Call for Abstracts, CAIS 2020, Session on: Science, in Other Words: Models and Languages of Science in Italian Literature (Risorgimento until the End of the 20th Century)

Ana Ilievska's picture

Call for Abstracts

Submission Deadline: February 21st 2020

Canadian Association for Italian Studies (CAIS), Sorrento June 4-7, 2020


La scienza, in altre parole: Modelli e linguaggi della scienza nella letteratura italiana dall’Unità alla fine del XX secolo /

Science, in Other Words: Models and Languages of Science in Italian Literature from the Unification until the End of the 20th Century

Session Organizers: Ana Ilievska (UChicago), Giuseppe Palazzolo (UniCT), Andrea Sartori (Brown) 


The relationship between science, technology, and literature can be approached from multiple perspectives and within different historical frameworks. In the Italian case, for instance, the impact of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859) on Italian narrative, as Francesco de Sanctis noted in 1883 (Il darwinismo nell’arte) offers an important point of view on the nexus between science and literature. Other significant influences are Herman von Helmholtz’s theory of sound (1862), Ernest Rutherford and Fredrick Soddy’s theory of radioactive decay (1902), Albert Einstein’s relativity (1905), the mechanism/vitalism/organicism debate (J.S. Haldane, 1916), John von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern’s theory of games and economic behavior (1944), Wittgenstein’s theory of linguistic games (1953) as well as the discovery of mirror neurons (Giacomo Rizzolatti/Vittorio Gallese in 1992), and many others. 

The influence of science, e.g., on the Victorian novel and twentieth century anglophone (science) fiction has been thoroughly investigated by such scholars as Gillian Beer (Darwin’s Plots, 1983), George Levine (Darwin and the Novelists, 1988), John M. Picker (Victorian Soundscapes, 2003), Jeffrey S. Drouin (James Joyce, Science, and Modernist Print Culture, 2014), Michael Wainwright (Game Theory and Postwar American Literature, 2016) among others. However, less attention has been paid so far to Italian authors who were likewise exposed to these theories and who wrote at the intersection of naturalism, realism, modernism, and postmodernism: Giovanni Verga, Gabriele D’Annunzio, Antonio Fogazzaro, Italo Svevo, Federico De Roberto, Matilde Serao, Luigi Pirandello, Carlo Emilio Gadda, Primo Levi, Umberto Eco, Dino Buzzati, Gesualdo Bufalino, just to name a few.

Furthermore, as literary critic Giulio Cattaneo has remarked, it was rare (although not impossible) for Italian writers in the age of positivism (but we can expand the historical frame into the twentieth century as well) to be in possession of a thorough scientific training. As science historian Paolo Rossi has observed, this prevents scholars from reducing their research on literature, science, and technology to a simplistic listing of scientific themes present in prose. From such considerations few questions arise: To what extent was the literary reworking of scientific topics faithful to the original field of investigation? Were revisions, misunderstandings, even incomprehension narratively fruitful? To what extent is it possible to speak today of a philology of science, and what is its relationship to imagination and creativity?  

This panel provides a space for scholars to investigate such questions with respect to the use and recurrence of scientific-technological models and language in Italian literature between the unification of Italy and the end of the twentieth century. 

We are looking for papers that engage but are not limited to the following topics:

  • Science, technology, and the transition from naturalism to modernism and from modernism to postmodernism in Italian literature (comparative approaches with Great Britain, France, Germany, Portugal, Spain, Russia etc. are encouraged);
  • Science and Catholic modernism (Fogazzaro, Ernesto Bonaiuti, Romolo Murri, Tommaso Gallarati-Scotti etc.);
  • The influence of scientific languages and models on style, narrative techniques, and genre;
  • Science and ideology at the turn of the 19th/20th and 20th/21st centuries (e.g., positivism’s and Darwinism’s relevance to Italy’s unification process; Neo-Darwinism, neo-liberalism and biopolitics);
  • The case of science fiction: evolution and human-machine interactions between utopia and dystopia;
  • Ecocriticism: a survival’s strategy for humankind?
  • Italian women writers and science; technological artifacts and devices in women’s writing (Deledda, Serao, Morante etc.);
  • Difference between northern and southern Italian authors in their approach to science and technology.


Please send a 200-300 words abstract, brief biography, and request for A/V to the session organizers by February 21st 2020.



Ana Ilievska (The University of Chicago, Comparative Literature),

Giuseppe Palazzolo (Università degli Studi di Catania, DISUM),

Andrea Sartori (Brown University, Italian Studies),