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Fictions of Appetite

Alimentary Discourses in Italian Modernist Literature


Enrico Cesaretti

Fictions of Appetite explores and investigates the aesthetic significance of images of food, appetite and consumption in a body of modernist literature published in Italian between 1905 and 1939. The corpus examined includes novels, short stories, poems, essays and plays by F.T. Marinetti, Aldo Palazzeschi, Massimo Bontempelli, Paola Masino and Luigi Pirandello. The book underlines the literary relevance and symbolic implications of the «culinary sign», suggesting a link between the crisis of language and subjectivity usually associated with modernism and figures of consumption and corporeal self-obliteration in «alimentary» discourse. In revisiting these works under label of modernism, which has traditionally been shunned in the Italian critical field, the volume brings critical discourse on early twentieth-century Italian literature closely into line with that of other Western literatures. The author argues that an alimentary perspective not only sheds striking new light on each of the texts examined, but also illustrates the signifying power of the culinary sign, its relations to the aesthetic sphere and its prominent role in the construction of a modernist sensibility.


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The analysis of various literary representations of alimentary discourses – from their explicit manifestation in Le Roi Bombance and The Futurist Cookbook to their more nuanced appearances in the other considered works by Marinetti, Palazzeschi, Bontempelli, Masino and Pirandello – reveals their pervasiveness and relevance within Italian modernism and, by exten- sion, modern Italian literature’s participation and contribution to a broader discourse centered on the body, its dynamics, its potential and its failures in rapidly changing cultural circumstances. As a consequence, discussing the aesthetic and metaphorical function of food in these texts has also meant to ref lect on some of the salient features of modernism and modernity, and their often contradictory impulses and concerns. Among these, one may recall the potential and limits of the body (biological and social, private and public) and of aesthetic expression in a progressively more commodified and technology-oriented world; the controversial relationship with the past and (futurism’s) attempt at metabo- lizing and processing it; the changing perception of the role of the intel- lectual/artist in the political and cultural climate generated by totalitarian and colonial regimes; and the ambivalent perception of the feminine body as both producer and consumer within the emergence of mass culture and capitalist economies. In several of the texts under discussion we see, on the one hand, an artistic tendency to bulimically gorge on, and then creatively “regurgitate” a shifting social and material reality in the utopian hope of getting a better grip on it and on one’s own self and, on...

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