James H. Johnson

in Venice Incognito

Published by University of California Press

Published in print February 2011 | ISBN: 9780520267718
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520948624 | DOI:

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Venice remains a city of masks. Masks greet visitors. They line the vendors’s racks. They are represented on tiny refrigerator magnets, on postcards, on paintings, and almost everything. Today’s Venetian masks live up to everything that is expected of them. Modern masks come with a script. They evoke a self loosely attached to its possessor. In ancient Rome, the mask was a personae, the outer shell actors wore to fix their characters. Today, personas and personalities are masks themselves. In the global imagination, Venice generates a particular kind of fantasy. Whatever other attachments the carnival suspends, it sanctions the urge to question one’s identity. Modern revelers attribute that urge to the mask, forgetting or unaware that the article long predated such impulses. Today, the Venice streets lead to carnival revelers on an inward journey. Its masks obscure former certainties in a widening circle of doubt, suspending civic and communalities, denying recognition to others, and blurring the border between the real and the unreal. Modern masks feed the belief that identity is a performance and the self can be refashioned by its possessor.

Keywords: Venice; city of masks; Venetian masks; personae; carnival revelers

Chapter.  2705 words. 

Subjects: Modern History (1700 to 1945)

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