Participants and Paper Abstracts

Mimmo Cangiano received a Doctorate in Italian Studies from the University of Florence (2009), and a PhD in Romance Studies from Duke University (2015). He is now tenure-track Professor at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. His publications include the book L’Uno e il molteplice nel giovane Palazzeschi (1905-1915) and roughly thirty articles published in American and Italian academic journals. A specialist of nineteenth and twentieth century Italian culture, he has published essays dedicated to authors such as Pirandello, Michelstaedter, Boine, Soffici, Gozzano, Prezzolini, Sanguineti, Rosi, Wu Ming, as well as articles dedicated to the relationships between Italian and Austrian culture, and to prominent Marxist theoreticians such as György Lukács and Antonio Gramsci. He is currently finalizing a monograph dedicated to the Italian-Jewish philosopher Carlo Michelstaedter (The Wreackage of Philosophy. Carlo Michelstaedter and the Limits of Bourgeois Thought), and a volume titled Viandanti in contraddizione. La via italiana al Modernismo (1903-1922).

Title of Paper: Carlo Michelstaedter and the hegemony of science over philosophy

Abstract: In his analysis of Greek’s epistemology, Carlo Michelstaedter gets to say that “Aristotle considers a rational substance the schemes of causality.” Hiding behind a “they say,” Aristotle predicates in categories “the pre-made theory of the public voice,” and gives new meaning to the concept of philosophy. Knowledge becomes subordinaton to the ‘mostly,’ doxa becomes both the source and the object of science; through Aristotle absolute knowledge becomes a system of statistical data, the most common of which will be labeled the ultimate values of absolute wisdom. To this absolute wisdom, men will be required to refer in the manners of a subaltern relationship to a hegemonic knowledge: that knowledge will force the other ideological forms to adapt to it.

In our time, according to Michelstaedter, that knowledge is represented by science. The science of imperialist period inherits the prerogatives of Aristotle’s philosophy because, through technology, science brings into play the possibility of the practical (useful) modification of the world: allowing a easier satisfactions of human needs, this kind of knowledge will ‘convince’ more and more people to accept it as the most suitable knowledge. From this point, this scientific spirit reverberates from the field of science into all the ideological manifestations of life (philosophy included). When science becomes the hegemonic discipline the entire knowledge begins to work in a scientific way.

The goal of my talk will be demonstrating how, starting from this point, Michelstaedter begins to criticize Modernist theory of knowledge, embodied – in the epistemological field – by the philosophy of Ernst Mach, Henri Poincaré, and Richard Avenarius. For Michelstaedter the new anti-dogmatic nature of scientific knowledge will be the modality by which science, declaring its passage from classical reason to instrumental reason, starts to serve hegemonic ideologies. The new science, in fact, does not need to present itself in a dogmatic way any more, because now – through technology – can simply present itself as the most ‘useful’ knowledge. The ‘useful’ knowledge of the imperialist period is therefore the new Aristotelian “rational substance,” i.e. the new public voice.


Silvia Casini is lecturer in visual culture and film at the University of Aberdeen. Her main research interest regards the visual and material cultures of science and medicine, and the relationship between cinema and science beyond science fiction. Silvia acted as consultant for several institutions (museums and the European Union) on projects of public engagement with science through the arts. Her articles appeared in Configurations, Leonardo Journal, Contemporary Aesthetics, MuseumsETC, Bloomsbury, Museologia Scientifica, The Italian Journal of Science and Technology Studies. Her monograph in Italian entitled “Il ritratto-scansione” (The Scan-portrait) has been published in Mimesis (Milan).

