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IT6: Modern Italian Culture

This paper is available for the academic year 2017-18.

This paper allows you to study a wide range of different texts and topics from within Italian culture of the modern era, broadly stretching from the unification of Italy to the present day. It focuses on texts of different kinds (novels, poetry, drama, short stories), works in different media (written texts, film, visual arts), and different modes of cultural enquiry (literary criticism and theory, intellectual and cultural history, cultural sociology and philosophy), to give you a rich sense of the variety and complexity of modern Italian culture and history.  There are no compulsory texts or topics: you will select four or five of the topics on offer in any one year and study each in a combination of lectures / seminars and supervision.



Topic 1: Rome in Italian Cinema

This topic will examine some of the most important films in Italian cinema from the perspective of the representation of the city, of Rome as the site of cinema, of socio-political protest, of Italian national identity or simply as autobiography. Films studied will include:

  • R. Rossellini, Roma città aperta (1945)
  • V. De Sica, Ladri di biciclette (1948)
  • Steno, Un americano a Roma (1954)
  • F. Fellini, La dolce vita (1960), Fellini Roma (1972)
  • P. P. Pasolini, Accattone (1961), Mamma Roma (1962)
  • M. Antonioni, L'eclisse (1963)
  • N. Moretti, Caro diario (1993)
  • F. Ozpetek, Le fate ignoranti (2003) La finestra di fronte (2001)

Topic 2: World War Two in Italian Literature

This topic looks at the history and literary representation of World War Two in Italy. It examines a range of different texts which represent - mostly from a first-person perspective, although often filtered by varied literary effects - a range of experiences of modern total warfare, as well as particular aspects of the Italian experiences of the war.

Primary Texts

  • Italo Calvino, Il sentiero dei nidi di ragno (1947)
  • Edoardo De Filippo, Napoli milionariali (1945)
  • Primo Levi, Se Questo è un uomo (1947); La tregua (1963)
  • Curzio Malaparte, Kaputt (1945)
  • Elsa Morante, La Storia (1947)
  • Cesare Pavese, La casa in collina (1948)
  • Nuto Revelli, Il disperso di Marburg (1990)
  • Mario Rigoni Stern, Il sergente nella neve (1953)

Topic 3: Satire in Modern Italy

This topic looks at some of the most important satirical works in 20th century Italy. Serving as both a critique of social norms and oppression of minorities (anti-women, anti-Jews, etc.), satire has been one of the most practiced and effective languages in modern Italian culture. This topic explores theory, functions and limitations of the satirical genre, focusing on the intellectual debate and legal responses (censorship, libel writs, etc.) that have accompanied satirical expressions in modern Italy. Satirical artefacts examined in the topic include poems, novels, magazines, cartoons, films and theatrical plays, amongst which:

  • Tommaso Marinetti, Re Baldoria
  • Curzio Malaparte, Don Camaleo, L’Arcitaliano*
  • Giovanni Guareschi, Candido (1946-60) (selected cartoons, letters and stories from Don Camillo)
  • Ennio Flaiano, Un marziano a Roma*
  • Federico Fellini, I Vitelloni*
  • Dario Fo, Mistero Buffo*

For an introduction to the topic, you are invited to examine the works followed by asterisk (*), and read Quintero (ed.), A Companion to Satire Ancient and Modern (2007), pp. 400-585.

Topic 4: Technology and Literature

This topic would present and discuss the various ways in which technology has been conceptualized and represented in 20th-century Italian literature, by exploring the many facets of this open and unresolved tension, which ranges from the enthusiastic and apologetic, to the perplexed and ideologically charged, to the ironic and playful. 

