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Center of Studies on the Languages of Identities

Zebra - Centro di studi sui linguaggi delle identitą
Address: piazza Rosate 2 24129 - Bergamo - Cittą alta
Tel.: +39 035 2052705
Fax: +39 035 2052709
E-mail: zebra@unibg.it

Currently, ZEBRA activities are suspended

Co-ordinator: Valeria Gennero


But Harry! You live over again, as I recall your image before me. I see you, plain and palpable as in life; and can make your existence obvious to others.[...] you are mixed with a thousand strange forms, the centaurs of fancy; half real and human, half wild and grotesque. Divine imaginings, like gods, come down to the groves of our Thessalies, and there, in the embrace of the wild, dryad reminiscences, beget the beings that astonish the world. But Harry! Though your image now roams in my Thessaly groves, it is the same as of old; and among the droves of mixed beings and centaurs, you show like a zebra, [...] the soft, silken quadruped-creole, [...] banding with elks.

Herman Melville, Redburn (1849), chapter 50

A Statement of Purpose

A 'Zebra' Center of Studies on the Languages of Identities has been established in 1998 in the Faculty of Foreign Languages, Literatures and Communication Studies of the University of Bergamo, Italy. Its purpose is to study the ways in which literary writing, but also films and other media texts, express the crisis of the modern and post-modern subject. In our analysis, particular attention will be paid to the notions of difference and gender, that is, to the cultural construction of sexual identities.

Our inquiry takes its lead from the critical positions that have been developed over the past three decades in the United States as well as in other English-speaking countries, which we see, from here, as areas where multiple and intertwined identities (cultural, sexual, religious, ethnic, racial, and class-related) coexist and confront one another on a very large scale. While Great Britain seems to us especially interesting in its post-colonial dimension, the United States, because of the pluralism that is intrinsic to its very being, and because of its incessant and massive migratory and immigratory flux, has proved an ideal social terrain for the fullest development (and sometimes the deflagration) of the issues linked to identity and difference. These issues have rapidly affected the American schools and universities, which, unlike their European counterparts, are strongly bound to the dynamics of the marketplace, competition, and survival, and, as a result, have for some time now become a very important social testing ground and a highly significant point of cultural observation.

At this particular juncture, after decades of intense development of specific studies on gender and cultural minorities, which have profoundly engaged and transformed pre-existing social institutions and realities, what appears to be taking shape is a need for an across-the-boundaries re-examination of the various and diverse languages and idioms of identities: minority and majority identities, new and old, feminine and masculine, dominated and dominant, subordinate and hegemonic, peripheral and central, nomadic and stable, with all the shades in between, in their historical, geographical, anthropological, and political configurations and intersections. This is the kind of re-examination the Center wants to pursue. Zebras, centaurs, dryads, cyborgs, aliens, and other strange beings will lead us.

Though the United States is our starting point, we do not wish to confine ourselves within a single disciplinary field, but rather connect it to the European and Italian contexts. In this sense our primary interlocutors are, for obvious reasons, those colleagues of ours who specialize in American and English studies, but also students of literary theory and of European literatures, and among these the Italianists, as scholars of the culture to which the Center's national committee belongs, within which it works, and from which we observe American and English-language culture in general on a dialectical and comparative basis.