Pulling Identities Apart – Juann Mamo and De-Colonisation

On 20 March 2002, Adrian Grima will be giving a talk on “Pulling Identities Apart – The Writer Juann Mamo and De-Colonisation” at the University of Malta (Vassalli Conference Centre/Gateway, rm. 106) between 6.00pm and 7.00pm. The talk, which is part of the Work in Progress Seminar Series, will be in English and will be followed by a discussion and drinks. Everyone is invited to attend.

Adrian Grima will deal with the evergreen issue of national identity and de-colonisation. His guide will be unorthodox writer Juann Mamo. In what is arguably one of the most controversial novels written before Malta’s Independence in 1964, Juann Mamo, the author of Ulied in-Nanna Venut fl-Amerka (Grandma Venut’s Children in America) (1930-31), tells the story of how a group of uneducated and unemployed Maltese rural villagers emigrate to the US in order to get rich quick and return to Malta to sit on their wealth. But Grandma Venut’s children return to Malta poorer than ever and the light ironic vein of most of the narrative is shocked by the tragic massacre of all the returned migrants in the “absurdist” wedding scene at the end of the novel.

In April, Adrian Grima will be reading a paper at the annual conference of the American Comparative Literature Association at the University of Puerto Rico. His paper, Pulling Identit/ies Apart: Juann Mamo’s narrator struggling with the pieces in Grandma Venut’s Children in America (1930-31), will be read in a seminar on “Narrative Translations of Identity” that will concentrate on the ways in which identity is constituted in narrative. The seminar will be chaired by Dr. Ross Shideler of UCLA.

The narrator is not after the identities of his individual characters because their prescribed role is not to establish their individuality but to (de)construct the (national) group. Mamo challenges the romantic discourse that popularized the idea of “the Maltese nation” and hits out hard at some of the national figures, among them literary figures of his time, who drive that discourse home. But his first-person, consciously egocentric narrative doesn’t seem to allow him to construct much and the tragic, absurd denouement reflects both the fate of his country’s poor who are deprived of the right to construct their own identity and that of their (prospective) nation and the fate of the insightful but helpless narrator himself.

This paper will be presented in Maltese during a course on literature to be held by Inizjamed in collaboration with the Qormi local council in the near future.

Adrian Grima is an assistant lecturer in Maltese at the University of Malta. His main areas of research are metaphor and the influence of the Mediterranean on Maltese literature. He has presented papers at conferences in Palermo, Reggio Calabria, Rome, and at the Universities of Yale and Colorado at Boulder in the US. He has published academic papers on Maltese literature in Malta and France. In 1999 he published It-Trumbettier, a prize-winning book of poetry in Maltese with illustrations and translations into English. In 2001 he published Gzejjer ta’ Diversita Kulturali – Islands of Cultural Diversity with Scottish writer Kevin MacNeil. Adrian Grima is the coordinator of the mediterranean cultural organisation Inizjamed and of the Ritmi project of the Third World Group.



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