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California Italian Studies

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Gian Maria Annovi and Thomas Harrison, Editors

Leslie Elwell, Managing Editor


Bringing the Empire Home: Italian Fascism’s Mediterranean Tour of Rhodes

From 1912 until World War II, Italy occupied Rhodes and thirteen other islands in the Southeast Aegean as part of its territorial expansion. In comparison with Italian colonies in Africa the islands have received significantly less historical and critical attention. This article brings the Southeast Aegean into the light and into dialogue with ongoing debates about Italy’s colonial past. I argue that the islands offer an important lens onto the relationship between overseas expansion and the remaking of Italian national identity at home. The essay reconstructs a massive project to reinvent the port of Rhodes as an upscale resort town of cultural attraction for Italian and European tourists. It describes how the urban renovation of Rhodes was marked simultaneously by the desire to modernize the island and by the desire to preserve, embellish and celebrate the exotic setting of the island. Analyzing architecture, urban planning, touring propaganda, and representations of the local community in photography and film, the article illuminates Italian fantasies of recuperating cosmopolitan histories through Mediterranean colonial tourism. At the same time, these fantasies evolved over time. The articles tracks an unresolvable ambivalence about whether the islands were “Western” or “Eastern”—part of  metropolitan Italy or part of its overseas expansion—and its ideological challenge to the Fascist ideas about nation and race.

Rhino / Rhinoceros: Experimental Cinema and the Migrant Condition

This essay examines two films by Kevin Jerome Everson: Rhinoceros (2013) and Rhino (2017). Rhinoceros is an imagined staging of the last speech of the first Duke of Florence, Alessandro de’ Medici (1510-1537), also known as the first black European head of state due to his mixed Italian and African ancestry. For de’ Medici’s speech, Rhinoceros uses one of the last communiqués of Mummar al-Gaddafi, then recently deposed as head of the Libyan state by the Arab Spring. Once staunchly anti-imperialist, Gaddafi’s last years were marked by new political and economic relations with Western nations, notably the 2008 “friendship treaty” orchestrated with then Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. By having de’ Medici speak the words of one of the most polarizing African leaders of the last forty years, Rhinoceros merges the politics of early modern Italy with the country’s colonial legacies in north and east Africa. Rhino imagines the final days leading up to Duke Alessandro’s 1537 assassination, with de’ Medici’s narrative told alongside interviews with African migrants in present-day Florence. In Rhino, the historic presence of Africans within the Italian peninsula is paralleled to contemporary African migration to Italy. I argue Rhinoceros and Rhino not only reveal the ironies of postcolonial Italy at the beginning of the 21st century, but also participates in the construction of the archive of Black Italy.


Mapping Transnational Subjecthood: Space, Affects and Relationality in Recent Transnational Italian Fictions

This article addresses the construction of transnational subjects in contemporary literary narratives, focusing on two recent novels in Italian by Gabriella Kuruvilla and by Shirin Ramzanali Fazel. Exploring the construction and the experience of the individual subject as spatial, relational, embodied, and linguistic practice in everyday life, the analysis draws upon theory in human and social geography, as well as in literary and cultural studies, to uncover the complexity of the human subject in mobility.

Are Italians White? The Perspective from the Pacific

By reviewing a wide variety of works pertaining to the racialization of European immigrants in the United States and the history of race relations and of individual ethnic groups in California, this article outlines some reflections arising from addressing the issue of Italians’ “whiteness” within the West Coast’s historically distinct multiracial context. Californian journalist Chester Harvey Rowell’s 1909 view of North America Pacific Coast as the “frontier of the white man” is adopted as a paradigm highlighting how California’s racial dynamic, centered around a white/Asian polarity, supported Italians’ being included among “whites”, with all the symbolic and material privileges this implied.


What Did Annarella See? “Il bisogno di conoscere con ogni medium” and the Hermeneutics of the Gaze in Carlo Damasco’s “Un paio di occhiali”

"What did Annarella See?"analyzes Carlo Damasco's cinematic adaptation of Anna Maria Ortese's short story "Un paio di occhiali" and argues that the trope of the "insopportabilita' della realta'" constitutes the connective tissue between Ortese's story and Damasco's film.  This trope generates different options of "being in the world" for Eugenia and Annarella, the respective protagonists of short story and film. it is upon this contextualized and historicized notion of "being in the world" that Damasco's adaptation generates a powerful reflection of Ortese's estranged and estranging gaze, and the revolutionalty, if veiled, knowledge it envisioned.

Resisting Monologue: Alba de Céspedes' Nessuno torna indietro and the Subversion of Paternal Authority

Through the lens of Foucauldian theories of docile bodies, discursive and discoursing subjectivities, and heterotopias, along with theories of the voice drawn from the film criticism of Michel Chion and Kaja Silverman, this essay examines the ways in which de Céspedes’s novel resists the monologic discourse characteristic of paternalistic authority and the fascist regime. It is argued that, by presenting alternative mother types and corresponding alternative matrilineal genealogies, the protagonists of Nessuno torna indietro subvert traditional paternal authority and cultural conceptions of fathers and mothers, proposing different models of female (pro)creativity and self-determination more in line with women’s individual and varied aspirations. The role and expression of the voice, in multiple modes and registers, and the continual tension toward dialogue and conversation, as opposed to monologue, is central to my analysis and allows for a more multifaceted understanding of discursive and discoursing subjectivities, particularly in relation to conventional gender roles within the family during the fascist period in Italy.

Embodied Voice and the Body Politic: The Dialoghi of Leone de’ Sommi

Leone de’ Sommi’s sixteenth-century treatise on stagecraft, Quattro dialoghi in materia di rappresentazioni sceniche, defines drama as a mirror of human life and society. For Leone, dramatic form is patterned on the human body, its meaning conveyed through gesture and vocalization. While Leone’s theatrical worldview seems to embrace civic unity, I argue that it also reflects the anxieties of a period of aggressive marginalization of Italian Jewish communities due to the rise of ghettos. The Dialoghi develop a counter-argument to the dominant humanist (Christian) narrative of theater’s origins and de-center the Aristotelian model, citing Hebrew scripture as drama’s highest ancient authority. Moreover, de’ Sommi’s prescriptions for actors’ uses of voice and body in performance dramatize the politically and socially charged relationships of Mantua’s Jewish artists and artisans to the Gonzaga court. Through his dramatic theory, Leone de’ Sommi enacts a challenge to the structural and ideological confines of the ghetto.

Making News: the Sonzogno Affair (1875) and the Print Networks in Liberal Italy

In this essay I discuss the murder of journalist Raffaele Sonzogno, the director of the Rome-based daily La capitale, in February 1875, and the trial of his murderers which took place the same year. I explore how the events were presented in the press at the time, in particular the democratic newspaper Il secolo, and more broadly how the Sonzogno murder and his assassins’ trial can help us understand the print networks of the time. I offer two main readings, one ideological and one more material: on the one hand, I discuss the presence and shadow of Giuseppe Garibaldi and his Risorgimento legacy over these events (a rhetorical presence, but also a very literal one). On the other, I consider the role that the written-word networks (newspapers, books, periodicals) played in the construction of Raffaele Sonzogno as a democratic hero, a modern mediatized victim, and an object of commercial exploitation. Lastly, I consider the dynamics of the murder and the figure of Sonzogno’s material assassin, Pio Frezza, as he emerges from the trial depositions, to argue that his brief moment of political visibility does not enable him to intervene critically in Garibaldianism, and in the political discourse of Unified Italy. Rather, Frezza’s patriotism is exploited against him – forcing him to wordlessly, violently make his way into the printed world.