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Italian/American Critical Discourse: Studies for the New Millennium with a Little Help from Our Friends!

Anthony Julian Tamburri
Florida State University

Some Preliminary Comments
In his preface to Francesco Mulas’s Studies on Italian-American Literature, Fred L. Gardaphé tells us that the «criticism of Italian American literature is not so much a new field, as it is unknown» (vii). Indeed, were one to look at the book production of Italian/American criticism up to the appearance of Francesco Mulas’s book1, one finds a most distressing picture.2 We would have to hark back to Olga Peragallo’s posthumously published Italian-American Authors and Their Contribution to American Literature (New York: S. F. Vanni, 1949), an excellent reference tool in that one has access to names, facts, and titles of various Italian/American writers since the beginning of the century until the time of its publication. But her book is precisely that, an unfinished inventory of names, dates, basic facts, and a few interpretive notes on a select amount of writers, due to her premature death. Twenty-five years passed before the appearance of Rose Basile Green’s The Italian-American Novel: A Documention of the Interaction between Two Cultures (Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 1994). Green’s impressively sized tome is a fairly exhaustive account of novelistic writing with some keen observations on generational differences.3 Lastly, there was this writer’s opusculum, To Hyphenate or Not to Hyphenate,4 which is rooted in a general post-structuralist frame-work and figures mostly as a position paper affirming that we should re-read – in a manner other to what has been done thus far - Italian/American writers and not limit our critical task to attempt a history or interpretation of Italian/American literature. Taking quick stock in this rapid inventory, we thus see that, until 1992, Green’s The Italian-American Novel was, in reality, the only extensive study and sustained, cohesive discourse on Italian/American literature.
            The 1990s, conversely, proved to be much more productive, book-wise, than the previous decades. After the above-mentioned opusculum and Mulas’s book that cover the first half of the 1990s, the second half of the decade saw the publication of three other, single-authored critical books: Fred L. Gardaphé’s Italian Signs, American Streets, myA Semiotic of Ethnicity, andMary Jo Bona’sClaiming a Tradition.5Indeed, I would venture to say, and in the last part of this review I shall discuss this further, a notable part of what now exists as Italian/American studies owes a significant debt to the Fondazione Giovanni Agnelli. It has, as we shall later see, influenced the discourse of Italian Americana both in a direct and indirect manner, allowing overall for the existence of various fora that otherwise would not have existed.

Four Studies for a Broader Viewing
Thematic Readings As a category of United States literary production overall, Italian/American literature is only as valid as the dominant culture will allow it to be. Facile as it may seem, such a statement calls to the fore a plethora of issues pertinent to the discussion of any ethnic category vis-à-vis the larger, mainstream group. The basis for any attempt at validation must begin from within, and it is from this indigenous point that both Francesco Mulas and Fred L. Gardaphé prove to be two of the most industrious readers of Italian/American literature. Proof of their pertinacity is the admirable amount of work each has amassed over the past ten plus years – Mulas has given us numerous essays, interviews, and translations (e.g., Le poesie di Pascal D’Angelo. Translation and introduction by Francesco Mulas [Sassari: Università degli Studi di Sassari, 1989]); in turn, Gardaphé’ has already produced a handful of books, dozens of essays, interviews, short stories, and plays. With the publication of Studies on Italian-American Literature and Italian Signs, American Streets we had two more book-length studies that shed even greater light, each in its own particular way, on the Italian/American literary landscape. The appearance of these two books also widen, once and for all, the path already furrowed by others I shall mention parenthetically, as well as others intimately involved in Italian/American literary studies as far back as the 1970s and early 1980s, especially Helen Barolini and Robert Viscusi.6
            Francesco Mulas’s Studies on Italian-American Literature is a collection of essays delivered at various conferences during the previous decade, some of which were later published in edited volumes, proceedings or journals, now gathered in this slim and important volume. The chapters number nine and cover an array of writers and topics. In all, the book consists of: 1. «The Ethnic Language of Pietro DiDonato’s Christ in Concrete» (1-10); 2. «The Poetic Nature of Pascal D’Angelo» (11-18); 3. «New York in the Italian American Novel» (19-26); 4. «Victorian Virtues and Orality in the Novels of John Fante» (27-35); 5. «On the Poetics of Joseph Tusiani’s Gente Mia» (36-42); 6. «Prolepsis in Mario Puzo’s The Godfather» (43-50); 7. «Ethnicity and Mobility in M. Puzo’s The Fortunate Pilgrim» 51-57); 8. Jews in the Italian-American Novel» (58-63); 9. «The Mechanical World in the Italian-American Novel» (64-69); «Bibliography» (71-79); and «Index» (81-82).
            The dates of presentation and/or previous publication range from 1985 to 1993, and Mulas’s chapters here figure as either significant close readings of specific works (especially D’Angelo, di Donato, Fante, Puzo, and Tusiani) or first-time examinations of topical issues evident from the chapter titles. Mulas’s intimate knowledge of both the Italian and the Anglo/American traditions affords him a perspective available to few. A bi-cultural critic with whom Mulas converses is William Boelhower, who figures as his theoretically based critical voice. For this reviewer, other readers Mulas could have engaged in his readings are, for instance, Robert Viscusi and Fred L. Gardaphé, from a culturally specific perspective of Italian Americana, and Daniel Aaron, among others, from a more general perspective of ethnic literature.7 If there is one thing we have learned, it is that literary and/or critical theory, in the hands of today’s well-informed reader (i.e., one who is conversant with a general notion of post-structuralism), has the potential to cast aside the old lens of the monolith and reconsider Italian/American literature though a more prismatic lens that allows us to see the different nooks and crannies of our ethnicity as it has changed over the decades and across generations from a dualistic discourse to a multifaceted conglomeration of cultural processes transgressing Italian, American (read, here, also Canada and United States, as one indeed should), and Italian/American cultural borders. Indeed, the works of Viscusi, Gardaphé, Aaron et al. afford their readers the hermeneutic freedom to read as s/he semiotically wishes while still remaining context sensitive, as Umberto Eco warns we should.8
            Both a greater interest in and subsequent recognition of Italian/American literature in general have been on the rise since the early 1980s. The list of anthologies, journals, and critical studies has grown significantly.9 Francesco Mulas’s Studies on Italian-American Literature is an important contribution to this general discourse. With his nine concise, thought-provoking chapters, Mulas should be congratulated for challenging his reader not only with the specific readings he provides, but also for forcing her/him to return to some of the more forgotten, perhaps even neglected, names of the Italian/American literary tradition in order to understand better the works of subsequent generations. Thus, Mulas’s collection proves to be a useful, critical tool for both the naive student coming to literary Italian America for the first time as well as the more seasoned intellectual in search of other ideas from which to trampoline.

