Derek Walcott wrote that “History is sea”: sailing, as a movement, goes beyond the borders and in the postcolonial narratives the transatlantic is a powerful symbol of the transnational space.
The essay wants to analyse the images of the marine world, of the ocean and especially of the ship, the transatlantic as the fundamental and chronotopic figure of the postcolonial theories, particularly in relation to the delineation of a contemporary cultural and global reality as a transnational space in which take shape political and aesthetical expressions that challenge the modern conceptions on nationality, ethnicity and on cultural authenticity. The theories on postcolonialism by Paul Gilroy and Édouard Glissant are here examined.
Gilroy considers the ship that moves through the archipelagos as the representation of the instability and the mutability of identities that are in perpetual development, since the ship’s movement is transversal, not linear, and it crosses the “Black Atlantic”, transmitting multicultural, hybrid ideas during its journey. Édouard Glissant is the theorist of the ‘Antillanité’ as the place of choice for the crossing of different cultures in the French-speaking Caribbean, and moves from his vision of the American and Caribbean landscape towards a broader, global identity.
Ahdaf Soueif is an Anglo-Egyptian writer who spends her time between London and Cairo, finding herself in what Abdul JanMohammed calls ‘border position’ because she is divided between two cultures, what Edward Said referred to as ‘contrapuntual’. The author investigates how people cope with the conflicts between tradition and modernisation, thus contributing to the topical cultural debate on Westernization. Soueif’s Aisha, protagonist of the homonymous collection of short stories, is a girl who has to follow her parents from Cairo to London, and who finds herself switching from Arab to English culture depending on her location, later discovering that this internal conflict shapes her own identity.
The essay examines Soueif’s semi-autobiographical short story and the experience of Soueif’s protagonist during her trajectory from the East to the West on the ship Stratheden. Soueif is concerned with how identity can be negotiated on a cross-cultural terrain as exemplified by the ship. She explores what happens when East and West meet, when men and women are involved in a cross-cultural relationship. From a female point of view, migration intersects with many different issues, like social position, gender and even sexuality, and Soueif explores how cross-cultural relationships evolve and how different characters try to reach a balance by carving out a place for themselves. Soueif creates new identities that are “neither soft-edged amalgamation nor slavish mimicry”.
Pascal D’Angelo and Francesco Ventresca were among the many Italians who passed through Ellis Island at the beginning of the 20th Century, and wrote about their experience in the autobiographies "Son of Italy" (1924) and "Personal Reminiscences" (1936). Cynthia Wong underlines that in those same years the phenomenon of ethnic autobiographies began. The ‘autobiographies of Americanisation’ were written by emigrants to reaffirm their identities while showing at the same time the struggle to reconcile the need to preserve one’s heritage with the desire to assimilate into the mainstream American culture. Both authors hail from the village of Introdacqua in Abruzzo, and both follow a linear path in their text: the life before emigration, the travel to America, and the conflict between the life the emigrants hoped for and reality.
The essay examines the two narratives by following their similar approaches towards a shared history of loss, voyage, hard work, disillusionment, difficulties, but especially (and differently from other emigrants) of desire to be acknowledged in their openness towards ‘alterity’, trying, as both authors are, to acquire the new language, its poetics and culture. Both autobiographies become then the expression of a real cultural transition and of the capability of their authors to build bridges between different cultures and different versions of themselves.