Adrian Grima on Dun Karm’s Angry Moment of Metaphor

Il-ħarġa tal-Erbgħa ta’ Malta Today, kellha artiklu fuq din it-taħdita tad-9 ta’ Diċembru bbażat fuq intervista ta’ Teodor Reljic miegħi u kummenti ta’ Dr. Bernard Micallef, kap tad-Dipartiment tal-Malti. L-intervista saret fil-25 ta’ Novembru 2011:

Public Talk by the Department of Maltese

Dr Adrian Grima on Dun Karm’s Angry Moment of Metaphor

On Friday, 9th December, at Francis Ebejer Hall (LT2), at 7.00pm, Dr. Adrian Grima will give a public talk in Maltese entitled, “‘Minn kull xorta ta’ qżież.’ Dun Karm u l-konfini tal-identità fil-mument tal-metafora.” The talk will be followed by an open discussion. With the aid of visual material, Dr. Grima will propose a multidisciplinary reading of Dun Karm’s rhetorically powerful and unusually angry poem, “Lil Malta. Tal-lum u ta’ Għada,” focusing on the poet’s use of metaphor to denounce Malta, the fallen “fior del mondo,” as a promiscuous woman morally and culturally defiled by “all manner of filth.” This event is being organised by the Fondazzjoni Karmen Mikallef Buħaġar and the Department of Maltese at the University of Malta, and is open to academics, students, and the general public. Entrance is free.

This year there has seen a proliferation of events marking the 50th anniversary of the death of he who Laurent Ropa, a French citizen of Gozitan origin, in 1935, hailed as the national poet of Malta. There have been formal, institutional events, but also more creative happenings, including dramatised readings of what is arguably Dun Karm’s most important work poem, Il-Jien u Lilhinn Minnu, and a workshop for children rewriting one of his poems about times of peace and war. The talk being organised by the Department of Maltese is a critical appraisal of one of Dun Karm’s most striking poems and his romantic notions of identity.

Adrian Grima’s multidisciplinary reading of Dun Karm’s work will draw on such disparate resources as Fr. Paul P. Galea’s book about Il Kerk ta’ d-Demoniu micxuf f’Malta published in 1912; the classic work of anthropologist Mary Douglas on the notions of Purity and Danger; canonical works and more recent psychoanalytical texts about virginity and chastity, like The Banquet of the Ten Virgins, or Concerning Chastity by St. Methodius from the third century; academic works on metaphor by Ricoeur, Cohen, Eco, Lakoff and Ning Yu; and leading Fascist intellectuals working on Malta in the 1930s like Luigi M. Ugolini and Francesco Ercole.

How relevant do you think Dun Karm is as a poet? Especially given how he’s ossified as ‘national poet’ – do you think that, having been made such a historical artefact, he runs the risk of becoming a piece of historical furniture, rather than a dynamic artist in his own right?

The risk of Dun Karm being ossified as a national poet, as you put it, is very real. Because it is not up to Dun Karm to remain relevant, but up to us as readers of his poetry. We are the ones who will render Dun Karm’s relevant or irrelevant, who will consign him to history or render him a major source of inspiration because of the creative, sometimes transgressive way he uses language. We will consign him to history if we read him uncritically, if we don’t respect his ideology but stand at a safe distance from its trappings.


What can you say about the surrounding events on Dun Karm happening this year? How would you assess the way contemporary artists are responding to his legacy? Indeed – what, in your mind, are some of his most enduring poems and perceptions… on Maltese life and beyond?

Even though I don’t share his ideas about the Maltese identity, I admire the way he writes about it, his use of metaphor and his great ear for rhythm is poems like “Lil Malta. Tal-Lum u ta’ Għada,” “Lid-Dielja,” “Wied Qirda” and “Il-Ġerrejja u Jien.” He writes beautifully. Celebrating Dun Karm is necessarily celebrating the vigour of his poetic voice. In a review published in 1962 in the Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, the well-known academic Arabist Pierre Cachia wrote about the ‘enjoyment’ and ‘edification’ to be derived from Dun Karm’s poetry, his ‘pleasing and apposite imagery,’ the ‘lofty and true’ sentiment. I like his poetry best when it abandons the rigorous self-control and self-assuredness of the master writer, when it drives itself to the edge.

What do you think the nostalgia of the poem you’ll be discussing reflects, and how does it reflect back on contemporary Maltese life – intellectual or otherwise?

Dun Karm constructs his ideal Malta on the idealisation of his childhood village life. He is writing about Malta the way he wants to see it. When he criticizes the behaviour of the the youth in his very unusual poem “Lil Malta. Tal-Lum u ta’ Għada,” what he is really comparing it to is the way he would like to see the Maltese behave, the patriarchal values he would like them to share.

Comments by Dr. Bernard Micallef, Head of the Department of Maltese:

T S Eliot once said that there are without standards and traditional values we cannot identify our our innovation, but without our innovative voices tradition will have no voice or existence in the present and it wouldn’t be able to reveal our innovation. This interdependence between poetic memory and our reactions to it should be one of the aims of the Department of Maltese within the Faculty of Arts, that part of the University that explores how humanistic studies and art are constantly forming the human world.

Martin Heidegger once said that the process with which we preserve a literary work is as poetic as the creation itself of that work. This should be one of the fundamental principles that motives our teaching, our research and all literary events within the Department of Maltese.



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