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Volume 18, 2000 

Beginnings/ Endings/ Beginnings 

Edited by 

Dino S. Cervigni 




Annali d^Italianistica 

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 

Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3170 e-mail: <> 


Dino S. Cervigni, 77?^ University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 


Paolo Cherchi, University of Chicago 

Antonio Illiano, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 

Edoardo A. Lebano, Indiana University 

Albert N. Mancini, The Ohio State University 


Andrea Battistini, Universita degli Stiidi di Bologna 

Ernesto G. Caserta, Duke University 

Louise George Clubb, University of California, Berkeley 

Domenico De Robertis, Universita degli Studi di Firenze 

Franco Fido, Harvard University 

Willi Hirdt, Universitdt Bonn 

Christopher Kleinhenz, Univerisity of Wisconsin, Madison 

Mario Marti, Universita degli Studi di Lecce 

Luigi Monga, Vanderbilt University 

Ennio Rao, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 

Aldo Scaglione, New York University 

Paolo Valesio, Yale University 

Aldo Vallone, Universita degli Studi di Napoli 

Rebecca West, The University of Chicago 

Assistant Editor 

Anne Tordi, The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill 

2000 by Annali d'ltalianistica, Inc. 

Editorial Policy 

Annali d'ltalianistica seeks to promote the study of Italian literature in its 
cultural context, to foster scholarly excellence, and to select topics of interest to 
a large number of Italianists. Monographic in nature, the journal is receptive to 
a variety of topics, critical approaches, and theoretical perspectives. Each 
year's topic is announced well ahead of time, and contributions are welcome. 
The journal is issued in the fall of each year. Manuscripts should be submitted 
with a Mcintosh or IBM compatible disk and should be accompanied by a 
stamped, self-addressed envelope. Authors should follow the MLA style for 
articles in English; articles in Italian should conform to the AdI style sheet. For 
all communications concerning contributions, address the Editor, Annali 
d'ltalianistica. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, 
NC 27599-3170, or post <>. Provide e-mail address 
with all correspondence. 

Notes & Reviews 

This section occasionally publishes essays and review articles on topics treated 
in one of the previous volumes of Annali d'ltalianistica. 

Italian Bookshelf 

Italian Bookshelf is edited by Dino S. Cervigni with the collaboration of Paolo 
Cherchi, Gustavo Costa, Valeria Finucci, Francesco Guardiani, Albert N. 
Mancini, Massimo Maggiari, and John P. Welle. The purpose of Italian 
Bookshelf is to identify, review, and bring to the attention of Italianists recent 
studies on Italian literature and culture. Italian Bookshelf wiW cover the entire 
history of Italian literature. AdI will review books exclusively on the basis of 
their scholarly worth. To this purpose, junior and senior colleagues will be 
invited to collaborate without any consideration to academic affiliation and 
with an open attitude toward critical approaches. Contributions to this section 
are solicited. Scholars who intend to contribute are encouraged to contact the 
editors or one of the section's permanent collaborators. Book reviews, to be 
submitted on a disk, should be sent to the Editor. For inquiries post 
<>. Please provide e-mail address with all 


Rates for U.S.A. and Canada: Individuals $20; Institutions $29; Agencies $27. 
Rates for countries outside North America: Individuals $21; Institutions $33; 
Agencies $30. Publication and shipping date: Fall of every year. Back issues: 
add $3 per volume. Checks, in U.S. currency, should be made payable to 
Annali d'ltalianistica. Inc. 

AdI 2002 
Exile in Literature/The Literature of Exile 

The year 2002 marks the seventh centenary of Italy's most famous exile. On 
January 27, 1302, in fact, Dante Alighieri was expelled from the city of Florence 
in which he was bom and which he was destined to make famous more than any 
other Florentine. He then began a life of forced wanderings that made him 
realize in the deepest sense the Christian believer's condition of exile on earth. 

The seventh centenary of Dante's exile, which we will celebrate shortly 
after the beginning of the Christian era's third millennium, may be viewed as a 
most appropriate occasion to open a forum on exile itself and the condition of 
the exiled person in Italy's literary and cultural history. Such a forum would 
seem to appear not only appropriate and timely but even imperative insofar as 
the 20'*' century, whose closing is imminent, has witnessed the exile, in all its 
deplorable forms and excesses, of the largest number of people in humankind's 

Exile may be viewed as the forced or self-imposed moving away from one's 
country; as such, exile may connote not only the time away from one's place of 
origin but also, and perhaps primarily, the inner condition caused by such a 
physical absence. Exile, therefore, is only rarely exclusively physical. At the 
same time, without necessarily entailing the absence from one's own country, 
exile may also connote the exclusively spiritual, intellectual, or even existential 
condition of someone who lives a life of alienation and estrangement from the 
surrounding community. Whether the exile is physical or existential, spiritual or 
intellectual, what concerns the scholar in this context is the written document 
left behind by either the person who lives this exilic condition or by someone 
else who has witnessed that person's life. 

For the 2002 AdI issue, scholars are invited to examine this complex notion 
of exile in Italy's millenary cultural history, from the first vernacular 
expressions to the end of the 20"^ century. Accordingly, scholars may focus on 
exile in its literal meaning, from emigration to expatriation, expulsion, 
deportation, and even slaughter; they may also examine the existential, spiritual, 
and intellectual consequences of physical or metaphorical exile. In fact, the 
implications and ramifications of exile are so far-reaching that one may arguably 
speak not only of exile in literature but also of the literature of exile according to 
either a Christian or a secular perspective. The Christian perspective, on the one 
hand, views human life as an earthly and temporary exile to be lived, endured, 
and redeemed while hoping to arrive at the heavenly kingdom, as Dante reminds 
the reader time and again throughout his works. The secular view, on the other 
hand, may either give up any attempts at finding a meaning in human life, or 
may seek other categories capable of overcoming in some way the perceived 
negativity of the human condition. 

Prospective contributors are invited to contact the journal's Editor, either by 
regular mail or e-mail. All contributions, in English or Italian, written according 
to the MLA style, should be submitted no later than March 31, 2002 on diskette 
and in print. 


Volume 18, 2000 


7 Introduction 

I. Toward a Theory of Beginnings & Endings 
13 Roberto Maria Dainotto, Vico 's Beginnings and Ends: Variations on the 

Theme of the Origin of Language 
29 Aldo Nemesio, La definizione dell 'incipit 
49 Giuliana Adamo, Twentieth-Century Recent Theories on Beginnings 

and Endings of Novels 

II Jonathan Smith, Tabucchi Echoes Lacan: Making the End of 

"Postmodernism "from the Beginning 
109 Massimo Riva, Beginning/ Ending, Openness/Consistency: 

Models for the Hyper-Novel 
133 Charles Klopp, Writers from the Margins and the Canon in the Year 

2000: New Beginnings or Business as Usual? 

II. Medieval & Renaissance Texts: 
Closure, Open-Endedness, Narrative Cycles 
143 Dino S. Cervigni, From Beginning to End: 

Dante 's Judeo-Christian Fourfold Mytho-Poiesis 
175 Rebecca S. Beal, Ending in the Middle: Closure, Openness, and 

Significance in Embedded Medieval Narratives 
199 Luigi Monga, Cycles of Early-Modern Hodoeporics 
239 Armando Maggi, When the O. Moves in the Heart: The Annunciation 

of the End in the Journal of Saint Veronica Giuliani 
III. Beginnings & Endings in Modern & Postmodern Literature 
255 Cristina Mazzoni, 'That in Giving Me Life, You Still Remain Alive ': 

Fetal Beginnings and Maternal Endings at Two Generations ' Ends 

III Norma Bouchard, Writing for the Third Millennium: 

Gadda and the Unfinalizability of Life 
293 Silvia Ross, From Start to Finish: Intertextual Roads of Reading 

Between Manzoni, Tozzi, and Calvino 
309 Assumpta Camps, Principio senzafine: I 'iper-romanzo di Italo Calvino 
'ill Olimpia Pelosi, Una rilettura de Le stelle fredde di Guido Piovene 
347 Alberto Casadei, II finale del Partigiano Johnny 
359 Colleen Ryan-Schetz, The Unending Process of Subjectivity: 

Gendering Otherness in Pasolini 's Decameron 
IV. An Intellectual's Wanderings at the Turn of the Millennium 
376 Riccardo Campa, Divagazioni difine millennio 

V. Hymns to a Millenary Beginning & Ending 
438 Poems by Laura Stortoni, Tomaso Kenemy, Mario Baudino, Roberto 
Mussapi, Gabriella Galzio, Roberto Cariffi, Giuseppe Conte, Rosita Capioli, 
Massimo Maggiari, <fe Alessandro Carrera 

Notes i& Reviews 

459 Marina Spunta. "Prima persona": mtervista a Erri De Luca 

475 Italian Bookshelf. Edited by Dino S. Cervigni and Anne Tordi with 

the collaboration of Paolo Cherchi, Gustavo Costa, Valeria Finucci, 

Francesco Guardiani, Albert N. Mancini, Massimo Maggiari, and John P. 


475 Carlo Paolazzi. La maniera mutata. II 'dolce stil novo ' Ira Scrittura e Ars poetica 

Milano: Edizioni Vita e Pensiero, 1998. (Emanuela Zanotti Carney) 
477 Olivia Holmes. Assembling the Lyric Self: Authorship from Troubaour Song to 

Italian Poetry Book. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2000. (Lois Bragg) 
480 Gabriele Costa. Le origini della lingua poetica indeuropea. Voce coscienza e 

transizione neolitica. Firenze: Olschki. 1998. (Massimo Mandolini Pesaresi) 
482 Wilhelm Potters. Nascita del sonetto. Metrica e matematica al tempo di Federico //. 

Ravenna: Longo, 1998. (Steven Botterill) 
484 Alison Cornish. Reading Dante's Stars. New Haven: Yale UP, 2000. (Olivia 

486 Gloria Allaire. Andrea da Barberino and the Language of Chivalry. Gainesville: U 

of Florida P, 1997. (Steven Botterill) 
488 Charles Klopp. Sentences: The Memoirs and Letters of Italian Political Prisoners 

from Benvenuto Cellini to Aldo Moro. Toronto: UP. 1999. (Maria Smith) 
491 Nancy L. Canepa. From Court to Forest: Giambattista Basile 's Lo cunto de li cunti 

and the Birth of the Literary Fairy J ale. Detroit: Wayne State UP. 1999. (Carol 

493 Moderata Fonte (Modesta Pozzo). The Worth of Women Wherein is Clearly 

Revealed Their Nobility and Their Superiority to Men. Trans. Virginia Cox. 

Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1997. (Valeria Finucci) 
495 Linda Bisello. Medicina della memoria. Aforistica ed esemplarita nella scrittura 

barocca. Firenze: Leo S. Olschki Editore, 1998. (Stefano Termanini) 
498 Giuseppe Mazzotta. The New Map of the World: The Poetic Philosophy of 

Giambattista Vico. Princeton: UP, 1999. (Gustavo Costa) 
501 Elena Urgnani. La vicenda letteraria e politica di Eleonora de Fonseca Pimentel. 

Napoli: La citti del sole, 1998. (Cristina Mazzoni) 
503 Vincenzo De Caprio e Gaetano Platania. // viaggo in testi inediti o rari. Ed. 

Fernanda Roscetti. Roma: Istituto Nazionale di Studi Romani, 1998. (Paolo 

506 Anna Maria di Martino. "Quel divino ingegno. " Giulio Perticari. Un intellettuale 

tra Impero e Restaurazione. Napoli: Liguori, 1997. (Cristina Abbona) 
508 Santorre di Santa Rosa. Ricordi 1818-1824 (Torino. Svizzera, Parigi, Londra). Ed. 

Marco Montersino. Firenze: Olschki, 1998. (Luciano Parisi) 
510 Roberto Bertoni, ed. L'ultimo orizzonte. Giacomo Leopardi: A Cosmic Poet and 

His Testament. Torino: Trauben Edizioni, 1999. (Irene Marchegiani Jones) 

512 Sergio Calzone. La giovine del miracolo. "I promessi sposi" e la cultura di 

ispirazione religiosa. Torino: Tirrenia, 1997. (Luciano Parisi) 
514 Simone Giusti. L ' instaurazione del poemetto in prosa (1879-1898). Lecce: Pensa 

Multimedia "Filigrane" 5, 1999. (Matteo Pedroni) 
516 Tullio Pagano. Experimental Fictions: From Emile Zola a Naturalism to Giovanni 

Verga's I'erism. Fairleigh Dickinson UP. 1999. (William Van Watson) 
519 Giorgio Cavallini. I'erga Tozzi Biamonti. Tre trittici con una premessa comune 

Roma: Bulzoni, 1998. (Stefano Termanini) 

522 Vittorio Sereni. Variable Star. Trans. Luigi Bonaffmi. Toronto: Guernica. 1999. 

(Viktor Berberi) 

523 Philip V. Cannistraro. Blackshirts in Little Italy: Italian Americans and Fascism 

1921-1929. West Lafayette, IN: Bordighera P. 1999. (Norma Bouchard) 
525 Laura A. Salsini. Gendered Genres: Female Experiences and Narrative Patterns in 

the Works of Matilde Serao. Cranbur>: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 1999. (David 

Del Principe) 
527 Vincenzo Binetti. Cesare Pavese. Una vita imperfetta. Ravenna: Longo Editore, 

1998. Pp. 155. (Anna Maria Torriglia) 

529 Stefania Lucamante. Elsa Morante e I'eredita proustiana. Fiesole: Cadmo. 1998. 

Pp. 199. (Simona Wright) 
533 Angela Bianchini. Vn amore sconveniente. Milano: Frassinelli, 1999. (Angela M. 

536 George Talbot and Doug Thompson, eds. Montale: Words in Time. Market 

Harborough: Troubador Publishing, 1998. (John Butcher) 
540 Mario Luzi. Phrases and Passages of a Salutary Song. Trans. Luigi Bonaffmi. 

Toronto: Guernica, 1999. (Predrag Kovacevic) 
540 Dacia Maraini. Stowaway on Board. Trans. Giovanna Bellesia and Victoria Offredi 

Poletto. West Lafayette, IN: Bordighera, 2000. (Dawn Green) 
543 Achille Serrao. Cantalesia. Poems in the Neapolitan Dialect (1990-1997). Ed. and 

trans. Luigi Bonaffmi. New York: Legas. 1999. (John Butcher) 
546 Roberto M. Dainotto. Place in Literature: Regions, Cultures. Communities. Ithaca: 

Cornell UP. 2000. (Alessia Ricciardi) 
548 Hermann W. Haller. The Other Italy: The Literary Canon in Dialect. Toronto: UP. 

1999. (John P. Welle) 

551 Franco Zangrilli. Sicilia isola-cosmo. Conversazione con G. Bonaviri. Ravenna: 

Longo. 1998. (Rosalia Colombo Ascari) 

552 Seminario sul racconto (Bagni. Capriolo. Celati. Guglielmi. Petrucci. Santi, 

Starnone. Veronesi). Ed. Luigi Rustichelli. West Lafayette (IN): Bordighera 

Inc., 1998. (Stefano Termanini) 
555 Seminario sulla drammaturgia. Ed. Luigi Rustichelli. West Lafayette (IN): 

Bordighera Inc., 1998. (Stefano Termanini) 
558 Cesare Magris. Utopia e disincanto: storie speranze illusioni del moderno. Milano: 

Garzanti, 1999. (Anna Maria Torriglia) 
560 Maria Ornella Marotti and Gabriella Brooke, eds. Gendering Italian Fiction: 

Feminist Revisions of Italian History. Rutherford, NJ: Farleigh Dickinson UP, 

1999. (Stefania Lucamante) 
562 Gaetana Marrone. The Gaze and the Labyrinth: The Cinema of Liliana Cavani. 

Princeton: UP. 2000. (Aine O'Healy) 

566 Franca Angelini, ed. II pur o e rimpuro. Roma: Bulzoni Editore, 1998. (Daniela 

568 Dalle Acque dl Ermes: Novita Mitomoderniste. (Massimo Maggiari) Gabriella 
Galzio. Sofia che genera il mondo Bologna: I Quademi del Battello Ebbro, 
2000. (Giancarlo Pontiggia) Riccardo Emmolo. Ombre e destino Bologna: I 
Quademi del Battello Ebbro, 2000. (Giuseppe Conte) Roberto Mussapi. 
Antartide Parma: Guanda, 2000. (Giuseppe Conte) Mario Baudino. Colloqui 
con un vecchio nemico Parma: Guanda, 1999. (Valerio Magrelli) 

570 Brief Notices. Edited by Anne Tordi. 

Mauda Bregoli-Russo. Teatro dei Gonzaga al tempo di Isabella Gonzaga. Studies in 

Italian Culture, Literature in History, 21. New York: Peter Lang, 1997. Pp. 131. 

Differentia. Review of Italian Thought 8-9 Spring/Autumn 1999. Pp. 453. 

Esperienze letterarie 24 A (ottobre-dicembre 1999). Pp. 160. 

Robin Healey. Twentieth-Century Italian Literature in English Translation. An 

Annotated Bibliography 1929-1997. Toronto: UP, 1998. Pp. 605. 

Niccolo Machiavelli. The Prince. Trans. George Bull. London: Penguin, 1999. Pp. 106. 

Polytext. At the Turn of the Century 14 (Winter 1999-2000). Pp. 267. 

La Venise de Goldoni. Actes du Colloque organise par le Centre Aixois de Recherche 

italienne (Aix-en-Provence, 1-3 decembre 1993). Aix-en-Provence: Publications de 

rUniversite de Provence, 1998. Pp. 306. 

Pino S. Cervigni 

Beginnings & Endings 

Two years ago, in proposing the topic for AdPs current issue, I wrote that the 
conclusion of the second millennium and the beginning of the third millennium 
of the Christian era, in spite of or perhaps precisely because of such endings' 
and beginnings' artificiality, offer a most appropriate time - a unique and 
privileged kairos - to investigate the meaning and function of, as well as the 
many relationships between, beginnings and endings. 

In fact, books and the human beings who write them; the historical and 
literary periods in which both artifacts and their authors are situated; the books' 
internal structures and material configurations as well as their authors' lives: in 
brief, every human being's life and all human artifacts are, by their intrinsic 
nature, situated within a beginning and an ending. At the same time, the purpose 
of every individual, humankind as a whole, and the sum of all their activities and 
products seek to create ever new beginnings in order to postpone indefinitely, as 
it were, the ineluctability of the individual's and humankind's end. 

1. Toward a Theory of Beginnings & Endings 

The first section of the volume deals primarily with theoretical analyses aimed at 
uncovering the multifaceted aspects of endings and beginnings in humans and 
their artifacts. These essays have different starting points, which range from 
Vico to contemporary authors. 

In "Vico's Beginnings and Ends: Variations on the Theme of the Origin of 
Language," Roberto Maria Dainotto starts out with a series of questions: Is 
Vico's Scienza nuova the beginning of a new scientific prose, or is it rather the 
symptom of a nostalgia for the classical world's system of values and beliefs 
that has now come to an end? The essay brackets away these questions to claim 
instead the importance of the theme of origin: namely, a topos where beginnings 
and endings coincide, as is the case in the writing of the Scienza nuova. 

In his essay, "La definizione deWIncipit," Aldo Nemesio starts fi-om an 
empirical observation; namely, that the narrative incipit found in IS""- and 19'*'- 
century novels does not present specific characteristics capable of differentiating 
it fi-om the body of the text. On the basis of this evidence, he proposes to shift 
the focus of the research on the narrative incipit from the text itself to the 
reader's behavior in reading the novels' initial words. Accordingly, Nemesio's 
essay provides the data of an experiment he has conducted among students who 
were asked to read the narrative incipit of eight different texts. 

Giuliana Adamo, by contrast, seeing the novels' narrative beginning and 
ending as a datum, offers a very insightful and useful overview of many critical 
approaches to the study of narrative beginnings and endings that have been 

Annali d'ltalianistica 18 (2000) 

8 Introduction 

developed in the second half of the 20^ century. Her essay, entitled "Twentieth- 
Century Recent Theories on Beginnings and Endings of Novels," ranges from 
the controversial issue of the definition of textual limina (Aragon, Jean, Pope, 
Lintvelt) to the identification of their ambiguous nature (Barthes, Comille, 
Brombert, Calvino, Coletti, Hamon, Hermstein Smith, Lintvelt, Del Lungo), 
their interpretation in terms of speech acts (Genette), the setting up of models for 
their classification (Del Lungo, Lintvelt, Torgovnick), and finally the recent 
blooming of popular, non-academic texts on the same subject (Ensign, Fruttero 
& Lucentini, O'Connor, Papi and Presutto, Schwamental and Straniero, 

In his "Tabucchi Echoes Lacan: Making an End of 'Postmodernism' from 
the Beginning," Jonathan Smith, while focusing on Tabucchi, deals with far- 
reaching theoretical considerations. Smith's starting point is the consideration 
that Tabucchi's writings between 1975 and 1997 articulate an intellectual as 
well as a literary project. This project begins, as it were, from a reading of 
Lacan, Blanchot, and cognate authors at odds with the classic formulations of 
Italian postmodernism proposed by Eco and Vattimo in particular, and it ends 
with the diagnosis of an "end" of the credibility of historical narratives of 
progress from past authoritarianism to present democracy. In this sense, from 
the "beginning," Tabucchi takes issue with a ftindamental principle of Italian 
culture, which is deeply rooted in the national tradition, with a view to "ending" 
its dominance, and thus "beginning" a more searching examination of Italian 
national identity than the tradition permits. Hence two of Tabucchi's frequently 
recurring fictional themes: the residual Fascism of the republican period, and the 
exploration of this problem through the metaphor of the more recently 
democratized Portugal. 

In his "Beginning/Ending, Openness/Consistency: Models for the Hyper- 
Novel," Massimo Riva focuses precisely on these issues as they pertain to 
contemporary novels. Riva's point of departure is Italo Calvino's last, 
unfmished memo for the next millennium, which deals with the concepts of 
beginning, ending, openness, and consistency. Accordingly, Riva ties Calvino's 
notes on these issues to the writer's own musings on the hyper-novel, and he 
also explores Calvino's ftindamental anxiety over the nature (and ftiture) of 
narrative art in the age of elecfronic media, most tellingly expressed in Se una 
notte d'inverno un viagiatore. . . . 

The journal's first section concludes with Charles Klopp's essay, entitled 
"Writers from the Margins and the Canon in the Year 2000: New Beginnings or 
Business as Usual?" Klopp focuses on beginnings and endings from a different 
perspective; namely, the "fraying" of the literary canon in Italy in the so-called 
marginalized writers. Hence — Klopp argues — the importance, at 
millennium's end, of taking stock of the state of the literary canon in Italy. Here, 
as in many other areas of Italian intellectual life, immense changes have taken 
place. In his survey of new kinds of fiction by what he calls "Italophone," 

Dino S. Cervigni 9 

"unlettered," or "marginalized writers," Klopp examines several examples of 
writings new to the Italian canon. In concluding, he suggests that a "fraying" or 
"decomposing" of canonical boundaries is perhaps typical of the operations of 
the literary establishment throughout the twentieth century. 

2. Medieval & Renaissance Texts: Closure, Open-Endedness, Narrative Cycles 

It is well known that medieval authors' view of beginnings and endings is often 
affected be their Christian perspective, according to which humans and their 
artifacts carry, and therefore should also evince, their Maker's presence in them. 
Dante's entire opus bears out such a Judeo-Christian perspective. Accordingly, 
in the essay entitled "From Beginning to End: Dante's Fourfold Judeo-Christian 
Mytho-Poiesis," I propose to read Dante's works — from the Vita nuova to the 
Commedia, but also his linguistic, encyclopedic, and political writings — from 
a unifying perspective focusing on myth and Northrop Frye's theory of 
archetypes. I thus seeks to show how Dante's oeuvre rests on the fourfold Judeo- 
Christian myth that ftilly describes every human being's existence, individually 
as well as within the context of a universal community that unfolds along a 
temporal and historical axis: humankind's creation, fall, renewal, and 
redemption, precisely from beginning to end. 

Medieval authors, obviously, Dante included, bear out differing approaches 
to the complex issue of beginnings and endings. Thus Rebecca S. Beal 
examines the tale of Narcissus from the Roman de la Rose, the episode of Pier 
della Vigna in Inferno 13, and the metamorphosis of Fileno in Boccaccio's 
Filocolo, in order to show how the ending of the intercalated narrative may 
resist closure even while validating the resolution of the larger narrative. 

Luigi Monga, in his "Cycles of Early-Modem Hodoeporics," examines 
fravel literature from the M"" to the 19* centuries in order to investigate fravel 
cycles in hodoeporic texts and practices. Whereas Renaissance fravel narratives 
usually focus on the journey's bare facts, with the notable exception of 
Montaigne's Journal, 18*-century intellectual curiosity and 19 -century 
egotisme gradually put the writer's moi at the center of the literary discourse. 
Thus, Monga argues that the voyage becomes a quest: the discovery of one's 
own self in its relationship with the surrounding world. 

Armando Maggi examines the concepts of beginning and ending in the 
vast journal of Saint Veronica Giuliani. In particular, Maggi studies how this 
mystic visualizes the beginning and the ending of a divine insight in the form of 
a mental emblem or "impresa." In Veronica Giuliani's imprese, an insight 
announces itself as the opening of her heart wound. Throughout her journal we 
read of the repeated closing (ending) and sudden opening (beginning) of this 
wound, even before the stigmata are inscribed on her body. Thus pain and blood 
are the signs marking both the beginning and the end of a divine communication 
in the heart. 

1 Introduction 

3. Beginnings & Endings in Modern and Postmodern Literature 

A cluster of essays focuses on beginnings, endings, and/or the process of 
formation of human subjectivity in modem and postmodern literature and film. 

In '"That in Giving Me Life, You Still Remain Alive': Fetal Beginnings and 
Maternal Endings at Two Centuries' Ends," Cristina Mazzoni focuses on 19*- 
and 20'*'-century texts on maternity. Her analysis bears out literary, scientific, 
and theoretical connections between the beginning of a human subject (as fetus) 
and the ending of another (the pregnant woman, the mother). This fascination, 
perhaps even obsession, with existential beginnings and endings is especially 
visible in texts from the ending of the 1 9th century to the beginning and ending 
of the 20* century. 

In the next essay entitled "Writing for the Third Millennium: Gadda and the 
Unfinalizability of Life," Norma Bouchard assesses the lack of completion in 
Gadda's narrative discourse, from his earlier texts to Quer pasticciaccio brutto 
de via Merulana. Gadda forces the reader into an open-ended itinerary across 
beginnings, middles, and endings, thereby running counter to the most basic and 
widely shared assumptions about narrative as a textual structure of intelligibility 
(Kermode's The Sense of an End) and as a paradigmatic form (Brook's Reading 
for the Plot). 

Then, in her essay, "From Start to Finish: Intertextual Roads of Reading 
between Manzoni, Tozzi, and Calvino," Silvia Ross explores the 
interrelationships of beginnings and endings in those three writers, centering her 
analysis on the act of reading and the recurring image of the road. 

Focusing exclusively on Calvino in her essay entitled "Principio senza fine: 
I'iper-romanzo di Italo Calvino," Assumpta Camps analyzes Se una notte 
d'inverno un viaggiatore ... in order to focus on the novel's literary themes and 
narrative structures and thus highlight Calvino' s postmodemity. 

Oiimpia Pelosi analyzes Guido Piovene's Le stelle fredde. Her starting 
point is the novel's incipit, which is configured like a desolate foreboding of an 
end: the author's reflection on the posthumous condition of western 
mythography, a ritual song on the agony of the symbolic archetypes of a 
plurimillenary cultural cycle that the author views as dead simulacrum no longer 
capable of pointing to any beyond. While also comparing Piovene's novel with 
some of the works by the American postmodern novelist Thomas Pynchon, 
Pelosi pursues her analysis by means of a postmodern approach that involves 
entropy and chaos theories applied to literature. 

In "II finale del Partigiano Johnny,'" Alberto Casadei examines the endings 
of various works by Beppe Fenoglio in order to demonstrate that in Partigiano 
Johnny the protagonist's death is both necessary and inevitable. In fact, Casadei 
argues, the representation of death in other novels of the Italian Resistance bears 
out the reading proposed for Partigiano Johnny. 

Finally, in "The Unending Process of Subjectivity: Gendering Otherness as 
Openness in Pasolini's Decameron,"' Colleen Ryan-Scheutz analyzes the 
dynamic and unending process of subjectivity in Pasolini. She thus sets out to 

Dino S. Cervigni 1 1 

show how the open-ended nature of the tales' conclusions and the Hnks between 
them bear out a gender discourse that celebrates otherness. She also identifies 
certain female figures as vital and regenerative sources of self-knowledge for the 
male subject, pointing out that their presence and activity allow the process of 
human subjectivity to continue. 

4. An Intellectual's Wanderings at the Turn of the Millennium 

An intellectual's wanderings at the turn of the millennium — Riccardo 
Campa's "Divagazioni di fine millennio" — conclude this issue's numerous 
attempts to analyze human society's complex cycles and dichotomies 
throughout its history. In a series of far-reaching interpretive investigations on 
areas and themes as varied as literature, philosophy, history, and socio-politics, 
Campa's intellectual musings underscore the problematic nature of human 
experience that comes through apparent contradictions and inconsistencies, 
thereby offering challenging reflections on the outgoing millennium and the 
future that faces humankind. 

5. Hymns to a Millenary Beginning and Ending 

Celebrating for the ending of the second millennium and the beginning of the 
third one, poets from Italy and North America invite us to reflect imaginatively 
on the passing of time, human emotions and passions, love, and God. These 
poets are: Laura Stortoni, Tomaso Kenemy, Mario Baudino, Roberto Mussapi, 
Gabriella Galzio, Roberto Cariffi, Giuseppe Conte, Rosita Capioli, Massimo 
Maggiari, and Alessandro Carrera. 

Thus, AdI 2000 provides the scholars with a vast gamut of investigations dealing 
with theoretical principles as well as individual authors from the Middle Ages to 
our own times, in the best fradition of an open, intellectually solid, and 
oftentimes challenging forum. It is the editor's intention to continue such 
stimulating debates. Adl 2001, in fact, will pursue the ethical implications of 
literature and scholarship; Adl 2002 intends to focus on the literature of exile, to 
be followed in 2003 by another volume on travel literature or hodoeporics. 

In conclusion, Adl 2000 — entitled Beginnings/Endings/Beginnings — has 
provided scholars of Italian culture and literature with an open forum to 
investigate theoretical issues and specific literary and historical texts in order to 
shed light on the function, meaning, and interrelationship of beginnings and the 
endings in human artifacts, endeavors, and human lives themselves. The first 
word "Beginnings" in the title implies the mysteriousness and difficulty inherent 
in the inception of human life and all human endeavors. At the end of the title, 
however, the same word emphasizes the perennial human hope that life might 
continue forever, always evolving in ever new beginnings of undertakings, 

12 Introduction 

activities, and forms of life. The central position of the word Endings, by 
contrast, bears out the human condition's ineluctable end, just as we read in 
Dante. He, in fact, portrays life as a "flight" toward its end {Purg. 20:39) and a 
"race" toward death {Purg. 33:54). At the same time, he also depicts God as 
"padre d'ogni mortal vita" {Par. 22:116), who wants his children to share "di 
vita ettema la dolcezza" {Par. 3:38). 

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 

Roberto Maria Dainotto 

Vico's Beginnings and Ends: Variations on the Theme 
of the Origin of Language 

E comincio da un principio troppo sciapito — dall'acqua — forse 
perche aveva osservato con I'acqua crescere le zucche [. . .] — 

Giambattista Vico, Scienza Nuova 

1. A Tale of Two Cities 

In 1690, when Giambattista Vico returned to Naples from Vatolla, he found 
himself a stranger in his hometown. In the one year he had spent in the bucolic 
and secluded timelessness of the province, tutoring the children of the marquis 
Rocca and leisurely reading gli antichi, the city had not remained the same. 
Vico, not unaccustomed to change, had certainly anticipated the possibility of 
finding a transformed Naples upon his return. He knew, for instance, as his third- 
person autobiography reports, that "nel tempo nel quale egli parti da Napoli, si 
era cominciata a coltivare la filosofia d'Epicuro sopra Pier Gassendi" (Opere 
13). He knew, too, that "una fisica meccanica, una metafisica tutta del senso" 
(Opere 13) had been spread in the city by gassendisti, galileiani, and novatori 
alike. All this Vico cow/i/ anticipate. 

That is why, before returning to Naples, this ftiture professor of rhetoric had 
equipped himself with all possible topica to counter the rhetoric of Epicureans, 
Gassendists, and Lockeans alike. He had read, to begin with, the thesaurus of 
Plato. He felt ready, therewith, to face the "ciurma dannata" with the principle 
that "le verita eteme, che non sono da noi e non hanno dipendenza dal nostro 
corpo, dobbiamo intendere essere Principio delle cose tutte" {Opere 15). Put 
differently, at the beginning, Vico could argue, there is neither a sensation of the 
thing, nor a thing-m-itself. The beginning is truth — a formal abstraction, a 
Platonic idea — whence representations of aletheia can issue forth as sensations 
or things. There you have it! So Vico could have answered "alia setta di 

Alas, so much preparation was in the end for naught. A true intellectual 
metamorphosis had taken place in Naples, and, in the new context, all the 
precautions and prepared arguments were to no avail. Surpassing Vico's most 

Annalid'Italianistica 18 (2000) 

14 Roberto Maria Dainotto 

radical expectations, Epicureans had almost disappeared,' and the dark vicoli of 
Naples were now crossed by a new rush for experimental physics, "per cui si 
gridava da per tutto Roberto Boyle" (Opere 1 5). Descartes was the new hero in 
town, and natural philosophy the new dogma. Not sensations but objective facts 
of nature were at the core of the new intellectual fashion. Not things-in- 
themselves but things, as represented by the cogito and its scientific method, 
were its beginning. 

Vico, displaced a bit by the unexpected situation, frantically started reading 
the new best-seller; it was Rene Descartes's Fimdamenta Physicae, 1646. He 
read it carefully, as circumstances exacted. Yet he could hardly see any 
substantial difference between Epicurean atomism and "i corpiciattoli del 
Renato"! Both led, not altogether differently, to a world reduced to mechanical 
fatalism and absolute matter. The Fimdamenta Physicae was in truth, as 
Descartes had already lamented in the Preface to the French edition of his 
Principia Philosophiae of 1647, the work of an impostor. A false Descartes bom 
Hendrijk Van Roy, otherwise known as Regio, was already disseminating, in that 
self-assured age of certainties, the first symptoms of a malaise of both the Ego 
and the autoritd del vero. This, too, Vico could not know. However, Descartes 
or not-Descartes, the fact was that a new doxa reigned in town. If it could have 
been somewhat easy to argue against Epicurus that sensations must come from 
something other than pure materiality, the problem with the new doxa was that 
this something other was, on the one hand, apodictically admitted, but, on the 
other, quickly bracketed away. 

On the one hand, Descartes was explicitly maintaining an albeit unknowable 
— in fact, irrelevant for the cogito — metaphysical order, "un agente sopra la 
materia, che materia non sia" {Opere 18-19). Malebranche and Pascal, in France, 
had already tried the way of the enthymeme: If Cartesian method produces 
knowledge of nature, then an agent other than the cogito has to produce nature 
itself, the object of knowledge. Not only does God exist; moreover, science 
cannot take the place of metaphysics, but merely supplement it with physics. On 
the other hand, a use of Descartes to give some "objective" foundations to 
Christian ethics had, simply, failed: "Ne anche il padre Malebranche vi seppe 
lavorare sopra [il Cartesianesimo] un sistema di morale Cristiana, ed il pensiero 
di Pascale [e] per lumi sparsi" {Opere 19). It had failed because neither 
Malebranche nor Pascal had been able to answer the most radical problem posed 

' Fausto Nicolini (1955) gives Vice's anti-Epicurist polemic a political significance. 
Vice's privileging of the verum (a moral Ideal) against the Epicurist (and Cartesian) 
factum (an objectivity established in accord to the constant repetition of phenomena that, 
qua repetition, becomes "law") is seen as a bourgeois reaction against the dynastic 
imperium of the aristocratic elites following the restoration of 1647-48. For Vico, trained 
in jurisprudence, the authority of a law based on the moral imperative of the verum was 
preferable to an oligarchic law based on the repetition o^i\\Q factum (Petruzzelli). 

Vico 's Beginnings and Ends: Variations on the Theme 15 

by Cartesianism. As Gassendi had claimed in Animadversione, 1675, the 
physical world (with its own intelligible laws) and the metaphysical one 
(unknowable to human intellect) were, to put it simply, independent.^ 
Cartesianism, in other words, had imposed a "radical separation" (Brunyeat 247- 
49) between (physical) knowledge and (metaphysical) ethics, or, in Vico's own 
terms, between /ac^ww and verum. As Spinoza put it, "[. . .] we may draw the 
absolute conclusion that the Bible must not be accommodated to reason, nor 
reason to the Bible" (195). 

What this sort of "absolute conclusions" entailed was the possibility of 
achieving truth independently from divine revelation, ergo, of rendering Truth 
fundamentally independent from the sacred. More radically, it made the 
existence of "amazing" societies and cultures developed apart from God's 
revelation thinkable. The Jesuits coming back from China, Egypt, and the New 
World had already witnessed the reality of such societies, which allegedly 
preceded even the beginning of the cosmos as attested by the Scriptures. Older 
than the three thousand years proposed by the Bible as the age of post-Flood 
civilizations, pre-Adamitic civilizations, extraneous to the grace of God, had left 
incredible traces of their existence for the explorers of the new age to find. 
Societies and cultures, in other words, had prospered well without the help of 

All this showed not only the plurality of Fontanelle's human worlds, but also 
the perfect superfluity of Christianity for the wealth of nations. The refiitation of 
an Adamitic origin, coinciding de facto with a refiitation of the auctoritas of the 
Testaments, led to the conclusion that the world itself had no "origin." There 
could have been no God capable of creating the amazing diversity of the world. 
The universe, as Tyssot de Patot wrote in his Journal Litteraire of 1722, existed 
by itself, uncreated, and "d'une anciennete inexprimable" (Rossi 142). 

Even writing, the scrittura which Vico interestingly values as the privileged 
and first vehicle for accessing Truth — "tutte le nazioni prima parlarono 
scrivendo" (Principj §36)^ — was said to have begun before God's writing of 
the tablets on Mount Sinai. So it could happen, for instance, that 

11 padre Michel de Ruggiero, gesuita, affermi d'aver esso letto libri stampati innanzi la 

~ Of course, one can read Vico's famous distinction between the knowable — "questo 
mondo delle nazioni, o sia mondo civile, del quale, perche I'avevano fatto gli uomini, ne 
potevano conseguire la scienza gli uomini" — and the unknowable — "questo mondo 
naturale, del quale, perch6 Iddio egli il fece, esso solo ne ha la scienza" (Principj §332) 
as a marginal acceptance of Descartes. The problem with Cartesianism, however, is that 
he thinks it knows physics at the moment in which it only knows its own laws of physics. 
^ Following a standard practice of quoting the Scienza nuova, I give reference to 
paragraph rather than page numbers. Paragraph numbers can also help the reader to find 
in Bergin and Fisch's standard English translation each passage cited. 

1 6 Roberto Maria Dainotto 

venuta di Gesu Cristo; e [che] [. . .] il padre Martini, pur gesuita [. . .] narri una 
grandissima antichita di Confucio, la qual ha indotti molti neH'ateismo [. . .] [e] onde 
Isacco Pereyro [. . .] forse percio abbandono la fede cattolica, e quindi scrisse che '1 
diluvio si sparse sopra la terra de' soli ebrei. 

{Principj §50) 

Sure enough, Vico could claim in the Scienza Nuova that such incredible 
antiquities were mere inventions, just the fruit of the boria delle nazioni, that is 
to say, the "vana oppenione ch'avevano della lor antichita queste gentili nazioni, 
e sopra tutte gli egizi" {Principj §51). He could also oppose to Ruggiero, 
Martini, and Pereyre "Niccolo Trigailzio, [che] meglio del Rugieri e del Martini 
informato [. . .] scrive la stampa appo i chinesi essersi truovata non piu che 
cinquecento anni irmanzi di Gesu Cristo" {Principj §50). Yet reducing the 
antiquity of ideograms and hieroglyphs to "five hundred years before Christ" to 
remain within the limits of Biblical chronology, and to place them 
chronologically after the revealed writing of Hebrew (1500 B. C), could only 
partially solve the epistemological challenge thrown at Vico by the new 
Cartesian method. Even the separation of gentile history from the Hebrew one 
{Principj §51), probably maintained just to please the Catholic orders (Bedani), 
fell short of the mark. The challenge, the problem, could not be solved on any 
factual ground. It was more profoundly and insidiously an epistemological one: 
if science and logic could achieve truth, then the sacred, which revealed itself 
through the Word and language {Principj §38), and was imprinted in writing, 
was no longer a necessity, but rather a supplement societies could easily 
dispense with. 

It is in this context that Vico's interest in the querelle des anciens et des 
modernes can be situated (Campaila). What had originally been a mere quarrel 
between literary factions had now grown into a more general epistemological 
problem. The humanistic culture of the ancients, founded on the authority of 
fradition and based on the written text, was by now not simply opposed by a 
modem culture celebrating the new, but rendered superfluous. A divide had been 
created (Preti) between two cultures — one based on words, the other on logic. 

More dramatically for Vico, the "ancient" culture had retrenched, under the 
aesthetic influence of mannerism and the rhetoric of the precettistica, into 
"artifice, insincerity, decadence" (Marrou 82). It had thus abandoned any claim 
to Truth. In this context, it is certainly true that Vico, the institutional preceptor 
of rhetoric, needed to restore to his discipline a "fondazione metodologica di 
dignita pari a quella matematica" (Barilli, Retorica 104). Yet, such re- 
legitimization of rhetoric is at the same time more problematic and more radical 
than is often assumed. Appealing to the much abused concept of corsi e ricorsi, 
Barilli, for instance, sees in Vico's rhetoric a "Providential" instrument of 
knowledge that is subsequently substituted, in some sort of corso, by the newer 
instrument of logic: 

Vico 's Beginnings and Ends: Variations on the Theme 1 7 

[la retorica per Vico] diventa lo strumento "provvidenziale" attraverso cui Dio insegna 
all'umanita, nelle sua fasi primordiali [. . .] certe verita che questa non sarebbe in grado 
di comprendere in versione nuda. Bisogna quindi presentarle avvolte nella fabula e 
nell'esempio, condite con linguaggio immaginoso. Ma successivamente, avvenuta 
Tevoluzione psicoiogica, subentrata I'eta adulta, sara possibile accogliere il linguaggio 
diretto della logica. 

{Retorica 104) 

Yet Barilli's argument, framing itself in the expository, analytic, and logical 
language proper to the academic treatise, seems constitutionally blind to the very 
rhetorical — and allegorical — construction of Vico's own argument. It might 
be, in fact, the desire to stress the allegorical dimension of the Scienza Nuova 
that convinces Vico of the necessity to append a dipintura allegorica (Garulli) to 
the second edition of the Scienza Nuova. And it might be the same desire that 
makes Vico abandon "I'andamento puramente raziocinativo della prima Scienza 
nuova" and adopt instead, in his revision, a "rhetorical" and "poetical" style 
allegorically apt to comprehend "lo spirito dell'antica epopea" (Fubini 19). 
Barilli's idea of rhetoric as a "first" and "indirect" apperception of a Truth that 
returns then in the "direct" formulation of logic builds itself a^ linear logic — a 
teleology — that is neither the one of rhetoric nor that of Vico. 

These sorts of readings leave unresolved the main problem that Vico tries to 
face: that of a radical separation of rhetoric from logic, and the superfluity of the 
former when the latter is available. Implicitly, Barilli suggests that truth can be 
"directly" and fully reached by logic only, whereas rhetoric, as likeness to truth, 
is brought back to the Aristotelian category of verisimilitude (which is then the 
ultimate meter to measure the validity of rhetoric). Interestingly enough, Barilli 
does recognize that Vico's is "I'estrema difesa di una cultura integrata" against 
the epistemological fracture of rhetoric and logic {Poetica 1 64), and the attempt 
to reach a new "combinazione unitaria" (Botturi 37). Yet he seems convinced 
that the solution to such a fracture is for Vico not a synchronic, but a diachronic 
one. In the beginning, it was rhetoric; in the end, logic will tell us the truth 
{Poetica 182-95). However, why would Vico try to give legitimacy to rhetoric 
only to declare it dead and superfluous in nostri temporis, until its rebirth in a 
next ricorsol 

A "diachronic" reading of Vico, it seems to me, has become some sort of 
doxa in contemporary discourse. More than historicizing Vico, scholarship 
seems determined to put Vico in a place that should be strictly defined in terms 
of either beginnings or ends. If, on the one hand, Barilli situates him at the end of 
a rhetorical tradition, others like Verene see him as the beginning of an anti- 
Cartesian modernism of sorts. This sort of polarity does, in a curious way, entail 
yet another "tale of two cities," which takes its institutional weight in a little 
querelle between the Italian scholarship, centered in Centro di Studi Vichiani, 

1 8 Roberto Maria Dainotto 

and the North-American one, connected to the New Vico Studies. Whereas 
Italians see Vico defending the virtues of Ciiristianity from all that is modem 
(Rossi), Anglo-Americans see him impiously undermining Christianity itself 
(Vaughan). If the former handle a conservative humanist, the latter face a 
revolutionary that breaks away from an anthropomorphic idea of humanism 
(Tagliacozzo). Giambattista Vico, the prophet of a "beginning" understood as 
"transgressive intention" against all "origins" (Said) in New York, becomes the 
priestly and myth-oriented arch-enemy of secular reason ( Asor Rosa 1 4 1 -42) in 

It is possible to see, in the polarity of these positions, a divide between a 
"traditional" all-too-Italian reading of Vico, on the one hand, and the "relative 
independence from tradition" of Anglo-American scholarship on the other 
(Tagliacozzo 174). To rephrase the same concept from an Italian perspective: 
there is an Anglo-American Vico "diventato una sorta di passe-partout con cui 
svolgere un discorso multidisciplinare, reso possibile attraverso ardite 
trasposizioni attualizzanti [. . .] della Scienza nuovd" (Battistini 28); and there is 
an Italian Vico, lost in the philological effort to "reconstruct" his Scienza nuova. 
One might hardly resist the temptation to read this — albeit gracious — 
quarrelling as the epiphany of both some boria and some anxiety of the nations, 
to speak in Harold Bloom's Vichian terms. But my own intention for recalling 
all this is not so much to reconcile positions, or to defend one against the other. 
Rather, my aim is to propose a leap out of these corsi and ricorsi of beginnings 
and ends, and to take a look instead at the Scienza nuova from the point of view 
of "origins." 

"Origin," as Said has argued, is not exactly the same thing as "beginning." 
Whereas the latter has a "more active meaning," the former has a "more passive 
one: thus, 'X is the origin of Y,' while 'The beginning A leads to B'" (6). 
"Origin," in other words, is for Said the sign of metaphysics and the sacred, 
whereas "beginning" is a secular intention, a "praxis," in a way, that Said makes 
coincide (problematically, in my opinion) with Vico's poiesis, or etymologically 
— and idealistically!'' — with "making." 

Yet, "origins" may have meant something different for Vico than a mere 
symptom of the sacred. In a rather more banal way, the kind of origin Vico aims 
at discussing — namely, the origin of language, and thus the origin of society — 
is, put simply, some sort of rhetorical exercise, a topical exertion. From Leibniz 

" See for instance Giovanni Gentile: "[Vico] denies the pre-existence of the object to the 
mind that knows it, and attributes to this mind an activity which creates this world. [. . .] 
Truth is thought, as Descartes maintained; yet. thought is not the spectator of what is 
represented, but its creator. One can debate whether we construct and create abstract 
geometries only, or something more tangible and real — how much, that is, our power 
resembles the one we attribute to God. For now, it is enough to say that the way is open. 
And Vico guides us in it" (Gentile 383-84). 

Vico 's Beginnings and Ends: Variations on the Theme 1 9 

to Mersenne, and from Locke to Wilkins — to whom Gino Bedani (42-51) adds 
Bacon, and the catholic hermeneusis of the Babel episode from Genesis — was a 
central theme in Vice's age (Aarsleff, "Vico"). Moreover, the origin of language 
was not only a dominant theme, but also one apt to show the very limit of 
science. The latter, dependent on facts and certainties, could hardly grasp 
origins. For those, a new science was needed. 

The logic of science, one might briefly observe, needs to bracket away the 
discourse on origins in order to claim its own legitimacy. Science cannot lose 
itself in a discourse that is, by its very nature, infinitely regressive (Derrida; 
McDonald). The search for origins is "an endeavor condemned to endless 
repetition because the 'origin' is 'always already' inhabited by the search for 
itself (Gans ix). But can science ever evade this moment of regression? Is not 
there, in the famous doubt that originates Descartes's science, a prior "search" 
for the doubt itself? "Renato delle Carte certamente I'avrebbe riconosciuto, se 
I'avesse avvertito dentro la stessa dubitazione che fa del suo essere" (Vico, 
"Riprensione" 713)! Can then science ever escape its own origin in language, in 
the question, rhetorical or not, that originates it? 

Science — Cartesian linguistics and Port-Royalist grammar — had 
dismissed the question of the origin of language as irrelevant for the purpose of 
"natural philosophy" (Chovillet). However, the fact remained that science had to 
use that very language to whose origin it remained blind. The definition of a 
scientific law or the very demonstration of a mathematical theorem are as much a 
matter of syllogisms and enthymemes as they are of algebra (Goetsch 49-87). 
And while that same science aimed at the purity of a formal logic that could 
eliminate the imprecision of language, was not language still re-entering formal 
logic from the back door of its questions and answers? Was not Descartes's 
cogito a metaphor that transported, as the Dignita LXIII has it, "da' corpi e dalle 
proprieta dei corpi a significare le cose della mente" and of the mathematical 
method? Was not Galileo Galilei's Dialogo sopra i due massimi sistemi del 
mondo of 1632, after all, a dialogue in the most classical of rhetorical traditions? 

Vice's raising of the question of the origin of language thus seems to me 
central in forming the spirit and anxiety of the Scienza nuova. My stress on 
origin rather than on beginnings and endings does not claim, however, any 
originality by itself. Vice's handling of the question of origin has its own 
scholarly tradition (Bedani, Fano, Tagliacozzo). The same can be said of my 
focus on rhetoric (Giuliani), which, as Apel has argued, places Vico in a 
humanistic tradition which equates civilization and humanity with nothing else 
than eloquence. The specific question of the origin of language, however, has 
scarcely been discussed from the point of view of rhetoric. If, on the one hand, 
Benedetto Croce dismissed the whole problem as badly proposed, imaginary, 
and insoluble, Anglo-American scholarship, though interested in the topic, is 
driven more by a psycholinguistic interest than by a rhetorical one (Danesi). 
However, Vice's "discovery" of origins coincides, quite directly, with his 

20 Roberto Maria Dainotto 

intuition of a rhetorical nature of language — or, put differently, with the idea 
that language originates as/through rhetorical figures: metaphor {PrincipJ, §404- 
05), metonymy and synecdoche (§406-07), and, finally, irony (§408). More 
interestingly for us, this origin of language is for Vico not a fact that science can 
study and analyze, but a theme — what Rousseau will later call a "hypothesis" 
— that only rhetoric itself can articulate. 

Through the theme of origins, a theme which leads to probabilities more 
than to objective facts, Vico then tries to imagine his own nouvelle rhetorique 
(Giuliani). While refusing an idea of rhetoric as pure ornament, or as mere 
formalism (Crifo xxiv), not only does Vico restitute to rhetoric its access to 
Truth (Grassi 5). Moreover, he gives to the "probable" that rhetoric is able to 
articulate the task of founding the "certain" (Grassi 12-14) on which science can 

We might need to open, at this point, a brief parenthesis on the question of 
Vico's new rhetoric. Verene (1981) and Goetsch read Vico as a moment of 
recuperation of the Aristotelian rhetoric of the topica and the enthymeme. 
However, I am not quite sure that a return to Aristotle (even the "Aristotle" that 
Vico might have constructed for himself) could lend Vico the needed answer that 
Plato, after the return from Vatolla to Naples, had ceased to offer. What 
interested Aristotle (and Plato himself) about rhetoric was its ability, through 
dialectics, syllogism, and enthymeme, to achieve exactitude. As Hegel noticed, it 
is precisely with Aristotle that the "poetry" of existence (Vico's heroic age) turns 
into a "prose" of the world, namely, logic. And as Heidegger added, it is with 
Aristotle that rhetoric stops being the attribute of the virtuous man and becomes 
exactitude, precision, and certainty: orthotes. The return to the origin — or its 
"divination" — which marks the entire Scienza nuova might then be more 
properly imagined as a return to the origin of philosophy, which is neither Plato 
(unable, as we have seen, to answer the Cartesianism that sweeps the "new" 
Naples) nor Aristotle. This origin is, rather, Socrates himself, that pre-Platonic 
Socrates, to whom recent scholarship is turning again (Sini 35ff.), and for whom 
the ethical justice of discourse and rhetoric, not its certitude, was of determining 

For Socrates, what is important is to know myself, not the apodeictic 
certainty that I am because I think. It is not important for him to know within 
which category I can be defined, but who I am as an ethical being. What is 
important, to put it differently, is to learn what virtue and wisdom are, not to 
come to a definition of such terms, but to be virtuous and wise. It might not be 
irrelevant, in this context, to remind my reader that the very end of the Scienza 
nuova closes exactly on the hope that the book will teach its own reader not how 
to define things, but how to become pious and wise: 

Insomma, da tutto cio che si e in quest'opera ragionato, e da finalmente conchiudersi che 
questa Scienza porta indivisibilmente seco lo studio della pieta, e che, se non siesi pio. 

Vico 's Beginnings and Ends: Variations on the Theme 2 1 

non si puo davvero essere saggio. 


Vico, like Socrates, talks about being "good," not methodically exact. He 
does that at a moment in which the entire encyclopedic project of the West 
founds itself on the exactitude of the proposition, measured against the thing. 

Whereas Descartes, taking his cue from Aristotle, sees rhetoric and language 
as some subjective accident on the way to the certain and clear definition of the 
thing, Vico's irony (Goetsch), like Socrates's, hypothesizes the "origin" of all 
knowledge, concepts, categories, and ideas in a rhetorical language. If human 
passions are the same for everybody, but different are the words from one people 
to another, then language is convention, and not nature. If language is 
convention, it is therefore superfluous to the understanding and definition of the 
natural thing. But this is Aristotle, or, if you will, Descartes. The following is 
instead Vico: 

Delle lingue volgari egli e stato ricevuto con troppo di buona fede da tutti i filologi 
ch'elleno significasser a placito. [. . .] i grammatici, abbattutisi in gran numero di 
vocaboli che danno idee confiise e indistinte delle cose, non sappiendone le origini 1. . .] 
per dar pace alia loro ignoranza, stabilirono universalmente la massima che le voci umane 
articolate significano a placito, e vi trassero Aristotile con Galeno ed altri filosofi [. . .]. 

{Phncipj §444) 

Yet, how is conventionalism (a placito) credible at all? Is not it, in Vico's 
ironic and Socratic terminology, just the fruit of an essential ignorance? If one 
has conventions, one must already have societies. And if one has societies, one 
must already have the laws that keep societies together. But how does one have 
laws without a language? "Come le nazioni, senza le leggi, possono trovarsi 
diggia fondate?" (PrincipJ §67). 

The ignorance of logic and scientific method has, therefore, to be 
denounced. Its own laws exist because a language pre-exists them. Its own logic 
is a language, a meta-physics that one cannot hypothesize if not as "Providence." 
Vico, like Socrates, but differently from Descartes, knows that he does not know; 
his science is "incerta, informe, oscura" (PrincipJ §41). He does not want to "dar 
pace alia [sua] ignoranza" with some axiomatic certainty. He makes his 
ignorance, instead, his own strength, because it is ignorance that "partorisce la 
scienza" (Principj §189), because it is only by knowing the impossibility to 
know what originates a science that the latter does not become dogma. Yet, a 
(Cartesian) science that lives in the optimism of certain knowledge can never 
grasp this ftindamental aporia. A different science, a new science, is needed for 
that. It is a rhetorical science, which sharpens its weapons by rehearsing on the 
beautiful theme of the origin of (its own) language. 

22 Roberto Maria Dainotto 
2. The Heyday of a Question 

Although the problem of the origin of language had been raised before the 
eighteenth century, it is only in the years around the publications of Giambattista 
Vico's three editions of the Scienza Nuova (1725, 1730, and 1744) that the 
question acquires unprecedented relevance. The discovery of new linguistic 
systems made by the Jesuits in their voyages to America and China, the 
academic institutionalization of Egyptology, which begun about 1715 with Tuki 
and Wilkins's dissertations on hieroglyphs, and the renewed interest in 
etymologies launched by Leibniz, had increased both the interest in the study of 
specific languages, and the concern for the universal foundation and original 
cause of language in general (Aarsleff 84-100; Iversen 88-123; Kristeva 172). 
Whereas the biblical dogma of the common origins of both humankind and 
language had sustained Renaissance theories of language (Aarsleff 178-98; 
Dubois 17-92), Egyptology and the Jesuits' reports from the new world were 
now challenging the very foundation of such certitudes. Isaac de la Peyrere, for 
instance, had debated in 1655 the thesis that the biblical Flood had been but 
localized in specific areas of Palestine. He could also conclude that the existence 
of black (African), red (American), and yellow (Asiatic) races proved, beyond 
any reasonable doubt, that there was no "original" race to inhabit the world 
before the Flood. Discoveries such as these meant, among other things, that it 
was wrong to convert to Christianity peoples that were not, in origin. Christian at 
all (Rossi 153). The world was becoming a coexistence of relative differences, a 
multiculturalism of sorts. 

It is not surprising, in this view, that the notion of an original language 
started to be raised, for instance, by Leibniz, in order to reconstitute or defend a 
challenged theocentric, metaphysical system. His Brevis designatio 
meditationem de originibus dictus potissimus ex indicium linguarum, published 
in 1710, attempted a first reconciliation of religion with the contemporary 
rationalistic fashion (Diels). An original language, a lingua adamitica, was for 
Leibniz at the root of all languages, and the original state of linguistic grace 
could be found again by creating a purely rational, clear language. The origin of 
language was, then, a topos through which one could articulate the truthfulness 
of one doctrine, and its reconcilability with another one. 

The Catholic Church was quick to capitalize on Leibniz's theses, and 
canonized its own interpretation of the Tower of Babel myth by restricting, 
however, the limits of orthodoxy (Bedani). In the meantime, the rise of so-called 
"Cartesian linguistics" (Chomsky; Chovillet; Hildebrandt) was trying to dismiss 
the question of the origin of language as irrelevant for the purposes of a "natural 
philosophy" of language. Yet, once again, the theme of original language, even 
when deprived of "scientific" importance, was handled as a topos to prove or 
disprove something — in this case, the superiority of a science dealing with 
observable facts rather than with origins. 

Vico's Beginnings and Ends: Variations on the Theme 23 

For eighteenth-century writers, fascinated with the wider world open by 
conquest and explorations, the question of the origin of language was eminently 
useful to discuss the origin and essence of society, culture, and its institutions 
(Cornelius). Already John Locke, though fundamentally disinterested in the 
question of the origin of language, promoted, in the Essay Concerning Human 
Understanding of 1690, the thesis of a contractual origin of speech. Interestingly 
enough, an allegedly uninteresting question turned out to be a useful topos to 
discuss and claim the contractual origin of society. The categorization of "man" 
as an animal with speech, still valid in texts as varied as Rousseau's Essai sur 
I'origine des langues and Buffon's Histoire naturelle, becomes doxa by mid- 
century (Auroux 1973, 1979; Wells). It serves in turn to convince audiences of 
opposing theses such as, on the one hand, the goodness of nature, or, on the 
other, the perfection of society. 

However we classify the various eighteenth-century treatments of the theme 
of the origin of language, we soon discover that each approach is a matter of 
rhetoric. Locke could certainly not demonstrate the contractual origin of 
language — a dogmatic assumption indeed — but he did not hesitate to 
denounce the "fantasies" of the "naturalists" who could have questioned such an 
assumption. Rousseau's attack on academies and learned societies constructs his 
discourse with deep irony about the possibility of a literal belief in the theses that 
Rousseau himself puts forward (Nicolini). And when Herder (Piovani) discussed 
the Sturm und Drang of the original language, he engaged an aesthetic sense of 
style and a rhetoric immediately opposed to any French classical or Cartesian 

It is in this intellectual climate that Vico gives a new twist to the debate 
concerning the origin of language. If some of his conclusions are rather in tune 
with his age (for instance, the fact that institutions and languages are intimately 
related), others are radically new. Theses such as the beginning of language as a 
written expression, or its originally metaphorical and poetical essence, were, for 
instance, nothing less than original. However, more than what Vico says about 
the origin of language, what is striking for its originality is the way Vico says it. 
The tone of ironic sprezzatura with which Vico demolishes the theses of his 
adversaries is indeed original in its own right. Some examples: John Marsham 
"vuol provare" the plain absurdity (for Vico) that the Egyptians preceded the 
Israelites in knowledge and civilization (Principj §44)! Hermann Wits "si 
tacque" of anything that contradicted his theses (§44)! The whole literature on 
hieroglyphs and ideograms is a "libraria dell'impostura" (§84)! The histories of 
so many nations are "boria delle nazioni," and the thinking of antiquity is often a 
"boriade'dotti" (§127-28)! 

Execratio, concessio, dubitatio are the rhetorical procedures that Vico 
adopts when facing contrary opinion. To these one can add the rather impertinent 
use of antonomasia: "Gli uomini che non sanno il vero delle cose procurano 
d'attenersi al certo" (§137). His method, Socratic rather than Cartesian, is that of 

24 Roberto Maria Dainotto 

irony. Vico tiie eiron, "that who interrogates" the dotti (pretending he does not 
know), flips the adversarial thesis into its opposite: "Questa stessa degnita 
rovescia tutte I'idee che si son finora avute" (§146) — permutatio ex contrario 
ducta. The form of this irony is, more often than not, that of antiphrasis: "Quindi 
veda Bayle se possan esser di fatto nazioni nel mondo senza veruna cognizione 

Vico, in other words, recognizes in the question of the origin of language 
the latency of a rhetorical topos — or the topos of the latency of rhetoric tout 
court — that cannot be avoided, and that must be faced, instead, with all the 
instruments of a figural language. In this lies his originality. It is not enough to 
claim the rhetorical origin of language. What is necessary, in the Age of Science, 
is to flaunt the inescapable rhetorical nature of ail logic, including one's own: 

"Logica" viene detta dalla voce logos, che prima e propriamente significo "favola", che si 
trasporto in itaiiano "favella" — e la favola de' greci si disse anco mythos, onde vien a' 
latini "mutus" [. . .] onde mythos significa e "idea" e "parola" [. . .] per lo che logos o 
"verbum" significo anche "fatto" agli ebrei, ed a' greci significo anche "cosa" [. . .]. 


It is not only that Cartesian "logic" has its origin in "myth" and "fable"; 
even its "facts" and "things" are, in the last analysis, "ideas" and "words." To 
say, as formal logic does, that if A=B and B=C, then A=C is true — but only 
within a mythos that can accept the paradox that A may be equal to C. Outside of 
this mythos one could only say, as Parmanides claimed, that A=A, which 
amounts to saying nothing. What is "true" and "a fact" is true and factual only 
within the mythos, the word, that articulates it. Or, to put it in Vico's own words, 
geometry constructs its own objects through its own mythos made of measures. It 
does know, in the end, its reality. Yet, the reality does not have, in itself, "punti, 
linee, superficie e figure" {Principj §349). 

The Scienza nuova thus presents itself as a science, above all, of limits. It is 
reason itself — the very deus of Descartes — that must be limited. This limit, in 
turn, is nothing less than rhetoric, understood here in a twofold sense: as that 
which articulates words into a coherent mythos, and as that which can 
convincingly communicate its truths to the "senso comune" {Principj §141-42) 
of humankind: "questi deon esser i confmi dell'umana ragione. E chiunque se ne 
voglia trar fliori, egli veda di non trarsi fiiori da tutta I'umanita" {Principj §360). 

At any rate, this science of limits is a descent into the origin of philosophical 
reflection itself It begins and ends with a "know thyself which is now 
addressed not only to the individual, but to the science itself To know means 
here to think the limits of any science. But can science think its limit? Can logic 
think its language? If logic is the ground of knowledge, with what knowledge did 
Aristotle articulate his logic? Where do we start reading Aristotle, from the 
Organon, or from the Topical Are logical categories the forms in which things 

Vico 's Beginnings and Ends: Variations on the Theme 25 

are? Or are they the forms of the language that utter and define things? Can there 
be a meta-discourse or meta-science — a science, that is, "che medita questa 
Scienza" and tells it "a se stess[a]" (Principj §349)? The questions are insoluble 
for a science — Descartes 's — that uses the instruments of language without 
knowing it. No doubt, they may remain insoluble for the new science as well. 
Yet, one advantage for the new science is obvious: "[. . .] questa Scienza [. . .] 
dell'umane idee, sulla quale sembra dover procedere la metafisica della mente 
umana" (Principj §347) is conscious of its own ignorance. It does know that an 
aporetic "metaphysics" of the human mind must precede its investigation of the 
human mind. It is, in this sense, an "arte critica" which leads itself, in an infinite 
regression, to yet another critical science "pur metafisica" (Principj §348). 

Whether this "metaphysic" is language (Frankel), mythopoiesis (Stam), 
thinking (Gentile), or the truly divine (yet, whether "Jove" or "God," the numen 
is still a nomen) is of a lesser importance here. What matters is that science and 
logic have not — cannot — break away from rhetoric and language. A "radical 
separation" (Brunyeat) of the two is impossible. Because it is not simply that in 
the beginning was the word, and now, diachronically in the end, it is logic. The 
word "rhetoric" is not a beginning, but an origin; it is an ethical and eternal ideal, 
what "dovette, deve, dovra" (Principj §349). In the origin, beginning and end are 
the same. So that, at the origin, humankind begins by its end: "da 'humando', 
'seppellire', prima e piu propriamente vien detta [dai latini] 'humanitas'" 
(Principj §\2). 

, Duke University 

26 Roberto Maria Dainotto 

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Aldo Nemesio 

La definizione deU'incipit 

Le prime parole dei romanzi italiani deH'Otto-Novecento non presentano 
caratteristiche particolari rispetto al resto del testo. In altre parole, se leggiamo 
un incipit narrativo senza sapere da quale parte del testo proviene, di solito non 
abbiamo modo di sapere se e un incipit oppure no. La narrativa italiana 
deirOttocento e del Novecento non segue schemi rigidi all'inizio: qui possiamo 
trovare materiali molto diversi, come dialoghi, descrizioni, commenti, 
valutazioni, azioni improvvise. Non c'e una specificita nelle caratteristiche 
testuali degli incipit narrativi nel periodo preso in esame. 

Questa considerazione ha diverse conseguenze perche, in un progetto di 
ricerca, e necessaria una defmizione dell'oggetto da studiare. Nel nostro caso, 
per esempio, se due ricercatori analizzano 1' incipit dello stesso testo e il primo si 
occupa delle prime dieci righe, mentre il secondo analizza le prime tre pagine, 
sara molto difficile paragonare i risultati dei due lavori, perche in realta i due 
studiosi si stanno occupando di oggetti diversi che harmo soltanto una parte in 
comune. Nella narrativa italiana degli ultimi due secoli non e possibile trovare 
un oggetto distinguibile in modo tale da poter dire con una certa sicurezza che si 
tratta di un incipit: gli incipit narrativi si identificano soltanto sulla base del fatto 
che si trovano all'inizio dei loro testi. Quello che hanno in comune e soltanto // 
tipo di azione che i lettori devono compiere quando li leggono per la prima 
volta: i lettori li leggono come incipit. 

Una porzione di testo e riconoscibile come incipit non per sue 
caratteristiche, ma soltanto per il luogo dove e collocata. Sulla base di queste 
osservazioni, sembrerebbe necessario concludere che uno studio deU'incipit 
narrativo nella letteratura italiana dell'Otto-Novecento non e un progetto 
promettente. Tuttavia se, da un lato, I'incipit non e riconoscibile in quanto 
oggetto testuale con sue specificita, d'altro la lettura di un incipit richiede 
comportamenti cognitivi particolari, in parte diversi da quelli prodotti nel corso 
della lettura del resto del testo, perche il lettore, quando inizia un testo, 
attraversa una fase particolarmente complessa, per il fatto che deve fare ampio 
uso delle informazioni presenti nella sua memoria per ricostruire il mondo 
presentato nel testo. 

Se, nei testi esaminati, I'incipit narrativo non puo essere descritto come una 
parte determinata della superficie del testo, se I'incipit narrativo non fmisce in 

' Parlo di quest! argomenti nel libro Le prime parole. L'uso dell ''"incipit" nella 
narrativa dell 'Italia unita. 

Annali d'ltalianistica 18 (2000) 

30 Aldo Nemesio 

modo chiaro dopo un certo numero o un certo tipo di parole, e necessario 
ridefinire I'oggetto di un progetto di ricerca sull'incipit narrativo, passando da 
uno studio della superficie del testo ad uno studio del comportamento dei lettori: 
in questo modo e possibile trovare caratteristiche specifiche riguardanti la lettura 

La lettura dell'incipit di un testo puo essere paragonata alia lettura delle 
regole di un nuovo gioco al quale i lettori stanno per partecipare: I'incipit 
comunica ai lettori — di solito in modo indiretto — che cosa si possono 
aspettare e qual e il tipo di operazioni che probabilmente dovranno compiere. 
Leggendo le prime parole di un testo narrativo, il lettore incomincia ad attivare, 
nella sua memoria, [frame e gli script^ che sono necessari perche possa ottenere 
informazioni necessarie alia comprensione del testo che e di fronte ai suoi occhi. 
La comprensione del testo avviene in seguito all'incontro tra i segni del testo e 
la competenza linguistica e culturale del lettore. 

La parola "lettura", come la parola "gioco", e in realta un termine generico 
che include atti tra di loro diversi. La lettura dell'incipit attiva alcune parti della 
memoria a lungo termine dei lettori, richiamando informazioni sul mondo: in 
questo modo, e inevitabile che lettori diversi producano effetti di lettura 
differenti, basandosi su diversi modelli di cio che viene narrato. II testo viene 
cosi "concretizzato" in modo diverso in diversi atti di lettura. Dopo una prima 
fase, nella quale si pongono interrogativi a proposito del testo al quale si stanno 
avvicinando, i lettori incominciano a porsi le domande che la loro 
concretizzazione del testo suggerisce che devono porsi. Potremmo dire che a 
questo punto essi sono "aH'intemo" del testo: non stanno piu leggendo le regole 
di un gioco, ma hanno incominciato a giocarlo. 

E importante osservare che, poiche gli incipit attivano informazioni che 
vengono dalla memoria a lungo termine dei lettori, e sicuramente inadeguato 
limitare la ricerca a informazioni che provengono dall'introspezione dello 
studioso del testo: e molto improbabile che lettori normali compiano le stesse 
operazioni che compiono i ricercatori esperti in studi testuali. II procedimento di 
ricerca letteraria tradizionale — consistente nella lettura del testo da studiare, 
insieme ad eventuali altri testi storico-critici che riguardano lo stesso argomento 
— qui non e piu sufficiente. E necessario studiare anche i lettori. Gran parte 
della ricerca testuale contemporanea, basandosi principalmente sulla lettura del 
testo da parte dello studioso, produce risultati incompleti: gli studiosi limitano 
I'oggetto dello studio alia loro concretizzazione del testo che stanno 
analizzando. In questo modo sappiamo poco di come flinzionano i testi, mentre 
veniamo a conoscere qualcosa a proposito degli studiosi, che pero sono lettori 

^ Possiamo tradurre il termine frame con "cornice", "struttura", "ordinamento" o 
"quadro di riferimento" e il termine script con "sceneggiatura" o "copione". Si vedano: 
Bara; Corno e Pozzo (a c. di); Reed. 

La definizione dell 'incipit 3 1 

molto atipici. Negli studi testuali, I'introspezione e un metodo di ricerca molto 

La lunghezza dell'incipit di un testo — cioe la durata delle operazioni 
iniziali di lettura — puo essere diversa in lettori diversi, perch6 dipende dalla 
competenza, oltre che dall'attenzione e dall'interesse, dei singoli lettori. Quindi 
la definizione dell'incipit di un testo richiede Tintroduzione di una tipologia di 
lettori, con la descrizione degli effetti probabili dei loro atti di lettura. La durata 
di questa operazione — cioe la parte di testo che ciascun tipo di lettore legge 
come fase iniziale — puo essere diversa in lettori diversi: non e possibile 
delimitare 1' incipit narrativo come una parte fissa del testo, perche la superficie 
del testo porta ad azioni di lettura diverse in lettori diversi. 

Una volta che e stato determinato lo scopo di un progetto di ricerca, non e 
facile decidere come e possibile raggiungerlo, cioe quali dati significativi e 
realisticamente possibile raccogliere in modo affidabile. Nel nostro caso, 
abbiamo bisogno di informazioni sui processi cognitivi messi in opera durante la 
lettura dell'incipit di un testo. II lettore, quando inizia un testo, attraversa una 
fase particolarmente complessa, perche deve fare ampio uso delle informazioni 
presenti nella sua memoria per ricostruire il mondo presentato nel testo. In 
questo caso, come avremo informazioni su cosa accade nell'elaborazione 
testuale del lettore? In questo esperimento ho provato a raccogliere dati sulle 
interruzioni della linearita della lettura, cioe sui momenti nei quali non si passa 
con gli occhi da una parola a quella seguente, ma si fa una pausa o si dirige lo 
sguardo altrove (verso parole precedenti, parole seguenti o al di fuori del testo), 
sulla base dell'ipotesi che, quando si interrompe la linearita dell'atto di lettura, 
questo puo indicare un mutamento dell'attivita di elaborazione del testo 
compiuta dal soggetto. 

A questo punto si potrebbe obiettare che qui non si sta parlando di studi 
testuali, ma di studi sulla lettura. Ma si tratterebbe di un'obiezione debole, 
perche // solo oggetto di studio testuale che possiamo avere e costituito 
dall 'esito di un atto di lettura: non possiamo analizzare un testo senza leggerlo e 
I'atto della lettura mette in gioco la nostra memoria a lungo termine. Quando 
analizziamo un testo, in primo luogo lo leggiamo e I'oggetto della nostra analisi 
e costituito dall 'esito del nostro atto di lettura. Per questa ragione, per evitare di 
limitare la nostra analisi all'esito di una soltanto tra le tante operazioni di lettura 
possibili — e in questo caso un'operazione molto atipica, perche prodotta da una 
persona che si occupa di testi per professione — e opportuno raccogliere dati da 
una campionatura che sia piu rappresentativa della reale popolazione di lettori. 

In questo articolo descrivo un esperimento nel quale ho studiato I'atto di 
lettura di testi di tipo diverso, prendendo in esame la parte iniziale di otto testi: 
un romanzo realistico {Tre operai di Carlo Bemari); un romanzo che fa uso 
dello stile del racconto poliziesco {A ciascuno il suo di Leonardo Sciascia); un 
romanzo di tipo fantastico (// cavaliere inesistente di Italo Calvino); un libro di 
musica {Breve storia della musica di Massimo Mila); un libro di filosofia {Linee 

32 Aldo Nemesio 

di storia della filosofia di Nicola Abbagnano); un libro di storia (Storia 
dell 'Italia moderna di Giorgio Candeloro); un romanzo che presenta un lungo 
monologo interiore (// male oscuro di Giuseppe Berto); uno scritto di tipo 
sperimentale (Nuovo commento di Giorgio Manganelli). 

Ricordiamo che il testo di Bemari e ambientato in una fabbrica e racconta i 
primi giomi di lavoro di un operaio; il testo di Sciascia racconta la consegna di 
una lettera anonima, contenente una minaccia di morte. Nell'inizio del romanzo 
di Calvino, Carlomagno passa in rivista i paladini dell'esercito francese; tra di 
essi, uno ha la caratteristica di "non esistere": si tratta, appunto, del "cavaliere 
inesistente". II testo di Mila parla della musica dell'antica Grecia; il saggio di 
Abbagnano e un'introduzione alia storia della filosofia; il testo di Candeloro 
introduce alia storia politica italiana degli anni che vanno dal 1939 al 1945. II 
testo di Berto e un monologo interiore nel quale il narrante parla del suo 
rapporto con la figura patema; il testo di Manganelli fa uso di un linguaggio 
decisamente complesso sia a livello sintattico che a livello lessicale. 

Per I'esperimento ho raccolto le risposte di 224 studenti universitari: 112 di 
sesso maschile, provenienti da una facolta di scienze applicate (Facolta di 
Ingegneria), che chiamero "Gruppo A" e 112 studentesse, provenienti da facolta 
umanistiche (Facolta di Lettere e Filosofia, Scienze della Formazione e Lingue e 
Letterature Straniere), che chiamero "Gruppo B".^ L'eta media era di 23 anni nel 
primo gruppo e 21,4 nel secondo. 

II test e stato effettuato in normali classi universitarie nel corso delle lezioni. A 
ciascuno dei soggetti e stata data la copia della parte iniziale di uno degli otto 
testi, spiegando che si trattava dell'inizio di un testo e che il test aveva come 
scopo lo studio del fiinzionamento della lettura. Per decisione arbitraria, ho 
scelto segmenti di testo di circa due pagine e mezzo. Non e stata comunicata 
nessuna altra informazione, come il titolo, il nome dell'autore o I'armo di 
pubblicazione. Veniva precisato che il test non aveva scopi valutativi. Ai 
soggetti e stato chiesto di leggere il testo a velocita normale e di fare un segno 
nella pagina ad ogni interruzione della linearita della lettura, indipendentemente 
dalla causa che 1' aveva prodotta: il segno doveva essere collocato nel punto 
esatto nel quale avevano interrotto la lettura. L'esperimento non aveva limiti di 
tempo: i soggetti potevano leggere alia velocita che preferivano. 

Alia fine, quando vedevo che tutti i soggetti avevano finito di leggere, 
chiedevo di guardare i segni fatti sui fogli e di cercare di ricordare le cause delle 
loro interruzioni di lettura. Venivano proposti sei tipi di interruzione: "A" 
("avanti") se avevano interrotto la linearita della lettura per guardare parole che 
seguivano; "I" ("indietro") se avevano guardato parole precedenti; "R" 

^ I dati sono stati raccolti a Torino nei giorni 11,12 gennaio. 25, 26, 31 marzo, 14, 18, 
29 ottobre e 3 novembre 1999. Ringrazio Edoardo Barbisio, Daniela Caller!, Aldo 
Canova, Paolo Ferraris, Vincenzo Ferraro, Carla Marello, Mario Pozzi, Luisa Ricaldone, 
Alberto Tenconi e Marco Vanni per la collaborazione. 

La definizione dell'incipit 33 

("riposo") se avevano interrotto la lettura per riposarsi; "E" ("estemo") se erano 
stati interrotti dal rumore o da altre cause esteme; "F" ("fantasticheria") se 
avevano smesso di leggere per fantasticare su cio che stavano leggendo; "?" se 
nessuna delle ragioni precedenti sembrava adeguata o se non si ricordavano. 
Chiedevo quindi di scrivere la lettera appropriata ("A", "I", "R", "E", "F") o il 
punto interrogative in modo evidente vicino a ciascun segno. Per facilitare il 
lavoro, ai soggetti veniva dato un foglio contenente le cinque lettere con il loro 

II foglio conteneva anche tre domande. Nella prima veniva chiesto se 
avevano gia letto il brano in precedenza. La seconda era una scala a cinque 
modalita, che chiedeva se avrebbero voluto continuare a leggere il romanzo 
(5 = moltissimo; 1 = niente). Inoltre ai soggetti veniva chiesto di fomire 
informazioni sul contenuto delle pause di tipo "F" ("fantasticheria"): il 
questionario conteneva un punto, intitolato "Lista", nel quale ai soggetti veniva 
chiesto di numerare le loro fantasticherie e di riassumere molto brevemente, in 
una o due righe, il contenuto di ciascuna di esse. II test era anonimo: i soggetti 
dovevano indicare solo I'eta, il sesso e il titolo di studio posseduto. Non sono 
state utilizzate le risposte dei soggetti che hanno dichiarato di aver gia letto il 
loro testo, perche la rilettura presenta caratteristiche evidentemente diverse 
dall'atto di prima lettura. 

II test si proponeva di evitare il rischio di disturbare I'atto di lettura in modo 
pesante, rendendolo innaturale. La sola operazione che i soggetti dovevano 
compiere durante la lettura consisteva nel fare alcuni segni sui fogli, 
un'operazione non molto diversa dalla pratica abituale della sottolineatura. I 
soggetti hanno fatto una media di 10,29 segni in due pagine e mezzo, cioe circa 
quattro segni per pagina. Per studiare la distribuzione delle interruzioni nel corso 
della lettura, nei nostri conteggi abbiamo poi diviso i brani in tre parti di 
lunghezza il piu possibile simile, prendendo come punto di divisione la fine di 
un capoverso e abbiamo calcolato la media del numero di parole per 
interruzione, in modo da rendere possibile il confronto tra parti di lunghezza 
diversa. ^ 

II metodo e simile a quello gia applicato in un esperimento di Steen Larsen 
e Uffe Seilman, che hanno proposto una raccolta dei dati divisa in due fasi: in 
una fase concomitante (durante la lettura del testo) i soggetti fanno un segno sul 
testo per indicare un particolare evento di lettura (I'evento che costituisce 
I'oggetto della ricerca) e in una fase successiva (al termine della lettura), il 
segno — insieme al testo letto — viene usato come sonda per richiamare alia 

" Nel testo di Bemari la "prima parte" comprende 327 parole, la "seconda parte" 383 
parole, la "terza parte" 416 parole. Ecco il numero di parole per ciascuna parte negli altri 
testi: Sciascia (305, 332, 524); Calvino (394, 356, 398); Mila (299, 455, 404); Abbagnano 
(315, 340, 494); Candeloro (285, 329, 406); Berto (549, 330, 430); Manganelli (372, 241, 

34 Aldo Nemesio 

memoria, in modo presumibilmente affidabile, i dettagli dell'evento di lettura 
studiato. Si tratta di un procedimento che cerca di ottenere una descrizione il piu 
possibile fedele dell'evento studiato senza pero disturbare I'atto di lettura. In 
questo modo il processo di lettura non viene disturbato in modo pesante, perche 
leggere facendo segni sul testo (per esempio sottolineando) e un comportamento 
abituale. D'altro lato, nella fase successiva, la presenza di un segno sul testo, 
insieme al testo stesso, dovrebbe richiamare alia memoria in modo attendibile 
I'evento che ha causato il segno. E importante osservare che questo metodo non 
richiede I'uso di macchinari o di procedimenti particolarmente complessi o 
costosi. Si tratta di uno dei procedimenti di ricerca piu flinzionali, affidabili e 
facili da eseguire tra quelli attualmente disponibili. 

Osserviamo pero che anche questo procedimento presenta alcuni limiti. In 
primo luogo, il metodo si fonda sulle risposte dei lettori, che possono capire in 
modo diverso, decidere di mentire, o rispondere in modo casuale per 
disinteresse. Per questa ragione i dati possono essere poco affidabili e, 
soprattutto, non commensurabili tra di loro. A questo limite si puo cercare di 
porre rimedio aumentando il numero dei rispondenti, nella speranza che le 
differenze si distribuiscano e si bilancino: pero non c'e nessuna certezza che cio 
avvenga. In secondo luogo, I'avere indicate, all'inizio del test, un fenomeno da 
segnalare durante la lettura, puo aumentare la sensibilita dei soggetti al 
fenomeno stesso, in modo da incrementare, in modo artificiale, il numero delle 
segnalazioni. In terzo luogo, questo metodo non sembra idoneo per cogliere 
eventi particolarmente complessi nel corso della lettura di testi non brevi. In 
questo caso, la presenza di un segno puo sicuramente aiutare la memoria, ma e 
insufficiente se i segni sono molti e se ciascuno di essi si riferisce a informazioni 
complesse: al ricordo di ci6 che e accaduto nel momento della lettura possono 
sostituirsi una spiegazione o un riassunto molto incompleto prodotti 

Inoltre, nel prendere in esame il rapporto tra le risposte dei maschi e quelle 
delle femmine, dobbiamo ricordare che tutti i soggetti di sesso maschile 
provengono da facolta di scienze applicate e tutti i soggetti di sesso femminile 
da facolta umanistiche. Nel paragonare il comportamento dei due sessi la 
variabile del genere sessuale e confusa con quella riguardante il tipo di 
formazione dei rispondenti: non possiamo quindi sapere se le differenze di 
comportamento tra i due gruppi sono dovute al sesso degli studenti o al fatto che 
la lettura di un testo e un atto molto piu comune per gli studenti delle facolta 
umanistiche. Non possiamo quindi, per il momento, giungere a conclusioni a 
questo proposito. 

La Tabella 1 presenta la media della distribuzione delle pause negli otto 
testi. Le pause di tipo "I" sono state di gran lunga le piu frequenti in tutti e due i 
gruppi (44,82% in totale), circa quattro volte la percentuale di quelle di tipo "A" 
(10,28%). Leggendo un incipit, il lettore sposta spesso i suoi occhi indietro per 
riorganizzare la sua percezione del testo. Probabilmente deve rivedere 

La definizione dell'incipit 35 

informazioni precedenti, di tipo sintattico o semantico, per poterle elaborare in 
relazione alle nuove informazioni che il testo propone nelle parole che seguono: 
per esempio, le parole seguenti possono mostrare che la precedente percezione 
dell'organizzazione sintattica del testo era errata, o che una parola gia letta e 
stata interpretata in modo non adatto. E anche possibile che il lettore debba 
cercare nelle parole precedenti del testo delle informazioni che ha trascurato, 
perche sembravano poco importanti, ma che ora le parti seguenti del testo 
sembrano richiedere.^ 

Notiamo anche che il "Gruppo B" (studentesse di facolta umanistiche) 
presenta una percentuale piu elevata di pause di tipo "F" (9,44% rispetto a 
6,71%). I membri del "Gruppo B" hanno ricevuto una formazione specifica che 
riguarda la lettura di testi: e possibile che questo generi una maggiore attitudine 
alia fantasticheria nel corso della lettura. 

Tabella 1 

Media delle interruzioni della linearita di lettura negli otto testi 

Gruppo A Gruppo B Due gruppi 

A(avanti): 1,26(11,13%) 0,86 (9,25%) 1,06(10,28%) 

I(indietro): 4,92 (43,49%) 4,30 (46,44%) 4,61 (44,82%) 

R(riposo): 2,46 (21,70%) 1,88 (20,23%) 2,17 (21,04%) 

E(esterno): 0,78 (6,87%) 0,64 (6,94%) 0,71 (6,90%) 

F (fantasticheria): 0,76 (6,71%) 0,88 (9,44%) 0,82 (7,94%) 

? (sconosciuto): 1,14(10,10%) 0,71 (7,71%) 0,93 (9,02%) 

Totale: 11,31 9,27 10,29 

Nota. II punto interrogative «?» comprende anche i casi in cui il soggetto non ha scritto nulla 
vicino al segno di interruzione. 

Vediamo ora i dati suddivisi a seconda del testo. La Tabella 2 indica che la 
prevalenza delle pause di tipo "I" e comune a tutti gli otto testi. E interessante 
vedere se le fantasticherie sono piu frequenti nei testi letterari rispetto alia 
saggistica. Osserviamo che probabilmente non e cosi: la percentuale di 
fantasticherie non e dovuta al tipo di testo, ma alia sua organizzazione e al suo 
argomento. Notiamo subito che un testo sperimentale come quello di Manganelli 
genera notevoli difficolta di lettura, che lo portano ad avere la percentuale piu 
alta — tra i testi esaminati — di pause di riposo e la percentuale piii bassa di 
fantasticherie. II testo di Berto (un monologo interiore nel quale il narrante parla 
del suo rapporto con il padre) presenta la percentuale piii elevata di pause di tipo 
"F", probabilmente perche I'argomento e particolarmente coinvolgente e porta il 

^ Questi dati confermano i risultati di un esperimento precedente, riguardante la lettura 
di Tre operai di Bemari, che ho presentato nell'articolo La ricerca empirica sul testo: 
riflessioni sul metodo. 

36 Aldo Nemesio 

lettore ad attivare ricordi della propria infanzia. II testo di storia (Candeloro) ha 
una percentuale piu alta di pause di tipo "F" rispetto al giallo (Sciascia). 

Tabella 2 

Media delle interruzioni della linearjta di lettura in ciascuno degli otto testi 






0,79 (8,24%) 

1,25 (14,23%) 

1,00 (10,65%) 

1,14 (8,47%) 


4,00 (41,95%) 

3,93 (44,72%) 

3,50 (37,26%) 

6,46 (47,88%) 


2,39 (25,09%) 

1,50 (17,07%) 

2,36 (25,10%) 

2,61 (19,31%) 


0,50 (5,24%) 

0,54 (6,10%) 

0,82 (8,75%) 

0,93 (6,88%) 


0,82 (8,61%) 

0,68 (7,72%) 

0,86 (9,13%) 

0,93 (6,88%) 


1,04 (10,86%) 

0,89 (10,16%) 

0,86 (9,13%) 

1,43 (10,58%) 











0,57 (6,48%) 

1,00 (11,81%) 

1,32 (11,82%) 

1,39 (11,02%) 


4,96 (56,28%) 

3,89 (45,99%) 

4,32 (38,66%) 

5,82 (46,05%) 


1,21 (13,77%) 

1,54 (18,14%) 

2,46 (22,04%) 

3.25 (25,71%) 


0,64 (7,29%) 

0,68 (8,02%) 

0,61 (5,43%) 

0,96 (7.63%) 


0,68 (7,69%) 

0,71 (8,44%) 

1,39 (12,46%) 

0,46 (3,67%) 


0,75 (8,50%) 

0,64 (7,59%) 

1,07 (9,58%) 

0,75 (5,93%) 






La Tabella 3 presenta la distribuzione delle interruzioni nelle tre parti degli otto 
testi. Le interruzioni della linearita di lettura sono state piu frequenti nella prima 
parte (una media di una interruzione ogni 91,77 parole negli otto testi), sono 
diminuite nella seconda parte (ogni 1 14,23 parole) e sono ancora diminuite nella 
terza parte (ogni 129,86 parole). Questo indica che, nella lettura delle prime 
parole di un testo, un lettore deve fermarsi piu frequentemente che nei segmenti 
seguenti. La prima parte di un incipit probabilmente richiede uno sforzo 
maggiore da parte del lettore che, non conoscendo ancora il significato generale 
del testo, deve probabilmente elaborare le stesse parole diverse volte: sono 
quindi necessarie piu interruzioni, per poter cercare informazioni nel testo e 
nella propria memoria. Soltanto nel caso del testo di Abbagnano troviamo un 
aumento delle pause nella seconda parte, subito seguito da un calo nella terza 
parte e nel caso del testo di Manganelli troviamo un aumento delle pause nella 
terza parte rispetto alia seconda. 

La definizione dell'incipit 37 

Tabella 3 

distrlbuzione delle interruzioni nelle tre parti degli otto testi 




Media delle 

Media delle 
parole per 

rispetto alia 
prima parte 


Media delle 
parole per 

rispetto alia 
prima parte 



I parte: 


3,18 102,88 




11 parte: 


3,21 119,16 






III parte: 


3,14 132,36 








9,54 118,08 






I parte: 


4,21 93,48 




II parte: 


2,71 131,16 






III parte: 


2,46 161,51 








9,39 122,22 






I parte: 


2,50 126,00 




II parte: 


3,36 101,28 






III parte: 


2,96 166,65 








8,82 130,35 






I parte: 


5,82 94,31 




II parte: 


2,32 142,15 






III parte: 


3,04 141,65 








11,18 117,10 





I parte: 


3,88 91,77 

II parte: 


3,03 114,23 


III parte: 


3,39 129,86 




10,29 110,92 

La Tabella 4 indica la distribuzione di ciascun tipo di interruzione nelle tre parti 
del testo. Notiamo che, mentre le pause di tipo "A", "I" e "R" sono diminuite, le 
pause di tipo "F" (fantasticheria) sono invece aumentate nel corso della lettura. 
Sembra quindi che, proseguendo nella lettura, i lettori tendano a fantasticare di 
piu: cio e probabilmente dovuto al fatto che, man mano che proseguono nella 

38 AldoNemesio 

lettura, si trovano ad aver attiwato frame e script che considerano soddisfacenti 
e, dedicando meno tempo a riorganizzare la loro percezione del testo — di qui il 
calo generale delle pause — possono concentrarsi su di una percezione del testo 
che puo portare alia fantasticheria. Si tratterebbe del passaggio da una fase 
iniziale di lettura di un testo ad una fase centrale, nella quale il lettore si pone 
meno domande a proposito del testo e compie piu operazioni generate dalla 
lettura del testo. Si tratterebbe della fine della fase iniziale dell'atto di lettura del 


Media del numero di parole per ogni tipo di interruzione nelle tre parti degli 
otto testi 



i o 

.2 u 












n. A2: 













O A3: 






















S- A2: 













O A3: 












._ Al: 









2 A2: 
























Nota. «A1» t la media del numero di parole per ogni interruzione di tipo «A» nella prima parte del 
testo, eccetera. Le interruzioni di tipo «E» (estemo) e «?» (sconosciuto) non sono state prese in 
considerazione in questa tabella. 

A questo punto e interessante verificare, nella nostra campionatura che 
comprende otto testi, se la distribuzione del tipo di interruzioni e in qualche 
modo collegata al tipo di testo. Potremmo per esempio chiederci se si notano 
differenze tra testi narrativi e testi di saggistica (Tabella 5). 

La definizione dell'incipit 39 


Media del numero di parole per ogni tipo di interruzione nelle tre parti di 
ciascuno degli otto testi 





















































































, c 











































































































































, 4 



























































Nota. «A1» e la media del numero di parole per ogni interruzione di tipo «A» nella 
prima parte del testo, eccetera. Le interruzioni di tipo «E» (estemo) e «?» (sconosciuto) 
non sono state prese in considerazione in questa tabella. 

La Tabella 5 mostra la media del numero di parole per ogni tipo di 
interruzione nelle tre parti di ciascuno degli otto testi: piu alto e il numero di 
parole, piu bassa e la frequenza di un tipo di pausa. Notiamo che il calo delle 
pause di tipo "A" ed "I" e I'aumento di pause di tipo "F" nel corso della lettura e 
comune agli otto testi, con alcune eccezioni. Le piu evidenti sono costituite dai 
testi di Calvino (nel quale abbiamo un calo delle pause di tipo "F" dalla prima 
alia seconda parte del testo, seguito pero da un aumento dalla seconda alia terza) 

40 Aldo Nemesio 

e di Berto (nel quale abbiamo un calo delle pause di tipo "F" dalla seconda alia 
terza parte). Nel caso del testo di filosofia (Abbagnano) abbiamo un aumento 
delle pause di tipo "A" e "1" dalla prima alia seconda parte, seguito pero da un 
calo dalla seconda alia terza. Anche le pause di tipo "R" diminuiscono nel corso 
della lettura, con parziali eccezioni che riguardano i tre testi non letterari (Mila, 
Abbagnano e Candeloro). Nel testo di Manganelli, abbiamo un aumento delle 
pause di tipo "A" e "I" dalla seconda alia terza parte. Tuttavia non si notano 
differenze regolari collegate al tipo di testo. 

II nostro questionario conteneva anche una domanda — presentata in una 
scala a cinque modalita — che chiedeva ai soggetti se avrebbero voluto 
continuare a leggere il testo. La Tabella 6 presenta I'interesse dei soggetti per la 
continuazione della lettura. Hanno prodotto I'interesse piu alto il giallo 
(Sciascia) e il libro di storia della filosofia (Abbagnano). Molto basso I'interesse 
per i testi atipici: il lungo monologo interiore (Berto) e soprattutto il testo 
sperimentale (Manganelli). Piu del 50% dei soggetti ha mostrato poco interesse 
anche per il romanzo di Calvino e per i libri di storia della musica (Mila) e storia 
deiritalia (Candeloro). Esaminando il totale, piu della meta delle risposte indica 
un interesse basso, mentre soltanto il 14,73% indica un interesse alto. Si tratta di 
un dato notevole, se ricordiamo che i rispondenti sono studenti universitari, cioe 
persone che dedicano una parte rilevante del loro tempo alia lettura, in 
particolare il "Gruppo B". 

Tabella 6 - Interesse per gli otto testi: totale dei gruppi A e B 


basso (1 2) 


alto (4 5) 














































Nota. I 68 soggetti rimanenti hanno scelto la posizione intermedia (3). 

Vediamo, nella Tabella 7, se ci sono differenze tra i due gruppi. Ricordiamo che 
il "Gruppo B" (studentesse di facolta umanistiche) ha ricevuto una formazione 
particolarmente diretta verso la lettura. II "Gruppo B" mostra un interesse 
maggiore per la continuazione della lettura dei testi, in modo pero non uniforme: 
mostra infatti un interesse minore, rispetto all'altro gruppo, per il romanzo di 
Calvino, il libro di storia (Candeloro) e il testo sperimentale (Manganelli). 

La defmizione dell 'incipit 4 1 


Gruppo A 

Int. basso ( 1 


Int. alto (4 o 5) 

0-Bemari 8 (57,14%) 1 (7,14%) 4 (28,57%) 

1-Sciascia 4 (28,57%) 2 (14,29%) 3 (21,43%) 

2-Calvino 9 (64,29%) 4 (28,57%) 9 (64,29%) 

3-Mila 12 (85,71%) (0,00%) 7 (50,00%) 

4-Abbagnano 6 (42,86%) 3 (21,43%) 4 (28,57%) 

5-Candeloro 8 (57,14%) 3 (21,43%) 9 (64,29%) 

6-Berto 10 (71,43%) (0,00%) 4 (28,57%) 

7-Manganelli 12 (85,71%) 1 (7,14%) 14 (100,00%) 

Totale 69 (61,61%) 14 (12,50%) 54 (48,21%) 

Nota. I soggetti rimanenti (29 del «Gruppo A» e 39 del «Gruppo B» 
posizione intermedia (3). 

Gruppo B 

Int. basso ( 1 o 2) 

Int. alto (4 o 5) 


















) hanno scelto !a 

La Tabella 8 ci permette di vedere se c'e un rapporto tra I'interesse per i testi e 
le interruzioni durante la lettura. Non abbiamo fatto confronti per quanto 
riguarda i testi di Berto e Manganelli, perche hanno ottenuto soltanto una 
indicazione di alto interesse ciascuno. Notiamo che i testi che hanno generato un 
interesse alto presentano una percentuale piu che doppia di pause di tipo "F" (il 
13,31%, paragonato al 5,81%). II dato e comune a tutti i testi, con I'eccezione 
del giallo (Sciascia), nel quale i dati sono molto simili (8,14% paragonato 
air8,20%). Osserviamo quindi che e possibile che I'apprezzamento del testo sia 
collegato alia produzione di una percentuale maggiore di fantasticherie. Inoltre 
in tutti i testi confrontati notiamo una percentuale piu alta di pause di tipo "?" 
nei soggetti che dichiarano un interesse basso. E quindi anche possibile che il 
maggiore interesse generi una maggiore attenzione durante la lettura, che 
determina un ricordo piu efficiente delle cause, dei singoli segni di pausa. 

42 Aldo Nemesio 

Tabella 8 - Media delle fnterruzioni in relazione all'interesse per i testi 




basso (1 2) 

alto (4 5) 

basso (1 o2) 

alto (4 5) 




























































basso (I 2) 

alto (4 5) 

basso (I 2) 

alto (4 5) 




























































basso (1 o2) 

alto (4 5) 

basso (1 2) 

alto (4 5) 



























































basso (1 o2) 

alto (4 5) 


































Nota. Non sono stati confrontati i dati riguardanti i testi di Berto e Manganelli, perch6 presentano 
soltanto una indicazione di alto interesse (Berto: int. basso 14, alto 1; Manganelli: int. basso 26, 
alto 1). 

NeU'esperimento citato prima, Larsen e Seilman hanno studiato i'attivazione di 
ricordi personali nel corso della lettura. I due ricercatori sono partiti dalla 

La definizione dell 'incipit 43 

considerazione che i testi letterari sono spesso percepiti dal lettore come 
profondamente pertinenti e ricchi di significato, in modo che un testo puo 
suscitare una risonanza personate in chi legge, richiamando alia memoria 
esperienze personal!, provenienti dal ricordo di eventi della sua vita. 
L'esperimento ha raccolto informazioni sui ricordi suscitati dalla lettura di testi 
di tipo diverse: un testo letterario (un racconto) e di un testo espositivo (un 
saggio sui problemi generati daH'incremento demografico). 

Larsen e Seilman hanno classificato gli eventi ricordati in tre gruppi, che 
rappresentano un grado decrescente di coinvolgimento del lettore: eventi ai quali 
prende parte in qualita di attore, eventi nei quali e presente in qualita di 
osservatore e infine eventi che gli sono stati riferiti da altri, nei quali assume il 
ruolo di ricevente. I risultati mostrano che il testo letterario ha generato un 
numero doppio di rievocazioni di esperienze in cui il lettore aveva un ruolo 
attivo rispetto al testo espositivo. Al contrario, il testo espositivo ha suscitato piu 
ricordi nei quali il lettore aveva il ruolo di osservatore o di ricevente. Questi 
risultati indicano che la lettura di testi letterari comporta I'attivazione di 
esperienze personali precedenti, nelle quali il soggetto ha un ruolo di particolare 
coinvolgimento. Inoltre, in entrambi i testi sono stati attivati piu ricordi nella 
parte iniziale della lettura. Questo e probabilmente dovuto al fatto che il lettore, 
quando sta costruendo una rappresentazione dell'universo di discorso cui il testo 
fa riferimento, ha maggiore bisogno di ricorrere ad informazioni provenienti 
dalla sua memoria episodica, cioe quella parte della sua memoria che contiene 
ricordi di esperienze personali, dalla quale trarre informazioni per analogia. Una 
volta che questa rappresentazione e stata costruita, I'universo testuale ha poi 
meno bisogno di ricorrere all'universo personale del lettore. 

L'attivazione di ricordi personali durante la lettura ha rapporti con la 
produzione di pause di tipo "fantasticheria", perche i ricordi personali sono fonte 
di materiale per le fantasticherie. Alia fine del nostro test ai soggetti e stato 
chiesto di fomire informazioni sui contenuto delle pause di tipo "F". Ho 
raggruppato le risposte ottenute in sei categoric: fantasticherie riguardanti eventi 
nei quali il soggetto compie un'azione ("1-A" nella Tabella 9), eventi o 
immagini che osserva direttamente ("2-0"), eventi o immagini a proposito dei 
quali riceve informazioni, anche attraverso la lettura ("3-R"), la ricostruzione 
della scena narrata o del senso del testo ("4-S"), riflessioni collegate al testo ("5- 
T"). Le fantasticherie per le quali non sono state fomite informazioni o per le 
quali le cinque categoric precedenti non sono pertinenti sono state raccolte nei 
gruppo indicate con il punto interrogativo ("?"). 

Le prime tre categoric hanno diversi punti in comune con quelle utilizzate 
da Larsen e Seilman; si tratta tuttavia di fantasticherie e non necessariamente di 
ricordi di eventi accaduti al soggetto e quindi depositati nella sua memoria 
episodica. Le fantasticherie raccolte nei corso del mio esperimento riguardano 
immagini e oggetti, oltre che eventi e si riferiscono anche alle operazioni di 
elaborazione e di riflessione sui testo che viene letto. Ecco alcuni esempi: 

44 Aldo Nemesio 

"ricordo mia partecipazione teatrale" ("1-A", in relazione ad un punto del testo 
di Mila); "discussioni da bambino col padre" ("1-A", Berto); "mi e venuta in 
mente I'immagine dei candelotti d'acqua ghiacciata che sono appesi ai tetti 
d'invemo, quando gela" ("2-0", Bemari); "ho pensato alia professoressa 
(carina) di Filosofia del Liceo" ("2-0", Abbagnano); "vociare di uomini e latrato 
di cani in una fattoria (novelle di Verga)" ("3-R", Sciascia); "fine di una guerra, 
con il pensiero a quella attuale nei Balcani" ("3-R", Candeloro); "ho immaginato 
come poteva essere vedere C. Magno, le sue vesti, i suoi modi di fare ed ho 
pensato che potesse assomigliare a S. Connery" ("4-S", Calvino); "pensato sul 
significato del testo" ("4-S", Manganelli); "ho esaminato la diversa psicologia 
dei due personaggi: "I'operaio semplice" e "I'operaio che studia"" ("5-T", 
Bemari); "riflessione generica sul mio rapporto con il Mondo e la Natura. Qual e 
il mio rapporto con essa?" ("5-T", Abbagnano). 

E facile notare che i confini tra le quattro categoric non sono del tutto 
rigidi. Attribuendo una fantasticheria ad una categoria, non si esclude in modo 
totale la sua pertinenza con altre categoric. In particolare, quasi tutte le 
fantasticherie possono in qualche modo essere coUegate alia ricostruzione della 
scena narrata, o del senso del testo, o costituiscono in qualche modo riflessioni 
collegate al testo. Leggendo le prime parole di un testo, il lettore incomincia ad 
attivare le informazioni necessarie per comprenderlo. La comprensione del testo 
avviene in seguito all'incontro tra i segni del testo e la competenza del lettore. 
Le fantasticherie indicano quale scenario e stato attivato per I'elaborazione del 


La defmizione dell'incipit 45 





rispetto alia 

rispetto alia 

rispetto alia 
































































tto alia 

tto alia 


;tto alia 






































































tto alia 


;tto alia 


>•= E 

























































46 Aldo Nemesio 

I primi tre testi sono romanzi, i tre seguenti sono saggi e gli ultimi due 
romanzi di tipo sperimentale. Nei primi tre notiamo, rispetto alia media degli 
otto testi, una percentuale piu alta di famasticherie che portano a ricostruire la 
scena narrata o il senso del testo ("4-S"). Si tratta di pause descritte con frasi 
come: "cercavo di immaginare come potessero essere effettivamente quelle 
macchine" o piu semplicemente "ho immaginato la scena descritta" (in relazione 
ad un punto del testo di Bemari), "cerco di immaginarmi il tipo di persona di cui 
si parla nel testo, anche fisicamente" (Sciascia), "immaginare la scena, molto 
sontuosa e importante" (Calvino). 

Nei tre saggi notiamo, rispetto alia media degli otto testi, una percentuale 
piu bassa di fantasticherie del tipo precedente ("4-S") e piii alta di fantasticherie 
che riguardano eventi nei quali il soggetto riceve informazioni, anche attraverso 
la lettura ("3-R"). Queste pause sono descritte con frasi come: "ricordi di studi e 
letture fatti su F. Nietzsche in merito a quanto scritto" (Mila), "nozioni riguardo 
alia visione di Kant della morale e della religione" (Abbagnano), "immagini 
storiche della guerra in Africa settentrionale" (Candeloro). 

E possibile che, nell'elaborazione dei testi di tipo letterario, sia necessario 
un maggiore lavoro di ricostruzione della scena e del senso del testo che, in 
quanto testo letterario, non ha riferimenti referenziali sicuri dai quali attingere 
informazioni e conferme. D'altro lato, i saggi rinviano ad altri libri e ad altre 
situazioni nelle quali il soggetto riceve informazioni. Per quanto riguarda il 
rapporto tra i tipi di testi e la collocazione del soggetto che ricorda nei ruoli di 
attore o osservatore, non froviamo coincidenza con le conclusioni 
dell'esperimento di Larsen e Seilman. Non notiamo cioe nei testi letterari un 
numero piu elevato di fantasticherie di tipo "1-A" e un numero piu basso di 
fantasticherie di tipo "2-0" rispetto ai saggi. Va pero osservato, da un lato, che 
I'esperimento di Larsen e Seilman ha studiato il comportamento di un numero 
molto ridotto di soggetti (soltanto venti) in relazione ad un numero molto basso 
di testi (soltanto due). D'altro lato, I'esperimento di Larsen e Seilman non e 
identico a quello descritto in questo capitolo: come abbiamo visto sopra, i 
ricordi personali hanno rapporti con le pause "F", ma sicuramente non 
coincidono con esse. 