Reading Vico Reading UsWhereas Francesco Mulas operates within the realm of thematic analysis, Fred Gardaphé maneuvers throughout the greater realm of critical discourse, engaging past methodological readings of ethnicity as well as more recent theoretical interlocutors and their predecessors of structuralism and post-structuralism. Italian Signs, American Streets consists of a lengthy methodological-theoretical introduction, an epilogue, and five chapters, each of which demonstrates different stages of Gardaphé’s tripartite division of reading and/or classifying Italian/American narrative: 1. «Narrative in the Poetic Mode»; 2. «The Early Mythic Mode: From Autobiography to Autobiographical Fiction»; 3. «The Middle Mythic Mode: Godfathers as Heros, Variations on a Figure»; 4. «The Later Mythic Mode: Reinventing Ethnicity through the Godmother Figure»; 5. «Narrative in the Philosophic Mode.» Each chapter is then divided into smaller sections which accompanies the reader through a prismatic perspective that is at once historical, philosophical, and cultural.
            Daniel Aaron, William Boelhower, Jerre Mangione, Werner Sollors, and Robert Viscusi are just some of the names that subtend Gardaphé’s critical imperatives throughout his book. But Giambattista Vico’s concepts of the three stages of man are the corner-stones for Gardaphé’s overall interpretive strategies. Analogous to Aaron’s general notion of the three stages of the «hyphenate writer,»10 Gardaphé sees the different stages an ethnic writer traverses as reminiscent of Vico’s three cultural ages.
            After a delightfully personal account of his first experiences with Italian/American literature, and another section dedicated to a general discussion of its current interpretive situation, Gardaphé segues to propose a culturally «specific methodology» for the greater disambiguation of Italian/American contributions to the United States literary scene. In this part of his introduction, he reminds us that through Vico’s «notions of a culture of three ages - the Age of Gods, the poetic stage; the Age of Heroes, the mythic stage; and the Age of Man, the philosophic stage - we can create an interesting retrospective approach to reading the history of Italian American narratives» (15). These three ages, Gardaphé goes on to tell us, have their parallels in modern and contemporary socio-cultural constructions of realism, modernism, and postmodernism: «The movement from mode to mode can be read as movement from an imaginative idealism through social realism to an intellectual idealism that accompanies a decadent postmodernism,» none of which, Gardaphé rightly underscores, should be «categorically applied to «generations,» or to a single author’s oeurve,» since «a writer’s narrative strategy can develop and shift among these modes throughout [one’s] career» (17).
            For the «poetic» writer, then, the vera narratio (Gardaphé’s appropriation of Vico’s term) constitutes the base of what s/he writes. In the reconciliation of two cultures, this writer usually departs from an autobiography of immigration and his/her negotiation with the host culture. Costantine Pannunzio, Pascal D’Angelo, and Marie Hall Ets are the main focus of this pre-mythic lens.
            Gardaphé’s discussion of the «mythic» writer is the most extensive, occupying three of his five meaty chapters. It is here that Gardaphé can also best demonstrate both the subtleties of difference between these writers as well as his own acuity of thought that he brings to the interpretive table. Pietro di Donato, John Fante, and Jerre Mangione (chapter 2), Mario Puzo, Gay Talese, and Giose Rimanelli (chapter 3), and Helen Barolini, Tina DeRosa, and Carole Maso (chapter 4) represent the three stages of Gardphé’s «mythic» Italian/American writer. Thus we witness the necessary complexities of theorizing such a taxonomy where writers of the early mythic mode dealt with the bridging of «Italian and American cultures, creating a synthesis that can be called Italian America [. . ., as well as using] their writing both to document and escape the conditions under which they were born and raised» (57).11
            Gardaphé’s postmodernist, philosophic writer, in turn, may seem at first glance to rid him/herself of his/her ethnicity. But this is precisely the most courageous and original points of Gardaphé’s study. He offers here a most cogent example of ethnic signs relegated to the margin (154) - what at first glance may seem to be an absence - and continues to rehearse his notions of the «visible» (chapter 4) and «invisible» (chapter 5) Italian/American writers in his reading of Gilbert Sorrentino and Don DeLillo. Finally, Gardaphé later tells us, this writer finds him/herself in a decisively self-reflexive stage for which s/he can decide to transcend the experiential creativity of the first two modes by either engaging in a parodic tour de force (Sorrentino «in comedic ways [192]) through his/her art or by relegating any vestige of his/her ethnicity to the background of his/her artistic inventions (DeLillo and his «marginal characters» [192]).

