" 'Most Philosophic Nation': Italian Identity and European Modernity in Giacomo Leopardi" - Joseph Luzzi (Bard College)


Location: Room 200, Riley Hall

" 'Most Philosophic Nation': Italian Identity and European Modernity in Giacomo Leopardi" - Joseph Luzzi (Bard College)

Thursday April 10 at 4:30pm in Riley Hall, Room 200

Shocked by his nation’s degraded social conditions, the Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi questioned why the geographical expression “Italy” could reach soaring heights in cultural expression yet also fail its basic political challenges. His answer to this problem appeared in one of his less-known works, the Discorso sopra lo stato presente dei costumi degl’italiani (Discourse on the Present State of the Costumes of the Italians [1823]), a meditation on the still-vexed issue of italianità (“Italianness” or “Italian identity”). The treatise raises concerns about Italy’s place in the world—and the poet’s role in it—that draw on Leopardi’s understanding of Europe’s modernizing forces, a major theme of his collected poems, the Canti (1835). In my talk, I will explore how Leopardi’s writings offer a valuable perspective on Italy’s presence in an international network beholden to capitalist modes of expansion and quantitative models of growth—which, to Leopardi’s horror, were being applied to something as inchoate as human life. I will analyze Leopardi’s ideas on Italy as a “society-free” nation in the Discorso, then connect that text’s sociological inquiry to his thoughts on modernization in the “Palinodia al marchese Gino Capponi” (“Recantation for Marchese Gino Capponi” [1835]). I will also show how Leopardi’s analysis of local and international issues relates to his views on the role of poetry in what he believed to be an age of prose.

Joseph Luzzi (PhD, Yale) is Associate Professor of Italian at Bard and author of the forthcoming books, My Two Italies (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014), and A Cinema of Poetry: Aesthetics of the Italian Art Film (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014). His first book, Romantic Europe and the Ghost of Italy (Yale University Press, 2008), received the MLA’s Scaglione Prize for Italian Studies and was named an Outstanding Academic Title by Choice. His articles have appeared in PMLA, Dante Studies, Modern Language Quarterly, Modern Language Notes, Comparative Literature, Annali d’Italianistica, and many others. An active critic, Luzzi is a frequent contributor of essays and reviews to such publications as The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Times Literary Supplement, and Bookforum. His honors include an essay award from the Dante Society of America, a teaching prize from Yale College, and a fellowship from the National Humanities Center.

His talk, “ ‘Most Philosophic Nation’: Italian Identity and European Modernity in Giacomo Leopardi,” comes from a planned book entitled Italian Values: Literary Form and Socioeconomic Thought, 1764-1881.

Co-sponsored by Italian Studies at Notre Dame and the Nanovic Institute for European Studies.