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Terroni Americana - Gramsci Test Case...M. Amari (Scholar, Revolutionary, Statesman) vs. A. Manzoni (novelist)

Terroni Americana - Gramsci Test Case...M. Amari (Scholar, Revolutionary, Statesman) vs. A. Manzoni (novelist)

Tom Verso (February 18, 2011)
Michele Amari: "I - a Sicilian..."

That only one of the internationally renowned books by and about Michele Amari have been translated into English (London, 1850), and no comprehensive biography in English of this mighty Sicilian – speaks volumes to the extent Italian American “intellectuals” have been co-opted by the Risorgimento’s Piedmontese “cultural hegemony”... Near 17 million Americans of southern-Italian descent (American Terroni) have no institutional-educational access to their history, culture and mother tongues ... Meanwhile, “prestigious” Italian American “intellectuals” translate and teach northern Italian language, history and culture (How many books, articles, lectures, etc. on Manzoni?) – thus, carrying the northern Italian “cultural hegemony” to the American diaspora. For sure...Gramsci was a “right-on dude.”




In the early part of the nineteenth century, there was a convergence of European aesthetic and historiogrpahic milieus.  In art and literature, ‘realism’ (i.e. the attempt to present subjects as they really are) prevailed. A species of this literary realism that came into being was the ‘historical novel’.  Similarly in historiography, historians aspired to the ideal of writing history, per Ranke’s famous adage, “wie es eigentlich gewesen” (how things actually were). 
Italy brought forth two of the greatest practitioners of these respective past-reality quests: the Sicilian historian/philologist Michele Amari and the Milanese historical novelist Allesandro Manzoni.  Both were quintessential paradigm practitioners of their respective crafts.
The juxtaposition of Italian American scholarship and teaching of these two great intellectuals provides a case-study test of the Gramsci-esque theory of  “cultural hegemony” imposed by the “prestige” of “intellectuals”. 
Specifically, Manzoni is prominently represented in Italian American “prestigious” “intellectual” “culture”, and Amari  non-existent.  This is an example of the “prestigious” “intellectuals” imposing the northern Italian post-Risorgimento “hegemonic culture” on the southern-Italian American dispora.
(Note: I say Gramsic-esque because his concepts and theories were developed based on socio-historic conditions in Italy during his time (e.g. proletarian-peasant divide). If his theories are going to be relevant to other times and places, those concepts and theories must be modified (without compromising their essences) to conform to the different empirical circumstance. There is no proletarian-peasant divide in America today.  Accordingly, I take his theories, as best I understand them, and fit Italian American data to them – ultimately theory must conform to the empirical data it purports to explain.)
Michele Amari (1806-1889)
Amari was a Sicilian revolutionary seeking the liberation of Sicily from Bourbon domination.  The Bourbons twice sent him into exile, only to have him return again to play a significant role in the 1848 revolution.  After the unification of Italy he represented Sicily as a Senator and held other government positions. 
However, this article will only consider his seminal work as an historian and philologist; scholarly work still considered definitive for the Arab, Angevine, Norman and Bourbon periods of Sicilian history. 
His books include:
-Storia dei musulmani di Sicilia;
-Biblioteca arabo-sicula;
-La Sicile et les Bourbons;
-Epigrafi Arabiche di Sicilia, tradotte e illustrate;
-La Guerra del Vespro Siciliano
            (Translated: History of the War of the Sicilan Vespers London, 1850)
The most comprehensive biography seems to be a 155-page essay in Hartwig Derenbourg’s Opuscules d'un Arabisant
Other relevant documents are found in:
-Carteggio di Michele Amaric di lui;
-Diari e appunti autobiografici inediti
-Centenario di Michele Amar
The brilliance of this son of Sicily can be measured by the proverbial ‘test of time’ his philological research and historical narratives have stood. They are still, over a century later, a standard of knowledge for various periods of Sicilian history with significant implications for European history as a whole.  Consider the following:
1. Denis Mack Smith in his 1968 book Modern Sicily after 1713 wrote the following bibliographic note:
“On the Arabs, the main source still remains the century-old M. Amari, Storia dei musulmani di Sicilia (but in the revised edition of 6 vols. by C.A. Nallino, Catanis 1933-9), together with Amari's Biblioteca arabo-sicula (2 vols., Turin 1880-1, which gives the Arabic texts in Italian). Also: Centenario di Michele Amari (2 vols., Palermo 1910)... (Smith: p. 547 emp.+)
2. David C. Douglas in his 1969 book The Norman Achievement lists Amari’s
-Bibliogtheca Arabo-Sciula
in “Original Authorities and Collections of Sources” bibliography
-Storia dei Musulmani di Siciliain 
in”Secondary Authorities and Works of Reference” bibliography.
3. John Julius Norwich in his 1970 book The Normans in Sicily lists Amari’s
- Bibliogtheca Arabo-Sciula in “Original Sources” bibliography
- Epigrafi Arabiche di Sicilia, tradotte e illustratein “Modern Works” bibliography
4. Barbara M. Kreutz in her 1991 book Before the Normans – Southern Italy   in the Ninth & Tenth Centuries lists Armari’s
-Biblioteca Arabo-Sicula in “Sources and Source Collections Cited” bibliography,
-Storia dei Musulmani di Sicilia in “Studies Cited” bibliography
5. G.A. Loud in his 2000 book The Age of Robert Guiscard – Southern Italy and the Norman Conquest cites Armari’s
-Storia de’ Musselmani in Sicilia, and
-Biblioteca Arabo-Siculain his footnotes.
6. Karla Mallette in her 2005 article, Orientalism and the Nineteenth-Century Nationalist: Michele Amari, Ernest Renan, and 1848 (The Romanic Review. Volume: 96. Issue: 2), extensively cites Amari’s factual and interpretative historical work as authoritative without qualifications.
Further, Prof. Mallette integrates his work, albeit tacitly, into the contemporary discussions about Italian Orientalism such as the provocative collection of essays Italy’s ‘Southern Question’ - Orientalism in One Country edited by Jane Schneider.
