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Secret Wounds:The Bodies of Fascism in Giorgio Bassani’s Dietro la porta

  • Derek Duncan
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Part of the Italian and Italian American Studies book series (IIAS)

Abstract

One of the oddest and most striking features of the ways in which fascism has been represented in the postwar period has been through its persistent association with homosexuality.1 One of the earliest instances of this occurs in Roberto Rossellini’s classic film, Roma città aperta (1945). This celebration of the Italian resistance under German occupation depends on a bold distinction that conflates ethics and sexuality. The political rectitude of the partisans is indexed by their heteronormativity while the evil Germans are predictably homosexual.2 This scenario is quite typical of many areas of cultural production in Italy after World War II, in which representations of the fascist period very often were filtered or understood through some kind of synthetic relationship to homosexuality. The inescapability of homosexual characters in novels set during the regime by such major antifascist writers of the 1940s and 1950s as Pavese, Bassani, Moravia, Morante, and Pratolini belies the commonly held belief that until very recently homosexuality in Italy was unmentionable. Films made in the 1960s and 1970s that intensified and made ever more graphic the link between fascism and deviant sexuality extend this cultural narrative.3

Keywords

Jewish Community Male Body Heterosexual Masculinity Deviant Sexuality Cultural Narrative 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    Andrew Hewitt questions this recurrent association of fascism with homosexuality, tying it to broader issues of how the historical representation of fascism is actually made possible. He contends that the phenomenon has little to do with historical fact and everything to do with how fascism has continued to haunt subsequent generations so that homosexuality serves as a means of representing a political order that had literally become unspeakable. Although his invaluable study concludes with an analysis of Moravia’s novel Il conformista, its primary focus is Nazi Germany, and it would be unwise to extend his argument to Italy without due attention to local circumstance; Andrew Hewitt, Political Inversions: Homosexuality, Fascism, and the Modernist Imaginary (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1996).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    David Forgacs, Rome Open City (Roma città aperta) (London: BFI, 2000), pp. 47–48.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    David Forgacs develops this point in relation to the further addition of homosexual S/M to fascism’s gallery of perversion. He uses Julia Kristeva’s notion of the “abject” to explain the inappropriateness of the straightforward equation of fascism with sadism: “For it hides the extent to which fascists demarcated between bodies, drew boundaries and expelled deviancy as abject, in order to establish a ‘healthy’ moral and political order that sought to exclude, in the name of religion or the state, all forms of‘perversion’. The irony is that in the economy of post-war representations fascism has so often been confused with that which it did abject in order to establish its own identity”; “Days of Sodom: The Fascism-Perversion Equation in Films of the 1960s and 1970s” in: Italian Fascism: History, Memory and Representation, ed. R. J. B. Bosworth and Patrizia Dogliani (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1999), pp. 216–36; quotation p. 233. It is important to underline that abjection is not specific to fascism and has a more general application. See for example Jackie Stacey, Teratologies: A Cultural Study of Cancer (London: Routledge, 1997);Google Scholar
  4. David Sibley, Geographies of Exclusion: Society and Difference in the West (London: Routledge, 1995);CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Judith Butler, Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex (London and New York: Routledge, 1993).Google Scholar
  6. 5.
    Felice Fabrizio, Sport e fascismo: la politica sportiva del regime 1924–1936 (Rimini: Guaraldi, 1976), p. 147.Google Scholar
  7. 6.
    Carlo Cresti, Architettura e fascismo (Florence: Vallecchi, 1986), p. 83.Google Scholar
  8. 7.
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    George Mosse, Nationalism and Sexuality: Respectability and Abnormal Sexuality in Modern Europe (New York: Howard Fertig, 1985), p. 174.Google Scholar
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  11. 16.
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    Barbara Spackman, Fascist Virilities: Rhetoric, Ideology and Social Fantasy in Italy (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 1996), pp. 49–76.Google Scholar
  13. 20.
    Quoted in Victoria de Grazia, How Fascism Ruled Women: Italy, 1922–1945 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992), p. 70.Google Scholar
  14. 21.
    Henry Louis Gates, Jr., “Writing ‘Race’ and the Difference It Makes,” in: “Race,” Writing and Difference, ed. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986), p. 4.Google Scholar
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    Barbara Sòrgoni, Parole e corpi: antropologia, discorso giuridico e politiche sessuali interrazziali nella colonia Eritrea (1890–1941) (Naples: Liguori, 1998), p. 153.Google Scholar
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    For example, Richard Dyer writes: “All concepts of race are always concepts of the body and also of heterosexuality. Race is a means of categorizing different types of human body which reproduce themselves”; White (London: Routledge, 1997), p. 20. See also Anne McLintock, Imperial Leather: Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Colonial Context (London and New York: Routledge, 1995).Google Scholar
  17. 26.
    Robert J. C. Young, Colonial Desire: Hybridity in Theory, Culture and Race (London: Routledge, 1995), pp. 25–26.Google Scholar
  18. 28.
    Giorgio Bassani, Dietro la porta in: Opere, ed. Roberto Cotroneo (Milan: Mondadori, 1998; 1st edition 1964). This edition follows the substantially revised text of 1980, which omits much of the more explicit sadism that had characterized the narrator. For some useful insights relating this theme to the psychology of the narrator,Google Scholar
  19. see Giusi Oddo De Stefanis, Bassani entro il cerchio delle sue mura (Ravenna: Longo, 1981), pp. 189–213Google Scholar
  20. and Lucienne Krohe, “The Sound of Silence: Re-Reading Giorgio Bassani’s Gli occhiali d’oroThe Italianist 10 (1990), pp. 71–102. I would like to thank Peter Kitchen for drawing my attention to this text.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 29.
    Judith Butler, “Against Proper Objects,” in: Feminism Meets Queer Theory, ed. Elizabeth Weed and Naomi Schor (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1997), p. 24.Google Scholar
  22. 35.
    Elisabeth Grosz, Volatile Bodies: Towards a Corporeal Feminism (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1994), p. 23.Google Scholar
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    Elisabeth Grosz, Space, Time, Perversion: Essays on the Politics of Bodies (New York: Routledge, 1995), p. 33.Google Scholar
  24. 40.
    Sander Gilman, The Jew’s Body (New York and London: Routledge, 1991), p. 95. Gilman notes that in Germany there had been quite general debate in the Jewish community over circumcision. This does not seem to have been the case in Italy where Mantegazza’s ideas were dismissed as antisemitic: “Mantegazza si fece eco delle accuse dei nemici nostri, giungendo al punto di consigliare a noi l’abolizione della circoncisione” (Mantegazza reiterated the accusations of our enemies, even to the extent of advising us to abolish circumcision). This quotation is taken from an article published in the Piedmontese Jewish journal, Il Vessillo Israeltico 3 (1898), p. 121.I am indebted to Elizabeth Schächter for providing this information and reference.Google Scholar
  25. 41.
    Peter Brooks, Body Work: Objects of Desire in Modern Narrative (Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, 1993).Google Scholar
  26. 57.
    In addition to Spackman already cited, see Karen Pinkus, Bodily Regimes: Italian Advertising under Fascism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995), pp. 33–41.Google Scholar
  27. 59.
    Scott Bravmann, Queer Fictions of the Past: History, Culture and Difference (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), p. 6.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Gary P. Cestaro 2004

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  • Derek Duncan

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