Lost in Astoria: History, Self, and Italian American Identity in Robert Viscusi's Astoria

Chiara Grilli


In his novel Astoria (1995), Robert Viscusi describes the tortuous path his alter-ego protagonist followed in his quest for the self during his permanence in Paris. While visiting Napoleon’s Tomb, the narrator falls into a state of sudden disorientation, which Viscusi links to the Stendhal Syndrome. By way of this shocking event, the common touristic experience deepens into a journey within the narrator’s self, a journey metaphorically defined as a “nerve-ending”.  An infinite network of interconnected images, memories, fears and feelings coming from his Italian American heritage radiates like nerves from the seemingly-shattered self of the author.

In this paper, I propose an analysis of the author/protagonist’s attempt to determine the origin of the blank space he had found in his own Italian American identity. In the novel the personal pronouns I and we, past and present, history and ahistory are relentlessly overlapping, developing the shattering struggle fought within the Italian American “I” of the author, the conflict between the mythical Astoria e the historical Storia.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.13136/2281-4582/2016.i7.633


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