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Italica - Borough of Manhattan Community College
ITALICA
volume 92
.
number 3 .
FALL 2015
JOURNAL
OF THE
AMERICAN ASSOCIATION
OF TEACHERS of ITALIAN
Editor: Michael Lettieri
ITALICA
EDITORS AND EDITORIAL BOARD
Editor
Michael Lettieri
University of Toronto Mississauga
Associate Editors
Janice Aski
Ohio State University
Norma Bouchard
San Diego State University
Luca Caminati
Concordia University
Paul Colilli
Laurentian University
Mark Pietralunga
Florida State University
Deanna Shemek
University of California,
Santa Cruz
Book/Media Review Editor
Giuseppe Cavatorta
University of Arizona
Advertising Editor
Diana Maria Zoino
Cresskill Middle Scool
Assistant Editors
Paola Bernardini
University of Toronto
Giovanni Scarola
University of Toronto
Editorial Board
Ruth Ben-Ghiat
New York University
Francesco Bruni
Università Ca’ Foscari di Venezia
Stefania Buccini
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Frank Burke
Queen’s University
Andrea Ciccarelli
Indiana University
Clarissa Clo’
San Diego State University
Cristina Della Coletta
University of California,
San Diego
Salvatore Di Maria
University of Tennessee
Umberto Eco
Università di Bologna
Valeria Finucci
Duke University
Shelleen Greene
University of WisconsinMilwaukee
Margherita Heyer-Caput
University of California, Davis
Armando Maggi
University of Chicago
Carla Marcato
Università di Udine
Irene Marchegiani
Stony Brook University
Maria Carla Papini
Università degli Studi di Firenze
Karen Pinkus
Cornell University
Regina Psaki
University of Oregon
Lucia Re
University of California,
Los Angeles
Jeffrey Schnapp
Harvard University
Luca Serianni
Università di Roma-La Sapienza
Francesco Spera
Università di Milano
Anthony Julian Tamburri
Calandra Institute, CUNY
Massimo Vedovelli
Università per Stranieri di Siena
Michael Lettieri
Editor
Founded in 1924
Journal
of the
American
Association
of
Teachers of
Italian
ITALICA
Volume 92
Number 3
Fall 2015
From the Editor
Featuring again articles that represent the best scholarship currently
available in Italian studies, this issue of Italica is enriched by an
unpublished short story written by essayist, novelist, poet, filmmaker
and playwright Dacia Maraini. The short story, introduced by Anthony
Julian Tamburri, testifies to Maraini’s strikingly original voice, full of a
singular intensity and remarkable sensitivity, and forcefully confirms
why Dacia Maraini is regarded as one of Italy’s finest living writers.
As always, I extend my deep gratitude to all the people and institutions
who have contributed to the shaping of volume 92.3 of the journal.
Buona lettura!
Michael Lettieri
Acknowledgements
The AATI is grateful for the continued support shown to Italica by the
Department of Italian Studies (University of Toronto), the Department of
Language Studies and the Office of the Vice-Principal Academic and Dean
(University of Toronto Mississauga) in providing office space, essential technical
assistance, and precious financial support.
Italica (ISSN 00213020) is published four times a year, in the Spring, Summer,
Fall, and Winter by the Office of publication: Department of Language Studies,
University of Toronto Mississauga, 3359 Mississauga Road, Mississauga,
Ontario, Canada L5L 1C6.
Copyright © 2015 by the American Association of Teachers of Italian.
POSTMASTER:
Send address changes to:
Soleil publishing, P.O. Box 890, Lewiston, NY 14092-0890
Cover: Dacia Maraini • Cover design: Ewa Henry
Page layout and design: éditions Soleil publishing inc.
ITALICA
Volume 92 • Number 3 • Fall 2015
From the Editor
Michael Lettieri..................................................................................................562
Articles
Bones of Contention: Ravenna’s and Florence’s Claims to Dante’s Remains
Guy P. Raffa. .......................................................................................................565
Queering Francesco: Berni and Petrarch
Daniel Tonozzi ...................................................................................................582
Friendship, Gender, and Virtue in the Renaissance:
The Tragedies of Giambattista Giraldi Cinzio
Alexandra Coller. .............................................................................................600
Modernist Drama and Eleonora Duse in Fin-de-Siècle Athens
Antonis Glytzouris.............................................................................................613
Again at the Walls of Famagusta. Emilio Salgari versus Wu Ming:
Reshaping a Historical Event
Mimmo Cangiano................................................................................................625
Le donne ‘ricordano’: la filosofia di Giambattista Vico nell’opera di Anna Banti
Lucia Vedovi........................................................................................................641
Fellini and the Auteurists
Albert Sbragia.....................................................................................................660
The Moral Realism of Beppe Fenoglio’s Appunti partigiani
Ian Seed................................................................................................................680
Ferruccio Brugnaro: Italy’s Proletarian Poet
RoseAnna Mueller.............................................................................................691
Viollca, la bambina albanese di Dacia Maraini: dal racconto al testo teatrale
Michelangelo La Luna......................................................................................702
The Language of the Other: Italian for Spanish Speakers through
Intercomprehension
Clorinda Donato and Violet Pasquarelli-Gascon........................................713
Significant Growth in Italian Enrollment at a Hispanic-Serving Institution
Tom Means...........................................................................................................737
Literature and Fiction
Narrative Plenitude in Limited Space: Dacia Maraini’s “Il calciatore di Bilbao”
Anthony Julian Tamburri..................................................................................747
Il calciatore di Bilbao (Racconto inedito)
Dacia Maraini.....................................................................................................749
Reviews
Sean Cocco. Watching Vesuvius: A History of Science and Culture in
Early Modern Italy.
(Anna Iacovella)................................................................................................754
Donatella Fischer (ed.). The Tradition of the Actor-Author in Italian Theatre.
(Thomas Simpson).................................................................................................756
Eugenio L. Giusti. The Renaissance Courtesan in Words, Letters and Images:
Social Amphibology and Moral Framing (A Diachronic Perspective).
(RoseAnna Mueller)..........................................................................................758
Patrizia Piredda. “L’etico non si può insegnare”. Studio ermeneutico sull’etica
e il linguaggio in Nietzsche e D’Annunzio attraverso la filosofia di Wittgenstein.
(Carlo Annelli)...................................................................................................761
Simona Frasca. Italian Birds of Passage: The Diaspora of Neapolitan Musicians
in New York.
(Erica Moretti)....................................................................................................763
Eleonora Cavallini (a cura di). La “Musa nascosta”: mito e letteratura greca
nell’opera di Cesare Pavese.
(Christopher Concolino)....................................................................................765
Paola Bono e Bia Sarasini (a cura di). Epiche. Altre imprese, altre narrazioni.
(Claudia Messina)...............................................................................................767
Nicoletta Leonardi. Fotografia e materialità in Italia. Franco Vaccari,
Mario Cresci, Guido Guidi, Luigi Ghirri.
(Eloisa Morra)....................................................................................................770
Peter Bondanella (ed.). The Italian Cinema Book.
(Giacomo Boitani)...............................................................................................772
Ruth Glynn. Women, Terrorism, and Trauma in Italian Culture.
(Sciltian Gastaldi).............................................................................................774
Paola Nastri e Francesca Cadel. Pinocchio. Storia di un burattino.
(Daniela Bisello Antonucci).............................................................................777
Contributors.............................................................................................................779
Bones of Contention:
Ravenna’s and Florence’s
Claims to Dante’s Remains
Guy P. Raffa
University of Texas at Austin
Abstract: This article analyzes Florence’s final serious attempt, on the eve of
national celebrations in honor of Dante and Italy, to retrieve Dante’s bones
from Ravenna. Breaking down the skillful diplomatic dance performed by the
two cities in letters, resolutions, and meeting minutes, it shows how Italy’s
unification did not favor Florentine claims to Dante’s bones; if anything, it gave
Ravenna permanent possession of the poet’s remains. Ravenna’s “great refusal”
of Florence’s petition set the stage for future wrangling over relics of Italy’s
secular saint.
Keywords: Dante Alighieri; Florence; Ravenna; Risorgimento; skeletal history;
tombs.
Per far bella e completa la festa di Dante è necessaria soprattutto la presenza di Dante.
(Atto Vannucci, Letter to the President
of the Florentine Commission for the Dante Centenary)
I
f modern nations are what Benedict Anderson has called “imagined
communities” – sovereign yet delimited societies arising from the
convergence of capitalist production and print technologies on linguistic
diversity – then Dante Alighieri is the figure who most effectively
enabled others to imagine a unified and independent Italy. Famously
called the “Ghibellin fuggiasco” by Ugo Foscolo in “Dei sepolcri” (line
174), Dante embodied a political position that Gabriele Rossetti viewed
as prophetic of Italy’s transformation into “un sol corpo nazionale”
(2:353-54). Giuseppe Mazzini put it even more dramatically when, in a
speech to Italian workers in London in 1841, he imagined celebrating
the long-sought day of Italy’s freedom by raising a statue of the poet
on the highest point in Rome, the dedication on its base declaring, “Al
profeta della nazione italiana, gli italiani degni di lui” (15). Mazzini thus
provided a lapidary label to the powerful and nuanced ways in which
leading cultural and political voices called on Dante’s authoritative
status to promote Italian aspirations toward nationhood in the first half
of the nineteenth century. Dante’s moral authority, political philosophy,
ITALICA • Volume 92 • No. 3 • Fall 2015
565
Guy P. Raffa
and foundational contribution to the Italian language and its literature
cemented his role as the nation’s ancestral father and prophet.1
That Dante lived and died in exile vastly increased the potency of his
national symbolism. For Giambattista Vico, burial in the earth (humando)
gives meaning and a name – humanitas – to humanity, thus marking
one of the universal institutions of civilization (223). With burial and
funereal monuments carrying such profound social meaning, as Robert
Harrison has shown with examples ranging from ancient gravesites to
the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, it is only natural that the tomb and
mortal remains of Italy’s most celebrated writer and exile have inspired
Italians to reflect on questions of national identity and homeland.
Dante’s national symbolism took center stage as Italy prepared to
celebrate his six-hundredth birthday in 1865. Following on the heels
of the Risorgimento, and with Florence in line to take over from Turin
as Italy’s capital, the Dante festivities planned by the poet’s native city
promised to double as a love-fest toasting national independence and
unity.2 At the same time, Florence’s desire to crown these celebrations
of Dante and Italy by repatriating his mortal remains highlighted the
persistence of regional and local tensions within the new and evolving
national configuration.
Florence’s final serious attempt to bring Dante’s bones back to his
native city took place when the municipal government sent a formal
request to Ravenna in the spring of 1864. On May 7, Giulio Carobbi, the
acting Florentine Gonfaloniere, wrote a letter to Gioacchino Rasponi,
Mayor of Ravenna, in which he expressed Florence’s desire that “le
Ceneri del Grande riposassero nella sua Città” (195-96). Repatriation,
Carobbi explained to his counterpart, was “one of the first things that
came to mind” to members of the Florentine Commission for the
Dante Centenary, the six-hundredth anniversary of Dante’s birth to be
celebrated in Florence the following year. The Florentine City Council
approved formation of this Commission, headed by Gonfaloniere
Carobbi himself and consisting of Florence’s “più fervidi cultori di studi
danteschi”, on November 14, 1863, as part of its overall resolution on
the Dante Centenary (Giornale del Centenario 1:3). Although the wish to
seek possession of Dante’s remains was powerfully felt by all Florentines,
the Commission and other city leaders were unsure about how best to
express it. In keeping with the democratic spirit of the times, it was public
opinion, amplified by the press, that finally forced the city into action.
A number of these public calls for Florence to petition Ravenna for
Dante’s bones were published in the Giornale del Centenario di Dante
Allighieri. Created for the specific purpose of discussing and reporting on
plans and activities related to the Centenary celebrations, the periodical,
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Bones of Contention: Ravenna’s and Florence’s Claims to Dante’s Remains
which appeared three times a month from February 1864 to June 1865,
also provided a forum for private citizens to air their ideas and hopes
for the commemoration. The “Parte Non Officiale” of two issues in
1864 (May 10 and 20) featured four proposals for the Centenary, each
of which makes a strong case for seeking repatriation.
Giovanni Folchi, writing from Florence on February 14, 1864,
identifies the new political landscape following Italy’s unification as
the reason why now – unlike in earlier days, when Italy was a victim
of factional rivalries – the time is ripe for Ravenna and Florence to
demonstrate their fraternal bond through the repatriation of Dante’s
remains (Giornale 10:78). Folchi urges Florence’s political leadership –
the Gonfaloniere and members of the City Council – to create a special
Commission charged with petitioning Ravenna “pubblicamente e
nobilmente” for the return of “le ceneri del Divino Poeta alla sua terra
natale, per quindi depositarle nel Panteon dei sommi italiani in Santa
Croce”. The request for Dante’s bones, in Folchi’s view, is absolutely
necessary for Florence to meet its obligations in holding the Centenary
celebrations. He has no doubt that Ravenna will accept such a noble
invitation to join with Florence in “triumphantly” transferring Dante’s
remains to his native city. It would be no small accomplishment if
Folchi’s confidence were rewarded. By atoning for the historical sin of
having condemned Dante to die unjustly in exile, Florentine leaders
would prove themselves worthy of not only their city, country, and
posterity “ma del mondo civile tutto”. Dante’s repatriation, in the end,
would encourage the poet’s admirers throughout the world to worship
at his tomb in Florence.
Support for Florentine claims to Dante’s bones also comes from
other parts of Italy. Professor Niccola Gaetani Tamburini, President
of the “Società degli Amici dell’istruzione popolare in Brescia”, raises
the issue in his address to the group on December 20, 1863 (Giornale
10:77-78). Viewing the planned celebration of Dante as “una grande
riparazione di antica ingratitudine dal Comune di Firenze alla memoria
di Dante Allighieri”, Tamburini asks: must Dante’s remains, which the
poet hoped would rest in peace in his “bel San Giovanni” (Inf. 19.17),
after five centuries continue to lie outside Florence, “quasi a perpetuità
del durissimo esilio?” The answer of course is no, as Ravenna, “altra
gemma della risorta patria”, must now agree to give Dante’s bones to
Florence (77). Dante speaks movingly of his desire, if ever his “poema
sacro” should overcome the cruelty barring him from his native land,
to return there to receive the poet’s laurel at his baptismal font (Par.
25.1-9). Tamburini extrapolates on this homecoming wish to surmise
that Dante imagined the Florentine Baptistery as his final resting place.
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Guy P. Raffa
He therefore proposes this building, not the church of Santa Croce, as
the proper location for the poet’s tomb (78). Baptism, after all, opened
Dante’s soul to its first “rivelazioni del bello e del grande”. With his
bones entombed there, the poet’s earthly journey would come full
circle: the site in Dante’s native city marking his entrance into faith
would hereafter mark the final resting place of his mortal remains as
well as, at long last, the end of his exile from Florence.
Nor is enthusiasm for the repatriation of Dante’s bones confined to
Italy. Julius Braun, a German translator and scholar of Dante, heartily
endorses Tamburini’s proposal, promising to recommend its publication
in the German press, and adds a suggestion or two of his own (Giornale
11:91-92). Writing from Rehme on March 4, 1864, Braun urges the
attendance of non-Italians at the Centenary celebrations in Florence
(expressing hope that he himself will be there), for Dante “è troppo
grande per essere soltanto poeta della sua nazione. Egli appartiene
all’universo” (91). “Il vostro Dante è sì grande”, he says, begging pardon
for speaking so freely as a foreigner, “che noi lo consideriamo come
nostro” (92). Braun also excuses himself for his poor Italian, noting the
difference between translating from a language and writing in it, but he
has no trouble getting across his main point: “il desiderio di trasportare
le ceneri dell’esule a S. Giovanni” (91). Braun knows that Florence
would raise a beautiful marble monument over Dante’s “sante ossa” in
the Baptistery, one that is “degno dell’entusiasmo degli Italiani per il
loro grand’uomo” (91). Yet he fears that even the creation of a majestic
tomb for Dante in the Baptistery, no doubt a noble gesture, would
be insufficient compensation to Ravenna for relinquishing the poet’s
bones. Observing that the venerable city on the Adriatic, renowned for
its basilicas and mausoleums, is itself “un monumento mirabile della
storia”, Braun thinks Ravenna’s gift of Dante’s remains – “il più prezioso
de’ suoi decori” – would be the greatest sacrifice the city could make
“sull’altare della patria nuovamente acquistata” (91).
To honor Dante’s glory and Ravenna’s sacrifice, Florence (and the rest
of Italy) must therefore give something even more worthy of the nation’s
“più gran genio” than a grandiose marble monument. And Braun has a
bold idea for this gift. As Dante himself created an everlasting work with
his Divine Comedy, so Italy should “crown the present greatness and
glory of the nation” for future generations by creating a magnificent
institute of learning in Dante’s name. It is this university, or “Accademia
Allighieri”, that should be given to Ravenna “in exchange for the holy
gift, in exchange for the holy remains of times past, as a fruit-bearing
tree of the future” (91). Braun’s idea for this gift of a Dante University
in Ravenna surely reflects his educational role as a foreign scholar and
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Bones of Contention: Ravenna’s and Florence’s Claims to Dante’s Remains
translator of the poet’s works; it also shows, questions of its wisdom or
feasibility aside, how local and regional negotiations over Dante’s bones
so easily spill over into areas of national and international concern.
The proposal of Baron Giacomo Baratta, written in Pisa on March
27, 1864, outshines all others for how, in its detailed conception of
Dante’s repatriated remains, it anticipates the national “sanctification”
of the poet that follows the discovery of his bones a year later (Giornale
10:79). The Baron’s letter teems with religious terminology, beginning
with his rechristening of Florentine political leaders as “i Padri del
Comune di Firenze”, who have reached the “nobile e santo proposito di
chiedere ai Ravennati le ceneri di quel Grande”. Baratta, like Folchi and
others, blames Italy’s history of divisiveness for preventing Ravenna
from satisfying earlier Florentine requests for Dante’s remains. His
confidence in a different outcome is thus also based on the changed
political reality, one in which Italian cities, “having finally recognized
one another as children of the same mother, join in a loving embrace.”
Now, he believes, no one can doubt but that Ravenna’s “generous care”
will allow her Florentine “sister” to “show the world, with an act of the
most noble and solemn reparation, how heavy has been the weight of a
sin of ingratitude which, until now, the times and political conditions,
more than anything else, have prevented her from expiating in deed.”
Once Florence and Ravenna agree on this action, Baron Baratta
recommends that distinguished citizens from the two cities be chosen
to serve together on a special Commission charged with four principal
tasks. First and foremost, to establish precisely when and how to
remove Dante’s remains from their original tomb in Ravenna and
place them in the casket to be used for their “translation” to Florence
– not coincidentally the technical term (traslazione) for the official
transportation of the remains of a saint, typically to a location more
appropriate for their veneration by the faithful. A legal instrument
would be drawn up to document the legitimacy of this translation, with
the text also inscribed in marble or bronze and displayed in the spot
“ove quelle ceneri giacquero per tanti anni”. Second, to send invitations
to representatives of cities and cultural organizations – in Italy and
elsewhere – requesting their presence in Ravenna on the day of the “holy
ceremony” so that, together, they may “accompany in procession the
mortal remains of the Supreme Poet.” Third, to ask that the municipal
delegates to Ravenna bring a banner or gonfalon exhibiting in color each
commune’s coat-of-arms. Finally, to do everything necessary to ensure
that this celebration of Dante’s repatriation be conducted in a manner
worthy as much of Italy as of Dante. To this end, the Baron proposes
that the Italian government make it as easy as possible for inhabitants
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Guy P. Raffa
of towns along the procession route to greet and honor Dante’s remains,
thus making the event a “symbol and seal of the harmony of thought
and feeling shared by each and every Italian province.”
Viewing Dante’s proposed repatriation as an event “at once religious
and civil,” Baron Baratta depicts the desired transfer of Dante’s remains
from Ravenna to Florence as if it were a national celebration of Dante’s
sainthood. The procession and the welcoming crowds honor Italy by
honoring Dante, the prophet and father of the free and unified nation.
Baratta, like Tamburini and Braun, departs from the conventional choice,
Santa Croce, and interprets Dante’s wishful vision of a triumphant return
to his native city (Par. 25.1-9) as if it were an instruction in his will to
be buried in the Florentine Baptistery. There would be no need for an
elaborate mausoleum or even an ornate epitaph inside the building:
a simple stone with the name DANTE would speak more eloquently
than any other funereal monument. The Baron’s aesthetic ideas are very
different when it comes to commemorating the repatriation itself. Here
he would call on all of the city’s finest architects and artists to combine
their talents to build and decorate a triumphal arch, a monument
intended to hand down to posterity “il glorioso ricordo della traslazione
in patria delle ceneri d’Allighieri”. Rising over the spot at which the
procession bearing Dante’s bones re-entered Florence, this tribute “to
the greatest man of the Middle Ages” would make the grandchildren of
those that accomplished it “rightly proud of them.”
These ambitious plans for Dante’s postmortem homecoming by private
citizens were ultimately as hypothetical as the exile’s wish for a triumphal
return to Florence – to be crowned poet at his baptismal font – during
his lifetime. Still, they give some indication, through their impassioned
pleas and concrete details, of how real and heartfelt were the hopes and
aspirations of Florentines and others for Dante’s repatriation at this
moment in history. How confident they were of success remains an open
question (perhaps insistence on praise for the effort – win or lose – betrays
a hint of doubt), but it’s hard not to conclude that they felt, justifiably
or not, this might be their time. Even if it were, they first needed an
authoritative sponsor – a spokesperson with impeccable credentials – to
convince the Florentine City Council to petition Ravenna for Dante’s
bones. Florence’s effort to repatriate Dante in the early sixteenth century
had been a blatant display of power politics as practiced by a wealthy citystate with one of its aristocratic sons (Giovanni de’ Medici) occupying
the Throne of Saint Peter (as Pope Leo X); that forcible attempt to gain
possession of Dante’s remains had failed miserably, but memories of such
offences can be long. To succeed this time, Florence would have to exploit
every nuance of the art of political diplomacy.
570
Bones of Contention: Ravenna’s and Florence’s Claims to Dante’s Remains
Supporters of proposals to seek repatriation of Dante’s bones found
their man in Atto Vannucci. Born near Pistoia in 1810, Vannucci was
a liberal Catholic intellectual and priest who taught classical literature
and ancient history while also playing a major role in promoting
Italian independence and unification. Vannucci directed and wrote
for political journals supporting the uprisings of 1848, after which he
served in the provisional Tuscan government in 1849. Following the
restoration of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, he went into exile, residing
in France, England, and Switzerland, before returning in 1854. In
Florence he devoted himself to political journalism in support of the
Risorgimento. In 1859 he was appointed director of the city’s Biblioteca
Magliabechiana and professor of Latin literature at the Istituto di Studi
Superiori, and in 1860 he was elected as a Florentine Deputy to the
Italian Parliament. Given this résumé, it is little wonder that members
of the Florentine Commission for the Dante Centenary, delighted to
show their distinguished compatriot the high regard in which they held
him, unanimously proposed that “the most eminent Professor Atto
Vannucci” join their ranks.
The first page of the Giornale del Centenario on May 20, 1864, featured,
this time under the rubric “Parte Officiale”, a letter that Atto Vannucci
wrote on April 15 to the President of the Florentine Commission for the
Dante Centenary, Gonfaloniere Carobbi (11:85-86). He wrote the day
after he had presented his proposals orally to the entire Commission,
“ripetendo i voti già espressi da varii giornali e da più cittadini italiani”
(85). Vannucci wastes no time in declaring the primary importance of
securing Dante’s remains in time for the events planned for May of the
following year:
Per far bella e completa la festa di Dante è necessaria soprattutto la presenza
di Dante. Ora come egli, anche da morto, rimane sempre lontano da questa
sua patria; a me pare che prima di ogni altra cosa la Commissione per le
feste debba occuparsi a far pratiche perchè la solennità centenaria si apra
coll’entrata in Firenze delle sue ossa, richiamate alla fine dall’esilio che dura
da cinque secoli e mezzo (85).
Drawing people to Florence from all over the world, the return of
Dante’s bones would make the celebration of his six-hundredth birthday
“among the greatest and most solemn festivities that had ever been seen.”
To support this grandiose claim, Vannucci pulls out all the stops
in arguing for repatriation. He repeats several points made by Folchi,
Tamburini, Braun, and Baratta, but does so more eloquently and
authoritatively. His confidence that Florence will succeed derives from his
confidence in the new political order, his belief that, no longer “enslaved
and divided,” Italy has overcome the “iniquity” and “ill fortune” that
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Guy P. Raffa
prevented the restitution of Dante’s remains in earlier times. Now that
circumstances have changed, “one can hope for that which was then
not possible” (86). Dante himself, Vannucci adroitly adds, played a major
if indirect role in helping to bring about these changes as the “inspired
prophet and proud champion of Italian unity and independence.” It
was the medieval poet, after all, who used his formidable intellect and
imagination to “prepare for the times and conditions” that only the
Italians of Vannucci’s fortunate generation have been allowed to witness.
Dante’s unique place in Italian political and cultural history makes the
repatriation of his bones that much more desirable and – to Vannucci and
other Florentines – more likely at this point in time.
With Italian unification (and Dante’s role in foreseeing and inspiring
it) as the foundation of his argument for repatriation, Vannucci wisely
calls on the support of other cities. He proposes that eminent Florentines
be joined by distinguished citizens throughout Italy in the petition for
Dante’s bones, using “tutti i mezzi creduti migliori a raggiunger l’intento”
(86). The success of this strategy seems guaranteed, for Ravenna “would
gladly agree to this honest request made in the name of mother Florence
and the entire great Italian nation.” But in attempting to expand the
Florentine desire for Dante’s bones into a national campaign, Vannucci
plays a risky double game. So great is Dante’s significance in Italian
history that his mortal remains rightly belong to all of Italy; yet, insists
Vannucci, “Dante’s ashes,” when all is said and done, “belong to us” –
Florence – “in particular.” This recourse to the national argument in the
service of a local initiative, as we shall see, can cut both ways.
Vannucci’s proposal, unlike others, does not single out a specific
location in Florence for the placement of Dante’s tomb. Perhaps he
thinks of Santa Croce as the obvious choice almost by default. Not only
does the Franciscan church already house Stefano Ricci’s monument to
Dante (the cenotaph installed in 1830) and hold the remains of other
illustrious Italians (including Michelangelo, Machiavelli, and Galileo),
but Enrico Pazzi’s colossal statue of Dante is soon to occupy the center
of the piazza directly in front of the church. Indeed, the unveiling
of Pazzi’s work (another Florentine initiative with support, this time
financial, from all over Italy) is planned for the opening day of the Dante
festivities in 1865. Vannucci in fact envisions a trio of noble initiatives
combining to give a “solemn beginning” to the Centenary celebration:
inauguration of Pazzi’s marble statue, restoration of the house in which
Dante had been born, and, most important, repatriation of the poet’s
bones. With Dante’s return from exile to his “bel San Giovanni,” Italians
will flock to Florence in 1865 “to affirm again, swearing on the sacred
bones, the unity of Italy” (86).
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Bones of Contention: Ravenna’s and Florence’s Claims to Dante’s Remains
But if Florence should fail yet again to gain possession of Dante’s
bones? The effort in this case is its own reward. Her citizens will be free
of blame for having tried, thus fulfilling nothing less than a “sacred
duty.” Vannucci thus makes it very difficult – well nigh impossible –
for his fellow Florentines to oppose his proposal to seek repatriation
of Dante’s bones from Ravenna. To do so, one would risk being labeled
unpatriotic if not sacrilegious. Still, the force and passion of his rhetoric
notwithstanding, Vannucci follows official protocol and works through
the proper chain of command, making his proposal to members of
the special Commission for the Dante Centenary, of which he is part,
and asking that they seek its approval by the Florentine City Council.
It clearly doesn’t hurt his cause that the Florentine Gonfaloniere –
effectively, head of the city on these matters – is also, de facto, president
of the Commission to which Vannucci makes his appeal.
It came as no surprise, then, that the Commission voted unanimously
in favor of Vannucci’s proposal, as recorded in the minutes of the
meeting held on April 14, 1864 (Giornale 11:86-88). And this was no
ordinary set of minutes. Such written reports are typically thought to
provide far less than the verbal content – announcements, proposals,
questions, motions, discussions, votes, and so on – they are supposed
to summarize. They certainly aren’t expected to expand and embellish
upon what was said and done at the meeting. A dry, bare bones account
of what transpired – most crucially, what was decided – is usually
what is required (and what is best). Guido Corsini, the secretary of the
Commission and director of the Giornale del Centenario, clearly had
a different conception of this part of his job.3 To his credit or blame,
Corsini manages to ratchet up Vannucci’s already powerful rhetoric
calling for the city of Florence to petition Ravenna for the transfer of
Dante’s bones. Reminding his Florentine readers (including members
of the City Council) that “Dante è sempre in esilio”, the secretary
declares it their “dovere sacrosanto” not just to seek repatriation (as
Vannucci argues) but to accomplish it no matter how “insurmountable
the obstacles” and poor the prospects of success might appear to be.
Only by achieving this will they “render full justice to Father Alighieri.”
Corsini credits the “santo amore” binding Dante to Florence with
imparting something “quasi divino” to the poet insofar as the city – its
comforts, its beautiful language, even its factional politics – enabled
him to construct “quel monumento miracoloso della Commedia”.
Drawn by this love, Dante yearns to return to Florence “col corpo” as he
frequently did “coll’animo” (87).
So strong in fact is Dante’s desire to return physically to Florence
that Corsini, in a flash of creativity, imagines the poet imagining the
573
Guy P. Raffa
very repatriation of his bones that Florence seeks. In this extraordinary
scene, Dante has a consoling vision of all of Italy “surrounding the
bones of her prophet”; he foresees her cities, which “once vied with
one another in hostility, now vying in affection to gather the bones
with devotion in her Florence, close to delightful memories, in sight
of those hills caressed by pleasant breezes, by a nurturing sun” (87).
By design or not, Corsini’s lyrical fantasy of patriotic devotion to the
poet’s bones resonates with one of the most tender moments in the
“miraculous” poem, a moment truly born of Dante’s love of Florence.
In the seventh circle of Hell, the character Dante witnesses ferocious
dogs chasing the shades of two men through the wood of the suicides.
The hounds catch and tear apart their prey, men condemned to hell for
the violent dissipation of their possessions; before being mauled, one
shade crashes into a suicide-plant (the souls of suicides take the form
of stunted trees and bushes), breaking and scattering its branches and
leaves. Weeping and bleeding from its severed limbs, the bush identifies
himself as a citizen of Florence who hanged himself in his home, and
he begs Dante and his guide, Virgil, to “gather” his broken pieces (Inf.
13.139-44). Dante complies, and he does so with compassion inspired
by love of his native city:
Poi che la carità del natio loco
mi strinse, raunai le fronde sparte
e rende’le a colui, ch’era già fioco (Inf. 14.1-3).
Dante’s noble gesture of collecting and returning the broken branches
and scattered leaves to the anguished Florentine suicide is a strangely
apt image of how secretary Corsini imagines Ravenna’s restitution of
the poet’s bones to Florence. We have come a long way indeed from the
typical minutes of a committee meeting.
Corsini’s account also goes beyond Vannucci’s proposal in stressing
the need and ultimate likelihood of success. With the emergence of
Italy as an independent, unified nation – as Corsini believes Dante
wished to happen – any objection to the “great and clear necessity”
of bringing Dante’s bones to Florence could only be “questionable
and petty” (87). Still, he follows Vannucci in taking care to encourage
approval of the repatriation proposal (at this point, by the City Council)
by qualifying his optimism. Irrespective of Ravenna’s response, he tells
the Florentine leadership, “you will have proven yourselves worthy of
the great city, if you exert every last ounce of strength and press forward
with all legitimate means to attain the greatest compensation that
Florence could offer her Divine Poet” (88). On April 21, 1864, one week
after Vannucci’s proposal (and Corsini’s embellished account of it), the
Florentine City Council strove to make good on this “compensation”
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Bones of Contention: Ravenna’s and Florence’s Claims to Dante’s Remains
by forming a special committee charged with drafting a resolution to
petition Ravenna for Dante’s remains (Del Lungo 196-97). The three
committee members – Gino Capponi, Ermolao Rubieri, and Andrea
Lorini – read their resolution at the meeting of the City Council on
May 4, 1864. Fully aware that their task was not just to win over their
compatriots but ultimately to persuade Ravenna to relinquish Dante’s
remains, they emphasized Florence’s culpability for the fact that Dante’s
bones lie elsewhere and Florence’s responsibility now to rectify the
situation.
Indeed, the three main reasons – or “considerando” – used to justify
the petition for Dante’s remains all center on the iniquity of Dante’s exile
from Florence. The first consideration observes that it is the duty of later
generations to right the wrongs of their ancestors by “healing, insofar as
they are able, the consequences of those wrongs.” One of these harmful
effects, the second consideration states, is that the “sacred disposition
of Dante Alighieri’s bones in Ravenna is testimony – and at the same
time a perpetuation – of the unjust exile suffered by [Florence’s] greatest
citizen.” As Florence now prepares to celebrate the six-hundredth
anniversary of Dante’s birth, declares the third consideration, the
city cannot help but renew its vow – made centuries ago but never
forgotten – “to rectify that permanent effect of an ancestral wrong.”
Florence therefore sends this entreaty to Ravenna, seeking to obtain “as
a fraternal gift, one as noble as it must be sorrowful, the restitution of
Dante’s bones.” To show their gratitude for such good will on the part
of Ravenna, the Florentine City Council requests permission to place
a commemorative plaque expressing this sentiment in the spot where
Dante’s (hopefully) repatriated bones had once reposed.
The resolution easily accomplished its first task. The Florentine
City Council overwhelmingly approved it, with twenty-two votes in
favor and only one against. Now it was the job of Giulio Carobbi, as
Gonfaloniere of Florence and President of the Commission for the
Dante Centenary, to make a formal petition to Ravenna for repatriation
of “le Ceneri del Grande” (Del Lungo 195-96). Charged with executing
the “honorable task” of communicating Florence’s request, Carobbi
wrote to the Mayor of Ravenna, Gioacchino Rasponi, just three days
after the City Council meeting. With this letter of May 7, 1864, Carobbi
places a copy of the approved Florentine resolution in his “most
illustrious” correspondent’s “precious hands,” urging him to use “all his
influence” to obtain a “happy outcome for the Florentine request.” The
Gonfaloniere, however, tweaks the resolution in a small but significant
way. Whereas the resolution takes as a given the guilt of the men who
exiled Dante, Carobbi, in the final words of his letter, explains that
575
Guy P. Raffa
present-day Florentines seek repatriation “to make amends not so much
for the wrongs committed by their forebears as for the wretched times
in which they lived.” Shifting emphasis for blame from people to the
times in which they lived may be an instance of splitting hairs, and
likely made no difference in the outcome of the petition, but it couldn’t
have helped the Florentine cause.
The Ball is Now in Ravenna’s Court.
Less than two weeks later, Mayor Rasponi acknowledges receipt of
the Florentine documents (Del Lungo 197-98). Writing to Gonfaloniere
Carobbi on May 18, 1864, Rasponi says he immediately informed
Ravenna’s Executive Council of Carobbi’s “nota” and assures him that
the matter will be examined by the City Council, in whose power lies
the decision. But the Mayor’s elegant reply – what he says and how he
says it, as well as what he leaves unsaid – does not bode well for Florence.
Confident that the Florentines could not have acted without being
aware of the “gravity and delicate nature of the request,” Rasponi trusts
they will understand that Ravenna requires adequate time to reach a
decision based on “careful examination of all relevant matters” (198).
It is no accident that he never identifies the contents of the Florentine
request, what it is they actually want (Dante’s bones). Still, in a preview
of the strategy that will characterize Ravenna’s resolution, he neatly
manages to rebut one of Gonfaloniere Carobbi’s points in favor of the
petition. Carobbi had praised the role of public opinion in influencing
the Florentine government to go forward with the request for Dante’s
remains; he was particularly pleased to note now support for the initiative
crossed class and social lines. Rasponi now turns this same factor to
his advantage, arguing instead that, while public opinion “rightly
reigns supreme wherever social and political civility flourishes,” the
determination of a matter of such delicate importance as the disposition
of Dante’s bones must be made “without regard” for it (198).
Mayor Rasponi also shows himself an able practitioner of that
dreaded, timeworn line that so often accompanies bad news in
diplomatic negotiations as well as in romantic relationships. Sure to
approve the “sentimento italiano e nobile” that inspired Florence to
seek Dante’s bones, he expresses his “profonda fiducia” that, no matter
what Ravenna decides, its decision will only strengthen “quei vincoli
di amicizia e fratellanza politica” between the two cities. He identifies
a strong basis for their friendship, already “flourishing with Italy’s
resurgent fortunes,” in the “profound, nearly religious, veneration
576
Bones of Contention: Ravenna’s and Florence’s Claims to Dante’s Remains
that Ravenna and Florence profess for the great Italian Prophet Dante
Alighieri” (198). Even and especially if we refuse your request, he
basically says to Florence, “I hope we can still be friends.”
Given the tenor of this initial response to the Florentine petition,
Ravenna’s eventual decision would seem a foregone conclusion, little
more than an afterthought. Be that as it may, the gravity of the matter of
Dante’s repatriation – and the seriousness with which Florence presented
its case – warrants a proportionally compelling argument by the city
asked to relinquish the poet’s bones. Ravenna does not disappoint.
On Wednesday, July 27, 1864, over two months after confirming
receipt of the Florentine petition, Mayor Rasponi calls an extraordinary
meeting of the City Council of Ravenna so it can complete discussion
and deliberation of items left unresolved from the regularly scheduled
meeting two days earlier. Called for 11:30 a.m., the meeting is attended
by only twenty-one of the thirty-seven councilors (one of whom arrives
late), just enough to meet the Council’s legal requirement for a quorum
(twenty members) (Ricci 505-08). Undoubtedly, the main item on
the agenda is the “Communication of the request by the Florentine
Council concerning the bones of Dante Allighieri, and the resulting
determination” (506). The meeting is opened to the public and,
after minutes of the previous meeting have been approved, Rasponi
reads the Florentine resolution of May 4 and Gonfaloniere Carobbi’s
accompanying “note” of May 7.
The minutes of this meeting, unlike Guido Corsini’s loquacious
account of Atto Vannucci’s proposal at the Florentine meeting of April
14, are a model of reticence. Without revealing the sources or contents
of “alcune osservazioni” made on the Florentine petition, the minutes
tell us only that these comments met with the approval of the entire
City Council. Rasponi, President of the Council, then proposes a
resolution that is clearly the product of considerable time and effort.
In truth, the odds of Florence gaining possession of Dante’s remains at
this point in time are slimmer than those of a successful Hail Mary pass.
The approaching Dante Centenary, if anything, only makes it less likely
that Ravenna would relinquish the bones of Italy’s “Father Alighieri,” a
man who, exiled from Florence, took refuge in Ravenna, where he died
and was buried. It is therefore predictable that the proposed resolution
denies the Florentine request; perhaps the only surprise is how far apart
the two cities are on the issue. Using language that would make even the
most well-crafted rejection letter sound lame, the Ravennese resolution
unequivocally denies the transfer of Dante’s bones while deftly couching
this refusal in the most self-serving yet noble terms. Here Ravenna shows
itself more than equal to Florence in the art of passive-aggressive politics.
577
Guy P. Raffa
The resolution skillfully rebuts each of the Florentine considerations
by recasting them from the perspective of Ravenna’s interests. Matching
up point by point, the two resolutions appear as mirror opposites of one
another. In its first consideration, Florence observes the general principle
that it is the duty of the living to atone for wrongs of their ancestors
by repairing the effects of those wrongs (i.e., we must bring Dante,
who was unjustly banished by our forebears, back home to Florence);
Ravenna counters that later generations are obliged to perform deeds
that honor their ancestors (i.e., we must pay tribute to our forebears
for having provided a refuge for Dante in Ravenna). In its second
consideration, Florence laments the “sacred deposit of Dante Alighieri’s
bones in Ravenna” as “testimony and perpetuation” of his unjust exile;
Ravenna brilliantly turns the national argument on its head by arguing
that, in the newly united Italy (where all Italian cities are bound by a
“single law”), the “deposit of the sacred bones” of Dante in Ravenna can
no longer be considered a “perpetuation” of his exile – i.e., now that
Dante is as much at home in Ravenna as he is in Florence (or anywhere
else in Italy, for that matter), the very notion of exile has meaning only
outside the borders of Italy. In its third consideration, Florence declares
that, in preparing for celebrations of Dante’s Sixth Centenary, it would
be remiss not to renew the vow of its forebears to repatriate Dante’s
remains; Ravenna insists that it would not properly honor the memory
of “the great Italian” during his Centenary if it were “to abandon to
another those sacred remains that were and are the object of such
veneration and love by the citizens of Ravenna” (507-08).
It naturally follows from this set of three matching-contrasting
considerations that the conclusions of the two resolutions similarly
reflect one another in opposition. So Florence resolves to ask Ravenna
for the “fraternal gift” of Dante’s bones, a gift “as noble as it must be
sorrowful” to give; in reply, the City Council of Ravenna instructs the
Executive Council to send, in Ravenna’s name, a “fraternal word” to the
City Council of Florence “expressing regret for not being able grant its
request” (508). Game. Set. Match.
Proving itself once again adept at fending off a Florentine initiative
to gain possession of Dante’s bones, Ravenna handily wins this contest.
Particularly effective is how the city’s rejection completely undermines
Florence’s use of Italian unification – the presumed end of regional
and local hostilities – as an argument for transferring Dante’s bones. In
Ravenna’s new Italy, the same political reconfiguration that gave such
hope to proponents of repatriation, Florence has become just any old
“someone else” (altrui). Bolstered by facts on the ground that should put
an end to the matter once and for all, Ravenna’s leaders expertly employ
578
Bones of Contention: Ravenna’s and Florence’s Claims to Dante’s Remains
the rhetoric of diplomacy with a polite yet firm hand: with Italy now
united, Dante is no longer in exile, he is at home – in Italy – whether
he lies in Ravenna, Florence, or anywhere else on Italian soil. Gone
then is Florence’s rationale to seek Dante’s bones. Ravenna’s argument
demonstrates as well as any other just how thoroughly, with Italian
unification, Dante’s status as a national figure – the “father and prophet”
of Italy – has taken hold in Italian consciousness. Celebration of the
poet’s quintessential Italianness comes, in this case, at Florence’s expense.
Ravenna gave no quarter in its formal rejection of Florence’s petition to
receive Dante’s bones. After Mayor Rasponi, as head of the City Council,
had read the resolution that so skillfully dismantled the Florentine case
for repatriation, it was put to a vote of the Council, with those in favor
asked to rise. No one stayed seated (Ricci 508). This unanimous decision,
moreover, took place in an open meeting and could thus be construed as
a vote of the Ravennese public. Nothing here occurred in secret. Rasponi
does not fail to make this point in the final words of the short cover
letter he writes to accompany the resolution when he sends a copy of it
to Gonfaloniere Carobbi on August 11, 1864 (Del Lungo 199). Since the
resolution, adopted on July 27, had already been published in the Giornale
del Centenario on August 10, Rasponi’s communication the following day
is a mere formality. Yet it gives Ravenna one more opportunity to frame
the competing claims for Dante’s bones in its own terms. As Ravenna’s
“great refusal” had confronted Florence’s petition head-on, turning
its arguments completely around, so Mayor Rasponi’s succinct letter
responds in kind to Gonfaloniere Carobbi’s “note” of May 4.
Thus Rasponi recasts the Florentine “wish that the Remains of the
Great One repose in his City” as “the surrender to Florence of Dante’s
precious remains.” Likewise, Carobbi’s pleasure in reporting the role of
the public – across social divisions – in urging the Florentine petition
for Dante’s bones is now countered by Rasponi’s proud claim that the
resolution denying the request “is inspired primarily by the reverence
that the citizens of Ravenna profess for the memory of the great Italian
poet.” “As much as it pains him,” Rasponi writes Carobbi, “not to be
able to give a more satisfying answer,” he has no choice but to convey
Ravenna’s resolution, approved unanimously and in public, not to grant
Florence’s petition for Dante’s bones.
Ravenna’s expert maneuvering put an end to any real possibility
that Dante’s bones would ever be transferred – or “translated” – to
Florence. At least no such wholesale transfer of the poet’s skeleton from
Ravenna would likely occur, and certainly not in an open manner. But
in 1864 neither city was aware of the uncomfortable fact that Dante’s
tomb was empty: as Florence and Ravenna performed their graceful yet
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Guy P. Raffa
ruthless diplomatic dance, his bones lay elsewhere, still waiting to be
unceremoniously found. The unexpected discovery on May 27, 1865,
less than two weeks after Florentine celebrations of the Dante Centenary,
created fresh opportunities for the extraction and “translation” of
material from Dante’s physical afterlife – although on a smaller scale
than the bulk of the poet’s skeleton. Despite the reduced size of the
material in question, it rekindled debate between Florence and Ravenna
over Dante’s remains and played a large role in promoting his cult in
other times and places. Most of how this came about would not be
known until reports of these wandering Dante relics came to light at
the very beginning and the very end of the twentieth century (e.g.,
Perroni-Grande; Pampaloni). But it was during the euphoric, chaotic
days immediately after the discovery of Dante’s bones in 1865 that the
course was set for these later chapters of his graveyard history.4
Florence, meanwhile, had to rest content with Stefano Ricci’s
cenotaph, installed in Santa Croce in 1830, and Enrico Pazzi’s colossal
statue, unveiled in Piazza Santa Croce on May 14, 1865. Italy’s unification
did not favor Florentine claims to Dante’s bones; if anything, it sealed
the deal on Ravenna’s permanent possession of the poet’s remains, his
tomb there effectively writing his exile in stone. Yet Ravenna’s “great
refusal” of Florence’s petition in 1864 may have been a blessing in
disguise. If the sepulcher had been transported from Ravenna, to take its
place among the funereal marbles of Santa Croce, Florence would have
had not one but two tombs bearing Dante’s name but not his bones.
Notes
1
Liberal proponents of “new Italy” in the nineteenth century regularly
praised Dante as a prophetic father inspiring national consciousness. See Bruers,
Davis, and Ciccarelli.
2
For the Dante festivities in Florence, see the eyewitness account of Barlow
and the studies by Yousefzadeh, Rajna, and Schulze (98-107).
3
Corsini also directed La Festa di Dante, another periodical published for
the Dante Centenary under the auspices of the Florentine Commission. Aimed
at preparing less educated Italians for the celebrations by introducing them to
Dante’s life, works, and legacy, La Festa appeared on Sundays from May 1864 to
June 1865. On the two official Florentine periodicals and other press coverage of
the Centenary, see Yousefzadeh 131-57.
4
This article is part of a larger project on Dante’s graveyard history and its
significance. I am grateful to the National Endowment for the Humanities and
the American Council of Learned Societies for awarding research fellowships in
support of this work.
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Bones of Contention: Ravenna’s and Florence’s Claims to Dante’s Remains
Works Cited
Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of
Nationalism. 1983. Rev. ed. London: Verso, 1991. Print.
Barlow, Henry Clark. The Sixth Centenary Festivals of Dante Allighieri in Florence
and Ravenna. London: Williams and Norgate, 1866. Print.
Bruers, Antonio. “Dante nel pensiero del Risorgimento italiano”. Dante e la guerra.
Maria del Vasto Celano (ed.). Roma: Nuovo Convito, 1917. 53-59. Print.
Ciccarelli, Andrea. “Dante and the Culture of Risorgimento: Literary, Political
or Ideological Icon?” Making and Remaking Italy: The Cultivation of National
Identity around the Risorgimento. Albert Russell Ascoli and Krystyna Von
Henneberg (eds.). Oxford: Berg, 2001. 77-102. Print.
Dante Alighieri. La Divina Commedia. Giorgio Petrocchi (a cura di). Torino:
Einaudi, 1975. Print.
Davis Charles T. “Dante and Italian Nationalism.” A Dante Symposium in
Commemoration of the 700th Anniversary of the Poet’s Birth (1265-1965). William
De Sua and Gino Rizzo (eds.). Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1965. 199213. Print.
Del Lungo, Isidoro. Dell’esilio di Dante. Discorso e documenti. Firenze: Le Monnier,
1881. Print.
Foscolo, Ugo. “Dei sepolcri”. Opere. Franco Gavazzeni (a cura di). 4 vols. 197481. Milano: Ricciardi, 1995-96. 1:291-327. Print.
Giornale del Centenario di Dante Allighieri celebrato in Firenze nei giorni 14, 15 e 16
maggio 1865. Firenze: Cellini, 1864-65. Print.
Harrison, Robert Pogue. The Dominion of the Dead. Chicago: U of Chicago P,
2003. Print.
Mazzini, Giuseppe. “Dante”. 15 September 1841. Rpt. in Scritti editi ed inediti.
Vol. 29. Imola: Paolo Galeati, 1919. 3-15. Print.
Pampaloni, Lorenza. “Dante, ritrovate le ceneri perdute”. la Repubblica [Roma].
Print. 20 luglio 1999: 32.
Perroni-Grande, Ludovico. “Per una reliquia: delle ceneri di Dante a Messina”.
Letterine dantesche. Messina: Trimarchi, 1900. 81-89. Print.
Rajna, Pio. “I centenarii danteschi passati e il centenario presente”. Nuova antologia di
lettere, scienze ed arti. Sixth series. 296 (May-June 1921): 3-23, 297-319. Print.
Ricci, Corrado. L’ultimo rifugio di Dante Alighieri. Milano: Hoepli, 1891. Print.
Rossetti, Gabriele (ed.). La Divina Commedia di Dante Alighieri con comento
analitico di Gabriele Rossetti. 2 vols. London: John Murray, 1826-27. Print.
Schulze, Thies. Dante Alighieri als nationales Symbol Italiens (1793-1915). Tübingen:
Max Niemeyer, 2005. Print.
Vico, Giambattista. Scienza Nuova. Pasquale Soccio (ed.). Milano: Garzanti, 1983.
Print.
Yousefzadeh, Mahnaz. City and Nation in the Italian Unification: The National
Festivals of Dante Alighieri. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. Print.
581
Queering Francesco:
Berni and Petrarch
Daniel Tonozzi
Miami University
Abstract: This article analyzes three works by Francesco Berni in order to
reevaluate the place of his burlesque poetry in the broader vernacular lyric
tradition. Berni’s atypical imitations of Petrarchan models celebrate the rich and
multiple possibilities for the interpretation and imitation of Petrarch’s poems
and revel in the expansive potential that they present to an attentive and creative
reader and writer. In the process, they destabilize certain assumptions about
Petrarchan poetry that would otherwise limit those imitative possibilities and
exclude the description of homoerotic desire from the capacity of that poetic
language. Berni’s poems have a queer relationship with their models – one that
exaggerates and expands those models through difference.
Keywords: Berni, Petrarch, queer, burlesque, imitation, sixteenth century.
A
fter the sack of Rome in 1527, Francesco Berni followed his employer,
papal datary Gian Matteo Giberti, to Verona, his episcopal see. While
Giberti began projects of ecclesiastical reform and renovation, Berni
undertook a rewriting of Matteo Maria Boiardo’s Orlando innamorato.1 The
Rifacimento of Boiardo’s text, its translation into poetic Tuscan, occupied
Berni until sometime in 1531, when he applied for a privilegio and tried
unsuccessfully to have it published. Though these years provided the
opportunity for Berni to produce his important translation, Giberti’s
veronese household was not an especially hospitable environment for
one such as Francesco Berni. In a sonnet written towards the end of his
stay, Berni laments the living conditions of the cardinal’s household.2 He
complains of the tedious task of writing mundane letters for the bishop,
of the sartorial oppression of the ankle-length cassock that Giberti
forced members of his household to wear, of the sexual constraints that
limit everyone in the house to living as if they were celibate clerics, and
of not being particularly well fed.
The year 1532, then, finds Berni angling to enter the service of
Cardinal Ippolito de’ Medici. Eager to appease the Florentine cardinal,
Berni is quick to explain why, in the past, he had been reluctant to
write laudatory verses for his would-be patron. Berni assures Ippolito
that it was not for want of love or respect for him, but rather Berni was
afraid that his style would not please the cardinal. “Io ho un certo stil
ITALICA • Volume 92 • No. 3 • Fall 2015
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Queering Francesco: Berni and Petrarch
da muratori” (162), he claims. Berni makes the curious admission that
he writes like a bricklayer and is aware that the cardinal is looking to
be celebrated with “un stil più alto, un più lodato inchiostro” (162).
Instead of writing great classical odes, Berni claims that he is more
suited to write comic verses about eels and to “far versi da boschi e
da ville” (162). So Ippolito should consider himself in good company.
Berni notes that he has also neglected to sing the praises of Achilles,
Pylades, and Orestes.
Berni’s admission to the cardinal is indeed indicative of a poetic career
that slighted not only Achilles but also traditional poetic topics more
generally. Berni wrote in praise of things like the plague, gelatin, card
games, peaches, eels, artichokes, needles, chamber pots, prostitutes, and
the beard of Domenico d’Ancona. Giuseppe Lasca, who is the first person
to edit and collect Berni’s writing for print in a posthumous volume of
1548, lauds Berni for being the only one who knew “la perfezione della
Peste, la bontà della Gelatina, la bellezza della Primiera, l’utilità delle
Pesche, la dolcezza dell’Anguille, e i segreti, e la profondità di mille altre
cose belle, e buone” (X). It is also Lasca who, in that same volume,
crowns Berni as the “Maestro e padre del burlesco stile” (IX).
Lasca’s baptism of Berni as the “father of burlesque poetry” not only
characterizes Berni’s predilection for writing in a particular vein. Lasca is
also asserting that Berni creates something new with his poetry – so new,
in fact, that its description introduces a new word into the language.
This line is the first recorded appearance of the word “burlesco” in
the history of the vernacular. Berni’s work, which does not describe
items traditionally considered praiseworthy, can only be praised and
described by a word that is itself new. His first appearance in print, then,
highlights the novelty of his writing.
This characterization still looms large in assessments of Berni’s work.
Take, for example, the words that Silvia Longhi uses to introduce the poet
and his work in one of its latest appearances in print. She writes, “L’opera
del Berni si presenta ai contemporanei coi caratteri dell’innovazione e della
rottura” (627). Berni’s editors continue to characterize his work in terms of
its novelty. Isolating his writing even further, it is common to call Berni’s
poetry not simply burlesque but to insist on the unique “bernesque” style
of his work. He remains interesting and enjoyable for the ways in which
he broke with tradition and fathered a new, unknown poetic style that a
subsequent generation of poets would continue and imitate.3
When critics do acknowledge Berni’s connection to a poetic past,
they tend to limit the discussion to an analysis of his place within the
tradition of comic poetry, with roots in distant classical models and a
quarantined vernacular “comic-realist” style.4 Limiting discussions of
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Berni’s place in the history and development of vernacular lyric poetry
to his relationship with other comic-realist poets, however, fails to
appreciate the important and interesting ways in which Berni’s poetry
interacts with other styles and models of poetry. It also has broader
implications. It relegates Berni’s poetry to the sidelines and isolates Berni
and his homoerotic work, implying that it has roots and precedents
only outside of canonically approved and appreciated genres.5
It is indeed a common approach to focus almost exclusively on
the ways that Berni’s work differs from its more refined Petrarchan
precedents – a trend that characterizes Berni’s novelty as revolution
and his difference as a rejection of poetic tradition.6 Reducing Berni’s
poetry to this difference, however, ignores an important element of
that poetry and encourages the tendency to impose a false dichotomy
between high and low, refined and bawdy, official and irregular styles of
poetry. It is no secret that Berni held Pietro Bembo and poets like him
in contempt.7 We must be careful, however, in differentiating between
Berni’s relationship with Petrarch’s poetry and the ways in which that
poetry became coopted and appropriated in order to create a dominant,
limiting, and exclusive poetic discourse in the sixteenth century. While
Berni’s poetry may not be Petrarchist, we can and indeed should analyze
the Petrarchan elements of his poetry.8
In order to more fully understand and appreciate Berni’s poetry,
we need to incorporate his writing into rather than isolate it from our
assessment of the broader vernacular lyric tradition – to consider it as
a product of, not an exception to, that tradition. Berni’s own poetry
encourages us to do so, for when he reflects on poetic models, he writes
that, “quando vogliam leggere un sonetto, / il Petrarca e ‘l Burchiel n’han
più di cento, / che ragionan d’amore e di dispetto” (180). So as a writer,
Berni looks back not only on Burchiello, a poet of the “comic-realist”
tradition, but also Petrarch. So too must we as readers of Berni’s poetry.
In order to take a step towards this end, I will analyze the three poems
from the 1548 collection that overtly follow Petrarchan models and
will show how Berni mixes love and mischief, proximity and distance,
similarity and difference in his imitations of Petrarch’s poetry.
Berni’s poetry allows us the opportunity to look back on his Petrarchan
models and develop a broader understanding of them and a more
flexible appreciation for the opportunities that they offer their wouldbe imitators. Berni’s differences from his Petrarchist contemporaries help
us to trace unusual routes back to and through the Canzoniere. Berni’s
atypical imitations celebrate the rich and multiple possibilities for the
interpretation and imitation of Petrarch’s poems and revel in the expansive
potential that they present to an attentive and creative reader and writer.
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Queering Francesco: Berni and Petrarch
In the process, they destabilize certain assumptions about the fixed
image of the beautiful blonde beloved in Petrarchan poetry that would
otherwise limit those imitative possibilities and exclude the expression of
homoerotic desire from the capacity of that poetic language.
We must work toward a more nuanced view of Berni’s poetry and its
relationship to the past. Berni’s poetry is not simply revolutionary because
it is new, nor does it completely reject tradition because it is different.
Instead, Berni’s poetry enacts the backward gaze that Vin Nardizzi,
Stephen Guy-Bray and Will Stockton have identified as the defining
gesture of the queer in early modern literature.9 It encourages readers to
look back on its poetic models and reflect on them, to consider them
free from the constraints that have been subsequently imposed on them,
to reevaluate poetic memory and reconsider literary inheritance. Berni’s
poems do indeed have a queer relationship with their Petrarchan models
– one that exaggerates and expands those models through difference.
The most logical place to begin a discussion of Berni’s queer
Petrarchan poetry is with one of Berni’s most famous works, “Chiome
d’argento fino”:
Chiome d’argento fino, irte e attorte
senz’arte intorno ad un bel viso d’oro;
fronte crespa, u’mirando io mi scoloro,
dove spunta i suoi strali Amor e Morte;
occhi di perle vaghi, luci torte
da ogni obietto diseguale a loro;
ciglie di neve, e quelle, ond’io m’accoro,
dita e man dolcemente grosse e corte;
labra di latte, bocca ampia celeste;
denti d’ebeno rari e pellegrini;
inaudita ineffabile armonia;
costumi alteri e gravi: a voi, divini
servi d’Amor, palese fo che queste
son le bellezze della donna mia.
This poem’s deviation from its Petrarchan model and Petrarchist
contemporaries is readily evident. The beautiful blonde has aged, and time
has not treated her kindly. The seductive flaxen locks that once tangoed
in the wind, tying themselves in knots just as their vision bound the
observer himself to his desired lady, are now wiry gray tufts that cannot
even properly frame the yellowed complexion of an unfortunate hag.
This difference has captured the attention of Berni’s readers. Patrizia
Betella, for example, calls the sonnet “anti-Petrarchan” (2005: 116-117).
Maria Galli Stampino writes in a similar vein: “More than a criticism of
the object of the sonnet, ‘Chiome d’argento’ can be construed as a direct
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attack against the Petrarchan school of love poetry and as an attempt
to legitimize its alternative, the so-called ‘berneschi’” (68). Difference
makes Berni’s woman an outsider, the “anti-Laura,” the unsettling
and threatening specter of danger, of decay, of time, of inappropriate
mishandling. The poem itself, since it creates a negative image of
the once beautiful beloved, is thus transgressive, wrong, aggressively
inappropriate, an example of what happens when elegant materials fall
into deviant hands.
Before accepting such judgements, however, readers should look back
again on Berni’s Petrarchan models. It is important to recall that readers
of the Canzoniere never encounter a complete, coherent, comprehensive
image of Laura. She is always presented as a rather disconnected series
of feminine parts; her various features spread across the bulk of the
Canzoniere, scattered like the rhymes themselves are. Remember that
John Freccero states, “it remains the task of the reader to string together
her gemlike qualities into an idealized beauty” (39).
Berni’s poetry luxuriates in this task as his poem underscores the fact
that while Laura’s fragments do elicit an active and creative response,
the Canzoniere does not impose any obligation on the reader to recreate
an original portrait of idealized beauty. In fact, the Canzoniere instead
seems to invite rearranging of the type that Berni executes in this poem.
First of all, Laura’s body parts do not occupy stable places in the poems
of the Canzoniere and so cannot be destined to a proper place in the
reader’s mind. Recall that Nancy Vickers notices, “When more than
one part figures in a single poem, a sequential, inclusive ordering is
never stressed” (266).10 Confusing the image even more is the fact that
not only the body parts but also their materials lack a fixed position,
further underlining the mobility of the interchangeable parts that
make up Laura’s body.11 Laura’s myriad of dissected bits, strewn across
the manifold pages of the Canzoniere, are thus more akin to the fluid
pebbles of a kaleidoscope than they are to the carefully cut pieces of a
jigsaw puzzle that fit together only in a certain way. They resist codified
beauty and present multiple images. They even afford the reader creative
freedom and invite playful rearrangement. They are originally unfixed
and unsettled – are themselves an unstable spiral that invites further
play.
Berni revels in the abundant possibilities offered by Petrarch’s
dismembered beloved. He shuffles the fragments he collects and replaces
the string of glistening pearls that usually form the woman’s straight row
of teeth with wandering ebony specks: “denti d’ebeno rari e pellegrini.”
Her teeth are themselves migrant, so sparse and separated that they seem
to rearrange themselves each time the beloved opens her twisted mouth.
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Queering Francesco: Berni and Petrarch
These transient teeth replicate the mosaic nature of Petrarch poetry and
Berni’s engagement of it. They move themselves around just as the poem
rearranges the Petrarchan features. Note how the assonances in this line
of the sonnet – repeating “i’s” and “e’s” further replicate the destabilized
nature of the teeth and of the descriptive metaphors.12
Even this beldam’s wildly unkempt coif subtly binds this sonnet back
to the Canzoniere, albeit her scraggly mop of dull gray snarls initially
screams of difference from the sun-colored strands that Laura tended
to keep bound beneath her veil. While overwhelmingly golden, Laura’s
enchanting mane is, in fact, once referred to as silver. In Canzoniere
twelve, the speaker ponders the future, when he will see the beloved’s
“cape d’oro fin farsi d’argento.” Further, “chiome,” the first word of
Berni’s sonnet, comes straight from the Petrarchan lexicon. The word
appears seven times in Canzoniere and in each instance is used to describe
curls that are twisted and knotted. In fact, the Canzoniere consistently
employs “chiome” to describe hair that does not hang gracefully at the
shoulders.13
While Laura may have had hair that was softly knotted by a light
breeze and had the potential of turning into stately silver, her hair was
never “irte e attorte senz’arte14”. Berni’s poem carefully introduces this
difference in a way that still calls attention to the Petrarchan roots.
Especially interesting here is the placement of the caesura and the
division of the seventh and eighth syllables:
Chio-me – d’ar-gen-to – fi-no, - // - ir-te e at- tor-te
This line employs an atypical syllabic divisions between successive
words that end and start with vowels, between “fino” and “irte.” The
separation between these two words is highlighted by the placement
of the caesura. The oddness of such a construction is underlined by
following this atypical rhythmic division with a syllable that includes
three elided vowels, “ir-te e at-tor te.” Dividing the line in this way
rhythmically separates “irte e attorte” from the rest of the rather
Petrarchan line, thus separating tradition and innovation. An odd
rhythmic construction points out its own odd poetic description.
The enjambment of the first two lines, “irte e attorte / senz’arte,” then,
replicates the unruliness of these untamed snarls, as the image spills
over from one line to the other. The poem metrically calls attention to
its relationship with the Petrarchan tradition. It also exposes itself not
as a contradiction of the Petrarchan ideal but as an exaggeration of it.
What was once soft and twisted is now wiry and snarled, but even these
snarls are themselves rooted in Petrarchan images. Berni’s lady’s hair
falls so artlessly because of, not in spite of, Laura’s lovely locks.
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Berni’s old woman is not a threatening and deviant monster; she is
a playful expansion and a celebratory manipulation of the inherently
unstable and fractured poetic material that Petrarch serves his readers – a
queer reproduction of an image that is already unstable and unsettled.
Berni’s poem looks back and revels in the poetic possibilities that such
a gesture affords him. What is more, it encourages readers to do the
same; it renews and invigorates the authority of the Canzoniere and
reaffirms its status as a poetic exemplar. Berni’s sonnet does not debunk
the poetic dowager and replace her with irreverent innovation. Rather
it operates like a renewal of faith, encouraging followers to again look
back on their foundational text. Berni helps us recognize how Petrarch’s
own poetry has the potential – even issues the invitation – to be queered,
to be rearranged, unsettled, spiraled and spiked like this old lady’s hair.
When read together, Berni and Petrarch demonstrate to their readers that
sticking various and unexpected objects into unusual and unanticipated
places can be pleasing and effective – for the reader and the writer.
In Petrarch’s poetry, of course, it is not just the position of the precious
materials that make up Laura’s body that are unstable. Laura’s own
position in the poetic economy is prone to manipulation, movement,
and substitution. Petrarch famously reveled in that substitution when he
spoke of his poetic prizes – of the objects he both desired and produced
in his poetry. Recall how Petrarch exploits the slippery wordplay between
the beloved Laura and his coveted “lauro.” Caught up in the same
intricate web of poetic desire, product, and language in the Canzoniere
are the shifting categories of Rome and love – “Roma” and “amor.” These
words never point straight to a single meaning, never directly indicate
with any consistency or constancy any discreet and defined desire or
purpose. Instead, the language spins outwards, twisting and stretching to
include multiple targets in the arc of their meanings.
Berni’s poetry plays with these arcs – exaggerating the spirals of
Petrarch’s language and desire – and by doing so demonstrates a circuitous
route to claiming Petrarch’s poetic prize. That play is evident as we trace
the curves and turns in the lines that connect Berni’s ballata “Amor, io
te ne incaco” and its model Canzoniere 324. These two poems pivot on
the complicated images of the “lauro” and of Rome and illustrate how
Berni’s poem reproduces elements of the Petrarchan model and at the
same time bends and reshapes – indeed queers – that model to produce
a new work that is strikingly illustrative of Petrarch’s own comments on
imitation.
Amor, io te ne incaco,
se tu non mi sai far altri favori,
perch’io ti servo, che tenermi fuori.
