Cogut Institute for the Humanities

Italian Thought on COVID-19

“Italian Thought: Inside and Out,” a collaborative humanities graduate seminar taught by Laura Odello and Suzanne Stewart-Steinberg in Spring 2020, was already underway when Italy and the U.S. successively became epicenters of the global coronavirus pandemic. As Italian philosophers and thinkers engaged in a rapid-fire analysis of the event and its implications, seminar participants and guest speakers explored those responses in turn. The collaborative project Italian Thought on COVID-19 features a series of essays and resources selected, translated, edited, and composed by seminar participants.

Introduction by Laura Odello and Suzanne Stewart-Steinberg
When, in late February, a national and international debate exploded in reaction to an essay signed by Giorgio Agamben in the left-wing Il Manifesto, our seminar could not ignore the pandemic devastating Italy, nor the theoretical implications of this debate, implications that put into play the terminology that we had been studying together and that now took on renewed and urgent meanings: “life,” “immunity,” “biopolitics.” Read more.


Apocalypse Live: Italian Media in the Time of COVID-19 by Mariam Aboukathir, Nicholas Andersen, and Katherine Contess
While current media consumption favors on-demand viewing, the pandemic has created a specific need for live events, from the masses and blessings of Pope Francis to the “Music for Hope” of singer Andrea Bocelli. Livestreaming mediates a conception of life and a representation of global community in a time of crisis. Read more.


Heretical Reflections by Sergio Benvenuto
Translated by F.S. Ciccone and Andrea Sartori.
Every day our televisions remind us that we are in the midst of an unprecedented event, one that will leave nothing unchanged. Italian psychoanalyst Sergio Benvenuto offers a disenchanted counter-narrative. According to Benvenuto, true revolutions are not so easily televised. They unfold gradually, over years, and, as such, they exceed the limits of an “event.” Read more.


Take Care: Society of Care and Self-determination Income by Cristina Morini
Translated by Francesca Zambon and edited by Julie Dind and Katia Rozenberg. Illustration by Katia Rozenberg.
COVID-19 reveals the gap between an imagined society of (caring) mothers and state structures that make people endure distance and die in solitude. In the era of the coronavirus, journalist and essayist Cristina Morini writes, an individual, unconditional income, is a condition for true self-determination. Read more.

Woman crouching, wearing a cold mask

Life Beyond the Pandemic by Non Una di Meno
Introduced by Sara Colantuono and Geophrey Darrow.
The invisibility of women and care workers has left them unprotected as the pandemic unfolds. The writers of the feminist collective Non Una di Meno contend that this violence and exploitation cannot be separated from questions of colonialism, environmental exploitation, and wealth inequality writ large. They advocate for an ethics of care that takes up economic independence as a vital instrument in the struggle against these injustices. Read more.


What Can “Remaining” Mean Today? by Vito Teti
Translated by Morris Karp and Suzanne Stewart-Steinberg.
In the age of absolute mobility, the coronavirus crisis has suddenly forced most people into a condition of immobility. Anthropologist Vito Teti outlines an idea of what “to live,” “to stay,” and “to remain” in a place can mean in this emergency. Read more.


Coronavirus, That Place We All Call Home: Staying in Necessity and Responsibility by Vito Teti
Translated by Morris Karp and Suzanne Stewart-Steinberg.
During the coronavirus pandemic, most people have been forced to stay at home. Anthropologist Vito Teti reflects on the ambivalent meaning of the home in the history and culture of southern Italy, exploring a possible new meaning for the word “home.” Read more.


The Iatrogenic Society by Raffaele Alberto Ventura
Translated by Pablo a Marca with proofreading, copyediting, and paratext by Alessandro Moghrabi.
Nature created the virus, but it is the technological system that transformed it into an epidemic. In this way, the virus issues its extreme blackmail: either sacrifice bare life or accelerate towards dystopia. Read more.


Plague Literatures. A dossier assembled by Geophrey Darrow and F.S. Ciccone. The response to crisis and disease is thought not only in philosophy but also, and just as importantly, in literature. Texts by Boccaccio, Isabella Whitney, John Donne, Daniel Defoe, Albert Camus, and Don DeLillo can help us think the present moment. Read more.


Reading the Decameron in the COVID-19 Era. On May 26, 2020, Morris Karp and Francesca Zambon interviewed Brown University faculty members Ronald Martinez and Massimo Riva on the renewed interest in Boccaccio’s Decameron in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and the historical parallels between the 14th century and the present time. Watch.