by Marisa Escolar
Vitaliano Brancati’s Il bell’Antonio (1949), a novel of erectile and social disfunction in fascist Catania, has been translated three times into English, the most translated postwar Italian novel. Arguing that proliferation of Bell’Antonio’s in translation actually reinforces an Anglo-American perception of the Italian “inetto” (bungler), this article looks at the intercultural encounter produced in translation alongside an intercultural encounter in one of the novel’s many epigraphs, where “curious” phenomenon emerges in a conversation between a Sicilian and an Italian: in Sicilian dialect, the grammatical gender of the nouns for the biological sex organs contradict their meanings insofar as the male sex organ, la minchia, is gendered female and the female sex organ, il pacchio or lo sticchio, is gendered male. I argue that the contradiction of the feminine “minchia” offers a key to the novel’s critique—but ultimate reinscription—of the gender politics of fascist Catania, as the emblem of masculinity, Antonio, is revealed to be impotent and is preyed upon by virile women. However, even as these “curious” nouns point to the possibility for the sexes to swap the traditional heteronormative gender roles, they are in tension with the internalized and institutionalized misogyny that seeks to repress them.