Malta University Press, in collaboration with the Department of English, held a book launch on the evening of the 12th December at the National Library in Valletta to mark the publication of Crosscurrents in Postcolonial Memory and Literature: A Festschrift for Daniel Massa. The volume brings together both essays and poetry reflecting literary and sociopolitical currents and crosscurrents within the postcolonial world. The essays in the first part of the book are contributed by international scholars eminent in the field of Commonwealth Studies and postcolonial literature, as well as by academics from the University of Malta working in diverse disciplinary areas. The poems in the second part of the book speak of themes such as exile and alienation, the re-visioning of history, and ecological concerns.
At the launch, Prof Henry Frendo, speaking as Chair of Malta University Press, highlighted Daniel Massa’s academic leadership in drawing to Malta distinguished academics within the Commonwealth for conferences and other events, and for facilitating new discursive spaces at the University of Malta and in other areas of Maltese culture.
The next speaker was Prof. Stella Borg Barthet, who drew upon her own introduction to the Festschrift to speak of the ambiguity of postcolonial literature, which can often reflect the determination to shake off imperial domination even while representing the blandishments of colonial rule. She indicated Daniel as one who lived and worked in the spaces of the observance and experience of this dilemma. She also spoke of Daniel’s formation as a poet, highlighting his postgraduate studies on the Cambridge Platonists and on Giordano Bruno and the influence of these philosophies on Daniel’s poetry.
Prof. Ivan Callus then spoke of the significance of the Festschrift tradition, which goes beyond upholding an academic’s individual achievement to signal collective commitment to building on the foundational efforts made by the person to whom a Festschrift volume is offered. The strongly evolving teaching and research activities at the University of Malta centring on Commonwealth and postcolonial literature attest to the readiness to carry forward Daniel Massa’s legacy. Prof. Callus spoke also of the impact of Daniel Massa on Maltese poetry, and of the nature of its challenge to broader currents within contemporary cultures of literary translation and of constructions of postcolonial literature.
The final speaker was Prof. Alastair Niven, who drew on his long experience in literary adjudication to speak of Daniel Massa’s participation on judging panels for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. Daniel Massa was an adjudicator of the Commonwealth Poetry Prize in 1985 and Chair of the Commonwealth Prize in 2005: positions that demand a keen sense of what constitutes excellence in literature as well as extensive knowledge of the development of literatures in different societies.
In the volume itself, Alastair Niven’s essay on literary prizes brings unusual insights into the social dimension of literature, a perspective taken up from a different angle in Nelson Wattie’s essay on the cultural scene in New Zealand. The Festschrift features studies on Daniel’s own poetry by Ivan Callus and by Adrian Grima, while Lydia’s Sciriha’s essay on bilingualism reveals the dichotomous relationship between the English and the Maltese languages in Malta, providing a context against which Daniel’s own bilingual output in both criticism and literature can be better understood. Poetry from the Pacific is also the basis from which Bill Ashcroft theorises and contextualizes postcolonial utopianism. The Festschrift includes new poems by leading Commonwealth and Maltese poets: Syd Harrex, Kevin Ireland, Satendra Nanda, Edwin Thumboo Victor Fenech, Joe Friggieri, and Oliver Friggieri.
The Festschrift features two essays on drama, an area which featured strongly in Daniel Massa’s teaching career: one by Fernando Cioni, the other by Marco Galea. Cioni’s piece on The Merchant of Venice brings out postcolonialism’s interest in memory and in literary revision, while Galea’s contribution interrogates the idea that the empire writes back, a concept famously put forward by Bill Ashcroft, Helen Tiffin and Gareth Griffiths in an influential collection of critical essays from 1989. Griffiths himself contributes an essay here that focuses on the Malagasy monarchy to question supposed differences between British and American imperialism.
Postcolonialism’s investment in travel and memoirs is represented in two essays. Dieter Riemenschneider’s article is on the painting and the writing of William Hodges, who travelled to India late in the 1780s, while Norbert Bugeja’s essay focuses on the diary Theophile Gautier kept during his journey to Istanbul in the middle of the twentieth century.
Postcolonial fiction is the subject of three essays: Xavier Pons focuses on the Australian novelist Steven Carrol, Geoff Davis on the South African writer of detective stories James McClure, and Eckhard Breitinger on two German-born Jewish authors who found refuge from Nazi persecution in British colonies in East Africa – Stefanie Zweig and Peter Fraenkel. On the basis of these essays, Crosscurrents in Postcolonial Memory and Literature is a Festschrift that doubles up as a valuable contribution to Commonwealth and postcolonial studies in its own right. It is available in leading bookshops.