Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Romance Languages

First Advisor

Eva Del Soldato


From the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s, the Italian economy underwent a massive economic boom that propelled Italy from the labeling of a “backwards” agrarian nation to a competitor on the international market. Exports skyrocketed as millions flocked to the industrial city, leaving behind their roots—both the literal crops nurtured for generations, and the connections that built families and sustained and social bonds. My dissertation explores the visual and literary culture of the so-called “miracle” years – in particular, the ways in which this culture represented the workers’ experience and the newly industrialized (often anonymous) spaces – to reinterpret the role of artists and intellectuals in confronting contemporaneity. Through industrial novelists Italo Calvino, Luciano Bianciardi, Paolo Volponi, and Ottiero Ottieri, I investigate the diversity of perspectives and the convergence toward criticism of the industrial age found in literature of the late 1950s and early 1960s, cultural and literary periodicals, and Michelangelo Antonioni’s cinematic tetralogy of the early 1960s.I argue that the industrial space (cities, factories, workspaces) should be considered a focal point in studying literature of the economic boom and it is through this urban lens that literary protagonists understand their new lives. I expand the image of the economic boom by showing how preestablished dichotomies like the city/countryside, natural/mechanical, North/South, industry/agriculture, public/private, integration/alienation, and harmony/disharmony are more nuanced than their contradictions suggest. I also show how the industrial space provokes feelings of alienation and isolation not only in the working class, but in the intellectual as well, who also becomes a “worker” that must bend to the will of the system he claims to resent. In studying industrial literature and how intellectuals represented industrialized spaces in their texts, I delve into several other fields of inquiry, including environmental studies, urbanism, cultural studies, phenomenology, affect studies, and media studies. I begin through the wide lens of environmental theory and socio-spatial relationships and conclude on the interior of the petrochemical plant that looms over Antonioni’s Ravenna in Il deserto rosso (1964). My dissertation thus merges intellectual writers, their semi-autobiographical protagonists, and the expanding urban world to show how the culture of these years was shaped by the omnipresent, industrial space.


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