Luca Somigli (University of Toronto)


Luca Somigli is Professor of Italian Studies at the University of Toronto. He has published on various aspects of Italian and European modernism and avant-garde, including the volumes Legitimizing the Artist. Manifesto Writing and European Modernism, 1885-1915 (2003) Italian Modernism: Italian Culture between Decadentism and Avant-Garde, edited with Mario Moroni (2004), and Futurism: A Microhistory (2017), edited with Sascha Bru and Bart Van Den Bossche, as well as essays on authors of the period such as Marinetti, Pirandello, Savinio, Bontempelli, and Primo Conti. His latest publication is the monographic issue of the International Yearbook of Futurism Studies on “Futurism and the Sacred” co-edited with Monica Jansen and Günter Berghaus (2021).

“On the Borders of Modernism (Again): D’Annunzio and the Problem of Decadentism”

According to an influential critical tradition that has one of its key texts in Fredric Jameson’s A Singular Modernity (2002), modernism can be understood as a response to the process of modernization in a context in which two competing sets of social, cultural, political and economic values, one on the rise and the other on the wane, overlap and are simultaneously accessible. The aim of this paper is to situate D’Annunzio within this framework. Specifically, I will suggest that Le vergini delle rocce (The Virgins of the Rocks, 1895), arguably D’Annunzio’s most ideologically explicit prose work, articulates these overlapping temporalities in the opposition between the modern, materialist Rome of the new Kingdom of Italy and the protagonist’s ancestral fiefdom of Rebursa, which appears frozen in a kind of timeless idealization of the feudal past represented by the noble Capece Montaga family. Furthermore, I will argue that in this context it becomes possible to recuperate the fraught category of “decadentism” as an internal junction of modernism broadly understood. My argument is that decadentism names the attempt and failure to reactivate the thematic, structural and rhetorical strategies of auratic art – the well-wrought plot, the heroic protagonist, the sublime style – so that it functions as a kind of mirror image of high modernism, an aesthetic cul-de-sac that nonetheless must be traversed in order for its impossibility in modernity to be fully thematized.