New in the collection: e-books

Farid Laroussi, Postcolonial counterpoint : orientalism, France, and the Maghreb, University of Toronto Press, 2016.

R. Pickering-Iazzi (ed), The Italian antimafia, new media, and the culture of legality, University of Toronto Press, 2017.

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On Italy’s Liberation day: Umberto Eco and Ur-Fascism

Every April 25th Italy commemorates the end of both Mussolini’s regime and the Nazi occupation of the Country: the date, made into a national holiday in 1946, corresponds to the Comitato di Liberazione Nazionale Alta Italia (CLNAI – National Liberation Committee of Upper Italy)’s proclaiming the insurgency of all Italian territories then still under (partial) control of the German occupants and the Italian fascists.

Photo: Italian Resistance leader – and later President of the Republic – Sandro Pertini’s speech in Milan, April 25th, 1945 (source).

Following a domino effect which I regularly, and happily, experience as (heavy) reader, it was after having read young Italian writer Giorgio Fontana‘s Morte di un uomo felice (a compelling novel on Italy’s so-called Years of lead) and Babele 56 (an inspiring collection of interviews with immigrants living in present-day Milan), that – thanks to a post on the writer’s own blog: La normalizzazione dell’antifascismo (The normalization of anti-fascism) – I came across late Umberto Eco’s Ur-Fascism article (The New York review of books, june 22, 1995).

                  Photo of Giorgio Fontana from his blog.

Read today, Eco’s thorough analysis of ur-fascism and its features does not only strike for its lucidity but, sadly, for its prophetic character as well, all the more so given the (Italian and international) media’s and politicians’ puzzling reluctance (justly addressed by Fontana in his post) to use the word ‘fascist’ when commenting on the alarmingly ever-growing number of movements, parties, attitudes, incidents and crimes which, although recognizably fascist in nature, are usually only labelled as (extreme-right) ‘populism’, ‘hooliganism’ or ‘excesses’.

Needless to say, the whole essay by Eco is absolutely worth reading (passages from its Italian translation, published in Eco’s Cinque scritti morali, are available at punk4free). Here follows some excerpts though, which are whether especially relevant to present-day attitudes to universities and critical thinking or strikingly topical in relation to 2017’s fascisms (italics are mine):

«Fascism became an all-purpose term because one can eliminate from a fascist regime one or more features, and it will still be recognizable as fascist […] But in spite of this fuzziness, I think it is possible to outline a list of features that are typical of what I would like to call Ur-Fascism, or Eternal Fascism. These features cannot be organized into a system; many of them contradict each other, and are also typical of other kinds of despotism or fanaticism. But it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it. […]

3. The Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, is seen as the beginning of modern depravity. In this sense Ur-Fascism can be defined as irrationalism. Irrationalism also depends on the cult of action for action’s sake. Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, any previous reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation. Therefore culture is suspect insofar as it is identified with critical attitudes. Distrust of the intellectual world has always been a symptom of Ur-Fascism, from Goering’s alleged statement (“When I hear talk of culture I reach for my gun”) to the frequent use of such expressions as “degenerate intellectuals,” “eggheads,” “effete snobs,” “universities are a nest of reds.” The official Fascist intellectuals were mainly engaged in attacking modern culture and the liberal intelligentsia for having betrayed traditional values.

Photo of Umberto Eco from the New York Times’ obituary for the Italian writer and scholar.

4. No syncretistic faith can withstand analytical criticism. The critical spirit makes distinctions, and to distinguish is a sign of modernism. In modern culture the scientific community praises disagreement as a way to improve knowledge. For Ur-Fascism, disagreement is treason.

5. Besides, disagreement is a sign of diversity. Ur-Fascism grows up and seeks for consensus by exploiting and exacerbating the natural fear of difference. The first appeal of a fascist or prematurely fascist movement is an appeal against the intruders. Thus Ur-Fascism is racist by definition. […]

13. Ur-Fascism is based upon a selective populism, a qualitative populism, one might say. In a democracy, the citizens have individual rights, but the citizens in their entirety have a political impact only from a quantitative point of view—one follows the decisions of the majority. For Ur-Fascism, however, individuals as individuals have no rights, and the People is conceived as a quality, a monolithic entity expressing the Common Will. Since no large quantity of human beings can have a common will, the Leader pretends to be their interpreter. Having lost their power of delegation, citizens do not act; they are only called on to play the role of the People. Thus the People is only a theatrical fiction. To have a good instance of qualitative populism we no longer need the Piazza Venezia in Rome or the Nuremberg Stadium. There is in our future a TV or Internet populism, in which the emotional response of a selected group of citizens can be presented and accepted as the Voice of the People. Because of its qualitative populism Ur-Fascism must be against “rotten” parliamentary governments […] Wherever a politician casts doubt on the legitimacy of a parliament because it no longer represents the Voice of the People, we can smell Ur-Fascism».

