Stories to Save Lives: Environmental Toxicity and Narration in Two Italian Sites

Monica Seger, William and Mary

September 14, 2018, Jennings Hall room 155

My current research examines the ways in which narrative expression allows receptive audiences to make sense of chemically induced change to land and bodies in two Italian sites. Focusing on industrially driven environmental crises in the cities of Seveso and Taranto, I consider the potential of narrative – whether through literature, film, performance art, or more – to foster cognitive and emotional sense making in the wake of extreme exposure to dioxin, a largely imperceptible and temporally ambiguous persistent organic pollutant. This project reflects my dual commitment to Italian cultural production and the environmental humanities writ large, initially cultivated during my graduate studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Building on my first book, it explores the relationship between text and the lived world in light of our relationship to, and enmeshment with, more-than-human matter. Where it differs from my earlier work is in its overt engagement with environmental and human health crisis, its equal attention to material substance and creative text. This project has brought me to many new places: to Seveso and Taranto, but also to toxicology reports; interdisciplinary teaching; ethnographic research; wide ranging consultation and collaboration; and the firm belief that Italian Studies can remain a vibrant and indeed crucial field -- if we continue to reach past traditional disciplinary boundaries. For my talk at OSU, I will offer a brief overview of my current work, before then addressing three areas: the challenges I have faced in moving beyond traditional disciplinary studies; the collaborations to which this has led; and the positive results I have seen in my teaching and writing.

Monica Seger is Associate Professor of Italian Studies and Sallie Gertrude Smoot Spears Term Distinguished Associate Professor of Modern Languages and Literatures at William & Mary. She is also affiliate faculty in Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies, and involved with the programs of Environmental Science & Policy and Film and Media Studies. Her research and teaching address twentieth and twenty-first century Italian literature, film and media; the environmental humanities; and gender studies. She is the author of Landscapes in Between: Environmental Change in Modern Italian Literature and Film (Toronto UP, 2015). Most recently, she has published articles in the journals ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment and Italian Studies, and the edited volume Italy and the Environmental Humanities: Landscapes, Natures, Ecologies(Virginia UP, 2018). She is currently working on a new book examining the relationship between narrative and dioxin toxicity in contemporary Italy.

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