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Durham University

School of Modern Languages and Cultures: Italian Studies

Writing the Modern Self

Academic Year 2019-20

Academic year 2019/2020

What do we understand by the term ‘selfhood’, and especially ‘the modern self’? What influences – historical, cultural, philosophical, psychological, and linguistic – help to shape it, and what techniques do modern writers and filmmakers use to bring that self into being? What underlying assumptions are being made about gender in portrayals of selfhood, and what changes does it undergo in the modern period? As Virginia Woolf puts it in Orlando, ‘when we write of a woman, everything is out of place’. How is sexual difference articulated in literature and cinema?

This module aims to introduce students to the portrayal of selfhood and identity in literature and cinema in the Italian and the broader European literary context from the late nineteenth century to the present day. Studying texts and films ranging from the playwright Luigi Pirandello to Bernardo Bertolucci’s cinematic adaptation of Alberto Moravia’s novel Il conformista, students will not only learn about the historical, cultural, philosophical and psychoanalytical influences that continue to shape the formation of the self, but they will also be introduced to the various techniques writers and filmmakers employ to express the notion of selfhood. The thematic foci will range from psychoanalysis to self-narrative, autobiography, narrative fragmentation and the construction of the gendered self. While the main focus will be on texts and films originating in the Italian literary tradition, these will be contextualized within the broader European literary and cultural landscape.

Set Texts/Films likely to be studied include:

  • Luigi Pirandello, Enrico IV (1921); Sei personaggi in cerca d’autore (1925)
  • Italo Svevo, La coscienza di Zeno (1921)
  • Antonia Pozzi, Parole (1939) [selected poems]
  • Eugenio Montale, Ossi di seppia (1925) and Le Occasioni (1939) [selected poems]
  • Michelangelo Antonioni, Deserto rosso (1964) [film]
  • Bernardo Bertolucci, Il conformista (1970) [film]
  • Fabrizia Ramondino, Althénopis (1981)

Recommended Introductory Reading

  • Hall, Donald E. Subjectivity. London and New York: Routledge, 2004
  • Porter, Roy. Rewriting the Self: Histories from the Renaissance to the Present. London and New York: Routledge, 1997.
  • Roston, Murray. The Search for Selfhood in Modern Literature. Palgrave: Basingstoke and New York, 2001.
  • Taylor, Charles. Sources of the Self. The Making of the Modern Identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.


Dr Cecilia Piantanida (, Room ER281, Elvet Riverside II.

Further details of pre-requisites, co-requisites, aims, contact hours and assessment