Spring 2014 Philosophy of Italian Culture Study Questions

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JAN 14

1st day - no study questions

JAN 16

  1. (x) In what ways does "Girlfriend in a Coma" (GIC) illustrate good and bad qualities of Italian culture today?(within each segment of the film, identify the causes and explanations given for each aspect).
  2. In what ways does the film confirm or disconfirm your ideas of Italy? What, in particular, was surprising in the film? What did you most appreciate?
  3. What is the function of truth, honesty, creativity, community, law, and work in Italy's positive and negative conditions?
  4. Why and how is it problematic to criticize a culture as opposed to the political decisions of its leaders?

JAN 21

  1. (x) Why does Wilson think he can explain the general and unique characteristics of culture by looking at our evolutionary past?
  2. Specifically, what sorts of task and functions might we expect culture to regulate based on our best evolutionary account of human eusociality?
  3. How does culture potentially develop from a group and multi-level selection model of human evolution?
  4. Is tribalism endemic to human culture? How does it vary across cultures?
  5. What characterizes Italy in the first half of the 19th Century and what circumstances and events were particularly determining for its future?
  6. What were the major objectives of Italian patriots in this period?
  7. What role did Garibaldi, Mazzini, Cavour and Vittorio Emanuele II play in the unification and who would it in particular ways have been satisfied or disappointed?

JAN 23

  1. What is Marx's basic analysis of capitalism and culture?
  2. How do Marxists theorize "crises" of capitalism?
  3. What did Marxists of Gramsci's time think about the origins of World War I?
  4. Why does Mazzini prefer to talk of duties?
  5. Why is association so important?
  6. In what terms does Mazzini perceive of progress and liberty and how does these ideas distinguish him from other 19th-Century thinkers concerned with democracy and workers?
  7. How does Mazzini envision the future of Italian workers, and with what means could they actively bring it about?
  8. What aspects of "On the duties of man" can you relate to Mazzini's vision of the unification, and what points lead beyond the objective of national unity?
  9. What idea of liberty is depicted in ‘Liberty” and how does this differ both from the one Gariablid brought to Sicily and the one envisioned by Mazzini?
  10. What does “Liberty” suggest regarding some of the limitations of unification process?

JAN 28

  1. What historical events and political circumstances conditioned the Turin communists' leadership and Gramsci's theoretical reflection on revolutionary action? In what ways did the Northern and the Southern situation differ?
  2. How are we to understand Gramsci's concepts of "hegemony" and "historical bloc" and in what ways do they relate to the specific socio-economic and cultural context with which he engaged?
  3. Why were Gramsci critical of syndicalist and southern intellectuals such as Croce? Why, on the other hand, did he embrace workers councils and the work of Piero Gobetti?
  4. What were according to Gramsci the major problems in the South and what would be required to change the peasants' situation?
  5. In what ways did Carlo Levi perceive of the Southern Problem and how does the solution he proposes differ from that of Gramsci?

JAN 30

  1. According to Wood and Farrell, in what ways in Italian culture and political legitimacy anomalous?
  2. How should we contextualize the Mafia within Italian culture?
  3. (x) What is prepared learning and gene-culture co-evolution?
  4. (x) What does "cognitive archaeology" tell us about some of the distinctive features of human culture?
  5. How do morality and honor relate to individual and group selection, according to Wilson?
  6. While Eco rejects notions of Western superiority, he is clearly not a cultural relativist. How would you characterize and evaluate his position?


  1. What circumstances (political, historical, cultural) favoured the rise of a fascist dictatorship?
  2. To what extent may fascism be called a revolution and what type(s) of revolution are we dealing with?
  3. What is honor culture and how does Davis represent its natural opposition to the State?


  1. What characterize the anti-fascist literature read for today's class? What motivations, objectives and challenges do they present?
  2. Reconstruct and evaluate Gramsci's critique of intellectuals and literature in Italy. Why does he emphasize the Italians' "operatic conception of life?"
  3. What continuities in arguments and objectives do you see between Gramsci's critiques of the Southern Question and of popular culture?

