Jennifer Scappettone

Associate Professor, Department of English and Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, Committee on Creative Writing, the College
Walker 509
PhD, University of California-Berkeley, 2005

My research and teaching interests span the nineteenth through twenty-first centuries, with particular emphasis on comparative global modernism; the history and presence of the avant-garde; poetry and poetics; the evolution of cities, geographies of modernity, and current transmogrifications of place and space; literatures of travel, migration, and displacement; barbarism, polylingualism, and other futures of language in global contexts; translation; Italian culture and its echo in others; the study of gender and sexuality; relations between literary and other arts; and art history, visual culture, and aesthetics. I’m interested in the way that Anglo-American and European languages and aesthetics register changes in the coordinates of space, time, and attention.

My first book surveys discursive clashes in the representation of unevenly developing and decaying modernities that give rise to troubled forms of modernism. Killing the Moonlight: Modernism in Venice shifts the gaze of modernist studies from the rising urban centers of Paris and New York to their shadow at the edge of Europe: Venice, an early modern cosmopolis whose apparent resistance to modernization renders it a provocative haunt for artists and intellectuals grappling with the stakes and costs of modernity. Moving from John Ruskin’s The Stones of Venice through Andrea Zanzotto’s Peasants Wake for Fellini’s ‘Casanova’ and Rachel Whiteread’s Paperbacks, the volume constructs a genealogy of encounters with post-Romantic Venice that shows how Europe’s “internal other” has shaped perspectives of a changing present. I reread Anglo-American modernism by bringing canonical literature trained on Venice into dialogue with debates in urbanism and geography, art history and historiography, and lineages of Italian thought often confined to the margins of English-language criticism, arguing that a focus on this threshold city draws out clashing cultural impulses that are often obscured in studies of ascendant capitals. Outmoded but irrepressibly seductive, Venice forms a crucible for modernist values because its topography and cultural heritage seem to embody all that the modern ethos wishes to pathologize and suppress: the fluid, the feminine, the sentimental, the “Oriental,” the decadent and obsolete (characteristics spurned, for instance, in the 1910 futurist manifesto “Against Passéist Venice”). In Venetian modernism, the residual traces of culture (and nature) that have allegedly been overcome resurface continually, forcing authors of the progressing future into digressive advances as they struggle ardently to mourn, dismiss, or assimilate what is being left behind. The Venetian cityscape persists in contemporary representational culture as a field of exceptions to Enlightenment perspectives—as the recollected city “made only of exceptions, exclusions, incongruities, contradictions” that prods Italo Calvino’s Marco Polo to draft, through language, an infinite series of permutations: possibilities for inhabiting the present that the monumental strategies of modernist design have proven incapable of either accommodating or expunging.

An interest in the vagaries of attention and in the encroachment of ambient phenomena into works of art has led me to my second critical project on the poetics of dislocation. I chart a tendency in experimental literary arts of the twentieth century to produce textual “atmospheres” as opposed to linear narratives—works that draw attention to the installation and materiality of language unmoored from its ideological roots. This work explores the documentary and utopian aspects of modern literature’s aperture to ambient noise, and the production of immersive, xenoglossic textual environments that destroy hieratic syntax. The project seeks to identify the historiographical value of linguistic at-seaness in contemporary poetry and narrative, tracking emergent forms of composition (and of reading) as the manipulation of distraction.

An abiding fascination with the poetics and politics of polylingualism has fueled my work on the “Babeling deeply felt” of Amelia Rosselli, a postwar modernist whose father was an assassinated hero of the European anti-Fascist Resistance. Raised in exile between France, England, and the United States, Rosselli composed in the interstices between three languages, estranging each from its customary usages. Locomotrix: Selected Poetry and Prose of Amelia Rosselli was issued in Spring 2012 from the University of Chicago Press. 

My research has been supported by various fellowships from the Mellon Foundation and the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, from Phi Beta Kappa, and most recently from the American Academy in Rome, where I was the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Post-Doctoral Fellow in Modern Italian Studies for 2010-11. Locomotrix was awarded the 2012 Raiziss/De Palchi Book Prize by the Academy of American Poets.

As a poet and translator, I am committed to engagement with living literature, hands-on approaches to culture, and experiments in aesthetic collectivity, including those that cross formal lines such as those of verse, digital media, and dance. My teaching in creative practice emphasizes interdisciplinary and cross-media approaches to poetry, while anchoring students in the architectonics of verse’s furrows and “rooms."

Recent Courses in RLL
  • RLLT 42918 Exploratory Translation (Winter 2019)
Affiliated Departments and Centers: Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality, Committee on Creative Writing, Department of English
Subject Area: Italian Studies