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European Vistas

History, Ethics and Identity in the Works of Claudio Magris


Remko Smid

Claudio Magris is one of Italy’s – and Europe’s – most renowned thinkers and writers. He is considered an authority on central European literature and culture and is frequently interviewed about his hometown Trieste, the region called Mitteleuropa and the European Union. But what makes Magris such a relevant figure on the European literary scene?

European Vistas aims to answer this question by analysing the three most central elements in Magris’ novels – history, ethics and identity – in relation to contemporary Europe. His choice of particular histories are considered in terms of the ethical ideas and values that motivate him as well as the relevance of these stories for Europe. The book also explores Magris’ understanding and narration of identity and its potential for a transnational mode of identification, specifically within the European context. Ultimately, the author demonstrates why Magris’ ideas about history, ethics and identity are fundamental for Europe’s future.

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Conclusion A European Novelist



A European Novelist

Arguably the most prominent leitmotiv in both Magris’ essays and novels is the conflict between utopia and disenchantment, which is closely related to the themes discussed. Disenchantment is the realization of the absence of foundations, absolute values and progress. Nihilism would be a typical response to disenchantment and would result in postmodern philosophy and its relativization, and even refusal of truth, meaning and value. Utopia, on the other hand, is the aspiration to achieve a better world. For Magris, this is a goal still worth striving for, although it should not be pursued with hubris and should be accompanied by an acceptance that a perfect world will never be reached. Indeed, the experience of disenchantment has taught humanity a valuable lesson. Blind fanaticism, be it in connection with one’s own nation, the self, or ideological truth claims, should be avoided at all costs. According to Magris, utopia and disenchantment should be merged, which appears contradictory: utopia concerns construction while disenchantment entails the deconstruction of values, truths and views. The construction of foundations in the form of identity, values and truth will, however, always be provisional, as other constructions are always possible as well. The problem of historical reference, the topic of Chapter 1, is connected to disenchantment. Magris’ fiction narrates history, but, as indicated earlier, does not do so ‘innocently’. The acknowledgement that straightforward, unproblematic historical reference has become impossible belongs to the experience of disenchantment, as it is part of the...

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