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Edited by Francesca Santovetti


Jeffrey Schnapp

Modernitalia provides a map of the Italian twentieth century in the form of twelve essays by the celebrated cultural historian Jeffrey T. Schnapp. Shuttling back and forth between literature, architecture, design, and the visual arts, the volume explores the metaphysics of speed, futurist and dada typography, real and imaginary forms of architecture, shifting regimes of mass spectacle, the iconography of labour, exhibitions as modes of public mobilization and persuasion, and the emergence of industrial models of literary culture and communication.
The figures featured in the book include Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Mario Morasso, Julius Evola, Piero Portaluppi, Giuseppe Terragni, Alessandro Blasetti, Massimo Bontempelli, Giorgio de Chirico, Bruno Munari, Curzio Malaparte, and Henry Furst. Alongside these human protagonists appear granite blocks that drive the design of modern monuments, military searchlights that animate civilian shows, worker armies viewed as machines, sunglasses that tiptoe along the boundary of the private and public, newsreels as twentieth-century interpretations of Trajan’s column, and book covers and bindings that act as authorial self-portraits. The volume captures the Italian path to cultural modernity in all of its brilliance and multiplicity.


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The title Modernitalia has a f leeting, arrowy and yet comprehensive quality. With no dash, and no auxiliary zip, ‘Modernitalia’ is a neologism that reso- nates immediately. Composed in part of an adjective that occurs through- out Western glottology (‘modern’ is the same in Italian, English, Spanish, German, French, Portuguese, Norwegian, Dutch, Swedish, etc.,) plus the name of a country, the title, an example in contiguity, seems to be recogniz- able at once, its meaning almost intuitively intelligible. For all its quickness, however, and as a sign, ‘Modernitalia’ could also easily be the name of an Italian line of design furniture, an Italian high-velocity train company, or an Italian architecture magazine. Perhaps even the slogan of a new, albeit nostalgic, Italian political party. Emblematically, ‘Modernitalia’ is a title that catches your attention, then opens up to address several topics, and finally defies any hasty interpretation. As a transdisciplinary collection of essays on Italian modernism, Jef frey Schnapp’s Modernitalia is divided into two main sections separated by a brief entr’acte. The first section of fers perspectives on some ‘Normal Anomalies’, the second explores ‘Craft and Industry’. Establishing the common ground, an essay on Futurism opens each section. Futurism, in other words, makes it possible for two parallel narratives on the twentieth-century discourse to begin and unfold. First, Marinetti’s concept of speed as a ‘religion-morality’ provides an introduction to a series of Italian experiences—Schnapp calls them ‘normal anomalies’—in the arts, literature, architecture, theatre, and the staging of national propaganda. Similarly,...

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