The making and unmaking of the eternal city: a history of violence on an everyday Perfect Day.
The New and the Old
The much-celebrated phenomenon of globalization and its technologies accomplishes a magician's trick: it combines the euphoric celebration of new technologies, new economy, new lifestyles, new generations of both human and technological gadgets, new wars and new weapons with the complete social rejection of change and transformation.
(Braidotti, Transpositions 2; emphasis in original) (1)
While every aspect of the globalized society clamors for the relevance of the new, this same society does not necessarily rethink itself. Contemporary society's failure to change sufficiently with the times hampers "the potentially innovative, de-territorializing impact of the new technologies" that, in turn, are "tuned down by the reassertion of the gravitational pull of old and established values," Rosi Braidotti argues in Transpositions (2). Rather than rethink the way they fulfill their duties and rights as citizens within a globalized society, for example, Italians de-territorialize only areas of society connected with consumerism. Citizens appear to be involved in this process, but they do not consider it necessary to form new, alternative communities. It would seem as if countries have no boundaries only if and when it helps to expand capitalism. The wave of neo-conservatism that Braidotti describes represents a concrete obstacle to a rethinking of women and their rights.
Mazzucco's Un giorno perfetto is ethically and politically committed to illuminating Italian society's paradoxical economic development, one that has taken place without appropriate social change. This novel's conclusions are consistent with Braidotti's reflections: they underscore the dynamics concerning women and their relative lack of agency, even in a democratic country such as Italy. Aside from rampant discrimination in the workplace and the mobbing phenomenon, women confront their most notable challenges in the area of family values: the sacred institutions of marriage and motherhood. (2) Simone de Beauvoir's famous reflections demonstrated over fifty years ago the danger to women's emancipation when their role is reduced to that of vessel and caregiver. The immanence that, for many, still signifies the static nature of woman, becomes a weapon in the hands of collectivities that, in turn, refuse to grant women full democratic rights (Beauvoir 435-55).3 In this era of globalization, the original lack of mobility for women in society, coupled with a lack of redefinition of their role within the family, produces a further challenge to their democratic rights. Global economics force women back into a cycle of subjection, while laws fail to protect them from abuse. In the process of coping with its transformation, society preserves women's role as individuals who are not afforded their full rights.
Mazzucco employs a classical Aristotelian unity of time to conduct, within the canonical 24 hours, a dramatic, fictional investigation. The novel centers on two Roman wives, Emma and Maya, who, regardless of their different social status, must come to terms with their marginalization. By presenting specific episodes of the violence they experience, Mazzucco reveals disquieting patterns of subjection that tarnish the "postcard image" of this beautiful city, embedded in a society that only thinks it gives equal rights to all its citizens. Mazzucco's omniscient, post-feminist narrator inserts fictional investigative reports to argue that public discourse should address not women raped or deprived of their rights but rather men who cannot control their own ineptitude at coping with social changes. (4) Media reports in Mazzucco's discourse about abused and battered women reveal, whether on television or in the press, what ought to be spoken of: the story of men who take out frustration over their personal failings on their spouses and girlfriends within an impassive society. (5)
In Un giorno perfetto, the depiction of the female characters' travails makes readers see the obvious: real emancipation must begin by dealing with painfully personal, domestic experiences of violence. As the cliche goes, private experience defines the political. The much-celebrated domestic hearth is the locus of extreme verbal and physical violence, the place where women do not have the power to speak up for themselves and men impose their violence on those they love the most. Silence and inaction often prevail over discussion and action on this vexing issue despite many statistics on the extent of the problem, (6) despite the enormous number of cases reported to the police (which appear almost daily in Italian newspapers), and, finally, despite the increasing critical interest for the affective dimensions of everyday life, emotions, and feelings that should make us aware of the social and collective importance of ordinary affects (Ngay, Stewart). Mazzucco's narrator plays the role of social investigator for her characters, corrects her women's aphasia, and discusses physical and mental abuse as this author had already done in her historical novel Il bacio della Medusa (1996). (7) Overall, Mazzucco argues that violence against women is primarily discourse before it manifests itself in an act of physical violence. As a discourse, this violence is connected to media and juridical narratives. Violence displayed in physical assaults on women, in Un giorno perfetto, exposes the social and historical paradox Braidotti elicits in Transpositions concerning globalized Rome: economic growth and a liberal political system do not relinquish or improve social dysfunction; conversely, perhaps, they aggravate the state of things.
Mazzucco's novel resists the rhetoric that feigns understanding of women's existence, for it demonstrates how violence against women is a never-ending family affair passively permitted by a society steadfastly unveiling its most grotesque features. Un giorno perfetto's resistance to facile rhetoric reveals a Deleuzian quality: the frail corporeality of the female subjects--best epitomized in Maya's lean body--exposes the wrongs of their spouses, companions, and friends. Mazzucco's characters' actions show how "vulnerable and violated bodies can be reconfigured, that is, liberated from the defensive and defeated histories to which they have been consigned" (Marsden 308). In short, like other novels by women, Mazzucco's Un giorno perfetto responds to everyday violence in neither voyeuristic nor abstract terms, but rather with brutally precise images devoid of any morbid pleasure. Physical beatings and forced sex must not please readers; they call instead for a serious reflection on recent developments of Italian society. Violence on the body effaces one's power to act and brings aphasia to its victims. As an important corollary to her primary concern, Mazzucco engages the female body and its ability to counter recent speculation about the disappearance of active feminism from Italian society and about the rapid loss of the rights achieved through women's struggles in the 1970s. Un giorno perfetto becomes a showcase for Mazzucco's internalized feminist teachings, soliciting real emancipation and attention to the situation of women. Far from considering feminism defunct, this novel epitomizes a point of view that goes beyond essentialism and "genderism."8 While doing away with fossilized and dangerous notions of female acquiescence, this author describes a growing self-awareness in both Emma and Maya that makes us hope for a better future.
Rome and Its Women: Democracy Interrupted
Ida Dominijanni has described what she calls an "old hostility between the modern State and women, an animosity resulting from "exclusion on the one side and of extraneousness on the other, which the construction of citizenship has never managed to heal but only to mitigate" (qtd. in Crispino 6). The adjective antica (ancient) refers to a long history of abuse and violence against women. Since antiquity, the history of the city of Rome has consistently and famously braided politics and violence: From the rape of the Sabine women, abducted to replenish the newly founded city and ensure the procreation of Roman warriors, to that of the chaste Lucretia, the founding myth of the Roman Republic, the city of Rome, for all its generosity and grandeur, has consistently maintained a troubled relationship with its women--women whose personal lives are thoroughly political (Kahn 141-59). The walls of the city of Rome exude blood, and it often comes from women: Beyond antiquity, the rape and torture of historical characters such as Beatrice Cenci and Artemisia Gentileschi confirm this association between the history of Rome and the history of violence against women. Tied to all this violence is the oft-used metaphor that likens Rome to a woman. In Un giorno perfetto, for example, Emma's husband Antonio equates his hatred for the city of Rome and its curves to his hatred for his estranged wife (and himself):
Antonio senti un rigurgito d'odio per la Tiburtina, questa strada alienante, generica, accerchiata dalle fabbriche, dalle aziende informatiche, da capannoni, costruzioni brutte, una strada nella quale erano brutti perfino gli alberi e i fiori, dove pero Emma--questa Emma nuova che era nata dopo che la sua Emma era andata via--si destreggiava ogni giorno da quando non viveva piU per lui. E ormai odiava anche Roma, questa citta femmina dalle forme rotonde, una citta materna, fatta di cupole floride come seni e portici spalancati come gambe--il cui segno, come quello delle donne, e vuoto: l'inquietante vuoto romano che mina tutto, e una malattia incurabile. Odiava Roma come Emma, e come se stesso.
(Mazzucco, Un giorno 218)
(Antonio gushed hatred for the Tiburtina, this alienating and generic road, surrounded by factories, computer companies, industrial storages, and ugly constructions--a road where even trees and flowers were ugly but where, nevertheless, Emma-this new Emma that was born after his Emma had left--managed every day since she no longer lived for him. By now he hated Rome as well, this female city with her round shapes, a maternal city made of domes as buxom as breasts and porticos as wide as legs--whose sign, like that of women, is empty: the disquieting Roman void that threatens everything, is an incurable illness. He hated Rome like Emma, and like himself.)
