What follows is the text of the paper I gave the 20 June 2017 at the International Conference «Fears and Angers. Historical and Contemporary Perspectives», Queen Mary University, 19-20 June 2017.
Probably Federico Fellini’s Oscar-winning movie, Amarcord, released in 1973, perfectly defines what was supposed to be the, as William Reddy would say, «emotional regime» of fascism. Enthusiasm, faith, happiness, and veneration for the Chief were the dominant public feelings endorsed by fascism. But, despite the public ceremonies being widely, and often sincerely, officiated by Italian people, fascism largely derived consensus from violence and intimidation.
Galassia Ariosto is more than a book: it is the tip of the iceberg of the five-years project Looking at Words through Images run at the CTL – Centre for Data Processing of Texts and Images in the Literary Tradition, Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa – and dedicated to the editorial galaxy grown during the Sixteenth century around the international success of Ludovico Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso. Particularly, the project addressed the spreading of illustrated books and the network of relations this editorial format established between texts and images.
The magazine Doppiozero published my review of the book Elogio della letteratura, a dialogue between the sociologists Riccardo Mazzeo and Zygmunt Bauman, recently released in Italy after its appearance in English as In Praise of Literature. In their attempt to use literature as a device capturing sociological symptoms, Mazzeo and Bauman build a map of the forces and tensions that cross the present, of its knots and cracks, of what humans are losing and what are (laboriously) gaining in this complex phase of history.
The essay analyses two novels by the Italian writer Massimo Bontempelli, La vita intensa (1920) and La vita operosa (1921). I look at how these literary texts represent the «intense life» of the post-WWI metropolis, in whose spaces an analogy is established between the violence of war and the violence of peacetime dominated by the semiotic aggressiveness of modernity. Particularly, the psychic pressure of war seems to be extended by the pressure of the media system, which in those years was sky-rocketing and becoming increasingly complex and widespread.
Bontempelli’s two experimental novels are first published serially in two different magazines: «Ardita», a graphically dynamic and modern magazine issued monthly with the newspaper «Il Popolo d’Italia», in the case of La vita intensa.
«Ardita»’s cover designed by the artist Lorenzo Viani
«Industrie Italiane Illustrate», a journal funded by industrial companies, in the case of La vita operosa, which interestingly is a novel that largely satirises the way capitalism affects the human existence at the point that even bodies and minds are shaped by its force.
I recently interviewed the historian Donald Sassoon on Brexit and the (poor) political situation in Europe. Our dialogue will introduce a book titled Brexit. Buona fortuna, Europa, published by Luca Sossella Editore within the new series Collassi, directed by Luca Massidda and Mario Pireddu and dedicated to the analysis of contemporary emergencies: disruptions of the past, crises of the present, and symptoms of the future.
With this talk, I hope I can suggest a standpoint on the literary work of the Italian contemporary writer Michele Mari by showing how his writing is consistently focused on the relation between memories and objects. In his last book, Leggenda privata, an autobiography disguised as a horror story (but also the other way round: a horror story disguised as an autobiography), published a few months ago, he writes: «All my books are about the soul entrusted to things».
Before going into Mari’s emotional fetishism, though, I want to introduce another outstanding fetishist, Marcel Proust.
I assume few people in the world, even among literary scholars, have read the thousands of pages of Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Pastentirely. But I’m pretty sure a fairly larger number of people know the most famous scene of the novel, whose main character is a traditional shell-shaped French cake, the madeleine.
Frans Pourbus the Younger, Portrait of Giovanni Battista Marino, 1619, Detroit Institute of Arts. Source: Wikimedia Commons, public domain.
In his sonnet Sul proprio ritratto (di mano di Bartolomeo Schidoni) – published in 1620 within LaGaleria, a collection of poems conceived as descriptions of, and dialogues with, figurative artworks – Giovan Battista Marino suggests that to depict his portrait a painter should employ the harshness of ice and fire, the terror of the shaded dark of night, the paleness of death, the imperfection of nature, and colours sharpened with whispers and tears. Continue reading →
In chapter XIII of Alessandro Manzoni’s I promessi sposi, Renzo, one of the two betrothed, is involved in a riot in Milan, where people, exasperated by food shortage, start assaulting the bakeries. To placate the rioters and rescue an official who risks being lynched by the crowd, the Chancellor Antonio Ferrer is forced to intervene. Manzoni represents in his portrait all the hypocrisy and duplicity of power embodied by Ferrer. While cutting through the raging crowd with his wagon, Ferrer shows a hyperbolically smiling face, «a countenance that was all humility, smiles, and affection». He also tries to enhance his intervention with gestures, «now putting his hands to his lips to kiss them, then splaying them out and distributing the kisses to right and left». Ferrer pronounces the empty keywords that are supposed to please the crowd: bread, plenty, justice. But at the end, overwhelmed by the pressure of voices, faces, and bodies surrounding his vehicle, he draws in, puffs out his cheeks, gives off a great sigh, and shows a completely different expression of intolerance and impatience. Continue reading →
In 1763 the Abbot Giuseppe Parini composes the poem Il Giorno, a satirical text addressing the inactive, lazy, superficial life of the aristocracy. Pretending to be an ode written in praise and for the education of a Young Gentleman, the poem harshly criticises the parasitic emptiness of noblemen and women. As a parody of a eulogy, Il Giorno deforms the classical poetic style, applying the language and rhetoric of epic and mythological tradition to the frivolous daily activities of the gentleman. The text provides a series of caricatures: first, the Young Lord is scared to death by the word “work”, and his hair stands on end (vv. 54-56):
Ma che? Tu inorridisci, e mostri in capo,
qual istrice pungente, irti i capegli
al suon di mie parole?
In 1540 Niccolò Boldrini engraved thissurprising caricature after a drawing by Titian. The deformation of a renowned and deeply respected image such as the Laocoon affirms caricature as a deviation from the idealization implied in the Renaissance revival of antiquity and ridicules the obsession with the imitation of classical models of beauty, perfection, and symmetry.
Niccolò Boldrini, Caricature of the Laocoon, after Titian, 1540, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., public domain.