Panel 12 Trans-literature of Italian Women Writers Room 8400



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PANEL 12

Trans-literature of Italian Women Writers

Room 8400

Anna Banti: a Translative Marginality between Giorgio Bassani and Susan Sontag

Alessandro Giardino – McGill University
Giorgio Bassani and Susan Sontag extensively read and commentated on the work of the Italian writer and art-historian Anna Banti (literary pseudonym for Lucia Lopresti), and probably because both sensitive to the issue of difference and gender, they saw in Banti’s subordination to her husband Roberto Longhi the decisive factor of a very innovative narrative look.

In reviewing her work, Bassani pointed out Anna Banti’s ability to treat history as a literary operation, and therefore to address it in a way that was at once personal and nimble. For the same reason, Bassani believed that in Artemisia, arguably her most famous book, Banti was not only depicting a fresco of the 17th century but rather capturing the actuality of her protagonist, that is her difficulty to gain visibility in an art world exclusively dominated by men. For Bassani, Banti could do so in a way that was lyrical and yet unsentimental, because, just like Artemisia, she was herself living in the shadow of a man whom she loved and who nonetheless was at the origins of her condition of subalternity. More interestingly, Banti was loading her page with a sensuousness and a carnality that was the immediate product of her own position of marginality. Bassani writes, “Sogni, visioni, incubi. Realtà a frammenti. Per chi è escluso dalla vita, per chi ha scelto di starne fuori, è giusto ed è umano che la vita non restituisca altri messaggi.”

If Bassani had known Banti through a frequentation spanned to the space of over forty years, for Susan Sontag, Banti was a coincidental narrative encounter, one however, that with her notorious intuition Sontag would transform in a literary case. By inserting the name of the Italian writer among her favourite artists of all time, Sontag would in fact brought the specificity of Banti’s writing to the attention of an international public. What is more, Sontag would highlight the extraordinary gift by which this obscure Italian woman had come to the fore by dint of what I define as a “translative” technique. More specifically, by creating a dialogue with her character Artemisa, Banti had used the historical woman’s marginality as a springboard for her own artistic emancipation. Artemisia’s destiny was therefore “translating” into Banti’s one, and through this translation she was gaining a voice of her own.

In this article, I read Anna Banti’s writings as an example of “translative” literature, particularly illustrating the modalities by which the language and the personal experience of an historical figure can be utilized by a writer in order to find artistic agency. Moreover, I am interested in understanding what happens when two very prominent and yet obscured personalities are put in a conversational context and more to point, what is the space that their conversation helps opening and setting in motion. In fact, for being situated on the side of the canon those figures can be hardly linked to predetermined cultural coordinates, eventually constituting a semiotic web which is incredibly more complex by reason of its very lack of boundaries. In the end, I examine Anna Banti’s influence on both Bassani and Sontag’s work, underlining the structural and programmatic difference between Banti’s operation and alternative modalities of “translative” and inter-textual dialogue.


Una Donna: a Novel of Transition and Hybridization

Marianna De Tollis – Florida Atlantic University


Una Donna (A Woman 1901-04) is an autobiographical novel by the Italian author Sibilla Aleramo, born in Alessandria, Piedmont, in 1876. Aleramo is considered to be one of the leading feminist writers in Italy, starting with her autobiographical work about a woman’s life in 19th century Italy. Later in her life, Sibilla Aleramo became active in political and literary issues, focusing her interest on women’s rights, feminism and homosexual awareness. Even today, her works continue to be relevant and cited in the feminist literary field.

The autobiography Una Donna is considered one of the first feminist works to appear in a historical context delineated by the standard man-centered autobiographies. Aleramo describes, with her own voice, her life from childhood through maturity letting transpire, from the very first pages, a strong connection and admiration for her father, a man, a master, who imposes all his patriarchal power on the submissive and misunderstood mother. For this reason, it is important to notice how Sibilla Aleramo mirrors herself, right from the beginning, with the strong and feared figure of the father, criticizing and rejecting the maternal character. This mirroring a male figure allows the author to evoke women of the past who, in order to write or to be heard, had to be sponsored by a man. At the same time Aleramo foreshadows the type of woman that she will be representing: a woman that through her own means will be able to stop the domestic violence, psychological abuse, and suffering committed against her at the cost of leaving her beloved son behind.

This paper will analyze the historical and cultural context in which Aleramo’s work emerges as it struggles to generate itself, just like women of that time struggled against the patriarchal society that subjugated them into the role of a good and obedient wife and mother
Morante’s La Storia: History between Epigraphs

Kyle Skinner – Yale University


The Italian word “storia means “history” in all its public and private contexts. Elsa Morante’s novel, which takes that very word as its title, explores the interconnected nature of both those public and private senses of history. The stage for the exploration of this metonymic game is the ravished Italy of the World War II era, forced to deal first with the violent trauma of war and then with the equally violent transition to a new, post-war economy and culture. A country and its people at war is, by necessity, the very location of instability and a breeding ground for new, transitive modes of thought and behavior; the decrease in political stability allows for new crossings of people through once more fixed borders (trans-nationality), which itself creates an instability of language (making translation necessary), and is expressed by Morante on the narrative level by the transitive homelessness of her protagonists.

This paper explores how Morante also models the notion of transitivity in the structure of her novel, weaving poems and songs in diverse languages and registers into her work as epigraphs between her chapters, with the goal of identifying a stabilizing key by which the transitive can be given a foundation.

Trans-Literature of Women Writer Immigrants in Italy

Luisanna Sardu – Graduate Center (CUNY)



Recent scholarship has argued that Globalism and Transnationalism have had a huge impact on the notion of World Literature1, in particularly with regard to the literature of immigrants. The expansion of forms of communication, and the study of literature have entered a discourse with a new concept of unlimited boundaries and the amplification of literary, cultural, and social relations. I intend to use these relatively new magnifying lenses to scrutinize the literature of immigrants. My paper aims to explore how women immigrants’ participation in transnational literature pushes us to revisit the structural context in which the women, such as Gabriella Kuruvilla, Ingy Mabiayi, Igiaba Scego, and many others have recreated their identity as writers and immigrants in Italy. As the issues debated by the feminists, such as body, identity, diversity, etc..etc.. have broadened to include a (post)feminist and transnational discourse, the following questions have emerged: What are the representational consequences of women’s embodiment, sex, and race? In particular, what are the implications of identifying of these women writers as Somali-Italian, Indian-Italian, or Egyptian-Italian? How does the experience of immigrant women writers compare to the experience of Italian women writers?



1 See, Ernst Grabovski, “The Impact of Globalization and the New Media on the Notion of World Literature”. In Comparative Literature and Culture 1.3 (1999).


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