Title of Paper: Life Beyond Control: Cinematographic Experiments between Beauty and Chance

Abstract: How is life approached in early films dealing with scientific/naturalistic subjects? The proposed paper investigates how non-human life is represented through the eye of the camera. Since the very first uses of the cinematographic apparatus in scientific laboratories, the camera was never simply a mean to record facts but to re-enact and perform them. For example, early micro-cinematographic films constructed a theory of life, they were means of perceiving living forms, cells, tissues, constructing the idea of a life as “endless and boundless growth and proliferation” (Landacker, 2005: 927). I shall compare and contrast different theories of life emerging, on the one hand, in the cinematographic experiments with microcinematography of the British series Secrets of Nature and, on the other, in the films on animals made by Jean Painlevé in the same years. Bazin, who dedicates several pages to Painlevé, highlights the paradox for which science, in its objectivity and neutrality manages to produce something that deserves to be called – at one and the same time – “poetic” (Bazin, “On Jean Painlevé.” In What is Cinema?, 2009). Thanks to its ability to capture the “beauty and chance of nature” to paraphrase Bazin discussing Painlevé, the paper shall argue that the eye of the camera is able to present us with unexpected moments (and movements) of the life of animals, transcending the recording and representation of a behaviour to embody the “ecstatic truth” and, thus, opening up the question of demarcation between humans and animals.


Bart Dreesen is a PhD researcher at the University of Leuven (KUL), Belgium, and a member of the research lab MDRN. For his research project Towards a ‘post-lyric’ poetry? The ‘narrative turn’ in Italian poetry between 1955 and 1975, supervised by Professor Bart Van den Bossche, he has been granted a Research Foundation Flanders (FWO) fellowship. His primary research interests involve narrativity and macrotextuality in 20th century Italian poetry in general, and in the work of Eugenio Montale in particular.

Title of Paper: “È ancora possibile la poesia?”: Montale, the boom economico, and the road towards a ‘post-lyric’ poetry

Abstract: In the decades subsequent to the Second World War, highbrow literary culture in Italy is vigorously challenged by various inextricably interrelated socio-economic and cultural developments that are all deeply rooted in the advancement and expansion of technology. Technological advancements lead to increasing industrialization, which creates jobs and ensures higher wages. The subsequent improvement of the average living standard entails the rise of a consumer society that aims at profit maximization. Moreover, the advancement of technology allows for the birth of television, which contributes greatly to the rapid development of a mass culture. Hence, the challenges appear to be particularly high for the autonomous and autoreferential ‘pure poetry’ that had culminated in the poetics of Hermeticism. As a result, several leading Italian poets and critics question the nature and modalities of poetic writing, especially between 1955 and 1975. One of them is Eugenio Montale. In his essay, Poesia inclusiva, published in 1964, Montale indicates an evolution of post-war Italian poetry from ‘exclusive’ to ‘inclusive poetry’: moving away from its traditional ‘solipsistic lyricism’, poetry has opened up for a wide range of language registers, which have introduced the most divergent aspects of social discourse into poetry — from daily life to political debates, from mass media to the area of science. Poetry, thus, moves away from its traditional ‘lyricism’ towards what could be called a ‘post-lyric’ condition. I argue that it is under this umbrella term that the general perception of the historical and cultural crisis of poetry is translated into the incorporation in poetic writing of stylistic and semantic repertoires hitherto seen as incompatible with the lyric paradigm. In this paper I will analyse Montale’s first two post-war books of poems, La bufera e altro (1956) and Satura (1971), in the light of this ‘post-lyric’ theory. More specifically, I will focus on mapping narrative structures and patterns adopted in those collections, both at the micro-textual level consisting of individual poems and at various macro-textual levels, in order to examine to what extent and in which ways narrative elements can be said to have contributed to the transformation of Montale’s post-war poetry into a ‘post-lyric’ poetry.


Sophie Hopmeier is a PhD candidate in the department of Film Studies at the University of St Andrews. She researches how cinema was used to document Material Culture at the Musée de l’Homme, and film’s ontological capacity to produce images and artefacts of culture.

Title of Paper: Au Pays des Dogons (1935): Cinematic and Pre-Industrial Technologies in the Musée de l’Homme

Abstract: In 1930s France, cinema’s potential as a tool for ethnological research was developed by a community of scientists, theorists, artists and colonial actors based at the Musée d’Ethnographie du Trocadéro/the Musée de l’Homme, the French national ethnographic museum. Although film was viewed at the time as a popular medium, the leaders of the museum employed it as a central technology for both understanding and proselytising ‘the indivisibility of humanity across space and time’.

