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Contested Adriatic Homes: Carinthia, Istria, Politics, and the Lessons of Poetry

A faculty lecture by Thomas Harrison, UCLA, Italian.

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Duration: 44:26

 This lecture will reflect on some implications of the border changes that took place repeatedly at the meeting point of Italy, Austria and former Yugoslavia from 1918 to 1989.  The impetus for this reflection is a classic poem called “Dora Markus” (1939) by the great hermetic writer Eugenio Montale.  Its central topos is a problematic and paradoxical notion: the patria vera, or true homeland, of a woman who originates precisely in that contested region bordering multiple states. To make matters more complicated, Markus is Jewish, and her homeland has been subjected to the Nazi Anschluss of Austria just a year earlier (1938). Professor Harrison will examine hollow echoes of this notion of the “homeland” over the early decades of the 20th century in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in Italian Fascism, and in the Titoist reconstruction of Yugoslavia. He will reference the matter not only by way of the region of Carinthia, but also by that of the Istrian peninsula (once Italian, and currently divided between Slovenia and Croatia) which saw dramatic exchanges of ethnic populations and identity changes throughout the same period.
Considerable ambiguities attaching to the homeland in these multiethnic and politically contested borderland zones are brought to the fore precisely by the “lessons of poetry.” The historical, poetic, and linguistic knowledge imbedded in a poem like “Dora Markus” exposes the questionability of much "foundational" nationalist and ideological rhetoric at work in the two great wars of the century.

Thomas Harrison teaches courses and writes on Italian and Comparative Literature of the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries, cinema, and philosophy. He is Professor and Chair of the Department of Italian. His publications include1910: The Emancipation of Dissonance (UC Press, 1996), Essayism: Conrad, Musil and Pirandello (Johns Hopkins UP, 1992) and Nietzsche in Italy (Anma Libri, 1988).

Center for European and Eurasian Studies