The Pharmakeia of Blood: Misuse, Abuse, & Reuse in the Young Cannibals' Narrative of Violence.
(Aldo Nove, Superwoobinda 59)
[...] Now I'm thinkin', it could mean you're the evil man. And I'm the righteous man. And Mr. .45 here, he's the shepherd protecting my righteous ass in the valley of darkness. Or it could be you're the righteous man and I'm the shepherd and it's the world that's evil and selfish. I'd like that. But that shit ain't the truth. The truth is you're the weak. And I'm the tyranny of evil men. But I'm tryin'. I'm tryin' real hard to be a shepherd.
(Quentin Tarantino, "Pulp Fiction" 158)
Since its original publication two decades ago, Gioventu cannibale (1996)--"La prima antologia italiana dell'orrore estremo"--has offered readers of Italian literature a striking instance of splatter violence and iconoclasm. Its pervasive blood, graphic corporality, and obscene language unsettled a 90s literary scene that was still anchored to a tradition of high-brow culture and moralistic perspectives. Featuring ten provocative short stories by young Italian authors, the anthology combined a mimetic approach to everyday life with a dystopic serialization of violence. These writers, dubbed the Young Cannibals, shared an interest in portraying a youth culture especially defined by extra-literary experiences--television, comics, music, and fashion. Their peculiar realism, which twisted reality into a psychotic and hyperbolic representation, adopted a cinematic pulp style to portray the sugarcoated distortions of a consumer society in which retail stores were artificial paradises, TV was a hypnotizing magic box, and the act of murder was senseless yet irresistible, not unlike an impulse purchase.
Packaged within a single volume of Einaudi's trend-setting series Stile libero, Gioventu cannibale collected the scattered voices of young authors into one clear prophetic message of "undici sfrenati, intemperanti, cavalieri dell'Apocalisse formato splatter nei reparti pieni di ogni ben di Dio del supermarket Italia." (1) The anthology's first-time gathering of the Young Cannibals' voices served to codify an emerging literary phenomenon that blended noir and pulp fiction. In American culture this hybrid genre had a long literary tradition, which the cinematographic success of Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction (1994) updated and revitalized. (2) In Italy, the first signs of this new genre's emergence vividly appeared in Ricercare, the creative writing laboratory hosted yearly in Reggio Emilia. In 1995, Ricercare aimed to explore new possible routes for Italian narrative fiction. The event featured readings and discussions of works by Niccolo Ammaniti, Isabella Santacroce, Enrico Brizzi, and Tiziano Scarpa. All these writers were later associated with the Young Cannibals' group. (3)
By the late 90s, the moniker "cannibali," along with other critical labels such as "cattivisti" and "scrittori pulp," had come to designate not only the authors anthologized in Gioventu cannibale but, more broadly, a whole new generation of Italian writers. (4) Transgressive and yet fascinated with a homogenizing mass culture, these writers generally exhibited an ironic disengagement. By 2006, when the anthology was reprinted in celebration of its decennial, it had achieved cult status among young readers. Through its two decades of popularity, Gioventu cannibale provided an intriguing moniker and a prophetic charisma to a narrative lineage that would represent the innovative openness of Italian postmodernism to extra-literary realms and languages. Furthermore, by repurposing the experimentalism of the neo-avant-gardes and the contents of 80s generational literature, the "pseudo literary movement" of the Young Cannibals created a literary intersection that deserves further investigation. (5)
This article examines the Italian pulp's discourse of "violent consumerism," revealing a series of counterintuitive relationships between users and consumables. As we will see, in the "supermarket Italia," goods are misused, bodies are abused, and literature is a complex product of reuse. As goods remain virtually untouched, they rise both as tangible avatars of a loss of meaning and providers of consumer identities for purchase. Conversely, human bodies are abused: they are randomly "consumed," murdered, tortured, and brutally dismembered. As for pulp literature--a patchwork of extra-literary materials --it redeploys average consumers' lives by transforming them into seemingly brand new stories.
Exploring the interdependent practices of misuse, abuse, and creative reuse in the Young Cannibals' works, I contend that their narrative fiction engages violence as a powerful pharmakon ([phrase omitted])--which in ancient Greek refers to the dual nature of poison and remedy of any medicine. Over-exposure to casual bloodshed may trigger a beneficial awakening in reader-consumers, yet it may simultaneously become a toxic invitation to persist in their self-consuming behaviors. In addition, this overdose of violence reveals unexpected metaliterary effects. The Young Cannibals "compound" a creative re-semantization by producing polemic contents and textual innovations from the "waste" of high-brow culture. Ultimately, my analysis suggests that these works disclose a range of "off-label uses" that goes beyond the postmodern practices of contamination and jocose relativism. Their narrative of violence is comparable to a multifaceted "pharmakeia of blood," through which moral realism intertwines with immoral disengagement, while a ubiquitous irony corrodes an enchanted 90s society. (6)
Locating the Young Cannibals' Narrative of Violence in Its Socio-Cultural Context
Before I begin exploring the Young Cannibals' narrative of violence as both a poisoning narcotic and revitalizing antidote, it is useful to reconstruct briefly the context of these texts--the "crime scene" in which their fictional world of "atrocita quotidiane" took place. (7) Gioventu cannibale was first and foremost an editorial product, skillfully designed by Severino Cesari and Paolo Repetti of the Einaudi publishing house. These two directors of the Stile libero series had realized in the mid-90s that a new narrative lineage was taking shape, and they envisioned Gioventu cannibale as an attempt to formalize this trend. In Cesari's article "Dopo i cannibali," he effectively summarizes how the plan for this iconic collection evolved from the initial idea of creating a horror anthology to the final "epiphany" of the title:
Era notte, una bella notte di primavera, ed eravamo un po' in affanno, nella redazione romana Einaudi, quando arrivo al computer l'elenco di titoli proposto da Daniele Brolli (scrittore, critico, disegnatore, ex gruppo Valvoline, con Igort Carpinteri Mattotti) per la sua antologia. Era tempo di chiudere il libro. Daniele - gli avevamo chiesto noi di Stile libero, Paolo Repetti e io - forse e il momento giusto, prepara, tu che sai, tu che conosci, una antologia dell'orrore estremo. Era nato dunque cosi il progetto: come antologia italiana di genere. Poi, a forza di discutere e litigare, di togliere e inserire autori (Daniele all'inizio era un po' sospettoso di Ammaniti, per esempio, poi se ne innamoro), l'antologia prese forma, e fu sempre piu cosa comune. Il genere era sempre meno importante, importante era la forza genuina, l'energia dei testi. Alla fine, la sentivamo. Sentivamo il libro come una creatura viva. Ma si chiamava ancora. Spaghetti splatter. [...] Non ci piaceva tanto, ma sapevamo che un titolo sarebbe venuto. In genere, arrivano all'ultimo minuto. E quella notte arrivo, con gli altri proposti da Daniele. Quando leggemmo ad alta voce Giovani cannibali, Gioventu cannibale, ci guardammo: era lui. Chiudemmo il libro cosi. (8)
Although Einaudi was undoubtedly clever in giving the catchy name "Young Cannibals" to an emergent literary phenomenon, one might argue that the phenomenon was not so much an entirely new trend, but the last stage of Italian postmodernism. The young writers' consumer dystopia exacerbates the postmodern gusto for the contamination of high-brow literature with "trashy" residuals--advertising jingles, TV shows, pornographic materials, comics, popular music hits, and video games. Yet, their work is not merely linguistic exploration. The Young Cannibals' rich pastiche delimits a terrain that is offlimits both for traditional literary discourse and the avant-garde anti-discourse. It purposefully occupies a precarious realm wherein a plurality of voices, stories, and perspectives risks deterioration into media populism. (9)
From a historical perspective, according to Renato Barilli, it is possible to trace a genealogy for the 90s pulp writers, linking these young authors to both the antagonistic literary languages of the neo-avant-garde--the Gruppo '63--and the poetics of reuse that characterized the Gruppo '93. In any case, the Young Cannibals find their more direct origins in Tondelli's writing (Barilli 11). With Tondelli--and before him, with Arbasino, Malerba, and Palandri--Italian literature sees the development of a less formal literary language, finally able to reach "una borghesia piccola piccola o [...] un proletariato degno di promozione" (11). From a thematic perspective, the Young Cannibals represent an involution of the generational dreams that informed Palandri and Tondelli's 80s writing. If Palandri's Boccalone can proudly affirm, "ho fame di cose. le merci sono di tutti, le persone non sono di nessuno" (116) and Tondelli can assert, through his eighteen-year-old traveler, "noi stiamo bene a sentirci italiani e ne siamo anche fieri e orgogliosi che capiamo che questi legami qui sono nati tra la gente che lavora" (Altri libertini 57), the Young Cannibals turn this human sense of belonging, self-exploration, and sharing into a horror parody.
