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SLIM 2023 / Scales of Responsibility: The Dark Side Of Italo Calvino


2023 Week of Italian Language in the World
Italian language and sustainability

Italo Calvino’s Universe
A lecture series on literature, ecology, arts and ethics 

On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Italo Calvino (1923-1985), the Italian Cultural Institute of Chicago, in collaboration with the Department of Modern Languages, Italian Program, at DePaul University, presents a series of lectures on exemplary and less known themes, from the vast body of work of the Italian author, between fantastic elements and historical issues.

4/ Scales of Responsibility: The Dark Side of Italo Calvino
Presented by prof. Maria Anna Mariani
Friday, November 10 at 5:00pm CT
Italian Cultural Institute of Chicago

This lecture offers a very different picture of Italo Calvino from the idea of fairy tales and lightness that has been etched into our collective imagination. For his entire career, Calvino has been preoccupied with the problem of atomic energy and nuclear weapons and has written extensively about it—and yet this subject matter, so intrinsic to his production, has been almost unanimously overlooked.

This lecture proposes a possible atomic genealogy for the “cosmic turning point” in Calvino’s work—a break in his intellectual trajectory that has been widely discussed and at times denigrated as an evasion from the human and a nihilistic dispersal into the animate and inanimate objects of the universe. Against this common interpretation, Maria Anna Mariani’s aim is to demonstrate that escapist intentions are the furthest thing from his words. On the contrary, what comes through is the urgency of a moral imperative to adapt human’s behavior to the most expanded scales of time and space. It is precisely in a cluster of writings on nuclear power that we first encounter this moral imperative. By analyzing these texts—on the goats sacrificed for the Crossroad tests in Bikini island, on the neutron bomb, and on the eternity of nuclear waste—we will appreciate how Calvino exhorts us to vastly expand our sphere of responsibility and to recognize the necessary interdependence between the human and the non-human.

The presentation will be moderated by Caterina Mongiat Farina, Associate Professor and Director of the Department of Modern Languages, Italian Program, at DePaul University. 

Free and open to the public. Registration is not required. Doors open at 4:30pm CT and seats are assigned on a first-come-first-served basis, until capacity is reached.

Maria Anna Mariani is Assistant Professor of Italian Literature at the University of Chicago. She is the author of the books Italian Literature in the Nuclear Age: A Poetics of the Bystander (Oxford UP 2022), Primo Levi e Anna Frank (Carocci 2018), and Sull’autobiografia contemporanea (Carocci 2012).

Caterina Mongiat Farina (laurea, Università di Padova; PhD, Harvard University) is Associate Professor and Italian Program Director at DePaul University. Her research focuses on issues of language, rhetoric, and identity in Italian literature during the long sixteenth century and from the Postwar period to the present. She is the author of Questione di lingua. L’ideologia del dibattito sull’italiano nel Cinquecento (Longo editore, 2014); with Geoff Farina, the translator of Umberto Eco’s classic manual How to Write a Thesis (MIT Press, 2015), and with Paola De Santo, the editor and translator of Isabella Andreini’s 1607 Letters (Iter Press, forthcoming). Mongiat Farina’s articles on premodern literature and contemporary coming-of-age fiction appeared in journals such as Rinascimento, Stilistica e metrica italiana, Forum Italicum, Italica, Esperienze letterarie, and Strumenti critici. Her current research focuses on Italo Calvino’s use of metaphors and similes between human beings, animals, and plants and commonplaces of the bildungsroman to reflect on how to be human and embrace change as a constant process, beyond one’s formative years. She is collaborating with Paola De Santo on the Italian edition of Andreini’s Lettere.

The Week of Italian Language in the World is a yearly worldwide celebration of the Italian language and creativity. This initiative was born in 2001 in cooperation with the Accademia della Crusca. It is organized during the third week of October by the Embassies, Consulates, and Italian Cultural Institutes, with the support of the Ministry of Culture (MiC), the Ministry of University and Research (MUR), the Government of Switzerland and all of the main partners for the promotion of the Italian language. 

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