Discovery of the World: A Political Awakening in the Shadow of Mussolini
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Luciana Castellina is one of Italy’s most prominent left intellectuals and a cofounder of the newspaper il manifesto. In this coming-of agememoir, based on her diaries, she recounts her political awakening as a teenage girl in Fascist Italy—where she used to play tennis with Mussolini’s daughter—and the subsequent downfall of the regime. Discovery of the World is about war, anti-Semitism, anti-fascism, resistance, the belief in social justice, the craving for experience, travel, political rallies, cinema, French intellectuals and FIAT workers, international diplomacy and friendship. All this is built on an intricate web made of reason and affection, of rational questioning and ironic self-narration as well as of profound nostalgia, disappointment and discovery.
Abstract Art,’ I recorded in my diary, ‘and also about Cubism and Realism. The Communists are divided: Guttuso, now a PCI member, is neorealist; Fougeron, a former Renault worker and a member of the PCF, is a nonfigurative artist. I don’t know what the non-Communists are, because I don’t think there are any non-Communist painters.’ As for the Communists, I finally got to know one at the house of my friend Franchino De Gregorio. His mother was friendly with the artist’s lover, Mimíse. ‘Guttuso
doesn’t have the face of either a painter or a Communist. But he’s simpatico’, I conceded. I understood more about the burden of Italian provincialism from an issue of the journal Il Mercurio, edited by Alba de Céspedes, which must have been the first political–cultural publication I acquired in my life, second-hand and late. (It was there that I came across Severini’s remark, the lynchpin of my public debut.) That issue of December 1944, which I still keep at home, has my name proudly written
that was what we used to call it, reckoning that we from the North were looking at it from the top down. (Until my mother – an intelligent and open-minded woman – died at a hundred and one, I never managed to root out this expression from her mind.) ‘I seem to have landed in a different country,’ I wrote on arriving in the terra incognita. ‘The countryside doesn’t look at all like the only one I know well: the Veneto. Not only is nature harsher: yellow more than green, olives instead of grapes,
at the Tasso liceo, where I was studying, the teacher of Italian, history and philosophy was Giuseppe Petronio, a short, ugly man, very arrogant and quite extraordinary. It is to him that I owe nearly everything I came to understand: that is, that I had misunderstood everything and needed to subject my thinking to a complete overhaul. He sorted out the tangle in which my scant and hasty learning had become caught up. He was the first to give a meaningful answer to the rush of my unanswered
– the portrait of Pius XII was hanging in the loo but where permanent confusion reigned, weird people kept coming and going, and nothing seemed in order. ‘Come and see for yourself’, he suggested, ‘no one will even notice.’ So, in my quest for lodgings closer to the centre, I made my way to 26, rue de Tournon in the middle of the quartier of quartiers. It was where the Simon family lived: father and mother, two children in addition to Emanuele’s exchange partner, and a girl, Denise, who remained