Women in Nature, Women in Culture: Ecofeminism and Simona Vinci's Agosto Nero
Seger, Monica, Italica
Disrupting the opposition between nature and culture opens up spaces for feminisms that neither totally affirm nor totally deny difference. Feminism can instead cobble together a myriad of adulterated alternatives that neither seek an unattained, utterly female space outside of culture nor cast off bodies, matter, and nature as that which is forever debased. Since the opposition between nature and culture is so fundamental to Western thought, however, reformulating these categories is no small matter.
(Stacy Alaimo, Undomesticated Ground 10)
Simona Vinci entered the Italian literary scene in the 1990's, when new texts being celebrated by the publishing world were ripe with the imprint of a consumer obsessed and mass media filtered contemporary culture. Vinci's earlier work displays elements that identify her with the authors of these texts, writers dubbed cannibali at the time, but it also bears the marks of definitive individuality. A distinction between her work and that of her literary peers is evinced by the very timelessness of the themes she employs, themes which simply refuse to be relegated to a specific moment in time or literary trend however deformed they may appear in her hands.
I am specifically drawn to Vinci's manipulation of nature and culture and the ways in which these two classically opposed realms intersect in her writing with notions of personal identity. These motifs are particularly present in the text discussed herein, Agosto Nero, the first story in Vinci's 1999 collection, In tutti i sensi come l'amore. In Agosto Nero, Vinci employs a first person narrative to describe the rather bleak and aimless coastal journey of a woman and her young daughter. The two come across as one jaggedly intertwined entity and their interactions with one another and the land they traverse cause readers to revisit the long held association between woman and the natural world. The narrator's attitude toward her own capacity to bear life and her sense of maternal authority remain ambiguous throughout the story, as she and her daughter struggle to engage with both the trappings of culture and the land through which they are traveling. As it moves toward a redefinition of the complicated relationship between nature, woman and culture Agosto Nero invites the application of an ecofeminist critique.
Upon first encountering the story and noting that it depicts a very contemporary take on a very old topic, humankind's relationship to nature, I launched out to further explore the general literary history of such a relationship. In undertaking this task I simply could not escape feminism. No matter what high tech card catalogue I consulted, the terms 'nature' and 'fiction' regularly produced titles containing the qualifier 'ecofeminist critique,' so I came to terms with this designation. As much as I suspect that Vinci herself would shy away from such a label, I believe that Agosto Nero may be read as an ecofeminist work. We may even choose to call it a post or new wave ecofeminist work so as to differentiate it from the tropes of the movement's early manifestations. For those unfamiliar, ecofeminism grew from a merger of the growing ecology movement and second-wave feminism in the early 1970's and its incarnations in literature have varied greatly in the past thirty years.
Classic ecofeminist prose, such as Margaret Atwood's Surfacing, often depicts scenarios in which women physically give themselves back to nature in an act of purification, identifying nature as the right, 'natural,' environment for a woman. This type of narrative reflects the attitude of early ecofeminist theorists who, though their voices differ somewhat in associating woman to nature, are all, as Maureen Devine writes "united [...] in identifying the patriarchy as responsible for the destruction of both nature and woman" (3). With time this strain of thought has come to be seen as reductive, excluding the possibility that woman may also have an active voice in culture and inadvertently recalling classic, decidedly colonialist notions of nature and woman as related by their need to be tamed and cultivated by man. …