Because of its careless indulgence in violence, the Cannibal writers' work generated a lively debate among the critics. According to Cesari, the core issue was that the narrative fiction featured by Gioventu cannibale belongs to the literary territory of a new "psychic realism," which inevitably clashes with the Italian tradition of moral realism ("Dopo i cannibali"). Such a mass psychosis, staged in the overstuffed "supermarket Italia," can also be linked to the programmatic disengagement of postmodern literature. As Wu Ming I has argued in the essay "New Italian Epic," late postmodernism turned into a "baroque" love for self-referential excess:
Gli anni Novanta non furono solamente "il decennio piu avido della Storia" (secondo la definizione di Joseph Stiglitz), ma anche il decennio piu illuso, megalomane, autoindulgente e barocco. La celebrazione chiassosa del potere e dello "stile di vita occidentale" tocco livelli mai raggiunti prima, roba da far sembrare frugali le feste di Versailles durante l'Ancien Regime.
Arte e letteratura non ebbero bisogno di saltare sul carrozzone dell'autocompiacimento, perche c'erano salite gia da un pezzo, ma ebbero nuovi incentivi per crogiolarsi nell'illusione, o forse nella rassegnazione. Nulla di nuovo poteva piu darsi sotto il cielo, e in molti si convinsero che l'unica cosa da fare era scaldarsi al sole tiepido del gia-creato. Di conseguenza: orgia di citazioni, strizzate d'occhio, parodie, pastiches, remake, revival ironici, trash, distacco, postmodernismi da quattro soldi.
Although Wu Ming I's polemic attack on the self-referential attitude of postmodernism does not directly refer to the Young Cannibals, the criticism of a literature that basks in its own disengagement suits the unrestrained exhibitionism of the Italian pulp. From the perspective of Wu Ming I's "New Italian Epic"--a new "epic" committed to compelling story-telling and powerful historical narratives--the crowded emptiness of the Young Cannibals' non-places and non-stories is the "by-product" of a literature in crisis, one that could only survive by being spiced up with special-effect blood splatter. In 1996 Giulio Ferroni had expressed similar reservations about the clumsy literary attempts to emulate Pulp Fiction. In the article "Abbasso i seguaci di 'Pulp fiction,'" he openly criticized the Italian pulp as a type of literature that desperately tries to compete with the media to capture the audience's attention. As Ferroni affirmed, "una letteratura che si sente alle corde rispetto a forme culturali piu veloci e piu 'visibili', sembra potersi fare strada solo con la provocazione e con l'eccesso, immergendosi in deformazioni, poltiglie, cattiverie di tutti i tipi, manipolando il sesso in tutte le forme e le scomposizioni possibili" (27).
The Young Cannibals' violence also elicited criticism from writers who felt confined within the subaltern traditions of noir, science fiction, and erotic fiction. For example, the Italian anthology Cuore di pulp (1997) was intended as a response of "authentic" Italian pulp writers to the Young Cannibals. According to the anthology's editors, Fabio Giovannini and Antonio Tentori, the issue with the pulp genre was that a group of improvised "cattivisti" was striving to "epater le bourgeois" with fake blood, ironic detachment, and a maudit style that enticed the voyeuristic conformity of Berlusconi's television (8-9). By contrast, Italian scholar Edoardo Sanguineti generally showed a sympathetic openness towards "i seguaci di Pulp fiction." Yet, he contended that the Young Cannibals' violence concealed a disturbed narcissism (Berisso 122). For Sanguineti, this disorder finds its origins in the distressed solitude that one might experience in collective spaces, like discos or supermarkets. The fictional universe of the Young Cannibals would thus mirror a private obsession, the obsession of an ego that is simultaneously abandoned and overbearing, and therefore extremely vulnerable to dependence on consumption, as triggered by television's tantalizing promises (Berisso 122).
The critics of Gioventu cannibale (and its "narrative spin-offs") are undoubtedly correct that, at a meta-literary level, its narrative of violence performs a cannibalization of any notion of boundary, be it linguistic, literary, or moral. Yet, from a strictly thematic perspective, the question to investigate is whether the Young Cannibals' over-exhibited brutality hides other possible meanings beyond its celebration of excess, or if it is solely a captivating device. (10) In other words, what, if anything, is behind the Young Cannibals' rhetoric of violent transgression? "Emptiness," we are tempted to say; and yet this emptiness overflowing with random violence might rather be a cover-up for another--and virtually invisible--type of horror. When violence is random and pervasive, it loses its capacity to affect people. What becomes truly horrific, then, is not violence per se, but our lack of awareness of its ubiquitous brutality.
The sensation of human suspended agency in the midst of an imperceptible flow of horrific events powerfully emerges in "Seratina," the opening short story of Gioventu cannibale. In this work, Niccolo Ammaniti and Luisa Brancaccio describe a night out of two upper-class young men, which inexplicably escalates into a series of violent events. The horror show officially begins when Emanuele, Aldo, and their friend Melania, decide to trespass into a zoo. To please Melania, Emanuele tries to capture a baby kangaroo, and he eventually shoots an aggressive-looking mother kangaroo. His survival instinct and the splatters of blood are the only objective traces of meaning in such a senseless story; as the narration emphasizes: "niente aveva piu senso se non la pallottola sparata senza prendere la mira che andava dritta al cervello, che esplodeva schizzando oltre le sbarre la poltiglia rossa, che apriva la testa in due a un marsupiale [...]" (31). (11)
The question of the Young Cannibals' pervasive use of violence--whether their rhetoric of excess is solely a narrative device--could be reframed in these terms: Can a senseless violence so tightly connected to the social dynamics of late capitalism be truly private and aimless? Stefania Lucamante has briefly touched upon this question, suggesting that the Young Cannibals exhibit a twofold approach towards consumer society: "They all seem to be creatively stimulated by the consumeristic benefits of today's open market of goods, where all merchandise can lead to happiness, although it must be noted that their writings are not at all devoid of very critical underpinnings" (16). The critical underpinning to which Lucamante refers appears quite distinctly when one explores the recursive motif of blood and the intimation of its primal vital function. Elaborating on the novelty of Gioventu cannibale in his introduction entitled "Le favole cambiano," Daniele Brolli has argued that the Italian literary tradition has always taken for granted the intentionality of evil; yet, the moralism of its social realism failed precisely because it denied the existence of a collective imagery of blood. Such "immaginario del sangue" is deeply rooted in primary impulses that can generate atrocious behaviors and characters: serial killers, murderous sects, attackers of minority groups, perpetrators of massacres, and rapists (v-vi). Through these characters, Gioventu cannibale spotlights the "illogical logic" of blood and makes violence a central, albeit seemingly unjustified plot point. This senseless violence, though, is not meaningless, but rather conveys an idiosyncratic criticism of the 90s' socio-cultural apparatus.
