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Italian Futures

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Cover Caption: Marren Bağels (Maria and Ornella De Barba), Gli infiniti ritorni (Urania 272), cover by Karel Thole (Milan: Mondadori, 1961). Reproduced with permission from the Catalogo Vegetti della letteratura fantastica.

I. Introduction to Volume 2, Issue 1

Italian Futures: Introduction to Volume 2, Issue 1

An introduction to and summary of the contents of Volume 2, issue 1 of California Italian Studies, "Italian Futures."

II. Risorgimento, Then and Now

A User's Manual

A guide to the texts and video files that follow.

"Prologue" to Salviamo l'Italia (Einaudi, 2010)

The Prologue to Salviamo l’Italia reflects on the problems of contemporary Italy through the eyes of the Risorgimento generations to suggest striking similarities and to highlight differences in realities,  perceptions, and attitudes.  Canova’s sculpture of Italia weeping at the tomb of Alfieri is an icon of the prevailing sense, then and now, of cultural, social, political, and, at bottom, moral decadence and decline.  The chief differences lie in today’s resignation about political corruption, the precipitous collapse public morals, and the fixation on the economics of consumption at the expense of shared civic interests and values.  Over and against a culture of passivity or complicity, there are neglected or forgotten democratic values in the Risorgimento that may offer a usable past for a progressive future.

"Salviamo l’Italia?" An International Video Roundtable. Summary and Links


Randolph Starn

Lucy Riall



Paul Ginsborg

John Agnew

Alberto Maria Banti

Silvana Patriarca

Lucy Riall


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Comment: “What is Alive and What is Dead in the Risorgimento?”

An invited response to the Round-table discussion, "Salviamo l'Italia."

III. A. Futures Present 1: A State of Emergencies

No Future For You: Italy Between Fictional Past And Postnational Future

The crisis of the nation state has become common sense in Italy. The inability of the Italian State to solve its historical problems, e.g. the Southern Question, has undermined the ideological basis for the Italian national project. The withering of national Italy is represented in fields as different as Sociology, Literature and Philosophy. The future of Italy is already postnational.

Italian Normative Pluralism: What is Unique about the Future of Italy

The notion of normative pluralism, whose roots can be tracked all the way back to Santi Romano’s masterpiece (L’ordinamento giuridico, 1918), is identified as one of the possible avenues to tackle the issue of Italian futures – trying to focus on what can be specifically Italian rather than on features that are necessarily shared by other (European) countries. Among the identified possible trends there are an increasingly difficult political decision-making process, and a decline of the institutional aristocracies – issues that can still be phrased using the words of an Italian professional scholar of possible futures, Giambattista Vico.

We the Citizens, English translation of chapter 7 of Paesaggio, Costituzione, cemento: la battaglia per l'ambiente contro il degrado civile (Einaudi, 2010)

Over the past twenty years an intense discussion has unfolded in Italy concerning the protection of the nation’s cultural heritage, its public property, and the lived environment. The Italian system of heritage protection is the oldest and (on paper at least) the most robust in the world: it begins long before the unification of the country and culminates in the Constitution of the Republic (1948), where for the first time “the tutelary guardianship of the landscape and the historic and artistic patrimony of the Nation” was inscribed among the fundamental principles of any modern state. To this long-standing tradition and the unique constitutional provision, may be added the recent establishment and revision of an extensive system of national norms by governments on the right and left alike. Nonetheless, at the very same time that the rhetoric of conservation has been most forceful, the Berlusconi government has, in practice, consistently undermined tradition, constitution, and law, so that the last two decades have witnessed the rapidly progressing deterioration of the resources, institutions, and values committed to the tutelage of the nation’s cultural heritage.

The Big Seducer: Berlusconi's Image at Home and Abroad and the Future of Italian Politics

Since the collapse of the postwar Italian party system in 1992-3, Italian politics has been dominated by the figure of Silvio Berlusconi, undoubtedly the major politician on the political center-right and elected as prime minister successively in 1994, 2001, and 2008. The image of Berlusconi as Italy’s political leader is often seen by commentators as much more positive at home than it has been abroad. Some well known foreign media, for example, have been much more consistently negative about Berlusconi’s dual role as media baron and political leader than have domestic media (and considerable public opinion) in Italy. If so, then Berlusconi’s exit from a central position in Italian politics may create external relief that he is gone and improved regard for Italy as a whole but at the expense of a huge “hole” that his absence may create domestically. On close analysis, however, The presumed gap between views of Berlusconi at “home” and “abroad” looks smaller, however, than conventional wisdom would suggest. At least over the recent course of his political career, he has stimulated a similar range of increasingly attitudinal negative responses both in Italy and elsewhere, although with variations over time everywhere and from place to place outside of Italy. These responses are increasingly negative, both at home and abroad. Berlusconi’s reputation is very much related to popular perceptions of his practical successes and failures as a leader and to what sort of leader he has actually been. It is not simply the result of a “battle” of media images without substantive content. This is encouraging news for those looking towards a future in which Italian politics will be less dominated by popular media such as television and its presumed manipulation of a totally pliant electorate. The exit of the “big seducer” will leave a troubling legacy of unresolved problems while also creating openings for a political future in which Italians may be more collectively invested.

