Murderous methods: Eloquent minds and bodies in Italian crime fiction

Elena Margarita Past, University of Pennsylvania


This dissertation investigates a growing wave of crime fiction in Italy through the lens of an epistemology of crime particular to the Italian peninsula. The work constructs a new literary-historical genealogy that reveals the philosophical underpinnings of Italian crime, beginning with Cesare Beccaria's Enlightenment treatise on penology and continuing with Cesare Lombroso's Positivist studies of criminal man. Novels by Leonardo Sciascia and Andrea Camilleri exemplify detective fiction in the Beccarian tradition, based, as they are, in the perception of criminality primarily as an issue of civil justice: criminal man and the context in which he is pursued are predominantly a systemic, cerebral space of dialogue and words, but not of bodies. The films and novels of Dario Argento and Carlo Lucarelli instead demonstrate the provocative power of the Lombrosian tradition, a fiction that develops at the conceptual nexus of science and horror and that privileges the uncertain space of the human body over the methodological rigor of a more dispassionate type of science. Poetic and philosophical experimentation are made possible by this creative tendency to construct narratives that bleed into other genres, challenging the logic operative in traditional detective fiction (which eliminates all but the correct solution) by offering the potential for formal and philosophical multiplicity. This study is ultimately a test case for a theory of contemporary Italian culture: at a moment when ideology, like genre and like empirical knowledge, often seems elastic, this kind of crime fiction stages the cognitive, philosophical, and political ambiguities typical of postmodern culture.

Subject Area

Romance literature|Literature|Motion pictures

Recommended Citation

Past, Elena Margarita, "Murderous methods: Eloquent minds and bodies in Italian crime fiction" (2005). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3197725.