Speaking of unreasonable brutality, it is important to stress that the blood splatters of the Young Cannibals' casual violence emerged within an otherwise peaceable and optimistic society that developed in the aftermath of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War. The speechless language of blood thus stands as the resounding voice of dissent within a Western society that presumed itself to be happy and logical. Blood, as a "checkpoint" of life and death (Brolli ix), triggers instinctive repulsion, and this instinctual distancing elicits a sudden recodification of meanings that have been taken for granted. The notion of "checkpoint" finds a psychoanalytical elaboration in Julia Kristeva's definition of abjection as the borderline experience that shatters "the wall of repression and its judgments" and leads the ego back to the "abominable limits from which, in order to be, the ego has broken away" (15). In constituting an extreme experience at the threshold of life and death, blood "is an alchemy that transforms death drive into a start of life, of new significance" (15). Borrowing from Kristeva's conceit of abjection as the resurrection of significance, it is possible to see how the Young Cannibals' abysmal brutality is a radical attempt to renegotiate the meaning of violence in a late-capitalist society that has virtually neutralized "real" violence, and yet it perpetrates daily a violent bacchanal of consumption.
Through the revelatory function of its "splatter filter," the Young Cannibals' blood exposes a variety of collective psychoses that smolder beneath the shiny surface of a consumer world that appears perfectly regulated by the principles of "efficiency, calculability, predictability, and control" (Ritzer 13). However, in order for such a system to maintain its illusory position of pleasant reality, subtle and virtually invisible forms of coercion must be in place, regulating the peaceful happiness of the "supermarket Italia."
Addressing the issue of scarcely visible, yet pervasive forms of violence in Western society, Slavoj Zizek has distinguished "subjective violence," or the brutality that we perceive both physically and ideologically, from "objective violence," a form of violence that, as he argues, "took on a new shape with capitalism" (12). One comes from individuals' evil intentions, the other from an impersonal system that allows "the self-propelling metaphysical dance of capital" to run the show. (12) As Zizek further explains, "the fundamental systemic violence of capitalism" relies precisely on the fact that "violence is no longer attributable to concrete individuals and their 'evil' intentions, but is purely 'objective,' systemic, anonymous" (12-13). Indeed, capitalism's violence seemingly comes out of nowhere, like the irrational bloodshed of Gioventu cannibale's characters. By making robotic consumers literally bleed, the Young Cannibals use blood as a re-oxygenating agent, a powerful yet dangerous pharmakon capable of awakening reader-consumers to the horror of their routine. Ironically, though, this emphasis on fictionalized blood, which is simultaneously hyper-real and unreal, indulges the audience's addictive search for new and more extreme experiences to consume.
"Il mio sangue da Pam insieme al detersivo bianco": Misuse of Goods in the "Supermarket Italia "
In the short story "Pam," titled after a chain of Italian supermarkets and collected in Superwoobinda (1998), Aldo Nove recounts the dream of an unnamed consumer who goes grocery shopping while wounded. (13) After jumping off a balcony, the protagonist breaks his head; yet, as if nothing happened, he goes to buy groceries at the Pam supermarket. When the man enters the grocery store, he is still bleeding, but immediately feels healthy again--"io mi sento un cliente normale con il carrello normale una vita normale" (76). As a short story collection, Superwoobinda can be considered an editorial sequel to Gioventu cannibale. The collection is structured as a swift overview of consumer rituals, and its stories, like shows flipped past while channel surfing, often remain incomplete. The questions it raises point again to the tension between individually motivated and systemic violence: what is the precise connection between Nove's isolated psycho-consumer (who purchases his "happy normality" at Pam) and the socio-economic dynamics of late capitalism? Can the supermarket shopper's "acquirable (a-)normality" exemplify an illusion of freedom shared by millions of consumers around the world?
It is not a coincidence that in 1996, when the Young Cannibals literary phenomenon arose, McDonalds acquired Burghy, the largest Italian fast-food chain, and planned on opening 87 additional franchised restaurants in Italy (Taino 23). In the mid- to late-90s, the expansion of the American fast-food corporation in Europe and Asia testified to a broader socio-cultural transition that, according to sociologist George Ritzer, tied the late-capitalist process of McDonaldization with the postmodern culture depicted by Fredric Jameson. (14) In a McDonaldized society, products have turned into commodities; social relations have been reduced to superficial exchanges; history has crystallized into a "hodgepodge of past, present, and future"; and productive technologies have been replaced by "reproductive technologies" like TV and computers (48-49).
The Young Cannibals' psycho-realism magnifies the irrationalities that 90s Italian society could have developed through rational systems that accelerate production, maximize profits, and minimize costs. Consumerism is in fact founded on a macroscopic paradox: its fast cycle can spin only if consumers do not fully consume. In other words, to fuel consumerism, consumables must be minimally used yet immediately replaced. The "supermarket Italia" can only keep up a rapid turnover of its shelves if goods are truly misused--venerated as fleeting status symbols or discarded when still usable. Guido Viale has summarized a fundamental "side-effect" of this practice of planned obsolescence, stating that consuming "non e altro che un gigantesco processo di produzione di rifiuti" (16). Hence, we may add that consumer society is a high-speed polluting society based on an accelerated production and management of waste. Waste, though, should not be solely understood in terms of final disposal --its terminal stage--but as an ongoing generation of partial or inappropriate uses that leads to new (and unneeded) purchases. Yet, as Serenella Iovino remarks, the "slow violence" fueled by waste and misuse is especially concerning because it is seemingly invisible "proprio come sono relativamente invisibili il riscaldamento globale, i residui radioattivi delle guerre o il Pacific Plastic Patch" (32).
Illustrating the problems of non-use and misuse, "Seratina" by Ammaniti and Brancaccio works as a parable of the subtle "objective violence" that consumerism enables through its deceptive notion of consumption. The three protagonists, Emanuele, Aldo, and Melania, are trapped in a circular narrative, like consumers wandering in a labyrinthine mall who must come up with something new to do (or buy) in order to complete the empty ritual of their night out. The friends' outing begins as a quick trip to buy cigarettes, but it dilates into an endless voyage, punctuated by references to products that are intentionally misused. For instance, the characters never smoke the package of Marlboro Lights they went to buy; like Pulp Fiction's briefcase, cigarettes function as narrative McGuffins (10). While driving around Rome, Aldo tells Emanuele how he bargained for a Rolex watch for twenty grams of cocaine (11); when the three friends trespass into the zoo, Melania pours Jack Daniels into the mouth of a sea lion (21). Finally, in his reckless driving, Aldo honks as if his horn were the joystick of the videogame Mortal Kombat (33).
As Emanuele explains in a brief reflection to the reader, his life as a bourgeois consumer is similar to the caged existence of a hamster who is forced to run on a wheel: "La gente crede che i criceti si divertano. Non e vero. I criceti sulla ruota ci salgono per sbaglio e ci mettono un sacco di tempo a capire che solo se la smettono di correre la ruota si ferma e possono scendere" (15). The protagonists' hamster-like helplessness is in evidence throughout "Seratina": they are unable to stop a frivolous night of loitering that triggers a series of harmful episodes, from the brutalization of several zoo animals to the wounding of Nunzia, a transvestite who fails to answer correctly a seemingly random trivia question. (15) Constantly on the spinning wheel of consumerism, as their night out expands uncontrollably and without good reason, the three protagonists appear as victims and perpetrators of an endless cycle of consumption.