FEB 11

  1. What characterises Italy's political and international situation in the postwar years and why may the antifascist Resistance movement be considered a lost revolution?
  2. What is the nature and objective of ethnographic research and writing according to Clifford Geertz? In what ways does his understanding of culture distinguish itself from previous anthropological traditions?
  3. Why would an interpretative approach to culture have to include a thick description acceding to Geertz?

FEB 13

  1. What radical change does Pier Paolo Pasolini discuss in "the fireflies article:" when and how did it come about, and what was the political and socio-cultural situation in Italy before and after that?
  2. What attitudes does Pasolini convey towards this change and towards politicians? Why would he present it as an "extinction of the fireflies?"
  3. What are the main ways that cultures make disastrous mistakes, according to Diamond?
  4. Is it possible to maintain the kind of detachment Geertz requires and the critical judgement Diamond wants to make?
  5. Reviewing the archaeological, anthropological (cognitive, symbolic, cultural), and bio-geography (Diamond) resources in the course, what specific concepts or ideas does each contribute to a view of culture?

FEB 18

  1. How can left- and right-wing terrorism be explained historically in reference to Italy's development as a nation state?
  2. What was, more specifically, the strategy of tension and who/which groups would have stood behind it?
  3. What does Pasolini seem to imply in "What is this Coup?
  4. What image of the intellectual appears in this and in Pasolini's previous article?

FEB 20

  1. (x) Try to identify and follow law enforcement officers, anarchists, neofascists, politicians, magistrates, journalists. What are the relations between these groups?
  2. By what means is the historical and socio-cultural context reconstructed? In what ways do "the strategy of tension" and "the historical compromis" play out in the film?
  3. What situations or aspects of the film evoke and illuminate Pasolini's article ("I know," originally titled "Romanzo di una strage"?)

FEB 25

  1. What are the origins for the Maniac's character and how does he serve to introduce the reader to the world of the play?
  2. In what ways does Act 1 Scene One relate to the Pinelli case?
  3. What tone/atmosphere/situations are established in this section of the play, and what does it suggest about the play's purpose/objectives?

FEB 27

  1. What is understood by "counter information" and how can we make sense of Accidental Death of an Anarchist in such terms? Why would the scope and function of Romanzo di una strage be different?
  2. What are some major differences between the play and the film in representing the events of 1969? Base your answer on specific scenes and characters from both works.
  3. Consider the significance of the discussion of scandal in the play, "Accidental Death of an Anarchist"
  4. Why did Fo end the play as he did?


  1. (x) Take a note of what you do not understand and of what you would like to comment on.
  2. By what means and in what ways is this specific historical moment in Italian political culture reconstructed?
  3. What reactions and commentaries does the kidnapping wake?
  4. In what ways is the State represented, what role/position does it seem to have had in the Moro affair?
  5. Follow the interaction and relations that develop among the kidnappers and between the kidnappers and Aldo Moro.
  6. What would be the reasons for Chiara’s dilemma in the movie? How do you interpret the dream sequence?
  7. Which various texts/forms of writing are incorporated in the film and what function do they have?


MAR 18

  1. What sociocultural (and economic) environment characterised Italian television before Berluscini appeared?
  2. In what ways did he take advantage of or seeing possibilities in this environment that others did not?
  3. What aspects of Italian culture made it particularly receptive to his strategies and formula of TV culture?
  4. In what ways did Berluscini's economic and cultural power facilitate his way into politics; what external factors were at play in this transition?
  5. What does Berluscini's expansion into France and Spain as well as into soccer tell us about Italian culture? What aspects, past and present, of the Italian nation state would have reinforced his success as a public figure?

MAR 20

  1. How did the "Operation Clean Hands" (Manipulite) scandal change the political landscape in the run up to the 1994 elections?
  2. How does Berlusconi use his media empire to create a political election strategy?
  3. What political and civic values are in play because of Berlusconi's approach?

MAR 25

While watching the film, please

  1. (x) Take a note of what you do not understand and of what you would like to comment on.
  2. How can we explain the phenomenon of the veline? What does Ricky think of it?
  3. What do Berlusconi, Lele Mora, and Fabrizio have in common, in what ways do they differ from each other? What is the connection between them and Ricky?
  4. What significance do the ideas of "a modern Robin Hood" (Corona); that "life can be marvelous like television" (Fabio); and that "it's enough to appear" (Lele Mora) have within the world depicted?
  5. What connections would you draw between these ideals and what you have learned about the type of society and culture promoted by Berlusconi?
  6. What concrete parallels can you draw between this cultural climate and the US context? What of both collective and individual tendencies would you relate specifically to Italian history, culture and political situation?
  7. What do you learn from the captions at the end of the film?

