Italian Literature and Animal Studies

My dissertation Trieste and the Migrations of Modernism: Fin-de-siècle Austria in the Italian Literary Landscape (2009) includes a chapter on Kafka and Svevo (“Svevo’s Last Love: Kafka in Trieste and the Remapping of Italian Modernism”). I was surprised when I began working on the two authors that more had not been done on the many amazing animals of Italian literature, such as Svevo’s Argo in “Argo e il suo padrone,” who often seem to fit the growing field of Animal Studies. I began expanding my work on animals in my current book. One of my five chapters concentrates on the human-animal boundary. I have given  several talks in which I discussed the potential significance of Italian literature for Animal Studies and Animal Studies for examining Italian literature. In my own chapter, I am concentrating primarily on talking animals, via Kafka.

In 2011 in Oxford (Svevo at 150) I presented a paper on Svevo’s animals and Kafka, a talk that was soon after put up on-line. Anyone looking up the topic of Svevo’s “Argo e il suo padrone,” the main focus of my paper, would have come across this paper. It has also been published in the conference proceedings.

In 2012 I presented my work on my overall project, which included the discussion of Animal Studies and Italian literature, at invited talks at Berkeley (“‘Hu huh m hm uh cr cr. . .’: Talking Animals, Kafka, and Italian Literature”) and Chapel Hill, as well as at the Seattle MLA panel “Animal Studies, Ecocriticism and Modern Italy,” organized by John Welle. In my talk, “Kafka and Conversing Creatures in Italy: Interrogating the Human-Animal Boundary,” at the MLA panel I noted the strange gap in attention to Italian literary animals, especially when contrasted with Kafka’s central position in Animal Studies. Another panelist, discussing Primo Levi and animal imagery at the time, has now also written on this. Although we take different approaches the overall frame of one of his projects and my book chapter on the human animal boundary in Italian literature have one strong idea in common (which I discussed at MLA), the importance of putting Italian literature and Animal Studies in conversation with one each other.  I gave a talk on animals when I was in Rome, at the Norwegian Institute in June of 2014. Most recently (March 2019), I spoke at NeMLA, “From Franz Kafka to Pietro Grossi: What Italian Talking Animals Reveal about the Human Crisis” for the panel “Talking Animals in Modern and Contemporary Italian Literature,” organized by Alessandra Mirra.

Kafka’s Italian Progeny, as many of my talks, discusses Morante, Svevo, Landolfi, and Buzzati. Some of the related work on Svevo has been published, as has a chapter on Morante, which includes discussion of Morante and animals.

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