Alumni, Research, Humanities, English

Alumna Profile: Alessandra Capperdoni, Humanities

June 13, 2017
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When Dr. Alessandra Capperdoni, Lecturer in the Department of Humanities, was studying Modern Foreign Languages and Literatures at the Università degli Studi di Bologna in Italy, she attended a reading of poet George Bowering who was then teaching in the Department of English at SFU,  and who would become Canada’s inaugural Parliamentary Poet Laureate (2002-04). It was, as Capperdoni says she now jokes with Bowering about his work, “love at first listening.” It was also what brought her to SFU.

At the time, Capperdoni had already decided to apply for a scholarship to study avant-garde and innovative poetics in North America following the completion of her master’s thesis. After Bowering’s reading she applied for, and received, a Government of Canada Award for Foreign Nationals. As she says, “so this is how it started… I decided to apply for a Ph.D. in English at SFU and the rest is history.”

Capperdoni started working as a sessional instructor in the Department of English in 2003 and shortly after in Humanities; she has also worked as a lecturer in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies and taught courses in World Literature. She completed her PhD in 2006. She says what she loves most about teaching in the Department of Humanities is the value given to reading and discussing primary texts or works of art: “Students are exposed to a variety of material, which also includes secondary criticism, but they have a unique chance to dwell on texts that have exercised an important influence in the history of thought.”  

She also values the freedom the Department affords her in designing courses: “I can teach The Aeneid as a canonical work of Latin culture, as a work of Roman imperialism, but also as a work showing the drama of a man forced to witness the ruin of his hometown and to lose his wife during the flight from the burning city. Discussing this epic in the context of the crisis of Syrian refugees makes this ancient text dramatically contemporary but also provides a wonderful opportunity to discuss the politics of the image in contemporary culture.”

As Capperdoni points out, students who take Humanities courses at SFU have diverse social, educational, and cultural backgrounds. And, she says, this is perhaps what she likes most. “They contribute to the creation of a space of rich debate. Some are immediately attracted to the material, others join to fulfill a requirement, but in the end they all end up working enthusiastically, showing not only dedication but also their gratitude for this learning experience.”

In broad terms, Capperdoni’s life-long interests have been literature, continental philosophy, and the classics. She says, “The intersection of continental philosophy with literary studies really comes from my formation in Italy but I was quite excited to find similar interests in many scholars at SFU and to be exposed to their broader (and more recent) inclusions in critical theory.” This makes teaching in the Humanities meaningful for Capperdoni, who says she has never been able to compartmentalize knowledge: “Crossing over from modern poetics to Renaissance art or poststructuralist thought does not mean to discard the very idea of disciplinary inquiry but rather enrich it through different perspectives. I often see it going on in my classes, where students themselves are the first to draw to my attention to the most interesting connections.”

In her research, Capperdoni is working on a number of projects. The first is on the poetics of space from the 1960s to the 1980s in the context of debates about the “unravelling” of the nation, and the second focuses on women’s writing in Canada. Though different in focus, both projects examine aesthetics and the politics of writing.  Her third project is based on one of her courses and focuses on literatures from different national contexts that address political violence. She is also translating from English a book by Gebreyesus Hailu, The Conscript: A Novel about Libya’s Anti-Colonial War, originally in the Tigrinya language, into Italian.

Above all, Capperdoni says, “I love what I am doing. I love teaching and being in class. My family did not have easy access to higher education (when it had it at all!) and I am always aware of the importance of ‘keeping the door open.’” Thus, Capperdoni says she aims to contribute to an idea of education that helps students give their best, whoever they are and wherever they come from in terms of their personal history: “I hope to share my enthusiasm and help them gain enthusiasm for the very process of learning, no matter how disruptive learning can be for our personal lives. The benefits of education sometimes are immediate—and in these cases our reward is immediate too. In other cases they come after a long time and are less visible but nonetheless there.”

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