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Mimicry and movement: Fascism, politics, and culture in Italy and Germany, 1909--1945

Michael Turits, University of Massachusetts Amherst


The political term "totalitarian" (totaliltario) was coined by Italian Fascism in 1925, and adopted almost simultaneously as a pejorative by the regime's opposition. This language of the Italian stato totalitario was soon adopted by the theorists of National Socialism to describe the German totale Mobilmachung and totale Staat. Postwar discussions continued to categorize Fascism by its own "totalitarian" myth of identity--of the group, race, or nation as self-constituting subject. Some other, more politically ambiguous features, however, may be discerned in fascist discourse than this "totalitarianism" which served as both fascism's narcissistic boast, and its critique.^ First, fascist rhetoric attempted to exclude those mimetic elements which threatened its presumed autonomy, while repressing its own implicit mimetic structure. The fascist "chameleon" represents the symptomatic re-emergence of this repression, the eruption amid a discourse of identity and autonomy of a personified figure of mimicry and deceit. The first part of the dissertation examines various accusations, denials, and examples of political chameleonism in the writings of Sorel, Gramsci, Gadda, and Malaparte, and confronts this paradigm with that of the fascist "narcissist" or "peacock" (pavone). The camaleonte/pavone relation introduces a discussion of imitation, narcissism, and identification in Freud's theorization of individual and group identity, and leads to a more directly political consideration of the relation between chameleonism, fascism, and democracy.^ Second, "totalitarian" regimes also characterized themselves as states in motion, referring both their "dynamism" and "modernity," and to their promotion of communication and transportation media. But this term also implies a destructuring kinetic logic contradictory to the totalitarian goal of national identity. The second part of the dissertation describes the ambiguity of political "movement" in Bertolucci's filmic rendition of Italian Fascist architecture, in the Futurist "style of movement," and in the relation between Bewegung and Bewegtheit in Heidegger's Sein und Zeit. Despite what may be considered the critique of fascism begun in Sein und Zeit, Heidegger's overlooking of the ambiguity of the book's own "movement" illustrates the inconclusiveness of the gesture by which he, as well as those who have formally identified fascism and totalitarianism, have separated their own practice from their historical object. ^

Subject Area

Modern literature|Philosophy|Political science

Recommended Citation

Turits, Michael, "Mimicry and movement: Fascism, politics, and culture in Italy and Germany, 1909--1945" (1994). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9510547.