Taking Marcel Griaule’s film, Au Pays des Dogons (1935), as a case study, this paper analyses the institution’s use of film as a medium for constructing images of colonial ‘others’ by documenting their ‘traditions’ of making- manual technological forms which had, within France, been superseded by industry. Film, here, was employed in the production of a poetic, modernist vision of shared humanity that incorporated autochthonous visual cultures within a contemporary Western aesthetic that was suffused with nostalgia for the pre-industrial.

Au Pays des Dogons comprises footage collected for the museum as ‘raw data’ during Griaule’s study of the Dogon in Mali with the Mission Dakar-Djibouti (1930-31). The film documents the production and use of material culture that was simultaneously being ‘harvested’ for the museum’s collection. In the transformation of research footage, through montage, into an aesthetic projection of a culture for the general public, Griaule’s film straddles the line between data and art, becoming a lens through which scientific, philosophical, political and artistic visions of technology converge.


Giuseppe Andrea Liberti (Napoli, 1992) is completing his Ph.D in “Filologia” at the Università degli Studi di Napoli “Federico II”. He is actually working on a critical and commented edition of Michele Sovente’s Cumae (1998). He also worked on eighteenth-century Italian literature. He published book reviews and essays on «Critica letteraria», «Sinestesieonline», «Oblio» and «In realtà, la poesia».

Title of Paper: Scientific lexicon in contemporary Italian poetry: the Michele Sovente’s Contropar(ab)ola case

Abstract: The second half of 20th century has seen a mingling between poetic forms and new kinds of languages. Italian poets, just as many other European authors, tried to enlarge the poetic vocabulary introducing everyday expressions and specialistic jargons. According to this linguistic tendency, that involved lots of poets even very distant among them for poetics and points of view, it’s usual to find technical words in lyrical textes. Poetry gets opened to the contemporary world – and tries to say something different through new words drawn from scientific works. After a general recognition of science’s presence and role in contemporary Italian poetry, the paper intends to investigate a specific case of medical-scientific lexicon used in poems. Michele Sovente (1948-2011), known as a “trilinguistic” author that used to write his textes in Italian, Latin and Cappella’s dialect, started his career using exclusively Italian language. Nevertheless, Sovente’s first books are full of medical and scientific terms that prove an interest for linguistic experimentations. This technical vocabulary is particularly remarkable in Contropar(ab)ola, Sovente’s second book, published in 1981. In Contropar(ab)ola’s poems, readers find medical words like «gerovital», «gingivitis» or «hemoptysis», but also terms from other scientific areas like chemistry («nitrile») or biology («ozone», «plantigrades»). The study of these words could be helpful to understand their employment as metaphors or respecting their effective meaning, in order to show how scientific expressions can be used in different thematic contests.


Eleonora Lima holds a PhD in Italian and Media Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her doctoral dissertation, which she is preparing for publication with Florence University Press, investigates the impact of new media on the production of Italo Calvino and Paolo Volponi. Her work focuses on the relationship between literature and mass media: she has published the correspondence between Giuseppe Ungaretti and Carlo Betocchi, two poets who led the multimedia project of L’Approdo, on the impact of cybernetics on Paolo Volponi’s writing and on gendered technologies in Luciano Bianciardi and Tiziano Scarpa.

Title of Paper: Rationalizing the Infinite: Gott’s Spongy Universe Theory in Paolo Volponi’s Poem ‘La spugna’

Abstract: This paper examines Paolo Volponi’s poem La spugna, published in 1988 in a limited edition booklet, accompanied by nine drawings by Oscar Galliani. Literary critic Paolo Zinato has rightly recognized that Volponi drew inspiration from Twentieth-Century theories on the formation of the Universe. Rather than a general interest in these theories, though, it appears that Volponi may have been inspired by the discovery made by Richard G. Gott in 1986 at Princeton: the Universe is not isotropic and the areas in which the mass is more dense and concentrated do not float in the void, but are, instead, interconnected, so that it resembles a sponge. Properly linking Volponi’s poem to its scientific source is essential in that it allows us to better understand the allegorical meaning Volponi attributes to the ‘spongy’ Universe he describes. This paper analyses Volponi’s reception and re-elaboration of this theory: the possibility to visualize the Universe as a sponge— a common household item—appears to have been motivated by the hope of rendering intelligible the otherwise obscure and upsetting rules governing the cosmos. In order to better illustrate the importance of the visual component of this scientific theory for Volponi’s poetic inspiration, this paper considers other texts written by Primo Levi and Italo Calvino, also inspired by theories on the form of the Universe. Finally, the paper examines the dialogue between the figurative style of Galliani’s ‘trans-avantgardist’ drawings, accompanying the poem, with Volponi’s desire to give a familiar and recognizable shape to the infinite Universe.


