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Italian Literary Criticism and Theory in the 20th and 21st Centuries

ITAL 685.401
also offered as: COML 786
Tuesday 3:30-5:30pm


Title: Writers at Work: from Gramsci’s “organic intellectual” to the professional critic.


In the 20th Century the history of Italian critical engagements with “Literature,” understood as language, rhetoric, style, and also connected to politics and culture is quite varied and complex.

Predictably, the involvement with society and/or the “aesthetic” dimension of Literature have been prominent features of the development of Italian criticism and literary theory, and writers have often engaged in literary criticism and theory, either reflecting on literary works or on history and society.


The course will focus primarily on “writers about writing”, presenting a variety of approaches and views expressed by famous Italian novelists in the course of the 20th Century.


Starting with Benedetto Croce and Antonio Gramsci the political, cultural, social uses of literature have been the focus of “militant critics” who positioned themselves in an openly declared emancipative effort to rely on “literature” as the expression of social change and the potential for transformative liberation.

A great many of these “intellettuali” were writers, often engaged in public expression (in periodicals and newspapers), but also in debates hosted by literary journals whose orientations spanned from the sociological to the formalist and structuralist.


Even in their most “structuralist” works, Italian writers performed their involvement with criticism with a persistent valorization of history. This is probably the most distinctive feature of the Italian theoretical production of the period.


Prominent among the many writers who produced books and articles are: Pasolini, Moravia , Morante, Calvino, Eco, N. Ginzburg, Pavese, Sciascia, Ferrante and Lahiri.

Their volumes and articles dealing with language, writing and literature will be discussed so as to provide a map of the most relevant concerns and issues they faced and raised.


The availability of their texts in English translation will be pursued for the benefit of students who do not speak Italian but are interested in the course.


Students are expected to read all the readings and participate actively to class discussion. Taking turns, they will be asked to prepare a presentation before the class, focusing in particular on one writer or work. Students in the class are expected to respond to their peer’s presentation and enrich the discussion with relevant comments.

At the end of the course each student will submit a scholarly paper going more deeply into one or more of the works studied.  This paper should engage with the critical perspective of the author chosen.


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