An Ethics for Dead Voices: Law and the Politics of Sexual Difference in Dacia Maraini's Isolina

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In her book Isolina: La Donna Tagliata a Pezzi, (Isolina: The Woman Cut Into Pieces), the Italian writer Dacia Maraini engages in a historical excavation with contemporary resonances. In this work, a reconstruction of a true story which occurred in Verona in 1900, the Isolina of the title is Isolina Canuti who becomes pregnant by an army officer. She wishes to have the baby but he doesn't. He forces her to undergo a clandestine abortion in the backroom of a restaurant. She dies as a result, and her body is cut into pieces by her ex-lover's fellow officers and thrown into the River Adige. No criminal action was taken against these men, protected as they were by their position in the army. When the editor of a local left-wing newspaper, Verona del Popolo, tried to uncover the details of this cover-up he was sued for criminal defamation by the officer involved, found guilty, and himself punished for trying to seek justice for the murdered woman. Maraini in her painstaking investigation attempts to uncover a past injustice and give voice to the silenced victim. Even though a woman was murdered, the male perpetrators went unpunished. Ironically the only person punished as result by the law was the one person who sought to discover the truth and to seek justice for the dead woman. Moreover the dead woman was further punished posthumously by the besmirching of her character by the prosecution and prosecution witnesses in the trial for criminal defamation against the newspaper editor. This article analyzes Maraini's work as an example of relational narrativity which engages in another way of doing justice beyond the realms of patriarchal legal language. This can be seen as the performance of a relational politics in which the embodied self acts, speaks and thinks for herself. This amounts to a move from the politics of a masculine univocality to a politics of relational plurivocality.


Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: December 1, 2010

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  • Law and Humanities is a peer-reviewed journal, providing a for for scholarly discourse within the arts and humanities around the subject of law. For this purpose, the arts and humanities disciplines are taken to include literature, history (including history of art), philosophy, theology, classics and the whole spectrum of performance and representational arts. The remit of the journal does not extend to consideration of the laws that regulate practical aspects of the arts and humanities (such as the law of intellectual property). Law and Humanities is principally concerned to engage with those aspects of human experience which are not empirically quantifiable or scientifically predictable.
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