Dominant images of the “European migration crisis” in mainstream media usually represent asylum-seekers and other people escaping conflict, genocide and poverty in Africa and the Middle East as an unnamed multitude encroaching on European coastlines and borderlines. In the currently uneven and volatile economic situation of neoliberal Europe, the repository of images about migrants is hence re-channelled into resurgent neo-fascist paranoia about territory, identity and security, and constant attacks against the alleged idealism and hypocritical attitude of anyone reclaiming values of solidarity and internationalism. However, regressive appeals to national feeling seem to offer a very defective defence mechanism to repress the entanglements of the local within the wider neo-colonial logics of capitalist globalisation. The return of chauvinistic populism and the rhetorics of fascism are rather a symptomatic expression of the deeper lack of an idiom to properly understand the complexities of contemporary history. Fascists of today, it could be said quoting Marx’s Eighteenth Brumaire, “anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honoured disguise and borrowed language.” The enduring legacies of colonial history provoke, indeed, as Ann Laura Stoler maintains, a sort of “aphasia”: an inability to speak because there are no available discursive tools to picture an elusive reality.
In this context, it is very difficult to formulate any kind of meaningful response to the so-called “migration crisis”. On the one hand, any expression of unconditional support for migrants and refugees risks becoming what anthropologist Didier Fassin though-provokingly calls “compassionate repression.” This structure of feeling involves a denial of agency; it leads to turning human subjects into bare life and passive victim, and the responding (European) subject into enlightened white saviour. This attitude can also lead to ignoring the situation of privilege that white Europeans enjoy when confronted with migrants from the South. On the other hand, any critique of compassion risks reproducing the cynical reason of hegemonic discourse, opposing citizens to migrants, identity to otherness, victims to enemies and, in the end, dangerously dis-identifying from those in pain. The concrete and urgent nature of these paradoxes is mirrored in Sandro Mezzadra and Brett Neilson’s concept of “differential inclusion” as well as Nicholas De Genova’s description of the “scene of exclusion, obscene of inclusion.” These notions go beyond an unquestioned celebration of inclusion and hospitality. They register, instead, the political manipulation, economic exploitation, and the contradictions that surround representations of migrants. Inclusion or exclusion, hostility or hospitality, contempt or compassion: both ways, what seems to escape is the voice of the migrant, her position, as Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak would say, as “questioning subject.” Is there a way out of this impasse?
In order to tackle this question, one of the most difficult and uncomfortable issues to address concerns how the peoples of Europe are responding to the arrival of migrants and refugees from Africa and the Middle East. The legacy of the colonial expansion of Europe and the continuing exploitation of resources, people and landscapes in Asia and Africa complicates, to say the least, the facile narrative of a wealthy and peaceful Europe caught unawares. The “migration crisis” is the direct and natural result of the genocidal violence and environmental destruction European nations have inflicted abroad for centuries, including military involvement in destabilising Libya following the “Arab Spring.” Taking stock of this history, Europeans cannot claim any kind of ignorance or innocence before the asylum-seeker from Africa or the Middle East: European racism is merely the mystifying face of this repressed consciousness, what Lewis Gordon aptly describes as Sartrean “bad faith,” which in contemporary Europe stems from the unsolved guilt of colonial history. In order to destroy this bad faith and to see a fuller picture, the starting point of any meaningful response, as Susan Sontag famously put it, can only involve recognising the complicity of the observer and his privilege here, as directly dependent on the pain and poverty of the other over there. This entails acknowledging entanglement and complicity of the beneficiary of capitalist globalisation in the systemic violence that causes suffering and poverty in the Global South. In his famous preface to Frantz Fanon’s 1961 Wretched of the Earth, Jean-Paul Sartre formulated a vital question that could be repurposed today to counter racism and the inability to respond to migrant subjects. Introducing the work of Martinican anti-colonial militant Fanon, who indicted the devastating psychological and material effects of the colonial regime on the colonised, Sartre responded by reflecting on the effects of demolishing the colonial bad faith on the European, as he famously wrote:
We in Europe too are being decolonized: that is to say that the settler which is in every one of us is being savagely rooted out. Let us look at ourselves, if we can bear to, and see what is becoming of us. First, we must face that unexpected revelation, the strip-tease of our humanism. There you can see it, quite naked, and it’s not a pretty sight. It was nothing but an ideology of lies, a perfect justification for pillage; its honeyed words, its affectation of sensibility were only alibis for our aggressions.
