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Deborah Amberson and Elena Past (eds.). Thinking Italian Animals. Human and Posthuman in Modern Italian Literature and Films.

Deborah Amberson and Elena Past (eds.). Thinking Italian Animals. Human and Posthuman in Modern Italian Literature and Films. New York: Paigrave Macmillan, 2014.

Thinking Italian Animals engages with the relationship between nonhuman and human animals in Italian literature. In particular, the book puts the representation of animals in narrative texts and films in relation to the most engaging philosophical theories (Agamben, Deleuze, Derrida, Haraway, Marchesini) that deal with the notion of the non-human and the concept of anthropocentrism, which locates man at the center of the world. In the wake of the vast criticism that has been published in the last decade in the United States and Canada on English-language literature (H. D. Thoreau, W. Whitman, A. Leopold, D. DeLillo, M. Atwood, just to mention a few), Elena Past and Deborah Amberson have edited a compendium of thirteen critical essays, written by Italian and American scholars, on some Italian authors and directors from 20th and 21st century.

Opening PART 1--Ontologies and Thresholds--is a coherent group of essays that, on the one hand, analyzes the animal from an ontological point of view and, on the other, interrogates the porous line between human and nonhuman other. 1. Deborah Amberson, in "Confronting the Specter of Animality: Tozzi and the Uncanny Animal of Modernism," focuses on the force of the uncanny (through the gaze) of the animal, which triggers a form of anxiety in the characters of Federigo Tozzi's narrative. The gaze is a means that reminds them of Darwinian theory and of the fact that we are linked to animals, thus dismantling the anthropocentric human/nonhuman dichotomy. 2. According to Elizabeth Leake in her essay "Cesare Pavese, Posthumanism, and the Maternal Symbolic," Cesare Pavese suffers anxiety before a female body that represents the natural world--zoological, botanical, geological. Drawing on philosophical theories by Agamben, Derrida, Cavarero and Braidotti, Leake shows that Pavese's fantasies of a masculine power of reproduction inevitably lead to a crisis of masculinity, enabling a posthuman vision that recognizes an other-thanhuman diversity. 3. Availing himself of Agamben and Haraway as his theoretic apparatus, Gregory Pell in "Montale's Animals: Rhetorical Props or Metaphysical Kin?" charts Montale's "proper engagement with animality" (57), that is the poet's ongoing interrogation of his own "(mis)use" of animals in his work. Through the representation of animals as selves, as individuals, as theriomorphic pseudogoddess, as angels and as curious creatures, Montale casts a Posthuman sensitivity, which according to Pell, still needs to be explored further. 4. Different types of animals are also analyzed by Simone Castaldi in "The Word Made Animal Flesh: Tommaso Landolfi's Bestiary." Their presence threatens to break the signifier/signified relationship when Landolfi presents in his texts an oscillation between the animalization of the language and animals that speak the human language. 5 Matteo Gilebbi in "Animals Metaphors, Biopolitics, and the Animal Question: Mario Luzi, Giorgio Agamben, and the Human-Animal Divide," puts Mario Luzi's poetry in dialogue with Agamben's notion of biopolitics as argued for in Homo Sacer (1995) and explores the transformation of the animal metaphor in "animetaphor," a hybrid element that unsettles human speech, and consequently the hierarchy between human, nature and the spiritual world.

PART 2--Biopolitics and Historical Crisis--theorizes the harmful effects that a society embedded on the logic of anthropocentric humanism can have on humans and animals. 6. Alexandra Hills in "Creatureliness and Posthumanism in Liliana Cavani's The Night Porter and Pier Paolo Pasolini's Salo," argues how the directors' works provide significant hindsight on the philosophical debate surrounding Posthumanism through the notions of "creatureliness" and "abject body," which make ephemeral the borders between man, culture, and animal. 7. Giuseppina Mecchia in "Elsa Morante at the Biopolitical Turn: Becoming-Woman, Becoming-Animal, Becoming-Imperceptible," sees Morante as a forerunner of Foucault's and Agamben's theoretical discourses on biopolitics and biopower and of Deleuze's and Guattari's concept of becoming, by professing in her The History and Aracoeali a positive view of the "bare life" and of the notion of difference. 8. Daniele Fioretti in "Foreshadowing the Posthuman: Hybridization, Apocalypse, and Renewal in Paolo Volponi," after analyzing the progressive hybridization and animalization of the protagonists of Corporeal (1974) and The Irritable Planet (1978), concludes that Volponi shares Roberto Marchesini's concept of hybridization of man and animal, thus placing himself against the paradigm of anthropocentrism. 9. Valentina Fulginiti in "The Postapocalyptic Cookbook: Animality, Posthumanism, and Meat in Laura Pugno and Wu Ming," examines two dystopian works--Siren by Laura Pugno and Free Karma Food by Wu Ming--and engages with the notion of monstrosity, and cannibalism, which represent "two opposite yet converging ways toward a narrative discourse of the nonhuman"(161).

Final PART 3--Ecologies and Hybridizations--frames the discourse on human and nonhuman animals and on anthropocentric humanism within concerns about the future of the Earth. 10. David Del Principe in "The Monstrous Meal: Flesh Consumption and Resistance in the European Gothic," casts an "eco-gothic" reading by joining Carlo Collodi's Pinocchio with Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Bram Stoker's Dracula with Iginio Ugo Tarchetti's Fosca. The Count's, Pinocchio's and Frankenstein's refusal to eat the flesh of other nonhumans and Fosca's incapacity to give birth, manifest their resistance respectively to the dominant "meat-eating hierarchy"(186) and to the patriarchal society in the nineteenth century, thus dismantling the classificatory boarders between species. 11. Drawing on current trends in ecocriticism such as Calarco, Iovino and, Derrida, Giovanna Faleschini Lerner in "Contemporaneita and Ecological Thinking in Carlo Levi's Writing," illustrates the contradictions presented in Carlo Levi's texts between his reconsideration of the human / nonhuman divide and his rationalist investigation of human language. 12. In "Hybriditales: Posthumanizing Calvino," Serenella Iovino drawing on the field of "material ecocriticism" focuses on two novels--Mr Palomar and Cosmicomics, arguing how Calvino's literary imaginary is an ongoing representation of hybrids, "collectives" and critters that contribute to shaping a world that includes all subjectivities and all identities. 13. Elena Past in the concluding essay of the collection, " (Re)membering Kinship: Living with Goats in The Wind Blows Round and Le quatttro volte," relying as well on the theories of "material ecocriticism," warns about the risks of forgetting the necessity and intermingling relations between animal (the goats), human communities, and the natural landscape.

Thinking Italian Animals provides a substantial contribution to the field of Ecocriticism, Human and Posthuman studies, convincingly challenging and critiquing the anthropocentric view of human exceptionalism and proving the impact that Animal Studies have had and will continue to have on these disciplines. It is a wonderful source for scholars who seek to explore the ethical dimensions of human-nonhuman interactions in the oeuvre of some of the greatest Italian writers and directors of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Miriam Aloisio

University of Colorado Boulder
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Author:Aloisio, Miriam
Publication:Italica
Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 22, 2017
Words:1103
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