The Search for Modern Tragedy: Aesthetic Fascism in Italy and France

The Search for Modern Tragedy: Aesthetic Fascism in Italy and France

The Search for Modern Tragedy: Aesthetic Fascism in Italy and France

The Search for Modern Tragedy: Aesthetic Fascism in Italy and France

Synopsis

In this text, Witt explores the work of a group of European writers and artists who came to fascism by way of aesthetics. Her study of the relationship between fascism and modern tragedy encompasses theoretical writing on tragedy.

Excerpt

For Americans of my generation who were children during World War II, the notion of fascism seemed simply evil in some primordial way, and thus, as Susan Sontag reminded us, fascinating. As a literary scholar, I am interested in fascism less for its politics than for the peculiar aesthetic and “spiritual” appeal that it exercised. Research in cultural studies, art history, and literature, especially since the 1970s, has refined not only our understanding of fascist aesthetics, but also the understanding of the nature of the fascist presence in art and literature and of the involvement of those writers, artists, and intellectuals who came to the movement primarily through aesthetics. It is this latter phenomenon that I have termed “aesthetic fascism.”

The idea for this book began when I was spending a sabbatical year in Rome and in Paris, working on Pirandello and the French theater in the light of dramatic theories of space. Pirandello's well-known membership in the fascist party and association with Mussolini aroused my curiosity to the extent that it impeded my progress in the area of theoretical dramaturgy; I felt that I simply had to deal with it in some way. Gaspare Giudice's 1963 biography—the first major study to treat the problem openly and seriously—was invaluable in providing documentation for the nature of the association, but I felt that I could not accept Giudice's contention (and that of most Italian critics since) that Pirandello's literary work had nothing whatsoever to do with his political affiliation. Could a writer so neatly divide his politics from his art? Pirandello's idiosyncratic statements on fascism seemed more literary than political. Was the playwright and director merely an opportunist, eager to woo Mussolini's support for his theater?

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