Le conclusioni del nostro esperimento portano a supporre che le differenze 
principali nel comportamento dei lettori siano dovute alle caratteristiche del 
segmento di testo letto piu che all'appartenenza della totalita del testo ad un tipo. 
In effetti, qualunque sia il tipo testuale nel quale un testo nel suo insieme pud 
essere collocato, sulla base delle sue caratteristiche globali, ogni testo e 
composto di parti che svolgono ftmzioni diverse. Per esempio, sia un romanzo 
che un saggio possono contenere parti narrative, descrittive e argomentative. II 
comportamento del lettore dipende, oltre che dal tipo globale del testo, dal tipo 

La definizione dell 'incipit 47 

in cui puo essere collocato il segmento che sta leggendo. Inoltre, nel 
comportamento dei lettori, e determinante I'argomento del testo. Se la pagina 
che viene letta riguarda I'infanzia o il mondo della scuola, e piu probabile che 
vengano attivati ricordi o fantasticherie nei quali il soggetto ha un ruolo attivo, 
rispetto ad una pagina che parla di un paese lontano. Questi argomenti sono 
presenti sia in narrazioni letterarie che nella saggistica. E poi importante 
osservare che, oltre al contenuto del testo, la semplice presenza di alcune parole 
e non di altre puo favorire I'attivazione di particolari fantasticherie e di 
particolari ricordi. Va anche ricordato che gli otto segmenti studiati in questo 
esperimento sono gli incipit dei loro testi. Quindi e probabile che la caratteristica 
fondamentale delle operazioni di lettura dei segmenti testuali esaminati sia 
I'attivazione di procedure adatte al primo contatto con un testo: di qui una certa 
uniformita nel comportamento dei lettori, indipendentemente dai tipi testuali nei 
quali gli otto testi possono essere collocati nella loro totalita. 

Dall'esame dei dati riguardanti le interruzioni nella lettura degli incipit, 
notiamo poche differenze tra gli otto testi. In tutti i testi si osserva una 
prevalenza di pause di tipo "I", cioe di pause che indicano attivita di 
rielaborazione di materiale gia letto. E possibile che il numero di pause di tipo 
"F" sia collegato alia competenza dei lettori: piu i lettori sono esperti, meno 
hanno bisogno di pause determinate dal lavoro di rielaborazione della superficie 
del testo e piu fantasticano a proposito dei testi letti. 

Dividendo i testi in tre parti, notiamo un calo del numero delle pause man 
mano che si procede nella lettura. Durante la lettura delle prime parole di un 
testo, un lettore deve fermarsi piu frequentemente che nei segmenti seguenti, 
probabilmente perche la prima parte di un testo richiede uno sforzo maggiore da 
parte del lettore, che deve scegliere come concretizzare il testo. Poiche il lettore 
non conosce ancora il significato generale del testo, deve probabilmente 
elaborare le stesse parole diverse volte ed ha bisogno di piii interruzioni, per 
cercare informazioni nel testo e nella sua memoria. Notiamo pero che, mentre la 
frequenza totale delle interruzioni diminuisce nel corso della lettura, le pause 
"F" aumentano. Questo dato e importante: se, proseguendo nella lettura, 
trovassimo un calo nella registrazione di tutte le pause, potremmo sospettare che 
non si tratti di un dato affidabile, perche potrebbe indicare soltanto una minore 
attenzione alia segnalazione delle pause man mano che si procede. La tendenza 
all'aumento delle pause "F", contemporaneo al calo delle pause di altro tipo, ci 
fa pensare che esiste un mutamento del comportamento dei lettori nel corso della 
lettura. Troviamo qui una traccia del passaggio da una fase iniziale della lettura 
di un testo a fasi successive, il che ci da informazioni sui "confmi degli incipit". 

I dati riguardanti I'apprezzamento dei testi mostrano un interesse molto 
basso per la continuazione della lettura. Notiamo che i rispondenti sono studenti, 
cioe persone che dedicano una parte rilevante del loro tempo alia lettura: 
probabilmente mentre I'adulto puo considerare la lettura come uno svago, lo 
studente la vive come atto di lavoro obbligatorio, quindi non gradito, ma fatto 

48 Aldo Nemesio 

per forza. Si tratta, in realta, del suo lavoro. Questi dati ci farino riflettere e 
possono invitarci a organizzare con molta attenzione lo stile della nostra 
didattica, che dovrebbe presentare la lettura come fonte di stimolo e di 
arricchimento culturale ed emotivo, evitando che venga percepita come 
fastidioso lavoro obbligatorio. 

Universita di Torino 

Opere citate 

Abbagnano Nicola, Linee di storia della filosofia, Torino, Paravia, 1960. 

Bara Bruno, Scienza cognitiva, Torino, Bollati Boringhieri, 1990. 

Bernari Carlo, Tre operai, Milano, Rizzoli, 1934. 

Berto Giuseppe, // male oscuro, Milano, Rizzoli, 1964. 

Calvino Italo, II cavaliere inesistente, Torino, Einaudi, 1959. 

Candeloro Giorgio, Storia dell 'Italia moderna. Milano, Feltrinelli, 1984. 

Corno Dario e Graziella Pozzo, a cura di, Mente, linguaggio, apprendimento, Firenze, La 

Nuova Italia, 1991. 
Larsen Steen F. a Uffe Seiman, Personal Remindings while Reading Literature, "Text", 

VIII, 4(1988), 412-429. 
, Personal Resonance to Literature: A Study of Remindings while Reading, 

"Poetics", XVIII, 1-2 (1989), 165-177. 
, / ricordi personali durante la lettura dei testi letterari, in Nemesio, a cura di, pp. 

Manganelli Giorgio, Nuovo commento, Torino, Einaudi, 1969. 
Mila Massimo, Breve storia della musica, Torino, Einaudi, 1963. 
Nemesio Aldo, a cura di, I 'esperienza del testo, Roma, Meltemi, 1999. 
, Le prime parole. L'uso dell"'incipit" nella narrativa dell 'Italia unita, 

Alessandria, Edizioni dell'Orso, 1990. 
, La ricerca empirica sul testo: riflessioni sul metodo. "Costellazioni", 4, 1999, 

pp. 10-21. 
Reed Stephen, Psicologia cognitiva, Bologna, II Mulino, 1989. (Ttrad. it. di: Cognition. 

Theory and applications. Pacific Grove, Brooks/Cole, 1988.) 
Sciascia Leonardo, A ciascuno il suo, Torino, Einaudi, 1966. 

Giuliana Adatno"^ 

Twentieth-Century Recent Theories on Beginnings 
and Endings of Novels 

1.0 Introduction 

Storytelling means in primis respecting a number of conventions on the part of 
the storyteller so that these can be recognised by the listener: a beginning, a 
middle and especially an ending are essential.' When a story is told, it is usually 
framed within the traditional semiotic formulae "once upon a time" and "they 
lived happily ever after"; the story signposts its limina, marks out and establishes 
well-defined borders. The discours is structured so that it reaches a significant 
order and form. Storytelling is one of the major categories or systems of 
understanding to which we turn in our dealings with reality, and in particular 
with problems of temporality. Inherent in our nature is the need to exist only 
within the precise confines marked out by death.' And literary forms, among 
which for example the novel, are some of the forces that organise those meanings 
which we stubbornly struggle to wrench from time. What emerges, therefore, is 
not only an awareness of the importance of narrative structures which have 
induced so many writers and critics to grapple with this fascinating problem, but 
also the usefulness of having an overview of the many existing approaches, proof 
of the interest in this subject and of the complexity of the studies dedicated to the 
beginnings and endings of artistic works, particularly in the literary context. 

* I would like to thank Giulio C. Lepschy for the supervision of my PhD thesis from 

which I have extracted this article. A very special thanks goes to Shirley D'Ardia 

Caracciolo for her help with the English translation. 

' For a stimulating discussion on this topic, see Brooks where the author in his attempt to 

go beyond the purest formalism and structuralism builds the foundation for a 

convergence between psychoanalysis and literary criticism. 

" Walter Benjamin, simply and innovatively, observes that what we are really looking for 

in narrative construction is that very knowledge of death which we cannot achieve in life: 

"La morte e la sanzione di tutto quello che un narratore possa narrare" (255). 

Annalid'Italianistica IS (2000) 

50 Giuliana Adamo 

2.0 Twentieth century interest in textual limina 

I have already discussed elsewhere some of the many different approaches which 
twentieth century scholars have used in studying the beginnings and endings of 
novels (Adamo, 'Riflessioni' and 'Beginnings and Endings' 83-104). The broad 
spectrum of the studies I examined is an attempt to present in an organic and 
chronological manner the progress of twentieth-century thinking on narrative 
limina according to the viewpoints of various experts, schools, and currents 
which have confronted one another, in the larger field of their respective 
narrative analyses and with varying degrees of acumen and attention, over the 
problem of how to begin and end a literary text. I believe it is worthwhile to 
briefly recall the principal positions that emerged from my study. 

A number of scholars (the Russian formalists, Propp, Dundes, Bremond, 
Todorov, Prince, Eco, Greimas) taking as their topic, with a high degree of 
absfraction, the structural immutability of the fabula and of the narrative model, 
have shown how the beginning is always characterised by a certain tension, a 
lack, a negative quality, or at least by a stasis which has to be broken, and how 
the ending is always the place where the equilibrium is re-established, the lack 
removed, the negative abolished. The wider interpretations of Kermode and Said 
have shed light on some of the biological reasons that cause people to desire a 
clear definition of beginnings and endings,'* whose structural role, adds Lotman 
from his semiotic viewpoint, is fundamental within a given culture (135-41). 
Others have analysed the framework ftinction of incipit and explicit as places 
where a discourse on the text and on its codes is concentrated (Hamon, Texte 

On the other hand, those who chose as their subject matter not the fabula but 
the discours have provided (or have permitted the inference of) valuable 
information concerning mode and voice (Genette, Figure III, 208-58; 259-310); 
point of view (Uspenskij 8-172); the problem of time within the confines of the 
text (Benveniste 289-300, 129; Weinrich; Genette; and all those who studied, for 
example, the incipit-date); the implications of the model and the antimodel 
(Kermode 131; Calvino, Appendice 737); and the relationship with the reader. 
Of note, in this area, are the various theories of a large body of French critics, 
such as Barthes, R. Jean, Dubois, and others; the didactic proposals of Verrier; 

^ For a definition of narrative discourse, /a^w/a, plot, and narrative model, see Segre, Le 
strutture 3-15 and Semiotica 29-34. 

" Kermode deals with the complex problem of the ontology of narrative forms. His main 
assumption is that the fading of the eschatological notion of time also entails a fading of 
the authority which allowed a story to begin and to end. Said comments on the notion of 
beginning, in general terms, and on debut as willingness to produce meaning. He 
underlines the intentional aspect of beginning in the novel literary genre and studies its 
evolution in Western culture since 1700. 

Twentieth-Century Recent Theories on Beginnings and Endings of Novels 5 1 

the transverse study of the beginnings of hterary works, films, and folklore 
edited by Caprettini and Eugeni; the examination of beginnings in European 
novels by Traversetti and Andreani; the computerisation of the topic of the 
openings of stories prior to the nineteenth century, carried out by SATOR 
{Societe d'Analyse de la Topique Romanesque); the reply to Kermode's Sense of 
an Ending made by Nuttall (212); and the attempt made by Boie and Ferrer to 
throw light on the relationship between incipit and entree en ecriture. 

In turn, theories of reception (Booth, Lotman, Iser, Eco, Rabinowitz) have 
contributed to an understanding of what happens at the other end of the chain of 
literary communication. Finally, others like Grivel have gone into an analysis of 
the seductive role of the textual framework. 

But interest in the topic does not stop here, and the aim of this article is to 
expand the map of the more significant and stimulating areas of research within 
the twentieth-century study of textual borders. Twentieth-century thinking on 
beginnings and endings does, in fact, contain many other aspects that I shall 
develop below. The diversity of the various critical and literary approaches to 
the problem ranges from the provocative brilliance of Aragon to Genette's 
illocutionary interpretation of beginnings, to Del Lungo's brilliant proposal of a 
poetics of incipit, to the wide range of Calvino's posthumous notes on 
beginnings and endings of novels, to the metanovel of incipit by antonomasia Se 
una notte d'inverno un viaggiatore, to the concepts of closure and clausule 
analysed respectively (and successftiUy) by Smith and Hamon, to Torgovnick's 
attempt at an elastic description of the endings of novels, to the current 
publishing success of books consisting of the beginnings or endings of novels. 

3.0 The mystery of beginnings: the opening sentence 

Je n'ai jamais appris a ecrire ou les incipit of Aragon is a long, fascinating, and 
provoking refiection on the difficulties of writing and on the enchantment and 
power of literary incipit. Aragon takes up the French symbolists' ideas on 
beginnings and artistic creation (one thinks of Mallarme) and rekindles an 
interest in the concept of beginnings linked to the inscrutability of their mystery: 
the beginning as 'the clash of the word with the white space of the text', words 
colliding against silence (Aragon 47). Aragon excludes any premeditation about 
the fiiture events in the story to be told. Everything in the novel is arbifrary: the 
beginning and all the rest that will follow on. And it is precisely to this arbifrary 
quality that Valery was referring, with refined scorn, when he said to Breton that 

52 Giuliana Adamo 

he would never have been able to write a novel (inferior genre) that began, for 
example, with the sentence: 'La marquise sortit a cinq heures. '^ 

Aragon is aware of the element of substantial formal uniformity and 
conventionality that characterises literary beginnings throughout the century and 
shows his dislike of it (37-8). His dream, refined and evasive, is, indeed, to see 
the singular nature of the story emerge right from the first lines, not unlike 
Stendhal who said that every novel must bring something new in the first, or at 
the latest, the second page. 

Aragon attributes a magical significance to the beginning of a story and 
adopts Kaverin's concept whereby the tone of the first sentence is the one to 
which the writer listens during the course of the whole novel.^ The opening 
sentence, the phrase-seuil, the awakening call, the turning on of the light, the 
source, the spring, is the one that sets the key for the whole text, and to which the 
tone of the work conforms (96). Nonetheless, despite Aragon's declaration of the 
unconditional superiority of beginnings over endings, he does not deny that these 
too are ineffably mysterious (145).^ 

In 1971, Jean, following the path set by Aragon, wrote an essay on narrative 
openings or phrases-seuils. Acknowledging the authority of Stendhal, Valery, 
and Aragon, Jean emphasised the generative power of the opening words. ^ The 
first sentence of a novel is a writing gesture that reveals the text, makes it emerge 
from silence. Writing becomes, as does painting for Braque, a process of 
restoration-restitution . 

Following the same line as Aragon, Pope also writes about the mystery of 
beginnings and the importance of the struggle to find the first words with which 

^ Breton recalls that Paul Valery subscribed to a purist perspective. Within such a 
perspective he suggested that if he were to gather a conspicuous number of beginnings of 
novels in an anthology, it would have showed the imbecility of novels' beginnings (314). 
^ Aragon, marked by a greater creativity and freedom, distances himself from Russian 
critic V. Kaverin's deterministic concept, used by the latter with regard to Cechov's 
incipit and to the gestation of Tolstoj's Anna Kareninas beginning after one of 
Pushkin's sentences (93). Kaverin's article, to which Aragon refers, was also published 
in 1969, in the first issue of the review Novy Mir. 

'' Aragon, like many other authors experiencing difficulties in commencing a work of art, 
quotes Braque and Beckett. Braque, in his very short 1959 novel, explains his poetics as 
a painter according to which artistic creation is, in the end, an act of discovery, the 
unveiling of a pre-existent reality. Beckett, etre de la negation, writes texts which are 
almost secretive since they start without ever ending (Aragon, 147-48). 
^ For the beginning intended as the engine of the text, see also Greimas-Courtes, 81. I 
briefly recall that Greimas (in Semantica strutturale and in Del senso) offers two 
definitions of beginning. The one I am using here refers to the beginning as a 
programme, in a condensed and potential form, of the recit. That notion of beginning 
came into Greimas's system as his contractual theory became more and more important 
from a theoretical viewpoint. 

Twentieth-Century Recent Theories on Beginnings and Endings of Novels 53 

to begin a narrative.^ Pope's mystical interpretation leads to a two-way reading 
of beginnings depending on whether they are being considered by the writer or 
by the reader. In the former case, the writer is the conscious vehicle of a voice 
that is not his own (an immortal voice, perhaps divine, which takes on the form 
of the human voice of the author). In the latter, the reader, who asks only to be 
captured, abandons himself to the flow of the opening words and, leaving aside 
his everyday guide (his rational mind), gives himself over to that voice which 
slowly creates a fictional world that, although outside time, has time's taste and 
smell. "^ Beginnings told in the author's manner but not in his voice do not 
transmit bits of information (which, however, they often carry), but the manner 
and the authority of the voice through which such functional information will 
arrive sooner or later." In 1984 Lintvelt re-examined the definition of 
beginnings as the seuil (threshold) between the text and the non-text, and 
established a theoretical model of a beginning which he applied to J. Green's 
Moira and G. de Maupassant's Auberge}^ 

3.1 The structural ambiguity of beginnings 

In the 1950s, Barthes was one of the first to confront, with a certain lack of 
prejudice, the problem of the ambiguity of the literary text. His considerations on 
the double nature of the passe simple are the same as those which, years later, we 
find many critics applying to the soft concept of beginnings.'^ In 1973, Dubois 

' On the mystery of beginning, see Corti, 103. On the beginning which stems out from a 
varied and mysterious background from which the narrating voice takes off (for 
example,'Call me Ishmael' from Melville's Moby Dicic ) see Calvino,'Appendice', 738. 
'° For a different approach to the study of the author as a guide, Booth discusses the 
theory of the reliable narrator as dramatized spokesman of the implied author (21 1-34). 
" Pope exemplifies his theory with references to the beginnings of La metamorfosi, Le 
rovine circolari, Lolita, and Cent 'anni di solitudine. He chose those debuts not because 
of the gracefulness of their narrating voices, but because he could not resist their 
greatness and richness (749). 

'" Linvelt ('L'ouverture et I'ensemble' 520-27) has set a theorethical model to be applied 
to literary beginnings. That model is based on 4 possibilities: 1) relations between text 
and hors-texte; 2) relations between text and avantexte; 3) topoi of beginnings (drawn 
from Dubois 435; Duchet, 'Ideologic 36-101); 4) narratological analysis (Genette's 
Figure III). 

'^ I call that concept soft in a Lachanian sense, since incipit cannot be easily defined. The 
authors that I quote in my article never refer to an unitarian definition of incipit which in 
fact does not exist. Contemporary criticism shows uncertainty. Some critics (Jean, 
Duchet) mean for incipit the very first sentence of the text; others (Dubois) prefer the 
notion of entree en matiere (to designate the recites first unit which goes from the actual 
incipit to the first scene. Nevertheless they do not suggest any selective criterium for the 

54 Giuliana Adamo 

wrote an article, fundamental to the study of beginnings, which contains 
considerations similar to those of Barthes: 

[. . .] le texte realiste rencontre deux exigences difficilement conciliable. D'un cote, il se 
doit de mettre la fiction en train, d'en instaurer I'appareil (sujet, personnages, decor, 
instance narrative [. . .]). De I'autre, il vise a produire les garanties de I'authenticite de 
son dire, en faisant reference a un hors-texte et en masquant le caractere fictif de son 
geste initial. 


In 1976 Comille produced an article that contained similar reflexions. The 
incipit is conceived as a feint ifeinte) which is at the root of every novel, a feint 
which reveals the difficulty of every beginning.'^ Tension results from the 
contradictory demands to appear as real at the same time as the fiction is set in 
motion. The incipit, therefore, is the site of tension between the illusion of reality 
and the declaring of that illusion (52). A few years later, Brombert insisted 
forcefully on this same aspect with his brilliant suggested reading of the opening 
of Balzac's Le Pere Goriot, a striking example of the duplicity inherent in 
beginnings, of their twin nature suspended between the desire to appear truthful 
and the duty to declare their own fictitious nature, between the creation of the 
illusion of realism and the revelation of the notion of mimetic representation 

In the same year (1980), Coletti too insisted on the doppio gioco of 
beginnings which if, on the one hand, signal their own veracity (let the example 
of incipit-datQ suffice for all), on the other, ostentatiously reveal the signs of 
their literary fictitiousness (185; rev. ed. 143). In addition, Linvelt in 

definition of incipit). Some like Lintvelt seem not to be bothered by the problem, whereas 

others (Cornille, Del Lungo) talk of premiere unite du texte whose extent is variable. 

Furthermore, according to Barthes's theory, the passe simple has had a fundamental role 

within Western bourgeois society's artistic conception of which the novel is a 

characteristic product. It gives to the imaginary the formal guarantee of reality; it leaves 

to that mark the ambiguity of a double object, simultaneously vraisemblable and false. 

The passe simple of novels defines verisimilitude while designafing it as false. It 

establishes a credible continuity whose illusion is, in fact, exhibited. It re-dresses with 

truth the unreal: it is a menzogna manifesta (32-3). 

'"^ The author proposes a criterion of delimitation of the incipit in terms of the search of 

an effect of closure. This way of defining an incipit will be briefly addressed by Del 


'^ On the difficulties in beginning a narrative, Genette identifies seven beginnings in 

Proust's Recherche, and underlines the zigzag movement of such an initial stammer 

which mimes the inevitable difficulty of all beginnings {Figure III 93). 

'^ Brombert provides an analysis of the narrative opening signals by different critical 

points of view, which place special focus on the answers to the three basic questions of 

every narrative incipit — who? where? when? 

Twentieth-Century Recent Theories on Beginnings and Endings of Novels 55 

'L'ouverture' reminds us that in order to create the necessary illusion of truth (to 
which corresponds the fact that in a novel's beginning the reader wants 
truthfiilness and honesty [Coletti 184; rev. ed. 142]), the text attempts, from time 
to time, to authenticate itself as a chronicle, a letter, a memoir. It has recourse to 
temporal definition; it makes use of authentic topography; it appeals to the 
reader's encyclopedic knowledge (162). 

More than ten years later, Del Lungo emphasised once more the two-fold 
role of the literary beginning. At the same time as opening the door into the 
fiction, it must justify its own right to speak and legitimise its function as a start 
(which, I would remind you, was one of the roles of the classical exordium, 
whose ftmction was to exorcise the arbitrary nature of the opening). The incipit, 
moreover, is also the locus of a paradoxical ambiguity: it has to say as much as 
possible and, at the same time, as little as possible (138). 

3.2 Informative beginnings 

Dubois introduced the designation of the entree en matiere. This phrase 
indicates the passage (very hard to describe) from chaos to the unicum, from the 
arbitrary to the necessary, from the insignificant to the significant, from the 
casual to the causal. According to Dubois, every beginning is defined by two 
elements which are apparently irreconcilable, but which in reality are indivisible, 
a surcodage and a protocolle de lecture, which anticipates the whole novel 

In 1971, Duchet, in setting out his critical-sociological approach to the 
problem, had defined beginnings as a place of transitivity,'^ a place where the 
text is set in motion, where world and word, life and talk, necessity and freedom 
are interchanged, and where the choice of a "then," and a "next," and the 
projection of a particular meaning are decided in conjunction, after all other 
possible meanings have been suspended (9).'^ Subsequently, in 1980, Duchet 
defined the narrative beginning more clearly as a strategic place conditioned by 
four elements: 1) relationship with the title; 2) relationship with the hors-texte; 3) 
relationship with the text; 4) rhetoric of beginnings (stock phrases, techniques 
required by the setting of the scene, whose fiinction is to answer the initial 
'Who? Where? When?' and to stimulate expectation and surprise in the reader). 

'^ For the opposition between transitive and intransitive beginnings, see also Said, 7. 
'^ Duchet applies a critical and sociological approach to his subject. He proposes a 
backwards reading of beginnings as passage from syntagmatic (text) to paradigmatic 
(world), as going back from the novel's opening gestures to that archeology of 
knowledge that Duchet draws from M. Focault. Madame Bovary's incipit is the example 
chosen by Duchet. In a few masterly touches, Flaubert represents in the first lines of the 
text the social stratifications depicted in his novel. 

56 Giuliana Adamo 

Reaching a conclusion that is the opposite of Aragon's, Duchet maintains that all 
novel beginnings involve a technique and cannot be ascribed solely to the 
arbitrariness of an omnipotent demigod (101). Both Dubois and Duchet, despite 
their respective and diverse viewpoints, emphasise above all the informative 
nature of the beginnings of novels. 

3.3 The illocutionary force of beginnings 

In 1989, Genette, referring to an article by Searle, examined the pragmatic 
statute of narrative fiction.'^ The French scholar attacked two corollaries of 
Searle's theory: 1) the description of the fiction as an assertion is exclusive; and 
2) the pronouncements of the fiction have no meaning other than the literary one. 
For Genette neither corollary is true. It cannot in fact be excluded that the 
pronouncements of the fiction are at the same time something else, and that the 
novelist, while pretending to make assertions (on fictitious beings) is doing 
something else, which is creating a novel. At this point, and this is what really 
interests me, Genette wonders if it is not rather the case of including fictional 
statements among the non-literal ones: both figurative (e.g., 'You are a lion'), 
and indirect (e.g., 'Would you pass me the salt?'). And the answer is affirmative. 
In order to explain it, Genette turns to the example of the prophetic signal of the 
fictional, "Once upon a time," which is certainly a fictional assertion (not 
serious, in Searle's language), but is also a figurative statement (according to 
Genette's suggestion). This second aspect of "Once upon a time" hides its true 
reality, its zero degree, its primary pragmatic force, which is threefold. First, it is 
a request: 'Try to imagine that there was a time.' Then, it is a performative 
declaration: 'Now I am causing you to imagine that there was a time.' Finally, it 
is an obviously serious assertion: 'Now I want to create in your mind the 
fictional story in which there was a time. 'The difference between the direct 
formulation (1) and the declarative (2,3) is that the effect of 2 and 3 is more 
marked. For Genette, the second is the most correct formulation: 

'^ Genette chooses only the third person eterodiegetic and extradiegetic narration as the 
object of his study, and wants to define which type of speech acts are performed by the 
author in texts of that sort (237-8). In order to do so, he departs from Searle's theory 
which considers narrative assertions not to be speech acts. 

One consequence of Searle's viewpoint is that fiction is not a specific illocutionary act; it 
is a problematic one and, in fact, Genette questions it and succeeds in correcting it. I 
would also like to recall that, on different grounds, Chatman tried to apply Austin's 
speech acts theory to the analysis of literary narrative sentences (see his reading, for 
example, of the beginning of The Brothers Karamazov). Chatman insists upon the fact 
that characters' speech acts are logically different from those of the narrator (161-65). 

Twentieth-Century Recent Theories on Beginnings and Endings of Novels 57 

La fiction narrative, comme la fiction mathematique et sans doute quelques autres, peut 
done etre raisonnablement d6crite, dans son etat primaire et serieux, comme une 
declaration au sens searlien, et done comme un acte illocutoire sui generis, ou du moins 
sui speciei, dans le genre plus vaste des illocutions declarative a fonction instauratrice. 


The "Once upon a time," which Searle defines simply as a pretend assertion, 
can be understood (according to Genette) as an indirect illocutionary act for 
which the fictional pronouncement acts as the vehicle and whose value is ad 
libitum a request, a performative declaration to start the story, or another true 
assertion. What interests Genette is a fiiller definition (fiiller than Searle's) of the 
ordinary statements of fiction as pretend assertions which hide, with varying 
degrees, very serious declarations and requests that must be considered as 
declaratory acts. Genette concludes his article by raising two other problems 
connected to the first. First of all, taking the gnomic beginnings of La princesse 
de CI eves, Anna Karenina, and Pride and Prejudice, he shows that it is 
definitely not true that all the statements of a work of fiction are fictitious, but 
that they can also be serious, as the beginnings of these novels demonstrate. 
Then, he asks that we not underestimate the fact that alongside the voluntary 
pragmatic force (voluntary on the part of the author) of the fictional statements 
there also exists an involuntary one, whose illocutionary strength is not the same 
at both ends of the literary chain of communication (245-6). 

I found Genette's proposals very stimulating, and I believe that the idea of 
the narrafive beginning endowed with an illocutionary power that serves as a 
performative speech act to start the novel can be extended to all narrative 
beginnings and explains even those which appear most obscure and elliptical. 

3.4 For a poetics of beginnings 

Del Lungo set out a number of criteria for a poetics of incipit. After indicating 
some of the more significant contemporary ideas on beginnings, arguing with 
some of them and adopting a Jakobsonian position,^^ he arrived at a definition of 
beginnings that was sufficiently elastic to allow him to overcome the typical 
difficulties encountered by all those who study beginnings:^' 

~° I am mainly refering to Jakobson's six-part scheme used by Del Lungo (134) regarding 
three fundamental functions of narrative debut: 1 ) referential (setting up its context); 2) 
metalinguistic (setting up its code); 3) phatic (setting up its contact with its addressee). It 
should be noticed that the latter has a double goal offering a strategy for orientation and 
one for seduction. 

^' The question of beginnings' variable geometry, of their spatial delimitation is one of 
great urgency. Del Lungo refuses to identify the incipit with the first sentence of the text, 
preferring the notion of incipit as premiere unite du texte: a unit which goes from the first 

58 Giuliana Adamo 

[. . .] — un fragment textuel qui commence au seuil d'entree dans la fiction [. . .] et qui se 
termine a la premiere fracture importante du texte; — un fragment textuel qui, de par sa 
position de passage, peut entretenir des rapports etroits, en general de type metonymique, 
avec les textes qui le precedent et le texte qui le suit, Vincipit etant non seulement un lieu 
d'orientation, mais aussi une reference constante pour le texte suivant. 


This definition also permits elements that are outside the text to be included in 
the incipit. 

After emphasising the two-fold structural role of beginnings, Del Lungo 
then identified four ftmctions of a beginning: 1) to begin the text (the codifying 
ftinction); 2) to arouse the reader's interest (the seductive function); 3) to set the 
scene for the narrative fiction (the informative function); 4) to set the story in 
motion (the dramatic function) (138).^^ 

It was in relation to functions 3 and 4 that Del Lungo set out his theory of 
the incipit. Within the third ftinction (informative), Del Lungo made the 
following distinctions: a) the thematic ftinction (reference to the real world, to 
information outside the text); b') the metanarrative function (concerning the 
organisation of the narrative); b") the constitutional ftinction (concerning the 
construction of the fictional world). 

Now these three ftinctions allow the drawing of an axis which encompasses 
the whole range that goes from the saturation of information to the rarefaction of 
information which it is possible to find in an incipit. As for the dramatic function 
(point 4 above), it is necessary to make a distinction between two possible ways 

lines to the first (formal or thematic) fracture which indicates the end of the incipit. and 
whose signals may be different (typographic, narratological, linguistic). (For this 
definition see also Comille 50). Del Lungo also wonders where an incipit actually begins, 
because sometimes it may be unclear (see, for example, the beginning of Manzoni's / 
promessi sposi ). 

^^ Within each of those four functions, further specifications can be found. 1) A codifing 
function which may be: direct (metatextual discourse), indirect (intertextual reference), 
implicit (latent signals). II) A seductive function which is characterized by: use of the 
enigma, unpredictability {Tristram Shandy), explicit determination of the reading pact (Se 
una notte d'inverno un viaggiatore), immediate dramatization {incipit in medias res). 
Note that within the seductive ftinction Del Lungo does not take into consideration 
beginnings' aestethic value which in my view is essential. Ill) An informative ftinction 
which may be: on text, and in this very case it does coincide with the above-mentioned 
(I) function; on referent (that is on the world); on fiction (that is, on story, or on 
discourse). IV) A dramatic function, according to which a text can start off in medias res 
or enter progressively into the plot (138-44). As for this interpretation I would like to 
stress that, although Del Lungo does not acknowledge this fact, it was Coletti in 1980 
who first signalled the different speed of language opposed to the very beginning of the 
narration (Coletti, 136-7). 

Twentieth-Century Recent Theories on Beginnings and Endings of Novels 59 

of entering into the narrative: I) in medias res; II) progressively, deferring the 
action to the heart of the story. Based on I and II (that is, according to whether 
the entry into the action of the story is immediate or delayed) we have a second 
axis, similar to the first, which goes from immediate dramatisation to deferred 
dramatisation (144). 

The conclusions drawn by Del Lungo are that the first two functions, 
codifying and seductive, are transverse and constant, while the last two, 
informative and dramatic, are variable. This variability is measured by the 
intersection of the first axis (saturation of information/rarefaction of information) 
with the second (immediate dramatisation/deferred dramatisation). The schema 
thus obtained allows for incipit to be classifed as follows: static (with saturation 
of information and deferred dramatisation, for example, Balzac's Eugenie 
Grandet); progressive (with saturation of information and immediate 
dramatisation, eg. Zola's Germinal); suspended (with rarefaction of information 
and delayed dramatisation, for example, Beckett's L'Innomable); dynamic (with 
rarefaction of information and immediate dramatisation, for example, Gide's Les 
Faux-Monnayeurs) (145). 

The two functions at the basis of the classification of each incipit are 
hierarchically different: the dramatic function prevails in dynamic incipit, while 
the informative one dominates in static incipit. They co-exist in the progressive 
incipit; they are absent (or seem to be) in the suspended incipit which appears 
almost to be a refusal to begin. Del Lungo concludes by suggesting a 
cronological reading of beginnings from Balzac (static beginnings) to Beckett 
(suspended beginnings). But I do not agree with this last point, because it is 
possible to disprove it if one thinks, for example, of the beginnings oi Jacques le 
fataliste and Tristram Shandy, which to me are two striking examples of 
suspended incipit, even though they belong to the eighteenth century. 

3.5 The seduction of beginnings: The case of Italo Calvino 

With Se una notte d'inverno un viaggiatore, Calvino succeeded in writing a 
novel of beginnings. Within the sphere of his rigorous search for the meanmg 
and function of literature, Calvino, particularly sensitive to the metanarrative 
dimension of the literary text, defined his anxiety over the problem of beginnings 
in this work. He himself stated: 

[. . .] e come se nel momento dell'attacco 11 romanzo sentlsse 11 bisogno dl manlfestare 
tutta la sua energla. L'lnlzlo d'un romanzo e I'lngresso In un mondo dlverso, con 
caratteristiche fislche, percettlve, loglche tutte sue. E da questa constatazlone che sono 
partlto quando ho comlnclato a pensare a un romanzo fatto solo dl Inlzi, quello che e 
diventato Se una notte d'inverno un viaggiatore. 


60 Giuliana Adamo 

We also know, furthermore, from an explicit declaration by Calvino, that Se 
una notte is not the only case where the problem of how to begin has become the 
very theme of the novel itself; something analogous was also attempted in 
Cosmicomiche (750). Calvino's fundamental concept is that literary beginnings 
(and endings) are decisive because they delineate "un mondo a se stante, 
autonomo, autosufficiente, un mondo ipotetico, uno dei tanti possibili, un'isola 
in un arcipelago, un corpo celeste in una galassia" (750-1). The literary 
beginning is the transition from the unlimited possibility of saying everything in 
every possible way to saying only one thing in only one way: 

Fino al momento precedente a quelle in cui cominciamo a scrivere, abbiamo a 
disposizione 11 mondo [. . .] e noi vogliamo estrarre da questo mondo un discorso, un 
racconto, un sentimento [. . .] Ogni volta I'lnizio e questo momento di distacco dalla 
molteplicita dei possibili: per il narratore I'allontanare da se la molteplicita delle storie 
possibili, in modo da isolare e rendere raccontabile la singola storia che ha deciso di 
raccontare stasera. 


The beginning, therefore, is the transition from the universal to the particular. 

In Se una notte Calvino, influenced by the refined and exfremely literate 
literary games of his friends in Oulipo,^^ created, in Coletti's words, 'il piu 
singolare frattato di narratologia che si conosca' (143), in which the problem, the 
seduction, and the obsession of beginnings, as well as their ambiguous role as 
the signpost of fiction and at the same time of veracity, become the subject of the 
narrative, or rather of the metanarrative.^'* 

It seems to me that the possibility of a novel composed of beginnings, 
exemplified by Se una notte in the form of a continuous conversation with the 
reader, could be called a success from the point of view of the metanarrative, but 

" Amongst the most important exponents of Oulipo, I refer here to Queneau and Perec. 
Queneau in his very refined literary texts, based on his combinatory virtuosismo built 
upon breathtaking linguistic games, succeeds in achieving comic, oddity, and paradoxical 
textual effects. Perec, perhaps the most creative and most imaginative member of Oulipo, 
was a genius of catalogations. Given that his poetics might sound mechanical and arid, it 
is, on the contrary, incredibly rich and inventive. It is well known that the gestation of 
Calvino's Se una notte d'inverno un viaggiatore was largely influenced by Oulipo 
literary games. 

^"^ Calvino writes: "Ho riflettuto sul mio ultimo coUoquio con quel Lettore. Forse la sua 
intensita di lettura e tale da aspirare tutta la sostanza dei romanzo alFinizio, cosicche non 
ne resta piu per il seguito. A me questo succede scrivendo: da qualche tempo ogni 
romanzo che mi metto a scrivere s'esaurisce poco dopo I'inizio come se gia vi avessi 
detto tutto quello che avevo da dire. M'e venuta I'idea di scrivere un romanzo fatto solo 
di inizi di romanzo. 11 protagonista potrebb'essere un Lettore che viene continuamente 
interrotto.[. . .]" {Se una notte 197-8). 

Twentieth-Century Recent Theories on Beginnings and Endings of Novels 6 1 

it is certainly not successful from the point of view of the narrative, which 
requires that a novel cannot be nothing more than a beginning, but must also be 
capable of moving forward, of reaching an end. Nonetheless, the dream of 
Calvino who, let us not forget, wrote only short stories and novels and never a 
long novel, was precisely to maintain in the rest of the novel the fascination 
which is to be found in its pure state in the first sentences of a book.^^ 
Contaminating Borges's ideas of the infinite novel with the eastern model of A 
Thousand and One Nights, Calvino 's novel manages to exist by creating the 
desire to listen to the story and ensuring that the tension of the beginning is not 
lost in the telling. Se una notte is a metastory in which the pragmatic and 
conative functions of its poetic message are the most important. The narrator 
speaks openly to his reader, deceiving, disillusioning, provoking and, as a result, 
constantly exerting a fascination over him. Hand in hand with the plot of books 
constantly begun and never brought beyond the beginning is the plot of the 
readers, male and female, who are called to read and co-operate with those 
broken beginnings and to place conditions on the writer. With an irony typical of 
Calvino, the book, which opens and closes iconically,'^ finishes with a very 
particular happy ending that alludes with irony to the conclusive endings so 
beloved of readers, that is, with a marriage, not of lives, but of the parallel 
readings of the two protagonists. 

4.0 The arcane element in endings 

Ejchenbaum and Tomasevskij observed that in the global economy of the 
narrative rhythm of a novel, the conclusion presents a structure that is an 

" In Calvino's words: "Vorrei poter scrivere un libro che fosse solo un incipit, che 
mantenesse per tutta la sua durata la potenziaiita deU'inizio, I'attesa ancora senza 
oggetto. Ma come potrebbe essere costruito, un libro simile? S'interromperebbe dopo il 
primo capoverso? Prolungherebbe indefinitamente i preliminari? Incastrerebbe un inizio 
di narrazione nell'altro, come le Mille e una notte' (177)? The Utopian nature of such a 
proposal is unveiled earlier in the text where Calvino, referring to the present day classic 
incipit used by Schultz's Snoopy, "It was a dark and stormy night," says disenchantedly: 
"quel cane mitomane non riuscira mai ad aggiungere aile prime sei parole altre sei o altre 
dodici parole senza rompere I'incanto" (176-7). 

^^ "Stai per cominciare a leggere il nuovo romanzo Se una notte d'inverno un viaggiatore 
di Italo Calvino. Rilassati. Raccogliti. Allontana da te ogni altro pensiero. Lascia che il 
mondo che ti circonda sfumi nell'indistinto" (3). And here is the ending, circular and 
ironically metatextual: "Ora siete marito e moglie, Lettore e Lettrice. Un grande letto 
matrimoniale accoglie le vostre letture parallele. Ludmilla chiude il suo libro, spegne la 
sua luce, abbandona il capo sul guanciale, dice: 'Spegni anche tu. Non sei stanco di 
leggere?' E tu: 'Ancora un momento. Sto per finire Se una notte d'inverno un 
viaggiatore di Italo Calvino'" (263). 

62 Giuliana Adamo 

anticlimax, a slowing down, a reduction, an annulling of the narrative tension 
(Spannung). In the 1960s these ideas blossomed in the works of Hermstein 
Smith, whose Poetic Closure represents a milestone in contemporary studies on 
literary endings. To be completely accurate, the first person to raise the problem 
of literary endings, in the poetic instance, was I. A. Richards in his short and 
eccentric essay written in 1963, while the person who most defmitely rekindled 
interest in this long-neglected problem was Kermode in 1967. 

In the wake of Hermstein Smith's essay dealing with endings in poetry, 
other important studies were published among which are Hamon's 'Clausules,' 
Torgovnick's Closure in the Novel, and the volume of the periodical Yale 
French Studies dedicated to the concept of closures. ^^ 

The proposals of the above-mentioned authors are concerned with the 
definition and the modality of poetry endings (Richards, Hermstein Smith) and 
novel endings (Hamon, Torgovnick). Their diverse stances have given rise to 
fertile discussion with which I intend to deal in the following paragraphs. 

4.1 Poetic endings and closure 

In her volume, Hermstein Smith looked at a wide range of Anglo-American 
poetry and studied how they ended. She focused on metrical forms from 
Renaissance sonnets to the most recent avant-garde experiments of no-structure 
and anti-closure typical of most modem poetry. Unlike Richards (164-5), she did 
not believe that the poetic text was a self-contained entity that contained its own 
beginning and ending. Consequently, the closure or the failure of closure cannot 
be explained only in terms of the text (as Richards claims), but are an effect of 
the reader's experience. ^^ 

The fundamental point of her argument is that all the procedures of closure 
that she indicates (38-195) are never conclusive in themselves and can, in fact, 
easily be found in other parts of the text, but it is the perception that the reader 
has of these elements that makes them conclusive. Always bearing in mind the 
relationship between structure and closure in poetic texts, Hermstein Smith tries 
to identify rhetorical techniques similar to those that socio-linguists attribute to 

" Larroux also offers a rich bibliography on spatial delimitation oiincipit and conclusion 


^* h should be noted that Hermstein Smith's study was published in 1968, showing that 

she has elaborated the contemporary reflections on the renewal of importance of the 

reader's role in the creative process of textual meaning. The notion of closure that every 

reader formulates about a given text is genetically linked to at least two factors: 1) the 

relation between text and spoken language; 2) literary codes (30). 

Twentieth-Century Recent Theories on Beginnings and Endings of Novels 63 

speakers of oral dialogue, whose purpose is to announce, to organise, to 
emphasise the end of a poem.^^ 

The closure of a text is concerned with the sense of completeness that the 
reader draws from it, and this often depends on the type of forms we use to 
identify it.^° In other words, closure occurs when the conclusive part of a poem 
creates in the reader a sense of appropriate cessation. Some of the more common 
procedures used to determine the closure of a poem are: verbal repetition, metric 
regularity, formal parallelism, non-modified absolute assertion, clausal 
reference, oracular statement (195) 

Of particular interest is the interruption of a repetition (formal or thematic). 
Repetition, in fact, tends to give stability to the poetic structure, and the longer it 
lasts the stronger is the reader's desire for variation and conclusion. Repetition 
produces many effects (boredom, weariness, impatience), but not closure. 
Closure requires the introduction of a variation, something which will break the 
anti-conclusive flow of the repetition (50-95). Another element which is 
identified as being strongly conclusive is thematic concentration at the end of a 

If Hermstein Smith's theories were formulated in relation to poetry, it is 
nonetheless true that the above ideas are also valid where the novel is concerned. 
Coletti in particular successftilly applied the rule of interrupted repetition to the 
endings of various novels, noting, for example, that many endings have one or 
more statements on an ascending climax which are immediately contrasted with 
an opposite statement, often linked by a conjunction {and, but) or by an adverb 
of immediate consequentiality (then, therefore). In these cases 

si puo notare come la fine sia preceduta da un vero e proprio affollarsi di verbi, da un 
ingorgo fatto di accrescimenti ritmici ravvicinati, cui segue, piu o meno distesa ma quasi 
sempre asimmetrica, una frase ritmicamente rovesciata.^^ 


^^ For a socio-linguistic approach, see Schegloff and Sacks. The two authors develop a 

totally empirical analysis on conversation and on the ways used by speakers to signal 

their addressees the end of the conversation. 

^° "Our sense of the completeness of a form, in other words, often depends upon the class 

of forms with which we identify it. We will know that a sonnet is complete as such only 

if we know what sonnets are" (26-7; original emphasis). 

^' "The force of the whole piece, is for the most part left to the shutting up; the whole 

frame of the Poem is a beating out of a piece of gold, but the last clause is as the 

impression of the stamp, and that is it that makes it current" (John Donne, Sermons, qtd. 

in Herrnstein Smith 37). 

^^ As an example, the ending of Buzzati's Deserto del tartar i could be mentioned: 

"Giovanni raddrizza un po' il busto, si assesta con una mano il colletto deH'uniforme, da 

ancora uno sguardo ftiori della finestra, una brevissima occhiata, per I'ultima sua 

porzione di stelle. Poi nel buio, benche nessuno lo veda, sorride" (210). 

64 Giuliana Adamo 

And it is certainly not a coincidence that Rabinowitz when talking about 
and, but, then, therefore, etc. used the terms intratextual disruptions, ruptures 
(66). Finally, Loafer identified on a lexical level certain pre-closure adverbs such 
as never, eventually, finally (301). 

4.2 Clausule and closure 

Following Poetic closure, Hamon published an important article on the subject 
of literary endings entitled 'Clausole'. He went back to the Latin origin of 
clausula, deploring the age-long lack of interest in the topic, and applying the 
term equally to poetry and prose (poetry in the Jakobson sense) (497-8). He 
made a distinction between clausule (formal) and cloture (thematic), and 
emphasised the necessary intervening relationship between a text's fin (its 
clausole in the strict sense of the word), its finalite (its ideological function: 
greater or lesser lisibilite of the text, its conative or referential functions), and its 
finition (in the traditional sense of closure, internal coherence, stylistic, and 
structural completeness) (499)." 

In the average modem reader, the sense of clausola is identified with the 
perception of the interaction among the three parameters {finlfinitionl finalite) at 
that particular point in the text which is followed by the maximum of textual 
white space. ^^ Clausola(s) are linked to literary genres. Each genre develops its 
own clausulae, which serve as indications, signposts: "And they lived happily 
ever after" (fairy tales), "Yours faithfully" (letters), "Remove from the oven and 
serve cold" (cookery recipes), the envoi (ballads). Amen (prayers) (500-1). Each 
text establishes its own code of closure in ways that are more or less 
stereotypical. Given the high degree of codification of clausulae, it is more a 
question of recognition than understanding. For Hamon, clausulae are not only 
to be found at the end, but can also be scattered throughout the body of the text, 
always producing, however, a feeling of a check, a stop. Taking up Hermstein 
Smith's central idea (which is that no textual element can actually be called 

" "Un texte peut avoir une fin sans avoir de 'fini' (une conversation 'a batons rompus'. 
'sans queue ni tete'), avoir du 'fini' sans avoir de finalite identifiable (un mythe, un rite), 
ou de fin proprement dite (la fin 'en queue de poisson' d'un monologue lyrique difftis, ou 
la devinette et la charade privees de leurs reponses, ou encore le texte autobiographique 
ecrit au jour le jour sous form de journal — exemple le Horla de Maupassant — qui ne 
peut se terminer qu'avec la mort du narrateur. mort que, par definifion, il ne pourra 
raconter lui-meme)" (500). 

^'^ Sandras, by choosing Flaubert's narrative as object of his study, maintains that the 
strategy of textual blanks is fundamental for creating the conditions which make the end 
of the book possible. 

Twentieth-Century Recent Theories on Beginnings and Endings of Novels 65 

conclusive in itself, but is only so in function of the reader's reaction), he argued 
that final clausulae do not exist as such. It is true, however, that there is a 
convergence and a simultaneity of determined procedures at the end of a text 
(that is, it frequently occurs that even texts which are very diverse end with 
certain recurring prodecures) in the presence of which the reader knows that he 
has reached the end, in the same way that a spectator at the cinema knows that 
the film is about to end and begins to gather up his coat and hat (498). But what 
are these procedures? Some of the more common are (let us not forget that 
Hamon is referring to both poetic and narrative texts): metatextual interventions 
(the intrusion of the writer's technique, his problems, his thoughts, his efforts, of 
retrospective or prospective interrogation, etc.); word play (metaphor, double 
meanings, ambiguity, paradox, etc.); thematical elements of ending (recourse to 
all its metaphoric variations: death, night, silence, mutism, closure, falling off, 
etc.); framing devices (the repetition at the end of the beginning or the title; to 
this technique belongs the theme of memory); the moral, the final maxim, the 
universal affirmation (which is set out as the legenda of the text; usually these 
are minimal, nominal phrases containing hyperbolic vocabulary: never, always, 
nothing, everything, in an atemporal present tense, with no modifiers, etc.); 
parallelism, chiasmus, repetition (e.g., the effect of clausole is particularly strong 
in an enumeration the last element of which is preceded simply by the 
conjunction and); ellipsis (514-26). None of these procedures, which we will 
find amply used in the endings of the novels in my thesis, is either necessary or 
sufficient for the closure and can be found anywhere else in the text. 
Nonetheless, they always involve the perception of a stop, a pause, a break. 

4.3 Closure and the novel 

Taking his inspiration from Kermode's work on endings and Hermstein Smith's 
work on closure, Torgovnick examined the problem of the endings of novels. 
Taking as her starting-point the assumption of the literary work as an artistic tout 
se tient (in the footsteps of Aristotle, H. James, E.M. Forster), Torgonovick's 
study looked at the suitability and the appropriateness of the way the ending 
relates to the beginning and the middle. The ending and the closure reveal the 
essence of a novel with particular clarity (19)." Her work, carried out on a 
restricted corpus (eleven novels), tackles some of the more common prejudices 
and gaps in certain contemporary theories on the endings of novels, and 

" She underlines that the end is the textual locus where the author mostly wishes to sum 
up the situation regardless of its type (estethical, ethic, social, political, epistemological) 
or, even, it is where the author decides whether or not to make a summation. 
^^ Actually, Torgovnick takes an opposite view to Girard's and Friedman's theories (9- 
10). They are too biased. Girard's text discusses only one type of novel (Stendhal, 

66 Giuliana Adamo 

provides a flexible model, an expandable outline of concluding techniques which 
could be applied to many other literary endings. In Torgovnick's opinion, the 
traditional opposition between epilogue and scene, relating to the form of the 
ending, is effective but insufficient (and she aims therefore to improve on it).^^ 
She points out the limitations of a merely formal identification: if used too 
simply, the markers oi scene and epilogue can distort the sense of the wholeness 
of the ending, which is one of the main arguments of her work. This inadequacy 
of the terminology results in the need for new terminology to account for the 
variety in types of endings, which would respect the differences within the 
similarities and take into account the relationships of the ending with the form of 
the novel, the preoccupations of the author, and the experience of the reader. 

By reason of these relationships, she came up with four sets of terminology: 
I) concerned with the connection between the ending and the rest of the novel; 
five possibile closures depending on circularity, parallelism, incompletion, 
tangentiality, connection;^^ II) connected to the author's point of the view and 
the reader's (at the end of the work) on the characters and the main action; two 
concluding strategies: overview and close-up;" III) concerning the writer-reader 

Dostoevsky, Proust) while attempting to sum up the nature of all novelistic endings. 
According to Girard, novels either end with conversions or they are stigmatized as 
romantique in opposition to novelistic (147). Therefore his theory, though illuminating 
for a small number of texts, does not account for all novels' endings, and it obscures 
differences which, in narrative endings, are as important as similarities. 
Friedman's work overturns Girard's principles. For Friedman, the only true endings are 
open endings, which are the most typical in twentieth-century literature. As a result, he 
scorns many nineteenth-century novels. Furthermore, prejudices of modernist critics like 
Friedman have virtually destroyed the usefulness of terms such as open and close to 
describe narrative endings by making open the positive term and close the negative one. 
" According to the Russian formalist Ejchenbaum (240) the epilogue presents two formal 
characteristics: 1) it establishes a final perspective thanks to a change in the temporal 
scale or in the focalization; and 2) it offers some elements of Nachgeschichte (after-story) 
for the main characters. I recall that Henry James is one of the keenest practitioner of the 
scenic ending which is one of the possibilities of the open ending. Modelled after 
drama's endings, scenic endings present a final dialogue between two or more characters. 
That dialogue is usually intensely focused and lacking in authorial comments (James, 

^^ De facto, only the first three are discussed by Torgovnick. Circular endings are those 
which use again elements already used in the beginning; parallel endings employ again 
elements already used in the middle; incomplete endings are an elliptic case of the two 
above and they do not fully realize either circularism or parallelism (12-14). 
^^ Overview ending: characterized by a sudden temporal change which makes possible the 
insertion of authorial comments. Close-up ending: no temporal distance separates the end 
from the novel's body leaving the reader often perplexed and deprived of the comfortable 
overview (14-16). We may, therefore, infer that often epilogues are an overview in their 
technique, whereas scenes are a close-up. In my view, Torgovnick's proposal does not 

Twentieth-Century Recent Theories on Beginnings and Endings of Novels 67 

relationship during the closure; three types of ending: complementary, 
incongruent, confrontational;'*'^ IV) concerning the relationship of the author with 
his own ideas; two types of closure: self-aware and self-deceiving. 

The combined use of these four sets of terminology provides a flexible, non- 
polemical grid for the description of endings and closures of the novel. I found 
the first of these particularly useful (especially circular and parallel endings) and 
also the second (especially complementary or incongruent endings). As for III, I 
believe that there are better ways to describe more or less the same things 
(Uspenskij 8-172; Genette, Figure III 208-58). Finally, regarding IV, I find it 
implausible that a critic could go as far as examing the unconscious workings of 
a writer and thus the degree of control he/she exerts on the closure. " 

5.0 The fascination of extreme limits: The current publishing success of 
novel incipit and explicit 

As well as the recent interest in begirmings and endings shown by critics and 
writers in the wake of the works by Aragon and Kermode, we should also note 

succeed with her opposition overview/close-up in surpassing the traditional opposition 
epilogue/scene as she intended to. 

^^ Torgovnick, from the viewpoint of the relationship between the author and the reader 
in relation to the ending, speaks of complementary endings when the novel's endings do 
not meet with the reader's resistance; incongruent endings when the author has to push 
his reader to accept the text's ending; and confrontational endings when the author 
confronts the reader with endings which contrast strongly with the reader's expectations 
(16-18). For another definition of this aspect, see also Louvel and Verley, who, in 
relation to short stories, oppose rounded (boulee) endings and non rounded, 
unsatisfactory endings. They also identify disphoric endings (which follow euphoric 
beginnings), euphoric endings (which follow disphoric beginnings), and euphoric 
endings (which follow euphoric beginnings) (51-55). 

'" Self-aware endings: most authors know in depth their own opinions; they know exactly 
what they mean with their endings, and they succeed in so doing. Self-deceiving ending: 
authors (for several reasons) either do not have a clear and sufficient knowledge of their 
own ideas, or they do not succeed in communicating them in the closing part of the text 

''^ The monographic issue of Yale French Studies is devoted entirely to the concept of 
closure in its broader meaning. The matter mainly discussed is whether closure be 
concerning the text (Richards) or whether it be an effect performed by the reader 
(Herrnstein Smith). The real solution should be sought between those two possibilities. 
The fourteen articles collected in the volume, each focused on a specific text, deal with 
the topic of closure from different viewpoints and cover a huge span of time, from the 
Middle Age to the twentieth-century Parisian avant-garde. However, the closure is 
perceived by all contributors as synonymous of coherent and cohesive text, as described 
by Aristotle in his Poetics. 

68 Giuliana Adamo 

the spread of more popular publishing efforts that have met with considerable 
success with the general public. The last ten years have seen the publication, 
both in Italy and abroad, of a number of books dedicated to the beginning and 
ending of novels. These are non-academic texts conceived as anthologies or 
collections, whose declared intention is to entertain the reader, arousing his 
interest and curiosity. 

5.1 Era una noite buia e tempestosa 

In 1985 O'Connor published in Dublin a short book entitled First Lines, in 
which she collected an anthology, by its nature incomplete and subjective, of 
some of the best incipit of world literature (incipit in the sense of the first 
sentence of the novel). Her book is divided into thirteen very brief chapters, each 
of which is introduced by a thematic subtitle which groups together a variety of 
beginnings (e.g., 'Of Writers and Readers', 'Matchmaking', 'Important Places', 
etc.). On every page, the beginnings are quoted one after the other, challenging 
the reader to recognise the work and the author fi^om which they are taken. The 
answers are given in small print at the foot of the page, separated from the rest of 
the text by an unbroken black line. 

Three other books on the beginnings of novels, in the same vein as First 
Lines, came out in 1993 (two in Italy, one in the United States). Similar to 
O'Connor's book in terms of concept and layout but wider-ranging is the 
collection of 757 incipit (this time meaning the first lines of the text) by the 
refined Fruttero and Lucentini. Taking as their starting point the concept that the 
first lines of great novels are, at times, the most important in the whole book, the 
two authors made a selection of beginnings that are, in their opinion, the best, the 
most curious, stimulating, and mysterious, particulary, but not only, in novels 
(the texts range from the Bible to the Italian Constitution). The first part of the 
book consists of the beginnings, strictly anonymous and numbered progressively. 
It is divided into short chapters introduced by a thematic sketch, in place of the 
traditional subtitle, under which are grouped beginnings that have some 
characteristic in common (theme or situation) (13-191). The second part of the 
book consists of the solutions (193-275). In chronological order (corresponding 
to the number of each incipit) are listed the name of the author, the title of the 
work, the year of publication and, in certain cases, a few tasty titbits of 
information. The text, extremely lightweight, is rather interesting, particularly as 
a result of the odd, irreverent, and striking way the two authors have juxtaposed 
enfries. This is a book created with the aim of engaging the reader who will be 
happy or frustrated at the end, depending on how many incipit he succeeded in 
recognising. Incipit can be used in various ways: to consult, to play with, as a 
guide to the ideal library, as a taste of books not read, as a manual on how to 
begin a story. 

Twentieth-Century Recent Theories on Beginnings and Endings of Novels 69 

Published in the same year, but lacking the challenging element of 
guesswork that characterised the two previous examples, is the well-known book 
by Papi and Presutto, Era una notte buia e tempestosa, with an introduction by 
Eco. The authors collected 1430 beginnings of novels, divided into short 
chapters, each of which is introduced by a thematic subtitle. The incipit (of 
varying lengths ranging from a few words to several sentences) are followed by 
the name of the author and the title of the book. Once again, this is a personal 
anthology of beginnings, devoid of any element of research, that displays an 
unbridled passion for the novel. The hundred or so beginnings are classified 
according to subject, theme, time, and country. Here is Eco: 

La lettura di questo libro puo costituire un buon esercizio per educare il gusto, per 
riconoscere i colpi di stile, le idee felici. Per giustificare chi non ce I'ha fatta a! primo 
colpo eppure ha un nome celebre (e giustamente). Questo libro serve a molte cose. 


Again in 1993, this time in America, Ensign published Great Beginnings, a 
small unpretentious volume, less cultured than the books by Fruttero and 
Lucentini, and Papi and Presutto, appealing to the wider public and decidedly 
didactic. It is a collection of narrative beginnings (first sentences), grouped in 
short chapters introduced by a subtitle which relates to the narrative technique 
rather than to the theme that connects diverse begirmings (e.g., 'Once upon a 
time'; 'The Author Intrudes'; 'The Impersonal Pronoun', etc.) and by a short 
explanatory introduction. The author herself gives us the key to reading her text: 

[. . .] every writer's voice is unique, and it is the differences, not the similarities, that 
make a story worth beginning. Great beginnings. Short. Long. Descriptive. Active. 
Philosophic. Each of them a small gem, a mini-masterpiece, and most of all, a joyflil 
solution to Bertie Wooster's "dashed difficuh problem of where to begin." 


1995 saw the publication of Weaver's mighty volume Novel Openers, in 
which the author anthologizes 11,004 beginnings of novels. This time, 
beginnings are the opening lines which already contain the fiction and which are 
addressed by the narrator (and not, it should be noted, by the author) to the 
reader, and go as far (for the sake of brevity) as the completion of a thought, an 
image, or an idea. The beginnings are grouped (chronologically according to the 
year of publication and alphabetically according to the author's name) in short 
sections named for the subject which links them. The subjects are given in 
alphabetical order (the first is 'Ability', the last is 'Youth'). The corpus of the 
beginnings is followed by two indexes: the first of subject, key words, and key 
phrases; the second of author and title. It is an imposing work for its scope and 
organisation, and offers the possibility of seeing and comparing the largest 
number of incipit that have ever been gathered in one volume. 

70 Giuliana Adamo 

5.2 Famous last words 

In the more general sphere of cultural history, we have Guthke's publication Last 
Words. The author examines the fascination of final words, the words uttered by 
the dying as a seal full of meaning that will shed light, with continuity or with 
discontinuity, on the life that has gone before. In real life we have the problem of 
the authenticity of those last words, which are often falsified. But what is 
important is the human need for such artifice, as Kermode brilliantly proved. It is 
in literature that we have particular recourse to the expedient of the last words of 
the dying hero, a mirror of our 'never-ending search for meaning' (34). The 
sacred quality which man attributes to last words is one of the components of the 
fascination created by literary endings (let the example of the end of Conrad's 
Heart of Darkness suffice for all). 

A few years after the publishing success of his book on beginnings, Ensign 
published another on literary endings. The small volume is similar to the first: 
same editorial guise, same structure, same arrangement of the material, same 
didactic intent. It is, therefore, a collection of endings drawn fi-om a very wide 
range of novels, according to the author's personal criteria of choice. Just like 
the collection of beginnings, this is a light work, an easy and pleasant read, that 
can be used as a text for consultation or simply for enjoyment. 

The most recent book on endings is the Italian // Corsaro Nero piange by 
Schwamental and Straniero, a collection of 365 endings not limited to novels 
(poems, novels, essays) of varying length (from a few words to three pages), the 
selection of which was carried out at the whim of the authors (Dante omitted, 
Dario Bellezza included; Homer no, Craxi yes, etc). In the preface, the two 
editors declare a preference for open endings, indicating Henry James (none of 
whose works is included) as a real pioneer. But, I wonder, is the open ending 
really so modem? What then about the interruptus ending of Sterne's Tristam 
Shandy or Sentimental Journey, two texts from the eighteenth century? Doubts 
aside, what I consider important to emphasise is that this interest in beginnings 
and endings, whether academic or more popular, fully confirms the perceptions 
of Said and Kermode on our biological need for a framework. Moreover, 
perhaps the always hovering, irrational fear of the end of the millenium may 
have increased this interest, as witnessed by the success of the more popular 
publications just examined. And it is to the good that if literature on the one 
hand, with its serious and thoughtful works, represents human dilemmas, on the 
other, with works that are essentially divertissement, it helps resolve them. 

Twentieth-Century Recent Theories on Beginnings and Endings of Novels 7 1 
6.0 Conclusion 

The numerous studies examined so far, without claiming to be exhaustive, show 
the richness of the approaches used in the twentieth century for the study of 
textual limina. The definition of the opening sentence as phrase-seuil (Aragon, 
Jean, Pope, Linvelt), places the emphasis on the element of mystery in every 
beginning in the sense of a gesture of creation which is largely unconscious. 
Some studies focus on the question of the passage, of the link between the text 
and the hors-texte (Jean on beginnings). The identification of the ambiguous 
nature of beginnings (Barthes, Comille, Brombert, Coletti, Lintvelt, Del Lungo) 
attempts to capture their essential inexpressability, and emphasises the 
borderline trans it ivita between the real world and fiction and vice- versa. Duchet 
and Dubois concentrate, in their respective and diverse studies, on the 
informative nature of narrative beginnings. I found Genette's stimulating 
interpretation of the beginning of stories as indirect linguistic acts very fertile, 
and I extended it to endings as well (Come iniziano 218-41). The importance of 
the beginning as a moment of passage from the general to the particular is at the 
root of Calvino's Se una notte d'inverno un viaggiatore and his notes for an 
American lecture, which unfortunately he was not able to finish, on the 
phenomenon of beginning and ending a story ('Appendice'). Attempts have also 
been made to set up models for study and classification to be applied to 
beginnings (Lintvelt, Del Lungo) and endings (Torgovnick), the insufficient and 
partial nature of which reflects the mollezza of the object of the study, and 
enriches the discussion rather than rendering it sterile. Investigations into the 
concepts of ending, clausule, and closure (Hermstein Smith, Hamon, 
Torgovnick) indentified some of the most recurrent formal processes in the 
ending of a text. And finally, the contemporary success of more popular, non- 
academic texts on the beginnings and endings of stories is proof of the vitality of 
this ever-fascinating literary problem. 

I would like to conclude with the following summary: I) the incredible 
variety of opinions on the subject, which gives us an indication of the interest 
with which these privileged and valuable textual loci are regarded fi^om all sides; 
II) the significance of the uncertainty revealed by critics in their definition and 
textual limitation of beginnings and endings, which has resulted in each one 
adopting his/her own subjective criteria; III) the fact that, despite my efforts at 
balancing the treatment of the two problems, in the twentieth century the 
emphasis has been on beginnings; IV) a certain iconic lack of symmetry between 
beginnings and endings. Calvino, given his natural propensity for beginnings, 
emphasised that they are symmetrical from a theoretical point of view, but not 
from an aesthetic one ('Appendice' 749-50). I do not agree and would argue, 
instead, that they are aesthetically symmetrical, for there exist not only 
unforgettable beginnings but also unforgettable endings. They are not 
symmetrical from a more iconic point of view (and not, I do stress, the narrative 

72 Giuliana Adamo 

one), so much so that while it is quite common to signal the end in a metatextual 
manner (by explicitly using the caption THE END), there exists no such 
analogous procedure for beginnings."*^ 

Dublin University 

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''^ This practice, moreover, is also common in the world of cinema where, following the 
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Twentieth-Century Recent Theories on Beginnings and Endings of Novels 73 

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Twentieth-Century Recent Theories on Beginnings and Endings of Novels 75 

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76 Giuliana Adamo 

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Jonathan Smith 

Tabucchi Echoes Lacan: 

Making an End of "Postmodernism" from the Beginning 

Piazza d' Italia begins at the story's end, with an epilogo narrating its hero's 
death, shot through the head on a piazza lined with poHce (11-12). By the time 
this is recounted again (143-45), Garibaldo personifies both political practice, 
and collective memory: Tabucchi's first novel begins at the end of history. 
Although his second and fourth are likewise set in Italy, the scene moves to 
India in the third (where Pessoa's name is invoked), and Portugal (where it 
regularly recurs) thereafter. Given the geographical, generic, thematic, and 
stylistic diversifications of the two volumes following the second and preceding 
the third novel,' this might savour of exotic diversion, especially since Notturno 
indiano opens with an epigraph fi-om Blanchot. Yet all seven novels narrate 
violent deaths, always suffered in the presence of the civil power, always 
somehow veiled or travestied: this narrative and thematic nucleus constitutes the 
series as a pivotal axis of the corpus.^ The end of history brings no end of 
baffled suffering, dictating an investigation that begins again and again, its terms 
given by the names Pessoa and Blanchot (although neither can be taken at face 

The theatrical text "II signor Pirandello e desiderato al telefono" signals 
Pessoa's significance: an actor impersonates him for around twenty "figure 
maschili e femminili", the majority "manichini" although "ci sono anche cinque 
o sei persone che . . . come dei pazienti di un manicomio, indossano una sorta di 
pigiama grigia" (/ dialoghi mancati 15). The actor's manager has sold the idea 
that "parlare di follia sarebbe / terapeutico, dunque se mi state a sentire / stasera 

' // gioco del rovescio (first edition 1981), Donna di Porto Pirn e altre storie (1983). 
^ Compare with the passages cited from Piazza d' Italia: II piccolo naviglio, part 1, 
chapters 8 and 9, and part 2, chapter 9; Notturno indiano, chapter 12; // fdo 
dell'orizzonte, chapters 1, 5, and 19; Sostiene Pereira, chapters 2 and 24; La testa 
perduta di Damasceno Monteiro, chapters 13 and 21. The exception is Requiem, but 
compare chapter 6, on the destruction of an unpublished story, with the "storia di una 
storia che non c'e" in / volatili del Beato Angelica (58-61 ), the preface to L 'angelo nero 
(9-10) and "Voci portate da qualcosa, impossibile dire cosa" (13-28): on this evidence, 
"Capodanno" (107-52) appears to be a fragment of the lost novel, and to fill the gap in 

Annali d'ltalianistica 18 (2000) 

78 Jonathan Smith 

dormirete piu tranquilli, / e il vostro direttore c'e cascato, / bisogna capirlo, / e 
un'anima semplice" (25). "Pessoa" also aspires to relieve his own anguish by 
establishing communication with Pirandello, in distant Agrigento - but when the 
telephone rings, the call is from the asylum's direttore, bringing the 
performance to an inconclusive end. Somewhat as Italian history is beyond 
reach, so are both the literary tradition which might have been called upon to 
assist in interpreting it, personified by Pirandello, and the audience for the 
interpretation: a surrogate, venally counterfeited, is imported to assist in 
retrieving a collectivity Tabucchi suggests is irretrievable, in view of a conflict 
between unseen, ineffectual puppet-masters inside and outside an institution the 
action never leaves. 

The title inaugurating the project. Piazza d' Italia, combined with the 
subtitle "favola popolare in tre tempi, un epilogo e un'appendice", thematizes 
superimposition of static, institutionalized, spatial configurations on the prior 
temporality of a popular culture. The quasi-cinematic term "tempi" stresses this 
point. For the coming of the cinema to the village of Borgo is a protracted non- 
event, and the building a space of collective existence strangulated: transformed 
into a casa del popolo after repeated failures to launch it as a place of 
entertainment (66, 70, 82, 85, 97, 121-23), it is the venue of the violently 
interrupted strike meeting whence Garibaldo goes to his death (139-40). Re- 
configurations of institutional space — the demolition and erection of statuary 
on the piazza by each regime between 1860 and 1948 (16-17, 89, 121) — 
introduce a derived, historical, temporality: the second narration of Garibaldo's 
death specifies that he is shot down from the pedestal of the current statue of 
Democracy (143-44), underlining the event's terminal significance, but also the 
vacuity of the series terminated. The third tempo ftirther emphasizes the benefits 
of an agricultural community's transformation by the newly established factory 
where the strike occurs, and by road and rail links that bring outsiders into the 
village, and prospects of tourist development (135-39): the end of history 
becomes visible with modernity. 

Narrative time approaches indecipherability, being segmented by very short 
chapters, disorientatingly ordered, but also dilated in domains ordered by pre- 
historical temporality, or female prerogatives. Melchiorre's abortive courtship of 
Asmara extends from the middle of the First to the middle of the Second World 
War (65-67, 82, 89-91, 99-100, 109-12), and Garibaldo's begins even earlier, 
coming to term hours before Melchiorre's suicide during the massacre 
occasioned by his denouncing Garibaldo to the Germans (60-61, 68-69, 72-73, 
82, 86-87, 92, 100-102, 106-107). The rest of the story is structured as by 
requirements to interpret these events, and Asmara's temporizing towards 
Garibaldo ultimately explained by a disclosure that she was attempting to elude 
the pattern of events leading to his death predicted by aged, ageless, soothsayer 
Zelmira (83, 87, 92, 106, 135, 145). Although Asmara realizes on the day 
Garibaldo dies that their destinies have outwitted her, and the prediction is about 

Tabucchi Echoes Lacan 79 

to be realized, her masquerade leads the story to this conclusion, and is itself led 
by the enigma outside time Zelmira personifies: sexual difference. 

This is one hint that despite affinities between them, and Tabucchi 's readier 
acknowledgements of Blanchot, Lacan plays more part in the project:^ section I 
sketches their conjoint significance. In preparation for a global reading, section 
II shows the Lacanian reference, introduced in 1975 in an uncollected essay on 
Pessoa as well as in Piazza d'ltalia, sustained and developed into the 1990s; 
section III outlines the extent of this divergence from a general configuration of 
Italian culture since 1968. Section IV shows problems already sketched in 1975 
confronted as late as 1997 on the basis of readings of Lyotard, as well as 
Blanchot, after Lacan: Tabucchi resists various classic Italian formulations of 
"postmodernism", annexing to the literary tradition powerful intellectual 
resources elsewhere dissipated. 

I - Pessoa, Blanchot, Tabucchi 

Blanchot's name enters the criticism in Tabucchi's 1986 introduction to his own 
translation of The Book of Disquietude, a microcosm of the de-centred "galassia 
che non sta in nessun luogo" Pessoa and his literary production are {Un baule 
pieno di gente 69). In 1975, Tabucchi already reads Pessoa "in termini di . . . 
letteratura in assoluto, non letteratura in rapporto a" ("Interpretazione" 142), and 
his 1979 general interpretation is explicit that Pessoa' s recorded biography is a 
fiction on a par with those of his other personae, or heteronyms."* Now, the 
unfinished or unfinishable Book's generic discontinuities and posthumous 
publication evoke an absolute standard of "letteratura in assoluto" that was a 
landmark for Blanchot, Mallarme's Livre (Un baule 68).^ Before this, however, 
Tabucchi establishes a thematic resonance by characterizing heteronymic 
author/narrator Bernardo Scares 's observations and narrations as those of "una 

^ Explicit reference to Lacan informs two pieces on Pessoa collected in Un baule pieno di 
gente, "Un fil di fumo. Pessoa, Svevo e le sigarette" (76-92), and an "Intervista con 
Andrea Zanzotto" (114-22) where Zanzotto's is the Lacanian voice, but with bizarre 
intermittences. The interview resists interpretation, partly because the structure of 
argumentation and paragraphing suggest fallible transcription from a tape-recording, but 
also because the argument of "Un fil di fumo" finds echoes throughout Un baule (whose 
contents date from the period 1977-89), and earlier: beyond the interview, Tabucchi's 
critical voice is more consistently Lacanian in its accents than Zanzotto's is within it. 
'' See "Un baule pieno di gente" {Un baule 11-41), but note that this reproduces the 
introduction to Una sola moltitudine, volume 1 . 

' For a richly contextual ized account of Blanchot moving between his reading of 
Mallarme and the writing of his own fiction (which will ultimately be an important term 
of comparison with Tabucchi's), see Clark; for complementary overviews, see Antonioli, 
Hill, and Holland. 

80 Jonathan Smith 

vita estema e reale ma che si svolge estranea a lui, anche se gli transita accanto; 
e una vita interiore e inventata . . . due paesaggi che si intersecano e si 
confondono" (67). As already in Blanchot's 1943 note "Mallarme and the Art of 
the Novel" (Holland 43-48), the interiority registered in literature is no less alien 
than exteriority (and, to that extent, more so). These hints start the piece toward 
its intersection with Blanchot, via a cluster of associated references, and themes 
prominent in Tabucchi's fiction. 

Although the Book's quotidian register lends cogency to the dysphoria 
announced in its title, its themes of the gaze and the Soul introduce "qualcosa di 
piu di una semplice analogia" with Rilke's less prosaic Notebooks of Make 
Laurids Brigge, bearing on Rilke's character Erik Brahe, "che con I'occhio sano 
guarda il mondo dei vivi e con I'occhio fisso guarda il mondo dei morti" (69- 

la consistenza del personaggio . . . tende continuamente a . . . ridursi a . . . qualcosa che 
sta oltre lo sguardo e la psiche, oltre gli occhi e I'lnteiletto, e che Bernardo Soares chiama 
I'anima. Lo sguardo . . . costituisce la percezione e insieme I'alterazione dei dati 
deU'esperienza: e cio che sta fuori dell'Io e che I'lo fa suo, e il mondo estemo che 
diventa lo. L'anima di cui Soares parla . . . e dunque uno spazio difficilmente definibile: e 
la Coscienza e I'lnconscio, I'lo, I'Essere e I'Esserci ... si pone fra la vita e la coscienza 
di essa, fra I'essere e I'idea dell'essere, fra se stesso e I'idea di se stesso, fra il reale che 
egli guarda e il reale che egli riproduce nella sua descrizione letteraria. 


This casts fiction as ontological investigation on a plane preceding the 
establishment of subjective identities and objective realities, autonomous to the 
extent that "non e il caso di ritomare ora sulla controversa interpretazione 
heideggeriana di Rilke e di trovare il modo di aggiustarla al I/6ro" (70), but 
significant for its harmonies and differences with Heidegger ("I'Essere e 
I'Esserci") as well as Freud ("la Coscienza e I'lnconscio"). Akeady these 
references combine to suggest muted invocation of Lacan: correspondingly, the 
interlacing of the narrating personaggio' s gaze with the self-fashioning writing 
of his book is repeatedly unravelled and re-worked when Tabucchi's novelistic 
project is re-inaugurated in Notturno indiano, after readings of Lacan as well as 

Although Rilke's language and thinking inform The Space of Literature, 
Tabucchi draws a direct analogy between the insomniac condition of Soares's 
Soul and the "febbrile stato di veglia" evoked by the "esistenzialismo degli anni 
quaranta" of L^vinas and Blanchot, the second reference emphasized by 
attribution of the first to another critic (73 and 75). No bibliography is given, but 
the earlier mention of Erik Brahe secures an interpretation of this 
"esistenzialismo" as envisaging the radically de-centring exteriority figured in 
The Space of Literature by the impossibility of completing the literary work, by 
death, and, in the appendix fijmishing Notturno indiano's epigraph, by night: the 

Tabucchi Echoes Lacan 8 1 

potentially distracting imputation of existentialism is a blind, demanding 
elucidation. Equally enigmatic, Soares's "vita come impossibilita di riposare", is 
spent in what is "solo un apparente monologo: in realta e un dialogo incerto, un 
dialogo con un interlocutore inesistente, in certi casi una conversazione 
mancata" (73). Whereas the piece sketches the thematic core and intellectual 
matrix of Tabucchi's project, this condensed questioning of inter-subjectivity 
points towards its ethical dimension, where subjective identities in question 
come into a correlatively problematic relation with each other, this too staged in 
Notturno indiano. 

By way of clue to these enigmas, Soares's habitual insomnia triggers a 
gesture towards the project's constant, uneasy proximity to psychoanalysis: 
sleeplessness denies access to the "spazio privilegiato del romanticismo . . . il 
messaggio convenzionalmente interpretabile e comunque liberatorio: il sogno. 
Che farsene di Freud e di Jung?" (73). This questioning combines with that of 
dialogical inter-subjectivity to evoke the later Blanchot of The Infinite 
Conversation, where the ambiguous promise of psychoanalysis is personified by 
Lacan. ^ Tabucchi's reference to the 1940s and Levinas, who is Blanchot's 
indispensable interlocutor throughout the relevant period, therefore 
acknowledges Blanchot's project as such, rather than simply The Space of 
Literature (1955): the preface to The Infinite Conversation (1969), which 
postulates the "radical change of epoch ... or, to speak hyperbolically, 'the end 
of history'" Tabucchi's fiction addresses, also indicates continuity since 
"Literature and the Right to Death" (1948), and less directly since "Mallarme 
and the Art of the Novel" (xi-xii).' 

The structure and argumentative procedures of The Infinite Conversation 
are such that Tabucchi's global reference to Blanchot includes an equally global 
one to Lacan: this piece is characteristic of Tabucchi's writing throughout the 
period 1975-1997, in the readings invoked, in its oblique strategy of allusion, 
and in thereby deflecting interpretations of its psychoanalytical frame of 
reference as a clinical rather than ontological one, and of its ontological one as 
an under-elaborated postmodernism. At the same time, it affords readers the 
two-fold possibility of re-constructing the formative context of Tabucchi's own 
project, or else ignoring this, and taking him for a practitioner of literature and 
criticism who leaves everything as he finds it. Although Blanchot's reputation as 

^ See The Infinite Conversation 230-37; on Freud and Jung see also 194-201, 298-306 
and 407-2 1 . Where possible, French works are cited in English-language translations, for 
reasons of accessibility; dates of original publication in French are given in the text 
because often germane. This material is introduced in some detail, because indispensable 
to persuasive interpretation of Tabucchi's project. 

^ On this continuity, see Davies, whose condensed discussion may require 
supplementation by those listed in note 5; "Literature and the Right to Death" closes 
Blanchot's second collection of essays, T^ie Work of Fire (300-44). 

82 Jonathan Smith 

a litterateur makes him a relatively uncontroversial landmark, "literature" and 
"conversation" as configured by his enquiry bring into view the limitations of 
the tacit or explicit terms of reference available to any attempt to imagine 
individual or collective human existence: that these have expired is the sense of 
the end of history, and the cue for an ontological investigation moving beyond 

Blanchot's name returns in the 1990 preface to Vn baule, elucidating a 
formulation of Pessoa's project that admits his occult interests as the 1975 essay, 
purporting to understand them as irony, did not: 

Pessoa rimanda ... ad una metafisica della finzione, o ad un occultismo della finzione; 
forse ad una teosofia della finzione . . . e sempre una finzione "trascendente", e parola, 
ma nel senso che ev apxn r|v o ^toyoc;; e questa parola non e certo "il testo" letterario. II 
Logos di Pessoa, nella sua trascendenza . . . evade dal piano esistenziale-testuale e si 
attua nelf ontologico-metafisico. 


Esoterica aside, the impending reference to Blanchot might seem ill-assorted 
with those to the Evangelist, metaphysics, and even ontology, a term whose 
effects Blanchot questions during a reading of Heidegger that forestalls other, 
influential, ones Tabucchi finds in his way: Blanchot's programme resists 
unitary principles of explanation or meaning such as the term "Logos" suggests. 
Yet Tabucchi moves in a similar direction: by keeping enough cards in hand to 
prevent any particular term congealing into objectivity, he suspends the received 
opposition between a continuous objective reality and fallibly subjective 
interpretations of it, echoing the effect of the multiple re-metaphorizations and 
re-combinations of others' language in both The Infinite Conversation and The 
Space of Literature. 

Tabucchi calls on the latter book's opening essay, "The Essential Solitude" 
(19-34), for specification of the "'zona' nella quale avviene la finzione 
metafisica dello scrittore, la sua spersonalizzazione" {Vn baule 8): 

when to write is to discover the interminable, the writer who enters this region does not 
leave himself behind in order to approach the universal. He does not move toward a surer 
world, a finer or better justified world where everything would be ordered according to 
the clarity of the impartial light of day. He does not discover the admirable language 
which speaks honourably for all. What speaks in him is the fact that, in one way or 
another, he is no longer himself; he isn't anyone anymore. 

{The Space 28) 

^ See The Infinite Conversation 3-10 (ontology) and 298-306 (Heidegger); on Blanchot's 
response to Heidegger relative to others, see section III below, as well as Clark, and Hill, 

Tabucchi Echoes Lacan 83 

Blanchot's option for de-centring exteriority over the objective and universal 
principle of a historical teleology announces that the writing of an ontological 
investigation and the end of history are mutually implicated. The questioning of 
political practice and collective memory opened in Piazza d' Italia follow from 
this as much as from any empirical data or experience, while light's absence 
here complements the darkness visible of Notturno indiano\ epigraph, from 
Blanchot's third appendix, "Sleep, Night" {The Space 264-68): "Le persone che 
dormono male sembrano piu o meno colpevoli: che cosa fanno? Rendono la 
notte visibile" {Notturno indiano 7; compare The Space 265). Together, these 
mutually complementary passages displace received criteria of moral 
responsibility as well as objective reality and subjective identity: Tabucchi's 
project is one of substantive ethical as well as ontological investigation. On both 
fronts its primary but largely covert reference is to Lacan. 

II - Pessoa, Lacan, Tabucchi 

Unlike later essays, "Interpretazione dell'eteronimia" distinguishes Pessoa's 
heteronyms from the pseudonym he used in The Times crossword competitions: 
"A. A. Cross rappresenta il Potere di Sintesi, colui che e capace di trarre 
conclusioni e di dare risposte" (147). This persona, intrigued by the proposition 
'"tutto cio che e reale e razionale'" (148), sought satisfaction in reading Hegel, 
but also in reading and writing crime fiction: "Pessoa, affascinato e terrorizzato 
dal mistero gnoseologico . . . cerca nel 'giallo' I'impostazione del problema fra 
apparenza ingannatrice e verita nascosta" (148-49). 

Rather than explore this thinking in the terms still cautiously outlined in 
1986, Tabucchi moves directly to its fransformation into the "'Shakespeare 
problem'" in 1910, when Pessoa found himself held back from literary creation, 
and from all but the most casual or practical reading: the texture of the — 
paradoxically, no longer enigmatic — world was poetry enough. Previous 
commentators took the Shakespeare problem to be a philological one of textual 
tradition or attribution, but Tabucchi's complex comparison with Rimbaud 
suggests he is already reading Pessoa alongside Blanchot, in an ontological key.^ 
The Shakespeare problem "si riassume nel cercare di individuare con quali 
mezzi o grazie a quale sfrattagemma {sic) Shakespeare e riuscito a tradurre sul 
piano del teafro (una fmzione) la fmzione della vita (un teatro)" (151), in order 
to "tradurre sul piano della poesia (una fmzione) quella fmzione che e la vita" 
(152), thus staging the dissolution of the "problema fra apparenza ingannatrice e 
verita nascosta" into a texture of appearances without specifiable term relative to 
which it could be judged deceptive. Pessoa's "radicalismo intellettivo" calls 

^ Compare "Interpretazione" 158 and 160-61 with The Work of Fire 153-61, The Space of 
Literature 19-34 and 51-83, and The Infinite Conversation 285-92. 

84 Jonathan Smith 

forth a second-hand, feinting, reference to Wittgenstein (151), undeveloped, but 
signalling the gravity of Tabucchi's reading: from 1975, all his fiction addresses 
the Shakespeare problem on the basis of Lacanian resources marshalled but not 
declared in "Interpretazione". 

A theme of blockage informs Piazza d' Italia when the death of political 
practice is linked with that of collective memory: before Garibaldo's death in the 
role of strike- leader, his attempts to commemorate the massacre of his fellow- 
villagers are stifled by the PCI, which invites his performance as a latter-day 
cantastorie at its festa, but finds it disruptive of a social stability this occasion 
both demands and cements (131-33). Yet as in later works, storytelling also 
enquires mto its own possibilities on the basis of a story of sexual masquerade, 
here benign but elsewhere modulating between ambiguity and malignancy: such 
episodes both provoke and obstruct the progress of storytelling and of the stories 
told. In Bowie's condensed formulation, "there is no such thing as a sexual 
relationship, Lacan repeatedly announces . . . because, although each partner 
plays the role of Subject to the other's Other, this dispensation can never 
produce symmetry or reciprocity: language always creates between them an 
intractable and unsheddable surplus cargo of otherness' (154). Commenting on 
Lacan's maxim that '"the unconscious is the discourse of the Other'", Bowie 
further observes the inter-dependent instability of two constituent notions of his 
gloss on the impossibility of the sexual relationship: language may "be 
construed as an abstract system", but once it "takes again the form of speech it 
reassumes its intersubjective character: it becomes a 'third locus', the endlessly 
mobile space in which the Subject and its Other are made, dissolved, and 
remade" (82). Correlatively, "Lacan's 'Other' . . . designates now one member 
of the dialectical couple 'Subject-Other' and now the limitless field and 
overriding condition in which both members find themselves - 'alterity', 
'otherness'" (82-83).'° Piazza d'ltalia, the contemporaneous discussion of 
Pessoa's Shakespeare Problem, and much of Tabucchi's subsequent fiction, all 
turn on this relative specificafion of the de-centring exteriority also canvassed in 
more general terms by his references to Blanchot. 

"Interpretazione" construes Pessoa's heteronymic poetry as a definitive 
solution to the Shakespeare problem, and the 1915 play O Mahnheiro as a 
provisional one. Tabucchi's discussion of the play is more directly illuminating 
of his fiction than is that of the poetry, which — satirically - purports to 
construct a semiotic system serving the purpose of rehabilitating as irony those 
aspects of Pessoa's output which met with the Saiazar regime's approval, and 

'° The canonical reference is to Lacan, Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis 
(especially 19-21), explicated at length in Wilden, "Lacan and the Discourse of the 
Other". Bowie's discussion of Lacan on the impossibility of the sexual relationship is 
based, among other materials, on Encore, a work that carries the terms of the problem 
well beyond those in which, after Bowie, it is here introduced. 

Tabucchi Echoes Lacan 85 

corresponding disapproval from points left (161-62 and 183-84). However, part 
of the significance of the system postulated is that it is repeatedly undermined 
by Tabucchi's presentation of the poetic material it allegedly organizes, and 
incompatible with that of O Mahnheiro: from the beginning, appeal to Lacan 
insinuates response to the polemic against him in Eco's seminal work of 
semiological theory, La struttura assente (325-43). 

Tabucchi had written on O Marinheiro in 1 970, and would write two more 
texts to be published with his translation in 1988, and re-published in Un 
baule:^^ despite shifts of emphasis, his thinking remains largely unchanged 
between 1975 and 1988. Conversely, relating the Shakespeare problem directly 
to O Marinheiro in 1975 involves repudiating an interpretation of the play, as an 
exercise in Symbolism after Maeterlinck, previously endorsed. Sharpening focus 
coincides with Tabucchi's own simultaneously literary and intellectual vocation 
in the early 1970s: 

non sarebbe dunque 11 simbolismo del poeta belga, ma la poetica shakespeariana che 
Pessoa ha scoperto nel suo significato profondo: 11 Play within the play di Amleto e di 
Prospero con cui Shakespeare e riuscito a tradurre sul piano della finzione teatrale la 
finzione della vita. O Mahnheiro e pero . . . un'opera shakespeariana senza intrecci, 
senza miserie, senza umanita e senza personaggi: e la grammatica di Shakespeare che 
Pessoa, nel tornio del suoi ragionamenti, applica alle voci del dramma. 

"We are such stuff/ as dreams are made on; and our little life / is rounded with sleep", e 
I'aforisma (non di etica calderoniana, ma di poetica shakespeariana) con cui Prospero, 
all'inizio del quarto atto, avvia a conclusione La tempesta. O Marinheiro comincia a 
questo punto. 


Existing only in a dream, O Marinheiro' s three female characters watch over the 
corpse of a fourth in a dimly-lit circular room. Pending dissolution in a dawn 
both feared and desired, they convince each other of their existence by 
recounting their own dreams: "sono vive nella misura in cui ingannano se stesse, 
giocano e si intrattengono col loro a-passato. Parlare e Tunica possibilita di 
resistere alia storia enigmatica che le travolge" (152). One re-tells her dream of a 
shipwrecked sailor on a desert island, himself dreaming day-by-day and year- 
by-year every particular of a homeland and a past he never had: "la vegliatrice 
(un sogno) sogna un marinaio che sogna una patria, ovvero Play within the play 
within the play'' (155). Yet when a ship arrives, the sailor is no longer on the 
island: by dreaming the dreamer who dreams him and recounts her dream, he 
has already escaped, deferring indefinitely the reversal whereby "Prospero- 
Shakespeare, dopo aver mostrato che il mondo e teatro e il teatro il mondo, . . . 

" See "'II marinaio': una sciarada esoterica?" {Un baule 102-108), and "Traducendo il 
marinaio'" (109-1 1); on the reversal of the 1970 interpretation, see "Interpretazione" 152. 

86 Jonathan Smith 

rientra nel mondo degH uomini" (ibid). This is the point where Tabucchi's 
interpretation connects with his interpretation of the later poetry, as well as his 

Pessoa was runner-up, with his 1934 poem Mensagem, in a national 
competition to "dare una patina 'artistica' all'imperialismo e alle teorie 
panlusitaniche della politica estera fascista" (183-84). Yet read ironically, 
Mensagem's ideology of "antistoricismo . . . il disegno e la predestinazione di 
una esoterica Provvidenza, I'imperialismo giustificato da concetti mistici e 
occulti . . . potrebbe anche essere la fotografia pietosa e amara di un paese che 
non ha ancora trovato la sua identita storica, che si e perduto nella vastita dei 
mari, che e il fantasma di se stesso" (184). Pessoa's dissociation from 
Portuguese identity will be crucial to Tabucchi's interpretation in 1979, as 
already in 1975: unlike the shipwrecked sailor, Pessoa cannot construct his 
homeland in absentia, because "la sua patria e intomo a lui: la realta massiccia e 
fittizia non gli lascia scampo" (157). The multiplicity of heteronymic identities 
and voices responds to this situation, and dissolves it. Tabucchi's fiction 
addresses the same problem vis-a-vis Italy, placing him, qua author, in the role 
of shipwrecked sailor, or Pessoa minus heteronyms, without either resorting to 
theoretical discourse, or subjecting ordinary language to the stress evident in his 
stipulation of Pessoa's predicament, which grows: "Fingere che sia reale cio che 
e reale (reale che a sua volta e una finzione assurda e misteriosa) significa 
sottrarsi, con uno stratagemma, alia schiacciante e massiccia presenza della 
finzione: e un paradosso magico grazie al quale resta al poeta, nella sua assoluta 
non-liberta, la liberta di non essere libero" (158). Beginning in this essay, 
Tabucchi commits himself to the conditions imposed by the discourse of the 
Other, modelling his own imprisoning nation at sea on Pessoa's, and Pessoa's 
thinking on his own, in a chiastic movement continued up to 1997, when it 
models life as well as art in La gastrite di Platone and La testa perduta. 

In 1975, "che lo si voglia sfliggito al Tempo e alio Spazio, o semplicemente 
suicida fra gli scogli dell'isola, il Marinaio ha comunque risolto il mistero ed ha 
raggiunto la dimensione della Patria: sia essa I'archetipo inconscio o I'idea 
platonica di patria o magari di {sic) Nulla, che per Pessoa e forse la patria piu 
adeguata dei sogni quali noi siamo" (157). In 1988, the suggestion of suicide is 
softened, and the Platonist option withdrawn: "che lo consideriamo ftiggito al 
Tempo e alio Spazio o che lo vogliamo addormentato/morto fra gli scogli 
dell'isola, il Marinaio ha risolto comunque il mistero e ha raggiunto la 
dimensione della sua patria: sia essa un archetipo inconscio, una dimensione 
'altra' o il Nulla, che forse e per Pessoa la patria piu idonea ai sogni che noi 
siamo" {Un baule 106-107). Already in 1975, the Platonist option seems 
anomalous relative to Pessoa's dissolution of the "problema fra apparenza 
ingannatrice e verita nascosta" into the Shakespeare problem, and together with 
its Jungian complement, it reads as a complex, simultaneous, allusion and blind: 
Plato and Jung triangulate Lacan. 

Tabucchi Echoes Lacan 87 

In both 1975 and 1988, Tabucchi compares the sailor's predicament with a 
riddle also cited in La gastrite (24-25): a prisoner must choose between two 
doors leading one to freedom and one to the gallows, and knows that one of his 
two guards always lies and the other tells the truth, but not which guard (or 
door) is which. The solution is to ask one guard what advice the other would 
give, and not follow it. At each telling, Tabucchi spells out a conclusion: in 
1975, "bisogna invertire ci6 che e stato invertito" (157), in 1988, "il prigioniero 
deve riuscire a percorrere in senso inverso il processo attraverso il quale gli 
arriva la risposta" (107), and in 1997, "bisogna sempre stravolgere I'opinione di 
un'opinione" (25). Each time, Tabucchi alludes to other versions of the riddle, 
without observing that it is a simplified variant of a scenario repeatedly 
deployed by Lacan to illustrate the relation between Subject and Other, and 
declined by Eco in attempting to secure the foundations of semiology {La 
struttura assente 325-28). Tabucchi's hints at a Jungian interpretation of O 
Marinheiro afford a permanent possibility of distraction from his transactions 
with Eco and Lacan: these are already complete by 1975 (as the semiological 
satire shows), although their oblique exposition continues until 1997. By 
inverting it, the Platonist option of 1975 advertises Tabucchi's engagement on 
the Lacanian side (as does his elision in 1975 and 1988, but not 1997, of the 
crucial narrative, or temporal, dimension of the riddle's canonical version): 
contrary to Plato's anamnesis or recollection of eternal Ideas, Lacan, revising 
Freudian therapeutic practice as well as symptomatology with the assistance of 
Heideggerian hermeneutic ontology, writes of a "psychoanalytical anamnesis" 
envisaging future dislocations, inversions and re-structurings of the past's 
burdensome meanings for the present.'^ This is the point at which Tabucchi's 
and Lyotard's responses to Lacan intersect: despite exploratory deviations and 
extrapolations from this thematic axis, Tabucchi consistently essays anamnesis 
(not narrative re-presentation) of twentieth-century history, illusfrated here by 
Piazza d' Italia and La testa perduta. 

More decisively than some other fictions — including Sogni di sogni, where 
the riddle reappears (15-18), its significance to some degree camouflaged by a 
blatantly mythological context — these novels avoid the facile implication that 
everything is a dream: the dream-within-the-dream encountered in O 
Marinheiro is one of several devices used in Tabucchi's fiction to stage the 
opacities of the constitutively unconscious, inter-subjective, states and processes 
that insinuate themselves into the attempt to imagine collective existence, 
blocking it beyond the horizon too powerfully to be calculated or corrected. The 
sailor's conception of his homeland and access to it are controlled by the 

'^ For anamnesis, see Speech and Language 16-20, and compare Bowie 178-90, Wilden 
207-209, and Zizek, The Sublime Object of Ideology 87-129; for the — closely related — 
canonical Lacanian version of the riddle articulating Tabucchi's difference with Eco, see 
Speech and Language, especially 17-19 and 50. 

88 Jonathan Smith 

discourse of the Other, as Tabucchi's apparently tortuous, but careful, 
formulations of the relation between fiction and reality are controlled by 
Lacanian conceptuality despite adopting Pessoa as a pre-text. The fictional 
devices that ensue are not ludic: they studiously replicate the effect of Lacan's 
topological models of mental functioning, where the inside is continuous with 
the outside, and the whole cannot be grasped in a single moment. The most 
easily described is the Moebius band, a strip of paper twisted before being glued 
into a circle to give a single surface on which a line can be drawn whose end re- 
joins its beginning, but only in two revolutions: a single one arrives on the 
"opposite" side of the paper. '^ 

Tabucchi's most important device of this type is the chiastic movement of 
the fiction and thinking already noted, between himself and Pessoa, Portugal and 
Italy. This is most fully developed in La testa perduta, but responds to problems 
posed in Piazza d' Italia, where a double mise-en-abyme presents 
complementary scenarios of failure against which the novel demands to be 
appraised. On the one hand, Garibaldo's success as an entertainer - until he 
encounters stifling institutional indifference to popular memory — is launched 
by his stories of events broadly co-inciding with those of the novel, and 
culminating in the massacre (131-32). On the other, he has a counterpart in his 
Fascist cousin Melchiorre, author of stirring tales of colonialist exploits in 
Africa, recounted in a garish register of racist and sado-masochistic sexual 
fantasy and published in the 1930s (79-82). Their content, and success as prize- 
winning propaganda, narcissistically - if briefly - compensate Melchiorre's 
unfitness for military service or colonial adventure, and his erotic misery: he 
vainly expects authorship to advantage him in competition with Garibaldo for 
Asmara's love. Melchiorre's example says Tabucchi's fiction of sexual 
masquerade, set in a pre-industrial popular ambience on the point of vanishing, 
is open to interpretation as a fantasy made possible by the inaccessibility of 
inaccessible others, and on a par with the fantasies of triumphalist Fascism; 
Garibaldo's, that its best reception is likely to be as entertainment. Yet this 
message is aggravated. 

Tabucchi ventriloquistically ascribes to the preceding generation of 
Garibaldo's family a quasi-Lacanian comprehension of the discourse of the 
Other, emblematized by a penchant for palindromes, and pathologically intense 
empathy (15, 22-29, 32-33, 42-44). Passed down to him but denied to 
Melchiorre, whose conception and birth occasion his father's suicide, his 
mother's entering a convent, and his adoption by his paternal grandfather (30- 

'^ For discussion, see Bowie 192-194, and Zizek, The Metastases of Enjoyment 32 and 
passim. Clark, whose discussion does not explicitly bear on Lacan, uses this metaphor for 
certain effects of Blanchot's fiction (92), while Antonioli's general argument is that 
Blanchot's oeuvre establishes a relation of this kind between the theoretical and fictional 
domains (7 dind passim). 

Tabucchi Echoes Lacan 89 

31, 33-39), this motivates Garibaldo's superiority qua suitor and storyteller, and 
thus the novel's story as well as its persuasiveness relative to Melchiorre's own 
efforts. The semblance of access to traditional culture, diagnosis of the Fascist 
novelist's sado-masochism and narcissism, and that of Garibaldo's narcissistic 
bravado in provoking his political and sexual rival, thus occasioning the 
massacre (99-102), all stem from the same point. Lacanian psychoanalysis 
deciphers the novelist's and political actor's predicaments illustrated by 
Melchiorre and Garibaldo respectively, as well as providing the means of facing 
the former, but is in the first place an element of the post-traditional culture 
standing between the novel and the world it affects to narrate. 

If the novel is understood to articulate popular memory in the manner 
Garibaldo attempts, or as entertainment of the kind he provides, it functions as a 
fantasy of the kind Melchiorre's fictions exemplily; but once understood as so 
ftinctioning, it documents a disavowed continuity, such as Garibaldo's muzzling 
by the PCI also suggests, of the democratic present with the Fascist past. 
Continuity collectively denied, and, correlatively, the fictionality of 
contemporary reality, are, respectively, the trauma and the symptom Tabucchi 
addresses, both in works set in Italy (including, most programmatically, the 
second novel, II piccolo naviglio),^'* and in those set in Portugal, where historical 
perspective is frequently foreshortened by the more recent watershed of 1974. 
The continuities denied are by definition perceptible only refrospectively, 
sharing this characteristic with the symptom's fraumatic cause as conceived by 
Lacan, which conjures itself into malignant being retro-actively, when it disrupts 
processes of symbolization it eludes: causation follows the same logic of 
temporal inversion as anamnesis.'^ Precisely because fiction does not claim to 
communicate an objective truth adequately symbolized, it is the medium in 
which this problem can best be staged (as La testa perduta shows). Already in 
Piazza d' Italia, however, it also poses ethical problems Tabucchi develops 
throughout the intervening period. 

Melchiorre resorts to narcissistic self-affirmation through Fascist activism 
and literature in response to an emotion, fear, that pervades his story from 
boyhood to death (51-54, 56-57, 65-67, 79-82, 99- 100, 1 12), first announced in 
conflictual relations with childhood peers that capsize into solitude in 

'■* II piccolo naviglio has been re-published in Lise Chapuis's 1999 French translation; 
Tabucchi's preface refuses to countenance a new Italian edition without fiilly clarifying 
his reasons. In conjunction with the studied obscurity oillfilo dell'orizzonte, the material 
outlined in note 2, and the publication of an earlier version of "Capodanno" , "Lettere a 
Capitano Nemo", under the legend "capitoli scelti da! romanzo di prossima 
pubblicazione" (14), this partial, retrospective self-censorship stages — sul piano delta 
finzione che e la vita — the impossibility of satisfactorily narrating Italy to Italians in any 
direct way. 
'^ See, correlatively, the material referenced in notes 12 and 25. 

90 Jonathan Smith 

adolescence. Culpable as Melchiorre is in Asmara's and Garibaldo's eyes, this 
echoes Tabucchi's interpretation of the collectivity synthesized in Pessoa's 
heteronymic literary production, as responding to the solitude of the ontological 
investigation ultimately re-introduced, in the 1990 preface, by reference to 
Blanchot. Tabucchi formulates this response as a therapeutic one to a 
pathological state, but resists the quasi-clinical diagnoses hazarded by other 
critics, indicating from the standpoint of his own, ontological, investigation that 
Pessoa's is not accessible to pre-Lacanian, positivist, causal explanation (see 
"Interpretazione" 141-42, and Un baule 11-41). Correspondingly, Melchiorre's 
fear reads as a variant of the sensibility exhibited by other members of his 
family, rather occasioned than caused by a primary conflict with his grandfather 
and guardian. Tabucchi's subsequent developments of the theme lead his own 
investigation: Pessoa's, MelchioiTc's, and his own projects are all presented as 
being similar in kind if not outcome. 

These developments are staged as successive re-inaugurations of the 
project, beginning chronologically with Notturno indiano, but also, in the 
retrospective autobiographical perspective of the preface to the 1988 edition of 
II gioco del rovescio, signed with Tabucchi's initials,'^ somewhat earlier. Here, a 
see-saw between "meraviglia" and "paura", weighted towards the latter, is 
adduced as a mainspring of inspiration, and recurrences forseen, indicating the 
therapeutic sense of a continuing project: "il rispetto che si deve alia paura mi 
impedisce di credere che I'illusione di addomesticarla con la scrittura soffochi la 
consapevolezza, in fondo all'anima, che alia prima occasione essa mordera 
com'e nella sua natura" (5-6). This repeated, complex, emotional response to 
"una scoperta che mi turbo", that "una certa cosa che era 'cosi' era invece anche 
in un altro modo" (5), is an essential premise: the emotion echoes Melchiorre's, 
while pointed refusal to deny appearances in the name of unequivocal realities 
phrases the project, in terms echoing the introduction of the Shakespeare 
problem in "Interpretazione", as one of ontological investigation. 

The narrating voice of Notturno indiano is only slightly more equivocally 
identifiable as Tabucchi's own than is that of // gioco's preface, being 
characterized as belonging to an Italian scholar well acquainted with Portugal 
and Pessoa (35-36, 41, 53-61, 73-79, 100, 109), and because the preface, again 
initialled (9), lays claim to a journey across India along the narrator's route. 
Here too, the narcissism of the fictional enterprise is emphasized, partly by 
marked suppression of fear's significance when the novel's conception is 

'^ Signature is an important theme in Sostiene Pereira, developed in La testa perduta by 
reference to Lyotard (see section IV below), but neither this nor Tabucchi's signed 
prefaces should distract from the way his inflections of the emotional lexicon here 
outlined, down to the blankness of La testa perduta, themselves constitute the elements 
of a form of 'signature" closer to that outlined by Clark's discussion of Blanchot in 
conjunction with Heidegger and Derrida. 

Tabucchi Echoes Lacan 91 

narrated during the flirtatious or seductive masquerade of the final chapter. 
Although the narrator earlier confesses his fearful disposition in humorously 
reflective conversation with a Jain encountered at Bombay railway station (42), 
and is tormented by it in a dream (75-79), both Jain and dream are omitted from 
the final chapter's summary, together with other episodes so plotted as to 
demonstrate the impossibility of the sexual relationship (compare 96-109 with 
45-52 and 80-82). There is therefore a marked discrepancy between the novel as 
it is printed, and the flirtatiously narcissistic account of it given during the 
concluding dialogue, which also suggests it is too ludically fragmentary to be 
considered a novel: it is to the contrary a rigorously coherent re-inaugurating 
formulation of Tabucchi's Lacanian novelistic project. 

The censored dream's double echo of the preface to // gioco and the 
conversation in Bombay indicates continuity - as of the Moebius band — 
between the inside and outside of novel and dream, which itself closes with an 
assertion of universal mortality that corrodes both the dramas of history, and the 
historical discipline that has brought the narrator to the library where it occurs: 

Fece un gesto che abbraccio la stanza. "Siamo tutti morti, non I'ha ancora capito? lo 

sono morto, e questa citta e morta, e le battaglie, il sudore, 11 sangue, la gloria e 11 mio 

potere: e tutto morto, niente e servito a niente". 

"No", diss! io, "qualcosa resta sempre". 

"Che cosa?", fece lui. "II suo ricordo? La vostra memoria? Quest! libri?". 


This re-metaphorizes the abyss of the Indian setting as the de-centring 
exteriority of The Space of Literature: if "qualcosa resta", its place is neither on 
the stage of history, nor on those of the family and school-yard dramas where 
Melchiorre first comes to himself, but on the plane of ontological investigation. 
The setting and the emotion of fear — phrased at the beginning of the dream as 
an accusation of "codardia" (71), and at its end as nihilistic despair — are points 
of entry to it. 

Notturno indiano also poses an ethical problem, since the version of it 
narcissistically conceived in flirtatious conversation places the narrator himself 
in the position of the sick, long-lost, friend in distress he has been seeking, 
hoping to help him, in the previous eleven chapters. These are now effectively 
disowned as a secret fantasy of being so sought: the ethical commitment of 
friendship is a symptom of a solitude as ineliminably pathological as Pessoa's, 
and is founded on projection of the initial pathology onto an imaginary other. 
Cross-reference between La gastrite and La testa perduta will find anamnesic, 
ontologically investigative, storytelling configured as the essential ethical 
commitment, but without this implication oi Notturno indiano being withdrawn. 
This complex conclusion emerges from a partially explicit reflection on 
psychoanalysis in Requiem, L 'angelo nero, and Sostiene Pereira, during which 

92 Jonathan Smith 

the emotion of fear and ascription of cowardice modulate into the subjective 
remorse or objective guilt — for writing, for not writing, and at the continuing, 
traumatic, inscrutability of human relations — into which such commitments 
capsize when the desire leading them is compromised. 