Michael Reinsborough received an MA in Science and Technology Studies from Lancaster University. He went on to do doctoral research at Queen’s University Belfast. His PhD thesis in the History of Science explored the relationship between water, engineering, governance and the state in the early 20th Century Ireland. After graduating Michael worked with civil society on governance of science issues and then took up a Post-doctoral Fellow position at the Center for Nanotechnology and Society – Arizona State University (CNS-ASU). He is presently a Visiting Research Associate, King’s College London, Department of Global Health and Social Medicine.

Title of Paper: Reference in Complex Social and Technical Relations


Woman with Guitar by George Braque, 1913 – perspective or multiplicity?

Abstract: This paper looks briefly at the semiotic triad of Charles Sanders Peirce and compares it to the signifying binary of Ferdinand de Saussure. A critique of Umberto Eco’s 1970s concept of the “referential fallacy” sets us on the path of looking for a theory of reference. One strategy we can use is to borrow from other contemporary intellectual challenges. Science and technology studies (STS) is an interdisciplinary field studying the relationship between “social” and “technical” things or actions. While traditional scientific thinking from Cartesian philosophy separates the world into subjects and objects, STS looks at social and technical relationships that cannot be categorized as one or the other.

In this paper I work towards a theory of reference that could be useful in the study of complex social and technical relations within contemporary society. First I will contrast the semiotic models of Charles Sanders Peirce and Ferdinand de Saussure and look at some of the issues involved in discussing a theory of reference. In the second section I will compare the traditional presentation of the scientific method with the quite different account derived empirically from the study of actual scientific practices. In the third section I will frame some ideas towards a theory of reference using Peirce’s concept of the indexical sign and some modified phenomenology. Lastly, I compare this gesture to some of the work emerging from contemporary science and technology studies and make some comments relevant to linguistics.


Dr. des. Johannes Riquet is Senior Teaching and Research Associate in English Literature at the University of Zurich. In 2014, he completed his PhD thesis in Zurich. His first book on the aesthetics of island space is currently under review at Oxford University Press. He is also working on a new book on the railway journey in British fiction as well as a project on Arctic passages and transnational geopolitics. His research interests include islands, railroad fiction, Arctic imaginaries, spatiality, ecocriticism, phenomenology, and cinema. He co-founded the international Island Poetics project, and is on the editorial board of the peer-reviewed Island Studies Journal.

Anna Zdrenyk studies English Literature and Film Studies at the University of Zurich. Her research interests include spatiality, urbanity, the poetics of rap, the James Bond franchise, and horror cinema.

Title of Paper: Between Progress and Nostalgia: Technology, Geopolitics and James Bond’s Railway Journeys

Abstract: This paper discusses the train in the James Bond films as a site of technological reflection. While scholars like Klaus Dodds and others have examined the entanglement of technology, mobility and geopolitics in the Bond series, the train is curiously absent from these debates. Trains are indeed less frequent than cars, boats and helicopters, but we argue that they play a central role in the series’ dramatisation of technological modernity. Wolfgang Schivelbusch and others have shown that the train epitomized modernity in nineteenth-century representations. However, when the Bond series appeared, air travel had already superseded the railroad; this led to a cultural re-evaluation of trains, which have since frequently signified nostalgia rather than progress (cf. Revill).