Primary texts:

  • F.T. Marinetti, Teoria e invenzione futurista (selection of Manifesti)
  • Massimo Bontempelli, 522: racconto di una giornata (1932)
  • Paolo Volponi, La macchina mondiale (1965)
  • Primo levi, La chiave a stella (1975)
  • Daniele Del Giudice, Atlante occidentale (1985)
  • Daniele Del Giudice, Staccando l’ombra da terra (1994)

Secondary reading:

  • G. Berghaus, Futurism and the Technological Imagination, Brill 2009.
  • Jeffrey T. Schnapp, “Crash (Speed as Engine of Individuation)”, Modernism/Modernity 6.1 (1999): 1-49. Online link here.
  • Eleonora Lima, 'Paolo Volponi’s La macchina mondiale as a cybernetic utopia: The limits of a solely allegorical interpretation', Forum Italicum, 2017
  • Giuseppina Santagostino, ‘Tecnologia e rappresentazione in Primo Levi’, in G. Bárberi Squarotti, C. Ossola (eds). Letteratura e industria (Firenze: Olski, 1997), pp. 1039-52.
  • Isolina Dovara, ‘Scienza, tecnica e industria nella vita e nell’opera di Primo Levi’, in Bárberi Squarotti, Ossola, pp. 1053-74.
  • P. Antonello, ‘Primo Levi and “Man as Maker”’, in Robert S. C. Gordon, (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Primo Levi. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2007, pp. 89-103.
  • Nicoletta Pireddu, 'Towards a Poet(h)ics of techne: Primo Levi and Daniele Del Giudice’, Annali’d’Italianista (19), 2001, 189-214. 
  • P. Antonello, ‘La verità degli oggetti: la narrativa di Daniele Del Giudice tra descrizione e testimonianza’, Annali d’Italianistica, 23 (2005), 211-31.

Topic 5: Bruno Munari (cross-listed from It.9)

Bruno Munari is known worldwide as an eclectic visual artist, designer and pedagogue. His ability of combining a holistic understanding of artistic praxis with a dose of irony and lightness earned him the reputation of being "the Leonardo and the Peter Pan of twentieth century Italian art". He was one of the front-runners of an artistic movement that helped to invigorate the art scene in Italy, in particular industrial design. He was also a prolific writer and popularizer, who published theoretical texts, children's books, and 'illegible books'. This topic explores the various facets of his eclectic opus by connecting his methodological and theoretical statements to his artistic outputs.

Primary texts:

  • Bruno Munari, Arte come mestiere
  • Bruno Munari, Artista e Designer
  • Bruno Munari, Da cosa nasce cosa

Topic 6: Pasolini Between Text, Image And Art (cross-listed from It.9)

Pier Paolo Pasolini was one of the most significant writers and filmmakers of the second half of the 20th century in Italy. His eclectic interests also included extensive engagement with and theorization of the image - from Renaissance and Mannerist art and art history, to modernist painting, to the semiology of film. This topic will examine a series of works by Pasolini where text and image, or rather a complex triangle between text, art and moving image intersect and interact in ways that include, but also go radically beyond the paradigm of adaptation, centred on a philosophy of transposition and analogy between diverse sign systems. The key work at the centre of the topic will be the 1968 book and film Teorema.

Primary works by Pasolini:

  • La ricotta (1963)
  • Sopralluoghi in Palestina per Il vangelo secondo Matteo (1964)
  • Il vangelo secondo Matteo (1964)
  • 'Israele', section of poetry collection Poesia in forma di rosa (1964)
  • **Teorema (1968) [film and book]
  • Empirismo eretico (1970)
  • San Paolo (1975), screenplays

[written texts and film screenplays are available in P.P. Pasolini, Opere (Milan: Mondadori, 1998-2003]

Preparatory reading: 

In addition to familiarising yourself with the primary texts listed above for each topic you are interested in, you should consult the following:

  • P Brand and L. Pertile, eds, Cambridge History of Italian Literature
  • D. Forgacs and R. Lumley eds, Italian Cultural Studies
  • R. Gordon, Introduction to 20th-Century Italian Literature. A Difficult Modernity
  • P. Hainsworth and D. Robey eds, Oxford Companion to Italian Literature
  • G. Moliterno ed, Encyclopedia of Contemporary Italian Cutlure
  • Oxford Illustrated History of Italy
Teaching and learning: 

Each topic will be taught in a series of 4 lectures / seminars and 2 supervisions during MT and LT. You are expected to study at least four topics. There will be revision teaching in ET.

For the It.6 Moodle site, please see here. The password can be collected from the paper coordinator.


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.

The exam paper may be substituted by an Optional Dissertation.

Course Contacts: 
Dr Pierpaolo Antonello