Hatred consumes Antonio and, not surprisingly, he sees the entire city as a female reproductive organ that rejects him as Emma has done. He hates Rome just as much as he hates Emma. But most of all, he hates himself for not having been able to keep his family together, for failing to keep enforcing the old mores and family rules upon his wife. In showing the beauty of ancient Rome to his children during their last walk together before the domestic crime, Antonio realizes how little he knows of this city. Touching the Bernini elephant statue in front of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, he says to himself:
[...] un capolavoro barocco di imitazione della natura. Mai visto nemmeno questo. Quante cose ho ignorato. E vivo a Roma da vent'anni. Ma cos'e, Roma? E la citta cui Emma mi ha incatenato. Roma si fa amare esattamente come una donna, perche ti piace, perche stai bene con lei, perche ti capisce, ti accoglie e ti risponde. Perche, malgrado i difetti e le mancanze che rendono irregolare la sua bellezza, quella bellezza supera ai tuoi occhi tutte le altre. Ho sposato Roma come Emma. Una bellezza che ho goduto, ma che mai mi e appartenuta.
(Mazzucco, Un giorno 333)
([...] a baroque masterpiece imitating nature. Never seen this either. How many things have I ignored. And I have been living in Rome for twenty years. But what is Rome? It is the city that Emma chained me to. Rome makes herself loved exactly like a woman, because you like her, because you find yourself at ease with her, because she understands you, she accepts you and responds to you. Because, despite the defects and faults that make her beauty irregular, that beauty surpasses all others in your eyes. I married Rome as I did Emma. A beauty that I enjoyed but that I never possessed.)
Rome's history runs parallel to an entire history of women (and violence upon them) depicting, metaphorizing, explaining the glory of the Eternal City. If history repeats itself, in this case it does so by showing that violation of women's bodies is as much a part of the "new-era" globalization process as was violence in ancient and Renaissance Roman history. It is not unusual to connect the politics of gender with that of subalternity and violence, for the Western tradition has "naturalized" the notion of erotic violence and rape in its founding tales: Western authors have used erotic violence and rape for beautiful myths "that simultaneously articulate and hide the socially constructed story of male and female sexuality difference and power that makes women "essentially" vulnerable and mute" (Higgins and Silver 4-5). Since its inception, the Western tradition has acknowledged what Higgins and Silver call "a paradigm of rape and silencing [for] they go hand in hand" (5). While in male authors we witness the elision of scenes of violence--particularly rape--and the subsequent, institutionalized acceptance of gender oppression, Higgins and Silver instead urge their readers to see how, when it comes to representation of rape and violence, it is almost impossible to dissociate "poetics and the politics of gender" (5). Indeed, in their view, "the entire Western lyric tradition and the quest for beauty, truth, and knowledge associated with the 'Grecian spirit' allow for sexual violence to become a myth, an aesthetic locus" (5). In order to demystify this troubling tradition, feminists must criticize it and reinstate violence and rape of women as literal events. They must take these acts in their factual sense and represent them without the symbolic value that confines violence to a realm of sublimation. This is what Mazzucco does.
"A Good Map is Worth a Thousand Words: " A Geography of Violence
Literary maps, according to Franco Moretti, demonstrate or reveal "the ortgebunden, place-bound nature of literary forms: each of them with its peculiar geometry, its boundaries, its spatial taboos and favorite routes" (5). Maps, furthermore,
bring to light the internal logic of narrative: the semiotic domain around which a plot coalesces and self-organizes. Literary form appears thus as the result of two conflicting and equally significant forces: one working from the outside, and one from the inside. It is the usual, and at bottom, the only real issue of literary history: society, rhetoric, and their interaction.
(5; emphasis in original)
Moretti's reflections on the productive synergy existing between geometry and the novel prompted my conceptualization of a map of Rome for Un giorno perfetto, one that reflects its finely textured narrative of a day in the city's life. A map of the characters' wanderings about a city can help to materialize the interaction between the internal force of the literary form and the external force exercised by the interaction of society with rhetoric. This interaction produces both the plot and the themes that compose the novel's matter. While Moretti traces the movements of characters of British and French nineteenth-century novels, my map of Un giorno perfetto locates the many layers of modern-day Rome. In this novel, the city's geometrical geography of streets, squares, and circles thwarts the image of an elegiac, classic, and serene Rome, suggesting instead a crooked and intricately textured place that is impossible to decipher.
The map of 2001 Rome propounds a sheer static chaos for which, not incidentally, Zero--one of the nine main characters and son of Elio Fioravanti --likens the city to a "meraviglioso pantano" (Mazzucco, Un giorno 114; "a wonderful swamp"). To Zero, Rome is "una citta decrepita e immobile" ("a dilapidated and inert city") too hampered by her past to hold much of a future, a city in which "abitanti giravano in cerchio, come dannati" (114; "inhabitants wandered in circles like damned souls"). (9) As Zero notes, the map of the city yields a destructive energy that dooms Rome to repeat its own history of chaos and violence. The rhetoric of this glorious past signifies the city's basic inability to cope with the future and globalization. In response to Zero's denunciation of the state of the city, Mazzucco's novel hardly depicts Rome as overall somnolent and lazy; instead, it exposes the problems integral to Rome's emergence into the era of globalization. The way in which Mazzucco appropriates the geographical space of the city underscores how "producing a cartography is a way of embedding critical practice in a specific situated perspective, avoiding universalistic generalizations and grounding it so as to make it accountable" (Braidotti, Transpositions 79). Mazzucco resists such generalizations for she wants to "scrivere con verita la sconosciuta filologia della vita quotidiana" (Un giorno 407; "write with truth the unknown philology of everyday life"). What Rita Felski calls "the quintessential quality of taken-for-grantedness" of everyday life unfolds in disquieting ways in which we witness the encounter of "a mundane social world and a phenomenological relationship to that world" (608; 607).
Although all of Mazzucco's characters contribute to detailed presentations of the time and period of the story, the author frames her criticism firmly within the dynamics between Roman society and women. Ten years after Dacia Maraini's Voci, Mazzucco's Un giorno perfetto draws some elements from the detective novel (crime, investigation, urban environment, current corruption) to delve into domestic and familial abuse on multiple social levels. (10) While investigating a day in the life of ordinary Romans, Un giorno perfetto demonstrates how violence against women is a banal, everyday, "philological" matter resulting in "truthful" death. Mazzucco dedicates Un giorno perfetto to real women whose suffering of violence and rape was not merely a cognitive metaphor, but a reality in which they lost their lives. (11) "Barbara S., Angela D. e alle altre che non so" (Un giorno 407; "to Barbara S., Angela D. and all the others whom I do not know") are, or were, actual victims of crimes that, more often than not, go undetected (Simonetta Cesaroni's murder, also known as the "Via Poma murder," constitutes just another emblematic instance of injustice for female victims). (12) Women writers rely on the power of the literary form that makes their voice heard better and louder than others, for, in Berlusconi's era, discouraged women thinkers and feminist activists seem to have lost the desire or ability to continue negotiating healthy theoretical reflection and political praxis. (13)
A Personal Take on Current Italian Society
Mazzucco sets her characters against her omniscient narrator's sociologically engaged commentary on the city of Rome. Even without Antonio's explicit parallels of the city with Emma, Rome deserves indisputably its role as the novel's "tenth protagonist":
La decima protagonista del mio libro e la Roma del XXI secolo, diversa dall'immagine da cartolina e colta attraverso tutte le sue sfaccettature: dai Parioli alle periferie, dai monumenti piU importanti ai centri sociali. Una citta amata e odiata, vista con gli occhi di chi la percorre con l'autobus e di chi la attraversa in auto blu.
(qtd. in Marietti)
(The tenth protagonist of my book is twenty-first century Rome, different from the postcard image and caught in all its nuances: from Parioli to the outskirts, from its most important monuments to its social service centers. A city that is loved and hated at once, seen through the eyes of those traversing it by bus or in an official car.)
