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The Historic Imaginary

The Historic Imaginary: Politics of History in Fascist Italy

Claudio Fogu
  • Book Info
    The Historic Imaginary
    Book Description:

    Focusing on both ritual and mass-visual representations of history in 1920s and 1930s Italy,The Historic Imaginaryunveils how Italian Fascism sought to institutionalize a modernist culture of history. The study takes a new historicist and microhistorical approach to cultural-intellectual history, integrating theoretical tools of analysis acquired from visual-cultural studies, art history, linguistics, and reception theory in a sophisticated examination of visual modes of historical representation - from commemorations to monuments to exhibitions and mass-media - spanning the entire period of the Italian-fascist regime.

    Claudio Fogu argues that the fascist historic imaginary was intellectually rooted in the actualist philosophy of history elaborated by Giovanni Gentile, culturally grounded in Latin-Catholic rhetorical codes, and aimed at overcoming both Marxist and liberal conceptions of the relationship between historical agency, representation, and consciousness. The book further proposes that this modernist vision of history was a core element of fascist ideology, encapsulated by the famous Mussolinian motto that "fascism makes history rather than writing it," and that its institutionalization constituted a key point of intersection between the fascist aesthetization and sacralization of politics. The author finally claims that his study of fascist historic culture opens the way to an understanding and re-evaluation of the historical relationship between the modernist critique of historical consciousness and the rise of post-modernist forms of temporality.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8144-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-2)
    (pp. 3-20)

    With these words, addressed to his comrade-friend Raymond Queneau, Georges Bataille reported on the spot his very strong impression of the Mostra della rivoluzione fascista (MRF) (Exhibition of the Fascist Revolution), a historical exhibition set up in Rome between 1932 and 1934 to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Mussolini’s March on Rome. This was Bataille’s first visit to fascist Italy. A few months earlier he had published his seminal essay ‘The Psychological Structure of Fascism.’² In it he had developed a theory of the fascist phenomenon as the subordination ofhomogeneoussocial relations toheterogeneousones – that is, of...

    (pp. 21-51)

    It was with these words, delivered to the fascist senate on 24 May 1929, that Benito Mussolini responded to Benedetto Croce’s opposition to the conciliation pacts between the Vatican and the Italian state, and simultaneously offered a spectacle the whole fascist intelligentsia had been waiting for: a direct intellectual confrontation between the ‘Duce’ of fascism and the ‘Laic Pope’ of liberalism.¹ On the surface, Mussolini’s analogy between shirkers of war and shirkers of history connected Croce’s opposition to the Concordat to the conspicuous absence of the Great War and fascism in Croce’s recently publishedStoria d’Italia dal1870 al 1914....

    (pp. 52-71)

    On 20 April 1920, an anonymous Italian Great War veteran published an article in the Milanese journalRiforma socialeentitled ‘I musei del dolore’ (‘The museums of suffering’). The article began with the author’s recollection of the uneasiness shown by a bus full of Milanese passengers when a war cripple, his face disfigured by a deep scar, boarded the car. In response to the blatant display of ‘bourgeois indifference and denial,’ the anonymous author advocated the creation of ‘museums of suffering aimed at opposing the idealization of war in any form’ in all belligerent nations. These museums would document ‘the...

    (pp. 72-95)

    Had it not been for the celebration of thedecennale fascista, the tenth anniversary of the March on Rome, 1932 would have been remembered by most Italians asl’anno garibaldino(the Garibaldian year) in view of the commemoration of thecinquantenario garibaldino, the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Italy’s most popular Risorgimental hero, Giuseppe Garibaldi. The ‘Hero of the Two Worlds,’ as Garibaldi was nicknamed after his Latin American exploits, was one of the four Risorgimental fathers of the Italian nation – along with the ‘Warrior’ King Victor Emmanuel, his ‘shrewd’ minister Camillo Benso Count of Cavour, and the...

    (pp. 96-113)

    This is the text of a letter written by a citizen of Trani, Raffaele Cotugno, and addressed to Mussolini the day after the inauguration of the monument to Anita. At first glance, this brief eulogy of Mussolini’s inaugural speech is not very different from the many letters spontaneously addressed to the Duce on similar occasions by anonymous fascist subjects. Cotugno’s references to the ‘ingenious originality,’ ‘expressiveness,’ and ‘ultra-authoritative’ style of Mussolini’s speech confirm the oratory effectiveness of the fascist leader celebrated by most contemporaries. The hyperbolic ‘stunning’ to which the letter’s author confesses adds little to what we already know...

    (pp. 114-164)

    However pervasive and overpowering, Mussolini’s control over the Garibaldian celebrations was not absolute. Ezio Garibaldi was left to his own devices in organizing a Mostra garibaldina (MG) (Garibaldian Exhibition) to be set up in the Roman Palazzo delle esposizioni (Palace of Exhibitions) between 1 May and 12 June 1932. Although included in the official program of thecinquantenario, this exhibition was a properly autonomous event that offered Ezio the sole opportunity to create a historical representation of Garibaldianism entirely to his liking. However, entrusted to the curatorial expertise of Antonio Monti, the MG came to provide a representational bridge between...

    (pp. 165-189)

    These statements, by two men very unequal in status but equal as principal protagonists of fascist history making, provide a fitting point of departure to reflect on the reception of the MRF by contemporaries and its impact on the evolution of the fascist historic imaginary in thesecond decade of the regime.³ The first quote is taken from a talk given by Monti at the Third Congress of Fascist Intellectuals held in Milan in March 1933. The second is the first sentence that Mussolini reportedly uttered when exiting the MRF after his inaugural visit to the exhibition on 29 October...

    (pp. 190-206)

    I return to Georges Bataille in this epilogue in order to recombine my microhistorical exploration of fascist historic culture with the intellectual and theoretical stakes of this study alluded to in the introduction and first chapter. The first quote is from the back of the letter – cited in the introduction – in which Bataille reported to his comrade-friend Raymond Queneau the strong impression he had received from his visit to the Exhibition of the Fascist Revolution in April 1934. The second quote is from a note written by Bataille to Pierre Kaan two years later, a few weeks before...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 207-260)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 261-267)