scrivere “contro” o scrivere “per”

Nei giorni della morte di Andrea Camilleri, nelle pieghe di un tributo pressoché unanime, si muoveva strisciante un malcontento quasi clandestino, da irriducibili resistenti, ultimi giapponesi della letteratura, che opponeva al consenso incondizionato per l’opera di Camilleri una distinzione antica – perché superata dal potere fagocitante del mainstream – ma ancora annidata nelle coscienze novecentesche dei letterati: quella tra letteratura “di qualità” e letteratura “di successo”, tra letteratura “alta” e letteratura “popolare”, tra ricerca e tradizione. La contrapposizione, per dirla in termini meno stereotipati, tra la scrittura di opere che lavorano contro il mondo e la sua lingua, che cambiando le parole vogliono cambiare il mondo, e non cercano il consenso dei lettori esistenti, ma individuano i propri lettori nei posteri; e la scrittura di opere che invece nel mondo ci stanno immerse, lo prendono al volo, lo assorbono e lo restituiscono in una forma riconoscibile, che crea consenso perché echeggia le vite e le immaginazioni della maggioranza. Camilleri, naturalmente, sta in questo secondo gruppo. Continue reading scrivere “contro” o scrivere “per”

Anger as misshapen fear

I’m pleased to announce the release of the new issue of the journal Emotions: History, Culture, Society, which includes my article Anger as Misshapen Fear: Fascism, Literature, and the Emotional Body

Continue reading Anger as misshapen fear

Caricature as emotional knowledge

I publish here the talk I’ve given at the Mis-Shapings conference last September 13 at Queen Mary University.

Do we believe in physiognomy? Do we believe, as the Italian anthropologist Cesare Lombroso did, that psychological, emotional, moral attitudes of the individuals can be divined by observing the shape and features of the face?

Types of criminals, from Cesare Lombroso, «Criminal Man», 1889.

No, of course we don’t. Physiognomy is pseudo-science, dismissed knowledge, superstition. We can’t make assumptions merely relying on appearances. Can we?

Actually, we do. We do it in our daily life, often unintentionally. But even when we look at artworks we allow us to believe in physiognomy. Continue reading Caricature as emotional knowledge

Socialising anger. Fascism and emotions

Last June 22nd I participated in the Literature and Social Emotions Conference at the University of Bristol. I presented a paper titled Socialising Anger. Literary Representations of Emotional Communities under Fascism, which is a development of the research I first presented one year ago and will result in a broader scrutiny on the representation of emotions in fascism-related Italian literature. What follows is the text of the Bristol’s paper.  

Italian fascism pursued strict management of public feelings. It aimed at a wide and deep control of human thoughts and experiences. That is to say, it built what William Reddy defines an ‘emotional regime’; it established a set of practices which inculcated normative emotions, like enthusiasm, exaggerated optimism, national pride. Nevertheless, the euphoric feelings displayed in public represent just one of the emotional layers of fascist Italy. Despite the appearance of unanimous acceptance, fascism largely derived consensus from violence and intimidation. As denounced by Carlo Emilio Gadda in the very first lines of his anti-fascist satire Eros e Priapo, written in 1944-1945.

Collective and individual consciousness, threatened by the knife, the truncheon, the torture; and silenced by prisons, extorsions, vetos against free expression; it was concealed in a hidden, invisible lagoon of history, beyond hate and dullness, and belonged to the refugees, the persecuted, the prisoners, the humiliated, children of deportees and executed to death.

Along with material and physical coercion, fascism caused the emotional suffering of part of the population. Gadda sketches the existence of what Reddy would call an ‘emotional refuge’, a cluster of social conditions and related practices diverging from the emotional regime.

Continue reading Socialising anger. Fascism and emotions

Windows of the soul: caricature and physiognomy

Wednesday 28 February I was at Warwick University as an invited speaker within the research seminar series of the School of Modern Languages and Cultures. I publish here an excerpt of my talk, summarising the main point I tried to make and discussing some example of literary caricatures. Here the uncut version. 

With this talk, I aim at clarifying the mutual enhancement of caricature and physiognomy. As Martin Porter puts it, physiognomy is a form of “natural magic”, a language in which all aspects of human appearance are natural “windows of the soul”. Physiognomy is assessed as “magic” and archaeological knowledge for the modern epistemology deprived it of recognised scientific reliability. Still, it has been a long-standing and pervading presence in Western Culture. Over time, it has registered the multiple and diverse attempts to connect what is visible of the human body to what is invisible and concerns the soul and the mind; to establish a relationship between the outside and the inside; to find homologies between superficial lines and deep forces, physical outlines and moral attitudes.

Lithographic drawings illustrative of the relation between the human physiognomy and that of the brute creation / From designs by Charles Le Brun. Wellcome Collection.

Continue reading Windows of the soul: caricature and physiognomy

Anger as misshapen fear: fascism and the emotional body

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.

Giacomo Manzù, Black Brigadist, 1943

Continue reading Anger as misshapen fear: fascism and the emotional body

The Cognition of Priapus. Gadda and caricature

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.

Carlin (Carlo Bergoglio), La riapertura della camera,  «Pasquino», 48, 1922

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.