Rocco Rubini

Professor, Romance Languages and Literatures, Committee on Theater and Performance Studies, Fundamentals, and the College
Wieboldt 118
Office Hours: By appointment
PhD, Yale University, 2009

My scholarship investigates the evolution of Italian humanism (in literature, theatre, and thought) from the Renaissance to the 20th century, reclaiming transhistorical continuities between early and later phases of the Italian intellectual tradition – both within Italy and in wider European and American contexts of reception. I teach and study Petrarch, Machiavelli, Renaissance playwrights and theater practitioners (commedia dell’arte), Goldoni, Vico, De Sanctis, and Gramsci, among others, to rethink the distinctive contribution of Italian letters to the making and unmaking of our ongoing “modernity.” 

My research on the Italian Renaissance and its legacy is unfolding via a projected trilogy, beginning with The Other Renaissance: Italian Humanism between Hegel and Heidegger (Chicago, 2014). In this book, I object to the claims of Continental philosophy concerning the question: “What is Humanism?” I argue that the historical “humanism” of the postwar Renaissance scholars (including E. Garin, P.O. Kristeller, E. Grassi and H. Baron) was more alive, tolerant, and potentially more edifying for us today – as students and citizens engaged in reassessing the Western heritage – than the theorized “(anti)Humanism” of the philosophers who inspired them (Sartre and Heidegger, among others). The Other Renaissance was awarded the American Association of Italian Studies Book Prize and the Morris D. Forkosch Prize for the Best Book in Intellectual History (by the Journal of the History of Ideas).

In Posterity: Inventing Tradition from Petrarch to Gramsci (Chicago, 2022), I leverage the suggestions of the scholars studied in The Other Renaissance to understand “humanism” not as a historical periodization or a bygone intellectual movement, but rather as an approach to “reading” intent on forging transhistorical human relationships. Specifically, I study how a series of thinkers – Petrarch, Giambattista Vico, Carlo Goldoni, Francesco De Sanctis, Benedetto Croce, and Antonio Gramsci – envisioned their literary afterlives and thereby predisposed their work for retrieval via readers’ empathetic engagement with their motives and values. Theirs would not be a passively received legacy, but one purposefully enacted in the interplay of reading and writing. By examining, emulating, and rehearsing their practice of revivifying timeworn themes, institutions, and feelings, I attempt to participate in and experience a living tradition that extends from Petrarchan humanism to the Gramscian philosophy of praxis.   

I am currently working on the third installment of my trilogy, a study of the evolving nature of Italian thought and its reception, provisionally titled The Transatlantic Vico and the Origins of American Humanism. The manuscript broaches the vast international influence of Italian philosopher Giambattista Vico (1668-1744), who forged the connection I investigated in The Other Renaissance and Posterity between Renaissance and later permutations of humanism in Italy. Outside of Italy, beginning in the Romantic period, Vico became a touchstone for anyone seeking passionate (albeit internal-to-the-West) relief from the rational designs of the Cartesian worldview. Through Vico, I trace the impact of Italian humanism on the formation of the humanities and social sciences in the American academy, an influence channeled by Vico aficionados, including Erich Auerbach and Northrop Frye in literary criticism, Theodor W. Adorno and Leo Strauss in critical and political theory, and Isaiah Berlin, Edward Said, and Hayden White in cultural studies and historiography.

Recent Courses in RLL
  • ITAL 22900/32900 Vico's New Science (Winter 2019, Autumn 2020, Autumn 2022)
  • ITAL 23000/33001 Machiavelli and Machiavellism (Spring 2017, Autumn 2019, Winter 2022)
  • ITAL 26000/36000 Gramsci (Winter 2017, Autumn 2019)
  • ITAL 26002/36002 Philosophical Petrarchism (Spring 2018, Autumn 2020)
  • ITAL 27700/37700 The (Auto)Biography of a Nation: Francisco De Sanctis and Benedetto Croce (Spring 2019)
  • ITAL 28500/38500 Petrarch and the Birth of Western Modernity (Autumn 2023)
  • ITAL 28702/38702 Italian Comic Theater (Spring 2018, Winter 2020)
  • ITAL 29600/39601 The Worlds of Harlequin: Commedia dell'arte (Spring 2019, Autumn 2022)
  • RLLT 25000/35000 Literary Criticism before Theory: Auerbach’s Mimesis (Winter 2023)
  • RLLT 47000 Professional Academic Writing (Winter 2024)
Affiliated Departments and Centers: Committee on Theater and Performance Studies, Fundamentals
Subject Area: Italian Studies