Modern Maltese Literature’s Colonial Baggage


Work in Progress in the Social Studies (WIPSS): 2014/5 – 18 Years

B’għaqlu ġieb li hu jaħkem fuq l-oħrajn.” Modern Maltese Literature’s Colonial Baggage

Dr. Adrian Grima

On Wednesday 6 May, WIPSS continues its theme of Postcolonial Theory and Contemporary Research, with a seminar by Dr. Adrian Grima entitled B’għaqlu ġieb li hu jaħkem fuq l-oħrajn.” Modern Maltese Literature’s Colonial Baggage. 

Despite the political, cultural and literary ferment in neighbouring Mediterranean former colonies in the Near East, North Africa, and south of the Sahara, post-Independence Maltese literature looked towards the Modernists and the angry young men of the late 60s and early 70s in England, mainland Europe and the US to wean their literature away from the tired content and style of Romantic fiction and poetry. Did that strategic choice vindicate Fanon’s argument about how the colonised tries to emulate the (partly vilified) coloniser? Was it their anglophone and anglophile education that prodded the Maltese Modernists to respect, perhaps even admire (like Juann Mamo before them), the British Empire’s ability to dominate other cultures? Has the cosmopolitan generation of Maltese writers remained in awe of the literary canon of its former colonial masters?

In 1922, the Maltese novelist Juann Mamo sent an open letter to the Maltese from London, published in the newspaper Il-Ħmar, in which he wrote, among other things, the following:

Aħna m’aħniex kontra l-għonja, le! M’aħniex ngħiru għal ġidkom, le! m’aħniex kontra l-kobor, le! Iżda lanqas ma naqblu ma’ min jaħseb li għandu jaħqar ’il Malta bil-Maltin! Araw haw’ Londra, f’din l-art il-kobor, x’għaxqa, xi ġmiel, x’hena, x’għaqda bejn poplu, x’armenija, biex ngħid hekk ta’ poplu, ladarba jaf jaħseb u jagħmel! Ma jonqsu xejn, hieni: hieni għax b’għaqlu ġieb li hu jaħkem fuq l-oħrajn u mhux l-oħrajn fuqu jaħkmu.—”Iżda dawk Nazzjon kbir, mhux bħalna” (nistħajjel ’il xi ħadd jgħid)—U li kieku aħna konna ta’ daqshom l-akbar Torri ta’ Babel kien ikun f’Malta! (inwieġeb) — Hi kif inhi, huma l-Ħakkiema, mhux il-Maħkumin: dak hu!

Thanks to Jessica Micallef who has transcribed Juann Mamo’s writings in the papers for her MA dissertation in Maltese Literature in the Department of Maltese.

Wednesday 6 May, 6-7 pm., followed by discussion. In the Faculty of Arts Library, on the second floor of Old Humanities Building, at the end of the corridor next to Room 301. The stairs are in the corner of the quadrangle behind the Assembly Hall. Students are encouraged to attend. The public is cordially welcome.

Paul Clough, Peter Mayo and Michael Briguglio

Adrian Grima teaches literature in the Department of Maltese of the Faculty of Arts. He has read papers on literature and on the Mediterranean imaginary at various conferences, most recently at the University of Oxford and at INALCO in Paris. He has published prize winning collections of poetry and short stories in Maltese and in translation for adults and adolescents in Malta and abroad. He is the coordinator of Inizjamed that organizes the Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival, now in its tenth year. Dr Grima’s academic publications include, among others, a study of Dun Karm and metaphor, Minn Kull Xorta ta’ Qżież: Dun Karm u l-Konfini tal-Identità fil-Mument tal-Metafora (Univ. of Malta, 2011); a new critical edition of Juann Mamo’s novel Ulied in-Nanna Venut fl-Amerka (SKS, 2013); a book he co-authored and edited on Personaġġi f’Ulied in-Nanna Venut fl-Amerka ta’ Juann Mamo (SKS, 2013); and a special issue, co-edited with Simone Galea, of the Mediterranean Journal of Educational Studies on The Teacher, Literature and the Mediterranean (Rotterdam: Sense, 2014).

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