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Queering Francesco: Berni and Petrarch
Può far Domenedio che tu consenti
che una tua cosa sia
mandata nell’Abruzzo a far quitanze
e diventar fattor d’una badia
in mezzo a certe genti
che son nemiche delle buone usanze?
Or s’a queste speranze
sta tutto il resto de’ tuoi servitori,
per nostra Donna, Amor, tu me snamori.
This work, just like the “Sonetto alla sua donna,” emphasizes its
relationship to its model, Petrarch’s ballata Canzoniere 324. The two
poems are united in their rhyme scheme and in the rarity of their form
in their respective author’s collections. Canzoniere 324 is the only ballata
of the collection’s second half and the first of that kind to occur since
poem 149. In Berni’s case, this is one of only two ballate included in his
collected works. Further, both ballate begin by invoking the name of
love. Petrarch opens his poem reminiscently addressing Love: “Amor,
quando fioria / mia spene.” Berni’s incipit “Amor, io te ne incaco,”
composed during his stint at an isolated abbey in the Abruzzi, explicitly
invokes Petrarch’s opening.
Both Petrarch and Berni use the ballata to describe separation from
their beloved. For Petrarch, of course, the beloved is Laura, and the
separation is the product of her untimely death. Petrarch laments that
death has plunged him into sorrow and that life retains him there: “Ahi
dispietata Morte, ahi crudel vita! / l’una m’à posto in doglia / … / l’altra
mi ten qua giù contra mia voglia15.” In these lines, Petrarch defines
sorrow spatially; life and death have constrained him to a place that he
wants to leave. Notably, he refers to life as “keeping him here below [qua
giù],” a typical demarcation between the earthly mortal and the celestial
position of beatified souls.
Berni changes the location of the grieving and frustrated lover. While
Petrarch is detained “here below,” Berni unwillingly finds himself held
“outside” [fuori] by Amor. In order to understand what Berni finds
himself to be outside of, we must remember that “amor” indicates not
only the author’s romantic inclination towards the elusive blonde, but
also his desire for the Roman laurel prize – the trademark of poetic
excellence. This wordplay enriches and clarifies Berni’s poem, written
during an exile from the papal court – a fact that the title of the poem,
“Mando fatto in Abruzzi” emphasizes. This title refers to a well-known
episode in Berni’s life.
In 1523, Berni caused a scandal in Rome by mourning the death of
a young man with whom he had a sexual relationship. At the time of
the scandal Berni’s employer, Gian Matteo Giberti, a cardinal new to
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the Roman court, was trying to negotiate his place in Roman society as
well as his income from the Holy See.16 Fearing negative consequences
from the dour Flemish pope Hadrian VI for maintaining a scandalous
figure in his household, the cardinal banished Berni from Rome.17 The
poet was condemned to live in a remote thirteenth-century abbey in the
backwater province of the Abruzzi on the opposite coast of Italy, along
the Adriatic Sea. Thus, while Berni is chastising Love, he is also directing
his frustration to the city of Rome, the fickle beloved – the site of poetic
glory – who banished him from her bosom. In his own ballata, then,
Berni substitutes the site of poetic glory – Rome, the city of the laurel
crown – for the deceased woman that Petrarch continues to mourn.
Beyond illustrating the relationship of this ballata with a Petrarchan
model, this poem demonstrates that Berni’s method of imitation is
itself the execution of a Petrarchan ideal.18 When writing on imitation,
Petrarch stresses the importance of culling material from not one but
rather from many and various sources.19 Berni’s ballata does indeed
draw connections to more than the one precedent, particularly in its
description of the place of exile.
In Berni’s poem, the poet finds himself in a group of rustic clerics
whose rural habits perhaps reduced the worldly poet to tears on more
than one occasion. Berni admits contempt for his provincial confreres
by saying that “son nemiche delle buone usanze.” These words and their
monastic context call to mind a passage from Dante’s Paradiso. In the
pilgrim’s first interview with a soul in the celestial realm, the beatified
Piccarda Donati describes the extraction of a nun from her convent as
being “contra suo grado e contra buona usanza” (Paradiso III.116). Such
a reference is striking. By including a reference to the Divine Comedy in
a poem based on a ballata from the Canzoniere, Berni not only diversifies
his sources. He also differentiates his talent from that of Petrarch, who
claimed to have never engaged the Divine Comedy as a poetic model.20
It is important to note that Berni reverses the image that he yanks
from his source. While in Paradise, it is leaving the convent that is
against right custom, in the ballata, it is living in the abbey that Berni
finds to be so. Where the nun wants to stay, Berni can’t wait to leave.
Thus, while he has pulled an image from an established source, he has
also changed and personalized it, highlighting his difference from his
model as he simultaneously implies similarity to it.
In this moment, Berni demonstrates his capacity to imitate with
style and grace – to imitate, in fact, according to guidelines established
by Petrarch. In a letter from 1360, Petrarch implores his addressee to
be extremely careful when following a poetic exemplar; he advocates
imitation but not replication. He writes, “We must thus see to it that if
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Queering Francesco: Berni and Petrarch
there is something similar, there is also a great deal that is dissimilar”
(Fam XXIII.19, 302). Reproducing a model too closely, warns Petrarch,
does not display skill but rather evidences a decided lack of ability on
the part of the imitator. The great writer, according to Petrarch, must
look both to the literary precedents and at the same time exploit his
own creative capacities. Petrarch dismisses those who fail to transform
their models as “apes,” saying that the exact repetition of a model is the
non-human lot of the undeveloped primate, not the intellectual task
of a poet. Berni’s poem “fatto in Abruzzi” thus demonstrates that while
he may be out in the woods, he is no jungle ape. He is a masterful poet
who can forge winding, elaborate paths back through poetic tradition.
Following Berni’s backward gaze not only compels us to reassess the
relationship between his poems and those of Petrarch and to appreciate
his deft executions of humanist imitation, it also presents us with the
opportunity to reevaluate the Petrarchan models themselves. Berni’s
poetry acts as a lens that bends and refracts our perspective of Petrarch’s
original, magnifying details and bringing into view subtle details and
poetic possibilities that could otherwise have gone unnoticed without
the mediating tool of Berni’s writing. His poetry helps us notice that
Petrarch’s sonnets offer models not simply for staid reproduction but for
playful expansion, exaggeration, and sophisticated imitation. Tracing
the sinuous folds and multiple angles that simultaneously approximate
and distance the Berni’s sonnet “Piangete destri,” a work more commonly
referred to as the “Sonetto del bacciliero,” and its Petrarchan models
demonstrates how, in this sonnet, Berni grounds a description of the
homoerotic experience in the language of Petrarch’s poetry.
In order to appreciate the boldness of such a move, it is important to
remember that, in the sixteenth century, Church and civic documents
refer to homosexual intercourse as that sin “without name” or the act
that “cannot be named.”21 Euphemisms that replaced sodomy’s missing
name tended to distance homoerotic activity from the local culture by
linking it spatially and temporally with the unknown, associating the
act with newness, refuting its existence in the past, and negating its
historical tradition. Excluding Berni and his poetry from the tradition
of lyric poetry replicates the rhetoric that excluded and condemned
homoerotic encounters in the early modern period. In an effort to move
beyond such condemning rhetoric and attitudes, we must reexamine
the poetic tradition and reevaluate the stance that we claim Berni’s
poetry takes towards it. Such a reconsideration will lead us to see that,
by looking back on Petrarch’s Canzoniere, Berni finds the established
language of the native poetic tradition entirely capable of describing the
homoerotic experience.
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Piangete, destri, il caso orrendo e fiero,
piangete, cantarelli, e voi, pitali,
né tenghin gli occhi asciutti gli orinali,
ché rotto è ‘l pentolin del bacciliero.
Quanto dimostra apertamente il vero
di giorno in giorno a gli occhi de’ mortali,
che por nostra speranza in cose frali
troppo n’asconde el diritto sentiero.
Ecco, chi vide mai tal pentolino?
Destro, galante, leggiadretto e snello:
natura il sa, che n’ha perduta l’arte:
sallo la sera ancor, sallo il mattino,
che ‘l vedevon tal or portar in parte
ove usa ogni famoso cantarello.
This poem hints at Petrarchan models and homoerotic description
from its very opening lines. From a volume that overwhelmingly credits
heterosexual desire as the source of poetic inspiration, Berni emphasizes
a male relationship – between Petrarch and Cino da Pistoia – that
prompted the creation of poetry. The initial words of Berni’s lament
for the broken chamber pot, “Piangete destri,” and in fact the structure
of the whole first quatrain recalls Petrarch’s elegy for Cino, Canzoniere
ninety-two, “Piangete donne”.
While Petrarch’s poem may be characterized as homosocial, Berni
inflates this model to describe the homoerotic.22 Berni’s poem expresses
the homoerotic by recalling a kind of disjuncture that is at play in
Canzoniere ninety-two. When commenting on this sonnet, Peter
Hainsworth points out that it is not a sufficient tribute for a figure as
exalted as Cino.23 In his own sonnet, Berni exaggerates and inverts the
image of a mismatched pair. While in the Canzoniere the sonnet does not
exactly suit the lofty subject, in Berni’s work the subject, the common
chamber pot of a young man who is himself only an unidentified
student, does not seem to fit the exalted literary form. In both works,
we encounter things and people who are mixed together but lack a
traditional fit.
Recalling a grave Petrarchan lament at the opening of such a seemingly
frivolous poem lends a certain gravity to the burlesque poem. By doing
so, the quote delays the comic effect of the work by emphasizing the
ambiguity of the poem’s initial addressee. “Destri,” in the sixteenth
century, could mean both “worthy or noble people” and “latrines.” The
Petrarchan context of the opening line implies the former definition,
but when the reader arrives at the second line of the poem, addressed to
commodes and chamber pots, the later definition becomes appropriate.
The invocation of the solemn Petrarchan predecessor allows for this
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Queering Francesco: Berni and Petrarch
word play, illustrating how Berni’s relationship to this earlier work adds
a level of sophistication to the seemingly lighthearted rubbish.
The first terzina of the Bachelor’s sonnet also begins with a Petrarchan
quotation, asking “chi vide mai tal pentolino?” and following with a
short litany of adjectives: “Destro, galante, leggiadretto e snello.” These
lines quote Canzoniere 199 in which Petrarch describes the hand and
stolen glove of his beloved Laura. In his first terzina, Petrarch muses on
Laura’s glove:
Candido, leggiadretto et caro guanto
che copria netto avorio et fresche rose:
chi vide al mondo mai sì dolci spoglie?
Così avess’io del bel velo altrettanto!
O inconstanzia de l’umane cose,
pur questo è furto, et vien chi me ne spoglie.
James Mirollo describes Canzoniere 199-201 as “surely one of the most
influential of the entire collection” (131). Further, Mirollo points out
that the hand is especially utilitarian in these poems. In sonnet 199 for
example, it is the hand that does the work of maintaining the beloved’s
control over the poet. Thus, in making a chamber pot the subject of his
poem, Berni invokes the Petrarchan tradition. The utilitarian aspect of
the described object is exaggerated in Berni’s sonnet, as he picks a base
and quotidian chamber pot to stand in for the more elegant, but also
useful, hand.
In his sonnet, Berni also engages the veil, which in sonnet 199 has
more than just utilitarian connotations. Canzoniere 199 is the moment
in which the veil and its matching accessory, the glove, become
eroticized. Notably, before Canzoniere 199, the veil impedes an erotic
encounter. The poems preceding this sonnet extol moments when
Laura has removed her opaque cover. In madrigal fifty-two, for example,
the speaker compares seeing the object of his desire without her veil to
Actaeon seeing the naked Diana bathe in icy water. Further, in sonnets
90, 126, 143, and 196-98, it is the absence of clothing in which the
speaker rejoices, since without it, he can gaze on his beloved’s body
and her curly blonde hair let loose to the wind. Thus, up to this point
in the volume, the veil is celebrated in the moment of its removal; it is
the possibility of, or the act of unveiling that captivates the voyeuristic
poetic speaker. It is the stripped body, not the discarded clothing, which
causes the voyeur to tremble all over with the chill of love.
One sees a dramatic shift, however, in Canzoniere 199, following a
three-sonnet series that revels in the free-flowing locks of the unveiled
beloved. This sonnet adds a new dimension to the poetry – a delight in
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the veil itself. That delight enters into the poetic discourse in the sonnet’s
first terzina, when the glove is described as “candido, leggiadretto et
caro.” In this moment, the veil no longer functions as an impediment
to the erotic experience but rather is the empowering element of it.
The glove becomes a fetish object, the founding artifact of a stalker-like
collection of Laura’s trappings that the speaker wants to accumulate. He
cries out for more: “Così avess’io del bel velo altrettanto!” In Canzoniere
201, it is the fetishized glove itself – not the hand’s nakedness – that
makes possible the speaker’s climax of pleasure. Thus, the first terzina of
Canzoniere 199 is not just a moment of beauty, but is also a moment of
eroticization, a turning point in the Canzoniere.
By recalling the moment when the veil itself becomes an erotically
charged image, Berni erotically charges his own poem. The “Bachelor’s
Sonnet” begins with an exhortation to various urinal-like containers,
encouraging them to weep because “rotto è ‘l pentolin del bacciliero.”
What object is broken is unclear at this point. Certainly, “pentolin” could
refer to the bachelor’s chamber pot, but the word also has various sexual
connotations. “Pentolin” could variably refer to “the male member” or
“the anus.” This homoerotic imagery explodes in the first terzina of the
sonnet when the work recalls Laura’s glove. Here, Berni’s sonnet employs
the Petrarchan description of a penetrated object in order to clarify the
ambiguity of its terms and to communicate the loss of a tight fit. Thus,
Berni erotically charges his described object in his first terzina by recalling
the important first terzina of the Canzoniere, in which Petrarch himself
eroticizes an object. By engaging a specific moment in the Petrarchan
oeuvre in this way, the “Bachelor’s Sonnet” does not simply operate
as a silly lament for a broken household object but becomes a longing
description for the sodomite’s unavailable partner.
This bernesque work is so fascinating not simply because it disrupts
Petrarchist norms or because it contradicts a contemporary, dominant,
poetic discourse, but because it exploits the rich, interpretive, multiple
possibilities of a foundational text. Berni reinvigorates contemporary
poetic practice by forcing it to look back and reinvestigate its relationship
to its poetic past. Berni treats Petrarch’s Canzoniere as a collection of
intricate and entangled meanings, rich and ripe with potential, and
encourages his readers and those of Petrarch to do the same. Rather than
destabilizing a poetic practice, he revels in the inherent instability of a
founding text. Refusing to acknowledge Berni’s clever and productive
engagement of Petrarchan models and continuing to exile him to the
realm of the disruptive, the transgressive, and the “anti-Petrarchan”
only repeats the language of official discourse about sodomy and the
homoerotic that refused it a voice and a place in popular culture. Berni’s
594
Queering Francesco: Berni and Petrarch
poetry valorizes the bent, the folded, the curved and the spiraled.
Rather than bely decay, mistreatment, or rejection, Berni’s lines indicate
exciting frontiers of poetic production and celebrate the rich potential of
Petrarch’s writing. Berni revels in the multiplicity of discourses already
at play in Petrarch’s work. By doing so, he shows these readers just how
well the poet’s laurel crown fits on a bricklayer’s brow.
Notes
1
On Berni’s Rifacimento, see for example: Weaver, “Rifacimento,” 1977; “Spurious
Text,” 1977; 1984; Woodhouse, 1980; 1981.
2
“Si duole della suggezione in che stava in Verona,” in Berni, Rime, Romei (ed.)
119. All verse quotations taken from this volume; all translations, unless otherwise
indicated, my own. On Berni’s life as a courtier, see Sole.
3
On Berni’s poetic legacy, see Parker.
4
On Berni and the classical legacy, see: Bisanti; Muecke. On Berni and the comicrealist tradition, see: Laskier Martîn, esp. 4-40; Marzo; Orvieto and Brestolini; Longhi,
Lusus, 1983, esp. 213-21; Betella, Ugly Woman, 2005.
5
Anne Reynolds notes Berni’s canonical place is “on the periphery” (1988, 51).
6
David Frantz puts forward a typical claim. “Berni’s work is clearly antiPetrarchan” and that the impact of Berni’s poetry comes only from “its deviation from
the [Petrarchan] norm” (25). Patrizia Betella claims that Berni carried out a “discourse
of dissent” (1998, 194) against Petrarchan ideals. Betella consistently refers to Berni’s
poetry as both “anti-Petrarchist” and “anti-Petrarchan.” Anne Reynolds asserts that
Berni takes an aggressively polemical stance against “received (Petrarchan-style) poetic
wisdom” and liberates poetry from dominant Petrarchan pressures (1983, 9). See also
Reynolds (1985, 129-38).
7
Berni’s sonnet “Né navi né cavalli né schiere armate” is a condescending rewriting
of Bembo’s “Mentre navi e cavalli e schiere armate.” See Reynolds, 2000. Further,
Berni wrote a Dialogue Against Poets in which he chastised the empty poetic project
of Petrarchism. See Reynolds, 1997; “Earliest Editions,” 1996; 1994. Additionally, in
a capitolo addressed to Sebastiano del Piombo, Berni praises Michelangelo’s poetic
ability while criticizing his Petrarchist contemporaries. See Clements.
8
On this distinction, I agree with Marti, esp. 1096.
9
See Nardizzi, et al., esp. 1-11.
10
In Canzoniere 157, for example, the brow comes before the eyes, but in Canzoniere
200, their order is reversed. Canzoniere 157 also describes the eyes before moving on to
the mouth, but Canzoniere 203 describes the mouth (oddly, the tongue) before mentioning
the eyes. Canzoniere 292 describes Laura’s eyes and face before mentioning the hair.
11
In Canzoniere 196, Laura has pearls braided in her hair. The color of Laura’s fingers
is compared to pearls in Canzoniere 199. They become her teeth in Canzoniere 200.
12
Silvia Longhi standardizes the spelling of “ebano.” Danilo Romei and Bàrberi
Squarotti, however, spell “ebeno.” My analysis is strengthened by the latter versions but
remains valid in all three cases.
595
Daniel Tonozzi
See Canzoniere 196, 197, and 198 for example. In addition, take for instance the
interwoven wisps of long curls in Canzoniere 159 and the fixated gaze on the beloved’s
seductively swaying braids Canzoniere 227.
14
See Montanile.
15
All quotations and translations of Petrarch’s Canzoniere are taken from Durling, ed.
16
Reynolds asserts that at the time of his exile, Berni was still in the service of Angelo
Dovizi and that Berni did not enter the service of Giberti until after the election of
Clement VII. As she notes, however, “the precise date of entry into Giberti’s household
is somewhat clouded.” See Reynolds, 1997, esp. 37.
17
Danilo Romei credits Berni’s exile not only to “uno scandalo legato ad un amore
omosessuale” but also to the unflattering and “imprudente” (9) “Capitolo di papa
Adriano” composed in 1522.
18
On Petrarch’s theory of imitation, see: Greene; McLaughlin, esp. 22-48.
19
See Fam. I.8; 41-46.
20
Petrarch doth seem to protest too much, and so his overtures have been the focus
of critical attention. See Baranski and Cachey. Particularly pertinent is Sarah SturmMaddox, “Dante, Petrarch, and the Laurel Crown” (290-319).
21
It seems customary to remind readers that Foucault refers to sodomy as “the utterly
confused category” and appropriate to direct readers towards some helpful studies that
address that confusion and analyse its rhetoric. For sodomy in the context of Early
Modern Italy, see for instance: Rocke; Ruggiero. For broader European considerations,
see: Goldberg, 1992; ---, 1994; Guy-Bray, 2002; Guy-Bray, et al., (2009). For medieval
precedents for and origins of the early modern situation, see for instance: Burger and
Kruger; Dinshaw; Fradenburg and Freccero; Lochrie, et al.
22
Homosocial is a term taken from Eve Sedgwick’s work Between Men. For a
discussion of how homosocial bonds of friendship blur with ideas of the homoerotic, see
Alan Bray, “Homosexuality and the Signs of Male Friendship in Elizabethan England,”
in Goldberg, 1994, 40-61.
23
Hainsworth notes, “When Cino da Pistoia…dies, he does not receive from Petrarch
the kind of fulsome tribute which he, in his turn, had paid to Dante. The sonnet (92) is
perfunctory: Cino the love-poet is dead, says the poem, and it asks in turn ladies, love,
lovers, and Pistoia (which exiled him) to weep for him. And that is all. The much less
significant figure of Sennuccio del Bene…receives on his death a much more impressive
sonnet than the one for Cino” (78-9).
13
Works Cited
Alighieri, Dante. Paradiso. Trans. Charles S. Singleton. Princeton: Princeton UP,
1975. Print.
Baranski, Zygmunt and Theodore J. Cachey (eds.). Petrarch & Dante: AntiDantism, Metaphysics, Tradition. Notre Dame: Notre Dame UP, 2009. Print.
Berni, Francesco. Rime. Romei, Danilo (a cura di). Milano: Mursia, 1985. Print.
___. Rime burlesche. Bàrberi Squarotti, Giorgio (a cura di). Milano: Biblioteca
Universale Rizzoli, 1991. Print.
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Bettella, Patrizia. “Discourse of Resistance: The Parody of Feminine Beauty in
Berni, Doni, and Firenzuola.” MLN 113.1 (1998): 192-203. Print.
___. The Ugly Woman: Transgressive Models in Italian Poetry from the Middle Ages to
the Baroque. Toronto: Toronto UP, 2005. Print.
Bisanti, Armando. “Franesco Berni e un ‘granciporro’ di Virgilio”. Maia 47.1
(1995): 71-87. Print.
Burger, Glen and Steven F. Kruger (eds.). Queering the Medieval Ages. Minneapolis:
Minnesota UP, 2001. Print.
Clements, Robert. J. “Berni and Michelangelo’s Bernesque Verse.” Italica 41.3
(1964): 226-80. Print.
Dinshaw, Carolyn. Getting Medieval: Sexualities and Communities, Pre- and
Postmodern. Durham: Duke UP, 1999. Print.
Danzi, Massimo e Silvia Longhi (a cura di). Poeti del Cinquecento: Poeti lirici,
burleschi, satirici e didascalici. Milano: Riccardo Ricciardi Editore, 2001. Print.
Fradenburg, Louise and Carla Freccero (eds.). Premodern Sexualities. London:
Routledge, 1996. Print.
Frantz, David. O. Festum Voluptatis: A Study of Renaissance Erotica. Columbus:
Ohio State UP, 1989. Print.
Freccero, John. “The Fig Tree and the Laurel: Petrarch’s Poetics.” Literary Theory/
Renaissance Texts. Parker, Patricia and David Quint (eds.). Baltimore: The
Johns Hopkins UP, 1986. Print.
Goldberg, Jonathan (ed.). Queering the Renaissance. Durham: Duke UP, 1994.
Print.
___. Sodometries: Renaissance Texts, Modern Sexualities. Standford: Stanford UP,
1992. Print.
Greene, Thomas. M. The Light in Troy: Imitation and Discovery in Renaissance
Poetry. New Haven: Yale UP, 1982. Print.
Grazzini, Antonfrancesca detto Il Lasca. “In lode di Messer Francesco Berni.”
Il primo libro dell’opere burlesche: ricorretto e con diligenza ristampato. Usecht al
Reno: Jacopo Broedelet, 1760. Print.
Guy-Bray, Stephen. Homoerotic Space: The Poetics of Loss in Renaissance Literature.
Toronto: Toronto UP, 2002. Print.
Hainsworth, Peter. Petrarch the Poet: An Introduction to the Rerum vulgarium
fragmenta. New York: Routledge, 1988. Print.
Lochrie, Karma, Peggy McCracken, and James A. Schultz (eds.). Constructing
Medieval Sexuality. Minneapolis: Minnesota UP, 1997. Print.
Longhi, Silvia. Lusus: Il capitolo burlesco nel Cinquecento. Padua: Antenore, 1983.
Print.
Marti, Mario. “Francesco Berni.” In Letteratura italiana: I minori. Marzorati
editore: Milano, 1961. Print.
Martîn, Adrienne Laskier. Cervantes and the Burlesque Sonnet. Berkeley: California
UP, 1991. Print.
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Marzo, Antonio. Note sulla poesia erotica del Cinquecento. Lecce: Adriatica Editrice
Salentina, 1999. Print.
McLaughlin, Martin L. Literary Imitation in the Italian Renaissance: The Theory and
Practice of Literary Imitation in Italy from Dante to Bembo. Oxford: Clarendon
Press, 1995. Print.
Mirollo, James V. Mannerism and Renaissance Poetry: Concept, Mode, Inner Design.
New Haven: Yale UP, 1984. Print.
Montanile, Milena. “Le chiome antipetrarchiste di Berni.” Esperienze letterarie
XXI, no. 2 (1996): 59-66. Print.
Muecke, Frances. “‘Semo stati poeti ancora noi’: Classical Allusion and Imitation
in Francesco Berni”. Altro Polo: The Classical Continuum in Italian Thought and
Letters. Reynolds, Ann (ed.) Sydney: Frederick May Foundation for Italian
Studies, 1984. Print.
Nardizzi, Vin, Stephen Guy-Bray, and Will Stockton (eds.). Queer Renaissance
Historiography: Backward Gaze. Burlington: Ashgate, 2009. Print.
Orvieto, Paolo e Lucia Brestolini, La poesia comico-realistica dalle origini al
Cinquecento. Roma: Carocci, 2000. Print.
Parker, Deborah. “Towards a Reading of Bronzino’s Burlesque Poetry.”
Renaissance Quarterly 50.4 (1997): 1011- 44. Print.
Petrarch, Francesco. Petrarch’s Lyric Poems: The Rime sparse and Other Lyrics.
Trans. Robert M. Durling. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1976. Print.
___. Letters on Familiar Matters: Rerum familiarum libri, I-VIII. Trans. Aldo S.
Bernardo. State of New York UP: Albany, 1975. Print.
___. Letters on Familiar Matters: Rerum familiarum libri, XVII-XXIV. “Trans.”
Aldo S. Bernardo. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins UP, 1985. Print.
Reynolds, Ann. “Ambiguities of Apollo and Marsyas: Francesco Berni and His
First Published Work.” Studies in Iconography 16 (1994): 191-224. Print.
___. “The Earliest Editions of Dialogo contra i poeti by Francesco Berni.” Bulletin
du bibliophile 2 (1996): 341-60. Print.
___. “Francesco Berni: Satire and Criticism in the Italian Sixteenth Century.”
Comic Relations: Studies in the Comic, Satire, and Parody. Pavel Petr, David
Roberts, and Philip Thomson (eds.) Frankfut: Peter Lang, 1985. Print.
___. “Francesco Berni: The Theory and Practice of Italian Satire in the Sixteenth
Century.” Italian Quarterly 34.94 (1983): 5-15. Print.
___. “Francesco Berni, Gian Matteo Giberti, and Pietro Bembo: Criticism and
Rivalry in Rome in the 1520s.” Italica 77. 3 (2000): 301-310. Print.
___. “Francesco Berni’s Second Published Work, Capitolo del Gioco della Primiera
col Commento del messer Pietropaolo da San Chirico, Rome 1526.” Bibliografia:
Rivista di Storia del Libro e di Bibliografia 98.1 (1996): 31-43. Print.
___. “The Poet in Society: Francesco Berni and Court Life in Cinquecento Rome.”
Spunti e ricerche 4.5 (1988): 51-62. Print.
___. Renaissance Humanism at the Court of Clement VII: Francesco Berni’s Dialogue
Against Poets in Context. New York: Garland Publishing, 1997. Print.
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Rocke, Michael. Forbidden Friendships: Homosexuality and Male Culture in
Renaissance Florence. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1996. Print.
Ruggiero, Guido. The Boundaries of Eros: Sex Crime and Sexuality in Renaissance
Venice. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1985. Print.
Sedwick, Eve Kosofsky. Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial
Desire. New York: Columbia UP, 1985. Print.
Sole, Antonino. Il gentiluomo-cortegiano nel segno del Petrarca. Palermo: Palumba,
1992. Print.
Stampino, Maria Galli. “Bodily Boundaries Represented: the Petrarchan, the
Burlesque and Arcimboldo’s Example.” Quaderni d’italianistica XVI.1 (1995):
61-79. Print.
Vickers, Nancy. “Diana Described: Scattered Woman and Scattered Rhyme.”
Writing and Sexual Difference. Chicago: Chicago UP, 1982. Print.
Weaver, Elissa B. “Erotic Language and Imagery in Francesco Berni’s
Rifacimento.” MLN 99.1 (1984): 80-100. Print.
___. “Rifacimento fo the Orlando Innnamorato: Why and How.” Pacific Coast
Philology 10.7 (1977): 53-58. Print.
___. “The Spurious Text of Francesco Berni’s Rifacimento of Matteo Maria
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Wilkins, Ernest H. “Berni’s Bellezze.” Italica 26. 2 (1949): 146-47. Print.
Woodhouse, H.F. Language and Style in a Renaissance Epic: Berni’s Corrections
to Boiardo’s Orlando Innamorato. London: Modern Humanities Research
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___. “Towards a Reassessment of Berni’s Rifacimento.” Italian Studies 35 (1980): 3151. Print.
599
Friendship, Gender, and Virtue
in the Renaissance:
The Tragedies
of Giambattista Giraldi Cinzio
Alexandra Coller
Lehman College, City University of New York
Abstract: The topic of friendship was an extremely popular one in the
Renaissance. We find it broached in treatises, dialogues, letters, and other genres.
For the most part, it is treated from a very narrow, male-centered perspective.
This essay examines its presence in the works of Giambattista Giraldi Cinzio
(1504-1573): his novelle, dialogues on civic virtue, and a handful of his tragedies.
Although Giraldi seems to follow in the footsteps of his illustrious predecessors
and contemporaries writing on this subject, a close analysis of his tragedies
reveals a much more nuanced understanding, one that not only includes but
showcases women’s virtue, in this respect far more so than in his characterization
of their male counterparts, often shaming the latter with ignominious behavior.
While the essay does not purport to be exhaustive, it does put forward sufficient
evidence for the development of a genealogy of friendship gendered female,
bonding among women, and the championing of female virtue in Italian
Renaissance tragedy.
Keywords: Giambattista Giraldi Cinzio, female friendship, gender, virtue,
Renaissance tragedy, women.
I
n his “Terzo dialogo della vita civile” on the topic of friendship,
published as part of the second volume of his novella collection, the
Ecatommiti, Giambattista Giraldi Cinzio (1504-73) writes: “l’amicitia è
un amore tra tutti gli altri eccellente, e le cose eccellenti sono poche, e
però fra pochi si ritrova la vera amicitia, non pure ne’ nostri tempi, ma
negli antichi ancora, perché si vede, che in tutta l’antichità si fa mentione
appena di due, ò tre paia di veri amici” (2: 1188; emphasis added).1 Few
and far between were the examples of vera amicitia, in antiquity, not to
mention in the Renaissance, as Giraldi points out: Orestes and Pylades,
Achilles and Patroclus, Aeneas and Achates, Nisus and Euryalus, Damon
and Phitias, Tito and Gisippo, Cloridano and Medoro, and the list goes
on with illustrious textual examples of male friendship. Giraldi adds
an important detail, however, as he borrows from Cicero’s, by then
almost proverbial, De amicitia, as well as from Aristotle’s Nicomachean
ITALICA • Volume 92 • No. 3 • Fall 2015
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Friendship, Gender, and Virtue in the Renaissance
Ethics, commonplaces of the tradition still applicable to the early
modern period: “Perciò ritornerò a dirvi che l’amicizia è così eccellente
cosa che ella solo può essere singolarmente fra due buoni e virtuosi uomini e
simigliantissimi nella vita lodevole e ne’ buoni costumi” (2: 1191; emphasis
added).2 In sum, friendship can only exist, Giraldi explains, among
good and virtuous men who are similar in character and praiseworthy
for their lives and customs.
What, then, can be said of female friendship in the early modern
period, whether between a man and a woman, or, among women?
Given that from antiquity to the early modern period, the “ideal” was a
male-centered one, it is perhaps not so surprising that female friendship
or female bonding is a subject scarcely broached in the literary or
discursive realm, while historically based examples were unlikely to
have been diligently recorded.
Only recently, and thanks to the archival discoveries of literary
historians Judith Bryce and Carolyn James, do we come across some
seemingly rare examples of male-female friendships or “collaborative”
exchanges: Ippolita Sforza and Lorenzo de’ Medici, Margherita Cantelmo
and Agostino Strozzi.3 However, in its ideal form, “among men,” this
was a goal hardly ever reached. From Leon Battista Alberti’s midfifteenth century treatise on friendship, Book IV of Libri della famiglia,
to Moderata Fonte’s late-sixteenth century female-centered dialogue,
Il merito delle donne, men are shown to betray this so-called ideal on
account of animosity, personal interest, and “inconstanza,” a fickleness
which is, of course, deemed problematic and “feminine” (4.383.26-29).4
Even so, and despite its apparent “anachronism”5 with respect
to classical ideals, male friendship was a hot topic and one which
preoccupied some of the most famous literary figures of the Middle Ages
and Renaissance: Dante, Boccaccio, Alberti, Speroni, Ariosto, Tasso,
and, of course, Giraldi, whose Dialoghi claim it as the bedrock of “la
felicità civile” (Ecatommiti 2: 1183-84 and passim). In the works of the
aforementioned authors, as well as within the framework of the novelle
of Boccaccio and Giraldi, it is an ideal limited to masculine aspirations.6
For Giraldi, “la felicità civile”, considered “il premio intrinseco delle virtù
morali” (1: 986), was reachable only by men: as such, all their actions
should be aimed at reaching what he referred to as civic happiness;
among the “virtù morali”, friendship was, not surprisingly, one of the
most precious because most binding of virtues.7 It is significant that,
in the novelle, Giraldi places his emblematic story of male friendship
as the very last tale of the entire collection (Ecatommiti 10.10) as if to
signal a nec plus ultra phenomenon. Does Giraldi’s ideological stance on
friendship get replicated in his tragedies? Given the intimate connection
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Alexandra Coller
between Giraldi’s novelle and his tragedies – out of a total of nine, seven
find their source in the Ecatommiti – I think it is useful to turn to some
of these later compositions.
In a recent essay on Shakespeare’s Hamlet and the relevance of
Hecuba as a model tragic character, Tanya Pollard has pointed out
the “pervasive identification of tragedy with women” as well as the
identification of women as the “paradigmatic audience” of the genre in
the early modern period (Pollard 1071). As will become clear from the
ensuing discussion, this certainly seems to be the case with respect to
the pioneering Italian tragic theater of the Cinquecento. Indeed, even
a cursory investigation of the Italians’ experiments with tragedy would
yield enough evidence to categorize it as a female-centered cultural
phenomenon.8 My aim for the rest of this discussion will be, therefore,
to canvass the tragic genre with respect to Giraldi’s exemplars and the
textual traces of friendship: its terminology, its connections to gender,
and, ultimately, its manifestation into various forms of female bonding.
Let us begin with Giraldi’s Selene, a tragedy “a lieto fine” (“with a happy
ending”) closely based on the first novella of Deca V of the Ecatommiti.9
It is likely that the tragedy was performed at the Este court in Ferrara in
1546-47, and subsequently set to print (Horne, Selene, xxxiv).10 Notably,
the tragedy’s prologue makes various allusions to “a programme of moral
improvement based on theatrical entertainments” (Horne, Selene xxxiv).
Given the central role of ethics and morality in the Ecatommiti, it is not
surprising that the same author would indulge this inclination in another
art form.11 Indeed, Giraldi’s prologue unequivocally states that this “nova
favola” (v. 73) sets out not only to entertain but also to instruct:
Per insegnare adunque in un sol giorno / a migliaia di gente il vero modo
/ di compir con onor la vita frale, / in uso posti for teatri e scene / perché,
veggendo indi gli spettatori / varie sembianze d’uomini e di donne, / di varii
uffici e qualità diverse / e di varii costumi e varie leggi, / sortir diversi fini e
varie sorti, / fatti acuti, sapesser da sé in tanta / varietà di genti e di costumi
/ seguir la loda et ischivare il biasmo / e veder che chiunque virtù segue /
giunge a buon fine e chi ‘l mal segue a reo (vv. 24-37).
Giraldi emphasizes watching and learning, and deliberately gestures
to the act of witnessing in performance, more than once: “veggendo […]
veder.” There is no doubt that the spectacle is meant to have an impact,
most of Giraldi’s tragedies were either staged or recited on stage, and
his theoretical writings are quite sensitive to the needs of the (modern)
spectator.12 Thus, the audience (vv. 28, 48, 64), is invited to observe and
to discern good from evil, praiseworthy from unpraiseworthy behavior.
Ultimately, the audience is asked to choose and to follow those “buon[i]
costumi” it will witness on stage. Each of the protagonists’ virtù, or lack
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Friendship, Gender, and Virtue in the Renaissance
thereof, will prove to be the ultimate testing ground, and, as a result,
deemed either exemplary or blameworthy.
Selene, Queen of Egypt, a widow, remarries a man of her choice,
Rodobano, King of Persia. Her trusted yet supremely treacherous
secretary, Gripo, falsely accuses Selene of adultery; the King abandons
her and returns to Persia, narrowly escaping assassination at the hands
of the courtier who hopes, as a result, to marry his own son to the
Queen. Following years of solitude and misery, Selene decides to send
an envoy to her estranged husband in Persia; her messenger, Antigono,
is asked to bear witness to Selene’s undying love and loyalty. Giraldi
introduces a new character, the Nurse, whose function is to advise the
Queen; in the novella, that role belonged to the “fraudolente” Gripo.
This new dynamic in the tragedy allows for the development of an
entente between two women: the Nurse and the leading female figure,
Selene.13 Solidarity among women, of the sort we find here, is a dynamic
present in a number of tragedies of the century, with plots modeled on
Seneca and Euripides as well as on Trissino’s pioneering Sofonisba of
1514.14 The Nurse tries to dispel Selene’s doubts regarding Antigono’s
fidelity: “Signora, un vero amico / non men il ben de l’altro che ‘l suo cura,
/ né men patisce, o men conosce, o vede / ne’ casi degli amici ch’egli faccia /
ne’ propri suoi, perché sono communi / le doglie e l’allegrezze a l’un de
l’altro” (2.3. 963-68; emphasis added). The Nurse’s explanation reads
as an elaborate reflection of a Ciceronian commonplace: the friend is
like an other self, and, as such, it is taken for granted that between the
two parties there is “complete harmony of opinions and inclinations in
everything without any exception” (Cicero 17.61). Common ground is
of paramount importance with a “vero amico” and all is shared by the
two whether in hardship or good times.
There is, in fact, an entire scene reserved for Antigono’s expression of
his affection for the Queen, indicating his trust in Selene’s impeccable
conduct, her marital fidelity, and moral goodness. Act 3, scene 4,
structurally the midpoint of the play, functions as a eulogy for the
Queen and a demonstration of profound compassion, on the part of
her friend and confidant, Antigono: “Ve’ ch’incredibil sorte di dolore
/ questa Reina ora tormenta e afflige, / non men Reina per lo regno
ch’have / che per l’alta virtù ch’ella possiede, / la qual tal è che, se virtù
potesse / vincer fortuna e far lieta e felice / alma gentil che lei abbracci, lieta
/ esser questa devria sovra ogni donna” (3.4.1850-57; emphasis added).
The passage does indeed showcase Selene’s moral value: her virtù is
unsurpassable. As such, the Queen rises above “every woman” and, we
can deduce, she also rises above the opposite sex, especially as we recall
the conduct of the Machiavellian Gripo. Everywhere in the De amicitia,
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Alexandra Coller
we find acknowledgements of the fact that without virtue and moral
goodness, there is no possibility for true friendship.15
Judging by her character, then, Selene certainly seems to fit the mold
as far as the prerequisites of character for (male) friendship. Indeed, her
steadfastness alone renders this woman exemplary, especially as we note
Cicero’s own misgivings about the abundance of such virtue in men.16
And, even so, in spite of her virtù, the noble-hearted Selene has become
prey to malevolent fortuna. Antigono’s eulogy ends with a prayer to
God that he may lessen the anguish of such a noble soul, a metaphor
reiterated twice in the course of his soliloquy and an indication that
casts Selene as the most virtuous character in the tragedy. On the other
hand, in her own interjections, the Nurse provides further evidence of
Antigono’s love for Selene, words that are meant to help the Queen take
heart and have hope in a friend’s efforts to clear her name: “Or, quanto
v’ami Antigono il sapete, / però vo’ che crediate ch’egli veggie / non
meno in ciò che vi veggiate voi. / s’ei dunque speme avrà del vostro
bene, / perché volete voi perder la speme?” (2.3.969-73). The Nurse
offers this clarification in answer to Selene’s question “Credi tu ch’egli
nelle cose mie / possa giamai veder quel che veggio io?” (2.3.960-1).
The repetition of the verb vedere in the Nurse’s response reinforces the
idea that a “true” friend has the capacity for intimate understanding of
one’s plight; the verb’s particular use here invokes a mirror-image kind
of understanding between the two parties, Antigono and Selene.
Indeed, the Nurse’s entire speech alludes to the requirement of
compassion and a string of other commonplaces of Ciceronian heritage:
one speaks to a friend as if to oneself; the friend is like an other self; an
ideal friendship entails total trust in the other.17 This last prerequisite is
highlighted by the term crediate (from credere meaning “to believe” but
also “to trust”), a verb central to the Nurse’s argument and the “lesson”
she delivers on the ideals of friendship: Selene must trust and believe
in Antigono as she would in herself. Notably, none of this discourse
is present in the novella version, which highlights instead Gripo’s
wickedness and disloyalty: one who, it is reiterated more than once, acts
only out of self-interest: “per non mancare a sé medesimo” (818, 824).
Indeed, the elder courtier pretends friendship vis-à-vis Rodobano, (“farsi
amico,” 820) only as a means to an end – a deplorable act and the mark of
false friendship in all discussions on the subject.18 By contrast, the kind
of solidarity we find between two female protagonists, embedded in a
discourse strongly reminiscent of the rhetoric of ideal (male) friendship,
seems prevalent in Italian tragedy.
Giraldi’s Eufimia, another “tragedia a lieto fine,” provides further
evidence of the discursive presence of female friendship in dramatic
604
Friendship, Gender, and Virtue in the Renaissance
practice.19 This time, the Nurse is present in both novella (8.10) and
dramatic script versions.20 Eufimia, Queen of Corinth, is in love with
the cruel and exceedingly ungrateful Acaristo (from the Greek meaning
“ungrateful one”). Interestingly, in creating this male protagonist, the
author may have had in mind his former pupil, Giovan Battista Pigna,
with whom he had had a rather well-publicized falling out on account
of the latter’s lack of gratitude and integrity. Pigna subsequently usurped
Giraldi’s position as ducal secretary and published some of his master’s
theoretical ideas without giving credit where due. We assume, of course,
that between Giraldi and Pigna there was not only a close rapport, as
between master and student, but also a friendship, based on trust and
reciprocity.21
It is possible, as Philip Horne has suggested, that Giraldi expresses
some of his seemingly justified rancor vis-à-vis his pupil in the creation
of the role of Acaristo. The plot is relatively straightforward. Eufimia falls
in love with Acaristo, and they marry despite her father’s opposition and
hopes for another, far more suitable match with Filone, a Peloponnesian
King. Once married, Acaristo loses interest in his wife and accuses her
of adultery in an attempt to dispatch of her – burning at the stake is
the impending punishment. Eufimia, mortified and yet still very much
bound to Acaristo on account of her loyalty and profound love, turns to
the Nurse for comfort and advice, a role normally reserved for intimate
friends. Their conversation is the subject of a rather lengthy first scene.
Eufimia’s words betray the loss of hope with Petrarchan undertones:
“Nodrice, pria diverria ghiaccio il foco, / e si muteria il ghiaccio in viva
fiamma / che potesse il mio male aver rimedio. / Ma pur, perché il dolor si
disacerba / mentre persona amica altri il palesa […] / io vo’ narrarti / la mia
calamità, la mia miseria” (1.1.39-46; emphasis added).22 In short, Eufimia
wants her ally to know that her own steadfast fidelity has been repaid
with betrayal by a treacherous husband who could have played the role
of a grateful “friend” but did not, on the contrary: “Non perch’io speri
alcun rimedio averne, / ma perché tu conosca a che riesca / quel fermo
amor, quella sincera fede / con la quale Acaristo ho amato et amo”
(1.1.47-50).
Eufimia has, at this point in the plot, helped Acaristo escape
imprisonment and imminent death as well as acquire full possession of
the Corinthian throne subsequent to her father’s death.23 In sum, while
Acaristo’s response to his wife’s undying fidelity is exposed as shameful
and disloyal, the Nurse’s show of total devotion to her mistress is, on the
other hand, characterized as exemplary: “L’amor, la fé, con che nodrita
v’aggio, / Reina mia, di sí gran pietà m’empie, / veggendovi sì afflitta, ch’io
mi sento / per la compassion mancar la vita” (1.1.66-69; emphasis added).
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Alexandra Coller
Love and fidelity, together with compassion, are trademarks of the
discourse on friendship. Indeed, in the De amicitia, Cicero goes so far
as to align, etymologically, love with friendship.24 As such, the Nurse’s
emphasis is on aiding a friend in need: “Bramo saper qual sorte, o qual
destino / vi dà cagion di così acerba doglia, / per poter, s’io potrò, porgervi
aita” (1.1.70-72). She then summons up past experience as proof of her
steadfast loyalty: “Sapete pur che, quando tanto afflitta/ eravate per tor
costui da morte/ e che parea impossibile il salvarlo, / io vel condussi in
corte e tanto fei / che, come bramavate, per marito / l’aveste e ‘l regno
tutto aveste in dote” (1.1.73-78).
By contrast, disloyal to the core in the tale as well as in his dramatic
portrayal, Acaristo is labeled as one who makes a habit of “premia[re]
con l’ingiuria il beneficio” (1.1.86), rewarding benefit with punishment.
Although she seems to be blindly in love, Eufimia is aware of and
acknowledges what seems to be the fundamental problem: there is an
inherent “disagguaglianza” (1.1.108) between herself and her husband,
and this “inequality” seems to explain their radically differing views on
love, trust, loyalty, and gratitude. Significantly, these are the virtù that make
up those key attributes one must possess as a “true” friend, all defining
characteristics of the discourse on friendship, whether Ciceronian, or as
found in its replicas of early modern writings on the topic. While Acaristo
is a “vil paggetto” (a humble foot soldier, 1.1.109) whose fortuna turned
him into a King, Eufimia is of royal blood, the contrast in their individual
characters and moral virtù could not be greater.
Although my analyses do not purport to be exhaustive at this stage, I
hope to have provided sufficient compelling evidence for what I propose
to be the development of a genealogy of friendship gendered female,
bonding among women, and female virtue in Italian Renaissance tragedy.25
The evidence seems, in fact, to adhere to the Ciceronian heritage of this
most popular of subjects in the early modern period. Ethics and morality
are emphasized repeatedly in Giraldi’s dramatic repertoire; and, although
he embraces traditional values, he does so through a somewhat critical
lens. Bernard Weinberg, among others, paints Giraldi as a progressive
conservative, which is precisely what he was (Weinberg 1: 437-41, 444).26
On the ideals of friendship and virtue, as noted above, Giraldi becomes
more flexible and more inclusive in his theatrical experiments, thereby
adding a nuance to the masculine paradigm of the novelle and the
Dialoghi, works that furnish, the author suggests, the ideological template
for the whole collection. As the author himself declares in “La tragedia a
chi legge,” the foreword to his first tragedy, Orbecche (comp. 1541, pub.
1543), women should be held on a par with men for they are equal to
them in intelligence, prudence, and common sense:
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Friendship, Gender, and Virtue in the Renaissance
Né stran ti paia che le donne ch’io / ho meco in compagnia sian via più
saggie / che paia altrui che si convenga a donne. / ch’oltre il lume, qual ha
de la ragione / come l’uomo la donna, il gran sapere che chiude in sé quella
sublime e rara / Donna, il nome di cui alto e reale / con somma riverenza e
sommo onore / oscuramente entro a me chiaro serbo, / far può palese a ogni
giudicio intiero / non pur quanto di pregio in sé aver possa / Donna gentil,
ma che ‘n prudenzia e senno / (rimossa che ne sia la invidia altrui) / agguagliar
puote ogni saggio uom del mondo. (lines 3210-23; emphasis added)27
While Giraldi claims that women can equal men, the tragedies
themselves, Orbecche, Selene, Eufimia – among others of the same period –
provide testimony that women are in fact quite different from men. Women
are, rather, superior to men on account of their virtù.28 Giraldi’s Sulmone,
Gripo, and Acaristo, among many other male protagonists in tragic theater
– with few exceptions – embrace a world of cruelty, usurpation, and
fraud. In effect, a good number of these male protagonists are impostors
pretending to represent the “ideals” of friendship and marriage, and the
accompanying virtues of benevolence, clemency, gratitude, and loyalty,
without which such ideals cannot be seriously upheld. For the most part,
then, the well-established Horatian concept of theater’s responsibility
to “teach” virtue and good mores, as well as this precept’s successful
implementation on the early modern stage, would necessarily be left up
to its female protagonists.29 It was with Giraldi, in mid-sixteenth century
Italy, that the stage first became a platform for the celebration and/or the
indictment of (gendered) social behavior. As the author himself declares
in the prologue to Arrenopia, one of his last plays, composed, staged, and
published in 1563, theater and life do indeed overlap, one feeds upon the
other, and reaping the benefits of seeing life on stage, is perhaps one of the
most educational experiences one can hope for:
Gli avenimenti delle cose umane, / sono sì vari, e portan seco spesso / tali
accidenti, che di maraviglia / empion chi gli ode, et apportan letizia / talora, e
talor doglia; e danno poscia / Argomenti d’istorie agli scrittori, / che memoria
lasciar vogliono al mondo de le cose avenute, et a’ poeti / di por gli essempi de
la vita umana, / con le lor poesie, negli occhi altrui. (lines 1-10; emphasis added)
Once again, Giraldi capitalizes on one of the most salient aspects of
drama: seeing is believing. Female protagonists’ roles in this ‘civilizing’
process – seem undeniably paramount.
Notes
1
Giraldi, Gli Ecatommiti, emphasis added. The Ecatommiti underwent a
gestation process of about twenty years, the princeps was published in 1565
(Monte Regale: Lionardo Torrentino). The “Dialoghi” to which I refer here form
an integral part of the Ecatommiti; therefore, no separate entry will be provided
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Alexandra Coller
for the Dialoghi, volume and page numbers refer to the 2012 edition of the
Ecatommiti. All references will come from this edition.
2
On the importance of virtus (goodness) in friendship, see Cicero, De amicitia
7.21, 14.51, 27.100-101, 27.104, and passim; on friendship between “good men”
who resemble one another in virtue, character, and taste, see De amicitia 5.18,
14.50, 18.65, 20.74, and passim; Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 8.3.6. I cite from the
Loeb editions of De amicitia and the Nicomachean Ethics throughout this article.
Prior to the sixteenth century, one of the first attempts to vernacularize Cicero’s
De amicitia [Laelius] was Laurent de Premierfait’s French translation of 1416.
That particular translation became a “model of authority” (see Hyatte 139) in
the Cinquecento.
3
See Bryce; James 2009; and James and Kent. My thanks to Carolyn James
for bringing this study to my attention. On friendship within the context of
marriage, see James 2008 and 2012; see also Gill. On the ideals of friendship in
medieval and Renaissance literature, see Hyatte, esp. ch. 4, 137-202.
4
On man’s “fickleness” (levitas) in Cicero’s De amicitia, see 17.64. Moderata
Fonte (Modesta Pozzo), Il merito delle donne (comp. 1598, pub. 1600); Giornata
Seconda 77; and The Worth of Women 122-24.
5
The term is Ullrich Langer’s. See 200 and passim.
6
On Dante’s well-known friendship with fellow poet Guido Cavalcanti see,
for instance, De Robertis, Il libro della “Vita Nuova”; during the Renaissance,
Boccaccio’s novella of Tito and Gisippo was a locus classicus on the theme, see
Decameron, 10.8; on Alberti’s treatise on friendship, see Book 5 (De amicitia) of
Libri della famiglia; for Ariosto’s Cloridano and Medoro, see Orlando furioso canto
19.15; Sperone Speroni, “Dialogo dell’amicizia”, in Opere 2: 368-74; Torquato
Tasso, “Il Manso overo de l’amicizia”, in Opere 5: 313-66. On Boccaccio’s novella,
see Kirkham.
7
Friendship was a key feature of classical moral philosophy and Giraldi draws
on this heritage: Plato and Aristotle are everywhere reflected in his Dialoghi della
vita civile. Moreover, while Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics was paramount in the
history of writings on the subject of friendship, the most important literary
influences were Cicero’s and Seneca’s letters and treatises (Langer 47-48). As
Langer remarks, Petrarch’s De remediis utriusque fortunae had an enormous
influence on the diffusion of Senecan and Ciceronian commonplaces, especially
on the peninsula (24). For a general study on the topic focusing on the ‘tensions’
between ancient and early modern friendship discourses, the divergence
between the theory and practice of friendship, and contemporaries’ attempts
to resolve these issues, see Hutson, Lockman, and López; and Schachter. On
male friendship as a topos of the early modern English stage, see MacFaul and
Stretter.
8
An obvious though not irrelevant point of fact is that most Italian tragedies
take their title from the eponymous tragic heroine, beginning with Giangiorgio
Trissino’s inaugural Sofonisba composed in 1514.
9
All citations come from the 1996 Edwin Mellen Press edition. For the novella
version, see Ecatommiti 2: 811-28. Of Giraldi’s nine tragedies, six had happy
endings; his first tragedy a lieto fine, Altile, was in rehearsal for performance in
April 1543 (Eufimia 18). For an overview of Giraldi’s dramatic output, see Horne
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Friendship, Gender, and Virtue in the Renaissance
1962, Lucas, Morrison, and Di Maria 20-21, 62-71, 85-97, 193-202, and passim; for
a detailed discussion of Altile and its pioneering status in Giraldi’s repertoire, see
Osborne. Horne, Osborne, and Morrison have made Giraldi’s tragedies available
to the reader in their original form with Mellen Press beginning in the 1980s.
10
On Giraldi’s experiments with stage performance, see Pieri 129-42.
11
For a detailed and insightful discussion of Giraldi’s programmatic
ideological imprint on his novelle, see Villari’s excellent introduction to the
Ecatommiti 1: ix-lxxxvi.
12
See Weinberg 1: 141, 433-44, and 2: 912-18.
13
Given the unequal social status between Queen and Nurse, one might
suppose that an intimate relationship between the two is unlikely. And
yet, Cicero himself does not preclude such relationships from the ideals of
friendship. In fact, in the De amicitia, unequal status is allowed, even condoned:
the character of superior rank has the obligation to raise the inferior’s moral/
ethical standards by cultivating and inculcating virtue (see 19.69-70). In Giraldi,
this obligation seems to be reciprocal wherein the older character (the Nurse)
shares wisdom and experience with the younger one (the Queen), regardless of
rank.
14
In Trissino’s Sofonisba (comp. 1514-15, pub. 1524), an important relationship is
already established by the play’s beginning between the eponymous heroine and
Herminia, her confidante, a “personaggio d’invenzione” according to Cremante’s
annotation (in Teatro del Cinquecento: La tragedia ed. Renzo Cremante, 36 n. 8). This
entente carries the plot forward from the first to the last Act of the tragedy. Cremante
labels Sofonisba as “la prima tragedia di espressa imitazione classica” (3).
15
See, for instance, De amicitia 11.37-38 and passim.
16
De amicitia 17.62: “Sunt igitur firmi et stabiles et constantes eligendi, cuius
generis est magna penuria” (“We ought, therefore, to choose men who are firm,
steadfast and constant, a class of which there is a great dearth”).
17
For these commonplaces in the De amicitia, see 7.23; 15.52; 18.65; 21.80.
18
See Langer, 191 n. 3 and ch. 4 passim. As Langer remarks, “utilità”
(“expediency”), renders friendship problematic in Alberti’s dialogue of the
1440s. On “expediency” (utilitas) in friendship, see Cicero, De amicitia 14.51; and
Nicomachean Ethics (8.3.6), where Aristotle discusses ideal friendship, that is,
friendship “for its own sake.” Grafton has pointed out that most of Alberti’s
discussion on friendship centers on its place between rulers and subjects. Indeed,
“from the start, […] Alberti’s protagonist describes friendship in instrumental
rather than emotional terms: as a relation into which one chooses to enter, in
cold blood, to achieve particular practical ends” (198).
19
All citations come from the 2003 Edwin Mellen Press edition.
20
The novella version is in Ecatommiti 3: 1528-41.
21
For an in depth discussion of the Giraldi-Pigna debacle, see Horne,
Introduction, Eufimia, chapter 1 “Eufimia and the Dispute with Pigna,” 1-21.
22
Eufimia’s phrase “perché il dolor si disacerba” is modeled on Petrarch’s “perché
cantando il dolor si disacerba” (Canzoniere 23.4). With these words, Petrarch’s
emblematic canzone 23 bears witness to the key thematic of the Canzoniere: the poet’s
plight as a frustrated lover and hope for “relief” through his poetry.
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Alexandra Coller
Given this set of circumstances and Eufimia’s active role in them, I cannot
agree with Horne who labels this tragic heroine as “static and subservient”
(Horne, Selene xxxix).
24
See De amicitia 8.26: “Amor enim, ex quo amicitia nominata est, princeps est
ad benevolentiam coniungendam” (“For it is love [amor], from which the word
‘friendship’ [amicitia] is derived, that leads to the establishing of goodwill”).
25
A fuller, more in-depth discussion of Giraldi’s other tragedies (Epizia and
Arrenopia), alongside those of Lodovico Dolce, will appear in my forthcoming
book, Women, Rhetoric, and Drama in Early Modern Italy.
26
On numerous occasions, in his theoretical writings as well as in his letters
to the reader, Giraldi calls attention to ‘current trends’ and the need to abide by
what is pleasurable to contemporaries rather than commit to slavish imitation
of the ancients. See, for instance, his “Lettera sulla tragedia” published in the
1583 edition of his Didone (comp. 1547): “E se forse in qualche parte, mi son
partito dalle regole, che dà Aristotile, per conformarmi co’ costumi de’ tempi nostri,
l’ho io fatto col essempio degli antichi, perché si vede che altrimente diede il
principio alle sue favole Euripide che Sophocle, & con altro modo disposero le
loro favole i Romani, come poco hà dicemo, che i Greci” (155; emphasis added).
In his Preface to the Amadigi of Bernardo Tasso, Lodovico Dolce (1508/10-1568),
the Venetian poligrafo and a fellow tragedian, seems to concur with Giraldi on
the need to ‘update’ one’s writing to fit the tenor of the historical present: “Che,
sì come i tempi introducono nuovi costumi, e le varietà delle lingue diverse forme
di favellare apportano, così pare che ragionevolmente si ricerchi che si faccia nello
scrivere” (cited in Susanna Villari’s Introduction to Dolce’s tragedy, Marianna
[Turin: RES, 2011] 6; emphasis added).
27
Cremante 438-39.
28
Another case in point is the eponymous heroine of Giraldi’s tragedy Epizia,
a tragedia a lieto fine; Epizia sacrifices her virginity in order to save her brother
from certain death (on account of an injustice committed toward another
woman). Iuriste, her brother’s executor, swears to free his captor and then
renegs on his promise after the fait accompli. A deus ex-machina ending ‘saves’
all concerned when the Emperor steps in at the end of Act 5. Arrenopia offers
another spin on Eufimia and is perhaps the most interesting as it celebrates the
eponymous heroine’s steadfast fidelity along with her chivalric fighting skills.
The plays are based on Ecatommiti 8.5 and 3.1 respectively.
29
On Horace’s Ars poetica and its overwhelming influence on the poetics,
theory, and practice of early modern drama in Italy, see Weinberg 1: 156-249.
23
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Trissino, Giovanni Giorgio. Sofonisba. In Teatro del Cinquecento: La tragedia.
Cremante, Renzo (a cura di). Milano: Ricciardi, 1988. Print.
Villari, Susanna (a cura di). Marianna. By Lodovico Dolce. Torino: RES, 2011. Print.
Weinberg, Bernard. A History of Literary Criticism in the Italian Renaissance.
Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1961. Print.
612
Modernist Drama and Eleonora Duse
in Fin-de-Siècle Athens
Antonis Glytzouris
Aristotle University of Thessaloniki; Institute of Mediterranean Studies
Abstract. The essay discusses the relations between European Modernism
and the processes of modernization and westernization of the early twentiethcentury Greek theater, taking as a paradigm the tours of Eleonora Duse in
fin-de-siècle Athens. The tour was important not only because it contributed
to the inclusion of the Greek stage in the international theatre market, but also
because it offered to the contemporary Athenians their first (and last) chance to
see foreign productions of Modernist drama at first hand (plays of Ibsen and
D’Annunzio). I argue that there were serious problems in the reception of these
dramas, mainly a kind of substitution of Modernism with westernization for
the sake of modernization. These problems were also interwoven with a very
serious domestic, pathogenic condition, i.e., a peculiar idealistic conviction of
the inheritance of the glorious Ancient Greek past.
Keywords: Modern Greek theatre; modernism; modernization; feminism;
acting.
D
uring the last decade of the 19th century and the first of the 20th,
many great stars of the European stage visited Athens. Following a
long period of inactivity, celebrated names such as Coquelin, Bernhardt,
Mounet-Sully and Réjane decided to include the Balkan capital in their
tour schedules; presumably judging that the city now possessed a section
of the public capable of supporting their tours.1 The phenomenon
manifested itself between the years 1887 and 1907, peaking in 18991906. The tours were important for two reasons. Firstly, they included
the Greek stage in the international theatre market, particularly at a
time when there was a wider attempt to modernize and Europeanize
Greek theatre. And, secondly, they accelerated the parallel historical
phenomenon of the coming of age of the local star system; a process
which had begun around the early 1890s and was completed shortly
before the Balkan Wars (1912-1913).
During the same period, certain famous European actresses were now
adopting more “artistic” modes of behavior, in an effort to rise to the
occasion created by Modernist drama and the “free theatre” movement.
They, therefore, added realist and neo-romantic plays to their repertoire
and worked with avant-garde directors.2 At least three of such actresses
ITALICA • Volume 92 • No. 3 • Fall 2015
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Antonis Glytzouris
visited Athens: Eleonora Duse in January 1899 (who came to Greece
with her then lover, Gabriele D’Annunzio); Agnes Sorma in November
1900; and Georgette Leblanc (Maurice Maeterlinck’s lover and leading
lady of his theatre company) in January 1904. We do not know precisely
why these famous actresses decided to include Athens in their tours. All
three, however, had Joseph Schürmann as their impresario; he was the
impresario of most of the stars who toured Greece. All three were also
going through a transitional phase of their careers.3 Lastly, they shared a
common characteristic which is of particular interest to us here: they all
visited Athens bearing in their luggage contemporary modernist plays;
and they were all treated by the inhabitants of the city not only as stars
of the stage but as its ‘high priestesses’. Hence, Duse performed Henrik
Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler (23 January 1899), Hermann Sudermann’s Magda
(18 November 1899), and the third scene from D’Annunzio Dream of a
Spring Morning (24 January 1899). Of course, there were also the famous
melodramas or “pièce à thèse” dramas, which were also well known
in Greece, such as Dumas-fils’s La Femme de Claude and The Lady of the
Camellias (21 and 25 January 1899, respectively).4
The historical significance of these performances is due, firstly, to
the fact that they offered contemporary Athenians their first and last
chance to see foreign productions of Modernist drama at first hand, as
Greece remained excluded from the tours of foreign avant-garde theatre
companies until the 1930s. Their importance is also connected to the
limited presence of the Modernist repertoire on the Greek stage at the
time: according to the information available to us, before the turn of the
century only five realist plays and not a single symbolist play had been
performed.5 This was the first time Athenians had seen Magda, Hedda
Gabler, and works by D’Annunzio on stage. Furthermore, the fact that
the tours were highly publicized meant that a wider public was informed
of the playwrights and their works through extensive articles in the press.
Obviously, that public remained extremely limited to a small section of
the contemporary upper-middle-class audience, that is, to those who were
able, albeit even then with some difficulty, to afford the astronomical
ticket prices.6 Nevertheless, it’s telling that the tours by Sorma, and
especially Leblanc, were not at all great successes, as they relied more on
the modernist repertoire and lacked stars of Duse’s stature.

The issue of reception becomes more complicated when we focus
better on its object, taking as example Duse’s performances, since her
tour was by far the most successful and important. When, in other
words, we examine the content of her performances seen by this small
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Modernist Drama and Eleonora Duse in Fin-de-Siècle Athens
group of the Athenian bourgeoisie. Firstly, it is noticeable that the
famous star presented the same things in their city as in every other:
plays with modern, dynamic female roles. Specifically, her repertoire
consisted of different portraits of the “New Woman”, regardless of
whether this paired Dumas-fils with D’Annunzio. In actual fact, the
Athenians watched performances not of plays but of roles; the dramatic
entertainment concerned the reception of female roles, which, of course,
matched the star’s acting capabilities.7 Therefore, the “pale sinner” Duse
played variants of the “femme fatale”: Magda and Hedda Gabler from
the eponymous plays, the Madwoman of the Dream, but also Dumas’s
Césarine and Marguerite Gautier from his La Femme de Claude and The
Lady of the Camellias. The new, more “artistic” behaviors were thus
cultivated within the narrow conventional limits imposed by the laws of
the market. Duse had not escaped from conventional realism, especially
on tours, when she adopted an even more “iconographic” acting style
in order to make herself understood by her foreign audiences.8 On the
other hand, the productions of anti-realist plays, such as the Dream of a
Spring Morning, were recitals of dramatic poems on the illusionist 19thcentury stage, lacking any inclination to experiment with the symbolist
mise-en-scène.9 The performance of the Dream was an interesting mix of
Boulevard theatre and neo-romantic playing: in the celebrated “mad
scene,” Duse utilized techniques from her performance in the final act
of The Lady of the Camellias.10
In other words, Greek audiences did not come into contact with
modern plays through performances that harmonized with and
highlighted their artistic and ideological content; i.e., through the
circumstances, which had evolved on the stages of the “free theatres”.
Receiving the modern dramatic repertoire via a star’s tour, Athenians
were attending the developments of an exceptional moment in
European theatre history, one that came after the “Théâtre Libre” or
the “Théâtre de l’Oeuvre” only in a chronological sense. In essence,
the Duse-D’Annunzio partnership represents the transition from the
allusive invocation of the imaginary world via symbols, to its affected
representation on the elegant commercial stage of Boulevard theatre.

