Risorgimento in Modern Italian Culture: Revisiting the Nineteenth-Century Past in History, Narrative and Cinema
Edited by Norma Bouchard

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This edited collection on revisionist perspectives on the Risorgimento in Italian culture is timely, appearing as it does in a moment of Anglo-American interest in the myths of Garibaldi and unification: the year 2007 has seen the publication of Lucy Riall’s Garibaldi: Invention of a Hero (Yale). The collection complements the excellent volume edited by Albert Ascoli and Krystyna Von Henneberg, Making and Remaking Italy: The Cultivation of National Identity Around the Risorgimento (Berg, 2001). Ascoli and Von Henneberg’s volume had a broader scope, addressing the role of literature, music, cinema, and the visual arts in (re)making the nation. Bouchard’s focus, instead, is primarily literary, apart from a long introductory chapter on historiography, and a coda on cinematic representations of the Risorgimento. In fact, the literary focus is almost exclusively novelistic: the novel is viewed as the privileged vehicle for articulating, or “imagining” the nation (19). In terms of the theoretical or conceptual frameworks of the Ascoli collection and Bouchard’s, both share an interest in invoking the Risorgimento as an imaginative figure (Ascoli 2), “cultural icon” (12), and ultimately as a heuristic which can be used to “shed light on the reshaping of Italian society from the economic boom and the cultures of protest to the globalization of our postmodern, late-capitalist world” (Bouchard 18).

Bouchard’s volume opens with John Davis’s excellent and lucid synthesis of recent historiography on the Risorgimento, both in English and Italian. Davis is particularly good on current tendencies to analyze sites of Risorgimento memory, as well as on the Southern Question and the many “two Italies” that Unification spawned (42).

Part two addresses Risorgimento novels from the Boom to the “Lead Years.” Marco Cupolo discusses the reception of Il gattopardo, and Mark Pietralunga reads Luciano Bianciardi’s works on the Risorgimento as both “demystification of the Risorgimento epos” (76) and, in tune with most of the contributions, as allegory of the time of writing. In this case a biographical Bianciardi is constructed, who counters a “consumer and product-oriented Italian identity” with a “historically founded” one (84). Finally, Ruth Glynn intelligently reads Vincenzo Consolo’s Il sorriso dell’ignoto marinaio (1976) as an allegory of the “pan-European intellectual dilemma of the 1970s,” with particular reference to Sartre, and, in the Italian context, Fo and Rame. Glynn ends with the interesting note that Consolo’s text, in its attention to voices from the historical margins, “attests to the extent to which practices of high-cultural exclusion and inclusion are entrenched in the cultural sphere” (112).

Part three, “Gendering Unification,” opens with Norma Bouchard’s essay on Anna Banti’s Noi credevamo (1967), “the only Risorgimento narrative penned by an Italian woman during this period [the 1960s and ’70s]” (117). Banti’s novel thus usefully opens up a gender faultline in the already fragmented body politic of the Risorgimento, countering a neo-Gramscian myth of a unified class consciousness. Bouchard argues that Banti’s “revisionist episteme” (122) allows a representation of subalternity in the novel (primarily through its many Southern brigand and female characters) and ultimately “reveals an image of past history as a space irreducibly divided along lines of class, race and gender” (129). One might go further and relate Banti’s text to the “feminization” of the deviant South posited by late nineteenth-century criminologists such as Lombroso and Niceforo.

Cinzia Di Giulio picks up on this nexus of southernness and gender in her chapter on Cutrufelli’s La briganta as a “vision of Risorgimento as travesty of women’s social and cultural resurgence” (136). More on the South as abject other in this period would have interestingly complemented Di Giulio’s study of female abjection.

In part four, “The Postmodern Disappearance and Recovery of the Nation,” Walter Zampieri’s rather meandering chapter on Bufalino as historical novelist eventually concludes that his Le menzogne della notte is an “allegory of one’s lack of grasp over history” (168). Norma Bouchard provides a much more synthetic and persuasive account of Tabucchi’s Piazza d’Italia (1975) in terms of the Derridean discourse of hauntology: she asks why late twentieth-century Italian narrative insists on reopening the Risorgimento archive. Spectrality here is understood as both a “social mode of transgenerational haunting” (177) and a return of the ideological content of the past in an age in which history has disappeared.

The fifth section, on Sicilian narratives of the Risorgimento, opens with Mark Chu’s account of Sciascia’s writings on the Risorgimento in which he discusses Sicilian literary representations of Risorgimento as characterized by a topos of the inevitability of failure of revolution, critiquing Sciascia’s ahistorical view of Sicilian history as a defeat of reason. Chu engages principally with Il ’48 and I pugnalatori, reading the former against neo-Gramscian accounts of the lack of mass participation in the revolution, and the latter in analogy to the antidemocratic practices of the 1970s.

The late Robert Dombroski’s chapter on Consolo’s Il sorriso to some extent overlaps with that of Glynn; however, he focuses more on the novel as “a postmodern retracing of the past left on the surface of the world” in an era where memory has disappeared (220). He argues beautifully that Consolo writes the subaltern in “a language of mobility, transgression and power” (234).

In the final section, on cinema, Fulvio Orsitto looks at representations of the Risorgimento in Italian cinema between 1954 and 1974. Possibly overstating Italian cinema’s “historical vocation” (241), he nevertheless offers intelligent analyses of Vancini’s Bronte and the Tavianis’ Allonsanfans as films which embody the tensions of the 1970s towards the foundational discourses of the nation. Valerio Ferme reads the cinema of the overlooked Luigi Magni, especially his popular Risorgimento trilogy Nell’anno del Signore, In nome del papa re, and In nome del popolo sovrano, and raises the question of the subversive function of popular art in relation to historical discourse.

As is clear, the volume is varied and interesting and will be of great value to scholars and students interested in narratives of the Risorgimento or the Risorgimento as “cultural icon.” It is a pity that all of the texts examined here were produced during the First Republic, and there is a marked absence of discussion of the 1990s onwards, but perhaps that is for another volume.

Catherine O’Rawe, University of Bristol, Italian Bookshelf

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