Corpi Posseduti as presented in the Senate Library in Rome

di Karen Lund

Corpi Posseduti. Martiri ed Eroi dal Risorgimento a Pinocchio (Lacaita, 2012) Body Possession. Martyrs and heroes from the Italian Risorgimento to Pinocchio, written by Dino Mengozzi, was discussed in Rome on 17 September 2013 at the Senate Library “Giovanni Spadolini”.

The presenters were scholars Maurizio Degl’Innocenti, Alberto Mario Banti and Michele Rak.

The three scholars were in agreement about the new research surrounding the construction of national Italian identity by paying attention to the human body in social anthropological terms and the human body as a tool for political use and a fountain for metaphors. Maurizio Degl’Innocenti underlined the comparison to French historiography, particularly the social history perspective of Michel Vovelle and Alain Corbin and also David Le Breton’s anthropological history of pain. Dino Mengozzi uses these references to enrich cultural history and is also connected to written works by Alberto Banti.

All this theory of historiography permits the author to define “body possession” as a possession of the patriotic ideology of a person and to see

how these individuals escaped from the traditional authority of the family and the state and how they became an example of martyrdom. In this way, they are a positive ideal to be imitated as well as victims to be revenged.

Alberto Banti confirms that “body possession” is a continuous dialogue with death. When an individual is near death and accepts to die with his ideology, this is seen as attaining the maximum of nobility. In fact, this subversive movement from the old state exposes them to a more violent repression. Therefore, suffering and death are not depressive, but exalting as recalling the sacrifice of Christ. Political martyrdom and the self-recognition of faith are equal.

According to Michele Rak, this is about a different kind of pain: the psychological pain which is the detachment from the family and the physical pain of the body that is visible in the relics of the Risorgimento. Some examples are locks of hair, drops of blood and personal journals. The patriot is thus a martyr who will not be forgotten and all will know his place of burial and location of these relics. Otherwise, his fame will disappear from memory. The body of the martyr is an ethical map that must be travelled in order to understand the birth of a nation. The dead body is valued more than the living body as a collective essence.

The three scholars agree that something new happened in 1859 where successful military campaigns had no space in narratives surrounding martyrdom. Martyrs disappeared and heroes emerged. The triumphant Giuseppe Garibaldi had a double body as both hero and martyr. Some of his relics became mythical. For example: his poncho became a symbol of femininity and his cigar a symbol of masculinity. Surrounding Garibaldi there was a kind of confusion. One was the erotic attraction from Sicilian and Neapolitan women and the second was an unchained violence against the enemies. In the Sicilian village of Partinico, the people killed and cooked some Bourbon soldiers as an offer to Garibaldi in 1860. The identity of the people was unmasked by these acts that were equal to the extreme violence by the counter-revolutionary followers of Cardinal Ruffo in 1799.

The heroes are then simply ordinary people without special physical attributes. It requires only an interior quality to be a hero. Facial beauty as seen in the mirror is this reflection of virtue. In 1861 another change took place in which “body possession” was in competition with a new kind of body: the “hedonistic body”. Alberto Banti mentioned a few examples of a more free body gained by way of health care, physical fitness, and thermal cures. For example, when Pinocchio became a normal child, he had something in common with Garibaldi. In fact, the final part of the story of the puppet Pinocchio was written after the death of Garibaldi and it is as if the author Carlo Collodi suffered the death of the hero himself.

Maurizio Degl’Innocenti spoke about the ability of Garibaldi to separate himself from the church and state and his ability to characterize the new phase of the unification of Italy that is the “bourgeois body” in the 1870’s and 1880’s. Garibaldi claimed possession of his own body, but he and his followers were not in agreement with the bourgeois phase. Garibaldi wanted to be autonomous. The author Dino Mengozzi regards with sympathy the formation of the “bourgeois body”. In this sense, Pinocchio doesn’t retreat to the general order, but rather through his metamorphosis, he becomes a young individual able to distance himself from his parents.

During this time, in Italy, the teaching of the body became pedagogical. This is revealed in the “secular guide” Cuore. Maurizio Degl’Innocenti notes that this well-known manual for school doesn’t represent the glorification of war for Dino Mengozzi, but rather a preoccupation to defend the new state with one’s own body. In Cuore, there are represented many types of bodies: disabled, sick and disadvantaged. So, in all, there is a democracy of the body and the state provides well fare assistance to all of these disadvantaged. Alberto Banti is not entirely persuaded by this interpretation. He referenced Edmondo De Amicis who wrote that this suffering was too frightening to teach to young elementary children. Speaking about fields of blood was simply too much. In this changing society, the body is starting to be partially free, but the body is reclaimed by rhetorical sacrifice that remained at the core of Italian life during World War I and Fascism. Father Gemelli will become the apotheosis of mystical sacrifice renewing the tradition of the sacrifice of Christ. Michele Rak stated that Cuore was an ethical guide founded in the presence of the child and fabricated around the discovery of a new subject that is: childhood.

Dino Mengozzi expressed his gratitude to the scholars and the attention they paid to his work. He expressed also his gratitude for the use of the prestigious Senate library as a place for the discussion of Cuore and Pinocchio and also Foscolo and Garibaldi that are essential to national Italian identity. For a long time, Cuore and Pinocchio were considered less important and practically only for children, but to the contrary, they remain essential to the sentiment of belonging to the nation. On the level of historiography, a cultural approach is insufficient when addressing the body. A different approach is required in order to understand the history of the body that are anthropological and social history. It’s important to understand the process of self-identification and secondly to understand the relationship between parents and their children and lastly the importance of physical exercise and flirtation. Italians are offspring of a “virtuous” body, but from the birth of the nation, many powers wanted to control the body: parents, patriotic ideology, church and state. Edmondo De Amicis seemed to understand the body from a liberal perspective and for this reason it’s necessary to rethink the severe interpretation made by Umberto Eco almost five decades ago. Certainly, there will be many more sacrifices imposed on the body and in particular on the young body but a new chapter for “body possession” has been opened by the guarantee of independence in the private life as written in the constitution Statuto Albertino.