Over here at Lit Witches, we are big tent kinda gals. We cast a wide net through the ocean of readables, and each of us hauls in her preferred catch to share it with those of you who want to hang out in our big digital tent. (Tents, oceans, books, computers, mixed metaphors—we have it all over here!) And in that spirit, dear readers, I want you to drink deeply from a different part of the cauldron. It’s February favorites, and I’m beginning my month’s posting with my favorite literary studies/cultural studies book I have read thus far in 2015. I read a lot of those because I’m a total egghead.
This week, I am recommending Dr. Alessia Ricciardi’s After La Dolce Vita: A Cultural Prehistory of Berlusconi’s Italy, the winner of the 2013 Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione prize for Italian Studies. This is a very challenging read, to be sure, but more than worthwhile for those interested in politics, literature, film, history, philosophy, Italian culture, and contemporary culture. Ricciardi’s brilliantly and painstakingly researched, bravely argued volume seeks to figure out just exactly what happened to mute and dilute Italy’s formerly active, powerful political left during “the long 1980s.” Why did the land of Antonio Gramsci, Neorealismo, Autonomia Operaia, and a critical public intellectual scene so quickly turn into the land of bunga-bunga, privately held monopolies, preoccupation with the material, and…wait for it… the European nation in which unfettered capitalism, American-style, not only took root but grew like it was on HGH and anabolic steroids?
This book collects and examines a significant portion of the answers. In contrast to much of the work covering the subject, as Ricciardi points out in her introduction, After La Dolce Vita concerns itself with how publicly acceptable Italian leftists collaborated, knowingly or not, in the dramatic shift in Italian intellectual and civic life.
Ricciardi structures After La Dolce Vita along the lines of some pernicious terms that wrap themselves in a deceptively pleasant and non-threatening guise. The philosophies and cultural products grown from “Sweetness,” Lightness,” “Weakness,” and “Softness,”—also the chapter titles—have not only made Italy into a consumable brand, but have also morphed into prevailing principles in leftist-light (pun intended) thought. One of the major strengths of Ricciardi’s volume lies in its total formal and intellectual depth balanced with a coherent and wide reach through the world of media, arts, and philosophy.
At the end of the introduction, Ricciardi writes, “Although the limits of critical analysis may be all too clear, it nevertheless seems to me possible to keep meaningful ideas alive while judging well the questions that demand a cogent response.” It is not the job of the critic to capitulate, but, as Dr. Ricciardi so eloquently states, to feed meaning and judge well.
Annie is a writer, teacher, proofreader, and shy megalomaniac. She is also a PhD candidate at the University of New Mexico where she is currently dissertating about narrative images from medieval manuscripts to contemporary comics. She studies flamenco and puts paint on things, too. You can find her on twitter, and trade red chile or sugo recipes to her for getting you an audience with that shadow you keep seeing in the corner of your eye.