Amari and Italian American Intellectuals
Given this scholarly prowess; one wonders why only one of Michele Amari’s books has been translated into English (and that in 1850)?  Why is there no interest on the part of Italian American“intellectuals” to bring this brilliant Sicilian with his expert knowledge of Sicilian history to southern-Italian Americans generally and Sicilian Americans especially?
What John Julius Norwich wrote in the above noted The Normans in Sicily is especially noteworthy regarding the neglect of this great Sicilian scholar and historian. He wrote:
“During a 1961 holiday in Sicily I encountered Norman culture for the first time. I became very over-excited and longed to know more.  The holidays over, I took the only sensible course and made straight for the London Library.
I was in for a sad surprise.  A few works mostly in French or German, lurked on an upper shelf; but for the ordinary English reader, seeking merely a general account of Norman Sicily, there was practically nothing.
For a moment I almost wondered whether the most invaluable and trustworthy of all English institutions had let me down at last; at the same time, I knew perfectly well that it hadn’t. 
If the London Library did not possess the sort of book I wanted, it could only be because no such book was in existence.
And so it was that I first came face to face with a question which after five years, still has me baffled:
Why is it that one of the most extraordinary and fascinating epics of European history between the ages of Julisu Caesar and Napoleon should be so little known to the world at large? (p. xv emp.+)
In part, the answer to Norwich’s question is that one of the “most extraordinary” scholars of Norman Sicily, Michele Amari, is “so little know to the world at large”.
Manzoni (1783-1893) – what a difference a few hundred miles north of Messina makes!
In stark contrast to Amari’s prolific writings, Manzoni wrote only one novel – The Betrothed.  Yet, that one book of historical fiction has generated uncountable books, essays and most importantly school instruction. It would be impossible to tally the English language works on this one novel; indeed, by my count there have been five English translations alone. Most importantly, Monzoni is a major component of virtually all Italian Studies programs in the American university system.
Columbia, Fairfield, Miami Universities, like many others, boast faculty members with expertise in Manzoni studies. I judge that the course list of literally all Italian Studies programs in the U.S. incorporate Manzoni’s novel, and, of course, nothing about Amari.
Gramsci – Hegemonic Culture by Prestigious Intellectuals
For an empirically based explanation of the disparity between the treatments of Amari and Manzoni by Italian American scholars and teachers, Gramsci’s three concepts (“prestigious”, “intellectuals”, “cultural hegemony”) melded into a theory of the process of cultural hegemony is cogent.
We can See (empirically) in the American university system how the cultural hegemonic process works. The universities advertise the “prestigious” “intellectuals” on their staffs who are graduates of prestigious universities and published in prestigious publications. 
Prestige being understood as expertise in the dominate hegemonic cultural.  Students come to sit before the prestigious chairs of wisdom and absorb the dominate hegemonic cultural. They are presented with no other options.  Either they embrace the dominate hegemonic cultural or they have no reason to be in the program.
American Terroni students have no opportunity to study the history of their culture (their blood).  They are only offered the dominate hegemonic cultural of the post-Risorgimento northern Italians. There is no other option, as the test case below will conclusively demonstrate.
Case Study in American Terroni “Cultural Hegemony”
Located in New York City is one of Americans (the?) most “prestigious” PhD granting Italian Studies institutions – New York University. The basis of this “prestige” is, of course, the very “prestigious” faculty of “intellectuals” teaching at NYU. 
What exactly are these “prestigious” “ intellectuals” teaching at this “prestigious” university?
Look (empirical research) at the titles of the Italian Studies course offered in NYU’s Italian Studies program.
NYU lists 85 Italian studies courses (undergraduate, graduate and Tuscan language).  In that list of courses, the word “Sicily” appears in one course title (i.e. “The Sicilian Novel”) and the phrase “Italian South” appears in one course title (i.e. “The Italian South: Literature, Theatre, Cinema”).  Accordingly, 2% of the courses offered at this most prestigious university are dedicated to the study of the people south of Rome.
Of course, just because a course is ‘listed’ does not necessarily imply that it is ‘taught’.  Significantly, in the list of courses currently being taught in the NYU Italian Studies program neither of the two above mentioned “south of Rome” courses are offered. 
Also, there is an NYU center in Florence Italy (where Manzoni famously said he: “washed his language in the Arno”).Where else would a prestigious University, which teaches only northern Italian language, history and culture locate its Italian Studies Abroad Center?  And Florence, of course, is so not Naples or Palermo.
Further, (empirical research) the New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island Metro area is home to 2.8 million Americans of Italian descent (Census Dept. data). This is highest concentration of Italian Americans in the U.S., and the vast majority are of southern-Italian descent (inference from immigration statistics). 
In conclusion: Americas very (most?) “prestigious” Italian Studies program, located in the New York metro area with the highest concentration of Americans of southern-Italian descent in the U.S., offers virtually (literally?) no education relevant to the history and culture of southern-Italian Americans.  The only Italian education offered by NYU to 2.8 million Americans of southern-Italian descent in the New York area is northern Italian language, history and culture – that’s a fact.
This is a perfect empirical test of the Gramsci-esque theory of cultural hegemony and proof of “prestigious” “intellectual” northern Italian “cultural hegemonification” of American TERRONI!

