Elena Ferrante in a Global Context

For several years now Reading in Translation has been interested in the contemporary Italian writer Elena Ferrante. We have reviewed her works in English translation, published an interview with her translator Ann Goldstein, and edited a special issue dedicated to her latest novel The Lying Life of Adults.

We are delighted to publish here the introduction and the table of contents of Elena Ferrante in a Global Context, a special issue of Modern Language Notes (136:1, 2021) which examines Ferrante’s writing through a diverse, interdisciplinary lens, underscoring the cosmopolitan, transnational dimension of her global imaginary. This special issue is co-edited by our contributors Katrin Wehling-Giorgi, Tiziana de Rogatis, and Stiliana Milkova, and contains the work of our contributors Enrica Maria Ferrara, Serena Todesco, and Rebecca Walker. The exclusive interview with the renowned Italian playwright and director Chiara Lagani has been translated by Ann Goldstein herself.

We are also featuring an exclusive excerpt from Tiziana de Rogatis’s programmatic essay “Global Perspectives, Trauma, and the Global Novel: Ferrante’s Poetics between Storytelling, Uncanny Realism, and Dissolving Margins,” translated from Italian by Evie Elliott.

The introduction, table of contents, and the excerpt from de Rogatis’s essay are being published simultaneously in Italian, on the cultural blog Nazione Indiana.


Friendship and Scholarship

By Tiziana de Rogatis, Katrin Wehling-Giorgi, and Stiliana Milkova

This special issue was born out of the interweaving of our personal and professional stories, at the intersection of our different mother tongues and acquired languages, homelands, and disciplinary backgrounds. An Italian-Neapolitan scholar in Italy, a Bulgarian scholar in the United States, and a German scholar in the United Kingdom, we found a common ground through the study of Elena Ferrante and on the pages of a 2016 volume of the Italian scholarly journal Allegoria. Our institutional affiliations around the world, our nomadic identities straddling several countries, regional landscapes, and languages, and our cultural differences exemplify in many ways the global effect of Elena Ferrante’s writing.

This effect for us is double. Thanks to Elena Ferrante we forged a strong friendship informed by profound respect, generosity of spirit, and intellectual affinity. Our friendship generated a turn, or a transformation, in our established research trajectories. The study of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, of T.S. Eliot and Montale, of Beckett and Gadda yielded to the rewards and insights of a feminine and feminist author who challenges the entrenched masculine literary and academic canon. Despite and thanks to our different national, linguistic, and cultural identities, as female scholars we recognize and empathize with the marginalization, liminality, and powerful creativity of women depicted in Ferrante’s novels.

Our friendship has been productive and gratifying in many ways. After organizing a three-day seminar at the ACLA convention (2017), three panels at the AAIS conference (2018), and an international conference at Durham University (2019), we arrived at this special issue of MLN dedicated to Elena Ferrante in a global context. Although we have continued to publish individually on Ferrante, our collaborations have enriched our personal perspectives and opened new ways of seeing and reading.

While important contributions to Ferrante Studies have been and continue to be made by both male and female critics, this volume includes a polyphony of approaches and orientations that issue from the voices of female scholars. This selection was in no way programmatic, but it reflects the current reality in which the majority of Ferrante scholars are women.

In this spirit, female friendship can be an empowering, ground-breaking practice when used to include and promote the voices of other women. This special issue synthesizes our individual and collective scholarly trajectories by bringing together female scholars from around the world to examine Ferrante’s writing through a diverse, interdisciplinary lens, underscoring its cosmopolitan, transnational dimension. All of the women authors in this issue offer extensive knowledge of their disciplines and of Ferrante scholarship in both English and Italian, reading and citing Ferrante in both languages. 

