Italy and the Ecological Imagination: Ecocritical Theories and Practices

Damiano Benvegnù, Matteo Gilebbi (Eds.)

by Paolo Saporito (McGill University), Massimo Lollini (University of Oregon), Jessica Sciubba (Illinois State University), Danila Cannamela (Colby College), Alberto Baracco (University of Basilicata, Italy), Serenella Iovino (UNC, Chapel Hill), Achille Castaldo (Emory College), Emiliano Guaraldo Rodriguez (Ca' Foscari University), Federico Luisetti (University of St. Gallen), Serena Ferrando (Arizona State University)

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Damiano Benvegnù and Matteo Gilebbi, both leading thinkers in ecocritical Italian studies, have convened a lively and wide-ranging collection that confirms the vital relevance of the Environmental Humanities in Italy. Their introductory essay lays out in extraordinarily clear and insightful terms the current state of the evolving interdisciplinary field, both regarding theoretical trends and in light of contemporary Italian legislation. The essays that follow, in a spiraling voyage through landscapes, materials, philosophies, and artistic practices, chart a new map of the Italian peninsula: a map of environmental atrocities but also of profoundly hopeful, creative responses. From the gritty surfaces of Turinese sidewalks to the dioxin-laced lungs of women in the Land of Fires, and from the imploring gaze of a young buffalo to the embracing arm of a land artist, the subjects are compelling, quirky, and have important lessons to impart about environmental pasts and futures.

Dr. Elena Past
Professor of Italian
Classical and Modern Languages, Literatures, and Cultures
Wayne State University

This is an eminently timely and theoretically sophisticated volume that does justice to the disciplinary and ethical complexity of the ecological impetus currently animating the Humanities. Targeting the theoretical and practical entanglements of nature and culture, the introduction sets out an engaging case for the centrality of the imagination in charting responses to our planetary crises. Nothing is taken for granted here as the editors provide lucid definitions of terms and references, from ecocriticism and the environmental humanities to the notion of Italy itself.
The bi-partite division of the volume into “theories” and “practices” is a happy one, allowing for echoes to emerge across the two sections, designed, as the editors indicate, to “converse” and “converge.” The volume offers a truly impressive range as multiple forms of expression (film, literature, philosophy, sculpture, documentary) are placed in dialogue with an equally impressive range of environmental questions. In this, the volume embodies the spirit of the environmental humanities, characterized precisely by a truly transdisciplinary posture.
This text will have broad appeal, attracting a readership of not only Italianists but also scholars with interests in animal studies, posthumanism, ecofeminism, and new materialism, to name just a few fields. Though rooted within Italian studies, a field central to the environmental humanities, this volume is not at all limited by its national focus. Indeed, multiple chapters explicitly broach global questions through a local Italianist lens. From this perspective, there are some truly stand-out essays, in particular, those by Iovino, Cannamela, and Saporito. The volume’s appeal also lies in its activist engagement with the Anthropocene. Rejecting a posture of despair in the face of our planetary crises, the editors point to the capacity of imaginative thinking to reveal and safeguard our more-than-human planet.

Prof. Dr. Deborah Amberson
University of Florida

What can Italy teach us about our relationships with the nonhuman world in the current socio-environmental crisis? 'Italy and the Ecological Imagination: Ecocritical Theories and Practices' focuses on how Italian writers, activists, visual artists, and philosophers engage with real and fictional environments and how their engagements reflect, critique, and animate the approach that Italian culture has had toward the physical environment and its ecology since late antiquity. Through a comparative and interdisciplinary approach, the essays collected in this volume explore topics including climate change, environmental justice, animal ethics, and socio-environmental degradation to provide a cogent analysis of how Italian ecological narratives fit within the current transnational debate occurring in the Environmental Humanities.

The aim of 'Italy and the Ecological Imagination' is thus to explore non-anthropocentric modes of thinking and interacting with the nonhuman world. The goal is to provide accounts of how Italian historical records have potentially shaped our environmental imagination and how contemporary Italian authors are developing approaches beyond humanism in order to raise questions about the role of humans in a possible (or potentially) post-natural world. Ultimately, the volume will offer a critical map of Italian contributions to our contemporary investigation of the relationships between human and nonhuman habitats and communities.

List of Figures

Part 1. Theories
Chapter 1 Anima Mundi and Metensomatosis in Giordano Bruno: Religion, Ethics, and Eco-theology
Massimo Lollini
University of Oregon

Chapter 2 Primo Levi’s Chewing Gum: A Semantics of Resistance for the Anthropocene
Serenella Iovino
UNC, Chapel Hill

Chapter 3 Italian Feminism of Sexual Difference: A Different Ecofeminist Thought
Danila Cannamela
Colby College

Chapter 4 Film Ecophilosophy and the Question of the Animal :Jacques Derrida’s Cat and Matteo Garrone’s Dogs
Alberto Baracco
University of Basilicata

Chapter 5 Walking: Ecocritical Encounters with Storied Matter
Paolo Saporito
McGill University

Part 2. Practices

Chapter 6 Cravasco: An Example of Slow Violence
Serena Ferrando
Arizona State University

Chapter 7 Giuseppe Penone’s Earth Beings
Federico Luisetti
University of St. Gallen

Chapter 8 Abused Bodies, Abused Landscapes: Narratives of Exploitation and Resistance Across the Mediterranean
Jessica Sciubba
Illinois State University

Chapter 9 Lyrical Intensity and Narrative Function: The Animal Gaze in Pietro Marcello’s Bella e Perduta
Achille Castaldo
Emory College

Chapter 10 Investigating the Extinction Crime Scene: Guido Morselli’s Eco-political Manifesto and the Forensic Gaze of the Anthropocene
Emiliano Guaraldo Rodriguez
Ca' Foscari University


Damiano Benvegnù, Ph.D., is a Senior Lecturer at Dartmouth College (USA), an Association Fellow of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics, and the Creative Writing and Art Editor for Ecozon@: the European Journal of Literature, Culture and the Environment. His first book, 'Animals and Animality in Primo Levi', was published in the Animal Ethics series by Palgrave Macmillan in 2018. As an environmental humanist, Dr. Benvegnù has published articles and essays ranging from critical animal studies and posthumanism to landscape theory, soundscape ecology, and ecocriticism. Currently an ACLS Fellow, Dr. Benvegnù's research lies at the intersection of digital and environmental humanities.

Matteo Gilebbi holds a Ph.D. in Italian from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is currently teaching courses in Italian language, literature, and culture at Dartmouth College. His research focuses on the connections between literature, cinema, and philosophy, using theories from ecocriticism, posthumanism, new-materialism, and animal studies. Dr. Gilebbi’s most recent work has been published in the edited volumes 'Paolo Sorrentino’s Cinema and Television' (Intellect, 2021), 'Towards the River’s Mouth' (Lexington Books, 2018), 'Landscapes, Natures, Ecologies: Italy and the Environmental Humanities' (University of Virginia Press, 2018), 'The Carol J. Adams Reader: Writings and Conversations 1995-2015' (Bloomsbury, 2016), and 'Animals and the Posthuman in Italian Literature and Film' (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014). He is also the co-founder of the “Anthropocene Group” at Dartmouth, whose mission is to provide a venue for faculty, graduate students, post-doctoral researchers, and undergraduates from the sciences, social sciences, and humanities to develop a cross-disciplinary understanding of the Anthropocene.

Italy, Ecology, Imagination, Environment, Ecocriticism, Poetics, Film, Literature, Art, Materialism, Animal, Feminism, Humanism, Posthumanism, Place, Narratives, Philosophy, Violence, Ethics, Landscape, Anthropocene