Locked in or locked out: Gender and (dis)embodied knowledge in Italian science fiction, from Primo Levi to Nicoletta Vallorani

When and Where

Thursday, January 19, 2023 4:00 pm to 5:00 pm
Father Madden Hall Carr Hall
100 St. Joseph Street


Charlotte Ross


Primo Levi is best known for his testimonial writings, but he was also an accomplished author of speculative science fiction. Many of his short stories narrate dystopian scenarios in which individuals express anxiety about the creeping power of technology which is reifying and automating their posthuman bodies, affecting their physical and psychological freedoms. My 2011 monograph, Primo Levi's Narratives of Embodiment: Containing the Human (Routledge), explored Levi's recurring focus on embodiment as an ongoing struggle against normative, oppressive structures, which may directly threaten us or transform our understandings and lived experience of the embodied self.  In this lecture, I develop this work with a focus on the gendered dimension of Levi's sci-fi writing. I show how he critiques the problematic ways in which technologisation impacts specifically on women's bodies. I also trace resonances between Levi’s work and overtly feminist sci-fi, including Nicoletta Vallorani's recent novels. Overall, I argue that Vallorani's writing echoes and develops many of Levi's concerns about how technology can be employed to constrain our bodies and consciousness, and the explicitly gendered dimensions of this oppression. I suggest that Levi's sci-fi deserves greater recognition, and demonstrate the merits of comparing it with more contemporary texts.

Charlotte Ross studied Combined Honours English and Modern Languages at Newnham College, Cambridge and for a Master of Studies in Modern Languages at Balliol College, Oxford before completing a PhD at the University of Warwick. She is currently Reader in Gender, Sexuality and Cultural studies at the University of Birmingham, UK, where she is also Head of the Department of Modern Languages. Her research focuses on how bodies, gender and sexuality are understood, constructed and represented in socio-cultural contexts. She is author of two monographs, Primo Levi's Narratives of Embodiment: Containing the Human (Routledge, 2011) and Eccentricity and Sameness. Discourses on Lesbianism and Desire between Women in Italy, 1870s-1930s (Peter Lang, 2015). She has also published numerous articles and chapters, and co-edited several books and journal issues, including the volume In corpore: Bodies in Post-Unification Italy, edited with Loredana Polezzi (Fairleigh Dickinson, 2007) and the special issue of gender/sexuality/Italy on 'Queer Italian Cultures' (2019), edited with SA Smythe and Julia Heim. Her work has been funded by the British Academy, the Leverhulme Trust, and the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council. She is Senior Co-editor of the journal Italian Studies. Her current research project, in collaboration with Silvia Antosa, is entitled ‘Cultural Discourses on Desire between Women. A Queer Comparative Analysis’, and explores literary narratives of queer women in Italy, France and the UK in the 1920s-30s.

To attend this lecture in person, please register with the link.

This lecture will be livestreamed on the Department's YouTube channel.

Contact Information


Italian Studies


100 St. Joseph Street