Sartre’s reflections are extremely timely and important to tackle the current situation in Europe. He suggested a role for texts, discourses and representations able to elicit what could be called a “decolonisation of ourselves”: the “strip-tease of our humanism” that he advocated in introducing Fanon should involve acknowledging that the riches, wealth and privilege enjoyed by white citizens with European passports are directly dependent upon the exploitation, impoverishment and war against the poorer nations. Overcoming bad faith and denouncing the imperialist material base underpinning the racist, neo-fascist and identitarian superstructure of Europe is a necessary prerequisite to formulating a response to the migrant.
However, acts of consciousness-raising and a decolonisation of ourselves are much-needed steps, but they are not enough. Being aware of one’s own situation and unlearning one’s privilege is but the beginning, it cannot and will not be the end. There is no guarantee, indeed, that spreading a consciousness of the reiterations of colonial history would automatically lead to the possibility of a response escaping both compassionate repression and the bad faith of European racism. In fact, making the colonial unconscious of Europe conscious, once again, may trigger an even stronger rhetoric of denial and the inability to see the connection between the larger picture of global economics and the inner realm of individual emotion and experience. Faced with the unrepresentable geopolitical aesthetic of global capitalism, the de-politicised individual may ask: What does this have to do with me? The only answer to this question is one able to bridge the gap between knowledge and affect, conscious and unconscious, identity and otherness, Europe and the world. Any response, in other words, is precariously situated on multiple borderlines. Beyond a factual consciousness of contemporary forms of imperialism as accumulation by dispossession, there is the possibility of assuming the role of the witness given by forms of representations such as poetry, which do not claim the authority of facticity and yet enable a repositioning of the subject. Presenting such claims in the context of the concrete everyday suffering of refugees, migrants and asylum-seekers can raise a difficult ethical question about the claims of poetry in violent historical situations. In the European tradition, these claims relate to Theodor Adorno’s motto that there can be no poetry after Auschwitz, an insight that he articulated in his essay on commitment by writing that the “abundance of real suffering” makes the writing of lyric poetry “barbaric”: the task, as he further reflected in his Negative Dialectics, is to transform society and hence poetic language so radically that something like Auschwitz will not happen ever again. Yet, in Adorno’s dialectical thinking, the impossibility of any form of high art after historical trauma, at the same time, “also demands the continued existence of art while it prohibits it; it is now virtually in art alone that suffering can still find its own voice.” Poetry is not only impossible or immoral when confronted with extreme human suffering. Paradoxically, unspeakable trauma demands the continued existence of poetry as authentic form of witnessing, a truly human response beyond any compassion and beyond any hostility.
The publication of a pivotal anthology of poetry entitled Sotto il Cielo di Lampedusa in 2015, co-authored by a writing collective involving writers from Italy, Iraq, Somalia and the United States, offers a valuable testimony about how to inhabit the fraught terrain of poetic writing after Lampedusa. This anthology formulates a vital question: can poetry be an adequate and meaningful response to the trauma of those traversing the Mediterranean today? What is the expressive potentiality of poetic language to represent the experiences of migrants and refugees? The way in which Sotto il Cielo di Lampedusa sketches an answer to this problem is one of the most striking, and precious, aspects of this volume. The book, indeed, does not collect poems written by survivors of the current migration crisis, but mostly gathers poems written as a response to the trauma unfolding in the Mediterranean sea. Lampedusa becomes, in this context, not just an island but rather a point of mediation and connection, envisaging the possibility of approaching migrant lives beyond the rhetoric of “crisis”, “emergency”, security threat or economic “issue.” Accordingly, poetry is presented as the most powerful communicative tool to oppose any insular view and to re-humanise the experience of migrants. Significantly, the second volume of this anthology is subtitled “No Man is an Island”—a subtitle inspired by John Donne’s 1624 “Devotions upon Emergent Occasions”: beyond the imagery of the island, this collection reframes the very possibility of responding to alterity. Sotto il Cielo di Lampedusa formulates a fascinating and thoughtful exploration of the possibilities of expressing solidarity while eschewing, at the same time, compassionate repression and the appropriation of migrant experiences. The collection captures the ethical dilemma analysed by Giorgio