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International Journal of Literary Culture / Internationale Zeitschrift für literarische Kultur

Ed. by Biti, Vladimir / Liska, Vivian

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Volume 51, Issue 1


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

Monica Jansen
  • Corresponding author
  • Utrecht University, Dept. of Languages, Literature and Communication – Italian, Trans 10, 3512 JK Utrecht, The Netherlands
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  • De Gruyter OnlineGoogle Scholar
/ Srećko Jurišić
  • University of Split, Faculty of Arts and Humanities, Dept. of Italian Studies, Radovanova 13, 21000 Split, Croatia
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/ Carmen Van den Bergh
Published Online: 2016-06-07 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/arcadia-2016-0004


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.

Keywords: life; modernism; D’Annunzio; Futurism; realism; Decadentism

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About the article

Published Online: 2016-06-07

Published in Print: 2016-06-01

Citation Information: arcadia, Volume 51, Issue 1, Pages 24–45, ISSN (Online) 1613-0642, ISSN (Print) 0003-7982, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/arcadia-2016-0004.

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