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III. B. Futures Present 2: Utopias, Dystopias, Heterotopias

Sirens without Us: The Future after Humanity

This article discusses several contemporary ways of thinking about the future after humanity has disappeared, from Lee Edelman’s No Future to Wu Ming’s discussion of how apocalyptic visions of the end of humanity can foster eco-critical thinking. Such visions, however, typically rely on De Man’s trope of prosopopeia, or personification, in order to project a human vision (generally, the author’s) into a future “without us,” as the title of Weisman’s apocalyptic book has it. This article analyzes Laura Pugno’s novel Sirene (2007), as a way of seeing not only how visions of the end of history are gendered, but also what happens to the future when the author turns to objectification rather than personification. Pugno cannot escape De Man’s “linguistic predicament” (there is no way to write “after death” without projecting a human voice into its inhuman and voiceless space), but comes perhaps as close as possible to imagining a world without Italy, without humanity, without consciousness, without language.

Italy: A Post-Biopolitical Laboratory. From Pasolini’s "Il romanzo delle stragi” to De Cataldo’s Romanzo criminale

On March 29, 1969, from the pages of Tempo, Pier Paolo Pasolini asks: “Do Novelistic Lives Still Exist?”. In this article, Pasolini wonders whether the novel is still a contemporary literary form or if it is rather something which belongs to the past. He concludes that, as long as the real retains its novelistic structure, the novel will not become outdated.

But why did Pasolini pose the question of the novelistic in such a time in Italian history? Pasolini was compelled by the understanding that the bourgeois consumerism dominating Italy in the 1960s tended to eliminate the novelistic from reality, forcing pre-molded destinies upon the lives of the people. It is this very homologation that puts the novel at risk: If lives are no longer novelistic, then the novel cannot be the literary device which can best tell their stories.

Yet, can those who write years after “Piazza Fontana” still agree with Pasolini’s historical-narratological thesis regarding the obsoleteness of the novel? After the discovery of State terrorism, can we still believe that the bourgeois State enforces its dominion over the present by inducing an ordered standardization and repressing the novelistic structure of the real?

The spectacular series of detonations which bloodied a winter market day forces us to admit that the “Italian boom” ultimately led not to the triumph of order, but to a chaos that was all too novelistic. The Italy born out of Christmas ’69, the Italy of the 1970s, must then be understood as a noir, viscous as oil and populated by a multitude of characters worthy of the best crime novels.

But if Italy truly is all of this, it would be a matter of denouncing the epos of a new governmental monster: a monster whose threat lies not in repressing the novelistic and producing disciplined uniformity, but in using lives and events that are strategically novelized to annihilate any possibility of resistance. A monster, therefore, with a “literary côté.”

In this article, I argue that Giancarlo De Cataldo’s Romanzo criminale is one of the most ambitious attempts to denounce exactly such a new governmental literary monster. Novelizing the deeds of the Magliana Gang – from its seizing power in the 1970s to its withering in the 1980s – is, for De Cataldo, an opportunity to chart the State’s strategies to ward off any radical change and keep Italy stuck at the gates of history.

Pasolini for the Future

Pasolini for the Future responds to a recent book by the French art critic Georges Didi-Huberman entitled Survival of the Fireflies [La survivance des lucioles] (2009) in which the critic, albeit with some measure of sympathy, accuses Pier Paolo Pasolini and, to a lesser extent, Giorgio Agamben of being too attached to the past and too apocalyptic with regard to the future. Disputing the soundness of Didi-Huberman's criticism, this essay discusses Pasolini's belief in change and transformation through a close reading of his late critical essays collected in the volumes Lutheran Letters [Lettere luterane] and Corsair Writings [Scritti corsari]. In these writings, the idea of the future as a radically different prospect from the present looms large. To understand this view of the future requires revisiting the issue of Pasolini's insistence on a cultural apocalypse. Through a reading of the scenario for Pasolini’s unproduced film project "Porno-Teo-Kolossal" and of his responses to the influential work of the anthropologist Ernesto De Martino, it becomes possible to reframe this issue in order to question the ethical and political presuppositions behind the general tendency of commentators to assail Pasolini's supposedly apocalyptic tone of thought.

New Italian Epic: un’ipotesi di critica letteraria, e d’altro

In March 2008 Wu Ming 1 (nom de plume of Roberto Bui) had singled out a large number of works published between 1993-2008. He suggested that they constituted a New Italian Epic. The memorandum first appeared on the web and it immediately stirred a lively debate. The print edition (Einaudi, 2009) has brought further attention and criticism to this work. Our article deals with both the controversy surrounding this text and the overarching theory put forth in Wu Ming 1's essay. We offer a theoretical approach that readers might find helpful if they are attempting to understand current trends in Italian literature. In particular, we tackle the question of "realism," and the neo-epic contours of Italia De Profundis (by Giuseppe Genna) and Gomorra (by Roberto Saviano).

