HUMS 020: Six Pretty Good Dogs

Meeting Time: 
MW 9-10:15a, F1-4p
Fall 2023

Instructor: Simona Lorenzini

We all have heard the phrase “Dogs are man’s best friends.” For thousands and thousands of years there has been an indissoluble friendship between man and dog, an unwritten covenant, a symbiotic relationship that has no equal in the animal world. Why do we consider them our ‘best friends’? And is this always true? If not, why do we sometimes fear dogs? What role have dogs played in our understanding of being human? In Italian literature, starting from Dante’s mysterious veltro, there are actually very few authors who have not paid tribute to dogs; those who have ranged from Tomasi di Lampedusa to Italo Calvino, from Elsa Morante to Carlo Levi, from Luigi Pirandello to Dino Buzzati. Not only a loving and affectionate friend, a silent confidant and a symbol of trust, but also an aggressive, growling and violent character, a symbol of the ‘other’ who must be excluded, circumscribed, marginalized in order to affirm and protect one’s identity. On the one hand we find the descendants of the archetypal figure of Argos, Ulysses’ faithful dog, on the other the canine metaphor used by Primo Levi to describe the brutality of the concentration camp; on one side Bendicò, the loving, almost pathetic dog of the Prince of Salina in The Leopard, on the other the infernal Cerberus. The presence of dogs in fiction and poetry open avenues to experimental narrative strategies, where elementary emotions and unfathomable perceptions, fears and defects, can be put to the test. This course explores images of dogs in 20th-21st Italian literature through six main categories: a man and his dog; dogs and inhumanity; dogs and exile; dogs and children; dogs and folktales; dogs and modern bestiary. We discuss and close read a variety of texts, which are representative of different strategies for reflecting on the self and on the ‘other’ by unpacking the unstable relationship between anthropomorphisms, personification, and humanization.