04177 - Sociology of Literature

Course Unit Page


This teaching activity contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda.

Quality education Gender equality Reduced inequalities Sustainable cities

Academic Year 2023/2024

Course contents

Journalism and Literature. Indiscreet Narrators, Intrusive Journalists, Impossible Interviewers

 If the Press did not exist, we would not have to invent it.

 Honoré de Balzac

 From the mid-nineteenth century until today, many novels chose to represent the prevarications of journalists against other people. The progressive strengthening of the tabloid press has resulted in the proliferation of fictions full of unscrupulous reporters. Yet the relationships between journalism and literature are more subtle and ambiguous. Since the origin of the press, on the one hand the traditional writer has perceived the newspaper correspondent as an unpleasant rival, who nevertheless becomes an essential tool to reach the expanding audience of readers. On the other hand, the journalist transfers forms of writing coming from literature into news reports and often takes advantage of his role in order to become a writer her/himself. Do literature and journalism really belong to two opposing fields? Do they not share, perhaps, the same principles of investigation and do they not respond, rather, to the requests of a modern audience, increasingly interested in knowing in detail the lives and events of exemplary individuals?

The course will introduce students to the Sociology of Literature, a discipline which investigates the relationship between literature and society. We will consider the relation between literature and mass media and focus on some basic topics, which will be examined through specific narrative and fictional texts: the role of the intellectual and of the literate in mass society; the prolific and at the same time contrastive relationship between the system of literature and that of media, with particular reference to the radio; hybrid forms of creative inventions, which also involve writers in radio broadcasting’s production, such as the case of Italian Interviste impossibili. If, as Henry James writes, “you can’t keep out the light of the Press”, literature willingly accepts the challenge, developing a spotlight capable of sweeping the field of social life as well as penetrating deeply into the motivations of people.

Beginning of the course: First Semester (19 September 2023)

Timetables: Tuesday 5-7 pm (Aula Tibiletti, via Zamboni 38), Wednesday 5-7 pm and Friday 3-5 pm (Aula II, via Zamboni 38)



1. Literature

All texts listed below constitute exam materials. Foreign students can use original or English translations while studying, but a good reading knowledge of Italian is required in order to follow classes and understanding teaching materials:

  • Honoré de Balzac, Illusions perdues (1837-43)
  • Heinrich Böll, Die verlorene Ehre der Katharina Blum (1974)
  • Henry James, The Reverberator (1888)
  • Amélie Nothomb, Hygiène de l’assassin (1992).

Students must also see the screen adaptation from Balzac, Illusions perdues, directed by Xavier Giannoli, France, 2021.

As far as the Italian radio impossible interviews are concerned, we will use the following edition where all of them are included and transcribed:

  • Le interviste impossibili. Ottantadue incontri d’autore messi in onda da Radio RAI (1974-1975), a cura di Lorenzo Pavolini, Donzelli-Radio RAI, 2006.

Original audios will be available on Unibo Virtuale moodle through RayPlay Sound website.

Those impossible interviews that will be analyzed in class (the list will be on Unibo Virtuale platform) constitute exam materials.

This year, for the first time, it is possible, for attending students only, to replace one of the exam questions with the production of an impossible interview with a writer of the past, which has to be designed under precise instructions, created in written or audio form (podcast), individually or in groups, and delivered before the oral exam according to a calendar that will be communicated. Detailed information will be provided during the course.

2. Criticism

The reading of the following critical essays, chapters and handbooks are required, but foreign students can ask for substitution of some of them or a general reduction from this list:

  • Clotilde Bertoni, Letteratura e giornalismo, Carocci, 2009.
  • Donatella Boni, Discorsi dell'altro mondo. Nascita e metamorfosi del colloquio fantastico postumo, Ombre corte, 2009.
  • Cesare Cases, “La critica sociologica”, in Il testimone secondario. Saggi e interventi sulla cultura del Novecento, Einaudi, 1985, pp. 299-312 (PDF on Virtuale).
  • Federico Fastelli, L’intervista letteraria. Storia e teoria di un genere trascurato, Carocci, 2019.
  • Guido Mattia Gallerani, L’intervista immaginata. Da genere mediatico a invenzione letteraria, Firenze University Press, 2022: capitolo 2 “Voci dall’impossibile: l’intervista immaginaria” (solo da p. 67 a p. 84), capitolo 3.1.2 “L’intervista-intrigo: Amélie Nothomb” (pp. 104-111) e la conclusione “Il principio dell’indiscrezione” (pp. 135-139). This text is available in Open Access Gold from the Firenze University Press website.
  • György Lukács, “Balzac: Les illusions perdues”, in Saggi sul realismo, Einaudi, 1950, pp. 67-89 (PDF on Virtuale).
  • Donata Meneghelli,"Vivere e morire d'inchiostro", Antinomie, marzo 2023, online.

Students enrolled for 9 CFU (Foreign Languages and Literatures):

These students are exempt from studying the Donatella Boni's volume.

Not attending students:

In addition to the listed readings, they are recommended to study with particular attention all teaching materials published on Virtuale, which are specifically designed to provide guidance also to those who could not follow the lessons.

In order to become familiar with the discipline of Sociology of Literature, not attending students are required to study some chapters of the handbook:

  • Mario Cimini, Sociologia della letteratura, La scuola, 2008, pp. 7-14, 35-56, 65-86 (PDF on Virtuale).


Teaching methods

This course is based on the reading, analysis and discussion of literary and non-literary texts, with appropriate references to the relationship with history, society and the various artistic representations. During frontal lessons, students will be invited to take an active part, with questions and insights. The course is specially designed to allow students to share autonomous reflections and present their thoughts about the connections between study materials and current and past society and history.

Assessment methods

Oral exam

The assessment consists of an oral interview (20 minutes) that aims to assess the critical and methodological skills gained by the student, who will be invited to discuss the readings listed in the program.

The exam will be structured into three parts: 1) Some short initial questions of basic knowledge, which have the purpose to verify the careful reading and knowledge of the novels in their basics aspects (plot, characters, main topics, setting, narrative situation, etc.); 2) Two open questions of a more general and interpretative nature on critical texts and novels; 3) A question related to the genre of impossible interviews, which can be replaced for attending students only with the production of their own impossible interview with a writer of the past (see above).

Top marks will be awarded to students showing a wide and systematic understanding of the issues covered in class, but also capable of using these notions critically to elaborate clear and relevant analyses through an appropriate vocabulary (28-30L).

Average marks will be awarded to students showing a mostly mnemonic knowledge of the subject matter, a moderate ability to summarize and elaborate on key topics and using a correct vocabulary, though not always relevant (24-27).

A superficial knowledge and understanding of the primary sources and related bibliography, accompanied by scarce analytical and expressive competences, will be rewarded with a pass mark or just above (18-23).

Students showing significant gaps in their knowledge of the subject and related bibliography and/or expressing in a confused and inappropriate way will not be given a pass mark.

Teaching tools

Students are requested to register on the course on the Moodle Unibo Virtuale platform, which is the official tool used by the teacher for communications, notices and to provide additional teaching material. Students will find there PowerPoint presentations in PDF format, downloadable materials in support of the lessons, audio materials, precise indications in order to prepare themselves for the exam.

Links to further information


Office hours

See the website of Guido Mattia Gallerani