Introduction to Italian Studies – Spring 2015 at Duke

Introduction to Italian Studies


Anni settanta: Fiction and Film – Spring 2014 Duke

This graduate course (independent study) will look at a range of the diverse and important Italian literary works and films produced in the seventies. The students will discuss how the works react to earlier movements, as well as how the works respond to the events of this tumultuous decade. We will discuss, among other issues, problems of periodization, memory culture, historical engagement in film and literature, the exploration of Fascism and the Holocaust, and issues of gender. We will read works by Morante, Fo, Fallaci, Ginzburg, Sciascia, Tabucchi, Primo Levi, Calvino, Manganelli, Sgorlon, and Ortese, as well as cover films by Rosi, Petri, Antonioni, Pasolini, Bertolucci, Fellini, Cavani, and Wertmüller.

Kafka and World Literature

“Kafka and World Literature” explores ongoing debates about what world literature means through the lens of Kafka, who has played a significant role in them: David Damrosch’s What is World Literature? and Pascale Casanova’s The World Republic of Letters and both feature Kafka. From the earlier works that Kafka re-imagined, including the Odyssey, Don Quixote, and David Copperfield, to works that in some way react to or adapt Kafka’s work, “Kafka and World Literature,” will examine the ideas of world literature, literary traditions, and influence. Using different genres and media, such as film (Federico Fellini’s Intervista) and graphic novels (Art Spiegelman’s Maus) and authors from Europe (Robbe-Grillet, Svevo, and Gogol), North America (Philip Roth), South America (Borges, Márquez, and Lispector), and Asia (Kobo Abe) the course covers a wide range of works which will aid the class in our discussion of world literature and Kafka’s work itself. Students will work to develop their own understanding of Kafka’s narrative modes, while engaging a range of other literary works which have been described as Kafkaesque. This course invites students both to compare texts as well as to question what is lost and gained when comparing works across time periods, languages, and genres. Teaching at the University of California at Berkeley, Spring 2012 (Comparative Literature 155 and Italian Studies 117).

Modern Jewish Italian Authors

Many of the most important twentieth-century Italian authors are Jewish or part Jewish, including Italo Svevo, Giorgio Bassani, Umberto Saba, Elsa Morante, Natalia Ginzburg, Alberto Moravia, and Primo Levi. This class will cover a selection of these authors’ writings (and others) as well as address what the phrase “Jewish Italian Authors” means (or could mean). Topics will include humor, love, and the difficulty of representing the Shoah, among others. We will examine the impact of these authors’ Jewishness on their works, as well as the problems of discussing whether these authors’ religious and ethnic background influences their writing. In addition, the course will explore the effect important historical events had on these authors and their works. While covering some canonical works of twentieth-century Italian literature, the course will also provide a unique perspective on modern Italian literature. Teaching at the University of California at Berkeley, Fall 2011.

Turin and Trieste: Literary Communities

This course explored the extraordinary literary communities of two northern Italian cities: Turin and Trieste. We discussed the idea of regional (as opposed to national) literature, the role place has on literary inspiration, and the importance of authorial friendships (and rivalries), while examining some of the most significant Italian authors of the twentieth century. The first capital of Italy, Turin boasts the publishing house Einaudi and a centuries-old university that numerous noted authors attended. Carlo Levi, Natalia Ginzburg, Primo Levi, and Cesare Pavese, among others, spent significant portions of their lives there. Trieste, meanwhile, was not allowed to have an Italian university by its Austro-Hungarian government and was not continuously part of Italy until after 1954. Despite its apparent distance from mainstream Italian culture, Umberto Saba asserted that Trieste had given Italy her best novelist (Svevo), most luminous young narrator (Quarantotti Gambini), and best poet (by which he humbly meant himself). By comparing the literature of these two very different northern cities, this course offered a unique perspective on modern Italian literature. Taught (in Italian) at the University of California at Berkeley, Spring 2011.

The Italian Kafkaesque: Talking Animals, Cruel Families, & Strange Situations

Using Franz Kafka as a guide, this course explored a range of modern Italian authors, all of whom were interested in Kafka’s literary vision. By comparing select Kafka stories with the works of Italian authors such as Italo Calvino, Italo Svevo, Susanna Tamaro, Tommaso Landolfi, Elsa Morante, Massimo Bontempelli, and Dino Buzzati, we examined how Kafkan qualities, both thematic and stylistic, are transformed in Italian settings. With these readings students refined their critical reading skills, while developing a sense of the variety modern Italian literature. Taught (in Italian) at Duke University, Fall 2009 and the University of California at Berkeley, Fall 2010.

Kafka in the City

Franz Kafka’s works have been characterized as surreal, expressionistic, mystical, bourgeois, socialist, enigmatic, religious, existential, symbolic, allegorical, and the list continues. This course contextualized Kafka’s work, which often seems placeless and un-placeable, by concentrating on three cities and the authors’ relationships to them: a metropolis that Kafka never saw (but wrote about), Kafka’s hometown, and a place Kafka briefly visited. Focusing on New York, Prague, and Trieste, this course aimed to materialize Kafka’s work with a selection of biographical and historical information, precursor texts, travel writings, manuscript pages, and adaptations (translations, films, literary works inspired by Kafka, graphic novels). The goal was to engage, question, and analyze closely Kafka’s texts using a variety of techniques. Students worked to develop their own understanding of Kafka’s narrative modes and the relation between his texts and their cultural contexts. Students formed their own definition of “Kafkaesque” and a greater understanding of different approaches to literature generally. Taught at Columbia University, Summer 2008.