„I think what would most help to increase the visibility of lesser known SFs—at least in the US—is to find a scholar or scholars who would be interested in translating works into English and publishing them in a critically edited anthology (like Wesleyan has). The main reason Italian SF is internationally unknown is that virtually nothing has been translated into English.”
An interview with Prof. Arielle Saiber, Bowdoin College (Brunswick, Maine, U.S.A.)
“Arielle Saber is Associate Professor of Italian, Bowdoin College (Ph.D., Italian Literature, Yale, 1999), she has published articles on medieval and early modern Italian literature; early modern mathematics, print history, and advice manuals; “literature & science” studies; genre theory and experimental electronic music; and Dante in contemporary culture. Her book „Giordano Bruno and the Geometry of Language” came out in 2005 (Aldershot, U.K.: Ashgate Press), and her co-edited anthology „Images of Quattrocento Florence: Writings on Literature, History and Art” in 2000 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000). She has also co-edited special issues of Configurations (“Mathematics and the Imagination”) – Bowdoin College
Dear Prof. Saiber, thank you very much for the acceptance of this interview !
My pleasure! I am happy to know there are others interested in Italian SF !
Within your research of interest areas are “Medieval and Renaissance literature and philosophy”, “Intersections between mathematics and literature”, “The literary fantastic”, “The imagination”, “Theories of “space”, “Technology” and “Science fiction”. You are a Ph.D. from Yale University and an Associate Professor of Italian Literature at Bowdoin College. You have earned prestigious fellowships, grants and awards. You have very impressive professional activities. You are considered an exceptional scholar with a multitude of publications, lectures and conference papers. But science fiction!?! It is not quite mundane for a Professor to be interested by such a thing? (Some academic establishments would be absolutely oripilated… science fiction?)
It has always amazed me how many people — scholars, publishers, and general public alike — excoriate (or ignore) SF. How can they not see the complex world views that SF writers explore, and the important thought experiments that many authors perform, often with the express purpose to educate, critique, and warn us, but also to give us the opportunity to contemplate how to alter and improve ourselves as a species? With recent SF blockbuster films and t.v. series it seems to me that there is a shift in many cultures view of SF, acknowledging its fascinating postulates and sensing the urgency of many of the issues (massive environmental change, waning natural resources, economic disparity, religious/cultural/race/gender intolerance, technology’s triumphs and horrors, globalization, etc.) being addressed in SF. As a Philosophy major in college, I recall that examples from SF literature were often invoked in class and some texts were even assigned. Today, more literature scholars are also dedicating themselves to the research and teaching of SF. As with any genre or body of literature (or film, or any artistic medium), of course there are innumerable examples of mediocre (or worse) works; works lacking vision, originality, power, and good writing. But as those of us who have read widely in SF know, there are many brilliant authors and works who illuminate our minds and stun us with their masterful narrative and turns of phrase. When I encounter these works I am, literally, over the moon, as they offer a banquet for the intellect, the imagination, and one’s literary exegeses.
Are you as science fiction fan, Prof. Saiber ?
Yes. Big time.
Who are your favorite SF writers ? Why ?
Among the classics: PKD, Bradbury, Le Guin, Ballard, Delany, Silverberg, Sheckley, Clarke, Ellison, Lem, Butler, Gibson, Lindsay (of Voyage to Arcturus), and… many more. As to why—there are too many, and too varied, reasons why to explain in brief here ! Of the earlier group of Italian SF writers: Lino Aldani, Anna Rinonapoli, Sandro Sandrelli, Roberta Rambelli, Vittorio Catani, Luigi Rapuzzi, Renato Pestriniero, Piero Prosperi,Gilda Musa, Teodoro Giuttari, Cesare Falessi. Of Italian writers who wrote narrative that engaged science, even if not locatable necessarily within „genre SF”: F.T. Marinetti, Alberto Savinio (Alberto De Chirico), Dino Buzzati, Primo Levi, Tommaso Landolfi, and Italo Calvino. Of contemporary Italian SF writers, there are many I find fascinating and who are worthy of note, many who could be considered writing in „cross-over” genres especially that of fantasy and noir. Valerio Evangelisti and Giovanni De Matteo are two excellent examples.
