Maria Anna Mariani

Assistant Professor of Modern Italian Literature; Director of Undergraduate Studies; Italian Undergraduate Adviser
marianim@uchicago.edu
Wieboldt 215
Office Hours: M 5:00-6:00 & by appt.
773.834.6405
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. It is driven by the following question: what does it mean to be deeply implicated in an event, while at the same time rendered completely powerless in the face of its development? Overlapping the spheres of politics and culture, this question explores the position of the geopolitical bystander in the nuclear age and rethinks the role of the sidelined intellectual in the face of mass extinction. The book includes discrete chapters on the major Italian intellectuals of the time: Italo Calvino, Alberto Moravia, Elsa Morante, Pier Paolo Pasolini, and Leonardo Sciascia.

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)
  • ITAL 22560 Poetic Postures of the Twentieth Century (Winter 2020)
  • ITAL 23410 Reading and Practice of the Short Story (Autumn 2016, Autumn 2017, Autumn 2019)
  • ITAL 24920/34920 Primo Levi (Autumn 2017, Autumn 2020)
  • ITAL 24930/34930 Italy and the Bomb (Winter 2017, Autumn 2019)
  • ITAL 25210 Brevitas (Autumn 2020)
  • ITAL 35210 Theories of Autobiography (Autumn 2016)
Affiliated Departments and Centers: Center for Jewish Studies
Subject Area: Italian Studies