Anthropological Approaches to Italian Literature: An Introduction

By Cervigni, Dino S. | Annali d'Italianistica, Annual 1997 | Go to article overview

Anthropological Approaches to Italian Literature: An Introduction

Cervigni, Dino S., Annali d'Italianistica

At the basis of AdI 1997 lies the documented awareness that literature and anthropology have always shared much more than common interests. Literature in fact constitutes a major cultural manifestation of the human person, the same human person that is also at the center of all anthropological investigations. Literature itself has always drawn the interest of anthropologists, who have formally recognized the study of literature (or literary anthropology) in order to tap the written records' richest sources of documentation for the synchronic and diachronic investigation of humankind's ideas and behaviors. Within this context of shared interests and interrelatd approaches, the authors whose work appears in AdI 1997 have set out to investigate the multiple interconnections of literature and anthropology in their theoretical framework and literary manifestations and to apply warranted anthropological strategies to the interpretation of texts from all epochs of the history of the Italian literature.

As a very informative and insightful bibliographical introduction to literature's and anthropology's interconnections, Olimpia Pelosi's essay--"Letteratura italiana e antropologia: percorsi bibliografici"--surveys thematically the evolving relationship between Italian literary criticism and anthropological approaches, ranging from the symbolic-mythological school to the Jungian, the Marxist, and the postmodern. The next two essays are authored by two foremost Italian anthropologists and exemplify theoretical and applied investigative approaches to human behavior and humankind's written records. Domenico Antonino Conci's "Prove fenomenologiche su segni sacrali" takes us back to primordial times (1. La disperazione fossile; 2. Disperazione fossile e storia; 3. Disperazione fossile e Sacro; 4. Fenomenologia del mito e del rito) in order to explore the remotest origins of the sacred. Equally challenging and comprehensive, Domenico Scafoglio investigates humankind's fundamental and multifaceted aspects of the comic ("Pulcinella: per un'antropologia del comico"; 1. L'archetipo e la storia; 2. Figura dell'identits; 3. L'integrazione della differenza; 4. La differenza irriducibile e il capro espiatorio; 5. Il corpo del buffone; 6. Il comico viene da un altrove, Il comico e trasgressivo, Il comico e un mediatore culturale) by focusing on the Neapolitan maschera Pulcinella.

Next AdI 1997 offers a series of contributions that apply various anthropological approaches to the diachronic investigation of Italian literature. Three essays focus on medieval and Renaissance texts. In "Boccaccio's Teseida: The Breakdown of Difference and Ritual Sacrifice," William C. Maisch, adopting a Derridian and Girardian model, submits that "The Teseida shows the failure of Pre-Christian society to control the violent consequences of the destabilization of humankind's ability to construct meaning that is brought on by nondifferentiation." Franco Ferrucci outlines a "Machiavellian anthropology" through the investigation of the Florentine's concern with the construction of an ante litteram Nietzschean Ubermensch. Ferrucci describes Machiavelli's efforts to move beyond good and evil, his attempts to reshape history through literature and language not only through anthropological metaphors focused on man (such as health and illness, youth and old age, ascending, and falling into ruin) but also through an overall anthropology of humankind grounded on some never questioned principles: humankind's corruption, fierce yearning for success, deep dissatisfaction ("gli uomini sogliono affliggersi nel male e stuccarsi nel bene", Discorsi 1:37), and propensity to envy. The last of the three essays devoted to the Middle Ages and Renaissance, Cessreo Bandera's "Tasso and the Epic: A Girardian Reading," investigates such fundamental anthropological notions as origins of the sacred, the presence of violence amidst humankind, the victimage mechanism through which (according to Girard's theory) humankind rids itself of its own violence, the relationships of truth, history and epic, and epic's ultimate failure, after Tasso, to represent historical truth trough its travisamento. …

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