Conversazione con Wu Ming 1 sul New Italian Epic e la critica letteraria italiana

In this conversation, Wu Ming 1 of the collective author Wu Ming, offers a detailed explanation of its aesthetics and literary philosophy. While the starting point is the recent publication of the memorandum about "The New Italian Epic," Wu Ming 1 takes advantage of the questions to survey their ethical stance as intellectuals very much involved in the public sphere.

Waste Management: Garbage Displacement and the Ethics of Mafia Representation in Matteo Garrone’s Gomorra

The article explores the representation of contemporary organized crime through waste management in Matteo Garrone’s film Gomorra. While the reduction of human life to waste is indisputable and receives visual confirmation in the film finale, the value of refuse for camorra is rendered more subtly through narrative and stylistic choices that effectively remove waste from the screen. Dematerialized and displaced, garbage becomes a powerful metaphor for the invisible ties connecting the mafia to regular business. Rather than insisting on the irreducibility of waste as a visible sign of the persistently violent presence of camorra in southern Italy, Garrone’s film highlights its commoditization and trains the viewer to look at waste through contemporary camorra’s eyes. In this perspective, mafia ceases to be the irreducible other, a localized phenomenon residing at the margins of “law abiding” Italy, and is presented as an intrinsic constituent of global capitalism. In addition to demonstrating the displacement of refuse from the screen and the blurring of distinctions between legal and illegal business transactions, the article suggests that Garrone’s specific representation of waste management also offers a space of resistance in a film that implicates spectators in contemporary organized crime. By applying the relational notion of waste introduced by Guy Hawkins in The Ethics of Waste to an analysis of the garbage “stakeholders” in Gomorra, the author demonstrates how the unethical behavior of the protagonist is an example of the self-determination typical of late modernity, further exemplified in the film by the boys who model their actions after Scarface. The analysis also shows how an ethical choice is presented as possible and offered to the implicated viewers as the only space of resistance in the movie.

Flying Saucers Would Never Land in Lucca: The Fiction of Italian Science Fiction

For the six decades of its life, Italian science fiction has been virtually absent on the shelves of Italian and non-Italian SF readers.  One can find translations into English, for example, of SF novels and anthologies written in Romanian, Czech, Chinese, Finnish, Serbian, Ukrainian, but none in Italian.  It has been consigned by SF scholars to the “ghetto of the ghetto.” Yet, Italy has been producing SF since the 1950s, some of it quite exceptional— notable for its “humanistic” bent, both in the sense of its intensive focus on human realities in a changing world, and in its use of the humanities, that is, its prominent references to a vast canon of literature, philosophy, religious writing, and fantastic imaginings. The infamous pronouncement in the late 1960s or early 1970s by Carlo Fruttero, the editor of the major Italian SF serial “Urania,” when asked why they rarely if ever included works by Italian authors—“it is impossible to imagine a flying saucer landing in Lucca”—was a curious sort of selective blindness shared by much of Italy and, consequently, by the rest of the world.  Flying saucers have been landing in Lucca (although they seem to prefer to hover around Milan, Rome, Venice, Bologna, and Turin) for quite some time, and many of their crafts are magnificent, deserving of recognition and study.


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The End of Political Futures?

This article considers why the idea of an ideal or planned political future for Italy went into decline in the last quarter of the twentieth century, after having dominated the country’s political thinking for much of the modern era. What form did imagined futures take in the traditions of both left and right? Why did this way of thinking virtually disappear after the mid 1970s? What are the signs that future-oriented thinking may be starting to reappear in the twenty-first century?

Sì, doman: il futuro di Venezia tra incanto e disincanto

This paper looks at different discourses about the future of Venice, presenting four different types of generic approaches (respectively oriented at the past, present, future, and eternity of this city, at once real and mythical) and concluding that scholars interested in and concerned with the prospects of Venice are in the position of taking an active role in changing them.

III. C. Futures Present 3: Old Italy, New Italians, Colonial Traces

Double Time: Facing The Future in Migration’s Past

Interpretations of Italian films about migration tend to refer to the historical experience of emigration or of colonialism as the historical coordinates through which these films are best understood. This article looks at four recent films featuring migrants in prominent roles that appear to elide such an interpretive framework. While the past and its intrusive effects do feature strongly in these films, it is difficult to produce a predictable linear and causal narrative that would link past, present, and future in predictable ways. Stylistically, the four films also represent a notable move away from the realist political agenda and aesthetic that has tended to dominate Italian film production on the topic of migration. This article argues that their adoption of the features that recall those of film noir (in its Italian manifestation) suggests a new range of thematic and social concerns that refer as much to possible futures as well as known pasts. There is a particular focus on the topic of bodily reproduction which is no longer limited to the sphere of the sexual. The opportunities offered by technology for the body to reproduce in new ways alters the parameters of how the nation might be imagined.

