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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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VII. Bitter milk of the holy cow: Contemporarycritique of modernity


189 VII. Bitter milk of the holy cow: Contemporary critique of modernity 1. Debasing the Renaissance Periodisation of European historical epochs posterior to the Middle Ages is even more complex than that of the preceding centuries, and depends on the point of view, from which they are analysed. Alternately, one may employ the overarch- ing term “modernity” pertaining to the socio-economic changes, distinguish be- tween such subcategories as Renaissance, Reformation, Enlightenment, etc., which connote the European socio-cultural transformations, or describe the sub- sequent periods in the terms of consequent political structures, such as Absolut- ism, the Age of Revolutions, the Age of Empires, and so forth. My classification of the post-medieval historical epochs (cf. Part IV) fea- tures the Renaissance, il Seicento, the 18th century, and the Risorgimento, all of which formerly played a distinct and important role in the patriotic discourse on Italian history and national identity. Yet the analysis of the novels set in these four periods of national self-perception has shown that, in contemporary histori- cal fiction, the Renaissance per se is hardly thematised at all. This appears dou- bly surprising. Firstly, the Renaissance as one of the main cultural periods in Eu- ropean history, which originated in Italy, can truly be considered as a moment of Italian international glory. Secondly, it was not restricted to Italy alone but, ra- ther, comprised various manifestations of humanist artistic spirit and new cul- tural sensibility across Europe, – a circumstance that would have an especially strong appeal today inasmuch as...

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