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Society for Italian Studies Interim Conference 2014



Although academically framed within the broader area of Modern Languages, Italian Studies presents elements of peculiarity that doubtless stem from the specificity of the ‘Italian case’ from the early Middle Ages onwards. Elements such as the troubled and non-homogeneous construction of a national, cultural and linguistic identity through the centuries, Italy’s geopolitically strategic position and its pivotal influence in European history from late antiquity to recent armed conflicts, its ongoing political turbulences, and, finally, the hegemonic role held by the Church and by dominant ideologies in the past century (Fascism, Idealism, Marxism), have together shaped an ambiguous position for Italian culture compared to other domains, between centrality and peripheral-ness, marginalization and exceptionality.

Within the field of Italian Studies, this peculiarity may inspire, on one hand, an approach privileging the choice, as objects of study, of those aspects of Italian culture possessing an immediate appeal for external observers (sometimes on the brink of orientalism). On the other, scholarship may tend to disregard the aforementioned specificities, plainly superimposing on the Italian case analytical grids elaborated in different contexts, which may run the risk of smoothing and defusing, albeit unwittingly, the elements of potentially productive tension underlying its object.

In deliberately reversing the perspective, our assumption is instead that the Italian case can be taken as an interstitial site offering a vantage point from which to question and revitalise established academic and cultural praxes. Rather than conceiving Italian Studies as one of the provinces of Modern Languages, we invite contributions in which the peculiarities of the Italian position may enable a rethinking of disciplinary boundaries and theoretical questions concerning the field of humanities as a whole, taking an inclusive interdisciplinary perspective. At the same time, we welcome proposals addressing the identity of Italian Studies as a disciplinary field, with particular reference to the new perspectives opened by contemporary Italian culture and by existing scholarship in Italian Studies, both in Italy and abroad.

Quite paradoxically, in the very same decades in which Italy has been progressively marginalized from the geopolitical Western equilibrium, following the end of the Cold War, several symptoms seem to herald a newly crucial role of a more broadly intended ‘Italian culture’ in the global community. These include:

  • the literary movement known as ‘New Italian Epic’ and its reassessment of such contested issues as the writer’s political commitment, the use of the novel, the role of post-modernism and the problem of ‘what comes next’;
  • the international presence and recognition of such seminal Italian thinkers as Giorgio Agamben, Adriana Cavarero, Roberto Esposito, Carlo Ginzburg and Giacomo Marramao;
  • the widening of the borders of what is intended as ‘Italian’ by means of a plural and hybrid intellectual scene composed of resident Italian intellectuals, Italian writers, artists and scholars working abroad, immigrant or ‘second generation’ writers and intellectuals writing in Italian, and non-Italian scholars active in the field, who have productively made Italian culture interact with other academic, literary and cultural traditions, thereby shadowing new practices in the humanities on a global scale.

To discuss how Italian Studies can mirror and interpret the potential richness of these and similar exchanges is precisely the purpose of our conference.

Proposals are invited which address the above ideas and developments and which offer a contribution to one of the following six panels around which the conference will be constructed:

  1. Parenthood: legacies and generational positionings;
  2. Italian ‘difference’: intellectual and cultural genealogies;
  3. Italian ‘difference’: centrality and ex-centricity;
  4. Transnational Italy: spaces and topography;
  5. Transnational Italy: deterritorialized expressions of Italian culture;
  6. Italian Studies: redefining the limits of the canon.

All speakers must be members of the Society for Italian Studies. For details on membership, see the SIS website.

All conferences attendees are warmly invited to the two events organized by the research network Roman Modernities as an ideal appendix to the conference: Roma-Italia, a talk with Andrea Minuz and Guido Vitiello on the legacies of Fellini and Pasolini, and the two-day event Raccontare Roma - two days of music, films, images, and narrations concerning the multifaceted nature of Rome.

Everybody is welcome!