Through its inventory of misused consumables, "Seratina" shows that goods exercise agency over humans because objects have been increasingly charged with values, far beyond their practical functionality. Aldo's father's gun is the consumer good in the story that especially illustrates this enhanced agency. Aldo had always "used" the gun to shoot at no-parking areas--"ci sparava ai divieti di sosta. Era una fissazione quella pistola" (18). Yet, from possibly being a harmless toy or the symbol of a complex father-son relation, the gun eventually turns into the weapon that kills the mother kangaroo and wounds the transvestite prostitute, transforming a silly story into a grotesque tragedy. The agency that goods exercise over their human "owners" is stressed at a visual level on the covers of the Young Cannibals' books, which feature consumables that turn into sentient agents or out-and-out instruments of torture. The original cover art of Gioventu cannibale, for example, displays a disquietingly large razor, and the 1998 edition of Superwoobinda features a monocular TV on the front cover, opposite a giant monocular armchair on the back cover. In similar fashion, Tiziano Scarpa's Occhi sulla graticola and Isabella Santacroce's Destroy heavily borrow from the visual language of comics, emblazoning an objective pop art landscape with imagery that evokes the large, astonished eyes of Japanese manga and the scattered objects of Charles Burns.
The paratextual strategy of depicting objects with agency mirrors the texts' own unfolding of a rich "dizionario cosale," as Sanguineti dubbed it (Berisso 119). In Gioventu cannibale, not only do knives, slicers, and poultry shears threaten harm to humans; even children's toys become pitiless vindicators with "a law-preserving function" (Benjamin 287). The agency of these objects keeps their owners entangled in consumerism. As Renato Barilli contends, the novelty of the Young Cannibals' fiction is that it must account for "i suoi spasmi, le sue contrazioni, accelerazioni, catastrofi, in sintonia con l'intero universo tecnologico; in una stretta immedesimazione tra esseri organici, fatti di carne e di ossa, e invece, dall'altra parte, l'infinita popolazione dei servomeccanismi" (16). Yet, this close identification between organic beings and inorganic objects comes with a price. In Paolo Caredda's "Giorno di paga in via Ferretto," we find a visual metaphor for the symbiosis between human and "servant mechanisms," and we see its consequences. In this short story, Danny, the "serial vindicator" hired by Mr. Drago to punish his former lover Monica, is fascinated with the Transformer toys that belong to his victim's son. For Danny, these mutant robot toys stand as the objective correlative of a snap-fit "mondo trasformato" in which caterpillar trucks can suddenly mutate into threatening, unforgiving vindicators--"Un Predacon puo essere molto vendicativo," he affirms (Gioventu cannibale 165, 167). Beyond Danny's plotting for revenge, the image of the vindictive Transformer is evocative of the barely avertable role reversal through which "transformer-goods" daily vampirize their owners, turning them into bloodless exhibitors of consumables.
The visual metaphor of the Transformer toy can guide our understanding of Nove's perspective on the humanization of goods. In a 2010 interview with La repubblica, the writer remarked that a crucial phenomenon of our recent history has been to charge goods with affection and love (Stancanelli). Through an osmotic exchange, goods have gradually humanized themselves, while men and women have turned into commodities. In Santacroce's Destroy, the hallucinated protagonist, Misty, seems to have detected this process of human commodification when she declares: "Implacabilmente osservo lo spettacolo della quotidianita bastarda che vuole sudditi umili e alienati" (33). By contrast, Nove's characters are true mechanical servants, who idolize a moloch-like television because "solo la televisione e umana" (Superwoobinda 124).
In this dystopic world of human puppets and anthropomorphized goods, the act of buying becomes the marker of a dehumanized humanity. Being normal means being the human objects of a systemic "buyolence," an ambiguous form of violence that combines subtle coercion and compulsive desire to buy more. Not by chance, in Nove's "Il mondo dell'amore," Michele affirms his normative identity in these terms: "Io e Sergio siamo normali, e per questo, ogni sabato pomeriggio, tiriamo su e andiamo alla Iper della Folla di Malnate" (Gioventu cannibale 54). Although a real toponym, "Folla di Malnate" is also an interpretative clue; the name may suggest a connection between the depersonalizing notion of crowd ("folla") and the collective insanity ("follia") that such a crowd fosters.
The Young Cannibals' "supermarket Italia" is set in the early days of the Internet, when a monocular TV was providing several powerful narratives, fostering a popularized version of postmodern "pluralism." In Matteo Galiazzo's short story "Cose che io non so," the founder of a new cult explains this storytelling mechanism to her messiah. She asserts that people will worship him because they have previously believed in a long list of "stories": "La gente ha creduto in passato a panzane ben peggiori. Nel liberismo, per esempio. O nel comunismo. O nella bonta. O nella cattiveria. O nell'uomo. O nella donna. O negli animali. O in te" (Gioventu cannibale 118). Yet, in this dystopic universe which developed after the boom of commercial television, TV is the reassuring voice-over that guides consumers' choices: "Non capisci piu quello che fai, sei li e guardi la tele" (Nove, Superwoobinda 81). Another inhabitant of the 90s population that Gioventu cannibale portrays is the punk musician Nicolas, who has found in commercials something "authentic" he can believe in: "[...] ci credo nella pubblicita e nel mondo di sogno che promette: solo li si possono vedere casalinghe con fisici da fotomodelle, invece che chiattone baffute, sempre disperate per il figlio tossico o anche contadini lindi e sorridenti, felicissimi di rompersi il culo nei campi" (85). In this context, it is not surprising that one of Superwoobinda's protagonists asserts that the flattening arche of his world is indeed yogurt, the yogurt commonly found in Mulino Bianco's snacks: "[...] tutto e fatto di yogurt, tutte le cose sono uguali e non vale la pena di prendersela troppo" (85).
Yet, the chain of cannibalizations that consumerism enables does not end with consumables appropriating human identities and beliefs. As in a game of Chinese boxes, consumables are, in turn, devoured by their brand names, and even brand names can cannibalize each other. Not by chance, in 1996, the Corriere della sera titled the news of McDonalds' acquisition of Burghy with a cannibalizing metaphor: "McDonalds si mangia Burghy." Recalling a technique that Bret Easton Ellis adopted in his novel American Psycho (1991), Daniele Luttazzi's "Cappuccetto splatter" offers an exemplary case of pervasive branding and the consequent annihilation of the object in terms of its usability. The short story is a 90s adaptation of "Red Riding Hood" in which a Hungarian top model, traveling to bring some benzodiazepine to her "granny-fashion designer," is brutalized by a "P.R.-wolf' and eventually rescued by her "agent-hunter" (Gioventu cannibale 63-68). This postmodern fable proceeds by meticulously associating brand names with products. Objects are either further described by their brand--for example, "un ombrello Knirps" (63)--or they are identified by synecdoche--"Guarda, Cappuccetto rosso, se vuoi posso accompagnarti con la mia Twingo" (64). Ventolin, Serax, Perry Ellis, Prada, Kraft, Bassetti--to mention only a few firms--punctuate a narrative of extreme violence and actual cannibalism, concretizing the brutality of consumerism as a sort of flattening substitution of lifestyles, expectations, emotions, fears, needs, and memories, with the materiality that promises to deliver them. Brands are used similarly in Ammaniti's "L'ultimo capodanno dell'umanita." Exhibiting this shift from human feelings to emotional brand values, Ammaniti uses the brand name of a tonic liquor to describe the artificially relaxed atmosphere at Giulia Giovannini's house during the New Year's Eve dinner: "E si sentiva nell'aria un'atmosfera intima, tranquilla e rilassata da amaro Averna che strideva un po' con il bombardamento aereo che avveniva, oltre le finestre, nel cielo romano" (Fango 60).
