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Monsters in the Italian Literary Imagination

Edited by Keala Jewell

Publication Year: 2001

A culture defines monsters against what is essentially thought of as human. Creatures such as the harpy, the siren, the witch, and the half-human all threaten to destroy our sense of power and intelligence and usurp our human consciousness. In this way, monster myths actually work to define a culture's definition of what is human. In Monsters in the Italian Literary Imagination, a broad range of scholars examine the monster in Italian culture and its evolution from the medieval period to the twentieth century. Editor Keala Jewell explores how Italian culture juxtaposes the powers of the monster against the human. The essays in this volume engage a wide variety of philological, feminist, and psychoanalytical approaches and examine monstrous figures from the medieval to postmodern periods. They each share a critical interest in how monsters reflect a culture's dominant ideologies.

Published by: Wayne State University Press


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pp. 7-8

This collection of essays on monsters owes a debt of gratitude to the Ramon Guthrie Fund of Dartmouth College, which contributed generously to a conference organized on this topic some years ago at Dartmouth. The Guthrie Fund has also generously supported the publication of the volume. ...

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Introduction: Monsters and Discourse on the Human

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pp. 9-24

How can we explain the undying presence of monsters in the cultural imagination, their persistence even in a modern epoch that scarcely believes in such creatures? And if we ever were to relinquish all fear of "them," how might we imagine a post-monstrous world? ...

Part 1: Modern Horrors

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1. Creatures of Difference: Myths of Monstrosity in Savinio's La nostra anima

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pp. 27-50

Alberto Savinio's short novel La nostra anima (Our Soul) (1944) is a modern version of the tale of Eros and Psyche that recasts a long-lived, culturally authoritative story of the love between a mortal and an immortal being. Following illustrious predecessors, the modern author brings to the Greek myth the notion that Psyche's story of union with a deity is an allegory of the soul, of "la nostra anima." ...

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2. "Mon maitre, mon monstre": Primo Levi and Monstrous Science

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pp. 51-64

In 1966 Primo Levi published his first collection of science fiction stories, entitled Storie naturali (Natural Stories), to be followed by another collection, Vizio diforma (Vice of Form), in 1971.1 Levi's science fiction holds a surprisingly liminal place in his opus. Almost entirely ignored by critics and not generally known by the reading public, ...

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3. Monstrous Murder: Serial Killers and Detectives in Contemporary Italian Fiction

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pp. 65-88

Serial murder, State Prosecutor Lanzarini confidently informs us in Carlo Lucarelli's novel Lupo mannaro,1 is an American phenomenon; it is not European, and it is decidedly not Italian. Indeed, serial murder is a concept so alien in Italy that no word in Italian exists to denote its perpetrator. ...

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4. The Mother of All Horror: Witches, Gender, and the Films of Dario Argento

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pp. 89-106

As one of the premiere (and self-proclaimed) "masters of horror," Dario Argento continues to shock spectators with his brutal images of violence against women. The son of a film producer, Argento began his career working as an assistant on the films of Mario Bava, the grandfather of Italian horror, and later as a screenwriter on such films as Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West (1969). ...

Part 2: Monsters and Conception

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5. Dante's "dolce serena" and the Monstrosity of the Female Body

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pp. 109-136

The Divina Commedia seems a fitting text for a consideration of monsters and monstrosity in the Italian tradition.1 Dante's Inferno, the most widely- as well as easily-read of the three cantiche, is full of strikingly depicted malevolent creatures whose vivid representations remain among the most memorable in the poem. ...

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6. "A la tetta de la madre s'apprende": The Monstrous Nurse in Dante's Grammar of Selfhood

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pp. 137-152

I would like to situate my reading of Lady Grammar in Dante and medieval culture within recent definitions of sexual difference and what has come to be known as monster theory. To that end, I must outline elements of a reading that I have elsewhere presented in detail and that will form the basis for my forthcoming book.1 ...

