“Back to the Future”: the 1950s in Italian Historical Novels

The Long 1950s series gets to the chapter dedicated to literature and, more specifically, Asce di guerra (2000) and 54 (2002), two historical novels written by the collective of writers Wu Ming. You may wonder why, in a series about 1950s popular culture, we have decided to talk about Wu Ming and their two contemporary novels. One of the answers that professor Maurizio Vito, our guest speaker, gave us is that these two novels talk about the 1950s in innovative ways, trying to tell an alternative story to the one that we usually read. They deal with the postwar period showing its contradictions related to its fascist past, the apparently peaceful contingency promoted by the Christian Democracy and also the future of the country. These works reveal that, although it was represented as peaceful or at least split into two political sides firmly controlled by the respective parties (PCI and DC) – the famous “Peppone and Don Camillo style” opposition, Italian society was still the set for social and political fights that contemporary mainstream accounts disregard purposely. In these fights forces were active which we risk to lose or misinterpret in the shadows of deformed memories.

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Furthermore, even more interesting than what Wu Ming say, it is how they say it. Wu Ming tell their stories from marginal points of view, those perspectives that official portrayal of the past forget and leave aside. In the past of our country, there are voices that we need to hear to understand more clearly what forces moved Italian society at that time. Moreover, these narratives are also told from unexpected perspectives, like those belonging to non-human agents. In 54, for example, one of these points of view is assigned to a Tv set that “watch” what happens before its screen, revealing a country made of people who disgust it.

Nowadays, one may read many stories about the past. Power relations, embodied by the institutions that promote some of these stories, can influence what a people (if not a nation) remember of what it was. This is why it is so important to recover different stories that show that history took also other directions. Imagining different outcomes, think about what was plausible, be it true or not, is the first step to keep searching, verify the historical statements that we read today and fight against the poisonous ones.

Listen to professor Maurizio Vito’s talks on our podcast  page.

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