Caricatures as Pathosformeln

Last November 15 I participated in the postgraduate symposium of the Warburg Institute Mnemonic Waves, with a paper on caricatures and the post-Warburgian studies titled Caricatures as Pathosformeln. Gombrich, Warburg, and the Emotionsof which I publish here the text.

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Criticism of emotions

Next November 22 and 23 at the Department of Classical Philology and Italian Studies of the University of Bologna, it will be held what – to my knowledge – is the first Italian conference fully dedicated to the study of emotions from a literary perspective.

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Mnemonic Waves

I’m really excited to be one of the speakers of the forthcoming symposium Mnemonic Waves, to be held in London at the Warburg Institute next November 15.

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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: 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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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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