By exercising agency and affective power on humans, consumables also acquire a redeeming value. They become fetishes of the emotions that consumers can only experience through objects for sale. In a world where goods act as a substitute for the human, consumables and brand names are truly embedded with an ineffable sentiment of pietas, a sentiment of loving care generated via transfer, from the human to the nonhuman. Nove has stressed the redeeming value of goods in the novel La vita oscena (2010), in which his autobiographical protagonist has a redemptive "encounter" with a bottle of soda while lying in a hospital bed. Observing the bottle that his aunt bought at a discount store, the character engages in a transformation that lets him momentarily recover his humanity. The bottle--"un'imago Christi da poveracci" (42-43)--projects on the protagonist a compassionate, and virtually mystical, feeling of belonging; in turn, he is charged with the emotional intensity that the off-brand imitation Coca-Cola emanates. In its degraded commodification of the Christian mystery, the bottle incarnates a lost sense of human care--"Era la mia bottiglia sul comodino dell'ospedale. Sentivo che dovevo prendermene cura. Sentivo che lei si sarebbe presa cura di me" (43). Although the store-brand cola is a low-quality imitation of the original, it is capable of affecting the protagonist by instilling him with a renewed sense of accountability for his own humanity.
In a similar way, in Dei bambini non si sa niente (1997), Simona Vinci--a writer close to the Young Cannibals' cultural milieu--describes the loss of innocence of her protagonist, the ten-year-old Martina, through her changed attitude towards everyday objects. Everyday objects are a lost paradise for this child of the 90s, who regrets not having enjoyed more opportunities to wonder at things:
Il solito lampadario arancione sospeso come un disco volante sul tavolo, e la tovaglia gialla decorata con disegni di enormi limoni. Il ventilatore con le pale bianche coperto da un velo di sporcizia. Gli oggetti, le abitudini, le sembravano un bellissimo mondo perduto. I fagiolini, le stoviglie, le pantofole a fiori della madre, il lampadario arancione, erano cose piene di affetto e senso, cose che ieri odiava, ma che oggi sarebbe stato bello poter osservare con calma e dolcezza.
Martina's reflection, triggered by domestic objects, expresses remorse for her literally rushing into things, for encountering and misusing adult contents when she could have easily found comfort in her childhood's "old stuff." Overcharged with complex meanings, misused objects paradoxically become the emotional seismograph of a commodified humanity. Yet, as repositories of misplaced values and emotions, these objects are also unperceivable agents of "consumer violence."
"Adesso pero era un corpo, da cui fuoriuscivano gli organi tristi come organetti ": Abusing Bodies to Spare Objects
In Andrea Pinketts's "Diamonds Are For Never," another story in Gioventu cannibale, the lacerated body of a man, whose organs ooze out of him "sadly like the sound of barrel organs," is one amidst myriad bodies that is consumed by random brutality (Gioventu cannibale 71). In the Young Cannibals' emphasis on corporeality, violence is not only ruthless, but openly obscene. Bodily descriptions are carefully constructed so that the privacy of the human body "explodes" in graphic repugnancy; for instance, in Matteo Curtoni's "Treccine Bionde," what appears to be a girl dancing at a concert abruptly turns into a dismembered body that keeps on dancing: "[.] Treccine Bionde era stata cosi bella e adesso era cosi vuota, i suoi intestini scivolati fuori dal lungo squarcio slabbrato aperto nella pancia come la parodia di una vagina, di un sesso supplementare e inutile" (Gioventu cannibale 99).
Addressing the question of such a hyperbolic corporeal violence, in the chapter "Cannibali, narratori Pulp Fiction o Forrest Gump," Elisabetta Mondello references a 1996 interview of Aldo Nove with il manifesto, in which the writer affirmed: "Un racconto di Ammaniti non e piu violento di una serata su Canale 5" (65). Mondello explains this polemic comparison by pointing out that, according to Nove, the bloodshed of pulp short stories does not signal real violence; rather, violence is the abuse that is inflicted daily on spectators when they are subjected to Berlusconi's TV programs, advertisements, and other mass media, which sneakily impose homogenizing models of civilization. Extending Mondello's reflection, we can see that the Young Cannibals' discourse of violence is a revelatory discourse about violence. Their narrative viciously exposes the taboos of consumer society. That is, first and foremost the latecapitalist apparatus makes everybody desire new and different objects; then, while providing these objects, capitalism also makes it virtually impossible for humans to use those objects fully, thus keeping consumers spinning on a constantly accelerated wheel of consumerism. If, as Emanuele Trevi maintains, the proliferation of trashy elements in Italian pulp implies the proliferation of violence (208), then overused human bodies are the obscene trash of this taboo commerce.
Willing participants in the torture of consumption, the Young Cannibals' consumers are the complacent subjects-objects of a sadomasochistic ritual that makes them agents of the bare act of being used by the system. In Nove's "Il mondo dell'amore," Michele and Sergio's death exemplifies how even normal consumers are complacent agents of their own usage: after a day of shopping, the two friends emasculate themselves by posing in a sixty-nine--"Il primo da donna. E l'unico da moribondo"--thereby experiencing the extreme spectacle of their own death (Gioventu cannibale 62). In another example, the "avvocato Rinaldi" in Ammaniti's "L'ultimo capodanno dell'umanita" offers a corporal metaphor for the abuse that consumers exact on themselves. He pays a prostitute-mistress to indulge in the lowest level of degradation, to be "a schiavo perfetto" who is beaten by his cruel lady and eats luxurious oysters from her feet (Fango 50).
The masochistic pleasure of these "used consumers" fosters a never-ending chain of abuses. This aspect emerges in Enrico Brizzi's Bastogne. The novel opens in medias res with the narration of Occhi-blu's rape. She is assaulted by the protagonist, Ermanno, and his cousin, "Cousin Jerry." After the rape,
Ermanno elaborates on his "buyer's remorse" in (ab)using an object--the girl's body--that has lost its sexual appeal. The drugged and bleeding Occhi-blu, who lies before his eyes, is very different from the pretty girl he had met: "adesso lei e compressa e gia alienata, diversa in modo irreparabile," Ermanno thinks (19). Since he cannot "return" Occhi-blu's broken body to a store, he can only angrily destroy it: "La danneggio, questa mezza troia, la punisco, che mi si e guastata subito. Ovvio" (19).
Nove, Ammaniti, and Brizzi's raw images of masochist consumers present, with socio-historical differences, thematic similarities with Giorgio Agamben's analysis of body usage among ancient Greeks and Romans. In these ancient cultures, the condition of slavery primarily had a physical connotation; the slave was one whose work--or praxis--coincided with the use of his or her own body. However, as Agamben explains, this usage should not be understood in terms of the master's coercion of the slave's body; rather, the corporeal usage of the slave constitutes a shifted embodiment of the master's agency. In other words, the slave's life is delimited by a sort of bodily co-participation: "Il padrone usando il corpo dello schiavo, usa il proprio corpo, e lo schiavo, usando il proprio corpo, e usato dal padrone" (46). In a parallel way, in the dystopic society of the Young Cannibals, an impersonal market-master extends its body's agency onto the consumers' bodies, leading them toward a self-consuming search for new needs, trends, and branded goods.
Agamben illustrates a connection between slavery and political life that has evolved from Greek and Roman societies to Western capitalism. In ancient cultures, the slave was a sort of quasi-human whose labor allowed free men to enjoy a truly human life--also known as bios politikos. Yet, while for Greeks and Romans slavery was a commonly accepted social practice, the body in modern society after Freud became repressed (43). The Young Cannibals polemically address this cultural transition, connecting the notion of corporeal exploitation with a collective need of concealment. In their texts, a hidden sub-humanity, including prostitutes, transvestites, gigolos, immigrants, drug addicts, and homeless people, becomes an uncomfortable and ubiquitous presence. We perceive the "obscene" emergence of these second-class lives in Santacroce's Destroy. Through the daily memories of Misty, a 90s "underground woman," Santacroce summarizes the tragic paradox of a young prostitute who sells her body behind closed doors but avoids appearing in public: "Pensavo solo a girare il piu possibile sottoterra, evitando con prudenza qualsiasi luce naturale. Il sintetico, l'artificiale, era solo plastica quello che volevo e dovevo tenere il volume del walkie alto, e sviare scrupolosamente possibili conversazioni, possibili contatti fisici" (28). In a more ironic fashion, in Occhi sulla graticola, Tiziano Scarpa opens a digression, "Sulla natura del succo maschile nel tardo capitalismo," to recount the secret daily commerce of two young men who sell their sperm as a rejuvenating lotion for their old landlady, and in exchange receive a discount on their rent. However, this clandestine commerce of bodies remains relegated in the "otherness" of a sub-human space, wherein it can be hidden from normal cheerful consumers.
