Friendship and Scholarship at the IAS (October-December 2017)
My experience at the IAS has been foundational from several points of view. In 2017, the year in which I held the fellowship, the selected topic was Structure. I entered an incredible dimension of shared experience with colleagues from radically different disciplines, such as chemistry, or relatively close subjects including law and geography. I am a scholar of comparative literature and I teach at the University for Foreigners of Siena. Only one of my fellowship companions shared a similar critical-literary orientation, in a more specific sense, but the exchange was no less intense with the other fellows. We managed to create a climate of listening and rigor, but also a climate of harmony and solidarity, born from the daily sharing of many aspects of our evolving lives. A great contribution to this dimension came also from the cultural direction of Professor Veronica Strang, Professor Robert Barton and Professor Nicholas Saul, who solicited the potential of this group in many ways. Finally, I would like to acknowledge the important role played by the Institute’s Manager Linda Crowe, who was such a decisive point of reference for all of us.
Experiencing the interaction between the IAS and St Mary’s College, where I was hosted, was another decisive and completely new aspect for me. Thanks to the Principal of St Mary’s, Professor Simon Hackett, and thanks also to his extraordinary wife who unfortunately passed away two years ago, Helen Hackett, I came to understand what it means to live an all-round education: to see students from all over the world grow and evolve and to see how a protected and open context can teach them to practice culture concretely as a system of relationships and exchanges that shapes the whole day, from breakfast to official dinner, from lecture to country music evening. Dr Katrin Wehling-Giorgi, who teaches Contemporary Italian Literature at the School of Modern Languages and Cultures and who was my generous host and my buddy, and Professor Stefano Cracolici, who splendidly assisted her, played a decisive role before, during and after this experience. The experience at the IAS, and in particular the reflection on narrative structures, allowed me to write a book on the writer Elena Ferrante that came out in 2018 for the same Italian publishing house of the author (e/o, Rome). The book was translated into English the following year, this time for the American branch of the author’s publishing house (Elena Ferrante’s Key Words, translated by W. Schutt, Europa Editions, New York 2019). Dr Wehling-Giorgi and I have established an uninterrupted collaborative relationship, which led us to organize an international conference on Elena Ferrante at Durham in 2019, entitled Elena Ferrante in a Global Context (co-organized with Dr Stiliana Milkova), also thanks to the support of the IAS, whom I would like to thank again for this opportunity. We have also published a selection of the conference proceedings in a special issue for the journal Modern Language Notes (Elena Ferrante in a Global Context, 2021, 136, 1, co-edited with Stiliana Milkova), which we then presented at the ACLA (American Comparative Literature Association) annual meeting in April 2021 (New Global Perspectives on Elena Ferrante) and at the Venice Film Festival in September 2021 (Elena Ferrante’s Lost Daughters). The title of my essay that opens the special issue, is ‘Global Perspectives, Trauma, and the Global Novel: Ferrante’s Poetics between Storytelling, Uncanny Realism, and Dissolving Margins’ (pp. 6-31). Together with the other co-editor, Katrin and I have decided to give the introduction to the special issue the title ‘Friendship and Scholarship’. In this introduction, we have expressed among other things the following thoughts reproduced below, which are also closely connected to the cosmopolitan dimension shared by the two of us at the IAS.
This special issue was born out of the interweaving of our personal and professional stories, at the intersection of our different mother tongues and acquired languages, homelands, and disciplinary backgrounds. An Italian-Neapolitan scholar in Italy, a Bulgarian scholar in the United States, and a German scholar in the United Kingdom, we found a common ground through the study of Elena Ferrante and on the pages of a 2016 volume of the Italian scholarly journal Allegoria. Our institutional affiliations around the world, our nomadic identities straddling several countries, regional landscapes, and languages, and our cultural differences exemplify in many ways the global effect of Elena Ferrante’s writing.
This effect for us is double. Thanks to Elena Ferrante we forged a strong friendship informed by profound respect, generosity of spirit, and intellectual affinity. Our friendship generated a turn, or a transformation, in our established research trajectories. The study of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, of T.S. Eliot and Montale, of Beckett and Gadda yielded to the rewards and insights of a feminine and feminist author who challenges the entrenched masculine literary and academic canon. Despite and thanks to our different national, linguistic, and cultural identities, as female scholars we recognize and empathize with the marginalization, liminality, and powerful creativity of women depicted in Ferrante’s novels.
Our friendship has been productive and gratifying in many ways. After organizing a three-day seminar at the ACLA convention (2017), three panels at the AAIS conference (2018), and an international conference at Durham University (2019), we arrived at this special issue of MLN dedicated to Elena Ferrante in a global context. Although we have continued to publish individually on Ferrante, our collaborations have enriched our personal perspectives and opened new ways of seeing and reading.
Moreover, with Dr Wehling-Giorgi I have started a new line of research linked to Trauma Studies in an Italian and transnational perspective. We have organized a panel for the AAIS (American Association of Italian Studies) in June 2021 (also in this case together with Dr Stiliana Milkova) entitled Trauma Narratives in Italian and Transnational Women’s Writing, which will be published in an open access English-language volume at the end of 2022 (Trauma Narratives in Italian and Transnational Women’s Writing, edited by T. de Rogatis, S. Milkova and K. Wehling-Giorgi, Sapienza Università Editrice, 2022). Katrin and I have co-written an essay on the notion of trauma in History: A Novel (1974), a famous novel by another important Italian writer, Elsa Morante (T. de Rogatis and Katrin Wehling-Giorgi, ‘Traumatic Realism and the Poetics of Trauma in Elsa Morante’s Works’, in Allegoria, XXXII, 2021, 83, pp. 169-183). In December 2022, Dr Wehling-Giorgi will be a guest of my University, the University for Foreigners of Siena, to celebrate together with a conference the fourtieth anniversary of the publication of another novel by Elsa Morante, Aracoeli (1982).
In short, the IAS and Durham University are always in my heart and in my mind.