Although this reflection is organized as an uneasy negotiation with the 
Lacanian ethics of resistance to the superego, Tabucchi's emotional lexicon of 
paura, colpa, codardia, and rimorso (but also meraviglia) takes a less measured 
distance from Lacan's Heideggerian than his Freudian authority.'^ This is also 
underlined by the semi-autobiographical register of both Notturno indiano and 
Requiem (as well as the preface to II gioco): the fictional project articulates itself 
as an existential one. Correspondingly, it cannot be controlled by an 
immediately decipherable canonical bibliography or conceptuality: any global 
reading therefore faces a requirement to decipher its engagements and 
differences with authority. One effect of these, however, is partial retrieval of 
literary tradition from the state of inaccessibility diagnosed in "II signor 
Pirandello": the dialectics of codardia and rimorso with imagination articulated 
respectively by Calvino in // barone rampante, and Pirandello in II fu Mattia 
Pascal, enter into the genealogy of Tabucchi's vocabulary and signature. 
Several themes of Pirandello's novel — sexual masquerade, death, the archive 
— are likewise hybridized with Tabucchi's more exotic readings in Notturno 
indiano, but also in // fdo dell 'orizzonte and La testa perduta, where this 
retrieval of tradition issues in extravagantly graphic homage to Sciascia, who 
now personifies it. 

Nonetheless, it is "Rebus", a story of sexual masquerade with unmistakable 
Lacanian resonances, that most directly links the fearftil disposition prominent 
between 1975 and 1988 to the remorse thematized at the beginning of the 1990s: 
in the narrator's words, 'sentii vergogna per non aver mai conosciuto I'amore . . 
. una specie di rimorso, come una consapevolezza di mediocrita o di codardia" 
{Piccoli equivoci senza importanza 39; for the title "Rebus", see Lacan, Speech 
and Language 30). There is therefore a degree of narcissism about his departure 
from type in circumstances whose melodramatic menace he recognizes from the 
outset and never disentangles, as also in his confessional narrative to a casual 
drinking-companion, for whose benefit he phrases it as a puzzle to which "una 
soluzione sembra plausibile solo in questo modo: sognando" (29-30; 46). This 
underlines the psychoanalytical reference informing Tabucchi's consistent 

'^ On the irreducibility of emotion, but also conscience, see Heidegger, Being and Time, 

and Polt, passim, and compare Wilden 183; on ethics, Lacan, Tlie Four Fundamental 

Concepts of Psycho-analysis 275-76, and Zizek, The Sublime Object 110-17, and The 

Metastases, especially 54-85. 

These themes are negotiated most directly by Tabucchi in Requiem 16-19, 37-49, 58-63, 

73-80, 87-94; L'angelo nero 9-10, 13-28, 31-49, 107-52; Sostiene Pereira 119-24 and 


Tabucchi Echoes Lacan 93 

staging of the unconscious discourse of the Other, from 1975, in dreams, and 
hnks it directly with his exploration of the relation between emotion, ethics, and 
storytelling. Yet continued engagement with Blanchot also permeates this 
reflection more profoundly than its intermittent functions of screening and 
signalling that with Lacan might suggest: the story of Isabel, twice told in 
Requiem (46-49 and 100-109) and L'angelo nero (13-28), debates the 
possibility of suicide — an irresoluble enigma in The Space of Literature (100- 
103) — condensing this particularly mysterious desire of the Other into the 
mystery of sexual difference, and leaving Isabel's survivors much scope for 

Although this thematic complex is first sketched in Melchiorre's story and 
developed into the 1990s, development begins with the chronicle of Garibaldo's 
death foretold. When he steps forward, having failed to commemorate the 
massacre, to voice the survivors' demands of post-war society, the step he takes 
is doomed, to the point of being suicidal: of his two boyhood friends, one was 
murdered for intransigent opposition to Fascism (95-96), and one when police 
dispersed the previous day's strike meeting (140-44). Garibaldo thus expiates 
remorse for the narcissistic defiance he showed in taunting Melchiorre, 
provoking the massacre that has haunted his dreams ever since, one of them 
foretelling all as he dozed at his own wedding celebrations to find himself in the 
grave of his suicidally heroic paternal uncle Voltumo (29-32, 99-102, 128, 142). 
Like Voltumo, but unlike the narrator of "Rebus", Garibaldo eventually 
compromises his epic desires, in his case vested in Asmara, and in the gesture of 
narration itself Tabucchi thus opens a fictional anamnesis whose first fruit is a 
recognition (re-articulated with remarkable consistency in Sostiene Pereira, La 
gastrite, and La testa perduta) that the finest discursive and practical gestures of 
political and ethical commitment are themselves symptoms of trauma, but that 
storytelling is nonetheless an essential ethical commitment. Yet as the 
semiological satire of "Interpretazione" already suggests, the intellectual 
resources this requires stand condemned to general mis-recognition by the 
broadest configurations of contemporary Italian culture. 

III-Eco, Vattimo, Tabucchi 

For political, pre-philosophical, reasons, Eco's "methodological structuralism" 
requires categorical distinctions between object- and meta-languages, and 
between nature and culture. His immediate antagonist in La struttura assente is 
Levi-Strauss's "ontological structuralism", which admits neither, and his 
purpose to make possible a relativistic stance towards culture analysed as object- 
language: this is also the basis of his objection to the Lacanian conception of the 
unconscious as discourse of the Other. Lacan (like Blanchot, Foucault, and 
Derrida) works on Eco's reading with an ontology that rather diverges from 

94 Jonathan Smith 

structuralism than admit his categorical distinctions (323-50): Eco reduces this 
divergence to fidelity to philosophical tradition, and submits the tradition to 
political denunciation. Refusal of his first categorical distinction is referred to 
the influence of Nietzsche and Heidegger (352), associated with Nazism on the 
basis of a single under-interpreted quotation from What is Called Thinking? 
(358), then referred also to the contemplative tradition of the Athenian slave- 
owning elite expressed in Aristotle's Metaphysics and Politics (359). 

Yet one hundred pages earlier, Eco derives the distinction between 
ontological and methodological structuralism from terminological ambiguities in 
Aristotle's Metaphysics and Physics (256-58). On its own terms, Eco's argument 
belongs to the tradition repudiated, although this places in question the 
tradition's homogeneity (as well as the politics of the argument itself). 
Conversely, Blanchot's questions to Heidegger in The Infinite Conversation bear 
precisely on the susceptibility of the term "ontology" to having foisted on it, as 
by Eco, the sense of an enduringly transmissible answer rather than a question 
requiring persistent re-formulation: it is an ontological questioning in which 
Tabucchi is decisively assisted by Lacan and Blanchot. 

Controversies arising from Eco's polemic against Lacan caused him first to 
re-write the relevant section of La struttura assente for foreign-language 
editions, then re-write the book, as the Theory of Semiotics, rather than publish it 
in English.'^ The relevant section excised, theory and book were re-cast and the 
polemic's conclusions thenceforth assumed rather than argued, although a recent 
survey of responses shows the continuity of the later with earlier versions of the 
theory did not go universally unrecognized (Caesar 106-107). However, the 
terms of the polemic are canonical for a configuration of Italian culture very 
much broader than the field of mass-communications studies in whose defence it 
was conceived, being both influential, and representative of more widespread 
intellectual and institutional resistances.'^ It was, for example, echoed into the 
1990s by attempts to insulate received practices of literary study, both 
philologically- and sociologically-oriented, against the threats, perceived and 
real, of deconstruction and of the market in intellectual property and personnel 
that disseminates it. In Segre's case, this defence is continued even when the 
politics of criticism is envisaged - in a remarkable palinode — in terms that 

'^ Eco's account of this episode, plus the variants it occasioned, are given in the preface 
to the revised edition of La struttura assente cited (i-xxv). 

'^ These await intellectual-historical and sociological analysis, beyond what is possible 
here, of their over-determination by Italian intellectual traditions of neoidealism and 
historicism, and by political cultures of Fascism and anti-Fascism, as well as by the 
specific history and structure of the Italian university. The initial Italian readings of 
Heidegger by Eco's and Vattimo's future teacher Luigi Pareyson, but also by Ernesto 
Grassi, are among a range of landmark responses to Croce and Gentile which also include 
those of Ginzburg's teacher Delio Cantimori, and Gianfranco Contini; they will not be 
fully understood without reference to this context. 

Tabucchi Echoes Lacan 95 

require deconstructive resources: he re-constructs semiology as propaedeutic to 
an ontologically investigative literary aesthetics, despite persisting in his earlier, 
restrictively instrumental, reading of Bakhtin.^" Luperini's use of Benjamin as 
well as Bakhtin in L 'allegoria del moderno follows comparable procedures to 
similar effects, re-casting both as theoreticians of the literary object by 
arbitrarily selective and de-historicized readings that obscure their complex 
intellectual-historical affinities with the post-Heideggerian tradition he and 
Segre follow Eco in condemning. Conversely, Tabucchi's appeal to Blanchot 
and Lacan establishes a premise that neither literature nor language is accessible 
as an object, whether before theorization (empiricism), or after (positivism): the 
effect of attempting to position them as such is to place them beyond reach, as 
indicated by the parable of "II signor Pirandello". 

Eco's polemic has also been extended to cover Certeau and Lyotard as well 
as Foucault and Derrida, and protect established conceptions of historiography: 
Ginzburg like Eco insists that objects and subjects of knowledge are 
independently constituted.^' Whereas in Ginzburg the historical object tends to 
exceed subjective capacities of differentiation, generating huge anthropological 
generalizations,^^ Eco affects absolute control, by a relativistic subjectivity, of 
an object world reduced to an array of discursive repertoires: this generates a 
scholarly output so encyclopaedic as to be unfathomable to less manoeuvreable 
subjectivities, and a fictional one in which Zizek finds a prototype of 
postmodern cynical irony {The Sublime Object 27-28). These mutually 
complementary denials of the part of the discourse of the Other in constituting 
the given relations of subject and object are instructive, although the most 
significant figure in this context is probably Vattimo. 

La struttura assente acknowledges that Vattimo 's early studies inform its 
own expositions of Aristotle and Heidegger, and that its dismissal of Lacan is 
based on the latter (258, 339, 341-42, 354). However, Eco's book is also cited as 
authority - against Foucault's use of Heidegger in particular — in Vattimo's 
1974 interpretation of Nietzsche as a proto-sociological thinker: the polemical 
sense of this enterprise is partly to historicize psychoanalysis, and discredit it. 

^° For the self-cancelling palinode, see "La critica semiologica in Italia"; for Bakhtin 
already abridged, Awiamento all'analisi del testo letterario; for a recent, painstaking 
assessment of what is at issue in productive transplantation of Bakhtin, Hirschkop; on 
Bakhtin in the Italian academic context, Tabucchi, "II rancore e le nuvole", Piccoli 
equivoci senza importanza 83-98. 

^' Against Derrida, Foucault, and Certeau, see llformaggio e i vermi (xvi-xvii); Bakhtin 
with an admixture of Benjamin is canvassed as an antidote here too (xiv-xv and xxv). 
Again against Certeau, see II giudice e to storico (12-13 and 1 13), and against Lyotard as 
well as Certeau, "Just one witness". 

^^ For two sympathetic review-articles, both responding to Ginzburg' s Stoha notturna 
(1989), but both pressing this point, see Anderson, and Fortini; for a less sympathetic 
account balanced by a parallel interrogation of Derrida, see Cohen. 

96 Jonathan Smith 

sharing the first objective (but not the second, even more ambitious, one) with 
Foucault himself.^^ There is no retreat from this in Vattimo's subsequent 
Gadamerian phase, where he typically acknowledges the writers evaded by Eco 
either to homogenize them with his own "hermeneutic ontology", or dismiss 
them as lesser readers of Heidegger than Gadamer, and metaphysical 
humanists:^'' the conflict between these strategies is even more striking than that 
between the second, and the earlier Vattimo's bringing this last charge against 
Gadamer himself (Z-e avventure 15-43). The contradiction of the Gadamerian 
phase is only possible because the reading of Heidegger expounded between 
1975 and 1979 in essays collected in the third and fourth parts of Le avventure 
(71-173), and canonized as // pensiero debole, consistently attempts to 
subordinate principles of causal explanation, absolutely, to those of 
hemeneutics. Although Vattimo regularly re-calls Nietzsche to testify that 
interpretation is not at the interpreter's whim, this accounts for his programmatic 
indifference to the given internal boundaries of philosophy, but also to its 
external ones — notably, in different phases, with journalism, natural science, 
and religion, but also with the arts and humanities generally, and political 
practice (see, in particular, Al di la del soggetto, Le mezze veritd, Oltre 
I'interpretazione, and Credere di credere). 

This projects an image of a human subject permanently and infinitely 
mobile relative to whatever discursive formation, and is virtually an ideal type 
of the postmodemism/poststructuralism against which Zizek insists on Lacan's 
re-insertion of a principle of causality not simply into hermeneutic practice (thus 
re-configured as anamnesis), but also into hermeneutic ontology: the symptom 
(and ultimately the subject) are effects of the traumatic cause, which is 
ineliminable because it cannot be fully phrased, and cannot be fully phrased 
because it comes into being only retro-actively, when it eludes symbolization 
adequate to present needs. Conversely, the binding symbolism concealing the 
gap, and holding the subject in place, is the symptom, and the occasion for 
anamnesis. ^^ This articulates the standpoint of Tabucchi's fiction as well as the 

^^ See // soggetto e la maschera 279 (against Freud) and 323 (against Foucault); on 
Foucault and psychoanalysis, see Derrida. 

"'' In Le avventure della differenza, containing essays dating from the period 1972-9, 
contrast the first strategy (25) with the second (71-94 and 151-71), but note that this 
oscillation can be traced down to Oltre I'interpretazione (1994), via the intervening 
collections Al di la del soggetto, La fine della modernita, and Etica dell 'intepretazione, as 
well as Vattimo's own contributions to the classic collection edited with Rovatti, // 
pensiero debole. 

^' Zizek's project has a somewhat idiosyncratic form of exposition that impedes 
economical referencing; but see the appendix to The Metastases, "Taking Sides: a Self- 
Interview" (167-217), where the author purports to "look at myself through the eyes of 
'common knowledge', raising all the questions that seem to bother 'common knowledge' 
apropos of Lacanian theory" (167). "Part I. Cause" (5-85) is a particularly useful 

Tabucchi Echoes Lacan 97 

essays on Pessoa, but also assists in pin-pointing an important difference 
between Vattimo's "postmodernism" and Lyotard's: Vattimo's hostility toward 
psychoanalysis modulates characteristically, via reductive assimilation of 
Lacan's notoriously mobile position to his own {La fine delta modernita 147), 
into declaring it redundant {Credere di credere 53-54). Contemporaneously, 
Lyotard withdraws earlier resistance to Lacan, both explicitly and by canvassmg 
an investigation conceived as anamnesis: his enterprise and Tabucchi's converge 
in a manner developed in section IV. 

Eco invented the unity later called poststructuralism, to denounce it, 
influentially. Ginzburg assimilates it {via conflation of Certeau on the history 
and politics of the constitution of objects of study with White on the rhetoric of 
historiography, and the latter's readings in Italian idealism) to Gentile's 
Fascism, fabricating a Heidegger controversy all'italiana to further discredit the 
same phantom object ("Just One Witness"). Vattimo alternately refuses it any 
differences with himself, and repeats Eco's gesture of expulsion by projecting 
onto it the humanism he diagnoses in Gadamer before succumbing to it himself 
The intellectual and practical interest of Tabucchi's anamneses lies in entering 
the intellectual space thus mis-recognized without naming it, to explore the 
libidinal and ethical cogencies of lived experience: his use of fiction reflects the 
impossibility of formalizing the binding symbolism of such experience into 
semiotic repertoires, or compartmentalizing it as the discursive formation of one 
among other intellectual or philosophical disciplines, and its correlative 
resistance to the easy analytical and political manipulations envisaged by 
semiology and il pensiero debole. 

La gastrite parallels the situation of the prisoner in the riddle first adduced 
in 1975 with the structure of experience in contemporary Italian society, and the 
riddle's solution with Tabucchi's own fiction (but also with writing as allegedly 
conceived by Blanchot). Tabucchi's text, an open letter to Sofri, appears wilfully 
casual, referring repeatedly to own its zigzags (32, 38, 40), but is elaborately 
designed, unobtrusively re-phrasing Sofri' s trial as a symptom of 

supponiamo dunque che la lettura della tua vicenda giudiziaria . . . possa servire da 
'illuminazione' per qualcuno su alcune pagine di storia italiana recente . . . costui 
naturalmente si inquieta ... la tua vicenda, oltre che costituire I'esempio di una sentenza . 
. . ingiusta perche priva di prove verificabili, assume una dimensione molto piu vasta: e 
davvero ii perturbante di freudiana memoria, un Vnheimlich non piu desunto da un 
racconto di Hoffmann, ma dalla Storia. Insomma diventa . . . un oscuro segno 
(semiologicamente inteso) che risemantizza le pagine precedenti. E a questo punto . . . 

counterpart to Vattimo, as well as providing a helpful introduction to The Sublime Object, 
where a Lacanian position on the relation of object- to meta-language is distinguished 
from a generically poststructuralist one (153-61), and "The Symptom" is the theme of 
Part I (9-84). 

98 Jonathan Smith 

non sarebbe piu tanto I'effetto di una causa quanto, paradossalmente, la causa postuma di 
un effetto preventive. 


Tabucchi disingenuously credits Eco's reading of Joyce in Opera aperta with 
leading him to this purview (25), also identified with that of his own "molti 
romanzi" and "poetica del doppio, dell'assenza e dell'equivoco" (22 and 57), 
but the terms in which he sets it out, developing those in which he expounded 
the riddle in 1975, identify it, to the contrary, as one of anamnesis, after Lacan. 
Yet although the mechanism of temporal inversion is brought into play as it was 
not when the riddle was deployed in discussing O Marinheiro, there is still some 
indirection about the way the vocabulary of cause and effect used inverts Lacan, 
the reference via Freud, and that to semiology. This complex manoeuvre is 
remarkable, since La gastrite mounts Tabucchi's first overt polemic against Eco, 
defending his own writing against a sally in which Eco had refused 
"intellectuals" any role in society beyond their disciplinary specialisms plus, at 
most, a responsibility to educate (see Eco, "II primo dovere degli intellettuali", 
and La gastrite 15-18). Rather than personalized controversy, what Tabucchi 
avoids is therefore, specifically, theoretical debate, as though recognizing that it 
is constitutionally dysftjnctional: infiltration of Tabucchi's own reading of 
Lacan into Opera aperta is accompanied by the briefest oblique indication of Z-a 
gastrite' s differences with Vattimo (16-17), and despite the essays on Pessoa, it 
is the fiction that most concertedly exposes the exteriority traversing and 
controlling interiority. 

Already on arrival in India at the beginning of Notturno indiano, the 
narrator's purpose in seeking the prostitute who has summoned him to help his 
long-lost friend is repeatedly deflected by Indians" assumptions that since he is a 
Westerner, his business must be sex tourism: the entire novel is about relations 
of mutual misrecognition, although the Indian characters and ambience tend 
increasingly to shed light on the way these engage the narrator and other 
Europeans. Correspondingly, the scene narrows in the closing chapters to the 
former Portuguese colony Goa, and is permeated by repeated reminiscences of 
Portugal itself, including an appreciation of Pessoa's occult mysticism 
seemingly shared by the narrator and his Indian host in Madras, each uneasy 
until this point of contact offers the basis of a tacit contract between them that is 
crucial to the story's development (53-61). It becomes increasingly 
questionable, however, whether the contract is willed on either side, and indeed 
whether the encounter ever took place, so dislocated is this point in narrative 
space and time by the novel's wider exploration of inter-subjectivity: host assists 
guest in tracing his Portuguese friend to Goa, where the search is apparently 
abandoned, but also re-phrased as a fantasy of being sought, and thus of being 
Portuguese. Yet in "II gioco del rovescio", a Portugal mapped for the Italian 
narrator by his enigmatic lover's reminiscences of Pessoa had already figured as 

Tabucchi Echoes Lacan 99 

the exteriority traversing and controlling interiority (// gioco 9-24). Enjoyment 
of this and subsequent fictions' exotic details of Portuguese landscape and 
culture is therefore a distraction, signalled as such by the rapidly shifting 
significance of fictional references to Pessoa, away from enabling characters 
even the fragile sense of complicity initially sketched in both "11 gioco" and 
Notturno indiano. 

Key in this respect is Requiem, written in Portuguese and recounting an 
hallucinatory vision of Lisbon and oifantasmi from the past. This is stimulated 
by reading The Book of Disquietude, and culminates in an encounter with Pessoa 
himself, although he is named only for being depicted on the \QQ-escudo notes 
begged from the narrator by an addict (13-19, 117-29). Qua character, he is 
designated "tizio", "poeta", and, at dinner with the narrator in the last chapter, 
where he is taxed with provoking excessive anxiety, and heralding a generalized 
postmodern sensibility exemplified by the restaurant's decor and menu, 
"convitato". A sense that Pessoa - now himself a hallucination — has been 
dispersed into the environment of the chiastic movement driving the fiction is 
underlined in La testa perduta, where his name features in a TV programme 
distractedly half-watched, and presented in English, with subtitles, by a young, 
female, Norwegian tourist who does not read poetry: it is the name of a 
restaurant on the Algarve and its resident tame chameleon. Meanwhile, an 
allusive conversation off-screen identifies another chameleon: the novel's villain 
Titanio Silva, a veteran of counter-insurgency operations in Angola turned 
dealer in drugs as well as policeman (183-84). Tabucchi's Portugal is no more a 
comfortable tourist destination, or Archimedean point of authentic vision, than 
the settings of Piazza d' Italia and Notturno indiano. It is another theatre of 
trauma, for outsiders in Notturno indiano and Requiem, for the indigenous 
population of Fascist past and democratic present in Sostiene Pereira and La 
testa perduta, and for all such in various stories, although "Notte, mare o 
distanza" {L 'angelo nero 29-49) is so densely meta-fictional as to obscure which 
the narrator is: seeds sown in 1975 bear much of their fruit in the 1990s. 

IV - Blanchot, Lyotard, Tabucchi 

After diagnosing a national culture of contempt for writers, intensified since the 
1980s, La gastrite proposes that "la 'conoscenza' intellettuale e la conoscenza 
artistica possono essere coniugate in una miscela assai feconda . . . dove ogni 
ingrediente, da solo, puo risultare meno efficace" (31). Specifying one 
ingredient as "il linguaggio della letteratura, ovvero la finzione che interpreta la 
realta e le da un senso" (82), Tabucchi indicates that these effects are 
investigative, interrogative ones (34-35), and an open question also addressed in 
La testa perduta, concerning the ratification or disqualification of discourse as 
knowledge, or truth. Tabucchi also orients himself by reference to Vittorini and. 

100 Jonathan Smith 

especially, Sciascia and Pasolmi, to whose memories La gastrite is dedicated (9, 
29-32 and 45), but takes as his text Blanchot's "Intellectuals under Scrutiny" 
(1984; Holland 206-27), and presents it as a riposte to Lyotard's "Tomb of the 
Intellectual" (1983; Political Writings 3-7), where "con la disinvoltura di chi 
interroga il mondo sopratutto attraverso i mass media, il noto filosofo- 
semiologo-sociologo francese aveva decretato la morte dell'intellettuale" (35). 
This represents both pieces so selectively as to misrepresent them, introducing 
an antithesis so artfully fictitious as to acknowledge affinity with both writers, 
but without squaring accounts, or being drawn into public calculation of their 
substantial overlap, in both cases, with Lacan's. Calculation would invite 
controversy: by avoiding it, while also paying Eco Lacan's dues and Blanchot 
Lyotard's, Tabucchi establishes a position such controversy would cloud. 

Quoting Blanchot's first paragraph, and the first sentence of his second, 
Tabucchi interprets them as suggesting that "I'atto di conoscenza intellettuale e 
anche un atto creativo" (36), but reverses this several times. He first 
acknowledges the - rhetorically — interrogative character of Blanchot's 
formulations, and next alleges Blanchot's "concetto di fiducia nella flinzione 
della letteratura e dell'arte come atti intellettivi" {ibid.), before registering that 
this is a paradoxical one of success in artistic practice through failure to achieve 
the objectives set for it. He then affirms the fictitious antagonism by reference to 
the intellectual and artistic vitality and novita of Blanchot's position, and to 
Lyotard's allegedly contrasting, funereal, conception of intellectuals' managerial 
role in transmitting culture as per an encyclopaedia. With some qualification in 
recognition of Lyotard's intellectual versatility and the Encylopedie as channel 
and model of cultural communication, this introduces a contrast between the 
Diderot who edited it, and the author of Jacques le fataliste: Tabucchi infers 
greater sympathy on Blanchot's part for the latter persona, because of its relative 
richness in novita. Although a quotation — not transmitted by Blanchot — 
shows otherwise (36-37), Tabucchi also suggests Lyotard's working definition 
of the intellectual excludes artists and writers (implying Lyotard considers these 
functions superannuated), disingenuously suggests Lyotard should have read 
more poetry, and quotes another long passage from Blanchot, by equally 
disingenuous implication glossed as a portrait, formulated contra Lyotard, of the 
intellectual or writer as "'sentinella che non e li che per . . . attendere con 
un'attenzione attiva in cui si esprime meno la preoccupazione per se stessi che . . 
. per gli altri'" (39). 

Notwithstanding the vitality of Lyotard's thinking has recently been argued 
without concession to his own later disavowals of earlier work in 
acknowledgement of its supposed vitalism (by Williams; but see Lyotard, Just 
Gaming 3-6, 89-90, and Peregrinations 13-15), these are more plausible than 
Tabucchi 's suggestion that he is a funereal thinker: Blanchot's meditations on 
death qua figuration of de-centring exteriority make him the stronger candidate 
to be considered such (as by Rose), but also a point of reference for Tabucchi's 

Tabucchi Echoes Lacan 1 1 

introduction to Pessoa-Soares and for Notturno indiano. Whereas Lyotard 
repeatedly cites Diderot (fiction included) as authority,^^ there is no such density 
of reference in Blanchot, although his later reflections on cultural institutions do 
include a direct defence of encyclopaedic culture, contrasting Diderot, for 
intellectual mobility, with D'Alembert {Friendship 51-56): Tabucchi's artful 
selectivity conceals a reflection it also signals to readers prepared to engage with 

Lyotard's essay summarizes much of his thinking over an extended 
period,^^ and canvasses a continuing "experimental" or "creative" function that 
requires a commitment, "essentially dispossessed and dispossessing" ("Tomb of 
the Intellectual" 5), to ontological investigation such as Tabucchi elsewhere 
finds modelled in Blanchot's conception of literature, and endorses. What 
Lyotard deems obsolete is revolutionary or reformist intellectuals' commitment 
to articulating and achieving a universal criterion of human self-realization in 
society. Nothing in Tabucchi's writings since 1975 dissents from this re- 
formulation of a problem Blanchot had tested from the 1930s, fi-om various 
different standpoints, for its ethical and political implications: neither Tabucchi 
nor Blanchot is any more committed to the function of the intellectual in 
Lyotard's sense than he is (or than he is to semiology and sociology). 

Nor does Blanchot's essay reach the conclusions Tabucchi suggests. It does 
argue an intermittent duty of political and ethical commitment, but also that this 
involves forsaking the essential solitude of the artistic vocation: Blanchot here 
abandons the plane of ontological investigation. Tabucchi effaces Blanchot's 
palinode, partly by translating his quotations from the French edition referenced 
in such a way as to mute the idiosyncratic vocabulary in which Blanchot phrases 
the artist's solitude, now disowned, from "Literature and the Right to Death" 
onwards: even comparison with the English translations of Blanchot cited here 
shows this clearly. Although Tabucchi does not acknowledge the route leading 
Blanchot to this reversal, it moves via various phrasings of themes also 
addressed by Tabucchi without explicit reference to him, including friendship 
and political commitment at the end of history, sexual difference, and suicide. 

^^ See his remarks to van Reijen and Veerman 279-80, and compare Lyotard, Just 
Gaming {1919) 1 1-12, as well as The Inhuman 45-46, 96, 149-50. and Peregrinations 13- 
14 (both 1988). 

" Not coincidentally, Bennington discusses the same essay in introducing Lyotard, with a 
view to establishing a schematic overview (5-9); his book is arrestingly complemented by 
those of Readings, and Williams. 

^^ Schematically, these inform the narrative works (a rich selection of which appear in 
Quasha's volume of Blanchot's Fiction and Literary Essays) up to the uncollected 
Awaiting Oblivion (1962), as well as the passage from material gathered in The Work of 
Fire, The Space of Literature, The Infinite Conversation, and Friendship (1971), to The 
Writing of the Disaster {\9S0), and The Unavowable Community {\9S3). For introductory 
commentary, see Hill, and Holland. 

1 02 Jonathan Smith 

Given Tabucchi's detailed reading of Blanchot, their convergences and 
differences in these areas, in conjunction with Tabucchi's with Lacan, will 
structure a global interpretation of his project. 

Tabucchi calls on Blanchot to support a supposition that the literary 
vocation is in itself, intermittently, a commitment to explore political and ethical 
problems, notwithstanding his own conception of this is closer to Lyotard's 
essay than Blanchot's: whereas Blanchot divorces ethical fi^om ontological 
investigation, Lyotard abandoned revolutionary hope to bring them together.^^ 
His engagements with psychoanalysis thematize its response to otherwise un- 
presentable singularities, albeit somewhat differently in different phases, calling 
on The Space of Literature for reinforcement of an ontological rather than 
scientific investigation in the 1970s, and elaborating a practice of anamnesis, 
after Lacan, in the 1980s; his writings on literary and other art envisage and 
attempt articulation of singularities resistant to reductive conceptual 
representation, into which even psychoanalysis tends to congeal, to the point 
that art and writing on art themselves come to be conceived as anamnesis. 
"Postmodernism", in his usage, is partially synonymous with anamnesis, but 
after The Postmodern Condition (1979) he increasingly disowns the more 
familiar term's conftising and confiised effects. ^^ 

Tabucchi's disavowal of Lyotard, in favour of an equally misrepresented 
Blanchot, disowns a name more widely identified with the self-cancelling effect 
identified by Lyotard himself than with anything else, plus the ethos of 

" For the relation of this trajectory to its point of departure, see, apart from the essay 
under discussion, and the entire collection of Political Writings assembled by Readings 
(in which it is collected), the introductions cited in note 27, The Postmodern Explained to 
Children (1986), and Peregrinations, especially the 1982 "afterword", "A Memorial of 
Marxism: for Pierre Souyri" (45-75). 

^° On psychoanalysis and ethics (personified by a reference to Levinas that immediately 
brings Lyotard into close proximity with Blanchot), see "Jewish Oedipus" (1970) and 
"On a figure of discourse" (1973). This negotiation continues, contra Heidegger, up to 
and beyond Heidegger and "the jews" (1988) and the presentation of this book collected 
in Political Writings (135-47), the ethical phrasing predominating in Just Gaming and 
The Differend (1983), and the psychoanalytic one in The Inhuman and Signed, Malraux 
(1996). For the infiltration of Blanchot, contra Lacan, into a psychoanalytical ly- oriented 
aesthetics, see Discours, figure (1971) 357, but especially "The Psychoanalytic Approach 
to Artistic and Literary Expression" (1973), and on Lacan compare Peregrinations 10-11 
and 31. For writing as anamnesis, against postmodernity in the sense of the eclectic 
market in cultural goods ranging from food to thought dubiously contemplated by 
Tabucchi in Requiem, see The Postmodern Explained to Children, especially 1 1-25; for 
anamnesis explicitly indebted to Lacan and repudiating the postmodernist badge, 
"Rewriting modernity" (1987) in The Inhuman 24-35. This - complex - outline of 
Lyotard on psychoanalysis, ethics, Judaism, and postmodernism is a simplified one: it is 
indispensable to cogent interpretation of Sostiene Pereira as well as La testa perduta. 

Tabucchi Echoes Lacan 1 03 

professionalism advocated by Eco (but not by Lyotard, whose essay actually 
resists it).. The convergence of Tabucchi's project with Lyotard's locates it with 
some precision relative to the field of postmodemisms: when he effaces 
Blanchot's recognition of the obligation to abandon creative solitude, he 
multiplies by each other the two demands Blanchot separates, suggesting the 
literary vocation calls forth the essential response to the demand of ethical and 
political commitment precisely when it leads to ontological investigation such as 
the reading of Eco or Vattimo would discourage. 

This is the burden of La testa perduta, where, against the alternately 
magical and devastated backdrops of a (post)modemizing Portugal, a cast of 
cartoon grotesques gather about a headless corpse to enact and dream the 
inconclusive parodies of various dystopian Sciascia novels, in a macabre 
pantomime scripted by and for the communications industry. Organization of 
the story around traffic in drugs recalls Una storia semplice; Titanio Silva's 
hypocritical denunciation of smoking (compare 196 and 236), // cavaliere e la 
morte (12-15). Tabucchi thus re-stages Sciascia's concluding analyses of 
Sicilian and Italian realties, although the mood of emotional and intellectual 
blankness cast over the novel by investigative-journalist anti-hero Firmino 
contrasts markedly with both, as with much of Sciascia's other work, and of 
Tabucchi's. Firmino also dreams a dream, of Paris, which echoes Sciascia's 
mordantly ironic denunciation, from his own dystopian location, of all 
Utopianisms, including those of blithe de-politicization and erotic fulfillment — 
Candido. ovvero Un sognofatto in Sicilia: the difference is that Firmino aspires 
to enact it. The quixotic gentleman-amateur Avvocato's towering verbosity and 
erudition is an inverted image of the lugubrious President of the Supreme Court, 
Riches, in // contesto (itself already subtitled "una parodia"), and thus, also, a 
portrait of Sciascia mobilizing reminiscences of his writings too dispersed to 
catalogue. However, the Avvocato's characterization, like Firmino's name, is 
also informed by Lyotard's Signed, Malraux, a biography of a subject haunted 
by sexual difference whose identity turns on his signature, and whose anti- 
Fascist rhetoric is toweringly inaudible: Tabucchi's mock disavowal of Lyotard 
in La gastrite coincides with the coalescence of their practices of anamnesis. A 
juridical metaphor is also common to Lyotard's book, which re-cycles it from 
The Differend (9 and passim; compare Signed, Malraux 3 and passim), and 
Tabucchi's novel, which in a characteristic gesture hybridizes it with Italian 
literary tradition, now personified by Sciascia. 

Firmino belongs, constitutively and without remainder, to a milieu 
insensible to the end of history it witnesses. This is decipherable from within the 
fiction — if at all — only to the prodigious literary and philosophical sensibility 
of the Avvocato, whom Firmino's perceptions reduce to a caricature legible as 
such - if at all - only to the reader. Firmino is likewise a caricature, but one 
mirroring the sensibility of any reader who takes the Avvocato for the bafflingly 
histrionic grotesque Firmino encounters. The theme of sexual difference is again 

1 04 Jonathan Smith 

key: it is the bachelor Avvocato who warns Firmino, late in the day, against 
continuing neglect of his ragazza or fidanzata Catarina (200), a figure more 
remote even than the female characters of // contesto (30-38, 51, 90) and // 
cavaliere (40-47, 48-51, 73-80), whom Sciascia leaves shrouded in the 
unfathomable texture of appearances his novels report. Up to this point, Catarina 
figures only in the day-dreams of a character reduced to these, plus his 
professional activities; subsequently, she features briefly only to be pushed 
again into the background (229-38). 

The novel here re-joins La gastrite's polemic against Eco's ethos of 
professionalism. Correlatively, the one episode not reported as witnessed by 
Firmino is that of the corpse's discovery in the first chapter, by the underclass 
gypsy Manolo: any development of the mystery requires the testimony of 
another sensibility than that sketched in Firmino and challenged in the reader, 
variously personified by the Avvocato, and by Manolo, but also otherwise. On 
the closing page Firmino questions the credibility of the new witness the 
Avvocato hopes may close the case: " - Un travestito, disse Firmino, ospedale 
psichiatrico, schedato per prostituzione. Figuriamoci" (238). Unrecognizable 
(because articulated in fiction), mad (in its extremity), and venal (because it 
could not articulate itself without the assistance of the communications 
industry), the standpoint of Tabucchi's - ontological — investigation is in an 
important sense not one at all, constitutively lacking the validation for which he 
argues in La gastrite. By the same token, enough filters through their 
conversations, however obscurely given Firmino' s obtusity, to convey the 
Avvocato's role of sentinel, such as La gastrite finds outlined by Blanchot, but 
also that his enterprise is - self-consciously - as hopeless as Garibaldo's, and 
pathological as the commitment of friendship in Notturno indiano. 

The Avvocato's commitment, to marginals otherwise denied the possibility 
of voicing their claims to justice and liberty, arises from past traumas and 
present remorse that are inscrutable to Firmino (113, 123, 126-31, 170-71, 173, 
178, 183, 200), lying beyond the limits of what can be represented to his 
sensibility. They also remain unresolved, as emblems of another trauma likewise 
left unresolved by deceptively rapid identification of corpse and murderers, and 
by the ensuing travesty of justice. Datelined "Helsinki, 30 ottobre 1996" (238), 
this is the seventh novel by Tabucchi to narrate death suffered in the presence of 
a civil power, somehow camouflaged or counterfeited. The other six had all 
been published by 1994, although this story of murder inside a police station, 
followed by the corpse's decapitation and concealment on wasteland, was 
borrowed from reports in the Portuguese news media of an incident on 7 May 
1996 (239). Collective human existence is the enduringly dire enigma requiring 
an anamnesis pursued here through a complex chiastic movement between 
Italian storytelling and Portuguese story, the first studiously trivialized by its 
exaggeratedly malign account of the second, but the second aggravated in its 
malignancy by its conformity to the first: each is a fiction visible in its truth only 

Tabucchi Echoes Lacan 1 05 

insofar as it coincides with the other, like either face of the Moebius band. That 
the novel is in this strong sense about Italy as well as Portugal is underlined by 
continuities with the theme of marginalization in the more recent Gli Zingari e il 
Rinascimento (1999), a disconcerting blend of fictional and non-fictional 
treatments of a contemporary Florentine setting. 

Both books develop an interrogation of readers' sensibilities begun when 
Notturno indiano's erotic theme demands careful re-reading of the novel's 
disparities from the description of it given in the final chapter: these are no 
meta-fictional game, notwithstanding some margin of freedom to read them as 
such, and evade their questioning in the manner of both participants in the 
closing dialogue. There is a similar possibility of reading La testa perduta 
without registering its indirections, its radical dystopianism, or the insensibility 
of Firmino, whose dreams - asleep and awake — are repeatedly infiltrated by 
advertising for beach holidays in Portugal and Madeira, by a Parisian idyll that 
reverses Candida's ironies for him whether or not it does the same for the 
reader, and by aspirations to a life of literary scholarship. However, Tabucchi's 
questions of his readers are also developed in II filo dell'orizzonte and in 
associated stories: the bafflement of Piazza d'ltalia is relocated in the time of 
writing, in the Italian history of the 1970s and after, sometimes explicitly linked 
with that of the 1930s and 1940s, but sometimes realistically resisting all the 
reader's efforts to decipher events. Despite intermittent indirections, these are 
pivotal themes of // gioco del rovescio, Piccoli equivoci, and L 'angelo nero. In 
addition to the ethical analysis of the fictional enterprise in Requiem, and 
Tabucchi's differences and convergences with themes in Lacan, Blanchot and 
Lyotard, a global interpretation would therefore turn on the disparity signalled in 
Notturno indiano, between a reading that responds to Tabucchi's questioning, 
affording realizations of the Shakespeare problem's gravity scarcely glimpsed in 
"Interpretazione", and one that does not. 

University of Wales Swansea 

106 Jonathan Smith 

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Tabucchi Echoes Lacan 1 07 

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Minnesota Press, 1985. 
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volgari. XXIII (1975). 139-87. 

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. Le Petit navire. Paris: ChrisUan Bourgeois, 1999. 

. Piazza d 'Italia: fiivola popolare in tre tempi, un epilogo e un 'appendice. 

Milano: Feltrinelli, 1993 (first edition Bompiani, 1975). 

108 Jonathan Smith 

Piccoli equivoci senza importanza. Milano: Feltrinelli, 1985. 

II piccolo naviglio. Milano: Mondadori, 1978. 

Requiem: un'allucinazione. Milano: Feltrinelli, 1992 

Sogni di sogni. Palermo: Sellerio, 1992. 

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Sostiene Pereira: una testimonianza. Milano: Feltrinelli, 1994. 

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I volatili del Beato Angelica. Palermo: Sellerio, 1987 

Gli Zingari e il Rinascimento. Milano: Feltrinelli, 1999 

Vattimo, Gianni. Al di la del soggetto: Nietzsche, Heidegger, e I'ermeneutica. Milano: 

Feltrinelli, 1981. 
. Le avventure delta differenza: che cosa significa pensare dopo Nietzsche e 

Heidegger. Milano: Garzanti, 1979. 

. Credere di credere. Milano, Garzanti, 1996. ^ 

. Etica dell'interpretazione. Torino: Rosenberg & Sellier, 1989 

. La fine della modernita. Milano: Garzanti, 1985. 

. Le mezze verita. Torino: La Stampa, 1988. 

. Oltre I'interpretazione: il significato dell 'ermeneutica per la fdosofia. Bari: 

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Bompiani, 1974. 
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Williams, James. Lyotard: Towards a Postmodern Philosophy. Cambridge: Polity, 1998 
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. The Sublime Object of Ideology. London: Verso, 1989. 

Massimo Riva 

Beginning/Ending, Openness/Consistency: 
Models for the Hyper-Novel 

I like to take in hand none but clean, virgin, fair-and-square mathematical jobs, 
something that regularly begins at the beginning, and is at the middle when 
midway, and comes to an end at the conclusion; not a cobbler's job, that's at an 
end in the middle, and at the beginning at the end. 

(H. Melville, Moby Dick, ch. 126, 431) 

That of all the several ways of beginning a book which are now in practice 
throughout the known world, I am confident my own way of doing it is the best 

— I'm sure it is the most religious — for I begin with writing the first sentence 

— and trusting to Almighty God for the second. 'Twould cure an author for 
ever of the fuss and folly of opening his street-door, and calling in his 
neighbours and friends, and kinsfolk, with the devil and all his imps, with their 
hammers and engines, &c. only to observe how one sentence of mine follows 
another, and how the plan follows the whole... 

(L. Sterne, Tristram Shandy, VIII, ch. 2, 438) 

Per chiudere la rassegna dei finali, ricordero una delle ultime pieces di Samuel 
Beckett, Ohio Impromptu [Improvviso dell'Ohio]. Due vecchi identici con 
lunghi capelli bianchi, vestiti con lunghi mantelli neri, siedono a una tavola. 
Uno ha in mano un logoro libro e legge. L'altro ascolta, tace e talvolta lo 
interrompe con un ticchettio delle nocche sul tavolo. "Little is left to tell" [Poco 
resta da dire], e racconta una storia di lutto e solitudine e d'un uomo che 
dev'essere I'uomo che ascolta quella storia fino all'arrivo dell'uomo che legge 
e rilegge quella storia, letta e riletta chissa quante volte fino alia frase finale: 
"Little is left to tell," ma sempre ancora qualcosa forse resta da dire in attesa di 
quella frase. Forse per la prima volta al mondo c'e un autore che racconta 
I'esaurirsi di tutte le storie. Ma per esaurite che siano, per poco che sia rimasto 
da raccontare, si continua a raccontare ancora. 

(I. Calvino, "Cominciare e finire," Saggi I, 752-53) 

Prologue: "A life-buoy of a coffin" 

The first quote I have placed above as an epigraph is taken from chapter 126 of 
Melville's Moby Dick, entitled "The Life-Buoy." In this chapter, Captain Ahab 
plays the role of an ironic Ulysses explaining (with a hollow laugh) to his 
frightened crew the origin of the ominous cries they've heard, which they 

Annali d'ltalianistica 18 (2000) 

110 Massimo Riva 

believe, "according to the religion of the crewmen," to be either the singing of 
mermaids or the voices of newly drowned men in the sea. The sound, Ahab 
says, is only the "human sort of wail" which sometimes causes seals to be 
mistaken for men. In the scene that follows, however, the ominous quality of 
this "wail" is confirmed by the sudden fall to his death of "the first man of the 
Pequod that mounted the mast to look for the White Whale, on the White 
Whale's own peculiar ground" (429), a foretaste of the destiny which, within a 
few chapters, awaits the captain himself 

The life-buoy is dropped from the stem but no hand rises from the sea to 
grab it. The unlucky sailor is swallowed by the waves, and soon the buoy, too, 
disappears in the deep. The lost-life buoy needs to be replaced and attention is 
now drawn to Queequeg's coffin; in short, the ship's carpenter is asked to build 
"a life-buoy [out] of a coffin." As a skilled craftsman, he is not pleased with the 
"cobbler's job" assigned to him and expresses his discontent with the words 
quoted above. His words distinctly sound like Melville's own commentary on 
the ambivalent task of all human craftsmanship, and particularly the writer's 
own; the coffin turned into a life-buoy ironically serves both the purposes of life 
and death, converting one into the other.' Narrative art is no different. What is 
apparently a "linear" job — telling a story with a beginning, a middle and an 
end, according to classical prescriptions — can be a frustrating (and depressing) 
task, one "that's at an end in the middle" or, even more enigmatically, "at the 
beginning at the end": "[. . .jwhenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before 
coffin warehouses," says Ishmael in the book's famous opening statement, "and 
bringing up the rear of every fiineral I meet [. . .] then I account it high time to 
get to sea as soon as I can" (12). "To get to sea" in order to save himself from 
"hypos" and melancholy is for Ishmael/Melville the equivalent of "to get to 
writing," yet from the depths of the sea comes the [in-]human wail of the seals, 
irresistible as the Sirens' song. 

Beginning and Ending 

As both the title and the third epigraph suggest, my point of departure — my 
beginning — is Italo Calvino's last memo for the next millennium, left 
unfinished, and thus open to conjecture and interpretation, by his sudden and 
untimely death. Yet this is not simply an essay on Calvino's "lasf memo or on 
his six memos in general, often read as the writer's prophetic "last will and 
testament." Rather, the following remarks should be read as an approximation of 
what, for lack of a better definition, I will call the cognitive loop in the age of 
the "hyper-novel." 

' "We workers in wood make bridal-bedsteads and card-tables, as well as coffins and 
hearses. We work by the month, or by the job, or by the profit [. . .]" (Moby Dick, 43 1). 

Beginning/Ending, Opennes/Consistency: Models for the Hyper-Novel 1 1 1 

In an outline dated 23.2.85 (the day after the completion of a second draft of 
the lecture itself), "Cominciare e finire" appears as the first title of the six 
Norton lectures that Calvino was supposed to deliver at Harvard. Another of the 
many outlines sketched by Calvino, dating fi-om the beginning of April, lists the 
slightly modified title: "The Art of Beginning and the Art of Concluding," as the 
sixth and last lecture of the series. Later in June, the outline of the lectures 
begins to resemble what we have come to consider their definitive order: 
"Lightness," "Quickness," "Exactitude," etc. In the last two outlines, all traces 
of "Beginning and Ending" have in fact disappeared. "Lightness" is consistently 
listed as the first lecture. The last missing one that we have come to know as 
"Consistency" is listed, instead, in the outline of June 22, under the title 
"Openness." Basing himself on the examination of the five Norton notebooks 
and various references and marginal notes left by Calvino, Mario Barenghi 
comes up with this conjecture. The content of "Beginning and Ending," 
presumably abridged, would have served as an introduction to the new, 
concluding theme of "Consistency," which would have also included some 
fragmentary ideas (referred to in the marginalia) about "Openness" (for 
example, under the rubrics "sense of connection" and "disconnection"), in 
addition to various references to three books: Franz Kafka's Amerika, Oliver 
Goldsmith's The Vicar of Wakefield and Herman Melville's Bartleby the 
Scrivener. The missing lecture, concludes Barenghi, would have likely 
addressed the connection between "intersubjectivity" and "solipsism," thus 
perhaps allowing Calvino to talk about himself without making concessions to 
psychology and autobiography, categories he always preferred to avoid (Saggi, 
II, 2958-65). 

I assume Barenghi's hypothesis to be reasonable and valid. Yet, rather than 
conjecturing ftirther about the content of the missing memo, or the 
compositional order of the series, I will focus here on the two contradictory 
ideas that would seemingly have been intertwined in that never completed and 
never delivered first / last lecture. Beginning*-^Ending and 
Openness*->Consistency both imply a sequential order and an opposition (they 
are logical opposites that form a linear sequence). This is intuitively clear for the 
first couple of terms (Begirming and Ending), but can be also assumed for the 
second couple, if Consistency is understood simply as a synonym of Closure. 
The double sequence can be thus represented as a semiotic square composed of 
two symmetrical couples, two sets of literary, stylistic, and cognitive values 
which both exclude and imply each other: 

(the art of) Beginning -> (the art of) Ending 

it it 

Openness -^ Consistency (Closure) 

112 Massimo Riva 

Yet, if we do not consider it simply a synonym of Closure, the term 
"Consistency" — which Calvino eventually preferred to "Openness" as the 
concluding title of the last memo — implies a deliberate and semantically 
relevant choice. Beginning and Ending on the one hand, Openness and 
Consistency on the other are not rigidly symmetrical or equivalent terms any 
more; rather than being mutually exclusive in a linear sequence. Openness and 
Consistency seem to establish a series of non-linear, or multilinear, recursive 
and reversible connections. 

Beginning <-> Ending 

Openness •<-^ Consistency ~ 

Here, schematically represented, is the cognitive feedback loop, or knot, 1 
referred to at the outset. Perhaps what Calvino was searching for in writing his 
six memos was a (semantic and stylistic) value which could both sum up his 
itinerary as a writer and keep the end open (although always in sight). A 
Consistency of Beginning and Openness of Ending which can be achieved only 
by exorcising Closure, securing, at least theoretically, a virtually endless flux of 
writing: a spinning wheel, constantly weaving, tangling and disentangling the 
intertwined spirals, the double helix, of life and fiction. 

"Quickness " 

In "Quickness," the second memo for the next millennium, we read the 
following passage, in which Calvino is quoting from Carlo Levi's introduction 
to an Italian translation of Tristram Shandy: 

Tutti i mezzi, tutte le armi sono buone per salvarsi dalla morte e dal tempo. Se la linea 
retta e la piu breve fra due punti fatali e inevitabili, le digressioni la allungheranno: e se 
queste digressioni diventeranno cosi complesse, aggrovigliate, tortuose, cosi rapide da far 
perdere le proprie tracce, chissa che la morte non ci trovi piu, che 11 tempo si smarrisca, e 
che possiamo restare celati nei mutevoli nascondigli. 

{Saggi 1 669-70) 
(Every means and every weapon is valid to save oneself from death and time. If a straight 
line is the shortest distance between two fated and inevitable points, digressions will 
lengthen it: and if these digressions become so complex, so tangled and tortuous, so rapid 
as to hide their own trades, who knows — perhaps death may not find us, perhaps time 
will lose its way, and perhaps we ourselves can remain concealed in our shifting hiding 

{Six Memos 47) 

Beginning/Ending, Opennes/Consistency: Models for the Hyper-Novel 1 13 

Parole che mi fanno riflettere. Perche io non sono un cultore della divagazione; potrei 
dire che preferisco affidarmi alia linea retta, nella speranza che continui aH'infinito e mi 
renda irraggiungibile. Preferisco calcolare lungamente la mia traiettoria di fuga, 
aspettando di potermi lanciare come una freccia e scomparire all'orizzonte. Oppure, se 
troppi ostacoli mi sbarrano il cammino, calcolare la serie di segmenti rettilinei che mi 
portino fuori dal labirinto nel piu breve tempo possibile. 

{Saggi 1 669-70 
(Words, words that make us think. Because 1 am not devoted to aimless wandering; I'd 
rather say that I prefer to entrust myself to the straight line, in the hope that the line will 
continue into infinity, making me unreachable. I prefer to calculate at length the 
trajectory of my flight, expecting that 1 will be able to launch myself like an arrow and 
disappear over the horizon. Or else, if too many obstacles bar my way, to calculate the 
series of rectilinear segments that will lead me out of the labyrinth as quickly as 

{Six Memos 47-48) 

In the fifth (and last written) memo, "Multiplicity," Calvino discusses various 
models for the hyper-novel, the novel "as a vast net," not least of which are his 
own "novels" {The Castle of the Crossed Destinies, Invisible Cities, and If On A 
Winter 's Night A Traveler). A quote fi-om Gadda (the writer-engineer) serves 
him as an introduction to the topic: "[. . . ] il romanzo contemporaneo come 
enciclopedia, come metodo di conoscenza, e soprattutto come rete di 
connessione tra i fatti, tra le persone, tra le cose del mondo" {Saggi 1717) ("[. . 
.] the contemporary novel as an encyclopedia, as a method of knowledge, and 
above all as a network of connections between the events, the people, and the 
things of the world" {Six Memos 105)). According to Calvino, "Carlo Emilio 
Gadda cerco per tutta la sua vita di rappresentare il mondo come un garbuglio, o 
groviglio, o gomitolo, di rappresentarlo senza attenuame affatto I'inestricabile 
complessita, o per meglio dire, la presenza simultanea degli elementi piu 
eterogenei che concorrono a determinare ogni evento. {Saggi I 717) ( "Carlo 
Emilio Gadda tried all his life to represent the world as a knot, a tangled skein of 
yard; to represent it without in the least diminishing the inextricable complexity 
or, to put it better, the simultaneous presence of the most disparate elements that 
converge to determine every event" {Six Memos 106)). This definition captures 
the epistemological challenge of the hyper-novel, the novel as "an open 
encyclopedia" — a definition that openly contradicts the etymological meaning 
of the word, evjcuK^-ioc; nai5eia, which implies a closed circle of knowledge and 
education, "an attempt to exhaust knowledge of the world by enclosing it in a 
circle" {Six Memos 1 16). 

If Gadda's novels are all, in a sense, "unfinished or left as fragments," it is 
because they implicitly challenge the epistemological principle of the (modem) 
novel: the (impossible) representation of a closed universe. The same can be 
said of Calvino 's own books of "fiction" (destinies, cities), including his 
hypothetical "novel of the Reader," If on A Winter 's Night a Traveler, itself a 

114 Massimo Riva 

sort of (open) encyclopedia of the novel, reduced to its multiple beginnings. 
Correspondingly (and consistently), in Gadda's (and Calvino's) humorous 
shorter pieces from the Cosmicomics on, "[. . .] ogni minimo oggetto h visto 
come il centro d'una rete di relazioni che lo scrittore non sa trattenersi dal 
seguire, moltiplicando i dettagli in modo che le sue descrizioni e divagazioni 
diventano infinite." (Saggi 1718) ("[. . .] the least thing is seen as the center of a 
network of relationships that the writer cannot restrain himself from following, 
multiplying the details so that his descriptions and digressions become infinite" 
(Six Memos \01)} This dual, opposite pull of writing, synthetic and analytical, 
centripetal and centriftigal ("the immediate connection that writing establishes 
between everything existent or possible," "the digression [as] a sfrategy for 
putting off the ending" Six Memos 45, 46) is what characterizes the "system of 
systems" of (modernist) narrative as a field of incompatible epistemological 
tensions or forces. For Robert Musil, another writer-engineer, for example, 
"knowledge is the awareness of the incompatibility of two opposite polarities [. . 
.] mathematical exactitude and the imprecision of human affairs" (Six Memos 
109). Musil's major encyclopedic work, of course, remains unfinished, like 
Proust's: "Neanche Marcel Proust riesce a vedere finito il suo romanzo- 
enciclopedia, ma non certo per mancanza di disegno, dato che I'idea della 
Recherche nasce tutt'insieme, principio e fine e linee generali [. . .]" (Saggi 1 
721) ("Not even Marcel Proust managed to put an end to his encyclopedic novel, 
though not for lack of design, since the idea for the book came to him all at 
once, the beginning and end and the general outline [. . .]" (Six Memos 1 10)). 
The Recherche, itself the model of a relativistic universe, is generated out of a 
singularity, a single point in space and time, as though in a creative "big bang." 
The idea or the "design" (the form) of the book in its instantaneous wholeness 
(beginning and ending) contains in itself, as in a kernel, all its centrifugal hidden 
dimensions, which drive its own unraveling: 

La rete che lega ogni cosa e anche il tema di Proust; ma in Proust questa rete e fatta di 
punti spazio-temporali occupati successivamente da ogni essere, 11 che comporta una 
moltiplicazione infinita delle dimensioni dello spazio e del tempo. II mondo si dllata fino 
a diventare Inafferrabile, e per Proust la conoscenza passa attraverso la sofferenza di 
questa Inafferrabilita. 

(The network that links all things is also Proust's theme, but in him this net is composed 
of points in space-time occupied in succession by everyone, which brings about an 
infinite multiplication of the dimensions of space and time. The world expands until it 
can no longer be grasped, and knowledge, for Proust, is attained by suffering this 

(Six Memos 110-11) 

" On this issue see Musarra-Schroder. 

Beginning/Ending, Opennes/Consistency: Models for the Hyper-Novel 1 1 5 

Telephones, cars, airplanes, the "irascible" or mercurial deities of modem 
communication technology, as they appear in the Recherche, are not just 
external references to its epistemological uncertainties. They are the material 
manifestations of a shifting perception of reality, "della forma stessa dell'opera, 
della sua ragione interna, della sua ansia di dar fondo alia molteplicita dello 
scrivibile nella brevita della vita che si consuma." {Saggi I 722) ("part of the 
work's very form, of its inner logic, of the author's anxiety to plumb the 
muhiplicity of the writable within the briefiiess of life that consumes it" {Six 
Memos 1 12). 

The models for the hyper-novel are necessarily models of anxious (or 
neurotic) multiplicity, theoretically and stylistically ranging fi-om Joyce to 
Borges and Perec, and Calvino himself They all point to complex mental 
"structures" or constraints which enable the writer to achieve exactitude in 
imagination and language, to connect the intelligence of poetry and that of 
science (Valery), producing "works that match the rigorous geometry of the 
crystal and the abstraction of deductive reasoning" (Borges) and "unite density 
of invention and expression with a sense of infinite possibilities" {Six Memos 
118-19). Yet, what seems to be the common destiny of these works is their 
inability to escape the very contradictions that nurture them. The "inability to 
find an ending" thus becomes, in Calvino 's work, the very epistemological (and 
creative) principle of the hyper-novel ("the strategy of putting off the ending"), 
conceived as the extreme form that the novel must assume, not only at the 
historical boundaries of a genre but also at the very boundaries of narrative (and 
perhaps of writing) as we know it. Like Proust, Calvino's fundamental anxiety 
or neurosis finds its material-immaterial "objective correlative" in the new 
technology of writing and communication which characterizes our fin (or debut) 
du siecle ("millennium/ The novel as a vast net, a sort of rhizomatic labyrinth, is 
the paradoxical form of the novel in the age of electronic hypermedia, when 
beginning and ending, openness and closure, the very consistency of the writing 
process, seem to inevitably lose their traditional cognitive fianction and meaning. 
The answer to this fijndamental epistemological challenge, which threatens the 
very survival of the novel(ist), must be equally paradoxical: one meant to 
suggest that the art of labyrinthine digression and the tireless calculation of the 
arrow's linear flight, apparently antithetical yet symmetrical strategies for 
escaping the entrapments of death and time, may prefigure a new type of 
narrative space, where opposite ends meet — digressions that go straight to the 
heart of the matter, straight lines that escape in all directions. Calvino certainly 
appreciated these words of the indisputed master of digressions, among novelists 
of all times: 

[. . .] the machinery of my work is of a species by itself; two contrary motions are 
introduced into it, and reconciled, which were thought to be at variance with each other. 
In a word, my work is digressive, and it is progressive too, — and at the same time. [. . .] 

116 Massimo Riva 

Digressions, incontestably, are the sunshine; — they are the Hfe, the soul of reading; — 
take them out of this book for instance, — you might as well take the book along with 
them; — one cold eternal winter would reign in every page of it; restore them to the 
writer; — he steps forth like a bridegroom, — bids All hail; brings in variety, and forbids 
appetite to fail [. . .] from the beginning of this, you see, I have constructed the main 
work and the adventitious parts of it with such intersections, and I have so complicated 
and involved the digressive and progressive movements, one wheel within another, that 
the whole machine, in general, has been kept a-going [...]. 

{Tristram Shandy I, 22, 63). 

Plagiarist by anticipation 

In his introductory remarks to the meeting of hypertextual writers and web 
developers ("Technology Platforms for 21st century Literature") held at Brown 
last year, Robert Coover had this to say about Calvino (whom he mentioned 
right next to Jorge Luis Borges among the literary prophets of hypertext in 
print): he would certainly have been a hypertextual author, had he had the 
chance and the tools. I would go a step further and include Calvino among those 
"plagiarists by anticipation," (plagiaires par anticipation), celebrated by 
Oulipians, alongside such hypertextual precursors as Swift or Sterne or Borges 
himself. (The very idea of "plagiarism by anticipation" is consistent with the 
idea of hyper-writing as the "future perfect" of writing.) Calvino's texts (his 
models for the hyper-novel) are not only prototypical hypertexts; they conceive, 
describe, and make visible a new writing space for hypertext. Yet, they do so 
following "the line," and to some extent they are still prisoners of the line, 
struggling to free themselves from simple linearity. In other words, their driving 
force or energy is a fiindamental anxiety, the anxiety of consistency (closure). 

Hypertextual author Michael Joyce and others have defined hypertext as 
"above all, a new visual form," a new form of kinetic writing whose potential 
will be expressed in a new, hybrid type of poetic-narrative textuality, 
simuhaneously employing different media. Hypertext, Joyce writes in his essay 
"What Happens as We Go," "vindicates the word as visual image and reclaims 
its place in the flill sensorium" {Of Two Minds 206). A few pages later in the 
same essay, he quotes Calvino himself from "the extraordinary 1967 essay 
'Cybernetics and Ghosts,'" a year after, Joyce reminds us, Glenn Gould's claim 
in The Prospects of Recording that "indeed all the music that has ever been can 
now become a background against which the impulse to make listener-supplied 
connections is the new foreground" (215). "Electronic brains," Joyce writes 

^ I follow this line of interpretation in my forthcoming essay, "Le frecce della mente: 
Calvino, Arakawa e I'iper-romanzo," to be published in the Proceedings of the 
International Symposium held in New York, April 1999 (Anna Botta, Milano: 

Beginning/Ending, Opennes/Consistency: Models for the Hyper-Novel 1 17 

paraphrasing Calvino, "provide a convincing model of the mind as network (in 
1967 [Calvino] is reading Shannon and Wiener and von Neumann and Turing, 
seems aware of early AI work in chess)" (215). And here is the actual quote, 
from Calvino's landmark essay: 

A! posto di quella nuvola cangiante che portavamo nella testa fino a led [. . .] oggi 
sentiamo il velocissimo passaggio di segnali sugli intricati circuit! che collegano i rele, i 
diodi, i transistor di cui la nostra calotta cranica e stipata. [. . .] la nostra mente e una 
scacchiera in cui sono messi in gioco centinaia di miliardi di pezzi... 

(In the place of the ever-changing cloud that we carried in our heads [. . .] we now feel 
the rapid passage of signals on the intricate circuits that connect the relays, the diodes, the 
transistors with which our skulls are crammed [. . .] our minds are chessboards with 
hundreds of billions of pieces.) 

(^Uses of Literature 8) 

That the computer could provide more than just a metaphor but actually "a 
model for the mind" is a concept that evolves in Calvino's work over the years. 
In "Cybernetics and Ghosts," the focus (at least partially whimsical) was on the 
author's (the subject's) necessary obsolescence ("the I of the author is dissolved 
in the writing [. . .] it is the product and the instrument of the writing process," a 
combinatorial writing machine capable of simulating — and liberating — the 
personality of any author). The ambivalence generated by this "discovery" is 
clearly formulated in the first person: 

Vediamo qual e la mia reazione psicologica apprendendo che io scrivere e solo un 
process© combinatorio tra elementi dati: ebbene, cio che io provo istintivamente e un 
senso di sollievo, di sicurezza. Lo stesso sollievo e senso di sicurezza che provo ogni 
volta che un'estensione dai contomi indeterminati e sfumati mi si rivela invece come una 
forma geometrica precisa, ogni volta che in una valanga informe di avvenimenti riesco a 
distinguere delle serie di fatti, delle scelte fra un numero fmito di possibilita. Di fronte 
alia vertigine deH'innumerevole, dell'inclassificabile, del continuo, mi sento rassicurato 
dal fmito, dal sistematizzato, dal discreto. 

(5a^^/ 1 216-17) 
(Let us see what my psychological reaction is when I learn that writing is purely and 
simply a process of combination among given elements. Well, then, what I instinctively 
feel is a sense of relief, of security. The same sort of relief and sense of security that I feel 
every time I discover that a mess of vague and indeterminate lines turns out to be a 
precise geometric form; or every time I succeed in discerning a series of facts, and 
choices to be made out of a finite number of possibilities, in the otherwise shapeless 
avalanche of events. Faced with the vertigo of what is countless, inclassifiable, in a state 
of flux, I feel reassured by what is finite, "discrete," and reduced to a system.) 

{Uses of Literature 17) 

1 1 8 Massimo Riva 

The quest for a system of systems (the hyper-novel) is inextricably linked for 
Calvino to "una specie di agorafobia intellettuale, quasi un esorcismo per 
difendermi dai vortici che la letteratura continuamente sfida. (Saggi I 217) 
("some kind of intellectual agoraphobia, almost a form of exorcism to defend 
[him] from the whirlwinds that literature so constantly has to face" (17)). And 
more than a decade before If on a Winter's Night a Traveler, Calvino's attention 
was already shifting toward "reader-supplied connections," the reading process 
redefined as "the decisive moment of literary life," an anchor against th2 risk of 
drowning in the sea of objectivity, a thread to hold on to, for the author, as a 
guard against losing oneself in the labyrinth of multiplicity. Conversely, 

la letteratura e si gioco combinatorio che segue le possibilita implicite nel proprio 
materiale, indipendentemente dalla personalita del poeta, ma e gioco che a un certo punto 
si trova investito d'un significato inatteso, un significato non oggettivo di quel livello 
linguistico sul quale ci stavamo muovendo, ma slittato da un altro piano, tale da mettere 
in gioco qualcosa che su un altro piano sta a cuore all'autore o alia societa cui egli 
appartiene. La macchina letteraria puo effettuare tutte le permutazioni possibili in un date 
materiale; ma il risultato poetico sara I'effetto particolare d'una di queste permutazioni 
sull'uomo dotato d'una coscienza e d'un inconscio, cioe sull'uomo empirico e storico, 
saraa lo shock che si verifica solo in quanto attorno alia macchina scrivente e sistono i 
fantasmi nascosti dell'individuo e della societa. 

{Saggi \12\) 
(literature is a combinatorial game that pursues the possibilities implicit in its own 
material [. . .] but a game that at a certain point is invested with an unexpected meaning, a 
meaning that is not patent on the linguistic plane on which we were working but has 
slipped in from another level, activating something that on that second level is of great 
concern to the author or his society. The literature machine can perform all the 
permutations possible on a given material, but the poetic result will be the particular 
effect of one of these permutations on a man endowed with consciousness and an 
unconscious, that is, an empirical and historical man. It will be the shock that occurs only 
if the writing machines is surrounded by the hidden ghosts of the individual and of his 

{Uses of Literature 22) 

Ghosts, phantasms: collective convictions and emotional entanglements. It 
is the point of view reinforced in the essay "Prose et anticombinatoire," 
published in the Atlas de litterature potentielle, in which Calvino explains how 
the help of the computer allowed him, the author of the Fire of the Abominable 
House, published in 1973, to rid himself of the chains of combinatorial 
possibilities, enabling him to focus entirely on the "digressions" which 
transform a text into a true work of art {Atlas 331). In the Six Memos, Calvino 
uses the Lucretian word clinamen to describe the unpredictable deviation, or 
digression, from the line which allows free will and destiny, or fate, to 
simultaneously coexist within the same universe. Here, expressing his own 
ambivalence toward new technologies of writing, Calvino is elaborating on what 

Beginning/Ending, Opennes/Consistency: Models for the Hyper-Novel 1 19 

one of his most beloved authors, Paul Valery, another illustrious "plagiaire par 
anticipation," wrote in 1928: 

La machine n'en est encore qu'a ses essais. Un jour peut-etre, un kaleidoscope 
electronique composera des figures musicales en quantite, inventera des rythmes, des 
melodies en serie. L'homme aura des machines a raisonner exactement, son role se 
bomant a choisir. 

(Cahiers 1 235) 
([. . .] the machine is still tentative; perhaps one day an electronic kaleidoscope will 
compose musical figures in great quantity, will invent rhythms, melodies in series; man 
will possess machines for creation as there will be machines for reasoning correctly, his 
role will be limited to choosing.) 

{Cahiers I 235; my translation) 

Eighteen years after "Cybernetics and Ghosts," this fundamental ambivalence 
toward the literary machine as a computational or combinatorial device and as a 
liberating creative tool is still the basis of Calvino's musings on, as J. Usher has 
ironically called it, "informatique assistee" (by the author).'* Yet the focus has 
undoubtedly expanded to the multiplied levels and dimensions of an enriched 
and energized writing-reading process, activating meaning to a greater degree, 
perhaps a hyper-degree of structural complexity. As a writing machine, the 
computer embodies a sort of authorial will to power: the dream of a hyper- 
author (the equivalent of the mythical Father of Stories) who actually knows by 
heart or contains in his boundless memory, and thus is able to transcribe all the 
books that a simple author only dreams of writing. The writing machine 
embodies the "dream projections of latent power" of both the author (Silas 
Flaimery) and his double, the Counterfeiter (Ermes Marana), with his shadow 
organization for the computerized production of apocrypha. 

This ftindamental ambivalence toward the output of the writing machine is 
already detectable in Invisible Cities, the network of imaginary cities that, in his 
memo on "Exactitude," Calvino describes as "una struttura sfaccettata in cui 
ogni breve testo sta vicino agli altri in una successione che non implica una 

"* Usher has analyzed the ambivalent inscription of the computer as Writer/Reader (or as 
my colleague George Landow at Brown would say, as Wreader) in If On a Winter's 
Night: "the computer as the completer of a work that remains unfinished because of the 
writer's block of the author"; the computer as combinatory machine, "generator of 
variants, taking the finite initial material as a set of elements for recombination ... so 
creating an almost limitless quantity of fictions from a fixed number of initial items;" 
"the computer as a device for 'deconstructing' the text, reducing it from its organization 
as discourse back to its primitive state as a list of lexemes catalogued according to criteria 
of frequency, the pure constituent elements, and not the prejudiced organization of them 
by an author are the true bearers of 'meaning'"; the computer as assembler of random 
patterns, producing at random the creative shock of disorder, or chaos out of order (44- 

120 Massimo Riva 

consequenzialita o una gerarchia ma una rete entro la quale si possono tracciare 
molteplici percorsi e ricavare conclusioni plurime e ramificate." {Saggi I 689- 
90) ("a many-faceted structure in which each brief text is close to the others in a 
series that does not imply logical sequence or a hierarchy, but a network in 
which one can follow multiple routes, and draw multiple, ramified conclusions" 
(Six Memos 71)). As a model hyper-novel, a silicon-like, multifaceted 
architecture of discontinuity. Invisible Cities turns the anxiety implicit in the 
combinatorial cybernetics of the "literature machine" into the epistemological 
principle of its Utopian designs. The same can be said of the Castle which turns 
semantic "aphasia" into a heraldic (and therapeutic) game of storytelling. Yet, 
even in the Cities, like in the chess game of Perec's Vie, Mode d'Emploi (the 
ultimate model for the hyper-novel mentioned in Multiplicity), the sestina or the 
crystal-like structures which provide the patterns have loopholes, and the 
chessboard on which Polo and Kublai Kahn play their melancholy visual game 
is reduced to a single square of plain wood, a blank nothingness {Invisible Cities 
123). The vast net of cities, woven out of fundamental discontinuities in both 
space and time, embodies a continuously oscillating state of being, a 
characteristic in-consistency. Each city, in other words, includes in itself its 
negative, its anti-matter and anti-model, an exorcised vertigo, or intellectual 
agoraphobia. Take, for example, Octavia, the spider-city: "Questa e la base della 
citta: una rete che serve da passaggio e da sostegno. Tutto il resto, invece di 
elevarsi sopra, sta appeso sotto. [. . .] Sospesa suU'abisso, la vita degli abitanti 
d'Ottavia e meno incerta che in altre citta. Sanno che piu di tanto la rete non 
regge." {Romanzi e racconti II 421) ("This is the foundation of the city: a net 
which serves as passage and as support. All the rest, instead of rising up is hung 
below. [. . .] Suspended over the abyss, the life of Octavia's inliabitants is less 
uncertain than in other cities. They know the net will last only so long" {Cities 
75)). Or take Ersilia, whose "inhabitants stretch strings from the comers of the 
houses" to mark "a relationship of blood, of trade, authority, agency." But 
"when the strings become so numerous that you can no longer pass among them, 
the inhabitants leave: the houses are dismantled; only the string and their 
supports remain," and the city of Ersilia is reduced to "I'intrico di fili tesi e pali 
che s'innalza nella pianura [. . .] ragnatele di rapporti intricati che cercano una 
forma. {Romanzi e racconti II 422) ("the labyrinth of taut strings and poles that 
rise in the plain [. . .] spiderwebs of intricate relationships seeking a form" 
{Cities 76)). Or take Phyllis, the fading city, "uno spazio in cui si tracciano 
percorsi tra punti sospesi nel vuoto [. . .] Milioni d'occhi s'alzano su fmesfre 
ponti capperi ed e come scorressero su una pagina bianca." {Romanzi e racconti 
II 435-36) ("space in which routes are drawn between points suspended in the 
void. [. . .] Millions of eyes look up at windows, bridges, capers, and they might 
be scanning a blank page" {Cities 91)). 1 could go on. Invisible Cities contains in 
fact not one but multiple image-maps for the "hyper-novel," a vast net of mental 
maps, models, and schemes, all linked or woven together as in a symbolic atlas, 

Beginning/Ending, Opennes/Consistency: Models for the Hyper-Novel 121 

a map of maps, model of models, down to the last city of cities, the "last landing 
place," the "future Berenice." The vertigo of space is muUiplied by that of time: 

Dal mio discorso avrai tratto la conclusione che la vera Berenice e una successione nel 
tempo di citta diverse, altemativamente giuste e ingiuste. Ma la cosa di cui volevo 
avvertirti e un'altra: che tutte le Berenici future sono gia present! in questo istante, 
avvolte I'una dentro I'altra, strette pigiate indistricabili. 

{Romanzi e racconti II 496) 
(From my words you will have reached the conclusion that the real Berenice is a 
temporal succession of different cities, alternately just and unjust. But what I wanted to 
warn you about is something else: all the future Berenices are already present in this 
instant, wrapped up one within the other, confined, crammed, inextricable.) 

{Invisible Cities 9 1 ) 

As a symbol of both simultaneity and reversibility, memory and forgetflilness 
(reminiscent of Borges's Aleph), Berenice recapitulates both the Utopia and 
dystopia of Past and Future City; in its multiplicity, the end and the beginning 


This is the fundamental tension at work in Calvino's visionary writing: an 
attempt to overtake not only the conventional boundaries of the Novel (as a 
genre) but also the physical boundaries of the Book. ("Literature as a projection 
of desire" is the title of one of his essays on Northrop Frye.) Calvino writes 
about Invisible Cities: 

(Un libro (io credo) e qualcosa con un principio e una fine (anche se non e un romanzo in 
senso stretto), e uno spazio in cui il lettore deve entrare, girare, magari perdersi, ma a un 
certo punto trovare un'uscita, o magari parecchie uscite, la possibilita d'aprirsi una strada 
per venirne fuori.) 

{Romanzi e racconti II 1361) 
(A book, I believe, is something with a beginning and an end (even if it is not a novel, 
strictly speaking); it is a space in which the reader must enter, get around, perhaps get 
lost, yet, at some point must be able to find an exit, or even many exits, the possibility of 
opening himself a road to get out.) 

{Romanzi e racconti \\, 1361) 

This dual tension — the need to get lost in the narrative and the opposite need to 
find an exit, an escape from it — can be traced back at least to the Cosmicomics. 
Calvino's proto-hyper-novels all display the kinetic energy of hyper-writing 
clashing against the physical boundaries of the printed form. The prefix "hyper-" 
actually appears in the last tale of tzero, "The Count of Montecristo," at the 
precise juncture where the fortress If is described by the narrator Edmond 

122 Massimo Riva 

Dantes as a sort of hyper-written space. Dantes is trying to imagine the perfect 
fortress from which it is impossible to escape, because only such a perfect 
design can provide the clue, the loophole, the way out of the necessarily 
imperfect "empirical" fortress If: 

[. . .] io partendo dal disordine di quest! dati, vedo in ogni ostacolo isolate I'indizio di un 
sitema di ostacoli, sviluppo ogni segmento in una figura regolare, saldo queste figure 
come facce d'un solido, poliedro o iperpoliedro, iscrivo quest! poiiedr! in sfere o in 
ipersfere, e cosi piu chiudo la forma della fortezza piu la semplifico, definedola in un 
rapporto numerico o in una formula algebrica. 

{Romanzi e racconti II 350) 
(I, setting out from the jumble of these data, set in each isolated obstacle the clue to a 
system of obstacles, I develop each segment into a regular figure, I fit these figures 
together as the sides of a solid, polyhedron or hyperpolyhedron. I inscribe these 
polyhedrons in spheres or hyperspheres, and so the more I enclose the form of the fortress 
the more I simplify it, defining it in a numerical relation or in an algebraic formula.) 

(tzero 144) 

The secret formula to escape from If is the fortress's secret algorithm. Yet, this 
very cybernetic dream opens up into a paradoxical universe, or a series of 
parallel universes. The way out of the labyrinth is the same as the way in, only 
in the opposite direction. "Devo pensare la prigione [. . .] come un luogo che e 
solo dentro se stesso, senza un ftiori — cioe rinunciare a uscime [. . .]. Se ftiori 
c'e il passato, forse il ftituro si concentra nel punto piu intemo dell'isola d'lf, 
cioe la via d'uscita e una via verso il dentro" {Romanzi e racconti II 351). ("I 
must conceive of the prison [. . .] as a place that is only inside itself without an 
outside [. . .]. If outside there is the past, perhaps the ftiture is concentrated at the 
innermost point of the island of If, in other words the avenue of escape is an 
avenue toward the inside.") The secret of If can be captured only in a map which 
is also a graphic of the mind: "Nei graffiti di cui 1' Abate Faria ricopre i muri, 
s'altemano due mappe dai contomi frastagliati, costellati di frecce e 
contrassegni [. . .]. nei geroglifici di Faria le due mappe si sovrappongono fmo a 
identificarsi" {Romanzi e racconti II 351-52) ("In the graffiti with which Abbe 
Faria covers his walls, two maps with ragged outlines alternate, constellated 
with arrows and marks"). One is the plan of If; the other the island of Monte 
Cristo where the treasure is hidden. "[. . .] in Faria's hieroglyphics the two maps 
can be superimposed and are almost identical" {tzero 146). What is the focal 
point of both these maps? "[. . .] if one looks closely" in his frantic digging, 
Faria "is tending toward the same point of arrival: the place of the multiplicity of 
possible things." Edmond Dantes: "At times I visualize this multiplicity as 
concentrated in a gleaming underground cavern, at times I see it as an irradiating 
explosion" (146). Mr. Palomar and its shadow, Mr. Mohole, are already written 
into the couple Faria-Dantes; In fact, practically the whole of Calvino's work is. 
Dantes: "[. . .] in qualsiasi punto io mi trovi I'ipersfera si allarga intomo a me in 

Beginning/Ending, Opennes/Consistency: Models for the Hyper-Novel 123 

ogni direzioTie; il centro e dappertutto dove io sono; andare piu profondo vuol 
dire scendere in me stesso. Scavi scavi e non fai ciie ripercorrere lo stesso 
cammino" (Romanzi e racconti II 352) ("[. . .] in whatever point I find myself 
the hypersphere stretches out around me in every direction; the center is all 
around where I am; going deeper means descending into myself. You dig and 
dig and you do nothing but retrace the same path" {tzero 147)). Yet, the point of 
arrival, the landing site over the horizon in The Count, is inexorably the two- 
dimensional plan of the written (printed) page. The Book is the fortress; the 
challenge is to open its secret plan to its own inner hyper-dimensions. Dantes: 
"Le intersezioni tra le varie linee ipotetiche definiscono una serie di piani che si 
dispongono come le pagine di un manoscritto sulla scrivania d'un romanziere. 
Chiamiamo Alexandre Dumas lo scrittore che deve consegnare al piu presto al 
suo editore un romanzo in dodici tomi ititolato II conte di Montecristo." 
{Romanzi e racconti II 353-54) ("The intersections of the various hypothetical 
lines define a series of planes arranged like the pages of a manuscript on a 
novelist's desk. Let us call Alexandre Dumas the writer who must deliver to his 
publisher as soon as possible a novel in twelve volumes entitled 77?^ Count of 
Monte Cristo [. . .]" {tzero 147)). What A. Dumas in Calvino's "The Count of 
M.C." is writing (using the outlines and variants that his assistants, Maquet and 
Fiorentino, are providing him with) is an enormous "hyper-novel" {iper- 
romanzo — here 1 would correct Weaver's translation, which, interestingly 
enough, reads "super-novel"; perhaps the prefix "hyper-" did not yet strike a 
cord when the translation came out). Dumas at work, in the hectic and anxiety- 
ridden universe of Calvino's story, is a perfect prototype for a disembodied and 
parodic, hypertextual author assisted by his two human computers: 

Dumas sceglie, scarta, ritaglia, incolla, interseca; se una soluzione ha la preferenza per 
fondati motivi ma esclude un episodio che gli farebbe comodo d'inserire, egli cerca di 
mettere insieme i tronconi di provenienza separata, 11 congiunge con saldature 
approssimative, s'ingegna a stabilire un'apparente continuita tra segment! di flituro che 
divergono. II risultato finale sara ii romanzo // conte di Montecristo da consegnare in 

{Romanzi e racconti II 354) 
(Dumas selects, rejects, cuts, pastes, interposes; if a given solution is preferred for well- 
founded reasons but omits an episode he would find it useful to include, he tries to put 
together the stub-ends of disparate provenance, he joins them with makeshift links, racks 
his brain to establish an apparent continuity among divergent segments of future. The 
final result will be the novel The Count of Monte Cristo to be handed out to the printer.) 

(tzero 149) 

What distinguishes the novel to be printed from the "hyper-novel" whose 
imaginary plan is contained in Calvino's story, which in turn contains also its 
own printed version as one of its multiple possibilities? The fact that it is 
destined to appear in print. As the mental model of a "hyper-novel," Calvino's 

124 Massimo Riva 

story struggles with precisely this insurmountable contradiction, a contradiction 
or paradox which gives its reader the true intellectual pleasure of the story, 
imagining a novel (a much shorter, quicker version of it) based on the 
fundamental algorithm of Dumas 's monumental "super-novel" (the term is here 
appropriate). Yet, only the proto-hyper novel, If On a Winter's Night a Traveler, 
pries open its own structure: and it does so by dramatizing the demise of the 
novel as printed book. This expresses not just the Author's ambivalent anxiety- 
elation over his own cunning disappearance, as in Silas Flannery's diary — 
something that Calvino, as we saw, had already welcomed as far back as 1 967 in 
"Cybernetics and Ghosts" — but a more subtle anxiety for the future of 
narrative itself It is the anxiety expressed not only by the computerized 
conspiracy of plagiarists led by Ermes Marana (the OEPHLW, the dark, 
americanized side of Oulipo?), but above all by a non-sequential, frustrated (or 
liberated) reading which translates into a lectura interrupta linked to the 
foreseeable end of print culture. 

Thus, Calvino repeatedly imagines, within the physical boundaries of the 
book, a series of mental models for the "hyper-novel" which break free of the 
consfraints of print. On the other hand, his own hyper-novels in print {If On a 
Winter's Night in particular) anxiously thematize the dangers hidden in the 
demise of print technology (most tellingly expressed in the metaphor of the 
labyrinth). And an additional anxiety looms between the lines of Mr. Palomar, 
an anxiety of obsolescence (as Jay Bolter has called it in his concluding remarks 
at the Brown conference), because authors want to be immortal and this they 
want from their tools, their writing, the tool of immortality. What hides behind 
Calvino's whimsical neutralization of Subjectivity is perhaps an even more 
ftindamental anxiety of disappearance, not simply the disappearance of the 
author (the writer) but what Nick Negroponte has called "the end of words." 
If the book, the custodian of the word, is destined to lose its (symbolic) 
consistency and body to the randomness of "fotoni, vibrazioni ondulatorie, 
spetfri polarizzati [. . .] eletfroni neufroni neufrini particelle elementari sempre 
piu minute [. . .] impulsi eletfronici [. . .] flusso d'informazione, squassato da 
ridondanze e rumori." {Romanzi e racconti II 635) ("photons, undulatory 
vibrations, polarized specfra [. . .] electrons, neutrinos, elementary particles 
more and more minute [. . .] elecfronic impulses [. . .] flow of information, 
shaken by redundancies and noises" {If On a Winter 's Night 26)), what will 
happen to the writer's virtual body, his work? What will happen to narrative art, 
conceived as an art of survival? The Reader's first impulse when faced, in 
chapter 2 of If On A Winter 's Night, with the failure of print technology, is to 
"let it all be degraded into a swirling enfropy" (26). The Reader's (and the 
Narrator's) most profound desire is endangered: "Quello che vorresti e I'aprirsi 
d'uno spazio e d'un tempo asfratti e assoluti in cui muoverti seguendo una 
traiettoria esatta e tesa; ma quando ti sembra di riuscirsi t'accorgi d'essere 
fermo, bloccato, cosfretto a ripetere tutto da capo." {Romanzi e racconti II 636) 

Beginning/Ending, Opennes/Consistency: Models for the Hyper-Novel 125 

("What you would like is the opening of an abstract and absolute space and time 
in which you could move, following an exact, taut trajectory; but when you 
seem to be succeeding, you realize you are motionless, blocked, forced to repeat 
everything from the beginning" {If Ort a Winter's Night 27)). Anyone who has 
had experience with hypertextual narratives knows that this is precisely the 
ambivalent feeling they provoke in an empowered Reader abandoned to his/her 
own freedom: the vertigo of entanglement, the atfraction (and horror vacui) of 
erasure, the kaleidoscopic liberation from the constraints of closure, along with 
the aimless wandering of multiple, endlessly repeated "beginnings." This is 
precisely the game set up by If On a Winter's Night, a sort of narrative endgame 
in which the combinatory machine of the hyperplot (the system of systems, the 
frame that determines and is determined) is both exploited to its extreme and 
debunked. Elecfronic writing seems to embody Calvino's worst fears (by 
paradoxically disembodying the book/the novel into the information it 
contains/conveys)^ but it may also contain his most hidden desires for the fiiture 
of narrative. 

At the Beginning at the End 

It is easy, perhaps too easy, to reach the conclusion that Calvino's premature 
death sealed as the last symbolic value of the series (his "last will") the only 
value which can to some extent "contain" (or at least express) all of these 
tensions, contradictions and (a)symmetries: muhiplicity. The conclusion of 
"Multiplicity" — the memo which more than any other deals with the idea of the 
hyper-novel, "the novel as a vast net," wrapping up all the crossed destinies and 
entangled frajectories, beginnings and endings of life and fiction — can thus be 
read as a bridge toward the final, unwritten lecture: 

^ See Hayles: "The text's [If On A Winter's Night] awareness of its own physicality is 
painfully apparent in the anxiety it manifests toward keeping the literary corpus intact. 
Within the space of representation, texts are subjected to birth defects, maimed and torn 
apart, lost and stolen. The text operates as if it knows it has a physical body and fears that 
its body is in jeopardy from a host of threats, from defective printing technologies and 
editors experiencing middle-age brain fade to nefarious political plots. Most of all, 
perhaps, the text fears losing its body to information [...]. Your anxiety about reading 
interruptus is intensified by what might be called print interruptus, a print book's fear 
that once it has been digitized, the computer will garble its body, breaking it apart and 
reassembling it into the nonstory of a data matrix rather than an entangled and entangling 
narrative [. . .]. Significantly the recuperation is synctactical rather than physical" (40- 
42). Significantly, Hayles takes literally Calvino's own idea of the "literature machine" as 
already disembodied from the subject; the anxiety, to her, belongs to the text itself, rather 
than the author. 

126 Massimo Riva 

Qualcuno potra obiettare che piu I'opera tende alia moltiplicazione dei possibili piu 
s'allontana da quaU'unicum che e il self d\ chi scrive, la sincerity interiore, la scoperta 
della propria verita. Al contrario, rispondo, chi siamo noi, che e ciascuno di noi se non 
una combinatoria d'esperienze, d'informazioni, di letture, d'immaginazioni? Ogni vita e 
un'enciclopedia, una biblioteca, un inventario d'oggetti, un campionario di stili, dove 
tutto puo essere continuamente rimescolato e riordinato in tutti i modi possibili. 

(5ag^/ 1733) 
(Someone might object that the more the work tends toward the multiplication of 
possibilities, the further it departs from that unicum which is the 5e//of the writer, his 
inner sincerity and the discovery of his own truth. But I would answer: Who are we, who 
is each one of us, if not a combinatoria of experiences, information, books we have read, 
things imagined? Each life is an encyclopedia, a library, an inventory of objects, a series 
of styles, and everything can be constantly shuffled and reordered in every way 

{Six Memos 124) 

The openness of this realization, the loss of the individual self in the 
multiplicity of life, is the paradoxical "consistency" Calvino (alias Palomar) was 
perhaps looking for as a cognitive end-value, compatible with "a work 
conceived from outside the self: that extremely unselfish "sense of connection" 
which allows us "not only to enter into selves like our own but to give speech to 
that which has no language, to the bird perched on the edge of the gutter, to the 
tree in spring and the tree in fall, to stone, to cement, to plastic." Mr. Palomar, 
published by Calvino two years earlier, is a first approximation of this goal, a 
mini-encyclopedia of trifles — mere "nothingness" — and a discourse on 
method, a new, synthetic method for hyper-writing. We already know, as Mario 
Barenghi suggests in his meticulous endnotes, that "Consistency," Calvino' s 
last, unwritten memo, would have referred, among other things, to Melville's 
Bartleby the Scrivener. Mr. Palomar is perhaps Calvino's Bartleby. The silences 
of Palomar (the title of the book's last section) are indeed reminiscent of the 
silence of Bartleby the scrivener. Perhaps, one could even conjecture, Palomar's 
meditations are Calvino's own personal interpretation of Bartleby' s thoughts, 
walled-in behind his silence, the logical conclusions of an "I" (Eye, the 
Watcher) who contemplates nothing (in particular) and "nothingness" (in 
general). Yet, one should not forget that between Bartlebly and Palomar lies a 
series of literary avatars. Calvino's Palomar is a reincarnation not only of Paul 
Val^ry's Monsieur Teste (in whose name the connection between testing, or 
experimental thinking, and textuality is easily detectable), but also of George 
Perec's Bartlebooth, "a name which, as Calvino himself writes in a review of the 
Italian translation of Perec's masterpiece published in La Repubblica on May 
16, 1984, sounds like an homage to two literary characters: Bamabooth, the 
billionaire of Valery Larbaud [A. O. Bamabooth: ses oeuvres completes, 1913] 
and Bartleby, the scrivener [. . .] [respectively] the man who would like to give 

Beginning/Ending, Opennes/Consistency: Models for the Hyper-Novel 127 

the void a form and the man who would like to identify with nothingness" 

The vertigo of pursuit, or the pursuit of vertigo, amounts to an anonymous, 
combinatorial system capable of both summoning and exorcising the reader's 
most intimate "ghosts." Going back to our beginning, to Melville: both Ahab, 
defiantly pursuing his destiny, answering the call of his "siren," and Bartleby, 
stubbornly refusing to perform or complete his prosaic clerical duties, are indeed 
two opposite, ambivalent embodiments of an extreme consistency. Yet, in his 
refusal (or preference not to) Bartleby is also the paradoxical embodiment of 
"openness." Ahab and Bartleby are thus recognizable avatars of the Writer, 
nineteenth-century variations on the well known Calvinian series of St. George 
and St. Jerome, the Rider and the Reader, as the heraldic imagination of the 
Castle/Tavern of Crossed Destinies portrays them through their multiple, 
emblematic visualizations. The first, on his horse, is caught in the eternal act of 
spearing the dragon (or the Leviathan); the second is silently seated in his cell or 
study, absorbed in solitary contemplation against the backdrop of a wall 
receding into infinity. A question, though, looms: what about Bartleby's (St. 
Jerome's) "tamed" lion? The answer is easily found, in tzero again, in the 
book's title story. To be more precise, it is in an image, frozen on the printed 
page, which amounts, for our writer, also to a heraldic coat of arms, an image 
that sums up Calvino's art of concluding without closing, his art of being "at an 

^ Calvino himself offers a pigeonhole to our interpretation in the conclusion of that piece 
entitled "Perec, and the knight's gambit" ("Perec e il salto del cavallo"). He writes that 
his favorite character in Perec's hyper-novel is a secondary character, which appears in 
chapter 60, Cinoc, whose profession is that of "killer of forgotten words" — a profession 
which cannot help reminding us of Bartleby the Scrivener's job in the Dead Letters 
Office in Washington D.C. Cinoc indeed strikes me as Bartleby's (cynical?) twin, his 
shadow. Yet, Palomar doesn't seem to bend sinister (although one should not forget that 
the book's original plan included also the musings of his dark twin, Mr. Mohole). Perec's 
Life, Directions for Use is defined by Calvino rather eloquently as "the last real event in 
the history of the novel so far" {Six memos 121). And of course, as such, a new 
beginning. Here are the reasons: "[. . .] il disegno sterminato e insieme compiuto, la 
novit^ della resa letteraria, il compendio d'una tradizione narrativa e la summa 
enciclopedica di saperi che danno forma a un'immagine del mondo, il senso dell'oggi che 
e anche fatto di accumulazione del passato e di vertigine del vuoto, la compresenza 
continua d'ironia e angoscia, insomma il mode in cui il perseguimento d'un progetto 
strutturale e I'imponderabile della poesia diventano una cosa sola." {Saggi I 730-3 1) ("[. . 
.] the plan of the book [italics mine] of incredible scope but at the same time solidly 
finished [italics mine]; the novelty of its rendering; the compendium of a narrative 
tradition and the encyclopedic summa of things known that lend substance to a particular 
image of the world; the feeling of 'today' that is made from accumulations of the past and 
the vertigo of the void; the continual presence of anguish and irony together [italics 
mine] — in a word, the manner in which the pursuit of a definite structural project and 
the imponderable element of poetry become one and the same thing" {Six Memos 121). 

128 Massimo Riva 

end in the middle and at the beginning at the end." "Now that the arrow is 
hissing through the air and the lion arches in his spring, we still cannot tell if the 
arrowhead will pierce the tawny skin or will miss"; we still cannot know if the 
series, of which this second we inhabit is part, is open or closed: 

Perche se, come mi pare d'avere udito talvolta sostenere, e una serie finita. ciot se il 
tempo deiruniverso t cominciato a un certo memento e continua in un'esplosione di 
stelle e nebulose sempre piu rarefatte fine al memento in cui la dispersiene raggiungera il 
limite estremo e stelle e nebulese riprenderanne a cencentrarsi, la censeguenza che deve 
trame e che il tempo ritemera sui suei passi, che la catena del minuti si srotolera in sense 
inverse, fine a quando nen si arrivera di nueve al principle, pe pei ricominciare, tutte 
queste infinite velte[. . .]" 

(Romanzi e racconti II 311) 
(Because if, as I seem te have heard maintained sometimes, it is a finite series, that is if 
the time of the universe began at a certain moment and continues in an explosion of stars 
and nebulae, mere and more rarefied, until the moment when the dispersion will reach the 
extreme limit and stars and nebulae will start concentrating again, the consequence I must 
draw is that time will retrace its steps, that the chain of minutes will unroll in the opposite 
direction, until we are back at the beginning, only te start ever again, and all of this will 
occur infinite times [. . .].) 

(/zera 99-100) 

The Consistency of an Ending 

The great concluding theme of Palomar is memory: memory as the essence of 
literature, but also as the only thing that can guarantee "survival" of both the 
species and the self "Of course, it is also possible to rely on those devices that 
guarantee survival of at least a part of the self in posterity," muses Palomar. The 
double helix of the mnemonic mechanism, as Palomar himself explains: the 
memory of the biological mechanism (the genetic heritage) and the memory of 
the historical mechanism (the cultural heritage). At the dawn of the era which 
Calvino announces with his musings, the era of the hyper-memory, both sides of 
memory seem close to a quantum leap, or loop. The DNA sequence has been 
thoroughly mapped and can be now manipulated. And we do possess a most 
powerful tool for storing and retrieving, or re-sequencing at leisure, our cultural 
memory. Thus, also the ultimate goal-destiny of the Writer/Reader seems set, his 
job redefined: re-read/re- write. To give speech to that which has no language, 
translating the world into words, re-writing the unwritten world, cell by cell, 
atom by atom, instant by instant, until the entire universe is nothing but the 
"written" memory of itself Such re-writing (truly a hyper-writing) should not be 
lightly equated with the post-modernist credo that since everything has been said 
and told, the only conceivable thing left is parody or repetition; rather, this 
rewriting implies a serious ethical dilemma. What is the "value" of life when 

Beginning/Ending, Opennes/Consistency: Models for the Hyper-Novel 129 

both its fundamental "mnemonic" mechanisms can now be read and "re- 
written," simply a background for future connections (as Gould put it)? If 
Beginning and End, Birth and Death, no longer pose limits to our human 
identity but are just conventional points in a virtually infinite series 
(tzero...t'...t")? And yet, how to go on living if everything, our very being is 
virtually open to im-mortality? Simple: "learning to be dead," while still alive. 

For Mr. Palomar this is the paradoxical object of wisdom. Our renewed 
power over life, and fiction, will require us to re-learn how to die, how to 
confront, not escape, closure. Yet, learning to be dead is no easy task: "for Mr. 
Palomar being dead means resigning himself to remaining the same in a 
definitive state, which he can no longer hope to change" (125). Easier said than 
done, admittedly, for him (or anybody else): "Therefore, Mr. Palomar prepares 
to become a grouchy dead man, reluctant to submit to the sentence to remain 
exactly as he is; but he is unwilling to give up anything of himself, even if it is a 
burden." {Mr. Palomar, 125). How to reconcile this contradicfion? Our 
unwillingness to give up anything of ourselves, our past, and our need to 
constantly learn and grow anew? Only when the history of the universe and of 
one's life is over can it be told again and again and again. Like Melville's 
cobbler, Palomar's job is "at the beginning at the end." Yet, the wisdom that 
consistently and coherently sums up Palomar's meditations and provides a new 
goal for prolonging his life is ironically and paradoxically linked to closure: 

"Se 11 tempo deve finire, lo si puo descrivere, istante per istante, — pensa Palomar, — e 
ogni istante, a descriverlo, si dilata tanto che non se ne vede piii la fine." Decide che si 
mettera a descrivere ogni istante della sua vita, e finche non li avra descritti tutti non 
pensera piu d'essere morto. In quel momento muore. 

{Romanzi e racconti II 979) 
("If time has to end, it can be described, instant by instant," Mr. Palomar thinks, "and 
each instant, when described, expands so that its end can no longer be seen." He decides 
that he will set himself to describing every instant of his life, and until he has described 
them all he will no longer think of being dead. At that moment he dies.) 

{Mr. Palomar 126) 

Only becoming entirely aware, i.e., admitting that our time has to end, 
allows the writer to begin the work of his life; de-scribing time, moment by 
moment, is the ultimate therapy for human vertigo. The irony, of course, is that 
at the very moment of this new beginning, the moment of maximum openness 
and consistency, when "the idea for the book came to him all at once, the 
beginning and end and the general outline," when finally openness and endmg, 
consistency and beginning seem to logically come together, the only logical 
conclusion that Palomar can reach is to die (closure). To be dead, in other 
words, is not "no longer thinking of being dead," but "no longer thinking" tout 
court, the uhimate denial of (human) logic. End of Story. 

130 Massimo Riva 

Postscriptum: Ohio impromptu, or "I have listened to the Sirens ' song" 

"Cosa cantano le Sirene? Un'ipotesi possibile e che il loro canto non sia altro 
che VOdissea [. . .] Ma quello che il testo deH'Odissea ci dice sul canto delle 
Sirene e che le Sirene dicono che stanno cantando e che vogliono essere 
ascoltate, e che il loro canto e quanto di meglio possa essere cantato." (Saggi I 
396-97) ("What do the Sirens sing? One possible hypothesis is that their song is 
nothing more or less than the Odyssey [. . .]. But what the text of the Odyssey 
tells us about the Sirens' song is that the Sirens say they are singing and wish to 
be heard, and that their song is the best that can be sung [. . .]" (Uses of 
Literature 1 19)). The song of the Sirens is nothing more or less than a story — 
the account of their song that Ulysses brings back from the song itself Calvino 
writes: "Una tale riformulazione forse ci permetterebbe d'inseguire il canto delle 
Sirene, I'estremo punto d'arrivo della scrittura, il nucleo ultimo della parola 
poetica, e forse sulle tracce di Mallarme arriveremmo alia pagina bianca, al 
silenzio, all'assenza." (Saggi I 397) ("Such a formulation might perhaps enable 
us to pursue the Sirens' song, the ultimate point writing can attain, the final core 
of the written word, and perhaps in the wake of Mallarme we would arrive at the 
blank page, at silence, at absence [. . .]" (Uses of Literature 1 19)). The story that 
reaches its end is also the end of all stories. "Little is left to tell," goes the refrain 
of the old storyteller in Becket's Ohio Impromptu. And yet, storytelling goes on: 
"Come abbiamo visto svanire I'io, il primo soggetto dello scrivere, cosi ce ne 
sfiigge I'uhimo oggetto. Forse e nel campo di tensione che si stabilisce tra un 
vuoto e un vuoto che la letteratura moltiplica gli spessori d'una realta 
inesauribile di forme e di significati." (Saggi I 397-98) ("As we have witnessed 
the disappearance of the T,' the primary subject of the verb 'to write,' so the 
ultimate object eludes us. Perhaps it is in the field of tension between one 
vacuum and another that literature multiplies the depths of a reality that is 
inexhaustible in forms and meanings [. . .]" (Uses 119-20)). Will the literary 
machine survive its creators? If so, Ulysses may well be the name of a probe or 
a ftiture Artificial Life form, bringing back from our story the account of our 
story, the memory of our species: that "[in-]human sort of wail" which 
sometimes causes machines to be mistaken for men, or women. 

Brown University 

Beginning/Ending, Opennes/Comistency: Models for the Hyper-Novel 131 

Works Cited 

Calvino, Italo. If On A Winter's Night a Traveler. Trans. William Weaver. New York: 

Harcourt Brace, 1981. 

. Mr. Palomar. Trans. William Weaver. San Diego: Harcourt Brace, 1985. 

. Romanzi e racconti. vol. 2. Ed. Mario Barenghi and B. Falcetto. Milano: 

Mondadori, 1992. 

. Saggi 1945-85. Ed. Mario Barenghi. Milano: Mondadori, 1995. 

. Six Memos for the Next Millennium. Trans. William Weaver. New York: 

Vintage, 1993. 

. The Uses of Literature. Trans. Patrick Creagh. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1986. 

. tzero. Trans. William Weaver. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1969. 

Gould, Glenn. "The Prospects of Recording." High Fidelity {\966) 17. 

Hayles, N. Katherine. How We Became Post-human. Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, 

Literature and Informatics. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1999. 
Joyce, Michael. Of Two Minds. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1995. 
Melville, Herman. Moby Dick. New York: Norton, 1967. 
Musarra-Schroder, Ulla. // labirinto e la rete. Percorsi moderni e postmoderni nell 'opera 

di Italo Calvino. Roma: Bulzoni, 1996. 
Sterne, Lawrence. The Life and Opinion of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. New York: 

New American Library, 1960. 
Usher, Jonathan. "Calvino and the Computer as Writer/Reader." Modern Language 

Review 90 (1995): 41-54. 
Valery, Paul. Cahiers. vol. 1. Bibliotheque de la Pleiade. Paris: Gallimard, 1973. 

Charles Klopp 

Writers from the Margins 
and the Canon in the Year 2000: 
New Beginnings or Business as Usual? 

In few national traditions has the issue of the canon been as crucial as it has for 
Italian literature. The standard language itself in Italy is defined by reference to 
three canonical writers of Trecento Tuscany. Literary practice too, beginning in 
the Cinquecento, has followed the linguistic and stylistic examples of two of 
these "tre corone." Partly because of powerfiil, centrifiigal forces of cultural and 
linguistic autonomy at the local level, there has always been a countervailing 
pressure in Italian cultural exchange toward standardization. During the many 
centuries of political disunity, moreover, the literary canon served as the 
principal locus for definitions of Italian identity, a function that, to a lesser 
extent, it continues to fill today.' 

In the 1960s and 1970s, when changes began to be made in the canons of 
other national literatures, Italians began to rethink their literary heritage as well. 
In Italy, as in many other countries, women authors were identified, 
rehabilitated, and added to an extended list that determined what Italian 
literature was. But it was more difficult in Italy to discover excluded "others" 
than it was in the United States, for example, with its history of slavery, or in the 
post-colonial lands of the mostly defunct French and British empires. In Italy, a 
country without a history of either slavery or imperialism on an extensive (or 
very successful) scale, efforts have been made only recently to identify and 
rehabilitate the kinds of "others" that in different national literatures had come 
much earlier to the fore. 

This rethinking of the nature of literature and culture in Italy has taken place 
during a period of enormous social changes. These have included redefinitions 
of women's positions as cultural producers and increasing perplexity regarding 
the massive immigration to Italy, a historical source of emigrants to countries 
throughout the world. Such changes in Italian society have contributed to a 

' For some indication of the issues surrounding the matter of the literary canon, see 
Hallberg. A slightly different form of this paper was presented in April of 2000 at the 
annual meeting in New York of the American Association of Italian Studies in New 
York. I would like to dedicate it here to the memory of Gaetano Morelli. 

Annali d'ltalianistica 1 8 (2000) 

134 Charles Klopp 

revamping of the ways Italians think about themselves and their literary heritage 
both of today and for tomorrow. Such concerns are evident in a number of books 
that have appeared in recent years in this country and Italy. Examples include 
Maria Omella Marotti's Italian Women Writers from the Renaissance to the 
Present: Revising the Canon, and Gendering Italian Fiction: Feminist Revisions 
of Italian History, Hermann Haller's The Other Italy: The Literary Canon in 
Dialect, and Graziella Parati's Mediterranean Crossroads: Migration Literature 
in Italy. In the last few years, moreover, several studies by prominent Italian 
critics and cultural arbiters have addressed questions of the representation of 
national identity in Italian literature. Examples of work of this sort include Ezio 
Raimondi's Letteratura e identitd nazionale, Alberto Asor Rosa's Genus 
italicum. Saggi sulla identita letteraria italiana nel corso del tempo, and, from a 
slightly different perspective, Remo Ceserani's Lo straniero. 

One conclusion that can be gleaned from a consideration of these works on 
literary identity is that the Italian canon, over the years, has always been a 
remarkably hospitable one, at least in terms of genre (if not gender). Gianfranco 
Contini's Letteratura dell 'Italia unita. 186 1 -1 968 — to cite one example of an 
authoritative, canon-defining survey — begins by anthologizing extracts from 
the memorialistic and historical writings of Francesco De Sanctis; it continues 
with passages from scholarly notes and articles by the philologists Graziadio 
Isaia Ascoli, Costantino Nigra, and Ugo Angelo Canello, going on only later to 
present more conventionally representative passages of poetry and prose by 
Carducci and pages from the fiction of Verga, Capuana, Fogazzaro, and De 
Marchi (3-202). In the same eclectic spirit, toward the beginning of his Genus 
italicum, Asor Rosa cites Galileo's Dialogo intorno ai due massimi sistemi del 
mondo as a true "opera letteraria" that during the latter part of the early modem 
period not only led to the realignment of scientific paradigms but modified 
literary history as well (6). The writings of Galileo and other scientists, of De 
Sanctis, Machiavelli, Guicciardini, and other historians, of Cellini, Alfieri, and 
other autobiographers, of Giordano Bruno, Vico, and other philosophers, and of 
Pefrarch, Aretino, Tasso, Leopardi, and Gramsci as letter-writers have long been 
considered exemplary of their respective eras of Italian literary history. In 
response to Philippe Lejeune's question, "Ou s'arrete la litterature?" the answer 
for Italy might be that, while it is not entirely clear where literature stops and 
something else begins, what is clear is that the outer limits of Italian literature lie 
somewhere beyond the bounds of poetry, fiction, and belles-lettres narrowly 

The redefinitions of Italian literature that have been proposed in the past 
few years do not, it is clear, involve literary genre so much as they do 
authorship. As Gramsci so famously observed some years ago, Italian literature 

- This was the title of a talk by Lejeune delivered at the "Ottavo Seminario Archivi della 
scrittura popolare" held at the Museo Storico di Trento in Rovereto in January of 1998. 