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Resistance as friendship: Ada Gobetti’s Diario partigiano

I mentioned Ada Gobetti earlier on this blog and lately made her the topic of my contribution to the first issue of FIS, the magazine of Romance languages and cultures’ students at the University of Amsterdam.

The more I am faced with intolerant attitudes and gut feelings in the public discourse (in The Netherlands, in Italy and elsewhere), the more such books as Gobetti’s wonderful Diario partigiano (“Partisan diary”; available at the UvA Library) seem to become relevant today, and therefore – thinking of how just another celebrated woman, Judith Butler, commented the US Election 2016 also in terms of preparing «to be more like a resistance movement than a political party» – here follows the inspiring words which open Gobetti’s Diario (for a review of its recent English translation, quoted further below, see: Ian Thomson, Mother Courage, “Spectator”, november 7, 2014):

«Dedico questi ricordi ai miei amici vicini e lontani; di vent’anni e di un’ora sola. Perché proprio l’amicizia – legame di solidarietà, fondato non su comunanza di sangue, né di patria, né di tradizione intellettuale, ma sul semplice rapporto umano del sentirsi uno con uno tra molti – m’è parso il significato intimo, il segno della nostra battaglia. E forse lo è stato veramente. E soltanto se riusciremo a salvarla, a perfezionarla o a ricrearla al disopra di tanti errori e di tanti smarrimenti, se riusciremo a capire che questa unità, quest’amicizia non è stata e non dev’essere solo un mezzo per raggiungere qualche altra cosa, ma è un valore in se stessa, perché in essa forse è il senso dell’uomo – soltanto allora potremo ripensare al nostro passato e rivedere il volto dei nostri amici, vivi e morti, senza malinconia e senza disperazione» (Ada Gobetti, Diario partigiano, Einaudi, 2014, p. 1).

«I dedicate these memories to my friends, both near and far, to those of twenty years and to those of only an hour. Because friendship – a link of solidarity founded not on kinship nor homeland nor intellectual tradition, but on the simple human rapport of feeling close to one another in a crowd of many – appears to me to have been the profound significance, the symbol of our battle. Perhaps it truly was. Only if we are able to preserve it, perfect it, recreate it, after so many mistakes and so much disgrace, will we be able to understand that this unity, this friendship, was not and must not be only a means to achieving something else, but is a value in and of itself, because in it is perhaps the meaning of mankind. Only then will we be able to rethink our past and see again the faces of our friends, alive and dead, without melancholy and without despair» (transl. Jomarie Alano, Partisan Diary: A woman’s life in the Italian Resistance, Oxford University Press, 2014).

Young Ada Gobetti’s photo from the website Margutte.

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The Italian university professors’ oath of allegiance to fascism (1931)

«I swear fidelity to the King, to his Royal successors and to the Fascist regime, and I swear to respect the [National Fascist Party’s] Statute and the other laws of the State, and to fulfil my teacher’s and all academics’ duties with the aim of preparing industrious and righteous citizens, patriotic and devoted to the Fascist regime. I swear not to be or ever become a member of organizations or parties whose activities are incompatible with my official duties».

«Giuro di essere fedele al Re, ai suoi Reali successori e al Regime fascista, di osservare lealmente lo Statuto e le altre leggi dello Stato, di esercitare l’ufficio di insegnante ed adempiere tutti i doveri accademici col proposito di formare cittadini operosi, probi e devoti alla patria e al Regime fascista. Giuro che non appartengo né apparterrò ad associazioni o partiti la cui attività non si concilii con i doveri del mio ufficio» (English translation above is mine; original Italian text from prof. Paolo Valabrega’s (Politecnico di Torino) 2014 speech I dodici professori che non hanno giurato [The twelve professors who didn’t take the oath].

Even before the European University Association (EUA)‘s recent call on governments to refrain from interference in university autonomy (sparkled by new legislation proposed by the Hungarian government), I couldn’t help but thinking of the oath of allegiance requested to Italian university professors in 1931 when reading of some other startling interference of politics with academia: IOWA senator Mark Chelgren’s proposal that public universities «consider political party affiliation when hiring new faculty members», or Dutch parliament members Duisenberg and Straus, who – worried about the possible existence of a climate of «homogeneity, self-censorship and lack of diversity in the research community» – feel the need to reaffirm, somehow paradoxically being themselves politicians, that «free research may never be hindered by differences in moral or political opinions» (my translation from the original Dutch parliamentary document).

