Reviews 2012

Pinocchio, Puppets and Modernity: The Mechanical Body

Pinocchio, Puppets and Modernity: The Mechanical Body. Katia Pizzi (ed.). New York and London: Routledge, 2012. 280 pages. $133 (hardback).

Over the course of his respectably long life, the centarrian Pinocchio has become one of the cornerstones of Western children’s literature and culture. Countless literary, radio, film and theatre adaptations, editions and translations, as well as scholarly interpretations of Carlo Collodi’s (the pseudonym of Carlo Lorenzini) Storia di un burattino have been produced since it was first published in 1881. Any editor setting out to produce a genuinely innovative collection of insights into Pinocchio thus faces a demanding task as this remarkably adaptable puppet has already been studied in great detail. Nevertheless, in a recently published collection of essays named Pinocchio, Puppets and Modernity: Mechanical Body, Katia Pizzi has undertaken this mission. The collection is, namely, focused on the crucial but never systematically explored mechanical, artificial body of Pinocchio and/or his modernity. Focus on this perspective has enabled the authors to produce a number of informed and enlightening essays on Pinocchio, puppets, gender, class, poetics as well as politics, painting, literature, film and theatre, children and/or non-children literature.

Somewhat paradoxically for a collection focused on Pinocchio’s remarkable body, the volume suffers from obvious technical deficiencies. The reproductions of the images are almost completely black and the hardcover binding is clumsy. Hopefully these problems will be addressed before the paper is reproduced in paperback. Nevertheless, these technological problems do not prevent the reader from enjoying the contents, demonstrating that literature can proudly flaunt its autonomy over technology!

It should be pointed out that the collection Pinocchio, Puppets and Modernity is not focused on the issues of children’s literature per se. Thus, for example, Jean Perrot in his the opening essay of the collection eclectically and illuminatingly explores intertextual bonds between Collodi and George Sand, while Charles Klopp develops innovative and detailed comparison of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein and Collodi’s Pinocchio. In the same manner, Katia Pizzi’s own paper in the collection is a discussion of Luciano Folgore’s Papers at the John Paul Getty Research Library, which sets Folgore’s preoccupation with Pinocchio in the wider context of Futurists’ machine advocacy. Ann Lawson Lucas’ essay on departures and encounters of Collodi’s Pinocchio and E. T. A. Hoffman’s Sandman, as well as H. C. Andersen’s The Steadfast Tin Soldier is epistemologically and methodologically congruent with the theme of Collodi’s hero’s mechanical body.

All these essays expose the complex intersections and disconnections between literary systems separated by the axes of time, space, language and/or reader’s age. In doing so, they liberate Pinocchio from the ghettos of socially delineated literature and reveal the full interpretative potential of comparative literature research. Pizzi’s inclusion of articles by Jill Fell and Christopher Cairns - which do not focus on Pinocchio, but rather on puppets, more precisely, modern theatre puppets - extends the study. As a result, the collection provides original insights into the topic of the mechanical body as well as contextualizing Collodi’s work within wider concerns about human-machine relations. In her essay on Alfred Jarry’s Monsieur Ubu and two surviving Ubu puppets, Fell describes the European avant-garde, in particular the work of Dada, to expose a fin-de-siècle preoccupation with mechanical toys. By way of contrast, Cairns’ article on puppets, marionettes and mannequins in the theatre of Dario Fo shows how they contributed to the development and language of theatre.

Pinocchio, Puppets and Modernity explores cinematographic transformations of Pinocchio in two essays, both written by Salvatore Consolo. In the first essay, Consolo compares Collodi’s text with five prominent Pinocchio’s film adaptations (Antamoro, Disney, Guardone, Comencini and Benigni) to tease out the areas of similarity which he discusses in terms of myth (gist, archetypal essence, purport). Consolo’s second essay is a detailed exploration of the narrative structure, viewpoint, characters, time and space and sound in Roberto Benigni’s Pinocchio (2002), which he uses to explain why the film was not a box office success in the USA.

More experimental responses to Collodi’s text are offered by Stephen Wilson and Massimo Riva. Riva’s chapter is based on an experiment with undergraduates, and Wilson’s chapter describes his work as an illustrator and is followed by an interview in which he discusses his responses to Pinocchio in more detail. Although consistent with the collections interrogation with the poetics of Pinocchio and his mechanical body, these response papers are less rigorous and more descriptive than the rest of the collection. In discussing the responses of undergraduate readers and illustrators, the papers attempt to take the discussion of Pinocchio out of literary studies and into more general research areas within the humanities. Following the motif of the painted fire-place in Collodi’s text, Stephen Wilson points to autobiographical and self-referential tensions and preoccupations within Collodi’s text, Wilson’s own painting practice, as well as in theoretical and conceptual concerns of the Macchiaioli school of painting.

In sum, Pinocchio, Puppets and Modernity is a thoughtful, collaborative work which has resulted in mutually illuminating individual papers. It is unlikely to become standard reading for courses introducing Pinocchio as it is too specialized, but it will certainly become obligatory reference for any future discussion of this wooden puppet-boy or more general discussions of the relationship between art and technology. The collection’s foci of literature, modernity and mechanical bodies make the collection accessible to scholarly readers interested in any of these points of departure. The high quality of the papers, their methodological consistency and occasional experimental creativity, furthermore makes this collection interesting for literature scholars in general.

Marijana Hameršak
Institute of Ethnology and Folklore Research, Croatia