Articles by: Laura e. Ruberto

  • Op-Eds

    Blogofascism and the Cybermob


    Apropos of my recent posting on Gramsci and cyberwriting, I’ve had a few exchanges about blogging with colleagues, friends, and family (some at the Op-Ed version of the Gramsci piece, others via email and face-to-face). And then the February 14th edition of the New York Review of Books arrived (yes, mine is one of the handful of households that still subscribes), with a lengthy review of not one, not two, but ten recent books on blogging, written by Sarah Boxer, herself an editor of a printed anthology of blogs.
    I was struck by the second book listed, Against the Machine: Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob,by Lee Siegel. For those who need a gloss, Siegal, an editor at The New Republic, was outed in 2006 for creating his own counter blog, an alias to “rein in his own critics,” as Boxer puts it. Siegel used an Italian word for his alias, sprezzatura, and in so doing nicely alluded to the kind of arrogance expressed by his virtual deception.
    But more interestingly is Siegel’s appropriation of the term fascism. (The “electronic mob” he refers to is not directly of the Tony Soprano variety but rather of the angry crowd type.) Indeed, Siegel is known in the blogosphere for coining the term blogofascism (“bloggers’ attempts to control their critics,” again, courtesy of Boxer). Manipulation of cybertext! Dictatorial power of the ‘net! Say it ain’t so!
    A journalist who breezily throws around such weighty words as fascism is generally okay by me—I get the irony, I appreciate the effect it has on our ultra self-conscious pop culture. And yet, call me old fashioned, but I’m a tad uneasy about it too.
    In fact, I’ve always been annoyed when I see the word fascism used generically rather than with historical accuracy. I guess my reaction comes from a perhaps pedantic commitment to historicity and my personal background of having one grandfather who was conscripted into Mussolini’s army and taken prisoner in Africa, another who fought for the Italian Resistance, and an uncle who bailed on Badoglio’s army, got discovered by the SS while in hiding and who, according to my grandmother, did not end up at the Fosse Ardeatine in great part due to the intervention of the Madonna del Divino Amore. But those are all stories for future posts...
    Now, what would Gramsci say (WWGS) indeed!

  • Op-Eds

    On the Anniversary of Gramsci’s Birth, a Few Words about Writing Letters

    Antonio Gramsci—son of Sardinia, co-founder of the Italian Communist Party and L’Unita, intellectual—was born January 22, 1891. His life ended prematurely, after spending over a decade in a Fascist prison, incarcerated by his former Socialist Party comrade Benito Mussolini.


    His letters from prison—not just the fierce political analyses, but the fluffier personal notes too —fascinate me. There’s something fitting, I think, in using cyberspace to write about Gramsci, whose fame comes in large part from the writing he produced behind bars, under strict censorship. I think Gramsci would have marveled at the possibilities afforded by cyberspace (although I should add that I’m posting this on the 22nd here in California, while here at i-Italy it’s already the 23rd). I understand that the Internet is hardly a free, unmonitored, perfectly democratic space, but it surely grants more freedom of expression than il Duce’s lockup.


    Gramsci was well aware of this intellectual repression. In writing to his wife, Julia Schucht, he reminded her: "le mie lettere sono ‘pubbliche,’ non riservate a noi due” (“my letters are ‘public,’ not reserved for us two’) (December 7, 1931). I can’t help but think of electronic messages—emails, text messages, you name it. And while I certainly don’t want to sound like I’m waxing nostalgic for the long-lost days of pen, paper, and envelope, I wonder sometimes what will happen to all the text we produce online. Whose i-Italy blog posts will still be around in a hundred years? Will they have been collected in a multivolume set: Italian American Bloggers, The First Wave? What about all of the emails we write? Will we have cyber Eloise and Abelard that university students will read in their “Great Texts of the Twenty-first Century” course?


    Yet I also can’t help but chuckle—because I feel for him, I sympathize—when I read Gramsci, a serious thinker I admire, bothered by his own sometimes-unintelligible prose: to Julia, he writes, “se dovessi io stesso rileggere le mie lettere dopo qualche settimana, mi pare che ne proverei un certo disgusto” (“if I were to re-read my letters after a few weeks I think I would find them a bit distasteful”) (November 30, 1931). Would he have written differently if he knew his letters would be published in books, cited at conferences, taught in universities, and posted online?

  • Art & Culture

    Joseph Cornell's Italian Job

    I always like to walk through the San Francisco MOMA’s permanent photography exhibit when I'm there. Most recently I stopped by hoping to see one or two Tina Modotti pieces, since the museum owns a number of good ones. They didn't have any of her work up this time (Modotti will crop up again in my posts, I'm certain), but I stumbled on quite a crowd at the Joseph Cornell exhibit, in its last day.