The 1931 oath of allegiance isn’t the worst of Mussolini regime’s many crimes, and as such is not widely known or discussed outside of Italy, with the notable exception of German historian Helmut Goetz’s book Der freie Geist und seine Widersacher: die Eidverweigerer an den italienischen Universitäten im Jahre 1931, available at the UvA Library, and reviewed in Annali di Italianistica in 1999. Given that only twelve out of some 1.200 university professors refused to swear in 1931 (being Errera, Levi della Vida, Luzatto and Volterra of Jewish descent, they would have been forced to quit anyway in 1938, when Mussolini promulgated the Racial laws to enforce anti semitic discrimination in Italy), their names definitely deserves to be mentioned here:
Ernesto Buonaiuti (Religious studies, University of Rome)
Mario Carrara (Legal Medicine, University of Turin)
Gaetano De Sanctis (Greek and Roman history, University of Rome)
Giorgio Errera (Chemistry, University of Pavia)
Giorgio Levi della Vida (Arabic studies, University of Rome)
Fabio Luzzatto (Law, Superior School of Agriculture Milan)
Piero Martinetti (Philosophy, University of Milan)
Bartolo Nigrisoli (Surgery, University of Bologna)
Francesco Ruffini (Canon Law, University of Turin)
Edoardo Ruffini Avondo (Law, University of Perugia)
Lionello Venturi (Art history, University of Turin)
Vito Volterra (Mathematics, University of Rome)

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ITALNED online woordenboeken beschikbaar via de UvA Bibliotheek

Sinds kort heeft de UvA Bibliotheek een abonnement op de online woordenboeken van ITALNED, de stichting (voorzitter is prof. Vincenzo Lo Cascio, UvA-emeritus hoogleraar Italiaanse Taalkunde), die als doel heeft «de verspreiding van de Italiaanse taal en cultuur in de Nederlandssprekende landen en de Nederlandse taal en cultuur in Italië te bevorderen, vooral door publicatie van didactisch en cultureel hoogwaardig taalkundig materiaal».

Het gaat om het Combinatiewoordenboek Italiaans (dit is een uitgebreidere en interactieve versie van het Dizionario Combinatorio Compatto Italiano uit 2012) en om de tweetalige woordenboeken Italiaans-Nederlands en Nederlands-Italiaans.

Toegang: maximaal vijf gelijktijdige gebruikers. Off-campus alleen mogelijk voor UvA-staff en -studenten, zie informatie hier.

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Full online access to “Modern Italy” via the UvA Library

Modern Italy is a peer-reviewed journal, founded by the Association for the Study of Modern Italy in 1995, publishing research and review articles «on the history, politics and social, economic and cultural life of Italy and the Italian peoples from the eighteenth century to the present».

The journal also publishes special issues on specific topics, such as Iconic images in modern Italy: politics, culture and society (vol. 21/4, 2016), Berlusconi’s impact and legacy (vol. 20/1, 2015), The Italian Risorgimento: transnational perspectives (vol. 19/1, 2014) and The politics of sexuality in contemporary Italy (vol. 17/4, 2012).


Off-campus access only for UvA-staff and -students (see here for more information).

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FIS: Studentenblad Frans, Italiaans en Spaans

Eerder deze maand is het allereerste nummer verschenen van FIS, het blad van Mare Nostrum, de studievereniging voor de Franse, Italiaanse en Spaanse Taal- en Cultuur. De afkorting FIS staat zowel voor Frans Italiaans Spaans als voor «FIS.. zee .. Mare Nostrum».
Studenten van de opleidingen Romaanse talen zullen in het blad schrijven over thema’s die aan de drie studies gerelateerd zijn (studievereniging, docenten, medestudenten) maar die ook interessant zijn voor iedereen die een taal studeert: in het Buitenland studeren, stage lopen of wat te doen na je studie. Studeer je Frans, Italiaans of Spaans aan de UvA en je vindt het ook leuk om te schrijven over de Mediterrane wereld en alles wat met Frankrijk, Italië en Spanje te maken heeft? Neem contact op met de redactie van FIS, stuur een mail naar fis.marenostrum@gmail.com.

P.S.: Naar aanleiding van een mini-lezing over stereotypen, die ik afgelopen 1 december heb gegeven op het jaarlijkse feest van Mare Nostrum, heeft de redactie van FIS me gevraagd of ik ook een stukje voor de eerste aflevering van het blad wilde schrijven en, voilà: op pagina 10 vind je hem nu, over stereotypen en drie bijzondere mensen uit Frankrijk (Claude Cahun), Italië (Ada Gobetti) en Spanje (Federico García Lorca).

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