News | 8 February 2012

Laura Sarnelli, Visiting Scholar


Laura SarnelliDr. Laura Sarnelli was a visiting scholar at UCSC from October 2011 to January 2012. Her appointment as a Research Fellow at the Institute for Humanities Research falls within a long-standing agreement between the University of California, Santa Cruz and the University of Naples L’Orientale (Italy). She holds a PhD in “Anglophone Literatures and Cultures” from the University of Naples “L’Orientale” (Italy) where she is currently a Post-doctoral Fellow at the Department of American Cultural and Linguistic Studies. Her research interests include cultural and postcolonial studies, gender studies and queer theory, black diaspora, Caribbean and African American literature. She has published on topics such as Shakespearian criticism, cinema, modern and contemporary Gothic, postcolonial literature with a specific focus on Caribbean and Canadian women writers. She is the author of Il libro dei desideri. Scritture di deriva nella letteratura femminile diasporica in Nord America (2009).

Laura is currently working on a project on racial and postcolonial melancholia in European and American contexts. Her research, “Cultures of melancholia”, addresses the concept of melancholia, meant as a “constellation of affect” encompassing the individual and the collective, the psychic and the social, to explore the postcolonial heritage of European imperialism which has strong effects on the complex mechanisms of racial identification and national formation. In this respect, in Postcolonial Melancholia Paul Gilroy gives a rather grim picture of this passion. This, he argues, would lie in Europe’s inability to mourn its loss of empire thus resulting in a process of historical amnesia and racism. This is reflected, on the one hand, in the euphoric celebrations of the victories of a declining postcolonial regime and, on the other, in the hostility towards migrants who represent at the same time the reminder of the pain for its loss and the guilt for its violent management. This blending of omnipotence and guilt constituting the melancholia of the formerly colonizers is also explored in the context of American culture by Anne Cheng who proposes a concept of racial melancholy as a process affecting both dominant and subaltern groups. According to Cheng, racial melancholia implies a double perspective. On the one hand, dominant white identity produces itself by projecting outside a lost racial other which is incorporated and rejected at the same time in order to legitimize its superiority; on the other, formerly colonized subjects and ethnic minorities also risk to remain constantly suspended in the melancholic process of identification and denial as they are forced to assimilate an impossible lost ideal of whiteness. Following the recent theoretical elaborations in race and postcolonial studies, the research examines melancholia beyond its pathological connotations, in order to rearticulate it as a non-exclusively Western passion and revalue its positive implications as a theoretical tool that criticizes colonialism and its aftermath. The reference to Cultural theory scholars, such as Gilroy, Chambers, Khanna, Butler, Cheng, Eng, as well as to African American and Caribbean literary and philosophical production, including the work of Frantz Fanon, W.E.B. Dubois, Toni Morrison, Dionne Brand, Caryl Phillips among others, becomes central to the investigation of a potentially imaginative melancholia which foreshadows a humanizing process of identity formation.

In addition to her independent research, Laura attended classes at the Department of History of Consciousness. She attended a course on “Fanon, Violence and Phenomenology” held by Professor David Marriott, a course on “Critical and Race Studies” held by Professor Eric Porter, as well as a course on “The Gothic”, which also addresses her research interests.