    Cornell (1903-1972) had no formal training as an artist. He took everyday found objects—pieces of clothing, newsprint, toys—and made them look spectacular. His curio boxes are an amazing mix of surrealism and folk art; they each appear fresh, raw, and modern. At the same time, his detailed organizing of leftover odds and ends seems indebted to a Victorian sensibility, with its fixation on cataloguing and enumerating.
    Cornell was from New York and was deeply influenced by European modern art movements, especially the Dadaist and surrealists. Most scholarship would call him somewhat of a Francophile, as Adam Gopnik put it, “[Cornell] didn't long to go to France; he longed to build memorials to the feeling of wanting to go France while riding the Third Avenue El.”
    And yet as I walked through the exhibit I couldn't help but pick up some Italo-flavor in his pieces, albeit a subtle one. I was first struck by the way Cornell captures—literally, within walls and glass—an image from Dante's Inferno, choosing Canto V, the lovers Paolo and Francesca, and encapsulating them in a sullenly romantic blue-tinted moonlight. But he doesn’t stop with the ill-fated amanti.
    One of his better-known series involves Renaissance portraits, evoked in particular by those of the Medici. He created a “Medici Slot Machine,” and with it managed to comment exceptionally succinctly on the way fortune, luck, and power played out in Renaissance Italy.
    Finally, the transnational Italian migrant of the nineteenth century makes her way into his work as well, although in a guise quite different from the more standard peasant variety one might expect. Instead, Cornell takes a stab at the glamorous life of the Italo-Swedish ballerina Marie Taglioni, in his “Taglioni’s Jewel Casket.” He uses fabric, glass, and wood to create a Sheherazade-style myth out of Taglioni’s biography.
    While the Cornell exhibit has closed at the SF MOMA, there are at least two other programs that might be of interest to i-italy readers: the documentary films of Emile de Antonio playing through the end of February and the SF MOMA-commissioned photos of Silicon Valley by Gabriele Basilico open in late January. A presto!

  • Art & Culture

    Emile de Antonio's documentaries and radical art


    Prompted by my visit to the SF MOMA last week, I netflixed some of Emile de Antonio’s documentaries (Point of Order and In the Year of the Pig)—which, I admit, I’d read about but never seen. Many more are screening through February at the museum than are available on DVD. What I found most refreshing was how utterly different they are from the hyper-self-conscious post-Roger and Me-style documentaries that have been so popular recently. What gets me is the way his work seems (at least a good 40 odd years later) critical of the establishment without being overly dogmatic or obvious. In short, it’s political art at its best.
    Emile Francesco de Antonio (1919-1989) was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, to an Italian immigrant father (from Alessandria, in the region of Piedmont), who was a prominent medical doctor, and a Lithuanian American mother, who worked as a nurse in the same hospital as the elder de Antonio.
    De Antonio is part of a history of radical Italian Americans, a history we often overlook in light of other more popular, but no less fascinating, immigrant narratives. Perhaps one of the reasons these histories get overlooked is that often, like in de Antonio’s case (or others like Mario Savio, Tina Modotti, etc.), the cause of choice is not explicitly related to Italian Americans….boh...just a thought. (Incidentally, I can’t help but plug George De Stefano’s post from November on radical legislator Frank Barbaro and the fabulous volume, edited by Philip Cannistraro and Gerald Meyer, The Lost World of Italian American Radicalism.)
    By the way, de Antonio went to Harvard, though he left before graduating (officially he was suspended for disciplinary reasons, but word is he’d been a member of various radical organizations, including the Young Communist League) and eventually got a degree from the University of Scranton. According to various interviews as well as the Emile de Antonio: A Reader, his father’s love of literature and mythology taught him early on the importance of narrative and how to have a critical eye; it was his upbringing in rural Pennsylvania that led to his political beliefs: as Douglass Kellner and Dan Streible put it: “he later claimed that at the age of 10 he discerned the vast class in equalities in the lives of the rich and the poor coal miners and the unemployed”  (Emile de Antonio: A Reader, U of Minnesota P, 2000, pg. 3).

  • Facts & Stories

    Peppino Marotto, Poet, Activist, Gramscian

    The revolutionary communist poet Peppino Marotto was killed last Saturday, December 29, in the town of Orgosolo (province of Nuoro, Sardinia). Marotto, 82, was killed by a still-unknown assailant with six shots while he was going to buy a newspaper. Marotto was perhaps best known for his poems, often put to music, in honor of another Sardinian, Antonio Gramsci. It is through Gramsci scholars, particularly groups like the International Gramsci Society, that much of Marotto's work circulates.  

    Already leftist academic circles have begun to eulogize his life and commitment to radical political and social change. For instance, the newly-founded TERRA GRAMSCI, organized in part by historian Eric Hobsbawm and artist Maria Lai, will act in his memory. TERRA GRAMSCI is an international effort to keep Gramsci’s work alive in relation to and beyond his native Sardinia. As the organizers explain, the project “nasce allo scopo di mantenere viva la memoria e la presenza della personalità, dell'opera e dell'immagine di Antonio Gramsci in Sardegna, con un'attenzione particolare nei territori del Centro dell'Isola, in contrappunto con la conoscenza e la diffusione del pensiero di Gramsci nel 'mondo grande terribile complicato'."  Here's hoping for a more peaceful 2008 in Sardinia and beyond.