Neorealist theoretician and scriptwriter Cesare Zavattini taught many a filmmaker how to look at a city while using public transportation. (14) While attending the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia in the late 1980s, Melania Mazzucco drew inspiration from Zavattini's famous advice to examine reality by using public transportation. In her non-fiction text "Loro," Mazzucco recounts how she deployed Zavattini's techniques to study the then-recent phenomenon of immigration. The documentary work she prepared along with her schoolmates, Gianfranco and Tarek, developed a visual narrative based on the dynamics regulating a group of African and Arab immigrants, dubbed Gli invisibili (The invisible ones). Although Mazzucco never produced her final thesis, the experience she retells in "Loro" became instrumental for the conceptualization of two among the author's most successful novels, Vita and Un giorno perfetto. The stories of Mahmud and his friends echo the ones Mazzucco's grandfather Diamante told her as a child. With Vita in 2003, Mazzucco constructs ideological parallels between discrimination in the United States in the early twentieth century as she heard it from her grandfather and what immigrants experience in globalized Italy at the dawn of the twenty-first. "Loro" also contains elements further elaborated in Un giorno perfetto, such as Emma continually shuttling between one bus and another, her daughter Valentina taking the subway, and the empty spaces in which individuals move like "automatons" (Felski 608). Mazzucco's commitment to telling the truth means that her study of eccentric female creatures includes all concrete social matters defining women in an alienating, falsely friendly city like Rome (Lucamante 2009).
While Vita looks at centrifugal societal forces expelling Italian citizens from their land, Un giorno perfetto's structure reveals the opposite compositional criterion. What regulates the plot is a centripetal force that operates like a magnet drawing life into Rome. The forces attracting foreigners to Rome critically engage the rhetorical mystique of a city that likes to regard itself as tolerant and benevolent toward outsiders. (15) The reader finds symptoms of the city's malaise, for example, in Mazzucco's development of one of Zavattini's idea: the auto blu (official cars) darting through the streets of Rome and suggesting the indifference of the important gentlemen occupying their back seats--all too involved with their politics of deception. (16) Busy with grandiose political projects, these mostly male occupants of auto blu are not disturbed by Rome's funk. By contrast, those Romans riding public transportation show greater awareness about and suffer the consequences of the Roman metropolis's paralyzing problems. The novel manifests all the deceit that underlies the oft-mentioned indifference of Rome toward crimes against the disadvantaged. In both instances, the city appears to be a conniving catalyst, especially in the way it disdains women's attempt to re-vindicate their subjectivity. This subjectivity is not an alternative to men's, but rather the right of subjects living in a democracy that fails to meet their needs. What geographical space in the Roman map can best define, then, the stifling problems of the city, circular and eternal, if not the Raccordo anulare and, inside it, the Tangenziale est and the Olimpica? Despite the physical proximity promoted by driving, the noise of Rome generates deafness to the needs of the other: Romans wander in circles like damned souls.
The two circles of the Raccordo and the Olimpica comprise the map of a Rome where security agent Antonio Buonocore drives erratically. This map contains the bundle of subway and bus lines through which his estranged wife Emma Tempesta commutes between the impersonal cement dormitories of Primavalle, near Torrevecchia, and the factory neighborhood of Tiburtino, where she faces age discrimination in a call center. (17) Both are working-class areas that share nothing in common with the exclusive via Mangili in Parioli where Antonio's boss, Parliament representative Elio Fioravanti, lives in a beautiful villa with his second wife Maya and their daughter Camilla; the Aventino where Maya wants to move after her separation from Elio; and Palazzo Lancillotti in via dei Coronari, where the birthday party for Camilla takes place on the "perfect day" of the novel's title. Antonio's boss and his wife lead their unhappy life in ritzy neighborhoods, while the security agent and his wife lead their equally sorrowful existence in working-class neighborhoods. Violence and conjugal abuse become the most significant evidence of both couples' failure and damnation.
In the case of Emma and Antonio, however, the conclusion of their marriage is the crime that starts the plot in the prologue of the novel. As in newspapers' local crime section, as in a noir, the murder is narrated as a fait accompli that will take place in that apartment. (18)
Prima abitavano tutti qua, ha detto il vicino--i ragazzini facevano un casino d'inferno, andavano coi pattini in terrazzo, protestare era inutile con Buonocore, un prepotente che si credeva il padreterno, poi la madre se li era portati via e non si erano piU visti.
(Mazzucco, Un giorno 13)
(Before they all lived here, the neighbor said--the kids used to make a hellish noise, used to skate on the terrace. Complaining was useless with Buonocore, a bully who thought he was God. Then the mother took them away and we never saw them again).
In the middle of Rome, at via Carlo Alberto 17, in a building bearing the gigantic picture of a famous soccer player to hide the scaffolding of restoration in progress, two members of the same family die because of domestic violence. A commonplace in patriarchal discourse, which Mazzucco's omniscient narrator does not fail to note, warns against a sconosciuto, a stranger, who can bring violence upon a household, particularly upon children and women. The Other perturbs the order in the house, appears in the disguise of a stranger who rapes the woman, the mother, and in turn destroys the family. This is a horror story like the ones we tell children to keep them out of trouble. In domestic crimes, almost invariably, instead, it is someone who knows the victims and has his own motives to bring violence--just like Antonio. Mazzucco analyzes one particular household whose members are stuck in a "vita sospesa, indifferente, oscura" (Un giorno 14; "life suspended, indifferent, bleak"). The children reared in this environment, Kevin and Valentina, suffer the consequences, and Mazzucco holds accountable both their father and mother. After presenting the scene of the crime--the Buonocore apartment--the plot slowly reverts to the day and night before the crime occurred, analyzing the last twenty-four hours in the life of the characters. These are by no means exceptional. Instead, Un giorno perfetto involves an everyday story of violence, one of those we read in the crime pages of newspapers. Antonio and Emma become living symptoms of the inability of the lower-middle class to cope with unemployment, consumerism, and with what Zygmunt Bauman calls the "negative forces" of globalized society. (19) Further, the "aesthetic encounter" with the everyday, alienating existence that the novel promotes with accurate techniques of defamiliarization, "pivots around moments of world-disclosing rupture and shock that are contrasted to the homogeneous and soul-destroying routines of daily life" (Felski 608).
Twenty-Four Perfect Hours
The novel revisits the twenty-four hours preceding the crime and draws a web over Rome by tracing the nine characters' movements about the city. The omniscient narrator follows Antonio Buonocore, a policeman with a powerful and muscled body--Emma's husband--during his last day. Emma lives in a tower in Primavalle, "una torre di cemento armato [...] un parallelepipedo di quattordici piani, butterato da un accrocco di verande abusive in attesa di condono, padelle di parabole e panni stesi ad asciugare sui balconi" (Mazzucco, Un giorno 17; "a cement tower [.] a fourteen-story parallelepiped, pockmarked by a hodgepodge of illegal verandas waiting to be condoned, satellite dishes and clothes hanging to dry on the balconies"). In a reversal of the fairy-tale princess in the tower, Antonio besieges Emma on his last night, smoking away in the parking lot underneath the squalid building. Mazzucco's narrator investigates the causes for the assailer's angst: nostalgia for times past, for example, a time that his wife no longer desires. He will not accept his wife's final decision to truncate their unhealthy marriage, ruled by the old weapon of sex as domination. Instead, Antonio prefers to truncate his family's life: "Sei maledetta. Ti maledico, zoccola spergiura--e rimpiangi per sempre cio che hai fatto alla nostra famiglia e all'uomo che avevi giurato di amare finche morte non ci separi" (19; "you are cursed, I curse you, perjurer slut--and forever regret what you have done to our family and to the man you swore to love until death do us part").