The question, however, begins to assume its particular historical
importance when we return more closely to the subject of reception;
for what the foreign star played is one thing, and what the Athenians
saw is another. Of course, in spite of the steep ticket price, probably
everyone went away happy, having fulfilled their desire to see the
great name close up. But as it might have been expected, for spectators
615
Antonis Glytzouris
uninitiated in the conventions of modern drama, the same could not
be said of the plays; the vast majority of the audience was bored during
the performances, and jaded as long as the leading lady was offstage,
even during the conventional dramas of the repertoire. Duse’s Hedda
Gabler met with public indifference, drawing small audiences. Finally,
it is no coincidence that the actress gave two special performances with
a tried and trusted weapon of her armory, the Lady of the Camellias, to
fill the hall of the Municipal Theatre.11 Since the spectators had no way
of seeing a different type of scenic presentation of modern plays, it was
more or less inevitable that they would succumb to the intoxication of
performances by the famous star. For the current intellectual theatregoer,
pretty much weaned on the principles of the “ensemble” performance,
it is hard to imagine the magic effect diva had on fin-de-siècle audiences;
or to understand the almost hypnotic attraction that lasted after the
performance and through which, in the spectator’s consciousness, the
actor was almost totally identified with his or her role. In our case, this
meant that it was automatically assumed that those responsible for the
failure of modernist dramas could not be the stars but the playwrights.
The disappointment of Hedda Gabler was, of course, blamed on Ibsen.
In other cases, the violent reactions of some literati to the “immorality”
of certain modern plays were somewhat tempered by the charm of the
Italian leading lady.12
This observation leads us to focus on another body of information,
originating from an even smaller section of the public, in fact just a
handful of spectators: the intellectual rather than the economic
“aristocracy” of the time, the literary journalists, poets and playwrights
of the city. Their attitude to modernist drama had begun to be formed
in the immediately preceding years, and so the first performances
found them already split into two camps. Generally speaking, most
of them, the “conservatives” we might say, rejected modernist plays,
using arguments reminiscent of the reactions of the corresponding
conformist wing of European criticism to works such as A Doll’s House
or Hedda Gabler.13 The “progressive” minority declared themselves to
be fervent supporters of modern drama, led by men of letters such
as Kostis Palamas and Grigorios Xenopoulos. The existence of these
two camps is, of course, an important characteristic of the reception
of modernist drama in Greece, but it is not the only one. Duse’s tour
obviously reinforced the dividing lines and exacerbated the conflict.
However, it also highlighted certain other features, since, during her
actual performances, the two camps reacted as one under a common
influence: their unconditional surrender to the foreign ‘high priestess’,
who was lauded by all.
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Modernist Drama and Eleonora Duse in Fin-de-Siècle Athens
This unanimous submission of the intellectual section of the public
to the star system constituted a specific ideological and artistic stance.
It expressed, firstly, the provocative devaluation of the other factors
contributing to the performance; it meant the downgrading of the
costumes and scenery in the staging of the play, while the remaining actors
were upstaged and pushed aside from its artistic interpretation; but it also
meant the devaluation of the poetry itself. This was primarily because
very few intellectuals considered the acute problem of communication
arising from watching performances in a foreign language;14 a problem
exacerbated with non-translated plays or those performed in Athens
for the first time.15 The upstaging of the text also meant that nobody
protested about the fact that, in Duse’s performances, “many scenes
were cut, in order that the public should remain constantly under the
influence of the leading lady’s art”.16 Perhaps the greatest downgrading
of the poetry arose from the fact that this star-system tradition implied
the automatic identification of the plays with their female leads. Indeed,
the “progressive” intellectuals proved to be the most star-struck of all,
and promoted a convenient theoretical construct to marry their fandom
with the modern poets. It is probably no coincidence that the example
(“between Decadence and Modernity”) was set by Italy, a neighbor
country that, like Greece, had not yet experienced the “free theatre”
movement or the institution of theatre directorship.17 Specifically, the
model was provided by D’Annunzio and comprised the “hierophant”
poet and his ‘high priestess’, with the latter interpreting at the material
level the visions apprehended by the former at the spiritual level.18 This
view was to resonate with several Greek intellectuals, first and foremost
the national poet of the country, Kostis Palamas.
There were also major problems concerning the reading of the
content of the roles. Greek criticism felt the need to moralize for or
against the idea of the “New Woman”, as there was unanimity on yet
another timely point: the limits of the individualism of the heroines
presented by the foreign actress. Duse was not, however, to blame for
this choice, since she generally made conscientious attempts to reveal
some facets of the complex modern portraits created by the playwrights,
as was the case with Magda. Indeed, some contemporary European
artists and critics, who observed the actress on her tours, insisted on
precisely these modern aspects of the performances.19 Greek theatrical
criticism, on the contrary, not only did not notice these aspects but
also was fascinated by the more conventional parts of the plays. Thus it
focused on “dramatic” scenes (like that of the “satanic” Hedda burning
the manuscript), or highly affecting moments (Magda falling into the
paternal embrace). This was a reading that stopped at precisely those
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Antonis Glytzouris
points of the heroines’ individualism, where modern drama would
begin to drill down and plumb the new depths of the subject’s inner
consciousness. The approach of the Greek critics, assisted by the more
conventional parts of the performance, viewed modern plays through an
earlier stage in the development of European drama, which referred to
romanticism or conventional realism and, of course, leveled differences
among authors, plays and artistic principles.20
It is no coincidence that Greek criticism praised not only the
conventional acting style but also Duse’s standardized (though
unprecedented on the Athens stage) “salons fermés”, which were used
shortly afterwards to adorn the performances of Boulevard drama in the
open-air theatres of the capital.21 But nor were the critical tributes to
romantic heroines like Marguerite Gautier accidental.22
Conclusively, the reception of modernist drama took place through
a viewpoint related to conventional realism, romanticism and the star
system. The critics heard a distant, fragmentary and distorted echo of the
modern repertoire and its heroines; and the critics themselves remained,
of course, an integral part of the wider bourgeois public of the capital.
The attitude of Greek intellectuals to the modern portraits of the “New
Woman” could not be otherwise, given that this pre-industrial Balkan
society, of which they formed a part and an expression, had barely
yet produced a feminist movement. Much as some were desperate to
differentiate themselves, an analysis of the quality of the reception
agrees with the overall audience choices: everyone was obliged to operate
within the specific context imposed by contemporary Greek society.
The way in which the Athenian spectators understood the messages
of modern dramaturgy reflected the low level of modernization. The
reception of the modernist repertoire, in other words, came up against
the absence of the basic historical conditions for its creation, as these
had developed in Northwestern societies.

For the scholar of the Greek theatre who wishes to escape historicism,
it is self-evident that the structure of his subject cannot be detached
from its communicative function. In our attempt to provide an overall
interpretation of reception, therefore, we must mention yet another
common denominator in the attitude of the Athenian public, one which
formed a strong continuity with the ideological past of the country
and for which the Italian star was not to blame: the fact that all the
spectators felt the need to comment on their new acquaintance with
a special reference to the Greek tragedians of the 5th century B.C. The
“conservative” party did so in order to crush modern playwrights, the
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Modernist Drama and Eleonora Duse in Fin-de-Siècle Athens
“progressive” one in order to raise them up.23 The comparison attempted
by both groups was not dictated so much by a modern interpretation
of ancient drama, but, rather, by a deep-rooted native pathogenesis: the
conviction that Greeks could acquire the passport needed to converse
with their contemporary European family by selling, at no cost to
themselves, on a civilization which they had deceived themselves into
thinking they were related to.
Of course, it was precisely this lack of a home-grown modern theatrical
product that was responsible for the fact that the Athenian intellectuals
were obliged to take romantic refuge in history, albeit via an unhistorical
leap of centuries; in their effort to place the country firmly in the
international theatre market, they put into circulation the only assured
cultural export product Greece possessed: Ancient Greek culture.
This exchange, naturally, was carried out with the necessary
“understanding” of the Italian artist. Consequently, she artfully thought
it lucky to visit the “Sacred Rock” of the Acropolis before her evening
performance. When she visited the temple, “she remained for some time
motionless in admiration and ecstasy before the ancient monuments”
and assured those present “that in the theatre [of Dionysus] the ancient
spirit still hovers today”.24 Even when she refused the newspaper’s Asty
invitation to a soiree, she apologized in French, but with her mind in
Ancient Greek:
Hier soir je n’avais qu’un regret, monsieur, – dans la joie et dans l’orgueil
de communiquer avec un peuple, dont le nom seul évoque de si grands
souvenirs – le regret de ne pouvoir lui transmettre par l’effort sincère de
mon art une œuvre de haute et pure poésie – puisque l’atmosphère idéale,
dont tout pèlerin se sent entouré dans votre patrie, ne comporte que les
apparitions les plus flamboyantes de la vie.
Jamais je n’ai aspiré avec plus d’anxiété et plus d’espoir vers cette beauté qui
nous éblouit et non-exalte encore ici par ses vestiges divins.
Je voudrais bien exprimer de vive voix à tous vos amis ma reconnaissance
pour leur si large accueil et aussi pour le bienfait inestimable que mon esprit
reçoit de leur terre natale, mais l’état de ma santé m’empêche ce grand plaisir;
je me vois obligée de renoncer à cette heure géniale, que vous m’offrez d’une
si noble manière.25
In reality, with such proper references to the glory of the past she was
offering her evening clientele a few minutes’ national pride – as long as
an illusion lasts:
Would the artiste who triumphed in the greatest artistic centers have
been mortified had her triumph not been perfect in a small capital of the
barbarous east, had she not been able to defeat, here too, the memory of
her great rival [Bernhardt]? … And yet this small capital is named “Athens”;
619
Antonis Glytzouris
and a triumph here, near the immortal marbles that radiate the ideal of Art,
is for every true artist the noblest, the most glorious and desirable triumph.
That is why Duse felt such emotion, when she worshipped at the ancient
theatre of Dionysus; that is why, by the careful choice of drama she gave,
she aspired to present us with the most perfect examples of her art; that
is why she was struck to the very heart that she was unable to perform an
ancient tragedy, too; and that is why she left with the promise and the hope
that she will be returning soon, to play Antigone, which D’Annunzio is now
translating for her.26
Duse never set foot in Greece again, but her tour remained alive
in the memory of her intellectuals, precisely because the big winner
was not, of course, the dramatic art, but, rather, the star system. Her
visit boosted the introduction of modern European drama, at a time
when some Athenian troupes were renewing their repertoire, replacing
the melodramas of the earlier era with plays from the wider field of
conventional realism. Indeed, over the next few years, nearly all the
plays performed by Duse were translated into Greek and played on the
Athenian stage by domestic protagonists. If Adelaide Ristori’s and Ernesto
Rossi’s tours in 1865 and in 1889 respectively were a watershed for the
first steps and the development of Modern Greek professional theatre,
Duse’s visit was important in that she offered a model for home-grown
future “high priestesses”.27 In the following decades, the heroines of
Ibsen, Sudermann and D’Annunzio would be squeezed uncomfortably
into the “salons fermés” of Boulevard theatre. Modernist drama became
a naturalized part of Greek society, according to the codes of the star
system and, as a necessary, adjunct to it. In the final analysis, the yoking
together of all the different trends took place under the common
denominator of the irrepressible desire for Europeanization of Greek
theatre, at a time when the latter was experiencing its first modernization.
From this point spring the most important and long-term repercussions
left behind by the model of the “wandering high priestess”; at least
until the Second World War, the artistic experimentations of foreign
dramaturgy were historically condemned be importing and running
along the rails of the domestic star system.
Notes
1
The population of Athens-Piraeus rose from 149,000 in 1889 to 180,000 in
1896 and 250,000 in 1907.
2
E.g., Duse with Craig or Komissarzhevskaya with Meyerhold and Evreinov,
or even stars of an earlier generation, such as Bernhardt, who performed
Maeterlinck’s Pelléas and Mélisande with Campbell (1904).
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Modernist Drama and Eleonora Duse in Fin-de-Siècle Athens
Duse was living the brief dream of creating an “Italian Bayreuth” alongside
D’Annunzio. Duse decided to take her ill and pale daughter on her tour of Egypt
and Greece. In the years immediately following, she would turn to Ibsen and
collaborate with Lugné-Poë and Gordon Craig, before effectively abandoning
the theatre in 1909 (see Bassnett 119-120, 150-151, 161-165; Richards 83-94;
Sheehy 181-182; Re 86-129). Sorma was attempting her only pan-European tour
after leaving Brahm’s n after the First World War (Kindermann 73-75; Horst
73-85). Finally, Leblanc had just left Carmen and the world of opera and was
trying to establish herself as an actress in prose theatre, through the plays of her
famous companion (Halls 47-50, 53-6, 65).
4
And in the other two actresses’ Athens performances modernist drama was
represented by famous names. Sorma played Ibsen’s A Doll’s House (8 November
1900), Sudermann’s, The Fires of St John (9 November 1900), and Schnitzler’s
Liebelei (10 November 1900); Leblanc was somehow “obliged” to play only in
the plays of her lover (Monna Vanna, Aglavaine et Sélysette, The Intruder and
Joyzelle (11-13 January 1904). On the contrary, Sorma was able to present more
conformist plays such as Georges Ohnet’s The Iron Master (15 November 1900)
or The Daughter of Jephthah (1886) by Felice Cavallotti (the latter seems to have
been performed in Greece, then, for the first time, 10, 16 November 1900).
5
Apart from The Ghosts, Tolstoy’s The Power of Darkness had been presented
in 1895, Sudermann’s Honour in 1898, and Sudermann’s Sodom and Gomorrah
and Ibsen’s A Doll’s House in 1899. See Glytzouris 3-12.
6
According to calculations, some heads of households with a monthly salary
of 400 drachmas paid 100 drachmas for one performance by Duse (Acropolis 21
January 1899, Hestia 13 November 1900). Such salaries were, of course, far out of
reach for the Greek middle classes, considering that a clerk received a monthly
salary of 120 drachmas, a sergeant of gendarmes 79, a magistrate 180 and a
mid-ranking bank clerk 200. Calculations lead us to the conclusion that, in some
cases, ticket prices were four times higher than normal.
7
On the interpretations of the “New Woman” based on Magda, see Donkin
48-59.
8
Stokes, Booth, Bassnett 4-8 and Bassnett 138.
9
This was, in fact, the main reason they had not met with success with
either the general public or in avant-garde Western circles, cf. Richards 83-88;
Woodhouse 150-151, 177.
10
Bassnett 157; Re 92-93, 107-108; Hestia 25 January 1899.
11
Duse’s four performances brought in 60,000 drachmas, while the Dumas
play alone yielded 22,000. La Femme de Claude was also a success.
12
“Only a Duse is necessary to restrain the indignation of family men, who
do not share the German sociologist’s ideas on emancipation,” commented
Palingenesia on Magda (19 January 1899). Cf. also Kairoi, 25 January 1899.
13
Egan 101-125, 218-244; Innes 78-122; Marker 162-163; Templeton 204-208.
14
According to the Acropolis (21 January 1899), not even 1% of Athenians
spoke Italian. “Few in the hall of Parnassus would have understood Italian,”
admitted Palamas, “but understanding Italian or not, meant little. The language
was in Duse’s art and soul” (He Techne [1898]: 95). As Palingenesia concluded,
3
621
Antonis Glytzouris
“the throngs of art-lovers, most of whom did not understand the Italian tongue,
did not come for the drama”, but “to see Duse, Duse, and only Duse” (19
January 1899).
15
Hestia, for example, mentions that some of the audience watched Magda
with the translation of the play in hand (19 January 1899). The Acropolis disagreed
with this tactic and recommended that spectators “learn off by heart, if not the
whole play, then at least the role of the great tragédienne” (19 January 1899).
16
“Interventions” on the text were common practice by Duse (see Bassnett
154; Innes 86-87; Marker 56).
17
Re passim, Carlson 187-188; Taviani 207-222; Puppa 223-234; Richards 8788.
18
Richards 89-93, Re 113-118.
19
Stanislavsky, for example, in My Life in Art commented on the acting of
Duse and other actors he admired, although with the intention of examining the
issue of emotional identification in depth (253, 257); or Copeau, who referred
admiringly to Duse’s “inner silence”, in order to develop his own speculations
on the “paradox of the actor” (224).
20
“Magda, Césarine, Hedda are modern women, bearing the stigmas of
their degeneracy to a morbid degree,” commented the “conservative” Lidorikis
(Hestia, 18 January 1899). Hedda Gabler is like Dumas’s Césarine, added the
“liberal” Episkopopoulos: “she is the personification of woman’s low instincts;
she is the woman who absorbs any vigor of spirit who declares war against
mind, the doubly criminal, because she kills not only the body but the idea”
(Asty, 17, 12 January 1899).
21
According to the Acropolis, Duse’s scenery had been built at Milan and
belonged to Schürmann (27 January 1899). Shortly after her departure,
the pioneer Greek actor Eftihios Vonaseras bought it “for the more human
performance of family dramas” (Hestia, 27 February 1899). The stage manager
Georgios Lagadas then bought the scenery from Vonaseras and so, in 1900, he
prepared Sorma’s performances using Duse’s “salons fermés” (Hestia, 10, 19,
24.10, 7, 8 November 1900).
22
Asty 26 January 1899.
23
Ephemeris asserted, “the dramatic art has, in the view of the Athenian
public, which has preserved its ancestral tastefulness in this matter, ideals other
than those of Hedda Gabler” (24 January 1899). Palamas, on the contrary, had a
different approach (see below).
24
Asty, 29 January 1899, Hestia, 28 January 1899, Acropolis, 19 January 1899,
Asty, 21, 23 January 1899, Ephemeris, 26 January 1899.
25
Duse’s letter was written on 20 January 1899 and published next day in
Asty.
26
G. Xenopoulos, He Techne (1898): 93. Duse had promised to play Sophocles’
Antigone “at the theatre of Dionysus” (Asty, 28 January 1899). The Hestia even
called Duse the victim “of our ancestral glory,” since “she has but one ideal: to
restore the dramatic art to its original Classicism” (28 January 1899).
27
Papageorgiou 161-175; Georgiadi 115-137.
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Modernist Drama and Eleonora Duse in Fin-de-Siècle Athens
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Marker, Frederick J. and LiseLone Marker. Ibsen’s Lively Art; A Performance Study
of the Major Plays. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1989. Print.
Papageorgiou, Ioanna. “Adelaide Ristori’s Tour of the East Mediterranean
(1864-1865) and the Discourse on the Formation of Modern Greek Theatre”.
Theatre Research International 33.2 (2008). 161-175. Print.
Puppa, Paolo. “The Theatre of United Italy”. A History of Italian Theatre. Puppa
Paolo and Joseph Farrell (eds.) Cambridge; New York: Cambridge UP, 2006,
223-234. Print.
Re, Lucia. “D’Annunzio, Duse, Wilde, Bernard. Author and Actress Between
Decadence and Modernity”. Italian Modernism: Italian Culture Between
Decadentism and Avant-Garde. Moroni, Mario and Luca Somigli (eds.) Toronto:
Toronto UP, 2004, 86-129. Print.
Richards, Laura. “The Theatrical Collaboration of Eleonora Duse and Gabriele
D’Annunzio in the 1890’s”. Essays in Theatre 10.1 (1991): 83-94. Print.
Sheehy, Helen. Eleonora Duse; A Biography. New York: Knopf, 2003. Print.
Stanislavsky, Konstantin. My Life in Art. Benedetti, Jean (ed.) London; New
623
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York: Routledge, 2008. Print.
Stokes, John, Michael Booth and Susan Bassnett. The Actress in her Time:
Bernhardt, Terry, Duse. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge UP, 1988. Print.
Taviani, Ferdinando. “Risorgimento and United Italy: The Romantic Theatre”.
A History of Italian Theatre. Puppa Paolo and Joseph Farrell (eds.) Cambridge;
New York: Cambridge UP, 2006, 207-222. Print.
Templeton, Joan. Ibsen’s Women. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge UP, 2000.
Print.
Woodhouse, John. Gabriele D’Annunzio; Defiant Archangel. Oxford: Oxford UP,
2001. Print.
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Again at the Walls of Famagusta.
Emilio Salgari versus Wu Ming:
Reshaping a Historical Event
Mimmo Cangiano
Duke University
Abstract: The siege of Famagusta, as examined in the novels Capitan Tempesta
(1905) by Emilio Salgari and Altai (2009) by the Wu Ming collective, is here used
as a benchmark not to evaluate the respective authors’ ideological perspectives
(bound to be different given the interval between publishing dates) but to reflect
on the added complication brought about by the new type of historical novel, a
complication that is inherent in a different perspective toward the novel form.
The issues set forth in Altai undermine the steadfast structure of the historical
narrative that has accompanied “Famagusta,” demolishing not only the
ideological corollaries of colonial significance (widespread in Salgari) but also
those that aim to obscure the function of money as capital and, at the same time,
the inevitable conflict between classes.
Keywords: Salgari, Wu Ming, Famagusta, Capitan Tempesta, Altai, allegory.
Dicono che non urlò.
Mentono.
Wu Ming
I. The Silence of Bragadin
he epigraph quoted above appears in the 2009 novel Altai, written by
the Wu Ming collective. It refers to the tortures suffered by Captain
Marcantonio Bragadin, who led the resistance of the Venetian outpost
of Famagusta against the Ottoman siege. Famagusta was conquered
in August 1571 (only two months before the Battle of Lepanto) and
Bragadin encountered a horrid death at the hands of the Turks. Wu
Ming’s blunt pronouncement shatters the genealogical perspective that
linked the siege of Famagusta with the battle of Lepanto. The myth of
Bragadin gave weight to a historical tradition aimed, on the one hand,
at providing Christianity with another martyr, and on the other, at
preparing the glorious account of events that would see the Holy League
triumphant in the waters of the Mediterranean.
Famagusta, of course, is not Lepanto; from a historical point of view,
it lacks the latter’s critical fortune and does not, obviously, serve the
same purposes. While Lepanto stands for a glorious battle in which the
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Christian nations were reunited and led a victorious fight blessed by
God, Famagusta prepared the foundations of this victory, emphasizing
the selfless heroism of the defenders and highlighting the negative
values of the enemy: their vicious cruelty, fanaticism, and godlessness,
among other characteristics. Famagusta is not Lepanto because it has a
different genealogy, but what it does share with Lepanto is the creation
of an ideological mechanism capable of creating judgments of value. It
puts aside all hermeneutics and posits itself as an unquestionable event,
preparing the ideological narration that tradition will recast as History.
And it is a fortunate story too, with the Venetian Nestore Martinengo
miraculously escaping the carnage, then being enslaved, and finally,
becoming the narrator of those events. The instant book in octaves,
written by Anton Francesco Doni in 1574 (La guerra di Cipro), suggested
the existence of a “Lepanto strategy”, which originates and develops
under the Counter-Reformation in the form of a renewed epic.
Another fortunate instant book was the one by Oberto Foglietta,
which dwells on the massacres performed by the Turks in the island’s
hinterland, on the heroism of the women of Famagusta and, of course,
on the bravery of Captain Bragadin during his ordeal:
Yet was his constancy never shaken, nor did ever a word pass his lips
unworthy of the courage which endured these inhuman torments, but
thinking He had reserved him for such a fate, and reproaching Mustafa with
his treachery, he gave up the ghost (Foglietta: 31).
Fame of the event outlived the Counter-Reformation and became an
allegory for new interpretations. For instance, the late Romantic poet
Aleardo Aleardi, in re-elaborating Martinengo’s text, used Famagusta as
a hymn to freedom, with the Turks representing the new enemy, Austria
(Marcantonio Bragadino all’assedio di Famagosta). Even in contemporary
times, Famagusta finds a place in works of fiction, for example, in the
novel L’assedio by Maria Grazia Siliato, and in historiography, with the
recent book by Niccolò Capponi (Lepanto 1571. La Lega santa contro
l’impero ottomano), which is written as an exciting adventure but delves
deeply into the motivations of both contenders.
Some historiographical interpretations are more militant and tend to
repeat, and thereby consolidate, the more traditional historiographical
outlook. An extreme example is the recent book Lepanto: il baluardo della
cristianità, l’ultima crociata. Dagli assedi di Malta e Famagosta alla battaglia,
by Roberto Ferrara and Caterina Genta, published in 2010. The book would
deserve a separate essay showing how ideological blindness can persist
throughout the centuries. The multiplicity of details presented with no
interpretation whatsoever renders it unintentionally humorous, going
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from the fanaticism of the Turkish soldiers to the heavenly reward “a base
di vergini” (Ferrara and Genta 33), and from the necessary unhappiness
of the converted to the animalization/dehumanization of the enemy: “si
accanirono come belve” (Ferrara and Genta 61). Well-established facts in
official historiography are concealed. Caterina Cornaro’s forced surrender
of her sovereignty to the Venetians becomes a “donation” that is repaid
with “ospitalità ed onori ad Asolo” (Ferrara and Genta 55). The Turks are
pictured in terms of “confusion” and “filth” in the symbolic hodgepodge
of guilt and evil that was well described by Mary Douglas in Purity and
Danger. There are even homophobic insinuations: “Innanzitutto Mustafà
pretendeva in ostaggio, a garanzia del ritorno delle navi da lui concesse,
il giovane e bello Gianantonio Querini […] e gli intenti qui dovevano
essere inconfessabili, ma facilmente immaginabili” (Ferrara and Genta
63). Finally, the work presents the symbolic muteness of the captain: “[P]
iù volte gli fu chiesto di abiurare la sua cristianità ma non cedette […]
ultimo segno muto ma alquanto significativo di un indomito grande
uomo” (Ferrara and Genta 67).
The passages above are not quoted here to shoot at an easy target,
but, rather, to point out an ideological framework that has had longlasting effects. In fact, many elements of the book by Ferrara and Genta
may also be found in Emilio Salgari’s novel, Capitan Tempesta, published
in 1905. This analysis will take a closer look at the function that these
elements have in Salgari, and also at how the same elements are
intentionally distorted in the recent work by Wu Ming. In this context,
to distort means to challenge the solidity of a narration, presenting,
for example, the unlikely silence of Bragadin being flayed alive (a
heroic, clearly emblematic topos that has remained essentially intact
through centuries and stories) juxtaposed with the realistic-political
elements that determine both its impossibility and its absurdity, while,
at the same time, accusing, through an expedient “dicono” , an entire
historiographic tradition.
Questioning the ideological narration, the unlikelihood of Bragadin’s
silence contains the basis of a critique within a context that, while
dialogic and hermeneutic, is also perspectival, i.e., it proceeds from a
clear taking of sides that breaks up the historical continuum determined by
the narration. The word “dicono” used in the live reporting of the event
both forebodes and challenges its future narration and historiography:
“Dicono che non urlò. Mentono” (Wu Ming: Altai 353).
II. “L’Oriente uccideva l’Occidente” (Salgari 54)
In Salgari’s novel, the individuality of the single characters provides
the characteristic of ambiguity. In other words, there is no ambiguity
that is actually historically determined; each character comes with
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his or her own set of predetermined values and background that can
be changed only by the character’s individual choice. For example, a
traitorous Christian is presented as an exception that will be defined by
the narration itself (e.g., with a conversion to Islam). The same applies
to the enemy army: a Muslim who shares the values of loyalty, respect
for the enemy, and moral integrity stands out among his peers as a
unicum destined in time to convert to the other side. The scheme is
well-defined and based on Manichean premises. On one side there
is Laczinki, a Polish captain who, having been defeated by the Lion
of Damascus, converts to Islam and commits a number of misdeeds.
On the other side is the Lion of Damascus himself, who, defeated and
pardoned by Capitan Tempesta, assists the group of Christians who are
the protagonists of the novel, and, finally, converts in the novel’s last
chapter. The same contrast reappears in the main levels of the story.
For example, the two women, Capitan Tempesta and Haradja, follow
specular models of character and behavior: the warrior virtues of the
former (fashioned on the likes of Bradamante) and her fidelity, valor,
and spirit of abnegation, contrast with the whims, deceptions, and
eccentricities of the latter, a powerful Muslim woman who embodies
the quintessence of the perturbing Orient.
A corollary to the characters is the narrative itself, which begins
in medias res, sidestepping – unlike the novel by Wu Ming – the
ambiguities of the political situation in favor of the necessary military
simplifications, where the inevitable fate of the besieged serves to exalt
faith and warrior virtues of the besieged themselves. The Manichean
opposition produces a negative animalization of the adversary (against
the positive one of the heroes) that continues throughout the novel. Up to
45 animal metaphors appear in Capitan Tempesta: “Sento una profonda
angoscia, nel pensare al momento in cui quelle belve, sbucate dai deserti
infuocati dell’Arabia, si rovesceranno su Famagosta, assetate di sangue
peggio delle tigri” (Salgari 10).
The narrative scheme is reassuring overall, in that the readers may
find the confirmation of their own prejudices. It is a scheme in which
Christians do not kill an enemy who has fallen to the ground (while
the Turks have no qualms about doing so), and in which the logos of
the West contrasts the irrationalism of the East. On a military level, the
contrast is established between a well-regulated, disciplined army and
despotism, ruling through fear and fanaticism over a vast and disorderly
mass of soldiers who are always at risk of falling prey to lower instincts
such as lust.1 These are the same years in which Giovanni Pascoli wrote
Gog e Magog. In Pascoli, the fall of the “inconcussa Porta d’occidente”
(168) represents the definitive decline of the logos and its infiltration
by monsters of the unconscious with “oriental” features. Conversely,
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in Salgari, the confrontation preserves a geometric, orderly space, where
rules are acknowledged and maintain a simulacrum of rationality that
is the more rigid due to their perceived precariousness. Thus, the walls
of Famagusta are also the philosophical walls erected by an imperiled
culture, engaged in keeping at bay its own breakaway forces and facing a
crisis of identity and values that in the early twentieth century appeared
without precedent. What stays out of the walls is whatever exceeds
them; what needs to stay out, in the Western imagination, is whatever
overflows its own schemes, and is therefore not susceptible to definition:
Le colonne si aprirono dinanzi al bastione di San Marco e gli assediati videro
avanzarsi il Gran vizir Mustafà, tutto coperto di ferro brunito, con un ampio
turbante sormontato da un gran pennacchio, che scintillava come se fosse
cosparso di diamanti.
Montava un cavallo arabo dal pelo bianco, dalla criniera lunghissima,
bardato con un lusso inaudito. Aveva un enorme ciuffo di magnifiche penne
di struzzo fissato sulla testa, briglie larghe come usano oggidì i marocchini e
i berberi, intagliate e dorate. (Salgari: Capitan Tempesta 41)
Positivism had institutionalized the concepts of truth and falseness
according to rigid, consequential schemes that allowed a safe reading of
reality. Anything that did not fit within these schemes (e.g., the feminine,
the primitive, and the oriental) was necessarily classified in different
terms, and considered negative and non-rational. Not surprisingly, it
was the elements on the ambiguous border between East and West that
caused perturbation; for example, the feminine was confused with the
masculine (or vice versa), which emphasized the canonical dialectic
between attraction and repulsion, that is to say, that the problem lay
in discovering an otherness within oneself. That which instead remains
human is shielded by a centralizing logos that staves off barbarism.
Beyond that emerges an Other-horror that must be fought off with all
means available. The battle is not between two human factions, because
the humans are all on the same side:
I guerrieri veneti, quantunque oppressi da quella grandine micidialissima,
non si scoraggiavano e aspettavano a piè fermo l’urto immane delle
sterminate orde, che muovevano all’assalto con un vociare che pareva
l’ululato di miriadi e miriadi di lupi famelici, bramosi di carne umana
(Salgari: Capitan Tempesta 45).
Salivano i miscredenti colla furia di tigri affamate, arrampicandosi come
scimmie su per l’erta scarpa e le macerie […], sorrisi di belve affamate e
assetate di sangue cristiano, credendo nel loro cieco fanatismo di scorgere fra
il lampo degli acciai nemici i visi bellissimi delle urì del paradiso promesso
dal Profeta (Salgari: Capitan Tempesta 50).
The dignity of redemption can be granted only to single individuals.
That is the case, as mentioned above, of the bravest of the Ottoman
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warriors, the Lion of Damascus, who disapproves of the Sultan’s orders,
does not despise Christians, assists the fleeing Capitan Tempesta, and
whose very gestures significantly show traits similar to those of our
heroes: “Si era curvato posando un ginocchio a terra, come un gentiluomo
europeo” (Salgari 75).
Moreover, he repeatedly provokes the wonder of the protagonists:
M’ero già accorta che voi dovevate essere un mussulmano diverso dagli altri
(Salgari 76).
Questo turco, pare impossibile, sembra veramente un bravo ragazzo. Non
credevo che se ne potesse trovare uno fra quelle canaglie (Salgari 93).
Per essere un turco è meraviglioso! Questo non ha la testa di legno (Salgari 97).
Yet personal salvation (later corroborated by the Lion’s conversion to
Christianity) is useful only to highlight the degree of moral degradation of
the other Turks. Even the Greeks who help the Christians are presented as
belonging to an intermediate state between the latter and the Turks, as if
to outline three degrees of civilization. Used as comical characters to show
their low social level, the Greeks are presented as a vulgarized version of
the Christians. Take, for example, the assault on the Turkish vessel:
Se fossimo mussulmani, a quest’ora non sareste più vivo e nemmeno i vostri
marinai respirerebbero. Ringraziate quindi il vostro Profeta che noi siamo
cristiani e voi turchi. […] I greci si erano subito avventati sui prigionieri,
prendendoli a pugni ed a calci e chissà se avrebbero lasciate intatte le orecchie
dei loro secolari nemici senza l’intervento di Perpignano e la presenza della
duchessa (Salgari: Capitan Tempesta 111).
This mechanism of sublimation permeates every part of the novel,
which not only separates the Turks from the Christians, but also marks
evident behavioral differences based on rank and role within both
armies. Not only are the major positive characters of noble origin,
but they are all warriors, and no space is given to the men behind
the scenes of the battle, such as the inventors, engineers, architects,
and businessmen, all of whom, not surprisingly, play decisive roles in
Altai. Technology is completely removed and money never appears as
capital. Superior-subordinate relationships are either sanctified by the
subordinates themselves as a proper hierarchy of values (as with the
Greeks) or hidden under the veil of friendship:
È vero disse – sono uno schiavo e debbo obbedire.
Capitan Tempesta gli si avvicinò e, posandogli su una spalla la sua
bianca mano, gli disse con voce raddolcita:
– Non schiavo: sei mio amico (Salgari 19).
The gender issue follows a similar logic. The warrior virtues of Capitan
Tempesta – who is nonetheless ready to slip into a docile women’s garb at
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the reappearance of her lost lover, signifying the return to a female state
at the arrival of the male – are contrasted with the capricious Haradja, as
an irrepressible model of sexuality and cruelty. Haradja is not as ruthlessly
furious as her countrymen at the front, but she is more versed in subtle
torments. For example, she sends Christian prisoners to catch leeches,
forcing them to use their bodies as bait and enjoying their laments.
Haradja combines the “negative” characteristics of both Islam and
femininity: looseness of morals, lust, greed, and thirst for blood. She is
the antagonist par excellence, a Muslim woman who, in addition, holds
power and commands over men. What Haradja represents is therefore
the very triumph of the ambiguous, the definitive abandonment of order
and classification. In her, every hierarchy fatally ends, as she frequently
spurns even the Sultan’s orders, and deceit becomes a way of life (she
makes the of Lion of Damascus fall into a trapdoor). Haradja has no
regard for her subordinates, and she is ready to kill anyone who makes
a mistake. Dominated entirely by her instincts for pleasure, Haradja
represents absolute Otherness; she is the disturbing presence of sex that
eludes the pre-established grids of false rationality. She is also the absence
of Faith and Truth.2 However, in her being a type rather than a multifaceted character, Haradja represents a continuous attack against the
sublimating aspirations that drive the Christians. She does not hide her
violence, professes that she loves and respects money, treats her slaves
with utter contempt, and has no fear of offending God or the Prophet. In
her words and deeds, order and hierarchy are completely laid to waste.
It is no coincidence that Salgari calls her actions “bizzarrie” (something
that can be defined in no other way),3 or that Capitan Tempesta hardly
manages to fit her, at least initially, into her own preconceived schemes:
“Che specie di donna è questa? – mormorò la duchessa che l’aveva udita.
– Feroce contro i cristiani, perché non sono mussulmani, e se ne ride
della religione del Profeta e d’Allah. È un enigma? Stiamo in guardia,
Capitan Tempesta” (Salgari 138).
At times, Haradja seems capable of obstructing the protagonists’
plans and to dismantle even Salgari’s stereotyped plot. It seems as if she
could overcome the adventure novel – for example, when she recounts
her captivity in the harem – by replacing it with a psychological novel.
In this too she shows, as György Lukács would say, a “demoniac” ability,
as she reveals how the world has been abandoned by the gods, how
time-tested certainties are no longer valid even when presented in a
thought-out plot. The homosexual attraction that she feels for Capitan
Tempesta in male garb is also part of the same issue, and the protagonist
can only say: “Questa donna è dunque un demonio! […] Io non riuscirò
mai a conoscere la sua anima” (Salgari 151).
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But Haradja herself is trapped in the same narrative strategy as the rest
of the characters in Capitan Tempesta. Her psychology must revert back
to typology, and her ideology is viewed in terms of a double birth defect:
she is both woman and Muslim. Capitan Tempesta, hardly concealing
her horror in the face of the cruelties provoked by Haradja, declares that
she prefers war to Haradja’s sadism. At this point, the Turkish woman
becomes simply a woman:4 “Io sono una donna” (Salgari 153), she
says, and shortly afterwards she bursts into tears, as if to mean that
psychological introspection is also part of her “natural weaknesses.”
The same motivations, though rooted in a positive character, animate
the Christian woman: “Tu potrai avere ragioni da vendere, ma io, come
donna, non posso permettere che si assassinino a sangue freddo quei
prigionieri” (Salgari 186). In Capitan Tempesta, the warlike features
(loyalty, valor, courage) are combined with the pity and devotion that
are to be expected from a Christian woman. Yet, the change of sign
(from negative to positive) does not alter the ad hoc structure, designed
to present an allegory à clef whose objectives are all too clear. The clef
structure mortifies the characters, consigning them to history in a block
of stone whose historical function is to exalt the contents expressed by
the stone and whose philosophical function is to exalt the stone itself, its
steadfast capacity to protect against anything showing signs of ambiguity
(particularly, in this case, Islam and the feminine). It is the ultimate
defensive attempt made by an intelligence threatened by chaos that
comes from within, a chaos which it tries to expel by painting it as exotic.
The ruins of Famagusta, as they appear to the protagonists at the
end of the novel, indicate precisely this risk of collapse, and warn of
the necessity to become stone-like, the same necessity so masterfully
interpreted by the characters by their being strictly ad hoc:
Mustafà, pago di aver finalmente distrutti tutti i difensori dell’isola
disgraziata, si riposava indolentemente, nè i suoi pascià facevano di meglio.
Famagosta non doveva più mai risorgere: tale era l’ordine di Selim e quei
bravi mussulmani, ciechi istrumenti del Sultano, lasciavano che tutto
crollasse intorno a loro: case, baluardi, torri, basiliche (Salgari: Capitan
Tempesta 234-5).
But the ruins are fictitiously put together again within the solidity of
a narrative that is already anticipating Lepanto. It is the narrative itself
that protects from the emersion of ambiguity and that provides shelter
in place of the walls of the besieged city. The “ruin” finds no place
on paper. It is precisely its absence that preserves the values at stake,
concealing their Manicheism and the presumed untouchability of the
historical object, the event itself. Salgari’s rewrite is not real because
it fails to reveal, or to uncover. The ideological order connected with
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the narrative of the siege of Famagusta remains intact, finding in the
narrative its own reflection and stabilization.
The final issue is to reveal the false awareness connected with
the narrative of Capitan Tempesta: above all, its purported nondeconstructability, i.e. the causes and effects of its genealogy, the
contradictions that it conceals: “Dicono che non urlò. Mentono.”
III. Problematizing the Conflict
Wu Ming’s Altai opens with the fire of the Venetian Arsenal in 1569.
This event introduces one of the novel’s main characters, Giuseppe
Nasi,5 the man around whom the other threads of the story intertwine:
“Fu allora che udii pronunciare il nome di Giuseppe Nasi. Era la prima
volta, quella notte, ma presto sarebbe stato un ritornello: il Porco
Giudeo, il Prendinculo del Sultano, l’Arcinemico della Serenissima, la
mente malvagia colpevole del disastro” (Wu Ming: Altai 11).
The elements that traditional history (summarized here in the
Venetians’ opinion of Nasi) has, from time to time, concealed or
distorted, will be systematically modified. Not only will Nasi’s protoZionist dream serve as a hope of mutual tolerance, but the Ottoman
Empire itself will appear as a guarantor of greater freedom than the
West. On one level, the element to deal with is therefore the “narrazione
tossica6” that historiography produces. This is done by introducing a
degree of problematization (hence, of criticism) that was previously
missing in the accounts of Lepanto, and by bringing to the fore the
previously hidden elements that had made that narrative possible by
their very absence. Thus, it is not a rewriting of the event, but a reintroduction of elements that had been formerly concealed to produce
a narrative without conflicts.
These elements are basically of two kinds: ideological, altered so
as to serve for the construction of an ideology without faults (e.g.,
Christian cruelty, fanaticism,7 and intolerance); and material, previously
concealed because they directly reveal their ideological nature. It is then
no coincidence that money and technology play decisive roles in Altai. 8
On a second level, problematization is also necessary within the representation of the historical event. Through its allegorical actualization,
the historical event is taken to a new level of criticism, which I will discuss
below. What is relevant for the present discussion is that pointing out
the reasons of a particular historical narrative does not imply believing
it impossible; in fact it implies a serious indictment of the narrative
and of whoever profited from it. The question does not end with the
extremely ideological understanding that all historians lie and cannot
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avoid doing so. Rather, this necessary partiality bestows upon the writer
(and the readers) certain responsibility, and makes them accomplices in
a highly political act.
On a final level, the actualization of historical events is not only
diachronic but also dialectic, involving an awareness not only of how
events unfold through time, but also of the precise conflict (class conflict)
that drives those events. And this is the case of the fire of the Arsenal:
Avete idea di chi sia stato a causare l’incendio?
I lavoratori dell’Arsenale stesso […]
Gli arsenalotti sono una corporazione solida. Qualcuno negli scranni più alti
della Repubblica pensa di poterli tenere sotto il tallone e loro hanno voluto
mandare un messaggio forte e chiaro (Wu Ming: Altai 81).
While the character in the shade, Ismail, the former protagonist of
Luther Blisset-Wu Ming’s novel Q (1999), is undoubtedly the bearer of
this superior level of awareness, the protagonist of Altai, the converted
Jew De Zante/Cardoso (an investigator in Venice, who is then unjustly
exiled and later a loyal servant of Nasi) represents the other two levels.
In his wandering,9 De Zante passes through all the degrees of the
narrative. As a detective and torturer for the Serenissima, he shares its
ideological directives to the point of coming to hate his own race. When
wrongly accused because he is Jewish, he experiences firsthand the
terrible effects of that ideology. He realizes the greater freedom under
the Ottoman dominion10 and later takes up Nasi’s dream of tolerance:
“Non soltanto Nasi era il favorito del Sultano e il Gran Visir aveva come
segretario un giudeo, ma quest’ultimo si dichiarava cittadino veneziano.
A Costantinopoli il mondo era alla rovescia” (Wu Ming 118).
Yet, as mentioned above, a surplus of problematization is always
required to avoid naïve amazement. The greater freedom conceals other
conflicts that must not go unmentioned; ideologies that are less rigid are
merely ideologies that hide themselves better and work more efficiently:
Più che un’impressione è una constatazione. Sembra incredibile che tanti
popoli e fedi diverse possano convivere nello stesso luogo senza entrare in
conflitto […]
In quel momento intervenne Nasi.
Se rimarrete qui abbastanza a lungo, come vi auguro, scoprirete che il segreto
si chiama tolleranza. […]
Non lasciatevi ingannare dalle belle parole del nostro magnifico ospite. Mi
risulta che nello Yemen le truppe del Sultano abbiano appena schiacciato
una rivolta di maomettani eretici (Wu Ming: Altai 121).
On the same level, the heavy presence of political life makes any chance of
a concealing the ideological narrative regarding the theme of war impossible.
Subterfuge, blackmail, and political trickery blatantly overrun religious
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Again at the Walls of Famagusta
and military ideologies, and base the struggle for power and money on
Venetian power. The juxtaposition of the political and military elements
fatally destroys any possible emotional involvement with the latter. Since
the readers are aware of the reasons for war (and will be further elucidated
later on), they cannot completely identify with the fascinating ideological
narrative of the war itself, but only wonder, as Walter Benjamin would say,
about the almost puppet-like role played by the warriors.
But even criticism cannot be elevated to the status of a system,
and disenchantment cannot become an alibi. Otherwise, all would be
contradiction, and the readers would simply be following the dream
of a new classicism, looking down from above and, precisely because
contradictions are inevitable, ready to declare both the end of hostility
and the harmonic, Apollonian necessity of these contradictions. In other
words, the readers would be abandoning the world to the relations of
power by which it is dominated.
By choosing instead to tell the story from the side of the Turks – in
the words of Wu Ming 1: the “azzardo del punto di vista” (Wu Ming1 14)
– the shift in perspective becomes an ethical choice that reshuffles the
cards and rekindles the conflict. This does not build a new genealogy (as
proven by the criticism directed at the Ottoman side),11 but completely
invalidates the foundations of the old one. There is no easy irony, then,
about the dream that drives Giuseppe Nasi, but a lucid realization of the
problems, both structural and ideological, that undermine this dream:
Immagina una terra in cui potremo vivere in pace, commerciare, coltivare
la vite, l’ulivo e la tolleranza. Un luogo dove potresti scegliere la dimora che
ti abbiamo promesso. Una libera nazione, che sia rifugio per tutti noi, per i
libri invisi ai despoti, e per chiunque sia perseguitato (Wu Ming: Altai 147).
Nasi never achieves an entirely dialectic outlook because his progress
never includes a class-based perspective. He is interested in theory, to use
the words of Adorno, only insofar as it is functional, and reason is purely
instrumental, i.e., directed at achieving ends that cannot transcend the
system in which it is contained. Nasi does not fight for general change;
he fights to build a refuge, which he imagines constructed (and then
defended) with elements of the very System he opposes, above all,
money. True, his perspective is entirely materialistic, but he is incapable
of using it for ends that include doing away with the elements that allow
its creation. Nasi’s political model remains an enlightened monarchy,
and the dialectic capacity of Ismail remains foreign to him:
La sorte dei giudei è difendersi l’un l’altro dalle insidie del mondo. Spesso,
per poter resistere alle loro brame, dobbiamo farci amici i potenti, ma Ismail
è un errante per scelta, e per tutta la vita i potenti ha cercato di abbatterli
(Wu Ming 194).
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Mimmo Cangiano
Ismail odia regni, sovrani e principi. […] Gli ho illustrato il nostro
progetto, ma il suo cuore è rimasto freddo (Wu Ming 209).
Ismail goes beyond the instrumental use of reason because he reads
events in a much wider dialectic perspective and as a socially constitutive
game that is unaffected by changing ideologies: “Io ebbi la fortuna di
uscirne vivo e di incontrare persone che mi spiegarono qualcosa del
mondo. Qualcosa che non si trova scritto nella Bibbia o nel Corano, ma
nei libri contabili” (Wu Ming 226).
The inability to critically transcend the existing social structure
towards a utopian form of authenticity is already preparing the ground
for the horror of Famagusta:
La libertà, invece, non rimane mai la stessa, cambia a seconda della caccia. E
se addestrate dei cani a catturarla per voi, è facile che vi riportino una libertà
da cani […] Chiuse gli occhi e si sistemò sul fianco. – Con gli anni, ho invece
imparato che i mezzi cambiano il fine (Wu Ming: Altai 228-9).
The concept of authenticity will be revisited upon the examination
of the way that Wu Ming uses a different idea of allegory. Yet, three
hundred pages into the novel the plot is again at the walls of Famagusta
– three hundred pages of meticulous preparation to the conflict strip it
of its fascinatingly ideological nature.
The setting is the Turkish camp, at which Famagusta is called Magusa,
Bragadin is a fanatic, the Ottomans share their provisions with the
fleeing civilians, and a Venetian delegation approaches the Grand Vizier
Sokollu to seek an agreement.
At this point, the problematization element comes into play as the
realistic description of a conflict. Not only is the camp entirely devoid
of heroes, but the more material elements prevail over any kind of
sublimating deed. Work is divided according to specialization, making
the soldiers (officers and ranks) seem like a wage-earning corporation
doing a hard day’s work:
Io guardavo e guardavo, anche se la scena si ripeteva ciclica, monotona:
truppe mandate all’assalto passavano sui corpi straziati dei compagni per
raggiungere l’appuntamento con la morte. Famagosta, relitto abbandonato
sulla sabbia, resisteva ancora (Wu Ming 328-9).
Il mio sguardo incrociò quello di un armato che arringava i compagni, la destra
tesa verso l’alto a impugnare una scimitarra. Conoscevo quel velo negli occhi.
Hashish […] Sapevo che il furore guerriero deve essere aiutato, sostenuto,
indotto […] Mi chiesi come facesse Bragadin a sollevare l’umore dei suoi
armati. Le scorte di vino, là dentro, dovevano essere infinite (Wu Ming 330).
The fit of vomiting that assails the protagonist at the height of the battle
is therefore, even sarcastically, the powerful return of the repressed, and
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Again at the Walls of Famagusta
thereby the powerful return of reality. Ismail alone continues to pursue
an aim that has become incomprehensible to everyone else: “Prima di
raggiungerci, si inginocchiò a chiudere gli occhi di un cadavere. Gli
chiesi che senso avesse quel gesto, in un simile inferno. Rispose che
aveva senso per lui, e questo doveva bastare” (Wu Ming 331).
The rest of the plot follows along fixed tracks: Bragadin arrogantly
handing over the keys of the city to Lala Mustafa, the pretext used
by Mustafa himself, the beheading of the Christian captains, and the
beginning of the agony that crumbles Nasi’s dream. The problems then
unfold on a new level: in the extreme irrationality of the aims of the
Turkish Pasha (opposed and specular to the extreme rationality of the
means of Nasi), the readers find out that they have another enemy
besides the Christians.
Thus, the horrible fate of Bragadin becomes a double indictment,
involving the processes of sublimation and of harmonic formalization,
of both armies:
Il boia calò la lama vicino alla sua testa, senza mozzargliela. Un rivolo di
urina corse nella polvere. I giannizzeri sghignazzavano. Ancora un colpo a
vuoto, per il ludibrio della truppa, poi due colpi ravvicinati, secchi. Al loro
posto, due grumi rossi di sangue che gli colò sul collo. Il capitano prese a
contorcersi al suolo (Wu Ming: Altai 342).
IV. Space for a Utopia
“Il massacro chiama vendetta. Sangue chiama sangue. L’uomo lava con
sangue d’innocente il sangue versato in precedenza, finché una chiazza
orrenda s’allarga sulla terra” (Wu Ming 350).
Ultimately, Nasi finds out through the Grand Vizier that his wealth
has not transcended the System in which it was contained, that it served
for a purpose within that system, and that he is the owner of a long list
of debts and certainly not of Famagusta. Importantly, at the same time,
De Zante, attempting a desperate feat at Lepanto, is recaptured by the
Venetians and sentenced to death. The two empires, following the same
line of action, crush the dream of tolerance and re-establish an order
that the historical continuum prepares to pass off as the Truth.
What remains? On the explicit level, not much.
Nasi’s new defensive game:
Cosa farete adesso?
Yossef Nasi allarga le braccia, a indicare i volumi intorno a sé.
Quello che ho sempre fatto. Proteggerò i fuggiaschi (Wu Ming: Altai 409).
The invective that De Zante, remembering Ismail’s words, cries out
from his cell: “Ora credete di avere avuto successo, e non vi accorgete
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Mimmo Cangiano
di stringere in mano una carcassa spolpata dagli stessi cani che avete
sguinzagliato” (Wu Ming 403); and, obviously, the idea of community
that Ismail preserves.
What also remains is Ismail’s book of memoirs telling the events from
the other side. While not a text that recounts what really happened, it is
one that preserves the utopian tension therein contained, the common
thread that contemporizes the past by removing it from the terrifying
immanence of the historical continuum, and rescues it, from the last
battle of the German peasants war at Frankenhausen (1525) narrated in
Q to Famagusta, from its presumed harmony. The “Memoirs of Ismail”
(the novel Q) is the estranging, allegorical book par excellence, because it
must be imagined as a constant stimulus to de-structuring the ideological
discourse on reality. It is not a book whose allegory is aimed at formalizing
the shock effect into narrativizzabile content, but a tale where the shock
undermines from the beginning the harmonic structure, which is now
based on the shock itself. In this way, the structure of “Memoirs of
Ismail” is incapable of concealing the shock under a fictitious harmony,
and will make that contradiction unforgettable, thereby revealing the
contradiction of the world. The oblique perspective of Altai, together
with the reversals and problematizations it contains, can in this way be
recognized as part of the same tension towards the authenticity of living,
a utopian tension flung against the apparent ineluctability of things. It
is not the indifference of a human being who has seen and understood,
but a breach in the narrative (and in the historical continuum) that is
both crisis and critique, a breach that, within memory, invalidates
the illusion of the continuum by projecting itself outside the alwaysthe-same circle. The “Memoirs of Ismail” is the vanishing point of the
defeat in Altai. It represents the point where contradictions emerge in
the image of History as ruin, creating a dialectical contraposition that
sweeps away the ideology of form. That ideology, by contrast, in the
form of narration (in Salgari as in many others) drives the conflict (of
race, gender, and class) towards a fictitious harmonic recomposition.
Notes
1
Salgari: 43: “le grida dei muezzin che incoraggiavano e fanatizzavano i figli
dell’Islam”.
2
Salgari: 132: “- La fede! La Croce o l’Islam che importa alla donna? Non ha
nulla a che fare col cuore”.
3
Even the Lion of Damascus finds her “strange.”
4
In Altai, of course, women play completely different roles: consider Gracia
Nasi or the Sultana or Giuseppe Nasi’s wife, who will be instrumental to the
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Again at the Walls of Famagusta
venture’s failure). Cf. Wu Ming: 223: “- In Europa nessuno riesce a immaginare
che le donne dello harem siano capaci di muovere denari, flotte, eserciti. Questo
dimostra quanto poco ne capiscano di quello che accede qui -. Scrollò le spalle.
– Del resto, la cosa è reciproca”.
5
Cf. Capponi: 101-2: “Nasi in an enigmatic figure, his real influence on
Ottoman politics being still a matter of debate among historian. […] having
been banished from Venice for the abduction of one of his cousins […] he would
discuss politics with the French ambassador, ornithology with the local rabbi
and astrology with the Greek Orthodox patriarch. Something of a proto-Zionist
[…] Nasi was considered by the Venetians the evil genius behind the sultan’s
drive to extend his rule over all the islands of the Aegean Sea.”
6
Cf. Wu Ming: 228: “Forse avete sentito dire che i ribelli erano eretici. Lo
dicono di ogni ribelle. La verità è che erano contadini stanchi delle ruberie dei
funzionari turchi e i religiosi hanno fornito loro le parole”.
7
Cf. Wu Ming: 143: “Indicò gli scaffali intorno a noi, e aggiunse: - Molte di
queste opere sono scampate alle fiamme, al fanatismo che intossica l’Europa”.
8
Cf. Wu Ming: 18: “L’uomo mantenne il suo tono svagato: - Non sottovalutate
le macchine, senyor”.
9
Cf. Wu Ming1: 18: “Il passeggiare può essere sovversivo”.
10
Cf. Wu Ming: 95: “Italiani a crocchi, veneti e genovesi, olandesi rubizzi,
francesi, moscoviti foderati di pelliccia. E bosniaci col turbante, zingari, persiani
e arabi, greci, turchi, armeni robusti”.
11
Cf. Wu Ming: 145: “L’impero ottomano è più sicuro di qualunque altro
territorio, ma credi che sia facile? I nostri affari, i nostri spostamenti, il nostro
modo di vestire. Ogni cosa è posta sotto il controllo delle autorità. Non siamo
davvero liberi di coltivare i nostri sogni”.
Works Cited
Aleardi, Aleardo. Marcantonio Bragadino all’assedio di Famagosta. Virgilio Bertolini
(a cura di). Verona: Centro Studi “Aleardo Aleardi”, 1978. Print.
Capponi, Niccolò. Victory of the West. The Great Christian-Muslim Crash at the
Battle of Lepanto. Cambridge: Da Capo P., 2007. Print.
___. Lepanto 1571. La Lega santa contro l’impero ottomano. Milano: il Saggiatore,
2008. Print.
Doni, Anton Francesco. La guerra di Cipro. Vincenzo Jacomuzzi (a cura di).
Torino: Tirrenia Stampatori, 2001. Print.
Douglas, Mary. Purity and Danger: an Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo.
New York: Praeger, 1966. Print.
Ferrara, Roberto & Caterina Genta. Lepanto: il baluardo della cristianità, l’ultima
crociata: dagli assedi di Malta e Famagosta alla battaglia. Bologna-Venezia:
Minerva Soluzioni Editoriali, 2010. Print.
Foglietta, Uberto. The Sieges of Nicosia and Famagusta in Cyprus. London:
Waterlow and Sons Limited, 1903. Print.
639
Mimmo Cangiano
Martinengo, Nestore. Accadde a Famagosta. Cagliari: Scepsi e Mattana, 2007.
Print.
Pascoli, Giovanni. Poemi Conviviali. Ed. Giuseppe Nava, Torino: Einaudi, 2008.
Print.
Salgari, Emilio. Capitan Tempesta. 4° ed. Lexington, KY.: Arepo, 2011. Print.
Siliato, Maria Grazia. L’assedio. Milano: Mondadori, 1995. Print.
Wu Ming. Altai. Torino: Einaudi, 2009. Print.
___. Q. Torino: Einaudi,1999. Print.
Wu Ming 1. “New Italian Epic 2.0”. Carmilla on line [Bologna]. Web. 15 settembre
2008.
640
Le donne “ricordano”:
la filosofia di Giambattista Vico
nell’opera di Anna Banti
Lucia Vedovi
Rutgers University
Abstract: Il romanzo di Anna Banti Noi credevamo (1967) è stato finora
sostanzialmente letto come un memoir del protagonista Domenica Lopresti,
nonno paterno dell’autrice, impegnato in prima linea nel Risorgimento italiano.
Il presente studio vuole mettere in luce come la ricostruzione romanzata
della vicenda risorgimentale sia profondamente influenzata dalla filosofia di
Giambattista Vico – nominato nelle ultime pagine dell’opera – da un punto di
vista sia stilistico, sia contenutistico. Si intende dimostrare come per la letterata
fiorentina la Storia non possa essere analizzata solo razionalmente ma vada
piuttosto rivissuta attraverso i sensi, applicando il principio vichiano del verumfactum, per essere compresa appieno dal lettore moderno. A suffragare tale
ipotesi concorre altresì la rilettura del precedente racconto “Le donne muoiono”
(1952) come narrazione ‘al femminile’ – in termini kristeviani – della ‘favola dei
bestioni vichiani’ contenuta nella Scienza nuova (1744).
Keywords: Banti, Vico, Kristeva, ecfrasi, ekphrasi, semiotica, Risorgimento.
Discernere nel tessuto velocemente trascorrente dei fatti accaduti un momento
o un secolo fa, quanto di eterno accomuna e distingue le azioni umane […]
(Anna Banti, “Manzoni e noi”, 1956)
[…] when the ritehand seizes what the lovearm knows.
(James Joyce, Finnegans Wake, 1939)
I
n Scrivere la pittura. La ‘funzione Longhi’ nella letteratura italiana
(2009), Andrea Mirabile rileva come lo stile involuto ed elaborato e
la resa essenzialmente ekphrastica della prosa di Anna Banti derivino
essenzialmente dalla sua formazione artistico-letteraria presso la scuola
del marito Roberto Longhi:
Se la metodologia longhiana prevede un recupero antiquario dalla lingua della
storiografia artistica secentesca, la Banti sembra aderire a questo programma
in qualche modo intensificandolo, dato che nel suo lavoro si assiste ad un
riutilizzo non solo del lessico ma delle forme stesse del romanzo barocco [...].
L’elaborata commistione tra i generi, vessillo delle forme narrative barocche
nel loro virtuosismo retorico, trova un puntuale riflesso nella commistione
tra storia dell’arte e romanzo in atto nell’opera bantiana1. (63)
ITALICA • Volume 92 • No. 3 • Fall 2015
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Lucia Vedovi
Avvalendomi dei principi semiotici illustrati da Julia Kristeva in
Revolution in Poetic Language (1984) e Language--the Unknown: An
Initiation into Linguistics (1989), con il presente saggio vorrei dimostrare
come la baroccheggiante ed ekphrastica scrittura bantiana venga
modellata non solo sull’esempio del più eminente critico d’arte del
Novecento italiano, ma anche e soprattutto sul principio del verumfactum postulato da Giambattista Vico nella Scienza nuova. Intendo così
evidenziare la volontà della scrittrice di ridare spazio alle voci femminili
dimenticate dalla storia ufficiale attraverso singole storie che mettano
in luce il grande paradosso dell’opera vichiana: l’accostamento di
un contenuto da cui emerge il relegamento della figura femminile ai
margini del processo di sviluppo del linguaggio – che per il filosofo va
di pari passo con lo sviluppo sociale – e della contemporanea tessitura
di un linguaggio poetico in termini vichiani, e di matrice assolutamente
femminile in termini kristeviani, attraverso il quale ci viene raccontato.
A tal fine verranno presi in esame il romanzo storico Noi credevamo, del
1967, e il racconto “Le donne muoiono” dall’eponima raccolta del 1951.
Nel saggio “La poesia e la filosofia della storia”, Enza Biagini riflette
sui romanzi storici di Banti, osservando come:
in questi esempi di romanzo storico contemporaneo, la stessa ricerca del
documento reale resta disancorata dalla volontà di ri-creare la testimonianza
del passato e quasi sempre coincide con un autentico vissuto [...]: il passato e
la memoria o il ricordo si appiattiscono al punto di dover lasciar scoperte solo
sensazioni, atti, gesti che non sono ripetizioni di gesti, di atti, di sensazioni,
ma propriamente gesti, atti, sensazioni2. (1997:100)
La studiosa pone l’accento su uno dei fondamenti della poetica
bantiana che deriva direttamente dai precetti del filosofo napoletano.
Infatti, il cardine sul quale si regge il metodo di Vico risiede nella
necessità di spogliarsi dei parametri del mondo moderno, tutto imbevuto
di razionalità, per calarsi – mente e corpo – nella dimensione dell’uomo
primordiale; solo così si potranno rivivere i suoi gesti, i suoi atti, le sue
sensazioni come fossero i nostri.
Il nome di Giambattista Vico viene palesato in una sola opera di
Banti, Noi credevamo, ricostruzione fictionalizzata del Risorgimento
italiano per mano di Domenico Lopresti, nonno paterno della scrittrice.
Il breve cenno nelle ultime pagine del romanzo – “Marzo incominciava,
il tempo era mutato e non ci avevo fatto caso: avevo abbordato la
filosofia e Giambattista Vico3” (499) – potrebbe passare inosservato se
non fosse che, ad una seconda e più attenta lettura, appare evidente
come i rimandi al filosofo napoletano e ai principi del suo metodo storico
siano costanti lungo tutta l’opera. Ad appena venti pagine dall’incipit la
voce narrante dichiara:
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Le donne “ricordano”
“Coerenza”: mi sono svegliato, stamane, con questa parola in bocca. Uscivo
da un labirinto angoscioso e mi trovavo in mano un groppo da sbrogliare,
pensiero e azione, a un tempo. [...] Ho da rendermi dei conti, seguire – ora o
mai più – l’orbita che ho percorso allontanandomi da quella che era per me
una certezza solare, l’intramontabile ragione dei miei atti (NC 23).
Lopresti intende ripercorrere la storia, la sua personale di disilluso
repubblicano e quella del suo Paese all’indomani dell’unificazione,
sbrogliando la matassa del pensiero e dell’azione al contempo. Applicando
la categoria della “immaginazione ricostruttiva”, che Isaiah Berlin rileva
in Vico4, Lopresti fa convergere ontogenesi e filogenesi nell’analisi
degli avvenimenti che hanno portato lui e la nazione italiana ad una
profonda evoluzione. Il metodo vichiano è rivoluzionario proprio in
quanto, fondendo filosofia (ontogenesi) e filologia (filogenesi), permette
al lettore di immergersi con la mente e con il corpo nella storia del
mondo e riviverne i passaggi in prima persona. Invero, Paola Carù rileva
nella poetica bantiana la capacità di elaborare “the ‘birth to writing’ as
a means of exploring the interplay between the time of history and the
time of the individual”.5 La chiosa potrebbe a tutti gli effetti riferirsi
anche alla poetica vichiana.
La Scienza nuova è la ricostruzione della storia delle tre età delle
nazioni che va dal diluvio universale alla contemporaneità per il filosofo
napoletano, il diciottesimo secolo. La percezione del divino tramite
il tuono/Zeus da parte degli uomini-bestioni che, secondo l’autore,
avrebbero popolato il mondo dopo il diluvio universale, è la scintilla che
innesca lo sviluppo delle civiltà. Il verum-factum è il principio secondo il
quale l’uomo è in grado di capire solo quanto crea, e funge per Vico da
collante tra la ricostruzione filologica e la narrazione filosofica della storia
dell’animale che ‘sente’. Vico intende sovvertire i principi della filosofia
cartesiana vigenti nella Napoli dell’epoca, ed applica quello che Battistini
definisce “un metodo ‘alternativo’ a quello cartesiano, capace di non
sacrificare al razionalismo della logica e dell’algebra il mondo brulicante
di vita della società umana pur salvaguardando le istanze di scientificità
invocate dalla moderna episteme6”. Attraverso una accurata seppur
arbitraria ricostruzione etimologica delle lingue delle tre età delle nazioni,
Vico intende dimostrare come il linguaggio non nasca per mano di un
Adamo nomoteta, bensì sorga come reazione prima nel corpo e quindi
nella mente dell’uomo-bestione al cospetto del tuono divino. È solo nel
momento in cui il bestione corre a rifugiarsi nelle caverne, atterrito dal
rutilante boato dal cielo, che percepisce se stesso come entità distinta dal
resto della natura e si manifesta in lui la necessità di esprimersi. Il linguaggio
che ne scaturisce è diretta conseguenza della consapevolezza della propria
fisicità nello spazio. Da questa forma di linguaggio corporeo, espressione
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Lucia Vedovi
poietica del proprio sentire, caratterizzante la prima delle tre età delle
nazioni, si svilupperà progressivamente il linguaggio mentale dell’uomo
moderno, il cui fine ultimo è la comunicazione saussurianamente
codificata, destinato a degenerare in un idioma totalmente imbevuto di
razionalità e scevro da ogni contatto con i sensi. Il rovinare del linguaggio
verso la terza età delle nazioni, quando gli uomini saranno intrappolati in
un ‘avvertire senza sentire’, è la causa dei continui corsi e ricorsi storici ai
quali l’umanità è destinata.