(Re)cognizing the Italian/American Sign Whereas Italian Signs, American Streets operates mainly from the perspective of time, Gardaphe’s analyses are generationally based – and rightfully so. However, a few years later, and looking at the three stages from another perspective, a cognitive Peircean perspective of firstness, secondness, and thirdness as rehearsed in his Principles of Philosophy, I divided myA Semiotic of Ethnicity into four parts.12 The first offers a specific taxonomy of how we may otherwise consider the Italian/American writer and his/her activity of sign production in this age of semiotics, post-structuralism, and the like. The main thrust of my book is therefore to offer another interpretive strategy (one that may readily accompany and complement previous ones, not necessarily cancel them out categorically) to the reading of Italian/American texts. The rationale for such a move is basic: at the end of the twentieth century, we found ourselves with a group of Italian/American writers, some of whom belonged to the so-called «immigrant» generation while others were great-grandchildren of earlier immigrants, forming therefore a fifth generation of «hyphenated» writers. Thus, it was cognition and not chronology that came to underscore my reading paradigm.
            Since I had chosen to lay out a tripartite cognitive paradigm in part one, part two offers examples of each category in chapters two (Tony Ardizzone, expressive writer), three (Helen Barolini, comparative writer), and four (Giose Rimanelli, synthetic writer). The third part of this study («Further Readings») underscores other considerations thematic and formalistic of the Italian/American writer that had either not yet been examined or, if so, dealt with to date only in a preliminary manner. In chapter five, my emphasis was no longer on Barolini the «comparative writer»; rather, I was interested in reading the Italian/American writer’s view of Italy. Barolini is one of the few writers of Italian descent who knows both worlds well enough to be able to offer such a vision. This notion of the view of Italy in writings by Italian Americans has yet to be done in any great length; this chapter suggests such a study. Chapter six, dedicated to Gianna Patriarca’s poetry collection, Italian Women and Other Tragedies, speaks to another aspect of Italian Americana I mentioned briefly in chapter one: the notion of considering, if only occasionally, Italian Americans and Italian Canadians as members of one larger group, Italian North Americans. This, too, is a new idea that has yet to be profoundly and directly explored.13 Chapter seven, which examines Luigi Fontanella’s poetry, speaks to the notion of writing in the Italian language within a United States milieu. This chapter also speaks to a more recent notion of a possible reclassification and/or redefinition of the Italian/American writer. Some work had already been done on this topic in the form of three articles (Paolo Valesio, Peter Carravetta, and Paolo Giordano),14 an anthology (Poesaggio), a special issue (Gradiva [SUNY Stony Brook]), and the section dedicated to Italian writing in the United States in the journal Voices in Italian Americana (10-40 pages per issue). Finally, Part four offers a modest proposal of what else we may do in order to help usher into the twenty-first century the study of the North American writer of Italian descent. Through the lens of general notions of cultural studies, we might want to reconsider the Italian/American writer in terms of the multicultural debate. This, too, is an area of Italian Americana that has yet to be explored.15
            As I pointed out at various points throughout A Semiotic of Ethnicity, much groundwork for a contemporary reading of the Italian/American writer had already been done by the likes of Robert Viscusi, Fred Gardaphé, Helen Barolini, and Mary Jo Bona, to name a few. Their work rescued the figure of the writer from the literary ghetto of superficial socio-historical, thematic criticism and securely placed it within a rhetoric of semiology and, in part, discourse analysis (Viscusi). In addition, it was then easier to explore the dynamics of the various works of these many disparate writers of different generations through other contemporary critical lenses (Gardaphé) thereby discovering that which previous critics did not, could not, or would not bring forth. Further still, as a critical community, we had also recently become aware of the gender issue that, in the somewhat masculinist culture Italian America seemed to perpetuate, remained hidden, both literally and figuratively, in the kitchen (Barolini and Bona).

