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.

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