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Institute of Advanced Study

Professor Iain Chamber's Public Lecture

Date: 5 November 2009

Time: 5.30pm

Venue: Room 21, The Pemberton Building, Palace Green

Title: The Mediterranean, Modernity and Maritime Criticism

While the 'modern' framing of the Mediterranean apparently commences in Spain and concludes in its European 'roots' in Greece, the reintroduction of the excluded African and Asian shores suggests an altogether richer and more complex space. Here modernity, and Europe itself, encounters voices, perspectives and temporalities they have not necessarily authorised.

Much of this is distilled in the dramatic figure of the modern migrant who not only recalls the  'Black Atlantic' of racialised slavery and indentured labour, but also the present-day Mediterranean as a new 'middle passage' for the poor of the planet in their dangerous, criminalised, journey towards the wealth of the north. Here the Mediterranean, both in its creolised heritage and contemporary complexity, acquires a critical centrality in which the past continues to interrogate and interrupt the present, proposing a modernity that is not only 'ours' to define and manage.

The scope of this talk is the revaluation of the historical and cultural significance of the Mediterranean through the deployment of more flexible maps and languages.

Drawing upon histories proposed in the poetic itineraries of musical sounds, visual cultures and culinary migration, an altogether more fluid cartography emerges that permits us to travel further into the 'overlapping territories and intertwined histories' (Edward Said) of a composite Mediterranean. If there is a unity in the Mediterranean, it is perhaps a hidden, critical 'unity' where the sea itself, as the site of dispersion and drift, exposes the fragility of inherited configurations.