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Mediterranean Great Conversation


The exit from the Mediterranean emergency requires rethinking its identity in a new perspective. This means recognizing its legitimate role as a “Great Sea in Between”, as a cultural interface able to connect all the citizens that address to it, in everyday life and as individuals, involving them in a real “great conversation” based on the design disciplines. Design, Brand, Visual Identity, Packaging, Social Media, Fashion, Food, Architecture, Music may be powerful antidotes to the immobility of those who mourn a lost Mediterranean harmony and also a viable alternative to the ethnic closure led by the proponents of the Clash of Civilizations.

1. Globalization of indifference
The media landscape shows everyday apocalyptic scenes of tragedy between a bank and the other of the Mediterranean Sea (Boldrini, 2010). The images of death and suffering have become so frequent that they inevitably look like ordinary, necessary evil which seems everyday less outrageous and indicative. Ordinary recurrence of such tragedies matches, in fact, a loss of interest and centrality of these same events for the general public. They end up to be swallowed up by the boredom and indifference of zapping between TV channels. This goes on as long as it does not happen a striking fact, capable to return death to its real, to reawake, as on cue, the “dormant consciences” from torpor. On one hand, bellicose positions against any feared invasion of migrants along our coasts get reactivated, on the other, so do radical acknowledgements of activism in struggle for the universal brotherhood. Both positions are strengthened due to the wave of emotions which the emergence demands. No need of saying that this kind of reactions, however legitimate, are ready to fall again into the ordinary apathy led by the so called “globalization of indifference”, once the clamor has been overcome.
At the borderline of this rhetoric, the problem of the Mediterranean Sea as a cultural and symbolic space remains untouched, keen far beyond the emergency and the necessary humanitarian responses that crisis requires. In this regard, it may be asked whether it is possible to recognize a specific placement in the social imaginary of this sea. The politicians who are called to deal with the arrival of migrants, for example, face the horror, in regret. They think of the Mediterranean Sea as the site of a lost civilization (Braudel, 1985; Matvejević, 1987), a place of harmony among people who share a common citizenship, obliata in the present in the name of petty reasons: religious differences, nationalisms, economic interests are reported to have denied this common root causing the crisis of our years. Every willing of intervention is focussed on how to restore this lost harmony, on promising a return to a mythical as well as elusive Mediterranean golden age. We can understand how this feeling of Mediterranean Community risks of presenting itself as “Invention of Tradition” (Hobsbawm & Ranger, 1983), atavistic longing for a timeless purity, hard to be recognized in a given historical horizon.

2. Mediterranean Nostalgia
In the memoirs of Sicilian emigrants to America between 800 and 900 (Pucci di Benisichi, 2003), an interesting metaphor can be found: the Atlantic ocean with the ship appointed to cross it was compared to a big belly able to swallow and digest passengers during the trip, then respit them on the docks of New York as completely transformed after a long digestion. The Mediterranean Sea, nowadays, rather than “sea in between”, works like an endless ocean: prevents communication between the two sides, takes the floor and acts as a large stomach constantly digesting everything that goes through it, reducing it to a pulp. That’s why crossing it, far more than stepping along a trajectory, looks like a transfiguration. What is returned by the waves does not look like what was shipped in the beginning: not objects but debris, not bodies but shreds are found. And this is what triggers melanchony: these crumbles demand to be considered as fragments, pieces of a puzzle original and lost that wants to be reassembled.

3. Design and the Mediterranean “Great Conversation”
Such an offer may perhaps profitably be rejected, avoiding the easy temptation to invent the overall picture when being not able to rebuild it. Trying, for once, to fold it, rejecting the vintage languor of the æsthetics of fragment. That is to stop regretting the past, debating genealogy of common roots, that is to do away with the endless discussions on how to share the legacy of the “great sea in between”. Then, to try to do new things. And design them together, between a bank and the other in the Mediterranean, promoting, even financially , activities which aim to repopulate the sea of people. Not of migrants in search of a misunderstood and increasingly evanescent Eldorado but of new citizens of a new coastal community that can come back to invest on their geographical proximity. Doing things together, with the right responsibilities and the necessary determination. In such an attitude, design skills, meant in a deep latourian perspective (Latour, 2009), may run a big part. Emergency exit may have a lot to do with branding, visual identity, packaging, social media, fashion, food, architecture, music, all of which require a high level of creativity and low costs of entry and are based on the use of real and virtual networks in order to link people in the flesh. The best way to the emergency exit of the Mediterranean, then, is to think of it as a cultural space; think this sea within what is called the Great Conversation, in the Cluetrain Manifesto (Levine, Locke, Searls & Weinberger, 2000), the famous book of online business. It is worth pointing out that obviously this has to do with the digital communications infrastructure but for sure it does not end up with the mere technological sphere. On the contrary, it concerns primarily the daily life. Changing perspective on the Mediterranean Sea means, first of all, abandoning the great theories, the notorious geopolitical and strategic talks, the clash of civilizations and the universal brotherhood to take a pragmatic perspective, tailor made for the citizen, that is the same as to say, revolutionary thing, for the individual.

3. Paypal and freedom of movement
From these fast considerations, new questions: when can we buy an item of Moroccan Design on paying with Paypal? When sending small correspondence between the countries of the Mediterranean will be possible without paying big bucks? When, and here comes the really fundamental question, citizens who want to trade, do business, learn, move into their Mediterranean scenery, which is their home, can do so, without incurring the heavy humiliations that the visa regime imposes with no difference to the travelers?


Boldrini, L. (2010). Tutti indietro. Milano: Rizzoli.
Braudel, F. (1985). La Méditerranée, les hommes et l’héritage. Paris: Flammarion.
Hobsbawm, E. & Ranger, T. (1983). The Invention of Tradition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Latour, B. (2009). A Cautious Prometheus? A Few Steps Toward a Philosophy of Design (with Special Attention to Peter Sloterdijk) in Hackney F., Glynne, J. & Minton V. (a cura di). Network of Design, Proceedings of the 2008 Annual International Conference of Design History Society (Uk) (pp.2-10). Boca Raton: Universal Publisher.
Levine, R., Locke, C., Searls, D. & Weinberger, D. (2000). Cluetrain Manifesto. New York: Perseus Books.
Matvejević, P. (1987). Mediteranski brevijar. Zagreb: Grafički zavod Hrvatske.
Pucci di Benisichi, R. (2003). Prefazione. In Schiavelli V. Bruculinu America. Palermo: Sellerio.
Schiavelli, V. & Lipani, S. (2002). Many Beautiful Things: Stories and Recipes from Polizzi Generosa. New York: Simon and Schuster.

About the author(s):

Research Assistant in Philosophy of Language and Assistant at the Communication Bureau of the University of Palermo, specialized in semiotics.

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