Italiani DOC? Passing and Posing from Giovanni Finati to Amara Lakhous

This essay examines historically varied tales of transnational migration through the lens of a topos that links nineteenth-century Italian migrations to Egypt, with the representation of an Italian infiltration of “Little Cairo” in Amara Lakhous’s 2010 novel Divorzio all’islamica in Viale Marconi: the topos of European Christians who pose or pass as Muslim. This essay proposes a contrapuntal reading between two historical moments and two directions of Italian migrations. It first takes up the case of Giovanni Finati, Ferrarese, who converted to Islam and passed as Albanian in Muhammed Ali’s para-colonial Egypt, as recounted in his 1830 Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Giovanni Finati. This essay then shows how Lakhous reprises Orientalism’s practice of representation by updating the powerful nineteenth- century metaphor of the Orient as “a theatrical stage affixed to Europe” (in Edward Said’s fortunate phrase). Among the particularly rich repertoire of plays upon that stage was the practice of passing and posing as Muslim in order to enter the sacred space of Mecca, prohibited to Christians upon threat of death. In its nineteenth-century version, such passing was the sign of the extraordinary man, alone at Mecca among a sea of authentic, and supposedly “transparent” believers. Lakhous, instead, takes up the topos in order to generalize it as the condition of post-colonial Italian identities, whether “migrant” or “italiano doc,” as the novel calls them: “un italiano al cento percento, un italianissimo” The theme and possibility of conversion to Islam links the two historical moments in an embrace that conjures with Islamophobia, the historical malleability of a weak national identity in the Mediterranean, and the frisson of entry into a forbidden space in a disguise that is in equal measure linguistic and semiotic.

Spotless Italy: Hygiene, Domesticity, and the Ubiquity of Whiteness in Fascist and Postwar Consumer Culture

Following a visual trajectory that begins in the mid-1930s, this article discusses advertising for cleaning products in order to trace the peculiar formation of the idea of hygiene and its ideological ties to the larger, more subliminal project of the consolidation of Italian racial identity as uniformly and permanently white. The author contends that the peculiar ubiquity of whiteness - simultaneously expansive yet fixed – was carried forth, among other things, through a project of “redemptive hygiene” that was, in turn, mediated by the influence of Fascist racialist models and reflected in the postwar culture of advertising, also in virtue of the expansion of new technologies in support of a mass-mediated national culture. After considering Gino Boccasile’s propaganda and commercial posters and a key example (the Calimero ad for AVA) from the 1960s, the article concentrates on the 2006-2007 advertising campaign by the multinational company Guaber for one of their brands, Coloreria Italiana. This last example shows how the racialization of the space of the domestic plays with the ambiguous turn of the post-racial in contemporary Italy, where race is unhinged from a familiar ground in order to appear, be consumed, and be washed away.

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Transmedia Memory of Albanian Migration in Italy: Helidon Gjergji's, Adrian Paci's, and Anri Sala's Moving-Image Installations

In this essay I analyze how, within the space of the museum, recent media installations by Albanian artists Helidon Gjergji, Adrian Paci, and Anri Sala appropriate, and critically engage with, multiple narratives about migration in Italy produced and circulated over the past two decades across various media, with particular attention to the Albanian case. The imaginary and material sites the spectator traverses in Gjergji’s, Paci’s, and Sala’s installations open up space for a new audiovisual discourse, one that is still indebted to, and yet distinct from, the televisual and the cinematographic, as it emerges from the double relationship between on-screen and off-screen space, as well as between collective and personal history. Installation in the museum thus produces a transmedia memory, which simultaneously criticizes the televisual reality effect as well as Italian progressive representations of the Albanian migrant as a screen onto which Italians can project their own history of emigration, as is the case with Oliviero Toscani’s advertising campaign Boat for Benetton (1992) and Gianni Amelio’s feature film Lamerica (1994). Drawing on the scholarship on self-reflexive spectatorship by Elizabeth Cowie and Catherine Fowler, among others, I analyze how these Albanian artists invite the spectator to explore the virtual space on screen, the material space off screen, and the screen itself as an object, in order to prompt a different identification with the migrant figure in Italy.

Italy's Colonial Futures: Colonial Inertia and Postcolonial Capital in Asmara

The core of Asmara, Italy’s former colonial capital in Eritrea, is widely known as a unique repository of 1930s Italian architecture. In addition, its Italian food and other traces of the colonial era lend it the semblance, to foreign eyes, of a still-colonial city. This article describes this apparent colonial inertia with respect to Eritrean citizens’ and government’s interests in sustaining the illusion, and argues that they use their past as Italian colonial subjects – specifically, their postcolonial cultural capital - to fortify their sense of separateness from Ethiopians, and celebrate their independence from their African neighbor.

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Rumore di acque / Noise in the Waters

Rumore di acque / Noise in the Waters is a facing-page translation into English of the theater piece Rumore di acque, created by Marco Martinelli and Teatro delle Albe, first presented in Ravenna in July 2010 and subsequently throughout Italy. The piece consists of the relentless, embittered monologue of a military bureaucrat stationed underground in a mid-Mediterranean island, whose duty is to tally the dead who have perished attempting to make the crossing from Africa to Italy. The CIS translation includes a brief biography of Martinelli and Teatro delle Albe.

