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Alessandro Manzoni’s Historical Works: Passionate Immunity and the Limits of the Dialectic


The free movement of viral matter—whether biological or ideological—threatens the free movement and total control of the liberal, humanist, white-propertied-male individual. I highlight this tension as exhibited in Alessandro Manzoni’s the Promessi sposi and the Storia della Colonna Infame, and set it alongside ongoing legacies of misogyny and racism, which facilitate  economic determinism under global capitalism by dissolving social bonds. I complicate Fredric Jameson’s assertions of Manzoni’s latent agitation for change, which he discovers in the latter’s recourse to a Manichean worldview in the Promessi sposi, by pointing to the exclusionary patterns in Manzoni’s organizing schemes. In particular, I examine how in both the Promessi sposi and the Storia della Colonna Infame, the category of “woman” is inserted, sacrificially, to close the gap of uncertainty pried open by the historical inquiry. I address how Manzoni’s advocacy for liberal, possessive individualism mismatches his notions around the necessarily “passionate” transmission of ideas from an author to a reader; and how his purported interest in reanimating history is curbed by a manifest fear of la folla—of bodies in public, in proximity, that are therefore vulnerable to contagion and the violation of “individuality.” I relocate the problem of sameness that Manzoni warns about, to the limits of the dialectic: its exclusionary structure that always regathers itself into a single, ascendant line, incapable of accommodating difference. Reading between different lines than Jameson, then, I suggest that Lucia’s starkly other role to Renzo’s “self” in the Promessi sposi conveys a glimmer of a radically feminist political subjectivity.

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