Dealing with the (un)familiar: Italians’ uncanny perceptions of otherness, in Italy and abroad - Dr Francesco Ricatti, University of the Sunshine Coast

Moore Institute Seminar Room

Date & Time
26th March, 2012 @ 16:00:00

Francesco Ricatti

Cassamarca Senior Lecturer, University of the Sunshine Coast

Dealing with the (un)familiar: Italians' uncanny perceptions of otherness, in Italy and abroad

It has often been argued, in academic studies as well as in media and public discourse, that Italian hostility towards immigrants is largely due to a sort of amnesia about Italy's past as a country of emigration. In other words the scarce sensitivity towards the needs and rights of contemporary immigrants and refugees to Italy, and the scarce appreciation for their contributions to Italian society and economy, would relate to Italians' inability or unwillingness to remember that they had been migrants themselves. This interpretation mirrors a similar understanding of Italian supposed amnesia about its colonial past. Against this prevailing interpretation of the relationship between emigration and immigration in Italy, this paper will argue that memories of Italian emigration have not been forgotten and that Italian hostility towards immigrants is to be related to a much more complex attempt by Italians to cope with manifestations of otherness, both in Italy and abroad. Employing the psychoanalytical frame of the uncanny -drawing inspiration from the Freudian suggestions about the unheimliche, and later interpretations by philosophers such as Martin Heidegger, Jacques Lacan, Julia Kristeva and Slavoj Žižek- I will argue that at least since Italian unification there has been a consistent and peculiar Italian way of reacting to the void between the imaginary unity of the nation and its actual fragmentation (due to both its geopolitical history and to mass migration). My argument is that otherness and fragmentation are constituent elements of any Italian identity, and that instead of being enjoyed, celebrated and nurtured they have been too often repressed. As a result of this repression, new and recurring manifestations of difference are threatening for Italians not simply because they challenge the (imaginary) unity of their nation and their local community, but above all because they mirror the alterity, the otherness that already exists within the nation (and within the community, the family and the individual). It is here that the concept of the uncanny becomes particularly pertinent, expressing the emotional reaction in front of something or someone that is stranger and other and yet at the same time familiar, precisely because of his/her otherness.

Francesco Ricatti is Cassamarca Senior Lecturer at the University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia. He coordinates the Italian language program and teaches migration history. He is the author of Embodying Migrants: Italians in Postwar Australia (Bern, Peter Lang, 2011). He has published various book chapters on migration and on football, as well as articles in academic journals, including Australian Journal of Politics and History, History Australia, Annali d'Italianistica and (forthcoming in 2012) Women's History Review and Modern Italy. He is the co-editor with Penny Morris and Mark Seymour of a recently published volume on Politica ed emozioni nella storia d'Italia dal 1848 a oggi (Rome, Viella, 2012), and a forthcoming special issue of the journal Modern Italy on Emotions in Italy.