III. D. Futures Present 4: Futures of the Disciplines

Is There a Future for Italian Microhistory in the Age of Global History?

At first sight, global history and microhistory have little in common, and this essay takes stock of where their methods and goals diverge. But in the past two decades a host of scholars have written microhistorically-inflected studies of men and women whose lives transcended narrowly bounded geographical, religious, and linguistic areas. The article assesses what these studies have in common with and how they differ from the main contributions that Italian microhistorians articulated in publications, which appeared from the mid-1970s to the early 1990s. It then suggests complementary and alternative ways of drawing inspiration from Italian microhistory to nourish the future agenda of global history.

I classici come enciclopedia culturale e come antenati: l’insegnamento del latino nella scuola superiore italiana

Italy is one of the last European countries in which Latin is still regularly taught in the majority of high schools. Should this tradition be interrupted, as some people wish, or should it be maintained? If we make the first choice, we have to expect a brisk fracture in the cultural encyclopedia shared by the country; if we make the second one, a change in the pedagogical and didactical teaching patterns of the discipline will be needed. The moment has come in which the ancients would play not only the role of ancestors, as they have so far, but also the role of others.

The Return to Philology and the Future of Literary Criticism: Reading the Temporality of Literature in Auerbach, Benjamin, and Dante

This essay argues for a new approach to literary criticism that uses the history of a work's transmission in manuscripts, editions, translations, and adaptations to bring into focus key moments in the development of its form.

Nietzsche's Zukunftsphilologie: Leopardi, Philology, History

The first part of this essay examines the importance of Leopardi for Nietzsche qua philologist. Rather than being a way to reduce the influence of Leopardi’s thought on Nietzsche, I argue, the focus on philology is of special importance. Leopardi uses the issue of philology in both the Paralipomeni (section a) and the poem to Angelo Mai (section b) to present a critique of contemporary cultural, historical and political practices with a specific focus on language as the site of memory and of the self. In the figure of the philologist as Columbus Novus, Leopardi advances a new understanding of philology that sees time itself as an artistic production, wherein the philologist does not reconstruct the past but generates it as a dimension of the future. The second part of the essay argues that the reflections on Leopardi’s philology in the notes We Philologists are parallel to the critique of history presented in the second untimely meditation, On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life, wherein Leopardi becomes the exemplar of an over-historical approach (section c). The emphasis on the future found in both the notes on the philology and in the second untimely meditation, evolves in dialogue with Leopardi on the meaning of philology and history that culminates in the Gay Science in the wager of the eternal return (section d). In Zarathustra (section e), the eternal return as an alternative historical and philological mode that brings about the philosopher of the future is analogously developed as an answer to Leopardi’s cosmic pessimism.

How Stories Make Us Feel: Toward an Embodied Narratology

How do stories often evoke intense feelings and sensations in their readers? This essay explores that question with a new combination of insights from neuroscience and literary theory, while also assessing the difficulties as well as the potential gains of such interdisciplinary research. The authors lay the groundwork for a neurocritical embodied narratology that incorporates both the critiques of traditional humanism within literary studies and of classic cognitivism within neuroscience. Their methodological approach focuses on Feeling of Body (in contrast to Theory of Mind), which may be considered the outcome of a basic functional mechanism instantiated by our brain-body system. Feeling of Body is also a foundational aspect of liberated Embodied Simulation, a process enabling a more direct and less cognitively mediated access to the world of narrated others and mediating our capacity to share the meaning of their actions, basic motor intentions, feelings, and emotions, thus grounding our identification with and connectedness to narrated characters. Through case studies of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway and Dante Alighieri’s Vita nuova, the authors argue that literary texts rely on Feelings of Body communicated by the authors to their readers, and, in turn, experienced by readers simulating those experiences through the sensory-motor networks common to human beings.

Interview with Vittorio Gallese

How do stories often evoke intense feelings and sensations in their readers?  This essay explores that question with a new combination of insights from neuroscience and literary theory, while also assessing the difficulties as well as the potential gains of such interdisciplinary research.  The authors lay the groundwork for a neurocritical embodied narratology that incorporates both the critiques of traditional humanism within literary studies and of classic cognitivism within neuroscience.  Their methodological approach focuses on Feeling of Body (in contrast to Theory of Mind), which may be considered the outcome of a basic functional mechanism instantiated by our brain-body system.  Feeling of Body is also a foundational aspect of liberated Embodied Simulation, a process enabling a more direct and less cognitively mediated access to the world of narrated others and mediating our capacity to share the meaning of their actions, basic motor intentions, feelings, and emotions, thus grounding our identification with and connectedness to narrated characters.  Through case studies of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway and Dante Alighieri’s Vita nuova, the authors argue that literary texts rely on Feelings of Body communicated by the authors to their readers, and, in turn, experienced by readers simulating those experiences through the sensory-motor networks common to human beings.

