For years, Lampedusa to me was the name of an Italian writer, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, the count of Lampedusa. I must have read his novel, The Leopard, somewhere in the nineties, but I have forgotten what it was about. A lovely, illustrious name, Lampedusa. Like many Italian words or names, it flows through your mouth like good wine when you say them, leaving you with a sense of beauty. To try to recapture my lost memory of the writer and his book, I google him as I know him: ‘count of Lampedusa’ – and immediately find how meanings change: the first thing that comes up is ‘body count from Lampedusa’…
Would this Italian island have been dreaming of being just a nice sleepy holiday resort, it has now become the symbolic tombstone of the tens of thousands that drown in view of the European side of the Mediterranean Sea. They drown not just near Lampedusa, they drown also on the open sea, or near Gibraltar, or near some other place I before would have associated with sunshine and leisure. I think I can never swim in the Mediterranean any more, in this watery graveyard of so many refugees and so called ‘illegal’ migrants. I felt this when a good friend on a similar trip, a young man with so much promise in him, in his eager and concerned mind, drowned in that same sea, now one year ago. I still mourn him, and already thought I should write a post for the anniversary of his sad end. We still miss your presence in this world, Malick Fall.
Why do they take the risk, one wonders? Knowing that their possible luck is just an uneven chance. Those that do enter the boats are mostly not the most destitute refugees, not the mothers with hungry children or the sick men who have lost all their possessions on the way. They are the strong ones, for a large part young men, those who can pay the boatsmen their expensive fare. They are like the scouts of a silent army, trying to find the cracks in ‘Fortress Europe’. Lampedusa is a name of freedom to them – the freedom to do what humans always do: migrate to interact, to find out what’s going on beyond the horizon, to try and find new ways to live or to survive.
When for so many this name has turned into their symbolic tombstone – the name by which those many nameless will be remembered, it bitterly becomes clear how greatest hope and hopelessness are closely linked. It reminds me of those words of Nietzsche, where he says of churches in the nihilistic age: they are the graves and tombstones of God. The dark interior of romanic architecture comes to mind: it is easy to imagine that such a manmade place, the place where humans sing the glory of their God, is also always at the same time His grave – the momument of his absence.
Derrida properly understood this when he composed the first pages of his famous essay ‘Differance’, on the letter ‘A’ which he described as a ‘tacit monument, I would even say a pyramid’. Of it he writes a bit further along: ‘This stone – provided that one knows how to decipher its inscription – is not far from announcing the death of the tyrant.’ The tyrant being, as I tried to decipher in my post on White Mythology, the false ideology of a culture which dreams that it is universal – white culture, dreaming it is the dream of any human being. It seems to be, when one thinks of all those aiming ‘to get in’. It is not – as migration is always, whether failed or illegal or whatever, a game that already has changed the conditions of interaction – it is an ‘act’ of differance, of deconstruction. Tombstone of freedom, Lampedusa silently announces the end of its restriction.
Which brings me back to the count, the count of the same name, of whom I found this citation: ‘If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change’ – and this goes for both parties in this deadly game: those who enter will not find the earthly paradise for which they gambled their life, those who try to keep the walls of the fortress into place, will find them stifling the costly air of freedom inside them. Europe as the paradise of reason and freedom is no more. And those mourned dead have shown it.
Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa lived from 1896 untill 1957. He got famous through his only novel, The Leopard (1958, originally published in Italian as Il Gattopardo), which has for its subject the downfall of Sicilian aristocracy.
Malick Fall lived from 1985 untill 2012, a promising student and an original thinker, with a great heart for his friends and family, for his country, his continent, and for humankind. Your death shocked all of us deeply, Malick.