MAR 27

  1. Viroli distinguishes between two major forms of liberty, what characterizes these? Which prevails in Italy today? Can you see some parallels to previous course readings?
  2. Why is today's Italy compared to a court system? What characterizes this form of leadership?
  3. Why can the court be understood as a theatre and what is particular about the language used there?
  4. What examples does Viroli cite from the past and from modern times? Why does he include these references, and what role do they have in his writing? (consider both chapters)


  1. What psychological characteristics and personal vices does Viroli identify as "signs of servitude" ?
  2. In what ways would Berlusconi's attitudes towards the judiciary and understanding of majoritarianism constitute a false view of liberalism?
  3. What role has the church played in forming the Italians' mentality? In what ways does the criticisms of Salveminni support Viroli's view?
  4. What weaknesses of the political party system were the presuppositions of servitude, according to Viroli? Who would in particular have failed in their duties?


  1. What would need to happen for the Italians to recover their liberty, and what role would intransigence play in this?
  2. What does Viroli like about the Italian constitution? Why do you think he devotes so much thought to it?


  1. (x) What major moments and achievements did, according to Wood and Farell, mark the development of Italian feminism?
  2. What have historically been some of the legal, socio-economic and political obstacles to women's emancipation?
  3. According to Jane Schneider, what constitutes the "unity of Mediterranean culture" and how does she support this thesis?
  4. In what ways do cultures of honor and shame solve problems facing pastoral society?
  5. How might the concepts of honor and shame illuminate a commodity and media oriented culture?
  6. What has, according to Luisa Muraro, been missing from philosophy and historiography and how does she explain this?
  7. Why does Muraro emphasize difference rather than justice and equality and what role would language play in "the ethics of sexual difference" she envisions?

APR 10

  1. In what ways does TV work as a mirror reflecting a given system, according to Lorella Zanardo?
  2. What is it about the representation of women that makes it particularly discriminating? Pay particular attention to Zanardo's comments on authenticity, identity, and the face.
  3. In what ways does her criticism evoke that of Pasolini and, indirectly, that of Baudriliard?
  4. What would be the intended effect of this video and with what means is this effect ideally achieved?
  5. What issues have occupied female activists since the early1990s and what particular forces have opposed their causes?
  6. In what ways have the nature and activities of the women's movement changed with regard to previous feminism? How can we explain this?

APR 15

  1. What external (societal; historical) factors and internal (conscious or unconscious) motivators may explain the phenomenon of Femminicidio i italy?
  2. Considering the perspectives Bettiga-Boukerbout and Gilmore offer on the Mediterranean shame and honor code. In what ways may we say that cultural values and juridical decision making have worked interrelatedly to perpetuate institutional and social discrimination of women?
  3. What changes have taken place, what measures would still be needed to fight what critics define a current massacre of women? Consider today's but also past readings and discussions

APR 17

While watching Diaz, please

  1. Take a note of what you do not understand and of what you would like to comment on. Specifically, please consider:
  2. How does the film start - what importance do the initial events have in triggering and/or announcing the film's progression?
  3. What is the context and the purpose of the gathering at the Diaz school; which characters in particular are we asked to identify with?
  4. In what ways is the State represented, what role do the political and law-enforcing entities seem to have had in the Diaz massacre? Consider in particular the function of violence, false accusations and fabrications of evidence
  5. How are relations between police and protestors portrayed? Pay particular attention to the representation of women.
  6. What specific parallels can you draw between the realities portrayed in Diaz and questions or phenomena we have addressed previously?
  7. What do you learn from the captions in the end?

APR 22

  1. What are the implications of globalism for the nation state and for ethics, acc to Singer?
  2. How do the No Global and Girotondi movements illustrate some of the new dynamics of social movements in a more global political environment?
  3. How was the Girotondi movement, in particular, connected with political ideals such as Viroli engages, like civic virtue?

APR 24

APR 29