Poetry After Barbarism: Fascism, The Xenoglossic Word, and the Early Modern Tethers of a Motherless Tongue
2023-2024 (September - December)
Jennifer Scappettone is a poet, translator and scholar whose monograph Killing the Moonlight: Modernism in Venice charted the resistance of an archipelagic medieval cosmopolis to modernist development, and was a finalist for the Modernist Studies Association Book Prize. Her translations of the polyglot poet-refugee from Fascist Italy Amelia Rosselli were collected in Locomotrix, which won the Academy of American Poets' Raiziss/De Palchi Prize. Her most recent book, The Republic of Exit 43, is a study of two landfills. She sits on the editorial board of Edinburgh University Press’s Foundations and Critical Studies in Avant-Garde Writing series. She is Associate Professor of English, Romance Languages and Literatures, and Environment, Geography, and Urbanization at the University of Chicago, and Visiting Professor at the Université Gustave Eiffel.
This book project tracks the aesthetic and geopolitical resonance of “xenoglossic” poetics: verse that implodes the boundaries of national languages, emerging over the course of a twentieth century of expanded global telecommunications and conflict. As global migration, aerial bombardment, and the wireless telegraph shrank geographical distances with brute force and a pace never seen before, prompting a Futurist manifesto devoted to the “wireless imagination,” new visions of transcultural communication were emerging in the hopes of bridging linguistic difference—from Esperanto to the coinage of "xenoglossia" to denote the intelligible use of natural languages never learned, granting a scientific name to a phenomenon described in the story of Pentecost. The authors who generate xenoglossic poetry occupy languages without a perceived birthright or sanctioned education; they compose in “orphan tongues” that rebuff both nationalist ideology and globalization as idylls of interconnection. Linking postwar translingual poetics to the history of the “questione della lingua,” tales of miraculous translation, and universal language schemes, this project demonstrates how modern verse’s grappling with Babel recasts community as it exceeds political definitions. Returning to the early modern period—from Dante’s reckoning with the calamity of Babel to the papal resurrection of Pentecost as missionizing unification tactic—historicizes postwar efforts to question notions of belonging via milk, blood, and soil. By transmuting both early modern theories of the vernacular and notions of Pentecost as cultural expansion and consolidation, the idiolects within these works express intercultural harmony and bellicosity in turn, hailing readers into a space of mutual unmastery.