Partendo da questo presupposto, diviene molto più facile capire
perché, nella prima parte del romanzo bantiano, Lopresti dichiari di
voler rifuggire l’autobiografismo:
non vorrei cadere nella trappola della dichiarata autobiografia, insomma
delle “memorie”. [...] Chi racconta la propria vita non dovrebbe, secondo
me, mirare che al proprio meticoloso e spietato ritratto per riconoscersi e non
scendere nella tomba ignoto a se stesso come fu nascendo [...] Finché uno
agisce, il pensiero gli corre per sentieri sotterranei: e talvolta ne scaturiscono
effetti non calcolati, mostruosi alla luce del giorno (NC 51).
Il suo intento non è quello di registrare nero su bianco quanto
successogli durante la sua travagliata esistenza di convinto
repubblicano, facendo fede esclusivamente sulla lucida razionalità,
bensì di ripercorrerlo passo dopo passo con una consapevolezza anche
e soprattutto corporea, quindi relativa al sentire più che al ragionare,
che coincide con l’improvvisa coscienza del bestione vichiano della
propria individualità di fronte al tuono divino. Infatti, proprio come
quest’ultimo, Lopresti reagisce ai fenomeni atmosferici interpretandoli
come messaggi dal cielo ai quali appellarsi per meglio comprendere le
vicende che lo vedono protagonista:
e se dal plumbeo turgore dei miei celesti amici si sprigionava infine la
folgore, salutavo il lampo e il tuono come messaggi, segni che tutto poteva
mutare, che nulla era immobile. [...] Quei subitanei temporali spaventavano
i più grezzi fra i miei compagni, mai avrei potuto spiegargli il sollievo che
essi rappresentavano per me (NC 158).
L’epifania della folgore si traduce in espressività passionale che
permette ad egli per primo ma anche a noi lettori che ne ripercorriamo
le vicissitudini, di calarci ai primordi della parabola storica e ricrearla per
sentirla propria e quindi capirla appieno. Esattamente come teorizzato
da Vico, un appassionato Lopresti si rende conto di poter sbrogliare la
complicata matassa storica del periodo risorgimentale per comprendere
la nascita e l’evoluzione della nazione italiana, solo attraverso l’impiego
della memoria sensoriale. In altre parole, applicando il principio del
verum-factum. Egli si trova così a riflettere sulla ciclicità della storia,
sua personale e dell’Italia: “Non sono mai stato giocatore d’ingegno,
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persino nella monotonia del carcere rifiutavo le carte bisunte forniteci
sottomano dai secondini. Non ero cambiato, ma, per non annoiarmi,
presi a seguire i corsi e ricorsi della fortuna, essi mi affascinavano per il
loro misterioso ritmo” (NC 28).
Seguendo il metodo vichiano, il linguaggio di Lopresti, e quindi la
prosa di Banti, si fa a sua volta immaginifico e sfida il limite della mente
umana: il non potere immediatamente capire quanto esperisce. Secondo
Vico, solo Dio è in grado di creare e riconoscere la propria creazione in
modo simultaneo; la mente umana non è perfetta proprio in quanto
non prontamente cosciente di quanto avverte attraverso i sensi. Ecco che
l’uomo deve fare ricorso alla riflessione per ri-tracciare la propria storia e,
narrandosela, capirla. Per aggirare l’insormontabile ostacolo linguistico,
di fatto, Vico intesse un idioma poetico-poietico originale e pulsante
– fatto di ‘sistole e diastole’, come suggerisce Battistini7 – dimostrando
che per raccontare qualcosa che nessuno ha ancora verbalizzato, ossia la
storia dell’origine delle nazioni, è necessario farlo in una lingua nuova
che ci rimetta in contatto con la sfera sensoriale dalla quale l’uomo si è
a poco a poco distaccato.
Analizzando la prosa di Artemisia (1947), Mirabile nota come in Banti
convergano due fondamentale fattori:
Da un lato l’altezza manieristica dello stile, in cui significative appaiono le
influenze riconducibili alla stagione della prosa d’arte [...] e ancora prima a
certe suggestioni dannunziane, si mescola con frequenti ricorsi a dialettismi
e regionalismi; dall’altro, lo sviluppo lineare delle vicende viene spesso
interrotto, in senso prolettico, analettico e acronico (52).
Secondo lo studioso la commistione di prosa pittorica e l’ampio
utilizzo di analessi e prolessi concorrerebbe a fare di questo romanzo il
più alto esempio di “mimesi ekphrastica [...], all’interno di una struttura
narrativa essenzialmente antimimetica e antirealistica” (55). Se è vero
che Artemisia tocca lo zenit dell’elaborazione di uno stile visivo ed
iconico nell’opera bantiana, altrettanto significativa appare la prosa di
Noi credevamo, la cui scrittura antimimetica e antirealistica sembra dettata
dalla necessità di far ricostruire la storia ad una voce secondaria rispetto
agli storiografi ufficiali. E se il personaggio di Artemisia si sovrappone
in un continuo gioco di piani prospettici alla figura della narratriceautrice, nell’intento di rivendicare uno spazio prettamente femminile
negato dalla storia ufficiale, la personalità maschile di Lopresti non
appare contraddittoria in tal senso, in quanto costantemente influenzata
dall’interazione con una serie di personaggi femminili lungo tutto il
romanzo che concorrono a forgiare la sua storia; prima fra tutti, la figlia
Teresa, zia paterna di Anna Banti. Ella sprona il padre a coltivare la
scrittura negli sparuti momenti di riluttanza:
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Colla scusa di spolverare il piano della scrivania, [Teresa] ha raccolto il
mucchietto dei fogli bianchi accanto a quelli già usati, ha infisso un pennino
nuovo sull’asta della cannuccia e versato nel calamaio un po’ di inchiostro
fresco. “Non fa più tanto freddo” ha detto sollevando la tendina “c’è un bel
sole fuori, oggi lavorerai bene” (NC 224).
L’altra figura femminile che aleggia sulle vicende di Lopresti è quella
della madre Giuseppa. La donna fa un’apparizione fugace nella sezione
IV del romanzo, quando è ormai anziana e sofferente, ma, durante il
doloroso incontro con l’esule figlio, apprendiamo che, in gioventù, ella
era stata “così ardente nel difendere la libertà di coscienza da rischiare
[...] la fama di eretica, quanto meno di testa stramba” (NC 311). Lopresti
sembra aver ereditato la propria passionalità da questa donnina del
Sud, alla quale si ricongiunge brevemente dopo aver attraversato, con
animo perturbato, gli impervi luoghi natii, “Una mostruosa apatia mi
schiacciò, fui il selvaggio, ignaro di chi l’ha preceduto sulla terra o il
superstite di un cataclisma, assetato di oblio. Ma la mia sete era un’altra,
sete di una verità che mi sfuggiva dopo avermi bruciato e distrutto. In
tali strette, il pensiero di mia madre prevalse” (NC 300). Al contrario
del famolo vichiano, abbandonato a se stesso da una madre incurante
del suo sostentamento, il personaggio bantiano percepisce di non poter
prescindere dal contatto con la sfera materna per rimettere insieme e
capire le proprie vicende.
Narrando parte della vita di Lopresti e facendoci assaporare la sua
peculiare scrittura, la letterata fiorentina sembra stabilire una linea
di discendenza non solo dinastica ma, anche e soprattutto stilistica,
attraverso cui rintracciare l’origine delle sue stesse opere. Il metodo
vichiano le è congeniale nel permettere al lettore di ricostruire e
comprendere in prima persona un contenuto storico diverso da quello
ufficiale, e una prosa personalissima, il cui impasto sostanzialmente
pittorico comporta una lettura performativa. Eppure Banti sembra
rendersi conto che, se da un lato il metodo vichiano risponde appieno al
desiderio di sfuggire alle fuorvianti costrizioni cronologiche – al punto
che Lopresti definisce il tempo come “una entità indefinibile” e “dubit[a]
se sia un premio o una punizione questo affannar[s]i a ricostruirlo in
termini corretti” (NC 140) – dall’altro, presenta una profonda sfasatura
tra una ricostruzione storico-linguistica che non riconosce la centralità
della sfera femminile e l’impiego di un impasto stilistico poietico che
dalla sorgente femminile sorge e si alimenta.
Le teorie semiotiche di Julia Kristeva possono aiutarci a comprendere
come Vico abbia a tutti gli effetti attinto alla fonte poietica della madre
per recuperare la primordiale sensazione di paura dei bestioni sorpresi
dal tuono, e verbalizzarla trascendendo la langue codificata.
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In Language--the Unknown: An Initiation into Linguistics, Julia Kristeva
rielabora le teorie lacaniane sull’apprendimento del linguaggio
dimostrando l’importanza fondamentale del ruolo della figura materna
per il bambino durante i primi mesi di vita. Il termine platonico ‘chora’
definisce la fase dei primi mesi di vita in cui il bambino non distingue il
proprio sé da quello della madre né dal mondo che lo circonda. In questo
stadio iniziale, come sostiene Lacan, si è dominati esclusivamente da
impulsi irrazionali. Segue la fase prelinguistica in cui il bambino si avvia
al distacco tra il proprio sé e quello materno. Le successive fasi ‘dello
specchio’ e ‘d’acquisizione’ segnano il momento in cui il bambino si
inserisce nel contesto sociale in cui negozia le proprie relazioni con
gli altri appropriandosi di un sistema linguistico codificato. Proprio
come per il bestione vichiano nel mondo postdiluviale, il percorso del
bambino inizia nell’età muta, in cui la gestualità e la lallazione sono
le sue uniche forme espressive; prosegue con la fase intermedia eroica,
in cui significati/significanti e referenti non sono ancora distinti –
infatti associa i lemmi ‘mamma’ e ‘papà’ ad ogni persona femminile
o maschile su cui posa lo sguardo, proprio come gli uomini eroici
vichiani identificano ‘Ulisse’ e ‘Achille’ con chiunque ne possieda le
caratteristiche; infine si appropria del linguaggio convenzionale che
permette la comunicazione con l’ambiente esterno. In breve il bambino
passa da una fase pre-individuale, pre-edipica e pre-linguistica, che
attiene alla scienza semiotica, in cui non percepisce ancora il tempo
inteso come kronos, ad una fase soggettiva, post-edipica e linguistica
di matrice simbolica, in seguito alla quale il tempo diviene scansione
lineare degli eventi. Secondo Kristeva la fase semiotica è circolare,
olistica e per definizione femminile; la fase simbolica, dominio dei
dualismi linguistici e sede del passaggio dal reale al non-reale, sarebbe
di matrice maschile. Il punto di svolta delle teorie kristeviane rispetto
ai precetti lacaniani sta nell’enfatizzazione dell’imprescindibile ruolo
della madre in questo passaggio, in quanto ella incarna il principio
ordinatore della ‘chora’ semiotica e funge da mediatrice della legge
simbolica che stabilisce l’ordine sociale. In altre parole, il distacco dalla
madre e dal suo caotico universo femminile e l’inserimento nella società
regolamentata da strutture patriarcali è il necessario trauma-tuono della
nostra infanzia che ci permette di concepire l’altro distinto dal sé, e il
significante distinto dal suo significato.8 Ma se attraverso la langue la
nostra parte conscia può far sentire la propria voce, essa non ci assiste
più nel momento in cui a parlare è il nostro inconscio.
In “Vita di Giambattista Vico scritta da se medesimo” (1725-28), il
filosofo narra alcuni episodi della sua infanzia partendo da una caduta
a testa in giù che, a suo dire, avrebbe segnato in lui il passaggio da
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un’indole spiritosissima, eredità dell’allegro padre, ad un’attitudine
malinconica, affine alla figura materna:
in età di sette anni, essendo col capo in giù piombato da alto fuori d’una
scala nel piano, onde rimase ben cinque ore senza moto e privo di senso,
e fiaccatagli la parte destra del cranio senza rompersi la cotenna, quindi
dalla frattura cagionatogli uno sformato tumore per gli cui molti e profondi
tagli il fanciullo si dissanguò; [...] dal guarito tumore provenne che indi
in poi è crescesse di una natura malinconica ed acre, qual dee essere degli
uomini ingegnosi e profondi, che per l’ingegno balenino in acutezze, per la
riflessione non si dilettino dell’arguzie e del falso9.
Il rovinare dalla scala è chiaramente il suo personale tuono,
grazie al quale lo scrittore, proprio come uno dei bestioni rispetto
all’onomatopeico Zeus, sente in sé il conato per la creazione di un
nuovo linguaggio. In lui si risveglia la capacità poietica di esternare
con formule nuove le percezioni metafisiche che, nell’innalzarlo verso
qualcosa di superiore che l’uomo non può capire perché non ha creato
secondo il principio del verum-factum, lo rimettono in contatto con la
parte più intima e originale di sé.
Se leggiamo questa realizzazione di Vico in termini semiotici
potremmo dire che egli mette in pratica nella Scienza nuova quanto
Kristeva teorizza nel 1984 in Revolution in Poetic Language. Rielaborando
le conclusioni di Roman Jakobson, secondo il quale ogni tentativo di
limitare la sfera della funzione poetica alla sola poesia, o di confinare
la poesia alla sola funzione poetica corrisponderebbe ad una fuorviante
semplificazione, Kristeva sostiene che l’espressione poetica non possa
essere considerata come mera sotto-categoria del codice linguistico
bensì come il dominio:
per le infinite possibilità del linguaggio, e di tutti gli altri atti linguistici [che]
sono realizzazioni solo parziali della possibilità connaturata del ‘linguaggio
poetico’ […] la pratica letteraria è [perciò] vista come un’esplorazione delle
possibilità del linguaggio; come un’attività che libera il soggetto da tutta una
serie di sistemi linguistici, psichici e sociali; come un dinamismo che spezza
l’inerzia delle abitudini linguistiche10.
La langue saussuriana diventa quindi uno dei sistemi di
regolamentazione linguistica all’interno di un complesso universo di
segni e simboli. Quanto scaturisce dalla produzione poetica sarebbe il
frutto di una frattura della catena di significati-significanti socialmente
riconosciuta. Il sé si trova a ripercorrere quel passaggio iniziale tra
materna sfera semiotica e paterna sfera simbolica in maniera, questa
volta, consapevole e non del tutto disgiunto dalla propria ratio. Questo
processo ha valore sociale oltre che linguistico, perché sovverte l’ordine
patriarcale nell’operazione di ‘denotazione’ ed ‘enunciazione’. Nella
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Scienza nuova Vico sottolinea ripetutamente come il linguaggio muto degli
uomini-bestioni della prima età delle nazioni, il simbolico degli uominieroi della seconda età e il pistolare degli uomini moderni, si sviluppino
simultaneamente nell’individuo ed in esso rimangano sempre presenti.
Se consideriamo quest’affermazione parallelamente al fatto che l’uomo
di Vico è costituito non solo di corpo e mente ma anche da ‘favella’
(“Non essendo altro l’uomo, propriamente, che mente, corpo e favella,
e la favella essendo come posta in mezzo alla mente e al corpo11”); che
la prima sapienza dei popoli fu sapienza poetica (“Ella è la sapienza la
facultà che comanda a tutte le discipline, dalle quali s’apprendono tutte le
scienze e l’arti che compiono l’umanità” [SN 145]) – per cui Vico, osserva
Battistini, ripensa originalmente, proiettandola sulla storia dell’umanità,
la tesi filosofica secondo cui niente è nell’intelletto che prima non sia
stato nel senso – e che la lingua che egli utilizza per raccontarci la storia
delle nazioni è poetico-poietica, va da sé leggere la Scienza nuova come
parto letterario dovuto ad un continuo ‘corso’ e ‘ricorso’ al semiotico
materno. In The Portable Kristeva, Kelly Oliver spiega che
[a]ll signification is the result of a dialectical movement between semiotic
and symbolic elements. [...] In Kristeva’s description of the dialectical
oscillation between these two elements, the contradiction [between semiotic
and symbolic] is reactivated12 (25).
Ecco allora che la rovinosa caduta infantile del Vico bambino con
conseguente cambiamento d’indole caratteriale diviene metafora della
continua oscillazione tra langue saussuriana codificata e linguaggio
poetico nelle creazione delle sue opere letterarie. Nell’elaborare quelle che
Battistini definisce “voci vichiane coperte di muschio, con cui spesso la
chiarezza s’intorbida” (47), Vico ha tenuto fede al proposito di raccontare
la sua favola in modo originale e sinestetico. L’originalità e la sinestesia
sono strumenti necessari al lettore per immedesimarsi, attraverso la
memoria immaginifica, nella dimensione intellettuale dei primi uomini.
E la sua scienza è lo strumento che metafisicamente rapporta l’uomo
con il sacro. Vico è il Virgilio che guida la doppia discesa di noi lettori,
verso il bestione che è tuttora in noi e verso il sostrato linguistico al
quale attingiamo la capacità di poetare per ricreare e comprendere la
nostra storia. La poesia – intesa come istanza di creatività umana per
Vico e potere semiotico per Kristeva – è l’unico dominio all’interno del
quale ci è possibile far rivivere un linguaggio iconologico del corpo che
sfugge agli uomini della terza età; il palcoscenico sul quale scrittore e
lettore diventano attori di un’opera che pulsa e si rigenera ogni volta
che viene messa in atto; il momento di sovvertimento delle tradizionali
convenzioni linguistiche e dello scardinamento di insufficienti sistemi
dualistici che sfociano in pura jouissance estatica.
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Lucia Vedovi
Le caratteristiche dell’opera vichiana fin qui delineate, sono
riscontrabili in numerosi passaggi di Noi credevamo. Prima fra tutti,
una caduta a testa in giù in seguito alla quale anche il protagonista del
romanzo di Banti, esattamente come il Vico bambino dell’autobiografia,
subisce una profonda metamorfosi spirituale:
Caddi dal fico, un volo di tre buoni metri che finì sulla terra dura di un
campo sodo [...] e quando ripresi conoscenza ero a letto e il cerusico Zosimo
mi tastava [...] Non ero mai stato malato prima d’allora e l’immobilità aveva
maturato e sveltito il mio cervello (NC 460-62).
Durante la convalescenza, il piccolo Domenico viene intrattenuto dalle
favole della madre e da quelle del vecchio Pasquale, imprecisata figura
maschile, tra il servo e l’aio, che frequenta casa Lopresti. Ai luoghi e
alle favole dell’infanzia un adulto Domenico decide di tornare con la
memoria per riscoprirsi:
[H]o avuto un’infanzia e l’ho cancellata dalla memoria come se me ne
vergognassi: ecco dove dovrei fuggire per riscoprirmi del tutto; ma non so
come raggiungerla. Abbandonarsi, mi dico, lasciarsi accostare da immagini
remote, bestiole paurose che lambiscono e scompaiono. Affondare per
riemergere galleggiando (NC 456).
L’abbandonarsi all’immaginazione dissolve nell’animo del deluso
sostenitore degli ideali repubblicani prima, e del sofferente prigioniero nelle
carceri napoletane alla vigilia dell’Unità d’Italia poi, le catene del tempo
cronologico; egli dichiara più volte di sentirsi sospeso al di fuori del tempo
e dello spazio e come da questa sorta di dimensione parallela derivino le sue
riflessioni sulla storia. Il seguente brano sembra quanto mai significativo:
A un tratto, levando gli occhi, non vidi più la strada né le prode che la
limitavano [...] Dalla vetta del monte, infatti, le nuvole scendevano
avvolgendoci in una nebbia fitta che aboliva la terra e ci lasciava sospesi in
una dimensione irreale, fuori dal tempo [...] tutto quel bianco impalpabile
era come un latte innocente che affrancava dai duri lacci della logica, la
vera liberazione: mi sentivo leggerissimo e autonomo, sottratto alle leggi
della gravità. In me si raccoglievano sentimenti arcani: sospiri esauditi,
paure fugate, peccati assolti. Ero il pellegrino miracolato, l’eremita pazzo, il
pastore visionario [...]. Ero padrone, insomma, delle favole dei millenni e me
le raccontavo (NC 90-91).
Il lemma “favole” usato da Lopresti per indicare le storie che
l’umanità ha narrato nei millenni della storia, rimanda al termine
vichiano “favelle”, con il quale il filosofo napoletano indica l’origine
del linguaggio. Secondo Vico le reazioni corporee dei bestioni al tuono
divino si tradussero inizialmente in immagini mentali; queste avrebbero
generato dei miti poetici sotto forma di metafore – piccole storie, quindi
favole – le quali, nel tempo, si sarebbero trasformate in parole codificate
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e convenzionali. L’evoluzione del linguaggio – segnata dal progressivo
passaggio da metafora a metonimia, da metonimia a sineddoche; infine,
da sineddoche a ironia – corrisponderebbe al graduale emergere della
mente (razionalità) dal corpo (sensi) e provocherebbe un ineluttabile
impoverimento, causa della nuova barbarie della terza età degli uomini,
dominata dal pensiero cartesiano.
Quando il vecchio Lopresti viene attratto dalle memorie del passato,
quasi fossero una forza misteriosa, evidentemente lascia che la mente riscivoli nella dimensione corporea e perda contatto con le convenzioni
di tempo, spazio e langue saussuriana. Ne sgorga una affascinante prosa
pittorica che dilata i confini del genere autobiografico. Al termine del
passaggio sopra menzionato, egli dichiara come il sole – presumibilmente
simbolo di chiarezza, quindi lucidità mentale – riemergendo dalla coltre
delle nubi, “[gli] restituì, dolorosamente, nome e cognome, luogo e data
di nascita. Il tempo ricominciava a precipitare” (NC 91). Risalendo alla
superficie del tempo cronologico, il narratore interrompe bruscamente
la sua ‘favella’.
L’elaborazione bantiana di una prosa di innegabile matrice
kristevamente femminile per mano di Lopresti ricorre lungo tutto
il romanzo e coincide sistematicamente con lo slittamento della
narrazione lungo un asse spazio-temporale acronologico e con l’adozione
di parametri stilistici che rifuggono le forme letterarie tradizionali. Il
passaggio che segue, in cui un palesemente ironico e polemico Lopresti
si pronuncia nei confronti del genere romanzo, indica ad un fruitore
attento quale sia la vera chiave di lettura dell’opera di un’autrice come
Banti, costretta a scendere costantemente a patti con il rigido canone
maschile dell’epoca:
Dai romanzi mi son sempre tenuto lontano, non mi piacciono le favole e
diffido dei romanzieri. Per chi scrivono costoro? Come possono giocare la
loro vita componendo storie inventate? Le donne le leggono avidamente:
ma come possono, gli autori, contentarsene? Va bene, anche le donne
sono un pubblico. E tuttavia scrivere per un pubblico cosiffatto non mi
piacerebbe. Sono intelligenti, le donne? [...] non c’è da stupirsi se piegandosi
alla nostra legge esse ne fanno uno strumento di fuga dalla realtà che sono
costrette a vivere. Fino a un certo segno penso che la loro condizione
coincida con quella del romanziere, il quale più che viverla, costruisce la
vita. Lui, raccontando, comunica, sia pure alla cieca, con loro, insomma
parla e forse confessa le proprie esperienze: esse ascoltano e s’immaginano
di interloquire, di ragionare e di farsi intendere (NC 49-50).
Appassionata di Virginia Woolf, nonché prima traduttrice autorizzata
di Jacob’s Room per Mondadori nel 1950, Anna Banti, proprio come la
scrittrice inglese, ebbe un rapporto complicato col femminismo, che
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nell’ultima parte della sua vita arrivò a demonizzare. Ciò nonostante,
emerge chiaramente in tutti i suoi scritti l’aspirazione a creare una
rete al femminile che rivendicasse gli spazi artistici negati alle scrittrici
dall’establishment maschile dell’epoca; non da ultimo dallo stesso marito
Roberto Longhi, che eclissò la carriera di critica d’arte ch’ella avrebbe
voluto intraprendere, spronandola a coltivare esclusivamente la propria
inclinazione letteraria. Un lettore moderno, consapevole del passo
decisivo verso quella figura di ‘grande poeta donna’ preannunciato ed
auspicato da Woolf, totalmente diverso dal grande poeta uomo cui Banti
mirava,13 ed avvezzo alla filosofia vichiana, non può fare a meno di notare
le chiare affinità tra la prosa poetica bantiana e i principi poietici vichiani.
A suffragare tale ipotesi concorre il racconto “Le donne muoiono”
che precede Noi credevamo di ben sedici anni. L’opera è stata finora
interpretata da una parte della critica come la risposta bantiana a Tous les
hommes sont mortels di Simone de Beauvoir del 1947, e da una seconda
scuola di pensiero come la parodia dell’ossessione fascista per il glorioso
passato della Roma imperiale14. La mia tesi è che il racconto altro non
sia se non una versione al femminile della favola dei bestioni vichiani,
ambientata in un futuro lontano mille anni, che diviene epitome della
rivendicazione del ruolo delle donne nella storia dell’umanità.
In questo caso, Banti elegge una donna a protagonista della
riscoperta della memoria storica del genere umano e della capacità di
poetare attraverso il corpo, per la quale sceglie lo stesso pseudonimo,
Agnese, dietro cui si sarebbe successivamente celata nell’autobiografia
romanzata Un grido lacerante (1981).
L’anno è il 2617. Nella cittadina veneta di Valloria una strana
epidemia colpisce la popolazione: improvvisamente nei cittadini maschi
emerge la memoria di un passato assopito e di un linguaggio diverso che
essi non sanno più parlare. Il fenomeno della ‘seconda memoria’ viene
letto dai medici della comunità come “una meravigliosa conquista cui
l’umanità [è] giunta per merito dei grandi progressi compiuti negli
ultimi cento anni in fatto di igiene e di educazione razionale15” (59).
Tuttavia, l’avvenimento non si verifica nelle donne, le quali “non
riuscivano ancora a ricordare: pareva non ne avessero la forza e, forse (si
cominciava a insinuare), la ragione” (DM 63). Le donne decidono quindi
di isolarsi in una comunità distinta da quella maschile, in cui possano
trovare “una difesa e anche la libertà di consegnarsi ognuna al proprio
istinto, alla propria inclinazione naturale”. La narratrice racconta:
Nel 2700, infatti, s’inizia la prima generazione di quelle grandi poetesse
che, a tutt’oggi, si ammirano alla pari col leggendario Omero. Una mano
misteriosamente felice nella scelta dei suoni e dei colori, una incomparabile
velocità di espressione, una nuova arte della parola, insomma, distingue le
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Le donne “ricordano”
loro opere e lo stesso senso della poesia ebbe da loro suggello e nome come
in tempi remoti era avvenuto per le imprese dell’ago e del ricamo (DM 73).
L’espressione poetica è quanto distingue questa comunità tutta
al femminile – denominata “Universal Women Soul” – dalla società
maschile senza poeti e presieduta da storici che la narratrice qualifica
come “singolari, che provvisti di mezzi di ricerca eccezionali, ultima
parola del metodo scientifico, raggiungevano tuttavia risultati
privi di mordente” (75). L’accesso alla ‘seconda memoria’ sembra
irrimediabilmente negato alle donne fino a quando, nella calda estate
del ’710, la musicista trentenne Agnese Grasti
ebbe una strana mattinata. Sedeva al piano cercando una soluzione di nesso
fra due episodi di una sua partitura, quando oppressa, come le parve, dall’afa,
si lasciò distrarre da uno spontaneo movimento delle dita che ritrovavano,
senza ragione apparente, il dettato di un antichissimo adagio. [...] A misura
che, docilissimo, il dettato si sdipanava, l’animo veniva avviato a una
specie di gratitudine arcana a cui si univa, causa od effetto, un ineffabile
alleggerimento della coscienza, non disgiunto da un fisico tremore, quasi anche
il corpo stesse perdendo il necessario peso. [...] Erano oggetti e persone, e un
vento, e un gonfior di nuvole memorabili, mentre lo spazio si proiettava
a riceverli, tuonando dolcemente in profondità. E già il palato vibrava toccando
sillabe ritrovate (DM 78-9. Enfasi mia).
È evidente come all’analisi della memoria e al recupero del passato
rigorosamente scientifico da parte degli uomini, venga contrapposta la
capacità di re-immergersi nella storia con la mente e con il corpo – quindi
sì razionalmente ma anche e soprattutto attraverso i sensi – che caratterizza
la comunità delle donne. La ri-scoperta dei suoni e delle immagini del
passato che affiora dal loro subconscio va di pari passo in esse con il
risveglio del corpo a sensazioni dimenticate. Il linguaggio diventa di forza
onomatopeico, in quanto si esprime attraverso armonie modellate sui
movimenti e fonemi prodotti dal corpo. Quando infine Agnese si lascia
morire trattenendo il respiro, “come una eroina antica” (DM 82), lascia in
eredità delle carte di musica in cui parole e pentagrammi si fondono in un
nuovo idioma sinestetico squisitamente vichiano.
Il sacrificio di Agnese diviene l’atto simbolico attraverso il quale le
poetesse a venire potranno concorrere alla creazione di una società
diversa, basata più sulle sensazioni che non sulla ratio, e in cui le donne
incinte non si augurino più di partorire dei maschi privilegiati:
Il presentimento della maternità opprimeva infatti l’incinta, divisa fra il
desiderio di partorire il maschio privilegiato che le verrebbe da lontani tempi
e per altri tempi ripartirebbe, e il terrore di portare in seno il destino di una
nuova infelice, una femminuccia diseredata. Quando l’infante compariva,
sembrava – cosa nuova e disumana – che nella madre esausta e appagata
risorgesse la donna che invidiava al figlio la sorte di essere uomo (DM 69).
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Lucia Vedovi
Chiaramente il distacco traumatico dalla sfera materna recide nei
figli maschi anche la capacità di rimanere ancorati ai sensi e quindi
di sviluppare di un linguaggio poetico-poietico che benefici della
proficua oscillazione tra mente e corpo, ovvero tra sfera simbolica e sfera
semiotica.
È interessante notare come il personaggio di Agnese e quello di
Domenico siano legati dal filo rosso della scrittura istintiva; invero sono
le loro mani più che le loro menti ad agire quasi autonomamente nel
comporre arte. Si potrebbe supporre che l’eroina del racconto abbia
lasciato in eredità lo “spontaneo movimento delle dita” (DM 78) alla
mano del nonno di Banti16 – e quindi alla letterata – la cui scrittura è
dettata dallo stesso impulso irrazionale:
Non saprei dire come mi sia accaduto di mettermi a scrivere su uno di questi
fogli – una pila – che giacciono chissà da quanto sulla mia scrivania. Non fu
per una decisione, ma per un moto ozioso della mano: come succede a chi,
pensando, disegna facce e ghirigori sulla carta. A un certo punto mi accorsi
di scrivere quel che mi passava in mente (NC 16).
Lo stile di Lopresti, ricco di barocchi anacoluti ed incongruenze
semantiche, non segue regole prestabilite perché dettato dal ritmo della
memoria corporea, sensoriale:
‘Coerenza’ dicevo. L’esame è stato negativo; no, non sono coerente, forse
non lo sono mai stato sebbene la linea che mi ero prefisso di seguire mi
appaia, almeno fino a un certo punto, perfettamente retta. Ammesso che sia
così, quando ho principiato a deflettere? (NC 36).
L’ammissione di mancanza di linearità nella ricostruzione della propria
vicenda avviene sulla scìa sonora di una pendola inglese le cui note
aspetto e [... ] accolgo come la voce di un amico, esse mi danno la serenità
necessaria a chi non deve sperar più nulla dal futuro: segnando il tempo lo
sciolgono nel ritmo dell’eternità. Da quando ho ceduto a questo bisogno di
parlare sulla carta, m’illudo che mi rispondano, magari con bonaria ironia
(NC 44).
La pendola inglese riecheggia i campanili inglesi di tanti dei romanzi
di Virginia Woolf che Banti amava e ben conosceva. Innegabili tratti
comuni legano lo stile delle due autrici: dalla modernista dilatazione
delle coordinate spazio-temporali, che influenza la psiche dei personaggi,
all’impasto sintattico giocato su contrasti chiaroscurali e prospettive
narrative altalenanti, come si nota nel seguente passaggio: “Mi sono
incantato sull’oro rossastro che il sole deposita sul mogano del mio
tavolo, gli occhi mi si appannano [...] Non so che ore siano, neppure
il suono della pendola amica ha disciolto l’intrico di pensieri che mi
tormenta dacché Teresa è uscita” (NC 97).
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Le donne “ricordano”
Eppure, ancor prima degli influssi modernisti woolfiani e con
altrettanta enfasi della lezione pittorica longhiana trasposta in letteratura,
credo di aver dimostrato che il debito verso la filosofia poetica vichiana
giochi un ruolo di primo piano nella scrittura di Banti.
Rileggere Noi credevamo e “Le donne muoiono” alla luce di queste
considerazioni mette in luce non solo i punti di contatto con i
principi della filosofia vichiana in termini di stile e poetica, ma anche
e soprattutto la rivendicazione del ruolo delle donne nel processo di
riscoperta della storia umana attraverso la poesia, che è il fine ultimo
della Scienza nuova. Se, come rileva D.P. Verene, l’obiettivo di Vico è
quello di passare il testimone di poeta ai suoi lettori – sotto forma del
‘cappello alato di Mercurio’ ritratto nella Dipintura con cui si apre la
Scienza nuova17 – Banti sceglie di indossarlo per raccontarci la stessa
storia attraverso le medesime matasse sintattiche imbrogliate, ma da
una prospettiva completamente ribaltata: quella femminile.
La letterata fiorentina doveva sentire la scrittura vichiana quanto mai
affine alla propria; nelle opere di entrambi, lo stile involuto ed elaborato
e la resa essenzialmente ekphrastica hanno un ruolo di primo piano.
Come giustamente osserva Mirabile:
la scrittrice sembra applicare al romanzo e alla narrazione biografica
un’operazione paragonabile a quella che il Longhi innesta sulla critica
d’arte. Lo studioso, alla ricerca di una mimesi con la lingua e con la pittura
del passato, diluisce i contrassegni della critica figurativa, praticando una
scrittura dalle implicazioni liriche ed estetizzanti, sotto l’influenza di
potenti suggestioni letterarie. La Banti supera i confini della letteratura
contaminandola con la critica d’arte, o meglio fonde critica d’arte e romanzo,
trasformando quest’ultimo in una sorta di ibrido metaromanzesco (68-69).
Pare evidente come l’opera bantiana – a cominciare dal capolavoro
Artemisia – preveda la presenza di un lettore-spettatore che ne miri
ed ammiri i periodi sintattici affrescati su foglio bianco. Così come
per la Scienza nuova sembra indispensabile una lettura sinestetica per
comprendere appieno la portata dell’opera – una lettura fatta ad alta
voce che ci metta mentalmente e fisicamente alla prova – altrettanto è
consigliabile per le opere di Banti, in cui l’occhio è contemporaneamente
impegnato a veicolare alla mente la portata semantica del testo ma
anche a godere delle immagini che ekphrasticamente ne emergono.
Vista e udito sono gli strumenti che il lettore deve impiegare per poter
recuperare la memoria e ripercorrere la storia. L’uomo contemporaneo
si deve spogliare della propria razionalità e re-impossessarsi, attraverso
la memoria, della fantasia dei primi abitanti della terra. Solo ri-vivendo
sulla nostra pelle, quindi calandoci mente e corpo in quella dimensione
iniziale, potremo mettere in moto il nostro ingegno e fare di noi stessi i
655
Lucia Vedovi
creatori della nostra storia (ontogenesi) che è anche la storia delle nazioni
(filogenesi). In questo consiste il principio del verum-factum: “To begin
philosophy again in our time entails the recovery of the sense of the
imaginative universal and the senses of language that are immediately
removed from us the moment we enter into the theoretical study of
thought”.18
Le protagoniste di “Le donne muoiono” inizialmente si disperano
perché escluse dall’accesso alla ‘seconda memoria’, alla quale gli uomini
arrivano per via prettamente razionale – dimostrando la stessa boria
che Vico imputa ai filosofi cartesiani – e decidono di condividere il loro
disagio fondando una comunità femminile. Ben presto si rendono conto
che è solo dedicandosi all’attività poetica – ossia mettendo in moto
fantasia, immaginazione e ingegno – che potranno ri-creare la propria
storia individuale e ri-vivere la storia della civiltà umana. Non si può
prescindere dal principio del verum-factum per recuperare la ‘seconda
memoria’ in modo autentico. Come tessitrici le cui trame rivelano il
proprio disegno solo a lavoro finito, le donne muoiono ma lasciano in
eredità il segreto per riunire passato e futuro fuori dal tempo:
questo stato di grazia urtò alla fine [...] il crescere di una luce torrenziale che,
invadendo da una sorgente ignota e tutta interiore, forzava la possibilità
di intendere e di vedere. In questa luce Agnese si sentì d’un tratto fermata
e ritta, colla propria ombra ai piedi, un’ombra che non le somigliava, ma
la inchiodava a un esatto riconoscersi, mentre altre ombre ne nascevano,
spuntando come germogli primaverili dalla terra (DM 79).
Nel recensire Pubblici Segreti di Maria Bellonci nel 1965, Anna Banti
scrive:
Ci sono due modi per fare poesia nella storia: tagliare gli ormeggi con il
proprio tempo calandosi coi sensi e i sentimenti in un tempo remoto: così
ha fatto Marguerite Yourcenar. O richiamare al giudizio della nostra età la
costante umana di esseri che non possono più parlare, e spiegarne azioni e
pensieri alla luce della moderna psicologia19. (XV)
In effetti, sembra che nei suoi romanzi Banti legga la storia da
entrambe queste prospettive: con gli occhi della psicologia del suo
tempo, reiventandone ‘il vero’ “in chiave moderna e ordinariamente
freudiana” (Magnolfi xv); ma anche e soprattutto ricorrendo ai sensi e
ai sentimenti per rivivere la storia sulla propria pelle e dilatarne i confini
fino a sovrapporre ‘vero’ e ‘verosimile’. E se la prima lettura rimanda
direttamente a Freud e, per un lettore moderno, all’analisi strutturalista
lacaniana, per comprendere appieno cosa ella intenda quando parla di
calarsi nella storia attraverso i sensi e i sentimenti è al Vico della Scienza
nuova che ritengo si debba fare ricorso.
656
Le donne “ricordano”
Note
1
Andrea Mirabile, Scrivere la pittura. La ‘funzione Longhi’ nella letteratura
italiana. (Ravenna: Longo, 2009, p. 63).
2
Enza Biagini, “La poesia e la filosofia nella storia: Anna Banti e Marguerite
Yourcenar”. L’opera di Anna Banti: atti del convegno di studi: Firenze, 8-9 maggio
1992. (Firenze: Olschki, 1997, p. 100).
3
Anna Banti, Noi credevamo.(Milano: Mondadori, 1997, p. 499). Da qui in poi NC.
4
Berlin rileva in Vico la categoria conoscitiva della ‘immaginazione
ricostruttiva’ che permetterebbe di ritracciare le modificazioni sociali e
linguistiche di una data cultura attraverso la decodificazione dei loro simboli.
Lo studioso spiega che “[Vico’s] boldest contribution [is] that there can be a
science of mind which is the history of its development, the realization that ideas
evolve, that knowledge is not a static network of eternal, universal, clear truths,
either Platonic or Cartesian, but a social process is traceable through (indeed, is
in a sense identical with) the evolution of symbols – words, gestures, pictures,
and their altering patterns, functions, structures, and uses”. Isaiah Berlin, “A
Note on Vico’s Concept of Knowledge”. Giorgio Tagliacozzo (ed.), Giambattista
Vico. An International Symposium. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins P, 1969, pp. 372-73).
5
Maria Ornella Marotti e Gabriella Brooke, Gendering Italian Fiction: Feminist
Revisions of Italian History. (Cranbury: Associated UPs, 1999, p. 88).
6
Andrea Battistini, Principi di scienza nuova di Giambattista Vico. Web. http://
www.letteraturaitaliana.net/pdf/Volume_7/t204.pdf. 14.
7
“Tutto il materiale viene organizzato in un continuo alternarsi di contrazioni
e dilatazioni, in modo che alle sistole di un grande riepilogo segua sempre la
diastole di un’analisi più distesa, raggiungendo un’esposizione al tempo stesso
organica e più diffusa”: Andrea Battistini, La sapienza retorica di Giambattista
Vico. (Milano: Guerini e Associati, 1995, p. 94).
8
Per un approfondimento si veda “The Semiotic and the Symbolic” in The
Portable Kristeva. Kelly Oliver (ed.), pp. 32-70.
9
Giambattista Vico, “Vita di Giambattista Vico scritta da se medesimo“.
Opere. Paolo Rossi (a cura di). http://www.classicitaliani.it/sette/Vico_
Autobiografia.htm.
10
Julia Kristeva, Revolution in Poetic Language. (New York: Columbia UP,
1984, p. 2. Traduzione mia).
11
Giambattista Vico, La scienza nuova. http://www.letteraturaitaliana.net/
pdf/Volume_7/t204.pdf.508.
12
Kelly Oliver, The Portable Kristeva. (New York: Columbia UP, 2002, p. 25).
13
Giuseppe Leonelli, Introduzione. Anna Banti, Artemisia. (Milano: Tascabili
Bompiani, 2003, V-VI).
14
Si veda l’introduzione al volume La Signorina e altri racconti nell’edizione
americana a cura di Carol Lazzaro-Weis. xix.
15
Anna Banti, Le donne muoiono. (Milano: Mondadori, 1959, p. 59). Da qui in
poi DM.
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Lucia Vedovi
È interessante notare che, anche al momento dell’incontro tra Lopresti e
l’anziana madre Giuseppa, la mano sia ancora una volta messa in primo piano:
“Riconoscere quella cara mano: nessun abbraccio fu più tenero del rimpianto
struggente di non averla, per tanti anni, stretta e baciata” (NC 307).
17
Donald Phillip Verene, Knowledge of Things Human and Divine: Vico’s New
Science and Finnegans Wake. (New Haven: Yale UP, 2003, p. 151).
18
Donald Phillip Verene, “Imaginative Universals”. Giambattista Vico and
Anglo-American Science: Philosophy and Writing. Danesi, Marcel (ed.) (New York:
Mouton de Gruyter, 1995, p. 210).
19
Beatrice Magnolfi, “Saluto delle Autorità”. L’opera di Anna Banti. XV.
Biagini, Enza (a cura di). (Firenze: Olschki, 1997).
16
Opere Citate
Banti, Anna. Le donne muoiono. Milano: Mondadori, 1952. Print.
___. Noi credevamo. Milano: Mondadori, 1967. Print.
___. Un grido lacerante. Milano: Rizzoli, 1981. Print.
___. La Signorina e altri racconti. New York: The Modern Language Association
of America, 2001. Print.
Battistini, Andrea. Principi di Scienza Nuova di Giambattista Vico. Einaudi. Web.
<http://www.letteraturaitaliana.net/pdf/Volume_7/t204.pdf.>
Biagini, Enza. Anna Banti. Milano: Mursia editore, 1978. Print.
___. L’opera di Anna Banti. Atti del convegno di studi (Firenze, 8-9 maggio 1992).
Biagini, Enza (a cura di). Firenze: Olschki, 1997. Print.
Carù, Paola. “’Uno sguardo acuto dalla storia’: Anna Banti’s Historical Writings”,
tratto da Marotti, Maria Ornella and Gabriella Brooke (ed.). Gendering Italian
Fiction: Feminist Revisions of Italian History. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson
University Press, 1999. 87-101.
Danesi, Marcel. Giambattista Vico and Anglo-American Science. New York: Mouton
de Gruyter, 1995. Print.
Kristeva, Julia. Revolution in Poetic Language. New York: Columbia UP, 1984.
Print.
___. Language: The Unknown. An Initiation into Linguistics. New York: Columbia
UP, 1989. Print.
___. The Portable Kristeva. Oliver, Kelly (ed.). New York: Columbia UP, 2001.
Print.
Marotti, Maria Ornella e Gabriella Brooke. Gendering Italian Fiction. Cranbury:
Associated UPs, 1999. Print.
Mirabile, Andrea. Scrivere la pittura. La ‘funzione Longhi’ nella letteratura italiana.
Ravenna: Longo, 2009. Print.
Tagliacozzo, Giorgio. Giambattista Vico. An International Symposium. Baltimore:
Johns Hopkins P, 1969. Print.
658
Le donne “ricordano”
Verene, Donald Philip. Knowledge of Things Human and Divine. New Haven: Yale
UP, 2003. Print.
Vico, Giambattista. “Vita di Giambattista Vico scritta da se medesimo“. Opere.
Rossi, Paolo (a cura di). Web. <http://www.classicitaliani.it/sette/Vico_
Autobiografia.htm.>
___. La scienza nuova. Web. <http://www.letteraturaitaliana.net/pdf/
Volume_7/t204.pdf.>
659
Fellini and the Auteurists
Albert Sbragia
University of Washington
Abstract: This essay traces the reception of Federico Fellini’s films and status
among auteurist critics in France during the 1950s and in the United States in the
1960s and beyond. It has been commonly held that a decline in critical interest
in Fellini is linked to the decline of historical auteurism as a critical practice.
What is surprising, however, is that Fellini was broadly held in suspicion
and mistrust by the auteurist critics themselves. In France this was due to the
preferential prejudices of those critics (who favored Rossellini over Fellini),
and in the United States because of Fellini’s undermining of the auteur theory
as formulated by Andrew Sarris. The essay concludes with an analysis of the
instructive auteurism of André Bazin and Gilles Deleuze, who view Fellini as an
auteur-thinker engaged in a common project of ontological investigation in an
evolving history of ideas as expressed in the cinema.
Keywords: Fellini, auteur, Cahiers du cinéma, Bazin, Sarris, Deleuze.
A
debate of sorts took place in North American Fellini criticism
towards the end of his career and after concerning authorship and
auteurism. Its origins can be traced to a 1989 essay by Frank Burke,
“Fellini: Changing the Subject.” Burke argues that a false idea of Fellini
as a reactionary purveyor of subject-centered auteurism has blinded
theoretical criticism to the post-auteur, poststructuralist and postmodern
impetus in his later works, which continually destabilizes individualist
subjectivity and effaces authorship. “Nowhere,” Burke asserts, “is Fellini
the auteur more dead than in his own work” (37).
Burke’s analysis of the death of the subject/author in Fellini’s work is
important in attempting to wrench Fellini away from what he sees as an
auteurist limbo of contemporary theoretical neglect. It is not without
problems, however. Perhaps the most prevalent concerns the dichotomy
between the diegetic world of the film and its extra-diegetic context.
Burke argues that from 8½ on there is an increasing undermining of
authorship in the Fellinian text. This may occur through the debilitation
of authorship/authority in a character stand-in: Guido in 8½ (40); in a
traditional protagonist: Encolpius in Fellini Satyricon (44); in a traditional
narrator: as in Amarcord (38); or it may occur in the person of Fellini
himself within the film’s diegesis: his failure to impose his directorial
will in The Clowns (45). These things do take place in Fellini’s films, but
does the undermining or erasure of a diegetic author or his surrogates
ITALICA • Volume 92 • No. 3 • Fall 2015
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Fellini and the Auteurists
imply the erasure of the extra-diegetic auteur? Quite the opposite may
be the case.
If we accept, as David Bordwell argues in “The Art Cinema as a
Mode of Film Practice,” that the “art film” is a distinct and historically
conditioned mode of cinematographic discourse, and, if we accept
that one of the principal codes viewers turn to in making sense of the
inherent ambiguity and/or obscurity of the art film is that of “authorial
expressivity,” then the destabilization of authorial protagonism within
the film’s diegesis compels us to seek that protagonism precisely in the
extra-diegetic authorial code, in the machinations of the auteur himself.
These are the moments in which the auteur is most foregrounded as the
“overriding intelligence organizing the film for our comprehension”
(Bordwell 59). A case in point might be the famous circus ring ending of
8½. Burke argues that as the movie closes, Guido surrenders his role as
director when he enters the circle dance and finally disappears altogether,
as does the child (another surrogate Guido) who has replaced him. At
film’s end, Burke concludes, there is “no Guido for the film to return
to” nor “a subjective source of anything” (41). But it is precisely this
sort of erasure of a subjective source within the diegetic narrative that
heightens the search for it without. As Christian Metz notes, the empty
place of the director within the film “can only be occupied by a character
external to the action of the film: by Fellini himself” (Metz 234).
Burke returns to the authorship question in Fellini’s later films in
his 1996 book Fellini’s Films: From Postwar to Postmodern, and he tries
to reach more nuanced conclusions on a Fellini divided between highmodernist, auteurist attitudes and a filmmaking practice that puts those
attitudes into question. Yet here too the problem between the diegetic
and extra-diegetic remains, and it has been extended to the question
of Fellini’s postmodernity in general. Thus, in arguing that “acts of
narration and dramatization take priority in Fellini’s Casanova over any
reality that Casanova might be narrating about – or dramatizing” (which
is true), Burke draws the analogy that “the effect is very much like that
of the ‘garbage-bag sea’ of the opening scenes, where the artificiality of
the signifier – the plastic Fellini uses to ‘simulate’ the sea – is so comic
and dramatic that it detracts all attention from the signified – that is,
the sea itself” (232). Also very true, but to where does a ‘garbage-bag sea’
(in a Fellini film, no less) redirect attention if not to the authorial code
and the audacity of the auteur? This redirection to the authorial code is
ironic, but does its irony lead beyond the confines of Fellini’s continual
destabilization and repositing of the auteurist code? Fellini, like the later
Godard, is the master ironist of auteurism, but does he ever truly do
away with the code? He appropriates postmodernist codes when they
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Albert Sbragia
dovetail with his ironic auteurism, but, as a very self-conscious and selfabsorbed auteur, he remains generally extraneous to the postmodern
playful pastiche of other texts, or, more appropriately, of others’ texts.
The harshest critic of Burke’s position has been longtime Fellini
scholar Peter Bondanella, particularly in his 2002 book The Films of
Federico Fellini. On the first page Bondanella declares that Fellini stands
apart in the cinema as the “archetypal case of the ‘art film’ director”
(1). The remainder of the introduction reiterates what have become the
truisms of the image of Fellini as a great and distinctive director of the
imagination, an “artistic genius,” a “master magician.” This a-critical
embrace of Fellini the auteur leads Bondanella to disparage what he
calls “sociological” and, in particular, “politically correct” approaches to
Fellini’s art as alien to it and thus unable to explain it (5).
Bondanella stresses the incompatibility of Burke’s efforts to
recuperate Fellini to contemporary critical practices that are by their
very ideological grounding unable to understand him (163). And he
especially assails Burke’s attempt to employ contemporary theory to the
issue of authorship in Fellini:
such connections merely serve to obscure Fellini’s authentic intentions,
many (but not all) of which contradict postmodern notions about authorship
in particular, even while they may well seem to embrace postmodern ideas
about representation, mimesis, and simulation (176).
Bondanella cites the final image of Fellini’s Intervista, the in-studio
creation of a ray of hopeful sunshine, calling it proof positive of the
“complete negation of the image of the effaced, postmodern artist with
which Fellini certainly toyed with in the rest of the film” (161).
The one thing that Burke and Bondanella both agree on is that the
critical/theoretical fortunes of Fellini are tied to the rise and fall of
historical auteurism as a critical practice (Burke 1989: 36-37; Bondanella
2002: 1-2). But the actual situation was much more muddled, as I hope to
demonstrate, in France in the 1950s because of the preferential prejudices
of the auteurist critics (which pitted Rossellini against Fellini), and in
the United States in the 1960s-70s because of Fellini’s own hypertrophy
of the auteurist code which would lead to its reconfiguration in ways
that challenged the premises of historical auteurism itself.
***
“I understand that the term auteur to describe a cinema director was
first used in talking about me, by the French critic André Bazin in a
review of Nights of Cabiria” (Fellini, in Chandler 116). With his typical
deflection of responsibility for the fib or exaggeration that he might be
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Fellini and the Auteurists
accused of disseminating, Fellini “understands” that his auteurism and
directorial auteurism tout court are said to be of a single origin. This, of
course, is not the case. Bazin’s essay “Cabiria ou le voyage au bout du
néo-réalisme,” was published in Cahiers du cinéma in November 1957.
The ground for auteurism as it was to appear in Cahiers had already
been laid in 1948 by Alexandre Astruc, with his influential image of
“la camera-stylo,” and the elevation of the director to a “writer” of his
own personalized films (Graham 1968: 22). François Truffaut builds on
Astruc’s assertions in his controversial essay “Une certaine tendence du
cinéma français” in the January 1954 issue of Cahiers. Truffaut denigrates
the French tradition of the cinema de qualité with its literary emphasis on
the screenwriter (scénariste) in favor of an “auteur’s cinema” in which the
director is foremost in all aspects of the film (Nichols 1985: 233). From
this initial notion of the writer-director, the concept of the film auteur
developed rapidly to signify a director of rare talent able to consistently
express his unique vision through the cinematic means available to
him. In his 1955 review of Jacques Becker’s Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves,
Truffaut marshals his and his colleagues’ ideas on the cinematic auteur
into a semi-programmatic politique des auteurs, affirming the politique’s
love of and allegiance to its chosen auteurs, and to all of their works, and,
to the contrary, its exclusion of all those judged to be mere metteurs en
scène, no matter what their works. Auteurism, and the assignation of the
appellation auteur to individual directors, was flourishing several years
at Cahiers in advance of Bazin’s use of the term for Fellini. Moreover,
it was flourishing on the part of the journal’s most convinced young
auteurists without reference to Fellini at all. Or, more accurately, their
politique of allegiance and exclusion would work against attempts to
admit Fellini into the auteurist pantheon.
Bazin’s championing of otherwise neglected or despised filmmakers
and his avocation of a personal approach to cinema had certainly
contributed to the explosion of auteurism at Cahiers. But Bazin himself
was no militant auteurist. In fact, just a few months before his essay on
Nights of Cabiria, he felt the time had come to strike a note of moderation
and balance in the auteurist polemic in the name of the individual
film itself. His corrective essay, “Sur la politique des auteurs,” advocates
a pluralistic film criticism focusing on the cinematic works themselves
as opposed to a reliance on auteurism alone: “Auteur, yes, but what of?”
(Hillier 1985: 258). Bazin felt the time had come to distance himself
from the auteurist excesses of his younger colleagues at Cahiers. Only a
few months later, though, he felt compelled to apply the term auteur to
Fellini in his essay on Nights of Cabiria. It is interesting to note in what
context.
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Bazin’s opinions on Italian neorealism as a revolutionary film
practice aimed at capturing the continuity and ambiguity of reality
are well-known. Bazin also saw neorealism as an evolutionary practice
and was a staunch defender of both Rossellini and Fellini against the
attacks of Italian leftist critics that their cinema was deviating from or
betraying the essence and social conscience of neorealist filmmaking. In
his laudatory review of La strada for the liberal Catholic journal L’Esprit
(May 1955), Bazin takes to task Chiarini, Aristarco and Cinema Nuovo for
seeking to turn neorealism into “a substitute term for “socialist realism,”
the theoretical and practical sterility of which, unfortunately, no longer
needs to be demonstrated” (Bazin 1997: 115).
He also condemns their subversion of honest film criticism in an
ambience of “political distrust’” (méfiance politique) (117). Unlike in Italy,
in France La strada was received favorably for the most part across a broad
political spectrum, including the Left. In fact, one of the earliest and most
enthusiastic French reviews of the film was Robert Benayoun’s “Quand
Fellini s’ouvre aux chimères,” in the March-April 1955 issue of Positif.
Positif, founded one year after Cahiers in 1952, had staked out its
critical position in fierce opposition to the ‘rightist’ Cahiers and the
‘Catholic’ Bazin. Benayoun, who lets us know that La strada is in no way
a “Christian film,” operates a sort of critical preemption in an attempt
to wrest Fellini away from any claim by the Rossellinian Cahiers and
proclaim him as the only true poet (if not auteur) of the Italian cinema:
Cahiers, fold up your eternal horror, this grasshopper pedant who keeps
bumping into walls with his myopic incompetence: I speak of Rossellini.
[…] For only Federico can, in one stride, clear the bridge of tissues and
crystal into that spontaneous, natural expression intrinsic to a great poet
(Salachas 194).
In November of that same year, France’s inveterate Marxist critic,
Georges Sadoul, intervened in pages of Cinema Nuovo itself to express
his personal opinion on Fellini. Sadoul adopts an unusual criterion of
judgment meant to demonstrate the social progressiveness of La strada
to the skeptics at Aristarco’s journal. Although he criticizes the decadent
aspects of Fellini’s lyricism, Sadoul admits that he came to appreciate
the film’s positive social influence when he heard that women and men
both had seen in La strada a strong critique of domestic exploitation
and violence against women. He concludes that “the film has not served
reactionary forces and its positives outweigh the negatives” (Aristarco
1975: 663). Sadoul’s reasoning is certainly quite different from Bazin’s,
but he comes to a similar conclusion: that La strada is not in conflict
with neorealism and that neorealism cannot be summed up in a single
formula.
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Fellini and the Auteurists
French criticism had been good to Fellini and the director was well
aware of it. In one of his own forays into the La strada debate, the
1955 “Lettera a un critico marxista,” Fellini reminds his Italian leftist
detractors that in France the Marxist critics have received his film most
enthusiastically and cites from several French reviews. By 1957, though,
what on the surface had appeared to be a general critical accord in France
on Fellini was coming unraveled. Il bidone had been mercilessly attacked
by the Italian critics and in France the critical reception was decidedly
mixed. Whereas La strada had been praised in the pages of Positif, the
journal’s director Bernard Chardère lit into Il bidone a year later for its
simplistic schematism and sentimentalizing pathos. Chardère admits
that he was one of the few who did not like La strada­­– “its shifty use
of religion and vulgar poetry” – and he hopes that with Il bidone he will
“see the camp that regards Fellini with mistrust [méfiance] grow” (60).
Bazin, who praises Il bidone in a review, “Il bidone ou le salut en question,”
for France-Observateur, opens the review by sadly acknowledging that his
own French colleagues had joked at the Venice screening about the film
itself being a bidon or “swindle.” It is in this climate of Fellini’s failing
critical favor that Bazin opens his essay on Le Notti di Cabiria, by declaring
that he is fearful of yet a further breach in French support for Fellini’s art,
expecting certain viewers to criticize Le Notti di Cabiria as a “betrayal” for
being “too well made” (Bazin 1971: 83-84). The accusations of betrayal
Bazin anticipates here no longer seem to be exclusively those concerning
Cinema Nuovo’s criteria of “socialist realism,” but ones which concern
phenomenological openness (where the image is one of things left to
chance), cinematographic austerity, and outcast status, traits Cahiers
championed in its most beloved Italian auteur, Roberto Rossellini. In this
context, the assignation of the term auteur to Fellini seems itself to be a
part of Bazin’s apologetic strategy: “I do not intend to repeat what has
been written about Fellini’s message. It has, anyway, been noticeably the
same since I vitelloni. This repetition naturally is not to be taken as a sign
of sterility. On the contrary, while variety is the mark of metteurs en scène,
it is unity of inspiration that connotes true auteurs (86-87).
Bazin invokes the politique des auteurs for Fellini as a prescient rebuttal
to what would become one of the major complaints by auteurist critics
and others of his work, excessive repetition of the same messages, themes,
images and obsessions from one film to the next – precisely that which
makes a Fellini film so unmistakably author-marked or ‘Felliniesque.’
Bazin’s definition of Fellini as an auteur is cast as a justification for an
arguable fault in his work, repetition. It lacks the tone of sweeping
conviction typical of other Cahiers critics when they wrote about their
chosen auteurs, perhaps because Bazin himself had mildly reproached
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Albert Sbragia
his colleagues at Cahiers for abusing the term, or perhaps because many
of those same colleagues certainly did not share his judgment that
Fellini was an auteur.
That Fellini enjoyed a certain place of prominence for Cahiers in
the mid-fifties is without doubt. His films consistently figured in the
journal’s 10 best films of the year lists: La strada at 7th place in 1955, Il
bidone 7th in 1956, and Le Notti di Cabiria at 3rd in 1957 (Hillier 1985:
285-86). Much of this attention and esteem, however, was due in large
part to a restricted circle of Fellini supporters at the journal: Bazin,
Jacques Doniol-Valcroze, and Pierre Kast being the most important.
Bazin and Doniol-Valcroze worked behind the scenes to have Fellini’s
writings published in the journal as a first step toward the coveted
interview, a sign of a director approaching auteur status (de Baecque
132). Kast, who was often at critical odds with the younger auteurists,
was a vocal promoter of Fellini. Other Cahiers critics, in particular the
young auteurists themselves who would go on to found the Nouvelle
Vague, were much less enthusiastic about Fellini. The internal debate at
Cahiers over La strada reached the point where Truffaut could quip in
the June 1955 issue that a new Parisian game was “Êtes-vous stradiste ou
anti-stradiste?” and then proceed to list on which side the editorial staff
of Cahiers fell (de Baecque 241).
Cahiers had a policy of letting its critics write for the most part on
films and directors they especially liked. For Bazin this policy was also
one of the reasons the politique des auteurs found very fertile ground at
the journal: “It follows that the strictest adherents of the politique des
auteurs get the best of it in the end, for, rightly or wrongly, they always
see in their favorite directors the manifestation of the same specific
qualities” (Hillier 1985: 248). The young auteurists were writing about
the Europeans Renoir, Rossellini, and later Bergman, but they were not
writing about Fellini. Truffaut is the only one of the future Nouvelle Vague
five (the others being Chabrol, Godard, Rivette, Rohmer) who paid
Fellini more than passing attention in print. And even Truffaut’s reviews
were short reportages from the Venice or Cannes film festivals. Typical
of Truffaut’s early attitude towards Fellini is his 1955 Venice report on
Il bidone: “I find all Fellini’s films irritating: The White Sheik because it is
petty, A Matrimonial Agency because of its feigned sensitivity, I vitelloni
because of its limitations, La strada because of its laborious and literary
punctiliousness.” Il bidone is no better for Truffaut except for the fact
that Hollywood star Broderick Crawford occupies its visual foreground.
He continues: “Il bidone combines the qualities of these four films to the
extent that Fellini’s faults, which are always the same: lack of substance,
gross symbolism, technical errors, become secondary, are miles away
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Fellini and the Auteurists
in the depth of field, masked and diluted by the sublime features of
Broderick Crawford” (Fava and Viganò 89). Truffaut’s backhanded praise
of Il bidone is a vehicle for auteurist irony: the consistently bad director
is panned, Bazin’s criterion of depth of field is paradoxically invoked,
the Hollywood star is revered.
One of the main points of contention between the pro- and antiFellini camps at Cahiers regarded Fellini’s status with regard to Rossellini.
When Voyage to Italy and La strada both appeared in the same year,
the question soon became which Italian film represented the so-called
“road” to the modern (de Baecque 241-45). The Bazinian faction had
from the beginning sought to validate both directors by pairing the two,
at times in a relationship of filiation (the founder of neorealism and his
former assistant), against the accusations of Italian critics that both were
betraying the essence of neo-realism. Bazin adopted this approach in his
May 1955 review of La strada: the two directors “dissent from, let us
call it, neo-socialist-realism, Rossellini and Fellini (who was Rossellini’s
assistant and in many ways remains his disciple)” (Bazin 1997: 116).
Throughout the 1955 issues of Cahiers the pro-Fellini and proRossellini camps alternatively take the stage. In January, Kast praises La
strada over Voyage; in March, André Martin hints at auteurification for
Fellini; in April, the cover photo is of La strada with the note that Fellini’s
film is “le grand événement cinématographique de l’année 1955.” In the
same issue begins the counterattack. In his “Lettre sur Rossellini,” Rivette
responds implicitly to Kast by noting the vast superiority of Rossellini’s
art vis-à-vis the “daubings of a Soldati, Wheeler, Fellini” (Hillier 1985:
199). In May comes Rohmer’s “La Terre du Miracle” which underscores
the artistic distance between Rossellini and Fellini. Most important for
the aspiring filmmakers at Cahiers, Rossellini, especially the Rossellini
of Viaggio in Italia, was their filmmaking model and not Fellini. It is
Rossellini, declares Rivette, who is “modern” in an “exemplary” way,
who “opens a breach” which “all cinema, on pain of death, must pass
through.” Rossellini is the autobiographical auteur filming “the most
everyday details of his life […] “exemplary” in the fullest sense that
Goethe implied: that everything in it is instructive, including the errors.”
It is Rossellini’s Viaggio “in which we can at last recognize what we were
vaguely awaiting […] Here is our cinema, those of us who in our turn are
preparing to make films” (Hillier 1985: 192-203). When the final tally at
Cahiers was taken at the end of the year, Rossellini’s Viaggio in Italia was
voted the best film of 1955, La strada placed at seventh.1
In many ways, Bazin’s 1957 “Cabiria ou le voyage au bout du neorealisme” constitutes a late contribution to the debate. After anticipating
criticisms of the film, after the ascription of Fellini’s repetition of message
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Albert Sbragia
to the “unity of inspiration” of the true auteur, after the neorealist
association with Rossellini, directors who give pride of place “to the
representation of reality at the expense of dramatic structures,” Bazin
launches into his praise of Fellini’s modernity: “I even tend to view
Fellini as the director who goes the farthest to date in this neorealist
aesthetic, who goes even so far that he goes all the way through it and
finds himself on the other side” (Bazin 1971: 87).
Did Bazin’s pro-Fellinian view win out at Cahiers in the end? Not
really. Truffaut did slowly begin his turn towards a lifelong admiration
of Fellini with Nights of Cabiria (Truffaut 1978: 270). Even more
significantly, Claude Chabrol’s early films, the first of the New Wave
proper, demonstrate obvious Fellinian influences which his leftist critics
at Premier Plan were the first to notice to the detriment of Chabrol, and
often Fellini (Borde, Bauche, Curtelin 6, 39). The other young Turks at
Cahiers tended to retain their hostility toward Fellini. In the June 1958
issue Rivette would praise Rossellini’s austere style which “closes” around
bodies and things while condemning Fellini’s “exhibitionism” (de
Baecque 234). One month later in the July issue, at the height of Cahiers’
embrace of Ingmar Bergman, Godard, in his essay “Bergmanorama,”
would undercut the closing argument of Bazin’s Cabiria essay that the
film’s final shot constitutes “the boldest and most powerful shot in the
whole of Fellini’s work” (Bazin 1971: 91), by noting that the technique
had already been used, and to much better effect, by Bergman in Summer
with Monika (Godard 1972: 79). Nor is a Rossellinian comparison missing
since Godard opens his essay by noting that in the history of cinema
Voyage to Italy is one of only a handful of films one would like to review
by simply saying “it is the most beautiful of films” (75).
