Spiritual Journeys: Myth and Religion in Italian American Narratives of Return.
An inner conflict between two cultural backgrounds and an increased feeling of torn or of lost identity have prompted many Italian Americans to travel to Italy to discover their ancestral homeland and reconnect with their roots in the old country. While their Italian ancestors had left Italy because of poverty, lack of opportunities, or disappointment in the Italian nation-state, their Italian American descendants return to Italy to find a place that assuages their feeling of loss and holds out the promise of finding a “wholeness.” In my paper, I explore the topoi of myth and religion in Italian American women’s narratives of return. The journey to Italy entails a quest for a lost feeling of belonging that the Italian American traveler wants to retrieve. They struggle between rejection and acceptance, between being observers, and thus outsiders, and being insiders. Participating in old religious practices and rituals not only builds bridges to the Italian culture, but also induces the feeling of overcoming the initial inner conflict of ethnic identity and enables a kind of Italian rebirth. In my analysis of Susan Caperna Lloyd’s No Pictures in My Grave, Barbara Grizzuti Harrison’s Italian Days, Kym Ragusa’s The Skin Between Us and Lisa Ruffolo’s Signora di Lando’s Lives of the Saints, I interrogate how the experience of religious practices in Italy questions, transforms, or reinforces the traveler’s feeling of home, belonging, as well as national and cultural identity. I will show that old myths and religious practices are an integral part of forming a new and/or recovering an old identity.
Anne Sommer (née Lübbers) is a senior research fellow at the Heidelberg Center for American Studies at Heidelberg University, Germany. She earned her Ph.D. in Italian literature in 2013 and published her dissertation “Alfieri, Foscolo, and Manzoni as Readers of Machiavelli: The Importance of Literature for the Risorgimento” in 2015. Since 2009 she is the editor of the online journal “HeLix –Heidelberger Beiträge zur romanischen Literaturwissenschaft” and the book series “HeLix im Winter,” both published by Winter Verlag, Heidelberg. In her current research project she analyses Italian American and Italian German literature, focusing on narratives of return. The project originates from the first “Italian Diaspora Studies Summer School” organized by the University of Calabria and the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute / Queens College of The City University of New York in 2015. Since then Anne Sommer is part of the Italian Diaspora studies network and works closely with the University of Calabria and the Calandra Institute. Her main research interests lie in the literary representations of migration and traveling as well as in questions of identity and belonging.
List of most recent publications
Lübbers, A. 2015. Alfieri, Foscolo und Manzoni als Leser Machiavellis. Die Bedeutung der Literatur für das Risorgimento, Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann.
Sommer, A. 2017. “Machiavellis Discorsi. Wandel und Stabilität”, in Italienische Texte zur politischen Theorie, Cordula Reichart (ed.), Münchner Italienstudien, München, Utz, (forthcoming).
Sommer, A. 2017. “Foscolos Vom Ursprung und Auftrag der Literatur”, in Italienische Texte zur politischen Theorie, Cordula Reichart (ed.), Münchner Italienstudien, München, Utz, (forthcoming).
Sommer, A. 2017. “Manzonis März 1821. Freiheit, Einheit und Unabhängigkeit”, in Italienische Texte zur politischen Theorie, Cordula Reichart (ed.), Münchner Italienstudien, München, Utz, (forthcoming).
Sommer, A. 2015. “Mit der Feder zur Einheit. Vittorio Alfieris patriotische Machiavelli-Lesart”, in Der Machtstaat. Niccolò Machiavelli als Theoretiker der Macht im Spiegel der Zeit, Reinhardt, V., Saracino, S. & Voigt, R. (Hg.), Baden-Baden: Nomos, pp. 177-196.
Lübbers, A. 2015. “La virtù di uno spirito italiano. Machiavellis Aufruf zur Einigung Italiens und seine Rezeption im frühen Risorgimento”, in Una gente di lingua, di memorie e di cor. Italienische Literatur und schwierige nationale Einheit von Machiavelli bis Wu Ming, Föcking, M. & Schwarze, M. (ed.), Heidelberg, pp. 1-14.
Lübbers, A. 2009. “Das nicht-verstandene Ich. Eine kommunikationstheoretische Betrachtung von Italo Calvinos Gli amori difficili“, in HeLix 1, pp. 97-123. (www.helix.uni-hd.de)