Caricature as emotional knowledge

I publish here the talk I’ve given at the Mis-Shapings conference last September 13 at Queen Mary University.

Do we believe in physiognomy? Do we believe, as the Italian anthropologist Cesare Lombroso did, that psychological, emotional, moral attitudes of the individuals can be divined by observing the shape and features of the face?

Types of criminals, from Cesare Lombroso, «Criminal Man», 1889.

No, of course we don’t. Physiognomy is pseudo-science, dismissed knowledge, superstition. We can’t make assumptions merely relying on appearances. Can we?

Actually, we do. We do it in our daily life, often unintentionally. But even when we look at artworks we allow us to believe in physiognomy. Continue reading

Mis-Shapings

On Thursday 13th September 2018 will take place at Queen Mary University of London (Mile End Campus, Arts One Building, Room 128) the international conference Mis-Shapings. The Art of Deformation and the History of Emotions. I’m organising the conference, as coordinator of the Marie Skłodowska-Curie research project Misshaping by Words, in association with the Queen Mary Centre for the History of Emotions.

Concept 
A well established and long-standing bond exists between the representation of the forms and postures of the human figure and the expression of emotions. But how does this change when the body represented is deformed or mis-shapen? This is a question that an interdisciplinary range of scholars, covering a wide chronological period that extends from the Renaissance to the 20th century, will explore in the one-day Mis-Shapings conference.

Niccolò Boldrini, Caricature of the Laocoon, after Titian, 1540

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Mis-Shapings: abstracts

Here are brief descriptions of the papers that will be presented next September 13th at the Mis-Shapings conference.

Honoré Daumier, Le ventre législatif, 1834

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Socialising anger. Fascism and emotions

Last June 22nd I participated in the Literature and Social Emotions Conference at the University of Bristol. I presented a paper titled Socialising Anger. Literary Representations of Emotional Communities under Fascism, which is a development of the research I first presented one year ago and will result in a broader scrutiny on the representation of emotions in fascism-related Italian literature. What follows is the text of the Bristol’s paper.  

1.
Italian fascism pursued strict management of public feelings. It aimed at a wide and deep control of human thoughts and experiences. That is to say, it built what William Reddy defines an ‘emotional regime’; it established a set of practices which inculcated normative emotions, like enthusiasm, exaggerated optimism, national pride. Nevertheless, the euphoric feelings displayed in public represent just one of the emotional layers of fascist Italy. Despite the appearance of unanimous acceptance, fascism largely derived consensus from violence and intimidation. As denounced by Carlo Emilio Gadda in the very first lines of his anti-fascist satire Eros e Priapo, written in 1944-1945.

Collective and individual consciousness, threatened by the knife, the truncheon, the torture; and silenced by prisons, extorsions, vetos against free expression; it was concealed in a hidden, invisible lagoon of history, beyond hate and dullness, and belonged to the refugees, the persecuted, the prisoners, the humiliated, children of deportees and executed to death.

Along with material and physical coercion, fascism caused the emotional suffering of part of the population. Gadda sketches the existence of what Reddy would call an ‘emotional refuge’, a cluster of social conditions and related practices diverging from the emotional regime.

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Life versus literature

Great news! It has just been released my new book, titled Vita contro letteratura. Cesare Garboli: un’idea della critica, and published by Mediaevo – luca sossella editore.

The book is the first comprehensive study dedicated to the Italian literary critic and essayist Cesare Garboli. It is also a reflection on the current state of literary criticism, and on the challenges literary and humanities studies are facing in the mutating semiotic and cognitive context of the present.  Continue reading

Out of the comfort zone

On April 7th I participated in the British Society for Literature and Science annual conference at Oxford Brookes University, with a paper entitled Out of the Comfort Zone. Dan Brown’s Origin as a standpoint on literature and science. What follows is the text of my talk.

In his last novel Origin, the bestselling author Dan Brown imagines that an acclaimed scientist and futurist, whose name is Edmond Kirsch, is about to announce a disrupting scientific discovery on the origin of life. Right before the spectacular presentation of his research, Kirsch tells his long-time friend and old-fashioned humanities scholar Robert Langdon, the main character of several Dan Brown’s novels, including the groundbreaking Da Vinci Code: «Tonight is all about pushing people outside their comfort zones».

Similarly, the novel itself can push literary criticism and the humanities outside the comfort zone of their acknowledged interpretative practices, usually at unease with the analysis of such cultural objects, socially meaningful but aesthetically controversial. For sure, it pushes me out of the comfort zone of my research on Italian Studies, unfamiliar with popular and science fiction. Still, I decided to take-up Dan Brown’s challenge and displaced myself to look at the relationships between literature and science from the standpoint of a popular bestseller novel. To learn from the bestseller, where outstanding scientific discoveries are both simplified and overstated to fit into an appealing narrative framework, how literature and the humanities could address the major challenges entailed in the current scientific debate.

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Windows of the soul: caricature and physiognomy

Wednesday 28 February I was at Warwick University as an invited speaker within the research seminar series of the School of Modern Languages and Cultures. I publish here an excerpt of my talk, summarising the main point I tried to make and discussing some example of literary caricatures. Here the uncut version. 

With this talk, I aim at clarifying the mutual enhancement of caricature and physiognomy. As Martin Porter puts it, physiognomy is a form of “natural magic”, a language in which all aspects of human appearance are natural “windows of the soul”. Physiognomy is assessed as “magic” and archaeological knowledge for the modern epistemology deprived it of recognised scientific reliability. Still, it has been a long-standing and pervading presence in Western Culture. Over time, it has registered the multiple and diverse attempts to connect what is visible of the human body to what is invisible and concerns the soul and the mind; to establish a relationship between the outside and the inside; to find homologies between superficial lines and deep forces, physical outlines and moral attitudes.

Lithographic drawings illustrative of the relation between the human physiognomy and that of the brute creation / From designs by Charles Le Brun. Wellcome Collection.

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Portraits and caricatures

It has been published the volume Il dialogo creativo. Studi per Lina Bolzoni, edited by Maria Pia Ellero, Matteo Residori, Massimiliano Rossi, and Andrea Torre (Lucca: maria pacifini fazzi editore, 2017).

The book is conceived as an homage offered to Lina Bolzoni in the occasion of her retirement. Lina Bolzoni is an outstanding scholar in Renaissance Studies and established original, unexplored paths of inquiry regarding several aspects of visual and literary culture in the Early Modern period. It was my privilege to be one of her students and to collaborate with her as a post-doc researcher within the ERC project Galassia Ariosto. Continue reading