La Falla: 20th Century Jewish Italian Literature of the Fantastic

Date of Completion

January 2012


Language, Modern|Literature, Modern|Literature, Romance|Jewish Studies




My dissertation focuses on 20th century Jewish Italian authors (Primo Levi, Roberto Vigevani, Antonio DeBenedetti and Maurizio Cohen) who employ the literature of the fantastic to represent the experiences of their community from the 1930s to the 1990s. The fantastic in these authors does not function as a flight from reality, but rather as an exploration of the traumas of the ethnic ostracism resulting from the Anti–Semitic Laws of 1938, the Shoah, the difficulties of reintegration into post–1945 Italian society and the resurgence of anti-Semitism in the latter decades of the century. The use of the fantastic is thus an attempt on the part of these authors to provide narratives which are supplementary to canonical realistic literature and are able to convey, on the one hand, aspects of 20th century Jewish Italian experiences repressed by a hegemonic politics of memory, and on the other, to allegorize the re–marginalization (and consequent dehumanization) of Jewish Italians on the eve of the 21st century. The concept of realism in my dissertation is taken from the definition provided by Fredric Jameson in The Political Unconscious as "a narrative discourse which unites the experience of daily life with a properly cognitive, mapping, or well–nigh 'scientific' perspective" (104). The authors included in my dissertation all felt the need to resort to a non–mimetic form of literature which becomes for them a means to convey individual acts of testimony vis-à-vis the events each author faced in his own lifetime. Moreover, it should be noted that in my dissertation the term fantastic mode will encompass genres of the fantastic (e.g. science fiction and magical narratives) as well as the definition provided by Tzvetan Todorov in Introduction à la litterature fantastique (1970) in which he posits the fantastic as that which erupts into the character's and the reader's reality. ^