Gadda: Labours of Love vs the Future of Transmission

Activity: Academic talk or presentation typesInvited talk


Editions, Translations, Transmissions: “That Awful Mess” of Carlo Emilio Gadda – International Conference, University of Oxford, 10-12 March 2022.

ABSTRACT — In 2013, as part of the final edit of “Gadda Goes to War: Translational provocations around an Emergency”, I started my preface with the classic there is something about (Gadda). The year before, in one long Gadda Week, Edinburgh had hosted the British premiere of Fabrizio Gifuni’s “L’ingegner Gadda va alla guerra”, the third edition of the Edinburgh Gadda Prize, a junior mobility programme between secondary schools in Italy and Scotland, and the latest-to-date international Gadda conference. The top names had mixed with the kids, Gifuni had sold out repeatedly at the most experimental of the Edinburgh theatre venues, and the public debate Gadda had generated from audiences that had never come across his name had been refreshingly political. A book celebrating the commitment of so many and delivering a new first English translation together with a DVD of the show was the fittingly durable output of the labours of love of an entire discipline gathered in Edinburgh. How could this not be the way forward? Isn’t “every tool […] a weapon if you hold it right”?*

I was talking about militancy then, in that preface, and I want this to be a provocation paper now. In the intense few years since that Edinburgh gathering the educational scene has dramatically changed. As Italianists practising outside of Italy, as scholars of the modern and the contemporary in particular, never having asked to be niche and often having managed to punch well above our institutional and disciplinary weight to achieve quite exceptional things, we are now tasked with disappearing further into the niche of the beyond-marginal subjects to the vanishing point into disciplinary non-existence while still providing high-demand linguistic services and while having to accept all forms of profit-driven corporate divesting from things European under the semblance of a decolonisation of academia.

In this scenario, the chances for Gadda do not look good. Having just recently made it into the wider international reception arena, Gadda for a short period of time has been one of our richest educational assets. You could problematise the totality of the socialised human condition through pointing this unruly corpus at the present time; you could find fault with each and every one of his intellectual reasons and artistic moves and still extract a high-calorie emergency ration from your tool correctly held as a weapon. Now, in the current climate, maintenance and transmission of someone and something like Gadda look and feel that much more difficult, even improbable. So, here is my question, as part of my provocation at this conference. As we again gather through the specialised labours of our scholarly loves, how are we going to renew our challenge and make again a difference with and through Gadda, given the further crisis of relevance we face globally in Italian Studies?
Period12 Mar 2022
Held atOxford University
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • Italian Studies
  • Italian Modernism
  • Carlo Emilio Gadda