Agamben in his important book on witnessing, where Agamben interrogates that “tie between a possibility and an impossibility of speaking” constituting the core aspect of the testimony. Indeed, only a few letters and messages from those arriving in Lampedusa are reproduced in the book. The bulk of the compositions included in the volume are responses torn between the possibility of speaking and its impossibility. On the one hand, the poetic responses bear witness to the tragedy and deaths in the Mediterranean. They create an opportunity to speak about the experience of migrants and testify to its dramatic reality and urgency. On the other hand, the voices that are heard through the anthology are not the voices of today’s migrants. For this reason, the authors of the anthology claim no “authority” to speak for the migrants. This positioning does not fully prevent these poems from running the risk of becoming a new sort of “dominant” voice telling the experience of others. Rather, the poems outline and occupy a contingent border zone, which oscillates between the ability to transmit experiences that might be lost and the potential appropriation of these experiences for establishing the voice of the poet. This problem is not solved, but rather constantly inhabited and interrogated in the poems, which makes them a site to discuss the ethics of representing and transmitting the experience of migrants. Indeed, this unstable location resonates with the ethic of postcolonial custodianship I have explored elsewhere, as a mode of cultural transmission that does not end up in claims to ownership and establishment of a sense of identity. Similarly, the poems in Sotto il Cielo di Lampedusa are a response to the suffering of migrants, whereby the poets place themselves in the somehow impossible position of the witness, articulating an attempt, as Agamben writes in his reflections on testimony, “to place oneself in one’s own language in the position of those who have lost it.” These poems are hence extremely urgent and valuable acts of witnessing and unfinished solidarity, assuming the politics of decolonising ourselves but also sketching a poetic way of reimagining subjectivity in an era of migration crisis
Against the spectacle of bodies in pain in need of compassion, victims or passive object of scenes of expulsion, migrant bodies become, in Sotto il Cielo di Lampedusa, a poetic location from which the speaking subject reimagines human life from the standpoint of living borderlines. Poetry enables writers to inhabit, figuratively, the body of the migrant as a space for transmitting marginalised and silenced historical experiences. In this regard, Sotto il Cielo di Lampedusa, includes a poem titled “Confini” (“Borders”), authored by Benedetta Davalli, an Italian writer and a psychologist. Interestingly, the poem starts with a question, which punctuates an existential reflection on the human body with references to territorial borderlines. Davalli writes:
I confini del mondo somigliano
Forse alla pelle umana?
La mia pelle è confine
Fra l’interno del mio corpo
E l’esterno mondo
Davalli offers an evocative parallel by adopting an ambivalent expression: “i confini del mondo.” This expression involves a double genitive, in that the borders “of” the world can indicate, at the same time, those borders that exist in the world – the borders partitioning national territories – and the borders “of” the world: that elusive line between the world and its outside, the extraterritorial limits of the unexplored and unknown beyond the sphere of the familiar. The first line develops into an open question, drawing a similitude between the borders “of” the world and the borders of the human body, embodied in the skin. Davalli asks: do the borders “of” the world resemble the borders of my body? The skin is hence represented as a schism between what is inside and what is outside, the perceiving subject and the perceived object. From this point of view, the imaginary lines that fragment nations, regions and peoples can be brought back to a more substantial experience of separation, the membrane that splits human body and external reality. The body becomes a sort of envelope, what psychoanalyst André Green pictures as a borderline, epitomised by the discontinuous, uneven border of the “skin envelope or container”: the first border encountered and experienced by the human being is an osmotic one, which works simultaneously including and rejecting substances, distancing and merging the body and its objects. The constant shuttling between a phenomenological description of the skin and references to migrant lives makes Davalli’s poem an intense exploration of the resonances between the osmotic functioning of the skin and the borders of the world: unstable locations, wounds and interruptions that one cannot simply possess, but needs to be and to assume as a space to be inhabited. This poetic image strongly resonates with Gloria Anzaldúa’s focus on the physical in La Frontera / Borderlands, in which she narrates the US–Mexican border as “una herida abierda where the Third World grates against the First and bleeds.” Responding to the same semantic constellation of bodily borderlines, Italo-Brazilian poet Reginaldo Cerolini offers a thought-provoking composition titled “La Pelle,” which also explores the fraught relationship between the subjectivity of the writer and the experience of those traversing the Mediterranean. The poem revolves around the imagery of the skin as a container and transmitter of a multitude of historical experiences that survive within the textual space of literary writing:
Un giorno io
Ti faro’ entrare nella mia pelle
E incontrerai il sangue vivo dei
Naufraghi di cinque continenti
In contrast to Davalli’s rethinking of human subjectivity as a borderline existence echoing the trauma of migrant lives, Cerolini reimagines poetic expression as a living space of unaccounted memories lost at sea: his body is said to contain the living blood of castaways from five continents. The poem provides a more explicit political statement by listing, in a vivid and evocative language, all the things that migrants could end up doing once in Italy, if they survive the transit across the Mediterranean. The poet denounces the life-conditions of those who entered Europe and survive there, going through forms of exploitation and marginality such as doing odd jobs and sharing rooms, becoming drug dealers, prostitutes and outcasts, slaves and servants, warehousemen, dishwashers, caregivers or beggars. One of the most valuable aspects of Cerolini’s poem concerns the reframing of poetry as the bodily receptacle, not only of experiences of loss, death, and suffering. Poetry becomes a way of transmitting the hopes, desires and drives of the migrants. Reclaiming not the bare life, but rather the subjectivity of migrants also involves the ability to re-narrate their stories against the grain of the lacunae of factual record. What matters is the “living” matter of migrant lives, the hopes of a better life and survival that resonate athwart the Mediterranean. Instead of stopping at the border, Cerolini’s work signals the need to take the border as a beginning, an evolving journey and an act of transmission opposed to the fixed images of differential inclusion and alterity.
Another poem included in Sotto il Cielo di Lampedusa is title “Ode Marittima (fantasma).” This is authored by Austrian-Italian poet Barbara Pumhösel, a poet and children fiction writer from Austria living near Florence. “Ode Marittima” contributes to the repositioning of the responding subject addressed in many poems in the anthology. In a radical reversal, the narrating voice of the composition is not the author but rather a ghostly and anonymous male migrant, who laments his inability to write his own ode to the sea, having passed away too soon during the crossing. The poem discloses a space for inhabiting other subjectivities and speaking not on behalf, but rather from the absent point of view of dead migrants. The poem interrogates the complexities of writing an ode from this impossible standpoint, rather than for the dead:
i miei occhi coscienti
hanno smesso di esserlo
prima di poter arrivare
non ho potuto nemmeno dettarle
a mio figlio perché non lo vedrò
lui non si ricorderà di me
Reading the poetry included in Sotto il Cielo di Lampedusa offers a powerful and evocative way of reframing the significance of Adorno’s question, once again, during a historical period marked by the tragedy of millions trying to escape the violence of the postcolonial Global South to reach fortress Europe. Can there be poetry after Lampedusa, when Lampedusa becomes the symbolic and metonymic stand-in designing this uninterrupted historical trauma in the Mediterranean? Answering this question means to accept taking a responsibility: it means to avoid, at the same time, both the repressively compassionate position of those who unquestionably and unconditionally identify with migrants – forgetting their own privilege and distance – and the racist bad faith of anyone only capable of dis-identifying from them, who reduce the lives of human beings to a security issue, an exceptional state of emergency with no historical roots, or a socio-economic calculation. Writing poetry after Lampedusa means, in this context, to be able to go beyond both unconditional identification and absolute dis-identification. If, as Hannah Arendt wrote in her 1943 moving essay “We Refugees,” the paradox of the refugee is the appearance of a human being who, for the very first time, is nothing but a human being, perhaps poetry can indicate ways of responding to this appearance without reducing being human to bare life. As a fraught and contingent form of testimony, poetry composed in response to the historical trauma of the European “migration crisis” opens up a space where it is possible to interrogate and to re-figure any kind of representation of migrants, starting from the very subjectivity of the not-yet decolonised peoples of Europe.
 Karl Marx. 1852. “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte” https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1852/18th-brumaire/
 Ann Laura Stoler. 2011. “Colonial aphasia: Race and disabled histories in France.” Public Culture 23.1: 121-156
 Didier Fassin. 2005. “Compassion and Repression: The Moral Economy of Immigration Policies in France.” Cultural Anthropology 20.3: 362–387.