Writers from the Margins 135 

has never managed to be both "nazionale" and "popolare" at the same time.^ The 
questioning that the canon in Italy has undergone in recent years can be seen as 
an attempt to join those two characteristics whose disjunction Gramsci so 
deplored. These proposed expansion of the canon involve not so much new 
kinds of writing as they do new definitions of who is authorized to define the 
national identity. 

In what follows, I would like to survey three groups of writers whose works 
have been proposed as new components of the canon of Italian literature as it 
begins to take shape for the just concluded twentieth century. The first are 
"Italophone" authors, writers whose first language was neither Italian nor an 
Italian dialect. The second is that of the "unlettered," writers without significant 
formal schooling who operate both in terms of their lives and their writings 
outside established cultural paradigms. The third category is that of the 
physically — often forcibly — marginalized. It includes prisoners, patients in 
mental institutions, street people, and others on the fi-inges of traditional society. 
Thanks to the efforts of Graziella Parati, Armando Gnisci, and others, and to an 
Italian reading public curious about the host of newcomers now in their midst, 
the "Italophone" or immigrant writers are perhaps the best known of those I 
have mentioned. Most of them — certainly those who might be described as 
belonging to a first wave of writers of this sort — are Africans, though not 
necessarily from the regions of east Africa colonized by Italy at the end of the 
nineteenth and first half of the twentieth centuries. Many such individuals, in 
fact, have come to Italy after a sojourn in France and have learned Italian 
through and after French. Some of the best known of this group include Pap 
Khouma, author of /o venditore di elefanti. Una vita per forza fra Dakar, Parigi 
e Milano, Nassera Chohra of Volevo diventare bianca, Mohamed Bouchane of 
Chiamatemi AH, and the many others surveyed in such articles on this topic as 
Carla Ghezzi's "La letteratura africana d'immigrazione in lingua italiana: la mia 
pafria e la letteratura" and Gabriella Romani's "Identita italiana e letteratura 

While the three writers named are (or were) Africans, in Parati 's new book, 
as in many of the other anthologies that have appeared in the last few years, 
Italophone writers from the Balkans, eastern Europe and other countries are 
represented along with the by now more familiar Africans. 

A second group of writers are what I have called the "unlettered." 
Descriptions of their work in Italian usually cast them as representatives of "la 
letteratura popolare." They include members of the rural proletariat with little or 
no schooling who have nonetheless presented their life stories to the public in 
written form. Two outstanding autobiographical works of this sort from the Po 
valley are those by the naif painter Pietro Ghizzardi, Mi richordo anchora, and 
the extraordinary Gnanca na busia, originally written on a bedsheet rather than 

^ In Letteratura e vita nazionale. This essay has been reprinted several times in different 

136 Charles Klopp 

sheets of paper by the elderly contadina Clelia March! of Poggio Rusco near 
Mantua/ These autobiographies by Ghizzardi and Marchi can be seen as 
unwitting sequels to the life stories gathered by Danilo Montaldi in a now 
classic study of writing from the Valpadana by authors who have spent much of 
their lives "nella miseria, campando di espedienti." All of these writings are the 
subject of renewed interest today, especially in the light of recent books by the 
highly sophisticated and far from "unlettered" contemporary writers, Ermanno 
Cavazzoni and Gianni Celati, to whose works I will return below. 

The final category of writings I would like to touch on in this brief survey 
are those by people who are physically marginalized rather than disadvantaged 
culturally or in some other way. They include, for example, the authors of the 
memoirs, fiction, plays, and poetry written by prisoners in Rome's Rebibbia 
prison that have been the object of recent, first-hand research by Maria Ponce de 
Leon, among others. There is of course a rich literature of prison letters and 
memoirs stretching back from Gramsci and other prisoners of the Fascist period 
to Cellini, Tasso, and even Marco Polo, among many others.^ Two recent 
anthologies of writing of this sort are Fili blu. Lettere dal carcere (Bompressi 
and Gracci) and L 'eco del silenzio. Piccole storie nate tra le mura di un carcere 
(Delia Torre and Rumi). Other notable writing that has emanated from prisons in 
recent years includes the autobiographies Princesa by Fernanda Farias de 
Albuquerque and Maurizio Jannelli — now known to a wider public thanks to a 
treatment of this story by the late cantautore Fabrizio de Andre in his Anime 
salve of 1996 — and Ergastolo by the ex-Red Brigadist, Nicola Valentino. The 
latter two works are among the many writings by prisoners and other 
marginalized individuals made available to a mass public by Renato Curcio 
through his publishing collective Sensibili allefoglie. 

Other work by authors confined in what Irving Goffrnan called "total 
institutions" — in this case mental hospitals rather than prisons — includes the 
two recent anthologies, Padiglioni. Racconti dal manicomio, edited by the 
Associazione Franco Basaglia and the Cooperativa il Punto, and the remarkable 
and often quite fiinny . . . / pazzi siete voi! Lettere dal manicomio, edited by 
Angela Matassa. Curcio has also published the writings (often with illustrations) 
of street people and others marginalized for non-conformist behavior. A notable 
example of work of this sort is Un uomo tra la schiuma. Poesie e altri segni di 
Claudio Parodi. Another is the volume of drawings with commentary by 
"Sebastiano T." published as L 'alfabeto di Este. 

^ I am grateful to Davide Pariotti of the University of Chicago for having drawn my 
attention to these two works. 

^ Some of these have been treated in my Sentences. The Memoirs and Letters of Italian 
Political Prisoners from Benvenuto Cellini to Aldo Moro. 

Writers from the Margins 137 

When Sebastiano T. first came to Curcio's attention, he had spent most of 
his life in an institution for the criminally insane while Curcio was serving a 
sentence in a conventional prison. But Sebastiano T. is clearly an "unlettered" 
writer similar in this sense to Pietro Ghizzardi or the authors whose works 
appear in Montaldi's Autobiografie della leggera. In a further blurring of the 
taxonomy suggested earlier for this kind of writing, some of the "italophone" 
writers I have mentioned could equally well be classified prison authors. 
Fernanda Farias, for example, originally from a small village in Brazil, wrote his 
memoir in prison with linguistic help from others sympathetic to his plight. The 
same is true for the life stories of Khouma and Bouchane, which were also 
created in collaboration with others. Since many of the "unlettered" writers in 
Montaldi's anthology, finally, were in and out of prison at many times during 
their lives and in many cases engaged in behavior of the sort common to writers 
fi-om mental hospitals, there are clearly additional overlappings among the 
categories I have suggested. Even so, all of these writers share certain 
preoccupations. All of them write from a position of resentment at their 
marginality, whether this be as street-people, inmates of institutions for 
cruninals or the mentally ill, or as culturally and economically disadvantaged. 
All of them, through their writings, are attempting to vindicate what might 
otherwise be their forgotten lives. All of them, that is, are writing, though in 
different ways, in order to save their lives. 

Most of the works I have mentioned here are confessional or 
autobiographical, and their authors frequently insist that the stories they are 
telling are "the truth" rather than fiction. "Gnanca na busia ne par mi; ne ai 
lettori!!!" is Clelia Marchi's unequivocal claim in this regard (13). Withm this 
confessional context, however, there are differences among the three groups of 
writers. The Italophones, for example, view their writings as an opportunity to 
explain and justify their new lives in Italy far from a home to which most of 
them can no longer return. Their stories describe their struggles to integrate 
themselves into mainstream Italian society while at the same time preserving 
their personal identities, as observant Moslems, for example. The "unlettered" 
autobiographers are also intent on providing documentation of lives that they 
consider extraordinary — if only because existences like theirs have all but 
disappeared today. This, indeed, is one reason for the enthusiasm and support 
for their writings by the editors and publishers who have seen their work into 
print. The prisoners and mental patients, in still a third variation on this theme, 
are writing to counteract the official identities imposed on them by the 
authorities confining them. Rather than unnatural beings unlike anyone else, for 
example, or dangerous political subversives, these writers insist that they are 
recognizable human beings even if not quite like everyone else, victims of a 
cultural hegemony blind to their true identities as individuals and/or polifical 
activists and revolutionary patriots. All of these writers from confinement would 
agree, I think, with the inmates of the Aversa hospital outside Naples that "i 

138 Charles Klopp 

pazzi siete voi" where the "voi" stands for the uncomprehending forces that 
have not only sequestered but wish to silence them. 

In addition to these collections of stories by people who are not habitual 
writers, other kinds of collections of life stories and vignettes have been 
proposed in recent years to the Italian reading public. Although these collections 
were written or collected by professional writers or critics, the stories told in 
them are mostly by people who do not make a living from their writing. In the 
anthologies in which their work appears they are identified with their real names 
and professions or other occupations. Collections of this sort include the micro- 
narratives contributed by readers of the Repubblica newspaper and published as 
Una/rase, un rigo appena. Racconti brevi e brevissimi (ed. Mauri). This volume 
contains 56 very brief narratives by amateur writers that are then followed, as if 
by contrast, in a second section of the book by another 27 equally brief texts by 
such well known authors as Kafka, Borges, and Pessoa. 

Gianni Celati's Narratori delle riserve is a similar enterprise. The texts 
Celati has collected in this anthology were drawn from contributions submitted 
to // manifesto and tend to be longer than the mini-narratives of Una frase, un 
rigo appena. He has described selecting the texts that appear in this collection 
from "racconti di narratori occasionali, manoscritti di gente che non aveva lettori 
a cui rivolgersi, libri stampati da case edifrici sconosciute, testi di autori isolati e 
poco noti, e altri di autori piu note" (9), that is by authors who in some cases are 
marginalized or even "unlettered," though other authors in Celati's collection 
(Ermanno Cavazzoni, Nico Orengo, and Sandra Petrignani, for example) must 
be considered members of the literary establishment. What is interesting about 
these two anthologies — and such similar works as Cavazzoni's Vite brevi di 
idiot i, which is based on the author's research in the archives of the mental 
hospital at Reggio Emilia, or even Celati's fictional Narratori delle pianure — 
is the desire by these sophisticated men of letters to present texts to the general 
reading public that share the unpretentious qualities typical of writers from the 

At century's end and with so many things changing in Italian society, one 
might well ask what is happening here. Why this interest in texts that 
deliberately eschew what is usually thought of as literary? Are we meant to 
understand this as an attempt to create a literature that is truly "nazional- 
popolare"? Or is this interest in "anti-literary literature" another example of the 
sense of surfeit — of literary indigestion, if you will — experienced by many 
contemporary writers for a literary tradition felt as overwhelming, a reaction that 
has produced the parodies, citationism, and rewriting so typical of Italian 
postmodernism? Perhaps the age of the "classics" really has come to an end and 
is being replaced by what are either "anti-classics" or "counter classics" or 
pretend to be such. 

In his last lecture before retiring from the University of Bologna, Ezio 
Raimondi spoke to this issue in remarks included in Letteratura e identita 

Writers from the Margins 139 

nazionale. In this lecture Raimondi wondered if in the years to come "la critica e 
la storia letteraria possono ancora delimitarsi dentro uno spazio particolare o 
hanno bisogno di orizzonti piu larghi" (204). The survey I have just presented of 
writers "fi-om the margins" that are now being proposed to a mainstream public 
made up of readers of Z,a repubblica or // manifesto or who buy books published 
by Feltrinelli or Einaudi suggests that there is a desire among Italian readers too 
for "orizzonti piu larghi." Perhaps this interest is connected with a desire to 
accord greater respect to the real individuals who live at the margins of present- 
day Italian society. In regard to the epistemological and ontological value of 
autobiographical texts in general, Antonio Tabucchi has commented as follows: 

Credo che il mondo non esisterebbe senza la possibilita di essere narrate. O meglio, esiste 
proprio perche e narrabile. Qualsiasi forma dello scibile umano e narrato o e narrabile. E 
se noi vogliamo parlare in un sense un po' piu stretto, possiamo anche pensare che la vita 
sia una forma dello scibile. Cos'e una vita se non viene raccontata? Me lo sono chiesto 
spesso. Forse ci sono persone che vivono senza raccontarsi la propria vita. Ma e come se 
vivessero un nulla indistinto. 

(Borsari 6) 

What the publication of these writers from the margins has done is to make this 
"nulla" a little less "indistinto" in the ways described by Tabucchi. Perhaps this 
is nothing new. As Asor Rosa has pointed out in regard to the twentieth century, 
"non c'e dubbio che alcune fra sue maggiori novita espressive si possono 
individuare proprio la dove la ricerca letteraria si sfrangia, si decompone, entra 
in contatto con altri universi linguistici e comunicativi, e con questi si intreccia e 
si confonde" (JJn altro novecento ix). In this sense, then, the proposed 
adjustment of the literary canon currently taking place in Italy is entirely in the 
spirit of this "fraying" and "decomposing" — and where can this happen except 
at the margins?~that is so typical of the literary innovations of that twentieth 
century that has recently come to a close. 

The Ohio State University 

140 Charles Klopp 

Works Consulted 

Asor Rosa, Alberto. Genus italicum. Saggi sulla identita letteraria italiana nel corso del 

tempo. Torino: Einaudi, 1997. 

. Un altro novecento. Firenze; LaNuova Italia, 1999. 

Associazione Franco Basaglia and Cooperativa il Punto. Padiglioni. Racconti dal 

manicomio. Roma: Edizioni Associate, 1990. 
Bompressi, Ovidio and Athe Gracci. Fill bin. Lettere dal carcere. Salerno: Edizioni "11 

Grappolo," 1998. 
Borsari, Andrea. "Cos'e una vita se non viene raccontata? Conversazione con Antonio 

Tabucchi." //a/Zem^c/? 13.2 (1991): 2-23. 
Bouchane, Mohamed. C/z/a/na/ewM/i. Milano: Leonardo, 1991. " ^ 

Cavazzoni, Vite brevi di idioti. Milano: Feltrinelli, 1994. 
Celati, Gianni. Narratori delle pianure. Milano: Feltrinelli, 1985. 

. Narratori delle riserve. Milano: Feltrinelli, 1992. 

Ceserani, Remo. Lo straniero. Bari: Laterza, 1998. 

Chohra, Nassera. Volvevo diventare bianco. Roma: e/o, 1994. 

Contini, Gianfranco. Letteratur a dell 'Italia unita. 1861-1968. Firenze: Sansoni, 1968. 

Delia Torre, Gabriella and Mario Rumi. L 'eco del silenzio. Piccole storie nate tra le 

mura di un carcere. Torino: Gruppo Abele, 1997. 
Farias de Albuquerque, Fernanda and Maurizio Janelli. Princesa. Roma: Sensibili alle 

foglie, 1994. 
Ghezzi, Carlo. "La letteratura africana d'immigrazione in lingua italiana: la mia patria e 

la letteratura." Matteo and Bellucci 146-58 
Ghizzardi, Pietro. Mi richordo anchora. Torino: Einaudi, 1976. 
Gnisci, Armando. Creoli, meticci, migranti, clandestini e ribelli. Roma: Meltemi, 1998. 

. La letteratura italiana della migrazione. Roma: Lilith, 1998. 

Goffman, Irving. Asylums: Essays on the Social Situation of Mental Patients and Other 

Inmates. New York: Anchor, 1961. 
Gramsci, Antonio. Letteratura e vita nazionale. Torino: Einaudi, 1950. 
Hallberg, Robert von. Canons. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1984. 
Haller, Hermann. The Other Italy: The Literary Canon in Dialect. Toronto: U of Toronto 

P, 1999. 
Khouma, Pap. lo venditore di elefanti. Una vita per forza fra Dakar, Parigi e Milano. 

Milan: Garzanti, 1990. 
Klopp, Charles. Sentences. The Memoirs and Letters of Italian Political Prisoners from 

Benvenuto Cellino to Aldo Moro. Toronto: U of Toronto P. 1999. 
Lejeune, Philippe. "Ou s'arrete la litterature," Talk delivered at the Ottavo Seminario 

Archivi della scrittura popolare. Rovereto, January, 1998. 
Marchi, Clelia. Gnanca na busia. Vicenza: Fondazione Arnoldo e Alberto Mondadori, 

Marotti, Maria Ornella. Gendering Italian Fiction: Feminist Revisions of Italian History. 

Madison (NJ): Farleigh Dickson UP, 1999. 
. Italian Women Writers from the Renaissance to the Present: Revising the Canon. 

University Park (PA): Pennsylvania State UP, 1996. 
Matassa, Angela, ed. ... i pazzi siete voi! Lettere dal manicomio. Napoli: EditNews, 1989. 

Writers from the Margins 141 

Matteo, Sante, and Stefano Bellucci, eds. Africa-Italia. Due continenti si awicinano. 

Santarcangelo di Romagna: Fara, 1999. 
Mauri, Paolo, ed. Una frase, un rigo appena. Racconti brevi e brevissimi. Torino: 

Einaudi, 1994. 
Montaldi, Danilo. Autobiografie della leggera. Torino: Einaudi, 1961. 
Parati, Graziella. Mediterranean Crossroads: Migration Literature in Italy. Madison 

(NJ): Farleigh Dickson UP, 1999. 
Parodi, Claudio. Un uomo tra la schiuma. Poesie e altri segni di Claudio Parodi. Roma: 

Sensibili alle foglie, 1993. 
Ponce de Leon, Maria. Meccanismi di sopravvivenza. Letteratura carceraria 

contemporanea in Italia. Poesia, narrativa e teatro 1970-1997. Ph.D. dissertation, 

Northwestern University, 1998. 
Raimondi, Ezio. Letteratura e identitd nazionale. Milano: Bruno Mondadori, 1998. 
Romani. Gabriella. "Identita italiana e letteratura d'immigrazione." Matteo and Bellucci, 

Sebastiano, T. L 'alfabeta di Este. Ed. Renato Curcio. Temi: Agalen, 1988. 
Valentino, Nicola. Ergastolo. Roma: Sensibili alle foglie, 1994. 


Medieval & Renaissance Texts: 
Closure, Open-Endedness, Narrative Cycles 

Dino S. Cervigni 

From Beginning to End: 

Dante's Judeo-Christian Fourfold Mytho-Poiesis* 

1. Dante's Mytho-Poiesis: From Beginning to End 

Dante never employs the word myth {mho). Dante scholars, by contrast, often 
use this term, albeit not in the singular but in the plural. Accordingly, they 
analyze Dante's exploitation and transformation of classical myths, present 
primarily in the Comedy. Take for instance the recently published proceedings 
of a Dante seminar entitled Dante: mito e poesia.^ In this volume myths are 
mostly studied individually and/or within the specific context in which Dante 
situates them. Throughout the whole volume, however, time and again there 
surfaces the issue of the relationship of both classical and contemporary myths 
(such as that of Ulysses and Florence, respectively) to the overall story, indeed 
myth, unfolding not only in the Comedy but in Dante's entire oeuvre as well. By 
contrast, where the term is employed as a collective singular noun, myth is 
studied, for instance, in its relationship with symbolism, as in Marthe Dozon's 
impressive study entitled Mythe et symbole dans la Divine comedie. Here the 
scholar seeks to interpret the Dantean myth on the basis not only of studies of 
myths and religions but also of cultural anthropology and Jungian psychology. 

Both critical approaches are highly commendable, however different their 
results may be, and both also advance the scholar's understanding of myth in 
Dante. In proposing to study myth in Dante from a different perspective, which 
nevertheless surfaces repeatedly in both volumes, I intend to take stock of the 
results of the two different approaches outlined above. Thus, while relying on 
the research of individual myths conducted by Dante scholarship, I bear in mind 
the myths' role primarily within the Comedy, whose ultimate meaning can be 

* A synthesis of this essay has appeared in The Waters of Hermes. 
' The volume consists of loosely related analyses of specific myths in Dante (Dante and 
myths; the myth of Orpheus; the myth of Circe; etc.) as well as theoretical considerations 
on the function of myth. Some essays, however, focus more directly on the overarching 
presence of the Christian myth (Giintert, "Dante autobiografico: dal mito religioso al mito 
poetico"; Kleinhenz, "Mito e verita biblica in Dante"). In his introduction to the volume 
and his concluding remarks (21-32; 437-39), Picone suggests the possibility of viewing 
Dante's oeuvre from the all-comprehensive perspective of the Christian myth that I 
develop in this essay. 

Dino S. Cervigni, "Dante's Judeo-Christian Mytho-Poiesis" 

144 Dino S. Cervigni 

uncovered only through the understanding of medieval culture in its Christian 

At the basis of my approach lies a deeply felt personal conviction grounded 
on decades of familiarity with Dante, a notion shared, I believe, by most 
contributors to Dante: mito e poesia, by Marthe Dozon, and all those scholars 
who dealt with Dante as well. Accordingly, Marthe Dozon writes that the "I- 
narrator" of the Divine Comedy presents himself as the hero of a fabula that 
draws its models from classical myths, such as those of Hercules, Orpheus, 
Theseus, and Aeneas. All these myths are transformed by Dante's poetic genius 
into the itinerary of a soul engaged in a spiritual quest (33). Moving along 
similar critical perspectives, in Dante: mito e poesia Michelangelo Picone 

Le verita piu alte del mistero cristiano — la trinita, I'lncarnazione di Cristo — sono 
chiaramente presentate come i nuovi miti modemi che hanno preso il posto del vecchi 
miti della poesia classica. La riscrittura del mito classico puo dirsi in questa maniera 
completata, esaurita. II poema delle nuove metamorfosi cristiane — la Commedia — ha 
definitivamente sostituito il poema delle vecchie metamorfosi pagane, e Dante ha preso il 
posto di Ovidio. 


I frilly share Picone's synthesis of the role of classical myths in Dante and of 
their total absorption into his notion of the Christian myth. At the same time, 
while pursuing a similar critical perspective, 1 would like to propose an even 
more comprehensive approach to Dante's myth. 

It is my critical belief, in fact, that the overall content and structure of 
Dante's oeuvre, primarily his Vita nuova and Comedy, but all the other works as 
well, rest on the fourfold Judeo-Christian myth that frilly describes every human 
being's existence, individually and within the context of a universal community 
that unfolds along a temporal and historical axis: humankind's creation, fall, 
renewal, and redemption. This complex mythos is capable of explaining not only 
the countless Judeo-Christian myths in Dante's oeuvre but ail classical, 
primordial, and contemporary myths as well. Furthermore, the Dantean fourfold 
Judeo-Christian myth explains the life of each individual and the community 
within which he/she lives from beginning to end: namely, from that specific 
moment that marks the beginning of humankind, as described in the first two 

^ Dozon's Mythe et symbole dans la Divine comedie (pp. 632) is one of the most 
comprehensive treatments of Dantean myths. The volume treats virtually every aspect of 
the Comedy related to myth, allegory, and symbol: Part 1: The soul's adventure 
(symbolic writing; the journey and salvation; the voyage toward knowledge); Part 2: 
Poets in agreement (Virgil; Eneid\ epic scenes and characters); Part 3: The theater of the 
shades (landscapes of the afterlife; archetypal and mytho-poetic images; demons and 
marvels); Part 4: Itinerant man (cosmic symbols; fated words). 

Dante's Judeo-Christian Mytho-Poiesis 145 

chapters of Genesis, to the concluding chapter of humankind's history, as 
announced in countless passages of the Bible and in its last book, Revelation or 

Within the strictures of this essay, I need deal only summarily with the 
meaning and function of myth in general, referring first to one of the most 
famous employers of the term in reference to poetry. In his Poetics, of the six 
elements making up tragedy, Aristotle considers mythos, i.e., story or plot, first 
and foremost. In the Aristotelian notion of drama, mythos corresponds to real 
life's action, which is understood not only as an external act but rather as an 
inward and rational process, encompassing, therefore, all those elements, both 
internal and external, working together towards a definite purpose. In brief, in a 
broader application of what Aristotle says of the term's function in reference to 
tragedy {Poet. vi. 14), mythos is the soul of literature.^ 

Understood in this manner, mythos goes also beyond another explanation of 
the term, according to which myth, quoting Vickery, "is a narrative or group of 
narratives which recount the activities of a culture's gods and heroes" (806). In 
fact, the term's full import may be best understood by means of Franco 
Ferrucci's terse claim that no fundamental difference exists between myth and 
literature. Thus, reversing Northrop Frye's definition of literature as 
"reconstructed myth," Ferrucci views myth as literature's primordial form, in 
accordance with some of the greatest contemporary scholars of myth criticism 

Dante scholars know full well the extent to which such a Judeo-Christian 
myth pervades Dante's work. At the same time, only reluctantly do they 
approach Dante's poetic genius from this perspective because of a resistance to 
an approach often considered excessively religious. Dante's poetic genius, 
however, feeds itself and is grounded upon this Judeo-Christian myth, which 
forms the all-encompassing master narrative of his oeuvre and into which all 
pagan and contemporary myths are being grafted. 

To circumvent such a critical resistance, while still doing justice to the 
Dantean fourfold Judeo-Christian myth, I would like to propose a theoretical and 
all-comprehensive approach that is equally founded on myth, and is based 
primarily, albeit not exclusively, on Northrop Frye's composite approach to 
literature and myth. To seek to read Dante's oeuvre by means of Frye's critical 
approach should, at first sight, surprise no one. In fact, just as Dante was 

^ I have here summarized Butcher's analysis of Aristotle's notion of mythos (334-67). 
"* I refer the reader to Ferrucci's essay, with extensive bibliographical notes, for a 
fundamental discussion of the notion of myth, in which he also deals with Dante. In 
English see pertinent entries (with bibliography) in the New Princeton Encyclopedia of 
Poetry and Poetics. In Dante: mito e poesia see especially Giintert's contribution. Neither 
the six- volume Enciclopedia dantesca nor The Dante Encyclopedia has an entry devoted 
specifically to w//o. •' 

146 Dino S. Cervigni 

influenced by the Bible more so than by any other book, Frye's literary analyses 
over the course of several decades have constantly revolved around the Bible, as 
he himself acknowledges explicitly {The Great Code xiv). 

At the basis of Frye's critical method lies his claim that the scholar should 
not be concerned about uncovering poetry's truths or any relationships between 
literature and reality, but rather about revealing certain patterns that form a 
poetic universe of their own.^ Primarily in his Anatomy of Criticism, Frye 
develops a fourfold approach to literature: 1) historical criticism, or theory of 
modes, including the fictional, the tragic, the comic, and the thematic; 2) ethical 
criticism, or theory of symbols, including the literal, descriptive, formal, 
mythical, and anagogic; 3) archetypal criticism, or theory of myths, according to 
the year's four seasons: Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter, which 
correspond to literature's traditional four genres, respectively: comedy, 
romance, tragedy, and irony and satire; and finally 4) rhetorical criticism, or 
theory of genres: epos, prose, drama, and lyric. 

It is a truism that Dante's genius escapes easy definitions and synthesizing 
attempts. Nevertheless, judiciously employed and further enriched by other 
critical approaches, Frye's fourfold approach provides a comprehensive 
hermeneutical approach to Dante's poetic rendering of the fourfold Judeo- 
Christian myth onto which primordial, classical, and contemporary myth is 
being grafted. 

Relying on principles laid out by Aristotle in his Poetics, Frye's criticism 
focuses on four narrative categories or generic plots, organized according to two 
opposite pairs and aimed at explaining literature as a whole: tragedy and irony 
or satire, on the one side, and comedy and romance, on the opposite side. 
Furthermore, Frye illustrates his fourfold archetypal myth by means of the four 
seasons marking the passing of human time: the mythos of spring as comedy, 
viewed as humankind's beginning; the mythos of autumn as tragedy; the mythos 
of winter as irony and satire; and the mythos of summer as romance. 

These different frames of reference — the Judeo-Christian mythos of 
humankind's creation, fall, renewal, and redemption, which incorporates all 
myths exploited by Dante, and Frye's fourfold archetypal myth — can be 
employed side by side to understand and explain Dante's art, which I would like 
to call mytho-poiesis. Within the proposed critical perspective, Frye's approach 
provides a composite hermeneutics capable of explaining Dante's employment 
and transformation of myths, while the Judeo-Christian approach offers the 

^ On this issue of myth as fable vs. myth as truth I will return at the end of this essay. 
* This brief outline of Frye's fourfold archetypal myth bears out immediately his 
divergence from Aristotle's understanding of genres. For Aristotle, in fact, "Comedy 
aims at representing men as worse. Tragedy as better than in actual life" (II. 4). 

Dante's Judeo-Christian Mytho-Poiesis 147 

ultimate moral, intellectual, and teleological perspective pervading all religious 
elements, rituals, and beliefs at the basis of his oeuvre. 

Let us briefly present Dante's fourfold Judeo-Christian mytho-poiesis. 

Just as in Christianity, Dante the poet's myth of beginning is twofold: man's 
primordial condition of innocence right after creation and before the fall, and, 
after the fall, man's restored condition of innocence through Christ's 
Redemption. By means of critical perspectives to be explained later in this 
essay, both stages of innocence can be comprised within Frye's mythos of 
spring and the genre of comedy. 

Just as in the Judeo-Christian tradition, Dante's myth of innocent beginning, 
a comedic phase, is tragically interrupted by the fall of the hero. The myth of the 
fallen hero, therefore, is that of autumn, which expresses a transitional phase; 
tragedy is the genre best suited to render the hero's fall caused by his moral 

Although fallen and thus turned ahnost into a villain, the Dantean hero is 
nevertheless allowed to resume his interrupted quest. Thus, like such biblical 
figures as Jonah and Christ and such classical heroes as Orpheus, Hercules, and 
Aeneas, he must undertake a journey through the underworld, the realm of 
darkness, sterility, and eternal suffering. As the perversion of what creation was 
intended to be, as exemplified by the spring-like myth of beginnings before the 
fall or Eden, the Christian underworld is best expressed through the myth of 
winter and the genre of satire. 

After descending to the underworld as a conditio sine qua non for him to 
continue his quest, the hero resurfaces on the shores of Mount Purgatory, aware 
of having lost his way in the past and of finally resuming the right journey. Thus 
the purgatorial journey constitutes a new beginning after the fall. Once again, 
Dante the poet ushers in a story that begins somberly but leads to a happy 
ending. In archetypal criticism, the hero's ascent through the seven terraces of 
Mount Purgatory corresponds to that season in the year when nature leaves 
behind the lifeless winter and gradually, through early spring, readies for its 
rebirth. At the top of Mount Purgatory the Dantean hero enters the Earthly 

^ The validity of the approach proposed above receives an indirect confirmation by what I 
read in a critic who can hardly be accused of Christian sectarianism; namely, Bakhtin, 
who, speaking of the fragmented temporality characteristic of certain novels, sees in them 
an axis that he describes as follows: "These temporal segments of episodes from 
everyday life are, therefore, arranged, as it were, perpendicular to the pivotal axis of the 
novel, which is the sequence guilt -^ punishment -> redemption — >• purification -^ 
blessedness [...]" (128). Bakhtin also points out that a similar narrative pattern runs 
through what he calls "hagiographic examples," in which "the factor of metamorphosis is 
foregrounded (a sinful life -> crisis -^ redemption -^ sainthood)." Furthermore, "The 
everyday-plane adventure is given in the form of an exposure to a sinful life, or of a 
repentant confession. These forms — and particularly the latter — already border on a 
third type of ancient novel " (129). 

148 Dino S. Cervigni 

Paradise, where he experiences spiritual rebirth and inner transformation, best 
expressed through the myth of full spring and the genre of comedy. 

Finally, the hero's ascent to heaven, in the company of Beatrice, cannot but 
belong to the myth of summer, with its brightest light and fiillness of life. 
Properly adapted to Dante's oeuvre, romance expresses such a state of idealized 
experience, in which the hero ascends, and is in fact likened, to the gods.^ 

2. Dante's Myth of Innocent Beginning Before the Fall: The Mythos of 
Spring and the Genre of Comedy' 

In accordance with the Judeo-Christian myth of beginning, Dante the poet 
creates a twofold myth. Conflating the creation of the universe with that of 
humankind, '° Dante the poet renders both in the two initial encounters of the 
hero and his lady (VN 2-3). After the hero's fall, which is then followed by 
conversion and atonement, Dante describes a second, dramatic encounter of the 
hero and his lady in Purg. 30-33 when he is reconciled with her and is saved 
through her intervention. The hero's initial condition of innocence before the fall 
is described at the beginning of the Vita nuova, when Beatrice first appears to 
the youthful protagonist at the approximate ages of nine and eighteen. At the end 

^ In his introductory essay to Dante: mito e poesia (21-32), Picone makes succinct 
statements that corroborate the critical perspective I intend to develop here: "Se V Inferno 
e la cantica che descrive la degradazione del peccatore verso forme di vita animale, 
vegetale e perfmo minerale, il Purgatorio e invece la cantica che affabula il processo di 
recupero da parte del penitente di una forma di vita autenticamente umana. Dalla 
deformazione e perversione infemale si passa cosi alia reformatio e conversio 
purgatoriale" (27). "Passando dal Purgatorio al Paradiso la tematica della reformatio, 
del restauro dell'immagine divina dell'uomo, cede il posto alia tematica della deificatio" 

^ Frye thus describes the plot structure common to most myths of spring: "What normally 
happens is that a young man wants a young woman, that his desire is resisted by some 
opposition, usually paternal, and that near the end of the play some twist in the plot 
enables the hero to have his will" (163). Frye's plot structure can thus be adapted to the 
Dantean myth: A young man desires a young woman; his desire is resisted because it is 
misplaced, in that the lady represents a higher goal and good than the hero intends to 
pursue. Throughout the hero's quest, which involves failings {I'ita nuova; some rhymes; 
Inferno), atonement, and transformation {Purgatorio), he is guided by his lady until, 
through her guidance, he finally attains the supreme goal of whose goodness and beauty 
she is nothing but a scintilla {Paradiso). In terms of the category of genres, Frye remarks 
that "As comedy blends into irony and satire at one end and into romance at the other, if 
there are different phases or types of irony of comic structure, some of them will be 
closely parallel to some of the types of irony and of romance" (177). 
'° Dante's view of all issues concerning God's creation — the universe, humankind, ex 
nihilo, etc. — is complex and his references to it, in many of his works, are countless. 
Mellone's essay in Enciclopedia dantesca provides a useful synthesis of Dante's view 
with an extensive bibliography. 

Dante's Judeo-Christian Mytho-Poiesis 149 

of the hero's quest for redemption, the second encounter occurs on top of Mount 
Purgatory, after he has already attained the middle of his life's journey. 

The Judeo-Christian myth that pervades Dante's oeuvre provides the 
fundamental hermeneutical frame for interpreting Dante's twofold myth of 
beginnings. Placed in this world by his Creator (VN 1-3), the innocent hero, like 
Adam, must face a test, which he fails. Urged to pursue a second, spiritual 
encounter with his lady by virtue of the individual redemption made possible to 
him by divine mercy (Inf. 2:94-114), the hero, after a journey that takes him 
down to the depths of Hell and up the slopes of Mount Purgatory, is finally 
granted purification. This second and spiritual encounter with Beatrice marks 
the hero's symbolic rebirth and new beginning in life (Purg. 30-33). 

Leaving the hero's rebirth and new beginning after the fall to a subsequent 
section of this essay, I would like first to examine how Dante renders the myth 
of beginning before the fall. In examining this myth, we must necessarily start 
with the Bible, which has provided Dante with even more literary images than 
classical antiquity. 

The Bible, which has influenced western literature more than any other 
book, presents the myth of creation as humankind's beginning: the separation of 
the water above from the water below and of the earth from the water; the 
making of the sun, moon, stars, all inanimate nature, and the animals; and finally 
the creation of man and woman. According to the first biblical narrative of 
creation, the Elohistic or Priestly account (P), God created man and woman at 
the same time: 

Faciamus hominem ad imaginem et similitudinem nostram, et praesit piscibus maris, et 
volatilibus caeli, et bestiis, universaeque terrae, omnique reptili, quod movetur in terra. Et 
creavit Deus hominem ad imaginem suam: ad imaginem Dei creavit ilium, masculum et 
feminam creavit eos. 

("Let us make a human being in our image and likeness to rule the fish of the sea, the 
birds of heaven, the animals, all wild animals on earth, and all reptiles that crawl upon the 
earth." So God created the human being in his own image; in the image of God He 
created the human being: male and female He created them.) 

(Gen. L26-27)" 

By contrast, the second, or Yahvist, narrative (J) of creation makes the female 
subservient to the male. Most importantly for its influences upon Dante, it also 
provides the first encounter of man with woman: 

Dixitque quoque Dominus Deus: Non est bonum esse hominem solum: faciamus ei 
adiutorium simile sibi. [...] Immisit ergo Dominus Deus soporem in Adam: cumque 

" All biblical quotations are from Biblia vulgata; English translations of the Bible and 
Dante are mine; all quotations from Vita nuova come from the bilingual edition quoted in 
the bibliography. 

150 Dino S. Cervigni 

obdormisset, tulit unam de costis eius, et replevit camem pro ea. Et aedificavit Dominus 
Deus costam, quam tulerat de Adam, in mulierem: et adduxit earn ad Adam. Dixitque 
Adam: Hoc nunc, os de ossibus meis, et caro de came mea: haec vocabitur Virago, 
quoniam de viro sumpta est. 

(Then the Lord God said: "It is not good for man to be alone. Let us create a partner for 
him." [...] And so the Lord God induced sleep into Adam; and while he slept, he took one 
of his ribs and closed the flesh over it. The Lord God then built up the rib, which he had 
taken out of Adam, into a woman. He then brought her to Adam. And Adam said: "Now 
this is bone from my bones, flesh from my flesh. This shall be called woman [Eve], for 
from man was she taken.") 

(Gen. 2:18; 21-23) 

According to this second biblical narrative of creation, Adam's first glimpse of 
Eve constitutes the first encounter of two humans: the coming together of two 
creatures who, henceforth bonded for as long as they live and, in the case of the 
Dantean hero, even after her death, are innocent at this primordial stage.'" 

At the beginning of his earliest complete writing, Dante recasts the myth of 
that primordial encounter of man with woman in the condition of innocence: 

Nove fiate gia appresso lo mio nascimento era tomato lo cielo de la luce quasi a uno 
medesimo punto, quanto a la sua propria girazione, quando a li miei occhi apparve prima 
la gloriosa donna de la mia mente, la quale fu chiamata da molti Beatrice li quali non 
sapeano che si chiamare. 

(Nine times since my birth had the heaven of light returned to almost the same point in its 
orbit when to my eyes first appeared the glorious lady of my mind, who was called 
Beatrice by many who did not know her given name.) 

{Vita nuova 2:iy^ 

Just as in the biblical account, man encounters woman not at the beginning of 
his biological life but "In that part of the book of his memory before which little 
could be read" (VN 1).''* The Vita nuova hero has no name, and in fact in this 

'' Among the many references to Adam and Eve in Dante's works, see primarily: Par. 
26: 103-42 (Adam) and De vulgari eloquentia 1:4.2 (Eve, Adam, and human speech). 
The entries on Adam and Eve in the two Dante encyclopedias listed in the works cited 
provide all pertinent references. 

'^ In several passages of the Comedy, Dante describes the twofold aspect of God's 
creation as presented in the double narrative of creation of the Hebrew Bible (Gen. 2): the 
physical formation of a human being in the womb {Purg. 25) and the divine act of 
infusing the soul into the embryo {Purg. 25:61-75; 16:85-90; etc.). 
'■* The theme of innocent beginnings, represented through the protagonist's falling in love 
with his lady at a very early phase of his life, occurs or is referred to in other works of 
Dante as well: Purg. 30:40-42; Par. 30:28-29. In a poem to his friend and fellow poet 
Cino of Pistoia, Dante once again refers to his ninth birthday as the time he first fell 
under Love's rule (50a, CXI, vv. 1-2). It was a topos for poets to write that they had 
fallen in love at first sight, usually during their childhood (Foster-Boyde 2:93n57, with 

Dante's Judeo-Christian Mytho-Poiesis 151 

youthful autobiography the male protagonist remains nameless throughout the 
entire account. As to woman, the name given to her, Beatrice, perfectly 
describes what she is: The one who bestows blessedness upon the beholder. She 
thus fulfills all of the male's expectations, just as Eve also does in the Bible, 
according to the first man's exclamation upon her appearance: '"Now this is 
bone fi-om my bones, flesh fi-om my flesh" (Gen. 2:23). 

As to the locus where this initial, primordial encounter of man and woman 
takes place in Dante's Vita nuova, the text offers no spatial indication. We know 
that it does occur, but we do not know where it happens, for not even such open 
or public space as a street, which characterizes their second encounter, is 
indicated here. And yet, in spite of this lack of spatial specificity, or perhaps 
precisely because of it, during this first encounter man's inner condition is one 
of bliss, not unlike that of Adam in Eden when he beholds Eve for the first time. 
The male protagonist's inner blissftil condition — it can be argued — re-creates 
symbolically the locus of happiness represented and symbolized by the biblical 

Furthermore, just as in Eden, also in Vita nuova no one but God witnesses 
man's encounter with woman. When they first meet, in fact, the male and female 
protagonists are alone. By contrast, their second encounter, nine years after their 
initial one, is witnessed by the two ladies who walk with Beatrice along the 

Meeting for the first time all alone in an unspecified place, the Vita nuova 
man and woman do meet, nevertheless, within God's creation and at a time 
measured according to multiple references to it: 

Nove fiate gia appresso lo mio nascimento era tomato lo cielo de la luce quasi a uno 
medesimo punto, quanto a la sua propria girazione, quando [...]. Ella era in questa vita 
gia stata tanto, che ne lo suo tempo lo cielo stellato era mosso verso la parte d'oriente de 
le dodici parti Tuna d'un grado, si che quasi dal principio del suo anno nono apparve a 
me, ed io la vidi quasi da la fine del mio nono. 

(Nine times since my birth had the heaven of light returned to almost the same point in its 
orbit when [...]. She had already been in this life as long as in her time the heaven of 
fixed stars had moved toward the East a twelfth part of a degree, so that at about the 

references to such practice by troubadours but in contradiction to Capellanus' sixth rule 
of love: "Boys do not love until they arrive at the age of maturity," 184; Trojel bk I, ch. 
5, p. 12; Battaglia 14-16). By following this poetic commonplace, however, Dante 
rewrites what he states in the canzone "E' m'incresce di me," which places his love on 
the day Beatrice was born (Contini 20, LXVII, vv. 57-60). Furthermore and perhaps more 
importantly, by setting his love within the all-encompassing cosmic category of VN 2:1, 
Dante provides an explanation for the protagonist's falling in love that goes beyond its 
immediate physical causes (gazing) and finds its ultimate cause in heaven, whence 
Beatrice is said to have descended ( FTV 26:6, vv. 7-8). 

152 Dino S. Cervigni 

beginning of her ninth year did she appear to me, and I saw her at about the end of my 


Accordingly, the time of the Vita nuova's male and female first encounter is set 
in reference to the cyclical and circular movement of the sun as well as the 
revolution of the heaven of the Fixed Stars. '^ 

The second and only other unconditionally innocent encounter of the hero 
with the lady occurs exactly nine years after the first one, when both 
protagonists, therefore, have entered young adulthood, and it occurs in a public 
place and in the presence of two older ladies {VN 3:1-2). Just as in the first 
encounter, also during the second not only the lady (who is portrayed as 
innocent throughout Dante's work) but also the hero is still innocent. 

Both initial encounters belong, therefore, to the myth of comedy. The 
season of the year is spring, the time is about three in the afternoon (the "ninth" 
hour of the day, VN 3:2), and the lady addresses for the first time the hero, who 
is consequently overwhelmed by such sweetness that he feels inebriated and 
seeks solitude. 

Contrary to what occurs in the biblical Eden, where Adam speaks first (as 
Dante argues in the De vulgari eloquentia 1:4.2), it is the lady who in Vita 
nuova utters the first word ever. Although a mysterious verbal utterance, in that 
the text does not record her exact words, we know nevertheless her word's 
substance and effect upon the hero: 

[...] per la sua ineffabile cortesia, la quale e oggi meritata nel grande secolo, mi salutoe 
molto virtuosamente, tanto che me parve allora vedere tutti li termini de la beatitudine. 
([...] in her ineffable courtesy, which today is rewarded in life everlasting, she greeted me 
with exceeding virtue, such that I then seemed to see all the terms of beatitude.) 

( Vita nuova 3:1) 

Beatrice's greeting is as ineffable as the courtesy that prompts her to speak. Her 
word, therefore, cannot but belong to the pre-lapsarian, Edenic, and therefore 
irretrievable moment of humankind's existence. Her greeting, therefore, 
counters what Dante writes in De vulgari eloquentia (1:4.2-3) but is in 
accordance with the explanation of language's origin and development that 
Adam offers at a later phase of Dante's poetic career {Par. 26: 124-38). 

'^ These two encounters, and all other fundamental encounters of the hero, can also be 
studied as chronotopes, following Bakhtin's analysis of such a notion, as I have also 
proposed and expounded in the introductory essay to the bilingual edition of Vita nuova, 
where I employ also Benveniste's and Ricoeur's conceptions of time. 
'^ For a ftirther elaboration of some of these themes see pp. 30-32 (for which I am 
responsible) in the introductory essay to the bilingual edition of Vita nuova. 

Dante's Judeo-Christian Mytho-Poiesis 153 

I would now like to indicate very briefly the presence of the Judeo-Christian 
myth of an innocent beginning in two additional fundamental aspects of Dante's 
mytho-poiesis, which pertain equally to the hero's quest: namely, the linguistic 
and the civic. The unfinished treatise De vulgari eloquentia describes man's 
initial moment of existence as a linguistic one, since Dante theorizes that Adam 
addressed his Creator, calling Him by name ("Deus" 1:4.4), immediately after 
his creation: a happy, albeit brief, phase of human communication through the 
word, defined by Dante as a sign both "sensuale" and "rationale" {DVE 1:3.2).'^ 
The Purgatorio further elucidates the origin of human language through the 
words of a redeemed soul, Statius, who explains that God Himself breathes the 
spiritual soul into the human embryo, thus transforming an "animal" into a 
"fante": a human being capable of expressing oneself linguistically {Purg. 

According to the Judeo-Christian myth of humankind's beginning, the myth 
of a primordially happy community is short-lived:'^ Adam's and Eve's 
primordial act of disobedience and Cain's murder of his brother Abel present 
mythically man's revolt against God and man's struggle against his peers, 
respectively. Dante's political concerns, primarily in the Comedy and 
Monarchia, aim at re-creating an ideal society where man's respect and love for 
God moves alongside man's respect for his fellow man. 

Dante, therefore, creates a composite myth of a happy beginning, which 
involves first two individuals alone (FA^ 2) and then a small community, where 
one is capable of bestowing ineffable happiness upon the other {VN 3): a happy 
moment that is short-lived and that Dante seeks to recreate by several allusions 
to, and recreations of, the biblical garden of Eden {Purg. 28-33). 

3. Dante's Myth of the Fall: The Mythos of Autumn and the Genre of 

After reaching young adulthood and being recognized and addressed publicly by 
his lady, the hero begins earnestly his quest for the love of his lady. As the story 
unfolds, the hero, inebriated with his love for the lady and obsessed with the 
desire to hide the treasure he had found, gradually falls into a trap laid out by his 
own desires and commits what Beatrice openly condemns as a fault. Thus, like 

'^ It is a well-known fact that Dante, through Adam's speech in Par. 26:124-38, re-writes 

what he had written previously about the immutabihty of the Hebrew language in De 

vulgari eloquentia 1:6.5-7. 

'* This description of the creation of man as a human being capable of "speaking" is 

anticipated by Marco Lombardo's image of God the Creator smiling while beholding 

'i'anima semplicetta" shortly after its creation: another clear reference to man's 

primordial state of innocence and happiness {Purg. 16:85-90). 

'^ The primordial place of happiness is not Parnassus but the Earthly Paradise, as Matelda 

instructs Dante the pilgrim and the two Roman poets Virgil and Statius {Purg. 28:142- 


154 Dino S. Cervigni 

the hero of many medieval narratives, the male protagonist of Dante's Vita 
nuova becomes also guilty of some wrongdoing. 

Thus, leaving behind the romantic mode of the happy beginning with its 
spring-like atmosphere, he is denied access to summer's luminosity, thus 
entering the mythos of autumn with its tragic mode. The Dantean hero's fault 
finds its correspondent in the hero's hamartia in classical literature, despite the 
inherent difference of the notion of fault. In fact, scholars debate whether the 
Aristotelian notion of fault or hamartia implies simply an intellectual error or it 
also includes a moral flaw for which the hero is responsible. Frye views 
Aristotle's hamartia as "not necessarily wrongdoing, much less moral 
weakness" (38), for the hero does not "necessarily have any tragic hamartia or 
pathetic obsession" (41); rather, his fault "may be simply a matter of being a 
strong character in an exposed position" (38) or "he is only somebody who gets 
isolated from his society" (41). Developing a subtler analysis of the Aristotelian 
notion of hamartia. Butcher remarks: "Distinctions of motive — the moral guilt 
or purity of the agent — are not here in question. So too in tragedy those are 
doomed who innocently err no less than those who sin consciously" (321). 

More so in the Comedy than in Vita nuova, the Dantean hero 
unquestionably commits a moral wrongdoing. In both works, Beatrice, a 
spokesperson for God, openly condemns this moral wrongdoing of the hero. In 
Vita nuova, as a consequence of the hero's first wrongdoing, Beatrice denies 
him her greeting, in which resided his beatitude and from which he also drew his 
"salute," namely, happiness and state of grace: 

Appresso la mia ritomata mi mis! a cercare di questa donna che lo mio segnore m'avea 
nominata ne lo cammino de 11 sospiri; [...] in poco tempo la feci mia difesa tanto, che 
troppa gente ne ragionava oltre 11 termini de la cortesia; onde molte fiate mi pensava 
duramente. E per questa ragione, cioe di questa soverchievole voce che parea che 
m'infamasse visiosamente, quella gentilissima, la quale ftie distruggitrice di tutti li vizi e 
regina de le virtudi, passando per alcuna parte, mi nego lo suo dolcissimo salutare, ne lo 
quale stava tutta la mia beatitudine. 

(After my return I began looking for that lady whom my Lord had named on the road of 
sighs; [...] in a brief time I made her my defense to such an extent that too many spoke 
about it beyond the bounds of courtesy; and this often afflicted me harshly. And for this 
cause, that is, for these excessive voices that appeared to defame me viciously, that most 
gentle lady, who was destroyer of all vices and queen of virtues, passing by a certain 
place, denied me her so dear greeting, in which was all my beatitude.) 

{Vita nuova 10:1-2). 

The same hero commits an even more egregious fault after his lady's death, 
resorting to the comforting glance of a compassionate lady instead of fixing his 
sight on the glorious Beatrice: 

Dante's Judeo-Christian Mytho-Poiesis 155 

lo venni a tanto per la vista di questa donna, che li miei occhi si cominciaro a dilettare 
troppo di vederla; onde molte volte me ne crucciava nel mio cuore ed aveamene per vile 
assai. Onde piu volte bestemmiava la vanitade de li occhi miei [...] . 
(I came to such a point through the sight of this lady that my eyes began to delight 
excessively in seeing her; so that I often became angry about it in my heart and 
considered myself base. Consequently, time and again I cursed the vanity of my eyes 

{Vita nuova 37:1-2) 

It is precisely this spiritual quest that links the Vita nuova youthful hero with the 
mature protagonist of the Comedy in his journey from fault to redemption. At 
the beginning of the Comedy, in fact, the Dantean Pilgrim is presented as a hero 
at fault, condemned to isolation away from God and from his redeemed creation, 
as we read in the most famous beginning of world literature, second only to the 
first verses of Genesis: 

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita, 
mi ritrovai in una selva oscura, 
che la diritta via era smarrita. 

(In the middle of our life's journey, 
I found myself again in a dark forest, 
for the straight path was lost.) 

{Inferno 1:1-3) 

In fact, the first sixty lines of the first canto of Inferno present primarily negative 
categories. The Inferno hero — lost, alone, and frightened — is shortly 
afterward pushed back into the dark forest by three fierce beasts. In the forest 
and wilderness in which he finds himself lost, darkness prevails over light, the 
animal world opposes the human world, and the human character finds himself 
in a condition of estrangement, isolation, and fear.^° From that initial moment 
onward, throughout the first cantica, the Comedy hero's experience becomes 
increasingly problematic, as Northrop Frye succinctly summarizes: 

^° Fear or dread can be viewed as a presentiment of the presence of the sacred 
{Vocabulaire de theologie biblique) and the first step leading the sinful person to God 
{Ricoeur 29-33). (I would like to note here, incidentally, that Ricoeur's approach as 
outlined in The Symbolism of Evil, where he also quotes Dante, bears similarities with 
Frye's approach and can be exploited extensively in dealing with the notion oihamartia, 
whose primary symbols Ricoeur sees in defilement, sin, and guilt. For Ricoeur's 
understanding of Frye see Ricoeur's "'Anatomy of Criticism' or the Order of 
Paradigms." Likewise, Eliade's composite approach to culture, myth, and religion can 
add significantly to the approach I develop above.) 

156 Dino S. Cervigni 

The downward movement is the tragic movement, the wheel of fortune falling from 
innocence toward hamartia, and from hamartia to catastrophe. 

(Anatomy of Criticism 162) 

Unlike the hero of classical tragedies, however, the Dantean hero is granted a 
special privilege intended to help him escape catastrophe: namely, a journey 
through the world of doom so that he may avoid it. Accordingly, the hero's 
downward movement through Hell contrasts two different experiences: that of 
the privileged hero who is affected by hamartia but holds the hope of 
redemption vis-a-vis the irreparable doom of the denizens of Hell. A tragic 
condition susceptible of being reversed, the former is best explained by the 
narrative mode of sunset, autumn, and the fall of the leaves; the condition of 
Hell's inhabitants, by contrast, cannot but be expressed through literature's 
condemnatory mode, satire and parody, and the mythos of death, or winter. 

To describe appropriately the hero during his infernal journey, Dante the 
poet exploits biblical. Christian, and classical myths. Accordingly, the infernal 
hero is like Christ, who descends to Hell in order to conquer it (Inf. 4:46-63), 
and, like Christ, he too must die, albeit symbolically (Inf. 3:130-36; Cervigni, 
"L'Acheronte dantesco"). At the same time, the Dantean hero is unlike Christ, 
who descended into Hell and came out of it by virtue of his own power; rather, 
Dante the Pilgrim is like Theseus, who was delivered from Hell by Hercules, 
anotTier Christ-like figure (Inf. 9:52-54). In fact, because of his precarious 
situation for as long as he is an itinerant voyager, the hero's journey is time and 
again viewed from the perspective of Ulysses' "folle vole" (Inf. 26:125), whose 
fate can be avoided only through divine intervention. Thus, the hero's fear 
during his descent on the back of the monster Geryon exceeds that of Phaeton 
and Icarus when the two youths, failing to heed their fathers' advice, plunged 
into their tragic catastrophe (Inf 17:106-14). Even greater is the fear the hero 
experiences at the center of the universe upon beholding Lucifer (Inf. 34:22-27). 

In brief, in describing the tragic hero who journeys through Hell, Dante the 
poet employs an overarching Christian perspective that incorporates all other 
motifs, including classical myths. The hero's Christian hope of leaving behind 
Hell, or the season of winter, which is described through low-mimetic or satiric 
modes, rests not so much on the power of Virgil, a figure belonging to the 
ancient world, but rather on the power of Beatrice. Sent by Lucy, Mary, and thus 
ultimately God, Beatrice in fact had summoned Virgil to help the hero out of the 
dark forest (Inf. 2)."' Precisely because the Dantean hero is situated within the 

^' It is Christian hope, in fact, a virtue granted to humankind through Christ's 
Redemption, that distinguishes Dante's Christian hero from the classical tragic hero, who, 
as Frye expounds, "provokes enmity, or inherits a situation of enmity, and the return of 
the avenger constitutes the catastrophe. The revenge-tragedy is a simple tragic structure 
[...] often retained as a central event in the most complex tragedies" (Anatomy of 
Criticism 208-09). 

Dante's Judeo-Christian Mytho-Poiesis 157 

Christian myth, the tragic destiny brought about by his hamartia can be turned 
into comedy, thus reversing the autumn of his life into spring, just as Manfred 
informs the hero at the beginning of his purgatorial journey {Purg. 3: 133-35). 

The same hope, likewise, animates Dante in his endeavors to re-create 
humankind linguistically and socially, whence derive his attempts to forge a new 
language (as he outlines in De vulgari eloquentid) and to envision a just society 
(primarily in the Comedyand Monorchia) capable of helping man attain the 
eternal, happy destiny he has been called upon to attain. 

4. The Dantean Myth of a Parodic Universe: The Mythos of Winter and 
the Genre of Satire 

While in the tragic phase of his quest, corresponding to the mythos of autumn, 
the Dantean hero descends through Hell in the Christian hope of never 
remaining there. Just as God's c-eation belongs to the mythos of spring and its 
genre to comedy, Dante's Hell, by contrast, parodies God's creation by 
regressing to the primordial chaos conquered by God at the beginning of time 
(Gen. 1). As horrific and wicked as creation is good (Gen. 2), Hell thus belongs 
to the mythos of winter and the genre of satire. Through its darkness, fire or 
freezing cold, cacophony or absolute silence, the Dantean Hell parodies God's 
loving act in the creation of the universe, the angelic order, and humankind. 
Thus, what Frye writes about the tragic hero applies to Dante's satiric rendering 
of Hell and its inhabitants (but not to Dante's notion of hamartia): 

In tragedy the titanic and demonic appear in the context of a self-destructive or anti-social 
impulse, of the kind expressed in Greek tragedy by the word hubris, the excessive action 
which is both conscious and mechanical, the result of hamartia or "flaw," which is not a 
moral defect but a situation so maladjusted that prudent or temperate action is impossible. 

(Words with Power 282^^ 

During his quest, or agon, and his conflict, death-struggle or pathos, the hero is 
thus confronted by an enemy, which, as Frye writes in Anatomy of Criticism, "is 
associated with winter, darkness, conftision, sterility, moribund life and old age 
[...] ." Accordingly, the hero, who at the beginning of his quest is associated 
"with spring, dawn, order, fertility, vigor, and youth" (187-88), must now 
journey through a hostile environment, which the Christian poet porfrays as 
Hell. Frye ftirther expounds the demonic aspects of this phase of the hero's 
journey. Accordingly, "The central form of quest-romance is the dragon-killing 
theme"; there are also monsters, such as the leviathan and behemoth, which 
"represent the fallen order of nature over which Satan has some control" (189). 

^^ In Fables of Identity Frye expounds further the mythos of winter: "The darkness, 
winter and dissolution phase. Myths of the triumph of these powers; myths of floods and 
the return of chaos, of the defeat of the hero, and Gotterdammerung myths. Subordinate 
characters: the ogre and the witch. The archetype of satire [...]" (16). 

158 Dino S. Cervigni 

It is not the Dantean hero, who becomes an anti-hero because of his fault, but 
Christ, the hero par excellence, who descends to Hell and conquers Satan in the 
so-called harrowing of Hell (190). 

To render such a horrific world, Dante the poet plunders classical and 
biblical myths. The Dantean Hell's guardians belong to ancient antiquity 
(Charon, Minos, Cerberus, Phlegyas, etc.) as well as Christian traditions (devils; 
Lucifer). At the same time, this world, fixed in a state of eternal catastrophe, 
perennial winter, and structured chaos, belongs primarily in the biblical and 
Christian mythology, since its king is Lucifer, who was thrown down from 
heaven because of his rebellious hubris {Inf. 7:10-12; Purg. 12: 25-27), and all 
souls condemned to Hell have been rebellious against the true God {Inf. 1:125). 
By the same token, in exploiting classical myths primarily in the Inferno, Dante 
the poet follows a poetic strategy that Northrop Frye describes effectively in 
Words with Power. 

If Biblical myths were true and classical ones false [precisely as the Dantean Virgil states 
in Inf. 1:72], then the only way to account for the resemblances was to call the latter 
demonic parodies of Biblical ones, or, perhaps, fairy tales begotten by confiised human 
memories after the Fall. 

{Words with Power\A5) 

Again, for Frye Dante's Hell is 

the representation of the world that desire totally rejects: the world of the nightmare and 
the scapegoat, of bondage and pain and confusion; the world as it is before the human 
imagination begins to work on it and before any image of human desire, such as the city 
or the garden, has been solidly established; the world also of perverted or wasted work, 
ruins and catacombs, instruments of torture and monuments of folly. 

{Anatomy of Criticism 147) 

From a Christian perspective, Dante's Hell condemns an irremediably broken 
order through an act of divine justice. Likewise, in Frye's theory of myths, the 
righting of balance requires an act of revenge or nemesis: 

[...] the agent or instrument of nemesis may be human vengeance, ghostly vengeance, 
divine vengeance, divine justice, accident, fate or the logic of events, but the essential 
thing is that nemesis happens [...] . 

{Anatomy of Criticism 209) 

Contrary to classical traditions as Frye interprets them, however, the destiny of 
all those whom Dante condemns to Hell was not determined by "the 
omnipotence of an external fate" {Anatomy of Criticism 209). Rather, in contrast 
with the classical tragic hero, it is caused by "a violation oi moral law, whether 

Dante's Judeo-Christian Mytho-Poiesis 159 

human or divine" (Anatomy of Criticism 210). Thus, everyone condemned to the 
Dantean Hell is marked by hamartia, understood as a moral wrongdoing. 

From this notion derives another, fundamental attribute of Inferno: Dante's 
Hell (just like its opposite, Paradise) is situated outside time, which humankind 
experiences in its itinerant condition after being expelled from the Earthly 
Paradise. ^^ Hell's inhabitants, therefore, are eternally and irrevocably 
condemned to the mythos of a perennial winter (see the eternally frozen souls of 
Hell's Cocytus) and an irretrievable catastrophe. In contrast, having received the 
grace of journeying through Hell in order to be delivered from it, the Dantean 
hero, however, lives in time. Situated outside time, Lucifer, his minions, and 
Hell's denizens dramatize, by contrast, their rejection of Christ's loving and 
redeeming act and cannot but parody His sacrifice, as does most visibly Lucifer, 
stretched out like a cross in the deepest pit of Hell. ^'' 

It is precisely with Dante's Hell that Frye concludes his treatment of the 
mythos of winter: 

At the bottom of Dante's Hell, which is also the center of the spherical earth, Dante sees 
Satan standing upright in the circle of ice, and as he cautiously follows Virgil over the hip 
and thigh of the evil giant, letting himself down by the tufts of hair on his skin, he passes 
the center and finds himself no longer going down but going up, climbing out on the 
other side of the world to see the stars again. [...] Tragedy can take us no farther; but if 
we persevere with the mythos of irony and satire, we shall pass a dead center, and finally 
see the gentlemanly [sic!] Prince of Darkness bottom side up. 

{Anatomy of Criticism 239) 

The mythos of winter is best expressed through the genre of irony or satire. A 
tragic hero in that he experiences hamartia, the Dantean hero only visits the 
realm of satire, Hell, which in biblical terms constitutes the ultimate deprivation 
and the eternal condemnation of the creature that reflises its creator. Thus, more 
fortunate than the tragic Ulysses, who saw but never set foot on Mount 
Purgatory, the Dantean hero escapes the mythos of eternal winter, leaves behind 
the genre of satire, and enters a world characterized by spring-like dawns and 
sunsets. Starting, as it were, a new life and a new journey through atonement 
and participatory sacrifice marked by hope, the Dantean hero thus begins his 
purgatorial journey. 

^^ Precisely as Frye remarks: "In Adam's situation there is a feeling, which in Christian 
tradition can be traced back at least to St. Augustine, that time begins with the fall; that 
the fall from liberty into the natural cycle also started the movement of time as we know 
it" {Anatomy of Criticism 213). 

^^ Some of Frye's following remarks apply to Dante's art: "Anyone accustomed to think 
archetypally of literature will recognize in tragedy a mimesis of sacrifice. Tragedy is a 
paradoxical combination of a fearful sense of rightness (the hero must fall) and a pitying 
sense of wrongness (it is too bad that he falls)" {Anatomy of Criticism 215). 

160 Dino S. Cervigni 

Space allows me to add only a few remarks concerning the linguistic and 
civic aspects of this phase of the Dantean myth. Ancient and biblical stories 
record humankind's failure in building a city, whose inhabitants become unable 
of communicating because of their hubris or some other form of wrongdoing 
{Inf. 31:46-81). Accordingly, Dante's Hell is constructed not on love and order 
but on fear, hatred, and revenge; its ruler and guardians are tormentors as much 
as they are tormented; and its denizens are condemned to a parodic form of civic 
life. Thus, in parodic contrast with Beatrice's "ineffable courtesy" when she first 
spoke (F7V 3:1), Hell's rulers and denizens either shout, shriek, curse, blaspheme 
or are plunged, like Lucifer, into an inscrutable silence, in a parody of God's 

5. Dante's Myth of a Second Beginning after the Fall: The Second Mythos 
of Spring and Comedy Regained 

In the Judeo-Christian tradition humankind's irmocent beginning lasts but a brief 
moment, from the time of creation to the primogenitors' expulsion from Eden. 
Among the many biblical and pafristic interpretations available to him, Dante 
the poet opts for one that emphasizes the brevity of that blissfril primordial 
moment. In Paradise Adam thus answers the Pilgrim who inquires about the 
length of his Edenic sojourn: 

Nel monte che si leva piu da I'onda, 
fu' io, con vita pura e disonesta. 
da la prim'ora a quella che seconda, 

come '1 sole muta quadra, I'ora sesta. 
("On the mountain that most rises from out the wave, 
was I, with life pure and disgraced, 
from the first hour to that which follows, 
when the sun changes quadrant, the sixth hour.") 

{Par. 26:139-42) 

According to the Dantean Adam, therefore, the primogenitors' innocent, 
primordial condition lasted no longer than seven hours. 

The Dantean hero's return to the same mountain originally inhabited by 
Adam and Eve cannot but fill him with a nostalgic longing for a lost place of 
happiness briefly enjoyed only by the "prima gente" ('the primordial people'; 
Purg. 1:19-26). Precisely at the moment when Virgil and the Pilgrim begin the 
purgatorial journey, therefore, they are likened to "om che toma a la perduta 
strada,/ che 'nfino ad essa li pare ire in vano" ('one who returns to the lost way / 
and who thinks he goes in vain until he reaches it'; Purg. 1:119-20). 
Accordingly, having lost his way, the wayfarer eagerly walks in order finally to 

^' For a closer analysis of the significance of Lucifer's silence see my two essays listed in 
Works Cited. 

Dante's Judeo-Christian Mytho-Poiesis 161 

resume the straightforward journey. His desire to return to that primordial, 
blissfiil, but lost place is emphasized time and again throughout his purgatorial 
ascent and is further enhanced by the knowledge that upon attaining Eden he 
will finally see Beatrice {Purg. 6:47; 27:35-36). Appropriately, therefore, Frye 
states: "The upward movement is the comic movement, from threatening 
complications to a happy ending and a general assumption of post-dated 
innocence in which everyone lives happily ever after. In Dante the upward 
movement is through purgatory" (Anatomy of Criticism 162). 

Following Judeo-Christian traditions, therefore, the hero's quest for the lost 
innocence unfolds through two phases. First, according to what I would like to 
call the mythos of early spring, the purgatorial hero undergoes several rites of 
atonement and purification, which take him from the shores of the sacred 
mountain to the edge of the sacred forest on the mountaintop (Purg. 1-27). 
Second, according to what I propose to call the mythos of fiill spring, he is 
finally restored to innocence: not to that primordial innocence that can no longer 
be regained after it is lost, but rather to an enhanced condition of purity and life 
attained through a twofold fiuvial drinking. Insofar as the purpose of the hero's 
purgatorial ascent is to be bom once again, comedy, as the narrative of dawn, 
spring, and birth, may best express this phase of the hero's quest. Following his 
spiritual rebirth, the purgatorial ascent leads to his apotheosis and entering into 
Paradise (Frye, Fables of Identity 16) and thus it is best expressed through the 
genre of romance. 

a. Early Spring: The Judeo-Christian Myth of Conversion and Atonement 
Next to the Christian notion that man is affected by hamartia, an ethical fault at 
the basis of the individual's and society's disorderly and chaotic condition, lies 
also the notion of metanoia. According to this notion, the individual, and thus 
the society within which he lives, can be changed from bad to good, albeit not 
on one's own strength but through Christ's Redemption. ^^ In developing the 
Judaic and Christian notion of the hero's inner transformation as he gradually 

^^ Just as classical literature does not provide a comparable notion of moral wrongdoing, 
it does not offer, by the same token, the possibility of a moral conversion similar to 
Christian metanoia. The Aristotelian /catharsis, which affects the spectators rather than 
the actors of ancient tragedy, in fact, plays a different function, as S. H. Butcher remarks: 
"Let us assume, then, that the tragic katharsis involved not only the idea of an emotional 
relief, but the further idea of the purifying of the emotions so relieved. In accepting this 
interpretation we do not ascribe to tragedy a direct moral purpose and influence. It does 
not make men better, though it removes certain hindrances to virtue" (269). In fact, 
ancient religious practices did not require the inner transformation attached to the notion 
of conversion, and only Christianity and, to a lesser extent, Judaism developed the notion 
of metanoia and atonement developed here ("Conversion," The Oxford Classical 
Dictionary; "Conversion," The Oxford Companion to the Bible). (On the problematic 
nature of the Aristotelian ^?/zar5/5 see Sparshott.) 

162 Dino S. Cervigni 

climbs Mount Purgatory's seven terraces, Dante the poet resorts to biblical and 
Christian myths oftentimes linked with world literature's archetypal motifs.'^' 

According to archetypal criticism, the narrative of ameliorative change and 
transformation belongs to the comedic genre, as Frye points out: "Unlikely 
conversions, miraculous transformations, and providential assistance are 
inseparable from comedy" (170).^^ Since the Dantean hero's fransformation 
leads to his spiritual re-birth, in fact, comedy, and hence spring, describe better 
this phase of his quest, thus also evincing the Dantean comedy's peculiarities es. 
In Dante, in fact, certain conversions (take that of Manfred or Buonconte) are 
unlikely only from a human perspective, for Redemptive grace works 
mysteriously. In any case, the Dantean hero who journeys through Purgatory 
must undergo a deliberately pursued inner fransformation based on external 
practices as well. 

The mythos of early spring, which leads from the dead of winter to rebirth 
and the luminosity of summer, is the narrative of atonement and purification. To 
it belong all those rituals that aim at the purging souls' and the journeying hero's 
inner fransformation, from the moment they touch the shores of Mount 
Purgatory until they set foot on the Earthly Paradise, which is situated on the 
mountaintop {Purg. 28-33). 

The Dantean mythos of early spring is characterized by a plethora of 
characters, narrative elements, and poetic motifs belonging to the classical world 
(such as Cato in Purg. 1-2), Christian beliefs or fraditions (angels, the door to 
Purgatory proper, the souls' acts of purification, the purifying fire, etc.), or, at 
least in part, to Dante's poetic imagination (the twofold fluvial rite in Purg. 31- 
33). At the same time, all these elements are pervaded by a fiondamental 
Christian notion: namely, the need for the hero to atone and fransform himself in 
order to attain the desired happy ending characteristic of romance in Paradise." 

Just as in the Inferno and Paradiso, in the Purgatorio the archetypal quest 
constitutes the master narrative uniting all the rituals of purification. Thus the 
motif of the journey becomes an ascent (confrary to what occurs in Hell), 

^^ Frye further elucidates his notion of metanoia, in both the Old and New Testament, in 
The Great Co^e (130-31; 193). 

^* Frye returns to this notion of comedy time and again in this work and in others as well 
{The Great Code\91). 

^^ Some of the most prominent elements of the mythos of early spring are: the cleansing 
of the Pilgrim's face with dew; the plucking of the rush, which, broken, springs up again 
{Purg. 1 ); the presence of angels throughout the purgatorial ascent, beginning with the 
angelic pilot of Purg. 2; the markings and deletions of the seven P's on the hero's 
forehead; the prayers as well as the willingly accepted rituals of purification in which all 
the souls engage throughout their purgatorial ascent; the rites of waiting in Ante- 
purgatory and the rites of passage from terrace to terrace, etc. Just as in Hell or Paradise, 
all these elements are comprised within the all-inclusive metaphor of the voyage, which 
in the Dantean Purgatory is an upward ascent according to a clockwise, spiral movement. 

Dante's Judeo-Christian Mytho-Poiesis 163 

although not directly upward (as it happens in Paradise), but rather according to 
a spiraling, clockwise movement. 

Contrary to what happens in the Inferno, where the souls are consumed by 
hatred, the purging souls evince a desire to re-create, individually and 
collectively, a civic society based on a genuine Christian respect and love for 
each other and for all authority derived from God, as, for instance, the 
mysterious rite unfolding in Purg. 8 bears out.^° 

Likewise, human language also undergoes a process of purification and 
transformation.^' For the souls are primarily engaged in atonement, prayer, 
mutual charity, and condemnation of their past unholy lives, as is clear, for 
instance, from the nine lines Dante the poet has Amaut Daniel utter in 
condemnation of his past life, benevolent acceptance of his present suffering, 
and hopeful looking forward to the future paradisal happiness {Purg. 26:140- 

b. Full Spring: The Judeo-Christian Myth of a New Beginning 
Although the Judeo-Christian narrative of a new beginning after the catasfrophe 
may share some common fraits with classical myth, the Christian hero's 
fransformation through atonement and repentance assumes unique features. For 
the believer to enter the kingdom of Heaven, in fact, he must be bom again, 
albeit not biologically (as it happened, in some fashion, to Naaman in 4 Kings 
5:27; Luke 4:27) but rather spiritually, as Christ teaches Nicodemus (Jo. 3: 1-22). 
To begin with, for the hero to experience spiritual re-birth, he must repent, 
recognize his personal failure, and convert. Biblical metanoia entails an inner, 
total transformation and is often accompanied by external rituals. In the Hebrew 
Bible, David's repentance, emotionally expressed through Psalm 50, '"Miserere" 
— the penitential invocation par excellence in western literature — 
emblematizes such a myth of conversion.^^ In the New Testament the story of 
St. Peter's tearful repentance, after his threefold denial of Christ, best 
exemplifies the myth of conversion: 

Et continuo adhuc illo loquente cantavit gallus. Et conversus Dominus respexit Petrum. 
Et recordatus est Petrus verbi Domini, sicut dixerat: Quia prius quam galllus cantet, ter 
me negabis. Et egressus foras Petrus flevit amare. 

^° Dante's desire to re-create society pervades the political treatise Monarchia, in which 

the function of the Emperor in secular matters corresponds to that of the Pope in religious 


^' Dante's attempt at purifying and enhancing the Italian vernacular is borne out by his 

linguistic attempt at establishing the volgare illustre evinced in his De vulgari eloquentia: 

a human, and thus only partially successful, effort to overturn the corruption inherent in 

all human endeavors, including language {Par. 26:130-38). 

^^ The story of David's repentance and conversion is narrated in 2 Sam. 12. 

164 Dino S. Cervigni 

(At that moment, while he was still speaking, a cock crew; and the Lord turned and 
looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the Lord's words: "Tonight before the cock 
crows you will deny me three times." And going outside, he wept bitterly.) 

(Luke 22:60-61)" 

The Dantean hero of both the Vita nuova and Comedy undergoes a similar 
experience as the initial step toward his inner renewal. In the youthful 
autobiography, the hero recognizes twice that he has transgressed and twice 
weeps over his transgressions. 

When Beatrice is alive, as we have seen above, the hero employs twice the 
strategy of the screen lady to such an extent that he transgressed the "li termini 
della cortesia" ('the bounds of couilesy' FN 10:1) and is thus reproached silently 
by Beatrice {VN 10:2). After her death, he yields to a "desiderio malvagio e vana 
tentazione" ('a wicked desire and a vain temptation' VN 39:6; also 39:2) 
occasioned by the kindness of a "pietosa donna" ('a compassionate lady' VN 
35:3). Beatrice then appears to him by means of "una forte imaginazione" ('a 
powerfiil imagining' VN 39:1) in the same crimson vestments in which he first 
saw her at nine, namely, the age of innocence shared by both. In both 
circumstances, certainly in VN 12:2 and arguably also in VN39, the hero seeks a 
solitary place, weeps, and repents (12:2; 39:2-6).^"* In contrast with the Beatrice 
of Vita nuova, who reproaches the hero through her silence, she verbally 
reproaches the hero for forgetting her at the top of Mount Purgatory, calling him 
by name for the first and only time, and urging him to proclaim his 
transgressions viva voce. Dante the Pilgrim, after resisting silently the 
reproaches of Beatrice, who urges him verbally for six consecutive times to 
speak up and confess, finally avows amidst tears: 

Piangendo dissi: "Le presenti cose 
col falso lor piacer volser miei passi, 
tosto che '1 vostro viso si nascose." 
(I said weeping: "The present things 
with their false pleasures turned my steps away, 
as soon as your face became hidden.") 

{Furg. 3 1 :34-36) 

" Matthew 26:75: "Et egressus foras, flevit amare" ('Having gone outside, he wept 
bitterly'); Mark 14:72: "Et coepit flere" ('He began weeping'). 

^'' In the narratives analyzed above, the verb "to repent" ("pentere") occurs only in VN 
39:2. Both narratives contains additional terms that bear out unmistakably the hero's 
awareness of a moral fault and his inner repentance. The tears that the hero sheds in both 
stories constitute the external manifestation required of the repentant individual (Ricoeur 
100-50), who, in fact, acknowledges his fault by means of a verbal confession in Purg. 

Dante's Judeo-Christian Mytho-Poiesis 165 

As we know from the Bible, God always accepts the sinner's words of 
repentance and leads him to his inner transformation. 

Precisely in rendering the hero's fransformation Dante the poet employs 
archetypal motifs common to world literature: the motif of the revitalizing 
power of water, specifically of the two rivers springing forth from the same 
divine source and effecting a twofold, convergent transformation in the penitent 
hero. Accordingly, the river Lete brings about the forgetfiilness of all 
wrongdoing (Purg. 31) to such an extent that later the hero does not even 
remember ever having gone astray (Purg. 33:91-99). The second river, Eunoe, a 
typically Dantean creation, returns to the soul the memory of the lost good. The 
two rivers' combined effect upon the hero (just as upon all the purgatorial souls) 
is ultimately a new creation: a renewed creature is bom out of the death of the 
old one.^^ 

As a consequence of the hero's re-creation and re-birth, society and nature 
also hold the promise of being re-created anew, as Frye also sees at work in the 
myth of comedy: 

This latter movement [man's redemption and reconciliation with God] [...] cannot be 
achieved without a corresponding redemption and reconciliation of nature, something 
that moves in the direction of restoring the original paradisal environment. 

{Words with Power 14\) 

Dante's Earthly Paradise, in fact, not only restates poetically the presence of evil 
in the history of humankind, as evidenced in the apocalyptic scene described in 
the second half of Purgatorio 32 and Beatrice's prophecy in Purgatorio 33:31- 
78. It also, and more importantly, proclaims that salvation, by overcoming evil, 
re-enacts an even greater form of creation (Rom. 5:18-21; Ricoeur 227).^^ Thus 
the hero's renewal constitutes a spiritual re-creation. He has in fact reacquired 
more than the original innocence that Adam and Eve lost forever for themselves 
and all their descendants: namely, a renewed condition of grace, which exceeds 
humankind's original state, since he, like all Christians, attains it through 
Christ's Redemption (Rom. 5:12-21). The hero has thus totally overcome the 

^' It is a well known fact that Dante's Lete's is patterned after the Lithian waters of the 
Virgilian underworld; the river Eunoe, by contrast, is a typically Dantean creation based 
on biblical images and theological considerations (Cervigni, "The Euno6 or the Recovery 
of the Lost Good," especially 63-72). 

^^ Next to the negative characteristic of water, which applies to Hell, Frye {Anatomy of 
Criticism 146) develops also the rejuvenating powers of water, which are present, side by 
side with its negative counterpart, in the Bible ("Eau," Dictionnaire de theologie 

166 Dino S. Cervigni 

condition of neither death nor Hfe into which he had plunged in Hell's 
nethermost pit upon beholding Lucifer {Inf. 34:22-27).^' 

Dante the Poet renders the Pilgrim's transformation and re-creation through 
arboreal metaphors of springtime renewal. Thus, at the end of the second cantica 
the employment of arboreal metaphors (Purg. 33:143-44) fully explains and 
brings to closure the function of the reed with which the Pilgrim was girt at the 
beginning of his purgatorial journey (Pwrg. 1:94-95; 1:100-05; 1:133-36). As the 
symbol of humility, penance, and renewal, the reed, which is reborn as it is cut 
and girds the Pilgrim throughout the purgatorial ascent, fully discloses its 
spiritual meaning when his transformation is described through the metaphor of 
the renewed tree.^^ Totally transformed and renewed, the Dantean hero is thus 
ready to ascend, together with Beatrice, to Heaven, a realm inhabited by God 
and his god-like subjects. 

The Dantean hero's rebirth ushers in the subsequent phase of his quest, the 
romantic mode, as Frye's archetypal criticism bears out in strikingly similar, 
albeit not perfectly identical, results: 

The theme of the comic is the integration of societj', which usually takes the form of 
incorporating a central character into it. The mythical comedy corresponding to the death 
of the Dionysiac god [which belongs to tragedy] is Apollonian, the story of how a hero is 
accepted by a society of gods. In Classical literature the theme of acceptance forms part 
of the stories of Hercules, Mercury, and other deities who had a probation to go through, 
and in Christian literature it is the theme of salvation, or, in a more concentrated form, of 
assumption: the comedy that stands just at the end of Dante's Divine Comedy. 

(Anatomy of Criticism 43) 

Accordingly, in the Earthly Paradise the Dantean hero readies to become 
integrated into the heavenly society, which in fact, through the allegorical 
pageantry, descends from heaven to instruct him and prepare him for his 
heavenly ascension (Purg. 29-30). A Christian Hercules and Mercury, having 
undergone a probation period, he is ready to be assumed to Heaven. At the apex 
of his voyage in the afterlife, however, lies not the mythos of spring or the genre 
of comedy but rather the mythos of summer and the genre of romance. Very 

" In Words with Power Frye develops further the theme of death, which he sees as a part 
of "a cyclical world in which every life ends in death, life being renewed only by 
metamorphosis in some other form" (230); Christ, in fact, conquered death, and Hell, 
through that metamorphosis called Resurrection (238-39). 

^* The reed, which has a specific function in the Pilgrim's purgatorial journey (Purg. I, 
94-105; 130-36) and then assumes a purely spiritual role at the end of the cantica, 
contrasts with the cord, which (unbeknownst to the reader) girds the Pilgrim throughout 
his descent of Upper and Middle Hell and then ambiguously disappears in the abyss of 
Malebolge (/«/ 16:106-36). 

Dante's Judeo-Christian Mytho-Poiesis 167 

appropriately Frye thus writes about this myth of reconciliation and rebirth of 
the hero with the divinity: 

Purgatory is the connecting link between earth and heaven, and has the form of a 
mountain with seven spiral turnings. The ascent of Purgatory is followed by a second 
climbing through the planetary spheres in the Paradiso. 

{Words with Power 159) 

6. Dante's Judeo-Christian Myth of Renewal and Sublimation: Frye's 
Mythos of Summer and the Genre of Romance 

The Dantean hero ascends to Heaven in the company of Beatrice from the top of 
Mount Purgatory. Referring to Pur gator io {Anatomy of Criticism 204), Frye 
indicates precisely the mountaintop as the locus where "the undisplaced 
apocalyptic world and the cyclical world of nature come into alignment, and 
which we propose to call the point of epiphany" (203). 

From this mountaintop, therefore, earth's closest point to heaven, the hero 
ascends upward. Completing his inner transformation around noon, he flies 
upward with Beatrice when the day reaches the ftiUness of light {Purg. 33:1 OS- 
OS). The same time of day, with a reference to the sun's position, is once again 
indicated in Paradiso 1:43-48, just before the heavenly ascent truly begins. Just 
as the top of Mount Purgatory, the highest point of the sub-lunar world, stretches 
upward toward heaven, so the two canticas are linked thematically as one ends 
and the other begins with the theme of the hero's ascent around noon time. The 
hero begins his descent into Hell at dusk {Inf. 2:1-3) and his ascent of Mount 
Purgatory at dawn {Purg. 1:19-21). He also enters the Earthly Paradise early in 
the morning {Purg. 28:3), at about the same time when Adam was created {Par. 
26:139-42). He completes his purification and prepares to ascend toward heaven 
at the approximate time when Adam was expelled from Eden {Par. 26:141-42). 
The hero's heavenly ascent is also patterned after that of Christ who, according 
to Dante, died at noon {Inf. 21:112-14; Convivio 4:23.10-11); noon is also the 
time he ascended into Heaven, according to some ancient beliefs (Gueranger, 
Paschal Time 3:152). In fact, among the countless narratives of heavenly ascents 
in the Bible, Christ's Ascension constitutes the archetypal motif at the basis of 
hagiographic writings that describe the saint's soul assumption into heaven, after 
which Beatrice's assumption into heaven in Vita nuova 23 and here the Dantean 
hero's ascent is also patterned. ^^ 

In accordance with these biblical motifs, therefore, the hero begins his 
heavenly voyage when the sun shines at its brightest. In Convivio, in fact, Dante 

"Eduxit autem eos foras in Bethaniam, et elevatis manibus suis benedixit eis. Et factum 
est, dum benediceret illis, recessit ab eis, et ferebatur in caelum." ("He then led them out 
to Bethany, and he blessed them with uplifted hands. And it happened that, as he was 
blessing them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven." (Luke 24:50) 

168 Dino S. Cervigni 

writes that the sun symbolizes God most worthily (CV 3:12.7). Thus in the 
Comedy the sun stands in sharpest contrast with Hell's darkness and symbolizes 
divine guidance (Purg. 13:16-21; 22:61) and even Christ (Par. 23:29). 

In accordance with these biblical motifs, their exploitation by Dante the 
poet, and classical myths as well, the mythos of summer, and its corresponding 
genre, romance, are best suited to illustrate Dante's Paradiso!^^ 

Summer in fact is the season of the most intense heat and (together with 
spring) of brightest light. In Paradiso, light is the motif, which often assumes 
symbolic meaning, that Dante the poet exploits the most to describe Heaven, the 
saints and angels, and God himself (Par. 33:124-26; etc.). Summer brings about 
heat, warmth, and fertility, which likewise play a fijndamental role in the 
mythological rendition of Dante's Heaven, just as we read in St. Bernard's 
prayer to the Blessed Virgin (Par. 33:7-12). 

Just as the mythos of summer best describes the Dantean hero's ascent to 
Heaven, so romance is the most appropriate genre for the hero's paradisal 
experience, according to what we read in the Epistle to Can Grande as well 
(13:31). By contrast, with its denial of light, freezing cold, but also burning fire, 
Hell, which the hero has left behind, is best represented by winter. Mount 
Purgatory appears suffused by a constant alternation of night and day from its 
seashore to its Edenic mountaintop. Thus the genre of romance, the idealized 
world of the successful quest, and the mythos of summer, the highest 
manifestation of warmth and luminosity, best explain the last phase of the 
Dantean hero's voyage. 

For in Dante's Paradiso the hero has left behind conflict or agon and he 
now experiences a ftill understanding of himself and the world he aspires to 
attain permanently. Such an experience Frye calls anagnorisis, "or recognition 
of a newborn society rising in friumph around a still somewhat mysterious hero 
and his bride" (Anatomy of Criticism 192). In fact, always according to Frye and 
in harmony with my elaboration, "the quest-romance is the victory of fertility 
over the waste land," where "redeemed paternal figures are involved too" (193), 
as the case is with the Dantean Cacciaguida, whose encounter with his offspring 
occupies the central cantos of the Paradiso (15-18)."*' 

■^^ Less frequent than in the first two canticas, the classical myths in Paradiso, such as 
those involving flight or journey, redress their negative employment in Inferno. Thus in 
Paradiso, just as in Inferno, pagan myths may assume a parodic twist, as Frye suggests, 
for instance, in regard to Marsyas {Par. 1:20-21) and Glaucus (Par. 1:67-69): the first 
flayed alive for challenging Apollo to a contest in playing the flute, and the second turned 
into a sea-god for eating a miraculous grass. As Frye remarks, "the touch of grotesquerie 
in the same images still keeps a hint of negative analogy or demonic parody, their 
original context in the Christian view" {Words with Power 146): in my view, much more 
so in the case of Marsyas and much less so in the case of Glaucus. 
*^ It has become clear, by now, that certain elements of Frye's mythos of romance 
overlap with his conception of comedy. For Frye, in fact, it is romance that comes the 

Dante's Judeo-Christian Mytho-Poiesis 169 

Inhabited by God, the saints, and the angels, Dante's heaven belongs in 
what Frye calls the "apocalyptic world," or "heaven of religion," which presents 
"the categories of reality in the forms of human desire, as indicated by the forms 
they assume under the work of human civilization" {Anatomy of Criticism 141). 
Accordingly, Dante's Paradiso develops, visually, intellectually, and 
metaphorically, the forms imposed by human work and desire. Through a 
process of transformation, the vegetable world becomes "the garden, the farm, 
the grove, or the park"; the animal world becomes "a world of domesticated 
animals, of which the sheep has a traditional priority in both Classical and 
Christian metaphor"; finally, the "human form of the mineral world, the form 
into which human work transforms stone, is the city." Thus, "The city, the 
garden, and the sheepfold are the organizing metaphors of the Bible and most 
Christian symbolism" {Anatomy of Criticism 141). Dante's Heaven is the ideal 
city {Par. 30:130), the locus amoenus par excellence, where the saints and 
angels are the eternally blooming flowers {Par. 26:110; 23:71; 31:97; 32:39, 
etc.), and the holiest of all holy sheepfolds {Par. 10:94). 

In his attempt to create a poetic means capable of expressing the idealized 
form of spiritual reality he envisions in his Paradiso, Dante the poet exploits 
gazing, the most frequent verb in the Comedy, most dramatically in the third 
cantica. Here every saint, every angel, and finally the hero himself will fix his 
gaze upon God, as he does most intensely and dramatically in the instant that 
brings the hero's quest to its highest culmination: 

Quella circulazion che si concetta 
pareva in te come lume reflesso, 
da li occhi miei alquanto circunspetta, 

dentro da se, del suo colore stesso, 
mi parve pinta de la nostra effige: 
per che '1 mio viso in lei tutto era messo. 

Qual e '1 geometra che tutto s'affige 
per misurar lo cerchio, e non ritrova, 
pensando, quel principio ond'elli indige, 

closest to "the wish-flilfillment dream" (186), "a search for some kind of imaginative 
golden age in time or space" (186), the end-result of "the successful quest" (187), which 
we can easily see in the hero's ascent into heaven. Having situated the previous stages of 
the hero's quest, agon or conflict, and pathos or death-struggle, within the earlier phases 
of the Dantean hero's journey, he thus attains an unblemished, albeit temporary, bliss in 
Paradiso, a felicitous moment holding the Christian promise, which entails certitude, of 
becoming eternity. Romance is also characterized by that aspect of art that Frye calls high 
mimetic, in which "The central episodic theme of the high mimetic is the theme of 
cynosure or centripetal gaze, which, whether addressed to mistress, friend, or deity, 
seems to have something about it of the court gazing upon its sovereign, the court-room 
gazing upon the orator, or the audience gazing upon the actor" (Frye 58). The centripetal 
gaze characterizes all the saints, angels, and finally also the hero in the Dantean Paradise. 

170 Dino S. Cervigni 

tal era io a quella vista nova: 
veder voleva come si convenne 
r imago al cerchio e come vi s'indova; 

ma non eran da cio le proprie penne: 
se non che la mia mente fu percossa 
da un fulgore in che sua voglia venne. 

(That circling that, thus conceived, 
appeared in you as reflected light, 
by my eyes contemplated for a while, 

within itself, of its own color, 
seemed to me painted with our effigy, 
wherefore my sight was wholly absorbed in it. 

As is the geometer who wholly sets himself 
to measure the circle, and finds not, 
thinking, the principle that he needs; 

such was I at that new sight: 
I wanted to see how the image conformed 
with the circle and has its placed therein; 

but not for this were my own wings; 
save that my mind was smitten 
by a flash wherein its will came to it.) 

(Par 33:127-41) 

Thus the hero attains his highest desire, and his quest and the poet's narrative 
are concluded. 

Dante's Comedy, however, is open-ended. The Pilgrim must now return to 
earth, resume his earthly itinerary, and strive for that closure that will, hopeflilly 
and providentially, lead him once again to that blissful condition that he has 
glimpsed only momentarily in Paradiso 33. 

7. Conclusion 

This essay has sought to show, albeit briefly, how Dante the poet unfolds in his 
oeuvre the all-comprehensive Judeo-Christian myth of the twofold beginning 
(that of primordial innocence and that of innocence regained), fall, renewal, and 
sublimation, appropriating and transforming ancient, classical, biblical, and 
contemporary myths. I have thus proposed a composite approach, based on 
Frye's criticism, that incorporates several critical perspectives, from historical to 
religious, ethical, archetypal, and rhetorical criticism. 

The critical caveat I have presented at the beginning of this essay needs 
repeating. Insofar as no single approach can possibly do justice to Dante's 
oeuvre in its totality, Frye's criticism, no matter how fertile, needs to be 
developed in conjunction with other critical perspectives as well. In fact, I have 
sought throughout to employ Frye's approach not as an end in itself but at the 
service of the fourfold Christian myth that, as an all-encompassing master 
narrative, pervades the totality of Dante's oeuvre by incorporating into a 

Dante's Judeo-Christian Mytho-Poiesis 171 

coherent narrative structure ancient and medieval myths. I have also at times 
sought to show how Frye's criticism can be yoked with such approaches as Paul 
Ricoeur's phenomenological analysis, Mircea Eliade's anthropological and 
cultural studies, and M. M. Bakhtin's composite criticism as outlined in The 
Dialogic Imagination. I have also indicated how Dante's fourfold Judeo- 
Christian myth can be expounded from totally different critical perspectives, 
such as the one based on a rhetorical exploitation of words, names, and silence 
that 1 have begun to outline in my essays on Lucifer and Beatrice's act of 
naming on the purgatorial mountaintop. 

The composite approach developed in this essay may also help better 
understand such fundamental issues as the genre to which Dante's Comedy 
belongs. Although the author of the Epistle to Can Grande, whether Dante 
himself or somebody else closely attuned to his poetics, explains the title in 
terms of comedy as it is traditionally understood, Dante's masterpiece can 
hardly be explained exclusively on the basis of one genre. This essay, by 
contrast, seeks to explain the Comedy as a work that comprises all the literary 
genres characteristic of western literature since its inception, from tragedy and 
satire to comedy and romance, thereby providing also a rhetorical frame of 
reference for Dante's oeuvre in its totality. The analysis I have developed, 
therefore, can proceed, back and forth, from an in-depth, or vertical, research of 
a specific myth, e.g., Lucifer, Hercules, or Orpheus, to a horizontal perspective 
aimed at situating the same myth within the totality of the hero's quest and 
Dante's oeuvre. 

One may wonder, finally, to what extent this composite approach, and 
Frye's criticism in particular, can render justice to the Comedy'?, profoundly felt 
sense of justice and reconstruction of an ethical, moral world. In Anatomy of 
Criticism Frye derives the meaning of his ethical concern from the word's Greek 
origin, understanding by it what pertains to the ethos, or character, of the 
individual, apart from any truly ethical or moral framework. Moving slightly 
beyond this secular approach, in Words with Power Frye analyzes the ftinction 
of what he calls, with Greek words, kerygma and kerygmatic, namely, prophecy 
and prophetic. Within this context Frye remarks that the kerygmatic writing 
requires a "mythical and metaphorical basis" (116), in line with his critical 
approach. One can also accept, I believe, that the kerygmatic is what we 
"identify with" and helps address the concern of those who ask: "'How do I live 
a more abundant life?'" (116). Frye then goes on to say that Dante and 
Shakespeare '"do not attempt to provide the dimension of a model-myth, with its 
program for reordering the direction of one's life" (Words with Power 117), a 
thesis that may be acceptable for Shakespeare but not necessarily for Dante. 

Unquestionably, in fact, Dante the poet makes it clear time and again that he 
takes his fourfold Judeo-Christian myth very seriously. The quest of the hero, 
who remains nameless throughout Vita nuova and who is first unnamed {Inf. 1- 
34 - Purg. 1-29) and then Christened again {Purg. 30-31) in the Comedy, 

172 Dino S. Cervigni 

ultimately transcends totally the search journey of classical and even medieval 
literature. In fact, emblematic of every individual's life, the Dantean hero's 
quest is also kerygmatic in its biblical sense: namely, it is truly prophetic of the 
destiny that the individual and society as a whole are called upon to pursue in 
this life and to enjoy eternally in the next, according to Dante's deeply feh 
Christianity. Thus God's myth, as it has reached humankind through the Bible 
and history, has never had a more faithful servant and a greater poetic genius. 

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 

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Rebecca S. Beal 

Ending in the Middle: Closure, Openness, 

i& Signnlcance in Embedded Medieval Narratives 

During the past half century, critical debate about how narratives end and the 
meaning of those endings has become increasingly vexed. The flashpoint is, of 
course, the issue of literary closure. While many critics would agree with 
Barbara Hermstein Smith's definition of closure as the "effect of finality, 
resolution, and stability at the end of a poem" ("Closure" 22), not all would 
agree with her that closure is "a generally valued quality" ("Closure" 22).' 
While Smith praises closure for enabling a reader to experience a poem as a 
highly organized sequence with a unique design {Poetic Closure 2), Umberto 
Eco indicts the closural ending for imposing "a range of rigidly preestablished 
and ordained interpretive solutions . . . [that] . . . never allow the reader to move 
outside the strict control of the author" (6). More recent critical writings have 
rejected authorial intention, and hence control; nevertheless, it is precisely the 
authority claimed by the ending, an authority vested in inimical historical 
contexts and patriarchal power structures, that renders closure and narrative 
itself so pernicious to many feminist readers.' Thus, Alison Booth writes, "Not 
only does closure . . . always appear duplicitous, but novelistic endings also have 
seldom been anything more than double or binary choices for most female 
characters. . . . free play appears to end for the objects of representation" (2).^ 

' The poet Donald Revel! states emphatically: "All closure is repression" (qtd. Torgersen 
23); more temperately, but in accord with Revell, Ira Sadoff writes, "a poem that solves 
or resolves feels to me — living at the end of this century — in some way to violate an 
historical truth" (13). 

^ De Lauretis, for instance, critiques narrative as yet another oppressive construction of a 
patriarchal society that must be mistrusted and rewritten (esp. 192-93). Friedman 
identifies the (female) lyric mode as disrupting the (patriarchal) power of narrative, and 
so subsuming the latter's linear direction into a circular timelessness (165). On this issue 
see also DuPlessis. In medieval scholarship, the view of closure as repressive has led to 
some very interesting readings of poetry that does not fall into such a category. Most 
recently, Rosemarie McGerr has studied Chaucer's "open endings" as emerging against 
larger cultural pressures. From a very different perspective, David Wallace views the 
ending of The Clerk 's Prologue and Tale, more open than its Petrarchan source, as a 
vernacular translation dynamically confronting entrenched traditions of Petrarchan 
humanism inscripted with Visconti repression ("'Whan She Translated Was'" 205) 
^ Booth does caution, however, that although narrative resolution is often aligned with 
repressive ideology, the converse is not necessarily true: "Recent studies of modernism, 

Annali d'ltalianistica 18 (2000) 

176 Rebecca S. Beal 

From critics who attack closure as repressive to those who question 
openness — Wayne Booth, for instance, denying the possibility of evading final 
resolution even for literature commonly classified as "open" — the range of 
critical perceptions concerning literary endings reflects, in part, assumptions 
regarding the nature of language. Derrida's meditations on language in 
"Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences," for instance, 
identify fixed, authoritative "presence" with the absent center or origin of 
discourse, the latter "a system in which the central signified, the original or 
transcendental signified is never absolutely present outside a system of 
differences" (Rice and Waugh 151-52). If we think of this authorizing "center" 
as typified, in literary works, by the closed ending, that moment when the design 
of the text is unveiled, much of the debate over closure becomes clearer, if still 
unresolved.'* Accordingly, a literary critic such as Peter Brooks, infiuenced by 
Derrida, reads the "shaping ends" (19) of narrative as always promising and ever 
evading authoritative meaning: "Any final authority claimed by narrative plots, 
whether of origin or end, is illusory. ... It is the role of fictional plots to impose 
an end which yet suggests a return, a new beginning, a rereading" (109).^ 

This revisioning of the ending has, however, further implications for endings 
in medieval narrative. Here texts seem obsessed with endings, not only moving 
toward a final, often conclusive resolution, but also returning repeatedly to "the 
end" before the end by means of intercalated narratives that themselves 
incorporate endings. In such structures the return, new beginning, and rereading 
characteristic of Brooksian versions of narratives are multiplied to dizzying 
extents, with closure and openness revised as well. 

This essay will visit the endings of three embedded narratives functioning at 
the border of openness and closure. These narratives successfully point toward 
final textual ends, even as they work as part of textual middles and, in their 
endings, negotiate textual beginnings, all the while playing with the significance 
which endings of traditional texts are thought to authorize. My examination of 

for instance, suggest that experimental technique can be well adjusted to reactionary 
politics" (9). 

'^ Prominent among dissenters to a negative view of closure are Wayne Booth, Peter 
Rabinowitz, and Terry Eagleton, each from a very different perspective. Booth not only 
denies that any literary work can be wholly open, but asserts that open works vary as to 
the nature, effect, and purpose of openness. Rabinowitz argues that even the perception 
of closure relies upon a reader's expectations, that these are directed by extrinsic matters 
such as critical reputation or the association of closure with certain periods or authors. 
Eagleton is most definite: "The idea that all closure is oppressive is both theoretically 
sloppy and politically unproductive. ... It is not a question of denouncing closure as 
such. . . But of discriminating between its more enabling and more disabling varieties" 

' Compare Gayatri Spivak on the impossibility of writing a preface because such an 
enterprise presupposes the possibility of writing an ending (xii); see also Leitch 253-55. 

Ending in the Middle in Embedded Medieval Narratives 1 77 

the tale of Narcissus from Guillaume de Lorris' Roman de la Rose, the discourse 
of Pier della Vigna from Dante's Inferno 13, and the speech of a metamorphosed 
Fileno in Boccaccio's Filocolo suggests the extent to which medieval narratives 
incorporate and forestall endings, in the process negotiating an intimate, 
symbiotic relationship between openness and closure. The three texts studied 
here practice openness and closure to different degrees; all, however, negotiate 
between a too rigid closure and an equally perilous lack of closure, while 
sometimes incorporating both. 

The sixty-eight lines of the Roman de la Rose's tale of Narcissus (1437- 
1504) combines a careftil design, an abundance of closural devices, and a 
startling openness. Here, when Amant finds the Fountain of Narcissus ("the 
Fountain of Love") and reads the dead boy's story, the tale's tripartite structure 
recalls the formulations of medieval treatises on poetry such as John of 
Garland's, which thought that an account should be "put straight ... in the mind" 
(53) before its unfolding in the middle and conclusion.^ The story thus begins 
with four lines of summary naming the protagonist, "Narcisus," his antagonist, 
"Amors," and the pains Love gives him, which lead to the death of Narcissus, 
"qu'il covint a rendre I'ame" (1441) ["so that he had to give up his soul" (50)].^ 
The narrative middle describes the process by which Narcissus comes to his end 
at the fountain: his proud and disdainful treatment of the highborn Lady Echo; 
her death resulting from his rejection and her prayer that Narcissus, too, might 
know the pain of unrequited love; the fulfillment of her prayer in his coming to 
the fountain to satisfy his thirst and his seeing there the face of a handsome 
youth. It ends with a series of four endings: apparently, closure with a 

The tale finally ends with an exemplum inveighing against ladies who 
misuse their lovers, the kind of ending medieval rhetoricians suggested could be 
applied when illuminating the content of the poem.* But in Guillaume's text, 
such an ending is anything but closural. To understand how curious this final but 
not conclusive termination is, we need to read his narrative middle quite 

^ My summary of the structure in three parts should be compared with David Hult's 
analysis of the episode as divided into five parts. His first part (1423-36), what he labels, 
the "mise-en-scene," is concerned with the description of the fountain and its setting. I do 
not include it in my analysis of the narrative. We are generally in accord as to the next 
parts, though I combine the episodes of Echo and Narcissus as the "middle" and also 
combine into "conclusion" the parts that he divides into brief summary and moral 
application (269). 

^ The Old French of Guillaume's Roman de la Rose is from Lecoy's edition, with 
translations by Dahlberg. 

* Thus the short Documentum of Geoffrey of Vinsauf notes, "An ending is taken from an 
exemplum, namely, when about to say something taken at the end of the matter we do not 
say that but we bring in something similar from which we draw understanding" 
(Documentum 95-96). 

178 Rebecca S. Beal 

carefully, especially in view of the marked dissonance between its two halves 
and their different explanations of Narcissus' ending. As the introduction to the 
first half strongly suggests, the reason for the death of Narcissus, and hence the 
ending of his tale, may be found in the account of Echo's demise: 

car Equo, une haute dame, 

I'avoit ame plus que rien nee, 

et fu por lui si mal menee 

qu'ele dit que 11 11 donroit 

s'amor ou ele se mouroit. (1442-46) 
[For Echo, a great lady, had loved him more than anything born, and was so ill-used on 
his account that she told him that she would die if he did not give her his love.] 

Echo's story, itself a little narrative boxed within the narrative of Narcissus, 
mimics the form of Narcissus' tale in major respects. Just as five lines of 
summary introduce Narcissus's story, so five summary lines introduce Echo's 
tale; each summary opens with a name and gender reference ("Narcisus fii uns 
demoisiaus"/"Equo, une haute dame"); each ends by mentioning the lover's 
death ("qu'il li covint a rendre rame"/"ou ele se mouroit"). In between, the 
summaries link the deaths to love and the lover's speech. Thus while Narcissus' 
end is preceded by complaints and laments ("le fist plorer et plaindre"). Echo's 
is preceded by her petition to Narcissus asking for his love: "ele dit que il li 
donroit/s'amor." Both form and content emphasize a narrative tie between Echo 
and Narcissus, a tie continually stressed until the end of Echo's story, where 
instead of announcing her death, her narrative returns to the moments beforehand 
to record her prayer to God that Narcissus, too, might experience the pain of 
unrequited love. The end of Echo's narrative, like its beginning and middle, link 
her causally to the next sequence of the narrative, to Narcissus and his end at the 

In the second half of the narrative middle, as Narcissus and the fountain 
come to the fore. Echo's role is effaced. Although the section begins with a line 
glossing Echo's prayer as "resnable" (1465) ["reasonable"] and a couplet 
stressing the link between Echo's prayer and Narcissus's approach to the 
fountain where he dies ["por ce la fits Dex estable;/ que Narcisus ... a la 
fontaine . . . se vint" (1466-67, 1468, 1469)], thus apparently forming a causal 
link between the two sections, the first nine lines of the second half problematize 
the reason for Narcissus' coming to the fountain. First "Dex" ["God"] — and, by 
implication. Echo's prayer — is cited as the reason, but immediately after the 
text ascribes his coming to "aventure" (1467). The greater part of the section 
introducing his approach to the fountain (1467-75), however, attributes his 
motivation to bodily appetites associated with physical labor; he has been 
hunting, suffering "grant traval" (1471) and is consequently oppressed by thirst, 
heat and fatigue: "tant qu'il ot soif por I'asprete/ dou chaut et por la lassete/ qui 
li ot tolue I'alaine" (1473-75) ["he was very thirsty, what with the fierce heat and 

Ending in the Middle in Embedded Medieval Narratives 1 79 

the fatigue that had left him out of breath" (50)]. Having moved down a 
metaphysical chain of causation from God to "aventure" to physical appetite, the 
narrative tells Narcissus' approach to the fountain in three lines: "Et quant il vint 
a la fontaine/ que li pins de ses rains covroit,/ ilec pensa que il bevroit" (1476- 
78) ["and when he saw the fountain, covered by the branches of the pine, he 
thought that there he would drink" (50)]. Thus, by the time the text enters the 
middle of the second half, Echo's role, so important in the first half, is displaced 
in favor of Narcissus' appetite-motivated approach to the fountain. 

