Landscapes in Between: Environmental Change in Modern Italian Literature and Film by Monica Seger (review)
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Reviewed by
Monica Seger. Landscapes in Between: Environmental Change in Modern Italian Literature and Film. University of Toronto Press. viii, 200. $55.00

In this book, an ecocritical approach sets both the topics and the aims of what comes together as a thoughtful and original contribution to contemporary Italian studies. The focus is on interstitial spaces, as the title indicates: those landscapes that have been shaped by nature and culture [End Page 188] alike, and which are called "lived landscapes." Seger asserts that representations of these in-between spaces by writers and filmmakers are not so much laments for the loss of natural beauty as they are the development of an "ethics of coping." How do we make the most of modified natural environments, even if they are degraded and unlovely? Nature is never without the effects of human cultural and economic undertakings, and Seger's chosen texts do not in any way promote a "back to the wild" narrative that was so popular in early North American naturalists such as Emerson and Thoreau. Instead, these literary and cinematic renderings of the "lived landscapes" of our modern world seek in a variety of ways to reveal the value that they hold, and not just the losses that they inevitably signify.

Seger makes very clear the chronological boundaries of her study: from post-World War II to the present; the writers and filmmakers she chooses to analyse fall within these years (roughly a seventy-year slice of Italian cultural production from the mid-1940s to today), led by Italo Calvino, who "fully introduces a portrait of a second, or modified, nature to post-war Italian literature." Subsequent chapters are devoted, respectively, to Pier Paolo Pasolini, Gianni Celati, Simona Vinci, and in the final chapter both Daniele Cipri and Franco Moresco are discussed. In both the introduction and the chapters that follow, Seger gives her readers a judicious mix of factual, socio-historical information as well as sensitive readings of texts and films. Given that a detailed description of each chapter is not possible in a short review, I will briefly comment on Seger's analyses of Celati, an author on whom I have written extensively, including on some of the issues taken up in this study. Seger chooses to concentrate on his 1989 book Verso la foce (Toward the River's Mouth), which is made up of his diaristic jottings as he travelled through the Po Valley. By the time that Celati undertook this project, he had moved decisively away from his linguistically experimental early novels and toward what Seger rightly calls "a more meditative, less overtly comic voice than in his previous texts." In his travels, Celati observes the degradation of the natural environment due to industrialization and urban growth, but in spite of the pollution he observes, his is decidedly not a text of lament, but rather of what Seger has already identified as an "ethics of coping." Unlike Pasolini's apocalyptic view of what he called the anthropological mutation of Italy from an agrarian to an industrial and consumerist society, Celati's is a gentler acceptance of the degradation to which all living things are subject. As Seger writes, he is much more a witness than an authority, intent on observation rather than judgement. Seger's very sensitive attunement to Celati's unique way of capturing both the dismay and the joy generated by what he encounters on his travels is highly admirable, and her reading of Verso la foce is, to my mind, one of the very best. [End Page 189]

In the brief afterword to this fine study, Seger once more emphasizes her belief in the rightness of an "ethics of coping," which refuses despair and instead looks to the interstitial, modest spaces she values so highly. By paying attention to those spaces and to the literary and cinematic modes by which they are represented, she advocates a kind of "caretaking," a "stewardship" of the environment in which we find ourselves and the beauties of which may be difficult to perceive but which are there for those who want to see them. It may be that her modest approach is more appropriate than the...


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