Mediterranean Crossings

The Politics of an Interrupted Modernity

Mediterranean Crossings

Book Pages: 192 Illustrations: Published: January 2008

Author: Iain Chambers

Cultural Studies, European Studies, Postcolonial and Colonial Studies

The cultural theorist Iain Chambers is known for his historically grounded, philosophically informed, and politically pointed inquiries into issues of identity, alterity, and migration, and the challenge postcolonial studies poses to conventional Western thought. With Mediterranean Crossings, he challenges insufficient prevailing characterizations of the Mediterranean by offering a vibrant interdisciplinary and intercultural interpretation of the region’s culture and history. The “Mediterranean” as a concept entered the European lexicon only in the early nineteenth century. As an object of study, it is the product of modern geographical, political, and historical classifications. Chambers contends that the region’s fundamentally fluid, hybrid nature has long been obscured by the categories and strictures imposed by European discourse and government.

In evocative and erudite prose, Chambers renders the Mediterranean a mutable space, profoundly marked by the linguistic, literary, culinary, musical, and intellectual dissemination of Arab, Jewish, Turkish, and Latin cultures. He brings to light histories of Mediterranean crossings—of people, goods, melodies, thought—that are rarely part of orthodox understandings. Chambers writes in a style that reflects the fluidity of the exchanges that have formed the region; he segues between major historical events and local daily routines, backwards and forwards in time, and from one part of the Mediterranean to another. A sea of endlessly overlapping cultural and historical currents, the Mediterranean exceeds the immediate constraints of nationalism and inflexible identity. It offers scholars an opportunity to rethink the past and present and to imagine a future beyond the confines of Western humanistic thought.


“[A] challenging, informative, and provocative book. . . .” — Gerald MacLean, Journal of Colonialism & Colonial History

“[Chambers] seeks to present the Mediterranean in a way that acknowledges the multiple and diverse currents and their cultural and historic origins. He takes issue with those who see the Mediterranean mainly in terms of the logic of barriers to be breached and differences to be bridged. The author suggests a less rigid, more open comprehension of the making of a multiplicitous Mediterranean. . . . Mediterranean Crossings brings new light to our understanding of the region.” — Raymond C. Ewing, Mediterranean Quarterly

“[T]he book . . . offers many stimulating insights.“ — Larry Wolf, International History Review

“Anyone interested in fathoming the divide between ‘history’ and ‘cultural’ studies recently aired in this journal by Geoff Eley and his commentators should read Iain Chambers’s book. . . . Chambers sees the Mediterranean from where he lives, Naples, and this is an interesting and valuable vantage point.” — Steven A. Epstein, American Historical Review

“Chambers illustrates the fluid malleability of cultures and histories, while simultaneously remaining grounded in the local and the concrete. He usefully describes the Mediterranean, and the places within it, as ‘composite localities’, made unique by the wider negotiations of cultural encounters.” — Paul Stock, Ethnic and Racial Studies

“Chambers is an extraordinarily gifted writer. . . . He writes with a rare facility; he is always remarkably lucid and clear; his sentences models of elegant variation. [An] extremely readable and creative book.” — Vijay Mishra, Year's Work in Critical and Cultural Theory

“Chambers’ theoretical inventions are worth thinking about over and over again. . . .” — Adam Mestyan, European Review of History

“From shifting points of view, Chambers successfully re-writes the ‘imaginatively constructed’ conceptual and historical forms of the Mediterranean as malleable, multiple, and polycentric. . . . The multiplicity of the Mediterranean becomes impossible to deny in Chambers’ eclectic history, which is itself composed as fragmented but mostly coherent waves of encounters and currents.” — Allison Hui, Space and Culture

“Iain Chambers’s lovely, poetic text weaves together voices, expressions, experiences, sights, sounds, and even smells to produce a postcolonial account that challenges the image, first constructed in the nineteenth century, of the Mediterranean as modern Europe’s anti-modern other, an image that persists in the view of the Mediterranean as a frontier of Western civilisation under threat from African poverty and Islamist zeal. . . . [S]cholars of the Mediterranean interested in new ways of thinking and writing about the region as an interconnected yet diverse politico-cultural space will likely be challenged and inspired by Chambers’s interdisciplinary effort to conceptualise the Mediterranean as a collection of hybrid flows, cultures, and places.”
— Waleed Hazbun, Journal of North African Studies

