Imaginative appropriation : confronting otherness through the female body in the works of Cesare Pavese and Italo Calvino



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This report examines the ways in which Cesare Pavese and Italo Calvino use images of the foreign woman as other. Specifically, both authors inscribe foreign territories onto the bodies of their female characters in order to confront complex cultural differences. Italy is the site of this gendered inscription in Pavese’s Il carcere, while various real and imagined foreign lands are made female in Calvino’s Se una notte d’inverno un viaggiatore and Le città invisibili. In Pavese’s novella, the satyr-like Concia and the overly maternal Elena are embodiments of Southern and Northern Italy, respectively, and the failure of the protagonist to form a relationship with either woman represents his failure to assimilate into the mezzogiorno and his simultaneous rejection of northern society. In Calvino’s two works, female characters and attributes are consciously used to embody various foreign countries so that the protagonists may grasp the unknown, both physically and psychologically. By linking woman and terrain, Pavese and Calvino attempt to dominate distant lands, which are otherwise enigmatic and incomprehensible, in the typical Orientalist fashion.