Study of a forgotten sense: The sense of smell in Italian literature and culture

Author: 
Fabbian, Maria Chiara
Year: 
2007

     Italian literary criticism still lacks a general study of the sense of smell, but the topic should not be neglected: if we consider the political implications of olfactory perceptions, the theme of the olfactory provides a new dimension to our approach to Italian literary texts as "socially symbolic."
     Tracing the interaction among the political, anthropological and cultural codes of the sense of smell and literature's own system of signs and meanings, I analyze the connection between literary representations of the olfactory and perceptions of the "other" in terms of class, sex and race, focusing on the time period included between the eighteenth and the twentieth century. Outlining the 'map' of olfactory perceptions in given texts, I explore various aspects of the theme of olfaction.
     Chapter one considers the sociology of the sense of smell in its relation to medicine, philosophy, civic planning, etiquette, fashion, and Italian culture in general. In chapter two, I identify a new literary theme--the nose of the enlightened citizen--and the relation among ancient and new ideas on the correct use of the senses in Giuseppe Parini's works. Chapter three deals with nineteenth-century olfactory representations of different social classes and the role played by women in the nineteenth-century bourgeois project of cleansing the masses, as seen in Matilde Serao's works. Chapter four discusses Gabriele D'Annunzio's misogynistic representations of women--either surrounded by perfumes or foul--tracing their connection with an ancient literary tradition revived by many nineteenth-century writers. The relation between the idea of impurity and Jewish genocide is explored in chapter five, dedicated to Primo Levi's works. Chapter six analyzes the concept of "dirt" and the role played by odors in contemporary migrant literature. In my last chapter, I discuss Pasolini's 'rebellious nose' as well as certain aspects of the postmodern in Manganelli's travel report writing on India.
     Language:Italian, IT

Advisor(s): 
West, Rebecca