Alice, Maguire Fellow in Italy

Alice is a graduate student in the Meadows School of the Arts’ Ph.D. program in art history, RASC/a (Rhetorics of Art, Space, and Culture). She was awarded a Maguire and Irby Family Foundation Public Service Fellowship for summer 2014 from the Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility at SMU to conduct research in Italy. At archives including the Archivio Centrale dello Stato di Rome and the UN archives in Florence, she intends to investigate Mussolini’s aspirations for Rome and the changes he wished to make to its spatial structure.

Fascist dreams of modernist cities

Palazzo della Civilità Italiana, E.U.R – Quartiere Europa, Photo by Alice/Student Adventures

Palazzo della Civilità Italiana, E.U.R – Quartiere Europa, Photo by Alice/Student Adventures

The EUR was a central project of Mussolini’s architectural and urban planning ambitions. Meant to be another building endeavor commemorating the twentieth anniversary of the March on Rome, in 1942, this city was not meant to disappear like others being built for the Exposizione Universale di Roma (E’42).

Instead, the EUR would become a new quarter of Rome, where the planners molded an open area as opposed to a crowded urban fabric, where they could start from scratch. This notion of a new start, an open space where a whole city could emerge, was a modernist dream: the dream of an unburdened space where the ideals of a modern city could be achieved. As Giulio Carlo Argan has said, “It is easier to design cities of the future than those of the past.”*

Fascism had the same aspirations as modernism in this sense, and this common goal was echoed in the team responsible from the E’42 project: on one hand the fascist state’s favorite architect, Marcelo Piacentini, and on the other the leader of the modernist rationalist group in Italy, Giuseppe Pagano. Thus, the EUR manifested Mussolini’s version of aesthetic pluralism and embodied the dreams of renewal and strength that the Duce promoted in his speeches.

Among the first buildings constructed in the EUR and certainly one of the most iconic, the Palazzo della Civilità Italiana, known as the Colosseo Quadrato (Square Colosseum), has a specific affective power engendered by its connection with the Colosseum and its imposing monumentality. Along with the seriality and clean lines central to a modernist structure, the Colosseo Quadrato embodied the fascist discourse in its size and evocation of the triumphal Roman past. This monument is an interesting point of intersection of fascism and modernism and highlights some of the commonalities between these discourses and architectural approaches, which have been many times treated as opposites.

The ethics of space has to be a central question when analyzing dreams of the birth of entire cities, Brasília, the capital of Brazil, being the example per excellence. This is because the city is the space of the body, the space that receives the body, but also molds the body physically and affectively. It is important to take a step back in the analysis of fascist dreams of modern cities, or modernist dreams of fascist cities, and think about what these cities were suppose to do the bodies that inhabited them. What discourse the central monument of the EUR, the Square Colosseum, was meant to illicit? And what does this example unveil about other modernist and fascist projects of this time?

*Giulio Carlo Argan, “Foreword,” In: Roma Interrotta: Twelve Interventions on Nolli’s Plan of Rome (Roma: Johan & Levi Editore, 2014), 23.

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Like lines in a hand: The remains of Fascism ideology in the Viale del Mare

The Italian writer Ítalo Calvino in his Invisible Cities notes that “the city does not tell its past, but contains it like the lines of a hand, written in the corners of the streets, the gratings of the windows, the banisters of the steps, the antennae of the lightning rods, the poles of the flags, every segment marked in turn with scratches, indentations, and scrolls.” (Calvino, p. 11)

Rome can be very much seen under the light of the city of memory that Calvino refers to in his text. Its history, like that of most cities, is etched onto its structure, and fascism features as a poignant part of this history. The Viale del Mare, opened in 1928, was a major focus of Mussolini’s plan for Rome as it was meant to connect the historic center of the city from Piazza Venezia and the Ostia pier.

