Reading Reports

Giuseppe Lupo
La letteratura al tempo di Adriano Olivetti

Report by Andrea Tarabbia

(Saronno, 1978), is a writer. He received a Ph.D. in Theory of Literature from the University of Bergamo – where he kept on working for some years as a researcher...

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Emma Mandley’s first degree was in Italian and History of Art, and she also has a Masters degree in translation, specialising in Italian.  Emma’s career has mainly been spent in...

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The book
Adriano Olivetti was a captain of industry and an enlightened champion of Italian innovation. The living symbol of the company that bore his name, he invented a new, community-oriented way of working in which technology and humanist values went hand in hand. Not only that, he was also the twentieth century’s last great patron of the arts. After the second world war, intellectuals and writers were employed at Olivetti and a significant proportion of Italy’s literary milieu had some tangible connection with the factory, from Franco Fortini to Ottiero Ottieri, from Paolo Volponi to Leonardo Sinisgalli. Olivetti founded the Community Movement, a political movement whose mouthpiece was the magazine Comunità – a political and cultural journal with contributors that included, amongst others, Ignazio Silone, Elio Vittorini, Alberto Moravia and Giorgio Bassani. The Olivetti factory could be seen as the laboratory where a major branch of twentieth century Italian literature – so-called ‘industrial literature’ – came to fruition. It was a remarkable period, which saw writers exploring and writing about themes associated with the world of industry: the relationship between man and machine, alienation, political engagement, the economic boom, expansion, and the emancipation of the most marginalised social classes. Many Italian masterpieces of the twentieth century belong in this category: from Memoriale by Volponi (1962) to Donnarumma all’assalto by Ottieri (1959), from Il capofabbrica by Bilenchi (1972) to La chiave a stella by Levi (1979). Giuseppe Lupo, who has studied this body of work for many years, leads us through it with enthusiasm backed by excellent research. He reflects on Olivetti’s humanism, on his radical approach to community-focused factory management, and on the Comunità magazine. But most importantly he reassesses, within a historical and critical framework, the literary movement associated with Olivetti that for at least two decades saw the most extraordinary flowering of Italian literature.

Style and readership
La letteratura al tempo di Adriano Olivetti is a well-structured piece of work – and a rare recent example of an attempt to take stock of the period – which also gathers together and updates articles and opinions that Lupo has published in various journals over the years. Access to the archives of the Olivetti Foundation and of the Archivio Storico Olivetti has allowed the author to make use of letters and documents and so to offer a new perspective, from the inside, on the link between Olivetti and literature. Inevitably, the book primarily addresses an academic readership wanting to learn more about industrial literature. But it is also the history of an endeavour that may perhaps never be repeated in Italy or indeed elsewhere, springing out of a quest for the – perhaps unattainable – perfect alchemy between science and humanism: a dream that Olivetti, like so many others in the past, tried to turn into reality.

In my opinion
Industrial literature is a thing of the past, or at least there is no longer the intimate link between writer and production processes that inspired novels published in that era. Lupo even suggests a date for its demise: 2002, the year that saw the publication of Ermanno Rea’s La dismissione, which describes the decommissioning of an Italian factory sold to the Chinese. This, according to Lupo, is the beginning of post-industrial literature. And it’s at this point, perhaps, that writers like Volponi, Ottieri and Fortini take their definitive place in the canon of twentieth century literature. La letteratura al tempo di Adriano Olivetti is an important book because even though it focuses almost entirely on the Olivetti epoch, it does justice at last to a pivotal period of the twentieth century in Italy. Some of our literature’s greatest works belong in this canon, but Lupo has done more than simply provide lists and background information: instead, he has made them part of a critical discourse. Above all he has given these authors, who were so politically engaged and so aware of social developments, what they themselves always sought: a context in which they can be considered in relation to the world and to society in all its contradictions.

Why should it be translated?
Because it’s impossible to understand Italy in the twentieth century without addressing the Olivetti dream and what that meant for literature. Because it touches on the lives and works of some of the greatest writers of the twentieth century (I haven’t mentioned Cesare Pavese, Natalia Ginzburg, Goffredo Parise or Italo Calvino, but they too appear in La letteratura al tempo di Adriano Olivetti.) And consequently it helps to fill a gap: the literature of the nineteen-fifties and sixties was dominated by the industrial process and no study of the Italian novel can be called complete if it doesn’t take the factory into account.


Giuseppe Lupo was born in Atella, Basilicata, in 1963. He is professor of Contemporary Italian Literature at the Università Cattolica di Milano. Amongst his novels (published by Marsilio) are L’ultima sposa di Palmira (2011) which was shortlisted for the Premio Campiello, and Viaggiatori di nuvole (2013). His most recent novel is L’albero di stanze (2015).
14 December 2016
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