A Culture of Objects: Italy's Quest for Modernity (1878-1922)

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A Culture of Objects: Italy's Quest for Modernity (1878-1922)

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Title: A Culture of Objects: Italy's Quest for Modernity (1878-1922)
Author: Cottini, Luca
Citation: Cottini, Luca. 2012. A Culture of Objects: Italy's Quest for Modernity (1878-1922). Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: This study focuses on Italy's transition to industrial modernity (in the years from the end of the Risorgimento to the rise of Fascism) from the perspective of some of its iconic objects: wristwatches, bicycles, cigarettes, and cameras. Through the combined analysis of their reception (engendering new social practices like tourism, sport, and photography) and their representation in contemporary art (literature, painting, photography), this research reconstructs the gradual transformation of Italy into a modern nation. These objects reveal a cultural laboratory of the nation's quest for a shared modern identity, both in the positive overlapping of tradition and modernity (challenging a polarized critical approach to the age), and in the interaction of concurring perspectives (derived from ads, newspapers, public debates, and literary and visual sources). By exploring the singular contrast between the social phantasmagoria surrounding these newly mass-produced items, and their striking symbolization in art as antiques, this study highlights a hidden moment of tension in the negotiation of modernity, which finds intellectual expression in the deliberate affinity of these objects with Baroque poetics. In reading the meaning of this reference to the 17th century, this work advances two main arguments. First, on an intellectual level, such allusions indicate not only, against the background of the coeval recovery of the 17th century, an important trait d'union between European and Italian Modernism, but also, against the background of the Italian scholarly debate regarding the Baroque (leading De Sanctis and Croce to equate it with their 'decadent' present), a significant instance for re-evaluating the vital or 'positive' aspect of the fin de siecle, challenging its established definition as Decadentism. Second, on a socio-cultural level, the experimental Baroque epistemology of these objects envisions, on a micro-scale, a peculiarly Italian quest for a singular modernity, which embraces the excitement of modernization while either containing it within the influence of the nation's past heritage, or re-elaborating it in new solutions.
Citable link to this page: http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:10330309
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