Literary Biomimesis: Mirror Neurons and the Ontological Priority of Representation

This article traces the contributions of mirror neuron theories in neuroscience to debates on literature and related theories of mimesis or, as Erich Auerbach defined it, the representation of reality. The “ensemble” descriptor used for the visualization technologies on which we currently depend to chart the neuronal firing in the human brain is also an apt term for an additional translational issue between structure and what one might call the philosophical domain. The most carefully established data of brain activity is empirically confirmable on the micro level. Moving from it to the so-called “higher order” or more complex issues of meaning and use by humans, not least in cultural life, requires in effect a translation from micro evidence to ensemble evidence. Within the neurosciences, such translational processes are objects of seduction and suspicion at once. Yet an “ensemble” principle is not only active in brain mapping evidence, but in the “single brain” to “social brain” evidence field for neural mirroring. The brain in isolation represents only a slice of the field of the dialogic brain, the brain performing social cognition of others, the brain bringing the other’s existence into the individual’s embodied space through the individual’s internal simulation. This essay moves from the concept of the social brain to the suggestion of an ontological priority of representation in the mirror neuron paradigm. Is literature itself a relative of brain mirroring processes, and thus a form of biomimesis? And if we recognize literature and other representational processes as a part of “the human ensemble,” should we also recognize the capacity of literature and other art forms to mimetically influence our performance of physiological being?

Response: Mirrors of Culture

"Mirrors of Culture" is an invited response to two essays “How Stories Make Us Feel” by Hannah Wojciehowski and Vittorio Gallese and "Literary Biomimesis" by Marco Iacoboni and Deborah Jenson. This response addresses the question of mirroring and relations between neuroscience and the humanities through Jacques Lacan's essay on "The Mirror Stage."

A. Futures Past 1: Italy's Early Modernities

Fortuna e politica all’origine della filosofia italiana

Machiavelli's reflection on Fortuna constitutes a precious alternative to the philosophical and political projects based on the desire to immunize fully the political community. Machiavelli's acceptance of the aleatory and unpredictable in human life and in the life of the state is an antidote to the risks that the processes of self-immunization constitute for the life of individuals and of the political community. Machiavelli's political philosophy is based on the acceptance of a plurality of outcomes and is, consequently, different from the totalizing aspirations of the European philosophers of history.

Ayn Rand, Alberti and the Authorial Figure of the Architect

Although the history of literary authorship has been deeply studied, the concept of architect-as-author is now so thoroughly naturalized that its historical contingency is rarely grasped; nor are its origins clearly understood. Its inception can be identified, however, in the very milieu from which the auctor of letters emerged. Perhaps not surprisingly, the architectural author was invented, defined, and promoted by Leon Battista Alberti in De re aedificatoria (ca. 1450) as a displacement to architecture of the literary-humanistic invention of the living or recently deceased auctor by Dante, his commentators, and Petrarch (as opposed to the pre-trecento limitation of auctor-status to a closed list of ancient writers). Seemingly rational as described by Alberti, at once Petrarchan and Foucauldian, invoking both individual “fama” and the parameters of the “author-function,” his program of architectural production was in fact an impracticable fiction in terms of the material and procedural realities of architectural practice of his time. Nevertheless, it resonated powerfully as ideology, and eventually came to silently dominate modernity in both theory and practice as a mode of crypto-Albertianism. It appears to have entered the imaginary of the film-writer and novelist Ayn Rand, who fused it with modern American hyperindividualism in the figure of Howard Roark, architectural hero of The Fountainhead (1943; film, 1945, directed by King Vidor and starring Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal). Her story, despite itself, serves as another demonstration that the many problems attending architectural Albertianism have never been resolved.

“Equally unknown and unimaginable among the ancients”: Brunelleschi’s Dome and Alberti’s Lingua Toscana

Leon Battista Alberti’s vernacular treatise on painting, Della Pittura (1436), is usually characterized as a translation, aimed at artists, of his Latin De Pictura. Questioning that premise, this article situates the volgare treatise and its attached dedication letter to the architect Filippo Brunelleschi within the 1430’s language debates over the role and status of the vernacular, commonly referred to as the Questione della lingua. In this context, Della Pittura served as a persuasive rebuke to humanists who suspected the young language, without a basis in ancient texts, was unable to give voice to a learned treatise. Alberti cleverly argues that the stupendously novel topics and techniques he addresses in the treatise (fifteenth-century painting and linear perspective) and in the letter (the Cathedral of Florence dome and its inventive construction) require an equally innovative language, his lingua toscana. Rather than striving to restore ancient Latin and in turn revive ancient culture, Alberti calls his contemporaries to build a modern language, capable of capturing and conveying the artistic and architectural innovations of his age.