(Re)claiming the Woman’s VoiceIndeed, Mary Jo Bona’s recent book, Claiming a Tradition, is exactly what was lacking for some time. Second only to Helen Barolini’s trailblazing anthology, The Dream Book, as Bona herself classifies it, her study is a thorough exegesis on women’s literature within Italian Americana. Bona sets up an interpretative journey based on themes, not chronology. Concentrating on eight significant voices since the 1940s, she divides her work into five chapters. In discussing notions of italianità, Bona analyzes Mari Tomasi’s Like Lesser Gods (1949) and Marion Benasutti’s No Steady Job for Papa (1966) in her first chapter. Both novels, we see, underscore the tradition of «developmental novels» where the characters adjust to the idea of difference within American culture (18). The novelty here is that the traditional bildungsroman is set topsy-turvy within the Italian/American milieu. Chapter 2, in turn, focuses on the Italian family in America and the struggles that ensue as the children become American (Octavia Waldo, A Cup of the Sun [1961] and Josephine Gattuso Hendin, The Right Thing to Do [1988]). «Submission to old ways» and «suppression of desire» (58) are the underlying themes Bona examines, thus bringing to the fore the most difficult situation in which children of immigrants - especially women - found themselves. The re-shaping of the bildungsroman continues in chapter 3. Diana Cavallo’s A Bridge of Leaves (1961) and Dorothy Bryant’s Miss Giardino (1978) occupy center stage, and Bona underscores how the ethnic element is transformed into suffering. We see how cultural duality - Italian and American – becomes synonymous with emotional and/or mental illness, albeit temporary, which ultimately figures as a necessary stepping stone for the characters to reconcile their ethnic legacies with their present-day situation. «David and Anna,» Bona tells us, eventually «discover creative ways to reinvent their cultural past, knowing their ancestors, long dead, cannot provide them immediate access to help them formulate or sustain their identities» (125). Bona’s chapter 4, «A Process of Reconstruction,» deals with two of what we might consider masterpieces of Italian/American fiction: Helen Barolini’s Umbertina (1979) and Tina De Rosa’s Paper Fish (1980). While still classifiable as bildungsromans, both books are also most innovative in structure and theme. Barolini informs her novel with a healthy dose of clear-cut feminism not present in previous Italian/American works. She deals with those seemingly taboo issues of oppressive patriarchy, sexual freedom, and a woman’s right to choose - themes nowhere else to be found with such creative candor. De Rosa, in turn, engages in a narrative technique of «multiple perspectives, overlapping narratives, and interior monologues» (129) in her character’s journey to rediscover and reinvent her italianità.
            Bona ends her study with a thirty-five-page excursus on where we were at the end of the decade, taking into account the more recent women writers who, consciously or not, have surely benefited from their predecessors discussed in the book’s previous chapters. Thus we come to read about the newer generation represented by the likes of Dodici Azpadu and Rachel Guido de Vries; Carole Maso and Agnes Rossi; Rita Ciresi, Anne Calcagno, and Renee Manfredi - all of whom are some of the more contemporary writers of a later generation.

A Little Help from Our Friends!
Four books, all of which has some connection to the Fondazione Giovanni Agnelli (FGA) and have, to various degrees, benefited from the Fondazione’s largesse. This, obviously, now leads us to the question of exactly how has the FGA effected the study - if not discourse - of Italian Americans in the United States. There are two specific incidents that I believe prove fundamental.16
            First, in 1989 the FGA passed favorably on a proposal of support for the publication of Voices in Italian Americana (a.k.a. VIA). The journal received the necessary seed money in order to begin publication; eleven years later, along with two book series, it is still in production. The other significant incident is the FGA’s support of the 1992 conference, «The Columbus People: An International Conference on Italian Immigration to the Americas and Australia.» The conference brought together a series of people from the various countries that comprise the Italian diaspora. The post-conference result is an impressively sized tome of forty-plus essays and more than five hundred pages: The Columbus People: Perspectives in Italian Immigration to the Americas and Australia.17

Gathering VoicesNine of the essays in The Columbus People were written afterwards and specifically for the book’s publication, whereas the other essays grew out of the presentations at the conference held two years before in 1992. The book proves to be a rich compilation of important and insightful essays on Italian migration to the Americas and Australia and its effects on these local cultures, as the Italians and their progeny integrated themselves into the various societies to which they migrated. Divided into five sections, part one dedicates nearly one hundred pages to Italian ethnicity in North America. Part two, in turn, deals with Italians in Latin America; and here we find the largest of the four sections, with essays predominantly on Argentina, Brazil, and Venezuela. Part three turns to the general notion of the diaspora; and the various essays deal with the various countries discussed in the first two sections, this time engaging in cross-cultural comparisons. Rosoli and Gabaccia are two of the major voices included herein. Part four, deals more specifically with Italians and Italian Americans from a more cultural and literary lens. We find here names such as Talese, Barolini, and Viscusi, the last two offering up their usual, keen observations on the question at hand. Finally, in part five, more of an appendix of sorts, we have two essays on the documentation of Italian migration.
            With globalization as one of the buzzwords of the past decade or so, and rightfully so, The Columbus People is an important contribution to the general discourse. Be it the essays themselves or the various sources they offer up to the perspective reader/researcher, this book proves to be a treasure-trove for those who plan to engage in ethnic studies with emphasis on Italians. It is a tool necessary also for the literary critic; for it is no casual coincidence that the cultural productions of literature and film have a prominent spot in this book.