And yet, Bond’s railway journeys signify neither progress nor nostalgia unambiguously. Rather, from From Russia with Love (1963) to Spectre (2015), the series has mobilised the train as an ambivalent spatial figure caught in a tension between these two modes. On the level of narrative structure, the train journey often marks a moment of respite. Just as frequently, however, violent action suddenly erupts on the train, and the machine ensemble of the railroad (Schivelbusch) becomes an emblem of the temporal and spatial imperatives governing the action narrative. Aesthetically, this dual representation manifests itself in the clash between inside and outside shots of the train.

In Parallel Tracks, Linne Kirby argues that the train provided early cinema with an analogue for its own apparatus. In the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, the relationship between the machine of the train and the machine of the cinema has become more complex as both have faced numerous pressures. Ultimately, then, we will show that Bond’s railway journeys do not only serve a philosophical meditation on the role of technology in contemporary geopolitics, but also function as sites of medial reflexivity, interrogating the geopolitical entanglements of the cinematic machine itself.


Francesco Sorrenti (1988) is a PhD student of University of Genova, focusing on a project of critical edition and comment of G.B. Casti’s epistolary. He dedicated his master-degree on the literaly production of libertine abbot and his three-year thesis on the interlacement between litterature and geographic explorations in Emilio Salgàri. He also dedicated his interests to Shakespearean fortune in eighteenth century.

Title of Paper: Between Enlightment and Libertinism: Scientific Fascination and Skepticism in G.B. Casti

Abstract: The birth of the so-called “second Arcadia” or “Arcadia of science” (seventies of the eighteenth century) is considered like a kind of Roman Academy’s “update”, realised under the custody of Giocchino Pizzi and Luigi Godard: throught the development and revision of the Crescimbeni’s tradition and the aesthetic and theorical coordinates, it promotes a revision of its poetry, in accord to the evolution of Enlightment mentality and culture. In this way this school tried to justify the legitimacy of much of its literary production of philosophic and scientific argument, update the debate about the miscere utili dulci. But the origin of this kind of arcadian activity can be date back in the years, for example at the production of G.B. Casti (1724-1803), traveler, diplomatic and finally successor of Metastasio in the office of “Poeta Cesareo” in Vienna, from the compositions dated to the seminarial teaching activity to the arcadian production, in which stands out the collection I Tre Giulj, about “motivi che nacquero dal vero” (reasons that were born from life). The attention of the libertine about scientific matter is strong, into a mixture of fascinating and detachment, typical of his future production and his life experiences.


Gernot Waldner studied Literature, Philosophy and Physics in Vienna and Berlin. Since 2012, he is a PhD student at Harvard University, where he studied and taught Literature and History of Science. His dissertation explores how the reception of mathematical models in early twentieth century prose was used for aesthetic innovations. Among others, he published articles on cybernetics in Kubrick’s 2001, on the relation between racial theories and grotesque humor during the interwar period, and on the depiction of laziness in the fairy tales of the brothers Grimm. He currently translates Bruno Munari into German.

Title of Paper: Creativity: A Link between Science and Culture. Bruno Munari’s “Fantasia”.

Abstract: My paper discusses the connection between the humanities and creative processes in the theoretical writings of Bruno Munari. Munari produced prolific works of literature, sculpture, painting, photography, architecture, and film, rendering him an encompassing figure of the humanities. In addition, as a designer, he integrated new technologies into the creative process of product design. In his theoretical writings, he tried to condense both aspects of his work into the concepts of phantasy, invention, and creativity. Phantasy is concerned with everything that did not exist even though it cannot be realized. Invention brings about everything that did not exist albeit solely for practical purposes and without aesthetic concern. Creativity relates to everything that did not exist but could potentially be realized. Although these concepts serve different ends, the semiotic techniques of knowledge exchange, to connect two things that have not been connected before, are common to all of them. Munari hoped that these techniques would foster a society of more creative individuals. Thirty years after Munari expressed his hope, sociologists like Alain Ehrenberg contend that creativity and self-expression are the ideology of neoliberalism, causing people to feel depressed because all of their potential can never be realized. I will argue that Munari’s theory does not fall prey to this critique of creativity because his theory rebuts a romanticized conception of individuals by grounding his creative techniques in the concrete tradition of the humanities. Creativity is based on what we know, and not on what we could know.