The rediscovery of the Baroque at the turn of the twentieth century revolutionized Italian culture, and the Italian Novecento has been called a “new Baroque.” The present study, "The Fold & the Limit: Baroque Revival & Anti-Fascist Resistance in Modern Italian Literature," investigates how and why three major Italian writers—Giuseppe Ungaretti (1888-1970), Carlo Emilio Gadda (1893-1973), and Anna Maria Ortese (1914-1998)—reimagined the baroque aesthetic. Engaging with an array of early modern art and architecture, these key modernist writers, I argue, made recourse to a version of what Gilles Deleuze has identified as an essential trait of the Baroque: “the fold.” Building on the work of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Deleuze conceives of the baroque fold as linking together all of space and matter in difference; the baroque universe extends seamlessly and flexibly, bending and twisting into countless folds like a piece of cloth. As this “fabric” folds and unfolds, it continuously generates new figures and perspectives without ever fixing limits or borders, or tearing apart into fragments. Through their dialogue with the baroque visual field, and by deploying versions of the differential fold in their texts, the writers examined in my dissertation reinvent the baroque model specifically in opposition to the limits violently imposed by the fascist regime on sex gender, class, race, and even on urban space. More broadly, thanks to their folded visions of the real, which subvert all normative boundaries of perception and representation, these authors come to expose and resist the oppression and violence of the modern logic of the limit.
This dissertation is motivated by three main objectives. While there is much excellent work on the neo-Baroque in Italian literature, studies to date have largely treated the topic in terms of shared forms, themes, and tropes. My first objective, therefore, is to understand whether, beyond these concerns, there is a broadly shared approach to artistic and literary representation that prompted the authors studied herein to return to the Baroque. Through careful analysis of Gadda’s, Ungaretti’s, and Ortese’s writings on baroque artists and artworks, I show that they each came to conceive of the real and all it comprises as a fold that is essentially incommensurate with the finitude of representation. Second, I aim to understand how these authors—in various ways—revised and incorporated this fold into their practice of literary writing or in their articulations of their respective approaches to literature. Finally, with this study, I will probe why the visual art of the Baroque in particular appealed to the three modernists under examination. Against the prevailing stereotype of the Baroque as an aesthetic of power, these authors identified in barocchismo a kind of representational freedom and an aesthetic strategy for exposing and critiquing the purported “triumph” of a limiting, striating, and hierarchizing vision in modernity.