The death of Bazin in November of 1958, and Fellini’s turn towards
a more “spectacular” (read non-Rossellinian) and self-consciously
autobiographical filmmaking with La Dolce Vita, resulted in his further
decline from grace in the pages of Cahiers. La dolce vita won the
Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1960 but barely figured on the radar screen
of the Cahiers’ best films of 1960 list, coming in at 17th place (Hillier
1986: 329). More ominously, if the Fellini of the 50s had existed in
Rossellini’s shadow at Cahiers, the Fellini of the early 60s would exist
in Antonioni’s. Although the love of Antonioni was not unanimous at
Cahiers, the mantle of Italian modernity at the journal was shifting from
Rossellini to Antonioni, bypassing Fellini. In the May 1962 issue, the
politique delivered a final blow to the depleted Fellini-auteur camp. In
a survey entitled “Fifty-Four Italian Filmmakers,” André Labarthe lists
only “‘three greats,” who are, without challenge, Antonioni, Rossellini
and Visconti” (52). In the second category are “some unique talents, but
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Fellini and the Auteurists
whose genius has not affirmed itself to the point of being considered to
be essential (Fellini, for example)” (52). Labarthe’s brief assessment of
Fellini’s later films is particularly damning:
His more recent works however arouse mistrust (méfiance), each new one
outdoing the previous. A past master in wielding moral ideas, nurturing
the motifs dearest to him to the point of satiation, Fellini now chases the
dream of a gaudy and baroque spectacle meant to leave us transfixed with
amazement. No matter: to such a genius of the blockbuster we are free to
prefer the scriptwriter of a simple world, discovered by Rossellini (58).
The condemnation could not be much more severe, a suspect
commercial sellout of exhausted ideas who has betrayed the true ethos
of the Rossellinian auteur: and the ultimate auteurist jab, Fellini was at
his best not as a director but as a screenwriter, a “scénariste.”

In 1962-63 the auteurist polemic erupted in US film criticism. Andrew
Sarris, who had become interested in the Cahiers group and had spent
some time in Paris, published his “Notes on the Auteur Theory in 1962”
in Film Culture. Pauline Kael ripped apart the “theory” and Sarris both in
a stinging attack (“Circles and Squares”) in the spring 1963 issue of Film
Quarterly. Sarris offered a woefully weak response “The Auteur Theory
and the Perils of Pauline” in the summer issue of the same journal,
in which he never once directly engaged Kael. Nonetheless, Sarris
recovered from the blow and went on to champion the penetration of
an auteurist consciousness in American film criticism.
In transforming the French politique into an American theory, Sarris
posits in his “Notes on the Auteur Theory” three concentric circles of
directorial merit for establishing auteur status: “technical competence,” a
“distinguishable personality” or “personal style,” and “interior meaning”
(Sarris 1973: 49-51). Although Sarris’s ranking of auteurs is still broadly
international at this point – there are 13 non-Americans on his top 20
list (including Rossellini, the only Italian) – the “theory” nevertheless
smacks of politique in its American-centrism. American directors are
judged to be “generally superior” in the expression of personal style
for Sarris since they typically are responsible only for this element in a
film and not for its “literary” contents. American production conditions
also seem to motivate Sarris’s declaration that “interior meaning” is
“extrapolated from the tension between a director’s personality and his
material” (50-51). The premises of this American-centrism at the core
of Sarris’s auteurism would strongly influence his critical judgment of
Fellini.
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Fellini does appear at the end of Sarris’s article, as part of a confirmation
of the reliability of auteur theory in ranking the “relative standing”
of directors. If he had not seen Boccaccio ’70, Sarris writes, he would
have anticipated that the “order of merit” of its contributors would be
Visconti, Fellini, De Sica, and, in fact, the film has confirmed precisely
that (52). This tautological proof--no critical evaluation is offered as to
why the film confirms this ranking--first appeared in a 1961 piece in
Showbill entitled “Italy’s Big Four.” It was evidently a piece Sarris was
proud of, perhaps because it is one of his earliest forays into a Cahierslike auteurist discourse. Not only does he mention it in “Notes on the
Auteur Theory,” he also includes the entire essay in his ineffectual
rebuttal to Kael’s critique. Unlike his exclusion from the top three
auteurist tier of the 1962 Cahiers list of Italian directors, here Fellini is
grouped with Visconti, Rossellini, and Antonioni as part of the big four,
occupying the lowest rung. In his comments on Fellini proper, Sarris
praises the “impressive tetralogy” of I vitelloni-La strada-Il bidone-Nights
of Cabiria: “all are bathed in a tragicomic lyricism which is intensely
personal” (Sarris 1970: 32). He is less kind with La dolce vita, calling it
a film in which “Fellini has enlarged his material without expanding
his ideas” rendering it as “bloated as the fish which terminates the orgy
sequence.” Without being “consciously hypocritical,” Fellini offers
a “spectacle of corruption” which beguiles as much as it repulses. He
concludes that if the film can at least contribute to an “awareness of
the hypocrisy of the so-called social morality,” then it “can be forgiven
for its intellectual and formal failures” (33). The intellectual failures are
only hinted at and the formal failures are never specified. We sense in
these comments by Sarris a moralist mistrust of Fellini, not so different
from the méfiance expressed by his French critics.
This moral mistrust will continue to grow in Sarris, but as Fellini’s
career progresses and his public status as the maestro of the Italian cinema
becomes more entrenched, the critic’s suspicions also increasingly touch
on the issue of Fellini’s auteurism. A case in point are his comments on
Fellini’s Toby Dammit in a September 1969 review of the compilation
film Spirits of the Dead. After the critical flurry caused by 8½ and the
lack of critical success of Juliet of the Spirits (both films which Sarris had
panned), Toby Dammit was generally received well and it placed fourth
on the Cahiers list of best films of 1968 . Sarris however is “appalled”
by the film. First, by its ultimate repetition of the “sadistic” impulses he
had sensed already in Fellini’s early films, but even more by what could
be called Fellini’s misuse of his prodigious stylistic talents, in which the
director “is content merely to flourish his own very formidable style to
the point of self-parody” (Sarris 1970: 460). What truly appalls Sarris in
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Fellini and the Auteurists
Fellini is the director’s hypertrophy of an already highly idiosyncratic
cinematic language typical of an auteur, one that comes at the expense
of a disanchoring from referential meaningfulness which calls into
question the premises of auteurism as personal expression:
At what point, therefore, does a personal cinematic language become a tired
cliché. I ask this question of a Fellini film as I would of a Ford or a Hitchcock
or an Ophuls or a Renoir film because it is the ultimate question of film
criticism and a question that is still under debate (461).
Sarris’s comments reflect the same lament of repetition in Fellini that
Bazin had tried to defend and reconfigure by referring to the auteurist
framework--“the unity of inspiration that connotes true auteurs.”
Now, however, it is the auteurist framework itself that Fellini calls into
question.
It would appear that Fellini has become a troublesome limits case
for Sarris, problematizing auteurism as a “theory” for explaining and
judging film as art. Fellini forces upon the theory a need for additional
complication, for more criteria to ensure its efficacy. In so doing, he
also problematizes the entire auteurist pantheon which will now need
to be revisited, rethought, perhaps revised. In this sense, Fellini is both
a threat for Sarris and an assistance. He is a threat because, by calling
into question the premises of the theory, its explanatory persuasion is
undermined and it risks being unseated by new and different theoretical
paradigms; something which was indeed occurring in Europe at the
time and would soon occur in the United States. He is an assistance
because, by forcing the theory to revisit and revise itself, he contributes
to its currency as the ground upon which “the ultimate question of
film criticism” can be debated. Sarris’s subsequent reviews of Fellini’s
films all return at some point to the director’s hypertrophy of the figure
of the auteur. Reviewing Roma, Sarris complains that Fellini “continues
to carry auteurism to absurdism” (Sarris 1972: 81). He sees Amarcord as
being not
so much an autonomous movie as a piece of auteurist cinema. It is
Felliniesque to a fault, so much so, in fact, that Fellini can be charged by his
detractors with having become his own most slavish imitator (Sarris, May
23 1974: 93).
Fellini’s disturbance to the auteur theory as articulated by Sarris
principally concerns the absolutism of its categories, especially of its
two innermost concentric circles. By foregrounding and hypertrophying
his singular “personal style” and his “distinguishable personality,” by
stressing their absolutism in his filmmaking, Fellini compels Sarris to
take the stand that they cannot be absolute: more “distinguishable
personality” is not always better than less and excess is bad. By creating a
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Albert Sbragia
cinema that is repeatedly, unabashedly and provocatively posited as the
spectacular expression of an autobiographical inner life of dream and
fantasy, Fellini does the same to Sarris’ category of “interior meaning.”
By rendering interior meaning absolute as a category, he compels Sarris
to reply that it should not be so. Fellini operates a self-referential shortcircuiting of the auteur theory through an appropriation and explosion
of its categories from within.
Not that Sarris had not anticipated this problem. As Godard came
to realize, auteurism in absolute terms, as a theory and not a politique,
is a conservative position. In the end, it is the traditional power and
discourse of meaningfulness that must be preserved, and that cannot
be accomplished without the posited external referent as its guarantor.
Contrary to Guido’s assertion of the rights of the unfettered auteur in
8½, a film director simply cannot want to say without having something
to say. The Hollywood bias of the auteur theory as Sarris formulates
it is the manifestation of the referential guarantor. For Sarris, the
detachment of the studio director from the “literary content” of his
material is not only the constraint that “forces” him to focus on personal
expression through visual means alone, it is also the constraint that
keeps him tethered to the external referent vs. his own idiosyncratic
subjectivity. Sarris’s definition of interior meaning as being generated
from “the tension between a director’s personality and his material” is
a restatement of the same.
Kael’s attacks on Sarris and the auteur theory in “Circles and Squares”
point out the same “fallacy” of the absolutism of the theory’s categories.
Regarding the “distinguishable personality” category Kael ironizes:
“Often the works in which we are most aware of the personality of the
director are his worst films – when he falls back on the devices he has
already done to death.” Regarding the “interior meaning” category:
It’s amusing (and/or depressing) to see the way auteur critics tend to
downgrade writer-directors – who are in the best position to use the film
medium for personal expression.
And she continues:
Why doesn’t he [Sarris] just come out and admit that writer-directors are
disqualified by his third premise? They can’t arrive at that ‘interior meaning,
the ultimate glory of the cinema’ because a writer-director has no tension
between his personality and his material, so there’s nothing for the auteur
critic to extrapolate from (Kael 1965: 298-304).
Kael’s critique of Sarris underscores and illuminates the similar
conservative grounding of their positions: there can be no self-referential
auteurism that eschews the discourse of meaningfulness grounded on
the external referent. Not surprisingly, Kael, who practiced her own
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brand of auteurism with relative pantheon, was, together with Sarris,
one of Fellini’s harshest American critics, consistently criticizing his
works from an auteurist perspective similar to Sarris’s: “I would dearly
love,” she complains as late as Ginger and Fred,
to see Federico Fellini work on material that doesn’t come out of his worldweary loins. If he worked with a script that had a story and characters and
some propulsion […] he might be renewed and show fresh aspects of his
poetic imagination (Kael 1989: 138).
The Sarris-Kael assault on Fellini was part of a broader shared attitude
toward the explosion in the early 60s of what they perceived to be an
increasingly unfettered European auteurism on the art house circuit,
with its corresponding eschewal of readable referential meaningfulness.
Sarris was an on-and-off-again fan of Antonioni but by the time of the
release of Red Desert he had had enough with the director’s deliberate
obfuscations in the service of what he labeled as “Antoniennui” (Sarris
1970: 192). Kael, who had turned against Antonioni with La notte and
bore a special antipathy towards Renais, similarly deplored
the change from the period in which the meaning of art and form in art
was in making complex experience simple and lucid […] to the current
acceptance of art as technique, the technique which […] makes a simple,
though psychologically confused story look complex, and modern because
inexplicable (Kael 1964: 64).
What Sarris refers to as opacity and Kael as inexplicability is for
Bordwell the trademark of the art film, ambiguity. Bordwell defines the
art film as a delicate balancing act between two characteristic deviations
from classical Hollywood cinema: an increased and more disjointed
realism and, as we saw earlier, a heightened authorial expressivity.
These, he claims, are the two dominant codes that the viewer refers
to in trying to make sense of a narrative that does not readily yield to
interpretation. For Bordwell, a film like Red Desert is largely successful
in maintaining the ambiguity between the two codes. It is possible
to read the film’s color scheme in two registers simultaneously: as
psychological verisimilitude (Giuliana’s perspective) or as authorial
commentary (Antonioni’s perspective). Bordwell argues that Fellini is
less successful in achieving this balance in Giulietta degli spiriti and falls
into “expressionism” (56-63). Even within the confines of the European
art cinema Fellini’s hypertrophy of personal style would seem to have
an unsettling effect because of its eschewal of diegetic referentiality.
If pretensions of auteurism as a theory are long past, Fellini has
continued to provoke strong negative reactions in auteurist-oriented
critics. Of all the major directors David Thomson has discussed in the
various editions of his Biographical Dictionary of Film, none receives
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Albert Sbragia
harsher treatment than Fellini (317-19). For Thomson, nothing redeems
Fellini. He “lacks style and creative intelligence”; he is marked by
“intellectual shallowness”; he is devoid of “the precise point of view
that is essential to the movies.” Orson Welles is quoted to demonstrate
Fellini’s provincial lack of sophistication and his “dangerous signs
of being a superlative artist with little to say” (Welles’s words) – and
Thomson brings Welles back at the end of his entry to underscore
Fellini’s smallness:
Fellini appears to me a half-baked, playacting pessimist, with no capacity for
tragedy. He makes Welles seem a giant and a romantic marvelously able to
create tragedy without being depressing. Welles holds to order while Fellini
is doodling in chaos.
Thomson’s references to Welles have one purpose, to stress that Welles
sought and deserves to be an auteur and that Fellini does not. Much of
Thomson’s essay is devoted to Fellini’s labors to procure an auteur status
for himself that he does not merit: “No other Italian director so absorbed
himself in the act of being an international director. No other director
– apart from Orson Welles – so insisted on the personal derivation of
all his work,” and yet “[Fellini] has never proved himself in the way all
directors must – through style and the use of film as a language, […] for
all the autobiography we know nothing more about Fellini than that
he was an obsessional, vacuous poseur.” Méfiance towards Fellini has
marked auteurist discourse from Cahiers to the present.

The historical record demonstrates that if Fellini’s critical reputation
rises and eclipses with the rise and eclipse of auteurism as a critical
practice, this is in not due to the efforts of the auteurist critics themselves.
They have tended to oppose Fellini’s entrance into the pantheon at every
turn. In either case, we are still left with what Burke has rightly called an
unmerited neglect on the part of theoretical criticism of Fellini’s cinema
in the post-auteurist decades. Perhaps only one thinker, as Marguerite
Waller notes, has broken that mold, French philosopher Gilles Deleuze
(Burke and Waller 12). Let us close with a brief look at this anomaly.
Two things immediately strike the reader of Deleuze’s two-volume
history of cinema as movement-image and time-image. It employs a
remarkably unabashed auteurist orientation, and, especially in its
second volume on post World War II cinema, it is greatly indebted to
the thought of André Bazin. In his preface to the first volume Deleuze
asserts: “The great directors of the cinema may be compared, in our
view, not merely with painters, architects and musicians, but also with
thinkers. They think with movement-images and time-images instead
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Fellini and the Auteurists
of concepts.” The vast production apparatus of the cinema, with its
collaborative, economic and industrial consequences, is seen not as proof
of the inadequacy of an auteurist approach, but only as a hindrance to
personal creation and thought: “The great cinema directors are hence
merely more vulnerable – it is infinitely easier to prevent them from
doing their work” (Deleuze 1986: xiv). Deleuze’s second volume, in
which he deals with Fellini, opens with a tribute to Bazin: “Against those
who defined Italian neorealism by its social content, Bazin put forward
the fundamental requirement of formal aesthetic criteria. According
to him, it was a matter of a new form of reality, said to be dispersive,
elliptical, errant or wavering, working in blocs, with deliberately weak
connections and floating events” (Deleuze 1989: 1).
What joins the auteurism of Bazin and Deleuze is that it is not focused
on the status of the cinematic auteur as such. Rather it views the auteur
as a thinker engaged in a common project of ontological investigation
in an evolving history of ideas as expressed in the cinema. This explains
Bazin’s efforts to keep Fellini (and Rossellini) tethered to neorealism and
the phenomenological project he saw therein. The advantage of the
Bazinian-Deleuzian approach is that it moves beyond the Fellini-auteurist
problematic. It moves beyond Fellini’s own hypertrophy of the discourse
of auteurism which imposes an auteurist approach even on non-auteurist
critics, while simultaneously eroding the very ground on which the
auteurist approach is based (the dilemma of Sarris). This by-passing renders
Bazin’s and Deleuze’s approach a limited one, but less limited, I feel, than
a traditional auteurist approach or the attempt to narcotize authoredness
in Fellini in order to recuperate his films to post-structuralist theory. Its
simplicity, but its persuasiveness as well, lies in its attempt to “verticalize”
meaningfulness in Fellini, a verticality which extends beyond the director
to a common philosophical project in historical evolution.
Not by chance do the paradigms that Bazin and Deleuze apply to
Fellini partake of the same vertical inclination that characterizes their
general approach to cinema, or at least to post-war cinema. For Bazin,
vertical depth in Fellini is a question of appearance and revelation.
These are concepts that punctuate all of Bazin’s writings on neorealism
but they reach their fullest elaboration in Fellini. For Bazin, verticality
is achieved in Fellini’s films through the creation and foregrounding of
breaches in narrative causality, the long scenes that “serve no purpose,”
and through which reality as appearance occurs and is revealed in
“the fullness of its being” (Bazin 1971: 90). Whence Bazin’s famous
pronouncement that in Fellini’s world events do not “arrive” along
a train of horizontal causality, but “befall” or “arise” along a plane of
vertical gravitation (Bazin 1962: 135).
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Albert Sbragia
Deleuze shifts Bazin’s emphasis from a concern with reality to the
concern with time that conditions his reading of individual directorauteurs. The vision and style of each auteur is explored in terms of his
or her personal and unique elaboration of the time-image. Here too the
emphasis is vertical, based on breach, appearance and revelation, the
breach in the movement-image which makes possible the revelation of
the appearance of time as its own image and not in subordination to the
movement-image. Deleuze sees in Fellini a revelation of the time-image
as a multi-faceted crystal that “reveals or makes visible […] the hidden
ground of time, that is, its differentiation into two flows, that of presents
which pass and that of pasts which are preserved” (Deleuze 1989: 98).
As with Bazin, the tension is between a horizontal and a vertical (the
present and the past). For Deleuze, the Fellini film presents us with
worlds and individuals chanced upon and caught in their moment of
simultaneous ectropy/entropy, time caught in its perennial division.
What is appealing about the approaches of Bazin and Deleuze is that
they offer a reading and a validation of Fellini’s cinema as grounded in
metaphysical insight and ontological weightiness. These are attitudes
which sound less strange when expressed in reference to a Rossellini or
an Antonioni, but they go against the grain of so many of the received
notions of Fellini’s more “suspect” cinema, many of which have been
promoted by auteurist criticism itself. They are attitudes which are not in
fashion with much current theorizing on the cinema and are grounded
on the anathema of a non-problematizing acceptance of the director
as creative auteur. But if one of the reasons we read film criticism and
theory is to help us “see deeper” into cinematic works of art, then the
vertical school has done Fellini well.
Note
1
The individual voting is revealing of the fissures concerning Fellini at the
journal. Bazin votes La strada at two and Viaggio at three. Among the four young
Turks who voted (Chabrol, Rohmer, Rivette, Truffaut), each placed Rossellini’s
Viaggio at number one, while only Chabrol voted for La strada (at ninth).
Works Cited
Agenzia matrimoniale [A Matrimonial Agency]. Film segment Amore in città. Dir:
Federico Fellini. Perf: Antonio Cifariello. Faro Film, 1953. Film.
Amarcord. Dir. Federico Fellini. Perf: Magali Noël, Bruno Zanin, Pupella Maggio.
Irvington, NY: Criterion Collection, 1998, DVD.
676
Fellini and the Auteurists
Aristarco, Guido (ed.) Antologia di Cinema Nuovo: 1952-1958 . Florence: Guaraldi,
1975. Print.
Bazin, André. Bazin at Work: Major Essays and Reviews From the Forties & Fifties.
Cardullo, Bert (ed.) New York: Routledge, 1997. Print.
___. Qu’est-ce que le cinéma? Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1962. Vol. 4. Print.
___. What is Cinema? Gray, Hugh (ed.) Berkeley: U of California P, 1971. Vol. 2.
Print.
Boccaccio ’70. Dirs. Federico Fellini, Vittorio De Sica, Luchino Visconti, Mario
Monicelli. Cineriz, 1962. DVD
Bondanella, Peter. The Films of Federico Fellini. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2002.
Print.
Borde, Raymond, Freddy Buache and Jean Curtelin. Nouvelle Vague. Paris:
SERDOC, 1962. Print.
Bordwell, David. “The Art Cinema as a Mode of Film Practice.” Film Criticism
4.1 (1979): 56-64. Print.
Burke, Frank. “Fellini: Changing the Subject.” Film Quarterly 43.1 (Fall 1989):
36-48. Print.
___. Fellini’s Films: From Postwar to Postmodern. New York: Twayne, 1996. Print.
Burke, Frank and Marguerite R. Waller (eds.) Federico Fellini: Contemporary
Perspectives. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2002. Print.
Casanova [Fellini’s Casanova]. Dir. Federico Fellini. Perf: Donald Sutherland, Tina
Aumont, Cicely Browne. Universal-Fox-Gaumont-Titanus, 1976. Film.
Chandler, Charlotte. I, Fellini. New York: Cooper Square, 1995. Print.
Chardère, Bernard. “Venise 1955: images et souvenirs”. Positif 16 (May 1956):
56-61. Print.
De Baecque, Antoine. Les Cahiers du cinéma: Histoire d’une revue. Paris: Editions
Cahiers du cinéma, 1991. Vol 1. Print.
Deleuze, Gilles. Cinema 1: The Movement Image. Trans. Hugh Tomlinson and
Barbara Habberjam. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1986. Print.
___. Cinema 2: The Time-Image. Trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta.
Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1989. Print.
Fava, Claudio and Aldo Viganò. The Films of Federico Fellini. Secaucus: Citadel,
1985. Print.
Fellini, Federico. La Strada. Federico Fellini, director. Bondanella, Peter and
Manuela Gieri (eds.) New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1987. Print.
Fellini Satyricon. Dir. Federico Fellini. Perf: Martin Potter, Capucine, Fanfulla,
Hiram Keller, Salvo Randone. United States: PEA, Produzioni Europee
Associate, 1969. Film.
Ginger e Fred. Dir. Federico Fellini. Perf: Marcello Mastroianni, Giulietta Masina,
Franco Fabrizi. Alberto Grimaldi, PEA, 1985. Film.
Giulietta degli spiriti. [Juliet of the Spirits]. Dir. Federico Fellini. Perf: Giulietta
Masina, Sandra Milo, Mario Pisu. Rizzoli Film, 1965. DVD.
677
Albert Sbragia
Godard, Jean-Luc. Godard on Godard. Narboni, Jean and Tom Milne (eds.) New
York: Viking, 1972. Print.
Graham, Peter (ed.) The New Wave. Garden City: Doubleday, 1968 . Print.
Haberski, Raymond J. Jr. It’s Only a Movie: Films and Critics in American Culture.
Lexington: U of Kentucky P, 2001. Print.
Hillier, Jim (ed.) Cahiers du Cinéma. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1985. Vol.
1. Print.
Il bidone. Dir: Federico Fellini. Perf: Broderick Crawford, Richard Baseheart,
Giulietta Masina. Titanus, 1955. Film.
I clowns. [The Clowns]. Dir: Federico Fellini. Perf: Riccardo Billi, Gigi Reder.
Cinematheque Ontario division of Toronto International Film Festival Group,
1970. Film.
Il deserto rosso. [Red desert]. Dir. Michelangelo Antonioni. Perf: Monica Vitti,
Richard Harris, Carlo Chionetti. United States: Criterion Collection, 2010.
DVD
I Vitelloni. Dir: Federico Fellini. Perf: Alberto Sordi, Franco Fabrizi, Franco
Interlenghi, Leopoldo Trieste. Cité Films, Peg Films, 1953. Film.
La dolce vita. [La Dolce Vita]. Dir: Federico Fellini. Perf: Marcello Mastroianni,
Anita Ekberg, Anouk Aimée, Alain Cuny. Riama Film, Gray Film, Pathé,
1959. Film.
La Notte. Dir. Michelangelo Antonioni. Perf: Jeanne Moreau, Marcello Mastroianni,
Monica Vitti, Bernhard Wicki. New York: Fox Lorber Films: Distributed by
WinStar TV & Video, 2001. Film.
La strada. Dir: Federico Fellini. Perf: Giulietta Masina, Anthony Quinn, Richard
Baseheart. Ponti-De Laurentiis, 1954. Film.
Le notti di Cabiria [Nights of Cabiria]. Dir: Federico Fellini. Perf: Giulietta Masina,
Amedeo Nazzari, Francois Périer. Dino De Laurentiis, Les Films Marceau,
1958. Film.
Kael, Pauline. “Are the Movies Going to Pieces?”. Atlantic 214.6 (December,
1964): 61-66. Print.
___. Hooked. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1989. Print.
___. I Lost It at the Movies. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1965. Print.
Labarthe, André S (ed.) “Cinquante-quatre Cinéastes Italiens.” Cahiers du
Cinéma 131 (May 1962) : 52-67. Print.
Lo sceicco bianco [The White Sheik]. Dir: Federico Fellini. Perf: Brunella Bovo,
Alberto Sordi, Leopoldo Trieste. 1952. Criterion, 2003. DVD.
Metz, Christian. “Mirror Construction in Fellini’s 8½.” Film Language: A Semiotics
of the Cinema. New York: Oxford UP, 1974. 228-34. Print.
Nichols, Bill (ed.). Movies and Methods: An Anthology. Berkeley: U of California
P, 1985. Print.
Salachas, Gilbert. Federico Fellini: An Investigation into his Films and Philosophy.
Trans. Rosalie Siegel. New York: Crown, 1969. Print.
678
Fellini and the Auteurists
Sarris, Andrew. “The Auteur Theory and the Perils of Pauline.” Film Quarterly
16:4 (Summer 1963): 26-33. Print.
___. Confessions of a Cultist: On the Cinema, 1955-1969. New York: Simon and
Schuster, 1970. Print.
___. “Federico to a Fare-the-Well.” The Village Voice (September 19, 1974): 83-84.
Print.
___. “Films in Focus: Fellini’s Roma.” The Village Voice (December 14, 1972): 81.
Print.
___. “Films in Focus: Amarcord.” The Village Voice (May 23, 1974). 93. Print.
___.The Primal Screen. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1973. Print.
Thomson, David. A New Biographical Dictionary of Film. New York: Knopf, 2010.
Print.
Truffaut, François. “Ali Baba et la Politique des auteurs.” Cahiers du cinéma 44
(February 1955): 45-46. Print.
___. “Il bidone.” Cahiers du cinéma 51 (October 1955): 19. Print.
___. The Films in My Life. Trans. Leonard Mayhew. New York: Simon and
Schuster, 1978. Print.
Viaggio in Italia [Voyage to Italy]. Dir: Roberto Rossellini. Perf: Ingrid Bergman,
George Sanders, Maria Mauban. London: British Film Institute, 2003. DVD.
8½ [Otto e mezzo]. Dir: Federico Fellini. Perf: Marcello Mastroianni, Anouk
Aimée, Claudia Cardinale. Cineriz, Francinex, 1963. Film.
679
The Moral Realism of Beppe Fenoglio’s
Appunti partigiani
Ian Seed
University of Chester
Abstract: This essay conducts a reappraisal of Beppe Fenoglio’s Appunti partigiani,
a work which has been unjustly neglected. It discusses the relationship of
the Appunti to neorealist memorialistica and to Fenoglio’s later fiction such as Il
partigiano Johnny, in terms of attitudes to the Resistance, literary technique,
and the aesthetic of remaining true to experience without embellishment. The
essay demonstrates how Appunti partigiani raises profound moral questions in
its depiction of civil war, for example in the story of the execution of a spy, yet
without necessarily condemning the Resistance itself. Finally, the essay examines
the role of the narrator/protagonist “Beppe” in creating an intimate rapport with
the reader, so that we trust him as someone with moral integrity and live through
the experience of being a partisan with him. In conclusion, the essay argues that
Appunti partigiani offers one of the most revealing accounts of the Resistance.
Keywords: Beppe Fenoglio, Italian Resistance, Appunti partigiani, Neorealism,
moral realism, Resistance literature.
Introduction
uring the time of the struggle of the Italian Resistance, Beppe Fenoglio
(1922-63) is reported to have kept some kind of diary (now lost)
in which he was constantly scribbling away. It is thought that the first
extant Resistance writings we have of Fenoglio, Appunti partigiani, written
in 1946 but not published until 1994, were based on these early notes.1
This article will argue that Appunti partigiani has been passed over
too quickly by critics of Fenoglio, who have ignored the complex
exploration of the traumatic experience of civil war that this early work
represents. While the Appunti, written over columns of loose butcher
account papers, were rightly regarded as an important find when
first discovered in the 1990s, they have been considered mainly as a
mere precedent for the short stories and novels that were to come. For
example, Luca Bufano states that at this stage the young Fenoglio has
plenty to say – the issue is that he has not yet found a satisfactory form
to say it in: “Manca la tecnica” (61). Philip Cooke suggests that Fenoglio
“experienced trouble with his choice of tenses” (31). In Roberto Bigazzi’s
important book, Fenoglio (2011), the Appunti partigiani only merit a brief
discussion among other early “esperimenti narrativi e teatrali” (35).
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The Moral Realism of Beppe Fenoglio’s Appunti partigiani
Yet there are interesting indications, albeit made in passing, that
perhaps we need to spend a little more time over Appunti partigiani.
Fenoglio’s younger sister, Marisa, said that “la prima grande sorpresa”
was “la riscoperta di Beppe giovane [....]. Il figlio, il fratello così come
lo avevo conosciuto io” (39). Lalla Romano described the book as an
example of what a “poem” should be (35). There are questions we can
ask here: what does Appunti partigiani tell us about the ways in which
Fenoglio perceives and seeks to recreate the “reality” of his experience
of the Resistance? How does “Beppe”, the narrator-protagonist, relate
to this reality? How is the young, relatively inexperienced author able
to create a convincing moral realism when dealing with the complex
issues posed by a civil war? While we are looking at these questions, we
also need to consider how the possible answers presage and yet differ
from the reality created by Fenoglio’s later work, especially that of Il
partigiano Johnny.
The Relationship of the Appunti partigiani to the Neorealist
memorialisti and to Fenoglio’s Later Work
The story of the Appunti partigiani covers the short period from
2 November 1944, just after the small city of Alba in Piemonte was
retaken by the Fascists after the “ventitré giorni” of partisan occupation.2
It comes to a stop suddenly in mid-sentence on 23 December after a
Fascist rastrellamento, which ended with the humiliating defeat and
dispersal of the partisans. Interestingly, many of the characters, stories
and events described in the Appunti partigiani are the same ones we find
in Il partigiano Johnny (first published in 1968) and other later work.
Fenoglio returns to the same material, indeed the same events, over and
over again, as if he is still trying to make sense of what happened. The
no-holds-barred honesty for which Fenoglio is famous, the concern to
communicate the reality of the Resistance is already present in these
earliest writings, for example in the way he describes the casual brutality
of the partisans. The comically grotesque element is also there. However,
there is no tragic element in Appunti partigiani. The Appunti reflect in
many respects the form and tone of the numerous partisan diaries and
memoirs that were published just after the war: the “hero” of the book
has the same name as its author, “Beppe”, as if to confirm that this
is fact, not fiction; the story is told in the first person in a mixture of
the present and past tense; the language is simple and immediate, as
if, like a Resistance diary or memoir, it does not wish to have literary
pretentions; the emphasis is firmly on lived experience; the dedication
at the beginning shows the desire on the part of the author to pay
tribute to the Resistance – “A tutti i partigiani d’Italia, morti e vivi”.
The word “partigiani” has been substituted for the crossed-out word
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Ian Seed
“caduti”, as if Fenoglio wishes to avoid too much patriotic rhetoric with
regards to the sacrifice made by partisans. In spite of some of the brutal
incidents described, there is an impression of exuberance (which only
occurs again in brief moments in the later work of Fenoglio), a sense of
relief and joy at having survived. In Casadei’s words:
Negli Appunti, il protagonista sente di essere il sopravvissuto […] colui che,
dopo la lotta, resta vincitore e detentore di ogni potere sulla morte. Il suo
racconto è quello di chi può raccontare con gioia (70).
In this feeling of relief at “getting through” the experience, Fenoglio
has much in common with memoir writers of the time such as Battaglia,
Bolis, Chiodi, and Levi Cavaglione.3 The tragic knowledge which came
with the full subsequent disillusionment of the 1950s, which in some
sense rendered the sufferings of the Resistance “absurd”, will not fully
appear in Fenoglio’s Resistance writing until Il partigiano Johnny.
Nevertheless, it is also possible to exaggerate the points in common
that the Appunti have with neorealist memorialisti. Fenoglio was well
aware of the limitations of language itself and therefore of the so-called
memorialistica with its avowed aim of being true to the experience of
the Resistance. This may have been the main reason, as Cooke and
others4 suggest (I shall argue shortly that there may have been another
important reason), that Fenoglio, as far as we know, never attempted
to publish the Appunti. Yet this early work goes beyond the more
documentary style of someone like Nuto Revelli.5 It is a work which is
already markedly literary and makes use of poetic symbols such as “il
vento”, with its echoes of Wuthering Heights (a book which Fenoglio was
passionate about all his life).
The partisans of the Appunti are not so different in many ways from
the partisans of the short stories and novels which were to come. Even
at this early stage in the writer’s career (this is 1946, when numerous
hagiographic memoirs and diaries were being published, and one year
before Calvino’s more satirical Il sentiero dei nidi di ragno), Fenoglio’s
eye for the absurd and grotesque aspects of the Resistance was as
keen and sardonic as it would ever be. It is worth listing a few of
these aspects to give ourselves a flavour of the book. The partisans are
generally unkempt and filthy; they spend a lot of time doing nothing:
“La mattina, usciamo a spasso, tre disoccupati” (Fenoglio 1994: 67);
their weapons are out‑of-date and often fail to work at the crucial
moment; their vehicles are clapped-out and useless; the commanders
do not seem to have any kind of coherent military plan and are
outwitted and beaten by the more efficient Fascist brigades on almost
every occasion; the Allies are portrayed as distant and indifferent to
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The Moral Realism of Beppe Fenoglio’s Appunti partigiani
their plight: “Vengon sú o vanno giú questi Alleati delle balle” (58);
relationships with the civilian population are mixed and change
according to the varying fortunes of the partisans; there is a comic
and seemingly pointless rivalry (a little like that between supporters of
opposing football clubs) between the politically-mixed azzurri and the
Communist rossi, a rivalry which threatens on more than one occasion
to spill over into armed combat. The partisans, like those of Calvino’s
later Sentiero, are generally apolitical, and many seem to have no clear
motive for having joined the Resistance; indeed, they seem to be more
interested in showing off and picking up girls than in fighting Fascists –
there is also intense rivalry for the attention of girls, not only between
the azzurri and rossi, but between individual partisans. (As well as being
objects of desire, however, women are also portrayed as bearing arms
and taking an active part in the Resistance, for example in the guarding
of prisoners – a clear sign of Fenoglio’s desire to paint a picture which
is historically accurate, when often male commanders, afraid that the
Resistance would not be taken seriously by the civilian population,
preferred to hide the contribution made by women.6) There is much
casual and needless violence on the part of the partisans – they beat up
Fascist prisoners for the pleasure of it, squabble over who will have the
privilege of killing a prisoner, talk gleefully about the manner in which
prisoners die terrified, and are happy to beat up and kill their own
for misdemeanors such as theft. Given these aspects of the Resistance
that Fenoglio as early as 1946 was bringing alive in his writing, we
can surmise that one reason that he may not have tried to publish
the Appunti was because he believed the Italians would not be ready
for such truths in the climate of the time. After all, another writer,
Rimanelli, was unable to publish Tiro al piccione, his harsh portrait
of a civil war, until 1953, even though it was written in the 1940s.
Certainly, Fenoglio’s truths about the nature of this civil war would be
highlighted in an even more powerful form in the short stories (where
we do not have the sentimental “Beppe” to charm and distract us)
which he would publish a few years later. However, the short stories are
not obviously autobiographical to the same extent that the Appunti are.
Fenoglio may have felt that to have published the Appunti would have
been a betrayal of his dead companions as well as of those who were
still alive. We know that Fenoglio may have had similar misgivings
about Il partigiano Johnny ten years later, and that this may have been
one of the reasons why in the end he never submitted the bulk of that
book to his editor (Negri Scaglione 214). Fenoglio, after all, was writing
about real individuals who had either been killed by the Fascists or
with whom he might still have to come face-to-face at some point.
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Ian Seed
The Moral Questions Raised by Appunti partigiani about the Italian
Resistance
The grotesque and satirical elements are there, then, from the outset.
Episodes in the book would be revisited, in some cases many times
over, in Fenoglio’s later work – as if Fenoglio were still trying to get it
right up until the end of his life. Yet also already present is the very
strong moral dimension which, when combined with Fenoglio’s nopunches-pulled description, creates a realism which distinguishes him
so clearly from other Resistance writers. This moral dimension is never
stated; we are never preached to either by Fenoglio or by the narrator/
protagonist Beppe. Rather, through use of concrete and sensory detail,
we are shown events which make us ask the questions ourselves. Even at
this early stage of his writing career, Fenoglio is able, through the details
he selects, to describe violence in a way that seems real, and yet which
never comes across as gratuitous or as pornographic (unlike Rimanelli,
for example, in Il tiro al piccione, or even the more experienced writer
Vittorini, who, when describing the corpses laid out in the streets and
squares of Milan or the torture of prisoners in Uomini e no, almost
seems at times to be taking pleasure in his own power to shock through
description). In order to illustrate my point, I shall look at a couple of
Fenoglio’s descriptions in detail.
First, the summary execution of a spy. On a day of executions (earlier
a Fascist prisoner had been shot), the presumed spy, a teacher “con la
faccia di cenere”, is brought into the main square of the village under
partisan guard. Immediately his humanity is hinted at – without ever
being stated – by the description of running school children who follow
the partisans because they want to see “cosa gli fanno al maestro”
(Fenoglio 1994: 39). Quickly a mob gathers, indifferent to what the
children might think of their behaviour. And here the ironic eye of
Fenoglio goes to work, made all the more acute by the fact that we
already know how changeable the civilian population can be with their
sympathies, however genuine their hatred of spies:
Fin dal primo momento la gente esce di cervello, gli uomini e piú le donne.
Grida al bastardo, al traditore che metteva la sua istruzione a scrivere belle
lunghe lettere agli assassini S. Marco, alla carogna che fa schifo anche al
Dio della pietà, che ora il porco lo portano al macello, e bravi partigiani che
finalmente fate il vostro dovere (Fenoglio 1994: 39).
Here we need to bear in mind that this desire for a resa dei conti was
still very much a force to be reckoned with in the days and months
immediately following the official end of the war in Italy. It is estimated
that between 10,000 and 12,000 Fascists were killed during and after the
final Resistance insurrection in April 1945.7 During the next two years
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The Moral Realism of Beppe Fenoglio’s Appunti partigiani
the violence continued, albeit on a far lesser scale. Fenoglio is not the
only author to reveal the hypocritical cruelty which ordinary people
could show in their desire for revenge. For example, an old woman in
Giorgio Caproni’s 1946 short story “Il labirinto” describes in lurid terms
the kind of punishment that she believes should be meted out to the
young woman who has betrayed the partisans: “Dovreste portarla nuda
lassú, a scudisciate come Gesú Cristo. Io la stenderei prima nuda sulla
neve e la farei pascolare dalle mani di tutti i Tartari: ammazzarla soltanto
è poco” (52). But with Fenoglio, it is also the tragi-comic aspect of such
incidents which is emphasized, for example when the teacher is put up
against a newly plastered outside wall and the owner comes running
out to tell the partisans to shoot the teacher somewhere else – the owner
doesn’t want his plaster to have bullet holes in it. (The partisans ignore
this request.)
Even though we can assume at this point that the teacher is indeed
guilty of being a spy, our pity is aroused for him by the violence of the
mob and the questions put to them by Moretto, the partisan commander.
The latter appears almost as a Pontius Pilate figure addressing the crowd,
letting them decide upon the judgment and yet at the same time
whipping them up into a fury:
Moretto: Popolo di Rocchetta, è questo il maestro?
La gente urla che è ben quello, e la stessa giostra di bastardo, traditore,
carogna, porco e in più figlio di troia milanese.
Moretto: È o non è una spia?
E la gente col collo gonfio: Sì che è una spia, Cristo che lo è! (Fenoglio
1994, 40)
One of the crowd, in biblical fashion, casts a stone at the teacher. The
irrational nature of the mob’s violence, expressed in such phrases as “in
più figlio di troia milanese” (as if the fact of the teacher being Milanese
were a valid reason as much as any other for killing him) creates a victim
out of the spy. Moretto raises and lowers his Sten Gun to excite them
further before casually letting loose a burst of fire.
When the teacher’s body collapses in “un mucchio nero” – and here,
one cannot help thinking of the pathos of Renata Viganò’s description
of the death of her protagonist Agnese, whose corpse would be left in
“un mucchio di stracci neri sulla neve” (239) – it is he, the Fascist spy,
who becomes the victim. And it is only after he is dead that the crowd
finally falls silent, trembling “come un bosco sotto il vento” (Fenoglio
1994: 40). Yet Fenoglio is still not finished with showing us the human
consequences of this summary execution. The silence is broken by the cry
of a woman who appears in a torn dress, and who, despite the attempts
of one or two partisans to hold her back, breaks through the crowd and
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hurls herself on the corpse (we are not quite sure for a moment why or
what will happen next): “e lo bacia e gli parla, e non vede che il parroco
le si è inginocchiato accanto, nella polvere […] la donna striscia sempre
sul morto, gli netta il viso dalla polvere, gli passa una mano dietro la
nuca per raccogliergli i capelli” (40). By showing us the grief felt by the
teacher’s wife (again, Fenoglio does not tell us that she felt grief, but
illustrates it in a way that makes us feel her grief with her), the author
brings home to us that nothing in the war between Nazi-Fascism and
the Resistance, and by implication any war, is as straightforward as it
might appear to be from more hagiographic accounts of the Resistance.
What we are fighting for may be right, but there are always terrible
human consequences. Those who are on the “right” side may behave
just as appallingly as those who are on the “wrong” side.
I know of no other Resistance writer who is prepared to reveal the
nature and effect of “acts of justice” in this manner. Roberto Battaglia
meditates on the rights and ambiguities of partisan justice in Un uomo,
un partigiano (1945), but he does not show us in depth what it was like
to live through. Even the reflections of the mature Pavese in La casa in
collina (1949) seem almost sentimental in comparison to the narrative
of Fenoglio. Besides, Pavese’s considerations were made in the bitterness
of postwar disillusionment, when it was clear that the Resistance had
not brought about the changes hoped for; other writers, too, by that
time, were asking whether the blood spilt in the civil war was in any
sense worth it. Fenoglio’s questioning is distinguished by the fact that it
springs right out of the Resistance itself.
An important description of partisan violence is also that of the
execution of two partisans, Jack and Blister, who have committed robbery.
This was an episode that Fenoglio would return to in his short story “Il
Vecchio Blister”.8 However, in the Appunti, there is more emphasis on
the sadness of the two deaths, and there is an implicit reproach for the
casually brutal way in which the execution is carried out. We are left with
vivid images of Blister being shot and of the partially buried corpse of Jack:
Blister s’è messo a ridere fortissimo e Set lo fa morire che ride e noi Blister ce
lo ricorderemo sempre cosí [...]
Jack non aveva sopra che un velo di terra, gli spuntavano due terzi delle
scarpe, divaricate. E a nessuno venne piú in mente di tornare a migliorargli
la sepoltura. (Fenoglio 1994: 56)
Again, Fenoglio is not condemning the execution of the partisans,
although he does point out the needlessly ugly way in which it is
conducted. However, as with the execution of the spy, he challenges
us as readers to consider the effects such an event has on the behavior,
thoughts and feelings of human beings.
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The Moral Realism of Beppe Fenoglio’s Appunti partigiani
Beppe the Narrator/Protagonist
All these events are seen through the eyes of Beppe, narrator/
protagonist. Although this does, as I have indicated earlier, create some
technical problems with tenses, it nevertheless creates more of a sense
of intimacy with the reader than exists in the short stories which were
to come. This intimacy makes for an altogether more personal reality.
We are invited to live through the experience of the Resistance with
Beppe, which makes us feel more involved with the events that take
place. The personality of Beppe creates its own “reality effect”.
What kind of character, then, is Beppe? In some ways, he is an earlier
version of Johnny: he is a young student, romantic and idealistic, more
interested in “literature and lovemaking” than in war; companionship
is also of vital importance, not only that of the brothers Cervellino and
Piccàrd (who will later be transformed into Pierre and Ettore in Il partigiano
Johnny), but also that of the German Shepherd dog: “cagna di sette anni
che se t’ama la comandi con gli occhi […] la rivedrò, al più presto, e mi
farò leccare” (Fenoglio 1994: 7). He is better-mannered, better-educated
and cleaner than the other partisans (one reason why he is popular with
girls and more respected by some civilians); importantly, he is also more
“puritan”, more moral than other partisans – for example, he refuses to take
part in the beating up of a prisoner (much to the astonishment of other
partisans), does not get drunk and turns down an offer of going to a brothel.
This strong moral element makes him an outsider, and in some sense more
trustworthy as a narrator of historical reality. We see Beppe as someone with
integrity, who will not, as a narrator of the Resistance, seek to pull the wool
over our eyes – he is not a storyteller with a hidden political agenda.
Yet this morality does not carry with it the sense of tragedy created
by Il partigiano Johnny. One thing that is bound to strike us as unique to
Appunti partigiani is the sense that in some way Beppe is enjoying the life of
a partisan. This is revealed, for example, in the sense of sexual freedom that
he enjoys (something which seems to have been ignored by critics). In no
other book of Fenoglio’s is so much made of this particular aspect of the
Resistance. On the contrary, in Il partigiano Johnny sex will be primarily seen
as a temptation away from the mission of the partisan. It is true, as Beppe
makes clear on the first page of the Appunti, that he has left behind a girl he
loves in Alba (although she does not seem to reciprocate his love). However,
Beppe is not obsessed with the girl in Alba in the same way that Milton is
tragically obsessed with Fulvia in Fenoglio’s last novel Una questione privata.
Certainly, the thought of the girl does not stop Beppe’s flirting with, and
making love to, other girls: “mi metto a guardar solo le gambe di Anna
Maria, gliele voglio studiare a memoria” (Fenoglio 1994: 29). When Anna
Maria asks him if there is another girl in his life, he pretends that there isn’t:
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Non le dico che sí c’è, ma ora mi pare un po’ lontana e per la prima volta
sento il bisogno di tradirla [...] Anna Maria va a essere importante per me,
almeno per il tempo che sono partigiano (29‑31).
Later he will make love to another girl, Claudia, a fellow partisan:
Poi mi fa posto nel letto, e così vedo che sotto la coperta lei giace sulla nuda
rete metallica [...] Mi dice che sono il primo partigiano in mutande che non
la faceva ridere e che dopo il fatto non le fa schifo (74).
What is implied in this last quotation is, of course, the sexual promiscuity
that was enjoyed by many among the partisans. Indeed, the partisans in
the Appunti, as I mentioned earlier, seem more interested in girls than
in fighting Fascists. It also has to be said that many girls, much to the
consternation of their mothers, are equally interested in the partisans,
in a manner not unlike that of Peppa’s love for a bandit in Verga’s
L’amante di Gramigna.
In spite of all the violent and sad events, there is an atmosphere of
allegria throughout the Appunti that is not present in the same way in any
other work by Fenoglio.9 One thinks almost of a group of undergraduate
students or perhaps more accurately of tales of Robin Hood and his
Merry Men, of which Fenoglio had written his own version at the age
of 12. This sense of allegria – the playful element – around the life of the
Resistance is also spoken of by memorialisti such as Roberto Battaglia
or Pino Levi Cavaglione (without, of course, all the sex), is strongly
present in Meneghello’s later I piccoli maestri, and is something which
is pointed out by the ex‑partisan Claudio Pavone in his history of
the Resistance. As Calvino exclaimed on reading Ada Gobetti’s Diario
partigiano: “Dio mio, quanto vi siete diverititi!” (Calvino, in Pavone 28).
Although Appunti partigiani was written in 1946, there is already a sense
of nostalgia for the life the author had led as a partisan. There is even
a sense of nostalgia for nostalgia – the writer Fenoglio nostalgic for the
life of the partisan narrator Beppe, also nostalgic for the girl he has left
behind in Alba.
In the Appunti, Fenoglio is as uncompromising in his portrait of – and
his commitment to – the historical reality of the Resistance as he would
be in all his work. And yet, because of Beppe, there is also a literary and
poetic reality, which creates an intimacy with the reader that we do not
find in any of Fenoglio’s later work.
Conclusion
I have sought to show that Appunti partigiani presents us with a
convincing moral realism in its narrative of the struggle of the Italian
Resistance and the experience of civil war. Through an examination of
Fenoglio’s narrative techniques, I have demonstrated the ways in which
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The Moral Realism of Beppe Fenoglio’s Appunti partigiani
Fenoglio refuses to offer answers, but instead challenges us to explore
complex moral questions for ourselves. Appunti partigiani is not a piece
of juvenilia serving only as a prelude to the Fenoglian canon. Rather,
it is a work which offers us one of the most revealing accounts of the
Italian Resistance.
Notes
See Lorenzo Mondo’s Introduction to Appunti partigiani.
The partisans’ brief and in many ways farcical occupation of the small city
of Alba in Piedmont is related in the title story of Fenoglio’s first published
book, I ventitré giorni della città di Alba (1992) [1952].
3
See Battaglia 2004 [1945], Bolis 1995 [1946], Chiodi 2002 [1946], and Levi
Cavaglione 1971 [1946].
4
See, for example, Bufano (60).
5
See Revelli 1993 [1962].
6
See, for example, Behan (161-74).
7
See Peli (175).
8
This short story was published in I ventitré giorni della città di Alba (1992)
[1952].
9
It is true that allegria is also present at times in Il partigiano Johnny, due in
part to Fenoglio’s linguistic playfulness, but Il partigiano Johnny is tinged with
the irony of the more distant author looking back from the bitter vantage point
of the 1950s.
1
2
Works Cited
Battaglia, Roberto. Un uomo, un partigiano. Bologna: il Mulino, 2004 [1945]. Print.
Behan, Tom. The Italian Resistance: Fascists, Guerrillas and the Allies. London:
Pluto, 2009. Print.
Bigazzi, Roberto. Fenoglio. Rome: Salerno, 2011. Print.
Bolis, Luciano. Il mio granello di sabbia. Milano: Liguria D’Autore, 1995 [1946].
Print.
Bufano, Luca. Beppe Fenoglio e il racconto breve. Ravenna: Longo, 1999. Print.
Calvino, Italo. Il sentiero dei nidi di ragno. Milano: Garzanti, 1987 [1947]. Print.
Caproni, Giorgio. “Il labirinto.” Racconti della Resistenza. Pedullà, Gabriele (a
cura di) Torino: Einaudi, 2005 [1946], 33‑56. Print.
Casadei, Alberto. Romanzi di Finisterre: narrazione della guerra e problemi del
realismo. Roma: Carocci, 2001. Print.
Chiodi, Pietro. Banditi. Torino: Einaudi, 2002 [1946]. Print.
Cooke, Philip. Fenoglio’s Binoculars, Johnny’s Eyes: History, Language, and Narrative
Technique in Fenoglio’s ‘Il partigiano Johnny’. New York: Peter Lang, 2000. Print.
Fenoglio, Beppe. Appunti partigiani 1944-1945. Torino: Einaudi, 1994. Print.
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___. Il partigiano Johnny. Isella, Dante (a cura di). Torino: Einaudi, 1994. Print.
___. I ventitré giorni della città di Alba. Torino: Einaudi 1992 [1952]. Print.
___. Una questione privata. Torino: Einaudi, 1986 [1963]. Print.
Fenoglio, Marisa. “Intervento di Marisa Fenoglio.” Beppe Fenoglio 1922‑1997.
Atti del convegno. Menzio, P. (a cura di). Alba: Electa and Fondazione Ferrero,
1998, 39-42. Print.
Gobetti, Ada. Diario partigiano. Torino: Einaudi, 1996 [1956]. Print.
Levi Cavaglione, Pino. Guerriglia nei castelli romani. Firenze: La Nuova Italia,
1971 [1946]. Print.
Meneghello, Luigi. I piccoli maestri. Milano: Rizzoli, 1999 [1964]. Print.
Mondo, Lorenzo. “Introduzione.” Appunti partigiani 1944-1945. Fenoglio, Beppe.
Torino: Einaudi, 1994. VII‑XV. Print.
Pavese, Cesare. La casa in collina. Torino: Einaudi, 1990 [1949]. Print.
Pavone, Claudio. Una guerra civile: saggio storico sulla moralità nella Resistenza.
Torino: Bollati Boringhieri, 2006. Print.
Peli, S. Storia della Resistenza in Italia. Torino: Einaudi, 2006. Print.
Revelli, Nuto. La guerra dei poveri. Torino: Einaudi, 1993 [1962]. Print.
Rimanelli, Giose. Tiro al piccione. Torino: Einaudi, 1991 [1953]. Print.
Romano, Lalla. L’eterno presente. Torino: Einaudi, 1998. Print.
Verga, Giovanni. Pane nero and other stories. Manchester: Manchester University
Press, 1965. Print.
___. “L’amante di Gramigna”. Vita dei campi. Riccardi, C. (a cura di). Firenze: Le
Monnier, 1987
Viganò, Renata. L’Agnese va a morire. Torino: Einaudi, 1994 [1949]. Print.
Vittorini, Elio. Uomini e no. Milano: Mondadori, 1990 [1945]. Print.
690
Ferruccio Brugnaro:
Italy’s Proletarian Poet
RoseAnna Mueller
Columbia College Chicago
Abstract: Ferruccio Brugnaro is known as Italy’s working-class poet. He was
born outside Venice in 1936 and spent most of his adult years toiling in the
vast and inhospitable chemical factories near his birthplace, Mestre, located
on Venetian terra firma. Brugnaro’s poetry aims to speak for all the blue-collar
workers in Italian industry, but in particular the chemical factories in Mestre.
Brugnaro has published six collections of poetry. His writing career began when
he was encouraged by his co-workers to distribute mimeographed copies of his
poems along with union leaflets during meetings. They eventually became part
of the literature distributed during demonstrations, processions, on picket lines,
and at worker assemblies. Some of Brugnaro’s verses were later set to music. His
later poems describe the restorative powers of nature, as well as devotion to and
sacrifice for family, and express gratitude for his wife’s love.
Keywords: proletarian poetry, protest poetry, worker’s rights.
F
erruccio Brugnaro was born on August 18, 1936, in Mestre, outside
Venice, and spent most of his adult years toiling in the vast,
inhospitable and often dangerous chemical factories near his birthplace.
Mestre, on Venetian terra firma, experienced rapid and disorganized
urban growth following World War II, and grew so rapidly that it became
its own city in 1923. It is home to many factories, and Brugnaro worked
in the Montefibre-Montedison complex for over thirty years. He also
served in the Montefibre-Montedison Works Council, and was at the
forefront of the inside worker’s movement for twenty years. Because
much of his poetry documents his work in a factory, and since he is a
self-declared communist, he is considered as one of Italy’s best-known
working-class or proletarian poets.
Although it may be a commonplace or a cliché to label a poet a
prophet, it is appropriate to do so in the case of Ferruccio Brugnaro.
Before the widespread use of the internet, the social media, and
networking, Italy’s blue-collar poet began to write and share his poetry
with his fellow co-workers. Brugnaro is a self-taught poet who currently
lives in Spinea, outside Venice. Brugnaro’s writing career began in 1965,
when he began to distribute his poetry, stories and thoughts among
the various neighborhoods and schools to address his fellow workers
ITALICA • Volume 92 • No. 3 • Fall 2015
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RoseAnna Mueller
through mimeographed leaflets and pamphlets. Later, his works
appeared in many magazines, which Bertani gathered and published
in several volumes, including: Vogliono cacciarci sotto (1975), Dobbiamo
volere (1976), and Il silenzio non regge (1978).
His very factory co-workers in Porto Marghera, an industrial zone
west of Venice, encouraged the poet to distribute mimeographed copies
of his poems along with union leaflets during meetings. These poetry
leaflets were consequently bundled and passed around from one factory
to another, then they made their way from one district to another.
They eventually became part of the literature distributed during
demonstrations, processions, on picket lines, and at worker assemblies.
In retrospect, Brugnaro was aware that this way of disseminating his
verses had served its purpose and would eventually be supplanted by the
internet. Some of the verses ended up posted along with the Orgosolo
murals in Corsica. Some of Brugnaro’s verses were later set to music by
the Venetian singer Gualtierro Bertelli in 1977 (Garancini 161).
Brugnaro then turned to other means of disseminating his poetry,
as suggested by several comrades, mimeographing them like union
leaflets. But he was hesitant to do so until one female co-worker finally
convinced him to distribute his work and not worry so much about
being taken for an intellectual or considered as a worker who was
stepping out of bounds. “She made the powerful point that my poetry
was an integral part of my daily comportment, and an integral part of
our anguish, our idealism, our demands for equality, for social justice,
for liberty.” He continues in his artist statement, ‘Your poetry’ – at one
moment she shouted at me with resolution – ‘is all about our dreams’.
And so the mimeo-poem, the leaflet-poem was born in 1963. The poems
were passed around in bundles of tens and fifteens or leafleted in the
fronts of Porto Marghera factories. Consequently, Brugnaro composed
verses to encourage his comrades when they were on strike.
The first of these widely distributed poems was against the war in
Vietnam. “When the great encounters of ’68 came, I was more than ever
tied to and part of the worker’s movement and continued to struggle and
write.” In the month of October 1990 his anti-war poem appeared among
five hundred other poems plastered onto walls in Venice and Mestre.
“I’m a guy against any war. No discussions about making war: wars have
got to be rejected. Period” (“In Order to Affirm” 380). These poems later
travelled to Rome, where they were displayed in public spaces.
Brugnaro wanted to see mimeographed poetry accepted, and was
delighted when he broke through the barriers that kept it marginalized
and ignored. Taking advice from the experience of Eugenio Vitali,
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Ferruccio Brugnaro: Italy’s Proletarian Poet
an artisan from Ravenna who wrote The Book of Postering, he took
the struggle to the walls. Mimeographed poetry began to enter the
universities and academic anthologies. The poet was delighted to see
that his voice was not a solitary one; during the Seventies, Vincenzo
Guerrazzi, a Genoese, Tommaso di Ciaula, a Barese, Sandro Sandella, a
Milanese, and Franco Cardinale, a Neapolitan, joined others who were
trying to have their voices heard and their writing published. With
other workers who shared these concerns, Brugnaro, in the Eighties,
started the “abiti-lavoro” publications in Milan.
The militant poet recalls days of writing poetry and passing it
around with immense joy, fully aware that his poems created interest
and provoked discussion and action. He was delighted that he came
to be known as “A worker who wrote poetry.” As he explained in his
artist statement, “There was a visible mixture of amazement and pride
among my comrades. I’ve very much lived in memory of their numbers
through the many questions on the meaning of making poetry. And
I’ve told them, repeating to them with decisiveness that we have to
capture the word as well, that the word is a powerful weapon, that we
must write what we feel inside, that in effect we will become stronger if
we use our abilities to speak, to tell our lives and our histories.”
All in all, 30,000 copies of the poem “La crisi, c’è la crisi” were
distributed at major Italian factories, including Fiat Mirafiori, the
Petrolchimico plant at Brindisi, and the Alfa plant at Arese. Brugnaro
fondly remembers distributing this poem, which he labels “ironicsarcastic,” with his two factory co-workers, Mario and Sergio.
In his preface to Brugnaro’s 1987 anthology, Le stelle chiare di queste
notti, Giovanni Garancini writes that it was about time that Brugnaro’s
poetry received the critical acclaim it deserved. The eighty poems in this
anthology were written between 1975 and 1992.
“La crisi, c’è la crisi”
La crisi, c’è la crisi.
Non vedete, non capite
compagni
che c’è la crisi.
Il padrone
non ce la fa più
non può più sostenere
questa situazione.
Diamogli una mano
compagni (…)
C’è la crisi.
C’è la crisi. (38)
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The poem ends like many others of Brugnaro’s poems with an emphatic
repeating couplet. This is only one of many poems in which Brugnaro
criticizes how factories are run with their top-down management style
and an inept administration. The bosses just don’t know what is going
on, he tells his fellow workers. The workers, who produce the goods,
do. And they should be the ones to help the workplace run more
democratically and efficiently.
Brugnaro toured the U.S. with his translator Jack Hirschman in 1998,
when Fist of Sun, a bi-lingual anthology, was published. This is the poetry
of struggle and protest that speaks for all the blue-collar workers in
Italian industry, but in particular Brugnaro vividly describes the working
conditions in the chemical factories in Mestre, and his experience there
for over thirty years until he retired. I was fortunate to review Fist of Sun
for Voices in Italian Americana, Fall 1999, volume number 2. I received an
artist statement along with the book, titled “Fragments from a Worker’s
Life.” In it, Brugnaro described his life and work.
At a very early age, I began working in Porto Marghera – at the outset, for
some years, in a small metallurgical factory, and then, for a much longer
period, in a large chemical complex. Factory days were very hard. Initially,
in the first years of the Fifties, I received a salary of 7,000 lira ($4.25) a week.
The work was killing, my health was always in dire jeopardy, and it was
impossible to live… Facing all that, my rage was great and my desire for
rebellion indescribable.
He recalls how he became involved with the factory union movement
wanting to address the intolerable conditions for himself and for his
comrades. He calls his early poems “bloody fragments of life” and
“instruments of struggle.”
In the early Sixties Brugnaro sent his first works to literary magazines
and to other writers and poets, only to meet with rejection.
Save for some exceptions, some small recognitions, the wall that I met was
unspeakable. There were those who wanted to correct the texts because they
were very harsh, very much tied to things social and political, but only after
revising them completely.
Brugnaro had already published six collections of poetry when he
met Jack Hirschman, who chose and translated thirty six poems for Fist
of Sun. These poems were chosen from Dobbiamo volere, Il silenzio non
regge, and Le stelle chiare di queste notti, and Hirschman’s decision to
translate Brugnaro’s poetry was based on what he perceived as the poet’s
attitude “toward the necessary future of mankind…in a selection that
might include his rage, his righteousness, his tenderness and, through
all, that spine of a lyric political discourse so very important for the days
ahead” (Fist of Sun xii).
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Ferruccio Brugnaro: Italy’s Proletarian Poet
Among the many themes in Brugnaro’s poetry are the evils of
consumer capitalism and the insatiable appetite of modern consumers,
who are unaware of the work and materials necessary to manufacture
the products they consume and dispose of. His poems show how workers
also become a disposable commodity for “the bosses.” Several poems
poke fun at these bosses, who put on a smiling face, as in “Il nostro
direttore di fabbrica,” who is good-looking, always smiling and saying
that everything is under control, when the factory operators know better.
As in “La crisi, c’è la crisi”, Brugnaro writes with sarcasm, poking fun at
well-dressed, handsome CEOs who smilingly visit the factory floor and
recede to their fancy offices. He leaves the reader with no question that
the factory workers can run things better. Brugnaro urges the reader to
question the cultural and political conditions necessary and conducive
for the valorization and acceptance of blue-collar workers. He also
identifies with the downtrodden, as in “Quelli che perdono sempre”.
In his essay “In Order to Affirm,” which appears in Art on the Line, he
declares, “I’ll say right off that I’m a guy who takes sides. Yes, a man of
partialities, from a section of the working-class, from the workers; from
the section of the exploited and marginalized. Yes, I am a man on the
side of the Palestinian people, the Kurdish people, on the side of the
poor African, American, and Asian proletarians (380). In “Ragazzi di
Palestina” the poet urges the young people to throw themselves into the
fray, and gives them the courage to continue with their struggle (Le stelle
chiare di queste notti 149). In “Il popolo kurdo, un giorno” he continues
to tell the Kurds to keep fighting, hoping that one day they can return
to their homeland (Le stelle chiare di queste notti 158).
He documents industrial accidents he witnessed in “Non vedrà mai
più forse”:
Un mio compagno oggi in fabbrica
ha perso un occhio
con uno spruzzo
di soda caustica (Fist of Sun 37).
He writes epitaphs for his dead co-workers, as is the case in “Non sei
morto, lo sappiamo”, written for his co-worker Renzo Bert, in which the
poet describes how he feels: there is a steel ball in his throat and there is
a tall fence around his heart. Nevertheless, the struggle continues. It is
the high price we all pay for this beautiful life, according to the poet (Le
Stelle chiare di queste notti 100).
These poems highlight the conditions that undermine and threaten
everyday work life, and the poet invites the reader to view factory work
through the lens of his everyday experiences. He describes how his fellow
comrades are shaped by their everyday work world and chronicles the
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interpersonal relationships among factory workers and their supervisors.
In addition to addressing and making the plight of factory workers
visible outside the workspace, Brugnaro also turned his attention to the
plight of prostitutes, the homeless and drug addicted, especially with
reference to the curse of heroin addiction in contemporary Italy.
Brugnaro’s poetry is infused with passion and conviction. The poems
are visceral, social, political, sarcastic, ironic, and always moving and
thought-provoking. Brugnaro’s is the voice of a man who rages against
the exploitation and deplorable conditions the factory workers face
daily, as they put in long hours in the industrial complexes of Italy’s
North. He rails against the economic system that allows these conditions
to exist. In short, Brugnaro became the channel of communication for
the “rising of that immense human voice nailed to the margins and
at bottom without an age or history,” as he stated in an interview.
The verses seethe with anger. The poet situates himself with the rest
of humanity, with which he stands ready to defend and feels he is a
brother to: criminals, South American peasants, the world’s workers,
and his black comrades. Brugnaro’s aesthetic is succinctly stated in the
poem “La solitudine, la fame lancinante”, in which he cries out:
Non mi interessa, non mi interessa
una poesia
che non entra, che non è parte sanguinante
delle frustrazioni
delle atroci sofferenze
di milioni e milioni di uomini
costretti al silenzio
chiusi in carcere
uccisi (Fist of Sun 11).
