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Seminar: Special study and research in set topics

This seminar analyzes in a comparative perspective the ways literature and other arts interpret traumatic exposure to viruses and try to respond to the challenges of global warming. Texts include classics like Boccaccio, Defoe, Manzoni, and Camus as well as contemporary sci-fi and cli-fi.

Taught in English. Open to Undergraduate Students.

This course provides an in-depth introduction to the most relevant theories and methods of environmental literary criticism (e.g. animal humanities, biosemiotics, new materialisms, environmental justice, ecofeminism, posthumanism, postcolonial studies, multispecies ethnography). Students will read authors such as Italo Calvino, Primo Levi, Anna Maria Ortese, and others, through these lenses and by using a comparative perspective. Taught in English.

Naples and the landscapes of ecomafia and volcanic eruptions; death in Venice as a literary trope and a petrochemical curse; the slow pace of wine, food and environmental violence in Piedmont: these are some of the landscapes that this course will analyses. Using the trans-disciplinary methodology of the environmental humanities, we will heed the forces, wounds, and messages of creativity dispersed on Italy’s body, arguing that a literature, an art, and a criticism that are able to transform these unexpressed voices into stories are not only ways to resist, but also a practice of liberation.

In the century before Dante finalized his Divine Comedy, experimental poetic communities flourished first in Sicily’s Imperial court and then in the municipalities of Tuscany and northern Italy. This seminar traces the origins of literature written in Italian vernaculars, with emphasis on the topics of courtly love, religious poetry, genre formation, tenzoni and public debate, puzzles and riddles, satire, and the philosophical turn of the Dolce stil novo. Students will also acquire familiarity with issues in manuscript culture and premodern textual transmission. Taught in Italian and English; students must have reading and listening competency in both languages, but may speak and write in either.

Since the beginning of the new Millennium, a suspicion has troubled geologists: what if the Holocene has come to an end? The epoch of relative climatic stability which saw the emergence of agriculture, writing, cultural practices and industrial processes, geographic explorations and demographic growth, Master Narratives and Great Acceleration, might indeed be over. In its place, a new epoch could have already begun, characterized by the trace left by humans on the planet and all its living systems. The “Anthropocene” is the name given to this epoch, which is attracting literary scholars for its very narrative power. Like never before, a geological paradigm is able to unify in a single framework apparently disconnected phenomena, such as global warming, mass extinction, the dramatic changes that affect both the surface and depths of our planet, oceanic pollution, social injustice, and genetic drift.

This course undertakes a literary exploration across the layers of the Anthropocene, using Italy as a privileged observatory and Italo Calvino’s works as a “geo-narrative sensor.” Besides being famous for systematically bridging literature and science, Calvino is the first Italian author to have inadvertently mirrored the parable of the Great Acceleration in his works.

Consistent with the geological paradigm, we will follow the Anthropocene’s layers as they are revealed through Calvino’s oeuvre: atmosphere, lithosphere, biosphere, sociosphere, and technosphere. The texts we will examine are both literary and material texts: on the one hand, Calvino’s writings from the late 1940s to the posthumous Six Memos for the Next Millennium, on the other hand, places and bodies, landscapes and cells, stones and ants, clouds of smog and clouds of data. As our theoretical background, we will use the most advanced environmental humanities discourses as well as exemplary texts of trans-disciplinary criticism. Constantly keeping in mind the vaster planetary dynamics, our look will eventually zoom in on one point: Italy.

For more details, please see the full course syllabus.

This seminar will cover Boccaccio’s Decameron and some of his minor works in their critical traditions. Special attention will be paid to the contrasting civic cultures of Naples and Florence, and to Boccaccio’s representation of women in these two cities. Students must have reading and aural comprehension of Italian, but may opt to speak and write in English in consultation with the professor.

Primo Levi

Primo Levi’s literary production is associated with the experience of the Holocaust and the act of witnessing. We will explore the nature of Levi’s writing and its unique position within Italian literary history. We will also address Levi’s work in relation to contemporary debates on non-human actants and the camp as a biopolitical paradigm. In addition to the weekly readings and active class participation, students will write one article-length research paper and make class presentations of critical works. Course taught in Italian, with materials in Italian and English.