In September 2011 you had a lecture, “Italian Science Fiction” at the Society for Literature, Science and the Arts, in Ontario, Canada. Everybody knows that science fiction means AMERICAN science fiction! Why on Heavens name, italian science fiction?
Absolutely! The panel was on „World SF,” which is currently a popular area of study in academic circles.
You had mentioned in your study, “Flying Saucers Would Never Land in Lucca: The Fiction of Italian Science Fiction”, California Italian Studies 2 (2011): 1-47. Special Issue: Italian Future : „Worse, perhaps, than calling Italian science fiction “derivative”— as has often been recited by science fiction readers and critics—is thinking it does not, or could not, exist. Consult a science fiction (hereafter, “SF”) anthology in English, the “it” language of SF, from any period and you will be hard-pressed to find a single author from Italy (see Appendix I)… A study dedicated to Italian SF in English, or an anthology of Italian SF, however, has yet to see any light.” How do you explain this situation ?
My article, as well as excellent studies done by Italian scholars and critics, have proposed numerous reasons as to why Italian SF has not become a presence in the SF landscape, either at home or internationally. It would be difficult to summarize the many obstacles and prejudices Italian SF authors faced from the official „birth” of genre SF in Italy in 1952. I’ll just say that forces working against SF in Italy operate on many levels and are both external pressures and beliefs, and more subtle internal ones held by publishers and authors themselves.
You had also mentioned : („Ask a non-Italian to name an Italian SF author, and you will likely get a blank stare. Ask a non-Italian SF fan to name an Italian SF author and they will laugh, pause, and realize sheepishly they do not know.”) As a far as you can tell, is Italian science fiction practically unknown in US ? Why is that?
Yes, alas, it is unknown. Some Americans think of Italo Calvino as a SF writer, but he never thought of himself as one, and whether his work—marvelous and science-rich it is—should be included in the genre is debatable. Occasionally, someone will think of the Futurists, but few have ever read Marinetti’s literary writing, some of which could, I believe, be considered proto-SF. The main reason Italian SF is unknown is that virtually nothing has been translated into English. The bibliography in my „Flying Saucers” article presents a very short list of Italian SF works—all that I could find (there may be a few I missed, but I would venture to say, very few). As to why it hasn’t been translated—this is, of course, primarily a consequence of the problems SF has had around being published and distributed in Italy itself. We all know the reasons why Anglophone SF has been and continues to be the main language of SF, although wonderful societies such as SFRA (Science Fiction Research Association); blogs such as Lavie Tidhar’s „World SF Blog” ; academic publishers such as Wesleyan University Press who are releasing anthologies of and studies on World SF and other media (film, t.v.) are contributing a great deal to re-mapping the SF landscape. One other reason I think Italian SF hasn’t been translated into English, is that there are not many Anglophone speakers/scholars of Italian, especially not ones who also happen to be interested in SF, or have the time and support to do the long hours of work tracking down Italian SF texts and authors. When I tell people who love Italy and things Italian that I am working on Italian SF they often laugh, saying that „Italian SF” must be an oxymoron; they have never heard those two things uttered within the same breath, nor imagined they could be so ! This widely-held stereotype is at the core of the vicious cycle that has held Italian SF back, both inside Italy and around the world.
In your opinion what is the specificity of the Italian science fiction? Do you think that conceptual differences are existing between the science fictions of the European romance countries, Italy, France, Spain, Portugal and Romania?
