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Il “Regno del Quasi”. Icone cinesi nelle rappresentazioni partenopee di Ermanno Rea e Roberto Saviano


The present article analyzes the use of Chinese icons as a frame for representing Naples in two recent non-fiction novels, "La dismissione" (2002) by Ermanno Rea and "Gomorra" (2006) by Roberto Saviano. Avoiding the pitfalls of identification (as it was trivialized in the 1970s by the political slogan “La Cina è vicina”), the space between China and Naples becomes a geographic metaphor for the many transformations re-shaping the reality of global trade.

On the one hand, the reference to China endows Naples with the typical features of post-modern space consumption (Urry 2002), be it in the form of an increasingly immaterial trade or in the more traditional form of tourism. On the other hand, the advent of Chinese firms is at odds with the crisis of steel industry in Naples. Rea describes the whole industrialization of Southern Italy as a fragile utopia, whose failure involves both political and criminal responsibilities: on the contrary, present-day China seems to accomplish the historical processes missed by Naples. However, while the Neapolitan-based heavy industry collapses, the criminal economy of camorra appears to be perfectly “wired” and “on-the-spot”, being connected to the Chinese garment industry and to the global counterfeit market, as both authors highlight in their accounts.

By no means an original invention, this spatial metaphor lays its roots in the travel journals from Communist China, such as Franco Fortini's "Asia Maggiore" [“Asia Maior”] (1956) and Carlo Bernari's "Il gigante Cina" [“China, the giant”] (1957), two examples of what Paul Hollander has named “political pilgrimages”(1992). Through this metaphor, Fortini emphasizes the misery still affecting both lands in the 1950s, whereas according to Bernari the Chinese “Land of Approximation” is strikingly similar to Naples, a city where power always depends on a series of negotiations. Despite the many continuities with the present, the meaning of this icon is totally reverted in the works by Rea and Saviano, where China embodies a rampant economic power and its morally questionable rules. Finally, the use of this spatial reference represents an implicit statement of “foreignness” and exoticism, since an Orientalist pattern is adopted to place the inner otherness of Naples within the boundaries of a blurred national identity.

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