Reading List (more texts available on Sakai)

  • Giorgio Agamben, Quel che resta di Auschwitz. L’archivio e il testimone (1998)
  • Mario Barenghi, Perché crediamo a Primo Levi?- Why do we believe Primo Levi? (2013)
  • Marco Belpoliti, Primo Levi. Di fronte e di profilo (2015)
  • Jonathan Druker, Primo Levi and Humanism after Auschwitz: Posthumanist Reflections (2009)
  • Primo Levi, Opere complete (2016) [or selected novels and short stories]

While Contini famously described Petrarch’s vernacular lyric as “monolinguistic” for its unity of style and lexicon, the poet’s Latin works show his experimentation with classical aesthetics of mordant satire and invective. Petrarch obsessively revisited and revised his Canzoniere over several decades until his death, while concurrently composing Latin speeches, epistles, treatises, dialogue, and epic; consideration of his literary self-fashioning must therefore consider his production in both languages.

This course will examine the critical traditions of Petrarch’s lyric production and his protohumanist engagement with Ciceronian style and genres. Students will practice tailoring critical and research methods to the particular exigencies of different kinds of texts. Knowledge of Italian and English is essential, and reading knowledge of Latin is a major asset.

Students must have reading and aural comprehension of Italian, but they may speak and write in English if they prefer.

Italy is a woman.

Historians, literary scholars, anthropologists agree that Europe’s internal other has long been rhetorically gendered female. An outgrowth of Enlightenment environmental determinism, Italy’s feminization is crucial in understanding Anglo-Italian dynamics as seen in foreign diplomacy, cultural production and consumption, and tourist practices. Structured dualistically, feminized Italy is privileged as the ultimate object of the travelers’ desire and the focus of their pen, while also represented from within and across its borders as a ‘fallen’ woman, having failed to live up to its illustrious Roman origins. Starting from a consideration of Italy’s feminization in political rhetoric, travel writing and tourism, this class examines the gendering of Italy precisely during the watershed moment of Anglo-Italian relations: the Allied occupation during World War II, a time when Italy-as-whore acquired newfound resonance. After allying itself with Nazi Germany, the Italian government signed the September 8th armistice with the Allies; the view that Italy “betrayed” Germany and “prostituted” herself to the Allies was substantiated by an explosion of street prostitution in the Allied-occupied cities, confirming—in the eyes of many—the weak, feminine Italian character exhibited in the Armistice.

We will consider a range of texts, produced by both Anglo-Americans and Italians, including novels, films, diaries, and military guide books. Course taught in English, with materials in English and Italian (translations/accommodations provided for students from other departments who are not proficient in Italian).

We will read some of the most significant crime and detective novels of modern Italian literature, including works by Italo Svevo, Carlo Emilio Gadda, and Leonardo Sciascia. We will also explore comparatively the origins and margins of this literary genre, from Edgar Allan Poe and Filippo Tommaso Marinetti to Jorge Luis Borges and Roberto Bolaño, and discuss its contemporary appeal and transformations. Critical theory addressing detective fiction and notions of truth and evidence will be a significant part of class work. Also film adaptations will be part of the course.

Pier Paolo Pasolini’s multifaceted, provocative, and visionary production as a poet and novelist, filmmaker and essayist, semiotician and playwright is still a mysterious and largely misunderstood object. The course will focus on the decolonial, primitivist, non-modern, and exoticist motifs of Pasolini’s work. We will watch some of Pasolini’s films – such as Appunti per un’Orestiade Africana and Medea – and read a selection of his poems, novels, and essays including PetrolioLe ceneri di Gramsci and Scritti corsari. We will also read critical texts on Pasolini and aesthetics and postcoloniality by Gilles Deleuze, Georges Didi-Huberman, Frantz Fanon, and Bruno Latour.

Taking as a point of departure Roberto Esposito’s  Pensiero vivente. Origine e attualità della filosofia italiana (2010) – which represents one of the most significant attempts to grasp the specicifity of the “Italian difference” – the course will explore the naturalistic and vitalistic dimensions of Italiain thought. Guided by Esposito’s book chapters and other critical essays, we will read and discuss texts by Machiavelli, Bruno, Vico, Cuoco, Leopardi, De Sanctis, Beccaria, Gramsci, Pasolini, Negri, Muraro and other Italian writers and thinkers.

Taking as a point of departure the post-structuralist debate about “immanent life” and “bio-power”, the course will explore the radical politics of life emerged in contemporary Italian philosophy, literature, and cultural theory. In particular, we will discuss the legacy of Friedrich Nietzsche, Michel Foucault, and Gilles Deleuze, as seen through the lenses of Italian biopolitics.

What is the difference between Pirandello and “pirandellismo”? What happens to the bourgeois conceptions of subjectivity once they enter the “Pirandellian writing machine”? By reading and commenting together some of Pirandello’s classic texts we will try to answer to these (and many other) questions.