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By John Dickie (auth.)

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Extra info for Darkest Italy: The Nation and Stereotypes of the Mezzogiorno, 1860–1900

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Other changes in the army’s violent practices were brought about by the way in which justice was felt to have to function as an example for a large watching public. 73 As in the above example, executions by firing squad habitually had many spectators and were frequently carried out in the town square. By imitating the atrocities of the brigands, or rather by justifying their own brutality as an unavoidable response to those atrocities, it seemed to the army that it would be speaking a language the southern public would understand.

7 Brigandage has been represented as the demonic legacy of an elemental folk culture, a perversion of religion, a conspiracy, an atavistic monstrosity, a jacquerie, a protorevolution and an outburst of blind animal rage. Students of brigandage seem to find it impossible to talk about it without resorting to colorful metaphors: brigandage is an infestation, a delirium, a cancer, a sore, a plague, a hydra, an inverted society eating away at the foundations of order, a scourge, a poisonous weed. It is virtually a convention of histories of Italian brigandage in the 1860s to distinguish “a strictly historical point of view” from the myths perpetuated by the mass of unscholarly popular works.

That Dante should be invoked has a multiple significance. Quoting from the Inferno makes an implicit comment on the way the South of Italy and its inhabitants were imagined. Dante’s eschatological themes and status as the poet to whom (literary) nationalism traced its origins also endow Negri’s brutal sophistry with a grandeur bizarrely at odds with the reality of the antibrigand campaign. Dante, the most sacred totem of legitimacy and nationhood, is invoked precisely at a point at which the integrity of the imaginative space defined by the law and Italy is put into question.

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