Ph.D. in Literature Student on the Trail of Italian Dialect Poetry

Author: Mary Hendriksen

Damiano Benvegnù, Ph.D. in Literature student

Students in the Ph.D. in Literature Program at Notre Dame approach their work from transnational, transdisciplinary, and theoretical perspectives, completing an innovative course of study that requires proficiency in multiple languages.

For Damiano Benvegnù, one of those languages is Italian, although his recent research illustrates how it could easily count for two.

“From the very beginning of Italian literature,” Benvegnù says, “we can see two different movements: the first trying to create one poetic language by the production of written works shareable in the whole peninsula, and the second influenced by the amazing differences that there were—and in a way there still are—between the various Italian regions in terms of dialect.”

He spent summer 2009 in Italy building on research he conducted previously that looked at 20th-century authors who combined elements of these traditions by employing both regional dialects and “standardized” Italian in their writing.

“One of my major points [before] was the idea that we cannot overlook the dialectic between the two languages,” he says, “nor can we ignore that their use is related to what [author Pier Paolo] Pasolini called ‘an anthropological mutation’ of the entire socio-cultural environment.”

Supported by grants from Notre Dame’s Nanovic Institute for European Studies and Albert J. and Helen M. Ravarino Italian Studies Travel Scholarship, Benvegnù’s summer research focused on Italy’s new brand of dialect poetry, which he says is rooted in the “metalinguistic awareness” of those authors he studied before. He is particularly interested in the writing of Gian Mario Villalta, whom Benvegnù interviewed as part of his project.

His time abroad also benefited the University’s Hesburgh Libraries, as he used funds provided by the Department of Special Collections to acquire rare volumes of contemporary dialect poetry.

“I’ve found here at Notre Dame a really exciting intellectual environment,” says Benvegnù, whose other primary language for the Ph.D. in literature is Spanish. “In my program as in the other departments—but inevitably I’m especially talking about the Romance languages department—I’ve met very good scholars who are real experts and open to every discussion.”

  

Courtesy of Ted Fox. Originally printed in the November 2009 issue of Fabella Romanica, the newsletter of the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures at Notre Dame. Reposted with permission.