Excellent question. As I have not read a great deal of SF from Spain, Portugal, and Romania (although I have read some from France), I would be remiss in proposing an answer to this question. I think it would be wonderful to hold a conference with European SF authors and critics to explore what each nation believes to be unique to their nationals SF. In one sense, though, of all literature genres, SF has the potential to be the most universal, especially when addressing issues that are results of global and/or species-based crises, or are aimed at impacting global, galactic, and/or extragalactic concerns. Yet each culture has its own social, political, religious, economic, and aesthetic history and present concerns, and SF narratives of course reflect these time-and-place specific institutions and beliefs. I do think there has been (though less now) something different in the SF written in countries, like Italy, that are predominantly Catholic versus those that are Protestant, or they were Communist, or of other faiths/political positions. In “Flying Saucers…” I talk some about the ways in which the Catholic religion—with its saints, miracles, and its views of the soul and the afterlife (among other elements)—fills Italian daily life, and even if someone is not a practicing Catholic, it provides a great deal of suggestively supernatural material to satisfy, in some ways, a person’s imagination. Another particularity of Italian SF — early SF especially — I have noticed is that when there are aliens, they are often cast as good and helpful; much more so than in American SF written during the same time. There is also a notable number of women SF writers in Italy, and this has been the case since SF’s official beginning in the 1950s.
You’re currently working in collaboration with Giuseppe Lippi, editing “Piazza Galattica: An Anthology of Italian Science Fiction from the 1860s-1960s.” Congratulations ! But what are you intending by publishing this book ?
This will be the first-ever anthology of Italian SF in English. Wesleyan University Press has a series called “Early Classics of Science Fiction” and they have released two wonderful volumes of non-Anglophone SF in the last few years: Cosmos Latinos and The Black Mirror. Our Piazza Galattica will follow their model of including around 30 short stories and excerpts, introductions to each author, a general Introduction, and a bibliography, but will diverge from these anthologies by shortening the period: from proto-SF beginning in the mid-nineteenth century through the 1960s. Giuseppe and I feel that there is so much excellent work in these early years that we need a volume that shows the range and scope of Italian writers in this period. We also feel the writing from the 1970s onward deserves an equal amount of attention, and we hope to publish a second volume in the future with a selection of pieces from later authors. Wesleyan Press is, however, consider expanding the page count of Piazza Galattica so that we could include later authors. They are also considering having a novel or two of Italian SF published simultaneously or before our volume.
You had conferences as “The Space of the Fantastic in Italian Literature.” (Space and Literature, Northeastern Modern Language Association, Cambridge, MA., US) and within your teaching areas is also the Italian literary fantastic (fantastika) as in “Hallucinatory Landscapes: The Fantastic in Italian Film and Literature”. Is the fantastic a constant characteristic of the Italian literature?
How perceptive of you to mention this ! Yes, the „fantastic”—which is not „fantasy literature” i.e. Tolkein, etc., but narrative in which phenomena of uncertain origin intervene and questions of reality are left unanswered—is a large undercurrent in Italian literature—often erudite literature, from the middle ages through the present. I would argue that the „fantastic” is found throughout Italy’s literary production, but some scholars define the „fantastic” as isolated to a genre of short stories that begin appearing during the time of the Industrial Revolution. I could go on and on about the literature of „the fantastic,” but I will spare you!
Are you teaching Italian science fiction courses too at Bowdoin College? Or would you?
I am not teaching a whole course dedicated to Italian SF at the moment, but hope to in the future when Piazza Galattica is published. I would prefer to teach it in English, as the student body could then include SF readers from all disciplines.
Please be so kind to explain to the readers what SFRA is and why you decided to join this organization.
SFRA is the Science Fiction Research Association.
Have you ever read for example a romanian SF story? Or a fantasy one? What do you recommend for an increased international visibility of a lesser known science fiction?
I have just begun to read Romanian SF thanks to you, and I look forward to reading more. I think what would most help to increase the visibility of Romanian SF or lesser known SFs—at least in the US—is to find a scholar or scholars who would be interested in translating works into English and publishing them in a critically edited anthology (like Wesleyan has); having Romanian SF writers and critics going to World SF conferences and publishing essays and reviews for newly released books (in translation) on sites like Tidhar’s World SF Blog; and trying to get as many stories as possible published in internationally distributed, widely read SF publications. I know it is hard to get published in these places, but the SF world has become World SF, and I do believe there is every chance for great SF from everywhere to obtain recognition.