Body usage remains conveniently hidden because human exploitation plays a pivotal role in maintaining the (im)balance of Western society. Alda Teodorani has explored this thorny issue in her short story, "E Roma piange," also anthologized in Gioventu cannibale. (16) Unlike other Italian pulp authors, this woman writer has more explicitly engaged with uncomfortable topics such as blood and sex. According to science fiction writer Valerio Evangelisti, while the Young Cannibals had the effect of elegantly eliciting discomfort, Teodorani's goal was to represent atrocity with disarming openness ("Ed altri"). "E Roma piange" is the brutal account of the abuses performed by a unique street cleaner --a collector of the "human rottenness" that fills Rome's underground train stations, fast food restaurants, and public restrooms. (46). Teodorani draws out the bloody connections among money, politics, and what may look like "'un'ondata improvvisa di violenza, inammissibile'" (51). In her short story, the "street cleaner" is a southern immigrant who had once sold Kleenex at traffic lights, now employed by an old man to dispose of people. The punisher enjoys his job, and his consumption of bodies verges into anthropophagy and sadistic abuses. Nevertheless, no one in all of Rome notices his acts of hyper-violence; the street cleaner's victims are sub-lives that exist to be ignored. The peripheral characters who are massacred each day by Teodorani's vindicator live only to guarantee, through their expulsion from the consumer apparatus, the perpetuation of that apparatus via their undocumented or illicit labor. The disturbing image of the "unnoticed massacre" finds a further parallel in the current situation of Western manufacturing relocating to developing countries where exploitation of labor becomes unperceivable.
In turning an immigrant into a punisher, Teodorani comments on the anti-immigration sentiment that was rapidly spreading in Rome. In particular, she bitterly parodies the wall posters that, in the 90s, bemoaned the presence of immigrant window-cleaners. The posters spread a rhetoric of fear, warning Italian citizens of the risk that newly arrived immigrants could appropriate goods and privileges formerly reserved for local people. In this context of paranoia, the killer street cleaner plays the role of one who has been oppressed but becomes an oppressor, and who now fights to gain an illusory control over his (self-)consumption.
Broadly speaking, Teodorani's short story exemplifies how pulp literature engages with disturbing contents, including distressed eroticism and pornography, to spur provocative reflections. My point is that these writers do not play on an empty "esibizionismo di immoralita" (Spinazzola 17), but rather use this exhibitionism to "mirror" a society where nudity and sex are widespread marketing tools. What is the value of an obscenity that has been diluted and abused? Nove has commented on this process of devaluation in the previously mentioned interview with La repubblica. The writer shared that when he was young, he and his friends used to dig in the trash for pornographic magazines:
[Le riviste] Erano segrete, proibite e residuali. Per questo erano salvifiche. La pornografia era l'altrove, la salvezza stava nello scarto. Attraverso la pornografia conoscevamo il mondo. Ma il mondo, oggi, e completamente pornograficizzato. La politica, la cultura i rapporti umani. La sensazione e quindi quella che non ci sia piu niente da scoprire. Roland Barthes diceva "osceno e cio che si propone come erotico ma non lo e affatto". A me sembra che l'oscenita, oggi, sia il non saper dare confini alle cose. Tra fantasia e immaginazione, tra realta e finzione, tra politica e pornografia.
(Stancanelli, "La mia vita oscena")
Nove's "forbidden" readings were indeed sacred because, by being the waste of the social body, they were part of a purification ritual. Those "dirty" magazines allowed him to separate his renewed self from a pile of objectified impurities. (17) It is interesting to note that a similar reflection on pornography appears in the American movie Fight Club (1999), a film that, like the Young Cannibals' works, represents 90s consumer society. The voice-over of Jack, the first-person narrator, describes his middle-class life as a collection of Ikea furniture and accessories. The sequence, which visually mimics an Ikea catalogue, closes with the statement "I would flip through catalogs and wonder, 'What kind of dining set defines me as a person? We used to read pornography. Now it was the Horchow Collection" (Uhls 5). Consumer culture has ultimately substituted the cathartic impurity of pornography with the impeccable cleanliness of a dinnerware set. Dirt, borrowing from the anthropologist Mary Douglas, is the signifier of both the existence of and contravention to a social order (35). Representing a world in which consuming is a clean "surrogate" of transgression, the Young Cannibals link the blurring of ethical boundaries to the loss of obscenity's exclusive sacredness.
Italian pulp parodies a dangerous flattening of values, showing how on TV, even repulsive corporeality and mass murders become appealing; on screen, even fecal waste is carefully concealed, and "nella pubblicita non c'e mai merda" (Nove, Superwoobinda 66) because it has been carefully idealized and sanitized of its smell. By contrast, life offscreen is a shadowy dump, and reality retains the stink of all its corporeal humors. The fictional reality of media is threatening because it prevents spectators from the purifying and self-discovering encounter with their own dirt. An artificial paradise wherein everything is clean is indeed a screened cage where there is nothing left to discover.
Nove's perspective on obscenity as a secret window on the world, a private cognitive practice to treasure jealously, recalls Pier Vittorio Tondelli's declarations regarding the accusations of obscenity that he faced for his debut novel Altri libertini in 1980. Undoubtedly, for his widening of the moral and linguistic boundaries of literature, Tondelli can be considered a precursor to the Young Cannibals' "sperimentalismo non-avanguardista" (Spinazzola 16). As Tondelli explained, obscenity is an act that occurs outside the scene, like the classical example of Medea, who does not kill her children onstage because for ancient Greeks, infanticide was unrepresentable. Yet, if that action were to be represented onstage, we would experience a moment of revelation, such as, "e osceno cio che ci apre gli occhi su qualcosa che avveniva sempre dietro la nostra scena celebrale e sentimentale" (Opere 1116). Thus, for Tondelli, that which is obscene always involves accessing a path that leads to deeper knowledge of ourselves, a path that brings us beyond our social and individual boundaries and lets us engage in a dangerous snooping behind the stage. However, the author of Altri libertini warns us of a voyeuristic understanding of obscenity, whose sole purpose is an unveiling for its own sake, or even worse, a commercialization of corporality (Opere 1117).
While Tondelli expressed a certainty about the private value of obscenity, the Young Cannibals generally linger in an ambiguous middle ground between cognitive unveiling and empty scopophilia. For instance, the obscure experience that Vinci represents in Dei bambini non si sa niente gives rise to a devious mix of dangerous snooping and rising awareness. The novel embraces the scabrous, and yet ferociously innocent, perspective of a group of children who experiments with sex and ends up sodomizing the ten-year-old Greta, causing her death. One of the children, Martina, looks in shocked disbelief at Greta's corpse, and expresses the difficulty of detecting the boundary-point in their secret game. At what point does a fascination with the corporeal unknown verge on physical abuse? The question remains unresolved, as Martina admits: "Non ci ho mai pensato, che i nostri corpi potessero farsi male. Non ho mai pensato se erano cose giuste o sbagliate, erano cose, erano i nostri giochi, era come essere fratelli e sorelle, era come essere grandi, ma piccoli" (147). Again, the ambiguity of the boundary is the central topic of Ammaniti's "Carta," a narration that pivots around the image of the material limen. This short story tells about a group of lazy employees of the Department of Health, who check on the house of an unstable old lady living alone in unsanitary conditions. When the three employees enter the fetid apartment, they face a horrific spectacle: piles of garbage, magazines, bodily waste, and skinned cats. The old lady is nowhere to be found, and the employees assume she is dead. Their first instinct is to leave the scene, but then the visceral curiosity--"una curiosita morbosa, sporca"--to see more of that inhumanity takes over, and they decide to penetrate that "inferno," that "intestino di cadavere gonfio di escrementi" (Fango 297). Coluzza, the first-person narrator, even admits: "[...] volevo vedere che fine aveva fatto quella poveraccia. Volevo vedere il cadavere di quella povera donna divorato dalle blatte. Non mi bastava quello che avevo visto" (Fango 297).