Violence is not about love: violence is about possession. The causes of Antonio's violence against Emma and his boss's toward his own wife Maya are the core of the book. Buonocore and Fioravanti exemplify two sides of the same coin: the pursuit of a happiness based on old social mores and materialistic goals. The different endings of these families rest, however, on the notion of class: the distinction between those who live a privileged existence and those who do not. Consequently, Buonocore's violence and rage develop in a different way altogether than they do for his smooth House representative, Fioravanti. The latter is undergoing his own personal fall as a husband (Maya is leaving him), as a public figure (his own political leader is withdrawing his support), and as a father (his son Zero disowns him). That "solidita virile" (Mazzucco, Un giorno 95; "virile solidity") that Fioravanti found so reassuring in Antonio's "collo taurino" (95; "taurine neck") crumbles when both men face the fact that they cannot provide anybody with happiness, not even their own relatives. Without condoning the husbands, Mazzucco demonstrates, however, that discussion of sexual violence should not be limited to what Janice Haaken calls "a debate between agency and victimization" (in Stockton 183) nor to notions of consent. It is important to understand the role of society in the surge of hopeless violence experienced in Western families. Lengthy descriptions of Antonio's state of illness lead us to conclude that, according to the narrator, violence against one's own family is a distinctly male expression of impotence and haplessness, at least in the way Mazzucco's narrator sees it. "Bodies are not defined by their genus or species, by their organs and functions, but by what they can do, by the affects of which they are capable--in passion as well as action" (Deleuze and Parnet 60). (20) To Emma's extraordinary strength in leaving him, in trying to recreate a life for herself and her children, Antonio opposes an ancestral fear of and envy for her vigor and tenacity. He sees his ex-wife's superior ability to resist a form of alienation he cannot deal with other than by repressing it continually with his physical violence. As Mazzucco puts it, "la storia di Antonio Buonocore, l'agente, non e quella di un folle, ma di un uomo qualunque in crisi per la fine del suo matrimonio. Il suo vuoto interiore nasce dal fatto che la sua donna ha portato via insieme ai figli anche una parte di lui. Per questo decide di usare i corpi degli altri come corpi contundenti. Non ammattisce di colpo" ("Antonio Buonocore's story is not that of a crazy man but that of an average guy in crisis over the end of his marriage. His internal emptiness stems from the fact that his woman has taken away a part of him along with his kids. For this reason he decides to use people's bodies as blunt instruments. He does not go suddenly crazy," qtd. in Marietti). (21)
Throughout the novel, the murderer Antonio always feels psychologically inferior and weak compared to stoic and resilient Emma. He seems paralyzed and unable to move on with his life, for Emma had destroyed, in his view, the perfect picture of his family:
O Signore, aiutami a dimenticare tutto questo, dimenticare lei, i bambini, la casa. Aiutami a svegliarmi domani senza questa nostalgia andata a male come un surgelato scaduto--libero. In fondo era possibile, aveva solo quarantadue anni. Poteva incontrare un'altra donna. Poteva innamorarsi, sposarla, costruirsi un'altra famiglia. [...] Allora, cullandosi al pensiero di essersi liberato di lei, di loro, di se stesso, Antonio s'addormento
[...]. Consapevole, subito senza scampo, di non voler rivivere quel passato ne fuggire in un qualunque futuro. Di non volere una donna nuova, una vita nuova. Voglio stare dove sono gia stato. L'unica novita che cerco: tornare con te.
(Mazzucco, Un giorno 20)
(Oh God, help me to forget all this, to forget her, the kids, the house. Help me to wake up tomorrow morning without all this nostalgia gone awry like an expired frozen food--free. It was after all possible; he was only forty-two. He could meet another woman. He could fall in love, marry her, have another family. [...] Then, lulling himself at the thought of having gotten rid of her, of them, of himself, Antonio fell asleep. [...] Aware, immediately hopeless, of not wanting to relive that past or to escape to another future. Of not wanting a new woman, a new life. I want to stay where I have already been. The only novelty I want: to be with you again.)
Nostalgic recollections of their courtship--the handsome couple's great love--draw instead a map of violence. Antonio's repeated acts of violence since the scene at the beach when they camped on Lipari, twenty-one years before that tragic May 4, 2001, lack any aura of romantic jealousy. They are exposed for what they really meant for Emma: two trips to the Policlinico hospital, where the second time the nurse silently placed a flyer for battered women on her lap in hopes that Emma would seek help. Emma, as many women before and after her, had always pardoned Antonio's violence up to that point. One time outside a club, Antonio responded to her threat to call the authorities by screaming, "sono io la polizia" (Mazzucco, Un giorno 230; "I am the police"). Then "[l]'aveva trascinata per i capelli tra le pozzanghere e le macchine in sosta [...] l'aveva presa a calci e schiaffi, perche voleva sapere cosa cazzo aveva in piU di lui quella specie di ballerino negro" (230; "he dragged her by the hair through the puddles and parked cars [.] he kicked her and slapped her because he wanted to know what the fuck that black dancer had that he did not"). Emma, however, is a member of the same society that allows violence against women, domestic abuse, and family rape. She was not exempt from the common belief that wives do not denounce family abuse and violence, but slowly she convinced herself this way of living could not be sustainable: "[...] si era liberata dai sensi di colpa e non si guardava piU attraverso i suoi occhi" (231; "[.] she had freed herself of guilt and no longer looked at herself through his eyes").
As happens in real life, however, when Emma does denounce her exhusband for the last time, as on this perfect day, the maresciallo di zona does not take her seriously. Prior to May 4, 2001, Emma had already denounced her husband when they were living together at the carabinieri of Esquilino on November 13, 1998. She had withdrawn her report, however. The maresciallo asks her: "Ma perche? [...] Cosa possiamo fare per voi se non ci aiutate ad aiutarvi!" (Mazzucco, Un giorno 250; "But why? [...] What can we do for you, if you do not help us to help you!")--his use of the pronoun "voi" indicating the multitude of women who act as Emma did, justifying their man over and over again. Emma says, "io lo amavo, era mio marito, il padre dei miei bambini" (250; "I loved him, he was my husband, the father of my children"). Some forty days after that first unsuccessful attempt of 1998, Emma, however, leaves her husband, a husband who cannot cope with a failed marriage and for whom, in his jaundiced, fantastical opinion, Emma will end up to be "una megera fallita come la madre" (233; "an old failed hag like her mother"). Antonio wants to rescue her from the "tradimento della vecchiaia, dalla decadenza e dall'infelicita" (233; "betrayal of old age, decay and unhappiness"). Lacking the ingenuity necessary to rethink his role, Antonio takes extreme measures.
One Last Perfect Day
One last perfect day, Antonio Buonocore concocts his horrendous crime in the Church of Sant'Agostino while waiting for Elio Fioravanti--who was intent on his daily prayer in front of Caravaggio's Madonna dei Pellegrini. Antonio had never entered that particular church before and the solemn beauty of the painting intimidates him. (22) (La Madonna dei Pellegrini carries in its own title the notion of wandering connected with Mazzucco's Rome: Pilgrims travel to the Holy City, but pilgrims are also imprisoned within its perimeter.) The realism so accentuated in Caravaggio's painting--the sensual and barefoot Madonna, modeled on a popolana, stands holding Jesus at the doorstep of a very modest home--apparently leads Antonio's by-now hallucinated mind to create a connection between Mary and his estranged wife Emma for what he thinks to be their striking resemblance. The likeness between the two women leads Antonio to reflect on his present condition, which he blames on Emma:
Era una donna, con un bambino. La donna era bruna, fiera e semplice, come, come, come .... Il bambino aveva tre, forse quattro anni. Poteva essere Kevin, o almeno il Kevin di cui Antonio aveva memoria, prima che lei glielo portasse via. Prima che distruggesse la sua vita, trasformasse l'agente speciale in un lacche, i suoi bambini in due estranei.
(Mazzucco, Un giorno 107)
(It depicted a woman with a child. The woman was dark-haired, proud and simple like, like, like ... The boy was three, perhaps four. He could have been Kevin, or at least the Kevin Antonio remembered before she took him away from him. Before she destroyed his life, turning the special agent into a lackey, and his two kids into two strangers.)
While Elio prays to the young Madonna to help him win the elections and protect him, Antonio draws inspiration from Caravaggio's Madonna to plan his family's murder. His frenzy is due to an irrational jealousy that is not only of an erotic nature. He resents his wife for gaining custody of his children and for not being what women were supposed to be; he thinks, "le donne non sono piU quelle di una volta" (Mazzucco, Un giorno 104; "women are no longer what they used to be"). Despite his six guns and three rifles (Mazzucco, Un giorno 363), Antonio senses Emma's superiority in her courage to find a way out of their abusive relationship with a mix of verbal arguments and physical attraction. Killing the children for Antonio amounts to a vendetta against Emma and all that he thinks she took away from him: (23)
Anche ora, immaginava di agire come se lei fosse presente--e, benche non potesse impedirgli nemmeno un gesto, potesse vederlo. Agiva come se Emma fosse la spettatrice del film che andava girando. Il film della loro vita, nel quale lei aveva cercato di ridurlo a una comparsa insignificante--mentre era, e sarebbe rimasto per sempre il protagonista. Gli venne in mente che avrebbe potuto davvero filmare la scena, e allora lui e i bambini sarebbero morti milioni di volte. La pistola avrebbe sparato all'infinito, e all'infinito lei avrebbe voluto salvarli, e non avrebbe potuto farlo.
(Mazzucco, Un giorno 366)
(Even now he imagined himself acting as if she were present--and, although she could not prevent him from making a single move, she could see him. He was acting as if Emma were the spectator of the movie he was shooting. In the movie of their life, she tried to reduce him into an insignificant bystander--but he was, and forever would be, the protagonist. It dawned on him that he could have actually shot the scene, and then he and the kids could have died a million times. The gun would have been fired infinite times, and infinite times she would have wanted to save them, without being able to.)
