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IT4: Autobiography and Self-Representation in Italian Culture

This paper is available for 2017-18

Telling stories about ourselves and our lives is a universal human cultural trait, but it takes distinct forms in different cultures and different periods. This course follows the pattern of the Italian "Texts and Contexts" course in Part 1A by ranging over a wide range of periods in Italian culture, from medieval to modern. Instead of the contextual approach of the 1A course, however, here texts are studied in relation to a single overarching aspect; the theory and practice of 'self-representation' or 'autobiography'. You will be required to study single texts in detail, from works of literature in prose and poetry, to letters and films, but also to compare and contrast different texts, across genres, forms, periods and media (including going beyond the core texts if you wish). You will also be introduced to some of the core theoretical issues at stake in studying autobiography and self-representation.

Topics: 

Topics for 2017-18 are as follows:

  • 20th-Century Women's Autobiography: Aleramo and Banti
  • Oral history, memory and 1968: Passerini and Portelli
  • Medieval Selves: Dante and Petrarch
  • Early Modern Women's letters: Franco and Tarabotti​

 

Topic 1: 20th-Century Women's Autobiography: Aleramo and Banti

Core texts

  • Sibilla Aleramo Una Donna (1906)
  • Anna Banti Artemisia (1947)

Topic 2: Oral history, memory and 1968: Passerini and Portelli

This topic will look at a key moment of political and social crisis in modern Italy, the 1968 student protests, through the lens of a new method of history, collective memory and autobiography commonly labelled ‘oral history’. It will use as its main texts works by historians who both lived through the events of 1968 and following and also chronicled their generation’s memories and experiences of these events using a mix of autobiography and oral history.

Core texts

  • Luisa Passerini, Autoritratto di gruppo (Florence: Giunti, 1988)

  • Alessandro Portelli, selections of essays from: Storie orali : racconto, immaginazione, dialogo (Rome: Donzelli, 2007); The Battle of Valle Giulia : oral history and the art of dialogue (Madison: U of Wisconsin Press, 1997)

Topic 3: Medieval Selves: Dante and Petrarch

This topic will look at two of the major figures of Italian medieval literature and the ways in which each uses poetry as a means of self-representation. Both the Vita nuova and the Canzoniere tell tales of love for a very particular woman, the death of that woman, and the poet's subsequent search for direction in her absence. But above all, both texts tell of the poet's ambition and ideas of transcendency (whether religious or literary).

Core texts

  • Dante, Vita Nuova. Students should if possible buy the edition published by University of Notre Dame Press, ed. Dino Cervigni and Edward Vasta. Otherwise any other edition with a facing-page English translation will do.

  • Petrarch, Canzoniere. Students should if possible buy the edition published by Indiana University Press, ed. and trans. Mark Musa. Otherwise any other edition with facing page English translation will do. Read as much of the Canzoniere as you can. Lectures, supervisions, and exams will focus on the following poems: 1, 3, 5, 16, 35, 61, 62, 70, 74, 81, 82, 90, 126, 128, 134, 159, 264, 267, 268, 286, 302, 320, 365, 366

Topic 4: Early Modern Women's letters: Franco and Tarabotti

This topic will look at letters written by the Venetian courtesan, Veronica Franco (1546-1591), and the literary nun Arcangela Tarabotti (1604-1652), in order to ask questions about the early modern letter as self-representation, about the self-fashioning of letters in general, and women's letters in particular. The voices of these two women are far from representative, but come from the margins and are polemical and extreme in different ways.Core texts

  • Veronica Franco: A useful modern edition and translation including a selection of Franco's letters is the one published in the Chicago 'Other Voice' series: Veronica Franco, Poems and selected letters, ed. and trans. by Ann Rosalind Jones and Margaret F. Rosenthal (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998) [The 15 letters included here are cited only in translation, however.] The introduction to this volume is particularly useful. The Italian originals of Franco's letters in a sixteenth-century edition can be consulted on line at: http://dewey.library.upenn.edu/sceti/printedbooksNew/index.cfm?TextID=pq4623_f6_z48&PagePosition=1 Photocopies of some letters will be provided in the course material.]
  • Arcangela Tarabotti: A modern edition of Tarabotti's letters has been published: Arcangela Tarabotti, Lettere familiari e di complimento, ed. Meredith Ray and Lynn Westwater (Turin: Rosenberg and Sellier, 2005) [Photocopies of some letters will be provided in the course materials]
Preparatory reading: 

The preliminary reading for this paper is the primary texts listed above. In addition, you should look at some of following theoretical and general work:

 Preliminary reading on autobiography in general, see:

  • L. Anderson, Autobiography (London: Routledge, 2000)
  • P. Lejeune, Le Pacte autobiographique (1975): see 'The Autobiographical Contract' in T. Todorov, ed. , French Literary Theory Today (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1982)
  • J. Olney, ed., Autobiography: Essays Theoretical and Critical (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1980)
  • R. Pascal, Design and Truth in Autobiography (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1960)
  • J. Sturrock, The Language of Autobiography (Cambridge: CUP, 1993)

Preliminary reading on autobiography in Italy, see:

  • 'Autobiography', entry in Oxford Companion to Italian Literature (Oxford: OUP, 2002)
  • A. Battistini, Lo specchio di Dedalo. Biografia e autobiografia (Bologna: Il Mulino, 1990)
  • F. D'Intino, L'autobiografia moderna. Storia, forme, problemi (Roma, Bulzoni, 1998)
  • M. Guglielminetti, 'Biografia e autobiografia', in Letteratura italiana. Vol. v. Le questioni, edited by A. Asor Rosa (Turin: Einaudi, 1986), pp.829-86
Teaching and learning: 

Each topic will be taught in a series of 4 lectures  / seminars and 2 supervision during MT and LT.  There will be revision teaching in ET.

For the It.4 Moodle site, please see here. The password can be collected from the paper coordinator.

Assessment: 

The paper will be assessed by a three-hour written exam. There will be at least four questions on each topic and you will be required to answer three questions on three different topics.

This paper is also available for examination by Long Essay.

Course Contacts: 
Prof. Robert Gordon