When discussing Ferrante, we are aware that her writing and her anonymity have not only been the object of great enthusiasm but also of a strong resistance and intolerance. When reading or reflecting on her work, we are always dealing with her appeal to women’s myriad existences, to their ability to creatively work through the trauma inflicted by frantumaglia and smarginatura. That is why the most in-depth and visionary discourses on Ferrante have been in fact articulated by hybrid voices capable of reconciling lived experience and scholarly research; voices that in some parts of our global academic world are marginalized. And like these voices, the author’s heritage is hybrid and transversal. Ferrante is already a classic of our contemporary global imaginary and as such carries an extraordinary capacity for inclusivity.

Elena Ferrante in a Global Context opens with a programmatic theoretical essay by Tiziana de Rogatis which supplies the framework for understanding Ferrante’s works as globally relevant. In the first section, “Global Framework,” Emanuela Caffè studies the Neapolitan Novels as trauma narratives, expanding the definition and etiology of trauma itself. Stiliana Milkova shows how Ferrante revises the postmodernist trope of the labyrinth, while Rebecca Walker discusses Ferrante’s global poetics of fracture and contends for Lila and Elena as shattered subjects. Enrica Ferrara employs the lens of agential realism to argue for Ferrante’s posthuman subjects. In the second section, “Global Network,” Katrin Wehling-Giorgi, Rossella di Rosa, Serena Todesco and Olivia Santovetti’s essays juxtapose Ferrante’s novels with the contemporary writers Alice Sebold, Margaret Atwood, Slavenka Drakulić and Karl Ove Knausgård, creating a map of our contemporary interconnected imaginary. In the third section, “Global Media,” Elisa Gambaro’s and Francesca di Bari’s articles, together with the interview with playwright and actress Chiara Lagani, examine the global transmedial life of the Neapolitan Novels as a TV series and on stage, as experimental theater.

We are grateful to Ann Goldstein for her time and talent; to Chiara Lagani for her innovative vision and for allowing us to use images, including the cover photograph, from the theatrical performance; to MLN editor Laura di Bianco for enthusiastically welcoming our co-edited issueand seeing it to completion;to the editorial assistants Sam Zawacki and Victor Xavier Zarour Zarzar for their expert help; to Evie Elliott for her elegant translation; to all the contributors to this issue for persevering with their essays at a challenging and frightening time; and to our families for their unwavering support for our intellectual and creative work.

Table of Contents

Part 1: Global Framework

Tiziana de Rogatis, “Global Perspectives, Trauma, and the Global Novel: Ferrante’s Poetics Between Storytelling, Uncanny Realism, and Dissolving Margines.” Translated by Evie Elliott

Emanuela Caffè, “Global Feminism and Trauma in Elena Ferrante’s Saga My Brilliant Friend

Stiliana Milkova, “Beyond Postmodernism: Mirrors, Mise en Abîmes, and Labyrinths in Elena Ferrante’s Works

Rebecca Walker, “Picking Up the Pieces: Elena Ferrante’s Global Poetics of Fracture

Enrica Maria Ferrara, “Grief and Posthuman Identity in Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels: The Precarious Life of Women and the Right to Disappear

Part 2: Global Network

Katrin Wehling-Giorgi,Unclaimed Stories: Narrating Sexual Violence and the Traumatized Self in Elena Ferrante and Alice Sebold’s Writings

Rossella Di Rosa, “Material and Trans-corporeal Identities in Ferrante’s and Atwood’s Narratives

Serena Todesco, Maternal Troubling Bodies in Slavenka Drakulić and Elena Ferrante

Olivia Santovetti, “Künstlerroman of “Late Modernity”: Karl Ove Knausgård’s My Struggle and Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet

Part 3: Global Media

Elisa Gambaro, “The TV Series My Brilliant Friend: Screenshaping Ferrante’s Storytelling for a Wider Audience

Francesca Di Bari, “A Journey of Theatrical Translation from Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels: From Fanny & Alexander’s No Awkward Questions on Their Part to Story of a Friendship.” Including an Interview with Chiara Lagani. Translated by Ann Goldstein

Front Cover (Image Above): Chiara Lagani and Fiorenza Menni as the dolls, wearing black (from the play Story of a Friendship). All photos by Enrico Fedrigoli, used with permission.

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