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Writing the Local in Times of Globalisation: Pierre Bergounioux and Claudio Magris Liesbeth Korthals Altes THIS ESSAY WILL FOCUS on two instances of (semi-)fiction which foreground a natural and rural setting: Miette (1995) by Pierre Bergounioux and Microcosmi (1997) by Claudio Magris.1 Bergounioux published over 20 "novels" and essays, well received by literary critics in France but read by a limited audience. In Miette he documents the silent revolution which has destroyed in Europe an age-old rural way of life.2 This "novel" bears witness to the struggle for survival of one family of peasants in the isolated Limousin mountains in central France, grouped around the archetypal figure of the mother, Miette. Magris, author of various fictional and essayistic works, became widely famous witii his fresco in Danubio of die cultures of Mittel-Europa concentrated around me Danube.3 Microcosmi appears as die small-scale complement to mat macroscopic work, as it depicts people, life and nature in die provincial town of Trieste (Northern Italy) and its region, from the lagoon to the woods of me mount Nevoso. This is a typical border region, which swapped owners many times, belonging in turn to the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, the Italians, me Yugoslavs, men the Italians again, in die last 200 years only. What values can be read into diese works: are they an apology of die local versus me global, expressing a nostalgic appetite for images of die past? Or do tiiey, more critically, interrogate die position of die modern intellectual as someone speaking from a specific place?4 Throughout the centuries the opposition between town and countryside has been beset with ideological meaning.5 The city is usually associated wim change, modernity, cosmopolitanism, and Gesellschaft, whereas die country is linked to tradition, ethnic homogeneity, closedness, and the organic Gemeinschaft. Appreciations may switch: me country can be valued because of a presumed continuity, authenticity and harmony between man and nature, as opposed to die city, linked to existential and cultural alienation6; or the country may appear as backward, limited and stifling, the city being die place of development, individual liberation and growdi. In any case, die representation of me country or me province, projected as die Otiier of a dominating metropolitan culture, tends to imply a critical reflection on culture and society and to suggest a counter-culture (the distinctions between "rural," 34 Summer 2002 Altes "provincial" and "regional" should not be blurred, but in our perspective die features they share are more important man what separates diem: all diree categories in literary representation are used to define a space set off as "peripheral " against an urban/metropolitan centre). The value of universality is usually claimed by both parties: die urban literary scene considered itself solely entitled to it, die rural perspective being "by definition" limited; rural or regional writers, on die contrary, saw die macrocosm in die microcosm, universal human experience mirrored in die lives and struggles of tiieir rustic heroes. Such claims from the province were often met witii devastating contempt by established (urban) critics, whose defensiveness clearly shows mat indeed cultural recognition, and respectively dominance, were at stake. Margins and centre each had to keep their place, as Thiesse shows in her convincing Bourdieu-inspired analysis.7 After me Second World War, die abuse of die Blut und Boden même by right-wing and fascist regimes left die Heimatroman or roman du terroir ideologically contaminated in several European countries: Germany, Austria, but also Flanders, France, and Portugal. It is not surprising mat precisely this genre, parodically subverted as Anti-Heimatroman, became die preferential vehicle for cultural and political critique.8 But aesthetic suspicion was just as strong: since die sixties die value attached to experimentation with literary form entailed a rejection of straightforward realism, and die patient evocation of country-life in full realistic detail expected of diese "conservative" subgenres could hardly count as aestiietically exciting. These aesthetic and ideological flaws did not prevent die more popular public from happily consuming rural and regional fiction. Since dien, important changes have occurred in die perception of culture. Against me ongoing economic and cultural globalizing, die claim for difference is widely heard: minority-cultures, local difference...


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