 Sandro Mezzadra and Brett Neilson. 2013. Border as Method, or the Multiplication of Labour. Durham: Duke UP; Nicholas De Genova. 2013. “Spectacles of Migrant ‘Illegality’: The Scene of Exclusion, the Obscene of Inclusion.” Ethnic and Racial Studies 36.7: 1–19.
 Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak and Sarah Harasym. 2014. The post-colonial critic: Interviews, strategies, dialogues. London: Routledge.
 Lewis R. Gordon. 1995. Bad Faith and Antiblack Racism. Atlantic Highlands: Humanities.
 Susan Sontag. 2003. Regarding the Pain of Others. London: Penguin.
 Bruce Robbins. 2017. The Beneficiary. Durham: Duke UP.
 Jean-Paul Sartre. 1961. “Preface to Frantz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth.” https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/sartre/1961/preface.htm For an illuminating reading of Sartre in relation to these issues, see Miguel Mellino “Jean-Paul Sartre, La Nausea del Novecento, L’esistenzialismo come crisi dell’Occidente” in Carmine Conelli and Eleonora Meo, eds. Genealogie della Modernita’ Rome: Meltemi, 2017: 257-298.
 Theodor Adorno. 1980. “Commitment.” In Aesthetics and Politics. Trans. Ronald Taylor, 177–195. London: Verso. See also Theodor Adorno. 1973. Negative Dialectics. Trans. E.B. Ashton. London: Routledge.
 MultiVERSI. 2015. Sotto il Cielo di Lampedusa. Vol. 2. Milan: Rayuela.
 Giorgio Agamben. 2002. Remnants of Auschwitz. Trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen. New York: Zone.
 André Green. 1996. On Private Madness. London: Karnac.
 Gloria Anzaldúa. 1981. Borderlands/La Frontera. San Francisco: Aunt Lute.
 Hannah Arendt. 1943. “We Refugees.” In Marc Robinson, ed. Altogether Elsewhere. 110-119. London: Faber, 1994. Agamben reflects on the essay by Arendt in Giorgio Agamben. 1995. “We Refugees” Symposium 49.2: 114-119.
I am a Lecturer in Postcolonial and World Literature. After gaining a PhD in Postcolonial Studies from the University of Kent, I joined Liverpool John Moores University where I lead modules in postcolonial literature, migration writing and world literature. My first monograph, Postcolonial Custodianship: Cultural and Literary Inheritance (Routledge 2014) engages with influential writers and critics, such as Arundhati Roy and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, in order to rethink the figure of the postcolonial intellectual. I propose the term “custodianship” as an ethical subject able to go beyond both nativism and cultural appropriation.
After completing my first monograph, I developed my research interests in postcolonial and world literature, migration studies, critical theory and Marxism. I have guest-edited and contributed to a special issue of the journal New Formations on Rosa Luxemburg and the Postcolonial Condition (featuring contributions by Benita Parry, Stephen Morton, Peter Hudis and Paul LeBlanc among others), and authored works on Frantz Fanon, Arundhati Roy, Anita Desai, and migration studies in journals such as College Literature, Interventions, Wasafiri, ARIEL and the Journal of Postcolonial Writing. I am now section editor of the journal Postcolonial Text and, with Deepika Bahri, co-editor of a project on South Asian literature for the Publications of the Modern Language Association. I am currently at work on my second monograph under contract for publication in the prestigious Palgrave New Comparisons in World Literature series, edited by Neil Lazarus and Pablo Mukherjee.
Alongside my main research, I have been engaged in solidarity with migrants and refugees by organising activities on “Visa Stories: Experiences between Law and Migration” in collaboration with Kent Refugee Help in 2011-2013, and I am now co-organising a conference titled ‘Representing Disembarkation: Migrations, Arrivals, Territories’ in collaboration with the University of Naples L’Orientale (Italy). Confirmed keynote speakers are Sandro Mezzadra, Iain Chambers, Miguel Mellino and Tiziana Terranova. My teaching philosophy is driven by the politics of decolonising the curriculum and, at LJMU, I have been nominated and shortlisted for a Liverpool Student Union Amazing Teacher Award.