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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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Part I Normal Anomalies


Chapter 1 Why Speed is a Religion-Morality1 Movement = life. The equation appears so self-evident that it shapes ele- mentary human beliefs regarding the distinction between the animate and the inanimate, the ephemeral and the enduring. It founds the edifice of the natural and human sciences going back to their ancient beginnings. It provides the basis for the attribution of chthonic, meteorological, and cosmological motions to the actions of higher beings in religions, primi- tive to modern. The logical corollary to movement = life is the equation that shapes what I will be referring to here as the anthropology of speed: more move- ment = more life. The ‘more’ in question may be qualitative or quantitative, momentary or lasting, mental or physical. Its expressions vary from epoch to epoch and culture to culture. Without exception, however, these additions to the human assume the form of myths of transformation whose contours are summed up by the seven centuries’ worth of meanings accrued by the English verb to quicken. To quicken is not just to accelerate, but also to animate, to give life: either that life which becomes evident when, in the course of a pregnancy, a foetus first begins to move, or the higher life associated with spiritual pursuits. To quicken also means to stir up, rouse or excite both physically and mentally in ways that converge with secondary meanings that link quickening with 1 An earlier draft of this essay appeared in Italian as ‘Perchè una religione morale della velocità?’, in F...

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