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Thank you for sharing this important knowledge!

Thank you Mr. Verso, for posting this brilliant article. We must make the time to read, or at the very least, be educated about writers like Michele Amari.

It is sad and very frustrating that such universities that host Italian American studies programs continue to promote mainly a Northern Italian intellectual agenda, as you say. There is also a similar problem that young generations of Southerners and Sicilians are facing today in the Italian school system, as only Italian (not Sicilian) is taught, along with history classes that omit significant aspects of Sicily’s history, pre-unification era. This is all part of an ongoing agenda, I believe, to stomp out the language and heritage of the South, and replace it with the language, history and culture of the North. They are trying to exterminate us. They’ve been trying to do so for the past 150 + years.

Although, we terroni here in the States may not have the necessary resources from academic universities to support us, there are people and organizations who are trying, at the grassroots level, to educate Americans about the Southern Italian/Sicilian culture, and foster a sense of pride:

Domenic Giampino of Italian Charities of America Inc. in Flushing, Queens, NY has organized Sicilian language courses that are educating people about the language, culture and literature of Sicily. I took this class myself spring of 2010 and found it both very inspiring and informative, as my own family was not able to pass down the knowledge of our heritage. New York World published a great article about the great educational resource that Mr. Giampino has established:

John Napoli, editor of the Magna GRECE blog, publishes articles and interviews about Southern Italian and Sicilian writers, artists, culture, history and current events (based in NYC) that celebrate and promote our heritage. He always welcomes articles from readers to be included in this dialogue.

