Trading Rationality for Tomatoes: The Consolidation of Anglo-American National Identities in Popular Literary Representations of Italian Culture

    • IMG_1737
    • Presentation speakers
      • Francesca Pierini Major, Institute of European and American Studies, Academia Sinica, Taipei, Taiwan


    In his influential study The Rhetoric of Empire (1993), David Spurr analyzes journalistic discourse on the Third World and isolates a nucleus of important rhetorical figures around which representations of the colonial and post-colonial other are articulated. In this paper, I borrow these rhetorical figures and I adapt them to the context of contemporary Anglo-American representations of Italian culture in popular literature. My basic contention is that a substantial number of contemporary works on Italy retains the basic assumption of a world ordered in terms of a dichotomy between modern cultures and pre-modern ones, and makes of this taxonomy the basic spatio-temporal context for its narratives. The contemporary works I will analyse appropriate and uncritically maintain a particularly crude definition of modernity, thoroughly saturated with colonial discourse, which perpetuates the cultural dichotomies between an allegedly rational and technologically advanced Northern Europe (and America) and a less rational (therefore more sensual and “earthy”) Southern one. Since “modernity” is, in many of these works, commonly equated with “rationality,” the latter too becomes the exclusive privilege of a part of the world perceived to be at the vanguard of human history and development. This translates itself, at the level of Anglo-American representations of Italian culture, into popular novels which romanticize Italy as the locale of a backwardness and/or timelessness which contain both positive and negative connotations. This highly romanticized factor is often the reason why Italy is sought after as an ideal place of contemplation, regeneration, tranquility, and authenticity. However, through the depiction of Italy as a pre-modern other, Anglo-American authors manage to consolidate their national identities as thoroughly modern, rational, dynamic, and forward-looking.