As a professor of comparative literature, David Hertz spends every day immersed in reading and writing.
Hertz, the chairman of the Department of Comparative Literature at IU, has written books on a variety of art topics including modern architecture, poetry and music.
On Tuesday, Hertz will take patrons of the Venue Fine Art & Gifts on an in-depth tour of what he calls one of his favorite projects, a book titled “Eugenio Montale, the Fascist Storm and the Jewish Sunflower.”
At 5:30 p.m., he will give a lecture on the book and its background. A book signing will follow the lecture.
The book was originally published in 2013, and Hertz said he hoped this event introduces people who may not have known about the book to the history, mystery and an unexplored love story.
“I wanted to bring out a story and also the magical literary expression that came out of it — it’s like a double story,” Hertz said.
The book explores the life of Italian poet Eugenio Montale, 1975 Nobel Prize winner and celebrated modern writer.
Hertz said Montale fell in love with Irma Brandeis, an American Jew, during Mussolini’s fascist regime.
Montale’s work, Hertz explained, was deeply coded with messages to the love he could not publicly express as he and Brandeis sat separated by politics and circumstance.
“It’s a secret cycle of poems,” Hertz said. “You wouldn’t know exactly who the person he writes about is unless you researched.”
Hertz said he worked on this book for almost a decade.
Dave Colman, curator of the Venue, said Hertz’s depth of research led him to the real story.
“He’s an incredible scholar, he’s an excellent lecturer, and it’s an amazing story — both the story of Montale’s relationship and how David found it,” Colman said. “He was working on that book when he discovered this body of additional information. It changed the whole perspective.”
Colman said he is excited to learn from Hertz, his friend of many years.
“David’s an excellent writer, for starters,” Colman said. “He’s just an incredibly talented fellow in so many areas. I’m interested in Montale because he is. He led me to it.”
The research for the book involved a trip to Italy to see the hidden papers and love letters and some journalistic interviews with Brandeis’ connections in the U.S.
“You have to be a good journalist to write a criticism like this,” Hertz said. “We shouldn’t forget about journalists.”
Hertz said writing an in-depth analysis like this one required the usage of overlapping disciplines.
He said he likes to combine elements of interpretation, history and biography in all of his writing.
“I’m looking to show things that might have been missed,” Hertz said. “Somebody who just writes about poetry might not look at music. I like to see the connections, and there’s a lot of that in this particular book.”
Hertz is not just a writer and scholar of the arts. A longtime student of music, Hertz said his passion for that expressive form was another reason why Montale’s story resonated with him.
“My oldest running love affair is with the piano,” Hertz said. “I play it all the time and studied it all my life. I write about musicians and architects, and I found out that this Italian poet also wrote music, so that’s another reason I wanted to write about him.”
Beginning with his undergraduate career in the honors college at IU, Hertz said he found his calling in literature and writing.
He said he is satisfied with his career, which allows him to balance his passions.
"My interest in writing led to this particular professional path," Hertz said. "If you're a professor in the humanities and you like to write, you have an excellent life. If you give me a topic to write about and send me off, I'm happy."