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California Italian Studies

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Cover Caption:Adam Naming the Animals. Author unknown. Photo courtesy of The J. Paul Getty Museum.

Claudio Fogu, Editor

Deanna Shemek, Associate Editor

Leslie Elwell, Managing Editor

Vol.10: Open Theme

Bare Life: Space and the Maternal in Laura Pugno’s La ragazza selvaggia

This study examines Laura Pugno’s engagement with the notion of bare life through the questions of space, primal desire, and maternity in La ragazza selvaggia. Drawing on theories by Michel Foucault and Giorgio Agamben, the first section of the study investigates how the political acts upon and presides over the biological in the novel's spatial dimensions. This analysis extends to the realm of writing, which constitutes the territorio selvaggio [wild territory] of Pugno’s literary explorations. A Kristevan reading of Dasha and Nina's complicated relationship reveals the biopolitical tensions that underlie it. At the same time, an allegorical analysis of this dynamic considers them as incarnations of the semiotic and the symbolic, which are associated with zoē and bios, respectively. Turning its attention to the corporeal, the study ponders how the selvaggio is expressed through the body and simultaneously challenged by it. This analysis also uncovers the consequences of Agnese and Nina's unrealized reproductive and maternal identities through the Kristevan theory of abjection. Through this theoretical lens, the study demonstrates Pugno's problematization of the maternal and reproductive questions in the novel to argue that La ragazza selvaggia calls for new conceptions of zoē that transcend the patriarchal insistence on women's generative identity in society.

Mediterranean blues: archives, repertoires and the black holes of modernity

The Mediterranean is often evoked as the metaphor for the various faces of modernity: from its presumed roots in classical Greece to the intertwining of Africa, Asia and Europe in its waters, emerging and insisting in today’s immigration ‘crisis’. Attempting to take methodological certainties and the universalizing history of Western modernity ‘offshore’, we propose to confront the sea not only in terms of a barrier or a bridge, but also as an ontological challenge. Thinking with the Mediterranean allows us to trace a history that questions and interrupts the institutional organisation of events and knowledge. Other scales of interpretation bring into play the potential of dissonance and a reworking of the inherited world into unexpected interpretations. Here, repertoires more than archives emerge as sites of constant re-elaboration and re-assemblage. If the Mediterranean exposes us to a ‘crisis’ – migrant, environmental – then it is a crisis of modernity itself, of its narrative, and its seemingly firm terrestrial coordinates.

L’afrofuturismo tra Stati Uniti e Italia: dalla memoria storica ai viaggi intergalattici per re-immaginare futuri postumani

In this article the author explores the cultural movement called Afrofuturism, tracing its origins, features, simbology, and its historical and political meanings. Starting from the (supposed) discoursive gap between African and African American people on one side and technology and science fiction on the other, this paradigm addresses themes related to the intersection of African Diaspora and African cultures with technology and science fiction, with the aim to recover the history of slavery and racism through the projections into alternative space-time contexts. In particular, the author explores the feminist afrofuturism perspective in order to examine the specific oppression and cultural production of African and African American women. In doing so, the author analyzes the development of afrofuturism in Italy, focusing on the work of the singer and beatmaker Karima 2G.

The Barren Mediterranean: Rural Imaginary in Italian Colonial Libya

The article considers the development of Italy’s Mediterranean identity from the country’s Unification to the Turco-Italian War (1911-1912). I show how Italy’s political ambition to restore Roman control over the Mediterranean Sea (Mare Nostrum) generated two alternative representations of the Roman myth: a sea-based and a land-based one. After the initial success of the maritime version of this myth, I argue that the years leading up to the war in Libya represented a shifting moment toward a reconsideration of the Romans’ agrarian legacy. Therefore, I maintain that an analysis of the Italian aesthetic of “Mediterraneism” should include representations of the natural environment. I show how Italians considered the idea of a uniform Mediterranean landscape as a natural historical landmark to testify the historical presence of the ancient Romans in North Africa and to legitimize the link between the Italian colonies and their supposedly glorious ancestors. Ultimately, by insisting on the botanical similarities between Italy and the North African shore, I demonstrate how the Libyan territory came to be represented as a landscape of the ‘self,’ while manifesting the presence of the Muslim’ other’ in the form of its most arid regions.


Women Crossing Borders. Elena Ferrante’s Smarginature Across Media

The aim of this essay is to offer new insights into Elena Ferrante’s poetics and aesthetic re-appropriations. Specifically, it focuses on the topic of “women who cross borders.” Women trespass boundaries on multiple levels: on an extra-textual level, the writer herself transgresses thresholds of national belonging between her alleged hometown of Naples – a powerful symbolic locus/location that comes to signify a sort of Mediterranean matrix – and the English-speaking world where her work has been highly praised. In visual media, her characters have crossed from the confines of the page to the frame of the transnational television screen in the Rai/HBO series adaptation of My Brilliant Friend (2018, 2020). Ferrante’s fictional women are also translated in the photography of American artist Francesca Woodman, which  powerfully (if unwittingly) foreshadows her poetics of frantumaglia and smarginatura. In this essay, I examine the ways in which Ferrante’s work and its transmedia translations interrogate the margin and its ambivalence in order to renegotiate complex and painful constructions of specifically feminine identities. In the process, I propose a new conceptualization of smarginatura. Rather than a dissolution or disappearance  of margins, I argue that smarginatura proves to be a crossing of borders towards different forms of belonging at multiple intersections of gender, class, culture, origins and place.


Lila Unbound: Critical Negativity and Entropy in Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels

This article sets out to examine the epilogue of L’amica geniale as the site in the novels where Lila can be said to claim true authorship outside the bounds of Elena’s text. It contends that the mysterious return of the lost dolls at the end of the novel should be interpreted as a triumph on Lila’s part, offering warrant for that contention not by claiming that Lila herself orchestrated the return, but rather by positing that, in the novel’s treatment of the life-plot tension, Lila tends to be representative of the former and Elena of the latter. Thus, in marking the closing of the plot, the dolls index a return to “life,” and thus a recalibration of the text’s energies in favor of Lila. The article then employs Peter Brooks’s narrative theory to understand the thermodynamic effects that the return has on the text, proceeding to apply Teresa de Lauretis’s concept of the “space off” to argue that Lila’s victory extends beyond the simple competitiveness that governs her relationship with Elena and into the institution of an entropic, liberatory desire.