Sandra Ponzanesi gives a keynote lecture (6 April) at Harvard University for the conference “Can the Migrant Speak”.
“Call Me by My Name: Mediterranean Transmissions”
“Can the Migrant Speak?” engages with the figure and agency of the migrant. It is not often that
we hear about – or listen to – the migratory experience from those undergoing it themselves. By
asking this question during a time of tumultuous political change, we directly address the roles of
our disciplines, and academia as a whole, in relation to this issue that continues to shape lives
across the globe in powerful ways.
While the term is linguistically unambiguous – the migrant is the person who moves – its uses
have always been fraught. What are the politics of naming figures ranging from refugees and
undocumented individuals to foreign professionals and “expats” under the single word
“migrant”? How do people negotiate between various labels, and what tensions emerge between
personal assumption and external imposition of them?
Migration is not a homogeneous phenomenon. We want to address the way certain migrants are
situated at the intersection of identities – language, race, gender, class, religion – that complicate
and fundamentally shape their experience of migration.
If movement across borders and oceans characterizes literal migration, what are other forms of
migration that are equally significant but often overlooked? How do we understand the
movement between languages, the hybridization of identities, and the fusion of cultures? How
does climate change form landscapes and movement? If the text itself constitutes an act of
migration, what are its frontiers? How does viewing a text as a mobile entity versus seeing it as a
static, fixed object transform one’s experience of it? How is literature (as a discipline) itself
migrating as new literary objects (digital archives, Facebook posts, Snapchat stories, interactive
maps) pop up onto our radar?
In addition to accepting conference papers, we seek to widen the scope of our discussion beyond
academia by welcoming texts and objects that nonetheless have the power to theorize: personal
narratives, documentaries, creative pieces. Thus we hope to address the problematics of
presentations about the “words of the migrant” when voices around the world – including those
of our own community members – continue to be silenced.