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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 port 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. From 1994 to 1996 he was a member of the Senate in the XIIth legislature of the Republic of Italy. 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 master classes.

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. Magris's work have appeared in several European newspapers and magazines, including Corriere della Sera, Italy's leading national daily.

Magris's first novel was Inferences on a Sabre (1984), about 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.

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 awarded 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. Magris also holds doctorates honoris causa at several universities. In 1964, Magris married Marisa Madieri, a writer, too; she died in 1996.

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)

Selected works:

  • Il mito asburgico nella letteratura austriaca moderna, 1963
  • Wilhelm Heinse, 1968
  • Tre studi su Hoffmann, 1969
  • Lontano da dove, Joseph Roth e la tradizione ebraico-orientale, 1971
  • L'anarchico al bivio. Intellettuale e politica nel teatro di Dorst, 1974 (with Cesare Cases)
  • Dietro le parole, 1978
  • L'altra ragione. Tre saggi su Hoffmann, 1978
  • Itaca e oltre, 1982
  • Trieste. Un'identità di frontiera, 1982 (with Angelo Ara)
  • L'Anello di Clarisse, 1984
  • Illazioni su una sciabola, 1984
    - Inferences from a Sabre (translated by Mark Thompson, 1991)
  • Giuseppe Wulz, 1984 (with Italo Zannier)
  • Quale totalità, 1985
  • Danubio, 1986
    - Danube: A Sentimental Journey from the Source to the Black Sea (translated by Patrick Creagh, 1989)
    - Tonava (suom. Leena Taavitsainen-Petäjä, 2000)
  • Stadelmann, 1988
    - Stadelmann (translated by Paul Vangelisti, in Voices: Three Plays, 2007)
  • Un altro mare, 1991
    - A Different Sea (translated by M.S. Spurr, 1995)
  • Il Conde, 1993
  • Le voci, 1995
    - Voices (translated by Paul Vangelisti, in Voices: Three Plays, 2007)
  • Microcosmi, 1997
    - Microcosms (translated by Iain Halliday, 1999)
    - Mikrokosmoksia (suom. Hannimari Heino, 2002)
  • Utopia e disincanto. Saggi 1974-1998, 1999
  • La mostra, 2001
  • Essere già stati, 2001
    - To Have Been (translated by Paul Vangelisti, in Voices: Three Plays, 2007)
  • Alla cieca, 2005
    - Blindly (translated by Anne Milano Appel, 2010) 
  • Lei dunque capirà, 2006
    - Ymmärrättehän (suom. Hannimari Heino, 2007)
  • Voices: Three Plays, 2007 (translated by Paul Vangelisti)
  • Literature, Law, and Europe: The First Romano Guarnieri Lecture in Italian Studies and a Debate with Frans Timmermans, 2009 ( edited by Harald Hendrix)
  • Livelli di guardia: note civili (2006-2011), 2011
  • Teatro, 2012 (contains Le voci, Essere già stati, La mostra, Lei dunque capirà)

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