As Paul Baxa argues: “Although the Via del Mare was opened in 1928 as part of fascism’s program of providing Rome with a modern transportation infrastructure, the brutality and violence of fascism have become the road’s lasting legacy.” (Baxa, xi) He says this is because Viale del Mare has become known as the ‘killer road.’ A massive number of speeding drivers die in the Tarpeian Rock curve, the precipice where Ancient Romans once threw dissidents and criminals to their death. Mussolini’s dream of speed and his fascist party’s ideals of empire stretched to the twenty-first century through the very mark it left in the urban fabric. Once cut through Rome’s Jewish ghetto, the Viale del Mare echoes the affective experience of the fascist state and its ideas until today.

Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari have proposed that we articulate ethics in terms of “lines of flight”— that is inter alia — as conditions for revolutionary political, social, and economic transformation, in hopes to counterpose one of the most tragic aspects of contemporary life: its systematic lack of imagination — our growing inability to imagine new futures. (ed. Jun and Smith, p. 4)

More than constructing the possibility for new futures, ethical thinking, in my view, needs to account for the potential of imagined futures and how much power they contain in their affect. Mussolini’s Viale del Mare is a visible physical marker of fascism’s imagined future and its affective potential and ideological baggage. It remains active, ideologically and physically, over seventy years after the fall of fascism in Italy. It contains this history, its imagined future, this affect, and its ethics like lines in a hand.

References:
Calvino, Ítalo. Le Città Invisibili. Milano, Oscar Mondadori, 2006.
Baxa, Paul. Roads and Ruins: The Symbolic Landscape of Fascist Rome. Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 2010.
Jun, Nathan and Smith, Daniel (ed.). Deleuze and Ethics. Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 2011.

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Mussolini’s rhetoric of space: Locating discourse within the city

AliceSpace is key in shaping the bodies that inhabit it. The affective experience of space is formative in our understanding of ourselves and others, and it is central to the construction of the nation. In Fascist Italy these affective experiences were manipulated, resulting in tragic events. Unity, order, coherence and belonging were concepts associated with architectural projects.

The archives in Rome hold several documents regarding the changes in the city’s urban fabric throughout its history. The modern-era documents are held at the Archivio Centrale dello Stato di Rome, Biblioteca Nazionale in Rome, Archivio Fratelli Alinari, Istituto Luce (Gestione Archivi Alinari), American Academy in Rome, and the UN archives in Florence. I am exploring the architectural and urbanist projects of the Fascist government in Italy, particularly the physical changes to the city of Rome (focusing on the Master Plan of 1931) and the ideological discourse permeating these changes and the interest of Fascism in the affective potential of space.

It was in the balcony of the Palazzo Venezia that some of Benito Mussolini’s most iconic speeches were delivered. Mussolini stood facing the Piazza Veneza and at the right side of the Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele, also known as the Altare della Patria. This “altar of the nation” stands at one end of the Via del Corso while the Piazza del Popolo, where remains of the ancient wall of the city are visible, stands in the other.

Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele II (also known as Altare della Patria), inaugurated in 1911. Photo credit: Alice

Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele II (also known as Altare della Patria), inaugurated in 1911. Photo credit: Alice

Palazzo Venezia, seen from the steps of the Altare della Patria. Photo credit: Alice

Palazzo Venezia, seen from the steps of the Altare della Patria. Photo credit: Alice

The large avenue catering to the gathering of a large crowd framed by two spaces already stamped in the populace’s imagination (the Altare and the Piazza del Popolo) was Mussolini’s preferred setting. It is no wonder since the place and its symbolism resonated with Mussolini’s rhetoric, creating an affective experience, which reinforced the idea of a united and strong Italian nation. Several rulers before, and many after Mussolini all over the world, have made use of strategies like these.

In the case of Rome, the objective was always to align the present with the Roman past through the unearthing of the ancient monuments and framing them through modern urbanist strategies. Nevertheless, it was also about what space and the affective experiences it engendered could do, and as Fascism has shown, it has much it can do.

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