Academic journal article Italica

Anthony Julian Tamburri. Re-Reading Italian Americana: Specificities and Generalities on Literature and Criticism

Academic journal article Italica

Anthony Julian Tamburri. Re-Reading Italian Americana: Specificities and Generalities on Literature and Criticism

Article excerpt

Anthony Julian Tamburri. Re-reading Italian Americana: Specificities and Generalities on Literature and Criticism. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2014.

This landmark collection of critical essays is a mariner's log of Italian American Studies. Anthony Julian Tamburri, Dean of the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute and Distinguished Professor of European Languages and Literatures (Queens College, CUNY), notes past currents, sounds present depths, and charts future courses in a tempestuous ocean. This transatlantic voyage is both exhilarating and unsettling. To make the field more seaworthy and to improve cultural dialogue within the Italian American community, Tamburri asks readers to jettison "blind ideologies" and "misinformed histories," not to mention willful ignorance and raging egotism (x). Only then will we become true explorers and chroniclers of a complicated and often troubling heritage.

Written in a trenchant, conversational style, Re-reading Italian Americana addresses writers and scholars but also engages general readers. Like a triptych, its three sections hinge on each other to form a striking panorama. Part One analyzes our field's current state of affairs and reviews the ways in which Italian American authors "have been ignored or, when noticed, misunderstood, mostly due to age-old stereotypes" rooted in both nineteenth-century Anglo-American culture and nineteenth-century Northern Italian culture (x). Part Two, the book's longest section, skillfully examines the work of six Italian American authors: three prose writers (Pietro di Donato, Mario Puzo, and Luigi Barzini), and three poets (Joseph Tusiani, Rina Ferrarelli, and Maria Mazziotti Gillan). Part Three summarizes and evaluates scholarship in Italian American studies to date and proposes a new cultural studies model for our discipline.

Tamburri, author of the classic A Semiotic of Ethnicity: In (Recognition of the Italian/ American Writer (SUNY Press 1998), is an astute and original critic. Me makes a strong case for including Luigi Barzini's cosmopolitan memoir O America, When You and I Were Young (1977) in the Italian American canon. Equally impressive, he highlights the concerns about class and ethnicity in Rina Ferrarelli and Maria Mazziotti Gillan, whose poetry too often is considered merely confessional and lyrical. He also demonstrates their thematic relationship with Joseph Tusiani, a more formal, bilingual poet from an earlier generation, who overtly and directly wrestled with the problems of immigration and assimilation. These aesthetic judgments of specific writers, however, are always framed within a general inquiry into history and politics.

"There is no ontology without archeology!" declared poet and educator Felix Stefanile. Re-reading Italian Americana dares to ask the large questions: Why did our forbearers leave Italy during the Great Diaspora? How have recent scholarship and archival materials changed our understanding of the social, political, and economic causes behind this traumatic migration? What debt, if any, does contemporary Italy owe these immigrants and their descendants? What has Italy done over the past one hundred years to improve the conditions that led to the mass exodus at the end of the nineteenth century? How might confronting these issues initiate a transatlantic dialogue between Italian and Italian American writers and scholars and help both Italy and the United States better understand the new immigrants of the twenty-first century?

Two pillars support Tamburri's overarching analysis of Italian American literature. The first is language, "the sine qua non without which one cannot access and therefore know the culture whence one came" (121). Indeed, the controversies surrounding language and literacy are crucial to understanding Italian identify on both sides of the Atlantic, particularly for those with roots in the Mezzogiorno. Alessandro Manzoni's The Betrothed, the book that created modern Italian, is an epic of literacy and a debate about the material forces that shape language and culture. …

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