Jack Hirschman’s translations in Fist of Sun convey the earthiness,
directness and honesty of the poet’s intentions. In his introduction
Hirschman claims the poet’s work is gritty, necessary, militant and
revelatory, in short, it practices rather than preaches a discourse that
is rooted in actual participation, suffering and struggle, rather than
imagined commentary based on theory or, worse yet, by sitting on the
sidelines. The title Fist of Sun is taken from the poem “Worker’s Demo”
in which the poet describes the demonstration happening in “every
corner of Venice today” as the workers bring their plight to the public
through banners, slogans and songs. He celebrates this day with his
own poem:
La vita oggi alza decisa
nel suo pugno di sole
l’avvenire concreto
Degli uomini, di tutti gli uomini (Fist of Sun 89).
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Ferruccio Brugnaro: Italy’s Proletarian Poet
The poems can be angry, tender, loving, or satiric, but they are
always skillfully crafted and filled with powerful images. Hirschman
declares, “Ferruccio Brugnaro is a poet whose work is governed by an
irresistible directness, a hands-on sincerity organized into an agit-prop
confrontation expressing a modern classical tradition that’s been either
declared dead in the water or non-existent in the first place. With a
spine of discourse come from real and not imagined discourse: actual
participation in actual struggle and not the imagining of or commentaries
upon such struggles” (Curbstone Press Release, 1998).
In the forward to the anthology Poetry like Bread, Martín Espada
effectively summarizes what politically engaged poetry aims for: “Poetry
of the political imagination is a matter of both vision and language.
Any progressive social change must be imagined first, and that vision
must find its most eloquent possible expression to move from vision to
reality. Any oppressive social condition, before it can change, must be
named and condemned in words that persuade by stirring the emotions,
awakening the senses. Thus the need for the political imagination”
(9, 10). Brugnaro names, condemns and succeeds in awakening the
reader’s senses and emotions to the injustices and inequalities of the
world he inhabits. “Though some political works are solely works of
the imagination, many, if not most, are drawn directly from lived
experience, contradicting a certain critical notion that political poems
are written after a morning reading a newspaper, as the poet searches
for a headline which will be sufficiently infuriating to inspire a burst of
rhetoric. Many, if not most, political poets are personally familiar with
the rhythms of oppression” (10).
Such is the case of “Tutti assolti al processo per le morti al
Petrolchimico”, a poem ripped from the headlines. Brugnaro chronicles
the outcome of the murder trial against the Montedison factory owners.
He decries the victims of the horrendous accident he described in
another poem in which he depicts the explosion, and the deaths that
occurred and may continue to occur since no punishment was meted
out. On October 16, 1996, the Prosecutor of the Republic of Venice, Felice
Casson, called for the prosecution of the directors of Montedison. For
decades this chemical company and others, manufacturers of CVM and
PVC, had underestimated and underreported the toxic effects of such
materials, which they had released along with heavy metals into the
Venice lagoon. This caused serious ecological damage. The carcinogenic
materials caused tumors among the workers and nearby inhabitants.
The company had been aware of these conditions since 1972. In 2004
the company was declared guilty of manslaughter, but, in accordance
with Italian law, was acquitted since the statute of limitations had run
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out. The verdict resulted in outrage and deep bitterness among the
workers’ families and the surrounding community.
Lavoravamo tra micidiali veleni
sostanze terribili
cancerogene.
Non affermate ora
furfanti
ladri di vite
che non c’era alcuna certezza
che non c’erarano legislazioni.
Non dite, non dite che non sapevate (Verranno i giorni 38).
As in many of his poems, Brugnaro uses simple words to state his
case, explain the situation, and accuse the factory owners of hiding the
truth. “Compra, consuma sempre” lays out the greed and avarice that
leads to buying and consuming material goods without giving thought
to the ultimate cost to the ecosystem. “Nella notte è esploso un reparto”
describes the horror of a violent chemical explosion at the plant where he
worked, an explosion the poet compares to an atomic mushroom cloud.
It is as though the city is assaulted by a thousand bombs while its people
run shouting in the streets. The imagery in this poem calls to mind the
devastation caused by the shelling of Guernica, so vividly depicted by
Picasso. In another poem he laments that there is no way out in “Non
c’è via d’uscita”. And yet, despite the title of this poem, he does see that
there is a way out, and that way is led by the power of nature, a nature
that allows a butterfly to linger on the poet’s work boot, a butterfly that
he implores to linger and not fly abruptly away. In another poem titled
“Non scappare, non scappare”, he marvels that the butterfly, a thing of
such beauty, so delicate, can continue to live despite the stinking acid and
smoky air of the factory, as he pleads with it to linger on his boot.
Two poems in Le stelle chiare di queste notti describing two very
different Sundays show the two sides of Brugnaro’s poetry. One Sunday
is filled with simple pleasures, love and quiet companionship. Another
is filled with the noise of various appliances, all turned on at the same
time, drowning the family home with its cacophony. In “Domenica di
febbraio” the poet and his wife Maria travel though the countryside on
their patched up red Citroen Dyane. They drive to a mountain, marvel
at the glistening snow and return home in time to watch the sunset
and the moonrise. They share a quiet meal and make love. This poem
provides a stark contrast to “La casa e la famiglia”. On this particular
Sunday morning the dishwasher, the washing machine, and the floor
polisher are all plugged in and running at once. The record player is
turned on, and several portable radios in various corners of the house
are tuned in to different stations at full blast. Everyone is screaming
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Ferruccio Brugnaro: Italy’s Proletarian Poet
and no one is listening to one another. Doors are banging open and
shut. Both the phone and the doorbells are ringing. “Enough! Enough!”
declares the poet. You can all go to hell, or worse, he concludes.
Brugnaro is a committed activist and a staunch communist, as he
declares in the poem “Ma io resto un comunista”. He documents blue
collar workers’ daily lives both in the factory and at home on weekends,
both the dehumanizing labor of weekdays and the awe-inspiring,
sweet getaways and refreshing interludes nature provides on weekends.
He is an invaluable documentarian of the working-class life in Italy,
and through his poetry Brugnaro suggests that one way to transcend
the gritty and repetitious labor of everyday life be in the admiration
and appreciation of nature and outdoors life. Given the threat to the
environment, it is especially important that nature be preserved and
rescued from the poisons the factory produces and spews into the air
and into the water it contaminates.
As a communist, he pays tribute to Spanish fellow poet Garcia Lorca,
who was assassinated for his political beliefs, as he imagines himself
reporting to Lorca on the state of the world seventy years later.
[…]
Quasi settant’anni sono trascorsi…
Il mondo è ancora infestato
di insaziabili egoismi
guerre
fascismi
aumenta la follia
nel cervello umano.
Sulle strade d’Europa
che vacilla
si risentono di nuovo
gli schiamazzi
degli aguzzini
dei violenti
contro questo nostro cuore
risoluto determinato
a resistere
resistere
all’assassinio e alla morte (Le stelle chiare di queste notti 46).
As Salvadoran poet Roque Dalton states, “In fact, perhaps the most
remarkable characteristic found in the poetry of the political imagination
is the quality of hopefulness, testimony to the extraordinary resilience
of that human quality” (14). Brugnaro, in his struggle to liberate
and disseminate his mimeo-poems, would agree with Dalton, who
continues, “I believe the world is beautiful/and that poetry, like bread,
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RoseAnna Mueller
is for everyone.” It would be a mistake to categorize Brugnaro’s work as
mere protest poetry, for, as Dalton points out, the world is beautiful, and
Brugnaro revels in the beauty of nature. He often turns his attention to
the restorative powers of nature, as well as to the power of devotion to
and sacrifice for family, in which respect he expresses his gratitude for
his wife’s love. Having witnessed how man can harm nature through
the pollution it inflicts, the Italian poet is keenly aware of how nature
can restore even the most tired, overworked and exploited human
being. The poem about the butterfly “Non scappare, non scappare” is a
case in point. The poem “Nevicata,” in Verranno i giorni (24), is lovely,
lyrical and upbeat. The poet stands in awe looking at the freshly fallen
snow. It makes his heart feel renewed, as he stands speechless and full
of indescribable love.
Brugnaro’s poems have been translated into Spanish by Carlos Vitale
and published in the Spanish magazine Viceversa, out of Barcelona,
in 1996. Eleven of his poems were translated by Kevin Bongiorni
and Reinhold Grimm and published in Pembroke Magazine 29 (1997),
University of North Carolina. His poems continue to be translated and
published in literary journals and magazines whose causes encompass
social and political outcomes for those who can’t speak for themselves,
the weak and the marginalized, and other publications who align
themselves with social and political causes. Brugnaro is also translated
and published in England and Germany, and was published and
translated in France in 2002. His poems are represented in several
Italian poetry anthologies, including Il pubblico della poesia, Poesia e
realtà, Scrittori e industria, Centanni di letteratura, Poeti del dissenso and
L’altro novecento (Verranno i giorni 47). Nowadays, Brugnaro’s poems also
appear on several websites in Italian and in English, Spanish and French
translation. Several of his poems are included in The Outlaw Bible of
American Poetry. He is included in this collection because, as its editor
explains, “Outlaw poets have fierce and highly personalized styles,
and reputations for deadly talent” (xxvi). But, long before his work
was published in anthologies, Brugnaro believed the internet would
function as a formidable instrument for disseminating images, thoughts
and other works. We should be grateful that, before the internet was
widely available, Brugnaro was among the first to use poetry to protest
the working conditions and the exploitation of his fellow workers, and
that his means of distribution reached the very men and women whose
oppression and exploitation conditions moved and inspired him to
write his poetry in the first place.
Brugnaro retired from factory work in 1992, and now devotes his time
to writing. Reading his insistent verses goes a long way to help readers
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Ferruccio Brugnaro: Italy’s Proletarian Poet
see the world through the eyes of a worker who knows first-hand how
institutional greed, commitment to unchecked growth, profit- making
at any cost, and a top-down corporate culture can make earning a living
true hell. In his own words, he tells us that, “My language is born from
the suffering and privation of people the world over who want to rebel
against the unjust and unacceptable social and economic conditions of
life “(Art on the Line 380). He continues to read his poetry at festivals in San
Francisco and Cuba. Ritratto di donna, published in 2002, is a collection
of poems written for his wife Maria, and a tribute to her as a woman
whom he cherishes and describes as a “wordless poet.” One of the poems
in this collection is titled “Sometimes Maria Sings.” Having established a
community of readers who worked and suffered along with him, Brugnaro
has now turned his attention to expressing his love and gratitude to the
companion in his retirement days. Poetry, Brugnaro affirms, can spring
from any source and can be written by any person. Poetry is a useful part
of everyone’s life. It is a fact of life. It need not be complicated or difficult
to interpret. It is a natural, organic thing, as Brugnaro explains:
But what do poet and artist mean? I’ve never succeeded in understanding
what a poet, musician, or painter, separated from the complexity of mankind,
means. I’ve said it many times and stirred up criticism, but have never tired of
repeating that, for me, there are essentially human beings, woman and man,
and in them there is also the capacity to write, make music, and paint pictures
as they might every day make houses, chairs, freeways (Hirschman 381).
Works Cited
Brugnaro, Ferruccio. ­­­­­Dobbiamo volere: racconti, poesie, pensieri. Verona: Bertani,
1976. Print.
___. Fist of Sun. 1st ed. “Trans.”. Jack Hirschman. Willimantic CT: Curbstone
Press,1998. Print.
___. Il silenzio non regge. Verona: Bertani, 1978. Print.
___. Le stelle chiare di queste notti. Udine: Campanotto Editore, 1993. Print.
___. Ritratto di donna. Udine: Campanotto Editore, 2002. Print.
___. Verranno i giorni. Pasian di Prato: Campanotto Editore, 2006. Print.
___. Vogliono cacciarci sotto. Verona: Bertani, 1975. Print.
Espada, Martín (ed.). Poetry like Bread: Poets of the Political Imagination from
Curbstone Press.Willimantic CT: Curbstone Press, 2000. Print.
Hirschman, Jack. Art on the Line: Essays by Artists about the Point Where Their Art
and Activism Intersect. Willimantic: Curbstone Press, 2002. Print.
Kaufman, Alan. The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry. New York: Thunder’s
Mouth Press, 1999. Print.
701
Viollca, la bambina
albanese di Dacia Maraini:
dal racconto al testo teatrale
Michelangelo La Luna
University of Rhode Island
Abstract: L’articolo illustra il concetto e la finalità del teatro per Dacia Maraini
attraverso l’analisi della trasformazione in testo teatrale di “Viollca, la bambina
albanese”, racconto di Buio che tratta il tema della prostituzione minorile. Come
sostiene Lilli Gruber nella sua prefazione a Passi Affrettati abbiamo bisogno di
“un’autentica rivoluzione culturale”, in quanto la violenza fisica e psicologica di
creature innocenti come Viollca costituisce un problema “più profondo che non
la sola questione femminile”: è una questione di considerazione dell’altro e del
suo modo di essere, di democrazia, di tolleranza e di diritti civili fondamentali.
Keywords: Dacia Maraini, teatro, prostituzione minorile, violenza sulle donne,
tradizioni religiose e storiche, società italiana.
U
na o due volte all’anno vado a visitare Dacia Maraini a Pescasseroli,
la capitale storica del Parco Nazionale d’Abruzzo, Lazio e Molise. Le
giornate di Dacia e dei suoi ospiti sono scandite dal lavoro di scrittura
e lettura, dalle lunghe passeggiate nei boschi raccontando fiabe, dalle
pietanze vegetariane consumate in maniera conviviale, dal giro per
portare da mangiare agli animali e dalla partecipazione alle attività
culturali della Marsica. Tra queste ricordo il Festival del Teatro di Gioia
che, dopo tredici edizioni, ha chiuso i battenti “per credito”, cioè perché
non è riuscito a riscuotere il denaro che gli enti pubblici gli avevano
promesso per gli spettacoli1.
Nel corso di uno dei miei soggiorni a Pescasseroli, approfittando
dei consigli di Dacia2, ho cercato di eseguire un raffronto tra “Viollca,
la bambina albanese” e la sua versione teatrale. Il racconto, di cui ho
tradotto - su richiesta dell’autrice - le parti in albanese, fa parte di Buio,
opera con cui Dacia Maraini nel 1999 ha vinto il Premio Strega, mentre il
dramma è stato incluso in Passi affrettati. Per effettuare un confronto fra
i due testi, è necessario risalire alla genesi ed esaminare le caratteristiche
di quest’ultimo lavoro.
Lo spettacolo Passi affrettati. Guerre, violenze contro le donne è stato
rappresentato per la prima volta a Roma nel 2005. La prima edizione a
stampa dell’opera, pubblicata a Pescara nel settembre del 2007, costituisce
ITALICA • Volume 92 • No. 3 • Fall 2015
702
Viollca, la bambina albanese di Dacia Maraini
sostanzialmente una riproduzione fedele del canovaccio usato per le
performance ed è divisa nelle seguenti parti: una presentazione di Amnesty
International; una prefazione a cura di Maria Rosaria La Morgia; sette
storie che sono indicate con i numeri romani e sono dedicate a sette
donne di Paesi diversi: Lhakpa, Aisha, Civita, Juliette, Amina, Teresa
e Viollca; e la poesia “L’addormentata” che è posta in appendice. Le
novità della quinta e ultima edizione dell’opera, che è stata utilizzata
per la stesura del presente articolo, sono una prefazione di Lilli Gruber
e otto storie dedicate rispettivamente a Lhakpa, Sarah, Aisha, Juliette,
Amina, Carmelina, Teresa e Viollca. In questa edizione, la controversa
vicenda di Civita è stata sostituita con quella di Sarah; inoltre, è stata
aggiunta la storia di Carmelina, che nel libro era ambientata in Puglia,
mentre negli spettacoli più recenti è stata collocata in Campania.
Infine, ricordiamo che Passi affrettati ha conseguito un successo tale
da essere stato rappresentato in più di quindici Paesi3, e fa parte della
campagna mondiale Mai più violenza sulle donne, sostenuta da Amnesty
International. L’autrice ha rinunciato a tutti i diritti letterari sia sulla
vendita del libro che sulla sua rappresentazione teatrale, i cui proventi,
come si legge sulla copertina dell’opera, “verranno interamente devoluti
a favore di donne che hanno subito violenza”.
Le storie di Passi affrettati sono tratte da fatti realmente accaduti, la
cui crudeltà è tale da sembrare irreale: “Con la mia fantasia non riuscirei
a immaginare storie così crudeli”, mi ha detto un giorno Dacia durante
una delle nostre passeggiate lungo i boschi della Marsica. Possiamo perciò
annoverare l’opera fra le produzioni del documentary theater4, genere nato
nell’Antica Grecia con Frinico che, nel 492 a.C., compose la tragedia La
presa di Mileto5 basata su un avvenimento della guerra persiana.
Oltre ad appartenere alla tradizione del teatro documentario, il
testo della Maraini osserva le norme esposte da Pier Paolo Pasolini nel
“Manifesto per un nuovo teatro” (1968), per la fondazione di un “Teatro
di parola”, la cui efficacia consiste nella capacità degli attori di trasmettere
la “parola” usando la voce, la mimica facciale e della persona. Da qui
proviene la definizione di “oratorio”, termine utilizzato dalla Maraini
stessa per definire un tipo di teatro che cerca di persuadere il pubblico,
comunicando con la “parola” il dramma di personaggi fragili come
Viollca. Qualsiasi altro espediente usato per la rappresentazione teatrale
andrebbe contro le intenzioni dell’autrice e finirebbe per rovinare la
caratteristica della stessa opera.
Infatti, mentre assiste a una lettura drammatizzata del testo, lo spettatore
è invitato a partecipare in prima persona all’azione, immaginandosi la
scena in cui le vicende si svolgono e formandosi un giudizio morale sulle
stesse. Di solito, alla fine di uno spettacolo del genere, si apre un dibattito
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Michelangelo La Luna
tra l’audience e l’autrice per discutere i temi principali trattati nell’opera.
I limiti imposti dal “docu-teatro di parola” forniscono alla stessa Maraini
la struttura all’interno della quale può esprimere la sua libertà creativa
e le sue idee. L’autonomia dell’espressione artistica diventa così anche
coraggio di osare, capacità di scuotere le coscienze, portando alla luce
storie nere, quasi inenarrabili, affinché il teatro e l’arte in genere svolgano
una funzione sociale ed educativa.
Le otto vicende drammatiche narrate in Passi affrettati hanno avuto
luogo in diverse parti del mondo, a dimostrazione del fatto che la
violenza sulle donne è un problema universale: I. Tibet e Cina; II. Puglia
e Campania; III. Giordania; IV. Inghilterra; V. Belgio; VI. Nigeria; VII.
California e Messico: VIII. Albania e Italia. Il più delle volte le cause
della brutalità sono la cultura patriarcale e alcune tradizioni religiose
o storiche, ma ciò che ci colpisce è che, in molti casi, la violenza è
assecondata e perpetrata all’interno dello stesso nucleo familiare. L’opera,
come scrive l’autrice nell’epigrafe dell’edizione Ianieri, rappresenta
“una testimonianza, una denuncia, ma anche un atto di simpatia e di
attenzione, verso tutte quelle donne che sono ancora prigioniere di un
matrimonio non voluto, di una famiglia violenta, di uno sfruttatore,
di una tradizione e di una discriminazione storica difficile da superare”
(Maraini 2009: 13).
Quasi tutti i dialoghi dei personaggi sono arricchiti da voci fuori campo
che svolgono un ruolo simile a quello avuto dal coro nelle tragedie greche,
esprimendo un giudizio morale su ciò che succede: I. VOCE UNICEF e
VOCE ASS. UMANITARIA; II. VOCE e VOCE POLIZIA; III. VOCE UNICEF;
IV. VOCE WOMEN FREEDOM; V. VOCE UNICEF e VOCE VILLAGGIO;
VI. VOCE; VII. VOCE CRONACA, VOCE GIORNALISTA e GIORNALISTA
DONNA. In testi teatrali di questo genere che sono poveri di notazioni6,
le VOCI hanno anche il compito di rimpiazzare le didascalie, fornendo
allo spettatore degli elementi che lo aiutano a immaginare la scena e a
comprendere lo svolgimento dell’azione. Le VOCI permettono altresì
(come nel teatro dell’antica Grecia) di raccontare avvenimenti tragici e
cruenti senza rappresentarli direttamente sul palcoscenico.
A differenza di altri, l’oratorio di Viollca è l’unico ad avere, al posto
delle VOCI, un “NARRATORE”, un/a “NARRATORE/TRICE” e un
“GIORNALISTA”. Questo ci fa capire che il testo teatrale conserva alcune
caratteristiche strutturali proprie del racconto pubblicato in Buio. La
presenza di un/a “narratore/trice” è inoltre indispensabile per garantire
la brevità della pièce (in linea con le altre che compongono il volume)
e per scandire le sette sequenze in cui il dramma è diviso: 1) Viollca è
nella sua casa in Albania; 2) Xhuan passa a prenderla (immaginiamo
in macchina); 3) Viollca è sulla nave che la porta in Italia; 4) Viollca è
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Viollca, la bambina albanese di Dacia Maraini
caricata in una macchina diretta a Roma; 5) Viollca è nell’appartamento
romano di Gabriella; 6) Viollca è nella macchina degli aguzzini che 7)
la portano al bordello di Ma’, laddove sarà violentata. Rispetto a Buio,
manca la parte conclusiva della liberazione di Viollca da parte di un
poliziotto in borghese che finge di essere un cliente. In Passi affrettati ciò
avrebbe avuto l’esito di attenuare il finale tragico della storia, limitando
l’effetto empatico dello spettacolo sul pubblico e di conseguenza il
dibattito conclusivo con l’autrice.
Quasi tutti i personaggi principali di Passi affrettati esordiscono
presentandosi da soli al pubblico, a cui narrano subito la loro condizione:
“LHAKPA: Il mio nome è Lhakpa Chungdak. Sono nata nelle montagne
tibetane. Ora vivo in Cina” (Maraini 2009: I, 15); “SARAH: Mi chiamo
Sarah. Sono nata nel Galles da una famiglia di agricoltori” (Maraini 2009:
II, 19); “AISHA: Mi chiamo Aisha” (Maraini 2009: III, 33); “JULIETTE: Il
mio nome è Juliette, abito in Avenue Montaigne, a Beauville in Belgio.
Quando mi portarono al pronto soccorso con la testa spaccata e due denti
rotti, dissi che ero caduta per le scale” (Maraini 2009: IV, 47); “AMINA: Ho
avuto un figlio senza essere sposata. Lui mi aveva promesso il matrimonio
ma poi ho scoperto che aveva già una moglie” (Maraini 2009: V, 51).
Nel caso seguente la protagonista è invece presentata dalla “VOCE
CRONACA: Maria Teresa Marcias, della contea di Sonora in California,
aveva molte ragioni per ritenere che suo marito volesse ucciderla”
(Maraini 2009: VII, 67). Leggermente diverso è l’attacco del dramma
numero VI, in cui la “VOCE” introduce Carmelina (che forse è troppo
piccola per presentarsi da sola) e sua madre che, da quando è rimasta
vedova, deve lavorare così tanto da non avere tempo per pensare
all’educazione dei figli. Fa eccezione la storia numero VIII che non
evidenzia subito il dramma della protagonista, ma inizia come un
racconto:
NARRATORE: Viollca se ne sta davanti ai vetri con il suo orso di peluche
in braccio. Fuori piove. Sulla strada le macchine passano lente, schizzando
spruzzi di fango. Si sente un clacson che suona ripetutamente (Maraini
2009: VIII, 71).
Qui la struttura diegetica permette al lettore/spettatore di conoscere (e
rivivere) man mano, insieme all’ignara Viollca, che in questo è simile a
Carmelina, il dramma terribile di cui la bambina è vittima.
Cerchiamo ora di concentrarci sul raffronto fra il racconto di Buio
e la sua versione drammaturgica. Nel corso di una nostra passeggiata
per portare da mangiare agli asini, Dacia mi ha spiegato che “per
trasformare il testo di un racconto in un testo teatrale si deve pensare
prima di tutto al dialogo. Il testo teatrale diventa qualcosa di nuovo,
anche se il protagonista rimane lo stesso”. Infatti, in Passi affrettati
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Michelangelo La Luna
Viollca parla fin dall’inizio, mentre in Buio si esprime con cenni e gesti e
fiata solo verso la fine, per rivelare la sua età al poliziotto che la salverà
dal giro di prostituzione in cui era finita. Nel racconto, il silenzio che
la circonda è una caratteristica essenziale per un personaggio come la
bambina albanese che improvvisamente diventa una schiava del sesso
e che, a causa della violenza subita, “si fa di sasso” (Maraini 1999: 34).
Oltrettutto, anche quando la commissaria Adele Sòfia le assicura che
riusciranno ad acciuffare i suoi aguzzini, la bambina “ha lo sguardo di
pietra” (Maraini 1999: 39), che è l’ultima calcolata descrizione di Viollca
con cui la Maraini, non a caso, fa terminare il suo stesso racconto.
Alex Standen fornisce altresì un’interpretazione socio-politica del
silenzio di Viollca, in quanto la piccola rientra in quella categoria di
prostituta proveniente dall’estero che rimane ai margini della società
italiana e a cui non è dato il diritto di parlare: “Viollca instead embodies
several stages of marginalization and silencing – as migrant, female,
and as prostitute” (447).7 In Passi affrettati la Maraini è molto attenta a
mantenere questo tratto distintivo di Viollca, la quale all’inizio dice poche
cose: “Ciao papà... Ho fame... Lo vedremo il papa?... Che ci andiamo a fare
in Italia?” (Maraini 2009: 71-73). Inoltre, nella versione teatrale l’autrice
è stata costretta, a causa delle difficoltà di pronuncia e di comprensione
dello shqipë da parte degli attori e degli spettatori, a eliminare i dialoghi in
albanese, conservando solo l’espressione kuptove? (Hai capito?).
Per quanto concerne gli altri personaggi della storia, nella pièce teatrale
il ruolo dei genitori di Viollca diventa marginale, anche se restano
complici della vendita della figlia; inoltre, rispetto a Buio, scompaiono
del tutto le figure della sorellina e dei due fratelli. Assume invece una
posizione rilevante Xhuan, l’amico di famiglia che viene a prendere la
bambina per portarla in Italia. Infatti in Passi affrettati, il giovane dice
le stesse cose che nel romanzo affermava Anton, il fratello di Viollca:
“XHUAN: Guadagni un poco di soldi e torni. Ti serviranno per sposarti.
E poi dobbiamo rifare il tetto alla casa” (Maraini 2009: 73). Sarà Xhuan
(e non più la mamma) a chiedere per la prima volta a Viollca di buttare
l’orsacchiotto Malek, da cui lei non vuole separarsi per nessuna ragione
al mondo. Ed è lui stesso a creare la prima violenza psicologica sulla
piccola, nel corso della traversata in nave dell’Adriatico, annullando la
sua identità. Infatti, dopo averle detto che non è più una bambina che per
capriccio può togliersi le scarpe quando vuole, ma una donna che presto
indosserà i tacchi alti, le dà dei documenti nuovi, dai quali risulta che
Viollca ha diciassette anni (e non più dodici) e porta un nuovo cognome,
Mrozek. Una volta che la bimba arriva al bordello di Roma, è costretta di
nuovo a falsare le proprie generalità, giacché le impongono di dire che
ha solo dieci anni, in modo da piacere di più ai suoi perversi clienti.
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Viollca, la bambina albanese di Dacia Maraini
Un’altra differenza notevole tra i due testi è lo scambio di ruolo tra
Gabriella e Ma’: in Buio, la prima amministrava la casa di appuntamento
(compito che nell’opera teatrale è affidato a Ma’), mentre la seconda
accudiva Viollca e la sua amica Cate in un appartamento in cui era
proibito affacciarsi alle finestre. Dacia mi ha spiegato che anche in questo
caso la scelta dei ruoli è stata fatta in base alle caratteristiche degli attori
che dovevano recitare le parti. Inoltre, Cate, la ragazzina che piangeva
di continuo, in Passi affrettati perde le sue origini albanesi: “Ho voluto
trasformare Cate – ha aggiunto l’autrice – in una ragazza ucraina perché
in quel periodo in Italia si parlava molto della prostituzione proveniente
dall’Ucraina”. Il nuovo testo è stato reso quindi più attuale, tenendo
conto degli avvenimenti che interessavano in quel momento la società
italiana: “Il teatro – conclude la Maraini – è soprattutto un fatto sociale, è
il luogo sociale per eccellenza dove si affrontano i temi di attualità”.
La modifica dei ruoli e la trasformazione di alcuni personaggi hanno
spinto l’autrice a modificare in dialogo e in discorso diretto molti
brani che in Buio erano alla terza persona. Inoltre, come nota nel suo
saggio Juan Carlos de Miguel (2012), nella versione teatrale i personaggi
utilizzano il presente storico, tempo verbale che permette di ricreare ciò
che nella storia è già successo, facendo rivivere allo spettatore eventi
terribili del passato senza mostrarglieli direttamente:
Pero de esta manera el espectador re-vive la historia, y la escucha y la ve, en
boca de sus protagonistas. Hay que destacar, asimismo, el uso del presente
para lograr la mayor eficacia expresiva y comunicativa en las hipotiposis,
el viejo recurso retórico-teatral usado para exponer, sin mostrarlo, lo más
terrible: se narra lo que el decoro impide representar, en esta ocasión por su
alto grado de violencia (361)8 .
A tutto ciò aggiungerei che l’uso del presente indicativo consente
alle vittime di portare sulla scena i loro boia. Ad esempio, dopo che in
Passi affrettati un/a “Narratore/trice” racconta che il nano “si toglie il
cappello e lo posa con delicatezza sulla poltrona” (Maraini 2009: 78),
la bambina invece di rimuginare in silenzio, come fa in Buio (Maraini
1999: 32), racconta direttamente ciò che pensa: “VIOLLCA: Potrebbe
esserci un coniglio in quel cappello. Anzi mi pare proprio di intravedere
una codina bianca. Ma ora l’uomo mi viene addosso e mi soffoca
stringendomi contro il petto” (Maraini 2009: 79). A Viollca viene subito
voglia di gridare, ma si ricorda ciò che le ha detto Ma’: “Mai gridare, mai
piangere, mai scappare” (Maraini 2009: 79).
In Buio il primo cliente di Viollca nella casa di appuntamento è
un “nano buffissimo” (Maraini 1999: 32) che “le si strofina contro e
piange sbuffando” (Maraini 1999: 32) e che si fa masturbare dall’ignara
bimba che pensa che il suo organo genitale sia “una salsiccia bruna”
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Michelangelo La Luna
(Maraini 1999: 33). Il secondo cliente invece è un giovane che paga
settecento euro per abusare della “vergine” (Maraini 1999: 34).
Quest’ultimo personaggio scompare del tutto in Passi affrettati, dove è
assorbito dal nano che presenta alcuni tratti che in Buio erano propri
del giovane. Infatti, invece di farle “il solletico sull’ombelico scoperto”
(Maraini 1999: 33), in Passi affrettati l’uomo in un primo momento
sembra innocuo e addirittura piange, ma tutt’a un tratto si trasforma
in una specie di mostro che la colpisce con violenza: “Ha l’aria così
fragile. Ma poi all’improvviso quell’uomo buffo diventa furioso, mi si
getta addosso, mi schiaccia col suo corpo e mi scuote come se volesse
farmi a pezzi” (Maraini 2009: 80). Dopo il coito il bruto “manda un
odore di cane bagnato” (Maraini 2009: 80), cioè quello stesso puzzo
che in Buio emanava il sudore del giovane. Nel racconto il dettaglio è
molto più rilevante e serve a illustrare la metamorfosi dell’uomo in una
bestia feroce: infatti, Viollca dopo aver subito violenza, guarda i piedi
del proprio violentatore “per vedere se hanno la forma delle zampe”
(Maraini 1999: 35). La sofferenza fisica che lo stupro le ha provocato è
per lei comparabile al morso di un cane, per di più puzzolente: “Il dolore
è forte, acuto, come uno strappo dall’interno delle viscere. Il cane ha
morso, il cane ha morso. Se smettesse almeno di gocciolare” (Maraini
1999: 35).
A differenza di Buio, dove la bimba è salvata da un poliziotto che
finge di essere un cliente, la versione teatrale termina con la drammatica
considerazione della piccola che si sente come esanime (dovrei dire
uccisa) e risucchiata in una dimensione minerale:
Viollca: Non riesco a dormire. Forse sono già morta e il mio corpo e la
mia mente stanno diventando parte di un infinito paesaggio roccioso. Ma
qualcosa mi riporta alla vita. È il pianto insistito di Cate. Mi tappo le orecchie
con le mani e sprofondo in un gelido sonno minerale (Maraini 2009: 82).
È ovvio che Viollca ha subito non solo una violenza fisica, ma anche
psicologica. All’inizio è legata al suo mondo infantile: stringe il suo
orsacchiotto, pensa che il nano buffo voglia giocare con lei e che sia un
prestigiatore che nasconde un coniglio sotto il cappello. Alla fine invece
crede di essere morta perché in lei è stata uccisa per sempre la bambina
Viollca.
Simbolo di questo passaggio forzato è Malek, l’orsacchiotto che
tutti (l’intermediario Xhuan, i magnaccia e il cliente) vogliono portarle
via, cercando in tal modo di sottrarle con la forza l’innocenza infantile
per trascinarla nel mondo sporco e violento degli adulti. Alla fine sarà
proprio il piccolo uomo a buttarglielo via nel momento in cui la violenta:
“NARRATORE/TRICE: Viollca tiene la bocca e gli occhi serrati. Si chiede
dove sarà andato a finire il suo orso Malek che l’uomo ha scaraventato
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Viollca, la bambina albanese di Dacia Maraini
via con una manata nell’abbracciarla” (Maraini 2009: 79). Al “risvegliarsi
da un sonno catalettico” (Maraini 2009: 80) che pare trasformarlo in una
persona diversa, il nano prova compassione per Viollca e le dà di nascosto
dei soldi, lamentandosi paradossalmente di come la piccola è trattata, come
se lui non le avesse fatto nulla di male e non c’entrasse nulla con coloro
che sostengono il giro della prostituzione: “Ma come ti hanno conciata
povera bambina, eh?” (Maraini 2009: 81). Siamo davvero di fronte a un
caso di sdoppiamento della personalità, ma anche di perfida ipocrisia da
parte del cliente che prima paga per violentare una creatura indifesa e poi
si chiede che cosa le sia successo; e come se non bastasse, per riparare in
un certo senso al malfatto, le dà addirittura di nascosto dei soldi con i quali
pensa di poterla aiutare a eludere lo sfruttamento dei suoi magnaccia. Ecco
quanto scrive a proposito del ruolo del cliente la Maraini stessa:
Come mai tanti italiani, spesso buoni padri di famiglia, vanno a cercare
per strada, a pagamento, un piacere accessibile altrove gratuitamente? E
si tratta veramente di piacere, oppure del bisogno di trovare qualcuno su
cui sfogare le proprie frustrazioni, qualcuno da dominare, depredare, senza
conseguenze? Da dove vengono fuori questi “italiani che vogliono togliersi
lo sfizio di violentare una giovane creatura?” come scrive Cerami sul
Messaggero. Non si tratta infatti più di calpestare una legge, ma di insultare
la dignità e l’innocenza. Si tratta di un vero “stupro fisico, morale, religioso”
(Maraini 2005: 36).
Alla fine la povera Viollca ritrova il suo orso e “lo tira su, lo spolvera,
lo abbraccia. Con lui non si sente veramente sola” (Maraini 2009: 81),
ma l’atteggiamento minaccioso di Ma’, le/ci fa capire che qualcosa è
cambiato per sempre: “La porta si apre bruscamente. La grassa Ma’ è di
fronte a lei con la mano tesa” (Maraini 2009: 81).
Come è noto, tutti i racconti della Maraini sono ispirati a storie
vere. Viollca era una quindicenne che fu rapita il 31 ottobre 2000 a
Valona e fu liberata una settimana dopo a Ostuni. La violenza subita e la
perdita dell’innocenza la spinsero a denunciare i suoi sfruttatori, come
indica il titolo dell’articolo di Francesco Battistini (2000) pubblicato sul
Corriere della Sera: “Io, quindicenne stuprata, pagherò con la vita ma farò
condannare i miei aguzzini”. La ragazzina ebbe il coraggio di confermare
il suo esposto, nonostante le minacce dei clan alla sua famiglia e la
consapevolezza che in una società come quella albanese, per lei sarebbe
stato oramai difficile trovare un fidanzato:
Due sono andati da mio papà e l’hanno minacciato – racconta. Dicono che è
inutile denunciare, tanto non sono più vergine e non posso andare fidanzata
a nessuno. Al processo li ho guardati. Ho avuto un po’ paura. Agim, che
è il fratello grande della mia migliore amica, Eliona, ed è stato il primo a
violentarmi, m’ha fatto un segno così (mette l’indice e il pollice alla gola,
N.d.R.): prima o poi loro vogliono ammazzare me e la mia famiglia. (15)
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Michelangelo La Luna
A tradire Viollca è stata proprio la sua migliore amica, complice del
fratello che l’ha violentata; questi, dopo la violenza sessuale, si è sentito
come il padrone della ragazza, come se l’atto di averla deflorata gli avesse
garantito un inaudito diritto di possesso perenne della persona:
Mi sono sentita tradita da Eliona, soprattutto. Ha due anni più di me, era la
mia amica, le credevo. Un giorno mi ha voluto a casa sua. Ci sono andata.
Lei non c’era, c’era Agim. Mi ha detto d’accompagnarlo in un posto a Cepraj.
Non sapevo di finire in un magazzino. Mi ha tenuto due giorni lì con suo
fratello, Alket. Mi violentavano fino alle due-tre di notte, poi col buio mi
portavano in una casa. Lì c’era Eliona, io piangevo. Agim diceva: “Sono stato
il primo, adesso tu sei mia” (15).
Mi sembra doveroso terminare questo saggio con la seguente
riflessione tratta dalla prefazione a Passi affrettati di Lilli Gruber, sulla
necessità di un radicale mutamento culturale per problematiche messe
in risalto da racconti come quello di Viollca, che vanno ben al di là della
“questione femminile”:
Le sue storie [della Maraini, N.d.A.] sollevano un problema più profondo che
non la sola questione femminile. E riguardano il rispetto dell’altro e della sua
diversità, etnica, religiosa o sessuale che sia. Una questione di fondamentali
diritti umani, tolleranza e democrazia che può essere affrontata solo con
un’autentica rivoluzione culturale. Non rimuovere una realtà così scandalosa
e dolorosa è già un primo passo (Maraini 2009: 10-11).
Note
1
Ecco quanto ha dichiarato la stessa Dacia Maraini, fondatrice e direttrice
artistica del Festival, nell’ultimo suo comunicato stampa, prevedendo la
chiusura della rassegna: “2013. Marsica. Ancora una volta apriamo il Festival
di Gioia e ci sembra un miracolo. Miracolo dovuto alla costanza, alla volontà,
all’enorme lavoro gratuito degli amici del teatro, degli amici di Gioia e degli
amici della cultura che non si sono mai scoraggiati nonostante i tagli drastici,
le difficoltà incombenti, le incredulità. . . . Ciò che ci appassiona e ci guida è
l’amore per questa terra piena di memorie e di voglia di futuro. Ma anche la
convinzione che il teatro sia rimasto uno dei pochi luoghi non virtuali in cui
si incontrano le persone, faccia a faccia, in cui il linguaggio scritto si sposa
con il linguaggio parlato, in cui le grandi problematiche del vivere comune si
confrontano con la realtà quotidiana”.
2
Sul suo lungo impegno nel campo teatrale, vedi Dacia Maraini, Fare teatro
(1966-2000). (Milano: Rizzoli, 2000). Il volume contiene tutte le opere scritte dalla
Maraini nell’arco di sette lustri. Inoltre, cfr. il recente volume di Dacia Maraini
e Eugenio Murrali (a cura di), Il sogno del teatro. Cronaca di una passione. (Milano:
BUR, 2013). Per ulteriori notizie sull’autrice cfr. Claudio Cattaruzza, Dedica a
Dacia Maraini. (Trieste: Lint, 2000); Maria Antonietta Cruciata, Dacia Maraini.
(Fiesole: Cadmo, 2003); Rodica Diaconescu-Blumenfeld e Ada Testaferri (a cura
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Viollca, la bambina albanese di Dacia Maraini
di), The Pleasure of Writing. Critical Essays on Dacia Maraini. (West Lafayette,
Indiana: Purdue UP, 2000); Maria Grazia Sumeli Weinberg, Invito alla lettura di
Dacia Maraini. (Pretoria: UNISA UP, 1993).
3
L’opera è stata tradotta, grazie al mio lavoro di mediazione, anche nella
lingua della minoranza arbëreshe, con il titolo Tue ecur me presë. Traduzione
nell’albanese d’Italia di Adriana Ponte del testo teatrale “Passi affrettati” di Dacia
Maraini (2012). Ecco quanto scrive il professor Francesco Altimari nella prefazione
intitolata “Passi affrettati di Dacia Maraini Arbërisht: riflettiamo sulla violenza
alle donne nel mondo globale attraverso una lingua locale”: “L’operazione non
si presentava certo facile, per le oggettive difficoltà di traduzione che comporta
l’innalzamento ad un adeguato registro stilistico e letterario moderno di una
lingua orale, come l’arbërisht, storicamente frammentato anche in un’area
albanofona relativamente compatta quale quella calabrese in diversi ‘tipi’
dialettali, pur se erede di una antica tradizione unitaria di scrittura che risale
addirittura al 1592, data di pubblicazione del primo libro scritto nell’albanese
d’Italia, la Dottrina Cristiana di Luca Matranga” (10). La versione in arbërisht
è stata rappresentata dal gruppo teatrale Maschera e Volto in varie comunità
arbëreshë e scuole della Calabria. Segnaliamo inoltre le seguenti traduzioni del
testo: Dacia Maraini, Pasos apresurados. Trad. Juan Carlos De Miguel. (Valencia:
Edicions 96, 2009); Dacia Maraini, Pasos lleugers. Trad. Juan Carlos De Miguel.
(Valencia: Edicions 96, 2009); Dacia Maraini, À pas furtifs. Trad. Pascale ChapauxMorelli. (Paris: Indigo & Coté-femmes, 2010); Dacia Maraini, Hurried steps. Trad.
Sharon Wood. (Kent, UK: New Shoes Theatre, 2010).
4
Oltre che nel periodo classico, il teatro documentario fu utilizzato nel
corso del Medioevo dagli interpreti dei misteri (che sono stati recuperati e
reinterpretati da Dario Fo), dai drammaturghi del teatro elisabettiano, dallo
stesso William Shakespeare nelle sue tragedie storiche, dai promotori del teatro
patriottico e rivoluzionario francese, dai sostenitori del Living Newspapers (nato
nella Russia della rivoluzione bolscevica e affermatosi negli Stati Uniti degli
anni Trenta), fino ad autori tedeschi di drammi d’impegno politico e di lotta
sociale come Bertolt Brecht ed Erwin Piscator (teorici di un “teatro epico”
che deve far ragionare e non colpire emotivamente lo spettatore), e come
Peter Weiss, il cui noto spettacolo Marat/Sade (1963) è stato anche adattato
per la produzione dell’omonimo film diretto da Peter Brook (1967). Per altre
informazioni sull’argomento, vedi Attilio Favorini, Voicings: Ten Plays from the
Documentary Theater. (Hopewell, NJ: The Ecco P, 1995).
5
L’opera è andata perduta, così come le altre due ignote tragedie che facevano
parte della trilogia che vinse le Grandi Dionisie. Per ulteriori ragguagli cfr.
Vincenzo Di Benedetto e Enrico Medda, La tragedia sulla scena. (Torino: Einaudi,
2002).
6
Questa la lista completa delle indicazioni fornite dall’autrice nel testo:
MUSICA (I, III, IV, VI, VII e VIII); ESCE SBATTENDO LA PORTA (II); MUSICA
E TAMBURI (V e VI); PASSI CHE SI ALLONTANANO. UN CANTO (VI);
MUSICA E RUMORE DI NAVE (VIII).
7
Sull’argomento vedi anche Shannon Bell, Reading, Writing and Rewriting
the Prostitute Body. (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana UP, 1994); Maria
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Michelangelo La Luna
Cristina Mauceri e Maria Grazia Negro, Nuovo immaginario italiano. (Roma:
Sinnos, 2009). Paola Monzoni, Il mercato delle donne. Prostituzione, tratta e
sfruttamento. (Roma: Donzelli, 2002); Gabriella Parati, Migration Italy: The Art
of Talking Back in a Destination Culture. (Toronto, Buffalo, Londra: Toronto UP,
2005).
8
Dello stesso autore vedi anche Juan Carlos De Miguel (a cura di), Scrittura
civile: studi sull’opera di Dacia Maraini. (Roma: Perrone, 2010).
Opere Citate
Battistini, Francesco. “Io, quindicenne stuprata, pagherò con la vita ma farò
condannare i miei aguzzini”. Corriere della Sera [Milano]. Print. 17 gennaio
2000: 15.
de Miguel, Juan Carlos. “Los pasos apresurados, de Dacia Maraini”. Signa 21
(2012): 349-367. Print.
Maraini, Dacia. Buio. XI ed. Milano: Rizzoli, 1999. Print.
___. “Bimbe violate e vendute. Lo scandalo sono le leggi inapplicate”. Corriere
della Sera [Milano]. Print. 13 settembre 2005: 36.
___. Passi affrettati. Testimonianze di donne ancora prigioniere della discriminazione
storica e famigliare. I quaderni di Gioia 5 (Associazione Teatro di Gioia). V ed.
Pescara: Ianieri, 2009. Print.
___. Tue ecur me presë. Traduzione nell’albanese d’Italia di Passi affrettati. Trad.
Adriana Ponte. Roma: Perrone, 2012. Print.
Pasolini, Pier Paolo. “Manifesto per un nuovo teatro”. Nuovi Argomenti 9 (1968):
6-22. Print.
Standen, Alex. “Politicizing the puttana: Changing Representations of the
Prostitute in the Works of Dacia Maraini”. The Italianist 32.3 (2012): 437-452.
Print.
712
The Language of the Other:
Italian for Spanish Speakers through
Intercomprehension
Clorinda Donato and Violet Pasquarelli-Gascon
California State University, Long Beach
Abstract: This paper outlines the theories and practices that inform the teaching
of Italian courses for Spanish Speakers at California State University, Long Beach.
It discusses the sociolinguistic context supporting a focus on Spanish speakers
in Italian language courses, noting that as the Hispanic population grows across
the United States, Hispanic and Spanish-speaking students are becoming an
important new audience for Italian language learning in high schools, colleges
and universities. The use of pedagogies for multilingual teaching, especially
intercomprehension, is explained, as well as the sequencing of the Italian for
Spanish Speakers courses in a university setting. The article concludes with
a description of the NEH-funded project that has led to the expansion of the
Italian for Spanish Speakers project at local high schools and colleges, as well
as a reflection on the emerging potential for multilingualism in North America.
Keywords: Intercomprehension, multilingual pedagogies, Spanish speakers,
heritage language, Romance pedagogies, polyglot dialogue.
I. Overall Considerations about the Student Body in US Universities,
Multilingualism, and Current Language Teaching Practice
Spanish-speaking undergraduate student, Tahiri Viñas, wrote
to Clorinda Donato recently to ask about the California State
University, Long Beach, Italian for Spanish Speakers program. She was
a political science major minoring in Italian at Duke University who
wanted to write a paper on the topic for her Italian sociolinguistics class.
She introduced the topic as follows (verbatim):
A
Come una madrelingua spagnola cercando di raggiungere la fluidità in
italiano, sono molto interessata nell’istruzione d’italiano per gli studenti
che parlano spagnolo. Il problema per un sacco di parlanti di spagnolo è che
inizialmente si sentono di capire molto perché sono lingue molto simili,
ma poi diventa più difficile avanzare. Con lo sviluppo di corsi d’italiano per
studenti ispanofoni negli ultimi anni, è chiaro che un diverso approccio è
necessario quando s’insegna italiano a studenti ispanofoni.1”
This statement offers an important insight into how Spanish-speaking
ITALICA • Volume 92 • No. 3 • Fall 2015
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Clorinda Donato and Violet Pasquarelli-Gascon
students who populate Italian language classrooms throughout the
United States see themselves as learners of a Romance language that
shares much with Spanish. Indeed, in one short paragraph, she has
voiced the obvious, immediate affinity of Italian with Spanish, her first
language, and the delight she has experienced at the transparency of
Italian and the facility that a Spanish speaker has in understanding it.
That delight, however, is followed by frustration at not being able to
negotiate with the same ease the differences between Italian and Spanish
that became apparent as her language study continued. She also sensed
that through a program of study tailored to Spanish speakers, she could
advance rapidly to higher levels of Italian and avoid the pitfalls of false
friends and facile similarities. Convinced that there had to be Italian
programs for Spanish speakers somewhere, she concluded her statement
by declaring her intention to explore the new instructional strategies
being developed to facilitate Italian language acquisition for speakers of
Spanish and her conviction that such approaches are necessary. We can
also infer that she likes Italian, senses that she could learn it much more
quickly and effectively with the right method, and that the need for a
new approach should be prompted by the number of Spanish-speaking
students studying Italian in the United States today.
Tahiri Viñas’ desire for Italian language instruction tailored to her as
a bilingual student reflects, from the student perspective, much of what
is taking shape in language acquisition research that is concerned with
bilingual and multilingual students in the language classroom. Thanks
to the combination of new research on multilingualism and classroom
experience, the philosophy of second language acquisition in the
United States is undergoing a transition from a focus on monolingual,
mono-directional acquisition patterns to multilingual, multidirectional
learning models that correspond more closely to the linguistic realities
of transnational subjects whose blended identities are lived and/or
expressed in more than one language. In a response to both the need
to operate in increasingly multilingual contexts as well as the reality of
bilingual, trilingual and often multilingual language learners populating
language classes, applied linguists are now considering pedagogies that
promote movement between languages and the negotiation of the
discourses, codes, and registers that constitute the globalized workplace
and social sphere (Cenoz and Gorter 2011).
This article addresses a specific context of L3/Ln acquisition – that
of English-Spanish bilinguals in special courses known as “Italian for
Spanish Speakers.” Whereas multilingualism studies now encompass
anthropological, neurological, psycholinguistic, and sociolinguistic
fields (Cenoz 2013), our work constitutes one of the very few instances
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The Language of the Other
of a deliberate multilingual pedagogical practice, placing it at a nexus
of disciplinary interests and research possibilities, to be sure, but more
importantly for our purposes, within a wholly applied framework of
classroom strategies and teaching materials that may be defined as
addressing third foreign language teaching and learning. Our article
also constitutes a report on the three-year program of Italian courses
for Spanish speakers offered at California State University, Long Beach
(CSULB), and the methodologies and materials that we have developed
to address those exact concerns that were raised by Tahiri Viñas:
1. fostering the recognition of similarities between Italian and Spanish
to facilitate acquisition;
2. teaching the differences between the languages through strategies
that help students notice morphological and phonological differences
among Romance languages; and
3. guiding students to apply the knowledge of these differences as they
learn related Romance languages.
II. Institutional Reality
The CSULB Italian program is among the first in the United States to
implement specialized pedagogies in language acquisition for Spanish
speakers. The project responds to the realization among L2 and L3
scholars that the growing number of students with competency in
Spanish need a language acquisition curriculum that takes advantage
of their preexisting skills in Spanish, whether or not the L2 speaker is
a heritage speaker of Spanish or a late bilingual who acquired Spanish
at school (Kroll, Gullifer, and Rossi 2013). While the vast majority of
the students enrolled in the Italian for Spanish Speakers courses on our
campus are heritage speakers or emergent bilinguals, we also include
students who have studied Spanish in high school.2 The students may be
balanced or unbalanced multilinguals, the distinction lying in the equal
fluency of the balanced multilingual in two or more languages, while
the unbalanced multilingual possesses different levels of proficiency, or
partial competencies, e. g., in reading and writing, though they may
have little speaking ability, in the languages in question. It is generally
accepted today that perfect balance is no longer a criterion for being
defined as multilingual (Skutnabb-Kangas and McCarty 2008). We
should also mention that funds have been made available by federal
government agencies for Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSI) like
California State University, Long Beach. In our case, we received a threeyear National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) grant to train high
school teachers and community college professors in our multilingual
methods and to use our materials. The faculty members involved in our
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Clorinda Donato and Violet Pasquarelli-Gascon
project have begun programs in their respective institutions (Lanza and
Hartunian 2014; Donato and Oliva 2014; Muller 2014).
III. Italian for Spanish Speakers: A Foray into American
Intercomprehension and Language Noticing
The practice of intercomprehension has been an invaluable tool
in the development of our Italian for Spanish Speakers program.
Intercomprehension is defined as a form of plurilingual communication
across languages of the same family, also known as polyglot dialogue
or receptive multilingualism, to explain the phenomenon of how
speakers of different, but related languages communicate through the
percentage of shared vocabulary, structures, and cultural content that
makes it possible to extract meaning (Thije and Zaavaert 2007). The
term ‘intercomprehension’ was first used by Jules Ronjat in 1913 to offer
a scientific explanation for the high levels of European multilingualism
prior to World War I. He defined it as a speaker’s ability to understand
the speech of another speaker who communicates in a dialect of the
same language or a related language.
The ability that speakers of related languages possess when
learning other languages in the same language family has been noted
anecdotally by students, as we have seen at the beginning of this article,
as well as by language educators, especially those teaching Italian to
Spanish speakers. In the absence of theories and practices of how this
baseline knowledge might be used to foster the acquisition of Italian,
the tremendous potential for Spanish speaking students in the Italian
classroom has been largely ignored, though research on cognition and
networked learning has shown that a general rule of learning is that all
new knowledge is acquired in relation to the knowledge one already
possesses. As intercomprehension suggests, all new linguistic knowledge
is also acquired in relation to the linguistic knowledge that one already
possesses, meaning that L1 and L2, as well as all other previously studied
foreign languages will be referred to and drawn upon. The link between
networked linguistic knowledge and intercultural competencies is
also very strong (Dewaele and Wei 2012). Multilingual work sparks
both metalinguistic and metacultural reflection, thus also networking
one’s general knowledge of the world through connections with news
media and authentic materials in multiple languages.3 Indeed, the
multilingual approach of intercomprehension in the United States is
evolving in tandem with the new field of cultural linguistics, which
is a blend of anthropology and cognitive linguistics. Just as linguistic
material is linked through language families, so are the linguistically and
culturally determined visual, historical, political and religious images
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The Language of the Other
created by individuals and groups. Proponents of cultural linguistics
have made a case for including the study of a community’s interpretive
frames alongside its linguistic code (Palmer 1996). If students can
understand how cultural groups conceptualize experience differently,
they will be more readily able to comprehend the articulation of that
same experience in another language. The study of such culturally
defined mental imagery is finding its way into the language classroom,
particularly in the intercomprehension classroom, where multilingual
learning is taking place, as shall be described in our discussion of the
intercomprehension pedagogies that are applied in our French and
Italian for Spanish Speakers classes (Sharifian and Palmer 2007). Though
this article focuses primarily on our Italian for Spanish Speakers classes,
we also have a full complement of courses in French, albeit, with a
different, though similar, set of content.
IV. Italian for Spanish Speakers at California State University, Long
Beach
The proponents of classic intercomprehension do not believe that
there is a single beginning language, nor do they believe that there is a
specific “target language”.4 Instead, students’ plurilingual knowledge is
activated through transversal work across the Romance languages, both
those they know, either fully or partially and those they do not know, but
to which they might be exposed in the course of linguistic exchanges.5
This is due in large part to the typological similarities between Romance
languages (Escudé and Janin 2010; Rothman 2011), as well as to the
affective and motivational impetus provided by the studying of multiple
languages (Spinelli 2015). In our case, intercomprehension is harnessed
in the service of acquiring a target language as part of a blended pedagogy
that stimulates third- (or fourth-) language acquisition through both
the metacognitive processes triggered by intercomprehension and the
abilities of the heritage language speaker/learner. Our approach has been
informed by the ongoing need for the acquisition of a target language in
college settings, i.e., students still sign up for French, Japanese, or Russian
classes, so our French and Italian classes fulfill that function; at the same
time, however, our approach satisfies the reality of our multilingual
student body since it utilizes information from multiple languages to
teach a new language in the same language family. The studies in The
Modern Language Journal, The Special Issue: Toward a Multilingual Approach
in the Study of Multilingualism in School Contexts (Cenoz and Gorter 2011)
reference multilingual approaches and practices both in and out of the
classroom in which alternate languages are used for input and output.
In a recent article, Claire Kramsch summarized them as follows:
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Clorinda Donato and Violet Pasquarelli-Gascon
1. Treat L1, L2, L3 as available semiotic repertoires, not as structural
rules and self-enclosed systems. So, for example, having the students
read a text in the L1 and report on it in the L2, project grammar
slides in the L1 and comment on them in the L2, read a text in the
L2 and summarize it in the L1.
2. Explicitly teach the relation between multiple modalities, registers,
and genres.
3. Engage with texts on multiple levels of indexicality, not just within,
but across literary and historical traditions.
4. Bring back translation, full or partial, into our L2 literacy practices.
(Kramsch 2012)
Our integration of intercomprehension into the French or Italian
L2 classroom designed for speakers of Spanish utilizes many of these
practices, all of which are inherent in intercomprehension. Through our
communicative approach blended with intercomprehension, we have
integrated all of the strategies outlined by Kramsch in the Romance
language materials we have been creating over the past few years.
Intercomprehension methodologies have become tools that we employ
on a regular basis in the lesson planning and teaching of our Italian
for Spanish Speakers courses. Every semester we offer four Italian for
Spanish Speakers courses: two sections in the first semester (ITAL 100A);
one section in the second semester (ITAL 100B); and one section of a
hybrid, intermediate Italian course (ITAL 200) consisting of six hours of
instruction per week. An intensive, six-unit hybrid, third-year course for
Spanish Speakers is also being developed.
Among the most commonly asked questions are those related to the
Spanish speaking students’ level of Spanish competency and to whether
we do or do not test their Spanish knowledge prior to enrollment. We do
not test any of the students who take Italian for Spanish Speakers classes.
In the case of the heritage speakers, we know that traditional testing
methods wouldn’t tell us much about their potential to excel in these
classes because the range of competencies is great; in the case of students
who have learned Spanish at school, we let them determine if their level
of Spanish competency is sufficient for them to participate profitably
in the class. Very few students leave the class, as most of them are able
to correctly select the course for Spanish speakers as a good match for
their level of abilities in Spanish. We also know from the end-of-semester
surveys that we have conducted over the past four semesters that students
find Spanish a significant help in their acquisition of Italian. Our survey
also shows that students are aware of the greater ease with which they
are acquiring the target language, thanks to their knowledge of Spanish:
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The Language of the Other
87.4% of the students stated that Spanish played a very important role
in these courses. (48% essential, 39.4% important, and 10.2% somewhat
important.) Additionally, the survey shows that students appear to learn
a concept in French or Italian with greater ease when they are able
to compare it with Spanish or English. The survey also indicates that
students can grasp the correlations that are gleaned from showing the
parallel structures of related languages and that this methodology is
effective for this group of students.6 Here are a few of the comments that
students wrote on the survey about the usefulness of Spanish:
“The languages are extremely similar so if something was not clear, I
could always refer back to my Spanish and it would become much easier –
conjugations, vocabulary, expressions, etc. These are the sort of things that
wouldn’t really translate properly to English”;
“Very useful, especially when we discuss concepts akin to Romance
languages”;
“[Spanish] is very useful because it’s so similar that when someone is
speaking Italian I can basically understand everything they are saying”; and,
“Italian for Spanish speakers is more convenient. This is because we can
use our background to understand the new language. It’s unbelievable how
I have the tools in my background to understand a whole new language
that I never thought could be so similar to other languages. Learning a new
language in a class for Spanish speakers is fascinating. It was also a wonderful
experience since I got to enhance my Spanish as well.”
From this selection from among some fifty similar comments by
our students about the usefulness of Spanish, it is clear that their prior
knowledge of another Romance language makes them more open to
the acquisition of Italian and more confident in their ability to succeed.
V. First-Year Italian for Spanish Speakers
a) Theory
The driving principle in intercomprehension and cultural linguistics
is the noticing of similarities and differences, either linguistic or cultural.
Noticing sparks metalinguistic and metacognitive reflection, which
galvanizes learning, and is considered by many to be the quintessential
element required for any kind of learning to take place (Schmidt
1990; Bergleithner, Frota, & Yoshioka 2013; and Torresan 2014). The
combination of intercomprehension and language noticing is ideally
suited to the Italian courses for Spanish speakers. Recent neurological
studies on the location of cognitive activity in the brains of L3 learners
corroborate the behavioral findings in multilingual research, which
demonstrates that L3 learners access both their L1 and L2 when learning
lexical elements in a third language through a process of translation that
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Clorinda Donato and Violet Pasquarelli-Gascon
invariably activates the L1 – L2 relationship as it attributes meaning to
the word in L3. The research also shows that the learning of L3 without
including L2 in the pedagogical process removes the bilingual advantage
in lexicon acquisition that has been established for both early and late
bilinguals. In other words, teaching a Romance language to a Spanish
speaker without including Spanish (usually the L2 for the learners in our
classes) in the pedagogical process eliminates their bilingual advantage
in the acquisition of lexical items. Of paramount importance in these
studies is the way in which the L1 and L2 of bilingual learners work in
tandem in the acquisition of an L3/Ln:
Recent studies have shown that when bilinguals or multilinguals read written
words, listen to spoken words, or plan words that they intend to speak in
one language alone, information in all of the languages that they know is
momentarily active. That activation produces cross-language competition
that sometimes converges to facilitate performance and sometimes diverges
to create costs to performance. The presence of parallel activation across
languages has been documented in comprehension, in studies of word
recognition, and also in production, in studies of lexical speech planning.
(Kroll, Gullifer, and Rossi 2013).
It has been shown that cross-lingual activation, i.e., the translation
activity triggered between L1 and L2 when acquiring an L3 lexical item
takes place no matter what the two languages are, though it would
appear that acquisition is enhanced when one of the languages is related
to the third language being acquired. A great deal of sensitivity towards
the relationship between languages from the same language family has
been registered during reading activities, when students recognize a
phonological overlap between L2, in our case Spanish, and L3, when it
is related to L2 (Schwartz et al., 2007; Van Assche et al., 2010).
b) Materials for First-Year Italian for Spanish Speakers and Their Use
Juntos: Italian for Speakers of English and Spanish, a book we have
written for our courses, has been created to mesh with any first-year
Italian language textbook. The lessons can be used in any order, and
therefore be matched with any sequencing used by a particular textbook.
In our syllabi, we assign a Juntos chapter in conjunction with the
chapter from any textbook that addresses the particular grammar point
being introduced. To date, we have used Juntos successfully with two
different textbooks. The instructor has the freedom to use the material
from Juntos in any number of ways – as home study and/or in class as
active instructional material.
The following sample lesson on the teaching of reflexive verbs has
been taken from our first-year text, Juntos: Italian for Speakers of English
and Spanish in which we have applied the theories discussed above.
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The Language of the Other
There is both a student and an instructor edition of the book, plus power
point slides to be projected for instructional purposes. The teaching
of reflexive verbs can be a challenge for those who teach Romance
languages to English, L1 speakers. The difficulties lie at a number of
levels, not the least of which is the use of the reflexive pronoun in lieu
of the possessive adjective in the case of reflexive verbs referring to
the care of the body, or the conceptual differences or distinctions in
cultural practice and perspective reflected in the use of reflexive verbs
in Italian (and Spanish and French, for that matter) when in English a
non-reflexive verb would be used. Add to this the further complication
of idiomatic uses of the reflexive verbs, i.e., the making of a regular verb
into a reflexive (“I fixed myself a sandwich”), and the matter assumes
yet another degree of complexity for the English speaker.
Juntos always presents new material in Italian multilingually, i.e., in the
company and context of several other Romance languages. This, indeed,
is the basis for intercomprehensive learning and the metacognition it
fosters. We fully subscribe to the ideas expressed by Jamet and Caddéo
(2013) regarding the potential for intercomprehension to become a
dynamic force in the acquisition of multiple languages beyond reading
knowledge and in active, communicative skills as well. We also want
students to understand multiple languages as “sets of resources rather
than as fixed linguistic systems” (Cenoz 2013). We are promoting
multiple competencies, translanguaging and code-switching, rather than
atomistic views of language as discrete, finite, land-locked entities. The
use of multiple languages in the presentation of new material reminds
students of the rich linguistic context within which the “target” language
resides. The presentation of material multilingually corresponds far more
closely to the hybrid identities of our students that are not reflected in the
classic L1-L2 textbook configurations. Languages presented in this way
are resources that reinforce each other. In general, recent publications
address multilingual learning and teaching. Our book has incorporated
many of these ideas to encourage students to learn in ways that more
closely reflect the realities of global language and linguistic identity, than
do atomistic approaches to language learning.
Student Edition of Juntos:
Lesson 4
Verbi riflessivi
Identify the following languages:
•
•
•
•
(Eu) me lavo
(Yo) me lavo
(Jo) em rento
Je me lave
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Clorinda Donato and Violet Pasquarelli-Gascon
•
•
•
•
(Io) mi lavo
(Eiu) mi lavu
(Iu) mi lavu
(Eu) ma spal
Identify the reflexive pronouns. Do they share a common letter?
Look at the Spanish and Italian forms in the following chart. What do you notice
about the first letter of each pronoun across languages?
Spagnolo
me
te
se
nos
os, se
se
Francese
me
te
se
nous
vous
se
Italiano
mi
ti
si
ci
vi
si
Inglese
myself
yourself
him/herself
ourselves
yourselves
themselves
Since they express actions done to oneself, reflexive verbs are often used in the
vocabulary of our morning routine.
See how Ana discusses Marco’s routine below using three languages. Help her
reorder the following morning routine.
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
(Lui) si alza
Il se lave
(Él) se peina
Il s’habille
(Lui) se ne va
(Lui) si guarda nello specchio
(Él) se lava los dientes
(Él) se despierta
Can you now help Ana express Marco’s whole routine in Italian in the proper
order?
As can be seen from this sample lesson on the reflexive verbs, the
lesson begins with examples from several Romance languages. It should
also be noted that the majority of the Romance languages indicated are
null subject parameter languages (NSP), in which the subject pronoun is
not required in order to understand the person of the verb.7 This portion
of each lesson integrates several languages according to the practice of
intercomprehension, also known as receptive multilingualism. Rather
than teaching languages as separate, finite, “walled off” communication
systems, Juntos reduces linguistic barriers by opening up the “bridges”
among the Romance languages. Students immediately observe the
similarities, recognizing that they are operating within a broad family
of languages. From the beginning, they are seeing examples in Corsican,
French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Romanian, and also English.
