Undergraduate Seminar in Italian


Previous Topics:

In this seminar, we will examine different ways in which figures of power are characterized in Italian culture from the Renaissance to the present time. We will explore both dramatic and comic representations of the politician given by classics authors, for example Machiavelli and Manzoni, as well as by political cartoonists such as Altan or film directors like Sorrentino. Moreover, we will see how Italian politicians like Mussolini or Berlusconi deliberately dramatized their own political character.

Nowadays, the term “Mafia” has penetrated the language of worldwide popular culture, and has been connected to any sort of organized crime or illicit trafficking. Due to fictional narrative and popular stories, the meaning of Mafia has become encrusted with legend and myth. Furthermore, the image of the mafioso, especially in American popular films such as The Godfather or Goodfellas, has been so glamorized and idealized that the true nature and scope of the Mafia seems to be distorted. Therefore, what really is the Mafia? How is it connected to Italy? How do Italians experience the Mafia? Through a selection of contemporary Italian novels and films, this course will explore the representation of the Mafia in its historical, cultural, and political perspective. Students will discover different “Mafias” originating in Italy, and will become familiar with the activity of the anti-Mafia magistrates Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino. Along with Leonardo Sciascia’s classic denouncement of the Mafia in Il giorno della civetta and Marco Tullio Giordana’s representation of the Mafia victim Peppino Impastato in I cento passi, students will also focus their discussions on the role of women in the Mafia tradition, through the analysis of films such as Marco Amenta’s La siciliana ribelle. Lectures and discussions will be in Italian. Readings will be both in Italian and English.

We will read some of the most significant horror and crime novels and short stories of modern Italian literature, includingI fatali by Iginio Ugo Tarchetti, Mal di luna by Luigi Pirandello, Il giorno della civetta by Leonardo Sciascia, and Il cane di terracotta by Andrea Camilleri. We will also read chapters from Quer pasticciaccio brutto de via Merulana by
Carlo Emilio Gadda, Il nome della rosa by Umberto Eco, Petrolio by Pier Paolo Pasolini, and Gomorra by Roberto Saviano. Film adaptations of these texts will also be part of the course.

As the bloody devastation of WWII entered its final twenty-two months, Italy found itself playing a rather ambivalent host to over thirty nationalities, serving in the Allied Army, with the task of liberating the peninsula from the Germans. Landing in Sicily in the summer of 1943, the Allies moved northwards more slowly than anyone had expected, reaching
Naples in October, 1943, and Rome in June 1944, before arriving in the north in the spring of 1945, creating, wherever they went, what Mary Louise Pratt has called a “contact zone”: “social spaces where cultures meet, clash, and grapple with each other, often in contexts of highly asymmetrical relations of power.” According to the “Soldiers’ Guide to
Italy,” the Allied soldiers would be “about the most remarkable event which has happened in recent memory,” but, likewise, for the soldiers, the liberation Italy turned out to be the most remarkable event in their recent memory.

This course will explore literary representations (diaries, travelogues, novels, romances, satire) of the extraordinary “contact zone” of liberation Italy, both from the perspective of the Italians and the Allied soldiers in Sicily, Naples and Rome, to see how these groups work to translate one another and transfer their experience onto the page. We will use this exploration to consider the concepts of liberation, on the one hand, and occupation, on the other, and, at the same time, critique the construction of national stereotypes. Specifically, we will look at sexual encounters between soldiers and Italians, from true love to simple prostitution and everything in between. In addition, these texts will allow us to look back in history to historical questions such as democracy fascism, colonialism and the “southern question” and to look ahead to the postwar reconstruction and the cold war.Course will be taught in English, materials will be in English and Italian (with English translations available for consultation in most cases).

By focusing on a few representative works, the course will present the main stylistic and cultural features of the Italian literary, theatrical, and cinematic tradition of comical expression. The interaction of texts and ideas will be a central concern that you will explore in your presentations and papers.

The course will address, from an interdisciplinary perspective, the culture of Fascist Italy. It will explore both Fascist and counter-Fascist literary and visual materials, documenting the creation of new stereotypes and critical perspectives in the literary and visual arts. Instead of offering a unified view of cultural production under Fascism, the course will highlight the multiple streams of ideas and cultural forces at play in a historical context deeply influenced by political events. We will read texts by De Felice, Gentile, Moravia, Marinetti, and Nietzsche, watch films by Rossellini, Blasetti, and Camerini, and analyze the cultural rhetoric of  Mussolini’s speeches.

 Previously Offered:
Fall 2014, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Fall 2016, Spring 2020