Gathering TextsAs mentioned a few paragraphs earlier, Voices in Italian Americana owes its existence to the largesse of the Fondazione Giovanni Agnelli. Due to the more than two hundred pages of excellent fiction and poetry we could not include in the first edition of our anthology, From the Margin (1991), and given the fact that at the time there was no journal on Italian/American studies in print,18 we thought we would found one. The problem was, as is usually the case, money. We were fortunate, however, to have made contact with the FGA and its two representatives at that time in the United States, Drs. Maddalena Tirabassi and Thomas Row. The rest, as they say, was history!19
            At the time, we had founded Bordighera Incorporated, an independently owned, not-for-profit (501[c]3) scholarly organization, which has become the parent company of Bordighera Press, publisher of, in addition to VIA, the serial ITALIANA (dedicated to Italian studies), the book series VIA Folios, dedicated to the culture of both Italian America and Italy, Crossings, a book series dedicated to translations from the Italian, and the Bordighera Poetry Prize, which is sponsored by the Sonia Raiziss-Giop Charitable Foundation. The co-directors are Fred L. Gardaphé (SUNY Stony Brook), Paolo A. Giordano (Loyola University Chicago), and myself.
            VIA has consistently published two volumes per year since its inception. The journal is divided into numerous sections - Guest Spot, Essays, Fiction, Poetry, Italian Writing in the United States, Readings, Reviews Essays, Reviews, Graffiti - dedicated to the representation of all voices of the Italian/American community in the United States. The Guest Spot highlights those writers not of Italian/American descent that nevertheless share a similar outlook.
            As of 2000, in its twenty-two issues, VIA has published circa 4,800 pages, averaging over 200 pages per issue. In its first ten years, the journal has published approximately 60 essays, 60 pieces of fiction, 135 different poets, 14 interviews, 28 review essays, 160 reviews, 25 pieces of non-fiction, and 40 different writers (prose and poetry) of Italian language. The Guest Spot, hosted by Daniela Gioseffi, has included, among others, Ishmael Reed, Ameri Baraka, Grace Paley, and Robert Bly. In addition, Voices in Italian Americana has also dedicated sections of two issues to, respectively, Pietro Di Donato and Jerre Mangione. One entire issue was dedicated to Italian/American women (7.2 [1996]), edited by Edvige Giunta, another to theater (9.2 [1998]), edited by Theresa Carilli, and a section of Fall 1999 (10.2) was dedicated to Frank Sinatra.
            Since its inception, VIA has also awarded a monetary prize for creative writing – the Aniello Lauri Award. Funded by anonymous sources, the prize awards $150.00 per year to the best creative work published in the journal. In addition to this award, VIA also supports the Cleveland Italian Cultural Center’s annual high school essay contest by publishing the winning essays. Further still, 1999 signaled the first year of the Massaro Award for best essay on law or history ($500).
            Equally significant, yet in some ways more dramatic, has been the inception of the book series and poetry prize. Due to the non-existence of an Italian/American series for books on and/or of Italian Americana, VIA Folios was founded in 1993 and Crossings in 1997. At the middle of 2000, VIA Folios has accumulated a list of twenty-six volumes during its first seven and one-half years – collections of poetry, by Daniela Gioseffi, Ned Condini, Joseph Ricapito, Felix Stefanile, Jennifer Lagier, Robert Lima, Arthus Clements, and Joseph Tusiani, among others;20 fiction by Fred Misurella and Helen Barolini, a chapbook by Robert Viscusi that inaugurated the series, books of critical studies, a volume on Italian theater, another on Italian fiction, and a collection of essays by Helen Barolini.21Crossings, in turn, has nine volumes in print, some of which include work by the Renaissance poet, Isabella de Morra, and the contemporary theatrical team of playwrights Franca Rame and Dario Fo.
            In addition to the above-mentioned activities, 1997 marked the first year for the Bordighera Poetry Prize for the best collection of Italian/American poetry in English with Italian translation ($2,000). Lewis Turco, Joseph Salerno, and Luisa Rossini Villani are the 1997, 1998, and 2000 winners.