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The Language of the Other
Indeed, all of our Spanish speakers know English, therefore we have
also incorporated English into our examples, for as we move into the
more intensive language noticing section of the lesson, we want to
make sure that they understand how Italian is similar to or different
from English as well as Spanish, French, or Portuguese. We are not
asking them for precise, word for word translations, but rather, we use
translation among languages as an intercomprehensive tool. You have
also noticed that English is the language of our explanations. Since
most of the students in our classes (native, heritage and school-trained
speakers of Spanish) have all gone through the American educational
system to some degree, they are familiar with receiving instructions in
English. Students are used to using English as a necessary tool in the
globalized world; in Juntos, English functions as a bridge to the other
languages, rather than as a monolithic, dominating linguistic presence.
Moreover, it is placed on equal footing with the other languages. This
is particularly evident when teaching with Juntos. Students follow the
instructions given in English, but the instructor may be providing
those same instructions orally in either Italian or Spanish. Multilingual
presentation is a common teaching strategy in intercomprehension. By
sensitizing students to the shared elements of the Romance and English
languages, an inclusive and collaborative atmosphere is engendered,
which is conducive to learning and exploring.
As we have mentioned, Juntos consists of an edition for students
and an instructor’s edition, which includes a package of power-points
to facilitate the viewing of Juntos content in the classroom. Below, we
have included a sample lesson on the formation of the plural from the
instructor’s edition.
Instructor’s Edition of Juntos:
Lesson 8
Plurale
Identify the languages below:
•
•
•
•
•
As meninas são altas e os meninos são baixos.
Los niños son jóvenes y las niñas son adolescentes.
Les garçons sont rapides et les filles sont agiles.
Le ragazze sono simpatiche e i ragazzi sono gentili.
The boys are talkative and the girls are sporty.
Compare how the plural is formed in the languages above (i.e., niños vs niño).
Look at the Portuguese, Spanish, French and English examples. What is common to
all these languages? How is Italian different?
Answer key: in PT, SP, FR and EN, an “s” is added to most nouns to form the
plural. Exceptions to this rule include child/children in English and cheval/chevaux
in French. Italian does not follow this rule at all.
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Clorinda Donato and Violet Pasquarelli-Gascon
In most cases, the Italian plural is formed by changing the masculine ending -o
to -i, and the feminine ending -a to -e.
Spanish
French
El niño
Los niños
Le garçon
La niña
Las niñas
La fille
Italian
Les garçons
Les filles
Il ragazzo
La ragazza
I _____
Le _____
Complete the chart above with the appropriate regular Italian plurals.
Answer key: I ragazzi, Le ragazze.
The plural of ragazzo is ragazzi (not ragazzos), and the plural of ragazza is ragazze
(not ragazzas). This is important to keep in mind, especially since we pluralize
English words by adding a final -s. “Cappuccinos” or “pizzas” do not exist in Italian.
Can you guess the plural forms of the words below?
Italian singular
Italian plural
English plural
Un cappuccino
Due _____
Two cappuccinos
Una pizza
Tre_____
Three pizzas
Answer key: due cappuccini, tre pizze.
Look at the examples below. What do you notice about the agreement of articles
in number? How does English differ? Is Italian closer to Spanish or English?
•
•
•
•
•
As meninas são altas e os meninos são curtos.
Los niños son jóvenes y las niñas son adolescentes.
Les garçons sont rapides et les filles sont agiles.
Le ragazze sono simpatiche e i ragazzi sono gentili.
The boys are talkative and the girls are sporty.
Answer key: the articles of all Romance languages agree in number, in contrast
with English, which only has one article for all nouns.
All four Romance languages above have plural articles. Although the Italian
sentence only shows the articles i and le, in the next lesson you will learn that there
is more than one masculine article.
The answer key additions to the instructor’s edition make it possible
for those who have no formal training in intercomprehension, or may
not know Spanish, to teach the class. The answer key offers instructors
the salient areas of emphasis for each lesson. With minimum preparation
time, instructors can be enabled to present the intercomprehension
links between Italian and Spanish, as well as a broader perspective on
the Romance language family. Students enjoy learning about languages
and how they function. According to their survey responses, they feel
empowered by this kind of knowledge and begin to view the languages
they know as active sites of knowledge formation and language acquisition
potential. Students commonly report in the survey that they now realize
they can learn multiple languages and it is their goal to do so.
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The Language of the Other
VI. Intermediate Italian for Spanish Speakers at CSULB: ITAL 200
Students who have completed Italian for Spanish Speakers 100A and
100B, (the traditional courses are numbered 101A and 101B, first and
second semester Italian), enroll in ITAL 200, a six-unit, intensive hybrid
course for Spanish speakers that enables students to finish their secondyear coursework in one semester.
Whereas the first two semesters of Italian for Spanish Speakers cover
the same structures in the same amount of time as the traditional
first- and second-semester sequence for a first-year course, the second
year, intermediate level course, collapses the entire second year into
a one-semester, six-unit, intensive format, ITAL 200. This three-course
sequence allows students to advance to third-year Italian with one less
semester of seat time.
The intermediate hybrid course combines traditional, face-to-face
instruction with an online component in a hybrid format. Class time for
this course totals six hours per week. The face-to-face class takes place in
a traditional classroom for four hours per week, i.e., two hours a day on
an alternating day schedule. Online sessions are scheduled twice a week
for one hour each. The students schedule the first online hour with
their assigned partners, and the second online hour is instructor-led.
The work for both sessions appears on the syllabus as homework. The
students and professor meet online using Collaborate, a web interface
made available through the Blackboard suite of software.
The class typically enrolls 15-25 students whose background in
Spanish broke down as follows in the Spring 2013 semester: eight were
immigrants from Mesoamerica and Latin America; ten were heritage
speakers/learners reflecting varying degrees of Spanish competency as
described by experts in heritage language proficiency (Montrul 2013).
These Spanish speakers represented all varieties of Spanish with various
configurations and degrees of competencies in reading, writing, speaking
and listening. The variety of Spanish competencies in the Portuguese
for Spanish Speakers classroom has been described by Carvalho (2002,
2011) and Child (2013). Their work is applicable to the Italian for Spanish
Speakers classroom we are describing here. In addition to the native
and heritage speakers in the class, four of the students had acquired
Spanish in high school or at college. Academic levels of Spanish were
high, with 77% of the students being Spanish majors or MA students
in Spanish literature or linguistics. The remaining 23% of the students
specialized in Criminal Justice, French, Engineering, and Film. All of
the students were using this course to complete their foreign language
requirement. These students possessed strong metalinguistic skills. They
725
Clorinda Donato and Violet Pasquarelli-Gascon
had completed the first year of Italian for Spanish Speakers and were
used to working with Spanish, Italian, and English (along with French
and Portuguese in the intercomprehension modules to which they had
been exposed in early iterations of Juntos). They assimilated concepts
that were similar with little need for emphasis or exercise (positive
transfer), while those structures that require attention (“noticing”), so
as to avoid the pitfalls of negative transfer, were duly engaged. It should
also be noted that in cases regarding negative transfer, the skills that
require the most work are the active skills, i.e., speaking and writing,
since meaning is often transferred passively, through words that are
obliquely related (partial transparency) in intercomprehension. For
example, in the present perfect, the auxiliary verb is always “to have” in
Spanish, which is also the case for the reflexive verbs. Students have no
trouble understanding “sono stato/a” or “mi sono lavato/a i capelli” in
listening and reading, but they need to be made aware of the use of the
verb “to be” as auxiliary in the Italian present perfect of intransitive and
reflexive verbs when they speak and write in Italian.
The focus on positive and negative transfer is addressed in both
the online and face-to-face meetings. During the week, students come
to class for two, two-hour blocks, on alternating days, as we have
explained. Sessions utilizing technology in the ITAL 200 hybrid format
are beneficial for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the
increased number of times students have contact with Italian during
the week. As in the sessions taking place in real time, students also
meet in the virtual classroom two times a week, with a pre-designated
group. The first online session of the week is set up by mutual consensus
among the four students who comprise a group. In a class of 24, for
example, there would be six groups of four. The students are given
specific assignments to complete and perform in Collaborate. All
sessions are archived for retrieval at any time during the semester by
anyone in the class, or by the instructor. Participants work in groups to
discuss concepts they are in the process of acquiring, or to practice the
language based on previously assigned homework. The instructor is not
present in the virtual classroom during the student-on-student sessions.
Therefore students must plan, organize, and prepare for their sessions
with their partners to accomplish their goals. Often, these Collaborate
sessions are used to prepare the group session that takes place, together
with everyone, later in the week.
For group work in the virtual classroom with the entire class in
attendance, students begin by entering the main room, checking in one
by one. Once the participants are in the main, online room, the task
they will work on in virtual break-out rooms is reviewed through the
726
The Language of the Other
use of PowerPoint slides on the white board of the virtual classroom.
Then Collaborate randomly separates students into virtual break-out
rooms for discussion, so that they can work together. The instructor
checks in with each group to see if they have questions. The students
work collaboratively on the task, coming together during the last 15 –
20 minutes of the session in the original classroom that accommodates
all students. Each group reports on its findings in Italian to the whole
class assembled in the inclusive, virtual classroom.
For the courses taking place in real time, students learn through a
series of intercomprehension activities that allow them to use their
linguistic and cultural knowledge of English to practice the objective of
the day. Intercomprehension activities, such as matching lists of words,
expressions, and grammatical concepts with equivalent expressions
in Spanish and English, constitute one of the main exercises used to
promote the understanding of similarities and differences among
the three languages. From the students’ own anecdotally related
experiences and in part from their responses to our survey, students
not only learn Italian, but, at the same time, they become more
knowledgeable about the grammar, lexicon, and syntax of Spanish
and English, though they do not use our technical vocabulary to
describe their gains. These intercomprehension exercises strengthen the
students’ confidence as they discover how much they know through
their abilities in Spanish. Student comments reflect their pleasure and
pride in using Spanish as a pedagogical tool, as the following examples
show: “I loved this course. The ability to utilize our Spanish background
to learn a language that would otherwise be very difficult to learn is
just incredible”; “I really enjoyed the class, and I find it very helpful
to have an Italian class that focuses on Spanish speakers because
you get to not only learn a new language but reinforce both Spanish
and English with intercomprehension”. Additionally, the students’
understanding of Italian culture is heightened by their own Hispanic
cultures, where many of the same values are important. Through the
intercomprehension exercises, which at times give them comparisons
in French and Portuguese as well, they also become aware of the fact
that Spanish is a useful tool, not only for learning Italian, but also for
learning any other Romance language. While students in first-year
Italian for Spanish Speakers make these same discoveries, the degree to
which they are aware of the depth of their learning is heightened in the
second-year class.
Intercomprehension activities are consistently dynamic. A brief
description with sample activities serves to elucidate how a 100-minute
class session of second-year Italian for Spanish Speakers is conducted.
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Clorinda Donato and Violet Pasquarelli-Gascon
The first 10 minutes of the class are used to present and explain the
new grammar point, in this case, the “passato remoto” or the historical
past. The presentation is very quick, and it is done through comparative
analysis with the “preterito” in Spanish. The rest of the class (90 minutes)
is spent using the “passato remoto” in reading, listening and writing
activities, such as the following multifaceted unit on Christopher
Columbus.
This activity has proven to be the ideal complement to the
teaching of the “passato remoto”. Biographies, such as those of
Christopher Colombus, Leonardo Da Vinci, or Artemisia Gentileschi,
lend themselves well to discussion in the intercomprehension classroom,
as do discussions of paintings such as Leonardo Da Vinci’s La Gioconda.
The following activity consists of nine sections in which both Italian
and Spanish are used to practice and apply the “passato remoto”.8
Obiettivo: Ripassare il Passato Remoto
This nine-part lesson begins by familiarizing students with the verbs
they will hear and see in the video and reading a passage on Christopher
Columbus that is the focus of this lesson. As explained above, the text is
written and spoken in the historical present, with verbs in the present,
future, and present perfect tenses. Students are familiar with all of these
verb tenses, so this quick overview serves primarily as a warm-up.
Abbinate il verbo in italiano con il corrispondente verbo in spagnolo:
Italiano
Spagnolo
1. legge
a. es
2. saprà
b. hará
3. tocca
c. rehusar / negar
4. scoprire
d. resultarán
5. dice
e. pregunta
6. è
f. lee
7. farà
g. sabrá
8. chiede
h. dice
9. rifiutare
i. toca
10. risulteranno
j. es considerado
11. è ritenuto
k. descubrir
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The Language of the Other
The second part of the lesson presents some of the specialized
vocabulary they will need for understanding this reading. Most of this
vocabulary is already familiar, but now it is being used with specific
reference to a historical figure and event, thus it may be considered
“Italian for special purposes.”
1. Abbinate le parole in italiano con le parole corrispondenti in spagnolo:
Italiano
Spagnolo
1. dintorni
a. alrededores / vecindad
2. addirittura
b. rechazos
3. nave ammiraglia
c. incluso
4. bocciature
d. placa
5. targa
e. buque insignia
2. Esercizio di Intercomprensione. Abbinate i verbi in italiano con i verbi in
spagnolo:
Verbos en español al pretérito
fue / fueron
fue puesta /
pusieron*
inició
tocó
llegó
decidió
se casó
nació
leyó
concibió
murió
hizo
preguntó
dejó
negó / rehusó
propuso
dijo
supo
creyó
tornó / se
devolvió
organizó
fue
arrestado*
Fue
considerado*
fue (ir)
Se equivocó
The third part of this lesson consists of students matching the Italian “passato
remoto” with the verbs in the Spanish “preterito,” active and passive voice.
* The passive forms of these verbs are quickly explained through comparative
examples with Spanish. The active form of the verb, when irregular in the passato
remoto, is noted next to the past participle. It is indicated in the plural to show how
it can be used to replace the passive voice in some instances.
729
Clorinda Donato and Violet Pasquarelli-Gascon
I verbi italiani al passato
remoto
1. fu / furono
2. fu messa (misero)*
3. iniziò
4. toccò
5. arrivò
6. decise
7. sposò
8. nacque
9. lesse
10. concepì
11. fece
12. chiese
13. rifiutò
14. lasciò
15. andò
16. propose
17. credette
18. tornò
19. organizzò
20. fu arrestato*
21. fu ritenuto*
22. morì
23. seppe
24. disse
25. si sbagliò
730
Verbi in
italiano
all’infinito
Verbos en
español al
pretérito
El infinito
del verbo en
español
essere
fue
ser
The Language of the Other
4) Lettura del testo: “L’Uomo Medievale – Cristoforo Colombo”
The reading is taken from the following website: http://www.ovo.com/cristoforocolombo.
1. Lettura e ascolto. Students read the text, then listen to the recording while
watching the video at the same website.
2. Guardate la trascrizione del testo del video. Notate che il testo è scritto nel
“presente storico”. Possiamo, però raccontare la storia di Cristofero Colombo
al passato remoto. Riscrivete il testo, cambiando i verbi dal presente al passato
remoto.
3. Esercizio fattuale. Rispondete alle seguenti domande.
a. Quando nacque Cristoforo Colombo?
b. Chi furono i suoi genitori?
c. Si sa con certezza dove nacque Cristoforo Colombo?
d. Perché Cristoforo Colombo concepì l’idea di raggiungere le Indie passando
da ovest?
e. Perché i re cattolici accettarono di finanziare la spedizione?
f. Quali furono le imbarcazioni che misero a sua disposizione?
g. Dopo 31 giorni di viaggio in mare aperto Cristoforo Colombo toccò terra.
Qual è la data in cui toccò terra? Dove arrivò Colombo in realtà?
h. Dove Cristoforo Colombo credette di essere? Che cosa era successo?
i. Secondo la lettura, Cristoforo Colombo morì con la certezza di aver
scoperto quale posto?
4. Discussione interculturale. Parla con il tuo compagno della “scoperta”
dell’America. Trovate l’uso del termine “scoperta” problematico? Perché?
5. Compito orale. Con il tuo compagno, trovate articoli di giornale o saggi che
mettono in discussione la “scoperta” di Colombo per poter differenziare tra
la posizione coloniale e quella post-coloniale. Presentate un articolo o saggio
che avete trovato al vostro gruppo.
6. Compito scritto. Scrivete un breve saggio sull’argomento seguente:
“Festeggiare il Columbus Day?: pro e contro”
The quality of the discussion about Christopher Columbus and the
meaning of Columbus Day from a variety of cultural perspectives is a
prime example of the extent to which intercultural learning may take
place in the multilingual classroom. The second-year course also offers
an example of how an instructor can structure a meaningful lesson,
one that addresses all skills and incorporates intercomprehension, with
readings and sources taken from the Internet.
Conclusion
This article has examined the series of Italian for Spanish Speakers
courses that have been taught at California State University, Long
Beach, for the past four years against the backdrop of the growing
Hispanic population in the United States and the parallel interest
in multilingualism in North America. We are among a handful of
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Clorinda Donato and Violet Pasquarelli-Gascon
institutions discovering how multimodal literacies and multilingual
pedagogies can support, sustain, and enhance language learning.
We have presented a sampling of the course materials created to
address the multilingual learner and to encourage Italian instructors
throughout the United States to develop and apply new methods of
instruction for multilingual learners of Italian. To be sure, change has
been slow to come, and while there still may be far more questions
than there are answers as we develop and embrace new multimodal,
multilingual strategies and technologies for teaching Italian to Spanish
speakers, we find ourselves in the role of teacher and learner. Maybe
as instructors we will discover that we need and want to learn Spanish
or improve the Spanish we know; or, perhaps, we will reflect on the
evolution of the teaching of Italian in North America and the cultural
and linguistic ties binding Italian Americans and Hispanic Americans.
We may even discover synergy in our evolving cultural identities,
including our shared linguistic and cultural capital.
Notes
Tahiri Viñas, “L’Istruzione d’italiano per studenti ispanofoni”. Paper for
Italian 303S Italian Sociolinguistics at Duke University.
2
The prerequisites for both French and Italian for Spanish speakers read as
follows in the CSULB catalog: “Two semesters of college Spanish or 3 years of
high school Spanish; or be a native or heritage speaker of Spanish.” http://web.
csulb.edu/divisions/aa/catalog/current/cla/italian/ital_ld.html, Checked on
October 26, 2015.
3
Data we have gathered through surveys from a course in intercomprehension
using the Eurom5 book and website have generated an increased awareness in
metacultural understanding, particularly in the course exercises that required
students to compare the same news story in several languages in a variety
of online newspapers, where similarities and differences in reporting were
noted and reflected upon by the students. Clorinda Donato and Cedric Joseph
Oliva presented this material at the conference Français langue étrangère held
in Puerto Rico in 2014. Their article appears in the conference proceedings
under the title “Nouveau public, nouvelle stratégie: Français pour locuteurs
anglohispanophones.” Didactique du FLE à réinventer : mondialisation, immigration,
référents culturels en copartage. Crisolenguas, Linda de Serres, Françoise Ghillebaert,
and Patrick-André Mather (ed.) Vol. 3.1, 2015.
4
We would like to thank Barbara Spinelli, Columbia University, for her help
with identifying sources for this section of our article, which references the
synergy of languages in the language acquisition process.
5
Escudé and Janin (44-45) observe that the person who learns new languages
through intercomprehension does not separate the typologically similar
languages and cultures into separate compartments, but instead, groups them
1
732
The Language of the Other
together. In this way a multiplicity of cross-language transfers is established to
form a network of correspondences. More specific, quantitative research in this
vein can be found in Rothman, who shows that lexical and semantic transfer in
L3 occurs between the two languages that are the closest typologically.
6
Although it is not a Romance language, English shares many elements
with the Romance languages due to the influence of Old French. It can be
considered the most “Romance” of the non-Romance languages and can be
useful as a comparative element in intercomprehension, especially when the
learner knows English as well as a Romance language, as is the case with our
Spanish speakers, who, living in North America, all know English. Several
European experts in intercomprehension have also argued for including English
as a related language to the other Romance languages, since knowledge of it is
so pervasive.
7
We have indicated this through the use of parentheses around the subject
pronouns to denote their facultative value in these sentences.
8
In the second-year class, we often do readings about topics such as Columbus
or La Gioconda in other Romance languages to continue with the methodology
from Juntos, so as to maintain the metacognitive skills of intercomprehension,
in which reading across multiple languages is particularly rewarding. Our
students are familiar with the idea of intercomprehension and the development
of advanced reading skills, thanks to our course offering “Intercomprehension
among Romance Languages: a Road to Multilingualism,” which is discussed in
an article we are currently writing. The course utilizes the most important text
for multilingual teaching, Eurom 5 (Bonvino and Caddéo 2011). Once students
have taken Italian 200, they are encouraged to take the intercomprehension
course mentioned above.
Works Cited
Bergsleithner Joara M., Sylvia Nagem Frota, & Jim K. Yoshioka (eds.). Noticing
and Second Language Acquisition: Studies in Honor of Richard Schmidt. Honolulu:
National Foreign Language Resource Center, 2013. Print.
Bonvino Elisabetta, Sandrine Caddéo, Eulàlia Vilagines Serra e Salvador Pippa.
Ler e compreender 5 línguas românicas – Leer y entender 5 lenguas románicas –
Llegir i entendre 5 llengües romàniques – Leggere e capire 5 lingue romanze – Lire
et comprendre 5 langues romanes. Milano: Hoepli, 2011. Print. [with an online
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Caddéo, Sandrine and Marie-Christine Jamet. L’Intercompréhension: une autre
approche pour l’enseignement des langues. Paris: Hachette, 2013. Print.
Carvalho, A. M. “Português para falantes de espanhol: Perspectivas de um
campo de pesquisa”. Hispania 85.3 (2002), 597-608. Print.
Carvalho, A.M., J. L. Freire and A. J. B. da Silva. “Teaching Portuguese to Spanish
Speakers: A Case for Trilingualism”. Hispania 93.1 (2010), 70-75. Print.
733
Clorinda Donato and Violet Pasquarelli-Gascon
Carvalho, A. M. “Português para falantes de espanhol: Trajetória de um campo
de pesquisa.” Plenary address given March 12, 2001 at the Quarto Simpósio
sobre Ensino de Português Para Falantes de Espanhol. Georgetown
University, 2011. Print.
Cenoz, Jasone and Durk Gorter. “Introduction to the Special Issue”. A Holistic
Approach to Multilingual Education. Modern Language Journal 95.3 (2011), 339343. Print.
Cenoz, Janone. Defining Multilingualism. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics.
33 (2013), 3-18. doi:10.1017/S026719051300007X. Print.
Desaele, Jean-Marc and Li Wei. “Multilingualism, empathy and
multicompetence”. International Journal of Multilingualism. (2012), 1-15. Print.
Donato, Clorinda, Nicolas Bordage, and Philana Rustin. “French for Spanish
Speakers through Intercomprehension: A Method of Multiple-Language
Acquisition for the Romance Languages with Implications for the Future.”
ADFL Bulletin 42.1 (2012), 49-60. Print.
Donato, Clorinda, Cedric Joseph Oliva, Daniela Zappador Guerra and Manuel
Romero. Juntos: Italian for Speakers of English and Spanish. 1st ed. George L.
Graziadio Center for Italian Studies. RedShelf, 2014. Print.
Donato, Clorinda and Cedric Joseph Oliva. “The Ties that Bind: Italian for Spanish
Speakers in Intercomprehension”. Intercomprehension and Multilingualism
Teaching Italian to Romance Languages Speakers. New York: Calandra Institute
Transactions: 2015, 61-78. Print.
Escudé, Pierre and Pierre Janin. Le point sur L’intercompréhension, clé du
plurilinguisme. Paris: Cle International, 2010. Print.
García, Ofelia, Jo Anne Kleifgen and Lorraine Falchi. “From English language
learners to emergent bilinguals”. Equity Matters: Research Review No. 1.
New York: A Research Initiative of the Campaign for Educational Equity,
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___. Bilingual Education in the 21st Century. A Global Perspective. Wiley-Blackwell,
2014. Print.
Kramsch, Claire. “Authenticity and Legitimacy in Multilingual SLA”. Critical
Multilingualism Studies. [Tucson] 1.1 (2012), 107-128. Web.
Kroll, Judith F.; Gullifer, Jason W. and Rossi, Eleonora. “The Multilingual
Lexicon: The Cognitive and Neural Basis of Lexical Comprehension and
Production in Two or More Languages”. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics.
Cambridge 33 (2013),102-127. Print.
Lanza, Ida and Diane Hartunian. “French and Italian for Spanish Speakers: San
Pedro High School – LAUSD: A practical study of the logistics of teaching
another Romance language to Spanish speakers”. Intercomprehension and
Multilingualism Teaching Italian to Romance Languages Speakers. (Forthcoming
in Calandra Institute Transactions). Print.
Montrul, Silvina. El bilingüismo en el mundo hispanohablante. Malden, MA: WileyBlackwell, 2013. Print.
734
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Palmer, Gary B. Toward a Theory of Cultural Linguistics. Texas: Texas UP, 1996.
Print.
Pugliese R. and S. Filice. “Plurilingual Communication: A Polyglot Model for a
Polyglot World”. Creativity and Innovation in Language Education. Argondizzo,
C. (ed.), Linguistic Insights 154. Frankfurt-Berlin-Berne-Bruxelles-NewYorkOxford and Vienna: Peter Lang, 2013, 85-110. Print.
Rothman, Jason. “L3 syntactic transfer selectivity and typological determinacy: The
typological primacy model”. Second Language Research 27 (2011): 107-127. Print.
Schmidt, R. “The Role of Consciousness in Second Language Learning”. Applied
Linguistics 11.2 (1990): 129-158. Print.
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Skutnabb-Kangas, T. and T. McCarty. “Key Concepts in Bilingual Education:
Ideological, Historical, Epistemological, and Empirical Foundations”.
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Cummins and N. Hornberger (eds.). New York, NY: Springer, 2008: 3-17.
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Spinelli, Barbara. “Integrating Plurilingualism into Curriculum Design: Toward
a Plurilingual Shift”. Intercomprehension and Multilingualism Teaching Italian
to Romance Languages Speakers. New York: Calandra Institute Transactions,
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735
Significant Growth in Italian Enrollment
at a Hispanic-Serving Institution
Tom Means
Borough of Manhattan Community College,
City University of New York
Abstract: Enrollment in Italian at Borough of Manhattan Community College
(BMCC/CUNY), an officially designated Hispanic-serving institution (HSI),
has nearly quadrupled in the past decade to over 1,200 students per year. In
that same time, the Hispanic population at this college has grown from 30%
of the student body to 40%. Seventy-seven students enrolled in elementary
Italian language classes were polled in order to understand why they signed
up for Italian. The vast majority (81%) of the students polled are Hispanic and
as the data provided will show, a majority of students attribute their enrollment
in Italian to a belief that their knowledge of Spanish would facilitate their
acquisition of Italian. Implications for teaching Italian to Spanish speakers are
then shared. As the Hispanic population in the United States is projected to more
than double over the next 50 years, Italian Studies could benefit by exploiting
the correlations provided in this paper.
Keywords: Italian, enrollment, Hispanic-serving institution, intercomprehension,
motivation, second-language acquisition.
1. Overview
lthough Italian has been offered for decades at BMCC/CUNY,
historical data from the Office of Institutional Research show that
from 1990 to 2000 enrollment never exceeded 200 students per year until
a steady and significant growth started in Fall 2000. This paper will track
that growth over a period of thirteen years and show that enrollment
has nearly quadrupled (from 317 enrollments in the academic year 20002001 to 1,262 enrollments in the academic year 2012-2013), and that the
majority of students in Italian classes have been Hispanic.
In this period of time, BMCC/CUNY has grown significantly – from
approximately 15,000 students to 24,000 students – and, as stated
above, as an HSI, the enrollment of Hispanic students has grown from
30% to 40% of our total population. HSIs are defined as “two-year and
four-year colleges and universities with Latino enrollments of 25% or
more full-time equivalent students” (Laden 181).
As the college’s population becomes increasingly Hispanic, what is
it about the Italian language that attracts the Hispanic population to
A
ITALICA • Volume 92 • No. 3 • Fall 2015
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Significant Growth in Italian Enrollment
Italian courses? Seventy-seven completed questionnaires inform this
paper and attempt to answer this question. The primary trend that
emerges is that Hispanics believe that learning Italian will be easier
because of their knowledge of Spanish, i.e., through the phenomenon of
intercomprehension (Escudé and Janin, Donato). An example of this is
a student’s observation that, “When a Romance language is known, it is
easier to learn another one.” This is the essence of intercomprehension,
defined as, “il fenomeno che ha luogo quando due persone comunicano
tra loro con successo parlando ciascuno nella propria lingua” (Bonvino
et al 50). This paper also ties in with the extensive body of research
from the field of L3 (Cabrelli Amaro et al.). As will be demonstrated in
Section 3, students feel that Italian and Spanish look alike, sound alike
and behave alike; a majority of those surveyed said these similarities
influenced their decision to enroll in Italian.
2. Foreign Language Enrollments at BMCC/CUNY from 2000-2013
The following numbers represent total enrollment (across all levels:
elementary, intermediate, advanced) for the three Romance languages
offered at the college. Table 1 below charts the growth of Italian, French
and Spanish enrollment for the period being studied and presents
enrollment growth in terms of percentage change.
Table 1. Enrollment for Italian, French and Spanish at BMCC/CUNY
Language
2000-1
2012-13
% change
Italian classes
317
1,262
398%
French classes
691
1,429
206%
Spanish classes
3,608
6,175
171%
In order to get a more fine-grained picture of these figures, enrollmentby-ethnicity counts were requested from our Office of Institutional
Research. As Table 2 below reports, the highest percentage of Hispanic
students across enrollment in our Romance language courses is in
Italian. This was the case in 2000-2001 by a large majority (Table 2), and
it was still the case in 2012-2013 by a large majority.
Table 2. Enrollments in Romance languages at BMCC/CUNY by
Hispanic students
Enrollments by declared
Hispanic ethnicity
Italian
French
Spanish
2000-2001
2012-2013
51%
24%
31%
65%
37%
42%
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Tom Means
A note on foreign language requirements at BMCC/CUNY: not all
majors require a foreign language, but several do, including the most
populous major, Liberal Arts, which has a two-semester, foreign-language
requirement. These requirements have not changed throughout the
period being studied.
3. (Hispanic) Students’ Voices Regarding Why They Study Italian:
Questionnaire Results
In an attempt to explain the nearly-400% increase in Italian
enrollment over the period being analyzed, a questionnaire was filled
out by a sample of students currently taking elementary Italian at the
college. It was administered to, and completed by, an anonymous group
of 77 students at the end of the spring 2013 semester; n = 77.
Following are the questions posed. In the sub-sections below, I will
provide percentage-based answers where applicable and some brief
commentary to each question.
1. Are you Hispanic?
2. Do you speak Spanish?
3. Do you speak another language? If so, please specify.
4. Did you take Italian, in part, because you thought your knowledge
of Spanish (or another language) would make learning Italian
easier?
5. Did you find that your knowledge of Spanish (or another language)
made your acquisition of Italian easier?
6. On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 is the highest), how much did your
knowledge of Spanish (or another language) help you learn Italian?
7. Please share any comments regarding how knowing one language
influences the learning of another language:
3.1 Are you Hispanic?
In response to this question, 62 out of the 77 students answered
yes. The answers that inform this paper were provided by a population
that was 81% Hispanic. We could also extrapolate and say that based
on this sample population, 81% of the students studying Italian at
our college are Hispanic, but this contrasts with data provided by our
Office of Institutional Research which show that 65% of our students
enrolled in Italian in 2012-2013 had declared themselves Hispanic.
Perhaps the sample size of 77 was too small; had this questionnaire
been administered to all students studying Italian at our college, maybe
we would have arrived at a number closer to the official number of 65%.
738
Significant Growth in Italian Enrollment
Regardless, we are looking at a very high percentage of students in our
Italian classes who are Hispanic.
3.2 Do you speak Spanish?
In response to this question, 65 students responded affirmatively. In
the sample population observed for this case study, 84% of the students
enrolled in our elementary Italian courses claim to speak Spanish.
Quasi-affirmative answers such as “A few words” and “Not really, a little
bit” were not categorized as affirmative. The percentage of students
who claim to speak Spanish, 84%, is very close to the number reported
above (81%) of students who identified as Hispanic. A clear picture of
the random population polled begins to emerge here.
3.3 Do you speak another language? If so, please specify.
Only 7 out of 77 students answered affirmatively to this question.
The answers provided included: Polish (1), Tagalog (1), Albanian (3),
Japanese (1) and Bengali (1). Based on this sample population, we
can say that only 9% of students enrolled in our elementary Italian
courses speak a (second) language other than Spanish. Quasi-affirmative
answers, e.g., “I can say like a sentence in French,” and “Some German”
were not categorized as affirmative.
3.4 Did you take Italian, in part, because you thought your knowledge
of Spanish (or another language) would make learning Italian easier?
A total of 44 students, 57%, answered that, in fact, they did take
Italian, in part, because they thought their knowledge of Spanish (or of
another language) would make learning Italian easier. It is important to
note that this survey was administered at the end of the semester, for
this question required students to answer a question about whether they
remembered anticipating an advantage. With this limitation in mind,
we can claim that a majority (57%) did think that their knowledge of
another language (most likely Spanish, based on the evidence reported
above: 84% of this sample population claim to already know Spanish)
would aid them in learning Italian.
3.5 Did you find that your knowledge of Spanish (or another
language) made your acquisition of Italian easier?
Although this question invited a narrative-based answer (and many
were provided), students did orient their answers to a yes-no dichotomy.
Seventy-five percent answered affirmatively that, yes, their knowledge
of Spanish, or another language, made their acquisition of Italian easier.
This is more convincing evidence in favor of students’ awareness of the
benefits of intercomprehension.
739
Tom Means
3.6 On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 is the highest), how much did your
knowledge of Spanish (or another language) help you learn Italian?
The average score for this answer was 6.2. That is to say that, on a
scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the highest), when applicable, students rated
their knowledge of Spanish (or another language) as being helpful at an
above-average level. This goes along with the positive trend reported
above in 3.5.
3.7 Please share any comments regarding how knowing one language
influences the learning of another language:
Due to the nature of question 7, there are not many significant
percentages to report – insightful, qualitative responses will be addressed
below – except to note that 68 out of the 77 students did have something
to say here. Therefore, 88% of the students surveyed felt strongly enough
about this issue to share their opinion.
Following protocol in qualitative research in language teaching
(McDonough and Chaikitmongkol), all answers to question No. 7
were analyzed in order to identify themes. Six themes emerged; all
student answers were then transcribed into these six themes. They are
listed below in order of volume, for example, the highest number of
comments had to do with “visible and grammatical similarities,” listed
below under the first subsection, 3.7.1.
In order to avoid repetition, only representative quotations from
each theme are listed below (see Figure 1).
4. Interpretations of Student Comments
One of the student’s responses in the first subsection above addresses
one of the principle aims of this paper – why are Hispanic students at
our college enrolling in Italian at such a fast pace? His/her answer to the
open-ended question of crosslinguistic influences was simple but speaks
volumes to this paper’s hypothesis: “…knowing Spanish can influence
individuals to take up Italian simply because it’s familiar to them.” But
how is Italian familiar to them? Many students provided answers to
this query, similar to a response categorized in 3.7.2: “Spanish…sounds
similar to Italian.”
Many of the responses reported in 3.7.3 inadvertently addressed the
benefits of intercomprehension, e.g., “When a Romance language is
known, it is easier to learn another one.” As sister languages, both neoLatin, such connections are logical: Spanish and Italian do sound alike
to an extent. This paper provides evidence that our Hispanic students
are aware of these cognate-related connections and are taking action
on them by enrolling in Italian. It was also encouraging to see students
740
Significant Growth in Italian Enrollment
Theme
On visible and
grammatical
similarities
Representative quotes from
students polled
Subsection
3.7.1
“Certain rules, grammatically
speaking, are similar to those
in Spanish.”
3.7.2
“Knowing Spanish helped
me learn Italian because
many words have a similar
pronunciation.”
3.7.3
“Spanish and Italian…come
from Latin and are very
similar so it really helped me
throughout the class.”
On cognitive
advantages
3.7.4
“You can associate things
in both languages. It makes
learning faster.”
On cross-linguistic
advantages
3.7.5
“Italian helped me with
Spanish as well.”
On perceived
disadvantages
3.7.6
“Sometimes if the [sister]
language is your first language,
it can almost get in the way.”
On audible
similarities
On shared roots
Figure 1
document their opinion on the intercomprehension-advantage of speed
of processing. For example, in 3.7.4 we see a student’s observation that
“You can associate things in both languages. It makes learning faster.”
The benefits of sharpening a native language through the process
of learning a second or third language is well documented (Cook).
For this reason, some of the comments reported in 3.7.5 are especially
encouraging. Consider: “Italian helped me with Spanish as well,” and
“One language might pick up your interest in another language because
there are similarities.”
The comments that address the disadvantages (3.7.6) of knowing a
sister language are important for researchers to see. For example, the
enrollment figures reported in this paper are so encouraging – as are
741
Tom Means
most of the student comments – that one could walk away with an
overgeneralized opinion that Hispanic students choose Italian because
it is similar to Spanish. However, comments such as the following
remind us that the answers to human behavior are never so simplistic:
“Sometimes if the [sister] language is your first language, it can almost
get in the way;” “It can also confuse you because even though some
words may look similar, they don’t mean the same [thing].” And rather
bluntly: “Knowing Spanish made it more confusing.” Lastly, and in the
spirit of how difficult human behavior is to read, here is a comment
that points out both advantages and disadvantages in the same breath:
“I believe that if you didn’t know Spanish it would make Italian very
hard. The knowledge of my Spanish helped me… although sometimes
it made it confusing.”
It is important to note that these comments were made after they
had taken the course, therefore these comments do not change our
understanding of the enrollment figures.
5. Implications for Teaching Italian to Spanish Speakers
The principal strategies for teaching Italian to Spanish speakers are
consistent with established best practices in foreign language teaching:
1) provide rich, collaborative input, including authentic readings; 2)
provide opportunities for meaningful output; 3) support these input/
output activities with explicit grammar instruction; 4) provide detailed
feedback to students on their grammatical accuracy.
I will now treat these principles in turn. While all contemporary,
research-based foreign language programs provide extensive and
challenging input (the “gasoline” for the car that is the mental
representation of the second language, to paraphrase Lee and VanPatten),
this student population may particularly benefit from authentic readings
and challenging listening activities in Italian. Due to the high level of
lexical similarity across these two Romance languages, Spanish speakers
should find reading and listening to authentic Italian relatively easy. In
a related article that addresses teaching Portuguese to Spanish speakers,
Carvalho et al. report, “…we believe that the Spanish speakers’ initial
ability to read authentic texts in Portuguese that results from positive
transfer should be fully incorporated as a major teaching strategy from
the beginning of instruction” (71).
Anecdotally, I have also found that my Spanish-speaking students
have very little difficulty with authentic, extended audio/video clips in
Italian – this, too, is feeding their burgeoning mental representation
of Italian. Research has shown that challenging input has a critical
role in how learners create linguistic systems (VanPatten). One specific
742
Significant Growth in Italian Enrollment
resource that has proven to work well with this audience is the extended
listening activities, and supporting reading activities, taken from Linea
diretta (Conforti and Cusimano). The average length of these audio
tracks is two-to-three minutes; in these dialogues one hears Italians
speaking at a natural pace with natural dialogue characteristics:
interruptions, hesitations, repetitions, background noise, etc. Students
are told to listen for informational purposes and to comprehend the
basic points of the dialogue; after the first listening the teacher asks the
students to discuss the dialogue with a classmate: what they understood,
what doubts they have, what they could or could not follow, etc.
This engineers a version of collaborative dialogue (Swain) amongst
classmates, and input has hence given way to output. A second, or
even third, listening of the entire dialogue should follow. To conclude
work with an audio track from Linea diretta, the instructor should
provide some excerpt from the lengthy dialogue – such excerpts are
provided in the textbook – so that the students can read some of what
they have now heard and discussed several times. This directionality
of listening>discussing>listening>reading should allow some formmeaning connections (VanPatten) to occur.
By providing rich opportunities for meaningful output, students
will benefit from the depth of processing (Hulstijn) that comes with
experiential learning. Task-based approaches that require students to
perform concrete tasks in Italian (in the oral or written modality) may be
well suited for this population. If these tasks are driven by language that
the student owns, i.e., a message that has real meaning to her/him, then
this authenticity of content should also contribute to depth of processing.
One of the challenges that Spanish speakers face in acquiring Italian
is negative transfer (i.e., attempting to apply Spanish rules and/or
vocabulary to Italian). It is possibly the case that this intuitive strategy
can only be redirected by explicit teaching of Italian forms. Like their
English-speaking peers, Spanish speakers must acquire the metalinguistic
awareness of how the Italian language functions. Extensive exposure
to video/audio/textual input will assist such awareness but without
explicit, focused attention on these divergences, Spanish speakers may
not register them and therefore persist with incorrect, increasingly
fossilized errors. Returning to a relevant observation by Carvalho et al.
on the teaching of Portuguese to Spanish speakers, they note, “Scholars
have repeatedly emphasized the need for pedagogical interventions
that raise learners’ metalinguistic awareness of both the congruent and
divergent aspects between Spanish and Portuguese, particularly since
most divergent forms are not salient enough to be noticed and acquired
without explicit teaching” (72).
743
Tom Means
For Spanish speakers learning Italian, one example of divergent forms
that are not salient enough to be noticed and acquired without explicit
teaching include grammatical gender assignment in the present perfect.
Since the Spanish construction of the present perfect does not account
for gender assignment, e.g., “he ido” = “I went” for either a male or
a female, a Spanish speaker learning Italian may not acquire Italian’s
divergent possibility, e.g., “sono andato/a” = “I went” for a male or a
female, respectively. Therefore the explicit teaching of such structures is
probably necessary for a Spanish speaker to notice and register.
The role of timely and thorough feedback is extremely important in
any foreign language program, and it is no different for this population.
As mentioned in the previous paragraph, it is perhaps only through the
illustration of learners’ errors that they will notice the divergence between
their (incorrect) Spanish-language intuitions and Italian language forms.
6. Limitations
One limitation of this paper is the delivery of the questionnaire at the
end of the semester. Accordingly, a question like No. 4, (“Did you take
Italian, in part, because you thought your knowledge of Spanish…would
make learning easier”) requires students to remember anticipating an
advantage. This relates to another limitation: that a question like No. 4
may plant the idea. A reviewer pointed out that a question like this ‘may
lead the respondent to consider perspectives he/she may not have had.’
A final limitation deals with use of ‘learning’ and ‘acquisition’ to refer
to the same phenomenon. For some in Second Language Acquisition
(Krashen), there is a distinction between the two. The assumption with
such wording is that the undergraduates who filled out this questionnaire
would not perceive a distinction between “learning” and “acquisition.”
7. Conclusions
This paper has provided concrete evidence that Italian is growing
significantly at one particular HSI. It has also attempted to answer why
it is growing at such an impressive clip, through students’ voices.
I have attempted to categorize and interpret the students’ answers.
What is evidenced is that the basic tenets of intercomprehension are
supported by the qualitative data from this case study: the majority
of the (Hispanic) students polled did sign up for Italian because of a
perceived similarity to Spanish; an even greater majority (75%) benefited
from such similarities, as reported at the end of the semester.
Implications for pedagogy for this student population have also
been shared. While not very different from the input-heavy practices
advocated in current second language instruction research (Lee and
744
Significant Growth in Italian Enrollment
VanPatten), some unique techniques were suggested for teaching Italian
to Spanish speakers, e.g., the need to highlight systemic divergences
between Italian and Spanish and an elevated emphasis on extended,
authentic listening and reading activities.
Whether the findings of this paper bode well for the future of
Italian Studies in the United States – a country that is projected to be
dramatically more Hispanic over the next 50 years (Bernstein) – remains
to be seen. But if this case study is a faithful predictor of how Hispanic
students will enroll in (foreign) language classes over the next 50 years
then the answer is a very clear yes: enrollment in Italian language
classes will increase largely because of the advantages predicted by and
perceived through intercomprehension.
Works Cited
Bernstein, Robert. “U.S. Census Bureau Projections Show a Slower Growing,
Older, More Diverse Nation a Half Century from Now.” U.S. Census Bureau,
Washington, D.C. Web. 12 December 2012.
Bonvino, Elisabetta, Sandrine Caddéo, Eulalia Vilaginés and Salvador Pippa.
Eurom5. Milan: Hoepli, 2011. Print.
Cabrelli Amaro, Jennifer, Suzanne Flynn and Jason Rothman. Third Language
Acquisition in Adulthood. Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 2012. Print.
Carvalho, Ana M., Juliana Luna Freire and Antonio J.B. da Silva. “Teaching
Portuguese to Spanish Speakers: A Case for Trilingualism.” Hispania 93.1
(2010): 70-75. Print.
Conforti, Carlo and Linda Cusimano. Linea diretta I ed.. Perugia, Italia: Edizioni
Guerra, 2005. Print.
Cook, Vivian J. “Going Beyond the Native Speaker in Language Teaching.”
TESOL Quarterly 33.2 (1999): 185-209. Print.
Dolci, Roberto and Anthony Julian Tamburri (eds.). Why Study Italian: Diverse
Perspectives on a Theme. New York: Calandra Institute Transactions, 2013.
Print.
Donato, Clorinda. “Italian and the Hispanic World in the United States: Latinos
in Trans-historical Perspective”. Why Study Italian? Diverse Perspectives on
a Theme. Roberto Dolci and Anthony Julian Tamburri (eds.). New York:
Calandra Institute Transactions, Vol. 2, 2013: 9-17. Print.
Doughty, Catherine and Michael H. Long (eds.). Handbook of Second Language
Acquisition. Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 2003. Print.
Escudé, Pierre and Pierre Janin. Le point sur l’intercompréhension, clé du
plurilinguisme. Paris: Cle International, 2004. Print.
Hinkel, Eli (ed.). Handbook of Research in Second Language Teaching and Learning.
New York: Routledge, 2005. Print.
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Tom Means
Hulstijn, Jan. “Incidental and Intentional Learning.” Handbook of Second
Language Acquisition. Eds. Catherine Doughty and Michael H. Long, Oxford:
Blackwell, 2003. 349-381. Print.
Krashen, Stephen. Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition. New
York: Pergammon, 1982. Print.
Laden, Berta Vigil. “Hispanic-serving Institutions: What Are They? Where Are
They?” Community College Journal of Research and Practice. 28.3 (2004): 181198. Print.
Lee, James and Bill VanPatten. Making Communicative Language Teaching Happen.
New York: McGraw Hill, 2003. Print.
McDonough, Kim and Wangpen Chaikitmongkol. “Teachers and Learners’
Reactions to a Task-based EFL Course in Thailand.” TESOL Quarterly; 41.1
(2007): 107-132. Print.
Swain, Merrill. “The Output Hypothesis: Theory and Research.” Handbook of
Research in Second Language Teaching and Learning. Eli Hinkel (ed.). New York:
Routledge, 2005: 471-483. Print.
VanPatten, Bill. From Input to Output: A Teacher’s Guide to Second Language
Acquisition. New York: McGraw Hill. 2003. Print.
746
Narrative Plenitude in Limited Space:
Dacia Maraini’s
“Il calciatore di Bilbao”
Anthony Julian Tamburri
John D. Calandra Italian American Institute
Abstract: Dacia Maraini’s short story includes the various recurring themes we
have witnessed throughout literary history: love, fiction vs. reality, gender, and
migration in less than 3,000 words.
Keywords: Dacia Maraini, theater, love, soccer, self-reflexivity, short story,
narrative.
I
am always fascinated by the short story, how a writer is able to
communicate the necessary aspects of the narrative within a limited
word count and page numbers. The writer, as we all know, must grab
our attention, offer up enough information for us to remain interested,
and, all the while, make it a complete narrative in its own right.
“Il calciatore di Bilbao” is all that. In it, Dacia Mariaini has succeeded
in offering up a gripping tale of approximately 3,000 words. In so doing,
she has dialogued with literary history (Pedro Calderón de la Barca’s
La vida es sueño), nuanced self-reflexivity, and, flirted with, to use the
more current term, mobility. Like Calderon’s famous play, “Il calciatore
di Bilbao” is about love, migration, and free will. In addition, we have
an added discussion on the protagonist’s cultural preferences between
literature, cinema, and theater, this last being the most privileged and,
with regard to the storyline, the most significant.
Our protagonist, “l’uomo dalle labbra scure”, is a man in love with
an actress whom he had seen innumerable times in Calderón’s play, in
the role of Rosaura. Thus, the dialogue with literary history, specifically
theater, is apparent from the first part of the story. And there follows the
heart-wrenching tale of his love story with Rosaura / Concha.
This love story, further still, is rooted in mobility to a significant
degree; our athlete is, in fact, sold from one soccer team to another
and must thus literally cross the ocean from Brazil to Spain, a trip not
dissimilar to many other “pellegrini” who have and continue to do, and
ITALICA • Volume 92 • No. 3 • Fall 2015
747
Anthony Julian Tamburri
sometimes dangerously, on a “nave in tempesta” (as the bumpy plane
ride is described by our female narrator) as well.
As is the case with many love stories, our tale is befallen with
challenges that originate in outside forces (a most popular trope, for
sure, during Calderón’s time): Concha is tied to a theater contract and
cannot follow her beloved athlete; and our “calciatore”, in turn, is a
bartered athlete who is sold once more from one team to another and
thus separated from his beloved.
And the strange fate of Concha marrying someone else, in spite of
her declaration of love for him (“Mi sposo, ti amo, Concha”), sends him
into an expected sentimental dovetail. But in the end, he reconciles his
fate and eventually marries another with whom he lived for many years.
It is, however, his desire to “risolvere […] il mistero di Concha” that
sends him back to Bilbao once he is widowed. Upon his return, on a more
tranquil “nave” and seated next to his previous travel companion, she
asked if he had resolved Concha’s mystery, to which he calmly replied
that he had not; that it seems she simply disappeared “nel nulla”. In
stirring his tea, he murmured to himself the famous words of Calderón’s
Segismundo – “Se questo è stato un sogno non dirò / cosa ho sognato
[…] certo è l’ora di destarsi” – while, as our narrator tells us, “l’aereo
volava morbido come su un tappeto d’aria, senza una scossa”. This, of
course, brings us back to the famous verses in Segismundo’s soliloquy in
which all reality is called into question:
Man dreams whatever he be,
And his own dream no man knows.
And I too dream and behold,
I dream I am bound with chains,
And I dreamed that these present pains
Were fortunate ways of old.
What is life? a tale that is told;
What is life? a frenzy extreme,
A shadow of things that seem;
And the greatest good is but small,
That all life is a dream to all,
And that dreams themselves are a dream.1
1
Hispanic Anthology: Poems Translated from the Spanish by English and North
American Poets, collected and arranged by Thomas Walsh (New York: G. P.
Putnam’s Sons, 1920); translation by Arthur Symons.
748
Il calciatore di Bilbao
(Racconto inedito)
Dacia Maraini
I
n aereo da Barcellona a Bilbao mi sono trovata seduta accanto ad un
uomo pallido dalle labbra scure. L’aereo ballava tanto che non riuscivo
a leggere. Il cielo era pulito, chiarissimo. Non si vedeva una nuvola. Ma
proprio questa limpidezza doveva essere opera di fortissimi venti che
scuotevano l’aereo, lo lanciavano per aria e poi lo spingevano in basso
come fosse un fuscello.
Poco prima la hostess ci aveva servito una tazza di tè. Ma non si
riusciva a portare alle labbra il liquido senza rovesciarselo sulle dita.
Per vincere il disagio il mio vicino ed io ci siamo messi a parlare. Ma
soprattutto è stato lui a raccontarmi di sé, del suo viaggio, anzi del suo
ritorno poiché era la prima volta dopo vent’anni che rivedeva Bilbao.
Così come due pellegrini su una nave in tempesta si confidano a bassa
voce per ingannare l’attesa di un evento risolutorio, che sia la morte o
la fine della furia naturale, così noi due, con gli occhi fissi sul tè che si
agitava nelle tazze, ci tenevamo compagnia. Vent’anni fa l’uomo dalle
labbra scure era arrivato in Spagna dal Brasile, “comprato” dalla squadra
del Bilbao. Avevano molto mercanteggiato i suoi proprietari brasiliani
per venderlo al prezzo più alto. Poi quando sembrava che l’affare andasse
a monte, gli avevano detto improvvisamente che era stato concluso e si
preparasse a partire. E lui, che non ci contava più, aveva dovuto fare in
fretta le valigie e correre a Bilbao, la sua nuova città.
Era la prima volta che veniva in Spagna e tutto gli sembrava estraneo
e nuovo, leggermente minaccioso. I vecchi tram dal muso di ferro
grigliato, i ponti anneriti sul Neviòn, i poliziotti ad ogni angolo di strada,
con quel loro elmetto verde e nero, le torri gotiche della cattedrale, la
Gran Via che presuntuosa e solenne attraversa tutta la città per finire
alla Plaza del Sagrade Corazon con quella gigantesca statua del Sacro
Cuore che sembra lì pronta per condannarti.
Aveva vissuto sei mesi nell’infelicità, non riuscendo a fare amicizia
con i compagni di squadra che fra di loro parlavano in basco, mangiando
da solo nel ristorante dell’Hotel Torròntegui, camminando in lungo e in
largo per la città, e stancandosi negli allenamenti fino alla spossatezza.
ITALICA • Volume 92 • No. 3 • Fall 2015
749
Dacia Maraini
Verso Natale quando già pensava di piantare tutto in asso e tornarsene
alle sue verande di Aracajù, una sera era stato trascinato dall’allenatore
che era l’unico a occuparsi un poco di lui, in teatro.
Figuriamoci, lui non era mai stato in teatro in vita sua. Il cinema
gli piaceva sì, ma solo quello d’azione, con molte sparatorie e corse a
cavallo.
L’opera gli dava ai nervi con quelle voci troppo acute. Il cabaret
l’aveva visto una volta e non l’aveva convinto. In quanto al teatro per
lui era un mondo assolutamente sconosciuto.
Ma una volta in platea, al buio, sprofondato in una poltroncina
di vecchio velluto dai braccioli lisi, era avvenuto quello che meno si
aspettava al mondo: era stato affascinato, incantato dalle parole del
testo. Mai la lingua spagnola gli era sembrata così musicale, così vicina
ai movimenti dell’acqua, quasi uno sprizzare di ruscelli, rivoli e cascate
che gli deliziavano l’orecchio.
Si trattava di Calderón de la Barca che lui ricordava di avere qualche volta
sentito nominare a scuola. Ma che non l’aveva mai minimamente interessato.
“La vita è sogno” mi dice il vicino dalle labbra scure lanciando
un’occhiata di sbieco al finestrino. Stavamo slittando a muso in giù
come su una carriola delle montagne russe. Gli dico che qualche volta
vado a teatro anch’io.
La parte di Rosaura era interpretata da una attrice che subito aveva
colpito la sua fantasia. Il perché non lo ricordava. Non era bella, per
lo meno nel senso a cui era abituato lui nel suo mondo: aveva occhi
scurissimi e lontani l’uno dall’altro, il che dava al suo sguardo una
curiosa espressione di disorientamento. Era piccola e nera di capelli e di
pelle, quasi una india, con un corpo minuto e ben fatto.
Di questa donna aveva subito amato la voce quieta, profonda e il
suo muoversi per la scena come fosse nella sua casa, con la perfetta
naturalezza del più grande artificio.
Aveva seguito parola per parola tutta la tragedia. Aveva sofferto con
Sigismondo, aveva trepidato con Rosaura, era stato re e pellegrino,
prigioniero e capo di eserciti.
Ne era uscito sconvolto. E qualche sera dopo, senza dire niente
all’allenatore, era tornato in teatro da solo a rivedere “La vida es sueño”.
Si era seduto al buio, dubbioso, convinto che non avrebbe più provato
le emozioni della prima sera. E invece, dopo appena due minuti era
stato ripreso dall’incanto. Come se non conoscesse già la storia, aveva di
nuovo sofferto per Sigismondo, aveva di nuovo trepidato per Rosaura e
se ne era tornato all’albergo Torròntegui carico di voci amiche.
750
Il calciatore di Bilbao
La sera dopo, stanco morto per gli allenamenti, si era seduto di nuovo
nella poltroncina dai braccioli lisi del teatro Arriaga, a bersi le parole
degli attori.
E così ogni sera, fino a che era durato lo spettacolo a Bilbao, per
quanto presto si dovesse alzare la mattina dopo, per quanto stanco fosse
dopo i salti, le corse, le esercitazioni.
Ormai conosceva tutte le parti a memoria. Ma questo, anziché saziarlo,
sembrava dargli più fame. Tutto il giorno ripensava a quell’atrio buio
del primo atto, la prigione di Sigismondo e di come in sonno venisse
trasportato nelle lussuose sale della reggia, per poi tornare alla sua tana.
La notte sognava Rosaura in abiti maschili che saliva su per le rocce
lamentando il tradimento di Astolfo. Voleva fare qualcosa per lei ma
non riusciva ad avvicinarla.
In teatro qualcuno nel frattempo si era accorto della sua assiduità. E
questo qualcuno era proprio Rosaura, ovvero Concha Alvarez, la giovane
prima attrice della compagnia.
A furia di vederlo in prima fila, si era abituata a quegli occhi accesi
che la seguivano per la scena, a quella testa attenta che beveva le
sue parole. Ormai lo aspettava. E la sera, prima che cominciasse lo
spettacolo, andava a spiare da una fessura del sipario per vedere se lui
era già arrivato.
Il giorno dell’ultima replica l’uomo dalle labbra scure si sentì perso.
Come avrebbe fatto senza Rosaura? Avrebbe voluto parlarle, ma come
fare? Non gli era mai successo niente di simile e non sapeva come si
usasse in un mondo tanto diverso dal suo. E se poi mi disprezzasse?
Cos’è un calciatore rispetto ad un’attrice che semina parole così fertili e
profonde nel buio della platea? Così pensava tormentandosi nel dubbio.
Ma fu lei stessa a fare la prima mossa. Alla fine dello spettacolo,
durante i ringraziamenti, lo guardò dritto negli occhi e gli sorrise con
una tale dolcezza che lui ne fu stordito. Poi, con un dito, gli fece cenno
di aspettarla lì dov’era.
Così lui fece, torcendosi le mani. E quando tutti se ne furono andati,
e le luci furono spente, e già si immaginava che l’avrebbero preso per il
collo e buttato fuori come un ladro, sentì il fruscio di un vestito accanto
a sé.
Per giorni e giorni l’uomo dalle labbra scure e Concha camminarono
per la città. Lei parlava, parlava. Si era messa d’impegno a fargli amare
Bilbao che lui detestava. Per questo lo portava lungo il fiume in certe
strette stradine dove si vendeva uva passa profumata, involtata in foglie
di vite. E poi in piccoli ristoranti del Campo Volantin dove si mangiavano
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Dacia Maraini
il baccalà con le olive e il latte dentro delle ciotole di terracotta. E
l’aveva portato a Begona a vedere la festa dei tori e al parco di “Las Tres
Naciones”, nonché al mercato dell’artigianato de la Tenderia.
Erano tutti e due timidi e impacciati e non avevano osato baciarsi
finché non avevano preso confidenza. La notte la passavano camminando
e parlando.
Non ci era voluto molto all’uomo dalle labbra scure per innamorarsi
di Bilbao. E alla fine non sapeva se gli piaceva la città per via di Concha
o se gli piaceva Concha per via della città.
Concha finiva le prove verso le otto. E lui, dopo una rapida doccia
che lo liberava del sudore degli allenamenti, correva a prenderla, coi
capelli ancora bagnati, una calda sciarpa di alpaca intorno al collo.
Alla fine dell’anno sportivo il calciatore era stato però venduto,
contro la sua volontà, a una squadra brasiliana. Ed era dovuto tornare
alle verande ormai dimenticate di Aracajù.
Lì aveva cercato disperatamente di farsi raggiungere da Concha per
sposarla. Voleva fare dei figli con lei. Ma Concha era legata con un contratto
alla sua compagnia e non poteva muoversi. Così lui si limitava a parlarle per
telefono. Delle lunghe conversazioni da una parte all’altra dell’oceano che
lo spossavano e lo alleggerivano di buona parte dei suoi guadagni.
Per sentirsi vicino a lei, andava spesso a teatro, da solo. Nessuno della
sua squadra amava la prosa. Anzi lo consideravano un po’ matto per i
suoi gusti e gli ridevano dietro. Ma lui non se ne curava. Sperava sempre
di assistere ad un’altra rappresentazione di “La vida es sueño”. Ma ad
Aracajù dove giocava anziché Calderón si dava soprattutto Valle Inclan.
Quando aveva qualche giorno di libertà, prendeva l’aereo e si
precipitava a Bilbao. Concha lo aspettava paziente e innamorata.
Passavano la giornata a camminare per la città come facevano ai tempi
che lui abitava ancora a Bilbao. Poi si coricavano insieme e dormivano
abbracciati dopo avere fatto l’amore per tutta la notte.
Un giorno, mentre l’uomo dalle labbra scure si recava da Aracajù a Rio
per una partita importante, fu rincorso da un fattorino che gli consegnò
un telegramma. Veniva da Bilbao. “Mi sposo, ti amo, Concha”.
L’uomo rimase col foglio in mano, vuoto di ogni pensiero. Poi, spinto
dai compagni, fece quello che doveva fare. Ma giocò malissimo e si prese
i fischi dei tifosi.
Appena ebbe due giorni di libertà, partì per Bilbao. Ma lì non trovò la sua
Concha. “È in viaggio di nozze” gli disse l’amica con cui divideva la casa. “E
dov’è andata?” aveva insistito lui testardo. “Non lo so, forse a Rio”.
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Il calciatore di Bilbao
Come a Rio? Il calciatore aveva fatto un salto, colpito da un dubbio
terribile: e se lei fosse andata a cercarlo mentre lui stava qui? Prese di
corsa un altro aereo e tornò a Rio. Si chiuse in albergo aspettando una
telefonata di lei. Nell’attesa non riusciva più né a mangiare né a bere.
Andava su e giù per la stanza nudo, dando calci ai mobili. Ogni volta
che squillava il telefono si precipitava e quando sentiva che non era lei
buttava giù senza neanche rispondere.
Da allora non ha mai saputo più niente di Concha. Sono passati gli
anni. E lui si è rassegnato alla perdita. Quasi non ci ha pensato più. Si
è sposato con una bella brasiliana da cui ha avuto due bambini. Ha
smesso di fare il calciatore. Ora dirige una palestra al centro di Aracajù.
Fa soldi. Si considera in pace col mondo e con se stesso.
Ma qualche mese fa sua moglie è morta e lui ha deciso di venire di
nuovo a Bilbao per risolvere dopo molti anni il mistero di Concha.
Intanto il nostro aereo, dopo tanti sussulti e piroette e scivolate,
finalmente era arrivato in porto. Siamo scesi malconci, pallidi e nauseati.
Ho salutato l’uomo dalle labbra scure. Me ne sono andata in albergo.
Ho venduto le stoffe italiane per cui ero andata a Bilbao. E dopo tre
giorni sono tornata in aeroporto per prendere un DC9 per Barcellona e
da lì proseguire per Roma.
In aereo, questa volta nella calma di una giornata umida e afosa,
senza vento, ho riincontrato l’uomo dalle labbra scure. I capelli tagliati
corti, il collo taurino, gli occhi azzurri malinconici. Mi ha sorriso. Gli
ho sorriso.
“Ha scoperto il mistero di Concha?”, gli ho chiesto sedendomi vicina
a lui.
“Nessuno sa niente di lei, né al teatro, né a casa sua. Sembra sparita
nel nulla”, mi ha detto con voce spenta.
È arrivata la hostess con il tè. Ha posato le tazzine sui tavolinetti
ribaltabili e se n’è andata. Ho guardato l’uomo dalle labbra scure che
strappava l’angolo della bustina dello zucchero, rovesciava la polvere
nella tazza. Sembravamo tutti e due sorpresi e affascinati dalla assoluta
immobilità del liquido nel recipiente di plastica.
“Se questo è stato un sogno non dirò / cosa ho sognato... certo è l’ora
di destarsi...” l’ho sentito ripetere accanto a me le parole di Sigismondo
mentre l’aereo volava morbido come su un tappeto d’aria, senza una scossa.
753
Reviews
Sean Cocco. Watching Vesuvius: A History of Science and Culture in Early
Modern Italy. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago
Press, 2013.
Since the destructive eruption of AD 79, Vesuvius has been a
captivating and epitomic symbol not only for Neapolitans but also for
many scientists and erudite observers. Similarly, the eruption of 1631
had overwhelming repercussions on the slopes of the volcano bringing
many inhabitants to flee towards the sea and the city of Naples and taking
many viewers or researchers to discern the naturalistic phenomena.
Cocco sensibly positions Vesuvius scientific reports throughout the
early modern historical and literary context from the historian point of
view to the expression of human attitudes in connection with nature.
The three leitmotifs of cultural observations, symbolic form of Vesuvius,
and natural history of volcanology are represented in the introduction
through the mediated epistemological commentaries from naturalists.
The 1600’s volcanic observations are shaped as an identity for the city
of Naples and its inhabitants within a European imaging.
The eruptions of Vesuvius contributed to the interpretation of scientific
causes and elucidations. In 1638, the Jesuit Athanasius Kircher undertook
a journey to the south of Italy and Malta. During his journey, Kircher had
observed mount Etna and the isle of Stromboli; however, when he ascended
mount Vesuvius he envisaged, in his volume Mundus subterraneous, the
underground turmoil as the movement of earth’s burning core.
The theories advanced from Aristotelian philosophy had brought
Ristoro D’Arezzo during the 1280’s to observe in his Composizione del
Mondo that the astral mutability finds acting “above and below the
earth.” Later during the Renaissance, many naturalists followed the
disposition of Georg Agricola when in his De Ortu Causis Subterraneum
(1546) explicated that scientific clarification of earth’s phenomena
was needed. Fabrizio Padovani correspondingly to Agricola believed
“volcanoes as geographical and historical toponyms” (31).
Vesuvius observers during the sixteenth century were underscoring the
natural landscape and fertility of the surrounding land of Naples including
the humanist and poet Giovanni Pontano and Joris Hoefnagel who painted
Vesuvius as surrounding part of the fortified and tranquil city of Naples.
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Throughout Watching Vesuvius, Cocco references numerous
physicians, philosophers, and historians including Antonio Caracciolo,
Giovanni Alfonso Borelli, Giuseppe Valletta, Giovanni Maria della
Torre, Deodat Dolomieu, William Hamilton, and Ferdinando Galiani
among others. In 1599, Ferrante Imperato, a Neapolitan apothecary
and naturalist, in the Historia naturale included an in-depth image of
nature and also a more sophisticated theory of causes of volcanism. In
Imperato’s estimation, fires underground in the presence of sulfur, alum
and bitumen alimented the combustion and noted “there are some
places that for a long period of time show no sign of flame, and then
after a long rest hugely powerful fires burst forth from them. Such a
place is our mount Vesuvius” (89).