"Carta" is not only a story about the loss of a sense of boundary, but also a reflection on the consequences of nonchalantly trespassing the boundary. By overexposing readers to extreme contents--to "postmodern murders on stage" --these works evoke the risk of a passive addiction to violence. An audience that is accustomed to off-limit experiences is no longer perturbed or darkly fascinated by shocking events. What becomes violent, then, is the rising threshold of tolerance for violence, the neutralization of indignation. An exemplary case of this sort of violence is Nove's short story "La strage di via Palestro." After watching the scene on the news, the protagonist goes to witness in person the aftermath of a mafia massacre caused by a car bomb in Milan. He declares, though, that he was more moved by TV than by watching the scene in person with some friends. Only on television, "la strage ti entra a casa all'improvviso" (Superwoobinda 28); only at home, can this spectator "comfortably" enjoy the thrilling entertainment of a real massacre. (18) Emotionally anesthetized, Nove's characters binge on the spectacle of violence and soon after engage in an obscene food binge at a local Burghy fast-food restaurant--"[...] ho preso un king-bacon e le patatine regular e un cheese e il succo d'arancia e un apple-bag, mentre la mia ragazza ha preso un king-cheese e il fish e una patatine small e la coca max" (Superwoobinda 29).
By contrast, in Scarpa's Occhi sulla graticola, a truly repulsive and corporeal episode of diarrhea sparks an authentic connection between Carolina and Alfredo, two young people who meet by chance on a steamboat in Venice. They experience a mutual, unfiltered, bare corporeality--each seeing the body of a stranger exposed in its primal functionality--and this enables them to engage in an emotional resetting that reaches the "fondamenta creaturali dei nostri corpi" (12). The delicate irony of Scarpa's writing attenuates a crescendo of intensity: the initial "vergogna totale e reciproca" (12) evolves into a puzzling moment of human recognition. In this passage, nudity does not lead to obscenity because the characters' gaze--"minerale, oggettivo, crudo" (12)--is not screened through a third, electronic eye observing them, as Tondelli remarks, "un occhio malevolmente curioso, un occhio cinico e non umano" (1117).
"Non e possibile essere solo buoni, ne essere solo cattivi ": The Bitter Irony of Reusing
Non e possibile essere solo buoni, ne essere solo cattivi. Non e nemmeno possibile essere piu buoni di altri, o piu cattivi di altri. Si puo nei confronti di persone singole, o di un gruppo comunque limitato, ma non si puo nei confronti dell'umanita intera. Non si puo essere buoni con tutti. Per questo Dio non e ne buono ne cattivo.
(Gioventu cannibale 116)
With these words, the first-person narrator of Matteo Galiazzo's short story "Cose che io non so" sketches her vision of good and evil, applied to both God and humans. This profession of moral relativism provides a meta-discourse on the Young Cannibals' ironic representation of everyday life in the "supermarket Italia." Paraphrasing Galiazzo's character's statement, one can certainly assert that it is possible to be ironic with a limited group of readers, but not with all of humanity. Therefore, while a shrewd audience detects the parodic deformation of its own consumer habits, readers who are seeking the latest literary phenomenon are "punished" by becoming victims of a concealed practice of reuse. Mashed and splattered, their consumer lives are customized as brand-new transgressive fiction. The Cannibal writers repurpose their readers-consumers' lives into trashy consumable stories. However, the relation that exists between a "reused" capitalist lifestyle and irony is purposefully ambiguous. Is this practice of literary recycling a form of mimesis or a wild-eyed deformation of latecapitalist society?
The presence in the Young Cannibals' writings of a peculiar ironic nuance --between bitter sarcasm and grotesque psychosis--has led many critics to see in the Italian pulp a "realismo oggettivante puramente mimetico," namely, a realism that mirrors reality but does not take any ethical or theoretical stance (Carnero 33). This type of criticism similarly emerges in Alessandro Baricco's review of Santacroce's novel Destroy, originally published in La repubblica and then collected in the volume Barum 2. Commenting on Santacroce's monstrous ability to perceive "la quantita del mondo"--a mimetic ability that the young generation of writers generally shares--Baricco compares works like Destroy to the index of an encyclopedia, to a superficial mapping that does not help readers understand their society (140). By representing a chaotic and mesmeric world that has lost any relation to real life, the Young Cannibals' works undoubtedly generated wonder, yet Baricco cannot help but marvel in disbelief, "Le ragioni del reale dove diavolo sono finite? Che ne e del caro, vecchio Senso?" (140). His rhetorical questions pinpoint a central component of pulp realism: the Young Cannibals' mimetic representation deforms everyday life into a hallucinogenic 90s "magic realism," in which drugs, alcohol, and television act as powerful spells over consumers.
Going back to Baricco's criticism that Santacroce's writing creates a crowded inventory that privileges quantity over quality, one might wonder whether rendering the "quantity of the world" does not perhaps mean grasping the quality of a capitalist world that uniquely values the quantification of commodities, profits, and sales. Thus, in this "real-unreal" dystopia, violence, filtered through irony, becomes a deforming device that estranges the readers and entrusts them with the role of interpreters of their own hidden degradation. As Alberto Asor Rosa has contended, commenting on Ammaniti's work, the humor that pervades the latter's short stories provides a tool to perceive--or rediscover--the sense of boundaries (x). Yet, Asor Rosa says, Ammaniti does not unravel the knot of his comic deformations; he leaves the readers at the threshold, to face alone the comedic dimension of an uncomfortable reality.
Comic deformation is the narrative strategy that allows the Cannibal writers to twist realism into estranged realism. By showing a deeply distorted consumer society, the Young Cannibals seem to readapt Verga's narrative strategy of "objective estrangement." If read in terms of "objective deformation," Nove's statement "perche solo la televisione e umana" sounds as twisted and detached as Verga's well-known passage from "Rosso Malpelo": "Malpelo si chiamava cosi perche aveva i capelli rossi; ed aveva i capelli rossi perche era un ragazzo malizioso e cattivo" (186). This postmodern dark humor exacerbates the shared tics, neurosis, and unconfessed fears of a 90's normality that takes the shape of an oddly familiar psychosis. The Cannibal writers' caustic stories pivot on a careful work of narrative montage that uses reality to create a literary "mockumentary." Flat consumer routine is cut and reassembled in a fictional representation that is realistic enough to generate cognitive violence, yet fantastic enough to trigger uncanniness and laughter in its readers. Exposed to such a dystopic "docu-fiction," readers may wonder, echoing Brizzi's dissolute character Ermanno, whether as "consumed-consumers," "siamo soltanto modeste sorprese dell'uovo kinder, immobili, carini, muti ogni volta che apriamo bocca, perfettamente inutili" (76).