Alberti on the Surface

This essay on Alberti’s definition of painting as a surface or plane in the De pictura is part of a larger study on the early modern attention to the “surface” as a privileged locus of knowledge in Renaissance culture. Overall, my aim is not to recuperate a founding narrative of the Italian Renaissance, as much as highlight a fundamental tension between a phenomenological approach to knowledge, in which the material and visual values of the “surface” acquire heuristic primacy, and an ethical conception of knowledge as invisible and hidden, as emphasized by long established hermeneutical traditions, which read “depth” as the metaphorical locus for knowledge, truth, and authenticity. I am also not arguing for the art for art’s sake, or the birth of aesthetics. I claim instead that the attention to the surface produced a dialectical relationship with its moral opposite, which generated continuous attempts to redefine and re-signify the surface. I also suggest that this tension is essential to the development of early modern art practice and theory.

The Eternity of the World and Renaissance Historical Thought

This essay suggests that the Renaissance revolution in historical thought was encouraged by contemporary debates over the Aristotelian-Averroistic doctrine of the eternity of the world. In the early Renaissance eternalism came to be understood as a proposition with controversial consequences not only for the creation of matter e nihilo but also for the record of historical time. Modern scholarship, following Momigliano, believes that understandings of time had little effect on the practice of ancient historians. But that was not the view of Orosius, the most widely read historian during the Middle Ages, who condemned the pagan historians for their eternalism. Nor was it the view of the Italian humanists who, after reading the Greek historians, abandoned the providentialism of Orosius and revived ancient ways of writing history.

Galileo and the Stain of Time

The future is usually conceived of spatially only as metaphor. However, in Aristotelian physics, the zone beyond the moon was supposed to be comprised of a different matter, the quintessence, to that comprising the Earth. This was incorruptible and unchanging, and obeyed different laws of physics. Galileo’s observations of random, changing, and unpredictable marks on the surface of the Sun in 1611 were understood by his adversaries and him as fundamentally destroying the Aristotelian division between sub- and supra-lunary matter and physics. He offered a version of the cosmos where mutability, generation and corruption were omnipresent, where the future was everywhere.

B. Futures Past 2: The (Re-)births of a 'Nazione'

“Che l’antico valore nelli italici cor non è ancor morto”: Carla Benedetti's Challenge

The 1998 publication of Carla Benedetti’s Pasolini contro Calvino: Per una letteratura impura provoked a series of attacks in the Italian press, mostly aimed at its so-called “banalissima contrapposizione” between authors. Debates in Italy today about the legacy of the Novecento, the state of Italian postmodernism, and the future of Italian literary culture are still haunted by this authorial contraposition, and are often compounded by the perceived opposition, in the field of criticism, between Benedetti’s supporters and her critics. The aim of this essay is to frame these debates by comparing Benedetti’s provocative call for an impure literature in Pasolini contro Calvino with Francesco De Sanctis’ foundational Storia della letteratura italiana. Through this comparison, I argue that Benedetti and De Sanctis are “Machiavellian” literary critics whose future-oriented strategies of expression represent one of multiple ways that the unprecedented challenges Italian culture faces today are being confronted with tools from its past.

Bordertopia: Pacifico Valussi and the Challenge of Borderlands in the Mid-Nineteenth Century

This article seeks to answer the question why in the last months of the 1848-49 revolutions the Provisional Government of Daniele Manin’s Republic of Venice chose to rename the famous quay outside of the Ducal Palace, Riva degli Schiavoni, with the new name Riva degli Slavi. The author argues that this act should not be seen as just one more example of the unpragmatic utopianism that damned revolutionary war efforts to ultimate failure in 1849. Instead, the renaming of Riva degli Schiavoni points to an entirely different strain of conceiving the potential futures of nationhood in the early to mid nineteenth century. Using the example of the local activist and newspaper man, Pacifico Valussi (1813-1892), this article reveals that ideas for the creation of a future Italy were grounded to a large extent in imperial, multi-national realities, realities where “national division” bespoke bloodshed and economic loss more than resurgence.

Il testo fantasticizzato e goticizzato come metafora della destrutturazione del discorso ‘nazione’: attorno agli scrittori scapigliati

Beginning in the late 1870s in Italy, new narrative forms, mixing elements borrowed from the Gothic and fantastic genres and modes with those from historical realism, started to enjoy much greater success and to find more followers and practitioners. More specifically, at the margins of an already existing hypothetical historical-realist narrative block, heterodoxical narrative expressions were coming into being. These were often populated by   physically dismembered and psychologically multi-faced ‘in-between’ characters, who were traditionally depicted through  Northern European forms of the Gothic and fantastic, until  the leading members of the first  Italian avant-garde movement, the Milanese Scapigliatura,  transplanted their interpreations of the story of Italian national unification into their short stories and novels.

In the texts analyzed, the use of the typically Gothic and fantastic motifs of the uninhabited house (or habited by ghosts) and the feminine body, both in its phenomenology of the mother, nurse and spouse, and in that of the faithless, fallen and sick woman, function as metaphors to portray the shape of the national body. By looking at the representations of the house, the female body and marriage, this article  demonstrates how the heroines of the post-unification novels Fosca (1869) by Iginio Ugo Tarchetti and Senso (1883) by Camillo Boito understand and construct their corporeality as the epistemological locus where the ethical ambivalence towards the disappointing outcomes of  national unification could be expressed. Therefore, the Gothic with its instances of social subversion embodied in the heroines in the castle, and the fantastic with its ontology of ‘hesitation’ and of the fragmented and divided body could offer the ideal narrative solution for portraying the failure of Italy’s palingenetic re-birth during the Risorgimento.