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7. Incredible Sex: Witches, Demons, and Giants in the Early Modern Imagination

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pp. 153-176

In his dialogue The Messenger (Il messaggiero, 1580—87), Torquato Tasso writes that he awoke one morning to find a marvelous, luminous presence in his prison cell at the Ospedale di Sant'Anna. Questioning his suprahuman visitor, "Torquato" was led into a lengthy discussion about the existence and nature of creatures intermediate between humans and God.1 ...

Part 3: Monsters and Poetics

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8. Monstrous Movements and Metaphors in Dante's Divine Comedy

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pp. 179-190

Scholars of medieval manuscripts, as if recalling Bernard of Clairvaux's questioning of the necessity of such disturbing monstrous representations,1 have paid particular attention to the figures in the margins of manuscripts.2 Their studies reveal that a startling array of monsters lurk in the margins of illuminated manuscripts, fill up the borders of the page, and surround and encroach on the text. ...

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9. Monstrous Language, Monstrous Bodies: Bartolotti's Macharonea Medicinalis

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pp. 191-202

Of all the non-canonical Italian Renaissance literary productions, macaronic poetry is unquestionably the most remarkable, as it poignantly transgresses, both in form and content, those classical precepts that were at the very foundations of the literary and cultural pursuits of the time. The earlier macaronic texts originated during the last two decades of the fifteenth century in the academic milieu of Padua, ...

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10. Girolamo Parabosco's L’Hermafrodito: An Irregular Commedia Regolare

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pp. 203-221

In Girolamo Parabosco's comedy L'Hermafrodito (1549), there are no transgender characters nor even any instances of cross-dressing. Behind the title lies an unwieldy play that incorporates some twenty characters into what seems a hybrid of all other Renaissance comedies. During the five rather complicated acts an old man will be mocked for his foolish interest in a young woman, ...

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11. Ogres and Fools: On the Cultural Margins of the Seicento

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pp. 222-246

The seventeenth century witnessed the expansion of aesthetic canons to include the grotesque, the ugly, the common, and, in general, any manifestation of "nature wandering, jesting, stretching the limits of her domain"; the lyric poetry of the Marinisti provides countless examples of this tendency, just as the "poetics of the marvelous" theorizes it. ...

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12. Reforming the Monster: Manzoni and the Grotesque

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pp. 247-262

As if inscribing a tombstone, Carlo Emilio Gadda writes at the beginning of his Apologia manzontana (1927): "La mescolanza degli apporti storici e teoretici più disparati, di cui si finse e si finge tuttavia il nostro, bizzarro, imprevedibile vivere, egli ne avvertì la contaminazione grottesca."1 (He singled out the grotesque contamination present in the mixture ...

Part 4: The Monster as Discourse

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13. The Monster as a Refugee

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pp. 265-278

Gilles Deleuze says: "A 'monster' is foremost a composite being. . . . [Though] 'monster' has a second meaning: something or someone whose extremely determinate nature allows the indeterminate fully to stand (the Goyastyle monster, for instance). In this sense, thought is a monster."1 ...

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14. Per Speculum Melancholiae: The Awakening of Reason Engenders Monsters

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pp. 279-296

Paul Valery once wrote that there is only one thing more frightening than a monster: trying to describe one. Indeed, writing about monsters can be more frightening than actually seeing one. This is particularly true when, as in modern times, believing in monsters (that is, in traditional representations of monstrosity) has become increasingly difficult, ...

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15. Monstrous Knowledge

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pp. 297-310

For feminists on the threshold of the twenty-first century, the scariest monster of all time goes not by the name of Cyclops or Cerberus, Dracula or Godzilla, but rather lurks, within and without the halls of academe, in the guise of the neuter universal subject of knowledge. It is the merit of the Italian feminist philosopher Adriana Cavarero to have conceptualized the monstrosity of this subject ...

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pp. 311-314

Anton Ella Ansani is Assistant Professor of Italian at Queensborough Community College, CUNY. She specializes in Italian Renaissance literature and is currently working on a manuscript on Italian Renaissance theater. Her previous scholarship includes studies of Pico della Mirandola, Ariosto, Bandello, and Basile. ...


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pp. 315-326

E-ISBN-13: 9780814339879
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814328385

Page Count: 328
Illustrations: 8
Publication Year: 2001