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Cover Caption: Ad for "Woobinda," 1970s TV series; Leon Battista Alberti, Self-Portrait Medallion, 1438. British Museum.

Albert Russell Ascoli and Randolph Starn, Editors

Marisa Escolar, Managing Editor


Rereading I libri della famiglia: Leon Battista Alberti on Marriage, Amicizia and Conjugal Friendship

This essay examines the conceptual relationship between marriage and friendship in the four-book dialogue on the family composed by the Florentine humanist Leon Battista Alberti during the 1430s. Alberti’s interlocutors argue variously that marriage is a burden, a procreative engine, a site of companionship, an economic partnership and, remarkably, the locus of true friendship. Their discussion provokes a rethinking of these two interpersonal bonds, which emerge not only as critical to the stability of the family, the state and society, but also as a vital means of pressing erotic love into the service of the family through conjugal friendship.

Reading Machiavelli Rhetorically: The Prince as Covert Critique of the Renaissance Prince

In this essay, classical rhetorical theory is applied to show that Machiavelli's Prince was not intended as advice for a prince, nor as "political science," but rather as a very subtle, but nevertheless powerful, critique of the Italian princes of his day, the Medici included. While not a new reading of the text (the notion of the Prince as a crypto-republican work goes back even before the Enlightenment to the very first years of its appearance), this article places such an interpretation on the firm base of rhetorical theory together with a close reading of the text.  Classical rhetorical theory will thus be seen to be a powerful tool in the proper understanding of the text, a line of approach continuing the already important work of the past twenty years, which seeks to restore an appreciation of the fundamentally rhetorical nature of Machiavelli's literary technique and political thought. From this examination of the text against the background of rhetorical theory, one of the perennially vexing questions in the interpretation of Machiavelli's political thought--how to reconcile the apparently "princely" counsels of the Prince with the republican sentiments expressed in Machiavelli's other writings--can finally be resolved.

Hegemony, Democracy, and Passive Revolution in Gramsci's Prison Notebooks

What is the relationship between democracy and hegemony in Gramsci's Prison Notebooks? Salvadori and Galli della Loggia argue that hegemony is best understood as a theory of dictatorship and is therefore incompatible with democracy. Vacca argues that  hegemony is inconceivable in the absence of democracy. I bridge these divergent readings by making two arguments. First, hegemony is a form of rationalized intellectual and moral leadership, and therefore depends on liberal democratic institutions. Second, hegemony is established through revolution. Gramsci thus paradoxically combines a deep appreciation for liberal democracy with a basically Leninist conception of politics.

Dino Buzzati's La famosa invasione degli orsi in Sicilia and the Possibilities of Children's Literature

This essay brings theoretical perspectives developed in the field of Children’s Literature Studies to bear on Dino Buzzati’s 1945 picturebook, La famosa invasione degli orsi in Sicilia. Through a close analysis of the composite (verbal and visual) text in the light of major trends in Italian children’s books from Edmondo De Amicis’ canonical Cuore (1886) through the fascist period, I suggest that Buzzati puts into question fundamental premises of children’s literature. I draw on the work of such scholars as Jacqueline Rose, whose ground-breaking study The Case of Peter Pan argues that children’s fiction is “impossible” insofar as it has been grounded in adult fantasies about children and about language; Perry Nodelman, who developed the notion of children’s literature as colonization; and David Lewis, who has worked on word and image interaction in picturebooks. I argue that Buzzati’s picturebook represents a rupture in the trajectory of Italian children’s literature through its radical questioning of the transparency of language.

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Superurbeffimero n. 7: Umberto Eco’s Semiologia and the Architectural Rituals of the U.F.O.

On 24 June 1968 the city of San Giovanni Valdarno opened its sixth “Premio di Pittura Masaccio” with a performance by eight students, grouped under the English acronym U.F.O. Titled Superurbeffimero n. 7, it was the last of the Urboeffemeri, a series of Happenings performed regularly in Florence since that February. The date of the opening  coincided with the religious procession for the city’s Patron, and the Happening escalated into a public riot and an inquiry by the magistratura on suspicions of blasphemy.

Superurbeffimero n. 7 is a little studied collaboration between Umberto Eco and his students during his tenure at the Florentine Faculty of Architecture between 1966 and 1969. The counter-reactions in San Giovanni Valdarno, the tacit disappearance of Superurbeffimero n. 7 into a general pool of “youth protest,” and, Eco’s withdrawk from the field of architecture shorly afterward indicate the difficulty of penetrating the logic of that contested work. My paper exposes Eco’s semiologic text, published then as a course reader, as the programmatic manifesto of U.F.O.’s Urboeffemeri. U.F.O.’s appropriation of spiritual and popular symbols for their “sociourban architectural ritual,” is recast as a conscious attempt to test out Eco’s lessons in Florence. In turn, it delineates the Florentine experimentalism of the 1960s and highlights the development of Eco’s semiologia.

Passing the Remote: Community and Television Viewing in Woobinda and La guerra degli Antò

This paper explores television-modeled narratives in Silvia Ballestra’s La guerra degli Antò, of 1992, and Aldo Nove’s Woobinda, of 1996. In so doing, it considers both the role of a text's author and the majority/minority reception practices that lead to its social imprint. For a definition of reception practices it turns to the work of media and reception scholars such as Henry Jenkins and Ien Ang.

Employing a soap-operatic narrative and respecting the viewing practices of a minority viewer group, Ballestra navigates contemporary TV language to shape receptive communities within, and outside, of her text. Nove, in turn, models his work on majority group viewing habits to exploit and parody the homogenizing, and conversely isolating, effects of this language. In Woobinda authority lies with television, the medium of debased culture, while in La guerra degli Antò the narrator asserts her authority by adopting and mutating the codes of this same medium. Each text serves an important function, Nove’s text details the ultimate impasse of efforts to assert subjectivity, while Ballestra’s suggests a means of bypassing the impediments.