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Recent Graduate Seminar Topics offered in Italian Studies

2009-10

Narrating the Jewish Self: Autobiography, History and Literature in the Fiction of Giorgio Bassani
Prof. Lucienne Kroha

This seminar examines the fiction of Giorgio Bassani as a triple-voiced discourse which tells the story of the Jews of Ferrara from the Risorgimento to the post-war years, consitutes a spiritual autobiography, and engages in dialogue with other authors and discourses: Freud, Nietzsche, Lampedusa, Hawthorne, Mann, Pirandello, Weininger, and stereotypes of anti-Semitism.

Nations and Theory: Italy and Italian Cinema
Prof. Rosanna Maule

This seminar focuses on the concept of nation and its function in film, with concentration on topics and case studies relative to Italian cinema and culture. Our purpose is to verify if --and how – Italian films can be identified with the notion of national cinema, address themes or issues associated with Italian history or culture, propose nationalist views, and be representative of national formations and ideologies that have emerged at different stages of Italy’s formation as a nation state. We will also stress the dominant implications of national categories and consider Italian films that represent anti-state, sub-national, non-Western, and post-colonial positions challenging the hegemonic premises of the modern nation.

The Epic Tradition in Italy
Prof. Dario Brancato

This course focuses on the Renaissance Italian epic tradition to the seventeenth century. Major emphasis is placed on the historical and cultural circumstances that gave birth to Ludovico Ariosto's Orlando Furioso and Torquato Tasso's Gerusalemme Liberata. Another focus of the course is the genre of epic in the Italian literary debates.

Dante’s Divine Comedy: Literary Sources, Commentators & Critics
Prof. Tobias Gittes

In his commentary on the Divine Comedy, Boccaccio states that though Dante’s Comedy is not, of course, in every way like Scripture, he would nevertheless maintain that one may rightly say of the Comedy what Gregory the Great once observed of Scripture: “…it is a still and deep river in which the lamb can walk and the elephant swim.” That is, Boccaccio explains, a text from which “the rough may derive delectation and the sophisticated wisdom” (Esp. I, alleg., 24). The approximately seven centuries that separate modern readers from the historical, cultural, and literary context in which the Comedy was produced have had the effect of making even the most sophisticated readers feel out of their depth; neither walking nor swimming, but desperately treading water (and in constant danger of drowning). This course will attempt to remedy this problem by anchoring a reading of Dante’s Comedy in the classical, biblical, and medieval texts that inform his conception; the early commentaries; and a selection of more recent critical studies.

2008-09

Poets, Readers and Audiences in Medieval and Renaissance Poetry
Prof. Matteo Soranzo

What is an author? How did medieval and early modern readers define and imagine authorship? What kind of social factors affected ideas about the author? How does a text construct the figure of the author? What are the main trends in the contemporary debate about this concept? This seminar addresses these questions in light of contemporary critical theory and medieval-early modern primary sources. Our goal is to rethink and problematize the notion of authorship in order to approach a body of canonical texts from a critically informed perspective. A selection of theoretical essays is used to analyze medieval or early modern texts in their intellectual context.

Italo Calvino and the Debate on Postmodernism.
Prof. Eugenio Bolongaro

One of the issues insistently raised by the scholarship on Calvino has been his relationship to postmodernism. This seminar examines the international debate on postmodernism and its impact on Italian criticism as it attempted to come to terms with Calvino's contribution to twentieth century literature. The goal is not to come to a definitive decision as to whether Calvino (and which Calvino) can be properly described as postmodern, but rather to explore the extent to which the discussions surrounding postmodernism help us to better understand Calvino’s contribution and, vice versa, how Calvino’s work can help us to better grasp the real stakes underlying the debate on postmodernism.

The Decameron in its Literary Context
Prof. Tobias Gittes

In his famous apologia in the introduction to Day IV of the Decameron, Boccaccio challenges those readers who fault him for the content of his “novelette” to seek out the originals upon which they are modeled; only, he says, if they should find some discrepancy between the two do they have grounds for chastising him.
Though few would question the disingenuous nature of his words, it is nevertheless instructive to actually accept Boccaccio’s challenge at face value, for a survey of the classical and medieval sources and analogues of Boccaccio’s tales readily reveals that his methodology could not be further from the servile imitation implied by his challenge; traditional forms are almost invariably infused with new content, and traditional content most often finds itself hemmed in by new forms. In this way, Boccaccio succeeds in fashioning a near seamless synthesis of such antithetical genres as the fabliau and the homiletic exemplum, chivalric romance and historical chronicle. To better appreciate Boccaccio’s methodology and the pivotal role played by the Decameron in the evolution of the novella genre, this course will attempt to situate the tales in the context of their literary sources and their subsequent reception and reworking by poets ranging from Sacchetti to Chaucer to Keats.

History of the Italian Language
Prof. Dario Brancato

The course has a two-pronged approach a) it follows the historical development of the Italian language with particular attention to the debates on and surrounding language and its literary implications; b) it explores the history of the discipline and the textbooks that have been published since Giacomo Devoto's Profilo di storia linguistica italiana (1953) and Bruno Migliorini’s Storia della lingua italiana (1960).