What follows is the text of the paper I gave the 20 June 2017 at the International Conference «Fears and Angers. Historical and Contemporary Perspectives», Queen Mary University, 19-20 June 2017.
Probably Federico Fellini’s Oscar-winning movie, Amarcord, released in 1973, perfectly defines what was supposed to be the, as William Reddy would say, «emotional regime» of fascism. Enthusiasm, faith, happiness, and veneration for the Chief were the dominant public feelings endorsed by fascism. But, despite the public ceremonies being widely, and often sincerely, officiated by Italian people, fascism largely derived consensus from violence and intimidation.
The essay analyses two novels by the Italian writer Massimo Bontempelli, La vita intensa (1920) and La vita operosa (1921). I look at how these literary texts represent the «intense life» of the post-WWI metropolis, in whose spaces an analogy is established between the violence of war and the violence of peacetime dominated by the semiotic aggressiveness of modernity. Particularly, the psychic pressure of war seems to be extended by the pressure of the media system, which in those years was sky-rocketing and becoming increasingly complex and widespread.
Bontempelli’s two experimental novels are first published serially in two different magazines: «Ardita», a graphically dynamic and modern magazine issued monthly with the newspaper «Il Popolo d’Italia», in the case of La vita intensa.
«Industrie Italiane Illustrate», a journal funded by industrial companies, in the case of La vita operosa, which interestingly is a novel that largely satirises the way capitalism affects the human existence at the point that even bodies and minds are shaped by its force.
In chapter XIII of Alessandro Manzoni’s I promessi sposi, Renzo, one of the two betrothed, is involved in a riot in Milan, where people, exasperated by food shortage, start assaulting the bakeries. To placate the rioters and rescue an official who risks being lynched by the crowd, the Chancellor Antonio Ferrer is forced to intervene. Manzoni represents in his portrait all the hypocrisy and duplicity of power embodied by Ferrer. While cutting through the raging crowd with his wagon, Ferrer shows a hyperbolically smiling face, «a countenance that was all humility, smiles, and affection». He also tries to enhance his intervention with gestures, «now putting his hands to his lips to kiss them, then splaying them out and distributing the kisses to right and left». Ferrer pronounces the empty keywords that are supposed to please the crowd: bread, plenty, justice. But at the end, overwhelmed by the pressure of voices, faces, and bodies surrounding his vehicle, he draws in, puffs out his cheeks, gives off a great sigh, and shows a completely different expression of intolerance and impatience. Continue reading Manzoni: grimaces of power
Is out my last essay, The Cognition of Priapus. Caricature procedures in Carlo Emilio Gadda’s Eros e Priapo. Here it is available the English abstract, while here you can find the whole essay in Italian.
I extract from the essay three different caricatural descriptions of Benito Mussolini provided by Gadda in his controversial pamphlet Eros e Priapo, written between 1944 and 1945. In the first, Gadda portraits the image of Mussolini speaking from the sadly well-known balcony:
Di colassù i berci, i grugniti, i sussulti priapeschi, lo strabuzzar d’occhî e le levate di ceffo d’una tracotanza priapesca: dopo la esibizione del dittatorio mento e del ventre, dopo lo sporgimento di quel suo prolassato e incinturato ventrone, dopo il dondolamento, in sui tacchi, e ginocchî, di quel culone suo goffo e inappetibile a chicchessia, ecco ecco ecco eja eja eja il glorioso, il virile manustupro: e la consecutiva maschia polluzione alla facciazza del «pòppolo».
The second caricature ridicules the bourgeois-like image adopted by the former revolutionary Mussolini after the conquest of power:
Pervenne alle ghette color tortora, che portava con la disinvoltura d’un orgango, ai pantaloni a righe, al tight, al tubino già detto, ai guanti bianchi del commendatore e dell’agente di cambio uricemico: dell’odiato ma lividamente invidiato borghese. Con que’ du’ grappoloni di banane delle du’ mani, che gli dependevano a’ fianchi, rattenute da du’ braccini corti corti: le quali non ebbono mai conosciuto lavoro e gli stavano attaccate a’ bracci come le fussono morte e di pezza, e senza aver che fare davanti ’l fotografo: i ditoni dieci d’un sudanese inguantato. Pervenne.
This description reveals an unquestionable affinity with visual caricatures published in satirical newspapers and magazines, particularly in the early Twenties, such as the following by the caricaturist Carlin.
Finally, Gadda deforms Mussolini’s figure, and particularly his head and face, adopting a pseudo-medical perspective, mixing up dismissed disciplines and brand new disciplines, such as physiognomy and psychoanalysis, in order to connect physical features of the man and psychological and psychiatric explanations of his behaviour:
Vorrei essere frenòlogo e psichiatra per poter iscrutare la follia tetra d’un gaglioffo ipocalcico dalle gambe a roncola, autoerotòmane, eredoalcoolico ed eredoluetico: e luetico in proprio. Da discrivere e pingere in aula magna que’ due mascelloni del teratocèfalo e rachitoide babbèo, e l’esoftalmo dello spiritato basedòwico, le sue finte furie di scacarcione sifoloso.
To deeply understand the inner misshapen thoughts and wishes of the dictator, his face and body must be «depicted» according to a deformation endowed with a critical meaning.
Quotes are from:
Carlo Emilio Gadda, Eros e Priapo. Versione originale, edited by Paola Italia and Giorgio Pinotti. Milano: Adelphi 2016.
Carlo Emilio Gadda, Eros e Priapo. Da furore a cenere, in Idem, Saggi Giornali Favole e altri scritti, II, edited by Claudio Vela, Gianmarco Gaspari, Giorgio Pinotti, Franco Gavazzeni, Dante Isella, Maria Antonietta Terzoli. Milano: Garzanti 1992.