Giovanni Pascoli's 'La grande proletaria si e' mossa': A Translation and Critical Introduction

At the hundredth anniversary of Italy’s 1911 invasion of Libya, as the effects of European imperialism continue to reverberate in Africa, it seems an especially appropriate time to reconsider the texts that helped shape the discourse of the time and to reflect on the continuing effects that they exert. It is in this context that I present an annotated translation of Giovanni Pascoli’s oration “La grande proletaria si è mossa.”

To Measure Futurism

One of Futurism’s most consistent traits was its hostility to traditional intellectual culture: scholarship, academies, professors. Yet, Futurism also produced its own critical-intellectual products and scholarship in the form of misurazioni (theatrical measurements-reviews), commemorazioni in avanti (forward-looking commemorations), and collaudi (prefaces to futurist poetry collections). I analyze these intellectual products with an eye to both inserting them in the history of modernist ideas, and applying to them the futurist concept of “measurement” in order to highlight what was futurist in Futurism. The surprising result of this inquiry is that Futurism’s most lasting intellectual contribution may have been its multifaceted anti-dialectical idea of synthesis, which anticipated the encounter between cybernetics and eugenics in what Marinetti called a “bellissimo dopodomani” (beautiful day after tomorrow).

Rosa Rosà's "A Woman with Three Souls" in English Translation

The 1918 short novel Una donna con tre anime by Rosa Rosà (translated here as A Woman with Three Souls) is one of the most important narrative texts published by a futurist woman. Visual poet, fiction-writer, artist, and feminist Rosa Rosà (Edith von Haynau, 1884-1978) was born and educated in Vienna. She lived in Italy most of her life, publishing in her adopted language and working as an illustrator. A Woman with Three Souls is a visionary “futurist-fantastic” narrative, with elements of both realism and science fiction. Written during World War I, the short novel is a feminist parable with satirical overtones, and a manifesto about the impending transformation of women’s lives, personalities and gender roles in the twentieth century and beyond.

"Verrà un dì l'Italia vera...": poesia e profezia dell'Italia futura nel giudizio fascista

There are many famous verses in italian poetry that prophesy a glorious and powerful Italy to come. This article describes how those verses of Dante, Petrarca, Leopardi and Foscolo were read, in the 1920's and the 1930's, as a precise and clear prediction of fascist Italy. The aim of this article is to demonstrate that this kind of literary criticism, considering poetry as a privileged voice of political prophecy, is not to be considered as a marginal and anecdotal expression of propaganda, but as a part of a larger phenomenon: the sacralization of politics – even through literature – that characterizes italian fascism.

Arte e identità nazionale. Riflessioni sul caso italiano

Artists have played an important role in representations and reflections on the “idea of Italy” from the Risorgimento to the present day.  The Garibaldian, monarchical, and liberal currents of the movement for unification were figured in patriotic scenes and symbols, as were the disappointments with the political realities of the new Italian kingdom.  In the twentieth century the “mission” of a “pure” Italian art to bolster identification with the nation (and with the ruling regime) is repeatedly challenged by cosmopolitan interests and imported styles, sometimes in support of the project of a national art but more often hostile or indifferent to it.   This essay chronicles the forms in which Italian national identity is asserted or contested in a succession of artistic movements, particularly in painting:  Romanticism, the Macchiaioli, Post-impressionism, Futurism, Arte Povera and the “non-art” of Maurizio Cattelan.



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L’indisciplina e il suo contenuto sociale da Collodi alle riletture di Carmelo Bene e Luigi Malerba

This paper shows how in Carlo Collodi’s The Adventures of Pinocchio (1881) and in its subsequent rewritings by Carmelo Bene and Luigi Malerba, futurity is coded into indiscipline. In Collodi’s version, Pinocchio appears as an insatiable machine guided by the pleasure principle defying the ideals of hard work ethic and obedience of the Post-Risorgimento period. Here Pinocchio reflects the open contradiction between the rhetorical fullness of the national project, with its ethic of sacrifice and deferral of satisfaction, and the economic lack of the masses--what Marcuse called Lebensnot--that, through the affirmation of an immediate exigency for fulfillment, project the vision of a different society. The social character of this imagery shifts in the twentieth century as the industrialization of the country establishes the basis for a modern affluent society. Carlo Bene’s play Pinocchio (1961) and Luigi Malerba’s Pinocchio con gli stivali (1977) bear testimony to a different kind of unruliness in which negation replaces affirmation. In both works, Pinocchio’s indiscipline articulates a radical denial that defies the freezing of the social dimension into the fix coordinates of over-consumption and mechanization of individuals that characterized Italian modernization.