Space and Relic in Frank Paci’s Black Madonna

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Canadian Association for Italian Studies


This essay investigates Frank Paci’s dominant themes of death and life in Black Madonna and the author’s use of relics to retrace post-migrant spaces. I examine his connections between immigrant and post-immigrant generations in the microcosm of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, and the way he preserves memories of the past (family, work, religious practices) while refashioning an Italian regional identity from a deterritorialized position. My approach to the themes of death, life, Italianness, and gender relationships is shaped by Michel de Certeau’s theories of place and space. Relics are defined here as something that survives the passage of time––either at a specific location or across spatial movement––and is invested with a sense of devotion. My argument is that Paci’s writing is devotional insofar as it preserves the memory of immigrants by disseminating the text with different kinds of traces (e.g., human, behavioural, linguistic). In function, memories act as relics. However, Paci’s writing is ambivalent towards memory, since quests for emancipation are also forcefully voiced by the author as challenges to preservation. This tension is at the core of Black Madonna, where Italian immigrants, practices, and places are represented as outdated, dead, or doomed to disappear, and yet deserving recognition and affection. In my view, Paci’s writing is more compelling when the relic as “place” interacts with a narrative of practices (or operations) that defy stability and actualize “spaces.” I will refer to this as a narrative of mobilized relics. Relics are a valid analytical tool to investigate the ties with Italy and ethnicity in the passage from immigrants to post-immigrant generations, from one historical subject to another, both of which are liminally positioned between cultures. In this sense, Black Madonna’s exploration of an Italian-Canadian microcosm spurs further transnational investigations of contemporary Italian identity through the migrant intergenerational lens.