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Abstract

The name Lampedusa resonates meaning in multiple ways. Located at the outskirts of the European Union and place of refuge for a large number of refugees, the Mediterranean island Lampedusa has not only become a contemporary symbol for the so-called European refugee crisis, but also for the dramatic failure of the European Union’s current border and migration policy. This chapter questions and opposes the interpretation of Lampedusa as a problematic and worrisome site at the European margins, and argues that Lampedusa should rather be seen as a heterotopian space at the heart of Europe and read as symptomatic for the European Union’s in many respects faltering neoliberal politics. It elaborates on this idea by analysing the theatre text Lampedusa (2015) by the acclaimed British playwright Anders Lustgarten. The chapter demonstrates how this Lampedusa brings two individuals’ struggles to endure the specific situations of “crisis” they find themselves in together and prompts its readers to think about their narratives as “touching tales”—touching in the sense of equally emotionally charged (tales of insecurity, pain, loss, and fear) but also, importantly, touching in the sense of bordering on each other and interconnected in pivotal ways.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    I am well aware of the multiple and contested meanings of the term neoliberalism, as a.o. described by Damien Cahill et al. in The Sage Handbook of Neoliberalism (2018). In this chapter I consider neoliberalism as the hegemonic political doctrine in contemporary Europe that entails a mode of liberal governance that prioritizes free market and economic growth and that emphasizes consumer citizenship, personal responsibility, and individual empowerment. See Van Weyenberg (2016) for a critical discussion of the center/periphery binary in the EU’s attempted construction of a “shared” narrative of Europe.

  2. 2.

    This chapter chooses to read the script of Lampedusa as a literary text and focuses on its politics of literary representation and on the way in which the dramatic text addresses its readers. The play was first performed in the Soho Theatre in London in 2014 and has been successful ever since with performances all over Europe, including Germany, Malta, and Greece. Each of these performances provides a different, often strongly site-specific interpretation of the dramatic text.

  3. 3.

    As many scholars have pointed out, refugee crisis rhetoric represents migrants and refugees either as powerless victims, in need of help, or criminalizes them as public welfare abusers and even terrorists (Bauman 2016, Wienand and Minnaard 2019, Žižek 2016). Scholars also emphasize the strong politicization of the terminology used for people trying to cross the Mediterranean “illegally” (Carasthatis et al. 2018, De Genova and Tazzioli 2016).

  4. 4.

    A similar trend can be distinguished in the field of film. See, for instance, Bennett 2018 and Rangan 2017.

  5. 5.

    In Contemporary Asylum Narratives: Representing Refugees in the Twenty-First Century, Agnes Woolley warns that “representations cloud as much as they clarify” and states that the “tension between occlusion and revelation is most ethically and politically pressing in relation to disenfranchised groups who have only limited access to the means of self-representation” (2014, 3).

  6. 6.

    For a thorough reflection on empathic identification in respect to artistic representations of refugee experiences see Houwen 2016.

  7. 7.

    This idea resonates in interesting ways with Iain Chambers’ notion of the Mediterranean as a postcolonial sea (2004).

  8. 8.

    Although the Mediterranean appears as the monstrous producer of death here, the association of refugees themselves with contagion and illness—“carrier[s] of a disease called ‘crisis’” (De Genova et al. 2016, 20)—is activated here as well. As De Genova et al. write: “Some of these embodiments of ‘crisis’ are literally converted into figures of death as the corpses of migrants and refugees become spectacularly visible through the proliferation of images of dead bodies floating in the sea or washing upon the shores of ‘Europe’” (20).

  9. 9.

    In a later, major dramatic moment in Stefano’s monologue, this image of the Mediterranean as monstrous returns: “Leviathan looms. A monstrous wave as tall as a tower block, so tall it has little waterfalls tumbling from its crest. … A roar, and it slams us under its paw and the whole boat goes under” (26/27). The two fishermen in this scene, Stefano and his compagnon, survive, but on the surface of this cannibalistic Mediterranean they detect “[t]he black silhouettes of corpses” (28), the monster’s prey.

  10. 10.

    Kaja Silverman (1996) makes a distinction between idiopathic and heteropathic identification. The first form relies on a certain (projected) likeness between the other and the self, whereas the latter involves a more risky, but as Ernst van Alphen argues also more “affectively powerful” (2008, 28), temporary and partially becoming like the other.

  11. 11.

    Cf. Boletsi 2018.

  12. 12.

    Cf. De Genova 2018.

  13. 13.

    Mark Neocleous states that “[r]esilience comes to form the basis of subjectively dealing with the uncertainty and instability of contemporary capitalism as well as the insecurity of the national security state … Neoliberal citizenship is nothing if not a training in resilience as the new technology of the self: a training to withstand whatever crisis capital undergoes and whatever political measures the state carries out to save it” (2013, 5). See also Bracke 2016. The factors of race and gender are also determinant of Denise’s position and point at the intricate intersection of neoliberalism with postfeminism, as described by Jess Butler (2013).

  14. 14.

    Both Stefano’s and Denise’s monologues, about “navigating what’s overwhelming” in a situation of “impasse induced by crisis” (Berlant 2011, 10), fit Berlant’s interpretive framework of “cruel optimism” exceptionally well: their stories “are about the cruelty of optimism for people without control over the material conditions of their lives and whose relation of fantasy is all that protects them from being destroyed by other people and the nation.” (2006, 33).

  15. 15.

    These narrative developments very much resonate with Judith Butler’s idea that “imagining community affirms relationality not only as a descriptive or historical fact of our formation, but also as an ongoing normative dimension of our social and political lives, one in which we are compelled to take stock of our interdependence” (2004, 27).

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Minnaard, L. (2020). Lampedusa in Europe; Or Touching Tales of Vulnerability. In: Boletsi, M., Houwen, J., Minnaard, L. (eds) Languages of Resistance, Transformation, and Futurity in Mediterranean Crisis-Scapes. Palgrave Studies in Globalization, Culture and Society. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-36415-1_8

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