Post-WW II Italian Jewish narratives : appropriations of history and self-representation / by Borislava Vassileva Vassileva.
This dissertation proposes to trace a literary genealogy: that of the contemporary Jewish writer who expresses him or herself in the language of Dante and interrogates the sense of their Jewishness. The preliminary sections reach back to the time of Jewish emancipation and the unification of Italy in order to outline the reasons for Italian Jews' high degree of integration and patriotic involvement, as well as the only marginal treatment of Jewish topics in literature before the Shoah. Against this backdrop, the period 1938-1945 marks a traumatic moment of rupture and the beginning of an effort to endow the sense of difference, imposed on Italian Jews by the racial laws, into a positive awareness of a collective cultural specificity or a personal sense of belonging.The literary corpus presented here adopts first-hand experience of this period as its limit and is structured as consecutive analyses of individual authors. It includes celebrated figures (Primo Levi, Giorgio Bassani, Elsa Morante, Natalia Ginzburg) and less known writers (Giorgio Voghera, Franco Fortini, Alberto Vigevani), as well as the generation emerging in the 80s and the 90s (Dan Vittorio Segre, Lia Levi, Aldo Zargani). The twofold aim that the study pursues is to acknowledge individual variety, while bringing to focus what is shared, whether it is lived in similar ways or borrowed from the collective.Several common motifs emerge in the course of the study, notably the enormity of the Shoah and its difficult memory, the perceived distance from the Zionist project, and reversely, the sense that the Italian Jewish experience constitutes a special case. Beyond these thematic convergences, however, this corpus of writing is characterized by a heightened awareness of the way collective identities are constructed. Primo Levi's notion of "making a past for oneself' proves applicable not only to the conscious or unconscious distortions of history, but more generally, to the way each individual negotiates their past and what they assume as heritage, influences, or affinities. More than a single act of self-definition, each writer's sense of being Jewish emerges as a life-long, sometimes conflicted, process of reflection and self-fashioning.
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