Thursday, August 20, 2009

From the long overdue (re)readings (II)

Fifty years ago Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa's novel The Leopard was first turned down by Elio Vittorini at Einaudi because he considered it nostalgic, accomodationist, pessimistic, but luckily for all (well, except maybe for Lampedusa himself, who died in the meantime) the following year Giorgio Bassani took the novel for Feltrinelli (it was published in 1958). In the novel, the aging Don Fabrizio ruminates over the multiple delusions of material and political change as Sicily is wrestled into a unified Italy. A good part of the drama of the story is due to Fabrizio's enactment, in several settings, of what Luigi Pirandello had called the "sentimento del contrario" (in Felicity Firth's apt phrase, "that ironic dual perspective") in his 1908 essay "L'umorismo." Although Pirandello wasn't talking about an approach to momentous historical events, the example of Don Fabrizio shows how principled equanimity works to preserve the social fabric, to cause the least disruption, while allowing for measured change - although Don Fabrizio thinks of it as more like a slow collapse. Referring to Pirandello's "sentimento del contrario," (usually translated as "the feeling for the opposite") Felicity Firth writes that Leonardo Sciascia remarked that it demonstrated Pirandello's Sicilian provenance, "deriving from the Arab inability to separate, as the Greeks do, the tragic from the comic" ('Pirandello,' in The Cambridge History of Italian Literature, Ed. Peter Brand and Lino Pertile, 1999: 481). The perception of a convergence, or discomfiting simultaneity of the tragic and the comic, might derive from an inability to separate the two, or it might be the essence of a more holistic worldview, to borrow from another vocabulary altogether. In "Averroës' Search," the story by Jorge Luis Borges, Averroës ends up his commentary on Aristotle's categories by writing that "Aristu [Aristotle] gives the name 'tragedy' to panegyrics and the name 'comedy' to satires and anathemas. There are many admirable tragedies and comedies in the Qur'ān and the mu'allaqat of the mosque" (The Aleph and Other Stories, trans. Andrew Hurley. Penguin, 2004: 77). Then Averroës feels "sleep coming upon him, [and] he felt a chill." He vanishes and the tale ends, except for the narrator's commentary about their mutual exclusion - on one side Averroës, "bounded within the circle of Islam," and on the other the narrator, whose yarn can no longer subsist on the shreds of rumor that he has.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

'I am all of yourselves'

Read the NYT review of the new biography of Clarice Lispector by Benjamin Moser here. Although the review's positive, it may wind up repelling potential readers of this great author because it emphasizes her extreme personality (and yet...this should draw readers to the biography...). To me, as a reader, at least of Cronicas, it's Lispector's open grappling with her own egoism & a kind of fatal egotism that makes those tales fascinating even when they may appear dull or droning on the surface. Lispector sometimes does this on purpose, and other times her despatches are haiku-like, perfectly compressed. She had a kind of static class consciousness, depicting herself, mannequin-like, as though fixed in social space, acting within a cubicle of possibility, returning on herself.

*Read the Fernanda Eberstadt review of Moser's bio here. From the NYT Book Review of 8.23.09, this piece should attract more readers to Lispector's writing, and to the biography.

From the long overdue (re)readings (I)

Death (or reference to death) makes men precious and pathetic; their ghostliness is touching; any act they perform may be their last; there is no face that is not on the verge of blurring and fading away like the faces in a dream. Everything in the world of mortals has the value of the irrecoverable and contingent. Among the Immortals, on the other hand, every act (every thought) is the echo of others that preceded it in the past, with no visible beginning, and the faithful presage of others that will repeat it in the future, ad vertiginem. There is nothing that is not as though lost between indefatigable mirrors. Nothing can occur but once, nothing is preciously in peril of being lost.

- Borges, ‘The Immortal,’ from The Aleph and Other Stories, trans. Andrew Hurley (15)

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Less is less

Chad Post writes that even though everyone's saying it's really really important indie/nonprofit/university presses are cutting back on translations this year and the big publishers are publishing fewer translations as well. Read about it here.