The Auto / Bio / Fiction Series: Anna Borgarello and Riccardo Castellana

Our Auto / Bio / Fiction series of talks and seminars resumes in 2023 with Anna Borgarello and Riccardo Castellana.

26 January 2023, 5.30pm UTC (online)

Anna Borgarello, “Of Adventurers and Storytellers: Narrations of the Self and the Other in Via Gemito by Domenico Starnone and Limonov by Emmanuel Carrère”

The traditional division between autobiography (or, more recently, autofiction) and biography (or biofiction) has long obscured the existence of texts that combine writing of the self and writing of the other(s). Particularly, in the past few decades, an increasing number of works show what I call a “bifocal structure,” i.e., a structure which, as in an ellipsis, hinges upon two foci: an autobiographical/ autofictional narrator and a biographical/ biofictional other. As such, these texts stage a confrontation in which the authorial narrator develops a sense of the self through the mirror and against the backdrop of a historical other, in a complex movement of identification and differentiation.

In my talk, I will approach this double portrait by focusing on the narrative structures through which personal identities are largely constructed. Indeed, as argued by a long critical tradition, from Paul Ricœur to Paul John Eakin and Adriana Cavarero, narratives are a crucial tool through which humans develop a sense of the self. This is particularly interesting in the case of bifocal narratives, in which the historical others have often already narrated their own stories, and these stories are confronted and re-written by the authors in the texts themselves. Thus, bifocal narratives compare and contrast not just two personalities, but two ways of narrating, two narrative identities.

I will investigate this clash of narrative identities through a comparative reading of Via Gemito by Domenico Starnone (2000) and Limonov by Emmanuel Carrère (2011). In both texts, which present a complex interplay between facts and fiction, the historical other – Federí, a novelistic re-elaboration of Starnone’s father Federico Starnone, and the Russian writer Eduard Limonov – represents a primary narrative model for the authors and their autobiographical narrators, as well as the main source for their narrations. Thus, in writing their own stories, Starnone and Carrère must consider and confront the other’s version. Particularly, I will show how both authors attribute to their other a romance mode of storytelling which manifests a similarly heroic conception of the self. I will then argue that, although both fascinated by this model, Starnone and Carrère respond to it in dissimilar ways, which translate into two distinct narrative identities.

Riccardo Castellana, “Biofiction in Italy: typologies, traditions and reception”

My paper will trace the history of biofiction in Italy, starting from the first, and isolated, experiments of the forties (Narrate, uomini, la vostra storia, by Alberto Savinio, 1942, and Artemisia by Anna Banti, 1947) up to the works published in the first twenty years of the 21st century by authors like Michele Mari (Rosso Floyd, 2010), Davide Orecchio (Città distrutte, 2012), Walter Siti (La natura è innocente. Due vite quasi vere, 2020), Antonio Scurati (M., 2019), Marta Barone (Città sommersa, 2021) and others.

Some of the problems on which I will focus my attention are: 1) the way in which biographical fiction has gradually emancipated itself from the nineteenth-century historical novel; 2) its differences with the fictionalized biography (e.g. Pietro Citati); 3) the reference to important late nineteenth-century models such as Marcel Schwob’s Vies imaginaires (1896), which, together with the works of Jorge Luis Borges, influenced authors of collection of (short) biofictions such as Rodolfo Wilcock (La sinagoga degli iconoclasti, 1972), Antonio Tabucchi (Sogni di Sogni, 1993) and Davide Orecchio (Città distrutte, 2012); 4) different types of fictionality in Italian biofiction, mainly considered by a narratological point of view; 5) recurrence of structural patterns like that of “parallel lives” and the persistence of the Plutarchic model in modern biofiction. The paper will also show the internal evolution of the genre and its progressive fortune (of critics and audiences) starting from the Eighties, when in Italy too a postmodern poetics is affirmed, and up to the last two decades, when biofiction has finally become a genre of success thanks to popular authors such as Siti and Scurati.


Attendance is free but booking is required to receive a link to attend.  BOOKING HAS NOW CLOSED.

Watch the video of the seminar:

The speakers

Anna Borgarello is a PhD candidate in the Department of Italian and the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society at Columbia University. Previously, she studied at the Scuola Normale Superiore and at the University of Pisa, where she graduated with an MA thesis on Fratelli d’Italia by Alberto Arbasino. She is currently working on her PhD dissertation, entitled Bifocal Narratives. The Self and the Other in Contemporary Literature. The dissertation investigates 21st century Italian, French and Anglo-American texts which display a two-foci structure and focus on the relation between an autobiographical or autofictional narrator and another actual individual, thus avoiding a clear-cut division between autobiographical / autofictional and biographical / biofictional writing. She is the author of two articles: “Hemingway e Fenoglio, oltre il dopoguerra” (Italianistica, 2014) and “Un romanzo lungo trent’anni. Fratelli d’Italia di Alberto Arbasino tra modernismo e postmoderno” (Allegoria, 2018).

Ricardo Castellana is Associate Professor of Italian Contemporary Literature at the Department of Philology and Literary Criticism (DFCLAM) of Siena University, where he has been teaching Italian Literature, Italian Philology, Contemporary Italian Literature and Literary Theory since 2002. He also teaches in the PhD School on Italian Studies of Pisa University. His main research fields are Italian modern (Manzoni, Verga) and modernist fiction (Tozzi, Pirandello, Svevo), Italian late modernist poetry (Montale, of whom he edited in 2009 an annotated edition of Satura for Mondadori), author’s philology, literary historiography and literary theory (Erich Auerbach, René Girard and anthropological criticism) and biofiction (Finzioni biografiche. Teoria e storia di un genere ibrido, Carocci, 2019). He is in particular a specialist of Federigo Tozzi (he edited Tozzi’s first critical edition in 1999, Ricordi di un giovane impiegato, and is now director of the National Edition of Tozzi’s work) and Luigi Pirandello (Storie di figli cambiati. Fate, demoni e sostituzioni magiche tra folklore e letteratura, 2014, Finzione e memoria. Pirandello modernista, 2018), of whom discovered in 2020 an unknown novella (“Alla salute!”).