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||Claudio Magris (1939-)|
Italian novelist, essayist, and cultural philosopher, professor of German literature, whose internationally acclaimed works include Danube (1986) and Microcosms (1997), both freely through time and space flowing cultural travelogues, or journeys of the imagination. Magris has been mentioned as a contender for the Nobel Prize in Literature.
"Tolerance is a particularly important and difficult value for those who, like me, were born and grew up in a borderland such as Trieste is, at the crossroads between the Italian, Slav and German worlds. The border can be a stimulant or an obsession, an opportunity or a curse, a place where it is easier to know and love the other or easier to hate and reject him; a place to make contact or to exercise intolerance." (from 'The Fair of Tolerance', 2001)
Claudio Magris was born in 1939 in Trieste, a cosmopolitan
city, ruled by the Habsburgs for centuries until it was ceded to Italy.
His mother, who came from Dalmatia, was of Greek-Venetian heritage.
Magris's paternal grandfather moved to Trieste from the historical
region of Friuli. Magris was educated at the Universita degli Studi di
Torino, in Turin, receiving his degree in 1962. After studies in German
universities, he taught at the University of Trieste and at the
University of Turin. His dissertation, Il mito asburgico nella
letteratura austriaca moderna (1963),
about the Habsburg myth in modern Austrian literature, Magris finished
at the age of 24. From 1978 Magris worked as Professor of German
Literature at the University of Trieste. In 2001 he was appointed to a
Chair at the Collège de France. In 2009 Magris became
Writer-in-Residence at Utrecht University and taught there a series of
From 1994 to 1996 Magris was a member of the Senate in
XIIth legislature of the Republic of Italy, representing his native
Trieste as an independent member of a leftist coalition. Together with
Umberto Eco and other Italian intellectuals opposed to Prime Minister
Berlusconi, he co-founded in 2002 the 'Libertà e Giustizia' (Liberty
and Justice) association. It collected 80.000 signatures in 2011 for a
petition for the resignation of Berlusconi.
Magris has also translated into Italy works by Ibsen, Kleist, Schnitzler, Büchner and Grillparzer, and written essays and critical studies on such writers as Borges, Wilhelm Heinse, E.T.A. Hoffmann, Ibsen, Kafka, Musil, Rilke, and Joseph Roth. Much of his historicophilosophical vision is derived from German influences. Magris's work have appeared in several European newspapers and magazines, including Corriere della Sera, Italy's leading national daily.
Inferences on a Sabre (1984), Magris's first novel, was
a battalion of Cossac fighters, who collaborated with the Nazis in
northeastern Italy during World War II. His other prose works and works
for the theatre include the novels Un altro mare (1991) and Alla
cieca (2005), and the plays Stadelmann (1988), Le Voci
(1999), and La mostra (2001). Lei dunque capirà
(2006) was a story about modern day Orpheus and Eurydice, progressesing
with the logic of dreams and myths. Magris's essays from 1974 to 1998,
dealing mostly central and eastern European themes, were published in Utopia
e disincanto. His writings on modern Jewish literature
brought him into contact with Elias Canetti
and Isaac Bashevis Singer, both Nobel laureates.
In Danube Magris
his visit in Canetti's native Ruse and his childhood home. He argues
that there are two Canettis: one who wrote the radical, uncompromising
early book, Die Blendung,
and one who wrote the later best-selling autobiography, "which
deceptively appears to tell all". This preference put an end to
friendship with Magris.
Magris's enormously erudite writings, insightful and full of details, continues the tradition of the Italian philosopher of spirit, Benedetto Croce (1866-1952); his style, lively, self-indulgent, and occasionally ironic, links him to such cultural historians of the 19th and 20th centuries as Jacob Burckhardt and Egon Friedell. "Writing is transcribing," Magris has once said. "Even when an author invents, he transcribes stories and events that life has made him a participant in: without certain faces, certain major and minor events, certain important people, certain bright moments, certain periods of gloom, certain landscapes, certain moments of happiness and despair, many pages would not have been created."
In Danube, in which the river is the guide to the geography, history and culture of Europe from the eastern slopes of the Black Forest to the Black Sea, Magris renews the traditional travelogue, and transforms it into an intellectual treasure-trove filled with fables, literary anecdotes, fantasy, intriguing and eccentric characters and whimsical observations. "Mr. Magris's Danube carries few embarkations, least of all the author's," said Eugen Weber in The New York Times (October 1, 1989). "It beckons him instead from place to place, the means of transport being left in doubt – perhaps a flight of fancy." Magris's image of Europe is basically borderless; its cultures are in a constant dialogue with the past and present. The book won the Chianti Rufino-Antico Fattore International Award and has been translated into some 30 languages.
In the center of the Microcosms is the Cafe San Marco, where Magris himself has done much of his writing. His own portrait is also on one of the café's walls. Magris describes the cafe as "Noah's Arch" and a "suburb of history". The impressionistic journey into landscapes, culture, and people of northern Italy received the prestigious Strega Prize in 1997.
Magris has been honored with many awards. In 2001 Magris was
the Erasmus Prize and the Leipzig Book Award. He received the gold
medal from Madrid's Círculo de Bellas Artes in 2003 and the 2004 Prince
of Asturias Prize for his contribution to Literature. In 2005 he was
received the Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa Literary Prize and in 2009 he
was awarded the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade. His recent awards
include the 2012 Budapest Prize, the 2009 and 2014 Campiello Prize, and
the 2014 Prize in Romance Languages by the Guadalajara International
Book Fair. Magris also holds
doctorates honoris causa at several universities. In 1964, Magris
married Marisa Madieri, a writer, too; she died in 1996. Marisa Madieri
was the first reader and editor of his work.
Certain themes – frontier, migration, and exile – come up
repeatedly in Magris's work.
The border can serve either as a bridge or as a barrrier.
Commenting on the migrant deaths in the Mediterranean, Magris called in
Corriere della Sera
in 2015 European Union's actions "obscenely" indifferent. "It's as
if the Italian government were to offload the problem by saying that
it's Sicily's business, given that the survivors, dead or alive, don't
get to Rome or Turin."
For further reading: Epica sull'acqua: L'opera letteraria di Claudio Magris by Ernestina Pellegrini (1997); Claudio Magris: l'opera saggistica e narrativa by Licia Governatori (1999); World Authors 2000-2005, ed. by Jennifer Curry, et al. (2007); 'Claudio Magris', in World Literature Today, Vol. 81, Number 4 (2007); The Works of Claudio Magris: Temporary Homes, Mobile Identities, European Borders by Nicoletta Pireddu (2015)