The project

It was 1909 when the now pressing debate around ethics of sex robots and human-machine romance was first addressed by the futurist Filippo Tommaso Marinetti in his play Poupées électriques.

The risk of dissociation and apathy posed by virtual reality was addressed as early as 1966 by Primo Levi in the short story Torec, in which a retired man buys an ante litteram virtual reality headset—a device first commercialised in 1995—and progressively detaches himself from embodied experience.

The perils of information overload leading to a ‘post-truth’ society were anticipated in Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum, in which a computer manipulates information to create a conspiracy theory fuelling violence and murders. The novel was published a year before Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web in 1989.

And yet, when it comes to computer culture and digital technologies, literature is usually considered a repository of fantasies and dreams with little to do with the devices we use.

This project, focusing specifically of Italian literary production, aims at challenging this assumption and to demonstrate how literature contributes to the debate guiding technological advancement, as well as shaping our attitude towards computer culture. 

By combining literary analysis, computer history, and digital humanities, the goal of the project is to provide a history of computing in Italian literature, from mid 1950s to the present.

The investigator

Eleonora Lima is Visiting Research Fellow in the Department of Italian at Trinity College Dublin, where she recently completed an EU Marie Skłodowska-Curie Postdoctoral Fellowship (Mapping Remediation in Italian Literature Beyond the Digital Revolution MAREITA).

Her current research project offers the first comprehensive history of computing in Italian literature, from the 1950s to the present. She is preparing a monograph dedicated to the topic and provisionally titled A Literary History of Computing: Italian Authors Write Computer Culture for the academic publisher Legenda (Italian Perspectives series).

She has published on the interconnection between literature, science, and technology, as well as on Italian cinema, and visual arts and literature. Her latest book, Le tecnologie dell’informazione nella scrittura di Italo Calvino e Paolo Volponi. Tre storie di rimediazione, was published by Firenze University Press in 2020.

Eleonora is a member of the Ethically Aligned Design for the Arts Committee (a part of the IEEE Global Initiative on Ethics of Autonomous and Intelligent Systems), which engages in policy research and advocacy for an ethical practice and design of Artificial Intelligence in the arts.

Eleonora holds a PhD in Italian and Cultural and Media Studies (University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2015). She was previously a Postdoctoral Fellow in Italian at the University of Toronto (2017-2018).

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