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Which Language Does the Subaltern Speak? Leskov, Verga, and Internal Orientalism


During the last few years, Edward Said’s conceptual frame has been used in peculiar ways in relation to both Italy and Russia. The differences are self-evident, but a look at the similarities can be useful as well: if in the Italian case, from a political point of view, a discussion of internal colonisation would be meaningless, from a cultural one the situation changes: the picture of an essentially backwards, ‘Oriental’ South is mainly the product of Southern intellectuals working in exile in Northern Italy after the failed revolution of 1848. The parallel is thus a working one for what concerns the ‘Westernisers’ party; it could be useful to extend it to the ‘Slavophile’ (in the broadest meaning of the word) one. According to Alexander Etkind, thanks to Russia’s peculiar positioning as both ‘self’ and ‘other’, in Leskov’s work the subaltern becomes able to speak. Skaz should thus be the subaltern’s language for self-expression. Scholars of Giovanni Verga have argued that his major work is marked by a shift in the narrative voice, which is now located within the Southern masses themselves. In Verga’s case, maybe, Bakhtin’s understanding of skaz as writing from an other’s point of view could usefully apply.