Maria Anna Mariani

Assistant Professor of Modern Italian Literature; Italian Undergraduate Adviser and Director of Undergraduate Studies
Wieboldt 215
Office Hours: Thursday 9:30-10:30 am
PhD, University of Siena, 2010

I am a specialist of Modern Italian Literature (19th- 21st Century). I also work on Memory Studies, Holocaust Studies, Jewish-Italian Literature, and Literary Theory.

My teaching and research interests explore a network of recurring problems: survival, historical and personal trauma, intellectual engagement, the ethics of literary form, and the tension between factual and fictional genres.

My first book, Sull’autobiografia contemporanea. Nathalie Sarraute, Elias Canetti, Alice Munro, Primo Levi (Carocci 2012), investigates contemporary autobiography from a comparative perspective. Engaging with Paul Ricœur’s narrative theory, I argue that in autobiography memory acts as another form—or “level”— of Ricœurian mimesis, giving shape to lived time even before the action of narrative emplotment takes place. 

My second book Primo Levi e Anna Frank: Tra testimonianza e letteratura (Carocci 2018) puts Anne Frank and Primo Levi in critical conversation for the first time, delving into their respective testimonies and comparing their posthumous lives.  The theoretical problem that connects the two figures, and which mutually illuminates them, is the “sin of fiction.” For Levi—the quintessential witness of the Shoah—fiction was an indispensable but forbidden form of escapism, which he first attempted to camouflage under a pseudonym only to later reclaim it as form of “indirect” testimony. In the case of Anne Frank, the “sin of fiction” refers to the progressive dilution of her work: a process that originated in the editing begun by Frank herself, which was continued by her father. This process culminated in theatrical and film adaptations of the diary, which risk sacrificing its testimonial content for universal literary appeal.

I am currently writing a book manuscript titled Italy and the Bomb: A Poetics of the Bystander. The book explores the overlooked position of the bystander in the Nuclear Age by focusing on the Italian situation as a paradigmatic case. Host to hundreds of American atomic weapons while lacking a nuclear arsenal of its own, Italy’s status was an ambiguous one: that of an unwilling—and in many ways passive—accomplice. Inspired by Seamus Heaney's dictum that “there is no such thing as innocent by-standing,” the book frames Italy’s fraught mix of implication and powerlessness not only as a geopolitical question, but as a way to rethink the role of the sidelined intellectual in the face of mass extinction. Italy and the Bomb includes discrete chapters on the major Italian intellectuals of the time: Italo Calvino, Alberto Moravia, Elsa Morante, Pier Paolo Pasolini, and Leonardo Sciascia. Conscious of their own political marginalization, these authors address the atomic question through a wide range of experimental forms, approaching the nearly unthinkable theme in allusive and oblique ways. Often dismissed as disengaged, inconsistent, or merely playful, these works demand instead a political reading capable of recognizing their confrontation with the paradoxes of the nuclear age. 

Finally, throughout these years I have strived to reach a wider readership in my creative non-fiction writing, publishing books and articles that bridge academic and non-specialist publics. In the fictionalized reportage Dalla Corea del Sud (Exòrma 2017), I chronicle my five years living in a South Korean dorm for international university teachers. Throughout, I reflect on how negative nationality acts as an affective bond for a global community of resident aliens. In the hybrid non-fiction book Voci da Uber (Mucchi 2019), I explore the genre of communication enabled by Uber rides, investigating the connection between small talk and confession. The book is composed of micro-narratives that retrace multiple car rides in Chicago, reworking the conversations which animated them. These stories are also an attempt to counter the reifying logic of evaluation which dominates the sharing economy. Storytelling against stars: that is the driving force governing these pages.

Recent Courses in RLL
  • ITAL 21820/31820 Italo Calvino: the Dark Side (Winter 2018, Winter 2021, Winter 2024)
  • ITAL 22560 Poetic Postures of the Twentieth Century (Winter 2020, Spring 2022)
  • ITAL 23410 Reading and Practice of the Short Story (Autumn 2016, Autumn 2017, Autumn 2019, Autumn 2022)
  • ITAL 24920/34920 Primo Levi (Autumn 2017, Autumn 2020)
  • ITAL 24930/34930 Italy and the Bomb (Winter 2017, Autumn 2019, Autumn 2022)
  • ITAL 25210 Brevitas (Autumn 2020, Winter 2022)
  • ITAL 27600 Beyond Ferrante: Italian Women Writers Rediscovered and the Global Editorial Market (Winter 2023)
  • ITAL 35210 Theories of Autobiography (Autumn 2016)
Affiliated Departments and Centers: Center for Jewish Studies
Subject Area: Italian Studies