Are you so kind to address a few words to the European SF fans and readers? Thank you.
I look forward to reading more SF from Europe and reading/hearing what issues are most central to European SF writing. I do hope a sort of workshop could be organized one day in which national particularities and visions could be discussed, so we could celebrate how global we have all become (and maybe have always been) on the one hand, and how differently we imagine ourselves and the world around us on the other.
Thank you very much again for your time, support and kindness.
© Cristian Tamas & Arielle Saiber
Prof. Arielle Saiber :
Medieval and Renaissance literature and philosophy
Intersections between mathematics and literature
The literary fantastic
Theories of “space”
Dante, medieval and early modern Italian literature, the literary fantastic, science and literature
Giordano Bruno and the Geometry of Language (Aldershot, England: Ashgate Press, 2005).
Co-editor (with Stefano Baldassarri). Images of Quattrocento Florence: Selected Writings in Literature, History, and Art (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000).
“Flying Saucers Would Never Land in Lucca: The Fiction of Italian Science Fiction.” California Italian Studies 2 (2011): 1-47. Special Issue: Italian Futures. http://escholarship.org/uc/item/67b8j74s
“The Game of Love: Caccia di Diana.” Boccaccio: A Critical Guide to the Complete Works. Ed. Victoria Kirkham, Michael Sherberg, and Janet Smarr. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Forthcoming.
“The Song of the Return: Paradiso XXXIII.” Lectura Dantis: Paradiso. Ed. Allen Mandelbaum, Anthony Oldcorn, and Charles Ross. Berkeley: University of California Press. Forthcoming.
“Paul Laffoley’s Dante’s Divine Comedy Triptych.” Paul Laffoley: Building for the Bauharoque. Ed. Doug Walla. New York: Kent Gallery, Inc. Forthcoming.
“The Middle Ages and Early Renaissance.” Routledge Companion to Literature and Science. Ed. Bruce Clarke and Manuela Rossini. London: Routledge Press. 2010: 423-437.
with Henry S. Turner. Introduction to “Mathematics and the Imagination.” Ed. Arielle Saiber and Henry S. Turner. A special issue of Configurations 17 (2009): 1-18.
“When in (Renaissance) Rome…” Cabinet. A Quarterly Magazine of Art and Culture 35 (2009): 12-15.
“Virtual Reality: Purgatorio XV.” Lectura Dantis: Purgatorio. Eds. Allen Mandelbaum, Anthony Oldcorn, and Charles Ross. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008: 151-166.
“The Polyvalent Discourse of Electronic Music.” PMLA. October (2007): 1613-1625.
“Flexilinear Language in Giambattista Della Porta’s Elementorum curvilinearoum libri tres.” Annali d’Italianistica 23 (2005): 89-104.
“The Giordano Asteroid and Giordano Bruno Lunar Crater: A Tale of Two Namings.” Bruniana & Campanelliana 10.1 (2004): 183-191.
with Elliott King. “Hyperdimensionality in Salvador Dalí’s Illustrations of Dante’s Paradiso.” Illuminating Dante (an online database of articles supported by the Dante Society of America and a grant from the Mellon Foundation), April, 2003.
“Ornamental Flourishes in Giordano Bruno’s Geometry.” Sixteenth Century Journal 34 (2003): 730-747.
“Un convegno su Bruno a Chicago.” Bruniana & Campanelliana 5 (1999) 1:213-15.
with Giuseppe Mazzotta. Longfellow and Dante. A special issue of Dante Studies 128 (2010). 371pp.
with Henry S. Turner. Mathematics and the Imagination. A special issue of Configurations 17 (2009). 195pp.
