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Claudio Magris; italian Master
Topic Started: May 26 2008, 08:01 AM (1,760 Views)
onefatman
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He has been discussed as a potential Nobel candidate, he's won the Premio Strega and, at least in German, he's currently being translated as if the publisher's life deopended on it. Can't say why, there's not a Bolano-like hype around him. Well.


I have read and finished Microcosms (in German translation: excellent translation, btw., as far as I can see) and I am awestruck.

It's a great, great, great book, wonderful, insightful (even though I dislike its politics) and rich...it's a couple of pieces on towns and villages in italy, mixing invented stories with real characters, essayistic musings and heartbreakingly wonderful descriptions of the landscape. It's like hundreds of tiny stories, wonderfully told. If Bernhard liked people I'd say it's almost Bernhardesque at times, but it's not because Magris deep love for the landscape and its inhabitants is clearly one of the determining factors in tthis wonder of a book.
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onefatman
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Reflecting on the Alpine border region of the South Tyrol—long disputed by Italy, Austria, and Bavaria—Claudio Magris writes, 'There are borders running everywhere, and one crosses them without realizing.' This might serve as a general motto for Microcosms. The South Tyrol is only one of the half-dozen borderlands Magris visits in his allusive, and elusive, sly, witty, sorrowing, and wonderful oddity of a book. On its publication in Italy in 1997, it won the Strega Prize, the country's most important literary award, and became the year's unlikeliest best seller. It is easier to say what Microcosms is not than to say what it is. A memoir? No, although it ripples throughout with remembered scenes and places. A travelogue? Certainly not, though it does traverse northern Italy from east to west and back again. A literary meditation on what it is to be European? Perhaps—but it is more than that, too; much, much more.


from a review by John Banville
( I can't access the whole thing http://www.nybooks.com/articles/article-pr...article_id=122)
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suzannahhh
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I was convinced enough
before reading this
to order a copy
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oneofmurphysbiscuits
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likewise, because i've always intended to read "Danube"
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Porphry
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First Tabucchi, now Magris... looks like I have a few new reasons to push on with learning Italian.
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alliknowis
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How would you compare it to Sebald's work? And have you read both Danube and Microcosms, which one to pick up first?
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alliknowis
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What the politics of the work that you dislike btw, onefat?
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onefatman
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haven't read Danube, Microcosms is my first Magris


politics? I had a discussion with my fiancé, it smells mildly of fascism, that book, very mildly, but it's definitely right-wing, but not so's you'd notice if you aren't as sensitive to that as I am, I guess.

I've quotes from the German here.
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Fausto
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For some reason, I have never read Magris. I know I should, I know I should. I will.

As for politics, I really would like some more details regarding your impression because I almost fell off my chair when I read that. Magris is one of Italy's main left wing intellectual, he presented hismelf in the elections a few year back against Berlusconi's candidates and is a strong advocate of a multicultural, open and strong political European Union. The little introduction written by the people who awarded him El premio principe de Asturias (Spain's biggest prize) gave of him the desciption of your typical enlightened European liberal.

So what elements of the book struck you as right-wing?
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suzannahhh
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am I the only one here
who wasn't all that taken with Sebald?
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onefatman
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Yes your confusion is due to the flabbiness of the words "left" and "right" as applicable to politics, and this includes a general flabbiness and a certain relativity, 'center' in the US, for instance, would be (slightly) 'right-wing' in Germany. 'center' in France, in most respects, would be (slighty) 'left-wing' in Germany. Italy appears to be very hard to calculate in these terms...

So anything I say is due to the right/left-dichotomy as Germans use it. I have no idea about Belgium. Now. a second caveat. The book is a work of fiction, which means I didn't say that Magris was strongly right-wing, his speaker is. As I haven't read anything else of his I have no way of approximating his distance to his speaker in that book.

That said, the book combines many attitudes typical of the conservative mindset. I can only point you to German quotes, like the one above, and it's not individual quotes, really, it's the combined weight of the book, the recurring pressing of the same points. There are particularly salient passages, like the one above or one involving D'Annunzio.

It's not right-wing enough to be actually fascist, it actually denounces fascism in a mild way repeatedly. It's like Thomas Mann pre-1920, or Hofmannsthal (whom being right-wing cost the Nobel Prize, which went to Mann who had -by then- converted to left wingish/center politics, at least in some respects), or even like Hermann Löns. Or, to leave German lit, somewhat like the Fugitives/Agrarians (strong emphasis on the 'somewhat' here).

