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Research The Groningen Research Institute for the Study of Culture (ICOG) Research The Fascist Archive in Performance


Pantelis Michelakis – Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia as information machine

The prologue of Riefenstahl’s film Olympia is often seen as a sensorial journey that demonstrates the hypnotic power of beautiful images and sounds. This leaves the question of the film’s politics suspended or silenced in ways that have triggered a probing of the film's investment in the male ‘Aryan’ body. This paper revisits the film and the relation between aesthetics and politics in the late 1930s from an altogether different angle. First, it argues that the film’s narrativity and aesthetics are based on the intelligent operations and efficiencies of a wide range of diverse technologies and art forms; and second that the harnessing of such technologies and art forms participates in a semiotechnological war, where the only real medium of exchange is information. To appreciate the film’s impact upon its release but also its ‘ruin value’ as one of the most acclaimed and enduring examples of the classicisms in circulation in the late 1930s, one needs to view it as the spectacularization of arts and technologies in a state of total war; but also as a monument to the speed and information on which the war strategies of the 1930s depended in military, technological and propagandistic terms.

Bettina Reitz-Joosse (Groningen) and Han Lamers (Oslo ) – Spectacles of Archiving: Foundation Deposits in Fascist Italy

Building and construction were omnipresent in Fascist Italy, made more so by their effective coverage in a variety of media. During ceremonies called the ‘posa della prima pietra’ (laying of the first stone), these building projects were ceremonially inaugurated with a public figure (often Mussolini himself) placing and sealing a building deposit into a foundation or a cornerstone (prima pietra). The deposits were to function as ‘time capsules’, to be recovered within the building’s structures in a remote future.

This paper analyses the contents and the ceremonial placement of such building deposits, as well as their mediatisations, as carefully staged and choreographed ‘spectacles of archiving’ under Italian Fascism. In particular, it explores how foundation deposits were made to evoke ancient Rome and the Renaissance simultaneously. For example, the coins or medals placed in a prima pietra might recall the ancient custom of throwing coins into foundations, but also as its revival during the Renaissance, when foundation deposits could contain specially minted, classicizing medals. The deposits of the ventennio fascista also often contain texts, which evoke, through the use of the Latin language, their content and appearance, ancient Roman as well as Renaissance elements.

We conclude that foundation deposits were a special part of Fascism’s staging of the ideal of romanità, or Romanness: in these deposits, different Roman past(s) converged with the dynamic present of Fascist building projects, in order to reach out to future ages destined to recover the deposit’s contents.

Patricia Gaborik Mussolini’s Cesare: Roman History as Italy’s Present and Future

A lover of both history and drama, Benito Mussolini commissioned from librettist and playwright Giovacchino Forzano three historical dramas whose protagonists were great men of the Italian (or at least Mediterranean) past: Napoleon Bonaparte; Camillo Bensi, Count of Cavour; and Julius Caesar. Each work employed historical analogy to comment on contemporary Italy – on the would-be fascist revolution and especially on its leader. This presentation will focus on the last of the three works, Cesare, and thus on the ways Rome’s ancient history was used to say something about fascist Italy and, especially, about Mussolini himself. There is little doubt that the play was designed to insist upon both men’s greatness: but what made each of them so? And what did Caesar’s fate suggest about Mussolini’s?

Briefly discussing Cesare not just as aesthetic object but also as the fruit of a vast propaganda initiative for both domestic and international consumption, I will also address some of the questions about research and documentation that inform the symposium: how does production context determine aesthetic analysis? What materials are available to help us reconstruct and interpret such a performance event? How does one bring questions about aesthetics and institutions together in a single analysis, and how do these inform each other?

Giorgio Ieranò – Towards the Fourth Punic War: the image of Carthago in Italy between Nationalism and Fascism

The paper will describe the image of ancient Carthago fostered by the Italian propaganda in the years between the Libyan War and World War II. The aim is to show how Fascist propaganda is indebted to stereotypes created by Italian nationalism as early as the first two decades of the XX century. During the confrontation with the Ottoman Empire, which led to the Italian conquest of Libya, a recurrent idea was that the Italian soldiers were following the path of the Roman Legions of the remote past. The Libyan expedition was the reconquest of Italy’s “fourth shore” (as Mussolini will call it): the African shore which centuries earlier belonged to the Roman Empire. In this perspective, Carthaginians become, as in the movie Cabiria (1914), the wicked enemies of Italy’s imperial ambitions. An image that will generate an identification between Carthago and Great Britain during the years of the Fascist Regime and especially after the breakdown of World War II. When, in Mussolini’s words, the war against England in the Mediterranean Sea will be defined the “Fourth Punic War”.

Roberto Danese Scipione l'Africano di Carmine Gallone. Traduzione intersemiotica di un'ideologia

Fra il 1936 e il 1937, contemporaneamente alla proclamazione dell'Impero, il regime fascista appoggiò la realizzazione di un film sull'impresa africana di Scipione, culminata con la vittoria di Zama su Annibale il 19 ottobre del 202 a.C. La documentazione dell'epoca ci mostra un interessante e poco consueto grado di attenzione della sceneggiatura alle fonti storiche. Il linguaggio mostrativo adottato dal regista Carmine Gallone trasforma tuttavia la pellicola in un manifesto ideologico, che fa perfettamente collimare le gesta dell'Africano alla fine della seconda guerra punica, con gli eventi della storia italiana contemporanea che videro il Duce proclamare l'Impero il 6 maggio 1936, in seguito alle guerre d'Africa.

Roger Griffin (Oxford Brookes) The Ideological and Temporal Implications of Fascism's Use of 'Stripped Classicism' in Civic Architecture

This keynote will explore the idea that, as in the case of the Nazis' extensive use of stripped classicism in state architectural projects, Fascist use of the aesthetic expresses the peculiar temporality implicit in the fascist project of a total cultural palingenesis. Within it, the nation's heroic past, its contemporary rebirth, and its glorious future became experienced by convinced converts to the regime's vision of historical transformation as expressions of a 'national immortality' in which linear and cyclic time were experienced as manifestations of a supra-individual but secularized eternity. The result was a series of architectural projects which were conceived as sacralized civic spaces within which to stage the spectacular and theatrical rituals through which those segments of the populations citizens imagined to be natural members of the reborn 'national community would experience the dynamic interplay of past, present and future and the lived reality of the drama of national rebirth, thereby participating in 'making' history rather than passively witnessing it as impotent bystanders.

Last modified:11 January 2021 2.22 p.m.