TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 12, 2019; 7:30PM | 321 EAST PYNE
Egyptian Italian Encounters in Modern Italian Literature. Ideas of exile in Enrico Pea’s Vita in Egitto (1949).
In my current research project, tentatively entitled “Maps of Absence. Modern Italian Writers in Alexandria, Egypt,” I study the encounters of modern Italian poets and writers with Northern Africa between the end of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century. Since the end of the 19th century the newly unified Italy looked at the African continent as the colonial opportunity that would magnify its might and wealth. There is, however, another vein of Italian thought that understands Africa not as a space to conquer and colonize but rather as a space where to live in a surprisingly (for the then dominant European customs) tolerant society. I am referring to the city of Alexandria, Egypt. Egypt was not an Italian colony, however the history of political exile and migration of Italians to Alexandria dates back to the 1830s, more than 30 years before the formation of the Italian state itself. The number of Italians in Alexandria, grew from a few thousands at the end of the 19th century to more than 30,000 residents just before World War II. Their original status as migrants shaped a peculiar sensibility towards the notion of multi-ethnic societies that was largely misunderstood or unknown in their home country. Alexandria enjoyed a vibrant cultural scene: its most famous Italians writers (born in or long-time residents of the city) include: Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Enrico Pea, Giuseppe Ungaretti, and Fausta Cialente. The case of Enrico Pea (1881-1958) is particularly interesting. Pea wrote plays, short stories and novels in which he looked back at Versilia, the Italian region he left as a young adult, to contrast it with his Alexandrian experience. As he laments the poor conditions in which he lived as a servant, merchant and cultural organizer in Alexandria, he discusses also the freedom he enjoys against the political climate in his distant motherland. In my presentation, I will offer a reading of his memoir Vita in Egitto [Life in Egypt] (Milan 1949) to identify and analyze the quality of his dissenting voice on colonialism and exile. His voice from afar allows Pea to provide a critical and unique perspective on these concepts that he, ahead of his time, was ready to subvert.
Stefano Giannini’s research focuses on the historical novel and the dialectic memory/oblivion. He wrote on modern Italian authors as Luigi Pirandello, Giuseppe Ungaretti, Piero Chiara, Lucio Mastronardi, Vittorio Sereni, and Luciano Bianciardi in Italian and North American periodicals. In 2003 and 2006 he was a Mellon Fellow in residence at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas in Austin. His current project investigates the relationships among the cultures of the Mediterranean basin, in particular between Italy and Egypt, and the encounters of modern Italian writers with Northern Africa between the end of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century.