Works in Progress
with Giuseppe Lippi, ed. Piazza Galattica: An Anthology of Italian Science Fiction from the 1860s-1960s. Advance contract with Wesleyan University Press.
“Tri-gyration: The Three Giri of Paradiso XXXIII.”
with Deanna Shemek and Mary Ann Smart, ed. Sound. A special issue of California Italian Studies.
Well-Versed Mathematics in Early Modern Italy (1450-1650). Advance contract with the University of Toronto Press.
Translation and critical edition of Giordano Bruno, De l’infinito universo e mondi (London, 1584) for the University of Toronto Press. Ed. Brian Copenhaver and David Marsh.
Dante Today: Sightings and Citings of Dante’s Works in Contemporary Culture. (online since fall 2006)
Anna Laura Puliafito Bleuel, Comica pazzia: Vicissitudine e destini umani nel Candelaio di Giordano Bruno (Florence: Olschki, 2007) for Renaissance Quartlery 62 (Spring 2009): 207-209.
Eugenio Canone and Ingrid Rowland, ed. The Alchemy of Extremes: The Laboratory of The Eroici Furori of Giordano Bruno (Pisa-Rome: Istituti Editoriali e Poligrafici Internazionali, 2007) for The Medieval Review. http://hdl.handle.net/2027/spo.baj9928.0811.020 (2008)
Leo Catana, The Concept of Contraction in Giordano Bruno’s Philosophy (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing 2005) for Renaissance Quarterly 59.3 (2006): 833-834.
Pierpaolo Antonello and Simon Gilson, ed., Science and Literature in Italian Culture: A Festschrift for Pat Boyde (Oxford: Legenda, 2005) for Italian Studies 60.2 (2005): 255-257.
Louis Van Delft, Frammento e anatomia: Rivoluzione scientifica e creazione letteraria (Bologna: Il Mulino, 2004) for Renaissance Quarterly 58.3 (2005): 990-992.
Simon Gilson, Medieval Optics and Theories of Light in the Works of Dante (NY: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2000) for Italian Culture 20 (2002).
Alison Cornish, Reading Dante’s Stars (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000) for Italian Culture 20 (2002).
The Encyclopedia of Italian Literary Studies . Ed. Gaetana Marrone and Paolo Puppa. 2 vols. (London: Routledge Press, 2006).
Folgore da San Gimignano
Rustico di Filippo
The Encyclopedia of Literature and Science (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2002).
Literature and Science in Italy
Leonardo da Vinci
Ordine, Nuccio. Giordano Bruno and the Philosophy of the Ass (1987). Tr. Henryk Baranski and Arielle Saiber (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996).
The diaries of architect Paolo Soleri, 1994 (not for publication).
Cristian Tamaș is a romanian essayist, translator and SF fan active within the speculative fiction domain since the 80s.
He is a founding member of the Romanian Science Fiction&Fantasy Society (SRSFF = Societatea Română de Science Fiction & Fantasy, www.srsff.ro/) in January 2009, coordinates ProspectArt, the SRSFF’s SF club relaunched in April 2009 in Bucharest (Romania), and the yearly Ion Hobana Colloquium. He is a member of the Ion Hobana and a SRSFF’s Jury Awards. He is also editor of „Bella Proxima”, a trilingual Croatian SF anthology (English-Croatian-Romanian), together with Antuza Genescu and Aleksandar Žiljak (Eagle Publishing House, Bucharest, 2012). He had interviewed David Brin, Prof. Rachel Haywood Ferreira (Division Head of the International Fantastic division of the International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts, Iowa State University, USA ; research focus : Latin American science fiction), Prof. Arielle Saiber (Bowdoin College, USA; research focus : italian science fiction), Mariano Martín Rodríguez (SF scholar, Spain), Alexandre Babeanu (Prix Solaris awarded Canadian SF author), Ugo Bellagamba (french SF author awarded with Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire & Prix Rosny ), and Judit Lörinczy, a hungarian SF author and artist.