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Routes to Modernity: Orientalism and Mediterraneanism in Italian Culture, 1810-1910


This essay examines the way in which the cultural areas of “the Mediterranean” and “the Orient” interacted as geographical tropes in Italian discourses of modernity between romanticism and futurism. It argues that this relationship dates back to the emergence of a northern European romantic “Oriental Renaissance,” critical of the Italian Renaissance. The Oriental Renaissance proposed to move beyond the Mediterranean and towards the Orient and India in search of the roots of European civilization. This article explores the Italian response, which involved at first a revival of classicism within Italian academic orientalism and then a rehabilitation of the Mediterranean as the source of European civilization within anthropological mediterraneanism. It then goes on to explore how some of the anti-classicist and romantic tenets of the Oriental Renaissance were finally embraced by futurism through yet new orientalist and mediterraneanist narratives. The essay concludes that the discourses of orientalism and mediterraneanism in Italy created multiple notions of “the Mediterranean” and “the Orient” which interacted with classical antiquity and the Middle Ages, and that produced “routes” to an Italian modernity.

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