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Abstract

Located at the intersection between literature and critical animal studies, this dissertation examines Italian literary depictions of interspecies relations occurring in three distinct spaces of animal confinement: slaughterhouses, zoos, and laboratories. Each of these entrenched spaces of violence and exploitation represents a unique manifestation of the paradoxical tensions between visibility and invisibility characterizing our relations with other animals, therefore serving as magnifiers of the moral issues concerning the treatment and lower ontological placement reserved to nonhuman animals. A close reading of twentieth century narratives of various genres by Carlo Emilio Gadda, Ivano Ferrari, Italo Calvino, and Primo Levi, offers a privileged entrance into these sites of shared oppression, while exposing the often hidden realities of nonhuman animals' lives. By analyzing different modes of embodiment and emotional expression across species, this work challenges the persistent and dominant habit of reducing nonhuman animals to the status of commodities and illustrates the variety of ways in which discourses of agency, rebellion, and autonomy, exist beyond the human. Centering the attention on Italy at the time of capitalist upsurge offers original insights into the specificities of the production of speciesism within the Italian context, yet without losing sight of the transnational features of this social phenomenon. In discussing different literary attempts to cross, blur, and reconceptualize the problematic human-animal divide, the extreme mobility of the categories of “human” and “animal” is brought to the foreground, including when they enable othering discourses as well as discriminatory rhetoric affecting relations also among humans. These intersections are most visible in linguistic cues and literary devices that reproduce processes of dehumanization, objectification, anthropomorphism, and hybridizations, all of which are punctually examined as they arise in the texts. By embracing an intersectional approach applied to textual analysis that encompasses also nonhuman bodies, this dissertation opens a new route of inquiry in the study of the selected literary works while highlighting the role of literature in enhancing cognitive and ethical sensitivity towards other animals as well as its fundamental contribution to social knowledge within the broad field of animal studies.

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