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431 BOOK REVIEWS De Martino, Ernesto. 2005 The land of remorse: A study of southern Italian tarantism. xxiii, 332 pp. London: Free Association Books, £19.95 (paper). This volume represents the first English translation of a ‘classic’ in Italian Anthropology. Although Ernesto De Martino (1908–1965) was one of the most original thinkers in the course of the twentiethcentury ,hisworkremainslittleknown outside of Italy and France. Therefore, the timely publication of the English version of his major work (which first appeared in 1961 under the title La terra del rimorso: Contributo a una storia religiosa del Sud) willnotonlymakehisthoughtknowntoan Anglophone readership, but will also restore the credit due De Martino for his contribution to the discipline. Laterradelrimorso(literally‘theland of “anguish” or “re-bite”’) is the study of tarantism conducted in 1959 by an interdisciplinary team in the southern Italian region of Apulia. Tarantism is a religious cult formed by those believed to have been bittenbyaspiderlocallyknownas taranta. The victims of the bite are in state of physical and psychological disorder, and exhibit a range of symptoms that include nausea,stomachache,muscularpain,feelings of physical collapse, and heightened sexual desire. These individuals (the tarantati) could be cured only through the music of certain instruments, dance, and the sight of particular colours. Because the symptoms attributed to the bite manifest themselves in June of every year, the tarantati (mainly women) gather at the church of St. Paul in the town of Galatina on the patron saint day of Saints Peter and Paul (29 June), and seek the benevolent intervention of the saint. Central to the book is the investigation of the nature of tarantism: according to De Martino, it could hardly be considered ‘disease’, for there is no evidence that the state of disorder is related to the spider’s bite. Tarantism is regarded instead as a ‘culturally conditioned mythical-ritual symbol’ (p. 79), a cultural phenomenon ‘that takes place in “full” symbolic autonomy ’ (p. 112). De Martino interprets the bite of the spider as a symbol of unresolved conflicts operating in the unconscious : in this sense, the ‘bite’ has nothing to do with the spider or with the harvest (duringwhichthevictimsofthecrisishave supposedly been bitten), but symbolizes a critical episode from the past, like the crisisofpuberty,anunhappyloveaffair,or an unfortunate marriage. The connection between tarantism and the summer season isanalysedonthesymbolicleveltoo,given that the summer is the time of harvest and, particularly in Apulia, is also a period of high social tension and existential frustration for most peasant families. It was during the summer that the destiny of the year was decided, given that for a peasant family being able to pay off one’s debts was conditional on a successful harvest. In this sense, the summer was ‘a period in which all unresolved conflicts blossomed’ (p. 113). Thus, the realization that tarantism has a ‘cultural’ dimension prompts De Martino to investigate the symbolism of healing rites, and to relate it to the socioeconomic framework on the one hand, and the influence of Catholicism on the other. De Martino deploys the phrase ‘crisis of presence’ to describe the state of the (13) Last pages 24.10.17, 10:58 431 432 tarantate: derived from existentialist and phenomenological philosophy, the notion (put very simply) refers to the loss of the sense of self that results in one’s inability to act on the world and control one’s own existence, and ultimately in individuals’ losing their place in history. In this sense, tarantism represents an instrument of reintegrationthathelpsindividualsovercome the ‘crisis of presence’ and regain their place in history: in other words, it disciplinespsychicconflictsintheunconscious , and reintegrates the victims of the crisis. Over forty years after the publication of its original version, The land of remorse remains a provocative and compelling anthropological work. The investigation of tarantism from an historical and anthropologicalperspectiveisthebook ’smostoriginal contribution. In combining both perspectives ,DeMartinocastnewlightonthe relationship between subaltern and hegemonic cultures, and between local communities and the encompassing state of which they are part at a time when most anthropologists still focussed on supposedly ‘isolated’ communities and peoples ‘without history’. Moreover, by revealing the relations of power that informed 19th centurydefinitionsoftarantismas‘pathology ’, De Martino pioneered the exploration of an issue that became central to Foucault...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2523-9465
Print ISSN
1016-3476
Pages
pp. 431-432
Launched on MUSE
2018-01-11
Open Access
No
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