In Recognition
Mulas’s Studies on Italian-American Literature found its home with the CMS, a long-standing publisher of Italian/American studies well before its publication of the above-mentioned The Columbus People. But most of the work done to this point had been of a socio-historical nature. Studies on Italian-American Literature, instead, is their first book-length study of literature and, willy-nilly, trampolines off the literary component of The Columbus People.
            One’s intellectual work cannot be immune from one’s editorial work: the reading and evaluating of other people’s work inevitably effects one’s own work, be that in the further gathering of information through much reading, or the sharpening of one’s own self-editing. This, to some extent, is the experience of Gardaphè, Paolo Giordano, and myself. For the past eleven years, Gardaphè, Giordano, and I have been involved in the editorial work of both Bordighera Press and a number of anthologies of both creative and critical works published by other presses. We would be naïve, indeed, not to recognize the influence and/or intertextual weaving that has and continues to take place between our own intellectual work and our parallel editorial enterprises.
            Within the context of the four books discussed in this review, we might add to this the fact that Mary Jo Bona has also been involved in some of our editorial ventures. First, one of her first two essays published appeared in VIA, and a later version is now part of her above-mentioned book. Second, she subsequently began a long relationship with our journal that included evaluating essays and creative essays to becoming its current poetry editor. In addition, she wrote an analytical introduction to a VIA Folios; and she was one of four co-editors to a Bordighera Press bibliography.22
            Indeed, while the four books I have discussed above would have surely been written without any influence of the FGA, we might readily surmise that they would have had a slant different from that which currently informs each of them. For in this world of post-structuralism - deconstruction, semiotics, and reader-response theory - we can not deny intertextual phenomena regardless of how indirect it may have been. And the possibilities created by the FGA’s generosity and collaboration has surely set part of the groundwork for such intertextuality to take place.
            More significant, indeed, is what we do have. The direct effects of the FGA in what I have outlined above manifest themselves in the five hundred forty-three pages of The Columbus People and the twenty-two volumes and 4,800 approximate pages of Voices in Italian Americana. Collaterally, of course, there are the twenty-five volumes in print of VIA Folios and the eight volumes of Crossings, not to mention the ten published volumes of Italiana and the two volumes in print of the Bordighera Poetry Prize. All of this is the editorial production of Bordighera Press for the past eleven years! All of this is the result of the largesse of the Fondazione Giovanni Agnelli and the broad vision of Italian migration studies its director and assistants have succeeded in casting well beyond the specialized worlds within the academy! For without the initial seed money, VIA would not have begun publication when it did; without VIA, the book series and other venues eventually born would not have been possible.
            Indeed, then, we have all benefited in various and sundry ways. The authors who could not find the requisite fora where their work could find an outlet - both the scholars and creative writers - have found a home, a few homes to be sure. And in so doing, they have also found that there were others out there with similar experiences and intellectual and creative impulses. It constitutes, to be sure, the widening of a community of scholars and creative writers whose world had been limited to the margins as a position of disenfranchisement, whereas that struggle has, to a great degree, transformed itself over the past decade and one-half into a position of empowerment. The list of publications beyond what I have discussed in the body of this review is ever growing. And the community of creative writers and scholars has surely broken the acceptance barrier of major colleges and universities. For there are now academic programs at both the undergraduate and graduate levels in Italian/American studies at a series of institutions of higher education in the United States and Canada.
            Alas, to the Fondazione Giovanni Agnelli, we all owe an enormous debt!
            Infinite grazie!
 

Endnotes

 

 

1

Francesco Mulas, Studies on Italian-American Literature (Staten Island, NY: Center for Migration Studies, 1995). pp. 82.

2

I should underscore at the outset that my comments here are limited to a United States critical context. Otherwise, we could brighten our picture with the inclusion of William Boelhower’s Immigrant Autobiography in the United States: Four Versions of the Italian American Self (Verona: Essedue, 1982), Joseph Pivato’s Echos (Toronto: Guernica, 1994), Antonio D’Alfonso’s In Italics (Toronto: Guernica, 1996), or Pasquale Verdicchio’s Devils in Paradise (Toronto: Guernica, 1997). The picture is much brighter, I would contend, in the case of essays. Even though an up-dated bibliography of journal articles and book chapters on Italian/American literature is not yet available, one might consult Italian/American Literature and Film. A Select Bibliography (West Lafayette, IN: Bordighera, 1997), eds. A. J. Tamburri, F. Gardaphé, E. Giunta, and M. J. Bona.

3

I would point out here, parenthetically, that the basic tenet of some later notions of ethnicity - I have in mind Werner Sollors’s notion of consent and descent (Beyond Ethnicity: Consent and Descent in American Culture [New York: Oxford UP, 1988]) - are, to be sure, implied, if not already articulated albeit differently, both in Aaron’s notion of his three stages of the hyphenate writer ("The Hyphenate Writer and American Letters,» Smith Alumane Quarterly (July 1964): 213-7) and in Green’s analogous phenomenon of what she sees within the history of Italian/American narrative, when she discussed her four stages of «the need for assimilation,» «revulsion,» «counterrevulsion,» and «rooting» (See The Italian-American Novel:, especially chapters 4-7).

4

Anthony Julian Tamburri, To Hyphenate or Not To Hyphenate? The Italian/American Writer: An OtherAmerican (Montréal: Guernica, 1991). The editor of Guernica Editions, Inc., at the time, exhibited a good deal of editorial courage in publishing in book-form what was in actuality a long journal essay; the book size is 11 cm. x 19 cm. and sixty pages in length.

5

Fred Gardaphè, Italian Signs, American Streets. The Evolution of Italian American Narrative (Durham: Duke UP, 1996); Anthony Julian Tamburri, A Semiotic of Ethnicity: In (Re)cognition of the Italian/American Writer (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1998); andMary Jo Bona,Claiming a Tradition: Italian American Women Writers (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois UP, 1999).
Two other books recently published this year but not available at the time of this writing are: Mary Ann Mannino, Revisoinary Identities: Strategies of Empowerment in the Writing of Italian/American Women (New York: Peter Lang, 2000) and Mary Francis Pipino, «I have found my voice»: The Italian-American Woman Writer (New York: Peter Lang, 2000).
Ironically, two books of a more specific nature were published at mid-decade; and since they are monographs dedicated to single authors, I have decided to deal with them in another setting. They are: Matthew Diomede, Pietro di Donato, the Master Builder (Cranbury, NJ: Bucknell UP, 1995) and Louise Napolitano, An American Story: Pietro di Donato’s Christ in Concrete (New York: Peter Lang, 1995).