The two halves of the narrative middle, then, are in such disharmony that 
any finish would find it difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile them. For, while 
focusing on Narcissus at the fountain, the narrative has removed any sense of 
Echo's agency in Narcissus' end and thus obviated the need for the first half 
The ability to make sense of the narrative, to interpret — a feature crucial to a 
closed ending — is a problem which becomes ever more prominent as the the 
end of this narrative approaches and the reader finds not one, but four endings 
lying in wait, each with its own reading of the narrative middle. 

In its first ending, the most closural, the text attempts to settle Narcissus' 
accounts formally in eight lines. Whereas the previous lines had underscored his 
approach to the fountain ["a la fontaine . . . se vinf (1468-69); "il vint a la 
fontaine" (1476); "Sus la fontaine . . . se mist" (1479-80)], these final lines finish 
that movement through a fourth and last mention of the fountain with Narcissus, 
through his gaze, caught in it: "qu'il musa tant en la fontaine" (1491) ["he mused 
so long at the fountain" (50)]. The text winds up his life by connecting his look 
into the fountain to his death through the middle term of his loving the shadow 
he sees there. A summary couplet, "si en fu morz a la parclouse,/ c'est la some 
de ceste chose" ["(he) died of his love in the end. This was the outcome of the 
affair" (50-51)] underlines the closural nature of these lines, since a reader could 
hardly ask for vocabulary more indicative of narrative finality: "morz" ("death"), 
"parclouse" ("end" or "last word"), and "some" ("sum"). 

The first conclusion also closes the tale thematically, for it works to correct 
Echo's erasure and explain Narcissus' misreading of his image in the water, 
thereby creating a coherent and hence "closed" account. Thus the text invites a 
retrospective evaluation of Narcissus's death in light of the introduction to the 
narrative, which identified Amors as the antagonist of Narcissus. The avenging 
Amors is seen as the god ["Dex"] to whom Echo prayed, and an explicit 
connection is made between the process by which Narcissus looked, mused, 
loved and died in the second half of the narrafive and his earlier pride in his own 
beauty, now referred to as his "grant orguil et . . . dangler" (1491). Echo, or at 
least the god to whom she prayed, is reintroduced and the text's reader can see it 

But the narrative is not finished. Instead, a second conclusion immediately 
shifts a reading of the whole from the revenge of Amors back to Narcissus, 
whose death is now identified as the outcome of a psychological process 

1 80 Rebecca S. Real 

originating in unsatisfied desire. This process is recounted in a grammar 
underscoring his undoing, negation by negation: 

Car quant il vit qu'il ne porroit 

acomplir ce qu'il desiroit 

et qu'il estoit si pris par fort 

qu'il ne porroit avoir comfort 

en nule fin ne en nul sen, 

11 perdi d'ire tot le sen 

et fu morz en poi de termine. ( 1 495-1 501; emphasis added) 
[For when he saw that he could not accomplish his desire and that he was captured so 
inescapably that he could in no way take any comfort, he became so distressed that he 
lost his reason and died in a short time. (51)] 

Like the first, this second closing invites a reappraisal of the whole narrative, but 
from the perspective of this different end the tale takes on a different meaning. 
Instead of focusing on Narcissus' death as merited, this finish reformulates his 
end in terms of frustrated desire. If the previous eight lines describe the young 
man's looking into the pool and subsequent death as Amors 's reward for pride, 
this ending rereads that death in terms of Narcissus and what he "sees" after 
looking in the pool — his realization that he cannot achieve his desire. 

While Echo seems completely absent from this second conclusion, she 
shadows all of it. For in emphasizing the process by which Narcissus dies, the 
text repeats the way in which she died. Hence, the text describes the stages 
leading to Narcissus' end, casting the first stage of his death in terms of his sense 
of sight. Echo, too, at the same point in a similar movement toward death, 
receives a message of unrequited love through the senses, although she hears 
rather than sees: "Quant ele s'oi escondire" (1451) ["When she heard him 
refiase" (50)]. Each lover next experiences great emotional upset, a loss of 
reason, and, at last, death. After hearing Narcissus' denial of her request for his 
love, Echo becomes sad and upset; in effect she succumbs to emotion and dies. 
Similarly Narcissus sees that he can never fulfill his desire, loses his reason 
through anger and dies. Thus, if the first ending reads the young man's death as 
caused by his response to Echo, this one understands his death as a 
psychological process replicating hers. 

This second concluding passage treating Narcissus' end does not end his 
narrative either, however, for the text continues to a third though still not final 
conclusion, this one explicitly interpreting the death of Narcissus in terms of 
Echo: "Ensi si out de la meschine/ qu'il avoit devant escondite/ son guerredon et 
sa merite" (1502-4) ["Thus did he receive his deserved retribution from the girl 
whom he had scorned" (51)]. Yet again the text invites a rereading and 
reinterpretation of the earlier part of the text, for although the vocabulary echoes 
that of the first conclusion where Narcissus was well "guerredone" by the god of 
Love (1490) for his "Grant orguil" (1488), this conclusion finishes by 

Ending in the Middle in Embedded Medieval Narratives 1 8 1 

constructing Echo (the "meschine") as giver of payment for her vassal's behavior 
in exchange for his earher reftisal of her, whereas in the body of the text she is 
constructed as the subordinate who makes her suit to a figure more powerful 
because possessed of the ability to fulfill or deny it. 

It would be tidy but inaccurate to make these endings accord. To say, for 
instance, that these conclusions analyze the death of Narcissus at different levels 
of the medieval chain of being, with the first ascribing his death to the god of 
Love, the second to his own loss of "sen" or reason, and the third to Echo; or 
that at the same time each conclusion increasingly corrects the erasure of Echo 
from the text, with Echo completely absorbed into the abstract concept of Amors 
in the first conclusion, more present as Narcissus reenacts the process by which 
she dies, and finally most immediate as "la meschine." Such readings would 
gloss over the fact that each ending asks its reader to reread the text as a whole, 
to see it from successively different perspectives that are not entirely in accord. 
The three conclusions overlap largely in that all use the conclusion as a moment 
to evaluate what happened to Narcissus at the fountain and to judge him 
negatively, whether as the one who receives just retribution, as one who denies 
reason, or as one who scorns a lady. 

But it is precisely this fragment of agreement among the first three endings' 
readings of Narcissus that leaves a reader unprepared for the final conclusion of 
the narrative. For the text finishes in an address to ladies which warns them 
against bad treatment of their lovers: "Dames, cest essample aprenez,/ qui vers 
vos amis mesprenez;/ car se vos les lessiez morir,/ Dex le vos savra bien merir" 
(1505-1508) ["You ladies who neglect your duties toward your sweethearts, be 
instructed by this exemplum, for if you let them die, God will know how to repay 
you well for your fault" (51).] In this moral, the one fact agreed on by the earlier 
conclusions, that a culpable male lover died, now twists itself into a lesson for 
women about mistreating men. The fact that in the body of the tale it is the lady 
who is scorned and who obtains justice from God is suppressed as the moral 
reverses the gender roles of the narrative to make its point; now female lovers 
who mistreat their lovers are told to take this example to heart and know that if 
they let these "amis" die, God will know how to repay them. The exemplum does 
not work, although it has lured readers of the text as careftil as Felix Lecoy into 
taking it at face value.^ Rhetoricians would point out that the exemplum does 
not serve as a source of understanding for the narrative as it should. Rather, its 
meaning is subverted before it can even be framed by a text whose previous 
endings together wrest all logic and hence authority from this final interpretation 
of the tale. 

^ Thus, comparing Guillaume's narrative with Ovid's version: "chez Ovide . . . I'aventure 
ne joue pas le role d'un avertissement, d'un exemplum destine a inviter les dames a plus 
de douceur a I'egard de leurs amoureux" (274n 1437- 1508). 

182 Rebecca S. Beal 

How then do we understand this multiplicity, this superabundance of 
endings, themselves emerging from a narrative concerned with ending, death, 
and interpretation? If these endings resist concordance and hence closure, they 
nevertheless disclose something about closure itself The final ending which 
interprets the narrative as exemplum is an example of overdetermined closure 
imposed authoritatively — one peril for literary endings. By contrast, the 
example of the unsuccessful reader within the narrative, that is Narcissus, argues 
that a lack of closure is every bit as fatal to a text as too much of it. For 
Narcissus "sees" more than his own shadow; he "sees" himself as incapable of 
achieving closure, of inhabiting a narrative which is all desire and no 
completion, as we have read in the lines quoted above (1495-51). 

David Hult has pointed out that those things which Narcissus sees he cannot 
do are associated with closure, starting with "acomplir," semantically and 
figuratively associated with finishing or completion, to "en nul fin," literally 
"end" (296): "Thus ... the reason for Narcissus's death is in some way related to 
an impasse of closure" (296)."' I would go further to say that his death is implicit 
in the juxtaposition of a lack of "fin" with a lack of "sen" — closure and 
meaning — in line 1499: no final closure, and thus no complete meaning. Here, 
when the desiring subject can find no possibility of finding adequate closure and 
hence meaning in the narrative which he sees as his life, he dies "en poi de 
termine": in a short time. Hence, the narrative is cut short. 

Thus, the narrative, like the lover, must avoid both complete openness and 
premature closure, even as it utilizes the closural devices promulgated by 
medieval rhetoricians — the multiple ending, the recapitulation or summary, the 
exemplum, the address to one's audience." In the hands of a writer like 
Guillaume, these techniques converge to undo closure as well as to enable his 
larger narrative to move on toward it. 

Fittingly enough, the succeeding adventures of Amant steer among these 
dangers, and most explicitly avoid the mortal ("fatal") sin of Narcissus, despair 

'° While I am indebted to Hull's careful reading of the Narcissus tale, I am less persuaded 
by his argument that the problems concerning Narcissus and closure in these lines find an 
answer in the summary of Narcissus death found seventy lines later and after the 
announced end of the narrative (see esp. 296-99). 

" For a "multiple ending," see Matthew of Vendome's conclusion to his Ars 
versificatoria, though he previously defines poetic conclusion first in terms of content 
and form (105), and afterward with examples of endings taken from Latin authors, a list 
summarized by Murphy as "recapitulation, petition for favor, apology for the work, pleas 
for glory, presentation of thanks, praise of God, and abrupt ending" (167). The short 
Documentum ascribed to Geoffrey of Vinsauf describes endings as coming "either from 
the body of the matter, or from a proverb, or from an exemplum" (95), a discussion 
echoed in John of Garland, who urges writers to fashion conclusions matching the 
content of the discourse, whether through "recapitulation," "an example which contains a 
similitude," "a proverb," or through technical vocabulary (89). 

Ending in the Middle in Embedded Medieval Narratives 1 83 

of finding closure in life. My reference to despair, of course, comes ultimately 
from Christian moral theology. This theology is appropriated by the Rose in the 
conversation between Amors and Amant that occurs after Amant has himself 
looked into the well of Narcissus, submitted to Amors, and heard what great 
tribulations lovers undergo. At this point he asks how it is possible to live even 
one year, given such suffering (2579-80). Amors explains that the lover will 
have Esperance or Hope as his primary ally. It is Hope who enables even the 
most desperate prisoner to survive, anticipating a favorable outcome: "Esperance 
confort li livre,/ et se cuide voir delivre/ encor par aucune cheance" (2601-03) 
["Hope brings him comfort, and he always thinks that some change will see him 
free" (67)]. In explicitly contrasting itself to the lack of "confort" obtained by the 
desperate Narcissus, the text links hope with the expectation of "proper" closure, 
a link made even more apparent as Amant replies to Reason. Reason, of course, 
is antagonistic to Amors, and thus argues that most lovers fail to achieve the 
desired end. Says Amant: "'Je me veil loer ou blasmer/ au daerrain de bien 
aimer'" (3077-78) ["i want to be praised or blamed, at the end, for having loved 
well'"]. While already anticipating an end to his own narrative, he views this end 
as an outcome analogous to a Christian teleology, with rewards distributed to the 
faithful on a final day of judgment, which evaluates as much as stops the 

But closure is not simply a matter of reward (i.e., gaining the Rose, gaining 
eternity, getting to the end) but of belief and desire that in turn enables the 
narrative to move forward. Though this narrative's "day of judgment" remains 
beyond the limits of the Rose, unfinished at Guillaume's death, the lover's 
adventures which remain are sustained by Esperance, the motivating power in his 
movement toward the never-completed fulfillment of his quest. 

Assimilated into this forward movement, the ending of an inset narrative 
such as the tale of Narcissus differs from the final closure of the overarching 
narrative in its temporary, provisional nature. It cannot provide an unambiguous 
evaluation of the narrative it finishes because it must open up to the larger 
narrative. To the degree it remains open, however, it establishes itself as a source 
of continuation instead of termination, and yet in that very openness anticipates 
and so confirms and helps to close the final ending. 

This process may be traced elsewhere. Dante's Commedia, which like 
Guillaume's Rose describes a hopefijl lover moving toward his beloved, also 
draws the inset narrative into the movement of the larger narrative, with the lover 
moving through a landscape showing how souls fare after their death and, 
especially in Inferno and Paradiso, what kind of closure they have already 

Take for instance Inferno 13. The setting of Pier della Vigna's story stages 
radical closure and openness in its presentation of a suicide transformed into a 
thombush, his narrative and its affective power barred from disclosure except as 
the bush is torn open. So when Dante the Pilgrim, at Vergil's urging, breaks a 

184 Rebecca S. Beal 

branch, the thombush cries out, afterwards revealing himself in two speeches, 
one careflilly closed and following classical models, the other unfinished. The 
first answers Vergil's request that Piero tell who he was. In fact the speech 
reveals Pier della Vigna's attempt to construct himself and demonstrate his 
autonomy as a self-creating agent. But Piero's design is frustrated by Vergil's 
next questions, which break open Piero's discourse in a move paralleling the 
earlier breaking off of Piero's twig. At this point Piero is forced into openness 
and a different self-disclosure 

Piero's first speech (13:55-78) is geared to defend him against the charge of 
disloyalty to Emperor Frederick II. It operates as a completed oration, its parts 
generally corresponding to the parts of the speech labelled in Cicero's De 
inventione as exordium, narrative, partition, confirmation, reftitation, and 
peroration, though the middle parts are less clearly defined than the opening 
exordium and the closing peroration.'^ Piero's first tercet commenting on the 
sweetness of Vergil's words and his own consequent desire to speak (13:55-57) 
follows the standard teaching regarding the exordium, that it bring "the mind of 
the orator into a proper condition to receive the rest of the speech" (Cicero, 
1.14.20). Similarly, the last two tercets of the speech follow Cicero's 
prescription for a conclusion. The speech winds up first with a summary 
contained in Piero's oath by his transformed self that '"gia mai non ruppi fede / 

'^ The middle five tercets of the speech (13:58-72) illustrate, albeit sketchily, the central 
four sections of the speech, with the bulk of the passage, the next four tercets, recounting 
Piero's service as imperial counsellor, in his zeal losing "sonni e' polsi" {Inf. 13:63), and 
his enemy Envy who brings him down, a narrative which indeed provides an "exposition 
of events that have occurred" (Cicero 1.19.27) and which counters an accusation of 
betrayal with an assertion of loyal devotion as well as an attack on the real culprits, 
courtiers grouped and personified as the whore Envy {Inf. 13:64-69). Implicit in these 
four tercets is the partition. According to Cicero, one form of the partition illustrates both 
the degree to which the speaker agrees with the opposition, and "what is left in dispute" 
(1.22.31). Clearly enough, the description of Envy's deeds indicates Piero's conviction 
that the emperor's court was infiltrated, and Frederick betrayed. Unlike his accusers, 
Piero blames Envy for polluting the court. The fifth tercet of the narrafive middle (13:70- 
72) proceeds to an account of Piero della Vigna's suicide, an act represented as the act of 
a person who was just until that moment and who became unjust because of that self- 
inflicted act of violence. Here, briefly, the speech incorporates confirmation and 
refutation, the former being "the part of the oration which by marshalling arguments 
lends credit, authority, and support to our case" (Cicero 1.23, 34) as well as a refutation 
of those who believed that his suicide was an admission of guilt. According to Cicero, 
confirmation should be supported by attributes of persons or of actions. In describing his 
suicide as a moral action, Piero uses both his defining action and his motivation to 
confirm his innocence with regard to Frederick, even as he admits having been unjust to 
himself "ingiusto fece me contra me giusto'" {Inf 13:72). For a different reading of Pier 
della Vigna's proclaimed faithfiilness to the emperor, see Martinez's and Curling's 

Ending in the Middle in Embedded Medieval Narratives 1 85 

al mio segnor'" {Inf. 13:74-75), and second it combines the last two elements 
Cicero identified with the peroration, "the indignatio or exciting of indignation . 
. . against the opponent" (1.51.98) and ''conquestio or the arousing of pity and 
sympathy" (1.51.98). Piero thus ends by personifying his "'memoria'" {Inf. 
13:77), fame, describing her as still lying where the villainous Envy attacked and 
left her, and imploring Dante the Pilgrim's help in comforting her. By 
dramatizing his loss of fame as a crime against an iimocent woman, Piero both 
rouses his audience against his antagonist Envy and moves Dante the Pilgrim to 
speechless sympathy, an emotional reaction figured in the text when Dante 
cannot even ask Piero a question, such is his "'pieta'" {Inf. 13:84). 

As an oration, this first speech {Inf. 13:55-78) is complete, self-contained; 
its implicit message is to represent Piero as guided by the rational powers of the 
soul, not least in the opening tercet's description of the soul as lured by Vergil's 
'"dolce dir'" (55) to engage in a discourse, '"a ragionar'" (57). Piero's following 
words continue the emphasis on his use of intellect. In treating his fall from 
Frederick's grace, he paints himself as an active, thinking, speaking, faith- 
keeping agent, his agency and engagement emphasized by abundant first-person 
pronouns and verbs: four variations on "io" (56, 57, 58, 63) and seven variations 
of "me" or "mio" (55, 67, 70, twice in 72, 75, 77), as well as first person verbs. 
Similarly, Piero's "actions" are mental ones, whether he is holding the keys of 
Frederick's heart, withstanding the forces of the envious through "L'animo mio," 
or keeping faith with his glorious office and lord. 

Even the account of his suicide, an "injustice" against the body, is 
represented as an abstract process in which the mind becomes both agent and 
object: "'L'animo mio, per disdegnoso gusto,/ credendo col morir ftiggir 
disdegno,/ ingiusto fece me contra me giusto'" (13:70-72). In these lines, the 
only ones in this first speech alluding to his suicide, he presents himself first as 
rational agent ("'L'animo mio'") and last as a just one ('"me giusto'"), anxious 
to explain motivation ('"credendo"') and acting purely at the mental level. Piero 
never describes the blow by which he committed suicide; instead, the one literal 
blow registered is delivered by envy against fame ("memoria"): '"la memoria 
mia, che giace / ancor del colpo che 'nvidia le diede'" (13:77-78). All violence 
in this speech seemingly occurs at the level of abstract mental qualities. Piero's 
first speech, in sum, constructs the speaker's persona entirely by references to 
intellectual faculties, entirely effacing the body against which he employed 
violence in a vain attempt to justify himself before Dante the Pilgrim and, 
ultimately, the lord who cast him out. 

But Dante's poem does not leave Piero to the rhetorical closure he desires. 
Thus, six lines after the first speech, Vergil asks Piero to explain how the souls 
of the wood come to be changed into thombushes and whether any will ever be 
freed. Such a question disrupts the formal unity of Piero's earlier speech, but it 
enables his discourse to have a different kind of structure, forming instead a 
chronological narrative of the major events in suicide. So in the first speech he 

1 86 Rebecca S. Beal 

discusses the events leading up to his death; in the second speech, he treats what 
happened to him after death and ends with events yet to come. 

The stages of this narrative, however, are discontinuous. For the two 
speeches construct the suiciding self in quite different ways, so that Vergil's 
questions in the Commedia elicit from Piero a divided account corresponding to 
the sinner's unfinished and fragmented status as well as to his sin of suicide, with 
its division of soul from body. 

Accordingly, the second speech begins quite differently than the first, with 
its exordium. As Pier della Vigna responds a second time to Vergil, whose sweet 
words elicited Piero' s earlier discourse, the suicide is more brusque, saying only 
'"Brievemente sara risposto a voi'" (13:93), although this second speech will be 
longer than the first. Given the completed nature of the earlier speech, the 
fiillness of the self-representation Piero provides through it, his veiled irritation 
at being asked to speak again is understandable. But his response to Vergil — a 
figure so often identified in the Inferno with Reason — now signals a new 
approach to rhetorical form and to self-representation. By contrast to the first 
speech, the second speech is divided into unequal halves and uses rhetorical 
modes quite different from those dominating the first speech. Thus, the active 
protagonist of the first speech is transformed into the less individualized and 
more passive soul of the second speech. An emotionally engaging allegorical 
narrative gives way to a narrative that elicits from its audience none of the 
sympathy accorded to Piero after the first speech. Most importantly, the second 
half has no clear end, so that until a new adventure atfracts their attention, Dante 
the Pilgrim and Vergil wait for the thombush to say more, to finish. 

Answering Vergil's second query, Piero treats the fall of suicides into the 
seventh circle and their ultimate fate there, but his account is sfrangely at odds 
with the first half in its representation of the sinners guilty of suicide, including 
himself Now the lively engagement signaled in the first half through first person 
pronouns and verbs is reversed as Piero responds to Vergil's question by 
depicting the fate of a seemingly generic "anima feroce" (13:94), displaced from 
its body yet appropriating corporeal fijnction and weight. This soul in its 
materiality is quite unlike the "animo mio" presented in the description of 
Piero' s fall from Frederick's grace, for its fate is described in terms of its 
assocation with the material world, that very world from which it tore itself Like 
a grain of spelt, the soul is sown in "la settima foce" (13:96), a "mouth" where it 
is rerooted in the wood of the suicides, sprouting and growing, torn apart by 
harpies, and given grief and expression of that grief only as it exudes a quite 
material sap when it suffers violence to its material form. 

Not until the last two tercets of this second speech, when considering his 
fijture, does Piero describe himself in the first person. However, the pronoun 
used is, strikingly, the first person plural: 

Ending in the Middle in Embedded Medieval Narratives 1 87 

-r i".'. "Come I'altre verrem per nostre spoglie, 
ma non pero ch'alcuna sen rivesta, 
che non e giusto aver cio ch'om si toglie. 
',. Qui le strascineremo, e per la mesta 

selva saranno i nostri corpi appesi, 
ciascuno al prun de I'ombra sua molesta." 

Inf. 13:103-08 

Unlike the Piero who portrayed himself as so actively standing against the Envy- 
inflamed mob of the court, this Piero ends as part of a collective. Like the others 
he too will retrieve his sinned-against body and finally hang it on the thorny 
shadow-bush of his soul. 

In just one line does the Piero of this speech construct himself — as he did 
in the first half — as a reasoning agent. Thus he renders a judgment — '"non e 
giusto aver cio ch'om si toglie'" (13:105) — offering a final evaluation of his 
condition and deriving an authoritative ending from that perspective. But the 
impersonal statement of moral evaluation seems oddly removed fi^om his own 
experience, especially given his earlier impassioned and involved self- 
assessment, '"L'animo mio . . . ingiusto fece me contra me giusto'" (70 . . . 72), 
which convincingly revealed the tangled imperatives of a mind struggling to 
understand where justice lies. 

In pointing out the disjunctures between Piero's two speeches I am pointing 
as well to a lack of closure. The second speech and its conclusion do not close 
off or make sense of the first; rather, it renders the whole account divided. Piero 
as rational soul is split from Piero as material body-like soul, and that polarity 
figures the final disjuncture or "end" of suicide, even though the act of suicide is 
itself a radically premature form of closure. Put another way, Piero chooses to 
commit suicide as a way of defining himself as "just" to those who doubted his 
probity, especially the Emperor Frederick, but his suicide leaves him eternally 
divided from himself, finally undisclosed and unknowable. 

For what indeed is Piero's end? His response to Vergil seems clear enough, 
and yet as critics from Boccaccio to Martinez and Durling have noted, Piero's 
account "departs from orthodoxy" (Martinez and Durling 2 15n 103-05) or seems 
to (Boccaccio, Esposizione Litterale, notes on Inf. 13:103-08) exactly at its 
"conclusion," when it tells what will happen to the bodies of the suicides on the 
Day of Judgment. In excepting the suicides fi-om the reintegration of souls with 
bodies at the Last Day, the text calls into question the doctrine of the 
resurrection which says that even the damned will regain their own bodies. 
Boccaccio's commentary, for instance, focuses precisely on the question of 
Dante's orthodoxy regarding the doctrine of the resurrection of the body and 
ends by averring that the error is Piero's, not Dante's, especially given the 
latter's other statements on the subject in Paradiso. For Boccaccio, Piero 
amounts to an unreliable narrator who indeed believes he will spend eternity 

188 Rebecca S. Seal 

separated from his body, his self-deception contributing to an increase in the 
severity of his punishment.'^ 

Whether or not Piero is reliable in his assessment of his end is not, 
however, simply a matter of the author's orthodoxy but rather a question of 
narrative authority. For if, as Peter Brooks (following Walter Benjamin) claims, 
"what we seek in narrative fictions is that knowledge of death which is denied to 
us in our own lives: the death that writes finis to the life and therefore confers on 
it its meaning" (22), surely Dante's tale, with its voices of the dead recounting 
their stories from beyond the grave, would offer a transparent example of such a 
knowledge of death and a sense of life as having organic unity.''' But the Piero 
episode suggests that the narratives of the dead in Inferno, voices speaking to a 
privileged wayfarer, are only partially authoritative, even though these dead are 

'^ Boccaccio analyzes Dante's presumed error in the following way. First he notes that 
poetic caution leads poets such as Vergil to put error into the mouth of a character while 
avoiding a direct statement of such error in their own voices. One could thus read Dante 
as following Vergil in having Piero deliver opinions contrary to truth. For Boccaccio, 
Dante's following such a tactic, ascribing error to a character, would have a kind of moral 
logic; in the case of Piero, for instance, those hearing Piero's account are to be drawn 
from the sin of despair. But, as Boccaccio notes, what might be conceded as morally 
proper for the "gentiles" is not allowed to the Christian poet who is held to a higher 
standard. Boccaccio saves Dante by explicating the suicide's punishment in terms of the 
difference between illative and privative punishment ("pena illativa" and "pena 
privativa"). The former consists in punishment directed against the person of the sinner, 
as when a hand or other member is cut off or the sinner killed; the latter in deprivation of 
things "exterior" to the sinner — goods, honors, status, citizenship. According to 
Boccaccio, temporal authorities have no way to punish suicides, for in depriving 
themselves of their own lives, they have already deprived themselves of every other 
thing. But divine justice, requiring punishment, inflicts illative punishment on the souls 
of the damned (i.e., Piero becomes a thornbush); beyond this God allows them to believe, 
however erroneously, that they are to be deprived of their bodies and thus permits them 
justly to suffer greater punishment — an imagined privative punishment — in holding 
this erroneous opinion. {Esposizione Litterale, Inf. 13:103-08). A modem reader could 
obviously eliminate all theological discussion by interpreting the suicides' separation 
from their bodies as Dante the poet's poetic license aimed at emphasizing the suicides' 
act of violence against themselves. 

''' Or, as Brooks restates this case later in his book, "The further we inquire into the 
problem of ends, the more it seems to compel a further inquiry into its relation to the 
human end. As Frank Kermode has put it, man is always 'in the middest,' without direct 
knowledge of origin or endpoint, seeking the imaginative equivalents of closure that will 
confer significance on experience. I have already cited Walter Benjamin's claim that a 
man's life 'first assumes transmissible form at the moment of his death.' Benjamin 
analyzes the implications of the common statement that the meaning of a man's life is 
revealed only in his death, to reach the conclusion that in narrative, death provides the 
very 'authority' of the tale . . ." (95). 

Ending in the Middle in Embedded Medieval Narratives 1 89 

sometimes, as in the case of Pier della Vigna, successful in moving their 
audience to tears of pity. As Minos tells Dante, '"guarda com'entri e di cui tu ti 
fide'" (5:19). 

Time and again, souls in Inferno such as that of Pier della Vigna are 
untrustworthy because they are unfinished and fragmented, their persons like 
their narratives at best "sospesi" {Inf. 4.45), as in the case of the souls in Limbo, 
or left unfinished and open, as in the case of Piero. It is only the characters who 
are represented as alive, in both the Rose and the Commedia, who are able to 
seek the appropriate end, a satisfying narrative closure, because they are capable 
of hope. And such are obviously all the souls in Purgatory, who will ultimately 
attain the eternal happiness of Heaven. 

In terms of narrative. Brooks' comment on sub-plots is surely relevant here, 
that "the development of the subplot in the classical novel usually suggests ... a 
different solution to the problems worked through by the main plot, and often 
illustrates the danger of short-circuit" (104). Certainly the Piero narrative from 
Inferno 13, like the Narcissus episode in the Rose, provides alternatives and 
parallels to thematic problems raised in the larger narrative. In the Rose, Amant 
will find Esperance or Hope his closest companion, and unlike Narcissus, he will 
hope for a happy outcome to his quest and so approach appropriate closure. 
Dante the Pilgrim's journey, too, is from the beginning keyed to hope. In 
Inferno, Vergil tells him, he will hear those without hope ['"udirai le disperate 
strida'" (1.115)]; in Purgatorio, those content in torment because of hope 
['"color che son contenti / nel foco, perche speran di venire/ quando che sia a le 
beate genti'" (1.119-20)]. Though the pilgrim and Pier della Vigna may mirror 
one another in many ways,'^ they differ precisely in their ability to hope, for 
Piero killed himself because he could not imagine any escape except through 
death: "'credendo col morir fuggir disdegno'" {Inf. 13:71). 

Dante's presentation of Piero, more complex than the portrayal of Narcissus, 
suggests simultaneously many things about closure. Closure signaling self- 
definition is hubristic; at the same time, narrative openness, an incapacity to 
believe in an appropriate ending and thus to engage in bringing that ending 
about, is to be associated with despair, a negation of the appropriate closure 
sought in the larger narrative. In both texts, despairing openness is fatal, but 
closure is hardly positive, as Piero's first speech, so tightly closed and yet so 
inadequate, shows. The wrong kind of closure forestalls the narrative and 

'^ As Robin Kirkpatrick puts it, "In choosing an example of suicide, Dante has taken a 
case — almost a mirror-image of his own in history — of a disgraced poet and politician, 
and has emphasised these correspondences by casting the scene in a wood of utter despair 
which clearly recalls the Dark Wood of Inferno I" {Dante: The Divine Comedy 60; see 
also his Dante's Inferno 174-75). Piero, like Dante, was skillful in rhetoric, dedicated to 
the Emperor's cause, like Dante "a lay intellectual cast out and condemned by his own 
city" (Martinez and Durling 2 1 4n84). 

190 Rebecca S. Beal 

interpretive processes these texts associate with proper closure. Nevertheless, 
proceeding toward "good" closure requires the narrative to represent and thus 
embrace closure as a powerful means of countering both premature full stops and 
desperate, disjunctive openness. 

Guillaume and Dante negotiate the dangers of endings in quite different 
ways. Guillaume figures the process of despair within his narrative of Narcissus 
and so contains it, while showing the problems of over-determined closure in a 
multitude of endings with contradictory readings of the narrative. Dante, by 
contrast, forms a disjunctive narrative of suicide from a doubled discourse, one 
tightly closed, one terminating without a proper conclusion. 

But what of a formally unified embedded narrative that eschews both 
multiple endings and narrative doublings, the complications found in the texts of 
Guillaume and Dante. A formidable example of such a text is Boccaccio's 
narrative of a transformed knight in Book 4 of the Filocolo. This carefully 
focused discourse recalls the Rose 's tale of Narcissus. In Boccaccio the lover is 
Filocolo, and the fountain embodies a knight named Fileno metamorphosed by 
love. But even more than the episode in the Rose, the intercalated narrative of 
Fileno clearly evokes Dante's Pier della Vigna episode. Antonio Quaglio lists 
two parallels. First, the fountain's lament when it has been disturbed by an 
intrusive "pilgrim" and it cries "'ftii uomo, sia ora fonte'" (4.[2],4, n5) resembles 
Piero's rebuke to Dante the pilgrim, "'Uomini fummo, e or siam fatti sterpi'" 
(Inf. 13:37).'^ Second, Fileno's telling his story in response to the lovely 
language of Filocolo's request, spoken "'con cosi dolci parole'" (4.[3],1, n2), 
echoes Piero's deciding to speak because of Vergil's sweet words, "'Si col dolce 
dir'"(/«/ 13:55). 

But the episodes have much more in common than these verbal echoes. 
In each a protagonist pilgrim enters a wild wood associated with the outlands of 
Italy — in Dante's case, woods worse than the thickets between the River Cecina 
and Cometo (Inf. 13:7-9); in Filocolo's, near Certaldo (4,[1],4, nl3), a city 
located just north of the Cecina. Each pilgrim is surprised to discover there a 
metamorphosed soul who is roused to speak by the pilgrim's misfreatment: 
Dante breaks off Piero's branch and Filocolo/Florio agitates the water of 
Fileno's fountain with a silver cup. In each case the interlocutor initiates the 
following speech by promising to restore the teller's fame: Vergil promises Piero 
that in amends for wronging the plant by breaking off its twig, the pilgrim will 
restore the suicide's fame in the world, '"tua fama rinfreschi'" (13:53). Filocolo 
makes a similar promise to Fileno: '"per noi la tua fama risusciti'" (4. [2], 5). 
Finally, both accounts receive sympathetic hearings: Dante the Pilgrim is unable 
to ask Piero any questions, such is his '"pieta"' (13:84), while the listening 
Filocolo weeps "per pieta" (4,[4],1). Although Fileno, like Piero, is separated 

'^ Italian references throughout are to Quaglio's edition. I cite the book, (chapter) and 
section number(s) of the Italian edition. 

Ending in the Middle in Embedded Medieval Narratives 1 9 1 

from the court he loves the most, Fileno's description of his situation as an 
'"ettemo essilio'" would even more appropriately be applied to Piero; and 
Piero's statement of his tragedy, '"che ' lieti onor tomaro in tristi lutti'" (13:69) 
follows exactly Fileno's descent from receiving the "onore" of the joust at 
Marmorina to his fransformation into a weeping fountain. Most significantly, 
each narrator has suffered a metamorphosis, Piero to a thombush and Fileno to a 

Boccaccio's prose narrative thus borrows important elements from Dante's 
episode in Inferno 1 3 by means of a single unified speech that closes off the 
disjunctive openness of Piero's two speeches. Boccaccio's lover, 
Florio/Filocolo, unlike Dante's Vergil, packs all his questions into a single long 
sentence. The reply similarly comes in a single unit, the fountain/Fileno's 
account taking all of Section 3 of Book Four. In a largely chronological 
sequence, the tale proceeds from a beginning describing Fileno's victory in a 
joust because of the power of his lady's token and his own force of arms. From 
this victory Fileno undergoes a medieval fall from happiness to metamorphosis. 
A first-person account, the tale carefully recounts in three stages the process of 
increasing interiorization by which Fileno moves from honored knighthood to 
weeping fountain, an end caused, he tells us, by love. 

In the first stage Fileno recounts his status as a young knight living in 
Marmorina, an ideal kingdom ('"terra ricchissima e bella e plena di nobilissima 
populo'") ruled by King Felice, where Fileno falls in love with Biancifiore, 
receives her veil in a joust celebrating the Feast of Mars, and by force of arms 
wins the prize — honor, "I'onore del giuoco." In this first part of the tale 
knighthood is balanced with love, and what Fileno receives under the sign he 
fights for, the honor of the joust, is stylistically equated with what he hopes to 
receive, and what is also signalled by the veil he has already received, her love: 
'"lo ricevetti da lei, un giomo che la festivita di Marte si celebrava in 
Marmorina, un velo col quale ella la sua bionda testa copriva, e quello per 
soprasegna portato nella palestra, sopra tutti i compagni per forza ricevetti 
I'onore del giuoco'" (4,[3],3; emph. mine). Chivalry and love, public and private 
obligations, at this point, are balanced perfectly between what Fileno says he 
'"received,"' the veil, signal of friumph in love, and the honor of the joust, 
symbol of his friumph as a knight. 

In the next stage of the tale, he goes to Montoro and encounters Florio, to 
whom he recounts his tale of love ('"amorosi casi narrai'" [4,(3),3]), not learning 
until later of Florio's own love for Biancifiore. Warned in dreams by the goddess 
Diana that Florio intends to kill him, Fileno next tells the story of his dreams to a 
friend who confirms him in his fears. In this section, the narrative emphasizes the 
act of telling by its use of words derived from the verb "narrare." In addition to 
"narrai," variants occur three times: "narrate," "narrazione," and "narrrandole." 

Narrative here is disruptive and fragmenting. Accordingly, the emphasis on 
narration in this stage accompanies Fileno's retreat from knighthood. If his 

192 Rebecca S. Beal 

happy first state was celebrated on the open battlefield, the misery of the second 
part emerges when the goddess Diana makes him experience in his dreams a 
losing battle against the swords of Florio and his friends. At this point, the 
battlefield of Mars is available only symbolically through a dream of battle 
which demonstrates the protagonist's fear — a reversal of the love-inspired 
courage and victory of the first stage, and one which leads him to depart into 
exile from the public space where he could serve a lord and exercise his public 

In the final stage of the narrative, as a result of the narratives of the second 
part, Fileno departs from Marmorina into '"ettemo essilio'" (4,[3],3). Far from 
human habitation, he laments his loss of Biancifiore, begs the gods to let him 
die, and is transformed into a fountain, left only understanding and speech. The 
details of his transformation emphasize the loss of his hand, the member most 
associated with the performance of knightly duty: when he would wipe his body 
free of the sweat bathing and transforming him, '"ne la mano sentiva I'usato 
uficio adoperare'" (4,[3],3). His public office, accomplished as a knight through 
force of "arms," becomes as impossible as wiping away sweat, usually a product 
of hard labor; now hands are transformed into tears and Fileno is quite literally 
disarmed, unmanned, undone. All that remains to him is Biancifiore's 
transformed veil, marking as well as hiding his loss of human form. 

A number of the modem approaches to literary endings cited earlier can 
help understand this ending, although from any perspective it seems clear that 
this is a closed text. Its concluding summary statement, placed immediately after 
the identification of Biancifiore's transformed veil, constitutes, as Hermstein 
Smith points out, an effective way of announcing closure thematically {Poetic 
Closure 60; 67): '"Ora hai per le mie parole potuto tutto il mio stato 
comprendere, il quale io quanto piu brievemente ho potuto t'ho dichiarato: non ti 
sia dunque grave manifestarmi a cui io mi sia manifestato — '" (4,[3],3). 

The response to this request links Fileno 's narrative to a framing narrative 
which encloses it even ftirther and underlines the unity of the embedded 
narrative. To summarize: here, in Book 4 of the Filocolo, the machinations of his 
parents, the king and queen of Spain, have separated Florio, the lover and 
protagonist of the romance, from Biancifiore.'^ Looking for her, Florio has taken 
the name Filocolo, left his home, and set out with a group of companions. 
Wandering across Italy, the group comes upon the site where Fileno had been 
transformed. Florio/Filocolo, then, is the lover who hears the fountain speak, 
asks it to tell its story, and to whom it responds. Before Florio learns the 
fountain's identity as his arch-rival, he promises to restore the fame of the one so 
changed by retelling his fortunes, '"i tuoi casi narrando" (4. [2], 5), and to excite 

'^ For a study of the versions and diffusions of the French story of Fleur and Bianchefleur 
as well as Boccaccio's use of them in the Filocolo, see Wallace, Chaucer and the Early 
Writings of Boccaccio, esp. Chapters 3 and 4. 

Ending in the Middle in Embedded Medieval Narratives 1 93 

pity for him by such a telling. With its repeated versions of the verb "narrare," 
the request for the fountain's tale is framed precisely so as to lead to the 
expectation of a complete narration, and Florio/Filocolo's weeping assent to the 
tale's truthfulness after the tale's end indicates that the tale is indeed completed. 
A final "clinch" to the story is supplied by the group that accompanies Filocolo: 

— O quanto e dubbiosa cosa nella palestra d'Amore entrare, nella quale il sottomesso 
albitrio e impossibile da tal nodo slegare, se non quando a lui piace. Beati colore che 
sanza lui vita virtuosa conducono, se bene guardiamo i fini a' quali egli i suoi suggetti 
conduce. — 


This aphoristic language seals the narrative's closure. From this comment, which 
invokes the start of the tale in its description of the outcome of Fileno's 
adventures as a loss in the "jousts of love," a reversal which underscores the 
undoing of the triumph implicit in his victory on the jousts celebrating Mars, we 
are invited to consider the tale an exemplum, one perfectly in accord with the 
matter of the tale. 

Fileno's narrative is thus a formally closed work, a medieval tragedy. 
However, the coherence achieved at the formal level, as Fileno constructs 
himself in terms of medieval tragedy, is pried open by the larger narrative which 
calls it into being. The embedded narrative's very content is riven by 
discrepancies between the facts of Fileno's account and situations recounted in 
the larger narrative. When he describes himself from Marmorina, for instance, he 
envisions himself as fallen from a kind of prelapsarian state imaged in a king 
whose name, Felice, contains the "fortunate" state of those who live in his land, 
"'terra ricchissima e bella e plena di nobilissima populo'" (4,[3],3). But Books 
1-3 oi^ Filocolo indicate that, unbeknownst to Fileno, the land is unfortunate. Its 
king has been deceived into murdering innocent Christian pilgrims, and, because 
he thinks Biancifiore unworthy of his son, has even trumped up charges of 
treason against her so as to have her burned at the stake. Marmorina is actually 
an "unhappy" state ruled by a corrupt king.'^ The place from which Fileno 
represents himself as exiled is, from the perspective of Books 1-3, a pagan land 
which has yet to achieve the happy state of Book 5, in which the martyrs killed 
in Book 1 are properly buried, the king is converted, and justice returns. 

'^ McGregor points out that King Felice is associated with mythological and historical 
enemies of Rome and Christianity; he is the antagonist in a providential history and 
hence bound to fail (26-28). 

'^ Furthermore, Fileno defines his status in Marmorina as happy because he believes in 
the meaning of Biancifiore's veil as an indication of her love. But again the reader knows 
differently. The queen, complicit with her husband's plots, though she eventually 
persuades the king to sell Biancifiore as a slave rather than kill her, pressures Biancifiore 
into giving Fileno the veil which he interprets as a sign of her favor and so wears at the 

194 Rebecca S. Beal 

However self-deceived and ignorant of the identity of its audience, Fileno's 
tale strongly implies the power of narrative to destroy those who engage in it. So 
this tale includes narrative itself as a primary cause of the protagonist's downfall: 
telling his tale has caused Fileno to incur the hatred of a powerfiil rival, Florio. 
Enjoined once more to tell his story, Fileno does so, skillfully, without 
neglecting to include in the center of his tale the problematic nature of narrative, 
which can address the wrong audience and so arouse the wrath of the mighty. 
Narrating can lead a tale's teller into "eternal exile," and so separate him or her 
from the common good. A major concern of this tale, then, is the nature of 
narrative itself, its real potential for harm, especially in hierarchical contexts, 
with their inequalities of power. 

More than the other embedded narratives we have studied, this one jousts 
with the larger narrative, which it critiques most obviously by representing 
Fileno, a lover and knight like Filocolo/Florio, as a mirror for his rival. At this 
point, Filocolo/Florio is beginning his own search for Biancifiore, and this tale 
serves as a warning, revealing the dangers love might hold in store. Furthermore, 
as Fileno's tale reverses the roles of protagonist and antagonist, it calls into 
question Florio's nobility and justice, and hence his ability to fulfill the end 
designed for him in the larger narrative, that of just ruler. That Fileno is ignorant 
of his audience's identity renders his lesson all the more clear and points to 
another narrative problem, that of audience. Fileno told his tale before, not 
knowing that his audience was his rival in love, and his telling led to his rival's 
hatred: the last thing he had intended. Here the text suggests that meaning is not 
constituted only by the author, but by a listening audience, especially in a social 
system organized hierarchically, where offended patrons have the power to 
silence, exile, or harm the author. Genre, too, depends heavily on hierarchical 
concerns: Fileno's narrative reminds us that Florio's comic ending — attaining 
Biancifiore — depends in part on the tragedy of his rival — Fileno's losing her. 

The larger narrative responds to these difficulties on several levels. By 
exposing the self-deceptions of the intercalated narrative against an overarching 
providential history, it calls into questions other conclusions of the episode, 
particularly its response to established power. Indeed, before the intercalated 
narrative even opens, the larger narrative demonstrates its beneficence by 
requesting the telling of the inset narrative, as Florio, protagonist of the larger 
narrative, requests Fileno, protagonist of the inset narrative, to tell his story 
('"narrarci"' [4.(2),5]), promising to restore the fame of and excite pity for its 
teller, "i tuoi casi narrando.'" In this perspective, the completed narrative has 
specific social benefits for its teller. If Fileno has retreated from the field of 

joust. Fileno's self-deceit is perpetuated in the end of his narrative, when Fileno takes the 
veil into exile, covers himself with it at the point he desires death, thereby transforming it 
into a shroud; even here the veil fails to convey the meaning he desires, for death is as 
absent from Fileno as is also the love he so desired. 

Ending in the Middle in Embedded Medieval Narratives 1 95 

battle, where fame is normally to be won, his narrative as it is retold in the larger 
narrative will restore that fame. Eventually, the larger narrative completes its 
beneficence by assuming Fileno's tale into the dimensions of its providential 
history, restoring more than Fileno's fame. In Book 5 Fileno's metamorphosis is 
undone; he becomes a member of Florio's brigata in a turn that transforms his 
story from the tragedy he narrated into the comedy demanded by the larger tale. 

More than Guillaume and Dante, Boccaccio seems aware of narrative's 
social dimension. Fileno's little tragedy involves his cutting himself off from 
court, friends, and going into exile; Florio's larger comedy entails a pilgrimage 
with a whole retinue of companions as well as his wise teacher Ascalion. Florio's 
narrative is thus a social process involving members of a society living in a 
hierarchical relationship one to another. The social dimension comes again to the 
fore in the appropriate endings Florio achieves. When he finds his beloved, he 
will at last consummate his love, but only in the context of marriage, an ending 
celebrating passion yet subordinating it to the demands of society and family. 
The marriage ending the romance of the fourth book will, in turn, be absorbed 
into the ending of Book 5, where Florio takes up Christianity and kingship and 
brings the knowledge of virtue and public life gained earlier into ever broader 
public spheres. 

As I pointed out at the beginning of this essay, recent theory has reacted to 
the association of closural endings with textual authority, often by reading 
closure as a negative gesture, narrative death, an end of play. Medieval texts 
change the terms of this debate by suggesting that literary endings, and questions 
of closure and openness, need to be addressed elsewhere than at a textual finish. 
Especially if earlier parts of narratives incorporate endings (and the narratives 
which these finish) into the beginning or middle of longer narratives, the 
problem of closural endings becomes more complicated. Narratives such as 
Guillaume's, Dante's and Boccaccio's produce more than just one ending, in the 
process calling on a wide variety of closural techniques, sometimes using those 
techniques to represent the hazards of closure itself Such conclusions may, of 
course, run counter to contemporary assessments of closed texts. In the inset 
narrative, for instance, a high degree of textual closure does not necessarily 
correspond to textual complicity with social hierarchies. Boccaccio's 
intercalated text, the most closed of the three studied, seems the most critical of 
the social system. While theorists who read these texts as closed are thus 
accurate in finding that medieval narratives often move toward closure, they 
have largely missed the degree to which over-authoritative closure and narrative 
openness attract the scrutiny of the inset narrative, which is, as it turns out, a 
locus of intense textual play. 

University ofScranton 

196 Rebecca S. Beal 

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Luigi Monga 

Cycles of Early-Modern Hodoeporics 

Physical motion, perhaps the most elemental of human pursuits, has often been 
considered the symbol of an interior, non-spatial activity. ^ The image of the 
journey repeats the familiar patterns of the individual's endeavors fi-om birth 
toward death, fi-om the exile of this "lacrymarum vallis" to a glorious world of 
personal salvation. 

Although motion could by no means be theorized as a part of the divine 
essence of the Trinity, for God (the Motor Primus), as immutable, is devoid of 
motion, the Second Person, Christ, the Word (Verbum, Logos), who was with 
the Creator in the beginning ("In principio erat Verbum," John 1:1), defined 
Himself, in His humanity, as the Way ("Ego sum via," John 14:6). As the course 
that leads humanity to the Creator (regressus ad Deum), He is viewed by 
Augustine as a Goal and a Way ("quo itur Deus, qua itur homo"),^ but remains a 
mysterious operation within the inscrutable relationship that defines the persons 
of the Holy Trinity. This Via is, therefore, an inexplicable, mystifying element 
that transcends our spatial and chronological perceptions. It embodies an 
eschatological convergence of all that is created into the historical event of a 
collective salvation and the path "in virum perfectum in mensuram aetatis 
plenitudinis Christi" {Eph. 4:13), "the final Christ" ("le Christ Omega") 
postulated by Teilhard de Chardin. 

' See my essay in this bibliography and its adaptation in Italian, "Viaggio e scrittura: 
approccio ad un'analisi storica dell'odeporica," in Bollettino del CI.R. VJ., 14 (1993 [but 
published in 1997]), nos. 27-28, pp. 3-67; see also my "Travel and Travel Literature," 
Encyclopedia of the Renaissance (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1999), vi,162- 
168. For an explanation of the recently-coined terms "odeporica" and "hodoeporics" 
(travel literature) cf Monga 5. 

^ "Where you go is God, the way you go is the man" {De civitate Dei, XI, 2). Among the 
rare texts on the non Judeo-Christian notion of the journey as a metaphor for life and 
rebirth, we must at least mention Ming Laotse, an intellectual wanderer living a carefree, 
almost contemplative life, glorified in 16th-century Chinese literature by T'u Lung. A 
Chinese picaro, he wrote that "we travel without a destination and stop wherever we find 
ourselves. [...] If it is willed that our days are numbered, then there our journey ends. But 
if we escape [the dangers], then we go on as before" {The Travel of Ming Liaotse in Lin 
Yutang, The Importance of Living. New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1937, pp. 341-342). 

Annali d'ltalianistica 18 (2000) 

200 Luigi Monga 

The journey, collective or individual, is a metaphor of human life, a 
sequence of footsteps never to be imprinted again, as in Machado's senda: 

A! andar se hace camino 
y al volver la vista atras 
se ve la senda que nunca 
se ha de volver a pisar.^ 

One of the most engaging comments on travel in modem poetry, this 
cuartete emphasizes that the act of "making" the journey (hacer camino) is 
strictly self- referential, for la senda we see behind us can only be our own path. 
But the camino is also rigorously gnoseological (se ve, "one sees," and therefore 
"one knows") and implies the inescapable denial to set foot again on the same 
path (nunca se ha de volver apisar). 

Much poetry has focused upon the journey evoking the cycles of human 
life, the recurrence of beginnings and ends that mark the "cammin di nostra vita" 
(Dante, Inf. I, 1), the "via" (Inf. l, 3) leading to death, the "doloroso" (Inf. V, 
1 14), "dubbioso," "estremo" or "fiero passo" or "il tempo del partire" (Petrarch, 
Canz. CXXVI, 22; CCCLXVl, 107; C, 9; CCLXIV, 1 17); and the subsequent "grand 
voyage"^ of death, the "passing" of the "departed." Our life and soul are, 
therefore, continuously moving, like Baudelaire's ship, in search of the elusive 
and ultimate locus amoenus, a landing in a Promised Land,^ or Rimbaud's 
errance, prodded by "an unstoppable demon."" Travel is thus reaching a 

•^ Antonio Machado, "Proverbios y cantares," cxxxvi, 29. Machado was perhaps 
thinking of Horace's familiar quote, "calcanda semel via Lethi" (Odes, I, xxviii, 
16). See "Travel as Metaphor for Human Life," Monga 7-9. 

^ "II nous faut tous faire le grand voyage," Encyclopedie (s.v. "Voyage"). The voyage of 
death completes the metaphor of life as a journey. The eschatological beliefs of many 
ancient religions required the departed ones to journey to the underworld. Classical 
mythology called for a coin to pay Charon for the passage across the Styx and food to 
appease Cerberus, the monster dog that guarded the entrance to Hades. In a 60 A.D. 
Egyptian papyrus we read this poignant lament of a deceased young woman about to sail 
away: "Place your hand in my hand, because I am going far away. My ship is making sail 
for the place of those who thirst; my vessel is going to the house of those who are 
parched" (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, "The Harkness Papyrus," 31.9.7). 
Among numerous other examples, a 14th-century fresco in Pisa's Camposanto, attributed 
to Bonamico Buffalmacco, shows a group of elegant horseback knights facing with 
astonishment three graves: an allegory of all humans riding ineluctably toward their 
death. And the Viaticum, the Communion of the Christian at the last rites, is the food 
provided for the longest journey humans must undertake. 

^ "Notre ame est un trois-mats cherchant son Icarie" (Les Fleurs du mal, "Le Voyage," 

^ That is how a 19th-century critic, Georges Rodenbach, described him in Le Figaro 
(August 12, 1898): "II fut pousse par un unfatigable demon! Nul repos. [...] II faut qu'il 

Cycles of Early-Modern Hodoeporics 20 1 

sequence of intermediate points between a relative hie et nunc and the Kingdom, 
either a geographic miUeu or a sought-after region of the spirit, something akin 
to Petrarch's ascent to a sacred "Mont Ventoux," a metaphor for "iter illud cui 
diebus et noctibus suspiro," as in his letter to Dionigi da Borgo San Sepolcro 
(Famil. IV, 1). 

Travel also represents an initiation. The painful chore of motion ' has often 
been regarded as the path leading to a symbolic death, a termination endured in 
order to achieve a new birth." Such ending, a regressus ad uterum, becomes also 
a regressus ad patriam, an initiatory rite," a sort of Bildungsreise, that renews 
and re-creates a person. 

The pedagogy of travel comes to mind as an intellectual initiation. The 
Grand Tour, that "Moving Academic, the Peripatetique School," ^^ 
Shakespeare's "course of learning and ingenious studies" {The Taming of the 
Shrew, I, I, 9), the peregrinatio academica and the Kavalierstour were cultural 
phenomena that engaged several generations of bright young men looking either 
at the whole Continent or at Italy in particular for a transforming experience 
their country could not provide. ^ ^ 

Thus the constant motion that is at the foundation of Heraclitus's 
philosophy ("panta chorei, " "everything moves") pervades all forms of human 
expression, leading Michel de Certeau, albeit with some generalization, to write 
that "tout recit est un recit de voyage." ^^ 

aille toujours, qu'il revienne, qu'il parte en d'autres lieux, sur d'autres eaux. Son ombre 

court plus vite que lui [...] et il faut qu'il aille ou va son ombre." 

' The etymology of travel is related to travail; the Anglo-French verb travailler, with a 

double meaning of "to travel" and "to torment," came from the late Latin tripalium and 

trepalium, an instrument of torture made of three {tres) stakes {pali) (Monga 11-12). 

^ This element could be linked to the existential anxiety that finds a sort of mental peace 

in our motions, as Lucretius expressed in his De rerum natura: "!...] et quaerere semper / 

commutare locum, quasi onus deponere possit" (ill, 1053-1054). This "unloading" of a 

heavy burden is a striking image of a 20th-century solution to human struggles. 

^ In the language of French Free-Masons, voyage is an administrative trial, "une epreuve 

que Ton fait subir a ceux qui veulent entrer dans I'ordre, ainsi qu'aux adeptes qui veulent 

passer d'un grade inferieur a un grade superieur" {Grand Dictionnaire Larousse du Xl)C 

Steele, s. v. "Voyage"). 

'^ James Howell, Instruction for Forreine Travells [1642] (reprinted: New York: AMS 

Press, 1966), p. 13. 

^ ^ A meeting place of nations and intellectual trends from the 12th to the 14th century, 

Paris was replaced by Rome and other Italian cities in the 16th century. Eventually, Rome 

lost her prominence in Europe, and Paris resumed as a training field for scholars and 

gentlemen through the 1 7th and 1 8th century. 

^^ L 'Invention du quotidien: I: Arts de faire (Paris: 10/18, 1980), p. 206. All narrative 

implies a spatial or chronological motion, and therefore, to a certain extent, could be 

considered a recit de voyage. 

202 Luigi Monga 

Rather than engaging in a philosophical or anthropological analysis of the 
various forms of motion through the centuries, I would like to limit this essay to 
an investigation of some travel cycles in hodoeporic texts and practices from the 
14th to the 19th century. One must keep in mind, however, that the recits de 
voyage of the Renaissance are usually limited to the description of the bare facts 
of the journey: departure, arrival, sightseeing, and return. Explicit reflections on 
the travelers' innermost reactions and the analysis of their own feelings are rare 
occurrences before the 17th century, with the notable exception of Montaigne's 
Journal, one of the first instances of awakening to self-consciousness by a travel 
writer. Eventually, 18th-century intellectual curiosity and 19th-century 
egotisme^^ gradually put the writer's moi in the center of the literary discourse; 
the voyage became a quite de soi, the discovery of one's own self and its 
relationship with the surrounding world, as Stendhal acknowledged: "Je ne 
pretends pas dire ce que sont les choses; je raconte la sensation qu'elles me 
firent" (xxxvill). 

One of the most basic components in the human psyche is the trust we put in our 
vital space, our Heimat, Vmland (Turri 359) or "comfort zone," as it is called 
today. This centripetal trend, however, may also clash with another, equally 
human characteristic, the ambition to escape the boundaries of one's familiar 
surrounding. A leisurely walk into one's neighborhood can hardly be considered 
a journey, but self-confident individuals, curious, fiill of high expectations, 
determined enough to withstand the inevitable dangers and hardships of life 
away from home, can be thrilled by the challenge of a new and formidable 
experience. Hilarius Pyrckmair is adamant about the value for the intellectual 
{homo studiosus et nobilis) of leaving the coziness of his home, looking 
"forward to acquire knowledge of great things": 

Quid enim turpius? quid homine studioso, praesertim nobili, indignius? quam semper 
domi sub tecto sedere, et ita in otio omni gloria et laude carente senescere, neque cogitare 
aliquando ex hoc tamquam nimis opaco et circumscripto domicilio ad rerum maximarum 
cognitionem acquirendam evolandum esse. Ad hoc autem suscipiendum animos liberales, 
ea, quae non mediocris est, utilitas invitare debet. 


Although the length of the traveler's sojourn abroad varies according to 
specific considerations and circumstances, eventually, the hodoeporic cycle is 

^^ "Je parle eternellement de moi," wrote Chateaubriand in the preface to his Itineraire 
de Paris a Jerusalem (II, 702). And Stendhal, a master of egotisme throughout his whole 
literary production, showed his jealous irritation at Chateaubriand, "puant d'egotisme et 
d'egoVsme" (quoted by J. Boulenger, Candidature au Stendhal Club, p. 130, in 
Chateaubriand ii, 1684). 

Cycles of Early-Modern Hodoeporics 203 

brought to its conclusion by an instinctive inclination to return to one's familiar 
habits, the "desir instinctif de regagner I'abri des vieilles habitudes" (Camus 26). 

After returning home, a repetition of the cycle can be triggered. The traveler 
often chooses to initiate another journey to new sites, when his unquenched 
thirst for knowledge prompts him to more challenging discoveries. Or, like 
Amerigo Vespucci, he'"* decides to write about the journey just achieved in 
order to make others aware of his successes. ^^ In this case a literary form of 
journeying ensues. The traveler is now an author with an audience. His name 
(and Vespucci's case — the naming of America — is paradigmatic) becomes 
known outside the circle of fi-iends who have witnessed his departure and 
enjoyed his return; the account of his travel will become the prototype of many 
other journeys. 

Recent approaches to narrative analysis, mostly inspired by Gerard 
Genette's Nouveau discours du recit (Paris: Seuil, 1983), have been generally 
considered effective in helping formulate abstract models of narrative texts. 
Several schemes, proposed by a variety of contemporary scholars, including V. 
T. Propp, Northrop Frye, and A. J. Greimas (order / transgression or disruption / 
return to order), have underscored the ftindamental structures of travel narrative. 
My decision to limit this analysis to a series of probes based on thematic, 
ideological, historical, and even etymological approaches has proved to be 

^'^ By and large, at least through the 17th century, the traveler has been a young male 
(Monga 29-33), a circumstance that can possibly be rationalized by the "male" 
apprehension of being confined. From biblical times to classical authors good women 
(the biblical "mulieres fortes" as well as Homer's models of domestic virtues) remained 
at home looking after family business and their husband's interests {Prov. 31: 10-13). A 
discussion of the Renaissance commonplace of man-traveler vs. home-bound woman 
would lead us astray here: Georg Loys suggested that only poor, lusty, and quarrelsome 
women engaged in traveling, for he considered even pilgrimage among officia virilia 
{Pervigilium Mercurii, no. 109) and Fynes Moryson despised "the masculine women of 
the Low Countries" who "make voyages for trafficke" ( iii, 349; also Silvestre-Valerio). 
This attitude endured through the 19th century even in Europe, limiting women's rare 
outings to pilgrimages (See, for ex., Chaucer's "worthy woman from Bath"; for an 
interesting exception, see Locatelli 260-263). In fact, as late as the middle of last century, 
women were often kept not only from the outer world, but even from literacy in order to 
prevent them from confusing reality with "fole, romanzi e delirii," as wrote Vincenzo 
Troya, a high official in Italy's Ministry of Public Education (quoted in Silvestre-Valerio 

'^ "lo ho perduti molti sonni e ho abreviato la vita mia dieci anni; e tutto tengo per bene 
speso, perche spero di venire in fama lungo secolo, se io torno con salute di questo 
viaggio" (Amerigo Vespucci's letter from Capo Verde to Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de' 
Medici [June 4, 1501] in // Mondo Nuovo: scritti vespucciani e paravespucciani, ed. M. 
Pozzi. Alessandria: Edizioni dell'Orso, 1993, p. 76). 

204 Luigi Monga 

equally stimulating.^" Illustrating my points through less known hodoeporic 
texts of various European literatures has been a satisfying exercise in bringing 
together a better perspective on the elemental, yet complex world of travel 
cycles in the human experience. 


Before millions of middle-income travelers engaged in the well-organized 
activity of 20th-century global tourism, only wealthy and courageous individuals 
considered the idea of leaving their birthplace, and not without much 
trepidation. Most people were happy to settle in the aurea mediocritas chastized 
by Pyrckmair and expressed by the noted Erasmian aphorism: "Nusquam 
commodius, nusquam liberius, nusquam lautius homini vivere contingit quam 
domi."^ ' However, a morbid instability {libido currendi) had sent throngs of 
beggars, clerici vagantes, pilgrims, and craftsmen on the medieval roads, 
scattering p/c(3ro5 of all sorts to roam the world. In fact, according to Montaigne, 
"inquietude" and "irresolution," two of the most self-absorbed of human 
qualities ("nos maistresses qualitez, et praedominantes"), are at the foundation 
of our desire to travel. The travelers' dreams and expectations are stirred by 
"cette humeur avide des choses nouvelles" and an "honeste curiosite de 
s'enquerir de toutes choses" (Essais, III, 9; I, 26),'^ the "insaciable y 
desenfrenado deseo de saber y conoscer que natura puso en todos los hombres" 
(Villalon 13). Baudelaire's deep restlessness ("horreur du domicile") reflects an 
ever-present morbidity, the urge to move from a contrived and bourgeois way of 
life to the creative excitement of total freedom. 

'^ Obviously, not all the cycles of hodoeporics I am considering in this essay apply to 
every journey. I am aware that many journeys had no return, many recits were limited to 
a verbal account, and some returns had no impact at all. 

^^ Erasmus, Adagia, n° 2238, ill, ill, 38. This adagium, however, is a classical 
commonplace (Horace, Odes ii, 6), which does not necessarily express Erasmus's own 
views on this matter, for Erasmus was indeed a well-traveled scholar. Even Goethe, 
another famous traveler, wrote: "Willst du immer weiter die Feme schweifen? / Sieh, das 
Gute liegt so nah" ("Do you want to wander on into the far distance? Look, the good lies 
so close," "Erinnerung," 1-2). The tension between going and staying is, perhaps, only a 
literary pretext. Pascal suggested that "tout le malheur du monde vient d'une seule chose, 
qui est de ne savoir pas demeurer en repos dans une chambre" (Pensees. no. 136**- 
269**), for often one travels the world in search of something that it is eventually found 
back home, an existential anxiety (see n. 8). Such a domestic life, according to Du Bellay, 
who eventually regretted this utterance, is a rich, stupid, and happy one {Regrets xxix). 
^^ "Vide [...] iudica: nee conquire solum haec talia, sed in ea inquire," is the advice given 
by Justus Lipsius to his pupil Philippe de Lanoye in a famous letter of April 3, 1578 
(reprinted in N. Doiron, L 'Art de voyager. Paris: Klincksieck, 1995, p. 206). 

Cycles of Early-Modern Hodoeporics 205 

Facing the fear of unknown dangers,^" voyagers are exalted by the thrill of 
knowledge and discovery that awaits them. Thus, it is not unusual that they 
have a reasonably good idea of what they are going to find abroad. ^^ Timid 
travelers' unjustified hopes and naive excitement^^ can be a good prelude to a 
positive experience, -^ as it was for Goethe when he arrived in Venice: "und 

'^ For the etymological and semantic relationship between "experience" and "danger," 
see Monga 24. 

^^ "Heute babe icb abermals meinen Begriff von Venedig erweitert, indem icb mir den 
Plan verschaffte" (Goethe, Italienische Reise. 30 September 1786, evening: "Today I 
acquired a map of Venice to widen my acquaintance with this city"). And Stendhal, in a 
footnote to his Promenades dans Rome, suggested to his readers: "Vous aurez beaucoup 
plus vite du plaisir a Rome, si avant de quitter Paris vous avez lu les descriptions de ces 
fresques de Raphael en presence des gravures que Volpato en a donnees. Files sont 
partout" (Stendhal 643, but see also his contradictory statement in the following note). 
Leandro Albert! 's Descrittione di tutta Italia was a standard guidebook, quoted in many 
travelers' journals. His name appears frequently in the anonymous Discours viatiques 
(pp. 65, 89, 1 13, 127. 161, 181; see also the Voyage de Provence et d'ltalie, p. 62). Georg 
Loys suggested a list of mostly German authors of guidebooks as "silent guides" {muti 
domini) to his readers about to depart: "Mutos dominos diligenter legat, eos cum primis 
qui de peregrinatione scripserunt, quales sunt: Zvvingerus, Birckmaierus, Gratarolius et 
alii. Nee abs re erit, inspexisse libros monumentorum Italiae a Schadero editos et 
singulares observationes rerum memorabilium in Graecia, Asia, Aegypto, Arabia, etc. 
Pet. Belloni e Gallicis in Romanam linguam translatas a viro clarissimo mihique 
amicissimo Carolo Clusio" (Pervigilium Mercurii, n° 9). One of Montaigne's regrets in 
the course of his journey was that he had not brought with him Sebastian Miinster's 
Cosmographia universalis, one of the books "qui le pouvoient avertir des choses rares et 
remerquables de chaque lieu" {Journal 32). 

^' Stendhal is, arguably, on the opposite side of this debate, favoring spontaneous 
sensations and emotions that would spring in the traveler's spirit as he reaches his goal: 
"Je dirais aux voyageurs en arrivant a Rome: [...] n'achetez aucun livre, I'epoque de la 
curiosite et de la science ne remplacera que trop tot celle des emotions. [...] Vous vous 
sentirez disposes a sentir le beau inculte et terrible ou le beaujoli et arrange " (emphasis 
mine: Promenades dans Rome 608). Stendhal also feared that keeping engravings of the 
paintings he had admired abroad would eventually destroy the personal excitement 
induced by his memory of the original: "Bientot la gravure forme tout le souvenir et 
detruit le souvenir reel. C'est ce qui m'est arrive pour la madone de Dresde. La belle 
gravure de Muller I'a detruite pour moi, tandis que je me figure parfaitement les 
mechants pastels de Mengs, a la meme galerie de Dresde, dont je n'ai vu la gravure nulle 
part" {Vie de Henri Brulard, ch. XLIV in Oeuvres intimes. Paris: Gallimard, 1982, ll, 939- 

22 The reading of a travel journal may be an end in itself Rather than being a prelude to a 
real journey, it can become a source of gratification for armchair travelers. Thus 
hodoeporics could replace actual travel (see below, the section on Writing). 

23 Hermann Kirchner concluded his "Oratio xvil" ("Italica peregrinatio fructuosissima") 
with an excited exhortation to leave: "Ibimus itaque, commilitones suavissimi, ibimus 

206 Luigi Monga 

weiss, dass ich, wenn auch einen unvollstandigen, doch einen ganz klaren und 
wahren Begriff mit wegnehme" {Italienische Reise, 12 October 1786: "And I 
know that I [...] carry a picture away with me which, though it may be 
incomplete, is clear and accurate"). 

Young abbe Jean-Jacques Bouchard, leaving Paris for Italy on October 29, 
1630, had careflilly researched Rome's climate and dangers, and packed, 
accordingly, his clothes, money, documents, writing implements, a selection of 
books acceptable in Inquisition-controlled states, and an adequate medicine 
chest to protect himself from the venereal diseases harbored in the hot climates 
of southern lands. '^ 

Renaissance travelers sometimes prepared to start their physical journey by 
purging, either by clysters or emetics, and bloodletting (purgatio ac venae 
sectio).^ Contemporary medical precepts asserted that "humors," moving more 
randomly and violently inside the body of a traveler during a trip, became 
corrupted, causing ailments and disorders. Excesses of such bad humors 
therefore had to be removed, since a franquil and regular digestion was 
considered paramount to good health. The concoctio (digestion), a process 
which was more easily altered when the individual was engaged in energetic 
horseback riding, was frequently addressed in medical texts {post prandium aut 
stabis aut lente ambulabis, a traditional axiom of the Schola Salernitana, 
intimated rest or slow walking after meals). Practiced "indiscriminately and to 

nulla amplius mora interclusi, in Italiam!" An English version of this Oratio appeared as 
a preface to Coryate's Crudities. 

^^ "Les jambes doivent estre munies, outre les bottes, de gamaches, ou au moins de 
bones galoches, n'y ayant rien de plus delicat et de plus expose a toutes injures que le 
pied. J'amerois mieus porter mon espee a la cinture qu'avec un baudrier, pour ce que le 
poids de I'espee, pour legere qu'elle soit, blesse a la longue I'espaule droite, la ou pose le 
baudrier. [...] De plus, il munit ses poches de tablettes, d'escritoire, d'une monstre, d'un 
estui et d'un cousteau, choses estrangement necessaires par voyage. [...] II ne se chargea 
point de livres, fors d'un petit Seneque et d'un Epictete: n'y ayant marchandise plus 
fascheuse a porter en Ileus d'inquisition. [...] Pour tous papiers, il prit ses lettres de 
docteur en droit civil et canon [...], ses lettres de tonsure [...] et un passeport du roy [...] 
qui temoignast de la qualite de ses parens et de la sienne parmi les estrangers" (I, 41-42). 
^^ "Es saludable consejo que el curioso marcante, ocho o quinze dias antes que se 
embarque, procure de alimpiar y evacuar el cuerpo, [...] porque naturalmente la mar muy 
mas piadosamente se ha con lo est6magos vazios que con los repletos de humores malos" 
(Antonio de Guevara, Arte de marear, ed. R. O. Jones. Exeter: University of Exeter, 
1971, p. 48). And Cristobal del Villalon acknowledged in his Viaje de Turquia (1547) 
taking raw garlic and wine "ajos crudos y vino" (p. 142) as stomach stabilizers ("bracero 
del estomago") before sailing from Greece to Italy. A renowned 16th-century Italian 
physician, Girolamo Cardano, however, offered no specific medical advice in his "De 
itinere" (ch. LXXVI of his Proxeneta. vel De prudentia civili in Opera omnia. Lyon, 1663, 
pp. 425-426), other than "Continens sis in cibo, et a Venere abstineas." 

Cycles of Early-Modern Hodoeporics 207 

excess," 2" phlebotomy was routinely prescribed even to healthy individuals for 
its promising prophylactic value.^' Guelielmo Grataroli, a 16th-century Italian 
doctor specializing in travel medicine,^® ordered that no physical exercise as 
arduous as traveling be performed by an "impure" body that had not undergone 
a drastic purge: 

Exercitium non purgato vel impuro corpore factum nonnulla adfert mala seu morbos et 
symptomata, cum ex motu accendantur magis humores et ad varia corporis partes pro 
eorum situ ac natura defluant et currant. 


That is why the anonymous young travelers of the Discours viatiques were 
ready to start on their journey only after taking a rejuvenating purge: 

Chacun, avant que de partir, s'estoit purge et avoit faict provision de jeunesse et de 
sancte, par quoy on ne parloit que de rire, avecques deliberation de n'empirer rien d'un sy 
bon commencement. 

{Discours viatiques 46)-'^ 

^^ F. David Hoeninger, Medicine and Shakespeare in the English Renaissance (Newark: 
University of Delaware Press, 1992), p. 239. 

^ ' "Bloode lattynge in mesure it clerith thi thought, it closith thi bladder, it temperith thi 
breyn, it amendith thyn heeringe, [...] it defieth [digests] thi mete, it clerith thy voice, it 
sharpith the witt" {A Leechbook or Collection of Medical Recipes of Fifteenth Century, 
ed. W. R. Dawson. London: Macmillan, 1934, pp. 62-63). 

° De regimine iter agentium vel equitum vel peditum, vel navi vel curru rheda [...J 
viatoribus et peregrinatoribus quibusque utilissimi (Argentorati [Strasbourg]: V. 
Rihelius, 1561), in particular pp. 109-133: "Cautelae quaedam in itinere atque hospitiis 
habendae, deque curru seu rheda." After a first edition in 1561, this manual was re-issued 
as Proficiscentium, seu magnis itineribus diversas terras obeuntium medicina 
quibuscumque valetudinis incommodis depellendis apprime necessaria (Cologne, 1571) 
and reprinted in Hilarius Pyrckmair's De arte peregrinandi (Nuremberg, 1591). 
^^ By the same token, breakfast ("il pranzo della mattina") was considered essential 
("almeno un paro d'ova fresche," according to Giacomo Fantuzzi) to avoid the danger of 
not finding food later on the day ("ritrovarsi digiuno ne' luoghi di poca buon'aria," 176). 
But only a light meal was needed, for too much food was dangerous for the traveler. And 
Fantuzzi quoted Avicenna ("equitare non debet quis plenus, ne cibus antequam digeratur 
penetret aut sine digestione labatur, aut propter inundationem corrumpatur") and Galen 
("quando motus sequitur cibum, descendit cibus de stomaco praeter digestionem suam et 
intrat venas sine mutatione, et adducit in epate opilationem et renibus et reliquis membris 
morbum," 177). 

■'^ It is a rare occurrence to see 16th-century travel writers mention bodily functions. 
Following the example of Horace (Sat. I, v, 7-8), Erasmus acknowledged suffering 
frequent internal disorders on the rough roads of Germany and Switzerland. Montaigne, 
usually an excepUon to most hodoeporic rules, was criticized as late as the 19th century 
for making of his Journal "un bulletin fastidieux des remarques joumalieres sur sa sante 

208 Luigi Monga 

But, more than just a physical cleansing, purging is also a metaphor for a clean 
beginning, a new phase in life. ' As such, it has been widely employed, as 
recently as in post- World- War-II Europe, to give a good start to newly-drafted 
young soldiers or children fi-eshly arrived in summer camps. Purging is also a 
symbol of a psychological and spiritual catharsis, a renovation, not unlike 
baptism, rooted in physical cleansing.^^ Thus the traveler is transformed into a 
homo novus, a tabula rasa in qua nihil est scriptum, ready to assume a new 
identity, forget his past, and become a palimpsest on which a new experience 
can be inscribed. Leaving Paris on September 21, 1588, the young travelers of 
the Discours viatiques started their journey at their best, and took the coach to 
Chalons- sur-Saone "laughingly" (46). This is not necessarily a universal 
approach, for some members of the group, deeply attached to their lady-friends 
(and therefore still bound to their old ways), were unable to get a totally clean 
start ("toutesfois les ungs qui de nouveau avoient veu leurs maisfresses 
souspiroient," 46). 

We must observe that the early modem travels were usually not solitary 
enterprises, for the dangers of the road were overwhelming.^-^ Small groups of 
wealthy friends, accompanied and attended by intelligent servants,-^"* usually 
embarked in a long journey: 

et sur les effets des eaux mineraies dont il faisoit usage" (Gilles Boucher de la 

Richarderie, Bibliotheque universelle des voyages. Paris, 1808, 1, 293). 

^^ Before beginning a new course of studies with his ward, Maistre Theodore, 

Gargantua's teacher, purged him "canonicquement [...] a ce qu'il considerast si possible 

estoit [le] remettre en meilleure voye, [...] et par ce medicament luy nettoya toute 

1 'alteration et perverse habitude du cerveau" [Gargantua xxii). This operation was 

intended, according to Quintilian's tenets {Instil, ii, 3), to make him forget "tout ce qu'il 

avoit apris soubz ses antiques precepteurs"; after wiping away all traces of his previous 

education, Gargantua was ready, physically as well as psychologically, to engage in a 

new life. 

^^ See Thomas Hoccleve's "Epistle of Grace Dieu" in Hoccleve 's Works: The Regement 

of Princes and Fourteen Minor Poems, ed. F. J. Fumivall (London: Paul, Trench, Tubner, 

1897; "Early English Texts Society," LXXii). 

^^ "The loner bouncing back bigger than life" is a very modem concept: see Paul 

Theroux's The Old Patagonian Express: By Train through the Americas (Boston: 

Houghton Mifflin, 1979), p. 3. 

^^ The passport of Thomas Abdy, 23 years old, "eldest son to Alderman [Anthony] Abdy 

of London, to travell into forraine partes for the space of three yeares," specified the 

permission to take one servant with him (see my essay "Thomas Abdy's Unpublished 

Travel Journal through France and Italy (1633-1635)," Bollettino del C.I.R.V.I.. no. 7, 1 

[1986], 61-98). The servant's function in the Grand Tour was to act as a go-between, 

often charged with cooking, menial transactions with the local populace, and sheltering 

his master from unnecessary contacts with shopkeepers and food vendors. 

Cycles of Early-Modern Hodoeporics 209 

Non deve fare il viaggio un solo, ed intendo solo uno che vada con uno o piu servitori 
mercenari, ma presupponendo che questo tale sia facoltoso, che dovera a sue spese 
condurre seco uno o piu amici alquanto a se inferiori in alcuna qualita, accio possano 
perseverare in sino alia fine del viaggio con quell'ossequio che si deve al principale che 
fa la totale spesa. 

(Giustiniani 175)^^ 

According to Giustiniani, the most useful form of travel that opens up 
experience and prudence must be undertaken by choice and not by professional 
obligation, commercial interest or plain profit ("per mera elezione, non per 
necessita"). The free choice of the traveler implies a certain amount of leisure, 
ability to move independently whenever one elects to do so. In a nutshell, it is 
the chief activity of a well-bred, independently wealthy individual, cultured and 
open-minded ("che abbia in se quella erudizione che conviene a questo effetto; 
che abbia larghezza di denari e che sia liberale per natura," Giustiniani 173).-^^ 

B. Departure 

From an etymological viewpoint, departure, like other related words in 
Romance languages (partenza, depart, partida, etc.), comes from the Latin term 
pars, implying a separation, a schism of some sort caused by the breaking up of 
a connection.^' Leaving, on the other hand, from an Anglo-Saxon root, 
signifies forsaking someone, relinquishing and abandoning something. 

^^ It is essential for a potential traveler to find a kindred spirit to come along on a long 
journey, as an anonymous French writer wrote in 1661: "Je cherchois une personne dont 
I'esprit et la curiosite eussent du rapport et de la sympathie avec la mienne pour 
entreprendre ce voyage, je la rencontrai enfin, nous liasmes la partie" ("Journal du 
voyage en Italic," Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale, Ms. Fr., Nouv. Acq., 4813, f Iv). Prior 
to his ascent of Mont Ventoux Petrarch had searched at length for a suitable companion 
("de sotio cogitanti [...] vix amicorum quisquam omni ex parte ydoneus videbatur," 
Famil. IV, 1). 

■'" It is what 18th-century Englishmen called "Iter philosophicum." It was made "ad 
sapientiam acquirendam," and, if we believe an anonymous advertisement circulated in 
the British university community (written in Latin "ne ab illitteratis intelligatur"), most of 
"philosophical travelers" were young men in their late twenties, holding a master's 
degree from Oxford, speaking Latin and French, with some notions of Italian and a 
written knowledge of Greek and Hebrew (quoted by Ch. Batten 73). 
-* ' "Amor, s'eo parto, il cor si parte e dole," begins an unpublished canzone by Mastro 
Meliore, a 13th-century Florentine poet (Bibl. Naz., Florence: Cod. Palat. 418, f 72r). The 
jeu de mots of partire (to leave/to separate; as in today's informal "to split") continued 
through the 16th century, when Francisco de Figueroa illustrated this appealing element: 
"Triste de mi que parto, mas no parto: / que el alma, que es de mi la mejor parte, / ni 
partira ni parte" (Monga 9). The anthropological experience of departure implies a 
traumatic separation from what is known and a confrontation with something extraneous 
to us, the "otherness," the unknown. Figueroa's underscoring the rich etymological play 

2 1 Luigi Monga 

Leaving behind one's home is also a form of death ("Partir c'est mourir un 
peu") and a dangerous enterprise. As Goethe wrote, departure (which is used 
metaphorically for death, as we saw in n. 4 above) is indeed a painful, foolish 
uprooting ("In jeder grossen Trennung liegt ein Keim von Wahnsinn," 
Italienische Reise, 22 March 1788: "In any departure there is a small amount of 


folly").-'* It could also be a blessed, long-sought change in pace and milieu, the 
rejection of a familiar or a boring scene,^^ a joyous feeling, as Stendhal felt on 
the blissfiil day he finally received permission to leave for Italy: "Que je suis 
encore fou a vingt-six ans!" (Stendhal 287) 

St. Paul's words, often heard in the liturgical readings, must have rung in 
the memory of many people who were about to depart: 

of parte and partir, is at the foundation of most lyric poetry. The lover's sadness (triste 
de mi), the result of his beloved's absence, triggers the need to recreate the absent's 
image, which brings about lyric poetry, for "i'amour parfait, wrote Colette, se raconte en 
trois lignes: 7/ m'aima, je /'aimai; sa presence supprima toutes les autres presences; nous 
fumes heureux'" {Bella-Vista in Oeuvres, ill, 1097). A detailed analysis of this point 
would lead us too far from our area of investigation. 

^° While bidding adieu to his brothers, John Whethamstede, abbot of St. Alban's, leaving 
England for the Council of Pavia (1423), was overwhelmed by great emotion: "ita 
singulti sermonem turbaverunt, quod vix se poterat fratrum precibus sub ullo 
intellectionis eloquio commendare" ("Annales Monaster!! Sancti Albani" in Rerum 
Britannicarum Medii Aevi Scriptores. London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1870, p. 121). 
To avoid the psychological travail of the day of departure, Giacomo Fantuzzi suggested 
leaving abruptly: "chi vuol partire senza molto dispiacere d! lasciare i suoi piu car!, parta 
all'improvviso qualche giorno prima del pubblicato" (177). This is what Goethe chose to 
do when he left Karlsbad for Italy at 3 in the morning, afraid that his friends would try to 
retain him. Flaubert, on the other hand, felt an overwhelming, youthful impatience; he 
could no longer wait for his departure: "Je ne devais partir que le surlendemain, et je 
resolus de partir tout de suite: je n'y tenais plus! {Voyage en Orient in Flaubert 434). 
Beryl Markham confessed in her autobiography, West with the Night [1942], that a clean 
and sudden separation from one's past is a promise for future achievements: "I have 
learned that if you must leave a place that you have lived in and loved and where all your 
yesterdays are buried deep — leave it any way except a slow way, leave it the fastest way 
you can. Never turn back and never believe that an hour you remember is a better hour 
because it is dead. [...] The cloud clears as you enter it" (San Francisco: North Point 
Press, 1983, p. 131). 

^^ "J'ai quitte Paris et meme la France, parce que la tour Eiffel finissait par m'ennuyer 
trop. Non seulement on la voyait de partout, mais on la trouvait partout, faite de toutes les 
matieres connues, exposee a toutes les vitres, cauchemar inevitable et torturant." Tired of 
comparing the Eiffel Tower with the leaning Tower of Pisa, Guy de Maupassant 
complained that "aujourd'hui I'emotion seductrice et puissante des sidcles artistes semble 
eteinte," and simply concluded: "J'ai senti qu'il me serait agrdable de revoir Florence, et 
je suis parti" (Maupassant, La Vie errante. Paris: Ollendorf, 1889, in Hersant 230). 

Cycles of Early-Modern Hodoeporics 2 1 1 

[...] ter naufragium feci, nocte et die in profiindo maris fui, in itineribus saepe, periculis 
fluminum, periculis latronum, periculis ex genere, periculis ex gentibus, periculis in 
civitate, periculis in solitudine, periculis in mari, periculis in falsis fratribus." 

(2 Cor. 1 1 :26) 


The plunge into a space unknown, away from the warmth of one's Heimat, is a 
challenge that requires courage to brave the anguish of departure, before the 
invigorating thrill of adventure takes over: 

Durant cette minute ou la vapeur qui jette dans Fair son sifflement strident n'a pas encore 
communique au convoi son elan irrefrenable, mon coeur indecis se cabre en arriere: tout 
ce que j'y laisse d'aimant et d'aime m'y rappelle et m'y retient; en cette seconde 
d'hesitation, j'entrevois toutes les possibilites du malheur. [...] Les botes les plus chers et 
les plus assidus de mon foyer abandonne me disent: Songe que tu peux ne plus nous 
revoir et ne plus nous entendre, au jour oil tu reviendras. [...] 

Apres une heure de cette course precipitee a travers I'espace, je sens je ne sais quoi de 
vivace et de resolu succeder a I'abattement et a la timidite du depart. ' 

Exiting one's Umland is a palingenesis, a rewarding regeneration. That is 
why in the Christian tradition prayers and devotions were normal before 
engaging in a journey. While Protestants preferred reading the psalms,^^ Roman 
Catholics had at their disposal a variety of sacramentalia and prayers ''ad 
proficiscendum in itinere" or "pro iter agentibus."^^ Sebastiano Locatelli 
celebrated masses and visited the shrines of the Virgin in Bologna, Reggio, and 

40 See my essay "Crime and the Road: A Survey of Sixteenth-Century Travel Journals," 
Renais sance and Reformation/Renaissance et Reforme, XXII, 2 (1998), 5-17. 
^^ Louise Colet, Les Pays lumineux: Voyage en Orient (Paris: Dentu, 1879). 

42 "Deus inprimis invocandus, quod nullus possit itineris esse comes expeditior et 
securior; atque piae huic devotioni inter alia precesque plurimum inservient Psalmi 91, 
126, 127, et 139" (Paul Hentzer's Itineraria Germaniae, Galliae, Angliae, Italiae. 
Noribergae: A. Wagenmann, 1592). Nathan Cytraeus began in 1565 his Iter Parisiense 
with a solemn prayer: "Longum iter incipio, nee quo mea rata reducant / Tempore, 
quaeque meos maneat fortuna labores, / Praevideo: dux Christe, meos tu dirige gressus" 
{Voyages en Europe, ed. M. Bastiaensens. Brussels: Peeters, 1994, p. 74). 

43 Some of them are collected in the Sacramentarium Gelasianum {Liber Sacramentorum 
Romanae Ecciesiae ordinis anni circuli. Roma: Herder, 1960). Travel in the 
Sacramentarium is an obvious metaphor for the regressus ad Deum. Hence, the faithful 
asks God to direct the itinerary "in voluntate tua, ut te protectore et te perduce per 
iustitiae semitas sine offensione gradiat" (191) so that the traveler, "tua opitulatione 
defensus, iustorum desideriorum potiatur effectibus" (192). For Muslim prayers and 
sacrifices before and during sea traveling, see The Travels of Ibn Battuta [1325-1354] 
(Cambridge: The University Press/Hakluyt Society, 1958), I, 25-27; see also Diego de 
Haedo. Topografia e historia general de Argel [1612] (Madrid: Sociedad de bibliofilos 
espanoles, 1927), pp. 154-155. Bouchard has a detailed description of the daily prayers 
aboard the Mediterranean galleys (I, 99-101) . 

212 Luigi Monga 

Parma (pp. 58, 61, 63) before leaving for Paris. Yet Locatelli's trip to France 
was a reasonably short journey that had been commonplace among Italian 
merchants and bankers as early as the Trecento.^^ 

Departure was a solemn occasion to be observed with gravity and prayers, 
an opportunity to think of eternal values and ponder the fragility of human 
life.^^ Montaigne, however, the quintessential rational traveler, at times showed 
a strain of picaresque weakness or existential angst for aimless wandering ("Je 
S9ay bien ce que je fliis, mais non pas ce que je cherche," Essais, III, 9), but his 
attitude was only a proof of the extraordinary lucidity of an individual whose 
self-analysis was always cruelly objective. If there was excitement, it surely was 
not the Romantic elan of Walt Whitman for the "open road."^^ Normally, the 
early modem traveler does not mention ''the frisson of escaping"^ ' nor does he 
explicitly feel the poetic anxiety of Baudelaire ("Je serai mieux ailleurs que la 
ou je suis"),^^ the restlessness of Paul Theroux or Jack Kerouac's attraction to 

^^ Dante had already noted the frequence of his fellow citizens' transalpine travels, 
underscoring the happy time when "ancor nulla [donna] / era per Francia nel letto diseita" 
{Parad. XV, 119-120). Boccaccio's Decameron, with numerous novelle related to 
travelers, reflects a society of merchants constantly on the road between Italy, France; 
and the northern countries, while Petrarch's frequent journeys abroad are well 
documented in his epistolary. For a look into the Italian mercantile hodoeporics to Paris 
and the Low Countries in the 14th and 1 5th centuries, see "Viaggi sperimentati, viaggi 
raccontati: in Europa tra mercanti e novellatori" (Perocco 77-97). 

^^ Seafaring, in particular, puts travelers, literally, "two inches away from death" ("cosi 
vicini al pericolo della morte, il quale e tanto propinquo, dicea Anacarsi scita, che due 
dita solamente, o poco piu, ti puoi chiamar discosto dalla morte," Garzoni, ii, 1403). Two 
inches ("due dita") is the normal thickness of the ship's hull. 

46 "Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road / Healthy, free, the world before me, 
leading wherever I choose" ("Song of the Open Road"). 

^'^ Paul Fussell, Abroad: British Literary Traveling between Wars. New York, Oxford 
University Press, 1980 (Leed 52). 

48 "Le Spleen de Paris," xxxi. This fondness for displacement is a commonplace in 
modern poetry, for, as Baudelaire confessed, "les vrais voyageurs sont ceux-la seuls qui 
partem / Pour partir" ("Le Voyage"). Gabriel Miro and Fernando Pessoa have expressed 
this idea in famous images (Monga 18). The Romantic obsession to pursue a personal 
itinerary, and the specific timing chosen for departure, is aptly described by Claude 
Pichois in his commentary to Nerval's Voyage en Orient: "Quitter Paris en touriste, au 
mois de novembre, c'est se refuser a I'observation d'un code de valeurs bourgeoises, 
sociales et morales, de valeurs apparentes et factices. Refuser la route officielle, la route 
droite pour aller a I'aventure [...] c'est n'avoir pas d'itineraire, c'est se livrer au caprice 
du moment, done au plaisir, condamnable, de la gratuite, c'est se laisser tenter par la 
route attrayante, [...] dddaignant ostensiblement les moyens de transport et les voies que 
I'Administration, dans sa sagesse, a mis a la disposition des voyageurs. Et partir sans un 
but defini: 'Tu ne m'as pas encore demand^ ou je vais: le sais-je moi-meme?'" (Nerval, 
11, 1382). 

Cycles of Early-Modern Hodoeporics 2 1 3 

the "purity of the road."^^ A few travelers certainly felt a thrill, the expectation 
of reaching out to grasp and enjoy "todo lo bueno y el mejor del mundo,"^^ the 
mystery at the end of the road, the anticipation of experiencing something new 
(as in Montaigne's "faim extreme de voir," Journal 71) or profitable to their 
spirit {Essais, III, 9), perhaps akin to Du Bellay's obsession to reach Rome.^^ 

Some travelers set out because they were afraid to "waxe dull and even die, 
being included in the narrow bounds of their domesticall seats";^^ others 
escaped from the narrow-mindedness of their milieu under the sanctimonious 
pretext of "studying man."^-^ Other travelers left to steer clear of internal strife 
and civil war, like John Evelyn, forced to leave London on June 15, 1641, to 
avoid "the ill and ominous face of the publique at home" or, once again in July 
1643, to escape from "the ftjrious and rabid" mob who devastated the capital (l, 
22 and 65). Others set out to complete their education, the usual goal for 
northern travelers, according to Hubert Vaufrin, a Jesuit who wrote at the end of 
the 18th century that "I'education se termine, dans les confrees du Nord, par des 
voyages. lis sont utiles aux Polonais depourvus, dans leur pays, d'idees sociales 
et de modeles en tout genre."^^ 

Searching for freedom and autonomy is not a specific goal of Renaissance 
travelers. Wordsworth's evocation of the wanderer reflects an 18th-century 

Whither shall I turn, 

By road or pathway, or through trackless field, 
Up hill or down, or shall some floating thing, 
Upon the river point me out of my course?^^ 

'^^ On the Road (New York: New American Library, 1957). 

^^ Baltasar Gracian, El discreto, ch. xxv. 

^^ "Je me feray S9avant en la philosophie, / En la mathematique et medecine aussi; / Je 

me feray legiste, et d'un plus hault souci / Apprendray les secrets de la theologie; / Du 

luth et du pinceau j'esbateray ma vie, / De I'escrime et du bal [...] {Regrets, xxxii). 

^2 H. Kirchner, "Oration on Travel," in Coryate, i, 129. 

^^ "Je me plais a etudier I'homme en voyageant" (Giacomo Casanova, Histoire de ma vie, 

VI, x. Paris: Plon, 1960, ill, 227). 

^^ La Pologne du XVllf siecle vue par un precepteur frangais (Paris: Calmann-Levy, 

1966), p. 171, quoted in Hafid-Martin 13. Northern travelers considered Southern 

countries as the roots of their culture and their faith; they were also excited to find there 

sunshine, flowers, fountains, and luscious fruits (see my essay "Viaggiatori di lingua 

inglese a Napoli" in E. Kanceff, L. Monga, et al., Napoli e il Regno dei grandi 

viaggiatori. Roma: Abete, 1994, pp. 39-63). 

55 William Woodsworth, "The Preludes," in Poetical Works (Oxford: Clarendon, 1968), 

III, 12- 13. But Montaigne had expressed the same carefree spirit two and a half centuries 

earlier: "Ay-je laisse quelque chose a voir derriere moi? J'y retoume; c'est toujours mon 

chemin. Je ne trace aucune ligne certaine, ny droicte ny courbe" {Essais. ill, 9). 

214 Luigi Monga 

All this debate, understandably, involves journeys performed by 
intellectuals, for reasons other than business, discovery, or religion. It is evident 
that merchants and conquistadores rarely had the time or compulsion to write 
about their perception of the adventures of the roads they traveled. Missionaries 
and ambassadors were often required to give their superiors a written report of 
their mission. We are more concerned here with analyzing the new dynamics of 
the modem age than reporting on one's journey. 

C. On The Road 

By and large, Renaissance travel journals maintained a terse, crisp narrative 
style. Journeys were tedious and painful exercises, rarely intended as amusing 
activities,^" and the method of traveling, according to Dr. Johnson, gave the 
traveler little time to observe and notice: "He that enters a town at night and 
surveys it in the morning, and then hastens away to another place, and guesses at 
the manners of the inhabitants by the entertainment which his inn afforded him" 
has very little to write about in his journal.^' 

The voyager was cautioned to ride in silence in order to save his energies 
and protect himself from thirst: "Primum autem moneo ne cum iter faciatis 
multum loquamini. Inde enim sitis faucibus aridioribus contrahi solef (Rantzov 
97). A common form of relaxation, while traveling, witness Erasmus, was 
writing poetry, "sicut meus est mos, nescio quid meditans nugarum et totus in 

^" It is rare to encounter in 16th-century hodoeporics an aesthetic interest in natural 
beauty; for a colorful exception see my essay "'V Hodoepohcum de Jacques Sirmond. s.j.: 
Journal poetique d'un voyage de Paris a Rome en 1590," Humanistica lovanensia, 43 
(1993): 301-322. Even in 1795 Ann Radcliffe confessed that it was hard to express to her 
readers "a repetition of the same images of rock, wood and water, and the same epithets 
of grand, vast and sublime, which necessarily occur," since they appear "tautologous on 
paper, though their archetypes in nature [...] exhibit new visions to the eye and produce 
new shades of effect on the mind" (A Journey Made in the Summer of 1 794 through 
Holland and the Western Frontiers of Germany, quoted in Batten 102). The 18th-century 
travel journal clash between the "philosophical" sensitivity and the tendency to include 
chatty personal and anecdotal material is well discussed in Batten 9-19. In fact, the editor 
of Lady Miller's Letters from Italy censored a large number of "matters of mere private 
concerns" which, in his opinion, were "by no means objects of information or 
entertainment to the public" (vi). 

57 The Idler [no. 97; February 23, 1760] (New York: W. Durell, 181 1), pp. 339-340. 
5^ Letter to Jacques Batt (n. 1 19, February 1500) in Opus epistolarum Desiderii Erasmi 
Roterodami. ed. P. S. Allen (Oxford: Clarendon, 1906), 1, 277. In 1506, during a journey 
to Italy, Erasmus wrote a "carmen alpestre," a long poem "De senectute" for "Gulielmus 
Copus medicorum eruditissimus." The trend, which followed the example of Horace {Sat. 
1, 9, 1-2), caught on: a Jesuit scholar, Jacques Sirmond, wrote a "Hodoeporicum" during 
a trip from Paris to Rome in 1590 (see my essay "U Hodoeporicum de Jacques Sirmond," 
cit.) and Thomas Jones's Memoirs (43-36, 50). 

Cycles of Early-Modern Hodoeporics 2 1 5 

The writer — unlike his Romantic confreres — was concerned mainly with 
the objective elements of spatial motion: the phenomena of departure and 
arrival. He rarely mentioned in his recit the personal components of his journey 
or anecdotes related to his private experience. Often the reader is not even privy 
to the reasons and goals of the travel. Laconic writers do not make great subjects 
for psychological or literary analysis. 

Early modem travel was defined as a journey of study in a land 
partially unknown, an enterprise pursued by a prepared individual planning to 
use his personal improvement for the service of his country: 

Est autem peregrinatio nihil aliud quam studium perlustrandi terras exoticas et insulas, ab 
homine idoneo suscipiendum ad artem vel ea acquirenda quae usui et emolumento patriae 
vel Rei esse publicae possunt. 

(Georg Loys 3) 

The common good was often the final goal of northern Europeans who made a 
journey to southern countries ftill of sun, art, and history. Italian travelers, 
traditionally more individualistic, were perhaps less sanguine about engaging in 
the service of their community. They were more interested in pursuing a 
combination of leisure and instruction, as was Francesco Vettori, a Florentine 
ambassador to Germany (1507): "Intra li onesti piaceri che possino pigliare li 
uomini, quello dello andare vedendo il mondo credo sia il maggiore; ne puo 
essere perfettamente prudente chi non ha conosciuto molti uomini e veduto 

A series of contradictions may ensue. If the joy of leaving home is 
admittedly a benefit ("Habet multum iucunditatis solis coelique mutatio"),"^ 
changing one's milieu, indeed a fi-ivolity, may also bring spiritual demise, 
particularly to the young traveler.^' In any case, the planning and preparation of 

^9 Only two days after leaving Paris ( August, 23, 1663), Jean de la Fontaine naively 
wrote from Clamart to his wife: "En verite, c'est un plaisir que de voyager; on rencontre 
toujours quelque chose de remarquable. Vous ne sauriez croire combien est excellent le 
beurre que nous mangeons" {Oeuvres diverses., ed. P. Clarac. Paris: Gallimard, 1948, p. 
534). And Stendhal, who defined himself a "Milanese" and absorbed so well the Italian 
Zeitgeist, followed: "Je voyage non pour connaitre F Italic, mais pour me faire plaisir" 
(501). As for the knowledge acquired by traveling. Homer described Ulysses's travails: 
"Many were the men whose cities he saw and whose minds he learned" {Odyssey, l, 3-4). 
^^ Pliny, Epist.. Ill, xix, 4. As a typical response to this maxim, another one, "Coelum non 
animum muto, dum trans mare curro" (Horace, Sat. I, i, 30), was a favorite of Milton, 
who inscribed it on the album of Count Camillus Cardouin (10 June 1639), in Works 
(New York: Columbia University Press, 1938), xvill, 271. 

"' Plato's idea that only mature individuals should be allowed to travel in order to 
acquire knowledge (Monga 17-18) continues to the end of the 18th century: "L'age du 
voyageur est celui oil le jugement est forme et la tete meublee des connaissances 
requises. Sans ces deux conditions, ou Ton ne rapportera rien de ses voyages ou Ton aura 

216 Luigi Monga 

a journey can still be considered the best part of traveling, for in that stage one is 
never afflicted by bad weather, illness, unpleasant encounters with bandits or 
dishonest innkeepers. All the fears and anxieties of the prelude are brought to 
their climax once the traveler finds himself on the road."^ Travel, however, was 
and is, as Hieronymus Turler stated in 1575, 

nothing else but a painetaking to see and searche forreine landes, not to be taken in hande 
by all sorts of persons, or unadvisedly. -^ 

In a cryptic passage, Camus mentioned the same pain, underscoring its ascetic 
value, claiming the austerity and self-denial of this kind of discipline: 

II n'y a pas de plaisir a voyager. J'y verrais plutot une ascese. [...] Le plaisir nous ecarte 
de nous-meme comme le divertissement de Pascal eloigne de Dieu. Le voyage, qui est 
comme une plus grande et plus grave science, nous j' ramene. 


As for the condition of roads and inns, the antics of mischievous touts, the 
encounters with bandits, the enticements of vetturini and procacci, everybody 
knew the picture. Tomaso Garzoni's tragicomic description of the inn gives a 
pale idea of the tribulations that the Renaissance traveler encountered on the 

Un'ostaria tutta sfessa e smantellata, una camera sbuccata, ruinata e sostentata per forza 
di pontelli, ricetto di topi solamente; un solaro nero come la caligine de' camini; un 
lastricato di quadrelli mobili, che par che i spiriti I'abbian disfatto a posta; le mura 
spegazzate di mille disonesta e spurcizie che i forestieri per dispetto v'hanno scritto per 
tutto; le tavole piu onte che quelle de' beccari, e tarolate dentro e fuori per la vecchiezza 
le tovaglie sporche di vino e di brodo, [...]; i salini attaccati insieme col filo e con la cera 
11 bicchiere senza piede; i boccali col viso rotto; i fondelli con verderamo alto tre dita; 
cucchiari brutti, i cortelli senza taglio, le forcine senza punta, le scutelle nere come 
bafioti dei pellegrini francesi; e' sugamani stracciati come le tele de' ragni; i lenzuoli tutti 

fait bien du chemin et depense beaucoup d' argent pour ne rapporter que des erreurs et des 
vices" (Denis Diderot, Foyage en Hollande [1775]. Paris: Maspero, 1982, p. 23). 
^2 As Robert Louis Stevenson wrote, "To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive" 
{Virginibus puerisque, and Other Papers. New York: Co-operative Publication Society, 
1881). In contemporary literature the act of traveling assumes an independent value. Paul 
Theroux's Old Patagonian Express is just the journal of his travel, i.e., the physical and 
emotional notions from his departure in Boston to his arrival in Patagonia, where the 
book suddenly ends. In fact, as soon as he reaches his destination, Theroux returns home; 
as he confesses, he "was more interested in the going and the getting there, in the poetry 
of departures" (383). 

^3 The Traveller (London: W. How for A. Veale, 1575), p. 5 (reprint: Gainesville, FL: 
Scholars' Facsimiles and Reprints, 1951). 

Cycles of Early-Modern Hodoeporics 2 1 7 

ripezzati e carichi di brutture; i letti duri come strammazzi; i cossini puzzolenti piu che 
I'orina guasta; i capezzali pieni di cimici; le coperte che san di tanfo per ogni banda; i 
letti con fornimenti da furfante polito quanto dir si possa, e in somma tutta I'osteria 
esclama da ogni parte pidocchieria estrema e infinita. 

(II, 1133)64 

But it was aboard the ship that frequently a traveler emphasized his 
tribulations, for the ship was "a jail with a chance of being drowned""^ or "un 
compendio deH'infemo," as a Jesuit voyager defined it (Scaduto 336). The 
"pelagi metus," Petrarch's admittedly fear of seafaring,"" which kept him from 
a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, underscores our ancestral discomfort with the 
sea. That is why the dangerous storm at sea became a commonplace that 
supplied hodoeporics with a dramatic tension that travel by land usually lacked. 
Even the anonymous author of the Discours viatiques, normally a terse narrator, 
developed a more long- winded style in the description of his sea voyage; the 
drama of violent winds, torrential rain, and crashing waves is surely an effective 
device to capture the readers' attention (164-165). The traveler of the Voyage de 
Provence et d' Italic recalled the sinking of several galleys with the loss of 1,200 
men during a winter storm between Toulon and Villefranche (53), and Aurelio 
Scetti, a 16th-century galley slave, devoted a long, dark passage to a tragic 
tempest in the gulf of Marseille that destroyed a good portion of the allied fleet 
of Spain and Tuscany on April 19, 1569.^' The travel literature of 16th-century 
shipwrecks is pervasive, from Erasmus ("Naufragium") to Rabelais {Quart livre, 
xvill-xxiv) to numerous private letters: 

[...] I'acqua [...] con tanto impeto intrava [nella fregata] et faceva tanti gran monti che 
tutti eravamo bagnati et storditi; [...] e volendo voltar la vela da una banda a un'altra, si 
rompette certe funi de la vela; laonde tutti alzavamo le mani al cielo con ferventi orationi, 
temendo non esser fatti in quel giomo cibo de' pesci. Tutti stavamo come sardelle 
sopresse I'uni adosso a I'altro, perche eravamo insino a cinquanta passaggieri in cosi 
picciola fregata. 

(Scaduto 334) 

"4 See also Erasmus's amusing dialogue "Diversoria" (1523) for a detailed description of 

the dangers of the road and the inconveniences of inns. 

"^ James Boswell, [Dr. Samuel Johnson's] Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides [1774] 

(London: G. Bell, 1884 v, 249). 

"" Itinerarium breve de lanua usque ad Jerusalem et Terram Sanctam, ed. A. Paolella 

(Bologna: Commissione per i testi di lingua, 1993), pp. 54-57. 

"' L. Monga, Galee toscane e corsari barbareschi: il diario di Aurelio Scetti, galeotto 

fiorentino (1565-1577) (Pisa: CLD, 1999), pp. 96-101. Antonio De Beatis mentioned the 

loss of 300 sailors and soldiers ("corsari di gran tempo e di malissima vita"), when "una 

borasca o refulo de vento cosi subito e grande" sank a Genoese ship in the otherwise safe 

port of Villefranche in 1516 {Die Reise des Kard. Luigi d'Aragona, ed. L. Pastor. 

Freiburg im Breisgau, 1905, p. 167). 

2 1 8 Luigi Monga 

But the conditions of Europe's roads were also extremely poor. When the coach 
rented by Thomas Jones, a British landscape painter who was going from Rome 
to Tivoli on November 3, 1777, broke, one of his guests scornfully remarked 
that he "never in his life knew of an Italian coach that would last a journey 
throughout" (64). And Joseph Addison summarized his travels through Europe 
as "bruises upon land, lame post-horses by day and hard beds at night with many 
other dismal ad ventures. ""° 

Many contemporary travelers are happy to telescope their readers in the 
middle of things, beaching them in a foreign place without having first guided 
them there."" Paul Theroux admits that the act of moving through geographical 
details, "the lower slopes of Parnassus" (4), is essential to his travel writing: 
"[...] the progress from the familiar to the slightly odd, to the rather strange, to 
the totally foreign, and finally to the outlandish. The journey, not the arrival, 
matters; the voyage, not the landing" (5). So he decides, and this is a typical 
post-modem trend indeed, to end his book where other travel books usually 

D. Arrival and Sojourn 

After the trial of the journey, the arrival appears as the happy completion of a 
cycle that for many travelers has begun with readings by a starry-eyed 
adolescent (Montaigne, Du Bellay, Goethe, et al.)P^ It is an excitement' * not 
unlike an innamoramento for Stendhal, who chose this quote from Hazlitt's 
Memoirs of the Late Holcroft as the epigraph of his travel journal: 

The smile which sank into his heart the first time he ever beheld her, played round her 
lips ever after: the look with which her eyes first met his never passed away. The image 

"° Letter to William Congrave from Paris [August 1699] in Addison's The Letters, ed. 
W. Graham (Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1941), p. 4. 

