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Life as Art, Art as Life, and Life’s Art: the ‘Living Poetics’ of Italian Modernism

By M.M. Jansen, Carmen Van den Bergh and Srecko Jurisic


This article studies the key concept of ‘life’ within the context of Italian modernism, understood in the broad sense of a network of cultural responses in the period from 1861 until the mid-1930s. Following Roberto Esposito’s suggestion that the transversal category of life is distinctive for Italian “living thought” (Esposito), the ‘living poetics’ here exposed focuses on three key literary moments in which the crucial relationship between life and art is radically redefined. D’Annunzio’s ‘life as art’ aesthetics develops a ‘lifestyle’ with an individualist as well as nationalist dimension with its climax in the First World War. Futurism, starting from the axiom that war is the sole hygiene of the world, develops instead an ‘art as life program’ with which to revolutionize not only present life but also the afterlife. Finally, the young realists of the 1930s bring back absolutist notions of life to their realist and private proportions in order to create a poetics of reconstruction after the trauma of the Great War. A comparison between these literary moments shows how the concept of life not only is a constitutive element of an Italian ‘living poetics,’ but also that literary change entails a constant redefinition of autonomist and heteronomous aspects of the paradoxical tension between art and life

Topics: Modernism, D'Annunzio, Futurism (Literary movement), Life, Realism, Decadentism, Arts and Humanities(all)
Year: 2016
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