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Re-Making the Italians

Collective Identities in the Contemporary Italian Historical Novel

Gala Rebane

Can the unprecedented rise of the historical genre in Italy after 1980 be explained out of the «Umberto Eco effect» alone, as many critics believe? Why are so many Italians nowadays inclined to believe in their Celtic origins? How many middle Ages were there and do we actually live in a high-tech version of them? Has Italy ever been unified? This book discusses the ongoing literary quest for new collective identities in the present-day Italian nation challenged by European integration, globalisation and the burgeoning regionalism, and shows the intricate routes of historical revision on which contemporary Italian fiction embarks.

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I. Case study Italy. Specific traits of the national development

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1. Italy as an invented nation In the last three decades, Italian society has been enduring a deep crisis on many levels: from the economic to the political and to the cultural. Rooted in the histo- ry of the postwar development and the state economic and cultural policies, the problems emerged with full evidence in the late 1980s and in the course of the 1990s became a factor threatening the country’s further progress. With the con- clusion of the Maastricht Treaty which gave a new turn to and accelerated the pace of European integration, the malfunctioning of the State came to the fore with new vigour. The beginning of the crisis made clear the effects of the cultural backward- ness and the incapacity of the present governmental institutions to foster the sense of common belonging (cf. Tullio-Altan, 1995:xvii). Along with that, the symptomatic, no longer ignorable popularity of the political Leagues in North- Eastern Italian regions further put under serious threat the integrity of the nation. It is therefore not surprising that historical revisionism in the last years has risen to salience as a possible means to re-forge an Italian identity. As Rusconi points out, national history has not become a principal moment of the democratic pub- lic discourse, and the incapacity to narrate the collective past in a convincing manner remains the main destabilising factor in the contemporary culture (cf. 1999:14). Indeed, many researchers, politicians and laymen critically question today the very notions of “Italy” and “Italianness...

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