In his "certezza di una giustizia superiore" (Mazzucco, Un giorno 336; "certainty of a superior justice") Antonio is about to kill his own children "a million times." He will become prey to the violence of his own world and doom his own existence, for the pillar on which he built everything, la famiglia, is no longer there. His wife is stronger and made passive only because--as readers are made aware by extensive explanatory paragraphs by the narrator--Emma is a woman of little means living in a society that denies equal rights to uneducated women of low social stature. Nevertheless, Antonio sees in her, albeit in an abstruse way, the vigor that the French philosopher Alain Touraine sees in women, for it is women, not men, who are today the catalysts for change in society. To say it with Touraine, women's consciousness and social mutation are no longer two separable items, insofar as women, more than a social movement, constitute at this point a cultural movement. While men see their existence reduced to an infinite videogame of violence of which the actual protagonists are their own children, (24) women seem to locate a venue of change in an alternative way of conceiving sexuality and the heterosexual couple. (25)
A New Nannarella?
Mazzucco reveals how violence against women is still one of the most striking societal problems through her discouraging narrations of spousal violence juxtaposed with the narrative sequence in which Antonio's car speeds cinematically toward the Farnesina via the Olimpica road; and through narrations of conjugal nocturnal rape, as Maya must submit to her ambition-driven husband Elio. Despite the fact that marriage, as Joplin writes, is "the proper use of woman as sign," where she should have "the power to speak" (42), it seems that this power fails continually to take effect. Perhaps for this reason, Mazzucco creates a character like Emma. Woman as sign leaves a mark on us and Emma's body never escapes our attention, not so much for her undisputed sex appeal, but because it exudes the kind of strength that turns Emma into a new kind of popolana, a revisited Nannarella. Sensual, determined, and passionate, likened by Antonio to Caravaggio's Madonna dei Pellegrini, Emma stands out from Mazzucco's Roman malabolgia and appears to be better equipped than Antonio to face the quotidian symptoms of social malaise. She succeeds in presenting herself as a subject susceptible to modification.
But how can one really negotiate personal, including bodily, boundaries between the self and the everyday, represented in our case by one's own family? "Ethics," Braidotti notes in almost Deleuzian terms, "is related to the physics and the biology of bodies. That means that it deals with the question of what exactly a body can do and how much it can take" (Transpositions 129). Maya, Elio's unhappy wife, goes around repeating her mantra, "Sono felice, sono felice" (Mazzucco, Un giorno 84; emphasis original; "I am happy, I am happy"). When Maya meets Emma in front of their children's school on the day of her daughter Camilla's party, she is amazed by the security exuding from the mother of her daughter's sweetheart, stuttering Kevin. The vulgar-yet-attractive body of Emma inspires in Maya a strength that her own perfectly shaped and slim body cannot give her. Emma, a woman whose fatigue emanates, nevertheless, "qualcosa di erotico" (85; "something erotic"), also radiates "qualcosa di indefinibile" (85; "something undefinable"), a quality expressed involuntarily in her "sorriso, nello scintillio dello sguardo" (85; "smile, sparkling of her eyes"). While Maya looks like "Audrey Hepburn dei Parioli" (92; "a Parioli Audrey Hepburn") in her glamorous yet understated look, Emma goes around dressed with a "pelliccetta sbottonata e una maglia troppo aderente" (86; "unbuttoned fur and a too-tight sweater"), with badly dyed hair beneath which the natural color growth is obvious to Maya's attentive though quick assessment. Maya instinctively wants to keep her distance from Emma "perche era priva di relazioni sociali. Perche non viveva piU col marito [.P]erche era una donna carnale e provocante" (91; "because she did not have social relations, because she no longer lived with her husband, [...] because she was a sensual and provocative woman"). Yet, Maya wants to ask her how and where she found the courage to leave her husband, wants to ask Emma "come fa una donna con dei bambini piccoli a ricominciare una vita da sola" (92; "how a woman with young children manages to start a life anew by herself"). Maya is shocked by her brief encounter with Emma: "[...] l'incontro con Emma Buonocore l'aveva scombussolata. Scoprire che una madre di famiglia tutt'a un tratto pianta il marito, piglia i bambini e se ne va. Quei due sembravano cosi affiatati. Una cosi bella famiglia" (112; "[...] the encounter with Emma Buonocore confused her. To discover that a mother all of a sudden dumps her husband, takes her children, and leaves. Those two seemed to get along so well. Such a beautiful family"). Throughout the time spent at the expensive hairstylist, Maya keeps repeating in her head those words, "cosi affiatati" ("get along so well"). It is perhaps thanks to that serendipitous encounter with Emma that Maya--a woman strapped uncomfortably into her Prada dress and strangled by social conventions--finds the strength to leave her husband.
Maya's confidence in her own body is endangered by her inability to know her own needs; she feels confined in that Audrey Hepburn-like body, the image of a woman she now resents for her passivity. She finds vigor in Emma's body and the strength it exudes. Unlike the class differences between the equally failed Antonio and Elio, the relationship between the two women's bodies exemplifies a connection that goes beyond the different class status to underline one woman's reliance on another woman's example, however unexpected their encounter might be. In the case of the two unhappy wives, it is the popolana Emma who inspires Maya to stop feigning happiness and take more control of her own life. While the legal system will not believe in Emma, Mazzucco's narrator believes in the strength of her female characters, for with all their faults, with all their problems, the unhappy wives Emma and Maya do begin a new life.
Despite themselves, wives like Emma persist in being the object of their own men's inability to cope with a society that is transforming its models and adapting to a global cultural change with respect to women and their roles. The powerlessness and fear of these fathers and husbands are manifest in their physical and sexual violence against their own women and children. The family, the foundation of Italian society, reveals its inability to cope with the pressure of globalization, with the insecurity and uncertainty of the future. Drawing from Max Scheler's theories, Zygmunt Bauman describes this state as deriving from the "inner unresolvable [sic] contradiction of a society that for all its members sets a standard of happiness which most of those 'all' are unable to match or are prevented from matching" (25). Antonio's reflections on society approaching self-termination, during his wait in Sant'Agostino, invokes women's sacrifice as necessary to keep a trembling status quo: "[...] la societa si sta auto-terminando, non ha futuro, perche tutti inseguono una felicita egoistica, immediata, sterile, e bisogna porre un argine anche legale a questo disfacimento" (Mazzucco, Un giorno 104; "[...] society is suicidal, it has no future, because everybody searches for an egotistical happiness, immediate, sterile, and we need to place a check, even a legal check, on this dissolution"). The vulnerability of the bodies Deleuze discusses in his work aptly refers to the vulnerability of those dreams of happiness available to everybody. Such dreams appear shattered by what Bauman refers to as most people's inability to meet society's standards for happiness. This is a kind of happiness that, in Antonio's mind, means harking back to a society where women were different from Emma, to a time when women would undergo any sacrifice to keep the family together and would consider summer vacations at Sharm-el-Sheik as reward for domestic abuse. Happiness reveals its limits to Antonio.
The epigraph to Mazzucco's novel, taken from one of George W. Bush insuperable speeches about family values, reveals a stringent pertinence to Bauman's words: "La famiglia e il luogo in cui dimorano le speranze del nostro paese, il luogo che fa spuntare le ali ai sogni" (Mazzucco, Un giorno 7; "Family is that place in which our country's hopes rest, the place that allows the wings of dreams to spread"). (26) Mazzucco remains faithful to Leo Tolstoy's oft-quoted initial phrase of Anna Karenina: that all happy families look alike, while unhappy families live their condition of unhappiness in many different ways (hence they become interesting in terms of narrative representation; not coincidentally, Emma is discovered reading the Tolstoy novel that Valentina's teacher Sasha had recommended to his student). (27) What is innovative in Mazzucco's reference to Tolstoy, however, is the parallel she draws by referring to the United States via Bush's 2004 State of the Union Address, thus making globalization a topic relevant to her analysis of violence in Roman society. This epigraph constructs a globalizing parallel that confirms that Italian society, despite all the talk about family values, bears a striking resemblance to American society. It also suggests that violence against women, starting with the family, is an eternal, global, and all-too familiar matter. In Bush's 2004 speech, however, there was another sentence illuminating a problem of wider proportions: "The same moral tradition that defines marriage also teaches that each individual has dignity and value in God's sight." Unwittingly, Bush's speech writer points out the importance of understanding that not only in marriage, but also in being an individual, one must always recoil from erasing his or her own dignity--an essential notion that many characters of this crowded novel seem to have lost. In conclusion, Mazzucco's novel rests on the assumption that her generation must reject traditional forms of politics and social struggle. This generation has reached full awareness of the cultural transformation that confers new roles and new dignity upon women. Despite her regret for the dismantling of her own family, Emma resists moralizing critiques of her behavior and invokes a new course of action for women, one where they become agents of their existence.
