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Queer Ventennio

Italian Fascism, Homoerotic Art, and the Nonmodern in the Modern

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John Gerard Champagne

Given fascist proscriptions against homosexuality, a surprising number of artists under Mussolini’s regime were queer. Exploring the contribution of Italy to our understanding of both the history of homosexuality and European modernism, this ground-breaking study analyses three queer modernists – writer Giovanni Comisso, painter and writer Filippo de Pisis, and painter Corrado Cagli. None self-identified as fascists; none, however, were consistent critics of the regime. All understood their own sexuality via the idea of the primitive – a discourse fascism also employed in its efforts to secure consent for the dictatorship. What happens when we return to these men and their work minus the assumption that our most urgent task is identifying their fascist tendencies or political quietism? Variously infantilized, pathologized, marginalized, and stigmatized, treated as both cause and effect of fascism, queer ventennio artists are an easy target, not brave or selfless or savvy enough to see their common struggle with fascism’s other victims. Revisiting their works and lives with an eye toward neither rehabilitation nor condemnation allows us to ponder more carefully the relationship between art and politics, how homophobia has structured art criticism, the need to further bring queer perspectives to Italian cultural analysis, and how such men disrupt our sense of modern homo/heterosexual definition.
Currently working at the intersection of queer theory, Italian Studies, and art, music, and literary criticism, John Champagne is Professor of English and Program Chair of Global Languages and Cultures at Penn State Erie, the Behrend College. He is the author of two novels, The Blue Lady's Hands (Lyle Stuart, 1988) and When the Parrot Boy Sings (Meadowlands, 1990),and three previous scholarly monographs, The Ethics of Marginality (University of Minnesota Press, 1995), Aesthetic Modernism and Masculinity in Fascist Italy (Routledge, 2013), and Italian Masculinity as Queer Melodrama, Caravaggio, Puccini, and Contemporary Cinema (Palgrave, 2015). His articles on such varied topics as post-colonial feminist literature, Italian Jewish Memorial sites, and gay porn have appeared in such journals as College English, Modern Italy, and Cinema Journal. Champagne received a Fulbright grant to teach at the University of La Manouba in Tunis, Tunisia, and was the 2018–2019 Penn State Laureate. He and his husband Richard Krone divide their time between Perugia, Italy, and Erie, Pennsylvania.