Was that confusing?

btw. in OUR political spectrum you can be right wing and still pro-Europe.
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onefatman
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suzannahhh
May 27 2008, 01:20 PM
am I the only one here
who wasn't all that taken with Sebald?

haven't read him at all yet.
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Fausto
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onefatman
May 27 2008, 06:39 AM
Yes your confusion is due to the flabbiness of the words "left" and "right" as applicable to politics, and this includes a general flabbiness and a certain relativity, 'center' in the US, for instance, would be (slightly) 'right-wing' in Germany. 'center' in France, in most respects, would be (slighty) 'left-wing' in Germany. Italy appears to be very hard to calculate in these terms...

So anything I say is due to the right/left-dichotomy as Germans use it. I have no idea about Belgium. Now. a second caveat. The book is a work of fiction, which means I didn't say that Magris was strongly right-wing, his speaker is. As I haven't read anything else of his I have no way of approximating his distance to his speaker in that book.

That said, the book combines many attitudes typical of the conservative mindset. I can only point you to German quotes, like the one above, and it's not individual quotes, really, it's the combined weight of the book, the recurring pressing of the same points. There are particularly salient passages, like the one above or one involving D'Annunzio.

It's not right-wing enough to be actually fascist, it actually denounces fascism in a mild way repeatedly. It's like Thomas Mann pre-1920, or Hofmannsthal (whom being right-wing cost the Nobel Prize, which went to Mann who had -by then- converted to left wingish/center politics, at least in some respects), or even like Hermann Löns. Or, to leave German lit, somewhat like the Fugitives/Agrarians (strong emphasis on the 'somewhat' here).

Was that confusing?

btw. in OUR political spectrum you can be right wing and still pro-Europe.

I thought as much regarding your second caveat.

However, from what you're saying it would appear to me as being a cultural conservatism rather than a political one. I know they can go hand in hand but I do know quite a few persons that are politically on the left while conservative when it comes to culture -- those I know personally have the same profile as Magris: academics in or around their sixties.

Regarding pro-Europe & right wing, you're right but a multicultural, tolerant, no border Europe, replacing in the mid-term the Nation states is not the kind of europhile attitude encountered amongst the europhile right.

Anyway, I shall read Magris soon enough I guess -- Italy is another weak point among many weak points I have.


Regarding Sebald, I like him but I was not as taken by Vertigo or Austerlitz as I was by The rings of Saturn. Now, this really is a fantastic book, so much so that if I believed in perfection, I would call it almost perfect. It's constructions is particularly impressive and Sebald has a real talent to fascinate the reader with something that would initially appear meaningless.
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oneofmurphysbiscuits
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i'd further qualify that because in British left politics there at least always was a tradition of hard and serious thinking, even a fierce auto didactism going all the way back. This wasnt seen as culturally conservative and it's difficult to tie up with the left modernism that post war made for the national theatre, for instance One of the reasons i was always being bawled at when first on the net was owing to the fact that my disposition is left/modernist, but to the majority US academics i met, modernist = right wing, and my "literary politics were etc etc " this (to me) was an imported academic freight - whether Brits shipped this kind of thing to the Us only for the US to despatch it back again is a whole other thread, but -it certainly got in the way of thinking and said more about their lenses than it ever did me
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suzannahhh
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modernist is culturally conservative????

Joyce as conservative?

I dunno
it's a stretch for me
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oneofmurphysbiscuits
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no, to be clear, Suz, they read my literary politics as elitist because i knew Joyce, Beckett etc. That's how much of a mish mash things became - i could only prove my democratic credentials by not avowing this work as better than that. When to me they were the furthest thing from political in their behaviours anyway - they were dim, self absorbed and over entitled
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onefatman
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However, from what you're saying it would appear to me as being a cultural conservatism rather than a political one.



What did I say to imply this? No, I mean political conservativism.
and it's definitely political.
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Fausto
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onefatman
May 27 2008, 11:46 AM
What did I say to imply this? No, I mean political conservativism.
and it's definitely political.

I might have to put this down to gross misreading.

I think that even taking into account the differing political spectrum, it's hard to picture Magris as mildly fascist and definitely right-wing so I guess indeed it is down more to the speaker than to the writer.

Anyway, thanks for bringing this up, both your recommendation of the book's literary merits and its apparent politics made me eager to read him.
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onefatman
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Fausto
May 27 2008, 10:51 PM
onefatman
May 27 2008, 11:46 AM
What did I say to imply this? No, I mean political conservativism.
and it's definitely political.

I might have to put this down to gross misreading.

you may be right. :lol:
happens.

selective reading, more like.
not that I don't think I'm right.
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Fausto
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onefatman
May 27 2008, 03:58 PM

you may be right. :lol:
happens.

selective reading, more like.
not that I don't think I'm right.

Sorry, I just realised the double-meaning of what I wrote... What I meant is that my taking your point as being made about cultural conservatism can be considered as gross misunderstanding.

But indeed, it might also be right about you. Glad you're not taking it the wrong way though as it was not what I meant. :P
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