What do you teach at Ca’ Foscari? What are your main research interests?
My name is Pia Masiero; I was born in Padua and now live in the province of Treviso. I teach Anglo-American languages and literature. I focus on twentieth-century and contemporary North American (American and Canadian) literature. I have worked extensively on William Faulkner, Philip Roth and I am now focusing on the work of David Foster Wallace with a narratological angle.
Tell us about your academic path.
Very ordinary: degree and PhD in Venice with a semester in California, researcher and now associate in the same place where I graduated - with a Fulbright grant that took me to Kentucky to remove the essentially local flavour from my career.
What are your professional role models / references?
I have always appreciated those teachers who showed me how far you could go by working hard, who sparked curiosity in me, making me see what you cannot see on the surface. Men and women who are able to activate your mind and be willing to change their own.
Have you always known that this was going to be your path?
Everyone, when I was in high school, told me that I should go to law school. It was clear to me that I had to study languages to be able to read in the original language. I chose Anglo-American rather than English because in my day (the late 1980s) taking English literature meant studying, in the last two of the four years of the university course, Milton and Chaucer after just briefly touching on a tiny slice of the twentieth century. By choosing American, instead, I knew that after the first two years shared with my English fellow students (I also did my fair share of Shakespeare), I would be able to study the nineteenth century first and then the twentieth. My career - in terms of university teaching - became clearer as I went along.
What is the aspect of your research you are most passionate about?
Working on the twentieth century and the contemporary and investigating formal issues that have to do with the experience of reading - cognitive mechanisms that create identification and immersion - lets me work on who we are and how our perception mechanisms work. I am passionate about stories and thinking about stories, as I firmly believe that our identity depends on our narratives about ourselves and the world. Literature, being made of stories, is a place that lets you think about this fundamental process of constructing your own sense of self, your own culture, your own world, your own language.
What does teaching and researching mean to you?
I am more comfortable in the classroom than in the library; I am perhaps more of a teacher (I have already said that!) than a researcher. But research gives me the opportunity to give my students as many tools as possible to read not only books, but also the world (and themselves). I think of myself as a woman who wants to inspire her students with a passion for literature as a privileged place to express what we are as human beings. For me, this passion should stem from a conscious reading. I try this in the classroom every year and every year I am moved to see what can happen when books and their worlds become companions.
What has given you the greatest satisfaction in your career?
I could mention the satisfaction of being recognised by the international community as a scholar who has her own distinctive way of working with texts. But then my greatest satisfactions, the ones that last and leave a mark, are ultimately the smallest. When a student tells me, "I had already read this book, but only now do I feel that I have really understood and appreciated it"; or when a student tells me, "Prof, I did well in my French exam because of the way you taught me to read".... These are my greatest satisfactions.
The area you have always wanted to be involved in but have not yet had the opportunity to explore?
What a tough question! As a contemporary scholar I live in a perpetual sense of chasing, of never being prepared, of never having read this or that novel. This is perhaps more evident for me, but it is inherent in any research work. My secret wish is to work seriously on Moby Dick - perhaps the most twentieth-century novel of the nineteenth century.
What would you say to young people starting their university career?
It is a special and unique moment in your life: make the most of it. Ca' Foscari is a university that offers many opportunities for further study. Don't be content with just taking home a degree: try to take home the time of your life!
And to those approaching research today?
Being a researcher is a privilege and I am aware of that every day. It takes a lot of persistence, discipline and luck. But it is possible to be a researcher, which means to be passionate about exploring and understanding more, not to be satisfied with what strikes the eye at first sight, in any field, in any job.
Why Ca’ Foscari and Venice?
I never even thought about studying languages in Padua or elsewhere - Venice struck me as THE faculty for foreign languages and literature. And Ca' Foscari also had Anglo-American...