It goes without saying what the Calandra Institute has and continues to do for the Italian and Italian American community in NYC. I wish there was a Calandra Institute in every city in America.

There are other organizations out there like Arba Sicula, the Italian American Museum, the Dante Alighieri Society of Massachusetts, and others that I am presently unaware of, that are trying to promote Southern Italian culture, and do not explicitly rely on Hollywood to dictate what it means to be a Southern Italian/Sicilian. Not all of us have Mafia ties and a loving Nonna to make cannoli for us.

The problem is that the Italian American community is so fragmented that it is very difficult to foster a real, viable community that is strong enough to spread the word about cultural accomplishments that are being made now by our people, while engaging in events/books that engage with the traditions and folklore of our people. I don’t know when and how it became this way, but somewhere along the line, Southern Italian Americans distanced themselves in a very damaging way from the Southern Italian/Sicilian language and culture. Why did this happen? I think the nature of our immigration, the harshness of emerging from the working-class poor both in America and in Southern Italy/Sicily, and the ways in which Italian Americans were discriminated against upon first establishing themselves in the States has a great deal to do with this. Pietro di Donato’s classic novel, Christ in Concrete depicts this tenfold.

Helen Barolini said: “When you don’t read, you don’t write. When your frame of reference is a deep distrust of education because it is an attribute of the very classes who have exploited you and your kind for as long as memory carries them you do not encourage a reverence for books among your children. You teach them practical arts not the imaginative ones.”

All great cultures and people are built and sustained on an intellectual dialogue. Without reading and engaging with one another, we lose our connection to our history and our heritage.

There are so many other voices like Michele Amari’s that people need to know about--Lara Cardella, Maria Messina, Tina De Rosa, Luigi Capuana, Giovanni Vega, Virgilio Titone, Luigi Pirandello, Vitaliano Brancati, Giuseppe di Lampedusa, Camelo Ciccia, Gino Raya, Leonardo Sciascia, and Alessio di Giovanni to name a few.

In recent years, Sicilians and Southern Italians both here and in Italy are continuing to make important literary contributions too:

Salvatore Scibona, a Sicilian American writer, was recently (2008) nominated for the National Book Award for his novel, The End. Critics have compared him to Saul Bellow. This is a serious and very significant accomplishment! We should all be reading, championing and celebrating this wonderful young writer!

Anna Burgio, a Sicilian from Porto Empedocle recently (2007) published a beautiful and powerful novel called Serafina with the Italian press, Citta del Sole Edizioni ( This book is based on the brutal experiences of her family’s immigration to America.

Again, these are just a few writers who are making a significant contribution. We must take the time and willingness to engage with, support and debate one another on an intellectual level. There is no room for jealousy, pettiness or worse, indifference. We have too much at stake as a culture. Through educating and sharing our knowledge, traditions and passion with our Southern Italian brothers and sisters, we can help build a stronger, richer Italian American community. So that voices like Michele Amari’s do not become lost to this and the next generation.

All great cultures and people are built and sustained on an intellectual dialogue.

Education is Empowerment.

Mr. Tom Verso's article

Dear Mr. Verso,

I am at a loss for words to describe the emotional outrage I felt after reading your article re: Gramasci e Mazzoni e the utter indifference to the 'Mezzogiorno". My outrage is also fueled by my ignorance which is due to several factors one of which is lack of exposure and other being that many immigrants like my father, did not want to talk about what they had left, save for "La Famiglia" who stayed behind. Finally, or maybe not, being of middle age, I feel like there is so much to be done to correct the problem yet so little time. Thank you Mr. Verso more than you know

Tamburri's picture

What is missing...

Regardless of what your politico-geographical inclinations may be, Verso is on the right track in bringing forth these issues. The Calandra Institute brought you Pino Aprile, Tom Verso brings us Michele Amari. Bravo, Tom Verso!