An Italian Studies Scholarly Blog
A considerable amount of work has been dedicated to the interplay between power and intellectuals in Italy. This is not surprising, if we only consider that Italy is the homeland of Antonio Gramsci and Pier Paolo Pasolini – not to mention Niccolò Machiavelli’s Prince.
However, the Postgraduate Colloquium of the Society for Italian Studies, held at the University of Reading on 8th of November 2013, took a considerably different view of the problem. Rather than investigating the relationship between power and the scholars who produce art and culture, the colloquium’s delegates engaged with the question of how power itself has been played out in the process of producing art and culture. Thus, the 2013 SIS Postgraduate Colloquium proved to be a fruitful opportunity to discuss the way power has been variously conceived, expressed, represented and interpreted in Italian culture since the 16th century.
In the first keynote address, Prof. Charles Burdett (University of Bristol) has reasoned on power from the angle of writing on Italian colonialism during the Fascist regime. Drawing on Peter Berger’s and Thomas Luckmann’s approach to the social world as a collectively constructed reality, and on Ruth Ben-Ghiat’s and Roger Griffin’s research on Italian Fascism, Burdett has analysed the transformative stance of Benito Mussolini’s Imperialism as the construction of a new world by a new man. Thus, as Burdett argued, it is in this process of symbolic world creation that the colonialists depicted themselves as a superior kind of human being while the native population appeared as a community of conscripts willing to play a part in the construction of Utopia.
In her keynote talk, Dr Danielle Hipkins instead investigated the topic of power and the exploitation of the female body. By analysing Francesca Comencini’s movie Un giorno speciale, Danielle Hipkins has unfolded the role prostitutes and prostitution had as traditional symbols of the varying interchange between power and subordination in Italian cinema and opera [for an account of Danielle Hipkin’s lecture, see the critic’s corner of this issue].
The colloquium panels turned to be thought-provoking opportunities to unravel the multiple ways in which power has been played out in Italian literature, cinema and art. Delegates from universities in UK, Italy and the US addressed the topic from various points of view.
The first panel examined how both the process of producing and interpreting a work of art are influenced by the articulation of power relations between the artists and the tradition they refer to or between a piece of art and its interpreters. The influence of Horace on the Italian lyrical poetry of the 16th century was investigated, along with the way in which Giovanni Raboni’s works challenged the traditional canon of poetry of his time. Moreover, the delegates discussed qualities and limits of Massimo Recalcati’s psychoanalytical approach to the artworks of Giorgio Morandi and Alberto Burri.
Subsequently, the colloquium delved in the multifaceted expressions of power and its representation. The topic was approached by touching on how power issues interfere with the process of translating and publishing, on how power and anti-power are played out in Italian cinema and on the ‘messianic’ characterization of power in Antonio Tabucchi’s works.
Moreover, the delegates investigated in which ways literature, memoirs and cinema have constituted an opportunity for power to forge its identity through the representation of antagonistic and deviant figures. The concept of otherness, in relation to power, was central in the third panel’s contributions. Thus language and imagery of patriotism have been analysed in connection with the 1880s first attempts of Italian colonialism along with Wu Ming’s Timira and the theme of ‘Blackface’ in the Italian postcolonial cinema [on this topic see Marco Purpura’s article in the ‘Voices’ section of this issue].
Finally the colloquium engaged with how narrative figures of Italian literature have been used to represent power. Dealing with such authors as Carlo Levi and Gesualdo Bufalino, Augusto Frassineti and Antonio Fogazzaro, contributors analysed several figures of power both in the metaphysical and historical sense. The delegates have delved into the representation of Ferruccio Parri, Alcide De Gasperi and Palmiro Togliatti in Carlo Levi’s L’orologio, but also in the psychological power of discourse in an imaginary Risorgimento depicted by Gesualdo Bufalino. They combined the impersonal and obscure power of Ministerial bureaucracy in Agusto Frassineti’s Mistero dei Ministeri with the insensitive and rather decadent figure of the pro-Austrian marchioness Orsola Maironi in Antonio Fogazzaro’s Piccolo mondo antico.
In conclusion, the 2013 SIS Postgraduate Colloquium was an opportunity for early career researchers to unravel the theme of power in a rather unusual way, by showing the relevance of power issues in the process of production, representation and interpretation of the multifaceted world of Italian culture.