Travelling Toponymy. The contribution of place names to the textual representation of place and memory in Abdellah Taïa’s Une mélancolie Arabe
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Original versionBorderlands e-journal. 2019, 18 (1).
Narratives of exile and migration pose important questions related to the role of language in the representation of space, both that of home and away as well as sites of transit. This article argues that the textualisation of space is a central strategy for representing these spaces as place, i.e. as the site and product of lived experience, and that toponyms, place names are an important linguistic tool in this respect. The article draws on critical place name studies in order to examine the political and emotional aspects of place names in narratives of exile and migration. To do so, it examines the role of place names in Abdellah Taïa’s novel Une mélancolie Arabe, a text where place names play an important role, as the protagonist navigates between his native Morocco, his adopted city Paris, and Cairo, capital of the Arab world; and where the names of the cities come to function as symbolic representations of home and freedom. The use of place names thus becomes ameans of recreating places that may be geographically distant, but emotionally close. Moreover, the close relations the text establishes between place names on the one hand, and emotions and affect on the other, give reason to reconsider the textual and mnemonic functions of place names.