Romance Languages and Literatures

Maria Anna Mariani

Assistant Professor of Modern Italian Literature; Italian Undergraduate Adviser


Wieboldt 215

Office Hours: 

Monday 2:00-3:00pm and by appointment

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PhD, University of Siena, 2010

Program(s): Italian Studies

I am a specialist in Modern Italian Literature (19th- 21st Century), with a particular interest in Jewish Italian authors. My approach to texts is anchored in literary theory, and it is often in dialogue with philosophy, especially with the branches of phenomenology, existentialism, and biopolitics.

My first book Sull’autobiografia contemporanea. Nathalie Sarraute, Elias Canetti, Alice Munro, Primo Levi, Carocci 2012 (On Contemporary Autobiography) focuses on the encounter between temporality and narrative, expanding Paul Ricœur’s theory of mimetic levels. I argue that, when autobiography is involved, memory acts as a form of spontaneous mimesis that can give shape to lived time, even before the artificial figuration performed by narrative. Despite this emphasis on the formal equivalence between memory and narrative, I never deny the facticity of the autobiographical genre. Throughout my book, in fact, I continuously grapple with one of the central features of memory, its vow of faithfulness to the past, recognizing that this vow persists despite the structural unreliability of the recollection.

My forthcoming book Primo Levi e Anna Frank: Tra testimonianza e letteratura, Carocci, 2018 (Primo Levi and Anne Frank: Between Testimony and Literature) 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, mutually illuminating 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 Anne herself, was continued by her father, and culminated in the theater and film adaptations of the diary, which some view as potentially selling out its testimonial content in exchange for universal literary appeal.

I have also begun to work on a more comparative project, tentatively entitled Italy and the Bomb. Literary Recreation in a Nuclear Age, which will reconstruct the centrality of the nuclear question in Italian Literature of the postwar years. Some of the most prominent Italian authors of the 20th Century—including Calvino, Morante, Pasolini, and Moravia—were haunted both by the memory of Hiroshima as well as the future threat of total annihilation. Often in conversation with one another, these artists sought to respond to the atomic problem via an incredibly wide range of genres and verbal and visual discourses. By recovering these largely forgotten conversations, some of which are still buried in the archives, my aim is both to uncover one of the most compelling instances of artistic engagement of the 20th century, calling into question the “lightness” of Italy’s supposedly apolitical postmodern literary tradition.  
Before joining the UChicago faculty, I taught for four years at the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in Korea. Teaching in a context devoid of standard interpretive assumptions fueled my appreciation for the problems of pedagogy and canonization in a global context--issues I had already reflected on while working as a co-author on a history of Italian literature designed for high-schools (LiberaMente, Palumbo 2010). Building on these experiences, I hope to further investigate the possibilities of Italian literature in increasingly global contexts.

Selected publications:

Primo Levi e Anna Frank. Tra testimonianza e letteratura [Primo Levi and Anne Frank. Between Testimony and Literature], Carocci, 2018.
Sull’autobiografia contemporanea. Nathalie Sarraute, Elias Canetti, Alice Munro, Primo Levi [On Contemporary Autobiography. Nathalie Sarraute, Elias Canetti, Alice Munro, Primo Levi], Carocci 2012.
♣ [with R. Saviano, E. Angioloni, L. Giustolisi, G. Muller Pozzebon, S. Panichi], LiberaMente. Storia e antologia della letteratura italiana, 3 vols., Palumbo 2010.

Articles and book chapters:
• “Lettura analfabeta. Su una pagina della Tregua di Primo Levi,” in Esperienze letterarie, 4, XLI, 2016.
♣ “Paper Memories, Inked Genealogies: About Primo Levi’s The Search for Roots,” in Arthur Chapman, Minna Vuohelainen (eds.), Interpreting Primo Levi: Interdisciplinary Perspectives, Italian and Italian-American Studies Series, Palgrave Macmillan 2015.
♣ “Il sopravvissuto: una vita,” in Contemporanea, 12, 2014.
♣ “ ‘Avant qu’ils disparaissent’. Memoria e oblio in Enfance di Nathalie Sarraute,” in Francofonia, 60, 31, 201 1.
♣ “Svevo e Nietzsche,” in Allegoria, 21, 59, 2009.
♣ “Petrolio come riscrittura,” in Allegoria, 52-53, 18, 2006.