Le monde des femmes
To improve women's situation and to truly grant them their rights, the only effective weapon seems to be a weakening of the very notion of gender. (28) It is hardly surprising that gender is in many respects still perceived as a "cage"; the problem isn't helped by archaic notions that men represent culture and women nature, a nature bound to their reproductive power (Touraine 26-27). The old model of gender division does not hold either. According to Touraine's findings, being "woman" constitutes a form of identification that women choose for themselves as "affirmation of their desire to be women" (31). What is important for Touraine, however, is the meaning of this desire for affirmation as women: how such affirmation is constructed and perceived and, further, how it resists any ideological interpretation of being woman. Above all, being woman signifies the acknowledgment of one's subjectivity, the notion of the thinking subject, and the ability to have rights and laws--"three components," Touraine notes, "inseparable from democracy" (41). Democracy can only exist when the rights of individuals and of social actors can be defended within an institutional space, that is, the law (42). A form of positive individualism is afforded in a democracy when the singular experience of a woman can give birth to a collective form of revindication of rights. Although we live in a society used to collective rather than individual expressions of struggle, Touraine believes women can exercise a form of resistance that is different from "class struggle" (58). Further, the sociologist states that women revindicate the right to construct their own self in a different, existential manner that men's desire or power cannot restrict (60).
Taking a post-feminist perspective, Mazzucco effectively argues that women are better equipped to fight the negative effects of modernization than their uncertain and deluded male companions. With its obsessive narratives about corruption and displacement, this novel offers Mazzucco's readers a Rome that is oppressively conformist and that persists in denying women opportunities to change society, a denial that Italian women have often internalized, as the characters Emma Tempesta and Maya Fioravanti exemplify. Violence is an everlasting effect of male domination. A feminist mode of demystification must include some element of social criticism as well; Mazzucco achieves the complex task of engaging in social criticism by creating female characters that are only superficially subservient to their societal roles.29 Touraine's perspective sets women's ability to reconceive the Self against what Zygmunt Bauman has long defined as the "liquid life." If the subject disappears, if it liquifies, the cause needs to be found in the horde of signs that surround him/her (Touraine 65). In Emma's case, these signs also compose the map of her own city, Rome.
Changing Discursive Practices
Mazzucco's omniscient narrator exposes the flaws of patriarchal authority and legal discourse--the first elements of discrimination against women--along with the rhetoric of family. Patriarchal and falsely benevolent discourse constructs the maresciallo's thoughts about Emma. A general inequity towards women transpires from his reflections:
La denuncia faceva acqua da tutte le parti. Emma Tempesta sembrava alquanto instabile, durante la faticosa redazione della denuncia aveva fumato tre sigarette. Interrogata sulla sua professione, aveva rifiutato di spiegare quale fosse, perche una persona non e il lavoro che fa [...]. Inoltre, la Tempesta non aveva saputo spiegare la dinamica del presunto tentativo di omicidio. Era salita di sua volonta sull'auto del marito. E il poliziotto aveva il porto d'armi. [...] La Tempesta non ricordava com'erano andati i fatti, o non voleva dirlo, magari aveva addirittura avuto un rapporto consenziente col marito--un fatto molto comune, in casi analoghi. [...] Indagini delicate, da effettuarsi con la massima discrezione. C'erano di mezzo dei bambini. Altro non poteva permetterle. Se non la certezza che guidava ogni suo giorno. La legge e uguale per tutti.
(Mazzucco, Un giorno 252)
(The police report was unreliable. Emma Tempesta seemed rather unstable; during the difficult drafting of the report, she had smoked three cigarettes. Questioned on her profession, she had refused to explain what it was, because a person is not the job that she does [...]. Besides, Tempesta could not explain the dynamics of the presumed homicide attempt. She went out of her own will in her husband's car. And the police officer had a gun license. [...] Tempesta didn't remember how the facts had gone, or she didn't want to say it, perhaps she even had consensual sex with her husband, a very common thing, in these cases. [...] Delicate investigations, to be undertaken with the utmost discretion. There were children involved. He could not allow her anything else. If not the certainty that lead him through every day. The law is equal for everybody.)
The sarcastic writing of one of the biggest fallacies ever pronounced, "The law is equal for everybody," underscores the futility of Emma's denunciation. Despite the imminent threat that will only confirm her worst fears, Emma's voice remains unheard. The maresciallo, the carabinieri do not believe, in fact, that the law is equal for everybody. For one thing, Antonio is one of them ("sono io la polizia" Mazzucco, Un giorno 230; "I am the police"). Furthermore, there exists a basic unwillingness on the part of the authorities to correct prejudice about women. Women's voices, their linguistic power, fade into aphasia because no one hears them. Legislative discourse and its practice are not the same for everybody. As Touraine puts it, whenever society denies women their rights, the very notion of democracy is in danger. Discourse in the media speaks loudly about an effective lack of change in the way women's body (and mind) receive attention by patriarchal forms of discourses. Recent research shows that "the language choices available for women who have experienced sexual violence are influenced by the dominant culture's construction of sexual violence" (Young and Maguire 50). Linguistically, in this case at least, English is a far more precise language than fuzzy Italian. Ratto, from the Latin verb rapere, means not only sexual violence (usually against women); it also defines the (quick) act--rapidum--of taking somebody away from the place in which they originally were (Zingarelli 1551). Nymphs in Ovid's Metamorphoses are usually depicted in the act of running away from their assailant: there is a dynamicity about the act of rape that does not correspond to the nailing down of the woman's body to the man/god's will. What is similar in both English and Italian, however, is the origin of the term "victim," which comes from vinta, won over. This word
emphasizes a woman's lack of control and innocence in the situation, and permits her to talk about the traumatic event. At the same time, it perpetuates the myth that women are powerless and need protection, thereby asserting the male-dominant culture's authority over women. The term survivor seems to give the user power and control over her life, but it may limit her ability to discuss the event if and when she needs to. All of these paradoxes highlight the need to examine how women come to claim certain labels over others, if they do at all.
(Young and Maguire 50)
An alternative could be to reverse the terms of discourse about violence. According to Giordana Masotto, we should reverse the terms by which we speak, denounce, and decry rape and violence against women. Rather than stating the victim of a rape was, or is, a woman, Masotto suggests that we should state instead that men have acted in this way on a victim:
In this history there are some normal human beings, with all of their varieties, and they are the women. Not particularly fragile, rather mainly a great deal resistant, in short normal. And then some of the human beings, the men, have a problem: a potential for violence. We women are not the problem, stop speaking of us. Instead, I would want the problem to be recognized for what is. I would want, therefore, not to read anymore a newspaper's headline stating "another raped woman" or beaten, but "another man has lost control", the nth male has attacked. I would want men, all the men--journalists, intellectual and political included--to begin to think indeed of themselves as healthy carriers of something that can become very dangerous and with which only they can deal. Something on which, when they mean well, they should try to practice censorship, that they compress not to see it emerge and don't want to face. A problem they avoid even to name, preferring to stir their emotions toward the pietas for the poor female bodies. Something so evident and macroscopic that disappears, that cannot be seen unless there is a precise will to name it.
Masotto states plainly that, rather than an individual attitude, it is a more general one that needs drastic changes. She attributes to male journalists the distorted way of not dealing with male violence as they describe crimes in the media. What is to blame is their "incontrollable tendency to reconstruct and recompact on any level the male cohort [which] impedes a healthy mending of the problem," Masotto continues. More generally, one cannot help but agree with her that women want neither protection nor violence from men. Women wish for relations based on respect and awareness of their identity, of who they are. Faced with soaring figures of violence, there should be little surprise at the apparent inability in Italian society to reverse the terms by which we speak about violence and the rape of women. While women are the object of violence and rape, the agents of such acts receive little attention in the news, in the disturbing descriptions of bodies found, even in the motive that only too often reverts back to a pre-existing relationship between victim and assailant. Abandonment is dangerous both for the woman and her children. Talking means betraying the father of her children and still receiving social blame for his faults, as Emma's vain attempt at denouncing her husband to the police aptly shows. If the novel lacked the narrator's political stance against the inequity of everyday life in contemporary Rome, we could witness here the threat that, with its story of violence, Un giorno perfetto "perpetuates the traditional tendency to sanctify the silent victim" (Stockton 182). The author and the narrator are, however, making a political statement confirmed by their dedication to the many violated women: they are trying to understand the dynamics leading to such violence and to bring truth to "the philology of everyday life" (Mazzucco, Un giorno 407). The rhetoric of the literary in Mazzucco's terms fully resists the image of women's memento mori at the altar of society.
