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MLN 119.1 (2004) 135-173

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Language, Gender and Sexuality in the Italian Neo-Avant-Garde

Lucia Re
University of California, Los Angeles

1. The Originality of the Italian Neo-Avant-Garde

Like its "historical" predecessor, the Italian neoavanguardia was essentially male-dominated.Although it is difficult to pinpoint exactly where and when the Italian neo-avant-garde was born, the founding of the journal Il verri by Luciano Anceschi in Milan in 1956 is often cited as its starting-point, while the publication in 1961 of the anthology I novissimi, with excerpts from the work of Nanni Balestrini, Alfredo Giuliani, Elio Pagliarani, Antonio Porta, and Edoardo Sanguineti, is considered its official coming into being. 1 The all-male group of the novissimi went on to form the core of the larger Gruppo 63, where women were a tiny and marginalized minority. Out of the twenty-nine participants who spoke or read from their work at the first meeting of the group (held in Palermo in October 1963) only two were women. They were Amelia Rosselli and Carla Vasio. Among the ten writers whose work was staged in the evening devoted to the theater there were no women, though Piera Degli Esposti, Annita Nosei and Carmen Scarpitta participated as actresses. Subsequent [End Page 135] meetings were supposed to be more open and diverse, but the gender ratio remained substantially unchanged. 2 No women participated in the last meeting, held in Fano in May 1967.

A selection of texts from the first meeting (as well as additional texts by other writers) was published in the anthology Gruppo 63. La nuova letteratura. 34 scrittori. Palermo 1963, edited by Nanni Balestrini and Alfredo Giuliani (Milan: Feltrinelli, 1964). The anthology included an excerpt from Rosselli's Variazioni belliche and Carla Vasio's "I grandi riflessi." Both have been retained in the new, revised (and rather revisionist) edition of the anthology entitled Gruppo 63: L'Antologia, edited by Nanni Balestrini and Alfredo Giuliani (Turin: Testo & Immagine, 2002) published shortly before the celebrations for the fortieth anniversary of the Gruppo 63 held in Bologna (May 8-11, 2003) under the direction of Renato Barilli, Niva Lorenzini and Fausto Curi and the auspices of the Assessorato alla Cultura, Provincia di Bologna. 3 Seeking to give a more balanced and comprehensive vision of the neoavanguardia, the new edition of the 1964 anthology adds texts by thirteen writers (all written before 1969) reputed to be close to the spirit of the Gruppo 63 even though they did not participate in their meetings. Only three are by women (Patrizia [End Page 136] Vicinelli, Giulia Niccolai and Alice Ceresa). 4 Even in hindsight then, it appears that women did not have much to do with the whole project of the Gruppo 63. Yet if one looks at the theories and experimental practices of Italian neo-avant-garde groups spanning roughly the period from the mid-1950s to the late 1960s, it is evident that they included elements of great interest and value to women.

The urge to "demystify" and "demythify" was one. This urge filled the air of the first meeting of the Gruppo 63 in Palermo, and became a sort of lucid and compelling passion. It was an urge informed in part by Marxist theory, by the work of the Frankfurt school (especially Adorno and Benjamin), and Lucien Goldmann, as well as the materialist esthetics of Galvano Della Volpe. The ground-breaking essays of the early Roland Barthes on the role of myth in contemporary life (particularly Mythologies) were also a source of inspiration. 5 During the recent celebrations of that meeting's fortieth anniversary, Alfredo Giuliani and Edoardo Sanguineti also both cited Alberto Savinio's 1947 essay "La fine dei modelli" as a crucial influence on them at the time. Avant-garde intellectuals and artists of the younger, post-war generation in Italy felt the need to question and critique the [End Page 137] models, images and values imposed by traditional academic and literary culture, on the one hand, and by the logic of the new consumer capitalism, on the...


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