"^ Theroux quoted, among first sentences of travel books. Moravia's A quale tribii 
appartieni? (Milano: Bompiani, 1972): 'Trom the balcony of my room I had a panoramic 
view over Accra, capital of Ghana" (3) 
'^ See note n. 20. 

' * The arrival is a crucial topos in hodoeporics. The enthusiasm of beholding for the first 
time the site of his youthful dreams is a milestone in the travelr's life. "I immediately 
began to visite the famous places of [Venice]; and travellers do nothing else but run up 
and downe to see sights, that come to Italy," wrote John Evelyn in 1645 (ii, 431). And 
Antoine Wiertz, a young Belgian painter, in his first letter from Rome to his mother (June 
7, 1843), told her of his enthusiasm and anticipation: "' Rome! Rome!', s'ecrie le 
conducteur. A ce mot de Rome, mon coeur bat avec force. 'Arretez, lui dis-je, arretez, 
que je contemple un instant!'" (quoted in Ch. Terlinden, "La Correspondance d'A. W. au 
cours de son voyage en Italie," Bibliotheque de I'Institut historique beige a Rome, v, 
1953, p. 32). 

Cycles of Early-Modern Hodoeporics 2 1 9 

of his mistress still haunted his mind, and was recalled by every object in nature. Even 
death could not dissolve the fine illusion: for that which exists in the imagination is alone 

(Stendhal 1) 

The excitement of the arrival is epitomized by Stendhal's rush to La Scala, as 
soon as he set foot in Milan: As he would hasten to join a mistress, 

[...] j'arrive, a sept heures du soir, harasse de fatigue; je cours a La Scala. [...] Tout ce 
que imagination la plus orientale peut rever de plus singulier, de plus frappant, de plus 
riche en beautes d' architecture; tout ce que I'on peut se representer en draperies 
brillantes, en personnages qui, non seulement ont les habits, mais la physionomie, mais 
les gestes des pays oil se passe Taction, je I'ai vu ce soir. 

(5 and 288)'72 

Romantic imagination transfigures ever a dreadfiil reality into a world of 
dreams. ^-^ A nameless hotellerie hidden in a dark alley behind Palazzo Corsini 
is the perfect milieu for young Lamartine to nurture his youthful dreams and 
prepare himself for his first encounter with his beloved Rome: 

J'y fus loge dans une mansarde nue sous les toits, sans autre meuble qu'une couchette de 
fer, une table, une chaise et une cruche d'eau. Mais je ne fis pas meme attention a la 
nudite et a I'indigence de cette hotellerie: j'allais m'endormir et me reveiller dans la ville 
des grandes memoires; c'etait assez pour un jeune homme qui ne vivait que 
d' imagination.'^ 

This "return to childhood" (Leed 139), Lamartine's reduction to the "bare 
essentials," allows the traveler to address and challenge his memories and 
expectations and confront them with a drab reality. The excitement of discovery, 
enhanced by the knowledge he has previously acquired of what he now can 
admire, proves to be immensely valuable. He now feels at home, for he is 
familiar with the place, its literary allusions, and the characters of the play. 
Montaigne, who had learned Latin as a child, acknowledged: "J'ai eu 

^^ Stendhal's excitement continues long after his arrival in Italy: "II m'arrive de me dire, 
a propos de rien: 'Mon Dieu! Que j'ai bien fait de venir en Italic!" (May 24, 1817: 
Stendhal 99). Victor del Litto's annotated edition, however, established that Stendhal's 
itinerary was a complete invention: the French novelist attempted to create his own 
persona ("un melomane passionne se rendant en Italic par amour de la musique et du bet 
cantor 1305), using disparate elements, conftising dates, and mentioning people he never 
met (1306-1311). 

^^ "Memory," what the youthful traveler recalls, is also an aspect of the discovery of 
one's self in a foreign environment, for one's homeland (patrie) is also the place where, 
according to Stendhal, "I'on rencontre le plus de gens qui nous ressemblent"(98). 
^^ Cours familier de litterature, quoted in Hersant 426. 

220 Luigi Monga 

connoissance des affaires de Rome long temps avant que je I'aye de ceux de ma 
maison: je s9avois le Capitole et son plant avant a,ue je sceusse le Louvre, et le 
Tibre avant la Seine" {Essais, III, 9). A new life begins for the traveler. The 
dreams of his youth come back to him, at last, enhanced by familiar sites and 
well-known images: "Wohin ich gehe finde ich eine Bekanntschaft in einer 
neuen Welt, es ist alles wie ich mir's dachte und alles neu" {Italienische Reise, 1 
November 1786: "Everywhere I go I encounter familiar faces in a new world; 
everything is just as I imagined it, yet everything is new"). '^ Thomas Jones 
wrote in his Memoirs, that even the scenery of the Campagna Romana 

seemed anticipated in some dream — It appeared magick land ~ In fact I had copied so 
many studies of that great man & my old master, Richard Wilson, [...] that I insensibly 
became familiarized with Italian scenes, and enamoured of Italian forms. 


Not all travelers, however, rush impetuously to embrace the long-awaited 
images of their dreams. Often, alas, their first reaction is a sense of disappoint 
ment; Rome in particular has been for many years a pale image of her past 
greatness. ^^ Their hopes, as Erasmus wrote, are shattered: "Roma Roma non 
est, nihil habens praeter ruinas ruderaque priscae calamitatis cicatrices ac 
vestigia."^^ Sixteenth-century Rome is a depressing, unkempt rural expanse 
where sheep roam freely among broken columns. Startled by the desolation of 
what he has accepted, naively, as the Eternal City, the visitor feels the pain of an 
exile.^^ At dusk, in particular, when "I'ora [...] volge il disio," the traveler's 

^^ A few days earlier Goethe had noted in his journal the same reaction: "Es ist mir 
wirklich auch jetzt nicht etwa zu Mute, als wenn ich die Sachen zum erstenmal sahe, 
sondern als ob ich sie wiedersahe" {Italienische Reise. 12 October 1786: "It is true that 
now I do not see things as if it were the first time, but as if I saw them again"). 
^^ "[...] multoque prius nichil aliud quasi quam illius Rome veteris argumentum aut 
imago quedam esset, ruinisque presentibus preteritam magnitudinem testaretur" 
(Petrarch, Senil. X, 2). 

'^ Ciceronianns, LB 1016. So did Du Bellay: "Nouveau venu, qui cherches Rome en 
Rome / Et rien de Rome en Rome n'aper9ois" {Les Antiquitez de Rome, sonnet ill). 
^^ The disappointment of finding Rome an ugly likeness of what the traveler had 
expected is a commonplace among visitors of any century. This reminds us of Du 
Bellay's deep unhappiness, expressed in Petrarchan terms {Rime, XLVil): "Malheureux 
I'an, le mois, le jour, I'heure, et le poinct, / Et malheureuse soit la flateuse esperance, / 
Quand pour venir ici j'abandonnay la France" {Regrets, xxv). Nathaniel Hawthorne 
remarked in his travel journals that the Eternal City offered "cold, nastiness, evil smells, 
[...] sour bread, pavement most uncomfortable to the feet, enormous prices for poor 
living, beggars, pickpockets, ancient temples and broken monuments with filth at the 
base and clothes hanging to dry about them, French soldiers, monks, priests of every 
degree, a shabby population smoking bad cigars" {Passages from French and Italian 
Note-books. Boston, New York: Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1892, p. 54). 

Cycles of Early-Modern Hodoeporics 22 1 

soul is crushed by homesickness and nostalgia;^^ hke a pilgrim who hears a 
church bell ringing, Dante dreams of home and his far-away friends (Purg. 8: 1- 
3). So a lonely Du Bellay in Rome reminisces about the "naturel sejour" 
(Regrets XXXV) of his village and the warmth of his household (XXXI), where he 
should be resting "entre pareils a soy" (xxxvii) and walks alone on the banks of 
the Tiber, "la France regrettant, et regrettant encor / [S]es antiques amis, [s]on 
plus riche tresor, / Et le plaisant sejour de [s]a terre angevine" (xix).°^ We are 
reminded of what a 16th-century German pilgrim. Dr. Johan Jakob Rabus, wrote 
about Rome: "Rom ist einem jeglichen das, das er [sich] selber ist" ("Rome is 
for everyone what he is for himself '),°^ which essentially means that our 
perception of a place is influenced by our own biases and foibles. The traveler 
cannot express adequately the outside world without using known parameters. 
So an anonymous Milanese merchant who toured Europe at the beginning of the 
16th century described all the cities he visited using familiar analogies with the 
towns in native Lombardy. The size of a city ("il circuito de li muri di Paris [e] 
tanto e mezo come il circuito de li fossi de Milano," 59; Amiens "e spessa come 
Pavia di case," 68; Toumai "e loco grande come Lodi," 68), the style of a church 
(a chapel in Seville "e picola come Santo Satiro de Milano," 136), even the look 
of an individual (Cardinal Wolsey "rasomiglia uno poco a messer Jason del 
Mayno," 86) are constantly related to what he and his readers know.°2 

What one sees is also affected by one's state of mind. A depressed Du 
Bellay underscored the superficial image of a decaying Rome, while Erasmus, 
who lived in the same reality a few years earlier, preferred to emphasize, 
nostalgically, pleasant walks and conversation with friends, in the soft light of 

'" The term nostalgia was coined by the German physician Johannes Hofer in his 

Dissertatio medica de nostalgia, oder Heimwehe (Basel: Bertsch, 1678). J. Lieutaud 

accepted it in his Precis de medecine pratique (Paris: Vincent, 1759) as a form of the 

"desir melancolique [...] qu'on appelle communement la maladie du pays'" and made it a 

household term. 

°^ Nostalgia takes many forms, and the dream of one's home obfuscates even the most 

splendid scenery. Stendhal mentioned with surprise the repugnance of a French lady 

companion for the sunny climate of southern Italy: "Ce soleil toujours sans nuages me 

brule les yeux; cette mer si bleue me fait regretter les bords de notre ocean de 


°' Rom; eine MUnchner Pilgefahrt im Jubeljahr 1575, ed. K. Schottenloher (Munich: 

Munchner Drucke, 1925), p. 136. After his tour of Germany, Michelet acknowledged the 

same syndrome in his travel journal: "Combien j'ai voyage en Jules Michelet, plus qu'en 

Allemagne!" {Journal, ed. P. Villaneix. Paris: Gallimard, 1957, 1, 457). 

°^ In Italo Calvino's Le citta invisibili Marco Polo acknowledges to the Khan: "Ogni 

volta che descrivo una citta dico qualcosa di Venezia." Everybody has a "citta matrice," a 

"mother-city," which represents an unescapable paradigm, a "sguardo narratologico," a 

"corredo genetico" that limits one's vision as a deforming glass, an attempt to "taime" a 

foreign reality (Zatti) by adapting it to his own experience. 

222 Luigi Monga 

Roman sunsets. °-^ At times, nostalgia could give way to physical illness, 
particularly when the traveler was young and unprepared. Such was the case of 
Lord Cranbome, sick in Padua, "his affections being so strangely set on his 
return homeward, according to the English ambassador in Venice, that any 
opposite is a disease. "^"^ 

The newly displaced individual is forced to face the diversity of the locales 
and grasp his own identity. Obviously, the effect of considering one's own 
differences and the trauma caused by such a realization varies with the different 
degree of spiritual inner strength and emotional independence the traveler 
possesses. While Stendhal is an unabashed lover who cannot but idolize what he 
sees abroad,"^ most of all in his cherished Milan, Montaigne is more analytical, 
and Du Bellay, moved by nostalgia, certainly resents every instant he must 
spend in a foreign city, surrounded by people who have lost any resemblance to 
their glorious ancestors. 

E. Return 

Etymological ly, return (Lat. tornus, a turner's wheel) suggests the completion of 
a circular motion, a tour brought to a conclusion, an entire giro (as in giro 
d 'Italia, the Grand Tour) without which there can be no journey, for the journey 
is essentially self defined and post factum, as we saw in the momentous quote 
from Machado (al andar no hay camino). Thus return, reditus (Lat. redire, to go 
or come back, to turn around) is an exciting component of the travel cycle, 
Stendhal's "etonnement du retour" (711). Plunging back into his family life, the 
new Ulysses receives the long-awaited prize of the possession of his wife and 
the accolade of his friends. At the moment of departure the male travelers were 
saddened by the anticipation of the absence of their maistresses, but they 
foresaw their return home and the loving encounter of their lovers and wives. 
This classical topos is at the foundation of the epic cycle of the nostoi (returns) 
to which the Odyssey belongs. ^^ The fraveler's fiill cycle, friggered by 

83 See his letter to Cardinal Raffaele Riario (n° 333, 15 May 1515, and n° 2328, 14 June 

1530) in Monga 23. 

^'^ Carleton's letter to the young man's father, Lord Salisbury (23 November 1610) is 

quoted by Howard (160). 

°^ A Romantic curiosity excites the traveler looking for the pittoresque and the couleur 

locale. While passing by Verona, Theophile Gautier would have liked to stop and see a 

public execution, "cette execution qui dans notre pays nous eut fait fuir, car en voyage la 

curiositd va quelquefois jusqu'^ la barbarie, et les yeux qui cherchent le nouveau ne se 

detournent pas d'un supplice si le bourreau est pittoresque et si le patient est d'une bonne 

couleur locale" {Voyage en Italie 62). 

8^ In fact, the return home can also be quite dramatic: Agamemnon is killed by his wife's 

lover, Diomedes finds that his wife has taken a lover, Idomeneus's wife is killed by her 

lover. Ulysses can finally rest, but only after killing Penelope's suitors in a bloodbath. 

There is "a set of gender determinations: [...] the domestic(ated) woman, Penelope, 

Cycles of Early-Modern Hodoeporics 223 

homesickness, often shows that the goal of his long search is precisely his return 
home. Such a return, at times, evokes negative memories of the journey, as an 
experience too sad to mention. The wayfarer has been far away, lost "entre les 
loups" (Du Bellay, Regrets IX), where he has acquired a bitter knowledge ("un 
sgavoir malheureux," Regrets XXIX). More positively, like Dante's Ulysses, the 
traveler sums up his experience, "del mondo esperto / e de li vizi umani e del 
valore" {Inf. XXVI, 98-99). He is happy to see, once again, "de [s]on petit village 
/ Fumer la chemi nee" {Regrets XXXI) and to set foot in his home, a final reditus 
ad uterum. 

Back home, among familiar surroundings, he is now ready to put his 
experience to use. He is expected to work for the common good of the State, to 
go abroad again and serve his country, teach young people at home or just enjoy 
the fruit of his hard-acquired knowledge. He should not, according to Bacon, 
"leave the countries where he hatn travailed, altogether behind him, but 
maintaine a correspondence, by letters, with those of his acquaintance, which are 
of most worth" (58). 

Some travelers, returning to their northern homes from sunny countries, 
consider their journey as "un de ces reves du matin auquel viennent bientot 
succeder les ennuis du jour" (Nerval II, 790). Others, like Piefro Delia Valle and 
Sebastiano Locatelli, know well that, once back at home, they will regret the 
freedom of their beautiftil adventure. If Delia Valle is moved by a deep feeling 
of restlessness, the good abate Locatelli, who has enjoyed a great amount of 
freedom in France and is about to go back to the strict, boring life of his native 
Bologna, is apprehensive of being locked in by his city's starchy and 
conventional morality. He is not about to forget the Parisian life, a life to be 
compared only to that of the mythical Fortunate Island: 

Tutto e vago, tutto e caro, ma il colmo delle contentezze che vi si gode e 11 vivere che vi 
si fa con innocenti costumi, con voglie moderate, sempre in faccia a stupende bellezze, 
sempre in seno agli amori" 


Locatelli, the starry-eyed young priest let loose in Paris with two 
unforbearing youngsters, is undoubtedly fearing the moment he will plunge 
from an ideal vacation into real life. And so is Thomas Jones, back in London. 
He appears to have forgotten many details of his own background; he feels 
different, afraid and surprised, just like a foreigner: 

I was nearly in the predicament of a foreigner — Every thing appeared strange — The 
extravagance of the inns frightened me, and the rudeness of the vulgar — disgusted — I 

maintains the property of the home against would-be usurpers while her husband wanders 
about" (G. Van Den Abbeele, Travel as a Metaphor: From Montaigne to Rousseau. 
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1992, p. xxv; Monga 29-33). 

224 Luigi Monga 

was extremely mortified likewise at the contemptuous manner in which we were 
surveyed by the servants as well as the mistress of the house — Our dress and appearance 
were not calculated to command respect, and must seem to them rather outlandish, as the 
coachman expressed himself. 


"Me voila r^installe dans mon fauteuil vert, aupres de mon feu qui brule, 
voila que je recommence ma vie des ans passes," wrote Flaubert after his first 
trip to sunny Southern France and Corsica (331). But everything has already 
changed in his life. Now he is consciously ready to embark in new adventures; 
in fact, he is already setting aside the paper for his next travel journal: "Je 
reserve dix cahiers de bon papier que j'avais destines a etre noircis en route; je 
vais les cacheter et les serrer precieusement apres avoir ecrit sur le couvert: 
papier blanc pour d'autres voyages" (349). 

The Romantic traveler returns home with regrets and ambition. From 
Nimes, on his way to Paris, a depressed Nerval writes his father that he fears "le 
froid et le mauvais temps," both a reality and metaphor of life in the Capital. °' 
Back in his bureaucratic niche, surrounded by a throng of obtuse colleagues and 
superiors he despises ("sots a rubans" who will be universally detested within 
ten years), Stendhal can only rely on the nourishing memories of his "beaux 
jours d'ltalie": "C'est I'ame qui gagne," he concludes." La vieillesse morale est 
reculee pour moi de dix ans. [...] Je me sens rajeuni. Les gens sees ne peuvent 
plus rien sur moi: je connais la terre ou Ton respire cet air celeste dont ils nient 
I'existence; je suis de fer pour eux" (161). For him, life in Italy was a formative 

F. Writing 

Machado has underscored that the journey does not exist during the motion 
itself, but only as a self- reference after it is accomplished, a self-conscious 
effort to describe it post factum: "Caminante, no hay camino, / se hace camino al 
andar" (CXXVI, 29). The inducement for recording one's quest is related to the 
motivations for engaging in the journey. ^^ When only a very small number of 

°' In a letter of December 24, 1843, quoted in Oeuvres completes, ii, 1372. 
^^ There is an extensive literature dealing with the relationship between travel and 
writing. I am not interested, however, in some post-modem attempts to identify 
essentially different activities such as writing, reading, and traveling. Therefore, in this 
essay I will refrain from pursuing the line of thought which has been developed by 
Gerard Genette and Michel Butor, among other theoreticians; namely, that "I'affirmation 
qu'ecrire, lire et voyager procedent de la meme activite, au point de pouvoir s'identifier 
dans tous les sens" (Philippe Dubois, "Le voyage et le livre" in Ch. Jacob and F. 
Lestringant, eds.. Arts et legendes d'espace: Figures du voyage et rhetorique du monde. 
Paris: PENS, 1981, pp. 149-201). Discussing the real travel {le parcours reel) of our eyes 
on the itinerary written in the book {ces mouvetnents litteraux de la lecture dans I 'objet- 

Cycles of Early-Modern Hodoeporics 225 

people embarked in traveling, their vicissitudes were considered extraordinary 
and praiseworthy. Having left home in order to emerge fi-om a homebound 
mediocrity,^^ the travelers' pride and virtii are firmly established by their tales 
of a successftil challenge. Their dangerous journeys earned them glory and 
fama; the account of their adventures and their impact on the readers are now 
integral elements of the quest itself. Talking (and writing) about their journeys, 
they express the necessity of sharing their feelings with others, as Jean Potocki 
(1761- 1815) wrote: "L'on ne voudrait pas de plus belle campagne du monde si 
Ton n'avait quelqu'un a qui Ton peut dire: voila une belle campagne."^^ 

Often the writing cycle starts in the course of the journey itself. Letters 
written to friends and acquaintances are the first instances of autobiographical 
travel accounts. Written with the understanding that they will be shared among a 
loyal circle of friends and relatives, these Renaissance documents are the 
forerunners of the more elaborate epistolography of the 1 7th and 1 8th century. 
One of the chief examples of this literary trend is the correspondence of 
Erasmus, perhaps the most prolific letter-writer of the Renaissance. On his way 
from Basel to Louvain Erasmus sent Thomas More in England a copy of his 
letter to Beatus Rhenanus recalling the tragicomoedia of his journey; he shipped 
another version of the same letter to England to be read by Erasmus's 
correspondents who were not likely to see More's copy. The original to Beatus 
was sent unsealed so the messenger could show it to Erasmus's acquaintances 
whenever the courrier stopped for the night.^* 

Many travelers took daily notes. Johann Heinrich Pflaumem ackowledged 
in his Mercurius italicus his habit of daily recording the events he witnessed: 

livre) would lead us astray from our goal. I would prefer to insist that the writer, like the 
seafarer on the surface of the ocean, can choose on the blank page a virtually infinite 
number of paths. 

^^ Ilaria Luzzana Caraci emphasizes that by and large Renaissance travel writers are 
interested in their self-improvement, "il desiderio di emergere dalla mediocrita e il 
bisogno di affermare la propria personal ita"(5copn7on e viaggiatori del Cinquecento e 
Seicento. Milano: Ricciardi, 1991, p. ix). 

^^ Jean Potocki, Voyages en Turquie et en Egypte, au Maroc et en Hollande, ed. D. 
Beauvois (Paris: Fayard, 1980), 151; Hafid-Martin 57. But writing a journal is also a 
means of self-analysis that will help one keep score of one's thoughts and better 
understand what surrounds the traveler. Regretting the fact that he kept no journal of his 
youthful trips, Rousseau acknowledged: "La chose que je regrette le plus dans les details 
de ma vie dont j'ai perdu la memoire est de n'avoir pas fait des joumaux de mes voyages. 
Jamais je n'ai tant pense, tant existe, tant vecu, tant ete moi, [...] que dans ceux que j'ai 
faits seul et a pied" {Confessions, iv in Oeuvres completes, ed. B. Gagnebin and M. 
Raymond. Paris: Gallimard, 1959, 1, 162). 
91 Letter no. 867 (October 15, 1518) in Letters (Oxford: Clarendon, 1913), pp. 292-401. 

226 Luigi Monga 

Ferme institutum tenui ut in itinere obvia referrem in pugillares, dein, ubi commodum 
esset, saepe etiam in hospitio, dum prandium coenamve hospes appararet, excriberem 
observationes meas, tandem laxiore otio, horis subsecivis, conferrem cum melioribus 
rerum italicarum auctoribus." 


Since the early days of human history, when Gilgamesh, after "a long 
journey," decided to "engrave his entire story on a stone," writing has been an 
option immediately considered by the returning traveler. Engraved on a stone, 
the story is for others to see. And travelers' s frequent assertions that their 
journey notes were just private exercises to be kept from the public, as 
Chateaubriand wrote about his Itineraire de Paris a Jerusalem (ll, 700), ring 
very hollow. ^^ j^ fact, after serializing his "notes de voyage" in the Mercure de 
France (1806-1807) and publishing four editions of his Itineraire (1811-1822), 
Chateaubriand showed at least a disingenuous streak when he wrote in the 
preface to his Oeuvres completes (1826): "Je n'ai pas fait un voyage pour 
I'ecrire" (II, 700). He was, indeed, another travel liar, particularly in his 
American travel journals, vaguely sketched, confused, exfravagant, and virtually 
improbable, yet his French public, unlike the American Quarterly Review (I, 
615), never suspected a hoax. 

In hodoeporics, as in any autobiographical writing, perfect objectivity is 
virtually impossible and the existential gap between facts and their written 
representation is unavoidable. Travel liars stretch their credibility to the extreme, 
running the gamut from fictitious personal motivations and labile memory gaps 
to creative padding and simply fictional writing. 

Formulating a report of one's adventure is strictly connected to memoria 
and sapientia, and is geared to remembering one's experience and setting it out 
for others to learn and enjoy."-^ William Lithgow, in his preface to the reader of 
his travel journal, defined his writing as "a peregrination of mind, in reviving the 

^^ The traveler's reluctance to write a travel narrative is a commonplace. Francesco 
Vettori, "non volente," was "costretto a scrivere" (13) what had happened to him, while 
Lady Miller's "artless, ingenious narration" (vi) was said to have been caused by her 
friends' insistence. 

"■^ Traditionally, wisdom {sapientia) was considered the daughter of experience {usus) 
and memory {memoria), as Stephanus Vinandus Pighius stated in the introduction to his 
travel narrative: "Recte atque vere finxisse veteres Sapientiae patrem Usum et matrem 
Memoriam esse" {Hercules prodicius. Anvers: Plantin, 1587, p. 134). Francesco Priuli, a 
young man who accompanied the Venetian ambassador Francesco Vendramin in an 
official journey to Madrid in 1792, wrote in his introduction that his account of his 
foreign travel ("il dar conto de' siti e costumi estemi") was written only for his own 
private use ("per mia particolar memoria delle cose vedute"), not for an arrogant desire of 
showing off his courage (L. Monga, Due ambasciatori veneziani nella Spagna di fine 
Cinquecento. Moncalieri: CIRVI, 2000, p. 189). 

Cycles of Early-Modern Hodoeporics 227 

same [journey] in the Map of my own Memory" (Lithgow, n. p.), for travel 
writing, as most writings, is an attempt to re-create what one has lost (Monga 
43). A line by Yeats, "I sing what was lost " ("What Was Lost," 1), and a similar 
one by Machado, "se canta [we could say "se escribe"] lo que se pierde" 
(CLXXiv, "Otras canciones a Guiomar," VI, 2)^^ clearly suggest this idea. 
When Francesco Carletti, one of the first independent world travelers, lost his 
notes after a laborious journey ("tutte le mie scritture e memorie"), what was left 
was just "una poca di memoria travagliata dalle miserie occorsemi" (31), a small 
core of vague remembrances devoid of the details that would have enhanced his 
credibility and added entertainment value to his story. 

Notes are taken in the course of the joumey,^^ still sketchy and hastily 
written, have rarely survived; incomplete, short-handed annotations, often 
illegible to us, written at night, in the smoke-filled common room of a foreign 
inn, by the tired writer surrounded by drunk fellow customers after a long day 
horse-back riding.^^ These incomplete notes serve as blueprints for a more 
complete re-writing. The exegesis of Stendhal's recits about his Kalian 
experience, for example, shows the extent of the writer's exploitation of his 
travel narrative. It is a political pamphlet, an analysis of post-Napoleonic Italy, a 
text published at the author's expense by a dilettante who pretends to write for 
his own pleasure and not to care about the marketing of his book, although he 
has invested a princely sum of money in it and hopes that it will be a popular 

^4 See in Umberto Eco's L 'isola del giorno prima the writer's effort to recount and/or re- 
create what he has experienced (Milan: Bompiani, 1994, pp. 10, 462; Monga 43). A 
haunting page in Colette's Mes apprentissages (iii, 1011) mentions a tongue-in-cheek 
conversation with Paul Masson, then in charge of the cataloguing department of the 
Bibliotheque Nationale, who invented new cards in order to fill the gaps in the holdings 
of the Bibliotheque, listing important books that [...] should have been written! 
^^ Hiiarius Pyrckmair strongly suggests a daily activity of note-taking: "Ad haec 
requiritur tabella quaedam ad excipiendum ea quae in itinere obiter soleant. Hominum 
enim memoria numquam tam stabilis tamque firma est ut ilia omnia comprehendere et 
semper tenere valeant" (21-22). See a humorous account of the writing habits of 
fastidious German travelers in Saint-Evremond's comedy Sir Politick Would Be (Monga 

^6 See a reproduction of a hardly legible page, written, I assume, under similar 
circumstances in the introduction to the Discours viatiques. Erasmus offered a poignant, 
yet amusing, description of the interior of German inns in "Diversoria" [1523] {Opera 
omnia. Amsterdam: North Holland, 1972, I, iii, 334-337). In Perugia, on his way to 
Rome, Goethe complained: "Zwei Abende habe ich nicht geschrieben. Die Herbergen 
waren so schlecht, dass an kein Auslegen eines Blattes zu denken war"("For two 
evenings I have not written. The inns were so bad that one could not even think to spread 
out a sheet of paper," October 25). On his way to Naples, Stendhal claims to have 
witnessed Gioacchino Rossini laboriously writing his music in an inn in Terracina: "il 
ecrit sur une mauvaise table, au bruit de la cuisine de I'auberge, et avec I'encre boueuse 
qu'on lui apporte dans un vieux pot de pommade" {Rome, Naples et Florence 510). 

228 Luigi Monga 

success. A few years later, Nerval's Voyage en Orient conflated two different 
journeys and was exploited in a series of fictitious lettres de voyage (self- 
described as "journal naif d'un voyageur enthousiaste," II, 176), written as short 
stories and published in various journals and newspapers. Eventually the 
material was published as a book, but the writer's itinerary maintained a vague 
chronology and still appears as the confuse congeries of translations of assorted 
travelers' accounts, artistic camouflages, and forged legends of various origin 
(Nerval II, 1376-1396). 

Truth and lies are fundamental elements of the traveler's tale: "Si via sit 
dura, licitum est tibi scribere plura"/ ' "Wenn einer eine Reise tut, so kann er 
was erzahlen" ("When one travels, one has something to tell"); "A beau mentir 
qui vient de loin." These proverbs reflect an attitude expressed by Strabo in his 
Geography. "Everybody who tells the story of his own travels is a braggart: to 
this class belongs Menelaus, who went up the Nile as far as Ethiopia" (I, 2, 23). 
And William Langland in the prologue of Piers the Plowman wrote: "Pilgrymes 
and palmers [...] heddenleue to lyzen heere lyf aflir." Garzoni echoes many 
treatises of the Italian Renaissance: "N^ mancano [i viaggiatori] d'aggiunger 
bugia a bugia, contando di mano in mano il viaggio pericoloso, insolito, nuovo, 
pieno di maraviglie e stupori c'hanno fatto, riducendosi alia memoria" (Garzoni, 
II, 1045).98 

So we are not surprised to see the writer twist the circumstances of his 
journey. And Thevet lied unabashedly that his account of the Atlantic crossing 
and the Brazilian natives was "tumultuairement compris et laboure par les 
tempetes et autres incommodites d'eau et de terre" (305), when we know it was 
instead penned at home, with the help of Mathurin Heret, a young ghost-writer 
who provided Thevet with a host of starchy classical references to impress his 
readers. Eventually, in the Age of Enlightenment readers became dependent on 
travel literature "not only for facts about a world that was growing both larger 
and very interesting, but for entertainment — the adventurous, the exotic, the 
marvelous" (Adams 223). 

The "degre zero" of hodoeporic writing is the guidebook, the impersonal 
prose of Baedeker. It is a vade-mecum, a manual that provides the traveler with 
the essential information and supplies a vast array of dates, names, and 
measurements. At the opposite side of the writing spectrum there is "I'explosion 
discursive du langage poetique,"^^ a creative transformation of what has or 

"' Andreas Gartner in his collection of proverbs, Proverbialia dicteria (Frankfurt am 

Main: Engenholph, 1578). 

^^ Even Saint Paul insisted on the difficulties and dangers he encountered in his journeys 

(2 Cor 11:26). In any case, the writer is forced to make a selection among the farrago of 

his memories: "Voil^ ce qui m'a sembl6 plus digne d'etre mis pas ecrit" (Thevet 29). 

^^ Olivier Bivort's "On ne part pas: L'illusion de I'ailleurs dans Une saison en enfer" in 

Voyage imaginaire -Voyage initiatique (Moncalieri: CIRVI, 1990), p. 123. 

Cycles of Early-Modern Hodoeporics 229 

could have occurred. For, in order to enhance his story, the traveler, now a 
writer (and often a liar),^^^ stretches the truth and embellishes a plain, often 
boring set of events. ^^^ Naturally, he is proud of the originality of most of his 
observations and, above all, does not want to be caught restating what others 
have written. If Coryate makes a point of telling his readers new details about 
Venice's cortigiane ("I have related so many particulars of them, as few 
Englishmen that have lived many years in Venice can do the like," I, 407), 
Goethe in Venice confesses: "Von Venedig ist schon viel erzahit und gedruckt, 
dass ich mit Beschreibung nicht umstandlich sein will" ("About Venice so much 
has already been said and written, that I do not wish to enter in details in my 
descriptions," 29 September 1786).^^^ Each traveler wants his unique approach 
to be remembered. We have been able to catch Locatelli red-handedly rewriting 
his first-draft travel narrative, adding new episodes, revising his naive 
perceptions of France and its people, pillaging guidebooks to give depth to his 
hasty descriptions of cities and their history (33-34). He confessed taking 
liberties with the truth in order to entertain his brother and his friends during the 
long summer afternoons in his country home (342, 65). 

Locatelli's modus operandi is by no means unique. A few years earlier, in 
the introduction to his Osservazioni nel viaggio, Francesco Belli had openly 
admitted his reasons for embellishing the truth of his travel narrative: 

lo non niego pero che non sia lecito avantaggiare ed abbellire un tal poco le cose con 
qualche aiuto di concetti e dilicatezza di stile: non essendo cotali fregi piu alia fine che gli 
ornamenti nelle donne, che non le rendono piu belle in sostanza, ma piu aggradevoli in 
apparenza. Per altro, sendo stato il viaggio continovo o pochissime volte interrotto, non 
sara meraviglia che io tocchi appena gli oggetti e accenni gli avvenimenti. [...] Tocchero 

^^^ The literature on the "travel liar" is abundant: see Percy G. Adams, Travelers and 
Travel Liars, J660-1800 {Berkdey. University of California Press, 1962). 
^^' Francesco Vettori felt the need to enhance his narrative of the bare facts and their 
unexciting repetitiousness; otherwise "in questi miei scritti non sia altro che giunsi, venni, 
arrivai, parti', cavalcai, cenai, udi', risposi e simil cose le quali, replicate spesso, a il 
lettore danno fastidio" {Scritti storici e politici. cit., p. 60). On Stendhal's "pretendue 
manie de la mystification," see. Stendhal 1311-1312. 

102 Venice, Rome, and Naples have been described in so many details by Renaissance 
travelers and guidebooks that often the writers left several pages blank in their journals, 
hoping to fill them after returning home. Two travel journals I have edited seem to 
indicate the writer's inability to describe these cities {Discours viatiques 86; Basire's 
Travels 90n, lOOn). A 17th-century BriUsh visitor, Thomas Abdy, who spent months in 
Rome and Venice between 1634 and 1635, gave no reasons for his total silence about 
their monuments, but I suspect that he purchased guidebooks to use eventually in his final 
travel report (see my above-mentioned essay "Thomas Abdy's Unpublished Travel 
Journal through France and Italy," 86-88), 

230 Luigi Monga 

adunque le cose vedute e udite: e se talora introdurro qualche cosa che paia diversa e 
lontana dalla materia, non sara che per fecondar la sterilita della stessa. ^-^ 

A symbiotic relationship between travel and the writer's subjectivity was 
conceded with refreshingly good humor by William Combe in his poetic 

I'll make a tour — and then I'll write it. 

You well know what my pen can do. 

And I'll employ my pencil too: — 

I'll ride and write, and sketch and print, 

And thus create a real mint; 

I'll prose it here, I'll verse it there. 

And picturesque it everywhere. ^'^ 

Travelers' claims to truthfulness became a required commonplace in their 
journals, witness Marco Polo's impressive apology in the foreword of his // 

Signori imperadori, re e duci, [...] vi contera il libro ordinatamente siccome Marco Polo 
[...] le conta in questo libro e egli medesimamente vide. Ma ancora v'ha di quelle con le 
quali elli non vide, ma udille da persone degne di fede,'"" e pero cose vedute dira di 
veduta e I'altre per udita, accio che '1 nostro libro sia veritieri e sanza niuna menzogna. 


103 Francesco Belli, Osservazioni nel viaggio (Venice: Pinelli, 1632), pp. 1-2. I owe this 
quotation to Nathalie Hesther of the University of Chicago. 

104 William Combe, Dr. Syntax 's Tour in Search of the Picturesque, of Consolation, and 
of a Wife (London: Chatto & Windus, 1890?), pp. 4-5. 

105 With false modesty, Francesco Carletti, like many other travel writers, claimed that, 
because of his "poca di memoria travagliata," he will try "meglio che mi sara possibile 
[...] di riscorrere e d'andarmi rammemorando solo di quelle cose che ho fatte e viste in 
detti mia viaggi" (31). The writer of Ambassador Tiepolo's travel journey to Spain 
mentioned the care he took in measuring the two whales he saw on the beach of Bayonne, 
knowing well that his readers would have a hard time believing him: "Volsi nondimeno 
io. montato in una barchetta, accostarmici et prendere quelle misure che mi parvero piu 
importanti, che per la verita non saranno intese con gran meraviglia" (L. Monga, Due 
ambasciatori veneziani nella Spagna difine Cinquecento, cit., p. 98). 

^^^ This is the weak link of hodoeporics (as well as history). Giovambattista Ramusio's 
preface to Marco Polo's book, facing the presence of "molte cose che pareno fabulose e 
incredibili," suggests Polo's lame acceptance of "quello che gli veniva detto" 
(Navigazioni e viaggi, ed. M. Milanesi. Torino: Einaudi, 1980, ill, 23; also Monga 46). 
But in his travel accounts Herodotus had already made a clear distinction between 
hearsay (akoe) and eyewitnessing (opsis) 

Cycles of Early- Modern Hodoeporics 23 1 

The traveler's "pact" with his reader allowed the Renaissance writer a certain 
leeway to enrich his recit with personal remarks, subjective details and cultural 
notes. These elements had an important role in the travel narrative of the Age of 

Je ne promets au lecteur qu'une chose, c'est de ne pas fermer les yeux. Tout ce que 
j'aurai roccasion de voir, je le raconterai. J'y joindrai quelquefois des remarques qui, je 
me plais a imaginer, ne seront pas mal re9ues, meme des hommes instruits; car je les ai 
faites non en passant, mais dans un temps ou je croyais que toute verite concernant 
rhistoire de I'homme ou celle de la nature etait si importante qu'on devait lui sacrifier 
volontier son repos et son plaisir. ^' 

Fantastic voyages a la Cyrano de Bergerac, contes philosophiques such as 
Voltaire's Candide, sea novels, historians' studies of comparative governments 
and religions, treatises of natural history and reports of explorations soon begin 
a trend which becomes extremely popular, to the point of overshadowing the 
newly established roman as a literary genre. In the early years of the 19th 
century, Stendhal used his cornet de route as the basis for so many re-writings 
and adaptations that his critics are still confused about the exact itinerary and 
time of his Italian journeys. Accused of making novels out of his travel accounts 
("romancer les voyages"), he acknowledged searching for the "piquant" (the 
clever, catchy, charming elements), avoiding "what was common, what was not 
worth being said" (V. Del Litto in Stendhal, XXII-XXIll). Revising his own notes, 
he also set in motion a writing laboratory in which personal observations were 
mixed pele-mele with all sorts of material pillaged from guidebooks, magazine 
articles, anything the French writer read during and after his visits to Italy. 
Chateaubriand and Lamartine, Nerval and Dumas, Sterne and Heine began to 
compose "roman- voyages," ' ^^ "travel impressions" that were enormously 
influential. The path from a travel account to a novel is being defined. The 
traveler liar takes over, and the 18th-century reader, be he a savant or a 
bourgeois, is deeply influenced by a new, pervasive literary genre. 

But now a new cycle has begun and other cycles are looming ahead. 
Potential fravelers are lured into starting their own cycles. Interested readers will 
engage in vicarious traveling from the comfort of their homes, following 
Jacques de Villamont's suggestion, a sensible marketing ploy in the introduction 
of his guidebook to Jerusalem: 

Fran9ois, voyez ces peuples estrangers. 
Sans changer d'air faictes ce long voyage, 

^"' Voyages au Caucase et en Chine, ed. D. Beauvais (Paris: Fayard, 1980), 31; Hafid- 
Martin 58. 

'^^ See Claude Pichois's discussion of the bibliographical background of this problem in 
his edition of Nerval's Oewvre^ cowp/e?e.s, II, 1376-1382. 

232 Luigi Monga 

De Villamont en la fleur de son aage 
A ses despens vous tire des dangers. ^" 

Travel writing, however, is not just an editorial tactic to entice readers to make a 
journey painlessly and with minimum expense. This quiet, homemade journey, 
protected from dangerous adventures and performed in the silence of one's 
study (an activity akin to the non-travel of Saint-Exupery's geographer in Le 
Petit Prince), accentuates the serenity of the reader who beholds his virtual 
motion on the map or reads about it in a book. ^ ^ ^ By now, as Zatti stated, the 
real travel seems to disappear: "I'universo dei segni ha sostituito il viaggio 
fisico."^*' A new cycle has been completed, from the journey to its written 
description, a self-referential account in a map or book. 

^^^ Voyages (Paris: C. de Montr'oeil and J. Richer, 1600). The literary travel ("a ses 
despens") as a financial bargain appears also in Ariosto's Satire and it is now a topos ("il 
resto del la terra / senza mai pagar I'oste, andro cercando / con Ptolomeo, sia il mondo in 
pace o in guerra," ill, 60-62). Lodovico Guicciardini's remarked to his reader: "Vedrai 
[...], senza uscir di casa, in poco spatio et in poche bore, il sito, la grandezza, la bellezza, 
la potenza et la nobilta di questi egregii et mirabili paesi; potrai conoscere la natura et la 
qualita dell'aria et della terra, quel che ella produce et non produce, sapere quante 
regioni, quante citta et altre terre, [...] quanti fiumi et quanto mare [...], quante selve et 
quanti boschi d'ogni intorno li adomano; potrai haver notitia della natura et qualita delle 
genti che li habitano" (130). Whether a true travel journal or a description of a site, the 
explicit statement of the writer underscores his personal experience, "non havendo io 
perdonato a fatica ne a tempo ne a cosa alcuna [...] per vedere et investigare 
personalmente le cose occorrenti, comunicandole per tutto con huomini dotti et esperti 
del paese, acciocchd I'opera venisse piu purgata et approvata dall'universale" {Ibid.). 
This commonplace goes beyond the author's concern with the marketing of his book; it 
emphasizes the power of the written word and the frugal "chariot that bears the human 
soul," for "there is no frigate like a book / To take us lands away / Nor any coursers — 
like a page / Of prancing poetry — [••]," carrying readers to far-away realms, regardless 
of wealth and health, as in Emily Dickinson's poem (no. 1286). 

' '^ Baudelaire, who would "leave for the sake of leaving" (see n. 44) and whose bitter 
journey had produced only an "amer savoir," described the curious child, bent over maps 
and books, as the ideal traveler/dreamer escaping into a world of fantasy: "Pour I'enfant, 
amoureux de cartes et d'estampes, / L'univers est egal a son vaste appetit. / Ah! que le 
monde est grand a la clarte des lampes!" ("Le Voyage"). Joseph Conrad recalled his 
youthful yearning for geography: "When I was a little child I had a passion for maps. I 
would look for hours at South America, or Africa, or Australia, and lose myself in all the 
glories of exploration" ("The Heart of Darkness" in J. C, Complete Works: The Tales. 
Hopewell: The Ecco Press, 1992, iii, 6). 

^ ^ ' Sergio Zatti mentions Marino's suggestion that Galileo's exploration of the sky, 
made with a telescope "senza periglio e senza guerra," could be considered a sedentary 
voyage which represents a new way of traveling and discovering, the "viaggio in forma 
di metafora" (as in Mzx'mo'' sAdone, x, 43-45). 

Cycles of Early-Modern Hodoeporics 233 

And the accessibility of the written word in the economy of this cycle 
allows all writing travelers to make use of what their predecessors have written: 
"II y a des citations inevitables. Les voyageurs s'entreglosent" (Roudaut 65). 
Writing begets writing and influences the recits of more writers: "Le narrateur 
donne la parole a autrui, aux livres, aux voyageurs anterieurs et aux guides, aux 
informateurs qu'il rencontre" (Roudaut 60). The journey becomes, as Goethe 
pointed out, "ein Supplement aller ubrigen [...] so muss dieses vorzUglich von 
Reiseberichten und Reisenden" ("a supplement of all others, [...] particularly of 
travel writing and travelers," Italienische Reise, 4, 5, and 6 June 1787).^ ^■^ 
Despite romanesque additions and a variety of influences, the travel writer 
usually maintains his own narrative rhythm, a healthy independence from his 
sources, the ability to crop, skip, and cut unnecessary details as he sees fit ("la 
tentation de I'ellipse," Roudaut 64). 


An experience that affects people in different ways, travel can lead to positive 
changes in one's philosophy of life or to one's rejection of his own traditions 
and cultural background. Milton's axiom Caelum non animum muto dum trans 
mare curro (see n. 53) underscores his attachment to the values of his 
forefathers. The paranoia of Rogers Ascham and John Howell was often 
justified, for many young Englishmen returned from the Grand Tour deeply 
changed, having wasted their time abroad and transformed themselves into 
"Italianfyd Inglischemen," as Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, sarcastically 
implied, or "affectate travellers," vain individuals, ashamed of their own 
language and speaking English through "[their] teeth, like [...] Monsieur Mingo 
de Moustrap."'^-^ 

'^2 As Charles L. Batten, Jr. observed for 18th-century English hodoeporic literature, 
Addison's casual Remarks on Italy creep into the letters and private journals of such 
travelers as James Boswell, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Horace Walpole, and Edward 
Gibbon, as well as into other travel books whose titles are often modeled after Addison's 
own title (Breval, Drummond, Johann Georg Keyssler, Samuel Sharp, Tobias Smollett, 
Anna Riggs Miller, Thomas Nugent, Hester Piozzi, et at., in Batten 11-12). 
'^^ Thomas Nash, Pierce Pennilesse, in Works, ed. A. B. Grosart (London: The Huth 
Library, 1883-1885), ii, 27. Shakespeare chastised the "base imitation" of Italian manners 
that "tardy apish Englishmen" followed {Richard ll, II, ll, I). The affectation of these 
Grand Tourists back in England hides not only their pretentiousness to show off an exotic 
traveling experience, but also a real hardship of readapting to a world left behind and, 
perhaps, the impossibility of becoming fully English again. The topos of the returning 
traveler who now cannot speak his maternal tongue without inserting a confusing mixture 
of other languages is an old one. Cristobal de Villalon mentioned in his Viaje de Turquia 
[1557] the affectation of travelers back from Italy "quien nos rompen aqui las cabezas 
con sus salpicones de lenguas," yet they are still wearing the same shoes they had when 

234 Luigi Monga 

In general, hundreds of returning Grand Tourists affected not only the 
collective perception of the local cultural elite, their Wanderlust shaped the 
intellectual history of their country,^ ^^ for many people, unable to travel, were 
nonetheless affected by reading travel journals. ^^ The intellectual development 
of England and the United States was profoundly altered by the personal 
experience of their leaders who had lived for a while in foreign countries. 

People like Richard Symonds and John Evelyn returned from the Continent 
to 17th-century London with rich portfolios of prints and drawings. Ships sailing 
from Italy carried to England their purchases of paintings, statues, and glass. 
Grand Tourists had their portraits painted in Rome or Venice, chose Delft tiles 
in Holland to brighten the fireplaces and floors at home, or looked out for 
cabinets of inlaid stone and polished wood to set beside their own old furniture 
as a novelty in fashion. Books acquired in foreign cities, occasionally annotated 
by the travelers, and even with faded flowers pressed between the leaves, were 
sometimes to remain for centuries on their library shelves. These visible tokens 
were certainly less important, though more easily identified, than the gradual 
response of the travelers' mind to overseas experiences. They learnt history, 
they learnt geography, they learnt politics (Stoye 327). 

One could use the words of Christopher Wren's epitaph in St. Paul's 
Cathedral to illustrate this evidence: "Si monumentum requiris, circumspice." 
The effect of travel and the sense of identity with ancient Rome and Renaissance 
Florence on the cultural life of the English-speaking world, from the decor of 
British country houses to Jefferson's Monticello and L'Enfant's Washington, 
needs no demonstration.^'" The virtuosi who visited foreign countries 

they left ("aun los mesmos zapatos que te llevaste traes, y tan presto se te ha olvidado tu 
propia lengua?'\ p. 46). The Duke of Norfolk's contemptuous remark referred to one of 
his secretaries, William Barker, who under torture had implicated him in a plot to 
facilitate Philip ii's invasion of England in exchange for marrying Mary queen of Scots. 
Norfolk was beheaded on June 2, 1572. 

''^ Even 20th-century military campaigns in Europe must be considered in terms of 
collective pedagogy. Joe Young's 1919 song, "How'ya gonna keep'em down on the farm 
(after they've seen Paree)," shows the effect that travel and war have had on the 
psychology of a generation of young American farmers, unable to return to the stillness 
of their home life after the excitement of their wartime experience in a large foreign city. 
' '^ "He travels and expatiates, as the bee / From flow'r to flow'r, so he from land to 
land. [...] / He sucks intelligence in ev'ry clime, / And spreads the honey of his deep 
research / At his return — a rich repast for me" (William Cowper, The Task [1785], iv, 
107-108, 111-113). 

' '^ Jeremy Black, The British Abroad: The Grand Tour in the Eighteenth Century (New 
York: St. Martin's Press, 1992); Gervase Jackson-Stops (ed.). The Treasure Houses, of 
Britain: Five Hundred Years of Private Patronage and Art Collecting (Washington: 
National Gallery of Art, 1985); William L. Vance, America's Rome (New Haven: Yale 
University Press, 1989), 2 vols.; Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr., The Lure of Italy: American 

Cycles of Early-Modern Hodoeporics 235 

discovered a widespread locus amoenus "whither the eyes and the heart of every 
artist turn, as if pictures could not be made to glow in any other atmosphere, as 
if statues could not assume grace and expression, save in the land of whitest 
marble."'^' Returning travelers preferred to underscore their positive 
experience, the discussions held, the written memoirs, even the artwork they 
gathered abroad. Their collective learning enriched the national consciousness 
and helped form a class of intellectuals more open to a global perception and 
more subject to suggestions from fellow scientists and philosophes from 
neighboring or far-away countries. Travel and travel writing, when travelers 
were sensitive and curious, have truly formulated our history which, like 
Thucydides's "treasure forever" {Hist. I, 22), truly is a cornerstone to be 
reckoned with by future generations. 

Vanderbilt University 

Artists and the Italian Experience, 1760-1914 (New York: Abrams, 1992). The value of 
the impact of the foreign experience in the artist's career is exemplified in Pierre 
Mignard's extraordinary success in France after a 22-year-long sojourn in Simon Vouet's 
studio in Rome. Moliere underscored this element, acknowledging that the painter had 
come back to Paris to "deployer les precieux tresors / Que le Tibre t'a vu amasser sur ses 
bords" ("La Gloire du Val de Grace," 21-22). 

' ^"^ Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Marble Faun (New York: New American Library, 1961), 
p. 47. 

236 Luigi Monga 

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Armando Maggi 

When the O. Moves in the Heart: The Annunciation of the End 
in the Journal of Saint Veronica Giuliani^ 

In the first book of the Confessions, recounting the first years of his life, 
Augustine poses a fundamental question to the divinity, that is, whether "utrum 
alicui iam aetati meae mortuae successerit infantia meae. An ilia est, quam egi 
intra viscera matris meae?" (I, 6, 16). Augustine is aware of the fact that, as the 
book of Job confirms, "nemo mundus a peccato coram te, nee infans, cuius est 
unius diei vita super terram (14:4-5 LXX)" (1,7, 18-20). If human existence 
coincides with fall and exile, Augustine ponders, is there a lapse of time in 
which we exist, and thus sin, even before we actually exist? If I sin before I am, 
how can I possibly retrieve the memory of the crimes committed before coming 
to life? Although I may assess the crimes of my infancy by observmg other 
infants, Augustine implies, comparison does not correspond to the recovery of 
an actual memory. Who will remind him of the sins of his infancy, he asks 
himself. The time he spent in his mother's womb, he states, lies in the darkness 
of a complete forgetfulness: 

Hanc ergo aetatem, domine, qua me vixisse non memini, de qua aliis credidi et quam me 
egisse ex aliis infantibus conieci . . . piget me adnumerare huic vitae meae, quam vivo in 
hoc seculo. Quantum enim adtinet ad oblivionis meae tenebras, par ill! est, quam vixi in 
matris utero. 

(I, 7, 22) 

The narration of my fall and exile thus can never start from the beginning for 
there is always a beginning preceding any narrative beginning, a beginning 
marked at once by my fall and the complete oblivion of my fall. The story of my 
exile, one may say, opens when my story has already begun, and no one will 

' The essential meaning of the "O" will become apparent in the second part of this essay. 
A second preliminary remark concerns the edition of the mystic's journal. As Giovanni 
Pozzi underscores, the current complete edition of Veronica Giuliani's Diario is 
extremely poor. Before completing this essay, I visited the convent of Santa Veronica 
Giuliani in Citta di Castello, where, thanks to the kind support of the Mother Superior, I 
had a chance to consult the original manuscripts. For obvious reasons, I follow the most 
recent, albeit extremely questionable, edition of Giuliani's opera omnia. This essay is the 
first chapter of my forthcoming monograph on Veronica Giuliani's mysticism. 

Annalid'ItalianisticalS (2000) 

240 Armando Maggi 

ever be able "to remind me," as Augustine puts it, of what happened at the very 

The beginning thus always lies in the past of an irretrievable memory, or 
better yet, in a memory that was never the present of an actual beginning, if by 
"beginning" one means the moment in which the "I" consciously opens the 
analysis and narration of one's present existence.^ As in psychoanalysis wherein 
the first dream signifies the patient's present condition and thus marks the initial 
step toward some kind of hypothetical healing, the date placed at the top of the 
first blank page of one's journal is already a reminder of the moment in which 
we decided it was time "to understand" before we actually took pen and paper 
and jotted down our inaugural notes. The first date on the first blank sheet is a 
sign (an "icon" a la Peirce) pointing to a temporal mise-en-abime, at once the 
past of the entry (what happened today), the past of our initial need for writing, 
and that beginning (preceding any beginning) which harbors both the secret of 
our fall and our present exegetical practice (Peirce 104-07). 

It is thus not surprising that the current, and unfortunately "deplorable," 
edition of Saint Veronica Giuliani's monumental journal does not open with its 
actual first entry (13 December, 1693), but rather with the third of her five 
autobiographies, which she wrote under her confessor's direct order seven years 
after the beginning of her journal (sometime in 1700) (Pozzi 162; Courbat 1994, 
9-40). According to Oreste Fiorucci, whose edition (1969-74) closely follows 
the version published at the turn of this century by Pietro Pizzicaria (1895- 
1905), those who embark on such a vast reading need an exegetical vade 
mecum, some kind of introduction or preface. Fiorucci believes that the third 
"relazione" (account), which he defines as second, best plays this preliminary 
role because it is "la piii completa" but also, and more importantly, because 
Pope Pius IX held it for more than twelve years during the process of Veronica's 
sanctification (fi-om 1846 to 1858).^ For this reason, this third autobiography 
was then called "the volume of Pius IX" ("il volume di Pio IX") and was 
regarded by the nuns of the Monastery of Citta di Castello as a unique and holy 
specimen within the saint's extensive texts. 

Let us bear in mind that the almost illiterate Veronica Giuliani (1660-1727) 
was forced to learn how to write in order to provide the religious authorities, 
first of all her thirty-nine confessors, with textual evidence against her."* As the 
visionary herself makes clear in a number of entries, for her the act of writing is 
a form of abjection, which she envisions as the core of her mysticism. Writing 

^ For an interesting analysis of consciousness in autobiography, see Blaise 201-09. 

^ Un tesoro nascosto, ossia, Diario di S. Veronica Giuliani, l:xi. Cf Courbat 1995, 336- 

37. For a description of the religious context, see Ermenegiido Frascadore, "Contesto 

sociale e religioso in Italia a! tempo di Santa Veronica Giuliani" in Iriarte 1:171-75. 

" See Lollini 351-67; Pozzi 163-64. For an analysis of Veronica Giuliani's mystical 

language, see Cittadini. 

The Annunciation of the End in Veronica Giuliani 24 1 

equals humiliation not only because her syntax and her spelling are a mess, but 
rather because each entry of her journal reminds her that her being lies in 
abjection and was bom in abjection, and that her language cannot help but speak 
abjection. It is thus evident that her five autobiographies, at once sections of and 
exegetical keys to her journal, are attempts to capture echoes or signs of her 
original call to humiliation, and to the suffering that it entails. If at the age of 
three or four she already felt an overwhelming attraction toward pictures of the 
baby Jesus and the Virgin Mary, at the age of five or six she started perceiving 
an irresistible vocation for suffering and physical humiliation (1:7-8). She 
pierced her body with needles, burned her hand, hit herself with nettles, walked 
on her knees, and "did the discipline" (1:8). She also enjoyed listening to 
hagiographic stories and tried to experience some of the sufferings reported in 
those books. Once, for instance, she inadvertently stuck a finger in a door. The 
blow was so intense that she could see the nerve through the running blood. But 
the pain turned into joy when she remembered that Saint Rosa of Lima had had 
a similar experience (1:14). 

Veronica recognized that suffering signified a state of alertness. Both 
physical and mental pain was a reminder of "un so che della vita passata che mi 
dava fastidio" (1:34). To suffer was at once a sign (an icon) of a problematic, 
albeit forgotten, past and the inevitable consequence issuing from that very past. 
Even before entering the Capuchin convent in Citta di Castello at the age of 
seventeen, Veronica understood that meditation ("orazione mentale," 1:17) 
would be the primary way to respond to certain "secret invitations" ("segreti 
inviti") coming from within her heart, and which manifested themselves as 
intense requests for suffering (1:29).^ 

When she became a novice, Veronica expressed these feelings to the Jesuit 
(probably Father Francesco Mazzagalli) who had been teaching her Saint 
Ignacio's spiritual exercises. This Jesuit, Veronica states in her account, 
reminded her that, in order to answer God's invitations, she had to pursue 
suffering with all her love (1:25-26). This dialogue between the mystic and the 
Jesuit is of extreme importance because it foreshadows Veronica's forthcoming 
journal. Replying to the Jesuit's words, Veronica states: "Oh Father, this is my 
sole desire." But the Jesuit believes that Veronica speaks so fervently about pain 
because in fact she does not know what pain really is. Suffering is a life project; 
Veronica will understand later when pain visits her unexpectedly. Suffering is 
both a state of mind and a practical disposition toward life. "It is time," she will 
tell herself then, "to practice what the Father told you." 

In a previous paragraph I defined the mystic's concept of suffering as a 
form of mental alermess, in which the past of a vexing "something," as she 
herself defines it, comes to her as the present of a physical disquiet. If the cause, 
that is, the beginning, is what is absent from consciousness, the present as 

On the issue of suffering, see Rarricau. 

242 Armando Maggi 

suffering is the memorial of that initial absence, or better yet, suffering points to 
the instant immediately after what has withdrawn fi-om presence. It is thus 
apparent that, in the analysis of Veronica's journal, what "begins" is what 
presents itself to the mystic as an instance of sudden awareness ("una certa 
cognizione di me stessa," 1:58), of "new" understanding, which for her always 
and exclusively identifies with a "new" suffering. Innumerable, in fact, are the 
entries in which Veronica reports the occurrence of a different, unusual, and thus 
insightftil form of pain. 

According to her "second account," the year 1696 marks a new beginning in 
her mystical life. Veronica confesses that for a long time she had had a barely 
controllable desire to inscribe the name of Jesus (I. H. S.) on her heart with a 
knife (1 :53). This time her confessor gives her permission to open a wound over 
her heart. Back in her cell, Veronica has an "intellectual vision" ("una visione 
intellettuale") during which she sees herself taking her small knife and using its 
blade as a pen on her chest. This act of writing on oneself, this experience of 
reflection and division (seeing herself looking at her own body as a blank sheet) 
mirrors a new opening, whose extreme significance is confirmed by God's 
request for a new wedding and a promise of new insights ("lumi," 1:54). During 
this rapture, Veronica also writes a "statement" with the blood oozing from her 
wound, in which she announces to the Lord her complete abandonment to his 
will. She officially donates her heart to him, and accepts his proposition. 

The significance of this event is twofold. On the one hand, it corresponds to 
the highest, the most symbolic expression of the mystic's active quest for 
suffering. We could in fact see the above event as the enactment of a basic 
metaphor (love = heart = pain). On the other hand, it also anticipates a 
forthcoming new kind of interaction between the divinity and the mystic in 
which suffering/love will come to her as a divine grace. ^ It is not by chance that, 
after this annunciation, suffering visits her for the first time on Christmas night. 
While she is contemplating the creche, Veronica enters a vision in which she 
sees the image of the baby Jesus holding a bow with an arrow directed at her 
heart (1:66). At that moment, the mystic feels an overwhelming pain and, 
regaining her senses, realizes that the wound over her heart is actually bleeding. 
If in the past by opening that wound Veronica had opened her heart to suffering, 
the divinity now reopens the wound in order to signify the opening/beginning of 
his graces to her. 

It is also of crucial importance to note that suffering visits the mystic in the 
form of an emblem, whose figures are among the most typical components of 
baroque devotional imagery (an angel or the baby Jesus, the arrow, the heart). 

^ In a later vision, Veronica in fact hears the Lord telling her: "Sta posata, cM il tuo 
vivere sara un continue patire, e questo e il mio volere per confermarti a me tuo sposo 
crocefisso" (1:63). 
' I analyze the so-called "emblems of the heart" in "Visual and Verbal Communication." 

The Annunciation of the End in Veronica Giuliani lAli 

Although seventeenth-century emblematic literature differs greatly from its 
original Renaissance form, some essential features link Christian devotional 
emblems to the sixteenth-century imprese. The most interesting representative of 
Renaissance theory on visuality is Alessandro Farra, the author of the strictly 
Neo-Platonic treatise // settenario dell'umana riduzione, published in 1593 
(Maggi 1997, 3-28). In this text, Farra holds that the act of visualizing an 
impresa is in fact a form of contemplation, which leads the viewer to a sudden 
and non-linguistic insight. Farra states that, moving through a seven-step process 
of mental and linguistic purification, the subject finally succeeds in retrieving 
the memory of a past knowledge, the remembrance of a divine visitation. In 
other words, what the subject learns now (when he is visited by the impresa'' s 
insight) is in fact what he knew then, when the divinity granted him what he is 
recovering now. However, the then of God's communication lies in a moment 
preceding any possible remembrance (the Augustinian existence before 

In Veronica Giuliani's imprese, an insight announces itself as the opening 
of her heart wound. Throughout her journal we read of the repeated closing 
(ending) and sudden opening (beginning) of this wound, even before the 
stigmata are inscribed on her body.* As we shall see later, pain and blood are the 
signs marking both the beginning and the end of a divine communication in the 
heart. The basic structure of many of Veronica's imprese or emblems revolve 
around an act of substitution between the "cuore ferito" (the wounded heart) and 
the "cuore amoroso" (the amorous heart).^ As Veronica sees during an initial 
rapture in 1696, Jesus removes her bleeding heart and replaces it with a flaming, 
amorous heart (cf 1:126). It is almost superfluous to remember that in the 
seventeenth century there are innumerable emblems based on these figures. We 
could say that Veronica Giuliani's immense journal is in fact a book of 
devotional emblems or imprese, which testify to the recurrent and repeated 
openings, or beginnings, of her mystical initiation. '° Both the wounded and the 
amorous/blazing heart visualize an act of awareness in that both hearts picture 
the moment in which the mystic perceives the void (or opening) distancing her 

For the first description of how she received the stigmata, see 1 :99-100. 
^ I believe we should define these emblematic visions as imprese because of their private 
connotation. Let us remember that, unlike an emblem, an impresa is a personal message 
directed to a specific addressee. 

'° In some specific cases, it is evident that her visions were inspired by the memory of 
some emblematic pictures. For instance, in 1695, Jesus shows her a shield (another 
typical form of emblematic language) and places it in her heart (1:457). A similar vision 
will visit her in 1697 (1 :806). The same year, Veronica sees that the Lord is purifying her 
heart by squeezing pus and filth out of it (1:823; cf 2:641-42). A variafion of this 
emblematic rendition shows a press (un torchio) squeezing snakes out of the heart (for 
example, 2:1141; cf 4:613). 

244 Armando Maggi 

from divine love. In some cases, the interaction between the two hearts is 
depicted as the sudden loss or removal of one of the two, and its subsequent 
return into the mystic's chest (contrast 2:125-26, 315; 3:127). Other entries in 
Veronica's journal clearly describe the two hearts not as two distinct organs, but 
rather as two temporal facets of the same experience: Jesus takes her wounded 
heart, cleanses it, and then shows that a flame is springing out of it (contrast 
2:94, 102-03, 217). Whereas the wounded heart indicates a receptive realization 
(the absence of love as a bleeding wound), the heart on fire speaks of a 
subsequent, "ardent" response to the wound's opening}^ 

However, it is essential to understand that these "emblematic events" do not 
distinguish between "heart" as the metaphorical repository of the mystic's soul 
and the physical organ. "Heart" and heart are mirrors of the same, initial 
opening of the mystic's wound/"wound." For instance, on December 20, 1693, 
Veronica sees the Lord taking hold of her heart, which starts "turning around" in 
her chest (1:179). The essential importance of the heart's movement will 
become apparent at the end of this essay. For the time being, it will suffice to 
highlight the reflection between mystical vision and carnal symptom. Her heart 
turns inside, bounces, beats so loudly that one can hear it from outside, or else it 
bums so intensely that her pain is barely tolerable. These excruciating reactions 
occur when her insight/wound is about to open/begin (for instance, 2:476, 521). 
Veronica often realizes that her heart's wound is in fact open again and is 
bleeding proftisely. Pain itself is thus both physical and mental. On May 3, 
1701, Veronica directly connects the pain in her heart with the pain brought 
about by a sudden and crystal-clear perception of her past as a seamless sin 

If the opening of the wound marks an existential void (the wounded heart), 
it also indicates that what is about to begin has both a future and a past nature. 
What begins is at once a forthcoming divine enlightenment (the burning heart) 
and the refrieval of the mystic's past. Her past begins, so to speak, when her 
heart opens to the wound which precedes any possible wound. '^ For this reason, 
she composed some of her "official statements" (proteste) with the blood 
coming out of her wounded heart. '^ It is a fact that, after Catherine of Siena, 
blood has become of extreme importance in female mysticism. In Veronica 
Giuliani's journal, blood is the visible manifestation of that "void" flowing out 
of the wounded heart. Blood initiates an act of remembrance in that it is the ink 
with which the mystic at once recalls her past actions and summons the presence 

" Veronica discusses the interaction between the two hearts in the entry of May 29, 1697 


'^ See, for example, what Veronica writes on August 1 1, 1702 (2:1 139). 

'^ Veronica mentions this practice in an entry of 1696. As the editor points out, most of 

her proteste were destroyed. Her convent still has two texts the mystic wrote with her 

own blood (1:560). 

The Annunciation of the End in Veronica Giuliani 245 

of an inaugural wound. For Veronica Giuliani, blood signifies her being as a 
fundamental fissure or opening. Blood is the memorial of a beginning, for blood 
is also Christ's blood, that is, it brings back the memory of the Lord's death due 
to our initial wound. Veronica writes that she has indeed tasted both the blood 
coming out of her heart's wound and, like Angela of Foligno, the sweet blood 
from Christ's open side.''* In one of the most disturbing pages of her diary, 
Veronica explains that during a vision the Lord recommended that she preserve 
the fluid leaking out of her heart's wound, which had just been pierced and 
reopened by the luminous rays descending from the Lord's five wounds. Three 
drops of this liquid, which tastes like honey and looks like a "clear blood" 
("sangue . . . chiaro"), will serve as a private Eucharist, and will sustain her in 
her daily sufferings. It is evident that this "clear" fluid is a blood that has been 
"clarified" through an act of remembrance, that is, it is a blood that has been 
read in light of its origin/beginning: the fluids flowing from Christ's wounds. 
Her being aware of her blood's origin, so to speak, also "clarifies" her daily 
suffering in that she comes to perceive that her mental and physical disquiet, in 
fact, echoes the shedding of an original blood. 

For Veronica Giuliani, suffering is indeed an echo, an act of reflection. As 
she reiterates in a number of enfries, she believes that suffering is the 
quintessential expression of love, because suffering enables her to live the past 
of her beloved's original wound (Christ's sacrifice on the cross). But, as in every 
love relationship, suffering also brings to the fore the essential distance (the 
opening of the wound) between lover and beloved, between the past of Christ's 
death and the original past of human existence as crime, comparable to 
Augustine's existence before his memory of existing. If at the beginning was 
suffering, suffering also manifests the agonizing void that opens between its 
original (past) occurrence and its present reiteration. Suffering thus also marks a 
radical failure. 

This essential failure is the core of Veronica's innumerable mystical 
"frials," which undeniably reproduce the humiliations she endured during her 
frequent confessions. Her countless "hearings" enact a similar setting. Entering a 
rapture, Veronica finds herself in a huge room at the end of which she sees the 
Lord sitting on a throne. An angel, often her guardian angel, is her usual 
prosecutor. Jesus orders her to keep silent and to refrain from any attempt to 
defend herself with some desperate and inconclusive declaration of love. On 
May 12, 1697, the mystic's trial opens with the Lord asking her to look at his 
bleeding side (2:26-32). When she "looks inside" his wound, Veronica 
understands that her trial has already begun. Her guardian angel, the mystic 
writes (March 31, 1697), enumerates all the thoughts that had crossed her mind 
from the moment of her birth (1:874). Veronica and all the creatures present at 

''' Contrast 2:499 and 2:274. In the "seconda relazione," Veronica states that once, rapt in 
spirit, she bathed in Christ's blood (1:155). 

246 Armando Maggi 

her trial (the Virgin Mary, numerous saints, angels, and devils) are reminded of 
her original crimes. Veronica is so repugnant that the Lord, the saints, even her 
usually compassionate "mother" (Mary) cover their faces so as not to look at her 
(contrast 1:871; 3:461). 

If the mystic's numerous trials inevitably aim to unveil the origin of her 
being as crime, they also express an inherent sense of ending within Veronica's 
vast journal in that they foreshadow the day of her death and her subsequent 
exposure to the divine judge. Veronica is aware of the fact that the fiill memory 
of her beginning as crime will reveal itself at the moment of her end. Just as the 
mystic's trial opens with Veronica looking into Christ's bleeding side, the 
Savior and his wounds often present themselves as a mirror in which the mystic 
has a sudden perception of her past as a narrative written once and for all. 
Veronica's trials and humiliating confessions are in fact rehearsals of her 
possible final conviction. As we shall see in a moment, Veronica perceives her 
existence as a lapse of time, or an intermission, preceding the opening of her 
condemnation. In this regard, if suffering manifests itself as a series of emblems 
depicting the opening of a physical and spiritual wound, the emblems of 
suffering signify an act of contemplation upon the suffering which may be the 
mystic's eternal fate. This is the explicit theme of Veronica's most despairing 
trial, which took place on September 8, 1701 (2:958-60). At the beginning of 
this new hearing, Veronica sees all the crimes she has committed as monsters 
attacking her. All the confessors who, with their stem and humiliating behavior, 
had tried to convince her of her wretchedness, participate in the trial as judges. 
Even devils make their statements against her, adding false accusations. What 
she is experiencing, Veronica underscores, is "il giudizio particolare che ognuno 
avra nel fine di presente vita" (2:958). Although she has read "tanti libri, sentito 
tante prediche sopra di questo punto del Giudizio, ma essi non dicono nulla, non 
spiegano niente di quello che veramente e" (2:959). 

By listening to the countless reports detailing her crimes, Veronica 
understands that her existence up to that moment, before the beginning of her 
death, has been what her memory has failed to recall; that is, her existence has 
been a nothingness imposing itself as crime. I believe it is of essential relevance 
for our present analysis — the concepts of beginning and end in Veronica 
Giuliani's journal — to understand what "nothingness" means for this 
seventeenth-century mystic.'^ Veronica usually avoids theoretical analyses of 
her mysticism, opting for descriptions based on strings of emblematic 
representations. However, in April 1694, she is ordered to rewrite a "relazione" 
on her concept of nothingness, which she had burned without the permission of 
her confessor (5:793-95). This text was later given the title "The Torch of One's 

'^ See, for instance, the following entries: November 1. 1702 (2:1200-01), January 2, 
1712(3:497). Contrast August 16, 1721 (4:515). 
'^ Contrast Lollini 357-59; Pozzi 183. 

The Annunciation of the End in Veronica Giuliani 247 

Nothingness" ("la torcia del proprio nulla"). The human soul, Veronica holds, 
exists as a constant remembrance of the distance from the supreme Good. Her 
perennial suffering reminds her of this essential "deprivation." The Italian verb 
"mancare" perfectly summarizes the mystic's introductory definition of the soul. 
As long as it exists, the soul "ha mancato," which literally means "she has 
lacked": the soul has sinned, or better yet, she has failed.'^ At the beginning of 
the soul, Veronica believes, is this act of lacking, which coincides with the 
soul's presence in the created world. In other words, "the soul lacks" must be 
read as an intransitive verb, similar to "the soul thinks" or "the soul sins." The 
soul's "lacking," Veronica goes on to explain, is a complete darkness at once 
springing from the soul and suffocating the soul. The suffering due to this 
perfect exile and isolation translates itself into an inner torch ("torcia") whose 
fire is both devastating and invisible. The soul is unable to see this flame 
because in fact it has nothing to illuminate or to reflect. Being a nothingness, the 
soul cannot mirror itself in this inner flame. Non sum, Veronica writes on March 
26, 1700(2:608). 

Veronica's "torch" certainly shares basic similarities with Meister Eckhart's 
notion of "spark" ("ftinkel").'^ However, Veronica Giuliani's "nothingness" 
(nulla) and "torch" also have strikingly unique connotations. For the Italian 
mystic, "nothingness" does not refer to a radical not-being a la Meister Eckhart; 
it rather indicates that the soul exists as a burning reminder of her original 
inadequacy toward the divinity. In other words, unlike Meister Eckhart's 
"spark," Veronica's "torch" is a scorching torture in that it expresses the 
unforgettable memory of her initial "lacking." Veronica's torch is a persecufion, 
which she idenfifies with the highest form of divine love for the soul. As she 
reiterates in 1695, every time she has granted a "certain enlightenment about 
myself," she sees her nothingness as something "abominable."'^ 

We may infer that her inner "torch" is both the "dark flame" that lit up at 
the beginning of the mystic's existence (her being as denial of divine love's 
"bright flame") and the eternal flame which may bum her being at her end. Let 
me rephrase this essential point. Veronica envisions the soul as a persistent 
remembrance of a ftiture occurrence, since for her the soul's original "lacking" 
heralds the fire marking her perennial end. In this regard, "torch" equals 
suffering, the soul's inner burning, which reflects, as an internal mirror, both the 
soul's beginning as crime and her end as perdition. In one of the most moving 
passages of her journal, Veronica remembers that her mother used to call her 
"fire" ("fuoco") because throughout her pregnancy she had felt a torturous fiame 

'^ Contrast May 16, 1697 (2:42-43). 

'* For example, Meister Eckhart, German sermon 76: "The soul has something in it, a 

spark of intelligence, which never goes out, and in this spark, as the highest part of the 

mind, one places the image of the soul" (327). 

'^ 1 :443.Contrast 1 :264; 1 :763; 1 :93 1 ; 2:59. 

248 Armando Maggi 

in her belly (February 8, 1700; 2:572). Echoing Augustine's Confessions, 
Veronica believes that the flame that persecuted her mother was the first 
manifestation of Veronica's sinful nature, even before her actual birth. It is, 
however, essential to bear in mind that, if suffering is what bums the soul as 
remembrance, it is also, and more importantly, what opens the possibility of a 
new beginning as expiation. Let us remember that Veronica clearly states that 
her almost daily journal is nothing but a form of humiliation (contrast June 2, 
1721; 4:489). 

Humiliation is what reminds the soul of her original beginning, which 
paradoxically coincides with her eternal end (the torch of the soul's damnation). 
If at the beginning was the soul 's end, Veronica understands that, in order to 
mark a new beginning, her soul must first enact its end. In other words, the soul 
must "fore-live" her end. If the soul's existence unfolds according to the most 
traditional laws of narration (beginning, middle, end), the soul's "torch" enables 
her to shift middle and end, so that what is going to persist (the middle) in fact 
comes after the arrival of the end. Viewed in this manner, the middle of the 
soul's story turns into a new beginning in which the soul's "torch" is a reminder 
not of a past oblivion, a forgotten crime, but rather of a future oblivion: the 
soul's complete burning in the fire of God's love. 

The act of "outliving" her end reveals itself in Veronica's numerous 
journeys both to hell and to purgatory. Veronica has a first revelation on the 
nature of hell in 1693. Taking her to the brink of the infernal abyss, a devil 
makes her hear lugubrious laments coming fi-om below, smell the unbearable 
stench, and see Hell's devastating flames (1:177). Veronica knows that, if the 
devil pushed her down, she would fall among those sorrowful souls. She has a 
similar experience in 1702, when she finds herself walking on a narrow bridge. 
Looking down, she sees an infinite number of gallows and a throng of devils 
expecting her to fall (2:1030). But it is in 1720 that she actually visits the 
regions of hell for the first time. Witnessing the mystic's journey, the Virgin 
Mary reminds her that the souls' suffering "e un continuo principio, mai fine" 
(4:281). In hell, the souls suffer as if their pain "non fossero ancora 
cominciate.""° Hell is the oxymoronic place where the soul's end is about to 
begin but it has not begun yet, in the sense that, as the Virgin Mary explains to 
Veronica, in hell pain does not develop as if it pointed toward a final climax or 
catharsis. The lost souls never really begin to end. They are, in fact, stuck in a 

^° Veronica visits Hell again in 1724. On this occasion, she is granted a detailed vision on 
Hell's different areas. If in the first circle lie Lucifer and the "followers of Jude," in the 
second are the Church's highest representatives. The subsequent circles are divided as 
follows: religious people in the third place; confessors in the fourth; judges and 
"governors of temporal things" in the fifth; the superiors of the religious orders in the 
sixth; and those who lived according to their flesh and private desires are punished in the 
seventh "place" (4:744). Veronica had had a less specific vision in 1720 (4:356-57). 

The Annunciation of the End in Veronica Giuliani 249 

stage preceding any possible beginning, which thus coincides with its perennial 

But does not the infernal condition preceding its actual beginning mirror the 
Augustinian concept of being as a criminal existence preceding its actual 
existence? Is not crime what comes before the begirming of the soul? And is not 
hell a suffering that seems to announce, but always postpones, a revelation, the 
opening/beginning of a process of awareness? In her journal, Veronica Giuliani 
experiences both forms of pain, an infernal repetition and a purgatorial opening 
which, in fact, announces itself through the reopening of the heart's wound. On 
December 26, 1697, Veronica sees a group of souls kneeling down around 
God's throne. The Lord explains to the mystic that they had left purgatory the 
day before, Christmas, when he had reopened her heart's wound (2:329). It is 
thus evident that what makes the purgatorial suffering a "wound," a beginning, 
is in fact its being a response to the suffering of the other. Purgatorial suffering 
is indeed a dialogue, a reflection. In the act of enduring the constant opening of 
her wound, the mystic reflects and responds to both Christ's suffering for all of 
humanity and the pain arising as a request from the souls in purgatory. 

The responsive nature of Veronica's purgatorial suffering is apparent 
throughout her journal. In 1700, the mystic hears the voice of a certain Father 
Vitale, who had passed away a few days before. "Aiuto! Aiuto!" are the first 
words he pronounces (2:740-41). Getting closer to her. Father Vitale asks her if 
she recognizes him ("Mi conosci?"). In 1 708, she sees that two of her convent 
sisters who had died a few weeks before are now in purgatory (3:361-63). One 
of them is allowed to address Veronica with a request for help: "Have pity on 
me. No living creature could possibly understand how afrocious these pains 
are." In a series of subsequent raptures, Veronica will follow these two souls 
through their process of purification. 

However, Veronica's participation in the purgatorial condition exceeds a 
mere sense of pity or concern. On November 26, 1700, Veronica realizes that, 
starting from that day, the divinity wants her to feel what the souls endure in 
purgatory (3:778-79). In other words, in order to be beneficial to the souls who 
visit her for help, the mystic's suffering will have to perform an act of 
substitution.^' From now on, her torments will begin and end according to a 
specific soul's necessity.^^ As a consequence, her journal will register the 

^' On this subject, see Dalledonne. It is evident that in this essay I refer to Levinas's 
concept of substitution ("Ethics and the Face" 194-219). 

^^ It would be impossible to report every case of purgatorial substitution. I will limit 
myself to a few examples. In 1701, she visits a sister who had gone insane (2:921). When 
this sister dies, Veronica witnesses her fight with numerous devils who would like to drag 
her down with them. To save this sister's soul, Veronica accepts the pains she will suffer 
in purgatory (2:923). In 1718, during a mass, Veronica is told that she will have to suffer 
for sister Ottavia, a nun in Mercatello, who had died a few days before (3: 1222). In 1722, 

250 Armando Maggi 

constantly renewed beginning of lier pain in the name of the other. The story of 
the other will be inscribed in her physical disquiet and will be narrated in the 
pages of her journal. In the November entry of 1714, Veronica goes so far as to 
state: "Laus Deo. Scrivo dal purgatorio" (3:857). 

To suffer on behalf of the other is an act of temporal exchange. By living 
the end of the other, i.e., what the other experiences after her conclusion, the 
mystic succeeds in "foreliving" her own forthcoming end. In other words, if the 
other has succumbed to the laws of a narration that posits crime (and thus its 
punishment) as a beginning before any possible beginning, Veronica has been 
granted the grace to reverse this narrative structure. Like Maria Maddalena de' 
Pazzi, Veronica Giuliani both visits purgatory and "feels" the purgatorial 
condition in her existence. ^^ This essential narrative revision manifests itself 
through the suffering the two visionaries have been willing to undergo to rescue 
the other. 

It is important to keep in mind that the experience of purgatory is a grace, a 
gift of suffering that comes to reside in the mystic's heart. I have said that 
Veronica's journal could be read as a book of baroque emblems, according to 
the so-called emblems of the heart. I have also mentioned the fact that the organ 
"heart" and its emblematic and contemplative visualization are two facets of the 
same mystical experience; for instance, the heart bleeds when the image of the 
heart is pierced by Christ's sword. The emblem "heart" makes itself visible 
through the organ "heart." What is of special interest is that Veronica's emblems 
of the heart progressively become more and more abstract and elementary in 
their figurative elements. After her first journeys to purgatory and thus after the 
reversal of her existence's narrative structure (the "foreliving" of her end), in her 
emblematic raptures the mystic sees the divinity inscribe three capital letters in 
her heart, first V. F. O., to which God will later add M. and I.^'* The basic 
distinction between the first set of three letters and the second of two lies in that, 
while the first letters speak of the three essential qualities the mystic must foster 
in her heart ( l^olonta, Fedelta, Obbedienza), the last two correspond to Mary and 
Jesus (/esus), the "letters" completing the first three's workings in Veronica's 

Although the mystic often feels that all five letters "move" in her heart as a 
response to a divine enlightenment, it is apparent that the O. embodies a 
particularly relevant meaning within her spirituality."^^ On August 8, 1712, A/ary 

Veronica helps a nun from the convent of Sain Maria Maddalena de' Pazzi to move from 

purgatory to heaven (4:590). I analyze this problem of mystical substitution in my 

forthcoming book Satan 's Rhetoric. 

^^ Maria Maddalena de' Pazzi recounts the same experience in Probatione. 

-'' In a footnote to the entry of October 4, 1722, the modem editor explains the five letters 


" See especially 3:1147; 3:1186; 3:1195; 3:1206; 3:1295-1302; 4:639. 

The Annunciation of the End in Veronica Giuliani 25 1 

orders the mystic "to obey" to V., F., and O., but she also stresses that the O. is 
where Veronica must stay: "Ti vogho in questo O" ("I want you in this O," 
3:593). A few weeics later, Jesus and A/ary again confirm their request 
concerning the V., F., and O., "holding [the mystic] in the O" (3:604). Again in 
September 1712, A/ary hugs Veronica when the mystic enter[s] the O.^^ Mary 
repeats: "Qui ti voglio." In 1718, Veronica reiterates that "[L]e pene mi davano 
vita, mi confermavano nel V., F. ed O., specie nell' O. che e la mia vita" (4:5). 

Veronica distinguishes between the O. she sees as a figure of an emblematic 
rapture (the O. at the center of the image of the heart) and the O. she feels as a 
"sign" ("un segno') moving within her physical heart.^^ Veronica's confessor 
himself at times realizes that something inside of her body is restless. "Che cosa 
si e mosso?", her confessor asks her in 1723 after she had taken communion. 
The O. did, Veronica replies (4:665). In the above quotation from 1718, 
Veronica makes it clear that the O. moves as a reflection of pain. If the O. is at 
the center of her heart, suffering is at the center of the O. and makes both the O. 
and her heart move. The active response of the O. also, and most importantly, 
signifies that the mystic must obey a request for substitution. When the O. 
moves in the heart, she is ready to take up the purgatory of the other. On January 
4, 1722, knowing that Veronica's O. has just moved, her confessor asks her to 
free a given soul from her purgatorial condition (4:557). 

The O. is an empty circle manifesting an act of abandonment similar to 
Johannes Tauler's concept of Gelassenheit. For Veronica Giuliani, at the center 
of the heart lies a void, a circular nothingness that exists as suffering. The O. is 
the essential wound, the opening to the divinity's love as an unfathomable 
suffering. The end of the other begins when the mystic sees/enters her O. The O. 
annunciates that the end of the other is approaching. However, as a circle 
embracing a chasm, the O. reveals to the mystic living the purgatory/end of the 
other that her act of substitution will lead to a renewed beginning for both parts 
of this mystical transaction. As the soul is annihilated in God's love, the mystic 
is granted the vision of what I called the beginning preceding any possible 
beginning. Indeed, on December 27, 1715, writing on a vision concerning "la 
comunicazione sopra la creazione dell'anima," Veronica states that God had 
wanted "to renew" the creation of her soul (3:980-81). In other words, God 
wanted to lead her back to the origin of her identity before she had been 
conceived in her mother's bosom. The mystic sees her soul swimming in the sea 
of divine love.^* Like breezes or tides rippling the surface of the sea ("flussi e 
riflussi del suo amore"), God comes to the soul as a progressive enlightenment, 
which is in fact a moving backwards toward the place from which she had 

^^ 3:610: "Quando fui nell'O. mi diede un caro abbraccio." 

^^ She explains this difference in the entry for May 6, 1718 (3:1289). 

^* "Pareva che la medesima, stando in quel mare di amore che Iddio le comunicava, vi 

nuctasse a guisa del pesce che nuota nel mare" ( 3:981). 

252 Armando Maggi 

departed in the moment of her conception. The soul understands that the O. 
placed in her heart is the mirror in which God reflects upon himself, that the end 
of a soul in pain is the retracing of an original and unknown beginning, a 
forgotten and silent wound, which opens and bleeds at the center of a void, an 
empty circle, an O. 

The University of Chicago 

The Annunciation of the End in Veronica Giuliani 253 

Works Cited 

Augustine. Confessions. 2 vols. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 1999. 

Blaise, Clark. "Your Nearest Exit May Be Behind You. Autobiography and the Post- 

Modemist Moment." The Seductions of Biography. New York: Routledge, 1996. 
Cittadini, Giovanni. "Santa Veronica scrittrice logografa?" Iriarte 1:57-128. 
Courbat, Monique. Dice e ridico e non dico niente. II fenomeno del diario sdoppiato in 

Santa Veronica Giuliani. Siena: Edizioni Cantagalli, 1994. 
. "Veronica Giuliani: scrittura e riscrittura." Annali d'italianistica 13 (1995): 333- 

Dalledonne, Andrea. "Cenni sulla trascendenza di Dio in S. Veronica Giuliani." Iriarte 2: 

Giuliani, Veronica. Un tesoro nascosto, ossia, diario di S. Veronica Giuliani. Ed. Oreste 

Fiorucci. 5 vols. Citta di Castello: Monastero delle Cappuccine, 1969. 
Iriarte, Lazaro, ed. Testimonianza e messaggio di Santa Veronica Giuliani. 2 vols. Roma: 

Laurentianum, 1983. 
Levinas, Emmanuel. Totality and Infinity. Trans. Alphonso Lingis. Pittsburgh: Duquesne 

UP, 1994. 
LoUini, Massimo. "Scrittura obbediente e mistica tridentina in Veronica Giuliani." Annali 

d'italianistica 13 (1995): 351-67. 
Maggi, Armando. "Impresa e misticismo in Settenario delTumana riduzione di 

Alessandro Farra (1593)." Rivista di storia e letteratura religiosa (1997): 3-28. 
. "Visual and Verbal Communication in Francesco Pona's Cardiomorphoseos." 

Word & Image 16.2 (2000): 213-26. 
. Satan 's Rhetoric. A Study in Renaissance Demonology. Chicago: U of Chicago P 


Meister Eckhart. Teacher and Preacher. Ed. Bernard McGinn. New York: Paulist Press, 

Peirce, Charles Sanders. Philosophical Writings of Peirce. Ed. Justus Buchler. New 
York: Dover Publications, 1955. 

Pozzi, Giovanni. "II «parere» autobiografico di Veronica Giuliani." Strumenti Critici 54 
(1987): 161-92. 

Rarricau, Raymond. "Le coeur de Jesus dans la doctrine spirituelle de Sainte Marguerite- 
Marie (1647-1690) et Sainte Veronique Giuliani (1660-1727)." Iriarte 1:385-413. 


Beginnings & Endings 


Modern & Postmodern Literature 

Cristina Mazzoni 

"That in Giving Me Life, You Still Remain Alive": 
Fetal Beginnings i& Maternal Endings at Two Centuries' Ends 


High and Low Culture at Our Century 's End 

Is one's beginning located in another's end? Does someone's birth imply 
someone else's death? And more specifically, is the mother destroyed by the act 
of parturition — by that parting, pulling asunder, breaking up that takes place 
when one body becomes two? In the essay/lyrical meditation from which I took 
the first part of my title, "And the One Doesn't Stir Without the Other" (1979), 
Luce Irigaray laments the destruction of the mother, the end of maternal 
personhood, that goes along with the daughter's birth. What she deplores is the 
mother's metaphorical death, or ending, for at this century's end, unlike at the 
end of the last, birth in the Western world no longer implies the very real 
prospect of physical death. So it is not with death that I will deal in what follows. 
But in a very real sense, becoming a mother still implies the death of one's 
former self This ending, necessary for another's beginning, is often represented 
in literary, scientific, and other texts as deformity, as the end of one's beauty; the 
change of shape that goes along with pregnancy and motherhood thus comes to 
stand for the existential transformation of one's very self 

It is a fact of life (or is it?) that women lose shapeliness and desirability with 
age, and I find myself musing about the cultural and perhaps even physiological 
connection between the temporary "deformity" of pregnancy and the more 
lasting "deformity" with which motherhood is associated. What cultural 
pressures define maternal shapes as shapeless, the mother's form-ing as de-form- 
ing? And on the other hand, where and how can we read the massive weight gain 
of pregnancy as appealing in an age that values thinness as the paragon of 
beauty? Is the pregnant body attractive or grotesque? Or, to use the now 
pervasive medical vocabulary, is this body healthy or sick, normal or 
pathological? This question haunts pregnant women today, at a time when 
aesthetic canons would prescribe almost-anorexic thinness. In this respect, the 
authors of What to Expect When You 're Expecting, probably the most popular 
pregnancy advice manual in the United States today, are kind and optimistic: "in 
the eyes of many beholders, a pregnant woman isn't just beautifiil inside but 
outside as well. Many women and their husbands consider the rounded pregnant 

A nnali d 'Italianistica 1 8 (2000) 

256 Cristina Mazzoni 

reflection to be the most lovely — and sensuous — of feminine shapes" (160). 
Not just pregnant women and their husbands feel this way if it is true that, as 
Yvonne Knibiehler writes, in the nineteenth century "pregnant prostitutes were 
particularly sought after by the customers of brothels" (332). But then, is the 
attractiveness of the maternal shape equivalent to a perversion? 

Throughout these pages, I assume the body to be both a biological and a 
cultural entity, a signifier that is both corporeal and linguistic. As Susan Rubin 
Suleiman has written, "the cultural significance of the female body is not only 
(not even first and foremost) that of a flesh-and-blood entity, but that of a 
symbolic construct" (2). This double role of the body is especially evident in the 
case of the gestating woman, whose change of bodily shape also entails a change 
of meaning: like the pregnant belly, the signifier of pregnancy (be it literary or 
scientific) must swell in order to accommodate otherness and change. 
Significantly, the Italian dictionary definition of the verb "deformare" is dual 
(literal and figurative), and underlines the epistemological link between language 
and physical shape, between semantics and morphology: "1. Alterare nella forma 
... 2. fig. Alterare nel significato . . ."(Zingarelli 476). The pregnant shape 
undergoes an alteration that is both bodily and linguistic. Aesthetic distaste, if 
not repugnance and even horror, is a palpable effect of such alteration: fi-om 
object of desire to reproductive apparatus, from shapely to shapeless, the 
pregnant woman in the texts I consider in these pages is repeatedly constructed 
as deformed, disfigured, at times even disgusting. The tensions and 
contradictions of the pregnant experience, the bodily and linguistic splitting 
proceeding from gestation, become especially visible if we allow a dialogue to 
take place between the literary texts of several tum-of-the-century women writers 
and scientific treatises of that time that would constitute themselves as matrices 
of motherhood, thus producing, as well as regulating, a proliferation of 
reproductive stories. In reading these treatises, we should keep in mind what 
Jacqueline Urla and Jennifer Terry describe as a "now almost commonplace 
axiom" in feminist and cultural studies of science, namely, that "the modem life 
sciences and medicine — and, indeed, popular perceptions to which they give 
rise — have not merely observed and reported on bodies; they construct bodies 
through particular investigatory techniques and culturally lodged research goals" 


So in these pages I oscillate between more than one beginning, multiple 
endings. Formally, my own essay has a beginning and an ending, which I 
playftiUy muUiply, a la Calvino, so as to mirror in form the subject I have 
chosen. Temporally, the temptation to compare my area of expertise, the end of 
the nineteenth century, with the end of our own century was too strong to resist 
— and why resist it? I am about to move, then, from the end of the nineteenth 
century, to the beginning of the twentieth, to the ending of our own century, to a 
later beginning of the same. Existentially, the contrast and continuity of 
beginnings and endings point to the making and the unmaking of a female body. 

"That in giving me life, you still remain alive" 257 

and by contiguity of the female self, that finds its end in another's beginning. 
But let me not give away the ending: this is just the beginning. 


// bacio d'una morta (1886) 

At the end of nineteenth-century Italy, the looks of the pregnant woman are 
trapped in a cultural double-bind. If images of deformity and contamination are 
prevalent, so is a certain idealization — rooted in both the bourgeois cult of the 
angel of the household and in the Catholic veneration of the Madonna as bearer 
of the Word. As Clarissa Atkinson notes, "interactions between the history of 
Christianity and the history of motherhood have been intense and complicated" 
(5). This is especially true in a culture such as the Italian one, so permeated with 
both Catholicism and mammismo. In the germane words of Andrea Henderson, 
"the simultaneous spiritualization and corporealization of the middle class 
woman during the [nineteenth] century reflect the pressure of the middle class to 
distance itself from its modes of production (which it does by making its ideal 
woman 'aristocratically' spiritual, angelic) while restricting the power granted to 
women (through the common focus on the body in representations of women and 
members of the working class)" (109). Thus, in the Italian popular imagination 
of the nineteenth century (bourgeois and Catholic), the pregnant woman 
presumably acquires a supernatural beauty arising from her (pro)creative role, 
and her implicit association with Mary, mother and virgin. (Not coincidentally, 
perhaps, the dogmas concerning the Blessed Virgin Mary's beginning and 
ending have been proclaimed in 1 854 — her Immaculate Conception — and in 
1950 — her Bodily Assumption into heaven.) 

In // bacio d'una morta, widely considered to be her masterpiece and an 
antelitteram mystery novel (endowed with an extraordinarily complicated plot), 
the prolific popular novelist Carolina Invemizio (1851-1916) depicts the 
beautiful protagonist's advanced pregnancy as conferring upon her a heightened 
attractiveness, described as ideal and angelic and thus pulled asunder from its 
bodily support: "La gravidanza di Clara era quasi al termine ed a misura che la 
giovine donna stava per diventare madre, la sua bellezza si faceva sempre piii 
angelica, ideale" (158). No reference is made to other, less ethereal physical 
effects of advanced pregnancy — large belly, swollen extremities, increased 
fatigue, breathing difficukies, blotchy complexion, to name just a few. These 
signs instead figure prominently in the work of many women writers who were 
Invemizio 's contemporaries, but who did not conform to the conservative 
structure of the feuilleton (whose essential function, critics remind us, is to 

258 Cristina Mazzoni 

comfort and not to unsettle in any way the reader).' Thus, only an ethereal 
swoon, "una specie di svenimento" (130), discreetly alerts Clara's husband to 
what is later modestly referred to as her "stato" (131; 136-37), the euphemism 
for pregnancy used throughout Invemizio's oeuvre. However, when pregnancy 
takes place outside of marriage — a frequent occurrence in Invemizio's work, 
and one usually brought about by the actions of deceptive and abusive men — 
things are different. The pregnant protagonist of the short story "La confessione 
d'una suicida," pregnant by a man who abandoned her after their only sexual 
encounter (her first, of course), experiences an aesthetic demise that mirrors her 
moral one: "Intanto fra I'angoscia, il timore, la vergogna, la mia salute si era 
alterata, le guance avevano perduto il loro colore, un nero cerchio mi circondava 
gli occhi, che brillavano di uno splendore febbrile" (// delitto di una madre 175). 
Carolina Invemizio's reproduction of pregnancy and motherhood in // bacio 
duna morta contrasts sharply with that of some of her more illustrious 
contemporaries, such as Neera, Ada Negri, and Grazia Deledda, insofar as it 
replicates the romantic stereotype of the pregnant woman as beautiftal, delicate, 
content with a "state" that is seen to transcend the limitations of the flesh. Clara 
is Invemizio's exemplary mother-to-be, a type that unfailingly, indeed perfectly 
(miraculously?) conforms to what tum-of-the-century society expects of her, 
leading a critic to describe her as "the Superwoman of Patriarchy" (Kroha 129). 
But, we may ask, is it only a coincidence that Clara's husband falls in love (or 
better yet in lust) with the evil and beautiftal Nara just towards the end of Clara's 
pregnancy, a time of physical change (an aheration in shape, an alteration in 
meaning) as well as, in past times, of sexual interdiction? The connection 
remains unspoken in // bacio di una morta, in the attempt perhaps to shield the 
reader from the tensions inherent in the reproduction of pregnancy and 
matemity, tensions that are at once literary, psychological, cultural, and that 
ultimately may arise from the difficulty of conceiving the experience of having 
an other inside one's body, within one's self But the connection is made, and it 
is yet another way in which Invemizio's tale deviates from the comfortable 
pastime which the feuilleton is meant to provide for its readers. 

L ' innocent e (1892) 

Gabriele D'Annunzio's (1863-1938) novel L'innocente contains what can 
certainly be classified as one of the most misogynous perspectives on the 
pregnant body. In this novel, the horror caused by the changes in his wife 
Giuliana's shape is doubled by the hatred the protagonist, Tullio Hermil, feels 

' Although this is not the place to get into this question, feminist critic Elisabetta Rasy 
persuasively claims that sentimental novels discuss, in a culturally low language, the 
issue of women's condition (97). 

"That in giving me life, you still remain alive" 259 

towards her (though not his) unborn child. As soon as he learns of his wife's 
adulterous pregnancy, TuUio begins to imagine her as being "difformata da un 
ventre enorme" (190). Although his mother describes her daughter-in-law's 
physical growth in positive terms as "un progresso" (284), Tullio only sees in his 
wife's bodily expansion a pathology, "una infermita mostruosa," "la parte 
difformata dal male incurabile" (262), "la difformita inferiore ignominiosa," "la 
sua ombra deforme" (272), a figure that "si difformava come quella d'una 
idropica" (265). His repulsed gaze keeps falling on her "ventre gonfio, I'effetto 
dell'escrezione di un altro maschio" (269). Tullio, in many ways an emblem of 
decadent estheticism, sees Giuliana's very reproductive ability, her fertility (she 
conceived a child after one extra-marital encounter), as a sign of inferiority, an 
animalistic prerogative of the lower-class "femmine calde" (11). Possessiveness 
towards his wife (though on one level Tullio claims to forgive her one 
indiscretion, given his own numerous ones), and above all towards his name, 
which Giuliana's son would inevitably usurp in becoming his heir (Tullio and 
Giuliana have two daughters but no son together), leads to fear. This fear, in 
turn, adopts a pseudo-scientific medical language of pathology ("infermita," 
"male incurabile," "idropica") in order to construct the adulterous pregnant 
woman as diseased and therefore as doubly repulsive. 

Indicative of the inextricable conjunction of scientific and literary 
discourses, D'Annunzio's descriptions reflect and refract the problematic 
cultural reproduction of the pregnant body, an issue that was not to remain 
confined to decadentistic fantasies. Almost three decades after L 'innocente, for 
example, the changed looks of the protagonist of Maria Messina's Alia deriva 
(1920), a novel to which I return below, still make her seem "ammalata" (131); 
and yet a rebellion against such a pathologizing view is very much a part of the 
discourse surrounding pregnancy and childbirth today. Nevertheless, because of 
the pervasiveness of the medical paradigm in our daily perception, the beautifiil 
is seen as healthy, the ugly as unhealthy; and this belief is true of popular science 
and aesthetics today even more so than a century ago. In terms of a possible 
medical aesthetics of pregnancy, two examples of contemporary rehabilitations 
should suffice. The authors of What to Expect When You 're Expecting state that 
"the concept of pregnancy as an illness, and of the pregnant woman as an invalid 
... is as dated as general anesthesia in routine deliveries" (189-90). Similarly, in 
a fairly recent issue of the popular Italian magazine for new and expectant 
parents, lo e il mio bambino (July 1996), we read that "La gravidanza non e una 
malattia" (Piazza 94). But the irony, of course, is that both texts burst with all 
sorts of medical advice and lifestyle norms for pregnant women. For as one of 
the numerous Italian misogynous proverbs claims, "La vita delle donne e una 
lunga malattia" (Proverbi delle donne, no page number). 

260 Cristina Mazzoni 

La donna delinquente, la prostituta e la donna normale (1893) 
A focus on physiology, on the body as the privileged site of difference, is 
exemplary of Cesare Lombroso's (1835-1909) method and was shared by many 
other nineteenth-century texts, scientific as well as literary and political, as the 
above quotations from D'Annunzio's L'innocente attest. Since biologically 
prescriptive normality dictates woman's need to give birth, the avoidance of 
bodily mothering — pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding — is seen as a 
dangerously deviant behavior in Lombroso's notorious treatise La donna 
delinquente, la prostituta e la donna normale, where those women who display 
such behavior are diagnosed as "pazze morali" and locked inside insane asylums. 
A scenario set forth as rather typical of these morally mad women portrays newly 
married wives who selfishly avoid pregnancy and/or breastfeeding: "per evitare 
la gravidanza dimostrano un'aperta ripugnanza verso il marito; se hanno figli . . . 
li consegnano a cuor leggero alia prima nutrice per non alterare la propria 
bellezza" (606). Lombroso never mentions the reasons why a woman might want 
to avoid pregnancy, and therefore sexual relations with her husband, given the 
unreliability of available methods of family planning at the time, such as, not 
unreasonably, fear of death and/or disfiguration. He assumes motherhood to be 
even more than a social duty: "la matemita e quasi addirittura un bisogno 
fisiologico che, non soddisfatto, diviene fonte di malessere fisico e psichico" 

Nevertheless, pathological practices occur on a regular basis among what 
Lombroso defines as savage cultures, where their perceived normality reinforces 
the distinction between the higher and the lower races, the latter being for 
Lombroso biologically closer to pathology. In his discussion of abortion and 
infanticide, Lombroso notes that the causes of these crimes are often "la cura 
della propria bellezza e la gelosia." The examples he adduces constitute, 
according to his logic, irreftitable proof: "Le donne degli Abiponi nel Paraguay, 
non potendo aver rapporti col marito durante I'allattamento del figlio, uccidono 
il bambino per non vedere il marito con altre donne . . . alcune Indiane 
dell'Orenoco, credendo che la bellezza si alteri dopo parti frequenti, abortiscono 
... in Persia le donne cercano di abortire quando vedono, durante la gravidanza, 
i loro mariti correr dietro ad altre donne. . . . Nella Nuova Caledonia, a Tahiti, in 
Hawai le donne abortiscono perche la loro bellezza sfiorisca piu tardi . . . Anche 
le signore Romane abortivano spesso per non imbruttire" (201). Lack of 
maternal feelings, which makes them choose their own beauty over the life of 
their child, associates bom criminals and prostitutes with savages and members 
of uncivilized cultures. Yet nowhere does Lombroso even attempt an analysis of 
the cultural and/or social forces that motivate the behaviors which he so abhors 
and which he convincingly transforms into perversions of healthy womanhood. 
By incorporating social assumptions into a vocabulary of physiology, Lombroso 

"That in giving me life, you still remain alive" 26 1 

underlines woman's atavistic tendencies (and therefore her solid link to 
criminals, prostitutes, and savages). At the same time, he also reveals a major 
paradox in his argument, the same paradox that more generally informs 
nineteenth-century scientific discourse on woman. For if lack of maternal 
feelings is posited in woman as a sign of degeneracy, on the other hand it is 
precisely maternity that prevents woman from achieving man's higher stage of 
development. According to Lombroso, "la intelligenza in tutto il regno animale 
varia in ragione inversa della fecondita; c'e un antagonismo tra le flinzioni di 
riproduzione e le intellettuali . . . Ora, essendo il lavoro della riproduzione in 
gran parte devoluto alia donna, per questa cagione biologica essa e rimasta 
indietro nello sviluppo intellettuale" (179). 

Fisiologia della donna (1892) 

Yvonne Knibiehler rightly notes that, in the nineteenth-century view of female 
beauty, "value was . . . ascribed to signs of the natural reproductive function: 
round hips, ample breasts, well-fed flesh" (326). In his 1880 Fisiologia 
dell'amore, Paolo Mantegazza (1831-1910) had written: "Se certe curve hanno 
su di noi tanto e cosi subitaneo potere, e perche in esse noi cerchiamo, senza 
volerlo e senza saperlo, la buona madre e la buona nufrice" (91). Mantegazza 
develops this theory in his two-volume Fisiologia della donna. For example, at 
the very beginning of the chapter on breastfeeding, we read: "II seno della donna 
e una delle sue maggiori bellezze ed e bello, appunto, perche gli e assegnata una 
delle ftinzioni riproduttive, cioe I'allattamento" (2: 81). And earlier in that book 
the author had admitted that even "L'uomo piu pudico e piu casto, al primo 
guardare una donna, punta gli occhi sui tre punti, che la affermano femmina, cioe 
al seno, alia vita e ai fianchi" (1: 220). Most unambiguously, Mantegazza 
develops an aesthetic theory based on the outward signs of female fertility, a 
theory worth quoting at some length because directly related to the author's 
double-edged perception of the pregnant body: 

Le linee fondamentali della bellezza femminile sono tutte genitali, ed io le distinguo in 
superiori e infehoh; piu importanti le seconde che le prime, perche queste indicano la 
buona madre, quelle la buona nutrice. Senza un ampio bacino, senza fianchi tondeggianti 
e opimi. la donna non puo nutrire per nove mesi il frutto deU'amore, non puo partorire; 
senza un seno rigido e abbondante non potra dare al proprio figlio il latte del suo sangue. 
Partorire e allattare: ecco le due funzioni della vita sessuale della donna; ed eccole 
segnate nelle linee fondamentali della sua estetica. 