“In Mediterranean Crossings, Iain Chambers turns a gaze informed by postcolonial theory, post-structuralism, and discourse analysis to examine what he identifies as a colonizing myth of ‘the Mediterranean’. . . . The book should thus be required reading for historians, classicists, or political scientists—but particularly for cultural geographers, since what Chambers has produced is really a cultural geographic examination of the region.” — Jennifer R. Ballengee, Journal of Cultural Geography

“One of the most original and distinctive contributions to the field this year is Iain Chambers’ Mediterranean Crossings. “ — James Proctor, Year's Work in Critical and Cultural Theory

“Part love letter, part high theory, part travelogue, Chambers densely packed this slim book with important insights and a long overdue reclamation of the often hidden Arabic and Islamic history of the Mediterranean. . . . [A]n important new work well-worth a read.” — Andrea Shalal-Esa, Al Jadid

“The latest work by Iain Chambers . . . offers us an original and cross-over perspective on the Mediterranean area.” — Giacomo Arnaboldi, Quaderns de la Mediterrania

“There is much in Chambers’ work that will interest those aiming to improve their understanding of the complexity of the Mediterranean’s cultural composition. The book is handsomely presented, reasonably priced, and tackles an issue which is important at the dawn of the twenty-first century. . . . [T]his study tackles an interesting and important subject in a manner which provokes much thought.” — O. J. Wright, European History Quarterly

“This is a book that captures the attention of the reader for its capacity to convey fresh theoretical insights through vivid images and charming language.” — Armando Salvatore, American Ethnologist

“This is an engaging idea drawn out of an imaginative attempt to interweave poetics, politics, and historical geography. . . . Like most good travelers, Chambers looks for lost narratives, and the frames that have kept them so: ‘If there is a unity in the Mediterranean, it is perhaps a hidden, critical 'unity' where the sea itself, as the site of dispersion and drift, exposes the fragility of inherited configurations.’ (149) The sea retains its complex and multiple histories, and in doing so shows up the bordered and at times limiting modernity that frames it. But the Mediterranean is a source of optimism, a site of unpredictable drifting.” — Kári Gislason, M/C Reviews

“Iain Chambers is a gifted and spirited cultural flâneur whose journeys along the textual and musical shores of the Mediterranean have resulted in a book that explores the extensive connections of modern life. With insight and empathy Chambers argues that the Mediterranean is a decentered and disjunctive topos that has the capacity, and the complexity, to become the contemporary crossroads of intercultural transmission and political transformation. This is a stirring example of cultural studies blessed with the love of song and myth.” — Homi K. Bhabha, Harvard University

“Iain Chambers is without question one of the most learned scholars working in the field of cultural studies today. In Mediterranean Crossings, he takes us through philosophical, fictional, filmic, musical, and popular cultural texts produced over the centuries, arguing that the Mediterranean needs to be reconceptualized as a transitory, rather than stabilized, habitation and as an ever-evolving cross-cultural space. Reverberating with far-reaching philosophical implications, his readings combine critical insights with the charm of a storyteller who has traveled widely in texts as well as in physical worlds.” — Rey Chow, author of The Age of the World Target: Self-Referentiality in War, Theory, and Comparative Work

“With Mediterranean Crossings, Iain Chambers delineates a new line of discourse on Mediterranean Studies that is as interdisciplinary as the region is hybrid. He mediates between conflicting histories, cultures, interpretations, and events, elegantly moving between the past and present, large and small, individuals and peoples, in this impressionistic portrait of an unclassifiable, fluid region.” — Giuliana Bruno, author of Atlas of Emotion: Journeys in Art, Architecture, and Film


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Iain Chambers is Professor of Cultural and Postcolonial Studies at the Università degli Studi di Napoli, “l’Orientale,” Italy. He is the author of several books, including Culture after Humanism: History, Culture and Subjectivity; Migrancy, Culture, Identity; and Border Dialogues: Journeys in Postmodernity.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

1. Many Voices 1

2. A Postcolonial Sea 23

3. Off the Map 50

4. Naples: A Porous Modernity 71

5. Between Shores 130

Notes 153

Bibliography 163

Index 173
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4150-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4126-0
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