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A place in the sun: Africa in Italian colonial culture from post-unification to the present

Patrizia Palumbo (a cura di)

Berkeley, University of California Press, pp. 332, $ 24,95 2003

This is a collection of essays that through the analysis of a broad range of topics over a long time-period is both an introduction and a supplement to our understanding of the role played by colonialism in Italian consciousness. The book has the merit of bringing this agenda to an Anglo-Saxon audience as well as opening up an arena for important Italian scholars in a subject area that has been marginal to Italian Academia, but like all good books that pose important questions its essays are open to debate. Palumbo's opening sentence is selected without due care: ?Italian studies has only recently begun to dedicate its attention to Italian colonialism?(p. 1). It is sufficient to note that many of the essays that follow, base themselves primarily on the cultural elaboration of precisely the attention that has been paid to the subject over a long period of time. The first part is introduced by Del Boca, and an interesting historiographical investigation by Labanca. A complex piece on Italian anthropology in the early years of Italian colonialism (Sòrgoni), is followed by another on power legitimization systems in Eritrea before 1934 (Barrera). In the second part, given over to colonial literature, Lombardi-Diop, through an analysis of 19th century exploration accounts, draws attention to antagonistic narratives and their development; Sartini-Blum tackles the work of Marinetti and highlights within it a fundamental contradiction between orientalist nostalgia and ?modernalitria?(p. 141); Re provides a very welcome critique to Said's interpretation of Verdi's Aida and places the opera within the social context of its production. Palumbo analyzes the presence of colonial propaganda in children's literature in the 1930s. The third section is dedicated to Italian cinema dealing with Africa. Bertellini describes the evolution of Maciste the North African slave character who became a white national hero in Italian cinema but his analysis of ?autism? in relation to his sensitive description of the cinematographic strategies of two 1936 colonial films aiming to construct a masculine colonial ethos and to establish a plausible compromise with languages understood by audiences, is really perplexing. Boggio's essay taking Genina' Lo squadrone bianco as an expression of ?fascist Italy's colonial anxieties, spatial anxiety, and crowd anxiety? (p. 294), tends to forget that the film-director both creates and resolves these anxieties for its public and that the film's relation to historical reality is much more complex. Pinkus analyzes Antonioni's Eclisse as a reflection of Italian consciousness in the 1960s. Taking into consideration films like La battaglia di Algeri or Africa addio her conclusions should be taken cautiously. The premise of this essay is that ?throughout the 1940s and 1950s [...] only a relatively small sector of the Italian population concerned itself with the African question? (p. 300). This view, is a constant theme throughout this volume. But for example Majano's Vento d'Africa or Cappellini's La via del sud, the soundtracks of newsreels, periodicals, textbooks from schools in those years really call this general premise into question.


Daniela Baratieri