Queer Utopia in Italy: Between Love and Exploitation from Oscar Wilde to the “White Lotus.”
Tue ,9.5.2023, 6:00pm, Volkskundemuseum Wien
A lecture in English by Kamil Karczewski
Italy has long held a unique place in queer history, as its picturesque landscapes and ancient ruins beckoned aﬀluent queer travelers in search of sexual freedom and an escape from legal persecution. Drawn to the sun-drenched south, they journeyed further and further, with some ﬁnding solace in Capri while others made their way to Sicily. In the Mezzogiorno—the term Italians use to describe the southern regions—same-sex love was not criminalized, and in some areas, relationships between adolescent boys were even tolerated, if not encouraged. Nineteenth-century queer men, traveling to southern Italy, often believed they had discovered vestiges of an ancient, homophile Grecian society.
Far from their chilly northern homelands, these travelers found both anonymity and liberty, constructing distinctive homoerotic utopias in Italy’s remote corners. However, there is another, darker side to this narrative. With their ﬁnancial clout, these men not only purchased sex and loyalty but also transformed entire towns, shaping them into new kinds of destinations. They cultivated dependency in local communities and laid the groundwork for the mass tourism we know today.
This complex history prompts several questions: Did the queer travelers develop southern Italy, or did they exploit it? Were they predators preying on local cultures, or did they genuinely appreciate the region’s beauty during a time when the Mezzogiorno was viewed as impoverished and regressive? Can we separate sex from money, and if not, how should we examine the long history of queer love for the Mediterranean?
Kamil Karczewski is a PhD candidate at the Department of History and Civilization at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy. He researches the queer history of interwar Poland in a transnational perspective. In his PhD dissertation “Queer Warsaw: Sex in the Time of Nationalism,” Karczewski focuses on the relations between nationalist ideology and
changing ideas about sexuality in interwar Poland.
Currently, he is also a research fellow at the Institute of European History in Mainz and the Herder Institute in Marburg; 2022–24 Postdoctoral Past & Present Fellow at the Institute of Historical Research (University of London).
Before the lecture, there will be a guided tour through the current exhibition of the Queer Museum Vienna in German
This lecture is supported by