As Filippo La Porta has noted, because of the Young Cannibals' mimesis of pop culture, they might be better defined as "moralists, as analysts of social mores, anthropologists, aphorists, essayists" rather than creative writers (72). (19) Their "anthropological" practice of observation and literary narration is indeed a form of literary recycling. The violence of this practice is very subtle: through their ironic reuse and rewriting of consumerism, the Young Cannibals mount a literary "revenge" that they attain by feeding the "same old stuff' to a consumerdriven audience that is always hungry for the new. But literature is never totally new, and its practice of creation inevitably involves the deforming violence that is inherent in assembling previous discourses into a "new" narrative. To illustrate this evolutionary process of literary abuse and reuse, we can return to Ammaniti's "Carta." When the three employees finally see the old lady, she is lying naked on her bed. She has been eating newspapers, so her skin has turned into a sort of translucent paper, tattooed with words: "Milioni di lettere, di parole, di frasi, di pubblicita, di articoli di fondo, di cronaca di Roma la coprivano in ogni centimetro del corpo" (Fango 299). Like a text of the Young Cannibals, the monstrous lady has absorbed the world around her into the "paper" of her flesh; and yet, once that world has been imprinted on her skin, like tattooed words, the old wrinkly body becomes abominably new.
Through their idiosyncratic emulation of everyday life, the Young Cannibals generated a literary phenomenon that bears similarities to the mechanism of the avant-garde, in which the pars destruens--the antagonism that rises from provocative use of scatological, extra-literary, and "oral" languages--is the actual pars construens. Santacroce's Destroy in fact opens with a quote from Nietzsche's Ecce Homo: "Io sono il primo immoralista: con cio sono il distruttore par excellence" (5). In their brief experience, which can be roughly circumscribed between 1995 and 1998, the Young Cannibals' postmodern reuse partially slipped into "riscritture paranoiche che mett[o]no in discussione qualsiasi autorita intra- ed extra- testuale, sia essa sintattica, cronologica o geografica, a favore di un'eccessiva fluidita che banalizza ogni cosa" (Simonetti 167). The risk of undertaking these rewrites was that they would never have a long-term impact on the cultural panorama, that in their celebration of the contamination of genres and their ambiguous exploitation of the mass-media society, they would be nothing more than a literary flash mob that merely annoyed the orderly establishment of the publishing industry. Today, however, it is possible to see how this unsettling "pop-up phenomenon" has contributed to innovating Italian narrative fiction in its language, style, genres, and themes. Most importantly, this pulp "realism" has opened the possibility to create literary works that provocatively blur the divide between high-brow culture and paraliterature while captivating a younger audience.
Furthermore, it is crucial to note that in their evolution, the 90s young "cattivisti" embraced a type of literature that sought to turn the disturbing void of their early works into a productive--and "healing"--sense of disorientation, which could then be used as a collective instrument of knowledge (Vasta). In their more recent novels, authors like Nove, Santacroce, and Teodorani still deal with violence, delving into themes such as criminality, addiction, prostitution, and geopolitical and ecological issues. Yet, they are doing so from a different critical and genre perspective. In Tutta la luce del mondo (2014), Nove has retold Francis of Assisi's life through the eyes of the saint's nephew, Piccardo. This historical narration explores the political crisis of the Middle Ages, while meditating on the meaning of sanctity. Teodorani's Gramsci in cenere (2016), retraces the seventies stories of a little village in Romagna, its struggles and leftist values. Santacroce, in her trilogy of Eva, is denouncing the complex dynamics of minors' exploitation. In line with the realist turn of Italian "hyper-modern" narrative fiction, these former Cannibals are now demonstrating a more explicit and constructive sense of ethical engagement.
As Tiziano Scarpa wrote in "Lettera a Pulp," the Italian pulp was a very lucrative commercial project, and its legacy included the sticky label of "cannibal literature." Yet, Scarpa added, as a result of his association with the Young Cannibals, his work had ceased to be judged in aesthetic terms--"E bello? E brutto?" Readers instead judged it according to its adherence to the "Cannibal" style--"E ancora cannibale? Non e piu cannibale?" (Mondello 68). Although Scarpa intended his statement as a provocation against the myopia of critics, it highlights how the "pseudo-movement" of the Young Cannibals rewrote the rules of the literary game in Italy at the end of the twentieth century. Through their provocative cannibalization of marginalized extra-literary territories, the Cannibal writers generated a broad re-semantization that has invested the idioms, genres, and topics of Italian literature with new meaning. Yet, their re-generation of meaning goes beyond a linguistic or meta-literary "apocalypse": Italian pulp writing has highlighted, in a smug ironic tone, the invisible system of violence that shaped 90s consumerism. By exploring the interrelated dimensions of misuse, abuse, and reuse, the Young Cannibals' bloodshed exposes therapeutic effects and poisoning spells. As both the pervading narcotic of capitalist society and its awakening antidote, blood reveals the inconsistencies of lives emptied of meaning and crowded with consumable goods.
University of St. Thomas
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(1) I am quoting from the editorial blurb in the 1996 back cover of Gioventu cannibale. The authors anthologized in the collection appear in the following order: Niccolo Ammaniti and Luisa Brancaccio (co-authors of "Seratina"), Alda Teodorani, Aldo Nove, Daniele Luttazzi, Andrea G. Pinketts, Massimiliano Governi, Matteo Curtoni, Matteo Galiazzo, Stefano Massaron, and Paolo Caredda.
(2) The term "pulp literature" was originally used for second-rate literature, published on paper of poor quality (known as "pulp"). On the definition of pulp, see Pezzarossa; Sinibaldi.
(3) The name Young Cannibals is a reference to the underground comic magazine Cannibale, which featured disturbing satire and extreme violence (Castaldi 76).
(4) The term "cattivisti" was particularly used to distinguish the Young Cannibals from a parallel narrative lineage inspired by good sentiments. The main representatives of the so-called "letteratura buonista" were, among others, Giulio Mozzi and Susanna Tamaro. The dualism between "cattivisti" and "buonisti" mirrored the cinematic dichotomy of two American movies released in 1994: the "cattivista" Pulp Fiction and the "buonista" Forrest Gump.
(5) In "Lettera a Pulp" Tiziano Scarpa defined the Young Cannibals a "pseudo-movimento letterario" (Mondello 65).
(6) In ancient Greek, the term pharmakeia [[phrase omitted]] covers a broad range of meanings. It defines the use of medicine or the administering of drugs; it can also more extensively designate the notion of medicament or remedy. In addition, the term can mean poison and, in a further accepted meaning, the word signifies sorcery and use of magical arts (Greek-English Lexicon 751).
(7) Gioventu cannibale is divided in three sections: "Atrocita quotidiane," "Adolescenza feroce," and "Malinconie di sangue."
(8) The article was originally published in French, with the title "Les jeunes cannibales," in the journal Magazine litteraire 407 (2002): 20-24; in 2003 the web site Carmilla published an Italian translation of the article, with the title "Dopo i cannibali."
(9) On the criticism of postmodern media populism, see Ferraris.
(10) On this interpretative issue see Barenghi's article "I Cannibali e la sindrome di Peter Pan."
(11) I am quoting from the 2006 edition of Gioventu cannibale.
(12) On the notion of imperceptible violence, see also Nixon's discussion of "slow violence" and "structural violence" in the introduction to Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor 10-14.
(13) Superwoobinda, published by Einaudi in 1998, is the new version of Woobinda. E altre storie senza lieto fine (originally published by Castelvecchi in 1995), with two additional short stories.
(14) Ritzer defines McDonaldization as "the process by which the principles of the fast-food restaurant are coming to dominate more and more sectors of American society as well as of the rest of the world" (1).
(15) It is worth mentioning that the (not so random) question was, "Lo sai qual e la capitale degli Stati Uniti?" (39), a question that suggests a precise connection between capitalism and violence.
(16) This interpretation of "E Roma piange" was developed through an email exchange I had with Teodorani in Spring 2016.
(17) On the connection between waste and purification, see Viale 16-17 (in particular the reference to Calvino's La strada di San Giovanni).
(18) On the topic of the media's spectacularization of violence, see Baudrillard's criticism of the news reporting of the Gulf War.
(19) For a thorough analysis of ethical "impegno" in Italian postmodern literature and culture, see Antonello and Mussgnug.
[Please note: Some non-Latin characters were omitted from this article]
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