6

Along with Barolini’s later essays, I would bring to my reader’s attention two early pieces, «The Finer Things in Life» (Arizona Quarterly 29.1 [1973]: 26-36) and «A Circular Journey» (Texas Quarterly 21.2 [1978]: 109-26). In turn, Robert Viscusi’s De vulgari eloquentia: An Approach to the Language of Italian American Fiction» (Yale Italian Studies, 1.3 [1981]: 21-38) is a timely seminal piece for its semiological shift in reading Italian/American literature; it remains today as equally fresh and significant as it was twenty years ago.

7

Some of the available essays I have in mind are: Daniel Aaron, «The Hyphenate Writer and American Letters»; Fred L. Gardaphé, «Visibility or Invisibility: The Postmodern Prerogative in the Italian/American Narrative,» Almanacco, 2.1 (1992): 24-33, and «Italian/American Fiction: A Third-Generation Renaissance,» MELUS 14.3-4 (1987): 69-85; Robert Viscusi, «A Literature Considering Itself: The Allegory of Italian America,» in From The Margin. Writings in Italian Americana. Anthony Julian Tamburri, Paolo A. Giordano, & Fred L. Gardaphé, editors (West Lafayette, IN: Purdue UP, 1991/2000) 265-81, and «Breaking the Silence: Strategic Imperatives for Italian American Culture,» Voices in Italian Americana 1.1 (1990): 1-13.
Other essays one might include here are: Marianne Torgovnick, «The Godfather as the World’s Most Typical Novel,» South Atlantic Quarterly 87.2 (1988): 329-53; Thomas Ferraro, «Blood in the Marketplace: The Business of Family in the Godfather Narratives, in Ethnic Passages. Literary Immigrants in Twerntieth-Century America (Chicago: U. Chicago P, 1993); Paolo Giordano, «From Southern Italian Immigrant to Reluctant American: Joseph Tusiani’s Gente Mia and Other Poems» in From the Margin: 316-28, and Paolo A. Giordano’s edited volume, Joseph Tusiani: Poet Translator Humanist. VIA Folios 2 (West Lafayette, IN: Bordighera, 1994).

8

Umberto Eco, The Role of the Reader. Explorations in the Semiotics of Texts (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1979).

9

Among other books and journals not mentioned in this essay, I would add: Studies: Luisa Del Giudice, ed., Studies in Italian-American Folklore (Logan, UT: Utah State UP, 1993); Jerre Mangione and Ben Morreale, La Storia (New York: Harper-Collins, 1992); and Justin Vitiello, Poetics and Literature of the Diaspora (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen P, 1993). Anthologies: Three edited by Ferdinando P. Alfonsi, Poeti Italo-Americani e Italo-Canadesi/Italo-American and Italo-Canadian Poets (Catanzaro: Carello Editore, 1994), Poesia Italo-Americana: Saggi e Testi/Italian American Poetry: Essays and Texts (Catanzaro: Carello Editore, 1991), and Poeti Italo-Americani/Italian American Poets (Catanzaro: Carello Editore, 1985); Helen Barolini, ed., The Dream Book. An Anthology of Writings by Italian American Women (New York: Schoken, 1985); Massimo Oldoni, ed., Rassegna della poesia italo-americana (Roma: Edizioni Rari Nantes, 1992); and Rose Romano, ed., la bella figura: a choice (San Francisco: malafemmina press, 1993). Journals currently in print: the resurrected Italian Americana and Arba Sicula. Collections of essays: Differentia 6/7 (1994). Special Issue dedicated to Italian/American Culture. Eds. Ron Scapp and Anthony Julian Tamburri; Fred L. Gardaphé, The Italian/American Writer. An Annotated Checklist (Spencertown, NY: Forkroads, 1995); Canadian Journal of Italian Studies XIX (1996). Special Issue dedicated to Italian/American Literature. Eds. Paolo Giordano and Anthony Julian Tamburri; Paolo A. Giordano and Anthony Julian Tamburri, eds. Beyond the Margin. Readings in Italian Americana. (Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 1998); and Pellegrino D’Acierno, ed. The Italian American Heritage. A Companion to Literature and Arts (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1999), which I discuss in a review in The Italian American Review (forthcoming). Encyclopedia: Salvatore LaGumina, Frank J. Cavaioli, Salvatore Primeggia, and Joseph A. Varacalli, eds. The Italian American Experience: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 2000).

