Foto del docente

Maurizio Ascari

Full Professor

Department of Modern Languages, Literatures, and Cultures

Academic discipline: L-LIN/10 English Literature


Keywords: cultural criminology intermediality literary canon transculture cultural memory cultural heritage travel literature crime fiction world literature

Since my doctoral years, my research has been focussed on the idea of literature as system (Guillén, Fowler, Moretti). Both my interest in literary genres and in the process of literary canonization can be regarded as rooted in this idea.

1. Contemporary novels in a transcultural perspective. The label of postmodernism no longer suffices to explain our present, for at least two reasons. First of all, our present is made up of exchanges between cultures on a global level, while postmodernism is circumscribed to a set of countries (notably 'Western' and 'English-speaking' countries). Several studies have explored the link betweeen postmodernist and postcolonial novels, which have often been authored by migrant writers. Yet, we cannot circumscribe our research to this dialectics, which is by now 'canonical'. Also in response to 9/11 we have to reassess the cultural frontier that divides the West from the East in the collective imagination, exploring the East in its various Eurocentric acceptions. Moreover, in the course of the last few decades, within the so-called 'Western' world culture has gone through a deep process of reshaping, also due to the development of new ways to relate to the past, notably to the Holocaust. In the attempt to understand the implications of this event, the traditional categories of historical discourses have been superseded by new trandisciplinary concepts, such as memory, oblivion and trauma. The cultural discourses pivoting on the Holocaust have been an important starting point to redefine the concept of postmodern relativism and to trigger a comeback to notions of ethics and responsibility, which have been declined by sociologist Zygmunt Bauman in the singular rather than in the plural, since in his eyes after the Holocaust ethics had to be re-founded on a different basis, which is individual rather than collective. The target of my research is to study contemporary novels – those that have been published in the last twenty-five years – from a transcultural perspective, also keeping in mind the importance 9/11 has in the collective imagination, which is seen by some cultural and social analysts see as marking the end of postmodernism. More generally, 9/11 has brought to our attention the problem of the relationship between East and West, which is closely linked to the nature of the state of Israel, and ultimately to the Holocaust itself, which has in turn been seen by Lyotard as the foundation of postmodernism. A comparative critical attitude is necessary to understand our present, going beyond the analytical tools that developed within the discourses of postmodernism. It is my contention that these discourses, which crystallised mainly around a set of cultural works that were produced in Europe and the US in the seventies and eighties, are unable to account for the complexity of today's global cultural landscape.

2. Mapping some current trends in the field of criminology. As we know, forensic sciences have recently witnessed extraordinary developments - suffice it to think of the utilisation of DNA as an instrument of identification. Criminology, however, is going through a deep process of remodelling, due to the development of disciplines such as 'Cultural Criminology', which interprets crime and its control as cultural constructs. This approach enables 'cultural criminologists' to utilise the theoretical framework that has been developed in the field of 'cultural studies', but also theoretical tools belonging to the spheres of sociology and ethnography, to explore phenomena that had previously been overlooked, such as criminal subcultures, with their aspects of ritual and transgressive fascination, or the construction of crime and its control in the media.

3. Crime as illness. I intend to study the transition, in the course of the modern age, from the conception of crime as sin to that of crime as illness. To this end, I will explore the corpus of nineteenth-century crime fiction, focussing on those texts where the investigative agent is a physician. This corpus includes collections of stories such as Samuel Warren's Passages from the Diary of a Late Physician (which appeared in Blackwood's between 1830 and 1837, and were collected in a volume the following year), A.C. Doyle's Under the Red Lamp: Being Facts and Fancies of Medical Life (1894) as well as L.T. Meade and Clifford Halifax's Stories from the Diary of a Doctor (published in the Strand in 1893-94 and in book form in 1895; then followed by a second series). The aim of this critical itinerary is to relate the advent of the professional detective not only to the creation of police forces, but also to the evolution of forensic sciences. Victorian society was characterised by a new paradigm of disciplinary knowledge, as Foucault termed it, whereby knowledge (which should always be regarded as a correlative of power) was not only structured according to a set of increasingly well-defined disciplines, but also aimed to ‘normalise' the individual. In the course of the nineteenth century, professionals such as physicians and lawyers acquired a virtually ‘heroic' status, since they were endowed with a specific apparatus of knowledge that enabled them to solve mysteries of various nature, fighting illness, crime and immorality in order to reinstate order. These figures soon inspired writers to create fictional professional case studies featuring a serial hero - a literary output that significantly contributed to the development of crime fiction.

4. The development of Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey. Starting from a number of recent studies that have have explored the relationship between places, cultural memory and national identity, I will reassess the development of the English literary canon between the sixteenth and the twentieth centuries through the study of Poets' Corner and more in general of Westminster Abbey, the shrine of the English and British national identities. The burial or monumentalisation of poets, but also of actors and actresses, since the early modern age, will be analysed in the light of a wider network of cultural exchanges, in order to explore the aesthetic and ideological implications of this phenomenon. The south transept of the Abbey asserted its role as the temple of English poetic fame starting from the second half of the sixteenth century, when a monument to Chaucer, the father of English literature, was erected. In the following centuries the memorialisation of great artists in this site of memory responded to changes in taste, strategies of power and also accidental circumstances. Shakespeare's fate is a case in point, for only in 1741 was a monument to the Bard erected in the Abbey. This and other cases will be studied by means of written and visual documents that will enable me to compare the memorial power of poetry and sculpture, which were both involved in this imposing process of monumentalisation. Particular attention will be devoted to the issue of gender, for Poets' Corner reflected the prejudices that marginalised the woman as artist in the canonical and cultural edifice of Europe, although actresses were actually memorialised and/or buried here at a time when in France they were not even allowed to rest in sacred ground.

5. The Grand Tour and the European identity. This research will delve into the relationship between aesthetic and ideology in the Grand Tour, in relation to Jacobitism, religious controversies, the shifting geopolitical order and the changing forms of government in European countries. It will explore the construction of the symbolical borders that oppose the south to the north and the occident to the orient, exploring the discourses of both orientalism and 'meridionism', as Manfred Pfister termed the Northern gaze towards an exoticised South. It will moreover consider the relation between cultural memory and the perception of landscape (analysing the function of the classics as mediators of Southern 'alterity' in the eyes of Northern travellers) as well as the relation between the material aspects of the journey and the cultural representation of travelling. The reverse Grand Tour that brought Italian travellers to northern European countries such as Great Britain will also been taken into account.