KILLING THE MOONLIGHT—MODERNISM IN VENICE

Out now! from the Modernist Latitudes Series of Columbia University Press

As a city that seems to float in the margin between Europe and Asia, removed by a lagoon from the tempos of terra firma, Venice has long seduced the Western imagination. Since the 1797 fall of the Venetian Republic, fantasies about the sinking city have engendered an elaborate series of romantic clichés, provoking modern artists and intellectuals to construct conflicting responses: while some embrace the resistance to modernity manifest in Venice’s labyrinthine premodern form and temporality, others aspire to modernize by “killing the moonlight” of Venice, in the Futurists’ notorious phrase.

Spanning literary, art and architectural history from John Ruskin, Henry James, and Ezra Pound to Manfredo Tafuri, Italo Calvino, Jeanette Winterson, and Robert Coover, Killing the Moonlight tracks the material and ideological pressures that modernity has placed on the legacy of romantic Venice—and the distinctive strains of aesthetic invention that resulted from the clash. Whether seduced or repulsed by literary clichés of Venetian decadence, post-Romantic artists found a motive for innovation in Venice. In Venetian incarnations of modernism, the anachronistic urban fabric and vestigial sentiment that both the nation-state of Italy and the historical avant-garde would cast off become incompletely assimilated parts of the new.

Killing the Moonlight brings Venice into the geography of modernity as a living city rather than a metaphor for death, and presents the archipelago as a crucible for those seeking to define and transgress the conceptual limits of modernism. In strategic detours from the capitals of modernity, Scappettone charts an elusive “extraterritorial” modernism that compels us to redraft the confines of modernist culture in both geographical and historical terms.

“In Killing the Moonlight, Jennifer Scappettone performs a scholarly quarry of a city fabled in the literary history and cultural memory of Europe. Excavating the social geology of the Venetian site, surveying the layers of archaeological as well as architectural and artistic accumulation, Scappettone’s research opens the manifold dimensions of this legacy as a kind of living museum of European dreams. Critically, in a series of focused and revealing readings of its cultural locations, she also demonstrates a long history of such readings: in a process equally self-reflexive and illuminating, she shows how powerfully Venice speaks to the desires of political visionaries and aesthetic revolutionaries alike.” — Modernist Studies Association Book Prize Citation

“In Killing the Moonlight: Modernism in Venice, a rich and satisfying book, Scappettone offers her own Benjaminian arcades of Venice, replete with seductive phantasmagorias grounded in material culture. Venice attracts modernist impulses negotiating endlessly between the past and modernity exemplified by Henry James, Ezra Pound, John Ashbery, Andrea Zanzotto and even, despite his bluster, by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. Demonstrating how floating, porous and transient archipelagos can replace the hardness of virile utopias, Killing the Moonlight will make you revisit the city once again, bathing its canals, palaces and monuments in a truly new light.” — Jean-Michel Rabaté, University of Pennsylvania

“Troping its object of study, the field of studies of modern(ist) Venice long seemed exhausted. That is, until the arrival of Jennifer Scappettone’s superb Killing the Moonlight. From the Bruce Nauman Venice Fountains with which the book opens to its closing valediction on the Las Vegas Venetian Resort Hotel, Scappettone moves among historical epochs with ease and erudition, making a highly original scholarly contribution of uncommon finesse.” — Jeffrey T. Schnapp, Director, metaLAB, Harvard University

“A theoretically sophisticated project, far-reaching in its comparativist approach, and methodologically rigorous throughout. Scappettone’s work brings to our attention—and patiently walks us through, so as to let us appreciate—the interrelation of imaginary and lived spaces, literary and cultural history, textual and urban terrains.” — Carla Billitteri, University of Maine

Killing the Moonlight is a shimmering reflection on Venice’s making of a modernist aesthetic. We here meet an amphibious modernism that emerges out of the very materials and structures, out of the waters and stones of the Serenessima herself. In a tour-de-force reading of John Ruskin, Henry James, Ezra Pound, the Italian Futurists, Massimo Cacciari, Italo Calvino, and Jeanette Winterson, Scappettone has written what will be a classic work on the spaces and times of modernity.”—Suzanne Stewart-Steinberg, Brown University

 


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