formulations that have been put forward in the wake of Paul Gilroy’s seminal term – what the call for papers for this conference enumerates so succinctly as the “Red and White Atlantic” and “the Black Pacific”. This paper turns to another maritime region, one that does not seem to be immediately included in framework of “the postcolonial ocean” and that has, until very recently, received much less attention within the postcolonial field: a marine space that is, admittedly, not even an ocean, but that is, decidedly, a sea full of history – the Mediterranean Sea. Though the history of this region is frequently filtered in terms of European cultural heritage and classical education it is, of course, a fundamentally colonial history. And both post- and neo-colonial relations are coming to the fore again in the current migration crisis and in the stress which this is bringing to bear on Europe and ideas of Europeanness.

This paper is interested in how the Mediterranean Sea links Europe both with other continents and with its colonial past and neo-colonial present. It explores scenes of cultural encounter – on and with the sea, on and with the beach – from both fiction and non-fiction (such as memoirs and refugees’ accounts) dealing with clandestine crossings. Through close textual analyses of such scenes, during which departures, crossings, and arrivals are read with the help of concepts such as bare life (Agamben), the warm south (Holland), heterotopia (Foucault) and non-place (Augé), my paper examines whether and how the Mediterranean Sea and Mediterranean littoral space emerge as zones of epistemic contact, and how this helps shape a new vision of the Mediterranean as a post- and neo-colonial space. In reading Mediterranean encounters in these terms, the paper also contributes to research on postcolonial Europe.