For the first meeting of the Italian Research Seminar in 2022, the Center for Italian studies is pleased to host a lecture by Prof. Maria Anna Mariani titled: "Scales of Responsibility: The Dark Side of Italo Calvino"
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, my 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 exorts us to vastly expand our sphere of responsibility and to recognize the necessary interdependence between the human and the non-human.
Maria Anna Mariani is an assistant professor in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures at the University of Chicago. She is a specialist in Italian autobiography and studies the relationship between memory and narrative, specifically the theme of trauma and survival. She is the author of Sull’autobiografia contemporanea: Nathalie Sarraute, Elias Canetti, Alice Munro, Primo Levi (Carocci, 2012) and Primo Levi e Anna Frank: Tra testimonianza e letteratura (Carocci 2018).
The Italian Research Seminar, a core event of the Center for Italian Studies, aims to provide a regular forum for faculty, postdoctoral scholars, graduate students, and colleagues from other universities to present and discuss their current research. The Seminar is vigorously interdisciplinary, and embraces all areas of Italian literature, language, and culture, as well as perceptions of Italy, its achievements and its peoples in other national and international cultures. The Seminar constitutes an important element in the effort by Notre Dame's Center for Italian Studies to promote the study of Italy and to serve as a strategic point of contact for scholarly exchange.