The postmodern era has steadfastly contributed to the dismantling of white masculinity as a stable, fixed structure, while trying to let the subaltern's voice speak--that of the women included. (30) But the space in which such dismantling rings most alarmingly remains the household. Familism is an illness that is slowly corroding the Italian family. This is a family that, far from serving as a stronghold of Italian society, has instead shown signs of malaise for years, including in its literary representations (Lucamante 2001; 2002; 2008). Chaos of incredible proportions has been unleashed at everybody's expense. While abortion becomes a matter of discussion among male voices in the Parliament, the voices of many women, as Lea Melandri suggests, remain unheard as a result of female aphasia. Society no longer limits its requests to reproductive and domestic activities; it adds a job outside the domestic sphere. If politics has tried to help women coping with violence, with abuse, with unpaid work inside and outside the house, it still has not made catalyzing changes. The lavoro di cura, which hardly overlaps with domestic chores--Emma taking care of the retired general in the novel offers a case in point--involves a daunting array of duties within the affective sphere, social roles (also inside the family), moral and symbolic implications, and revindication of power. Being a mother goes beyond mere reproduction, as notions of women constantly rotate around the terms of responsibility and family. The fragmentation of feminist culture lies deep at the core of this societal dysfunction in which politics is subservient to a representation of the world that is monosexual.
By looking at Mazzucco's Un giorno perfetto, one could optimistically speculate that the impact of the second wave of Italian feminism has not disappeared insofar as it has been instrumental in fueling and motivating authorial intentions and effects. The lesson of the 1970s feminist movement has allowed contemporary women authors to propose models of resistance to counter stereotyped literary depictions of social perspectives on Italian women. They offer examples of literary narratives that expose and analyze societal problems while denying women the status of passive individuals. Contemporary women authors' investigation of violence takes the form of a distinctive authorial voice, one that denounces violation of women. Underreported aspects of women's lives within their own families beg for analysis and discussion rather than silence and rhetorical images. The profound analysis of the social status quo one enjoys in their narratives shows the writers' ethical empathy for those women who are often victims of domestic violence. Accepting these women's everyday reality as something immobile and unchangeable is no longer viable. Mazzucco tries to rescue the reality intrinsic in a discourse of violence against women from a distant intellectual and male-authored perspective that has traditionally framed it as topic, myth, and metaphor of higher things. Mazzucco reflects on the negative affects that, in Deleuze's words, often regulate bodies by locating these bodies in the quotidian world of Rome. She also offers further evidence for Rosi Braidotti's reflections on society by panoptically showing the reality of privileged and marginalized Romans. In the end, readers can only hope that, with the power of their will and by sheer chance, Emma and her daughter will escape death: Emma thanks to serendipity, for she accepts Sasha's invitation to go to the Saturnia baths; and her daughter Valentina because she is still breathing when paramedics arrive on the site of the crime. Hopefully, both will escape the lethal consequences of Antonio's decision to eliminate a family he can no longer hold together. Emma and her daughter Valentina survive Antonio's rage and homicidal raptus, while Maya leaves her husband and begins a new existence accepting the challenge of becoming a single mother for the baby she is carrying. Mazzucco's narrative voice clearly envisages the ethical duty, on the part of women authors, to expose the violence of all kinds still oppressing and repressing Roman women and, consequently, Roman society.
The Catholic University of America
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(1) Unless otherwise noted, all translations are mine.
(2) According to Le Monde des femmes, Alain Touraine's sociological study on women's condition at the inception of the twenty-first century, lack of militancy can harm women's legitimate wish for better action against inequality and discrimination (22), thus seemingly making Lea Melandri's point in "Gli anelli che mancano." While women have entered massively the work place, their jobs are nevertheless the worst paid ones. Also, violence against women--particularly conjugal violence--is such that, even assuming its amplification in the media, it remains astounding. Another finding is the consumption of women's body, often utilized as a "stimulant commercial" (Touraine 23). Widespread weakening of the family institution is often blamed on women rather than on other social causes. Finally, Touraine notes, "men keep talking often of women in terms of an object of longing," thus making it obvious that French society (but it pertains to the Italian one as well) remains powerfully anchored to men's system of values despite the entry of women in the work force and laws regulating social entities such as the family (24). Neo-standard Italian defines mobbing as a stagnating work environment in which workers are ultimately forced into inactivity or into leaving their current job.
(3) "The male is called upon for action, his vocation is to produce, fight, create, progress, to transcend himself toward the totality of the universe and the infinity of the future; but traditional marriage does not invite woman to transcend herself with him; it confines her in immanence, shuts her up within the circle of herself. She can thus propose to do nothing more than construct a life of stable equilibrium in which the present as a continuance of the past avoids the menaces of tomorrow--that is, construct precisely a life of happiness. [...] The ideal of happiness has always taken material form in the house, whether cottage or castle; it stands for permanence and separation from the world" (Beauvoir 448).
(4) The definition of "post-feminist" is appropriate because Mazzucco incorporates some of the rights granted to second-wave Italian feminists and moves on to a notion of "woman" more attuned to recent theorizations such as Braidotti's.
(5) The contemporary misogynistic imagination characterizes women through a gender role almost symbiotically connected with the hearth, in a figure of mother / nurturer that is not very sexually appealing (Johnson; Sceats; Skubal).
(6) See ISTAT, "La violenza e i maltrattamenti contro le donne dentro e fuori la famiglia" (Violence and mistreatments against women inside and outside the family).
(7) School violence is depicted in Un giorno perfetto when Emma and Antonio Buonocore's son Kevin is bullied by his peers.
(8) For a stimulating and succinct overview, see Contarini's "Femminile/Maschile: lavori in corso." She discusses several publications dealing with the supposed disappearance or permanence of feminism in Italian society. In line with Beatrice Busi's reflections (in Contarini 11), Contarini argues that the different experiences women live in different generations and geographic spaces constitute the elements that differentiates feminisms from one another. Rather than declaring the disappearance of feminism as we know it in its historical traits, as Terragni theorizes in La scomparsa delle donne, Contarini advances the healthy notion of a "rielaborazione" (re-elaboration) of old feminist practices (12).
(9) This description fits the larger picture of Italy offered by Sasha, Valentina's professor: "[...] una colonia neanche di importanza strategica ormai che il muro di Berlino e caduto. E una periferia, e anche parecchio degradata--dal punto di vista culturale, si intende--nella quale ogni talento e ogni autentico slancio espressivo vengono repressi e soffocati e appiattiti in una consolante uniformita" (Mazzucco, Un giorno 272; "a colony with no strategic importance now that the Berlin Wall has fallen. It is a periphery, rather degraded--culturally speaking--in which every talent and every authentic expressive impulse are repressed and suffocated and flattened in a comforting uniformity").
(10) See Bellesia, Cannon, and Testaferri for a detailed examination of Maraini's extensive engagement with the topic of violence against women in her works, in Voci (Voices) especially.
(11) The same destiny is reserved to Angela Bari of Voci and Italia of Non ti muovere.
(12) For this emblematic and unresolved case, see "Il delitto di via Poma" ("The crime of via Poma"). One of the accused is Pietro Vanacore, whose surname sounds like Antonio Buonocore's, one of Mazzucco's protagonists.
(13) I will discuss later Contarini's introduction and Melandri's article, for they best sum up contemporary malaise and discontents with respect to feminist theory and praxis in Italy.
(14) For Zavattini, everyday events were never "banal." When seen on the screen, these events would make people reflect on their conditions. In his view, "the cinema's overwhelming desire to see, to analyze, its hunger for reality, is an act of concrete homage towards other people, towards what is happening and existing in the world" (218).