The female body is, in this passage, clearly divided into two parts, upper and 
lower, breasts and hips, physically separated by the waist (thin or pregnant), and 

262 Cristina Mazzoni 

functionally divided by a watershed event: childbirth.^ 

Mantegazza's work on woman, although amply reductive and misogynistic, 
lacks that continuous sense of revulsion at the female body (a body that is always 
about to become deformed, debased, savage) that one reads instead throughout 
Cesare Lombroso's La donna delinquente, la prostituta e la donna normale. 
And it is also rather clear that, while Mantegazza (along with most other 
scientists) "justifies" woman's weaknesses and extols her qualities in the name of 
her maternal "mission," Lombroso never dabbles in the rhetoric that exalts 
maternity and woman's sensitivity. Thus, we can usefully compare the above 
definition of woman's beauty given by Mantegazza with the following by 
Lombroso, whose theory of woman's innate frigidity ("essendo dunque la donna 
naturalmente e organicamente frigida," 57) is anatomically confirmed by her 
lack of veritable sexual organs: 

Se gli organ! del sesso sono nella donna piu complicati e numerosi (vulva, utero, ovaia. 
ecc), in gran parte pero essi non sono tanto genital! quanto maternaii, e tanto piu lo sono 
gli organ! sessuali secondan, le mammelle, ! fianchi, !1 cuscinetto delle Ottentotte,^ ecc; 
tutt! quest! apparati, a differenza de! masch!!!, servono non aH'accoppiamento, ma alia 
nutr!z!one e sviluppo del nuovo essere. E le mammelle, ! fianch!, ecc., sono solo per 
I'uomo piu raffmato nel tatto e neH'occhio apparecchi erotic! perche lo eccitano 
indirettamente al coito; ma in se non hanno tale funzione, come si vede percorrendo la 
scala biologica; ed anche ne! nostr! selvagg! ... in cu! le mammelle, ridotte cosi spesso 
ad una flaccida e lunga borsa che si r!p!ega sulle spalle, se giovano al bambino, non 
eccitano certo I'amante. 


In some ways Lombroso and Mantegazza agree: the outward signs of fertility 
and, more generally, of maternity determine woman's ability to attract a mate. 
But Lombroso denies the very existence of woman's sexuality by progressively 
transforming her genital organs into exclusively maternal ones: at first "in gran 
parte," then "tutti" her organs are intended for the "nutrizione e sviluppo" of her 
child, and not for sexual intercourse."* The author is unwilling to concede any 
intrinsic beauty to the female body (even her breasts, icons of sexual 

" The practical value of Mantegazza's aesthetic theory is at least debatable: "All 

combinations of breasts and nipples have the capacity to dispense milk — the quantity 

and quality of which are not in the least dependent on outward appearance," we read in 

What to Expect When You 're Expecting (266). 

^ Lombroso is here referring to one of his "favorite" body parts (judging from the 

frequency with which he mentions it), the steatopygous backside of South African 

women. On this subject, see Fausto-Sterling. 

^ The assumption that every aspect of female sexuality should be explained in terms of 

reproductive functions is still prevalent in science and has been persuasively undermined 

by Lloyd. 

"That in giving me life, you still remain alive" 263 

attractiveness for Mantegazza, are made repulsive by nursing in Lombroso's 
view), as woman's puzzling organs are so "numerosi" as to require three 
etceteras, so strange as to deserve the adjective "complicati," and thus frightful 
because ultimately unknowable. But also, such strenuous denial of women's 
sexuality clearly reveals a preoccupation with a desire which, if separated from 
its maternal aim, would jeopardize the already tenuous bourgeois family order. 

Woman's beauty is precariously suspended between two poles. The less 
fertile she looks, the uglier she is: "La donna e I'uomo hanno un tipo diverso di 
bellezza, e quando se ne allontanano per avvicinarsi a quello del sesso opposto, 
diventano brutti. La donna magra, col bacino piu stretto delle spalle, senza seno, 
senza fianchi, coi capelli corti, colla barba, e un mostro" {Fisiologia della donna 
1: 305). Yet, paradoxically, the more fertile she is, the uglier she is going to 
become (not to mention stupid: fertility is incompatible with intellectual 
ftinctions). Because ironically, once the promise of these fertile signs of beauty is 
realized — that is, once the potentially pregnant and therefore beautiful body is 
actually pregnant and, later, maternal — the effect upon the viewer is one of 
revulsion rather than attractiveness. Mantegazza himself must admit that "La 
matemita e I'allattamento sciupano ben presto molte fra le piu peregrine bellezze 
della donna" (1: 307), and woman's beauty can only last until she is thirty-five 
years old, "quando la matemita non viene a sfiorare i petali piu belli delle sue 
rose" (1: 324). But then, Mantegazza quickly discovers a socially expedient 
solution to this dilemma, when he describes as "non ultima fra le sue glorie 
quella di offrire in olocausto sull'altare di madre il primo tesoro, che e per lei la 
bellezza" (1: 307). Maternal love is the emotional replacement for sexual 
attraction, the sacrifice of her beauty, the proof of woman's competence in 
mothering. Motherhood and sexual attractiveness, as is clearest in pregnancy, are 
incompatible. But if woman is truly woman only when she is sexually attractive, 
where does that leave the mother in this bipartite division of genders? 


Elias Portolu (1900) 

The repulsed descriptions of Giuliana in L 'innocente are perhaps the misogynous 
zenith of a configuration of gestation as deforming that is employed in more 
complex, less reductive ways by many women writers of D'Annunzio's own 
time. The abject, dangerous deformity of the pregnant woman, whose body 
becomes a prolific ground for siting gender differences, can be used both as a 
representational tool that fits well into that abundant tum-of-the-century 
repertoire of woman's evils, and as a literary strategy that ambivalently, at times 
even self-destructively, attempts to deconstruct traditional notions of female 
roles. The latter mode, which is never ideologically disengaged from the former, 
is prevalent in the literature of Italian women writers from the late nineteenth and 
early twentieth century; some of their work extends well into the era of Fascism 

264 Cristina Mazzoni 

with its mystique of motherhood, as is the case for the later writings of Ada 
Negri. This is a profoundly ambivalent strategy, which in borrowing from the 
iconography of misogyny, often ends up reinforcing it, so that its subversive 
potential is continuously tamed by a bowing gesture towards the status quo. (It is 
also important to remember that this double stance of tum-of-the-century women 
writers is not limited to the representation of pregnancy and maternity but rather 
informs their writings about women at large.) 

The ambivalent threat that childbearing poses to female beauty, even as it 
may temporarily exalt it, is outlined in Grazia Deledda's (1871-1936) novel 
Elias Portolu, first published in installments in 1900 and then as a complete 
volume in 1903. The slovenly future of the eponymous protagonist's beautiful 
lover Maddalena (his brother's wife and thus, for a future priest, a doubly 
forbidden object of desire) is foreseen in ominous terms by Elias's old and wise 
uncle: "Ella avra dei figli, si sciupera . . . diventera come tante altre paesane 
madri di famiglia, sporca di vesti, vecchia, sciatta, brutta," to which Elias 
combatively replies, indirectly confirming the connection between childbearing 
and ugliness: "ella non avra mai dei figli, si conservera a lungo bella e fresca" 
(92). Maddalena's continued beauty is predicated on her not becoming a mother. 
Her pregnancy at first brings about for Elias an increase of love and a decrease 
in guilt. Thus, when Maddalena first tells him that she is pregnant with his child, 
Elias feels "perdutamente innamorato . . . finalmente felice" (129), and it is only 
with this revelation that he overcomes his incipient "disgusto e disprezzo" 
towards Maddalena as "la tentazione" (128). Yet, one wonders whether the 
sexual abstinence due to her pregnancy ("si separarono, decisi di non rivedersi 
intimamente fino alia nascita del bimbo," 129), is proleptically related to the 
perception of the pregnant woman as ugly and deformed, as no longer herself, 
and therefore as no longer lovable. Although this abstinence is caused by both 
medical prescriptions and ancient taboos, Deledda's novel seems to imply such 
an aesthetic and existential connection. Once again, deformity is an alteration of 
shape and of meaning, and the woman's beginning as mother marks her ending 
as lover and, more generally, as her former self 

At first, Elias thinks of the pregnant Maddalena "diversamente . . . 
castamente" (130). Ultimately, however, her multiple changes (of role, of shape) 
diminish his love for her: "il ritmo del suo cuore si rallentava di giomo in 
giomo," the narrator notes, and Elias himself muses: "Forse perche e in questo 
stato; ma, dopo nato il bimbo, tomero ad amarla come prima" (132). Elias's 
diminished desire quickly escalates into "un intenso disgusto" (132). So despite 
Elias's forceful statement in his earlier conversation with his uncle that his love 
was not contingent on the beauty of Maddalena's body — "io non I'amo per la 
sua bellezza! La amo perche . . . e lei! . . . (93) — the uncle's prophecy is 
fulfilled well before their child is bom: pregnancy changes Maddalena to the 
point that for Elias she is no longer her former self From an anthropological 
perspective, Anthony Synnot remarks in fact that "the identity of body and self is 

"77?^/ in giving me life, you still remain alive" 265 

perhaps most clearly illustrated by body-change. Self-concepts change, often 
dramatically, at puberty, pregnancy, and menopause. Body changes change the 
self (2). The narrator thus observes about Elias's feelings towards his pregnant 
lover, whose body is visibly different: "Gli pareva di non amarla piii, tanto piu 
che essa era diventata quasi deforme, gialla e gonfia in viso" (135). Swollen and 
yellow-faced is Maddalena, no longer herself, and therefore no longer lovable to 
Elias who would love her "perche . . . e lei! . . . "? The deformity brought about 
by pregnancy is double: it is a bodily disfiguration as well as a change in 
meaning. Maddalena is no longer a beautiful lover but rather an ugly mother. 
And this double deformity is the first force capable of stopping, if only 
temporarily, the transgressive passion that alone animates the drama of this novel 
and that, as is characteristic of Grazia Deledda's work, neither sacraments nor 
vows had been able to halt. 

"Eliana" (1904) 

Eliana, the protagonist of Ada Negri's (1870-1945) eponymous poem (published 
in the collection Maternita, 1 904), is presented as having killed the child she was 
carrying. The poet explicitly attributes Eliana's action (an abortion, though the 
word is never mentioned) to the transgressive desire to preserve her shapeliness 
and beauty: "Premera dunque il greve / travaglio, il peso enorme, / le sue 
scultorie forme, / la sua belta di neve? ..." {Poesie 252). On the one hand, 
preferring to keep one's beauty over one's unborn child is seen as perhaps 
perverse and certainly self-destructive; significantly in fact, although Eliana does 
not physically die, she is described as having "uccisa / se stessa nel suo figlio" 
(253). On the other hand, the threat of pregnancy and childbirth is also 
represented as a real risk, a frightful option, rather than the biological ftilfillment 
of her womanly destiny. Childbearing, in the lines cited above, entails a "greve 
travaglio," and a "peso enorme," and the pregnant woman's flesh "spasimera . . . 
dilaniata, oppressa / da I'immortal tortura" (253). This is the torture of 
childbirth: "immortal" both because life-giving and because it will continue, 
matrilineally, for as long as the human race exists. But this is also the verbal 
torture of the woman writer, for whom the subject of maternity is fraught with 
contradictions. In contrast with the idealized representation of motherhood as the 
royal road to the institution of bourgeois womanhood, Negri's writings 
(particularly her prose) depict and exalt maternity in transgressive ways: 
independent of the father figure, beyond legal or sacramental bonds, sensually 

Lombroso's unidimensional case studies are blind to any social causation. 
Ada Negri's texts, on the other hand, repeatedly point to the psychological and 
social tensions which condition, if not determine, her characters' behavior. But 
the double-bind of the mother's situation cannot be solved, and ironically, Eliana 
and Augusta (the latter is a character I discuss below) must physically destroy 

266 Cristina Mazzoni 

their child's life (and whether literally or metaphorically, their own as well) in 
order to preserve their bodies, the intactness of their beauty. And indeed a 
striking aspect of several pregnancy texts by tum-of-the-century women writers 
is the frequency with which the pregnant woman is described as being deformed, 
even grotesque, with descriptions which often border upon or even draw from 
the iconography of misogyny. Is the pregnant, maternal body beautiftil or ugly, 
sexy or disgusting? The answers remain ambiguous, as women's texts are caught 
time and again between "semiotic" subversion and submission to the "symbolic" 
(in Kristeva's and Lacan's sense, respectively), feminist re-evaluation and 
misogynous revulsion. As Squier puts it, "like all images that have cultural 
prominence, reproductive images serve not so much to articulate a single 
ideological position, as to provide a site on which positions can be contested" 
("Reproducing" 118). 


Newsweek (1996) 

It is significant that Paolo Mantegazza's aesthetic theory of sexual attractiveness 
has been recently confirmed "scientifically" by a study that made the cover of 
Newsweek not that long ago (June 3, 1996). The title of the article was eloquent: 
"The Biology of Beauty: What Science Has Discovered About Sex Appeal." 
Beauty, equated with sexual atfractiveness, has allegedly been shown — through 
methods which we would readily identify as scientific, unlike, say, Mantegazza's 
and Lombroso's — to be directly related to the outward signs of reproductive 
ability. Prominent among these are facial and bodily symmetry (genetically 
associated with health and resilience), and above all, the ratio between women's 
waist and hips. The latter is the most important feature in sexual selection, the 
article claims, for it displays a surprising stability throughout cultures and times: 
plastic Barbie dolls and those obese fertility icons we see in museums, although 
so apparently opposite in terms of aesthetics, share similar waist-hips ratios (as 
also do, for example, Twiggy's anorexic shapes and Rubens' opulent venuses). 

Like Cesare Lombroso, Newsweek journalist Geoffrey Cowley starts with 
analogies drawn from the animal world. On the one hand, the evidence drawn 
from animals points to a greater interest on the part of females in their partners' 
looks, for Cowley's examples are all three of females' selection of males: female 
penguins prefer chubby mates, jungle bird hens favor brightly ornamented jungle 
bird cocks, female scorpion flies choose suitors with well-matched wings. On the 
other hand, Cowley claims that the connections between beauty and reproductive 
ability are especially crucial in the case of female bodies, because women's 
attractiveness is more important for men's sexual selection of a mate: "Studies 
from around the world have found that while both sexes value appearance, men 
place more stock in it than women" (65). This is explained in terms of — 
surprise, surprise — reproductive ability, so very limited in a woman's lifespan 
though not in a man's. The article, however, shows no awareness of the 

"That in giving me life, you still remain alive" 267 

contradictions between the animal and the human world. On the contrary, the 
alleged continuity between the two provides yet another proof for the 
scientificity of the thesis. 

Thus, images of female humans (and not of men or penguins) prevail in the 
illustrations that accompany this text: there are twenty-six such images, as 
opposed to six pictures of males. And the reported findings highlight the primacy 
of women's sexual attractiveness in the human world, when for example we read, 
"almost anything that interferes with fertility — obesity, malnutrition, 
menopause — changes a woman's shape," more important than her face because 
more visible from afar (Cowley 65). Just as Paolo Mantegazza had claimed and 
just as reductively, the claims of popular science seek to naturalize a new field 
(the science of aesthetics, a subset of that scientia sexualis so popular at the end 
of last century) by rewriting myth. One hundred years after Lombroso and 
Mantegazza, popular science amusingly (or perhaps I should say frighteningly) 
confirms their findings: most of the features mentioned by Paolo Mantegazza 
(excessive thinness, pelvis narrower than shoulders, no breasts, no hips, beard — 
the only exception, perhaps, being short hair) also differentiate men from women 
in terms of hormonal production. The woman Mantegazza describes is a 
"monster" because she exhibits the effects of androgens rather than estrogens, 
the latter being necessary for female fertility. Analogously, Cowley wittily notes, 
"the tiny jaw that men favor in women is essentially a monument to estrogen — 
and, obliquely, to fertility. No one claims that jaws reveal a woman's odds of 
getting pregnant. But like breasts, they imply that she could" (65). 

Julia Kristeva (1975-1980) 

The bodily and linguistic alteration of the pregnant shape that recurs in the 
maternity texts analyzed thus far finds a parallel in Julia Kristeva's notion of the 
abject, at the center of her 1980 book, Powers of Horror. Like the pregnant 
body, the preoedipal abject (that which threatens identity) hovers at the limits 
between self and other, inside and outside, beginning and ending; both are 
figures of liminality, which blur identities even as they produce them. Indeed, the 
abject is associated with the repressed body of the mother: the child, that is, must 
abject the mother as container in order to gain independence from her. Thus 
abjection, founded in the violent but necessary separation of birth, expresses 
both a division and a merging, a beginning and an ending. The division between 
the subject and the mother, which ends the bodily connection, marks the merging 
between the subject and the social sphere, the beginning of social bonds. 

The maternal body is the explicit protagonist of Kristeva's essays "Stabat 
Mater" (first published as "Herethique de I'amour" in 1977), and "Motherhood 
According to Giovanni Bellini" (1975); motherhood is also a secondary subject 
in "Women's Time" (1979). In all of these texts, as in the tum-of-the-century 
texts analyzed thus far, the pregnant body is a signifier that is split, 
confradictory, heterogeneous. Pregnancy, a polyvocal discourse in Italian 

268 Cristina Mazzoni 

women's fiction, where it is a topos that figures identity as it breaks down and 
the crisis of the female subject, is comparably described in "Women's Time" as 
"the radical ordeal of the splitting of the subject," as "this fundamental challenge 
to identity" (206). In "Motherhood According to Giovanni Bellini," similarly, 
the maternal body is "the place of a splitting" (238), and in "Stabat Mater" the 
mother is "a continuous separation, a division of the very flesh. And 
consequently a division of language — and it has always been so" (254). 
Mothers exemplify the subject's position at the crossroads, at the junction of 
pain and pleasure, absence and presence, identity and difference, beginning and 
ending. Indeed, paradox and contradiction may line the only understandable and 
understanding path to the description of an experience that is not only other but 
that incarnates the very experience of otherness. "Pregnancy," as a theorist 
influenced by Kristeva, Iris Marion Young, argues (and a similar argument may 
be made more generally about bodily maternity, or the continuum of pregnancy, 
childbirth, and breastfeeding), "reveals a paradigm of bodily experience in which 
the transparent unity of self dissolves" (46). In psychoanalytic terms, the subject 
is split, divided, separated, and this experience goes hand in hand with the 
dissolution of language. 

Allegorized in tum-of-the-century pregnancy texts as bodily deformity, and 
perceived by the text as the abject maternal body, the dissolution of the self is 
represented as an alteration, as an experience of alterity and therefore of the 
difference which traverses the subject, the difference which is intrinsic to identity 
itself Like pregnancy in the literary texts analyzed earlier, maternity is a figure 
of liminality, which functions, in Kristeva' s discourse, for example, to point to 
that alterity that, by residing so conspicuously within the self, threatens 
(productively) the very notion of a unified subject. The subject-in-process is, I 
would claim, exemplified by the pregnant body in texts such as Negri's, 
Deledda's, and Messina's, where, fiirthermore, the configuration of the mother 
as "threshold of nature and culture" ("Stabat Mater," "Women's Time") points 
to multiple contradictions between, for example, transgressive pleasure and 
social conservatism, difference and identity, semiotic and symbolic. These 
apparent contradictions or dichotomies are in fact deconstructed by the mother's 
position at the threshold. Like the maternal body in "Motherhood According to 
Giovanni Bellini," these maternity narratives are "the place of a splitting" in 
terms of character, story, reader, and ideology. 


Una giovinezza del secolo XIX (1919) 

The paradox of pregnancy is repeatedly and painftilly staged in the works of 
Neera, nom de plume of Anna Radius Zuccari (1846-1918). In the novel 
Crevalcore (1907), the protagonist's mother is "sfibrata dalle continue 
gravidanze" (82). Likewise, the eponymous protagonist's mother in Teresa 
(1886) is "pallida sempre, disfatta dalla sua recente matemita" (52), verbs 

"That in giving me life, you still remain alive" 269 

reminiscent of Kristeva's elaborations: the subject is torn apart, undone. In 
L'indomani (1890) the doctor's prolific wife is "una donnina ni bella ne brutta, 
col petto liscio, e il ventre sporgente, un profilo da madonnina invecchiata 
troppo presto" (35), and her husband cheats on her. The same is true of another 
doctor's wife (or is it the same character?) in Neera's // romanzo dellafortuna. 
Having borne five children in six years of marriage, and needing to economize at 
home in order to support her offspring, this anonymous woman "soleva in casa 
vestire assai dimessa con certe casacche molto idonee a nascondere il petto 
rientrante e I'addome sporgente delle donne logorate nella eccessiva matemita" 
(155). Far from exaUing woman as Neera claims in her essays (see for example 
those collected in the volume Le idee di una donna), pregnancy and childbirth 
prematurely age woman, when they do not tear her apart and undo her. This 
disparity between Neera's theories of pregnancy and motherhood, positive and 
downright exalting, and the fate to which pregnancy and motherhood condemn 
so many of her characters can be read as an incarnation, if not the incarnation, of 
the disparity between Neera's self-professed antifeminism and the feminist tone 
which pervades her fiction. 

In the autobiographical Una giovinezza del secolo XIX (published 
posthumously in 1919), Neera portrays her own mother, who dies, like Neera's 
grandmother, following the birth of her sixth child (64), with comparable terms 
of physical and psychical undoing. She is "la mamma gia delicata, resa sempre 
pill debole dalle frequenti gravidanze, ridotta a quello stato di nervosismo e di 
irascibilita . . . che ben conoscono le donne gracili quando hanno assolto il 
compito di conservatrici della specie in misura superiore alle loro forze" (20-21). 
It is worth noting that about 40% of Italian women bom between 1851 and 1871 
had seven or more children, and the average number of children women bore at 
that time was five. It is with women bom between 1871 and 1886, the generation 
of Negri, Deledda, and Messina, that fertility begins to decline: "only" 25% have 
seven or more children (De Giorgio, Le italiane dall'unitd a oggi 353). Still the 
Darwinian periphrasis ("il compito di conservatrici della specie") cleverly allows 
Neera to underline woman's matemal mission and duty even as she notes its 
deleterious effects on woman's physical and psychological constitution: it is 
clear that her mother's predicament is not a personal problem but a social ill. 

The fact that in this same book Queen Margherita di Savoia should become 
beautiful only with the experience of motherhood ("la matemita le porto anche il 
dono della bellezza," 128) reinforces in fact the exceptionality of the connection 
between a desirable beauty and a pathologizing matemity. A similar 
exceptionality may be found in the current emphasis on actresses and models 
whose pregnancy and breastfeeding have resulted in a sexier body: the cover of a 
May 1997 People magazine shows, for instance, Demi Moore and Madonna as 
two icons of such "ma-ma-ma-vooom." Hence the utter lack of realism, unusual 
for Neera's writings on this subject, characterizing the portrayal of the queen's 
matemal charm, described as "una bellezza tutta sua che sfuggiva all'analisi, 

270 Cristina Mazzoni 

bellezza di luci e di colori come una fiamma accesa improvvisamente dietro la 
trasparenza di una immagine" (128). If a queen may derive an ethereal beauty 
from the experience of maternity, the fate of normal women is one of frailness 
and downright undoing. 

Alia deriva (1920) 

Although not openly feminist, the Sicilian writer Maria Messina (1887-1944) 
repeatedly denounces society's harsh treatment of women in her late-veristic 
works. The difficulties of pregnancy and childbirth figure prominently in 
Messina's writings, although the author herself never married or had children. In 
La casa nel vicolo (1921), for example, the second pregnancy of one of the main 
characters is identified with suffering, with the condition of married women in 
general and with paralyzing unsightliness: "Antonietta ricomincio a soffrire, 
come quando doveva nascere Alessio . . . Del resto, e questa la vita di tutte le 
spose. . . . Ci sarebbe voluta la serva per portare il bambino che non camminava 
ancora, una mantiglia nera per Antonietta che non poteva andare in mostra in 
quelle stato" (40). Because of the expenses involved in these last two necessities, 
Antonietta's husband decides that she will not leave the house for the entire 
duration of the pregnancy. Problem solved. 

Simonetta, the protagonist of the novel Alia deriva, is, like Grazia Deledda's 
Maddalena and Gabriele D'Annunzio's Giuliana, made ugly by the sickly 
coloring of pregnancy. Unlike Maddalena and Giuliana, however, Simonetta is 
pregnant with the son of a loving husband. But Marcello does not want children 
because of his continuous (even obsessive) economic worries, which eventually 
lead him to alienate himself from his wife. When Marcello's mother points out to 
him that children come from God and must be accepted with joy, Marcello 
lightheartedly replies: "Ma io non I'd mica voluta per questo la mia Simonetta!" 
(117), an apparently liberating and emancipatory remark. According to Marcello, 
Simonetta is more than a reproducer. But is she in reality, for him, "less" than a 
reproducer? For when Marcello learns of Simonetta' s pregnancy he is 
disappointed that his wife should share the bourgeois family ideal that his artistic 
soul holds in contempt (123). Antagonistically, he calls the child 'Taltro" (123, 
129), a jealous definition reminiscent of D'Annunzio's Tullio Hermil. 

A few pages later in Alia deriva, we encounter a description of the pregnant 
body that subtly juxtaposes a female voice (the narrator's) and a male 
perspective (Marcello's), though there is no apparent clash between the two 
since both voices speak through a mediated free indirect discourse. While 
Marcello accords with the cultural paradigms expressed by the writings of 
Lombroso and Mantegazza, the narrator, in a gap that I believe figures resistance 
beneath a superficial complicity, proleptically grieves with and for Simonetta's 

"That in giving me life, you still remain alive" 27 1 

body.^ When the narrator notes, with some ambivalence, "Pareva che Simonetta 
fosse ammalata. II colore delle guance prendeva una tinta scura e opaca, quasi 
livida, che la imbruttiva," the aesthetic commentary on the deforming effects of 
gestation is accompanied by an empathetic description concerning the physical 
and emotional difficulties Simonetta experienced with her pregnancy, what we 
would today refer to as fatigue, mood swings, and mild depression, significantly 
using a medical vocabulary: "Trascurava di fare le solite visite, e se usciva si 
stancava dopo dieci passi. Inoltre pareva aver perduto per sempre la sua serenita. 
Passava le giomate in ozio e gli occhi le si riempivano di lacrime per i motivi piii 
flitili" (131). This list is then followed by Marcello's perspective, which stops 
instead at his wife's loss of beauty and defensively interprets Simonetta' s 
pregnancy difficulties as a personal affront: "Marcello comincio a sentirsi offeso 
dall'atteggiamento ora rassegnato ora malinconico di sua moglie. Ella si 
richiudeva in se stessa, come una vittima, senza renders! conto degli sforzi fatti 
per darle la felicita. O piu tosto ... si, si, era imbruttita dallo stato fisico in cui si 
trovava per la prima volta. Ecco le inevitabili conseguenze del matrimonio. Col 
tempo avrebbe somigliato a tutte le mogli del mondo!" (131). 

While the narrator's tone and vocabulary avoid both pathologization and 
misogyny, Marcello's is harshly accusing. Being pregnant, becoming a mother, 
is identified in this bivocal paragraph as woman's lot: for the narrator's 
empathetic voice, a predicament epitomized by the difficulties of pregnancy; for 
the husband, a homogenizing experience, which debasingly associates his wife to 
all the women in the world, making her, like them, unattractive and worthy of the 
contempt of the superior, artistic being (though the narrator's sympathy for hun 
tempers Marcello's representation as a self-centered and somewhat misogynistic 
snob). Most important, it is through Marcello's generalization that Simonetta's 
private experience is turned into a social ill, as her physical disfigurement 
anamorphoses the cultural perception of the pregnant woman as the mask of 
female ugliness. Not surprisingly, Simonetta's difficult pregnancy results in a 
complicated premature delivery, which in turn leads to her death — both a 
surrender to and an indictment of the social condition and cultural representation 
of women and/as mothers. 

Stella mattutina (1926) 

If, as I discussed elsewhere (Mazzoni 1997), the mother's thoughts and behavior 

' Maria Di Giovanna notes that in the works of Maria Messina the difference between the 
author's and the narrator's perspective is minimal ("La testimone indignata," 339). 
^ Motherhood and death are again linked by Messina in the novel L'amore negate 
(1928), in which the mother of the two women protagonists has, between 'her two 
daughters, "un figliolo dopo I'altro. Figlioli che morivano piccoli, di un anno, di due 
anni, come frutti che vanno a male" (42). 

272 Cristina Mazzoni 

are held responsible for her child's deformity through the theory of maternal 
impressions, the reverse is more commonly the case, although the pregnancy 
itself (hence the peculiar functioning of the female body) and not the child is 
held responsible for the woman's deformity. Donna Francesca's daughter, 
Augusta (the protagonist of "Storia di Donna Augusta," contained in Ada 
Negri's autobiographical novel Stella mattutina), inherits her mother's beauty 
(as well as her lack of brains), and dies in part because she wants to preserve 
such beauty in spite of her illicit pregnancy. Thus, Augusta orders her maid to 
tighten her gown around her expanding waist to the point of cutting off the 
circulation, and after an evening of dancing Augusta collapses. When the gown 
is cut off, for untying its hooks had become impossible, "il povero ventre 
torturato, tumefatto, ne balz6 fliori, dilatandosi, nudo come una confessione" 
{Prose 266). The pregnant body becomes an anthropomorphized speaking body, 
which finally "confesses" its deformed truth only when the woman is dying and 
her body almost a corpse. 

In contrast (but at times also disturbingly in collusion) with the morbid, even 
abject reproduction of the maternal body in the writings of Gabriele D'annunzio 
as well as Paolo Mantegazza and Cesare Lombroso, the often ambiguous 
figurations of Neera, Grazia Deledda, and Maria Messina vacillate between 
sympathy for the condition of the pregnant woman and distaste for her altered 
looks, with a striking ambivalence that must constitute a symptomatic point of 
entry into the analysis of these women's texts. Thus also Ada Negri's writings 
are permeated with a complex, but ultimately empowering representation of the 
changes incurred by the maternal body before and after childbirth. The pregnant 
body is repeatedly described by Negri as heavy, and sympathetically perceived 
as the cause of physical hardships (breathing difficulties and fatigue, for 
instance), which the woman bears with an often admirable courage {Prose 123, 
358, 369). Yet its change of form, although still a de-formity of sorts, does not 
necessarily imply disgust or even loss of erotic attractiveness. At times the very 
opposite is precisely the case, although Donna Augusta and Eliana, as we have 
seen, do not take the risk. In Stella mattutina, for example, the protagonist Dinin 
experiences contradictory feelings and reactions concerning the body of her 
pregnant sister-in-law: "Nell'intimo, le ripugna. Quanto e bella, se pur resa 
deforme dal suo stato! La sente d'un'altra razza: la razza delle donne dalla came 
felice, che fan voltare gli uomini per via e li attirano nel solco del loro odore" 
{Prose 256). Even as she secretly feels repugnance for her young sister-in-law 
Daria, made "deformed" by her pregnancy, Dinin admires her beauty which, in 
contrast with the texts examined thus far, does not appear to be diminished by 
her change of shape. (Could it be that what "hysterically" disgusts Dinin is not 
Daria's pregnancy but rather her sexual attractiveness?) Indeed, Daria's 
pregnancy (she got pregnant before marriage) testifies to her beauty and erotic 
appeal, and her pregnant body is eloquently described as her "happy flesh" 
which makes heads turn and exudes an appealing "scent of a woman." 

"That in giving me life, you still remain alive'"' 273 

Pregnancy is the threshold between nature and culture, as Julia Kristeva and 
others remind us.^ If the bodily changes pregnancy brings about could 
conceivably be seen as "only" natural, their effects and interpretations, like the 
pregnant body itself, are practices obviously swaddled within our cultural 
discourses. In particular, as Susan Squier has argued in a different context, these 
writings "dramatized the gendered construction of the modem scientific project 
and the contrasting and complementary representations of reproduction 
articulated by literature and science" {Babies in Bottles 23). Daria's shape, her 
flesh, her smell would fade away from our very understanding if we imagined 
them within an impossible cultural vacuum. Dinin, like the pregnant women and 
their husbands evoked by the authors of What to Expect When You 're Expecting, 
finds the pregnant shape (or at least Daria's pregnant shape), to be "beautifiil, 
lovely, sensuous." Paolo Mantegazza and Cesare Lombroso clearly do not, 
though one of the effects of their silencing of the female body is, as Mary 
Poovey has convincingly argued about British doctors, "an excess of meanings, 
and the contradictions that emerge within this excess undermine the authority 
that medical men both claim and need" (152). 


For writers such as Neera, Grazia Deledda, Maria Messina, and Ada Negri, to 
cite just the ones whose texts I have discussed in these pages, the literary 
reproduction of the pregnant shape is an occasion for staging the polyvocal 
imbrications of the female body — as sexual, as reproductive — within 
discourses that would flatten it into a socially expedient univocity. Hence the 
recurrence of paradox and contradiction in the texts I have just reflected on: 
male voices of female experiences; gestating wombs as selves and as others; 
pregnant bodies as beautiful and ugly; maternity as empowering and as self- 
destructive; the ending as beginning, the beginning as ending. This is an 
effective way for these writers to escape nineteenth-century essentialism 
concerning the nature of woman, to indict the dichotomy that would forever and 
impossibly divide the female body into reproductive or sexual, maternal or 
hysterical, deformed or desirable. And it iS' a literary practice that as we read 
allows us, impels us, even, to imagine bodily changes and related linguistic 
alterations as neither in need of discipline nor as deserving of destruction, but 
instead as demanding a dialogue concerning, for example, their beginnings and 
their endings. As deserving of that relation through which, according to 
philosopher, activist, and mystic Simone Weil, we create ourselves: that attitude 
of "attention" to others which lets them exist in their own right, as a beginning, 
rather than tries to dominate them and rush them to their ending. We become 
ftilly human by realizing the others' full humanity {qua beginning, qua ending) 

'' Kristeva, "A New Type of Intellectual" (297); "Stabat Mater" (259); Pizzini 9. 

274 Cristina Mazzoni 

and attentively reading and discerning tiiem as such. "The spirit of justice and 
the spirit of truth," writes Weil poignantly, "is nothing else but a certain kind of 
attention" (333). 

University of Vermont 

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Norma Bouchard 

Writing for the Third Millennium: 

Gadda and the Unfinalizabihty of Life 

Non e altro che questo, epigrafe funeraria, un nome. Conviene ai morti. A 
chi ha concluso [. . .J La vita non conclude. E non sa di nomi, la vita. 

Pirandello, Uno, nessuno e centomila (223-24) 

Perhaps the completely uneventfial passing of the New Year 2000 should make 
us realize that the boundaries that we impose upon experience are but artificial 
constructs, fictions of beginnings and endings that we desperately seek in order 
to give a sense of origin and closure to our being in time and history. Yet, the 
acknowledgement that only a partial, limited understanding can be produced by 
our categories need not be read as symptomatic of cognitive weakness and 
epistemological failure. As Pirandello well says through the voice of the 
character of Vitangelo Moscarda, if the Name is a funerary epigraph, an 
inscription suitable only for that which has gone forever, the impossibility to 
Name is also a form of "truth," a wisdom disclosing a vision of life as a space of 
endless possibilities and transformations. 

Pirandello's insight, read against the background of the fictional imposition 
of beginnings and endings, provides a starting point to assess the significance of 
Gadda's narrative discourse in light of its real achievement. Gadda's discourse, 
despite having been praised for its high degree of experimentalism by 
generations of critics, has traditionally been interpreted as the practice of an 
idealist, striving to order the complexity and temporality of experience but 
failing to do so because of the ever increasing complexity of his novelistic 
structures.' In this paper I intend to show that Gadda's work is not symptomatic 
of a belated idealism, but challenges epistemological premises of a concordant 

' This metaphysical interpretation was initiated by Giancarlo Roscioni who, in La 
disarmonia prestabilita, described Gadda's writing as a Cartesian project of "Singula 
enumerare" in order to "Omnia circumspicere:" "Come i filosofi e gli scrittori che nel 
Cinquecento e nel Seicento avevano inseguito il mito dell'enciclopedia, Gadda e spinto 
dalla sua esigenza di descrivere e di definire verso una cultura che abbracci la totalita 
delle discipline e delle cognizioni" (63). Following Roscioni's hermeneutic line, a 
number of critics have made analogous comments, and excellent samplings of this 
reception are available in the volumes edited by Ceccaroni and Patrizi. The few critics 
who have resisted Roscioni's school of interpretation, and to whom I am much indebted, 
are Gianfranco Contini and Guido Guglielmi. , 

Annali d'ltalianistica 18 (2000). 

278 Norma Bouchard 

structure by articulating an understanding of experience as the unfinaHzable 
space that remains untamable despite models of rhetorical intelligibility. The 
argument for this position begins with a discussion of Racconto italiano di 
ignoto del novecento and Meditazione milanese. While Racconto foregrounds 
the difficulty of translating experience into the finite structures available in the 
tradition of the classical novel, Meditazione seeks to give a philosophical 
underpinning to the notion of reality as a space of complexity and temporality 
irreducible to structures of opposition and finality. Subsequent sections of this 
essay describe how this philosophical conception engenders that discourse of 
paratactical accretion and open-ended inclusion that is one of the trade-marks of 
Gadda's style. Present as early as in La meccanica, but ftilly actualized in La 
cognizione del dolore and Quer pasticciaccio brutto de via Merulana, this 
discourse forces the reader into an open-ended itinerary across beginnings, 
middles, and endings. As is well-known, the resuh is the anti-detective novel: a 
narrative that no longer consoles, but that forces us, as readers, to acknowledge 
the fictionality of paradigmatic form in relation to contingent reality. 

If, however (as Bakhtin has suggested in regard to Dostoevski) the 
penultimate, non-absolute word is also a word of possibility for the world, 
Gadda's fictions suggest the openness and the potentiality inherent in our 
experience and in the symbolic forms that give it shape. Perhaps this is why 
Italo Calvino, in his last critical work, rightly included Gadda in the pantheon of 
writers for the next millennium. 

Gadda's first attempt at a major creative endeavor dates from 1924. 
Responding to a 10,000-lire literary prize for a novel offered by the editor 
Mondadori, Gadda decided to write a story about the fall of a good character set 
against the background of a troubled, postwar Italian society: 

Dal caos dello sfondo devono coagulare e formarsi alcune figure a cui sara affidata la 
gestione della favola, del dramma, altre figure [. . .] a cui sara affidata la coscienza del 
dramma e il suo commento filosofico (riallacciamento con I'universale, coro): potro forse 
riserbarmi io questo commento-coscienza: (autore, coro). Carattere ed epoca del 
romanzo: Contemporaneita. [. . .] Topograficamente da svolgersi in Italia e Sud America, 
eventualmente e parzialmente in Francia. 


As readers familiar with Gadda's bibliography well know, Gadda was never 
able to bring this narrative project to completion. Today all that remains of 
Racconto is a "Cahier d'etudes," comprising studi, or attempts at fictional 
composition, with a series of metafictional commentaries, or note (393), on the 
studi themselves. Despite its undeniable looseness, Racconto is a crucial work in 
the Gaddian corpus since it articulates with great clarity the difficulty that the 
author encountered with the forms available in the classical tradition of the 
novel. These are forms which depend on the assumption that narrative is a 

Writing for the Third Millenium: Gadda and the Vnfinalizability of Life 279 

model of coherence and intelligibility, allowing a self-identical subject to 
establish order and finality to the object in the mediating space of representation. 
For this reason, classical novelistic forms develop according to the stable 
perspective, or "point of view," of the enunciative subject, and produce stable 
characterization and orderly, linear sequences of actions. A cursory reading of 
selected passages from Racconto testify to Gadda' s deep-seated incredulity 
towards these forms and the epistemological assumption upon which they rest. 
For example, in the second note, which immediately follows the promise of 
ordering the chaos of narrative material in the above-cited passage, Gadda 
admits to being unable to decide the perspective to be assumed in his story. His 
individuality, he comments, is pluralized into five voices to which correspond an 
equal number of worldviews: 

NotaCr2. — (24marzo 1924 — ore 16.30) 

Tonalita generate del lavoro. E una grossa questione. Le maniere che mi sono piu 
famigliari sono la (a) logico-razionalistica, paretiana, seria, celebrale - E la (b) 
umoristico-ironica [. . .] la (c) umoristico seria manzoniana. [. . .] Posseggo anche una 
quanta maniera (d) enfatica tragica, 'meravigliosa 600'. [. . .] Finalmente posso eiencare 
una quinta maniera (e), che chiamero la maniera cretina, che e fresca, puerile, mitica 
omerica. [. . .] 


In a subsequent passage, Gadda adds that he may actually have more than 
five voices and comments that if he were to describe them, he would need a very 
large painter's palette: "non basterebbe nemmeno la mia propria tavolozza: ho il 
violetto e I'indaco, il bleu e il verde, ma mi mancano il cioccolato e I'arancione" 

Having thereby compromised the classical premise of a single, harmonious 
perspective, Gadda sets out to question the possibility of achieving unity of plot 
and character. Like Gadda' s kaleidoscopic subjectivity, characters cannot be 
defined according to the antithetical — and therefore unambiguous — attributes 
of "a, b, c" (464) but are open to permutation and change of roles. In Gadda's 
words, characters are becoming "a e b" (464) and are revealing their nature as 
"omnipotenziali" (463), that is to say, capable of straddling a muhiplicity of 
positions, including those of gender identity, as the following quotation 

Noi intuiamo la donna quasi 'sentendone' i sentimenti. La donna 'intuisce' il maschio, 
credo quasi sentendone 'i sentimenti e le passioni.' Forse a noi appare di essere 
solamente maschi, ma in realta, nei misteriosi fondi della natura, siamo semplicemente 
dei 'polarizzati' e 'potenzialmente' possiamo essere I'uno e I'altro. E di questa 
potenzialita, precedente il nostro sviluppo, ci siamo dimenticati. 


280 Norma Bouchard 

This view of the self as "omnipotenziale" also bears upon issues of ethics, 
since characters, much like human beings, can situate themselves on the 
antithetical poles of evil and goodness at once: "possono tenere del bene e del 
male, di un sentimento e del contrario" (463). Given these considerations, it is 
perhaps inevitable that the unity and coherency of plot become an ideal beyond 
reach. More specifically, since an orderly, goal-oriented plot is a sequence of 
actions performed by characters endowed with definable or at least predictable 
qualities, such ostensive instability of being gives rise to a variety of 
contradictory events: "Ricordare I'andamento antitetico di tutti i motivi 
d'intreccio: non esagerare nei raccostamenti" (438). Several notes of Racconto 
reveal that this is precisely what occurred in the composition of the novel, 
which, from the initial narrative kernel of the fall of a good character set against 
the background of postwar Italy, expands to include romances, murders. Fascist 
intrigues, episodes of bourgeois life and more. The result, as an ironic meta- 
commentary puts it, is that of a narrative web of tangled, convoluted stories, "un 
romanzo psicopatico e caravaggesco" (411). 

The representational impasse revealed in these theoretical notes and 
fictional fragments of Racconto, an impasse which Dante Isella in an 
introduction to the volume has described as "I'impossibilita del romanzo 
novecentesco di proporre ancora una volta [. . .] una rappresentazione globale, 
omnicomprensiva della vita," is also accompanied by sparse and yet very 
intriguing hypotheses of alternative models of fiction.' At one point, for 
example, Gadda notes that a tangled, complex model of representation would 
better translate the processes of transformations and combinations that make up 
the chaos of reality: "Che I'intreccio non sia di casi stiracchiati, ma risponda 
all'istinto delle combinazioni, cioe al profondo ed oscuro dissociarsi della realta 
in elementi, che talora [. . .] perdono di vista il nesso unitario" (460). Elsewhere 
he declares his desire to give artistic expression to the "difforme molteplicita 
della vita" (547) by way of a "romanzo della pluralita" (462). As these 
comments suggest, then, Gadda foregrounds the possibility of writing a novel 
where a fluctuating, fragmentary enunciation would replace a stable point of 
view, where characters would straddle many positions, and where open-ended 
sequences of actions would overcome the unity of traditional plot structures. 
Nonetheless, Racconto falls short of actualizing such a work. Because the 
novel's fluctuating point of view would engender accusations of "variabilita, 

^ Capobianchi has made the interesting point that Racconto coincides with the emergence 
of a number of influential theories of narrative, including Ortega y Gasset's Ideas sobra 
la novela (1925), Thibaudet's Le liseur de roman (1925), Muir's The Structure of the 
jVove/ (1928), and Sklovskji's Theory of Prose (1929). To Capobianco's list one can also 
add several of Bakhtin's works. Freudianism dates from 1927, The Formal Method in 
Literary Scholarship from 1 928, and Problems of Dostoevsky 's Poetics and Marxism and 
the Philosophy of Language from 1929. 

Writing for the Third Millenium: Gadda and the Unfinalizability of Life 281 

eterogeneita, mancanza di fusione, mancanza di armonia, et similia" (461) and 
its plot "contraddizione!, incoerenza!, incertezza!, ecc." (472), fear of criticism 
prevents Gadda from transforming Racconto into anything more than an early 
and yet crucial reflection on the impossibility of a classical, metaphysical mode 
of representation. Instead, in the years that follow the composition of Racconto, 
Gadda turns to the terrain of philosophical speculation, namely, to the pages of 
Meditazione milanese (1928), where he seeks to give a theoretical underpinning 
to his conception of life and the type of knowledge that it affords. 

Although a detailed description of Meditazione falls beyond the immediate 
scope of this essay (Risset, Sbragia 30-43; Dombroski, Creative Entanglements, 
43-49), it is important to recall that this work undermines the ontological 
categorization of the self and the other, while bringing forth an understanding of 
reality as a space of differentiation and becoming. More specifically, Gadda 
argues that since the human self participates in the complexity and temporality 
of the real, it cannot be thought of as a cenfripetal monad, but is composed of 
molecules that combine and recombine in multiple figurations, "un insieme di 
relazioni non perennemente unite" (649). Like the subject, the object is not only 
altered by chronotopic differentiation because of changes in time and space, but 
experiences the additional deformation brought about by the encounter with the 
knowing subject. To tell it with Robert Dombroski, for Gadda "[kjnowledge [. . 
.] is thus a becoming in the Bergsonian sense of duration, that is, a continuous 
enlarging of experience; simply stated, a process" {Creative Entanglements 45). 
When one considers the anti-foundational thrust of this work, it comes as no 
surprise that any systemic, structural representations emerge as illusory, 
constructed models of understanding. For this reason, Gadda proposes to replace 
all linear mappings of the world as a series of causes and effects with that of the 
rhizomatous network: 

Cause ed effetti sono un pulsare della molteplicita irretita in se stessa e non sono mai 
pensabili al singoiare. La piii semplica causa, un colpo di martello, presuppone 
I'incudine. E la forza non e mai sola: si manifesta polarmente. L'ipotiposi della catena 
delle cause va emendata e guarita se mai, con quella di una maglia o rete; ma non di una 
maglia a due dimensioni (superficie) o a tre dimensioni (spazio-maglia, catena spaziale, 
catena a tre dimensioni), si di una maglia o rete a dimensioni infinite. Ogni anello o 
grumo groviglio di relazioni e legato da infiniti filamenti a grumi o grovigli infiniti. 


The implications of this rhizomatous mapping are far-reaching, not only for 
theories of knowledge but also for theories of artistic practices. By critiquing 
fraditional epistemologies and the structures of causal, linear understanding and 
explanation that they generate, Meditazione also comes to implicate the primary 
model of intelligibility constituted by the classical, traditional novel. Ultimately, 

282 Norma Bouchard 

then, Meditazione gives theoretical justification to the novel of plurality alluded 
to, but never realized, in the pages of Racconto.^ 

One of the most basic and widely shared assumptions about narrative is that 
it fulfills a basic human need for order through plot and its sub-elements, 
characterization and setting. To tell it with the often-cited The Sense of An 
Ending by Frank Kermode, "Men, like poets, rush 'into the middest,' in medias 
res, when they are bom; they also die in mediis rebus, and to make sense of their 
span they need fictive concords with origins and ends, such as give meaning to 
lives and to poems" (7). Peter Brooks has also made analogous comments. 
Building upon the insights of Kermode, Brooks opens his Reading for the Plot 
by stating that narrative is dependent on the desire to "recount in order to 
explain and understand where no other form of explanation will work" (5). This 
need is not only exemplified in the early narratives of myths and folklore, but 
also in the stories we want to hear in the early stages of our development, when 
we, as children, tend to judge tales by their ability to provide an orderly plot 
sequence of beginnings, middles, and endings. Besides validating Kermode's 
insights, Brooks's work also proposes a viable rhetorical model for narrative 
intelligibility. By way of structuralist categories (Culler 189-238), Brooks 
argues that the ability of narrative to demarcate and establish limits depends 
upon a subtle interplay of metaphor and metonymy: 

Plot is the structure of action in closed and legible wholes; it thus must use metaphor as 
the trope of its achieved interrelations, and it must be metaphoric insofar as it is 
totalizing. Yet, it is equally apparent that the key figure of narrative must in some sense 
be not metaphor, but metonymy: the figure of contiguity and combination, of the 
syntagmatic relation. The description of narrative needs metonymy as the figure of 
linkage in the signifying chain: precedence and consequence, the movement from one 
detail to another, the movement /owarii totalization under the mandate of desire. 


According to this definition, then, paradigmatic form would be the product 
of a carefiilly regulated use of the tropes of similarity (or paradigmatic) and of 
contiguity (or syntagmatic). More specifically, while the analogical regress of 
metaphor would be aimed at identification and coincidence, the flow of 
metonymies would be restricted to relations of causality aimed at providing a 
final closure. 

Brooks's model seems particularly valuable in describing the overall 
subverting effect displayed by Gadda's narrative discourse. This is a discourse 

^ Hence, it is perhaps not surprising that the years immediately framing the composition 
oi Meditazione represent a period of extremely intense activity for Gadda who authors La 
meccanica (1928-29), the three narrative fragments comprising Novella seconda 
("Dejanira Classis," "Notte di luna," "La casa" 1929-32), and the essays 'i viaggi, la 
morte" (1927) and "Le belle lettere e i contributi espressivi delle tecniche" (1929). 

Writing for the Third Millenium: Gadda and the Unfmalizability of Life 283 

which, through an unrestricted amplification of metaphor coupled with an 
unregulated flow of metonymies, multiplies the attributes of characterization and 
setting, while preventing the unfolding of a linear, forward-moving plot. 

An early, yet illustrative example of this type of fabulation shapes the 
characterization of Zoraide, in Gadda's La meccanica. Suggestively described 
while looking at herself in a mirror, which is, of course, an icon of specular 
refraction, Zoraide is initially introduced by the speech of her cousin Gildo as an 
object of crude, physical desire: "Cristo! L'avrebbe voluta rovesciare sul letto, 
strangolata, morduta" (476). However, through the languages of the intertext she 
also emerges as a figure of artificial, decadent sensuality: "Erano le proposizioni 
vive dell'essere, compiutamente affermate, che rendono al grembo come una 
corona di volutta deglutitrice: fulgide per latte e per ambra si pensavano 
misteriose mollezze da disvelare per I'elisia e impudica serenita del Vecellio [. . 
.]" (471). Her portrait, however, does not rest with this double play of 
supplementary voices, but begins anew in subsequent paragraphs, where a 
naturalistic representation modeled after Emile Zola situates her against the 
background of a poor tenement building, which she shares with other women 
like herself and "qualche triste canarino, qualche muccoso marmocchio" (472). 
Other metaphoric associations further refract her character through Metastasian, 
pre-Romantic, and even Flaubertian topoi. When Zoraide goes to Duomo, for 
example, like the eponymous heroine of Flaubert's novel Madame Bovary, her 
consciousness expresses itself in a language that juxtaposes sensuality and 
mysticism. Hence, the sight of a painting of the Virgin Mary by Giorgio 
Barbarelli becomes a palimpsest to read "I'amante camale del Zorzon [. . .] ella 
pensava 'I'amante': una misteriosa e torbida felicita, un peccato atroce e 
meraviglioso, I'amante, I'amante" (491-92). A quotation from the novel well 
summarizes the overall effect of this type of rhetorical amplification. The 
narrator suggests that if the mirror were to represent the portrait of Zoraide by a 
"novecentista," it would quite likely produce an image "catasfroficamente 
sintetica" (472), that is to say, overdetermined and non-coincident, and therefore 
a foil to the characterization of Zoraide as a whole. 

La cognizione del dolore participates in the unregulated use of paradigmatic 
associations illustrated by these passages of La meccanica and well illusfrates 
what Dombroski, borrowing from Deleuze, defines as "narration as 'descriptive 
folds'" {Creative Entanglements 8). The novel's setting, ostensibly the city of 
Lukones, not only sfraddles a temporal continuum between 1925 and 1933, but 
it emerges in the ambiguous space of fiction and historical reality. Allusions to 
the economic profile of the Brianza region, coupled with reference to a war with 
a neighboring country and frequent mention of a coercive regime (6) render it a 
foil to postwar Italy under the rise of Fascism. Yet, by way of additional 
analogies, the representation of Lukones begins anew, causing the city to 
emerge as a mosaic of quotations from the literary intertext. Surrounded by a 
chain of mountains called "II Serruchon" (18), and subject to the divine scourge 

284 Norma Bouchard 

of droughts and hail, it is a hybrid of the Manzonian "Resegone" (20) and the 
mythical cities of the Old Testament. Further, it is also Yonville-l'Abbaye, from 
Flaubert's Madame Bovary, with which it shares the "albergo del Leon d'oro" 
(17), country doctors, bourgeois merchants, and maimed peasants. 

As in the case of the novel's setting, characterization does not escape 
Gadda's figural discourse and dramatically foregrounds the impropriety of 
"proper," absolute, and final words. Hence, if medical reports and descriptions 
of malnutrition establish the people of Lukones as early-century immigrants 
from the Italian lower classes, allusions to the population's trees of "nespola" 
(363) and its will to amass "roba o robba" (365) transport them into the intertext 
of literary "verismo," notably the pages of Verga's / Malavoglia. The impeded 
univocality of synonimic identification at work in this panoramic, scenic 
representation is extended to specific characters. Peppa is a "donna-uomo" (29), 
female drivers are "Argonauti-donne" (335), waiters "fracs-ossibuchi" (342), 
and the peasants "pitecantropi-granoturco" (3 1 9). In this pervasive absence of 
finality, the identity of the population is further clouded by an abysmal 
paronomasia. The washer woman, Peppino's sister, is also known as Peppa. The 
seller of fish is Beppina, and the wife of the mortician is Pina, also known as 
Pinina del Goepp, officially registered as Giuseppina (32). In a vertiginous 
labyrinth of signs, the guardian of Gonzalo's villa is "Jose" (72), and the maid is 
"Battistina," cousin of "Batta" (75). Mahagones is also "Manganones o Pedro," 
"Gaetano Palumbo," "Pietruccio," and "Pedro" (21). As for the members of the 
bourgeoisie, one of Gonzalo's ancestors, Gonzalo Pirobutirro d'Eltino, is said to 
have been one of the executors of decrees for the crown of Castille. Yet, his 
cruelty and desire to hang "certo Filarenzo Calzamaglia o, come dicevan tutti, 
Enzo [. . .] che gli aveva messo i manichini attomo ai polsi duranti certi tumulti 
di San Juan" (103), locate him in the realm of Manzoni's Promessi sposi and in 
the legendary cruelty of the Borgias (104). The official poet of Maradagal, 
Carlos Ca9oncelles, is also poised in the shifting space between fiction and 
historical reality. Like Gadda and the scapigliato Carlo Dossi, he bears the 
Christian name "Carlos" and practices an art of intertextual collage. We are told, 
for example, that Ca9oncelles's epic compares the freedom-fighter Juan Muceno 
Pastrufacio to George Washington, Marlowe's Tamburlaine the Great, Giuseppe 
Garibaldi and even Byron's Mazeppa. However, unlike the scapigliato Dossi 
and C. E. Gadda, Ca^oncelles is a writer tending toward the horizon of absolute 
words. He shares the bombastic style and the prophetic rhetoric of Foscolo, 
Carducci, and D'Annunzio. In one more descriptive fold, Ca9onceIles is also a 
figure of northern gothic literature. Rumors speak of him as a ghost, a monsfrous 
figure, a specfral apparition (61). Like Cafoncelles, Elisabetta Francois is an 
ontological cyborg, a serial being of historical reference and literary words. In 
one of her forms, she is a French tutor who has lost a son (256), and therefore an 
autobiographical reminiscence of Gadda's mother, the language teacher Adele 
Lehr whose younger son Enrico perished on April 23, 1918. However, in a 

Writing for the Third Millenium: Gadda and the Unfinalizability of Life 285 

literary "itinerance," Elisabetta is Shakespeare's "Re Lear" (295), Livius's 
Veturia, Carducci's nonna Lucia from "Davanti san Guido," and Virgil's Creusa 
from the Aeneid (170). As the discourse progresses, additional associations 
increase the complexity of this already elusive characterization. For the 
population of Lukones, she is "la Signora" (118), the maternal and prodigal 
benefacfress. However, in her son's speeches she surfaces as the victimizer who 
has chosen the objectification of an ideal — "la villa" (305) — over the 
wellbeing of her family. Endlessly moving from one trope to the next, on the 
night of her attack Elisabetta is a character from the naturalist era, covered, 
however, by a checkered blanket, as in the "tempo di Dickens" (466): "Un 
orribile coagulo di sangue si era aggrumato, ancor vivo, sui capelli grigi, 
dissolti, due fili di sangue le colavano dalle narici. [. . .] Gli occhi erano 
dischiusi, la guancia destra tumefatta, la pelle lacerata [. . .]" (467). 

Likewise, Gonzalo is the pre duct of a mercurial pen, the spiritual offspring 
of Hermes the Alchemist. The surviving son of Elisabetta, Gonzalo is a novelist- 
engineer like Gadda and therefore a partially autobiographical figure. However, 
he is also a tessellation of epic, novels, and drama. In what Eco would call a 
descriptive process of unlimited semiosis,'' he is described, like the Homeric 
Odysseus and the modernist Ulysses, as he attempts to free his Penelope from 
the suitors Antinoos and Blazes "Hugh" Boylan. The narrative also represents 
him as a character-cluster of the cruel Smerdiakov from Dostoevski's Brothers 
Karamazov, the idealist Quixano from Cervantes 's Don Quixote, Shakespeare's 
Hamlet, and a comic hero from the French classical theafre of Moliere (289). 
Additional speeches ftirther unsettle Gonzalo's already tenuous consistency. 
Like Orestes from Euripides's Oresteia, he is said to harbor murderous impulses 
towards his mother. In another connection to classical tragedy, and specifically 
to Sophocles's Oedipus, Gonzalo suffers from an Oedipal complex and longs to 
be alone with Elisabetta: "Denfro, io, nella mia casa, con mia madre" (186). 
Other, more prosaic passages, confribute to this relativizing effect. For Doctor 
Figueroa, Gonzalo is a madman, so affected by what psychiafrists like Serieux 
and Capgras call "'delirio interpretativo'" (210-11) as to be capable of 
actualizing the violence of his impulses. However, in a progression by paradox, 
the private, paternal voice of the doctor also represents him as a potential 
husband for his unmarried daughter, and therefore as a generally suitable son-in- 
law (73). When Gonzalo's speeches are reported, aporias continue to remain 
unresolved, since the space of writing undergoes further enrichment. Within a 
few pages, Gonzalo's language can render the rationality of a reader of Plato, 
the lamentation of a vengeftil, almost bestial Other, and the cries of a child for 

■* In his Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language Eco distinguishes between dictionary 
and encyclopedic modes of representations. Whereas the former circumscribe definitions, 
the latter, in a process of rhetorical amplification, or "unlimited semiosis," open them to 
the regress and expenditure allowed by the archive of culture. 

286 Norma Bouchard 

the absent mother. Significantly, the narrator comments that Gonzalo's 
physiognomy remains irreducibly incoherent: "ora satumino, ora dionisiaco, ora 
eleusino, ora coribantico [. . .]" (217). 

If an unbridled use of metaphoric associations prevents Gadda's narrative 
discourse from assigning stability and self-coincidence to characterization and 
setting, an unregulated flow of metonymies compromises the development of 
plot as an orderly, forward-moving sequence of actions. To tell it with Guido 
Guglielmi, the mobile "texture" of Gadda's mode of representation generates a 
retarded structure {La prosa italiana del novecento 15). La meccanica, for 
example, opens on Sunday, October 4, 1915, when Gildo Pessina knocks on 
Zoraide's door. However, before the reasons for Gildo's visit are disclosed, the 
narrative begins anew and provides another point of entry by focusing on the 
long description of Zoraide's physiognomy. When Gildo is finally allowed into 
the house, only fragments of conversation are reported, and the narrative begins 
to relate Gildo's background. Since he is a rogue, a muddled crime story about a 
theft of bicycles and gambling unfolds. An analogous unwillingness to arrest the 
flux of metonimies informs Chapter 2. In a series of "emboitements senza fine," 
as a sentence from the novel comments (587), Zoraide's memories of her 
husband, the socialist Luigi Pessina, and of her lover, Franco Velaschi, are 
followed by an episode recounting the institutionalization and demise of 
"Societa Umanitaria," but the chapter as a whole expands to include lengthy 
content-notes from the most disparate extra-textual sources. Chapter 3 opens 
with a description of Luigi Pessina' s life to which are added, however, 
digressions on the year's political and military events as well as a romance 
between an admiral's daughter and "I'ingegnere Ulivi." Only at the end of 
Chapter 3 does the narrative return to Luigi and report his resigned response to 
the news that he has been drafted. The news itself is followed by a long, 
digressive description of a medical visit and its report. Chapter 4 begins by 
recounting the machinations of Velaschi's parents as they try to secure their son 
a job, so that he can avoid being enlisted. Chapter 5 describes the outcome of 
their efforts, but to the plight of Velaschi's father is added a story about a 
landowner's suicide, a portrait of Dirce Raspagnotti's son, and ftirther narrative 

The open-ended plot-structure of La meccanica unfolds in La cognizione 
del dolore, where the inclusion of many possible points of entry undermines the 
security of a stable origin and beginning. To reprise a self-refiexive comment, 
by allowing "una serie di fatti [. . .] scatu(rire) come germoglio, e poi ramo, dal 
palo teleologico" (14), La cognizione is a novel built as a series of endless 
departures. Hence, from a panoramic opening on a country between 1925 and 
1933, the plot folds back upon itself to relate a scandal in Lukones following the 
hiring of the veteran Pedro Mahagones, a story about lightning, the rise and 
death of the poet Carlo Ca^oncelles, a number of episodes about Gonzalo 
Pirobutirro's life told by the fabulating community of Jose, La Battistina, la 

Writing for the Third Millenium: Gadda and the Unfinalizability of Life 287 

Peppa, and others, Gonzalo's and Elisabetta's pathos, the mysterious attack on 
the latter, the poem "Autunno," and more.^ And since, to reprise Brooks, "the 
movement oi totalization under the mandate of desire" depends upon a regulated 
use of figures of similarity and contiguity, Gadda' s narrative discourse 
dramatizes countless contradictions and enigmas without, however, providing a 
resolution. Otherwise stated, in Gadda's narrative discourse the ending is 
affected by the same multiplying logic of beginnings, and therefore it becomes 
infinitely expandable through multiple extensions and interpretations. In La 
meccanica, for example, the muddled crime-story about the theft of the bicycles 
neither specifies the name of the guilty party nor of the merchandise stolen. 
Since Gildo might be implicated in the crime along with two other people, the 
identity of the criminal is never disclosed. The theft itself is presumably of four 
bicycles, yet anonymous voices speak of five, "chi diceva Stucchi e chi Bianchi" 
(473), and the investigators indicate the presence of various other stolen wares, 
ranging fi-om ties and underwear to cosmetics and gramophones. In La 
cognizione, the mystery of the bolts of light which strike Villas Enrichetta and 
Antonietta remains unresolved amid multiple hypotheses. Initial investigations 
suggest that the lightning rod of Villa Maria Giuseppina has caused the damage, 
but this theory is weakened as others begin to surface. The mason of Villa 
Enrichetta argues that the cause of the lightning resides in the plumbing, while 
the meteorologists present differential equations to prove the contrary. 
Meanwhile, local folklore suggests the possibility of magic and explains the 
event by drawing upon the reservoir of such literature. As for the attack on the 
mother, the gossip of the population suggests that Gonzalo is the perpetrator. 
However, other voices point to Palumbo and the peasant Giuseppe as the guilty 
ones. Even the language of the victim's body contributes to the ambiguity of the 
mystery since the kinetics of Elisabetta's arms is an icon for the continuity of 
interpretation: "parevano protese verso 'gli altri' come in una difesa o in una 
implorazione estrema" (467; emphasis added). The final outcome of this 
infinitely expandable ending is of course the anti-detective novel, a form which, 
although present in an embryonic state in a number of episodes fi"om La 
meccanica, La cognizione, and other stories,^ only achieves fiill actualization in 
Quer pasticciaccio brutto de via Merulana. 

^ It should come as no surprise, then, that one of the typical procedures of Gadda's 
writing is to transpose narrative segments into other works. In Accoppiamenti giudiziosi, 
for example, the short stories "Cugino barbiere," "Le novissime arm!," and "Papa e 
mamma" are taken from La meccanica, while "Una visita medica" e "La mamma" belong 
to La cognizione. In L 'Adalgisa are also sections from La Cognizione, notably "Strane 
tristerie contristano i Bertoloni" and "Navi approdano al Parapagal." 
^ A constant aspect of Gadda's work, the problematization of the detective convention is 
present as early as "Novella seconda," where in a compositional note Gadda voices his 
desire to be "Conandoyliano" (1317), but also suggests a "complicazione del tema" 
(1318) which would put to the test the conventions of the genre. 

288 Norma Bouchard 

Confirming the beUef of the detective-philosopher Ingravallo that "le 
inopinate catastrofi non sono mai la conseguenza o I'effetto che dir si voglia di 
un unico motivo [. . .] ma sono come un vortice, un punto di depressione 
ciclonica nella coscienza del mondo verso cui hanno cospirato tutta una 
molteplicita di causali convergenti" (16), the novel is a macroscopic 
dramatization of the impossibility of the hermeneutic solution, of the reduction 
of crime to one final name, one identity, and one story. Hence, not only does the 
novel double the crimes of murder and theft, but it short-circuits the process of 
investigation through a pluralization of the guilty. While initial investigations by 
Commissario Ingravallo point to Giuliano Valdarena and Remo Balducci as the 
murderers of Liliana Balducci, the Fascist regime identifies in commendatore 
Angeloni the thief of vec^ova Menegazzi's jewelry. Yet, by the second half of the 
novel, Angeloni is freed and a number of other suspects enter the scene. These 
include Virginia, Ines Cionini, Camilla Mattonari, Assunta Crocchiapani, Enea 
Retain, Diomede and Ascanio Lanciani. As the names of the possible 
perpetrators multiply, so does the process of investigation, which now includes, 
in addition to Ingravallo, also dottor Fumi and the carabinieri of Marino: 
maresciallo Santarella and vicebrigadiere Pestalozzi. By the end of the novel, 
the investigation falls back upon Ingravallo, who travels to Tor di Gheppio in 
the Roman countryside to interrogate Assunta Crocchiapani, the beautiful 
servant of the Balduccis. However, Ingravallo's violent questioning — '"Sputa 
'o nome, chillo ca tieni ca: o t' 'o fara sputare 'o brigadiere, in caserma, a 
Marino: 'o brigadiere Pestalozzi'" (276) — does not produce the hermeneutic 
truth of a confession, but just one more state of hesitation leading to ftirther 
hermeneutic continuity: 

'No, sor dott6, no, no, nun so' stata io!' imploro aliora la ragazza [. . .] 'No, nun so' stata 
io!' II grido incredibile bloccd il furore dell'ossesso. Egli non intese, la per la, cio che la 
sua anima era in procinto d'intendere. Quella piega nera verticale tra i due soppraccigli 
dell'ira, nel volto bianchissimo della ragazza, io paralizzo, Io indusse a riflettere: a 
ripentirsi, quasi. 

(276; emphasis added) 

Thus, in the open-endedness of its epilogue, Quer pasticciccio finally 
reaches the same conclusion as La cognizione where, on Elisabetta's violated 
body, a group of visitors witnesses what we, as readers of Gadda's narrative 
discourse, have been experiencing all along: the constitutive impossibility of 
capturing the ephemerality and ambiguity of life in one, absolute name and 
story: "Nella stanchezza senza soccorso in cui il povero volto si dovette 
raccogliere tumefatto [. . .] parve a tutti di leggere la parola terribile della morte 
e la sovrana coscienza dell'impossibilita di dire: Io" {La cognizione 472). 

What are the implications of Gadda's subversion of the novel as 
paradigmatic form, of narrative as a textual structure of intelligibility? In a 

Writing for the Third Millenium: Gadda and the Unfinalizability of Life 289 

commentary that provides an interesting supplement to Pirandello's polemic 
against the Name as fUnerary epigraph, Peter Brooks suggests that finite models 
of representation not only impoverish the multiplicity and complexity of 
experience, but also bring a closure to the hermeneutics of meaning, to writing 
as textual desire: 

And here the paradox of the self becomes explicitly the paradox of narrative plot as the 
reader consumes it: diminishing as it realizes itself, leading to an end that is the 
consummation (as well as the consumption) of its sense-making. If the motor of narrative 
is desire, totalizing, building ever-larger units of meaning, the uUimate determinants of 
meaning lie at the end, and narrative desire is ultimately, inexorably, desire /oa- the end. 


If we accept Brooks's suggestion that, by arresting continuity, paradigmatic 
writing is finally obituary writing, Gadda' s unwillingness to produce a fiction of 
concords articulates a vision of life's complexity, to be sure, but also of life's 
potentiality and becoming. Bakhtin has termed this vision nezavershennost, or 
the unfinalizability of life. It is a vision that emerges when the word, having 
escaped the lures of metaphysical reassurance, remains at the penultimate stage, 
thereby evoking a sequel to life and the figures we employ to represent it. '' Fully 
actualized in Dostoevsky's polyphonic, open-ended novels, this word suggests 
that "nothing conclusive has yet taken place in the world, (t)hat the ultimate 
word about the world has not been spoken, (t)hat the world is open and free, 
(t)hat everything is still in the ftiture and will always be in the fliture" (166). 

I believe that the potentiality of discourse described in Bakhtin's notion of 
a penultimate word explains Calvino's inclusion of Gadda among the writers 
for the next millennium. Invited by Harvard University to deliver the 1985 
Charles Eliot Norton Poetry Lectures, Calvino certainly experienced the 
symbolic significance of the approaching year 2000.^ Yet, he decided not to 

^ Compare also the following statement in Dombroski's Creative Entanglements: "It is by 
now a commonplace in Gadda criticism to regard the Gaddian text as wholly meta- 
linguistic [. . .] that language for Gadda is not a means of representing reality, but rather 
an attack on linguistic convention in behalf of the heterogeneity of the sign and the 
multiplicity of truth. [. . .] However true and inconvertible, such assertions tend to 
overlook how the linguistic and semantic aggregates are held together, what directs the 
meta-linguistic process, and what is its specific purpose" (107). I should note, however, 
that for Dombroski the effect of Gadda' s discursive procedure is that of a strategic 
travesty, allowing the subject to recover identity: "the relative free play of language is a 
highly suitable means of restoring an identity to a subject inhibited and terrorized by 
history. It is a surrogate identity, a mask to hide behind [. . .]" (73). On the same issue, 
compare also the chapter dedicated to Gadda in Dombroski's Properties of Writing. 
* See, for example, the following: "II millennio che sta per chiudersi ha visto nascere ed 
espandersi le lingue modeme dell'Occidente e le letterature che di queste lingue hanno 

290 Norma Bouchard 

engage in apocalyptic musings on the death of the book and the end of literature 
in the technological, post-industrial society of cybernetic information. Instead, 
he expressed his faith in the ability of literature to endure by discussing a 
number of values which he felt were unique to literary writing. As we know, 
Calvino passed away before he could finalize his Norton project, and what 
remains of his lectures today are five essays on lightness, quickness, exactitude, 
visibility, and multiplicity. Significantly, the discussion of multiplicity opens 
with a quotation from the beginning of Quer pasticciaccio. In Ingravallo's 
conception of life as a web of tangled and expandable relations, Calvino 
situates Gadda's vision of the novel as an unfinished, open-ended encyclopedia. 
Since for Calvino this is a form which challenges the delimiting, demarcating 
discourse of science, it represents the ability of literature to endure by providing 
other, alternative forms of knowledge: 

La letteratura vive solo se si pone degli obiettivi smisurati, anche al di la d'ogni 
possibilita di realizzazione. Solo se poet! e scrittori si proporranno imprese che nessuno 
altro osa immaginare la letteratura continuera ad avere una funzione. Da quando la 
scienza diffida delle spiegazioni general! e delle soluzione che non siano settoriali o 
specialistiche, la grande sfida per la letteratura e 11 saper tessere insieme i diversi saperi e 
i diversi codici in una visione plurima, sfaccettata del mondo. 


In summary then, against the background of the ever-increasing realization 
of the fictionality of real endings and beginnings foregrounded most recently by 
the year 2000, the lack of completion of Gadda's narrative discourse can be 
assessed in light of its deeper significance. From Racconto's overt textualization 
of the limits imposed upon being by the rigid frames of classical paradigmatic 
form, to the rhizomatous writing of La meccanica. La cognizione, and Quer 
pasticciaccio, Gadda's discourse discloses a vision of life as a space of 
complexity but also of endless possibilities and transformations. And precisely 
because, as Calvino well said it, the fiiture of literature will depend upon its 
ability to voice that which remains at the boundaries of scientific order, at the 
threshold of the third millennium Gadda's writings finally chart a path for the 
continuous role of narrative discourse in articulating our experience of being in 
the world of history and temporality. 

University of Connecticut 

esplorato le possibilita espressive e cognitive e immaginative. E stato anche il millennio 
del libro, in quanto ha visto Toggetto-libro prendere la forma che ci e famigliare" (1). 

Writing for the Third Millenium: Gadda and the Vnfmalizability of Life 291 

Works Cited 

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Bertone, Manuela, and Robert Dombroski, eds. Carlo Emilio Gadda: Contemporary 

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Brooks, Peter. Reading for the Plot. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 1984. 
Calvino, Italo. Lezioni Americane: sei proposte per il prossimo millennio. Milano: 

Garzanti, 1988. 
Capobianchi Galdenzi, Mirella. "Cronache da un labirinto: appunti per la poetica di 

Gadda." Annali dell 'Istituto Orientate di Napoli 26 (1984): 173-207. 
Ceccaroni, Amaldo ed. Leggere Gadda: antologia delta critica Gaddiana. Bologna: 

Zanichelli, 1977. 
Contini, Gianfranco. Quarant'anni d'amicizia. Torino: Einaudi, 1988. 
Culler, Jonathan. "Poetics of the Novel." Structuralist Poetics. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1975. 

Dombroski, Robert. Properties of Writing: Ideological Discourse in Modern Italian 

Fiction. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1994. 
. "Baroque Solitude: Disillusion and the Ruins of War." Creative Entanglements: 

Gadda and the Baroque. Toronto: UP, 1999. 20-42. 
Eco, Umberto. Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 

Gadda, Carlo Emilio. La cognizione del dolore. Ed. Emilio Manzotti. Torino: Einaudi, 

. "Novella seconda." Romanzi e racconti. Ed. Giorgio Pinotti, Dante Isella, 

Raffaella Rotondi. Milano: Garzanti, 1989. 2: 1027-69. 
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. Meditazione milanese. Scritti vari e postumi 615-894. 

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Risset, Jacqueline. "Carlo Emilio Gadda ou la philosophie a I'envers." Critique 282 

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Silvia Ross 

From Start to Finish: Intertextual Roads of Reading 
between Manzoni, Tozzi, and Calvino 

"^ A beginning is an artifice and what recommends one over another is 

how much sense it makes of what follows. 

Ian McEwan, Enduring Love 

This study of themes found in beginnings and endings in Manzoni, Tozzi, and 
Calvino centers around the premise that no beginning is isolated unto itself, that 
all beginnings in some way refer to or try to come to terms with what has come 
before. Calvino addresses precisely this nature of beginnings in Se una notte 
d'inverno un viaggiatore (1979), one of the texts under investigation in this 
paper: "Ma come stabilire il momento in cui comincia una storia? Tutto e 
sempre cominciato gia da prima, la prima riga della prima pagina d'ogni 
romanzo rimanda a qualcosa che e gia successo fuori dal libro. Oppure la vera 
storia e quella che comincia dieci o cento pagine piu avanti e tutto cio che 
precede e solo un prologo" (II, 761). This interconnectedness of beginnings, 
then, leads one to examine them as intertextual entities since, as Said puts it, "a 
beginning immediately establishes relationships with works already existing, 
relationships of either continuity or antagonism or some mixture of both" (3). 

Alessandro Manzoni's I promessi sposi (1825-27, 1840-42), considered the 
cornerstone novel of Italian literature, begins with a scene renowned to all 
students and scholars of the Italian canon. Despite the familiarity of the opening 
sequence, it is worth quoting since this comparative analysis concentrates on 
precise images and motifs found in the work's initial pages. After the 
introductory explanation of the fake manuscript, the plot proper begins with a 
description of "quel ramo del lago di Como," and the narratorial point of view 
then hones in on don Abbondio walking along a road: 

Dall'una all'altra di quelle terre, dall'alture alia riva, da un poggio all'altro, correvEino, e 
corrono tuttavia. strade e stradette, piu o men ripide, o plane [. . .]. 
Per una di queste stradicciole, tomava bel bello dalla passeggiata verso casa, sulla sera 
del giomo 7 novembre dell'anno 1628, don Abbondio, curato d'una delle terre accennate 
di sopra [. . .]. Diceva tranquillamente il suo ufizio, e talvolta, tra un salmo e I'altro, 
chiudeva il breviario, tenendovi dentro, per segno, I'indice della mano destra, e, messa 
poi questa nell'altra dietro la schiena, proseguiva il suo cammino, guardando a terra, e 
buttando con un piede verso il muro i ciottoli che facevano inciampo nel sentiero [. . .]. 

Annali d Italianistica 1 8 (2000) 

294 Silvia Ross 

Aperto poi di nuovo 11 breviario, e recitato un altro squarcio, giunse a una voltata della 
stradetta, dov'era solito d'alzar sempre gli occhi dal libro, e di guardarsi dinanzi: e cosi 
fece anche quel giomo. Dopo la voltata, la strada correva diritta, forse un sessanta passi, e 
poi si divideva in due viottole, a foggia d'un ipsilon: quella a destra saliva verso il monte, 
e menava alia cura: I'altra scendeva nella valle fino a un torrente; e da questa parte il 
muro non arrivava che all'anche del passeggiero. I muri interni delle due viottole, invece 
di riunirsi ad angolo, terminavano in un tabemacolo [. . .]. II curato, voltata la stradetta, e 
dirizzando, com'era solito, lo sguardo al tabernacolo, vide una cosa che non s'aspettava, 
e che non avrebbe voluto vedere. Due uomini stavano, I'uno dirimpetto all'altro, al 
confluente, per dir cosi, delle due viottole [. . .]. 


This encounter on a country road between the perambulating don Abbondio 
and the "bravi," or local thugs, results in the two men threatening the spineless 
priest into not performing the marriage of Renzo and Lucia, by orders of don 
Rodrigo, who wants the young woman as his mistress. It is this key initial scene 
which sparks off a series of events leading to the separation of the betrothed, 
Renzo and Lucia, and after a number of misadventures, their eventual reunion 
and marriage. 

/ promessi sposTs plot cannot be seen as strictly linear, although it does 
follow events along a basic chronological order. The narrator often interrupts 
himself, embarking on digressions of an informative nature about historical 
events of the time of the novel's setting. This kind of interruption has intrigued 
the likes of Eco, who, in his 1993 Norton Lectures (published the following year 
as Six Walks in the Fictional Woods), focuses on this initial scene of don 
Abbondio's meeting with the "bravi," illustrating how Manzoni's delay tactics 
pique the reader's curiosity and incite her or him to continue reading: 

Another writer might wish to placate our impatience as readers and tell us straight away 
what happens — might cut to the chase. Not so Manzoni. He does something that the 
reader may find quite incredible. He takes a few pages, rich in historical detail, to explain 
who the bravoes were. Having done this, he goes back to Don Abbondio, but he doesn't 
have him meet the bravoes at once. He keeps us waiting [. . .]. 


Eco then points out that once don Abbondio, and the reader, finally come face to 
face with the "bravi," the author asks the question: "Che fare?" Manzoni's direct 
addresses to the reader, according to Eco, form part of his postponement 

' Illiano has also remarked on the reader's role in Manzoni's incipit: "Ed e proprio 
I'inizio del discorso introduttivo, I'esordio in medias res che segue alia citazione-mc/p// 
del frammento della Historia, a sottolineare la problematica del trovare lettori che, 
compensando T'eroica fatica' della trascrizione, durino T'altra fatica,' quella della prima 
lettura dell'opera, attivita che da avvio alia diffusione e quindi alia fortuna del romanzo e 
del genere" (47). 

From Start to Finish: Intertextual Roads of Reading 295 

technique which encourages the reader to take an "inferential walk" into the 

What is to be done? Notice that this question is directly addressed not only to Don 
Abbondio but also to the reader. Manzoni is a master at mixing his narration with sudden, 
sly appeals to the reader, and this is one of the less sneaky. Readers [. . .] are invited to 
wonder what the two bravoes want with a man so innocuous and normal. Well, I'm not 
going to tell you. If you haven't read The Betrothed, it's time you did. You should know, 
however, that everything in the novel stems from this meeting. 

_ (53-54) 

Eco could not be more correct in stressing the fact that I promessi sposi's entire 
plot is unleashed by this introductory sequence. Unlike Eco, however, I have to 
discuss how the novel ends (readers will already be familiar with it in any case), 
since both its ending and begirming resurface in the other two authors' works. 
The intertextual echoes among Manzoni, Tozzi and Calvino to be examined here 
pivot around the initial image of don Abbondio walking along a road, as well as 
the motif of the journey, and the convention of the "happy ending," that is, 
marriage. These images and motifs, along with the writers' manipulations of 
them, question the structure of the text and the act of reading itself 

Once / promessi sposi's protagonists have been divided (an event which 
occurs early on in the text), the plot follows the individual characters' travels 
separately, only to have them meet up at the end. A great deal of the novel 
consists of different journeys, either on foot, on horseback, or by carriage, and, 
of course, on all sorts of roads. That these journeys occur separately means that 
the narrative focus must shift from one character to another. Frequently, 
references which engage the reader are employed in order to facilitate this 
transfer, references which I, unlike Eco, do not consider particularly sly or 
sneaky, but rather, explicitly self-conscious. For instance, Manzoni provides an 
analogy when describing this mechanism of retrieval of characters: 

Ho visto pill volte un caro fanciullo [. . .] affaccendato sulla sera a mandare al coperto un 
suo gregge di porcellini d'India, che aveva lasciati scorrer liberi il giomo, in un 
giardinetto. Avrebbe voluto fargli andar tutti insieme al covile; ma era fatica buttata: uno 
si sbandava a destra, e mentre il piccolo pastore correva per cacciarlo nel branco, un altro, 
due, tre ne uscivano a sinistra, da ogni parte. Dimodoche, dopo essersi un po' 
impazientito, s'adattava al loro genio, spingeva prima dentro quelli ch'eran piu vicini 
all'uscio, poi andava a prender gli altri, a uno, a due, a tre, come gli riusciva. Un gioco 
simile ci convien fare co' nostri personaggi: ricoverata Lucia, siam corsi a don Rodrigo; e 
ora lo dobbiamo abbandonare, per andar dietro a Renzo, che avevam perduto di vista. 


And so the narrator immediately takes us back to the adventures of Renzo which 

296 Silvia Ross 

begin, like don Abbondio's, along a road:^ 

Dopo la separazione dolorosa che abbiam raccontata, camminava Renzo da Monza verso 
Milano, in quello stato d'animo che ognuno puo immaginarsi facilmente. Abbandonar la 
casa, tralasciare il mestiere, e quel ch'era piu di tutto, allontanarsi da Lucia, trovarsi sur 
una strada, senza saper dove anderebbe a posarsi; e tutto per causa di quel birbone! 


Once again, the Manzonian narrator is inviting the reader to take an inferential 
walk along with the character and attempt to imagine Renzo's feelings as he sets 
off on his way along the unfamiliar route. 

In I promessi sposi the characters travel along all sorts of different types of 
roads (main streets, alleys, paths, country roads) at different times of day, and 
under a variety of climatic conditions. Roads, while taking the various 
characters to their destinations, also harbor danger, in particular the threat of the 
"bravi." (This is true not only for don Abbondio, but also for Lucia who is 
kidnapped as she is walking along a deserted country road.) They are, according 
to Ernesto Travi, the place where characters come into contact with society.^ But 
what can a road signify? Often it implies making a choice or decision, as Eco 
points out. The semiotician uses the notion of the path and places it in the 
woods, the symbol of the text: 

To use a metaphor devised by Jorge Luis Borges [. . .], a wood is a garden of forking 
paths. Even when there are no well-trodden paths in a wood, everyone can trace his or her 
own path, deciding to go to the left or to the right of a certain tree and making a choice at 
every tree encountered. 

^ Manzoni's retrieval of characters clearly has Ariostesque overtones, although the 
Renaissance epic poet's preferred metaphor for the same exercise is that of the weaving 
of various threads. 

^ Travi points out both the metaphorical and the more literal attributes of the trope of the 
road in Manzoni: "Si e voluto, insomma, precisare fin d'ora che nella strada e da ritrovare 
anche la componente del divino tra gli uomini. ma che essa e, anzitutto, il luogo dove 
proprio gli uomini daranno testimonianza di se, mettendo a nudo la validita o la 
negativita delle proprie scelte a paragone con quelle della societa che per le strade del 
mondo si documentano, favorendo od opponendosi a quelle individuali, al di ftiori di ogni 
eventuale collaborazione provvidenziale, che a sua volta puo identificarsi essa pure in 
'provvida sventura.' Alio stesso modo s'intende raccomandare di saper distinguere la 
'strada' del romanziere, che e la sua narrazione, ('Ma riprendiamo la strada') da quella 
naturale, cioe dei luoghi dove gli uomini un giorno o I'altro devono confrontarsi tra di 
loro, e da quella infine che e la vocazione individuale, anche se, nella diversita dei 
significati dell'identica metafora, le due ultime testimonianze sono talora cosi interrelate 
che a volte pienamente si confondono fino a costituire un'unica realta" (250). The road 
representing the path to perdition or salvation clearly has a much earlier antecedent in 
Italian literature: Dante's epic journey undertaken "nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita." 

From Start to Finish: Intertextual Roads of Reading 297 

In a narrative text, the reader is forced to make choices all the time. 


Every step of the way along the path of reading the text, the reader, obUged to 
make an interpretive decision, is made aware of this process by Manzoni 
through his direct appeals to his audience. Borges's different paths stand for the 
varieties of possible interpretations or the subjectivity of meaning, a theme 
important to Calvino as well, whose debt to Borges is evident, as Martin 
McLoughlin and others have demonstrated."* In Borges's "The Garden of 
Forking Paths", the character named Stephen Albert, who has been pursuing the 
elusive text of Ts'ui Pen, explains how he has figured out its existence: 

I had questioned myself about the ways in which a book can be infinite. I could think of 
nothing other than a cyclic volume, a circular one. A book whose last page was identical 
with the first, a book which had the possibility of continuing indefinitely. I remembered 
too that night which is at the middle of the Thousand and One Nights when Sheherazade 
(through a magical oversight of the copyist) begins to relate word for word the story of 
the Thousand and One Nights, establishing the risk of coming once again to the night 
when she must repeat it, and thus on to infinity. 


Clearly these works, in their preoccupation with metafictional meaning and 
questions of reading and interpretation, illustrate the polysemantic nature of the 
text. While Borges's and Eco's texts use the image of the forking path as 
implying interpretive choice, / promessi sposVs, opening sequence also uses a 
divided path as indicating a different sort of choice, that is, don Abbondio's 
decision as to whether he will marry the young couple, or not marry them, thus 
giving in to don Rodrigo's threat. The two roads are joined by a wall with a 
tabernacle depicting souls in purgatory, engulfed in flames, and indicate, 
moreover, the paths to salvation and damnation, as Travi has observed. 

How does Federigo Tozzi view the act of reading and how can his thoughts 
on this process hold relevance in an analysis of Manzoni's and Calvino's 
beginnings and endings? Tozzi 's novels such as Con gli occhi chiusi, II podere. 

^ Of course the forking paths in the forest is a familiar trope in Ariosto and other epics, 
and the Renaissance poet's influence on Calvino's oeuvre is evident. 
^ "Senza soffermarci piii che tanto sull'evidente dato simbolico dei due itinerari, il primo 
dei quali sale al monte dove sta la 'cura' [. . .] mentre I'altro precipita a valle, sara pure 
da notare come il romanziere accentri la sua attenzione sul loro confluire [. . .]. II curato, 
che s'era avviato per la sua 'stradicciuola', modesta nell'ampiezza eppur gradita e 
piacevole, si trova ora davanfi ad un bivio, e per di piu di 'viottole', cioe di scelte 
affrettate da affrontare, I'una e I'altra direi senza scampo se ambedue conducono ad un 
esito di affanni e di tribulazioni che quell'immagine al centro del loro confluire accentua, 
lo si noti, per sottolineata volonta dei pittori, ma anche della comunita di quel luogo" 
(Travi 252). 

298 Silvia Ross 

Tre croci, Gli egoisti, like Manzoni's / promessi sposi, are full of passages 
which could be seen as digressions but are actually integral parts of the text. 
However, in his fiction, he does not address the reader directly in Manzoni's 
manner, probably because his narrator often seems more involved with the 
characters depicted, thus making it more difficult to achieve the kind of 
detachment (and even sense of humor) that enable the writer to comment self- 
consciously on the narrative strategy itself His piece of writing of significance 
to this comparative examination is not one of his novels, but rather an article 
entitled "Come leggo io," written in 1919, shortly before his death, and 
published in 1924 in Lo Spettatore Italiano. This essay reveals how Tozzi 
approaches the reading of a text, how certain types of writing catch his eye and 
are thus viewed as valid: 

Ai piu interessa un omicidio o un suicidio; ma e egualmente interessante, se non di piu, 
anche I'intuizione e quindi 11 racconto di un qualsiasi misterioso atto nostro; come 
potrebbe esser quello, per esempio, di un uomo che a un certo punto della sua strada si 
sofferma per raccogiiere un sasso che vede, e poi prosegue per la sua passeggiata. Tutto 
consiste nel come e vista I'umanita e la natura. II resto e trascurabile, anzi mediocre e 

Don Abbondio che incontra i bravi e indimenticabile, perche e rappresentato con 
quell 'evidenza cosi completa che da quel che egli pensa e fa soltanto in quel brevi minuti 
noi possiamo scorgere, con una occhiata, tutta la sua esistenza e tutti gli element! che la 


Tozzi selects a seemingly (excuse the pun) pedestrian scenario, that of a man 
walking along a road and stopping to pick up a stone, and deems it mysterious, 
and therefore worth narrating. The first example of a convincing narration he 
immediately fiimishes is that which opens / promessi sposi, and while he does 
not mention don Abbondio actually walking along a road, the reader knows fiiU 
well that the priest is doing so when he meets up with the "bravi." Furthermore, 
while don Abbondio does not stop to pick up a stone along the way, he does 
kick pebbles aside ("proseguiva il suo cammino, guardando a terra, e buttando 
con un piede verso il muro i ciottoli che facevano inciampo nel sentiero"). Don 
Abbondio's gesture may not be particularly mysterious, but it does provide the 
reader with some insight on his character, the aspect of Manzoni's narration 
which Tozzi appreciates most. It reveals his wish to avoid any thing (or person 
or situation) which can be seen as an impediment to his existence, any thing 
which does not allow him to lead the placid life to which he is accustomed.^ 

^ Travi views this gesture in a slightly different manner: "Don Abbondio, che perfino su 
questo tracciato in disparte, e pero non a! di fuori da! mondo, ha come unica 
preoccupazione di scartare con il piede i pochi e perfin piccoli ciottoli, unici ostacoli a! 

From Start to Finish: Intertextual Roads of Reading 299 

In "Come leggo io," Tozzi also relates how his reading methods subvert the 
order of the text: 

Apro 11 libro a caso; ma, piuttosto, verso la fine. Prima di leggere (prego credere che non 
c'e da ridere troppo) socchiudo gli occhi, per una specie d'istinto guardingo, come fanno 
i mercanti quando vogliono rendersi conto bene di quel che stanno per comprare. 
Finalmente, assicuratomi che non sono in uno stato d'animo suscettibile a lasciarsi 
ingannare, mi decido a leggere un periodo: dalla maiuscola fine a! punto. Da come e fatto 
questo periodo, giudico se ne debbo leggere un altro. Mi spiego. 

Se il primo periodo e fatto bene, cioe se lo scrittore I'ha sentito nella sua costruzione 
stilistica, mi rassereno. Ma il periodo puo esser fatto bene a caso oppure ad arte. Questa 
differenza la conosco leggendo il secondo periodo; e, per precauzione, leggendone altri, 
sempre aprendo il libro qua e la. Se questi periodi resistono al mio esame, puo darsi ch'io 
mi convinca a leggere il libro intero. Ma non mai di seguito. Mi place di gustare qualche 
particolare, qualche spunto, qualche descrizione, dialogo, ecc. Sentire, cioe, come lo 
scrittore e riuscito a creare. Se leggessi il libro di seguito, io non avrei modo di giudicare 
quanto i personaggi "sono fatti bene." 

lo li devo interrompere, li devo pigliare alia rovescia, quando meno se I'aspettano; e, 
soprattutto, non lasciarmi dominare dalla lettura di quel che essi dicono. 


Tozzi presents himself as a reader who puts texts through a test mechanism 
before deciding to read them, so as not to be easily seduced by narrative, thus 
demonstrating, as Eduardo Saccone has pointed out, his characteristic 
diffidence.^ His tests consist of reading first a sentence from towards the end of 
the book, and then reading other sentences haphazardly throughout the text. 
Even when he finally decides to read the entire book, he never settles down to 
do so straight through; rather he reads it in snatches, so as to take the narrative 
by surprise. Tozzi goes on to declare that he ignores plots completely since they 
are of no use to him. He then explains how his reading technique works: 

Con il mio sistema, che del resto e soltanto per mio uso e consumo, io scompongo 
intuitivamente qualunque libro; e posso, senza scomodarmi, tener d'occhio lo scrittore in 
tutti i suoi element!. Cosi, ci vuol poco anche a sentire quanto "pensiero" c'e dentro; 
perche il temperamento di un qualsiasi scrittore si conosce soltanto mettendolo a prove 

suo cammino. Come possono essergli concesse le grandi strade se anche nelle piccole, e 
disusate, trova continui problem! da superare?" (252) 

^ Saccone comments on Tozzi's attitude towards mediocre texts in "Come leggo io": "Ne 
consegue che resistere al fascino pericoloso di tali strutture. di queste ingannevoli e 
teatral! superfici — col 'sospetto', la 'diffidenza,' o addirittura 'I'ostilita' — diventa un 
obbligo addirittura morale. 'Io 1! devo interrompere, li devo pigliare alia rovescia, quando 
meno se I'aspettano; e, soprattuttto, non lasciarmi dominare dalla lettura di quel che essi 
dicono. Bisogna che li tenga sempre lontani da me, in continua diffidenza; anzi, ostilita'" 

300 Silvia Ross 


As a reader, then, Tozzi, dis-orders, one could even say, deconstructs, the text in 
order to evaluate it and decide if it is worth reading. 

Calvino, too, especially in 5"^ una notte d'inverno, engages in a dis-ordering 
of the text, but in his case he does so as the writer who plays with the notions of 
reading, as well as of reality and fiction.^ The primary plot sustained throughout 
revolves around the "Lettore" and the "Lettrice" and their various frustrated 
(and frustrating) attempts to read novels which never get past the beginning. The 
adventures of the "Lettore" and "Lettrice" are recounted in the numbered 
chapters — the frame narrative or "cornice" — while between these numbered 
chapters one finds each new beginning of the novel which they (and we, the 
"real" readers) are endeavoring to read. What results is a spatial and temporal 
fragmentation of the text, a postmodern pastiche of beginnings which tantalize 
the reader in a kind of Thousand and One Nights a la Calvino.^ The reader is left 
to fill in not merely the kind of gaps formulated by Iser, but rather virtually all 
except the first chapter of each imaginary novel begun in Se una notte 
d'inverno}^ Furthermore, the text itself openly confronts the act of reading, in 
particular in Chapter 1 , where the narrator speaks to the reader who is about to 
start Se una notte d'inverno using the second person singular, thus setting off the 
whole mechanism of interpellation around which much of the work is based. 
This self-conscious discourse also alludes to the temporal disruption found in 

Critics such as Mazzoni and Lucente have touched on the ludic and parodic aspects of 
the text. Lucente, for instance, says "5e una notte d'inverno is not just a reflection but 
also a parody of the issues at stake in current academic and intellectual exchanges in 
Europe and America, not just the exposition of a theoretical parti pris but also, in more 
practical terms, the scene of a merry chase through the labyrinthian forests of reading" 

^ Calvino 's fascination with Sheherazade as an analogon for metafiction and embedded 
texts is seen not only in Se una notte d'inverno but also in his essay "Cominciare e finire" 
where he cites Benjamin: "il ricordo' — dice Benjamin — 'crea la rete che tutte le storie 
finiscono per formare fra loro. L'una si riallaccia aH'altra, come si sono sempre 
compiaciuti di mostrare i grandi narratori, e in primo luogo gli orientali. In ognuno di essi 
vive una Sheherazade, a cui, ad ogni passo delle sue storie, viene in mente una storia 
nuova.' Poco piu avanti Benjamin accenna aH'importanza che hanno avuto i mercanti 
nell'arte di raccontare, con le loro 'astuzie per captare I'attenzione degli ascoltatori' e 
come essi 'hanno lasciato un'orma profonda nelle Mille e una notte''" (Saggi I, 744). 
'" Andre Brink takes the concept of gaps in Se una notte d'inverno even further, positing 
that the Reader's "presence dramatizes the gaps in the text; he becomes 'the' gap in the 
text — as well as, through the act of reading, the plug that fills the gap" (324). 

From Start to Finish: Intertextual Roads of Reading 301 

the novel itself:" 

Sei nella tua stanza, tranquillo, apri il libro alia prima pagina, no, all'ultima, per prima 
cosa vuoi vedere quant'6 lungo. Non e troppo lungo, per fortuna. I romanzi lunghi scritti 
oggi forse sono un controsenso: la dimensione del tempo e andata in frantumi, non 
possiamo vivere o pensare se non spezzoni di tempo che s'allontanano ognuno lungo la 
sua traiettoria e subito spariscono. La continuita del tempo possiamo ritrovarla solo nei 
romanzi di quell 'epoca in cui il tempo non appariva piu come fermo e non ancora come 
esploso, un'epoca che e durata su per giu cent'anni, e poi basta. 


Certain aspects of this passage seem to echo both Manzoni's / promessi 
sposi as well as Tozzi's description of his reading methods. For instance, where 
the narrator refers to long novels belonging to a period in which time was 
neither static nor dispersed — the latter condition typifying our post-modem 
experience today — most Italian readers could easily take I promessi sposi as a 
classic example of this genre, not only in terms of its temporal aspect but also in 
terms of sheer length. The reader opens the book not at the beginning, but rather 
at the end, in order to check the number of pages, a gesture reminiscent of Tozzi 
the reader's first attack on a literary work. This disrupted style of reading is also 
described in Chapter 11 of Se una notte d'inverno, where one of the readers in 
the library declares: "[. . .] la lettura e un'operazione discontinua e 
frammentaria. O meglio: I'oggetto della lettura e una materia puntiforme e 
pulviscolare" (II, 864). Calvino's text expresses just how muhifarious modes of 
reading can indeed be in our post-modem era, for, in Graham Allen's words, 
"Intertextual reading encourages us to resist a passive reading of texts from 
cover to cover. There is never a single or correct way to read a text, since every 
reader brings with him or her different expectations, interests, viewpoints and 
prior reading experiences" (7). 

How does Calvino visualize the start of a novel? In the essay "Cominciare e 
finire," included in Lezioni americane as an unfinished version of what was to 
be part of his Norton Lectures, he explains his concems about beginnings (and 

La storia della letteratura e ricca d'incipit memorabili, mentre i finali che presentino una 
vera originalita come forma e come significato sono piii rari, o almeno non si presentano 
alia memoria cosi facilmente. Questo b particolarmente vero per i romanzi: e come [se] 

" Mazzoni discusses Se una notte d'inverno'' s opening and the temporal: "Although this 
explosion of time, central to the atemporality of the unconscious, engenders a multiplicity 
of stories and therefore also of beginnings, there must nevertheless be in the text one 
unquestionable beginning which constitutes the justifying referent of narrativity, even 
though it may not quite correspond to that absolute beginning which the reader expects" 

302 Silvia Ross 

nel momento dell'attacco il romanzo sentisse il bisogno di manifestare tutta la sua 
energia. L'inizio d'un romanzo e I'ingresso in un mondo diverso, con caratteristiche 
fisiche, percettive, logiche tutte sue. E da questa constatazione che sono partito quando 
ho cominciato a pensare a un romanzo fatto di inizi di romanzo, quello che e diventato Se 
una notte d 'inverno un viaggiatore. 

{Saggi I, 750) 

Similar issues regarding the potentiality of beginnings are developed in 
Chapter 8 of the novel, in a supposed excerpt from the diary of the fictitious 
Irish writer, Silas Flannery. The author — obsessed to the point of literary 
paralysis with his poster of Charles Schulz's Snoopy typing the infamous incipit 
"It was a dark and stormy night [. . .]" — outlines his ideal literary construction: 

La fascinazione romanzesca che si da alio stato puro nelle prime frasi del primo capitolo 
di moltissimi romanzi non tarda a perdersi nel seguito della narrazione: e la promessa 
d'un tempo di lettura che si stende davanti a noi e che puo accogliere tutti gli sviluppi 
possibili. Vorrei poter scrivere un libro che fosse solo un incipit, che mantenesse per tutta 
la sua durata la potenzialita dell'inizio, I'attesa ancora senza oggetto. Ma come 
potrebb'essere costruito, un libro simile? S'interromperebbe dopo il primo capoverso? 
Prolungherebbe indefmitamente i preliminari? Incastrerebbe un inizio di narrazione 
nell'altro, come le Mille e una notte? 

(II, 785) 

Of course the solution to the writer's metafictional musings on how to 
protract the text's beginning (using, significantly, A Thousand and One Nights 
as a model for comparison) is embodied by Se una notte d' inverno itself, with its 
repeated false starts. As a consequence, the reader also experiences a series of 
delayed gratifications, leaving him/her not fully satisfied by the end of the text. 
Calvino's postmodern playing with the continuity and discontinuity of time and 
of the text in Se una notte d' inverno should not be surprising; it is typical of the 
kinds of binary oppositions so common to his fiction, oppositions such as order 
versus chaos or reality versus fantasy. 

In order to accommodate these dualistic schemes Calvino opts for a 
compromise. In Se una notte d 'inverno, too, we find the metaphor of the road — 
in this case, divided — implying a decision between two options: 

Alio scrittore che vuole annullare se stesso per dar voce a cio che e fiiori di lui s'aprono 
due strade: o scrivere un libro che possa essere il libro unico, tale da esaurire il tutto nelle 
sue pagine; o scrivere tutti i libri, in modo da inseguire il tutto attraverso le sue immagini 
parziali. II libro unico, che contiene il tutto, non potrebb'essere altro che il testo sacro, la 
parola totale rivelata. Ma io non credo che la totalita sia contenibile nel linguaggio; il mio 

'^ While many critics (Orr and Mazzoni, among others) have discussed or at least 
mentioned Calvino's parallel of reading and desire, i.e., the pleasure of the text, the most 
cogent and thought-provoking study remains De Lauretis's feminist analysis. 

From Start to Finish: Intertextual Roads of Reading 303 

problema e cio che resta fuori, il non-scritto, il non-scrivibile. Non mi rimane altra via 
clie quella di scrivere tutti i libri, scrivere i libri di tutti gli autori possibili. 

(II, 789-90) 

The structure of Calvino's novel offers a solution to the conundrum of 
either writing an integral, unified whole or else an endless variety of texts; it 
consists of the interweaving of false beginnings of all sorts of different types of 
books, with chapters which focus around a single plot: that of the relationship 
between the "Lettore" and the "Lettrice" and how it evolves. This literary 
composite is based, of course, on intertextuality, both in the relationship 
between the invented texts themselves contained within the work as well as in 
any allusions they may make to other texts outside the novel. This intertextuality 
is also witnessed in Calvino's attempts to copy a number of different literary 
genres and styles, all around the model of the text within the text. As Kathryn 
Hume has observed: "Calvino's designs were so compellingly different each 
from each, that the sameness of plot eluded critics," and, she adds: "As usual, 
critics have been drawn to the variety rather than the sameness. Orengo quotes 
Calvino on various authors he is supposed to have imitated — Borges, Nabokov, 
O'Brien, Grass, Singer, and Boris Vian among others" (119).' 

Calvino's reluctance to avoid categorization is evident also in his preface 
(taken from a lecture given at Columbia University in 1983) to Le citta invisibili 
— another work which stresses the act of reading — where he discusses 
beginnings and endings as fundamental concepts for his book: 

[. . .] un libro (io credo) e qualcosa con un principio e una fine (anche se non e un 
romanzo in senso stretto), e uno spazio in cui il lettore deve entrare, girare, magari 
perdersi, ma a un certo punto trovare un'uscita, o magari parecchie uscite, la possibiiita 
d'aprirsi una strada per venime fuori. Qualcuno di voi mi puo dire che questa definizione 
puo valere per un romanzo a intreccio, e non per un libro come questo, che si deve 
leggere come si leggono i libri di poesie, o di saggi, o tutt'al piu di racconti. Ebbene, 
voglio appunto dire che anche un libro cosi, per essere un libro, deve avere una 
costruzione, cioe vi si deve poter scoprire un intreccio, un itinerario, una soluzione. 


In these comments, which hold relevance for his other works, in particular 
Se una notte d'inverno, Calvino outlines his credo of reader-response and voices 
his objection to assigning his work to a particular genre, or to adhering to pre-set 
codes or modes of interpretation. '■* Yet, at the same time, he maintains that a 

'^ Nuccia Bencivenga's study does in fact draw many convincing parallels between the 
various false beginnings themselves and the numbered chapters. 

'"* Barenghi highlights this aspect of Calvino's writer-persona: "Pochi autori hanno come 
Calvino un senso cosi acuto e direi quasi doloroso della scelta, che pervade i'attivita deila 
scrittura: della necessita cioe di scegliere di continuo fra diverse alternative possibili. 

304 Silvia Ross 

text must have some sort of structure through which the reader can travel. 

In the above passage the familiar topos of the road emerges in association 
with the reader's choosing meaning in his/her interpretive wandering through 
the text; the road reappears as well in Se una notte d'inverno, where it is linked 
also with the voyage and beginnings. Without delving into the theme of the 
journey — clearly significant for a text with the noun 'viaggiatore' in its title — 

I would like to examine more closely the end of the novel, in Chapter 1 1 , where 
several fictional readers comment on their various responses to reading. The 
sixth reader puts together the titles of the numerous false beginnings and comes 
up with a sentence that makes sense and sounds somehow familiar: 

"Se una notte d 'inverno un viaggiatore, fuori dell 'abitato di Malbork, sporgendosi dalla 
costa scoscesa senza temere il vento e la vertigine, guarda in basso dove I'ombra 
s 'addensa in una rete di linee che s 'allacciano, in una rete di linee che s 'intersecano sul 
tappeto di foglie illuminate dalla luna intorno a una fossa vuota, - Quale storia laggiid 
attende la fine? - chiede, ansioso d'ascoltare il racconto." 

(II, 868)'- 

He then goes on to say: 

II guaio e che una volta cominciavano tutti cosi, i romanzi. Cera qualcuno che passava 
per una strada solitaria e vedeva qualcosa che colpiva la sua attenzione, qualcosa che 
sembrava nascondere un mistero, o una premonizione; allora chiedeva spiegazioni e gli 
raccontavano una lunga storia [...]. 

(II, 868) 

These comments, while stating what perhaps might seem evident about the 
morphology of the story, bring to mind nonetheless both Tozzi's observations on 
what constitutes good literature, as well as the beginning of Manzoni's novel. 
Tozzi, writing in 1919, saw a mysterious act, such as a man pausing along a road 
to pick up a stone, as being worthy of narration, a concept echoed by Calvino 

tutte inesorabilmente relative e parziali, tutte destinate ad essere prima o poi scartate o 
superate (di qui, anche, la sua volonta di non lasciarsi mai ingabbiare dagli schemi, 
smentendo quasi per puntiglio le definizioni del critici)" (159). 

