Ecotones of time and space in two works by J.M. Coetzee and Igiaba Scego


While political discourses on the current ‘migratory crisis’ often take the language of ecological emergency, depicting Western states as self-sufficient ecosystems put in danger by the ‘vermin’ of external intruders, postcolonial writing proves crucial in reimagining frontier limbos and precarious existences as the originating centres of unprecedented transformations. Drawing on biological and cultural definitions of the “ecotone” (Haraway 2007, Morrissey 2015) and on Edward Casey’s notion of spaces “in-between edges” (2008), I intend to explore two different declinations of literary ecotones centred around migrant children’s experiences, namely Igiaba Scego’s La mia casa è dove sono [Home is where I am] (2010) and J. M. Coetzee’s The Childhood of Jesus (2013). The first chronicles the Scegos’s diaspora from Mogadishu to Europe as well as the writer’s own struggles in growing up a black Italian-born girl in 1990s Rome. The second is a dystopian fiction in which the protagonists are strangers recently arrived by boat in a posthumous dimension where all inhabitants have forgotten their past and are content with their anodyne present. Scego’s memoir and Coetzee’s novel provide instances of different but equally powerful literary ecotones. Whereas Coetzee’s fictional text focuses on the existential and philosophical limbo of a lost child literally experiencing a new (after)life, Scego’s work deals with specific objects (the home-drawn Rome-plus-Mogadishu map, Bernini’s Roman sculpture of an African elephant) as objective correlatives of complex and transformative collective geographies.


DOI Code: 10.1285/i22390359v36p173

Keywords: ecotones; edge effect; postcolonial literature; Igiaba Scego; J. M. Coetzee.


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