Nevertheless, seems that Giulio Cesare Braccini and Pietro Castelli are
the focal points for scientific descriptions for the destructive eruption of
1631. In fact, Braccini, an abbot from Lucca, had come to Vesuvius with
the intention of descending into the crater, as he had learned Stefano
Pighio had done a decade before. However, he only peered over the
crater and still acknowledges that there was gas and vapor produced by
never extinguished fires launching upward “some smoke, some vapor
or flicker” (58). Pietro Castelli recorded the eruption of 1631 in his
L’Incendio del Monte Vesuvio (1632). Although an historian and botanist,
Cocco abodes Castelli as a contributor to the empiricism and science
together with social contribution between other observes during the
seventeenth century.
While Vesuvius continued to erupt throughout the seventeenth and
the eighteenth century, the eruption of 1631 seems to be the junction
between the naturalists’ views from Renaissance and the following early
“volcanologists” perspectives.
Cocco augments his text on early history of science with the political
and intellectual background of the time addressing a greater audience.
Members and associates of the Circolo degli Oziosi were historians,
intellectuals and reformists, comprising Camillo Tutini, who appear
to have supported the symbolic connection between naturalistic and
historical landscape of Naples.
The structure of Watching Vesuvius by thematic views, such as
philosophical or political loci, creates chronological perplexity by
redundant references. However, the illustrations in Cocco’s text certainly
enrich the scientific perspectives of geology in early modern history.
Anna Iacovella
Yale University
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Donatella Fischer (ed.). The Tradition of the Actor-Author in Italian
Theatre. London: LEGENDA, 2013.
The result of a 2008 conference jointly organized by the universities
of Glasgow and Strathclyde, the volume offers 16 essays by Italian and
English scholars (9 in English, 7 in Italian) on the topic indicated by the
title. The contributions vary widely, not only chronologically – from
a consideration of Castiglione’s Cortegiano, passing through Carmelo
Bene, to Beppe Grillo – but also in approach and method. The theoretical
anchor to the collection may be Joseph Farrell’s essay, “The Actor and
the Author: Renaissance Theatre in England and Italy,” a comparative
investigation into the mystery of why a tradition as rich and influential
as the Italian one, which may plausibly claim to have invented modern
theatre, has left posterity a relatively exiguous number of canonical
texts. How has it come to be, Farrell asks, that the central figure in
Italian theatre is the actor, while that of the English theatre is the
author? To answer, Farrell references Vito Pandolfi (1917-1974), critic
and stage director most famous for his history of commedia dell’arte,
who ascribes the textual paucity of Italian theatre, relative to that of
England, to the deleterious effects of Counter-Reformation censorship.
Farrell engagingly counters instead that “it was stage practice itself
and not external pressure which determined the emerging differences
in theatrical creativity between the two countries” (63). The openended concept of stage practice functions here as a hub around which
revolve the chapters surrounding Farrell’s, drawing into its orbit even
playwrights, whose role in theatrical production tends to be regarded as
detached from and more literary than what happens on stage.
Representative of the historiographical variety of the volume is the
first essay, by Sarah Cockram, that suggests we read Il Cortegiano not
merely as a treatise on social performance, but literally as a performance
script. The proposal is appealing if not entirely convincing, since asserting
that “the book almost begs performance” (15) and describing certain
episodes in Castiglione’s dialogues as distinctly “theatrical” (15), by the
very nature of similes, actually affirm that the book is not a theatrical
text, rather than that it is one. The virtuous intuition of the article,
however, is to orient our reading of the volume’s subject – actor v. author,
improvisation v. recitation, lasting text v. evanescent performance, and,
to cite editor Donatella Fischer’s Introduction, “the exhilarating freedom
of performance” v. “the restrictive parameters of authorship” (8) – around
the central paradox of Renaissance modernity, that is, the discovery that
reality, Machiavelli’s verità effettuale, demands masking; that reality is in
fact ungraspable except through representation.
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Numerous contributions are equally concise (rarely exceeding 10 pages)
and stimulating. Rejecting the commonplace identification of Ruzante as
the representative par excellence of actorial immediacy over authorial premeditation, Ronald Ferguson proposes the “in between-ness” (22) of the
figure of Beolco. Because his surviving texts are mostly in dialect and fail
to render the gestuality of performance, Ruzante has long been marked
as “unapproachable” (21), but Ferguson argues that the real reason for
the apparent difficulty of Beolco’s work is his continuous exploration, as
actor and author, of “opposites and paradoxes” (21), his disorienting bipolarity, his embrace of “the eternity of the ephemeral” (27).
Ephemerality returns in Richard Andrews’ discussion of Isabella
Andreini’s posthumous prose, the Lettere and Fragmenti (or Ragionamenti),
both of which he regards as forms of performance text; the Lettere
appear to be selections from Isabella’s “professional zibaldone” (35), that
is, the notebook kept by actors containing a personal repertoire of set
speeches and conceits to be utilized in given dramatic situations; while
the Fragmenti are in effect “mini-dialoghi teatrali” (33), always between
a man and a woman, verbal sparring matches with “a strong element
of erotic tension” (32). The degree to which her widower, Francesco
Andreini, intervened as editor in these “literary transformations of
pieces of theatre repertoire” (37) remains an open question. Andrews
proposes that Isabella the actor was motivated to become author because
“haunted by the ephemeral nature of her art” (37).
Roberto Cuppone analyzes a baroque metatheatrical play by Isabella’s
illustrious son, Giovan Battista Andreini: Le due comedie in comedia, a
vertiginous re-elaboration of pre-existing canovacci that offers not one
but two plays-within-a-play, one performed by dilettantes, the other
by professionals, and both of which transgress their fictional confines
to enter the “reality” of their dramatic frame, finally drawing even
spectators into the spectacle.
A model of lucidity, Paolo Bosisio’s essay, “Goldoni, Gozzi, e il lavoro
con l’attore” deftly reverses centuries of criticism that has opposed the
two great Venetian dramatists one against the other. The two authors,
Bosisio finds, shared a “metodo di scrittura” (77) developed from and
dependent upon the specific qualities and characters of the actors for
whom they composed. Goldoni’s statement, “Fra i comici mi sento
come un artista nel suo studio,” evokes for the critic an image of the
playwright forsaking his writing desk to enter actively into rehearsals,
leaning on the prosenium, “con la penna e una carta in mano, intento
a raccogliere i suggerimenti provenienti dai suoi attori” (71-2). In the
same way, the aristocrat Gozzi did not disdain to collaborate intensely
with his actors throughout the rehearsal process, developing his scripts
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according to the behavioral contours of the actors at his disposal. This
vital exchange, Bosisio asserts, explains why both dramatists composed
“per la destinazione effimera della rappresentazione e non per la fissità
della pagina stampata” (74).
Armando Rotondi offers a valuable portrait of theatre in Naples during
the period of evolution from Pulcinella to Felice Sciosciamocca. Franco
Vazzoler’s multilayered essay on the persona of Carmelo Bene as author
is regrettably too complex to be fairly summarized in a short review.
Other contributions discuss De Filippo, Fo and Rame, Marco Baliani,
Annibale Ruccello, and Spiro Scimone. Although marked by striking
insights, Paolo Puppa’s meandering “The Actor-Narrator” lacks a clear
thesis or an organizing principle, leaving the reader rather bewildered.
While intriguingly concerned with issues such as narcissism, voyeurism,
fascism, orgasm, mockery and ostracism, it is hard to know what to
make of statements such as, “actors behave like children” (158) and
“The star dominates the audience in the same way as the virile lover
dominates his female partner” (163) (this last assertion may be intended
as the view of Vittorio Gassman, but the phrasing makes it unclear).
Thomas Simpson
Northwestern University
Eugenio L. Giusti. The Renaissance Courtesan in Words, Letters and Images:
Social Amphibology and Moral Framing (A Diachronic Perspective).
Milano: Edizioni Universitarie di Lettere Economia Diritto, 2014.
I must admit that the first thing I did when I received this monograph
to review was to look up the word “amphibology”, which Giusti
thoughtfully clarifies in his first footnote and defines as “a sentence or
phrase that can be interpreted in more than one way, but does not apply
to a single word,” while pointing out that “amphibology” is different
from the Italian cognate “anfibologia.” Diachronic means “happening
over time” and the author’s intent is to trace how over the sixteenth,
seventeenth and eighteen centuries women in general and prostitutes
and courtesans in particular crossed class boundaries and challenged
social rules. They behaved in ways to contest the political establishment
and to break out of their previously confined spaces. There were new
opportunities as they interacted in public arenas in princely courts,
intellectual salons, gambling houses and on the streets.
In the introduction (11-14) Giusti considers the example of Veronica
Franco and this Venetian courtesan’s ability to cross social boundaries,
or what he calls her amphibological skill, as an asset of Renaissance
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courtesans. Following the introduction, this slim volume is divided into
three parts which examine how these women were portrayed in words,
letters and images. In the “Words” section (15-26), the author uses legal
and historical documents including census reports, decrees, diaries,
letters and travelogues to address the meanings of the term “courtesan.”
“Letters” (27-38) is the “literary chapter” in which Giusti examines
works by Baldassare Castiglione, Pietro Aretino, and Matteo Bandello to
demonstrate how these writers “mirrored and supported the amphibology
of the term courtesan, and the need for its framing” (14). Along with
the documents Giusti cites for the “Words” chapter, he examines literary
sources that further the discourse concerning the description of what a
courtesan is. Using Castiglione’s The Courtier, he shows how the court of
Urbino debated women’s roles using the terms “cortegiana,” “donna di
palazzo” and “signora.” He points out that different translations of this
work translated these terms differently. In the 1517 Rome census there
were several definitions of the term courtesan, such as “cortesana onesta”
and “honesta cortigiana.” For those who thought an “honest courtesan”
was a hypocritical term, scholars argued that in this case “onesta” really
means “cultured” or “well-mannered.” Such sex workers were expected
to be well-read in the Italian classics, some of them read Latin, and they
played music, danced, and knew how to make witty conversation. We
get physical descriptions such as that of travelers and pilgrims who
visited Venice and saw women in public who were not afraid to show
their shoulders, wore lots of jewels, multiple strings of pearls, many rings
and wigs and lavish clothes which could be rented. Matteo Bandello
used a number of terms to identify the courtesan in his short stories and
concludes that it means a prostitute who, in order to better her status and
add some honesty to it, calls herself “a courtesan” (37). Contemporary
literary critics such as Flora Bassanese and Margaret Rosenthal continue
to describe and reframe the attributes of these women.
Images of women appear from pages 39 to 86. This chapter provides
an analysis of visual representations of women and the ambiguity
inherent those representations produced. “This pervasive and persistent
ambiguity, which we find in Renaissance documents and literary texts, is
also present in the visual arts and their current scholarly interpretations”
(39). This chapter focuses on the fourteen black and white and ten
color reproductions from the archives and special collections of Vassar
College, the Minneapolis Institute of the Arts, Harvard University, the
Fondazione Querini Stampalia Onlus, the Fine Arts Museum of San
Francisco and other museums and libraries. Images of women appear
in the plates illustrating Venetian ridotti, or private gambling clubs.
These women are sumptuously dressed and it is difficult to ascertain
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their social status based on their clothing, hence the amphibology of the
images. It is clear that women continued to defy sumptuary laws, and in
Jean Jacques Boissard’s engravings of three Venetian women representing
the newlywed, the matron and the courtesan, it would be difficult to pick
out which is which. In 1690 the Venetian Provvedoditori alle Pompe required
prostitutes to wear masks when out in theaters and ridotti, but even then
there was occasion for ambiguity. The different Renaissance city-states had
various sumptuary laws meant to control the image of women. Some of
these were specific to prostitutes, such as the Florentine edict that obligated
prostitutes to wear a yellow veil. But Tullia d’Aragona was exempted from
this rule. She dedicated her Dialogue on the Infinity of Love to Duke Cosimo
I and was excused due to her “rare knowledge of poetry and philosophy.”
The very fact that these laws had to be periodically reissued points to the
reality that women from all classes were defying them. Other versions
of visual ambiguity revolve around the inclusion of dogs in the images.
Little French pet dogs could be the symbols of lustful women and were
placed on their laps or at their feet and held strong erotic connotations.
In another plate, “Lover with his Nymph”, a larger dog lying at the feet
of the two lovers is a traditional symbol of faithfulness. In the “Venetian
Wedding” the dog symbolizes matrimonial union.
In the concluding pages Giusti turns his attention to the “Art and
Love in Renaissance Italy” exhibit held at the Metropolitan Museum
of Art in New York City in 2008-9. Three of the ten major essays in
the exhibit’s catalogue were devoted to “profane love” and “offered
either moral or aesthetical interpretations of physical nudity and sexual
interaction” (53). It is clear from these interpretations that art historians
continue to struggle with interpreting the codes or meanings of objects
in the paintings such as mirrors, cosmetic and jewel boxes, and plants
such as laurel branches. The essay’s authors refer to descriptions in
Renaissance writings, and discuss the same means of categorization as
in the past centuries, but, as Giusti points out, there is no definite proof
to back up their conclusions.
In “Conclusions” Giusti circles back to Veronica Franco, this time
pointing out how the 1998 DVD based on Margaret Rosenthal’s
biography of Franco, The Honest Courtesan, was released under the
same title in Europe, while the film was released in the U.S. under the
title Dangerous Beauty. Here was a woman who defied the rules, but the
American title plays on sexual innuendo rather than Franco’s role as a
courtesan. Or was the marketing decision based on the assumption that
an American audience would not know what “courtesan” means?
RoseAnna Mueller
Columbia College Chicago
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Patrizia Piredda. “L’etico non si può insegnare”. Studio ermeneutico
sull’etica e il linguaggio in Nietzsche e D’Annunzio attraverso la filosofia
di Wittgenstein. Leicestershire: Troubador Publishing, 2014.
Il primo pregio del volume di Patrizia Piredda risiede nella scelta del titolo
che mette subito in evidenza i quattro elementi principali dell’indagine:
l’oggetto dello studio, gli autori in questione, l’approccio critico e il mezzo
teorico tramite il quale tutti gli aspetti analizzati si collegano. Conoscendo
il suo pubblico, composto prevalentemente dagli aderenti alla “critica
letteraria classica” (viii), l’autrice fa un servizio ai lettori così a definire
in modo trasparente le sue intenzioni e, allo stesso tempo, sottintende il
tono privo di retorica del testo. Più interpretativo che ermeneutico, quindi
mancante del procedimento d’interiorizzazione proprio dell’ermeneutica
moderna, lo studio adopera la filosofia di Ludwig Wittgenstein come
filtro metodologico per esaminare la relazione etica-linguaggio e gli
schematismi nei diversi discorsi di Nietzsche e D’Annunzio. Piredda non è
la prima, ovviamente, né sarà l’ultima a mettere in discussione le differenze
ideologiche tra le due figure ma riesce lo stesso a contribuire al discorso,
anche se lo scopo del volume è in realità più ampio.
Il volume è suddiviso in sei capitoli, preceduti da un’introduzione
e seguiti da una sezione in cui l’autrice riflette sulle sue conclusioni.
Nell’introduzione, Piredda presenta i ragionamenti del progetto
pluridisciplinare “che indaga le problematiche filosofiche insite nella
letteratura” (viii) con le riflessioni di Wittgenstein sull’etica e il modo
puramente rappresentativo in cui l’etica viene mostrata nel complesso
di paradossi e metafore nel linguaggio.
Piredda dedica il primo capitolo al delineamento del pensiero
wittgensteiniano e il suo sviluppo dal Tractatus logico-philosophicus, in cui
il filosofo affronta la problematica dell’etica e il linguaggio, alle Lezioni
sulla credenza religiosa, che segnano un passo importante nello sviluppo
delle sue idee, fino alle Ricerche filosofiche, in cui elabora il suo concetto
dei giochi linguistici e il senso delle proposizioni che essi portano. Nel
Tractatus, l’unica opera pubblicata in vita dall’autore, egli afferma che
“l’etica è situata al di là del mondo composto dalla molteplicità dei fatti,
in una dimensione mistica inafferrabile e indicibile”, perciò “l’etica
non può essere espressa nel linguaggio” (4). Wittgenstein ammette poi
nelle Lezioni che anche le proposizioni della religione e per estensione
dell’etica e dell’estetica hanno un senso “in quanto fanno parte di un
determinato gioco linguistico all’interno di una determinata forma di
vita”, come spiega in seguito nelle Ricerche (9). L’analisi di questo sviluppo
porta poi alla considerazione dell’inganno linguistico nelle espressioni
di credenza-conoscenza formate in base all’educazione dei bambini:
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“ciò che affermiamo come verità è il frutto di una nostra certezza, il
che non significa che esso sia insensato, ma solo che, contrariamente
alle proposizioni scientifiche, non può essere verificato” (11). Le
proposizioni non verificabili hanno, però, un valore sia conoscitivo
che etico e sono certezze che diventano “delle conoscenze a priori,
ma non nel senso kantiano, perché non sono innate, bensì derivate
dal processo educativo che riceviamo da bambini” (11). Se l’io viene
costruito così dal linguaggio insieme al mondo che è a sua volta vissuto
e sperimentato dal costruito, la filosofia ha il compito pratico di scovare
gli errori della conoscenza fallace e di offrire la possibilità di percepire
altre realità. Alla fine del primo capitolo, Piredda identifica due schemi
di discorso in Nietzsche e D’Annunzio. Negli scritti nietzschiani si
trovano esempi, educatori che insegnano a mettere in dubbio ogni verità
per poter scoprire indipendentemente la propria identità. Nelle opere
dannunziane, invece, si trovano modelli che richiedono l’adeguazione
alla norma stabilita e non la valutazione critica (14).
Il secondo capitolo è dedicato “a comprendere cosa significa
creare esempi linguistici adatti a fornire indicazioni di carattere etico,
analizzando alcune figure e il linguaggio utilizzati da Nietzsche per
esporre la sua filosofia del ‘conosci te stesso’ che trova la sua acme nel
mito dello Übermensch” (24) e poi giunge ad “analizzare in particolare
la costruzione linguistica di alcune figure fondamentali utilizzate da
Nietzsche che fungono da esempi etici di Freigeist: Schopenhauer,
Cristo e Zarathustra” (24). In seguito, il terzo capitolo si concentra sulla
“forma di un mythos narrato per episodi” (44) resa possibile per mezzo
dell’aforisma, il racconto allegorico, le metafore e simboli complessi.
Lo studio prosegue nei tre capitoli successivi, due dei quali già
apparsi in versioni ridotte su varie riviste, ad analizzare i modelli
di comportamento in D’Annunzio. Il quarto capitolo rintraccia la
transizione dallo Übermensch nietzschiano al superuomo dannunziano,
due figure ben diverse alla luce della metodologia stabilita nel primo
capitolo. Il quinto capitolo esamina in dettaglio l’argomentazione
retorica nelle trasfigurazioni dell’eroe dannunziano, soprattutto quella
interventista, mediante una divagazione iniziale (inaspettata ma
legittima per l’argomento) sulle riflessioni aristoteliche sull’etica e il
linguaggio. Nel sesto capitolo, Piredda esplora la costruzione negli ultimi
scritti dannunziani del mito che il vate crea di se stesso e il linguaggio
cristologico con il quale lo elabora.
Infine, nelle Conclusioni, l’autrice recupera le riflessioni di
Wittgenstein e ribadisce il suo approccio agli esempi nietzschiani e ai
modelli dannunziani con un accento sulla metafora. Sia in Wittgenstein
sia in Aristotele, la metafora è lo strumento più adatto a permettere di
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vedere attraverso le realtà costruite dal linguaggio e dunque per imparare
ad “agire bene o anche meglio” (136) poiché “[e]liminazione degli errori
e chiarezza del linguaggio sono i mezzi che utilizza colui che ha scelto
come propria forma di vita l’etica per praticare e migliorare la propria
vista perspicua, attraverso l’interpretazione e la costruzione di esempi e
metafore” (137). In Nietzsche, gli esempi rappresentano questa scelta di
vita; in D’Annunzio, invece, la scelta è negata.
Lo studio è ragguardevole e Piredda riesce a sostenere la sua
tesi all’interno delle coordinate metodologiche per tutto il testo in
modo perlopiù coerente tranne per qualche digressione, spesso di
carattere teorico ma sempre al servizio dell’indagine. Per la sua natura
pluridisciplinare che corre sul limite tra l’italianistica tradizionale e
la filosofia pura, il volume potrebbe attirare un pubblico più ampio
oppure, per lo stesso motivo, limitarlo. Tuttavia, e nonostante qualche
difetto tipografico (la dimensione minuta del carattere rende la lettura
poco agevole e le note al quinto capitolo si ripetono alla fine del sesto),
lo consiglierei volentieri agli studiosi interessati agli argomenti trattati.
Carlo Annelli
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Simona Frasca. Italian Birds of Passage: The Diaspora of Neapolitan
Musicians in New York. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.
Simona Frasca’s Italian Birds of Passage analyzes the fruitful exchange
between two musical repertoires, traditional Neapolitan song and
commercial American music. The Neapolitan song was an established
musical genre when mass migration to the United States started in the
1880s. According to Frasca, the Neapolitan repertoire was reimagined in
the context of transatlantic migration. Emigration, as seen (and sung)
from those who experienced it, heightened the themes that were at the
core of this musical tradition: love, loss, nostalgia, and displacement.
It also allowed for a hybrid language created from English and Italian
dialects. Within this context, these themes acquired a deeper significance,
which allowed this musical genre to overcome the local context in which
it was conceived (Naples, and more generally the region of Campania),
reaching an international resonance that also boosted its popularity
throughout Italy. Frasca’s text, a translation from the Italian published
with Libreria musicale italiana, uses multiple interdisciplinary sources to
investigate a crucial component of the social life of North American
Little Italies, paying particular attention to the places where music was
composed, recorded, and performed – such as studios, radio stations,
vaudeville houses, dance halls, restaurants and theaters.
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Among the most compelling threads analyzed in Italian Birds of
Passage is the seminal role played by the music industry in rehabilitating
the image of Italian-American immigrants. This section is crucial to the
structure of the book and makes a valuable addition to the debate on
Italian emigration. According to Frasca, singers and musicians such as
tenor Enrico Caruso created a new and positive image of the ItalianAmerican immigrant, one that countered the dominant narrative of
Italians as primitive and uneducable to American values and standards
of living. In his fame, Caruso became a model for “an immigrant as a
self-made man,” connecting Italians to one of strongest tropes in the
American narrative (42). According to Frasca, Caruso solved a paradox
posed by the Italian community: how could descendants from the
cradle of civilization be classified as undesirable as they arrived in the
United States? The widespread anti-Italian prejudice in the United
States, most of which referred particularly to Southerners, clashed with
the notion of Italy as la mère des arts. As argued by Eliot Lord (The Italian
in America. New York: B.F. Buck, 1905) in the early twentieth century,
“[u]pon what examination worthy of the same has the Southern
Latin stock, as exhibited in Italy, been stamped as ‘undesirable’? Is it
undesirable to perpetuate the blood, the memorials and traditions of
the greatest empire of antiquity, which spread the light of its civilization
from the Mediterranean to the North Sea and the Baltic?” (232). After
all, American Italophiles were still crossing the Atlantic to visit Rome,
Florence, and Venice.
While singers like Caruso played a fundamental role in changing
the perception of Italians in the United States, other Italian musicians
and actors built their routines on sketches that confirmed stereotypical
imaginary of their community. The successful performer Eduardo
Migliaccio, known by the stage name of Fanfariello, is a typical
example: he would often appear in costume as an ancient Roman.
Writing macchiette (sketches) around the tragicomic figure of the poor
immigrant, he “provided an avant-garde glimpse deep into the recess
of Italian immigration,” (83) experimenting linguistically during his
performances by modifying dialect sounds into Anglicized variations
used by immigrants. In addition to experimenting linguistically,
Fanfariello mixed different musical repertoires. Sketches such as
“’Mpareme a via d’ ’a casa mia” was an adaptation of the successful
“Show me the way to go home,” by Irving King, in dialect. Fanfariello’s
version maintained the Dixieland style in its performance, allowing it
to reach a wider audience and join the popular musical panorama.
Italian Birds of Passage belongs to a larger debate on the relationship
between music and Italian emigration, one inaugurated by historians
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such Anna Maria Martellone [“La rappresentazione dell’identità
italoamericana: teatro e feste nelle Little Italy statunitensi” in Sergio
Bertelli (ed,), La chioma della vittoria. Firenze: Ponte alle Grazie,
1997, 357-391; and “The Formation of an Italian-American Identity
Through Popular Theatre” in Werner Sollors (ed.), Multilingual America:
Transnationalism, Ethnicity and the Language of American Literature. New
York: New York University Press, 1998, 240-245]. Although Frasca builds
upon this literature, she does not use its methodology – instead, she
privileges philological readings of musical texts, which constitutes
a large section of the book. This approach is a valuable addition, but
at times it falls short in contextualizing her close readings with the
general historical context. For example, her aforementioned analysis of
Caruso would have benefited from an investigation of the responses
of the Italian-American community to the changes in its perception.
Nevertheless, Frasca advances an ongoing lively debate on music and
migration – a field that has recently attracted other texts such as Eugenio
Marino’s Andarsene sognando: l’emigrazione nella canzone italiana (Isernia:
Editore Cosmo Iannone, 2014) – and opens up new fields of inquiry.
Erica Moretti
Mount Holyoke College
Eleonora Cavallini (a cura di). La “Musa nascosta”: mito e letteratura
greca nell’opera di Cesare Pavese. Roma: Dupress, 2014.
The fifteen essays in this volume, all in Italian, were presented in
2013 at the conference in Ravenna whose name it bears. The book’s
focus on Pavese’s study and reworking of classical Greek culture, long
undervalued, is a welcome event. As to be expected, most contributors
direct at least partial attention to Dialoghi con Leucò, Pavese’s least
understood but most concentrated treatment of Greek mythology. By
scholars from Italian and international universities, the essays differ in
length, and all but one of them, by Alessandro Bozzato, adhere closely to
the volume’s stated theme. Still, his provides a valuable review of lesserknown feature-length and short films about Pavese’s life or works, such
as Andrea Frezza’s Terra rossa terra nera (Viaggio nelle Langhe di Pavese),
Giuseppe Taffarel’s Il confino di Pavese, Jean-Marie Straub’s Ginocchio di
Artemide and, especially, Dalla nube alla Resistenza by Straub and Danièle
Huillet.
Two essays address Pavese’s own translations from Greek and ideas
about translation theory. Countering the impression that they are
scholastic and pedantic, Eleonora Cavallini examines his renditions
of two fragments by Sappho and Ibicus, the latter evincing an
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understanding of Greek Eros as a kind of illness. Intended only for a
small readership of friends, they are in contrast to the four notebooks of
translations he completed during his exile to Brancaleone Calabro from
1935 to 1936. Concerning his work as an editor, Sara De Balsi analyzes
his correspondence with Rosa Calzecchi Onesti, whose translation of
the Iliad Pavese oversaw as an editor at Einaudi. This study underscores
both his desire to retain Homer’s one-word epithets in translation and
his encouragement of colloquial Italian in her translation.
Five essays address secondary literary influences on Pavese’s
understanding of classical texts or works that may be considered
companion pieces to his. For Gianni Venturi, Pavese’s use of parole
chiave to convey the cyclical aspect of myth provides a clear parallel to
Thomas Mann’s and Wagner’s use of leitmotifs, while Giovanni Bárberi
Squarotti, after examining the margin markings in Pavese’s books,
points to Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy as the stimulus that spurred the
Piedmontese writer to re-approach Plato’s dialogues and Greek tragedy
understood as texts marking the moment when the primitive violence
of the ancient Mediterranean was first sublimated in works of art. In her
discussion of Dialoghi con Leucò, Monica Lanzillotta takes up the issue of
hubris in one dialogue, which she localizes at an intermediary position
in the cosmology of Greek mythology between the older Titanic order
and the subsequent Olympian one, a state the author identifies with the
tension between Eros and Thanatos laid out in Freud’s Beyond the Pleasure
Principle. In contrast to these Germanic influences, Elena Liverani argues
that Dostoevsky’s assimilation of Plato, reformulated in the Russian’s
ideas about the relation of virtue to beauty and reality, may have guided
Pavese to a greater degree than previously thought in his creation of
mythic symbolism and a theory of personal cyclical destiny. Giusto
Traina acknowledges the lack of resonance that irrationalist thought
such as this had in postwar Italy, but for the same reason sees Pavese’s
interest in it and in primitive mentality as pendants to other works
atypical of the period, such as Eric R. Dodds’ The Greeks and the Irrational
and Emilio Sereni’s later theory about a dialectic between natural and
agrarian landscapes.
Three essays discuss the Greek origins of Pavesian lexical and thematic
repetition. For Bart Van den Bossche, classical mythology provided the
impetus behind Pavese’s effort to communicate the surplus of meaning
behind visible reality, whereas Beatrice Mencarini plumbs the resonance
of three symbolic images in the same number of the writer’s works, which
she aligns with a recapturing of both childhood and the archaic nature
of being prior to historical consciousness. Similarly, Enrica Salvaneschi
identifies ancient Greek influences in Pavese’s works going back to Ciau
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Masino and his early short stories, and she traces the semantic origins and
variations of the word capretta through three of the writer’s mature works.
With respect to Dialoghi con Leucò, Alberto Comparini points to
Pavese’s awareness of choral theatricality in Plato’s dialogues and to
thematic macro-categories in Lucian’s as ancient precedents to Pavese’s,
but it is the useful story of Pavese’s scholastic journey to learn Greek that
opens his essay. Turning to the issue of hospitality in the ancient world,
Lucilla Lijoi identifies the Odyssey’s Polyphemus as an analogue to a
principal character in Pavese’s novel Paesi tuoi because both characters
pervert and degrade the meaning of this ancient social value, which
was profoundly linked to the notion of civilization itself and to what it
meant to be human.
Two contributors turn their attention to tragedy in particular. It is
psychological aspects of this fifth century BC genre (as well as Homeric
notions of heroism, death and destiny) that Maria Cristina di Cioccio
detects in the self-analysis of the protagonist in Pavese’s La casa in collina,
who is commonly identified as the novelist’s alter ego. Addressing this
issue from a different perspective, Angela Francesca Gerace suggests
that some of Euripides’ tragedies contribute to a feminine universe
connected to notions of both vitality and decay. She finds evidence of
these notions in expressions of both rational and irrational thought: on
the one hand in the tragedian’s Medea and Hippolytus and, on the other
hand, in two sections of Dialoghi con Leucò.
Long overdue, these essays will interest anyone seeking new
scholarship about the junction of ancient and modern thought in Italian
letters. One hopes that other studies like them will be soon to follow.
Christopher Concolino
San Francisco State University
Paola Bono e Bia Sarasini (a cura di). Epiche. Altre imprese, altre
narrazioni. Roma: Iacobelli, 2014.
Esiste un’epica femminile? La spinosa questione è al centro degli undici
saggi – stimolanti per il taglio critico-metodologico – proposti nel volume
che raccoglie le riflessioni sul tema elaborate durante il X Seminario della
Società Italiana delle Letterate (Frascati, 12-14 giugno 2009). Partendo
dalla nozione di epica fissata nella Poetica aristotelica, l’Introduzione a firma
delle curatrici indaga accuratamente la definizione stessa di questo genere
antico in continua evoluzione, così come essa è andata sviluppandosi
nel dibattito critico novecentesco: se all’epica viene ormai riconosciuta
l’elasticità e l’adattabilità, ciò è anche grazie a quelle scritture femminili del
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Novecento che mentre ne incrinano la normatività attraverso una “rimessa
in gioco a tutto campo, un sommovimento dei confini” (19), delineano
parallelamente le forme possibili di un’epica altra, nelle oscillazioni e nelle
scarti che sempre emergono laddove entri in gioco la differenza sessuale. Un
“altro epos” appare allora delinearsi nei due lavori di apertura. Con rigore
metodologico e originalità critica Laura Fortini (“Un altro epos. Scrittrici
del Novecento italiano”) parte dalla Poetica aristotelica per rintracciare nelle
opere di Elsa Morante, Paola Masino, Fausta Cialente e Goliarda Sapienza
i tratti salienti che rendono le loro epopee (Menzogna e sortilegio, Nascita
e morte della massaia, Ballata levantina, L’arte della gioia) “diversamente
epiche” (34), formula aperta che definisce – senza imprigiornarlo – lo
statuto problematico di scritture che seppur in costante interlocuzione con
le forme retoriche di un genere estremamente codificato lo rinnovano in
modo altro e diverso da quello della tradizione. “Vagamente epiche” (57),
o forse portatrici di un’affatto diversa accezione di epicità, sono invece per
Petrignani (“L’epos che non c’è. Tre autrici della sconfitta”) autrici come
Helen DeWitt, Caterina Venturini e Kiran Desai, i cui racconti di perdite
appaiono delineare un’altra strategia dell’epica moderna, che “lungi dal
rintracciare motivi di fierezza per la tribù, ne vada scovando fragilità,
debolezze, incertezza sul futuro possibile” (60). Se ripercorrendo la storia
dell’epica dall’antichità al moderno Adeline Johns-Putra (The History of Epic,
Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hamps e New York: Palgrave Macmilian, 2006,
9) notava come dal XX secolo l’impulso epico sia emerso soprattutto al
cinema, a partire dai colossal del dopoguerra, Mariella Gramaglia (“Estranee
alla grammatica della storia. Eroine indiane della connessione”) e Serena
Guerracino (“Regine, scimmie ammaestrate, viaggiatrici: eroine del cinema
indiano della diaspora”) si concentrano sulle declinazioni filmiche delle
eroine epiche del contemporaneo cinematografico, laddove è proprio il
termine “eroina” ad assurgere a lemma-guida per “ri-conoscere, ri-trovare le
forme dell’epica” (25). Gramaglia indaga l’epopea tragica della Spartizione
indiana (1947) raccontata nella Trilogia di Deepa Mehta, il cui richiamo
epico è dato soprattutto dalle bambine che popolano le pellicole, “eroine
della ricostruzione, del lutto, della connessione, del nutrimento di un’idea
di umanità che va oltre l’etnia” (77). “Regine epiche” del grande schermo
sono invece le donne di Guerracino, che partendo dal personaggio di
Phollan Devi, la regina dei banditi storicamente esistita ed “eroina scomoda”
di Bandit Queen (1994) di Sheknar Kapur, delinea un’epica femminile
declinata però attraverso lo sguardo maschile, in cui Phollan diventa
esempio paradigmatico di come la via all’epica delle protagoniste passi
anche attraverso la mutilazione simbolica del corpo, cedendo alla pressione
dell’immaginario egemonico e conformandosi alle aspettative dello sguardo
maschile che le scelte registiche proiettano sul pubblico.
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Ancora eroine re-inventate sono al centro del saggio di Lidia Curti
(“Dal fondo del tempo. Epiche di esilio e migrazione”), che ricollega le
scritture di donne sulla/della migrazione agli archetipi del femminile
(Antigone, Penelope), rintracciando motivi comuni con l’epica classica
– quello “dell’arte e della narrazione, il viaggio e l’esilio, la genealogia
femminile” (128) – e dimostrando, alla luce della lettura politica del mito
di Adriana Cavarero, come mai la mitologia “trovi una ripetizione che
non lasci margini o scarti” (129). Scarti che sempre dunque caratterizzano
le riscritture a firma di donne, come mostra l’analisi puntuale che
Marina Vitale (“Tracce di Elena”) dedica al poema Helen in Egypt di Hilda
Doolittle. La fascinazione operata dal personaggio mitico, destinata a
divenire quasi identificazione psicologica, investe anche Achille, la cui
nuova configurazione identitaria raggiunta nel poema nel percorso
spirituale compiuto con Elena significa conseguimento dello stato di
“New Mortal”, nuova umanità a cui l’eroe arriva mediante la liberazione
dalla mentalità eroica, da quell’universo di “valori ‘virili’ di violenza
e sopraffazione” (160), che Doolittle vedeva compiersi nelle vicende
belliche del Novecento. E alla guerra all’origine dell’epica, nell’antico
come nel contemporaneo, fa riferimento implicito The Descent of Alette di
Alice Notley studiato da Bono (“Una catabasi contemporanea: The Descent
of Alette di Alice Notley”), ove la spinta bellica – la guerra del Vietnam
– crea un’epica femminile, un poema narrativo con una donna come
eroe: eroina che, come Dante, si inabissa in un inferno contemporaneo,
creando un percorso che “attraverso metamorfosi corporee e stati emotivi
intersoggettivi” giunge al ritrovamento della sua identità “per poter
sconfiggere l’uomo che tiene in scacco il mondo” (168).
Eroina, viaggio, guerra e, infine, mondo: le key words dell’epica
dipanano una rete critico-argomentativa estremamente diversificata,
specchio delle diverse competenze delle studiose. Proprio il “mondo
che entra nelle case” consente infatti a Monica Luongo (“Per un’epica
del quotidiano”) un’interpretazione particolareggiata dell’epica del
“quotidiano”, rintracciata quando nello schema tradizionale della
narrazione eroica-epica-etica si inserisce una motivazione profonda,
rinvenibile nei lavori di Anne Tayler, Anita Brookner e Valeria Parrella:
la consapevolezza che la sfera del pubblico si rivoluzioni partendo dal
privato, dai mondi giornalieri delle eroine di un quotidiano che nella
sua tensio col mondo appare intessuto anche dagli impulsi dicotomici di
“cura” e “ira”. Sentimenti, questi, di cui è intrisa l’epica antica e nuova,
come dimostrano le autrici del saggio collettivo che chiude il volume
(“Pratiche di attraversamento, la rabbia”) e, soprattutto, Sarasini (“L’ira,
la guerra, la cura e la parabola di Martha Quest”) rispetto all’eroina dei
romanzi del ciclo “I figli della violenza” di Doris Lessing, nei quali a
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colpire è “il rapporto stringente tra la guerra, l’eccitazione e la tragedia
dei ragazzi che vi partecipano, e l’individuale combattimento di Marta
contro la trappola del destino femminile dal quale è presa” (210):
ancora un dentro/fuori che si mescolano contaminandosi, solo una
delle espressioni possibili di un’epicità femminile che non solo esiste,
ma si dà come vitale nei continui interrogativi etico-politici sul presente
che l’arte propone da sempre.
Claudia Messina
Università degli Studi Roma Tre
Nicoletta Leonardi. Fotografia e materialità in Italia. Franco Vaccari,
Mario Cresci, Guido Guidi, Luigi Ghirri. Milano: Postmedia Books,
2013.
Nel 1941 i tipi delle Edizioni di Corrente stampano un libro fotografico
dedicato alla città di Milano, Occhio Quadrato; il titolo derivava dal
tipo di macchina fotografica – una Rollerflex formato 6x6cm – usata
dall’autore, un giovanissimo Alberto Lattuada. Sideralmente lontana
dalla magnificenza della retorica di regime, la realtà urbana insieme
povera e dignitosa catturata dagli scatti è la perfetta trascrizione di
quanto affermato dall’autore nella Prefazione: “Nel fotografare ho cercato
di tenere vivo il rapporto dell’uomo con le cose. La presenza dell’uomo
è continua; anche là dove sono rappresentati oggetti materiali, il punto
di vista non è quello della pura forma, del gioco della luce e dell’ombra
ma è quello dell’assidua memoria della nostra vita e dei segni che la
fatica di vivere lascia sugli oggetti che ci sono compagni” (A. Lattuada,
Occhio Quadrato. Milano: Edizioni di Corrente, 1941, p. XIII). Lattuada
non è l’unico a riconoscersi in un “realismo affettivo” lontano da ogni
estetismo modernista come pure dalla retorica di una certa denuncia
sociale: negli stessi anni Michelangelo Antonioni avrebbe ritratto la
materialità della pianura padana nel suo primo documentario, Gente
del Po. Ed è proprio la necessità di tracciare una genealogia “padana” di
una storia figurativa imperniata sul concetto di natura come qualcosa
che “si guarda, si respira, si sente, si soffre, ancor prima che la si dica
in parole” che spingerà Francesco Arcangeli a intendere l’informale
come istanza estrema del naturalismo in un noto saggio [F. Arcangeli,
“Gli ultimi naturalisti”. Paragone (novembre 1954), ripubblicato in Dal
Romanticismo all’informale. Torino: Einaudi, 1977].
È a partire da metà anni Sessanta, spiega Nicoletta Leonardi nel suo
Fotografia e materialità in Italia. Franco Vaccari, Mario Cresci, Guido Guidi,
Luigi Ghirri, che quattro fotografi italiani raccoglieranno i frutti di questi
illustri precedenti, incentrando le loro ricerche proprio sull’“incontro
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fra gli individui e le cose nei contesti materiali che essi abitano” (7).
Volutamente lontana dall’intento di tracciare una linea interpretativa
legata al concetto di identità nazionale, l’analisi di Leonardi mira
piuttosto a una ricostruzione della “vita sociale” delle fotografie come
oggetti, ovvero dei modi in cui “gli aspetti materiali contribuiscono a
determinarne il significato negli album, nelle gallerie, nei musei, negli
archivi, nelle case private” (15). Per Franco Vaccari “la fotografia è un salto
nel mondo, un incontro spontaneo con le cose che serve a capire ciò che
non sappiamo” (30). L’autrice ne ricostruisce il complesso ventaglio di
fonti (da Zavattini e Klein fino all’applicazione dell’haiku alla fotografia)
e l’evoluzione della ricerca artistica: dall’esordio con le sue Pop-esie
(1965; poi ristampate col titolo Entropie), tentativi di manipolazione e
riorganizzazione del linguaggio nell’intento di “contrastare l’entropia
della comunicazione”, fino alla nota Esposizione in tempo reale n. 4 della
Biennale di Venezia del 1972, primo tentativo di coinvolgimento attivo
degli spettatori in un processo di interazione e risposta istantanea. Da
strumento di sorveglianza la fotografia diviene così mezzo di espressione
e distanza dall’omogeneizzazione culturale, fornendo un inaspettato
“ritratto antropologico, sociologico e psicologico dell’Italia dei primi
anni Sessanta” (30).
Un altro spaccato della realtà quotidiana del Paese viene offerto da
Mario Cresci, che – seppur con intenti ed esiti diversi – con Vaccari
condivide l’allergia a una certa retorica nostalgica e populista. Il lavoro
collettivo intrapreso tra Matera e Tricarico col gruppo Polis (il laboratorio
di ricerca e progettazione urbanistica nato nel 1965 grazie al sociologo
Alberto Musacchio e gli architetti Raffaele Panella e Ferruccio Orioli)
lo pone di fronte ad un Sud dal volto inaspettato: la sfida è adattare
l’ambiente urbano in modo tale da far reagire una realtà contadina in
dissolvimento alle urgenze della modernità. La novità, spiega Leonardi,
sta nella collaborazione fruttuosa tra istituzioni e ricerca: al gruppo Polis
il comune di Tricarico dà l’incarico di costruire una variante al piano
regolatore attraverso un progetto che preveda la partecipazione attiva
della popolazione alla creazione del nuovo assetto urbano. A cavallo
tra documentazione, produzione culturale e valutazione urbanistica,
la fotografia di Cresci diviene allo stesso tempo strumento di verifica
dei nostri parametri conoscitivi e fautrice di una poetica che vede le
fotografie come “oggetti materiali dotati di una biografia sociale che si
dipana nel tempo […] capaci di riattivare i meccanismi identitari della
storia e della memoria” (73). A simili temi rimandano gli esperimenti
di Guido Guidi e Luigi Ghirri, indagati negli ultimi due capitoli. L’arte
di Guidi si muove attraverso due fuochi di un’ideale ellisse: da un
lato i rapporti tra fotografia e scrittura, e i meccanismi attraverso cui
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quest’ultima incrementi la presenza oggettuale della prima; dall’altro
l’attenzione riservata agli strumenti (cavalletti, obiettivi) attraverso cui
la fotografia letteralmente si fa, divenendo così “capace di cogliere cose
che non sono state pensate e neppure viste” (97). Anche il primo Ghirri
è attratto dalle ambiguità tra realtà e rappresentazione – e tra memoria
e qui-ed-ora – create dal mezzo fotografico: da qui il suo interesse per
lo statuto del souvenir e per l’Italia in miniatura, luogo dove “il reale si
proietta sul suo doppio, smascherandolo” (113). Concentrandosi sulla
sua prima produzione, Leonardi mette in luce la complessità del suo
percorso artistico intellettuale, solo parzialmente raccontabile guardando
ai lavori degli anni Ottanta: nello chantourné (“scontornamento”) delle
prove d’esordio si intravede un profilo diverso rispetto al fotografo
postmoderno solitamente affiancato al nome di Gianni Celati. I quattro
dettagliati affondi monografici si stemperano in un continuum che dà
luce a risultati inediti. Emerge innanzitutto un comune slittamento,
da parte degli artisti presi in esame, da un’inventio che privilegia la
metafora (ovvero una sostituzione per analogia) ad una che favorisce
la metonimia, e di conseguenza l’accento sulla fisicità del mezzo e del
dato fotografico. È proprio in questa particolarità, dimostra Leonardi,
che risiedono le “radici storiche” e “attualità” della fotografia italiana di
quegli anni, radicalmente distante dalla matrice postmoderna di stampo
anglosassone.
Eloisa Morra
Harvard University
Peter Bondanella (ed.). The Italian Cinema Book. London: British Film
Institute / Palgrave MacMillan, 2014.
This decade opened with the publication of Peter Bondanella’s A
History of Italian Cinema in 2010 (New York: Continuum), the reworked
edition of his seminal Italian Cinema: From Neorealism to the Present
(originally published in 1983, also by Continuum). Four years later,
Bondanella helmed the British Film Institute’s edited collection The
Italian Cinema Book, the publisher’s recent installment in a series of
volumes dedicated to national cinemas.
This volume capitalized on a renaissance of sorts the scholarship on
Italian film history has experienced in recent years, with three books
dedicated to popular Italian cinema being published between 2011 and
2013 [Howard Hughes, Cinema Italiano: The Complete Guide from Classic
to Cult. London: I.B. Tauris, 2011; Flavia Brizio-Skov (ed.), Popular Italian
Cinema: Culture and Politics in a Postwar Society. London: I.B. Tauris,
2011; Louis Bayman and Sergio Rigoletto (eds.), Popular Italian Cinema.
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London: Palgrave MacMillan, 2013] and three studies that reassessed
the Italian neorealist mode of production, either by focusing on that
experience or on the historical periods that bookended it, published
between 2012 and 2014 (Torunn Haaland, Italian Neorealist Cinema.
Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2012; Giacomo Litchner,
Fascism in Italian Cinema since 1945: The Politics and Aesthetics of Memory.
London: Palgrave MacMillan, 2013; Paolo Barattoni, Italian PostNeorealist Cinema. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2014).
Very much like Bondanella’s History integrated a larger focus on
popular forms of Italian cinema like commedia all’italiana with the
emphasis on neorealism and post-neorealist art film directors of its 1983
predecessor, The Italian Cinema Book turned “the conclusion that writing
on this field must not separate the low brow from the high brow” (4)
into its mission statement.
As correct as this statement is on a methodological level, applying
it came with its own set of difficulties: whereas other volumes that
attempted to offer an overall account of the history of the medium in
Italy addressed chronologically, roughly decade by decade, the major
trends in the Italian film industry and inevitably gave greater attention
to the modes of film production the author/s deemed most worthy of
analysis, The Italian Cinema Book’s maneuver of dedicating thematic
essays to as many Italian cinematic phenomena as possible, roughly
divided in six macro-areas (Silent Era; Fascist Era; Post-war cinema;
Golden Age of Italian Cinema; Crisis and Transition; New Directions),
at times can confuse the non-expert reader in terms of the relationships
existing between different film forms within a given period or in terms
of tracking the evolutionary patterns existing between film forms
belonging to different periods.
Essays like Guido Bonsaver’s “Censorship from the Fascist Period to
the Present” or Giovanna De Luca’s “Seeing Anew: Children in Italian
Cinema from 1944 to the Present” are important contributions to the
scholarship on the subject that shed new light on phenomena like the
“white telephone” comedies of the 1930s and post-war neorealism,
but, given the scope of their historical analysis, they deal with films
and authors that are out of context in sections mostly dedicated to the
cinema of the 1930s and 1940s.
Similarly, the coexistence of essays that are meant to offer quintessential
analysis of genres circumstantiated to given historical periods, like Alan
O’Leary’s “Italian National Cinema: The Cinepanettone,” with essays that
attempt to define methodologies peculiar to the Italian film industry as
opposed to others, like Gianfranco Angelucci’s “Scriptwriting, Italian
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Style: Scriptwriting for Fellini,” or essays that traverse different periods
of Italian film history by focusing on one representational topic, like
Millicent Marcus’ “Italian Cinema and Holocaust Memory,” force the
reader to shift between different critical modes quite often, which comes
to detriment of the merits of the individual essays.
Ultimately, it feels that the volume could be more cohesive if, rather
than combining old, or slightly revisited, points of view on much written
about genres or historical periods in the history of Italian cinema with
essays that investigate new (in the context of this area of scholarship)
methodologies or analyze authors and genres that have not been the
object of study ever before, the book expanded the final section “New
Directions in Critical Approaches to Italian Cinema” and only focused
on the latter part of the combination.
It is without a doubt correct that, without meritocratic distinctions,
all forms of Italian cinema are deserving scholarly attention and many,
different analytical approaches can be applied to this subject, but
making this diversity the modus operandi of one single book that should
be the one-stop read on Italian cinema restricts the volume’s potential
audience to expert readers who are familiar with the “old” vulgata which,
as surpassed as it is, recounts more clearly the correlations between
different film forms.
If the reader is a scholar of Italian cinema who knows quite well
Bondanella’s original work Italian Cinema from Neorealism to the Present,
or Gian Piero Brunetta’s volumes in Italian, or other older studies with
a similar scope, this work comes as an excellent, welcomed addition
to update oneself on the recent trends on a plethora of topics within
this area of scholarship. The Italian Cinema Book is not recommended,
however, for audiences that are just approaching the subject, like the
Italian cultural studies scholar who lacks film studies knowledge or the
film studies student who is approaching Italian national cinema for the
first time, as its multifariousness makes it a hard-to-work tool when
learning from scratch.
Giacomo Boitani
NUIGalway
Ruth Glynn. Women, Terrorism, and Trauma in Italian Culture. New
York, NY: Palgrave McMillan, 2013.
Con questa monografia sull’intreccio fra universo femminile e
terrorismo, Ruth Glynn contribuisce al dibattito accademico in modo
prezioso, scegliendo un taglio che si abbevera tanto ai cultural studies
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quanto all’indagine psicologica e ai trauma studies. Il volume, al netto di
qualche errore oggettivo, propone una critica di genere al modo in cui il
cinema, la letteratura e la stampa italiana hanno presentato l’intreccio
fra femminile e violenza, suggerendo una lettura sintomatica del trauma
culturale associato a questo tema. La tesi dell’autrice è che la stampa e
la cultura italiana abbiano sempre associato al maschile il concetto di
violenza e di leadership, e al femminile il concetto di maternità, dialogo,
tolleranza. Seguendo questo stereotipo, quando la società italiana si è
trovata a dover decodificare presenze femminili nelle sigle combattenti,
si è passati da un’identificazione indiretta delle terroriste come donne
traviate dai rispettivi compagni o fratelli, a quella di donne-non-donne
in quanto non mamme o non compagne.
Il lavoro si suddivide in un’introduzione e sette capitoli. Il primo
errore lo troviamo nella descrizione degli “Events and Problems of
Terminology” (3-5), dove sono elencati alcuni dei principali gruppi
terroristici italiani e dove i Nuclei Armati Proletari (NAP) sono
indebitamente associati ad Avanguardia Nazionale e Ordine Nuovo
quale uno dei “most prominent groups on the Right” (3). Una seconda
affermazione inesatta si trova laddove l’autrice sostiene che “[a] series
of mass arrests in the years 1981-83 effectively brought to a halt to the
reign of terror” (3) trascurando così l’impatto di importanti omicidi
politici (l’economista Tarantelli, 1985; il senatore DC Ruffilli, 1988;
i giuslavoristi D’Antona, 1999, e Biagi, 2002), e anche gli effetti del
terrorismo d’origine mafiosa che segnò la sua fase più cruenta proprio
fra il 1984 e il 1993.
Nel primo capitolo Glynn prende le distanze da vecchie letture
superficiali che rappresentano l’apporto femminile alla violenza politica
come un fatto eccezionale, da inquadrare in un contesto di pedissequa
imitazione maschile. Facendo propria un’ottica femminista, Glynn
tuttavia critica anche le interpretazioni più radicali, tipo quella di Morgan
in The Demon Lover, e sostiene: “it is important to be wary of associating
feminism tout court with a necessarily progressive and insightful
response to the subject of women and political violence” (25). L’analisi
più acuta pare incentrata sul famoso passaggio del libro dell’architetto
Sergio Lenci, Colpo alla nuca, in cui l’autore si sofferma sul significato
psicologico della presenza di una donna nel commando di Prima Linea
che gli sparò (30-1). Il concetto è anche ripreso ed esteso dall’autrice
all’interno del capitolo 5 laddove parla della “rifemminizzazione della
donna terrorista” (130-9).
Il secondo capitolo analizza come la stampa italiana ha trattato
la presenza di donne nelle formazioni terroriste. Glynn sottolinea i
cambiamenti che si sono succeduti, da un’analisi più primitiva, in cui
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Mara Cagol e Anna Maria Mantini sono descritte come poco più di una
protesi dei loro uomini, e spesso sospettate di essere donne infiltrate
dall’estero, al momento in cui i giornalisti riconoscono autonomia alle
donne terroriste e però mettono il movimento femminista sotto accusa.
Il terzo capitolo affronta come il cinema ha rappresentato la donna
terrorista. L’espressione qui coniata è quella del “cinema of containment”
che ricorda un po’ la definizione di Lombardi sul “cinema dell’indulto”.
Glynn sostiene che la maggior parte dei film presenta una terrorista
che è anche femme fatale, considerazione che però non convince se si
considera il portato culturale del concetto di femme fatale, e sostiene che
pellicole come Nucleo Zero e Segreti Segreti mirano a rassicurare il pubblico
italiano mediante un ritratto di donna terrorista pentita. Eccezione fa,
secondo Glynn, Diavolo in corpo, in cui la presenza femminile mette in
risalto il trauma anziché anestetizzarlo.
Il quarto capitolo descrive come le ex terroriste, sia di sinistra che
di destra, hanno parlato della loro esperienza nei memoriali che sono
stati pubblicati fra gli anni Ottanta e oggi. L’aspetto più convincente
è nel passaggio in cui Glynn identifica un processo di vittimizzazione
messo in opera in tutti questi scritti (124). L’aspetto più discutibile, al
contrario, è che l’autrice associa il trauma alle donne terroriste, colpite
come conseguenza della loro scelta di adesione alla lotta armata, più
che alle donne vittime, sopravvissute all’uccisione di mariti e figli. In
particolare, Glynn sostiene che “violence harms both perpetrators and
victim, perhaps in very similar ways” (109) e questa è un’affermazione
che risulta addirittura fastidiosa. L’autrice poi, giustamente, rimarca la
differenza di psicologia fra quelle ex terroriste che parlano del “debito”
che sentono di avere nei confronti della società e delle vittime, citando
un famoso passo della biografia di Adriana Faranda, Nell’anno della tigre,
e il diverso tipo di preoccupazioni che si trova, per esempio, nei testi di
Barbara Balzerani che Glynn considera tesi soprattutto alla ricostruzione
di un sé frammentato (120-3).
Il quinto e il sesto capitolo sono degli ibridi di analisi letteraria e
cinematografica. Nel quinto, Colpo alla nuca di Lenci e Buongiorno,
notte di Bellocchio sono visti da Glynn come due tentativi di
“rifemminizzazione” della donna terrorista, ora come figura aliena
alla violenza (Lenci), ora come pasionaria capace tuttavia di prendersi
cura del sequestrato e donna attraversata da un senso di colpa che
non sa come gestire (Bellocchio). Nel sesto capitolo la lente si sposta
sui tentativi di romanticizzazione della donna terrorista. Qui i lavori
analizzati sono il film La seconda volta, di Calopresti, tratto dal libro
di Lenci, e il romanzo di Rocco Carbone Libera i miei nemici. Secondo
Glynn questi lavori svolgono una funzione conservatrice, in quanto
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la donna terrorista diventa un oggetto passivo dello sguardo e del
desiderio maschile, che addirittura nella pellicola di Calopresti Glynn
associa, come già suggerito da O’Leary, a un desiderio di stupro da parte
del personaggio interpretato da Nanni Moretti (158). Questi lavori, dice
l’autrice, offrono un messaggio semplice ma di condanna eterna.
Il settimo e ultimo capitolo è uno dei contributi più originali di questo
volume. Qui Glynn analizza il modo in cui la stampa ha presentato
Nadia Lioce e Cinzia Banelli, le donne appartenenti alle Nuove BR.
L’autrice sostiene che nei confronti di Lioce la stampa ha costruito
una mitografia negativa, descrivendola come soprattutto una terrorista
efferata e poi una donna brutta, mentre nei confronti di Banelli c’è stata
una sorta di ritorno alle origini, con la promozione di un’immagine
positiva, materna e rassicurante.
Sciltian Gastaldi
Regent’s University
Paola Nastri e Francesca Cadel. Pinocchio. Storia di un burattino.
New York: Edizioni Farinelli, 2013.
Carlo Collodi, alias Carlo Lorenzini, creatore del leggendario
burattino e autore del testo Le avventure di Pinocchio, non solo sarebbe
orgoglioso della pubblicazione del testo di Paola Nastri e Francesca Cadel
ma sarebbe profondamente loro grato per aver messo a buon uso il suo
scritto. Quando la prima edizione del libro di Collodi uscì nel 1883, era
da poco avvenuta l’unificazione d’Italia (1861). Tale unificazione, intesa
inizialmente geograficamente, doveva essere seguita anche dall’unione
del popolo italiano al quale si voleva insegnare ad apprezzare valori
come ubbidienza, sacrificio, lavoro e l’importanza dell’istruzione,
strumento fondamentale per la creazione di una nuova nazione e una
nuova società. Pinocchio. Storia di un burattino, anche se a distanza di
tempo, esaudisce il desiderio di Collodi perché utilizza il suo testo per
promuovere la lingua, la cultura e la storia d’Italia.
Questo testo scolastico, rivolto agli studenti di livello intermedio e
avanzato delle università e delle scuole superiori, come viene messo
in evidenza dalle stesse autrici nell’introduzione, offre la possibilità di
apprendere la lingua italiana mentre la arricchisce di sfumature culturali
e storiche.
Pinocchio. Storia di un burattino è organizzato in 14 unità, suddivise
a sua volta in blocchi di 4 e 5 unità alle quali si aggiunge sempre una
sezione dedicata alla cultura.
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Nella prefazione, autografata da Rebecca West, si evidenziano la
straordinaria ed eterna figura di Pinocchio e la sua storia che hanno
nel tempo ispirato il cinema e hanno arricchito il mondo fantasioso dei
bambini. Pur non facendo menzione del valore didattico del testo, nella
prefazione si mettono in risalto le qualità pedagogiche delle avventure
del famoso burattino. Proprio queste qualità sono impiegate da Nastri
e Cadel per far riflettere gli studenti sui temi importanti della vita e per
apprendere allo stesso tempo la lingua italiana, attraverso un crescendo
di difficoltà grammaticali e lessicali. Sebbene la lettura del testo di Collodi
sia talvolta difficile per lo studente, le note esplicative e le traduzioni dei
vocaboli inusuali ne semplificano la sua interpretazione.
Le unità divise in “prima di leggere – testo originale (con note in
inglese) – dopo aver letto: esercizi di grammatica e attività di ricerca –
riflessione grammaticale e linguistica – riflessione sulle unità e letture
culturali”, tutte ugualmente ricche di esercizi di espansione grammaticale,
culturale e personale, conducono lo studente verso l’acquisizione della
lingua straniera in modo lineare e costruttivo. Il buon utilizzo del
vocabolario e le belle illustrazioni eseguite da Tandem che arricchiscono
questo testo rendono lo studio dell’italiano interessante e stimolante. Le
svariate possibilità di collegamento alla cultura italiana e le molteplici
associazioni alle esperienze personali degli studenti permettono di
conoscere un mondo linguistico nuovo e allettante. Imparare l’italiano
seguendo le avventure di un burattino diventa interessante e stimola
la curiosità dello studente perché lo aiuta a scoprire nell’universo della
fiaba i valori rilevanti della vita e gli chiede di elaborarli e collegarli
all’arte, alla società, alla storia. Il ruolo degli animali nelle fiabe (83),
il mondo delle favole e la fotografia (128), i vizi capitali e la stoltezza
negli affreschi di Giotto (146), il benessere e come viene rappresentato
nell’arte (244) e le metamorfosi (307) sono solo alcuni dei temi trattati in
Pinocchio. Storia di un burattino, un testo dai contenuti nuovi che intende
rinnovare il metodo di apprendimento della lingua italiana e chiede agli
studenti e agli insegnanti una collaborazione nuova e diversa intesa a
raggiungere lo scopo comunicativo previsto per questo testo.
Daniela Bisello Antonucci
Princeton University
778
Contributors
Mimmo Cangiano is currently a Ph.D. candidate at Duke University. He
has published essays on Luigi Pirandello, Carlo Michelstaedter, Scipio
Slataper, Hugo von Hoffmansthal, Giovanni Boine, Giuseppe Prezzolini
in journals such as Italianistica, Poetiche, and Annali d’Italianistica. In
2011, he published his first book, titled L’Uno e il molteplice nel giovane
Palazzeschi (1905-1915), Florence, SEF.
Alexandra Coller is Assistant Professor and Italian Program
Coordinator in the Department of Languages and Literatures at Lehman
College, City University of New York. Her book, Women, Rhetoric, and
Drama in Early Modern Italy, is forthcoming with Ashgate in 2016. She is
the editor and translator of two bilingual volumes of female-authored
pastoral drama of the early seventeenth century for The Other Voice in
Early Modern Europe Series (Toronto), forthcoming in 2016.
Clorinda Donato is the George L. Graziadio Chair of Italian Studies at
California State University, Long Beach, where she is Professor of French
and Italian. She researches and publishes in the fields of eighteenthcentury studies, Intercomprehension, and translation. She was the
Principal Investigator for the NEH-project: “French and Italian for
Spanish Speakers” (2012-2015).
Antonis Glytzouris is Associate Professor of Theatre History at the
School of Drama (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki) and collaborator
researcher at the Institute of Mediterranean Studies (Crete). His current
research is focused on the reception of Realism and Modernism in the
Modern Greek theatre.
Michelangelo La Luna is Professor of Italian at the University of Rhode
Island. He has written five books on Girolamo De Rada (1814-1903), the
Dante of Albanian literature. He is the editor of Writing Like Breathing,
an original anthology about Dacia Maraini, which will be published in
January 2016.
Dacia Maraini, a renowned novelist, playwright, essayist, and social
activist, is one of the most important voices in Italian culture today. Her
first novel was published when she was 26. Since then she has published
a score of novels, many collections of poetry, essays and short stories
and much investigative journalism. She has created theatre companies,
779
Contributors
and written film scripts and plays which are performed all over the
world. Her writing, awarded numerous prizes, has been translated into
dozens of languages.
Tom Means is Assistant Professor in the Department of Modern
Languages at Borough of Manhattan Community College, CUNY. He
holds a Ph.D. in Italian and Second-Language Acquisition from Rutgers
University. His research interests center on the effectiveness of teaching
and learning methodologies of languages, especially variations of taskbased instruction.
RoseAnna Mueller, Emeritus, Columbia College Chicago, teaches
classes on the Italian Renaissance. Her publications include numerous
articles and book reviews in VIA: Voices in Italian Americana, Annali
d’Italianistica, Forum Italicum, and Italica. Her poetry translations have
appeared in Italian Poetry Today. She has conducted several study-abroad
summer sessions in Florence.
Violet Pasquarelli-Gascon received her Master’s degree in
Interdisciplinary Studies with an emphasis on Italian from California
State University, Long Beach. She also holds an MBA from UC, Irvine.
She has been teaching Italian for Spanish speakers courses at California
State University, Long Beach, for the past five years, specializing in the
intensive, hybrid second-year class.
Guy P. Raffa is Associate Professor of Italian Studies at the University
of Texas, Austin, where he specializes in medieval and modern Italian
literature. He has published articles on Italo Calvino, Umberto Eco, and
Carlo Levi, and is the author of Divine Dialectic: Dante’s Incarnational
Poetry (U of Toronto P, 2000) and The Complete Danteworlds: A Reader’s
Guide to the “Divine Comedy” (U of Chicago P, 2009).
Albert Sbragia is Associate Professor of Italian Studies and Comparative
Literature at the University of Washington. He has published on modern
Italian literature (including a book, Carlo Emilio Gadda and the Modern
Macaronic) and on Italian cinema. His current book project deals with
the Italian cinema of economic crisis.
Ian Seed gained his Ph.D. in 2012 from The University of Lancaster
in the UK with a thesis entitled Literature and Resistance: Dimensions of
Commitment in the Writings of Beppe Fenoglio and the Italian Neorealists.
He now lectures in the English Department at the University of Chester
(UK).
780
Contributors
Anthony Julian Tamburri is Distinguished Professor of European
Languages and Literatures and Dean of the John D. Calandra Italian
American Institute (Queens College, CUNY). He is past president of the
Italian American Studies Association and of the American Association
of Teachers of Italian. His authored books include: Narrare altrove:
diverse segnalature letterarie (2007); Una semiotica dell’etnicità: nuove
segnalature per la letteratura italiano/americana (2010); and Re-reading
Italian Americana: Specificities and Generalities on Literature and Criticism
(2014/15). His co-edited volumes include: Italoamericana: The Literature
of the Great Migration, 1880-1943 (2014) and From the Margin: Writings
in Italian Americana (1991/2000). He is executive producer and host of
Calandra’s TV program, Italics; he is also co-founder of Bordighera Press.
Daniel Tonozzi has taught language and literature courses in the
Department of French and Italian at Miami University as a Visiting
Assistant Professor. He has also authored a forthcoming article on the
expurgated editions of the Decameron at the end of the sixteenth century.
Lucia Vedovi is currently pursuing her in Ph.D. in the Italian Program
at Rutgers University. Her academic interests include Italian and English
literature in the XIX and XX centuries. In her dissertation, she explores
the intersection between the Italian Baroque influence and Virginia
Woolf’s legacy on some major Italian women writers of the XX century.
She is presently working on the role of women writers in the Italian
journals of the early XX century.
781
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