Maria Anna Mariani

Associate Professor of Modern Italian Literature
marianim@uchicago.edu
Wieboldt 215 (On leave Autumn 2024 and Spring 2025)
Office Hours: Monday 10-11 a.m. (via Zoom)
773.834.6405
PhD, University of Siena, 2010

I am a specialist of Modern Italian Literature (19th- 21st Century), and memory and form are at the heart of my scholarship. The relationship between memory and form is declined in a variety of ways in my publications, which range from autobiography to Holocaust testimony, from fictional accounts of historical catastrophes to meditations on one’s own terminal illness. In all these writings, I am concerned with a network of recurring problems: the structural equivalence between the activity of telling a story and memory’s ability to shape time; the unsettling relationship between testimony and survival; the artistic representations of historical catastrophes—and the ethics of such representations; the narrative shape of personal traumas; and the limit cases of what can be thought and shown.

My first book (Sull’autobiografia contemporanea, Carocci, 2011) is a study of contemporary autobiography that takes a comparative approach to the relation of memory and mimesis. My second book (Primo Levi e Anna Frank: tra testimonianza e letteratura, Carocci, 2018) investigates the fraught relationship between testimony and fiction in the works of Primo Levi and Anne Frank.

My most recent book is titled Italian Literature in the Nuclear Age: A Poetics of the Bystander (Oxford University Press, 2022, winner of the MLA Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize for Italian Studies). Having explored the figure of the witness, central to my previous book on Primo Levi and Anne Frank, I turn to the figure of the bystander, who is at once deeply implicated in an event but also powerless in the face of its consequences. I illustrate 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, the Italian territory is in an ambiguous position: 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 draws on Italy’s fraught mix of implication and powerlessness to rethink the role of the sidelined intellectual in the face of mass extinction. Italian Literature in the Nuclear Age includes 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.

Throughout my career, I have consistently worked to reach a wider public readership, publishing books and articles that aim to 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, and I reflect on how negative nationality acts as an affective bond for a global community of resident aliens. In 2019, I published the hybrid non-fiction book Voci da Uber (Mucchi). In this book 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.

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 23200 Children's Literature as an Avant-Garde (Autumn 2023)
  • 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