Robert Gordon (University of
Robert Gordon (University of Cambridge) in conversation with Stefania Lucamante(Catholic University of America). On the occasion of the publication of their new books. Moderator: David Forgacs (New York University).
Italy’s modern history is entangled with the Holocaust in complicated ways. Fascist Italy was the model and origin for Hitler’s totalitarian racial state and adopted many of the Nazi’s racist laws from the late 1930s onwards, although debate still rages as to how far Fascist totalitarianism was or was not inherently racist from the outset and how far its racism was a tawdry copy of Hitler’s or a home-grown perversion. Fascist Italy was also Nazi Germany’s prime European Ally as the genocide of European Jews was undertaken and was responsible for administering anti-Slavic and anti-Semitic policy in several occupied regions, as well as a crude and deathly colonial violence in Africa. Yet important historiographical work has shown how Italian officials – up to and including Mussolini himself – did much to frustrate the progress of deportations and massacres of Jews in the early period of the war. Already, then, before 1943, Italy was both part progenitor of and collaborator in genocide, and part uncertain fellow-traveller. This tangled history of Fascism and the war left Italy with a dark load of unresolved questions about itself, which contributed to shape 50 years of representation of the Holocaust.
Italy’s connections with the Holocaust were deep, complex and contradictory. Italian Fascism was the model for Nazi Germany and Mussolini was Hitler’s prime ally in the Second World War, which saw genocide enacted against Europe’s Jews and other ethnic groups. Italy also became a theater of war and many Italians were victims of Nazi persecution after 1943, with resistance, collaboration and civil war raging, and deportations of Jews and others to the concentration camps proceeding apace. After the war, through the work of writers such as Primo Levi, Giorgio Bassani and Natalia Ginzburg, and filmmakers such as Lina Wertmuller, Roberto Benigni and Franscesco Rosi, Italy struggled to give shape to and come to terms with the Holocaust’s difficult legacy. Robert Gordon’s The Holocuast in Italian Culture, 1944-2010 (Stanford University Press) is the first wide-ranging study of how Italy confronted or failed to confront the Holocaust over the postwar era, in a rich analysis of a wide array of cultural production. The book examines a wide range of cultural material – from books and publishers, to films, museums and monuments, music, politics, associations and public events – to paint a picture of this shared encounter with the darkest recent history. In doing so, it probes aspects of both Italian national identity and memory, and offers a model of studying international and transnational Holocaust cultures.
Stefania Lucamante, Quella difficile identità: Ebraismo e rappresentazioni letterarie della Shoah. Rome: Iacobelli, 2012
Lucamante’s book is the first extensive study of Italian women’s literary representations of the Holocaust. After an initial stage of testimony, Italian women writers composed more restrained prose in which analysis of the situation and of the consequences of the Shoah were sifted through a process of rethinking. Readings of other survivors’ works, the Nuremberg and Eichmann trials, the reaction to a new generation who wanted to know, other genocides, and the revisionism of the early 1980s were among the elements that contributed to the transformation of writing from testimonial to essayistic and/or fictional. Through the analysis of three generations of writers, including Liliana Millu, Lidia Beccarla Rolfi, Giulia Tedeschi, Edith Bruck, Lia Levi, Giacoma Limentani, Helena Janeczek, Rosetta Loy and Elsa Morante, Lucamante explores forms of expression and mechanisms of transmission which she identifies as uniquely tied to feminine sensibility.
Robert Gordon has published widely on 20th-century Italian literature, cinema and cultural history. He is the author or editor of several books on the work of Primo Levi, including Primo Levi’s Ordinary Virtues, Auschwitz Report and The Cambridge Companion to Primo Levi. He is co-editor of Culture, Censorship and the State in 20th-Century Italy. His work on cinema includes the books Pasolini. Forms of Subjectivity and Bicycle Thieves, DVD and blu-ray audio commentaries on Pasolini’s Teorema and Bicycle Thieves, and articles and essays on Holocaust cinema, early film and literature, Hollywood on the Tiber, and censorship.
Stefania Lucamante is Ordinary Professor of Italian and Comparative Literature at the Catholic University of America. Specialized in Women’s Studies and contemporary literature, she is the author of Quella difficile identità: rappresentazioni letterarie dell’ebraismo e della Shoah(Iacobelli, 2012), of A Multitude of Women: The Challenges of the Contemporary Italian Novel(University of Toronto Press, 2008), of Elsa Morante e l’eredità proustiana (Cadmo, 1998). She is the editor of Italy and the Bourgeoisie: The Re-Thinking of a Class (Fairleigh-Dickinson UP 2009). With Sharon Wood she has edited the first collection of essays in English on Elsa Morante, Under Arturo’s Star: The Cultural Legacies of Elsa Morante (Purdue UP, 2005).
David Forgcas holds the Guido and Mariuccia Zerilli-Marimò Chair in Contemporary Italian Studies at New York University. His publications include Mass Culture and Italian Society from Fascism to the Cold War (2007, with Stephen Gundle) L’industrializzazione della cultura italiana 1880–2000 (2000) and The Antonio Gramsci Reader (2000).