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  • Rewriting the Journey in Contemporary Italian Literature: Figures of Subjectivity in Progress
  • Carmen M. Gomez
Cinzia Sartini Blum . Rewriting the Journey in Contemporary Italian Literature: Figures of Subjectivity in Progress. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2008. 381 pages.

In her study of "subjectivity in progress" and its particular situation in female-authored and migrant literature, Cinzia Sartini Blum attempts to reshape the notion of subjectivity as an interactive, continuous practice that recognizes the productive tensions between conventional binaries, such as experience and theory, body and mind, familiar and foreign. Blum advocates a hybridization of identities that leads the contemporary literary subject beyond the impasse of postmodern discourse—founded upon ideologies that espouse "essentialist fictions of ethnocentrism, nationalism, and religious fundamentalism" (257)—and breathes new life into Italian literary production and criticism. Citing the fundamental interaction of body and mind through empathic relation and the vital connection between history and the written word, Blum highlights affectivity and memory as fundamental tools in opposing Eurocentric and phallogocentric ideals that traditionally dictate the canonization and margin-alization of literary, historical, and political subjectivities. Her analysis adopts both "topoi of the journey" and "wandering" as metaphors for the mobility of the mind, presenting historically peripheral "subjects" with the possibility of new beginnings in which figures of displacement and literary acts of mediation influence new literary and cultural subjectivities in motion.

Blum's analysis of the marginal subjects of Italian literature and culture begins by investigating the so-called "End of the Journey": a "final point" in traditional literature and art that, after postmodernism, reaches an impasse in which history seems to have been "exhausted." The rhetorical end of the journey designates the point in which creativity no longer seems possible and artistic production is destined to mere deconstruction and revision. Blum rejects the "dead-end" perspective of the Western intellectual and the figure of the decentered, idle wanderer that seeks knowledge and escape only to realize the limitations of reason. The traditional, iconic traveler, as seen in Celati's "archaeologist" and Baudelaire's aimless flâneur, only succeeds in informing boundaries and creating them, distinguishing self from categorical Other. Alternatively, Blum appeals to affectivity and empathy as mechanisms for creating connections or "relational paths" between seemingly oppositional poles. Referencing Italo Calvino's ability to consider the complexity, relativity, and multifacetedness of reality in his attempt to interpret and guide historical processes, the author builds on the theories of prominent feminist scholars, including Adriana Cavarero and Rosi Braidotti, and advances a theory of subjectivity in progress that identifies and cultivates productive tensions in an "affect-driven process of negotiation." Blum's approach suggests fluidity and flexibility in the creation of modern subjects that question History yet remain adequately anchored to a historical position that allows for individual and collective responsibility.

Blum introduces the figure of Gradiva as an artistic emblem of the "woman [End Page 1216] in motion" and her passage from subjugation to feminist icon. In her symbolic "journey," Gradiva transitions from Wilhelm Jensen's mythical object of male fantasy and the Freudian manifestation of a desire to master life and death through art, to the Surrealist icon of female unruliness and sexual transgression, only to be eventually revived in Cixous' powerful transfiguration of the "newly born woman." Gradiva rediviva, adopted by feminist discourse, advances a dialogic approach to understanding, representing a "relational mode of thought" in a practice of connection or mediation between dimensions. That which separates conflicting (male and female) scholarly interpretations of the figure of Gradiva is embedded in her conceptual transition: while Jensen and Freud's Gradiva subscribes to individual and subjective recognition by way of alienation and detachment—a claim to an autonomous, sovereign (male) subjectivity through the objectification of the Other—feminist interpretations of Gradiva point to female mobility as a means of reconnecting disparate poles, seeking alternatives to conventional dichotomies, and "thus bridging the gap between empiricism and representationalism, or the corporeality of the text and the textuality of the body" (82). The figure of the "third body" or "thinking body" in Blum's analysis highlights fundamental characteristics of Italian feminist theory and literature: first, the specifically Italian contribution to a discourse of sexual difference...


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