(15) Nocturnal noises suggestive of a distant, imperial Rome direct the reading mode for Levi's autobiographical fiction set in the city, L'orologio (The Watch). Among the many works set in Rome, what draws a parallel between L'orologio and Un giorno perfetto lies in the noises, in the sirens, in the disquieting breath of this city. Levi writes: "La notte, a Roma, par di sentire ruggire leoni. Un mormorio indistinto e il respiro della citta, fra le sue cupole nere e i colli lontani, nell'ombra qua e la scintillante; e a tratti un rumore roco di sirene, come se il mare fosse vicino, e dal porto partissero navi per chissa quail orizzonti. E poi quel suono, insieme vago e selvatico, crudele ma non privo di una strana dolcezza, il ruggito dei leoni, nel deserto notturno delle case" (11; "At night in Rome, one seems to hear lions roaring. The breathing of the city is an indistinct murmur among its dark domes and faraway hills in the darkness sparkling here and there with lights; and once in awhile there is the hoarse noise of foghorns, as it the sea were nearby and ships were leaving port for unknown horizons. And then that sound, at the same time vague and wild, cruel but not without a strange sweetness, the roaring of lions in the night desert of houses," 1).
(16) Auto blu are the blue limousines that transport politicians and individuals of public importance throughout the country; in Rome they have become the symbol of the excesses of the contemporary political class, which Stella and Rizzo define as la casta (the caste).
(17) As Mazzucco observes: "Se vuoi raccontare una storia di oggi non puoi prescindere dal mondo del lavoro per non minare la credibilita della narrazione. Sono i tempi vuoti che costituiscono la vita delle persone: le otto ore di ufficio, le interminabili mattine in classe, e poi i comizi elettorali in periferia, la precarieta di un lavoro in un call center" (qtd. in Marietti; "If you want to tell a contemporary story you cannot but describe the working world lest you undermine the actual credibility of the narrative. The dead times constitute people's lives: the eight hours spent in the office, the interminable hours in class, and then the electoral speeches in the city outskirts, the precariousness of a job in a call center").
(18) Far richer than the detective novel in psychological complexities, the noir relies for its plot on the causes of the characters' immorality. The entire construction of the novel thus needs characters that are more developed and intricate than those of a detective novel; it cannot rely exclusively on the investigation of the crime. The noir makes the relationship between employment and the actions/thoughts/ethical system of the characters fundamental to the outcome of the entire text. Todorov contends that the noir fuses the two stories of the detective novel: that of the crime, which in the detective novel has already been committed at the outset of the fabula; and that of the investigation that instead composes the actual noir. In the noir, Todorov states, there is no story to guess, there is no mystery," as the reader follows the story step by step. Instead of diminishing the interest of the readers, the presence of the crime in the story of the investigation creates the suspense (cause-effect), indissolubly tied with curiosity (effect-cause; 47).
(19) In his discussion on the myth of happiness in today's global society, Bauman underscores the importance of Max Scheler's consideration of the vulnerability of humankind: "[.] vulnerability is unavoidable [.] in a kind of society in which relative equality of political and other rights and formally acknowledged social equality go hand in hand with enormous differentiation of genuine power, possessions and education; a society in which everyone 'has the right' to consider himself equal to everybody else, while in fact being unable to equal them" (25).
(20) Stewart writes: "Ordinary affects are the varied, surging capacities to affect and to be affected that give everyday life the quality of a continual motion of relations, scenes, contingencies, and emergences. They are things that happen. They happen in impulses, sensations, expectations, daydreams, encounters, and habits of relating, in strategies and their failures, in forms of persuasion, contagion, and compulsion, in modes of attention, attachment, and agency, and in publics and social worlds of all kinds that catch people up in something that feels like something" (2)
(21) One might argue that Mazzucco taps into this topic also in other husband-wife relationships, almost as a testimony to her great interest in Tolstoy's depictions of unhappy families. In Il bacio della Medusa (The Medusa's Kiss), for instance, readers are aware of Count Felice Argentero's behavior with his wife Norma, "l'ingiustizia assoluta derivante dalla sua strutturale mancanza di razionalita e riflessione" (372; "the absolute injustice deriving from her structural lack of rationality and reflection"), and how he feels betrayed in his "dieci anni di dedizione assoluta" (372; "ten years of absolute devotion"). In one of the multiple possible endings Mazzucco offers her readers, such resentment prompts him to "ucciderla nel suo fango di donna prima che l'onda mi sommerga" (410; "kill her in her mud of a woman before the wave submerges me").
(22) He also cannot help himself from comparing the austere and yet solemn church of the Augustinians to his mother-in-law's church, "di cemento armato, costruita negli anni Ottanta, completamente priva di arredi: le file di banchi fatte di seggiole incollate fra loro, rubate a un cinema di periferia ormai chiuso da tempo. Non c'erano ne altari ne quadri: le pareti erano nude" (Mazzucco, Un giorno 105; "made of concrete, built in the eighties, completely void of furniture; the rows of pews made of chairs stuck to each other, stolen from a suburban movie theater now closed. There were neither altars nor pictures: the walls were bare").
(23) Mazzucco adds: "Nei suoi pensieri, primo veniva sempre Kevin. Quando fantasticava, sognava di infliggere a Emma la ferita inguaribile, e quella ferita era il bambino" (Un giorno 365; "in his thoughts, Kevin was always first. When he daydreamed, he thought of inflicting an incurable wound on Emma, and that wound was the child").
(24) In his Critique of Everyday Life Lefebvre notes, "Men have no knowledge of their own lives. [...] They see them and act them out via ideological themes and ethical values. In particular, they have an inadequate knowledge of their needs and their own fundamental attitudes; they express them badly; they delude themselves about their needs and aspirations except for the most general and basic ones" (qtd. in Felski 609).
(25) As Touraine has observed, "In trying to demonstrate that they affirm themselves as such, women choose the construction as free subjects as their goal [...] they reverse the exclusive domination of the heterosexual model of male domination and reject the place traditionally accorded to the couple man/woman by substituting a plurality of changing and partial forms of sexuality" (27).
(26) The speech continues: "And they are instilled in us by fundamental institutions, such as families and schools and religious congregations. These institutions, these unseen pillars of civilization, must remain strong in America, and we will defend them. We must stand with our families to help them raise healthy, responsible children. When it comes to helping children make right choices, there is work for all of us to do" (George W. Bush's 2004 State of the Union Address).
(27) "[Sasha] sfoglio Anna Karenina, che gli era rimasta fra le mani. Con una certa disillusione, si rese conto che non lo stava leggendo Valentina. A segnare le pagine, qua e la scarabocchiate col pennarello da una mano infantile, c'era un foglio di quaderno con una serie di numeri scritti a matita. Il conto delle spese del mese di aprile. Le uscite superavano abbondantemente le entrate. Lo imbarazzava spiare nella modesta guerra quotidiana di Emma con la vita. E ancora di piU lo imbarazzava il pensiero che Emma avesse cominciato a leggere quel romanzo solo perche lui lo aveva raccomandato alla figlia" (Mazzucco, Un giorno 325; "[Sasha] leafed through Anna Karenina which was lying in his hands. With some disappointment, he realized that Valentina was not the one reading it. There was a piece of paper with numbers scribbled on it to mark the pages underlined here and there by a childish hand. April expenses. Monthly expenses exceeded income. It was embarrassing to spy on Emma's daily modest struggle with life. Even more embarrassing was the thought that Emma had begun reading that novel merely because he had recommended it to her daughter").
(28) In "Oltre il genere," Braidotti made a succinct assessment of gender theory and the range of separation between sex and gender: the body is a "situated self," an embodied positioning of the self; as such, it demands a revision and redefinition of contemporary subjectivity, because ''thinking of the body in this way implies sexuality as a process." Already ten years ago, then, Braidotti proposed a comparative study of the sex-sexuality paradigm, one that would de-essentialize the body without reducing it to pure nature opposed to social construction as it was being established in the by-now classic sex-gender paradigm and revindicating the subjectivity of an individual, first and foremost (6-7).
(29) Indeed, as Joplin writes, "If women have served as scapegoats for male violence, [...] the woman writer and the feminist critic seek to remember the embodied, resisting woman. Each time we do, we resist our status as privileged victim; we interrupt the structure of reciprocal violence" (55).
(30) As Stockton notes, "the metamorphosis of the twentieth-century rape narrative"--one form of violence--"registers a desperate attempt to preserve traditional patterns of robust, entrepreneurial masculinity in the face of economic forms that increasingly disallow illusions of individual authority" (3). Coupled with a progressive loss of self-confidence of (white) men, the feminine becomes the metaphor for the Other, the different one. Postmodern narratives of violence, however, devise a white man subject to "the techno-economy of late capitalism" that, ultimately, "nullifies him as a subject" (21).
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|Date:||Jan 1, 2010|
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