Lands i came to sing: Negotiating identities and places in the Tuscan “Contrasto”

Valentina Pagliai

Abstract

This article on a genre of Tuscan Italian verbal art, the Contrasta, uses performance as a key to look at the connections between ethnic identity and place. The Contrasta takes its name, “contrast”, from its humorous representation of a verbal duel among entities, people or ideas. Structurally, it is formed by a series of chained Octets, in hendecasyllables. After an initial discussion of the current definitions of ethnic identity, the article is articulated in two parts. First, through the analysis of the “openings” of several Contrasti, 1 will show how a “repertoire” of ethnic identities becomes evident in the way the artists choose to represent themselves across contexts. These identities are connected to place. They are instead connected to towns, villages, valleys and mountains, monuments and historical events and legends. Tuscan ethnic identities emerge in the dialogue between the poets and their public. In the second part of the article, the in depth analysis of a Contrasta furnishes a key to understand how performance names and defines, but also contests, definitions of places and the associated identities. Performance brings to view the layers of complexity of ethnic identity, warning us against fixing and simplifying descriptions of it.

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