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Simone Sannio


Lansstraße 5-9
14195 Berlin

Research Interests

  • Contemporary American fiction
  • Unfinished creative works
  • Literature and film/popular music
  • Ethnicity, migration and marginality


2018 -

Freie Universität Berlin, Berlin, Germany

Doctoral Candidate at the Graduate School of North American Studies

2013 - 2016

Alma Mater Studiorum – Università di Bologna, Bologna, Italy

Master’s Degree in Modern, Post-Colonial and Comparative Literatures

Thesis: “(Italian) American Literature from the Beat Generation to Don DeLillo: Postcolonial Traces?” (160pp.)

2009 - 2013

Università degli Studi di Firenze, Florence, Italy

Bachelor’s Degree in Languages, Literatures and Intercultural Studies

Thesis on the textual variants of William Faulkner’s “Wash” (80pp.)

Research Stays

9/2022 - 5/2023

Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, USA

Visiting Student Research Collaborator at the Department of English

2/2022 - 5/2022

Columbia University, New York, NY, USA

Visiting Scholar at the Department of English and Comparative Literature



“The Novel as a Coherent Hole: Philip Roth’s Operation Shylock and the Art of Self-Censorship”

Paper presented at Books in the Closet: Suppression, Censorship and the Book

UCL Centre for Publishing & Institute of English Studies, University of London, UK (online)


“Writing Ruins: Spoliation and Reuse in Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys

Paper presented at Wastelands: 34th European Association for American Studies Conference

Facultad de Filología, Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia, Madrid, Spain (online)


“A Novel, Wrecked? Artistic Failure and the Second Life of Michael Chabon’s Fountain City

Paper presented at Afterlives: Pasts, Presents and Futures of Arts and Culture

College of Arts, University of Glasgow, UK (online)


“The Book Is Finished / Books Are Never Finished: Unending Narratives in Don DeLillo’s Novels”

Paper presented at Narratives of Temporality: Continuities, Discontinuities, Ruptures

Robinson College, University of Cambridge, UK


Co-Organizer and Moderator, 12th International GSNAS Conference

American Ambiguities: Is Now the Era of Our Disconsent?

John F. Kennedy Institute for North American Studies, Freie Universität Berlin


“America Against the Plot: From ‘Paranoid’ Fiction to Post-Truth Reality”

Paper presented at Democracy and Disinformation in the Era of Trump

Clinton Institute for American Studies, University College Dublin, Ireland


Winter 2021-22

“Reframing the Unfinished in the American Novel of the 1990s” (BA Seminar)

John F. Kennedy Institute for North American Studies, Freie Universität Berlin

Hated Adversaries: Unfinished Works of Art in the American Novel of the 1990s  (Dissertationsprojekt)

Dissertation in Literatur

Mentoring Team:
First supervisor: Prof. Dr. Ulla Haselstein
Second supervisor: Prof. Dr. Martin Klepper
Third supervisor: Prof. Dr. Frank Kelleter

“Unfinishedness” as an aesthetic principle is not a new issue in literature and art, nor something specific to the United States: on the contrary, unfinished creative works of all sorts have surfaced throughout the ages in every artistic field and all over the world, from Michelangelo’s non finito sculptures to the Romantic fragment poem. At the same time, the development of the American novel in the last few decades provides a particularly interesting and relatively unexplored setting for the study of the “Literary Unfinished” (Stewart 2016). Since the mid-1980s, at least, more and more US writers have dealt with incompleteness in art as part of their novels. More recently, there has also been a surge in the public's interest in unfinished creative works. Nevertheless, the recurrence of “unfinishedness” in contemporary America seems to have largely gone unnoticed by critics.

My research will have as its main focus the 1990s, a pivotal historical and cultural moment that coincided in the popular and scholarly imagination with a series of “conclusions” to which novels resisted in varying degrees—most notably, by exposing at the textual level the decade’s obsession with endings: the end of the Cold War and the end of the millennium, of course, but also the so-called “end of history”, the end of postmodernism, the “end of the book” as a medium, and the often-announced “death of the novel”. Within this framework, I will insist on a perceived shift away from the Aristotelian ideal of plot as well as from established forms of narrative closure. Rather than producing fictional works that are literally incomplete, contemporary authors have increasingly included within the plots of their finished novels a number of fictitious unfinished texts, or other unfinished works of art, as media of textual self-reflection. This particular literary form, which might perhaps be called “unfinished metafiction”, seems pretty much alive in the United States, if one considers the large corpus of contemporary novels including incomplete creative works: among them, I will focus on Don DeLillo’s Mao II (1991), Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys (1995), Philip Roth’s Operation Shylock (1993), and Colson Whitehead’s The Intuitionist (1999).

My argument is that the unfinished novel has not at all disappeared in contemporary America: it has survived by changing in nature and scope, in accordance with other transformations undergone by US literature, culture, and society. In this respect, unfinished metafiction has not been thoroughly investigated as a literary form of its own, just as the potentialities of a comparison with actual archive material, or with similar forms in other arts and media, have not been fully explored. Moreover, it has not been spelled out enough that literary works – not unlike in music, film, and the fine arts – can be potentially complete and perfect in their unfinished and imperfect shape, thus aiming at the revaluation of an apparently flawed artistic form about which there is still much left unsaid.

Dahlem Research School
Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft