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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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II. Identity, history, fiction


A close attention to identity is a distinct hallmark of contemporary literary clas- sics, and so is history. It is hard to overlook how many award-winning novels of the last decades, deemed “postcolonial”, “revisionist”, “autobiographic”, “nos- talgic” or otherwise by the critics and coming from various countries of the world, seem to have been engendered by one and the same overwhelming desire to take a look at the past, if personal, in order to make sense of the estranging present and one’s own place in it. The nagging questions of ontology-ridden postmodernist fiction “who am I?” and “what world is this one?”9 are answered, and shown as answerable to a certain degree of credibility, in retrospective only. Historical retrospection thus becomes the foremost tool of re-thinking oneself and one’s experiential, day-to-day’s reality. The internationally acclaimed nov- els by Dacia Maraini, Anna Maria Ortese, Sebastiano Vassalli, Lara Cardella, Antonio Tabucchi and many others10 focus on private destinies and personal memories. Yet the recollections in them are never a peaceful farewell to a past but are agonisingly spanned between “then” and “now”, the latter just as unset- tling and unconsoling as the former is paining and enigmatic, and both of them dramatically disconnected. Indeed, these novels validate the original meaning of “recollection”, highlighting the processes of therapeutic re-assemblage of one’s self through an active, future-oriented remembrance in a narrative. It is easy to speak of the “selfhood-memory-narrative” triad in the context of fictional (or less) biographic accounts. Matters get, however, much...

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