Deborah Amberson and Elena Past (Eds.). Thinking Italian Animals. Human and Posthuman in Modern Italian Literature and Films

By Aloisio, Miriam | Italica, Winter 2017 | Go to article overview

Deborah Amberson and Elena Past (Eds.). Thinking Italian Animals. Human and Posthuman in Modern Italian Literature and Films


Aloisio, Miriam, Italica


Deborah Amberson and Elena Past (eds.). Thinking Italian Animals. Human and Posthuman in Modern Italian Literature and Films. New York: Paigrave Macmillan, 2014.

Thinking Italian Animals engages with the relationship between nonhuman and human animals in Italian literature. In particular, the book puts the representation of animals in narrative texts and films in relation to the most engaging philosophical theories (Agamben, Deleuze, Derrida, Haraway, Marchesini) that deal with the notion of the non-human and the concept of anthropocentrism, which locates man at the center of the world. In the wake of the vast criticism that has been published in the last decade in the United States and Canada on English-language literature (H. D. Thoreau, W. Whitman, A. Leopold, D. DeLillo, M. Atwood, just to mention a few), Elena Past and Deborah Amberson have edited a compendium of thirteen critical essays, written by Italian and American scholars, on some Italian authors and directors from 20th and 21st century.

Opening PART 1--Ontologies and Thresholds--is a coherent group of essays that, on the one hand, analyzes the animal from an ontological point of view and, on the other, interrogates the porous line between human and nonhuman other. 1. Deborah Amberson, in "Confronting the Specter of Animality: Tozzi and the Uncanny Animal of Modernism," focuses on the force of the uncanny (through the gaze) of the animal, which triggers a form of anxiety in the characters of Federigo Tozzi's narrative. The gaze is a means that reminds them of Darwinian theory and of the fact that we are linked to animals, thus dismantling the anthropocentric human/nonhuman dichotomy. 2. According to Elizabeth Leake in her essay "Cesare Pavese, Posthumanism, and the Maternal Symbolic," Cesare Pavese suffers anxiety before a female body that represents the natural world--zoological, botanical, geological. Drawing on philosophical theories by Agamben, Derrida, Cavarero and Braidotti, Leake shows that Pavese's fantasies of a masculine power of reproduction inevitably lead to a crisis of masculinity, enabling a posthuman vision that recognizes an other-thanhuman diversity. 3. Availing himself of Agamben and Haraway as his theoretic apparatus, Gregory Pell in "Montale's Animals: Rhetorical Props or Metaphysical Kin?" charts Montale's "proper engagement with animality" (57), that is the poet's ongoing interrogation of his own "(mis)use" of animals in his work. Through the representation of animals as selves, as individuals, as theriomorphic pseudogoddess, as angels and as curious creatures, Montale casts a Posthuman sensitivity, which according to Pell, still needs to be explored further. 4. Different types of animals are also analyzed by Simone Castaldi in "The Word Made Animal Flesh: Tommaso Landolfi's Bestiary." Their presence threatens to break the signifier/signified relationship when Landolfi presents in his texts an oscillation between the animalization of the language and animals that speak the human language. 5 Matteo Gilebbi in "Animals Metaphors, Biopolitics, and the Animal Question: Mario Luzi, Giorgio Agamben, and the Human-Animal Divide," puts Mario Luzi's poetry in dialogue with Agamben's notion of biopolitics as argued for in Homo Sacer (1995) and explores the transformation of the animal metaphor in "animetaphor," a hybrid element that unsettles human speech, and consequently the hierarchy between human, nature and the spiritual world.

PART 2--Biopolitics and Historical Crisis--theorizes the harmful effects that a society embedded on the logic of anthropocentric humanism can have on humans and animals. 6. Alexandra Hills in "Creatureliness and Posthumanism in Liliana Cavani's The Night Porter and Pier Paolo Pasolini's Salo," argues how the directors' works provide significant hindsight on the philosophical debate surrounding Posthumanism through the notions of "creatureliness" and "abject body," which make ephemeral the borders between man, culture, and animal. …

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