Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Comparative Literature


Morena Corradi

Committee Members

Giancarlo Lombardi

Paolo Fasoli

Subject Categories

Comparative Literature | Comparative Philosophy | Continental Philosophy | Cultural History | Environmental Studies | Epistemology | Italian Language and Literature | Modern Literature | Philosophy of Language


Comparative Literature, Phenomenology, Ethics, John Locke, Giacomo Leopardi, Emmanuel Levinas, Desire, Philosophy of Language, Materialism, Dialectics


With this study I reconstruct a genealogy of the a-dialectic materialism that defines the production of 19th-century Italian author Giacomo Leopardi and with which he criticizes canonical metaphysical stances. In this regard, I consider John Locke as the first instance of a philosophical outlook that stands as an alternative to the anthropocentrism demanded by traditional metaphysics. By focusing on An Essay Concerning Human Understanding and its significant influence on Leopardi’s philosophical and aesthetic work, I emphasize how Locke’s system finds a synthetic formulation in the hypothesis, at the time highly contested yet groundbreaking, that matter might be endowed with the capacity to think. I then show how Leopardi radicalizes Locke’s speculation on ‘thinking matter’ and expands on the attention An Essay draws to the epistemological role of the passions of desire and uneasiness. Leopardi’s radical reinterpretation of these two passions results in a poetical and rhetorical language that he employs to express the reciprocal dependence that ties the human and the nonhuman, one that is structured on a non-hedonistic understanding of desire. I finally argue that Leopardi’s aesthetic production exhibits how the desire for fulfillment that drives both the biological and zoological components of matter represents the foundation of an ethically defined human agency within the context of a proto-ecological responsibility.

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