Metaphysical Years Lecture Series, Year 2: David Forgacs on 1917

05 February 2019 / 6:00 pm - 8:00 pm

Metaphysical Years Lecture Series

Year 2: David Forgacs on 1917

This lecture series offers an overview of the birth and development of pittura metafisica (metaphysical art) against the backdrop of World War I as well as in the context of the post-war years in Italy. The presentations explore significant literary trends of the time along with socio-cultural events of the short yet crucially important period covered by CIMA’s 2018-19 exhibition, Metaphysical Masterpieces 1916-1920: Morandi, Sironi, and Carrà.

1917 was a critical year in Italy’s history. Two years after intervention in the First World War, the continuing carnage at the front, including summary executions of Italian soldiers accused of acts of cowardice ordered by their commanding officers, had severely eroded morale among the troops. At the same time, opposition to the war was on the rise among civilians. In August Pope Benedict XV described the war as a “pointless massacre” (inutile strage). Later that month antiwar protests in Turin, the city with Italy’s most militant working class, were put down by armed force. In October the Italian army virtually disbanded after a defeat at Caporetto. In November, Russia’s Bolshevik revolution radicalized a part of the Italian left and terrified the Italian bourgeoisie. This lecture will reconstruct something of the subjective experience of that remarkable year through quotations from soldiers’ and civilians’ letters and memoirs, trench newspapers, and contemporary political writings, including Antonio Gramsci’s celebration of the revolution in Russia. It will consider whether 1917 should be seen as the real start of the civil war that would escalate into near revolution in 1919-20 and provoke the violent reaction of the fascist squads. It will look, lastly, at some of the literary, cinematic, and artistic production of that year and consider why Italy, despite widespread antiwar feeling, was the only one of the belligerent nations that did not produce any significant antiwar art before the armistice.

David Forgacs holds the endowed Guido and Mariuccia Zerilli-Marimò Chair of Contemporary Italian Studies at New York University, where he is also Chair of the Department of Italian Studies. He was educated at Oxford, Pavia, and the Scuola Normale Superiore, Pisa. Before coming to NYU he taught at the universities of Sussex, Cambridge (Fellow of Gonville and Caius College), Royal Holloway University of London (Reader in Film Studies), and University College London (holder of Panizzi Chair of Italian, established in 1828). He has also held Visiting Professorships at the University of Rome La Sapienza and LUISS, Rome. In 2006-9 he was Research Professor in Modern Studies at the British School at Rome. In 2005 he was awarded the Ordine della Stella Italiana, Grande Ufficiale della Repubblica Italiana, for services to the promotion of Italian culture abroad. His most recent book is Italy’s Margins: Social Exclusion and Nation Formation since 1861(Cambridge University Press, 2014; Italian edition Margini d’Italia. L’esclusione sociale dall’Unità a oggi, Laterza, 2015). His next book, Messaggi di sangue. Violenza, stato e comunicazione in Italia dal Risorgimento a oggi, will be published by Laterza in 2019.

FREE for CIMA members and students. Registration required.


Please note: CIMA will be live-streaming the program on our Facebook page.

Program schedule:

6pm – registration, aperitivo, and viewing of Metaphysical Masterpieces

6:15pm – program begins, followed by audience Q&A

8pm – Evening concludes

Refreshments have been generously donated by: