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.  

1.
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.

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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.

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