10

His «first-stage» writer is the «pioneer spokesman for the… unspoken-for» ethnic group, who writes about his/her co-others with the goal of debunking negative stereotypes. Less willing to please, the «second-stage» writer abandons any preconceived ideas in an attempt to demystify negative stereotypes, indicating the disparity and, in some cases, engaging in militant criticism of the perceived restrictions set forth by the dominant group. The «third-stage» writer, in turn, travels from the margin to the mainstream «viewing it no less critically, perhaps, but more knowingly.» Having appropriated the dominant group’s culture and the tools necessary to succeed in that culture, this writer feels entitled to the intellectual and cultural heritage of the dominant group. As such, s/he can also, from a personal viewpoint, «speak out uninhibitedly as an American.» Aaron is not alone in discerning this multi-stage phenomenon in the ethnic writer. Ten years after Aaron’s original version, Rose Basile Green spoke to an analogous phenomenon within the history of Italian/American narrative; then, she discussed her four stages of «the need for assimilation,» «revulsion,» «counterrevulsion,» and «rooting» (See her The Italian-American Novel: A Document of the Interaction of Two Cultures, especially chapters 4-7).

11

While Gardaphé limits his analyses to certain works, throughout he offers other titles for further reading: e.g., Louis Forgione’s Men of Silence (1928), Mari Tommasi’s Like Lesser Gods (1949), Ben Morreale’s A Few Virtuous Men (1973), Tony Ardizzone’s Heart of the Order (1986), Josephine Gattuso Hendin’s The Right Thing to Do (1988), Anthony Giardina’s A Boy’s Pretentions (1991).

12

Charles Sanders Peirce, Principles of Philosophy in Collected Papers, eds., Charles Hartshorne and Paul Weiss (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1960). For those not familiar with C. S. Peirce and his general notions of semiotics, I would point out two helpful books: John K. Sheriff, The Fate of Meaning: Charles Peirce, Structuralism, and Literature (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1989 and Floyd Merrell, A Peirce Primer (Toronto: Canadian Scholars Press, 1997).

13

Francesco Loriggio’s recent collection of essays dealing with both the Italian American and Italian Canadian implies such a conflation of groups. See, Literary History and Social Pluralism: The Literature of the Italian Emigration. Ed. Francesco Loriggio (Toronto: Guernica Editions, 1996). In his Italics, however, D’Alfonso is clearly speaking of both the United States and Canadian Italian.

14

Paolo Valesio, «The Writer Between Two Worlds: The Italian Writer in the United States.» Differentia review of italian thought 3/4 (Spring/Autumn 1989): 259–76, and «Conclusione: I fuochi della tribú,» Poesaggio. Eds. Peter Carravetta and Paolo Valesio (Treviso: Pagus 1993): 255-90; Peter Carravetta, «Introduzione: Poesaggio,» Poesaggio, 9-26; Paolo Giordano, «Emigrants, Expatriates and/or Exiles: Italian Literature in the United States.» Beyond the Margin: Readings in Italian Americana. Eds. Paolo A. Giordano and Anthony Julian Tamburri (Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 1997): 221-38.

15

Here, I would underscore William Boelhower’s warning not to fall into the same trap of the essentialist monoculturalists (See his Through a Glass Darkly. Ethnic Semiosis in American Literature [New York: Oxford UP, 1987 (Helvetia 1984)] 20).

16

Indeed, the FGA has contributed to many other projects. I shall leave that praise, however, to others who are more familiar with those activities, and I shall limit myself to the literary, and more specifically, that with which I have been especially involved.

17

Lydio F. Tomasi, Piero Gastaldo, and Thomas Row, eds. The Columbus People: Perspectives in Italian Immigration to the Americas and Australia (Staten Island, NY: Center for Migration Studies, 1994).

18

In 1989, when we decided to found VIA, it was still unknown what the fate of Italian Americana was to be. As it turned out, Italian Americana resumed publication in 1990, the year we began publication of VIA.

19

I would be remiss at this point not to mention some subsequent indispensable help in the form of mini-grants from the National Italian American Foundation, and clerical assistance from our past (Columbia College Chicago, Purdue University, Rosary College) and current institutions (Florida Atlantic University, Loyola University Chicago, SUNY Stony Brook), with Bordighera Press now housed in Boca Raton, Florida, on the campus of Florida Atlantic University.

20

Indeed, Tusiani occupies a conspicuous place in VIA Folios. In 1994, Paolo Giordano edited a collection of essays on Tusiani’s work: his poetry, fiction, and translations especially: Joseph Tusiani: Poet Translator Humanist. This year, he re-edited a collection of Tusiani’s ethnic poetry and added two of his own essays on the volume’s content: Joseph Tusiani, Ethnicity: Selected Poems, edited with two essays by Paolo Giordano (Bordighera, 2000).

21

Helen Barolini’s Chiaroscuro. Essays of Identity, first appeared in 1997. Less than two years later, we were happy to see an expanded edition published by the University of Wisconsin Press. How propitious, that it is at the end of the last decade of the millennium when the first two books on women’s literature and their literary experience appeared: Helen Barolini’s Chiaroscuro and Mary Jo Bona’s Claiming a Tradition, not to mention also Pipino’s and Mannino’s studies published in the second half of this year.

22

A. J. Tamburri, ed. FUORI. Essays By Italian/American Lesbians And Gays. Introduction by Mary Jo Bona. VIA Folios 6 (West Lafayette: Bordighera, 1996), and Italian/American Literature and Film. A Select Bibliography, see note 2.

 

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