" McLoughlin observes that Calvino's novel uses such devices in order to postpone 
closure: "This avoidance of closure is reaffirmed when the male reader notices that the 
ten titles of the fragments he has read themselves form an enticing opening sentence of a 
novel [...]. Here again a kind of vertigo is hinted at, since if this process is reversed, the 
implication is that each opening sentence we read in any novel may contain ten other 
novels beneath it, and even the concluding words of Calvino's novel may contain further 
stories in the interstices. Once again Calvino forestalls closure" (123). While it is in fact 
the "Sesto Lettore" in the library and not the male reader who discovers that the 
fragments put together make up an opening sentence, McLoughlin's remarks on the 
infinite possibilities of interpretation portrayed in Calvino's text are apt. 

From Start to Finish: Intertextual Roads of Reading 305 

several decades later in his usage of the same image of a person walking on a 
road and noticing something mysterious. Both novelists' words evoke, directly 
or obliquely, the solitary figure of don Abbondio walking along the road, the 
best-known beginning of the tradition of the Italian novel. Paul Kottman, too, 
has indicated this sense of mystery in association with the Calvino text's incipit: 

In Calvino, invece, la vita, 11 mondo, le persone, le idee [. . .] tutte le cose che entrano 
nella nostra percezione d'ogni giomo, sono un testo, qualcosa che e letto. Calvino 
dimostra che vivere vuol dire, dopo tutto, leggere. 

Bisogna dire che questa tesi t forse troppo semplice, dovrei aggiungervi alcune riserve, 
pero mi sembra meglio lasciarla cosi per vedere dove ci porta. In questo modo possiamo, 
come scrive ['"autore" all'inizio del romanzo, confrontare qualcosa di misterioso, di 
ampio, senza sapeme la destinazione; "e 11 libro in se che t'incuriosisce, anzi a pensarci 
bene preferisci che sia cosi, trovarti di fronte a qualcosa che ancora non sai bene cos'e." 


In Kottman's analysis of Calvino's quote, he sees the actual beginning of the 
novel as mysterious, and the book itself becomes an object of curiosity, thus 
inciting the reader's interest. 

And what of a story's ending? Just like beginnings, endings, too, are 
intertextual and denote continuity, as Calvino explains in his (unfinished) essay, 
"Cominciare e finire": 

[. . .] qualsiasi sia il momento in cui decidiamo che la storia puo considerarsi finita, ci 
accorgiamo che non e verso quel punto che portava I'azione del raccontare, che quello 
che conta e altrove, e cio che e avvenuto prima: e il senso che acquista quel segmento 
isolate di accadimenti, estratto dalla continuita del raccontabile. 

{Saggi I, 748-49) 

Giulio Ferroni, in Dopo la fine, draws a parallel between beginnings and endings 
and their debt to their precedents and antecedents: "Inizio e fine, ingresso 
deir opera nel mondo e sua interruzione, definiscono i luoghi concreti della sua 
inserzione nella finitezza, nella precarietg, nella casualita del vivere: atti 
culturali che chiamano in causa materialmente il rapporto dell'opera sia con la 
cultura da cui sorge e a cui e destinata sia con la natura che la determina" (33). 

The self-reflexive discourse found in relation to beginnings in Se una notte 
d'inverno crops up again in terms of their opposite,'^ where the seventh reader 

'^ There exist several studies which discuss Calvino's beginnings and/or endings (see 
Works Cited). In "The Horizon of Literature: Epistemic Closure in Calvino's / nostri 
antenati," Rushing comments on the rapport between the two: "For Calvino, the 
beginning of the text is, ironically, a moment of closure. It is the moment in which all of 
the stories that could have been told begin to be eliminated. One might then expect the 
ending to be the logical result of this reduction of possibilities: a total void of possibility, 
in which meaning becomes fixed or frozen. But this is not necessarily the case" (213-14). 

306 Silvia Ross 

in Ciiapter 1 1 explains characteristic endings: "Lei crede che ogni storia debba 
avere un principio e una fine? Anticamente un racconto aveva solo due modi per 
finire: passate tutte le prove, I'eroe e I'eroina si sposavano oppure morivano. 11 
senso ultimo a cui rimandano tutti i racconti ha due facce: la continuita della 
vita, I'inevitabilita della morte" (II, 869). After hearing this, the original male 
reader, or "Lettore," makes a predictable decision in favor of life, as the narrator 
tells him in the second person singular: "Ti fermi un attimo a riflettere su queste 
parole. Poi fialmineamente decidi che vuoi sposare Ludmilla" (II, 869). Marilyn 
Orr examines the theme of death in relation not only to the plot of the "Lettore" 
but also in the beginnings and endings of the stories: 

The Reader experiences ''this uncertainty between life and death," reading it in every 
story [. . .]. The ten narrators whose stories the Readers begin are all concerned with the 
urgent question of origin and end. Each of them begins a story, only to find that he cannot 
begin but only become involved (or not) in a story that has already begun before he 
arrived. In each case the writing is an attempt to articulate a beginning, only to find itself 
enclosed in a network of lines that enlace and intersect. 


In chapter 12, on the novel's final page, the "Lettore" and the "Lettrice" 
(Ludmilla) are presented as a married couple, in bed and about to turn off the 
light as the "Lettore" finishes reading Se una notte d'inverno un viaggiatore. 

While original in its self-consciousness and open-endedness (the reader is 
still left with the unsatisfied desire to know how the numerous mysterious false 
beginnings actually end), the novel finishes under the most conventional set of 
circumstances: the hero and heroine's marriage (reinforced by their final 
depiction in a typical conjugal scene). In an article published in Alfabeta in 1979 
and cited by Bruno Falcetto in the notes to the novel, Calvino explains his 
reasoning behind the inclusion of such a traditional conclusion: "ci ho fatto 
molta attenzione [. . .] calcolando tutto in modo che il "lieto fine" piii 
tradizionale — le nozze dell'eroe e dell'eroina — venisse a sigillare la cornice 
che abbraccia lo sconquasso generale" {Romanzi e racconti II, 1390). If one is to 
think of a classic ending in the Italian prose tradition which could constitute a 
potential source, then of course Manzoni's / promessi sposi springs to mind, 
since it concludes with Renzo and Lucia's wedding.'^ Their union is possible 

Rushing proceeds to draw interesting conclusions on the openness of some of Calvino's 
novels' self-referential endings. 

''' In his essay "I Promessi Sposi: il romanzo dei rapporti di forza," Calvino outlines 
Renzo and Lucia's roles as hero and heroine: "non esiste racconto piu funzionale della 
fiaba in cui c'e un obiettivo da raggiungere malgrado gli ostacoli frapposti da personaggi 
oppositori e mediante il soccorso di personaggi aiutanti, e I'eroe e I'eroina non hanno 
altro da pensare che fare le cose giuste e ad astenersi dalle cose sbagliate: come appunto 
il povero Renzo e la povera Lucia" {Saggi 334). 

From Start to Finish: Intertextual Roads of Reading 307 

only after the providential death of don Rodrigo as a resuh of the plague, a fate 
which could easily have befallen the couple themselves (but does not). The 
binomial marriage/death does indeed present itself in / promessi sposCs final 
pages, where don Abbondio, happy to learn of don Rodrigo's demise, says: 

"[. . .] si puo anche ringraziare il cielo, che ce n'abbia liberati. Ora, tomando a noi, vi 
ripeto: fate voi altri quel che credete. Se volete che vi mariti io, son qui; se vi toma piu 
comodo in altra maniera, fate voi altri [. . .]. In quanto alia cattura, vedo anch'io che, non 
essendoci ora piu nessuno che vi tenga di mira, e voglia farvi del male, non e cosa da 
prendersene gran pensiero: tanto piu, che c'e stato di mezzo quel decreto grazioso, per la 
nascita del serenissimo infante. E poi la peste! la peste! ha dato di bianco a di gran cose la 
peste! Sicche, se volete [. . .] oggi e giovedi [. . .] domenica vi dico in chiesa; perche quel 
che s'e fatto I'altra volta, non conta piu niente, dopo tanto tempo; e poi ho la 
consolazione di maritarvi io." 


And so, the lovers' marriage is finally performed, in part thanks to the plague's 
lethal force which has eliminated the man who was attempting to prevent it. This 
happy ending is not, however, truly stereotypical, since it is followed by the 
account of Lucia's reception in her new hometown, and her being perceived as 
less beautiful than imagined, a fact which dampens Renzo's joy. Guglielminetti 
reminds us that in these last chapters "si deve pur riconoscere Io sforzo continuo 
dello scrittore di non cedere alle lusinghe sentimentali e decorative del iieto 
fine' e d'ironizzare il piu possibile le modalita" (404). 

What I have wanted to explore here is obviously not merely if Tozzi and 
Calvino were acquainted with Manzoni's major opus, since, as modem Italian 
writers and readers, they would have found it impossible not to be. What instead 
has interested me is to examine the intertextual links between them and what 
they show us about the structure of their texts. Both have reworked Manzoni's 
image of the road and formulated visions of the text which subvert its order and 
encourage us to rethink the relationship between writing and reading, authors 
and interpreters, beginnings and endings. 

National University of Ireland, University College Cork 

Works Cited 

Allen, Graham. Intertextuality. London: Routledge, 2000. 

Barenghi. Mario. "Come raccontare in una notte buia e tempestosa." Nuova Corrente 34 

(1987): 157-78. 
Bencivenga, Nuccia. "Caliphs, Travelers and Other Stories." Forum Italicum 20.1 

(1986): 3-15. 

308 Silvia Ross 

Borges, Jorge Luis. Labyrinths. Ed. Donald A. Yates and James E. Irby. London: 

Penguin, 1970. 
Brink, Andre. The Novel: Language and Narrative from Cervantes to Calvino. London: 

MacMillan, 1998. 
Calvino, Italo. Presentazione. Le citta invisibili. Milano: Mondadori, 1993. V-XI. 
. Romanzi e racconti. Ed. Mario Barenghi and Bruno Falcetto. 3 vols. Milano: 

Mondadori, 1992. 
. Saggi. Ed. Mario Barenghi. 2 vols. Milano: Mondadori, 1995. 

De Lauretis, Teresa. "Calvino and the Amazons: Reading the (Post) Modem Text." 

Technologies of Gender. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1987. 70-83. 
Eco, Umberto. Six Walks in the Fictional Woods. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1994. 
Ferroni, Giulio. Dopo la fine. Torino: Einaudi, 1996. 
Guglielminetti, Marziano. "11 lieto fine dei 'Promessi sposi' e la morte di don Ferrante." 

Studi sulla cultura lombarda in memoria di Mario Apollonio. AAVV. Milano: 

Pubblicazione dell'Universita Cattolica del Sacro Cuore. Vita e pensiero, 1972. 1: 

Hume, Kathryn. Calvino 's Fictions: Cogito and Cosmos. Oxford: Clarendon, 1992. 
Illiano, Antonio. "Per una sistemazione della poetica manzoniana del lettore." Forum 

Italicum 26.\ (1992): 46-54. 
Iser, Wolfgang. The Act of Reading: A Theory of Aesthetic Response. Baltimore: Johns 

Hopkins UP, 1978. 
Kottman, Paul. "5e una notte d'inverno un viaggiatore: I'apertura della chiusura." Forum 

Italicum 30.\ (1996): 55-64. 
Lucente, Gregory L. Beautiful Fables: Self-consciousness in Italian Narrative from 

Manzoni to Calvino. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1986. 
Manzoni, Alessandro. I promessi sposi. Milano: Garzanti, 1999. 
Mazzoni, Cristina. "(Re)constructing the Incipit: Narrative Beginnings in Calvino's If on 

a Winter's Night a Traveler and Freud's Notes upon a Case of Obsessional 

Neurosis.'' Comparative Literature Studies 30.1 (1993): 53-68. 
McLoughlin, Martin. Italo Calvino. Edinburgh: UP, 1998. 
Orr, Marilyn. "Beginning in the Middle: The Story of Reading in Calvino's // on a 

Winter's Night a Traveller.'" Papers on Language and Literature 21.2 (1985): 210- 

Rushing, Robert. "The Horizon of Literature: Epistemic Closure in Calvino's / nostri 

antenati." Forum Italicum 33.1 (1999): 213-23. 
Saccone, Eduardo. Allegoria e sospetto. Come leggere Tozzi. Napoli: Liguori, 2000. 
Said, Edward. Beginnings: Intention and Method. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1975. 
Tozzi, Federigo. Opere. Ed. Marco Marchi. Milano: Mondadori, 1987. 
Travi, Ernesto. "Strade stradette stradicciuole e viottoli nei 'Promessi sposi.'" Omaggio 

ad Alessandro Manzoni nel bicentenario della nascita. Ed. Giuseppe Catanzaro, 

Francesco Santucci, Salvatore Vivona. Assisi: Accademia Properziana del Subasio, 


Assumpta Camps 

Principio senza fine: 
I'iper-romanzo di Italo Calvino 

"Vorrei poter scrivere un libro che fosse solo un incipit, che mantenesse per 
tutta la sua durata la potenzialita dell'inizio, I'attesa ancora senza oggetto. Ma 
come potrebb'essere costruito, un libro simile? S'interromperebbe dopo il 
primo capoverso? Prolungherebbe indefmitamente i preliminari? Incastrerebbe 
un inizio di narrazione nell'altro, come le Mille e una notte?" 

Dal Diario di Silas Flannery ' 

L'ultimo Calvino, nella sezione conclusiva delle Lezione americane, awertiva il 
lettore sul constante rifiuto della narrazione lineare nel XX secolo e sulla 
costruzione "enciclopedica" presente nei grandi romanzi del secolo — ormai 
non piu nostro — concepiti come "metodo di conoscenza . . . connessione tra i 
fatti, tra le persone, tra le cose del mondo" (Calvino, Lezione americane 1 16), e 
per questo immagine di un reale andato in frantumi. II romanzo contemporaneo, 
al contrario della letteratura medievale, nasce "dal confluire e scontrarsi d'una 
molteplicita di metodi interpretativi, modi di pensare, stili d'espressione" e in 
esso, nonostante il "disegno generale . . . minuziosamente progettato, cio che 
conta non e il suo chiudersi in una figura armoniosa, ma e la forza centrifuga che 
da esso si sprigiona, la pluralita dei linguaggi come garanzia d'una verita non 
parziale". Poiche ormai "non e piu pensabile una totalita che non sia potenziale, 
congetturale, plurima" (127). 

"Molteplicita" si configura, per questo verso, come una vera "apologia del 
romanzo come grande rete" (134), analizzando i precedenti fomiti dalla 
tradizione letteraria, non sempre italiana — Gadda, Musil, Proust, Joyce, 
Goethe, Flaubert, Balzac, ma soprattutto Borges e Perec — e proponendo, per il 
nostro millennio, quello che verra chiamato dallo stesso Calvino "I'iper- 
romanzo" (131), e defmito come "campionatura della molteplicita potenziale del 
narrabile", "compendio d'una tradizione narrativa" e alio stesso tempo "summa 
enciclopedica di saperi che danno forma a una immagine del mondo". Quindi, 

' Calvino, Se una notte d'inverno un viaggiatore 177. 
Annali d'ltalianistica 18 (2000). 

3 1 Assumpta Camps 

un romanzo capace di mostrare non solo "la compresenza continua d'ironia e 
angoscia", ma "il senso dell'oggi", fatto di "accumulazione del passato e di 
vertigine del vuotd'' (132; il corsivo e nostro). 

La sperimentazione svolta da Calvino dalla meta degli anni Sessanta nel 
campo del narrare e sulla letteratura come strumento di rappresentazione del 
reale portera I'autore — in contatto diretto con I'avanguardia francese e come 
parte integrante dell' dopo il 1973 — ad evidenziare il carattere 
certamente artificiale della macchina narrativa (Daros in AA.VV., halo Calvino), la 
sua essenziale condizione di fiction, in fin dei conti. Con tutto, Calvino approda 
nella sua opera compresa nel decennio fra il 1969 e il 1979 — cioe, fra // 
Castello dei destini incrociati (con la seconda edizione arricchita notevolmente 
dalla "Tavema dei destini incrociati") e Se una notte d'inverno un viaggiators . . 
. — non solo a una narrativa di stampo nettamente combinatorio a base 
addirittura matematica, ma a una vera decostruzione del romanzo tradizionale 
attraverso I'uso della macrotestualita. Essa s'impone progressivamente, 
svolgendosi dalla breve pluralita delle voci narranti presente gia nel Barone 
rampante e dall'uso dell'ipodiegesi nel Cavaliere inesistente. In un primo 
momento, appare con Castello, dove il lettore si confronta con la pluralita dei 
piani narrativi; in seguito con la complessita dei piani e voci narranti esplorata 
nelle Citta invisibili, e finalmente con Se una notte dove la macrotestualita si 
presenta non solo come costruzione narrativa per eccellenza, ma dove lo stesso 
narrare viene tematizzato (Bonsaver). 

II macrotesto presiede, del resto, gran parte degli scritti calviniani sul 
narrare di quegli anni: un macrotesto visto come struttura integrante dei vari 
microtesti che comprende, seguendo un preciso disegno logico al servizio 
sempre di un ordine testuale superiore, o cornice straniante, che cerca di 
ricomporre o riordinare il caos del reale. Lo stesso caos che troviamo 
evidenziato nell'opera di Calvino nelle abbondanti immagini di crollo o di 
smarrimento presenti gia in momenti anteriori, come nella trilogia / nostri 
antenati, e persistenti in opere posteriori, come in Palomar (Milanini). Questo e, 
pero, un discorso che non esclude la parodia delle tesi strutturaliste e 
semiologiche alia moda", e nemmeno il paradosso implicito in una concezione 
progettualmente "aperta" del romanzo che raggiunge invece, particolarmente in 
Se una notte, un grado massimo di "chiusura" ed organicita interna. Da questo 
punto di vista, non e improprio indicare come la macrotestualita assume in 
Calvino, alia fine di quel decennio, il ruolo di unica costruzione narrativa 
possibile di un edificio — letterario, culturale, epistemologico — previamente 
demolito o in "demolizione scrupolosa" (Milanini, XXIX). II romanzo cosi 
concepito corrisponde, per questo verso, alia frammentarieta e molteplicita che 
si scopre nella visione modema del mondo, mentre I'evidente recupero del 

^ Lo stesso Calvino lo confessava nell'intervista con Maria Corti ("Autografo", ottobre 

Principio senzafine: I 'iper-romanzo di Calvino 3 1 1 

romanzesco a lei connessa portera implicitamente e inevitabilmente un profondo 
discorso metanarrativo (AA.VV., Da Verga a Eco) che non solo "s'interroga, 
narrando, sul proprio narrare" (Milanini), ma intraprende sistematicamente ii 
finale smontaggio di tutti i componenti del romanzo tradizionale (voce narrante, 
Costantini 81-111, protagonista, tempo, spazio, intreccio e favola, tecniche 
narrative, stilemi, ecc), cosi come s'interroga e mette in questione tutte le 
istanze dell'istituzione letteraria (autore, narratore o narratario (Prince; Booth; 
Rousset; Chatman ), lettore, editore, critico, traduttore, mercato, e persino la figura 
del ghost-writer e del copista di altri secoli). 

I. Incipit o romanzo 

Con il precedente macrotestuale delle altre opere del Calvino semiotico Castello 
e Citta, il terzo romanzo, Se una notte (1979), consolida la rottura della 
continuita narrativa tradizionale in favore della frammentarieta e della mancanza 
di conclusione in un'opera che si presenta come il susseguirsi di dieci incipit 
romanzeschi diversi, scritti ognuno alia maniera di, e integrati in una cornice 
narrativa che diventa a sua volta una storia tradizionale, con un suo narratore 
onnisciente, vari personaggi (Lettore, Lettrice, Traduttore-Falsario, Lotaria, 
Imerio, Autore, Editore, professori universitari, ecc), e una dinamica narrativa 
propria, in rapporto di opposizione e complementarieta con i vari microtesti che 
essa Integra. 

Frammentarieta e discontinuita narrativa sono, d'altra parte, dalle 
primissime pagine del libro, un tema chiave, reso esplicito grazie al commento 
della voce narrante anonima che presenta e controlla il materiale sul piano 
macrotestuale. II TU^ al quale si rivolge inizialmente il narratore eterodiegetico 
che appare nella prima frase del Capitolo primo — in un modo tale che noi 
stessi, lettori, ci troviamo subito coinvolti nella narrazione — impara 
immediatamente come deve regolare le proprie aspettative di lettura, dal 
momento che la percezione della nova temporalita ha distrutto e alterato 
defmitivamente il modo di narrare del romanzo tradizionale: 

I romanzi lunghi scritti oggi forse sono un controsenso: la dimensione del tempo e andata 
in frantumi, non possiamo vivere o pensare se non a spezzoni di tempo che s 'allontanano 
ognuno lungo una sua traiettoria e subito spariscono. La continuita del tempo possiamo 
ritrovarla solo nei romanzi di quell'epoca in cui il tempo non appariva piu come fermo e 
non ancora come esploso, un'epoca che e durata su per giu cent'anni, e poi basta . 

II nuovo mondo post-eisenstiano esige, quindi, un nuovo modo di narrare 

^ Vedi lo stesso procedimento in M. Butor: La modification (1956). D'altra parte, 
Bonsaver ha rilevato che pure Ovidio. nelle Metamorfosi. opera che Calvino prologo 
proprio nell'edizione italiana del 1979. si rivolge a un "Tu". 
" Calvino, Se una notte 8. II corsivo e nostro. 

3 1 2 Assumpta Camps 

dove non conta piu la mimesi tradizionale^ una nuova narrazione con 
conseguenze non solo sul piano del rapporti tradizionali fra favola e intreccio, 
fra tempo narrato e tempo reale, ma al livello di tutte le istanze narrative. La 
revisione comincia dalla voce narrante e il suo problematico — e tematicamente 
problematizzato, in questo romanzo — rapporto con il lettore, il quale verra 
coinvolto nella narrazione grazie all'uso della metalessi, che diventa 
straordinariamente largo lungo tutto Se una notte. Con il constante mescolarsi e 
sovrapporsi del mondo scritto e il mondo reale si lascia il lettore in una costante 
suspension of disbelief. Gli incipit o "frantumi" di tempo narrato che "si 
allontanano ognuno lungo una traiettoria" e che "subito spariscono", si 
presentano come rappresentazione di un nuovo modo di narrare, il quale 
procedera necessariamente per biforcazioni e "minime alternative ben 
circoscritte" (20) con il proposito di offrire la possibilita di vivere piii vite 
contemporaneamente (147/, sempre alia ricerca di una effettiva alterazione 
delle leggi della conseguenzialita sul piano narrativo cosi come sul piano reale, 
sia risalendo il corso del tempo, sia cancellando le conseguenze degli 
avvenimenti accaduti, oppure facendo girare indietro gli orologi (22), nel 
desiderio, in fin dei conti, di restaurare la condizione iniziale (16). E I'immagine 
di una narrativa che cerca di confrontarsi con la "disseminazione nello spazio e 
nel tempo" (134) che caratterizza il nostro mondo, nella quale si incrociano 
"tutte queste linee oblique" che "dovrebbero delimitare lo spazio dove ci 
muoviamo" e che, finalmente, dovrebbe essere quello spazio dove la "storia 
possa affiorare dal nulla" (79). 

Non a caso, dall'inizio del romanzo Calvino s'istalla sottilmente 
nell'ambito del paradosso, in un modo che, benche tangenziale, risulta rilevante 
nel suo cenno ironico — un vero ammicco al lettore — a Zenone d'Elea (17, 23) 
e alle sue note aporie spaziali-temporali. Discontinuita e divisibilita paradossali 
dell'essere nell'apertura di spiragli, infiniti nella sua infinita frammentarieta, in 
uno spazio ormai incommensurabile e un tempo effettivamente esploso e 
potenzialmente illimitato nella mise en abime che si insinua ad ogni istante. 
Tempo aH'intemo del tempo, ad infinitum, come lo stesso narratore 
eterodiegetico del macrotesto ci scoprira piu tardi nello stesso atto della lettura 
(156), che e, del resto, metafora della comunicazione per eccellenza per i due 
protagonisti del macrotesto, Lettore e Lettrice-Ludmilla. 

Detto questo, non sorprendera che la narrazione proceda non linearmente, 

^ II superamento dell'lstanza realistica della tradizione narrativa nel susseguirsi di iivelli 

di realta nella letteratura, fino airinfinito, prevedendo la sparizione dell'io o soggetto 

scrivente, cosi come quella dell'oggetto scritto, e ben presente in un altro testo di 

Calvino, / Iivelli della realta. 

^ A proposito della sovrabbondanza delle istanze narrative in questo romanzo, dove 

appare un caleidoscopio di punti di vista e di orizzonti epistemici diversi, vedi anche 


Principio senzafine: I 'iper-romanzo di Calvino 3 1 3 

ma per ipotesi e verificazioni, prendendo sempre in considerazione il grado 
massimo di potenzialita del reale. Cosi nelle ipotesi di lettura (3) o di tutti libri 
possibili e catalogabili (5-6), nelle varie prevedibili situazioni di un telefono che 
squilla (incipit 6, 136), nei vari casi di censura (238). II tema delta molteplicita 
ipotetica si ripete persino sul piano dell'argomento. Ad esempio, nei vari passati 
che confessa il narratore autodiegetico dell'incipit 5 (105-107), nelle infinite 
immagini che si rifrangono e divergono nei gioco degli specchi dell'incipit 7 
(167) o, ironicamente, nell'accennare agli appunti per un saggio di Ukko Ahti, 
I'autore di Sporgendosi dalla costa scoscesa, sulle varie incamazioni di Budda 
(69). Per non parlare dell'istanza narrativa del TU nella cornice testuale, 
concepita sempre solo come uno dei vari TU possibili, cosi come I'lO che narra 
sara solo uno dei tanti 10 possibili (147 a 148). Del resto, lo stesso ragionamento 
della voce narrante — sia del macrotesto che degli incipit — procede 
abitualmente per ipotesi, in un modo che tante volte si rende nettamente 
esplicito dall'uso molto frequente di "forse", "se", o "oppure" (vedi solo, come 
esempio, il caso chiarissimo di 174 e 175, aH'intemo del fondamentale Capitolo 
ottavo). A ben guardare, lo stesso titolo del romanzo, Se una notte d'inverno un 
viaggiatore . . . , racchiude in se stesso una ipotesi da verificare, in un modo che 
il lettore scoprira, alia fine del libro, che comprende I'insieme degli incipit 
neir ipotesi di un nuovo romanzo, corrispondente all'inesistente, ma 
progettualmente accennato, incipit numero undici dell'ultimo capitolo del libro. 
Molteplicita e potenzialita del reale, ipotesi da verificare che restano, pero, in 
gran parte irrisolte, senza una completa e soddisfacente conclusione, come gli 
stessi dieci incipit del romanzo, contraddicendo quella apparente linearita 
temporale e felice conclusione da happy ending di favola presente nei 
macrotesto, dove non a caso il matrimonio finale fra Lettore e Lettrice restaura 
I'ordine narrativo e alio stesso tempo concettuale. E, in effetti, il macrotesto si 
presenta, per tanti versi, molto piu tradizionale nei modo dei narrare dei vari 
microtesti da lui compresi. 

La discontinuita ricorrente e ampiamente diffusa nell'opera si pone sempre 
al servizio della macrotestualita, in questi e in altri numerosi momenti lungo il 
romanzo. Sono numerosi gli esempi, ma vogliamo sottolineare in questa sede 
specialmente quando il narratore eterodiegetico commenta al lettore: "Adesso 
sono le storie che vivi a interrompersi al momento culminante: forse ora i 
romanzi che leggi ti sara concesso di seguirli fino alia fine ..." (221; il corsivo 

Lo stesso uso dei puntini sospensivi, questa persistente mancanza di 
conclusione della frase che e uno stilema frequente nei libro, dovrebbe avvertirci 
di un elemento importante e ricorrente: e cioe non della mancata veracita 
dell'enunciato, in se ipotetico, ma della — forse — impossible verificazione 
finale dell'ipotesi, cosi come di ogni ipotesi, vero segno dell'aporia della 
conoscenza del reale alia quale approda I'ultimo Calvino, in questo e altri 

3 1 4 Assumpta Camps 

Ora, discontinuita e mancanza di conclusione raggiungono, nonostante 
tutto, una valenza nuova in questo romanzo tutto incardinato suU'atto del 
narrare. La si scopre di nuovo tangenzialmente aH'intemo deH'importante 
Capitolo sesto, dove si assiste a una rescrittura, parodica nella sua inversione, 
del tema di Sherezade e delle Mille e una notti, presente nel personaggio della 
Sultana non gia narratrice, ma vorace-e-insaziabile-lettrice-di-romanzi. D'altra 
parte, nello stesso capitolo viene esplicitato il progetto narrativo di Ermes 
Marana, il Traduttore-falsario, di un romanzo che, a ben guardare, e in sostanza 
lo stesso Se una notte (124 e 125). Cosi come e proprio la caduta di tensione che 
segue inevitabilmente la fine di ogni romanzo il momento piii pericoloso per il 
complotto che minaccia il govemo del Sultano, orchestrato da sua moglie. Cosi, 
neH'altemanza fra tensione narrativa e distensione si articola parodisticamente 
I'argomentazione per un romanzo progettualmente capace di sostenere 
I'interesse e le aspettative di lettura ad infinitum: un romanzo, cioe, 
necessariamente inconcluso e perpetuamente ricominciato. L'idea verra 
ragionata dallo stesso Autore, Silas Flannery, vero alterego dello stesso Calvino, 
nel centrale Capitolo ottavo del libro, presentandola come tecnica narrativa 
ormai necessaria per mantenere intatta la "fascinazione romanzesca . . . alio 
stato puro", come si da solo — e vogliamo sottolineare il "solo" — "nelle prime 
frasi del primo capitolo di moltissimi romanzi". E in effetti, leggiamo: "... e la 
promessa d'un tempo di lettura che si stende davanti a noi e che puo accogliere 
tutti gli sviluppi possibili" (177). 

E, in fin dei conti, la promessa non solo di un inizio, ma dell'Inizio in se, 
completo e illimitato, che comprende I'intera capacita potenziale di tutti i suoi 
sviluppi susseguenti, "molteplici, inesauribili" (176), e percio previ alle limitate 
alternative delle sue eventual! realizzazioni posteriori. Un Inizio capace di 
mantenere queir"esaltazione" deir"attesa" motivata dalla potenzialita, e quella 
"facilita" sempre rinnovata "dell'entrata in un altro mondo", che significa ogni 
romanzo da cominciare, anche se questa attesa non e altro che "un'illusione" 
(176): I'illusione dell'Origine, il quale tutto comprende e al quale, in fin dei 
conti, tutto approda. 

E ancora, nelle parole di Silas Flannery, I'Autore di best-sellers: 

Vorrei poter scrivere un libro che fosse solo un incipit, che mantenesse per tutta la durata 
la potenzialita deirinizio, I'attesa ancora senza oggetto. Ma come potrebb'essere 
costruito, un libro simile? . . . Incastrerebbe un inizio di narrazione nell'altro, come le 
Mille e una notte? (177). 

La tradizione orientale offre in questo e in altri aspetti, sia a Silas Flannery 
nel suo Diario che a Calvino nel suo romanzo, non esattamente una soluzione, 
ma una via di soluzione per il nuovo romanzo costruito su una base temporale e 
con le aspettative di lettura nuove, poiche punta a una struttura tendente a 
sovrapporre, su questo universo discontinuo e frammentario post-eisenteiniano. 

Principio senzafine: I 'iper-romanzo di Calvino 3 1 5 

un qualche disegno e ordinazione, benche finzionale, bench6 provvisoria, 
benche semplice illusione. Dal momento che, come avverte la voce narrante 
della cornice testuale, la cosa che esaspera di piu il Lettore — forse tutti noi — 
"e trovarti alia merce del fortuito, dell'aleatorio, del probabilistico, nelle cose e 
nelle azioni umane, la sbadataggine, I'approssimativita, I'imprecisione" (27). A 
questo riguardo, "ristabilire il corso regolare degli avvenimenti", e quindi 
I'ordine, sara, in fin dei conti, la scelta del Lettore nello sposare finalmente la 
Lettrice, come nelle storie tradizionali, quando una volta "passate tutte le prove, 
I'eroe e I'eroina si sposavano oppure morivano" (261). Con tutto, pure li si 
offriva una scelta possibile, un'altemativa: "la continuita della vita, 
I'inevitabilita della morte" (261), dinanzi alia quale bisognava sempre prendere 

L'altemanza caos/ordine viene tematizzata, a ben guardare, in molti altri 
passi del libro'. Come e gia stato rilevato, la crisi del mondo contemporaneo 
causata non da un eccesso di razionalizzazione ma a un difetto di ragione, e il 
susseguente bisogno di un disegno ordinante del caos labirintico, e una constante 
calviniana di quegli anni (Milanini, XIX); se vogliamo, un qualche residuo 
illuminista, persistente, nonostante tutto, negli anni Settanta. Esemplare a questo 
riguardo il borgiano incipit 7 — non nello stile, bensi per il motivo centrale 
dello specchio e il labirinto di immagini nel quale I'identita del soggetto si perde 
ad infinitium — dove affiora di nuovo il paradosso della molteplicita dell'Uno e 
I'univocita del Molteplice, con un'allusione non affatto gratuita alia tradizione 
ermetica dello specchio, elemento capace di riflettere I'immagine di Dio e di 
tutto il create (165, 166): come il punto che comprende I'intero universo, la 
totalita delle cose, I'Aleph (Segre, Se una notte), origine di tutto. 

II. Vuoto e assenza 

Fascinazione narrativa e aspettative di lettura si vedono ripetutamente 
ricominciate in Se una notte dopo ogni frustrazione (ora per un motivo, ora per 
un altro) dell'interruzione subita alia fine di ogni primo capitolo di ogni nuovo 
romanzo. La discontinuita irrompe alle volte violentamente nella linearita della 
narrazione, ma persino nella corporeita della lettura, preceduta dal tagliacarte 
che "apre" fisicamente il libro. E cosi, nei momenti piu decisivi, s'impone il 
vuoto: "Ed ecco che, nel momento in cui la tua attenzione e piu sospesa, volti il 
foglio a meta d'una frase decisiva e ti trovi davanti a due pagine bianche" (41). 

'' Come neirimmagine del caleidoscopio che presiede I'intero incipit 7 (161 e ss.), dove 
la pluralita speculare viene ulteriormente accresciuta dalla smania di collezionismo di 
caleidoscopi del suo narratore autodiegetico, in preda a una sorta di paranoia. E una delle 
rappresentazioni della ricerca di un ordine possibile nella infinita moltiplicazione della 
propria immagine con la quale il soggetto perseguita la sua effettiva occultazione. 

3 1 6 Assumpta Camps 

II vuoto della pagina in bianco^, dell'assenza di significato^ e del libro 
stesso come promessa mancata di un qualunque significato'"; il vuoto della 
comunicazione fallita fra i personaggi" (persino in extremis^^), o semplicemente 
interrotta, ma in qualunque caso sempre problematica, paradigmaticamente 
indicata dalla mancata comunicazione fra narratore autodiegetico (maschile in 
tutti gli incipit) e personaggio femminile'^, in un modo che solo trovera 

* Ricorderemo solo qualche esempio fra i molti possibili: il ^'bianco crudele come una 
ferita", "ecco che questo romanzo cosi fittamente intessuto di sensazioni tutt'a un tratto si 
presenta squarciato da voragini senza fondo, come se la pretesa di rendere la pienezza 
vitale rivelasse il vuoto che c'6 sotto" (41 e 42); "ci si slancia a scrivere percorrendo la 
felicity d'una futura lettura e /'/ vuoto si apre sulla carta bianco'' (176 e 177). II corsivo e 
nostro in tutti i casi. 

^ Vedi, fra i vari esempi, il mondo pieno di segni mancati di significato di Imerio, I'anti- 
lettore (48), oppure tutto I'incipit III, di tono apocalittico, dove il mondo appare pieno di 
messaggi indecifrabili: "messaggi che mi sarebbe difficile comunicare ad altri, defmire, 
tradurre in parole, ma che appunto percio mi si presentano come decisivi" (53); 
"messaggi che interpreto come un richiamo della notte" (59); "I'oggetto racchiudeva un 
messaggio per me, e dovevo decifrarlo" (61); "certo vi si nascondeva un significato che 
mi sfiiggiva" (62), ecc. 

"^ Cos! il "libro andato in pezzi", sia dalla critica, sia dal lavoro caotico del mondo 
dell'editoria e dell'azione del traduttore-falsario (capitolo V): "libri che cominciano e non 
continuano" (97), risultato del disordine che ha conquistato la casa editrice: "il disordine 
s'estende, il caos si apre sotto i nostri piedi . . . quando ci penso mi vengono le vertigini", 
afferma I'editore "perseguitato dalla visione di miliardi di pagine, di righe, di parole che 
vorticano in un pluviscolo" (98), ecc. 

" Vedi, fra i molti esempi, I'incomunicazione installata paradossalmente nel campus 
universitario, nell' incipit VI: "Ci incrociamo sui sentieri fruscianti di foglie e qualche 
volta ci diciamo: 'Hi!', qualche volta niente perche dobbiamo risparmiare il fiato. Anche 
questo t un vantaggio del correre rispetto agli altri sport: ognuno va per conto suo e non 
ha da rendere conto agli altri" (135). E ancora: "e di nuovo sono lacerato tra la necessita e 
I'impossibilita di rispondere" (135), il che provoca una particolare nevrosi nel 
protagonista: "c'e una telefonata che mi sta inseguendo", "precipito in una smania 
assurda", "sono prigioniero d'un cerchio al cui centro c'e il telefono", "nell'assurda 
logica che lavora dentro di me", "questo disagio risvegliato in me", ecc. II corsivo e 

'^ Lo stesso diario del "superstite" dell'incipit III si intravede come una comunicazione 
fallita: a '"message in a bottle'' mancato, non solo perche e visto come carente di 
destinatario ("queste pagine che non so se qualcuno leggera mai", 60), ma perche e un 
messaggio indecifrabile: "la mia scrittura forse troppo nervosa perche un flituro lettore 
possa decifraria", "forse questo diario tomera alia luce molti e molti anni dopo la mia 
morte, quando la nostra lingua avra subito chissa quali trasformazioni e alcuni dei 
vocaboli e giri di frase da me usati correntemente suoneranno desueti e di significato 
incerto" (60). II corsivo e nostro. 

'^ Vedi gli incipit II (nel rapporto con Brigd, contaminato dal ricordo di Zwida: "temevo 
di non poter piu stabilire rapporti con nessuno e con niente . . . quella che cercavo era una 

Principio senzafine: I 'iper-romanzo di Calvino 3 1 7 

soluzione effettiva nella cornice testuale del romanzo e grazie alio stesso libro, 
istituito come I'unico canale di successo per la comunicazione fra Lettore e 

Vuoto, quindi, deirincomunicazione umana e, per estensione, 
deH'insufficienza di ogni comunicazione letteraria'^ Lo stesso tema trovera eco 
nella auto-cancellazione del soggetto presentata come suicidio reale'^, oppure 
occultazione di se, si tratti del protagonista (come nell'incipit VII), dell'autore' 

figura bifronte: una Brigd-Zwida, come ero bifronte anch'io", 38 e 39), 111 (fra la voce 
narrante e la signorina Zwida), IV (fra 11 protagonista e Irina: nel loro dialogo, si aprono 
non a caso "intervalli di vuoto . . . tra una battuta e I'altra", e persino "potrebbe 
interrompersi", 83 e 84), V (fra il narratore e la donna, per estensione, tutte le donne, 
dopo I'assassinio del rivale. 111), VI (tra il protagonista nevrotico e la studentessa 
Marjorie), VII (fra il narratore e la moglie/amante nella situazione triangolare accresciuta 
ad infinitum dal gioco degli specchi: "un occhio e un sopracciglio d'Elfrida, una gamba 
negli stivali aderenti, I'angolo della sua bocca dalle labbra sottili e dai denti troppo 
bianchi ... tra tutti questi frammenti stravolti della sua figura s'interpongono scorci della 
pelle di Loma, come paesaggi di came. Gia non so piii distinguere cio che e dell'una e 
cio che e dell'altra, mi perdo, mi sembra d'aver perduto me stesso . . . 168), VIII (dove 
riappare lo stesso triangolo, anche se questa volta fra il protagonista, la madre e la figlia), 
oppure X (la voce narrante "cancellatrice" del mondo circostante e Franziska), ecc. Lo 
stesso capitolo VIII su Silas Flannery, fondamentale e inizialmente centrale nel libro, 
propone il tema della problematica comunicazione Autore-Destinatario, che si presenta 
appunto come Lettrice: "forse la donna che osservo col cannocchiale sa quello che dovrei 
scrivere; ossia non lo sa, perche appunto aspetta da me che io scriva quel che non sa; ma 
cio che lei sa con certezza e la sua attesa, quel vuoto che le mie parole dovrebbero 
riempire" (171). 

'" II libro gli permette, in effetti, di "comunicare ancora con lei attraverso // canale 
scavato dalle parole altrui", e diventa, quindi, come osserva il narratore onnisciente, "m« 
linguaggio, un codice tra voi, un mezzo per scambiarsi segnali e riconoscervi" (148). II 
corsivo e nostro. 

'^ Fra i molti esempi, vedi I'incipit VI: "dubito che le parole scritte possano dame un'idea 
anche parziale" (133); "c'e sempre qualcosa d'essenziale che resta fuori dalla frase 
scritta" (203), ecc. 

'^ D'altra parte, il suicidio e un tema ricorrente in Se una notte. Ricorderemo solo qualche 
esempio: Ukko Ahti, autore di Sporgendosi dalla costa scoscesa, ha avuto tre tentativi di 
suicidio e ancora un quarto riuscito (69); un comment© del narratore onnisciente sul 
professor Uzzi-Tuzzii dice: "forse si sta impiccando alia lampada del soffitto" (70), ecc. 
'^ Sul tema importantissimo dell'occultazione della figura dell'autore, vedi il capitolo V, 
in particolar modo a proposito dei commenti sull'editore Cavedagna, lettore per 
vocazione e deformazione professionale: "lui ha a che fare con loro [gli autori] tutti i 
giomi, conosce le loro fissazioni, irresolutezze, suscettibilita, i loro egocentrismi, eppure 
gli autori veri restano quelli che per lui erano solo un nome sulla copertina, una parola 
che faceva tutt'uno col titolo, autori che avevano la stessa realta dei loro personaggi . . . , 
che esistevano e non esistevano alio stesso tempo. . . . L 'autore era unpunto invisibile da 
cui venivano i libri. un vuoto percorso da fantasmi, un tunnel sotterraneo che metteva in 

3 1 8 Assumpta Camps 

o del narratore'^. Ora, andra notato che alia cancellazione del soggetto 
corrisponde la cancellazione del mondo esteriore'^ e, in fin dei conti, anche la 
cancellazione del testo, che verra occultato a sua volta'^°. 

Non solo sono vari gli incipit che puntano direttamente sul tema del vuoto, 
in un modo reale o figurato, ma persino il vuoto come motivo letterario e 
altamente ricorrente lungo tutto il romanzo^'. E, a ben guardare, la stessa storia 

comunicazione gli altri mondi col pollaio della sua infanzia ..." (101 e 102). II corsivo e 
nostro. II tema raggiunge il suo momento culminante, pero, con le riflessioni del Diario di 
Silas Flannery sul desiderio de cancellazione della personalita (come soggettivita, visione 
del mondo e anche stile) dell'autore: ""Come scriverei bene se non ci fossi! . . . Lo stile, il 
gusto, la filosofia personale, la soggettivita, la formazione culturale, I'esperienza vissuta, 
la psicologia, il talento, i trucchi del mestiere: tutti gli elementi che fanno si che cio che 
scrivo sia riconoscibile come mio, mi sembra una gabbia che limita le mie possibilita. . . . 
vorrei annullare me stesso" (171); e ancora: "Qualcosa in me e venuta meno: forse I'io; 
forse il contenuto dell'io. Ma non era questo che volevo? Non e la spersonalizzazione che 
cercavo di raggiungere?" (192). E la funzione dell'Autore cio che e in gioco, sia dal 
complotto degli apocrifi del traduttore-falsario Ermes Marana — "Come fare a 
sconfiggere non gli autori ma la funzione dell'autore, I'idea che dietro ogni libro ci sia 
qualcuno che garantisce una verita", "Ermes Marana sognava una letteratura tutta 
d'apocrifi, di false attribuzioni, d'imitazioni e contraffazioni e pastiches", grazie a una 
letteratura che instaurasse "un'incertezza sistematica sull'identita di chi scrive", che 
impedisse al lettore di abbandonarsi con fiducia" (159) — che dal progetto di una 
letteratura degli apocrifi e della mistificazione ideata da Silas Flannery — "Forse la mia 
vocazione vera era quella d'autore d'apocrifi, nei vari significati del termine" [e cioe 
"libro segreto" e "testo falso"] (193). 

'* Nella pluralita e ubiquita del soggetto che narra, come il protagonista dell'incipit VII; 
oppure nella molteplicita dei sosia, come si scopre alia fine dell'incipit IX. 
'^ Tutto I'incipit X e ultimo e sul tema della cancellazione. Proprio all'inizio, il narratore 
autodiegetico racconta: "camminando per la grande Prospettiva della nostra citta, 
cancello mentalmente gli elementi che ho deciso di non prendere in considerazione". E 
cosi decide di "abolire completamente" il mondo perche "aggrovigliato" e "sovraccarico" 
(247). Abolira e cancellera tutto quanto, fino a ridurre il mondo estemo a un paesaggio da 
apocalissi: una "sconfinata pianura deserta e ghiacciata", "solo una distesa piatta e grigia 
di ghiaccio compatto come basalto" (250), "una superficie vuota che e il mondo" (251). 
Questo mondo apocalittico verra significativamente ridotto a "un foglio di carta dove non 
si riescono a scrivere altro che parole astratte" (254): un mondo referenziale abitato dal 
nulla e dall'assenza di significato. 

20 Cosi il testo piu rappresentativo della letteratura cimmeria (una letteratura, non a caso, 
di una lingua sulla soglia dei morti): si tratta del romanzo incompiuto di Ukko Ahti, 
Sporgendosi dalla casta scoscesa, rappresentativo "per quel che manifesta e ancor piu 
per quel che occulta, per il suo sottrarsi, venir meno, spar ire ..." (69; il corsivo e 

^' Solo a titolo di esempio, I'incipit 111 conclude in questo modo: "Sentii subito che 
nell'ordine perfetto dell'universo s'era aperta una breccia, uno squarcio irreparabile" 
(66). D'altra parte, I'incipit IV si presenta come un romanzo sul vuoto e sulla percezione 

Principio senzafine: I 'iper-romanzo di Calvino 3 1 9 

narrata verra definita come forma, figura ordinante del caos, e quindi come un 
qualunque "disegno" capace di conferire significato airinforme e "affiorare dal 
nulla"^". Da questo punto di vista, la scrittura si propone non solo come "ponte 
sul vuoto"^^ ma sorge addirittura da questo stesso sentimento del vuoto, che 
essa cerca, anche disperatamente, di riempire^"*, si confronta con questa 
angoscia"^, per approdare alia fine al nulla della pagina in bianco o dell'insieme 

del vuoto: " — II vuoto, il vuoto, la sotto, — diceva, — aiuto, la vertigine . . . " (81); 
"sento tutti questi pass! . . . avanzare nel vuoto, precipitare, una folia che precipita" (82); 
"ogni vuoto continua nel vuoto, ogni strapiombo anche minimo da su un altro 
strapiombo, ogni voragine sbocca nell'abisso infinito" (82); "il vuoto di cui non voglio 
accorgermi" (82); "un dialogo costruito sul vuoto . . . sotto ogni parola c'e il nulla" (83); 
"il capogiro" o "tentazione" che attrae verso il vuoto (83), "le vertigini sono dappertutto", 
"sembra un pozzo senza fondo. Si sente il richiamo del nulla, la tentazione di precipitare, 
raggiungere il buoi che chiama ..." (86); "I'orrore del vuoto" (87), ecc. Pure il borgiano 
incipit IX s'incardina nel tema della fossa vuota in un ovvio remake della fine del 
racconto El Sur (234, 235). Mentre che I'incipit X vede, alia fine, "aprirsi delle fessure, 
dei solchi, dei crepacci" sul suolo, fino al punto che fra i due protagonisti si frappone non 
solo un muro d'incomunicazione, ma "un abisso" vero e proprio, e si scopre "in basso . . . 
solo il nulla che continua giu all'infinito", mentre restano solo "pezzi di mondo 
sparpagliati nel vuoto" (254). 

^^ "Tutte queste linee oblique incrociandosi dovrebbero delimitare lo spazio dove ci 
muoviamo io e Valeriano e Irina, dove la nostra storia possa affiorare dal nulla, trovare 
un punto di partenza, una direzione, un disegno'' (79; il corsivo e nostro). 
^^ In effetti, "forse e questo racconto che e un ponte sul vuoto, e procede buttando avanti 
notizie e sensazioni e emozioni per creare uno sfondo di rivolgimenti sia collettivi che 
individuali in mezzo al quale ci si possa aprire un cammino . . . coprono un vuoto di cui 
non voglio accorgermi" (82). E ancora: "per il racconto il ponte non e finito: sotto ogni 
parola c'e il nulla" (83); "il racconto riprende il cammino interrotto . . . non lascia 
nessuno spiraglio all'orrore del vuoto" (87). 

^'^ Dal diario di Silas Flannery: il libro e "quel vuoto che le mie parole dovrebbero 
riempire" (171). II corsivo e nostro. Ma gia nel Capitolo III: "questo romanzo ... si 
presenta squarciato da voragini senza fondo, come se la pretesa di rendere la pienezza 
vitale rivelasse il vuoto che c'e sotto" (42). La dicotomia vuoto e pienezza articola, in 
piu, il discorso del questionamento della comunicazione letteraria accennato qui dall'uso 
del tempo verbale. Ma il libro propone ancora un altro rapporto fra scrittura e mondo 
referenziale: esso "non dovrebb'essere altro che I'equivalente del mondo non scritto 
tradotto in scrittura ... la sua materia dovrebbe essere cio che non c'e ne potra esserci se 
non quando sara scritto, ma di cui cio che c'e sente oscuramente il vuoto nella propria 
incompletezza" (171, 172). 

^' Cos! leggiamo: "Ci si slancia a scrivere percorrendo la felicita d'una futura lettura e il 
vuoto si apre sulla carta bianca" (177). E I'angoscia mallarmeana della pagina in bianco 
che s'impone all'autore e blocca la scrittura, la stessa angoscia che suscita I'invidia 
dell'autore per il copista medievale: "il senso e il fascino d'una vocazione ormai 
inconcepibile: quella del copista. II copista viveva contemporaneamente in due 

320 Assumpta Camps 

di segni mancati di significato. E in effetti, il mondo apocalittico che si profila 
alia fine dell'incipit X verra presentato come una pagina in bianco, in un mondo 
descritto ormai sull'orlo dell'abisso, dove s'impone la discontinuita assoluta fra 
segno e significato^^, il vero squarcio dove affiora il nulla, oppure dove si 
concentra il tutto e la verita assoluta, occulta nel fondo del vortice^^. 

La tensione verso il vuoto, I'abisso, la disgregazione dell'identita nel 
soggetto e della consistenza e solidita nell'oggetto, nel mondo referenziale, 
I'assenza, in fin dei conti, 6 fortissima in tutto il libro, anche se di solito 
parodiata o persino ironizzata e, per questo verso, svuotata di drammatismo. 
Tranne in certi passi relegati agli incipit, presentati come una scrittura alia 
maniera di che svigorisce il forte carattere apocalittico dell'insieme, ben 
presente, d'altra parte, nella stessa idea del romanzo ideale integrata nel sogno 
del Capitolo Decimo: 

II libro che cerco . . . t quelle che da il senso del mondo dope la fine del mondo, il sense 
che il mondo t la fine di tutto cio che c'e al mondo, che la sola cosa che ci sia al mondo e 
la fine del mondo (245). 

Apocalissi e integrazione (come quella presente nella restaurazione 
dell'ordine del happy ending macrotestuale) e, per questo e altri motivi, un asse 
esegetico rilevante nel romanzo, benche alle volte sotterrato e mascherato. 
Origine, del resto, della crisi di scrittura che pervade I'Autore di best-sellers, 
Silas Flannery, alter-ego calviniano. Non t questo certo I'unico referente a 
Umberto Eco^^, come sappiamo. La stessa nozione della letteratura come 
comunicazione, come fiction {Trattato di semiotica generale), il coinvolgimento 
del lettore nella narrazione {Lector in fabula), la nozione "aperta" dell'opera 
{Opera aperta) o la valorizzazione dell'assenza {La struttura assente) sono 
referenti molto evidenti per le sperimentazioni narrative svolte da Calvino in 
quegli anni fra i Sessanta e i Settanta. L'intera trilogia semiotica dell'autore e 

dimensioni temporaU, quella della lettura e quella della scrittura; poteva scrivere senza 

I 'angoscia del vuoto che s 'apre davanti alia penna " ( 1 78). II corsivo e nostro. 

^^ "II mondo e ridotto a un foglio di carta dove non si riescono a scrivere altro che parole 

astratte, come se tutti i nomi concreti fossero finiti" (254). 

^^ Non solo perch6, come crede il primo lettore del capitolo undicesimo, poche pagine 

possono aprirci una immensita di mondi — "quelle poche pagine racchiudono per me 

interi universi, cui non riesco a dar fondo" (256) — ma perche. come sostiene il secondo 

lettore, "I'oggetto della lettura e una materia puntiforme e pluviscolare . . . come le 

particelle elementari che compongono il nucleo dell'opera . . . Oppure come il vuoto al 

fondo d'un vortice, che aspira e inghiotte le correnti. E attraverso questi spiragli che, per 

lampi appena percettibili, si manifesta la verita che il libro puo portare, la sostanza 

ultima" (256, 257). 

^* Ovviamente, facciamo riferimento a Eco, Apocalittici e integrati. 

Principio senzafine: I 'iper-romanzo di Calvino 32 1 


articolata in gran misura, non solo suUe sollecitazioni di Perec e Queneau , ma 
suUa riflessione sviluppata prendendo come punto di partenza questi nuovi 
contributi della critica. Come e gia stato rilevato (Bonsaver), Se una notte e 
I'intera trilogia puntano, nei suoi vari componenti, sul tema del vuoto e intomo 
alia sua rappresentazione, sia essa lo spiraglio abissale che si apre quando 
irrompe la discontinuita temporale-spaziale, sia il non "spazio" dell'evanescenza 
del pieno significato, o Tirruzione dell'assenza, che sveglia I'ansieta del nulla 
ma comprende simultaneamente la massima potenzialita significativa, perche 
irrealizzata: un vero buco nero dell'universo del significato^°. 

III. L'autore plurimo e infinito 

La poetica dell'incipit di Se una notte, e cioe del romanzo come del principio 
mancato di conclusione, evidenzia non solo la discontinuita narrativa 
sviluppando I'altemanza vuoto/pienezza, esegeticamente funzionale nell'opera, 
come abbiamo visto, ma tende alio smontaggio di un elemento basilare della 
narrativa tradizionale: l'autore o, meglio ancora, la funzione autorale. 
Certamente, le nuove tecnologie e le sperimentazioni avanguardiste degli anni 
Sessanta sono alia base del problema. D'altra parte, andra osservato che 
I'intervento della computerizzazione sulla creazione letteraria, in sostituzione 
del lavoro dell'autore, e ben presente in quest'opera in certi momenti della 
narrazione^', offrendo effettivamente una via di superamento del soggetto 
esistente tradizionalmente dietro alia scrittura. Questa dissoluzione della figura 
autorale si proietta in ultima istanza sul piano della critica, ad esempio nella 
parodia delle concordanze, presente alia fine del Capitolo nono^^, in un modo 
che trovera un ecco puntuale pure nel rifiuto — di stampo crociano — alia 
critica degli scartafacci. 

Lo smontaggio della ftinzione autorale raggiunge livelli ancora piu 
significativi nel libro. E non solo perche si trova all'origine della stessa idea del 
romanzo Se una notte, come leggiamo nel diario di Silas Flannery, il cui grado 

^^ Sul rapporto di Calvino con Queneau e con I'Ou.Ii.po., Fusco... 

^° Vuoto e pienezza, visti come due volti della stessa realta non e solo una idea che 

racchiude una importante aporia della conoscenza, ma e anche una delle lezioni della 

tradizione buddista. 

^' II computer e visto, ad esempio, come un aiutante per l'autore in crisi creativa e, alio 

stesso tempo, un suo sostituto: "ero riuscito a convincere il vecchio autore di thrillers ad 

affidarmi I'inizio del romanzo che non riusciva piu a portare avanti e che / nostri 

computer sarebbero stati in grado di completare facilmente, programmati come sono per 

sviluppare tutti gli elementi d'un testa con perfetta fedelta ai modelli stilistici e 

concettuali dell 'autore"" (118). II corsivo e nostro. 

^^ In effetti, dovuto a "un'istantanea smagnetizzazione", il libro viene ridotto a "un 

pluviscolo delle parole sciolte: il il il il, di di di di, da da da da, che che che che, 

incolonnate secondo le frequenze rispettive. II libro e sbriciolato, dissolto, non piu 

ricomponibile, come una duna di sabbia soffiata via dal vento" (221) 

322 Assumpta Camps 

di "veracita" viene effettivamente verificato lungo la lettura del libro", ma 
anche perche I'obiettivo che lo scrittore di best sellers si propone di raggiungere 
non e altro che I'eclissamento, lo svuotamento di se. E cosi che si formula la 
poetica dell'incipit, rivolta air"impersonalita di quell' />7c//7/Y" scritto alia 
maniera di un altro (176). II proposito sara di restare fedele alia sua vera 
vocazione, e cioe la vocazione di ghost writer (\%Q) o semplice "mano 
scrivente" delle esistenze altrui. Solo in questo modo gli riuscira possibile la sua 
aspirazione a una reale "oggettivita di pensiero": 

dire non 'io penso', ma 'pensa', come si dice 'piove' . . . Potro mai dire: 'oggi scrive', 
cosi come 'oggi piove', 'oggi fa vento'? Solo quando mi verra naturale d'usare il verbo 
scrivere aH'impersonale potrd sperare che attraverso di me s 'esprima qualcosa di meno 
limitato che l 'individualita d'un singolo (175-76; il corsivo e nostro). 

II problema, lo si constatera senz'altro, e che, a ben guardare, non e la 
funzione autorale I'istanza individuale per eccellenza nella comunicazione 
letteraria, ma quella del lettore^'*. Le implicazioni critiche di tale proposizione 
sono indubbiamente di importanza estrema, e in particolar modo per la stesura di 
questo romanzo. Da osservare, sempre in sede di analisi narratologica, 
I'occultazione del narratore, sia il narratore degli incipit che quell'altro, di vago 
stampo stemiano, della cornice testuale. Al contrario, sulla Lettrice — "lettrice 
ideale" per Silas Flannnery, come sappiamo, e indubbiamente per Calvino stesso 
— riusciamo a conoscere nome e cognome, scappando essa alia dissoluzione 
generale del soggetto nell'anonimato. A un livello piu aneddotico ma non 
irrilevante, andra ricordato I'intero complotto degli apocrifi, che semina nel libro 
un insieme di dubbi sull'identita finale degli autori dei vari incipit. Di qui che 
I'altemanza falso/autentico e un altro degli assi esegetici fondamentali nel 

'''' II progetto per Se una notte e esplicito gia nel diario di Silas Flannery: "Vorrei poter 
scrivere un libro che fosse solo un incipit, che mantenesse per tutta la sua durata la 
potenzialita dell'inizio, I'attesa ancora senza oggetto. . . . Incastrerebbe un inizio di 
narrazione nell'altro, come neiie Mille e una notte?" (177). Poche pagine piu avanti, 
Flannery concreta la proposta per il nuovo romanzo: "M'e venuta I'idea di scrivere un 
romanzo fatto solo d'inizi di romanzo. II protagonista potrebb'essere un Lettore che viene 
continuamente interrotto. II lettore acquista il nuovo romanzo A dell'autore Z. Ma e una 
copia difettosa, e non riesce ad andare oltre 1' inizio. . . . Toma in libreria per farsi 
cambiare il volume ..." 

"Potrei scriverlo tutto in seconda persona: tu Lettore . . . Potrei anche farci entrare una 
Lettrice, un traduttore falsario, un vecchio scrittore che tiene un diario come questo diario 
. . ." (197), e cosi ad infinitum, con uno scrittore che tiene un diario come quel diario, che 
ha un'idea per un romanzo, con uno scrittore che tiene un diario come quello, che ha 
un'idea per un romanzo, che . . . 

^■^ In effetti, "... la lettura e un atto necessariamente individuale, molto piu dello 
scrivere. . . . L'universo esprimera se stesso fin tanto che qualcuno potra dire: 'lo leggo 
dunque esso scrive' (176). 

Principio senzafine: I'iper-romanzo di Calvino 323 

romanzo, il quale raggiunge il suo culmine nell'opposizione fra Ludmilla (la 
Lettrice insubomabile e sempre incuriosita, uno dei cui attributi 6, non a caso, 
"che riusciva a scoprire verita nascoste nel falso piu smaccato, e falsita senza 
attenuanti nelle parole che si pretendono piu veritiere", 242) e il Falsario (che 
"voleva dimostrarle che dietro alia pagina scritta c'e il nulla: [che] il mondo 
esiste solo come artificio, fmzione, malinteso, menzogna", 242). La falsita degli 
apocrifi (72) arriva, come sappiamo, al grado di congiura universale (241), e 
trova un eco divertente nella mistificazione e reificazione del libro introdotta dai 
giapponesi (178-79). Ma e in piu riscontrabile nel processo di falsificazione 
generalizzata che pervade tutti gli elementi della vita di Ataguitania e della sua 
falsa rivoluzionaria Corina-Ingrid-Sheila-Alexandra (213-21). In modo che si 
presenta persino come auspicabile nel "capolavoro della falsita come 
conoscenza" che alcuni fanatici dicono di aspettare dai "fabbricanti di romanzi 
in serie" (130). Come lo e, del resto, in tutto quanto circonda e tocca Ermes 
Marana, vero "Agente della Mistificazione" universale (130), intravisto in certi 
passi come il Serpente del Male. II tema comporta, come era da aspettarsi, un 
notevole sviluppo, un cumulo di immagini e motivi disseminati lungo il 
romanzo. Una delle affermazioni piii rilevanti resta, pero, quella di Ermes 
Marana quando sostiene che la stessa differenza tra il vero e il falso non e altro 
che un "nostro pregiudizio" (153), poiche in un mondo in dissoluzione, ormai 
"nessuno puo essere sicuro di cio che e vero e di cio che e falso (213). 

Ora, su di un piano completamente diverso, e in sede di analisi pragmatica, 
il libro, dalla prima frase fino all'uhima, si propone come enunciato "vero", il 
quale, grazie all'uso larghissimo della metalessi, e quindi con la sovrapposizione 
fra mondo scritto e mondo reale, realizza esattamente cio che formula . Da 
questo punto di vista, e paradossalmente un libro del tutto "vero" su un 
complotto di libri falsi; un libro che insiste, una volta dopo I'altra, sulla sua 
concretezza mentre tratta dello sgretolarsi del mondo referenziale e 
deU'irruzione del nulla: un libro, per ultimo, che raggiunge fmalmente una 
conclusione, ma che e composto sulla base di una serie di libri mancanti tutti di 

Che significa, in fin dei conti, avere un finale, una qualunque conclusione? 
La domanda non sara certo oziosa, e il problema, almeno in partenza, e di ordine 
narratologico. Significa, fra le altre cose, puntare alia risoluzione degli elementi 
narrativi messi in gioco, conferire un qualunque disegno, forma o figura 
all'enigma o problema proposto, ristabilire un ordine inizialmente minacciato, 
sconvolto o alterato, approdare al punto verso il quale tende, dai primo 

^^ Dagli abbondantissimi esempi di questo effetto di important! conseguenze sul piano 
narratologico, vogliamo ricordare qui solo due casi: I'inizio, "Stai per cominciare a 
leggere il nuovo romanzo Se una notte d'inverno un viaggiatore di Italo Calvino" (3), e la 
conclusione, "Ancora un momento. Sto per finire Se una notte d 'inverno un viaggiatore 
di Italo Calvino" (263). 

324 Assumpta Camps 

momento, la linearita della narrazione, circoscrivere le varie funzioni narrative e 
soddisfare le aspettative di lettura inizialmente svegliate. Se una notte si 
presenta, pero, come una perpetua fhistrazione di queste aspettative: le funzioni 
narrative vengono messe in questione fin dall'inizio e nel loro insieme, le 
aspettative di lettura si sovrappongono di continuo, la linearita, continuita 
narrativa e conseguenzialita restano sospese. II romanzo si propone piuttosto 
come un riflesso del cambiamento avvenuto nella sostanziale alterazione della 
percezione temporale-spaziale. Da qui la risposta al problema acquista una 
dimensione epistemologica di conseguenze irreversibili, e punta a stabilire una 
relazione con il mondo referenziale radicalmente nuova, che immette il lettore 
nelle aporie della conoscenza tanto care a Calvino. 

Volgendo ora lo sguardo indietro, all'inizio del presente saggio, va ricordato 
che neir insieme della produzione semiotica di Calvino, il libro che si proponeva 
come esempio in "Molteplicita" era appunto Se una notte. In quell'occasione, 
non si trattava, pero, di rievocare tout court, nella sua programmatica mancanza 
di conclusione, I'apertura narrativa dei romanzi di Gadda, e meno ancora la sua 
barocca espressione, riflesso di un soggetto in perpetua collisione con I'estemo. 
Al contrario, la poetica dell'incipit si proponeva di conferire volontaristicamente 
— forse con la stessa disperazione di Gadda — un ordine, un'armonia, un 
disegno al caos: di ricomporre, sub specie letteraria, il mondo andato in 
frantumi. E nella tradizione delle Mille e una notte dove Calvino trova una via di 
soluzione, e cio^ nella macrotestualita, nell'uso di una cornice testuale che 
comprende e integra ad infinitum tutte le varie storie possibili nelle quali si 
dissolve finalmente in un'assoluta potenzialita la voce narrante come funzione 
narrativa (Segre, Punto di vista). L'iper-romanzo calviniano verra formulato, per 
questo verso, come un insieme di storie perpetuamente ricominciate, dove la 
tensione narrativa persiste, le aspettative vengono ripristinate e mai 
effettivamente realizzate-frustrate, dove nell'impersonalita finalmente raggiunta 
di un autore plurimo e di-personalizzato, sbarazzato di quello "scomodo 
diaframma che h la sua persona" (171), il libro riesce finalmente a dare voce al 
non scritto e a ci6 che non avra mai una voce: al narrabile che nessun 10 

In questo modo, alia problematizzazione del finale corrisponde 
necessariamente la problematizzazione dell'inizio. Cosi, nel suo drammatizzato 
rapporto con i vari personaggi, il narratore onnisciente della cornice testuale 

(Cominciare. . . . Ma come stabilire il momento esatto in cui comincia una storia? Tutto e 
sempre cominciato gia da prima, la prima riga della prima pagina d'ogni romanzo 
rimanda a qualcosa che b gia successo fuori dal libro. Oppure la vera storia e quella che 
comincia died o cento pagine piu avanti e tutto ci6 che precede e solo un prologo. Le vite 
degli individui della specie umana formano un intreccio continuo, in cui ogni tentativo 
d'isolare un pezzo di vissuto che abbia un senso separatamente dal resto . . . deve tener 

Principio senzafine: I'iper-romanzo di Calvino 325 

conto che ciascuno dei due porta con se un tessuto di fatti ambienti altre persone, e che 
daH'incontro deriveranno a loro volta altre storie che si separeranno dalla loro storia 
comune) (153-54). 

L'iper-romanzo di Italo Calvino risponde non solo alia poetica dell'incipit, 
del principio senza fine. Nel suo mettere in questione tutti gli elementi della 
narrazione tradizionale, arriva ad interrogarsi persino sull'inizio, risolvendosi 
nell'infinita potenziale di una rete di intrecci infiniti di fill, senza principio ne 
fine: una rete che tutto comprende, ma che e, a sua volta, una costruzione sul 

Universita di Barcellona 

Opere citate 

AA.VV. Da Verga a Eco. Strutture e tecniche del romanzo italiano. Ed. Gabriele 

Catalano. Napoli: Tullio Pironti editore, 1984. 
AA.VV. Italo Calvino. Atti del Convegno Internazionale (Firenze, 26-28 febbraio 1987). 

Milano: Garzanti, 1988. 
Barthes, R. Saggi critici. Torino: Einaudi, 1966. 
Bonsaver, G. // mondo scritto. Forme e ideologia nella narrativa di I. Calvino. Torino: 

Tirrenia, 1995. 
Booth, W. The Rhetoric of Fiction. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1961. 
Calvino, Italo. Se una notte d'inverno un viaggiatore. . . Torino: Einaudi, 1979. 

. Lezione americane. Milano: Mondadori, 1993. 

. "I livelli della realta." Una pietra sopra. Torino: Einaudi, 1980. 

Costantini, A. "Semiotica ed ideologia delle voci narrative." Lectures 13 (1983): 81-111. 

Chatman, S. Story of Discourse. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1978. 

Eco, Umberto. Trattato di semiotica generate. Milano: Bompiani, 1975. 

. Lector in fabula. La cooperazione interpretativa nei testi narrativi. Milano: 

Bompiani, 1979. 
. Opera aperta. Forma e indeterminazione nelle poetiche contemporanee. Milano: 

Bompiani, 1962. 

. La struttura assente. Milano: Bompiani, 1968. 

. Apocalittici e integrati. Milano: Bompiani, 1968. 

Fusco, M. "Italo Calvino, entre Queneau et I'" AA.VV.: Italo Calvino. Atti del 
Convegno Internazionale Firenze, Palazzo Medici-Ricciardi, 26-28 febbraio 1987. 
Milano: Garzanti, 1988. 

Genette, G. Figures III. Paris: Seuil, 1972. 

Greimas, A. J. De I 'imperfection. Paris: P. Fanlac, 1987. 

Grosser, H. Narrativa. Milano: Principato, 1985. 

326 Assumpta Camps 

Milanini, C. "Introduzione a I. Calvino." Romanzi e racconti. Vol. 2. Milano: Mondadori, 

Pagnini, M. Pragmatica della letteratura. Palermo: Selerio, 1980. 
Prince, G. Narratology. The Form and Functioning of Narrative. Belin: Waltes de 

Gruyter, 1982. 
Rousset, J. "La prima persona del romanzo. Abbozzo di una tipologia." Strumenti critici 

19 (1972): 259-74. 

. "Una constante narrativa." Strumenti critici 38 (1979): 1-17. 

Segre, C. "Punto di vista e plurivocita neH'analisi narratologica." AA.VV. Problemi del 

romanzo, Milano: Angeli, 1983. 
. "Se una notte d'inverno un narratore sognasse un aleph a dieci colori." Strumenti 

critici 39-40 (1979): 177-214. 

Olimpia Pelosi 

Prodromi di una fine: 

Una rilettura de Le stelle fredde di Guido Piovene 

1. Prolegomena 

Le stelle fredde, pubblicato nel 1970 fra gli unanimi consensi di critica e di 
pubblico,* si situa sugli scorci del declino umano di Piovene; sono infatti di 
quell' anno le "prime avvisaglie" (Bettiza LXX) del male che lo avrebbe 
stroncato quattro anni piu tardi.' Penultimo di una teoria di romanzi nei quali lo 

II libro fli vincitore del premio Strega nel luglio del medesimo anno. Si ritiene qui 
opportune fomire uno schematico ragguaglio di trama. L'anonimo protagonista — sotto 
il cui trasparente deguisement s'indovina lo stesso Piovene — e un riuscito ideatore di 
slogans pubblicitari per una compagnia di aviolinee, inurbato in un grande centro 
industriale del Nord. Ad apertura d'opera {in medias res) Ida, la sua compagna (e gia 
moglie d'un altro) lo ha appena lasciato. Colto gradualmente dal 'male di vivere,' 
"Anonymus" (Catalano 409) decide di partire, di ritornare. in una quete regressiva, nei 
luoghi della sua infanzia: un'imprecisata casa nell'entroterra veneto-vicentino, in 
primavera. Qui, dopo uno scontro col padre e I'incontro/ritrovamento con ramatissimo 
albero di ciliegio fiorito che domina il giardino (e che verra quasi immediatamente 
abbattuto dal padre, perche troppo vicino alia casa) il protagonista viene accusato, 
ingiustamente, dell'uccisione del marito di Ida. II filo della storia si dipana, a partire da 
questo punto, in deviazioni continue ed impreviste: si assiste al breve ma intenso 
sodalizio di Anonymus con Sergio, figura paterna e consolatrice di poliziotto-filosofo, 
che vaga con lui nella campagna. La seconda repentina e accidentale apparizione e quella 
di uno scrittore assai caro all'immaginario dell'io-narrante, Fedor Dostoevski], risalito 
(redivivo, attraverso una crepa lasciata dal ciliegio) dal regno dei morti (che egli descrive 
come una squallida discarica di corpi semivivi e indeboliti, costretti ad una sfibrante 
marcia attraverso una landa desolata, non approdante ad alcuna salvezza). A conclusione 
del romanzo, dopo la morte del padre e lo scagionamento dall'accusa di omicidio, 
Anonymus sancisce la propria morte civile recludendosi nel conchiuso universo della 
casa e del giardino, immerso in una nuova forma di esistenza, il cui scopo principale e 
quello di catalogare, su schede infinite, gli oggetti in praesentia e in absentia e i morti, 
indelebili nel suo ricordo. Sul paesaggio domina il ciliegio, ormai spento, ma che con la 
sua chioma ancor fulgida diffonde su tutto il suo biancore. 

' "La sclerosi laterale amiotrofica ('Motrone disease' o 'maladie de Charcot') che colpi 
Piovene nell'estate 1970 e lo fece morire dopo quattro anni tragici, kafkiani [. . .] e 
ancora oggi [David scrive nel 1994] un enigma eziologico. Definita come degenerazione 

Annali d 'Italianistica 1 8 (2000) , 

328 Olimpia Pelosi 

scrittore aveva sempre occultato assai poco velatamente revolvers! del suoi 
itinera interiori, esso si pone come I'opera in cui il vicentino, facendosi 
I'epigono di una tradizione illustre, dalla quale si sente ampiamente avallato e 
sorretto, conferisce un'estrema preminenza al "personaggio io".^ Libro notissimo 
e discusso, forse il piu famoso dopo le Lettere di una novizia, esso si e prestato, 
attraverso gli anni, a plurime chiavi di lettura, da quella esistenziale a quelle 
semiologica e psicoanalitica. La presente proposta interpretativa, nata 
dall'inesaurita fascinazione che il romanzo ha esercitato su chi scrive, sin 
dall'epoca del suo primo apparire, intende incamminarsi (anche servendosi di 
riflessi speculari intertestuali) per sentieri poco battuti — almeno nel caso di 
quest'autore e di quest'opera — e di proiettare Le stelle fredde nei territori 
magmatici e cangianti della "postmodemita" (Biasin 173). 

2. La morte delVumano: fra condizione postuma ed entropia 

Uincipit del romanzo si configura come desolato annuncio di una fine: e una 
riflessione sulla condizione postuma della mitografia occidentale, canto rituale 
sull'agonia degli archetipi simbolici di un plurimillenario ciclo culturale ormai 
spezzato e ristrutturatosi nella forma di una "descending slope,"^ disseccato 
simulacro che non rimanda piu aWaltrove^ 

progressiva dei motoneuroni del cortex e del tronco cerebrali che priva il malato della 
forza muscolare e quindi del respiro, pur lasciando intatta la mente, non ha origine virale, 
e sara, forse, con la nuova parola-miracolo, 'genetica'. E da led che se ne annuncia, non 
la guarigione, ma il rallentamento, con un farmaco nuovo, il 'riluzolo'. Purtroppo 
Piovene mori nel 1974" (David 230). 

^ "Nessuna obiezione puo esistere contro il personaggio 'io,' quand'esso e svolto e 
raccontato con lo stesso distacco, la stessa obiettivita di un personaggio che prenda il 
nome di Giulio o di Mario. I maestri moderni della narrazione in prima persona, da 
Rousseau a Gide, i grandi lirici compreso Leopardi, non riferiscono se stessi, ma quasi 
inventano inesauribilmente se stessi: creando un personaggio 'io' che in alcuni e 
costante, in alcuni mutevole, secondo gli estri e le segrete ispirazioni della vita: ma tali 
sempre che solo per leggerezza si potrebbe accostarli agli scrittori gretti ed egoisti, il cui 
scrivere e solo un modo di piu di ammirarsi e che ritengono di beneficare la gente 
pubblicando una specie di quotidiano bollettino dei loro umori, ricordi e pettegolezzi" 
(Piovene, Spettacolo di mezzanotte 41-42). 

^ "Whether modes of orientation in the world or more specific scientific insights are 
concerned, geometric imageiy seems to be an indispensable support for the human 
intuition. Social systems, without discernible dynamics of development, confine their 
geometric images to cosmomythologically stabilized models of the world. A well-known 
example of such a closed representation is the hermetic universe of classical Greek 
culture, where the circle was an unrivalled idol and ideal, transforming the myth of 
eternal return into a straightforward geometrical figure. But with the coming of 
industrialization and Enlightenment, the closed circular line of prehistory is cut and the 
curvature straightened out. Supported by the blooming idea of progress, a new figure of 
geometrical imagery gets into the centre of interest: the straight line. [. . .] Parallel to this 

Prodromi di una fine: Una rilettura de Le stelle fredde di Guido Piovene 329 

Quelle [. . .] era il mondo umano, il grande mondo umano che non c'6 piu. Sparito come 
Urano, come Saturno, come i giganti e gli del mitologici, come i centauri e le sirene. Ne 
restano i simulacri, esseri umani finti ma condannati a credere che esista ancora. Sorpresi 
dall'avvento delle stelle fredde, inaspriti dal gelo in cui stanno morendo i loro ultimi 
avanzi. Hai mai visto una mosca quando ronza furente perche il freddo la fa morire? Lo 
stesso loro, i caratteri, i personaggi, i morali, i fanatici, i missionari, i predicant!, i 
passionali, i credenti, i sinceri. Orribilmente falsi. Orribilmente ebeti. Orribilmente 
spettri. Disgustosamente parlanti. Mi ripugnano e io ripugno a loro. Che risposta puo 
dare? Non esiste risposta. E come parlare con esseri di un altro tempo proiettati dagl 
astri. Ma la cosa peggiore e che li portiamo anche dentro. Anche in noi, estinzion 
furenti. Ci fanno male perche soffrono molto, dentro le nostre viscere, negli spasimi della 

{Le stelle fredde 623-24) 

II compianto per la "necrosi" {Verita e menzogna 30) ineluttabile di un 
modus sentiendi e la "fliria" con cui Piovene denuncia i'emergere del lato sub- 
umano dalle rovine del passato, riecheggia, per certi versi, I'appassionato 
lamento nietzschiano;^ ma dalla scorza della meditazione filosofica erompe, 

project, attempts at description of social dynamics appear representing progress either by 
an ascending straight line or more ingeniously by a helix, subordinating circular 
structures to the verve of irresistible linearity. The cosmic interconnectedness of man and 
nature ties early models of human history to the processes of development in nature. As a 
result of this tight connection, the first modem concepts of time-development in nature 
were unscrupulously transfigured into models of human history. But Laplace's 
predetermined mechanical world-machine, the culmination of this daring transfer, was 
finally subverted by thermodynamic theories toward the end of the 19th century: the 
positive ascent of the straight line is transformed into a descending slope, the mechanical 
world-machine decays into a thermodynamic combustion engine" (Klahn 419). 
"• "[. . .] Jung, in many passages, has drawn a distinction between the terms 'sign' and 
'symbol,' as he employs them. The first, the sign, is a reference to some concept or 
object, definitely known; the second, the symbol, is the best possible figure by which 
allusion may be made to something relatively unknown. The symbol does not aim at 
being a reproducfion, nor can its meaning be more adequately or lucidly rendered in other 
terms. Indeed, when a symbol is allegorically translated and the unknown factor in its 
reference rejected, it is dead" (Campbell 127). 

5 "11 timbro radicale, impaziente, aspro che [si riscontra] nelle pagine finali del narratore, 
sul quale il pensatore prevarica, contiene in se i germi non sistematizzati di una teoria 
critica della cultura che, per piu di qualche motivo, avvicina stranamente Piovene a una 
parte dell'opera di Nietzsche, [. . .] quella piu interna, immersa nella rievocazione erudita 
e dolente della classicita primordiale perduta. [. . .] Qualcosa del Nietzsche filologo e 
psicanalista inconscio della crisi di una civilta, gia erosa nelle fondamenta verso il tardo 
Ottocento, si risente nella furia devastante con cui Piovene ne attacca gli ultimi valori 
giunti a putrescenza verso il tardo Novecento" (Bettiza LV). Si veda, riguardo alle stesse 
tematiche, Vattimo 39-47. 

330 Olimpia Pelosi 

veicolato da termini scabri ed essenziali, il nucleo concettuale che conferisce al 
romanzo un'angolazione completamente nuova rispetto al panorama della 
narrativa italiana dei tardi anni Sessanta. Da sempre attratto dagli spazi siderali e 
daH'immagine ancora mitico-platonica dell'uomo-stella,^ Piovene compie qui un 
salto/scarto dalla concezione idilliaco-paesaggistica all'esposizione lapidaria di 
una secca verita scientifica, introducendo il concetto di evoluzione stellare:^ le 
"larve" {Le stelle fredde 623) dell'umanita modema in progressiva estinzione 
sono paragonate ad astri morenti che, diminuendo il loro nucleo, acquistano 
densita e pesantezza e perdono il loro calore, trasformandosi in black holes, 
agglomerati di energia che diviene progressivamente fredda, perche soggetta alia 
seconda legge della termodinamica, a cui soggiace, del resto, I'intero cosmo.^ 

^ Oltre aH'idea deiruomo-costellazione {Le stelle fredde 803) vi sono, in tutta I'opera di 
Piovene, fittisimi riferimenti agli astri e alia malia che i cieli stellati hanno esercitato sul 
suo immaginario. Sin dalla prima infanzia la memoria siderea si stampa indelebile e 
ritorna nella rievocazione narrativa antropomorfa che ha toni da leggenda: "Era 
sopraggiunta la notte e si spalanco ai miei occhi un memorabile stellato. Appartiene alia 
serie di quel grandi cieli stellati che vidi allora, poi vent'anni ancora e dopo non vidi mai 
piu: era una facolta di distinguere gli astri a uno a uno, come persone, ciascuno col suo 
colore diverse, e nel tempo medesimo di sentire raccolta in un attimo solo tutta 
I'immensa vita del firmamento, nella sua verita e nella sua palpitazione" (Spettacolo di 
mezzanotte 112-13). Interessante notare come il fascino dei cieli notturni abbia catturato 
Penelope Lively, scrittice postmodema, che fa ampio uso del concetto di entropia nel suo 
romanzo City of the Mind: "Night. Lights on. The lights that glide in jewelled columns, 1. 
. .] and in the sky, the dead and dancing sky, there are million yesterdays'" (1). 
' II concetto, espresso da Piovene con estrema e precisa sinteticita, ricalca fedelmente la 
nozione scientifica di evoluzione stellare: la generale suddivisione delle stelle in due 
categoric, giganti e nane, indica chiaramente come avviene la trasformazione di un astro. 
I dati raccolti portano a credere che il diametro delle stelle appena 'nate' sia molto grande 
e che il corpo celeste abbia, in questa fase, scarsissima densita. A mano a mano che la 
Stella invecchia la sua densita aumenta, il diametro e la temperatura diminuiscono, per cui 
essa diventa sempre piu piccola e densa. Una stella ad altissima densita puo soggiacere ad 
un completo collasso gravitazionale, ed avviarsi verso lo stadio ultimo della sua 
esistenza, divenendo un buco nero. 

^ Entropia e voce greca (da en = dentro e trope = rivolgimento). II principio scientifico 
cosi denominate fu scoperto da Sadi Carnot (1796-1832) che pubblico, nel 1824, un 
opuscolo dal titolo: Reflexions sur la puissance motrice du feu. Fu poi Rudolf Clausius 
(1822-1888) che nel 1850 "lo applied alia termodinamica. [. . .] Si defmisce entropia la 
'caduta' di calore tra una fonte calda (la caldaia) e una fonte fredda (il condensatore che 
serve a condensare il vapore). Si deve essere molto precisi a tale riguardo: con il termine 
'caduta' non si intende una perdita o un consumo di energia calorifica, ma piuttosto la 
sua degradazione, degradazione produttrice di lavoro. L'entropia e dunque il grado di 
variazione di una funzione di stato, il grado di cambiamento nello stato di un sistema. 
Ora questa modifica genera oscillazioni che — occorre notarlo — sono indeterminate. 
La produzione di lavoro si ha solo a partire dall 'instaurazione di uno stato di disordine 

Prodromi di una fine: Una rilettura de Le stelle fredde di Guido Piovene 33 1 

La "sensibilita doppia di Piovene, [. . .] conservatrice da un lato, ma 
dall'altro vigile, mobilissima, tentata dal nuovo e dal rischio purche fertili" 
(Bettiza XXXI), appare nel romanzo assai vicina all'universo di stelle alia deriva 
di Teilhard de Chardin^ di cui aveva certamente avuto modo di assorbire la 
visione cosmologica sia nei soggiomi parigini che in quelli americani.'° 

In questo spazio einsteiniano, che ha soppiantato quello di Galileo e di 
Newton e dove tutto e in perenne disordine, si sancisce la sconfitta dell 'idea di 
humanitas rinascimentale. L'uomo non e piii il nodus et copula mundi, non 
incide piu sulla realta, e stato spostato in una delle tante periferie, senza 
possibilita di riscatto, perso nel gelo deH'invemo cosmico, paralizzato 
dall'appressamento subdolo della dissoluzione: 

Oggi i'uomo grigio [il sistema nervoso periferico] e in pena. II Gran Simpatico e in pena. 
[. . .] Si sente morire, come tu dici. E stato il padrone del mondo ma adesso e declassato e 
perde importanza. Sta uscendo dalla scena, almeno rispetto al cervello. II cervello riceve 
sempre meno i suoi invii e soffre anche lui a modo suo: non domina, non trasforma, non 
esprime piu nulla. [. . .] Che cosa vuoi rispondere? Che cosa vuoi ascoltare? Come 

(il cui massimo grado e difatti I'errore catastrofico letale — la morte" (Regard 27-28; la 
traduzione e personale). Si confront!, sullo stesso argomento, Lewicki: "[Entropy] in 
terms other than strictly physical, is defined as 'the ultimate state reached in the 
degradation of the matter and energy of the universe: state of inert uniformity of 
component elements: absence of form, pattern, hierarchy, or differentiation, [. . .]' the 
irreversible tendency of a system including the universe, toward increasing disorder and 
inertness; also the final state predictable from this tendency" (71). 

^ Ci si riferisce alia postuma La vision du passe (1957). Pierre Teilhard de Chardin 
(Alvernia, 1881, New York, 1955), controversa figura di gesuita, teologo dissidente, 
scienziato, filosofo, estese la sua riflessione scientifica all'area cosmologica dando vita 
ad un'originale "teoria evoluzionistica" dell'universo da lui concepita come tendenza 
della materia originaria (che contiene in se la pre-vita ed e gia cosciente del suo principio 
organizzativo) verso lo spirito. 

•° E a partire dal 1947, anno della "straordinaria primavera [. . .] dei mughetti" (Bettiza 
LXVl), trascorsa in compagnia della futura moglie Mirny, che Piovene risiede a 
intermittenze a Parigi, come in una patria culturale d'elezione, fino al 1958. LI stringera 
legami profondi d'amicizia con Camus e Mauriac e 11 probabilmente subira 
r"attrazione"/"repulsione" (Bettiza XXXIX) per le teorie del nouveau roman propugnate 
da Alain Robbe-Grillet (delle quali, con la tendenza all'ossimoro a lui consueta, Piovene 
sosterra, nel 1965, sia I'insostenibilita che I'utilita parziale, "come richiamo a una certa 
durezza, secchezza del rappresentare, a una certa atmosfera poco conciliativa che, non 
respingendo I'umano. ne rifiuta la retorica" (Bettiza XL). Due sono i soggiomi americani 
di Piovene. II primo ha luogo sul finire dell'estate 1950 e dura quindici mesi; frutto di 
tale permanenza sono una serie di articoli giornalistici organizzati in seguito nel volume 
De America (1953). II secondo avviene dopo piu di una decade e da vita a tre articoli dal 
titolo unico: Ritorno in America undid anni dopo. - 

332 Olimpia Pelosi 

rispondere agli spasimi del Gran Simpatico furente perche sta morendo? E domani non ci 
sara piu niente. 

{Le stellefredde 626-27) 

L'amara consapevolezza di appartenere a un mondo e ad un "codice 
culturale" (Chardin 13) sugli orli della fine, dove il corpo umano, divenuto un 
sistema chiuso e attaccato, in maniera lenta ma irreparabile dalla mancanza 
d'informazione daU'estemo e dall'incapacita di elaborare i dati all'interno," 
inquadra Le stellefredde in un contesto assai piu vasto e magmatico rispetto alia 
produzione narrativa italiana di quegli anni e lo collega idealmente alia frangia 
della prosa americana che, pressappoco nello stesso periodo storico, s'era 
appropriata del concetto scientifico di entropia e lo aveva, con un "transfert 
metaforico", (Duperray 7) applicato alia letteratura. La percezione dissacratrice 
di Piovene collima, per molti versi, con la Weltanschauung di un autore 
americano assai noto e discusso, Thomas Pynchon, da molti considerato come il 
padre del romanzo entropico statunitense. Attento agli innumerevoli fermenti che 
da svariate decadi si agitavano nella cultura nordamericana, gia satura di 
naturalismo e irresistibilmente attratta dalle novita scientifiche,'^ Pynchon 

" Nella teoria deirinformazione (che rientra nel novero delle scienze matematiche ed e 
devoluta a chiarire la natura e I'lnterrelazione dell'informazione e della comunicazione) 
I'espressione matematica per i contenuti dell'informazione appare molto simile alia 
formula dell'entropia in termodinamica. Piii copiosa e I'informazione, tanto minore sara 
la sua casualita, il suo livello di rumore; e quindi tanto minore risultera I'entropia. Nella 
teoria dell'informazione, quindi, I'entropia e costituita dallo scarso indice di 
informazione contenuta da un segnale. 

'2 "The notion of entropy has permeated American fiction to a very high degree. [. . 
.]Some explanation [. . .] can help us understand the role of entropic imagery in the 
course of American fiction. Probably the most "literary" explanation is connected with 
the duration and influence of another American literary phenomenon, naturalism. While 
it was never the only mode of expression, [. . .] naturalism can easily be found in almost 
all American fiction written through the 1940s, which is not the case anywhere else. This 
long-lasting fascination [. . .] made American writers more receptive to notions related to 
natural science [. . .]. Another important factor that helped elevate entropy to its 
dominant position in the American consciousness and in American literature in the 
second half of the century was a general knowledge of and fascination with, science, 
markedly higher than in Europe. [. . .] The publication of Norbert Wiener's The Human 
Use of Human Beings also contributed to this general awareness of scientific 
achievements. The book, which laid down the foundations of cybernetics, appeared in 
1950, and while its treatment of entropy was rather limited, the second edition of 1954 
provides probably the best introduction to the general implications of the notion. The 
book has since become in Tanner's words, "something of a modern American classic and 
may well have been read by many of the [contemporary] writers" (Lewicki 75-76). 

Prodromi di una fine: Una rilettura de Le stelle fredde di Guido Piovene 333 

diviene il raccoglitore di queste istanze, rimaste fino ad allora in nuce^^ e le 
innalza, come postmodemo vessillo, nei suoi tre romanzi piu famosi.''' Ad una 
messa a flioco dell 'opera prima di Pynchon e de Le stelle fredde emerge, 
rinserrata nell'ordito di due moduli stilistici e d'intreccio alieni I'uno all'altro,'^ 
un'identica strategia retorica: pur essendo la componente di base che permea 
nelle loro piu intime fibre luoghi, oggetti, personaggi di ambedue i romanzi, il 
termine entropia non e mai usato; ma, a guisa di un deus absconditus e 
innominabile, viene veicolata da perifrasi-5e«/?a/5, disseminate e ripetitive. In 
Pynchon, cosi come in Piovene, tali circonlocuzioni acquistano un tono 
impersonale, oscillante tra I'aforistico e I'apodittico; la dove Piovene li 
semiocculta con uno stile che procede per cenni, nello scrittore statunitense si 
avverte una piu marcata tendenza a parafrasare i termini scientifici con maggior 

Decadence, decadence. What is it? Only a clear movement toward death or, preferably, 
non-humanity. As Fausto II and III, like their island, became more inanimate, they moved 
closer to the time when like any dead leaf or fragment of metal they'd be finally subject 
to the laws of physics. [. . .] This sort of arranging and rearranging was Decadence, but 
the exhaustion of all possible permutations and combinations was death. 

{V. 321,298) 

Se Pynchon distrugge I'impalcatura narrativa facendola erompere in una 
babelica confusione di frammenti, un accavallarsi di trame e di generi, e 
frequenti spaccature cronologiche,'^ in Piovene I'atto stesso dello "scriba" ormai 
degradato'^ si fa metafora triste dello scapegoat, attraverso 1 'ultima capacita 
espressiva che s'appresta a divenire silenzio:'^ 

'^ Si pensi, ad esempio, alia produzione di Nathanael West (1904-1940) e in particolare 

al suo The Day of the Locust {\939), patente esempio di romanzo pre-entropico. 

'^ I tre romanzi sono rispettivamente: V. (1963); The Crying of Lot 49 (1966); Gravity's 

Rainbow (1913). 

'^ La scrittura di Pynchon — franta, caotica, rutilante in un variopinto e sfaccettato 

tessuto verbale — e assai lontana dalla levigatezza del vicentino che si muove ancora 

nell'alveo classico-illuministico e prende a volte la veste aristocratica di un ornatus 


'^ Si ricordi che la prima formazione universitaria di Pynchon reca un'impronta 

scientifica. S'iscrive, inizialmente alia facolta di "Engineering Physics" dell'Universita di 

Cornell, per poi passare al dipartimento di Inglese; inoltre tra il 1960 e il 1962 lavora 

come "engineering aide" presso la compagnia Boeing di Seattle. 

'^ "Pynchon fiirther maintains ambiguity with low puns, parodies, allegory, poetry, and 

even his use of punctuation; with multiple overlapping plots and chance 

interconnections; and with gross disruptions of chronology, all of which keep his readers 

unsure about what is real and what is not, what is truth and what is not" (Chambers 13). 

'^ "E lo scriba chiamato artista, ieri chiamato a esprimere tutto I'umano, non doveva ora 

ucciderlo per coscienza della verita? I personaggi-aborti non erano un canale [. . .] per 

334 Olimpia Pelosi 

II luogo era come una pagina che avrei dovuto riempire di parole scritte e che mi incuteva 
spavento. Li avrei dovuto agire, li compiere un lavoro senz'atti ne strumenti la cui idea 
mi rimaneva indistinta. Ne vedevo alcuni passaggi, senza conclusione, slegati, come tratti 
di un film del quale s' ignora la trama. [. . .] Se avessi incontrato qualche ricordo? 
Dovevo farlo morire come ricordo e trasformarlo in altro, una spoglia nella natura, un 
simulacro inerte. 

{Le stelle fredde 665) 

Da sempre refrattario aH'influenza del realismo corale del grande romanzo 
ottocentesco e conscio del "decesso, cioe deH'Inarrestabile esaurimento creativo 
rappresentato dal corpo dilaniato [delT] opera d'arte novecentesca", Piovene 
scamifica, fino a renderlo essenziale, il corpus della fabulazione e confina 11 suo 
"antipersonaggio" in uno spazio ristretto; lo fa vivere "di una vita ultima, gia 
prossima all'aldila," che comincia "quando" di solito "i personaggi di romanzo 
smettono di raccontarsi considerando I'azione chiusa alle loro spalle" (Bettiza 
XXIV). Voleva il vicentino 'uccidere' il genere, come gia neli'immediato 
dopoguerra Elsa Morante s'era provata a fare?-*^ La posizione di Piovene si 
rivela, anche in questo caso, meno recisa nel momento stesso in cui, attirato 
dall'orlo del precipizio, sta per cadervi, egli si ritrae,^' offrendo alia sua creatura 

cui si palesava la fase iniziale e piu ingrata di una morte-rinascita, della quale anche lui 
era pregno"?( Verita e menzogna 85). 

'^ "La narrativa del Novecento, specie nella sua forma piu aperta e ambiziosa, quella del 
romanzo, solcata dalla scissione della persona e dalla disintegrazione dei linguaggi, 
aspira anch'essa in molti modi a porsi come 'ultima:' sono numerose le opere che si 
presentano sulla scena pubblica come a voler chiudere, riassumere. abolire in se stesse la 
tradizione del romanzo. [. . .] Tra avanguardia e tradizione, [. . .] le grandi narrazioni del 
nostro secolo tendono a manifestarsi come I'ultima prova prima della fine della narrativa: 
e sono travagliate dall'ambizione tragica di chiudere i conti, di raccogliere tutto in 
quell'ultima prova, sia che si aspiri a un'impossibile sintesi del passato esaurito, sia che 
si miri a una sua risolutiva disintegrazione" (Ferroni 83). 

-° "Con [Menzogna e sortilegio, 1948] la Morante cercava i'evocazione magica, 
stregonesca, dell'idea, dell'archetipo del Romanzo' sentito come 'una forma artistica 
gloriosamente inattuale:' esso era per lei Tincontro di un'urgenza morale inderogabile e 
drammatica .[...] Con un'ambizione estrema e suprema: quella di resuscitare, nella sua 
pienezza luminosa. una forma-romanzo che stava per essere sepolta [. . .] nelle necropoli 
della tradizione letteraria." Proprio a proposito di Menzogna e sortilegio la scrittrice 
dichiaro di aver voluto fare, rispetto al "genere" del romanzo, "quello che per i poemi 
cavallereschi ha fatto Ariosto: scrivere I'ultimo e uccidere il genere. lo volevo scrivere 
I'ultimo romanzo possibile, I'ultimo romanzo della terra, e, naturalmente, anche il mio 
ultimo romanzo" (Ferroni 83-84). 

-' "Talvolta. scherzando, Piovene usava alludere ad una peculiare capacita dei veneti di 
"arrestarsi sull'orlo del precipizio." L'osservazione valeva anche per lui che di continuo 
travasava quella battuta di vita nell'opera, elevandola a una norma superiore di condotta 

Prodromi di una fine: Una hlettura de Le stelle fredde di Guido Piovene 335 

una scappatoia che possa garantime la sopravvivenza: "Una metamorfosi? Prima 
di ogni metamorfosi c'e un'agonia e una morte" (627). 

Alterata dagl spasimi del mutamento, libera da gravami di natura 
epistemologica, la scrittura de Le stelle fredde segue, nella sua seconda parte, i 
percorsi fortuiti delF'erranza, parla "una lingua diversa" [per] "ascoltatori 
diversi" (778), chiedendo "alia morte una forma di vita" (Catalan© 458). 
S'avverte, incalzante tra le pagine, la volonta di "epurare" il romanzo dalle 
scorie delle "civetterie psicologiche" (Catalan© 455) in cui I'autore s'era cosi 
lungamente indugiato. Ora egli vuole "giustiziare in maniera consapevole il suo 
vecchio mondo poetico" (Bettiza XXIII) per creare il vuoto che dovra ospitare 
nuove, possibili forme. ^^ Strumento prediletto per attuare codesXdi pars destruens 
e un gioco elegante d'ironia corrosiva, (da sempre a lui congeniale) ma che si fa 
qui parodico cachirmo degli archetipi letterari piu amati dall'adolescente e 
mature Piovene e suona come beffa irriverente dei nodi esistenziali piu dibattuti 
nel corso della sua esistenza. La prima vittima di questa furia dissacratoria e il 
Dostoevskij-personaggio de Le stelle fi-edde, spogliato impietosamente dei suoi 
attributi di genio e di credente, trasformato in un patetico rifiuto umano dalla 
mente in brandelli, inviato nei tristi tropici di un aldila da fantascienza distopica, 
dal quale toma ateo ed inebetito; per poi fuggire repentinamente dal romanzo 
cosi come v'era precipitosamente entrato.^^ Dotato di "straordinarie capacita 
mimetiche" che gli consentono di "riprodurre i connotati degli scrittori 
frequentati" (Catalano 448), Piovene s'intrica in un ibrido pastiche di stilemi 
trafugati;^'' e con la sua proposta di un aldila — "immondezzaio dove sono 

culturale e artistica. Un profondo istinto d'autoconservazione, forse d'origine castale, 

aristocratica, gl'imponeva un certo rigore incorruttibile proprio nei movimenti piu 

fantastic! e piu irrazionali deH'invenzione" (Bettiza XXXIII-IV). 

^■^ 'in quegli stessi anni di vorace autoepurazione culturale, Piovene s'era messo a parlare 

del romanzo totale, che descriveva come un'opera polifonica, una sorta di proliferazione 

spontanea dello spirito quasi contrapposta alia vita. Doveva essere impastata di 

frammenti misti di realta e di visionarieta, di pensiero e di sogno, di saggio, poesia, 

filosofia, memoria" (Bettiza XXIII). 

^^ "Questo e un libro pieno di esecuzioni, di giustizie sommarie, di vendette (anche lo 

stesso Dostoevski], grande amore antico di Piovene, e un giustiziato)" (Bettiza in 

Catalano 454). Si senta lo stesso Piovene: "Dostoevski] era stato lo scrittore che avevo 

amato di piu in vita mia, ma ormai da qualche tempo non ci pensavo piu e non ero 

disposto a sacrificargli ii sonno" {Le stelle fredde 722). 

^'* Si confronti I'ammissione-ossimoro dello stesso Piovene (riportata in Catalano 450) a 

proposito del suo debito con Voltaire: "Voltaire no, non sono affatto un voltairriano. Ma 

siccome Voltaire e un autore che io ho amato, evidentemente penso che nel dialogo tra 

Dostoevski] e il teologo [che con la sua intransigenza sara la causa della 'fuga' del 

personaggio] un po' di Voltaire ci sia, se non altro formalmente. E un ingrediente in un 


336 Olimpia Pelosi 

scaricati i corpi per finire di estinguersi" {Le stelle fredde 767)^^ — liquida con 
gioia feroce millenni di iconologia letteraria del sacro: dal biblico "giardino 
piantato ad oriente" ai "paradisi" di Dante e di Milton. ^^ 

Dalle macerie "fiimanti" (Bettiza XIX) del libro esploso, dove la funzione 
catartica della katdbasis ha consumato tutti i "residui del passato" {Le stelle 
fredde 675) demerge Pio-bambino di Piovene;^^ e anche la scrittura si libera 
dalle tensioni centripete che I'avevano irretita e diventa intensamente poetica e 

Niente poteva scavalcarmi, perche 11 mondo si presentava eterno, splendente e concluso. 
Se qualcos'altro vi doveva accadere, vi era gia dentro, solo arrivava da piu lontano, come 
la luce di quegli astri che non vediamo, perche sta ancora percorrendo lo spazio prima di 
giungere ai nostri occhi. II bambino era dentro i tempi, nel mio passato. 


Dalla catastrofe che tutto ha sommerso il bambino si e salvato perche spogliato 
della memoria individuale dell'aduho e immerso, oramai per sempre, 
nell'universo della casa-giardino, schedatore-custode del "repertorio di tutte le 
cose esistenti" (781), riappropriatosi della conoscenza attaverso il processo 
mentale basilare del "framing and naming" (Hoede 317). L'inventario minuzioso 
della realta, "chiave per dominare I'eterogeneita del mondo" (Cannon 102) e 
antesignano della enumerazione del Calvino di Palomar-^ e sembra, in un primo 

2^ L'immagine dell'oitre-mondo-pattumiera ricorda tanto I'allucinata atmosfera di The 
Crying of Lot 49: "Riding among an exhausted bus full of Negroes going on to graveyard 
shifts all over the city, she [Oedipa] saw scratched on the back of a seat, shining for her 
in the brilliant smoky interior, the post horn with the legend DEATH. But unlike 
WASTE, somebody had troubled to write in, in pencil: DON'T EVER ANTAGONIZE 
THE HORN" (121). Sorprendentemente contigue all'immagine di Piovene sono le 
riflessioni di Baudrillard (197-201). Non sembra inopportuno, nel caso della figurazione 
di Piovene, ipotizzare reminiscenze neognostiche che lo scrittore avrebbe potuto 
facilmente mutuare dalla cultura francese degli anni Cinquanta che ne era profondamente 

2^ "Mi sembra che ci sia anche nei confronti della tradizione letteraria, [. . .] filosofica, 
biblica, una vendetta totale con il recupero di qualcosa che non e detto in mode esplicito 
ma qua e la ^ accennato" (Bettiza in Catalano 454). 

^' "Questo compagno tanto giovane non apparteneva ad un mondo che avrebbe 
continuato dopo di me" {Le stelle fredde 802). 

^^ Si noti la quasi identica strategia schematico-paratattica dell'enumerazione nei due 
autori. "La scheda diceva: Poltrona al centro del salotto. Ha i braccioli divaricati come a 
forza di braccia per rendere piu ampi sedile e schienale (piatto, leggermente inclinato). 
Orlo di legno chiaro scannellato sotto il sedile e intorno alio schienale, come di materia 
elastica torta e stirata per seguire le curve. Stoffa rosa, con un grande strappo da cui esce 
I'imbottitura {Le stelle fredde 780). "La forma vera della citta e in questo sali e scendi di 
tetti, tegole vecchie e nuove, coppi ed embrici, comignoli esili o tarchiati, pergole di 

Prodromi di una fine: Una rilettura de Le stelle fredde di Guido Piovene 337 

tempo, ancora soggiacere al "demon de I'analogie" di surrealistica memoria 
(Nadja 126-28); ma, a mano a mano che ci si avvicina aW explicit esso assume i 
caratteri di una pristina complessita: 

Abbozzavo una scheda, e andavo a rifiniria in camera mia. [. . .] Non volevo aggiungere 
nulla all'oggetto che descrivevo; se mai [. . .] trasportarmi dalla sua parte. [. . .] Vivevo 
dentro un movimento di soli-lune-alberi-piogge-esseri vivi e morti-eventi vicini e iontani, 
— ma dalla loro parte; catalogavo tutto; ricuperavo tutto. Di qualunque cosa parlassi, 
della fessura di uno stipite, del riflesso su un vetro, parlavo sempre di me stesso, senza 
esserci ne nominarmi mai, perche ero dalla parte loro. [. . .] Quella era casa mia, ma 
anche una cosmonave partita per un viaggio senza fine e senza ritomo: e io, pensiero 
delle cose sopra se stesse, seconda faccia delle cose. 

{Le stelle fredde, 779, 782-83) 

Riconoscere attraverso la correlazione di somiglianza non basta piii al 
catalogatore: nello sforzo di entrare ne! "cuore delle cose" (777) e nascondervisi, 
egli elabora una strategia assai vicina alia nozione matematico-biologica 
dtWisomorfismo, che postula I'idea della similarita, dell'identita, tra due 
categorie eterogenee.^^ Molta critica ha insistito a suo tempo sul carattere 
"suicida" o quantomeno comodamente passivo e "reazionario" (Catalano 467) di 
questo "censimento" {Le stelle fredde 779),^° mentre esso e, al contrario, per 
ammissione dello stesso Piovene, "tentativo" di ex-sistere ^' in una dimensione 

cannucce e tettoie d'eternit ondulata [. . .]. Separati da golfi di vuoto irregolari e 
frastagliati, si fi-onteggiano terrazzi proletari con corde per i panni stesi e pomodori 
piantati in catini di zinco [. . .]" {Palomar 56). 

2^ Termine adottato in piii d'una disciplina. In chimica e in mineralogia definisce e 
accomuna composti diversi che hanno pero lo stesso pattern di struttura reticolare. In 
matematica e logica si chiama isomorfo it collegamento tra rapporti omogenei di due o 
piu termini. In linguistica I'isomorfismo e una corrispondenza parallela perfetta tra i due 
livelli della forma e del contenuto. In psicologia (e in particolare nella 
Gestaltpsychologie) il termine descrive la correlazione di forma e di struttura fra la 
percezione della coscienza e le zone di stimolazione cerebrate. 

^° "[Secondo Bettiza] nella foUia catalogatrice del