DANTE THE REVOLUTIONARY AND OTHERS VISIONARY WRITERS

Schermata 2015-03-05 alle 17.32.09

THE CONCEPT OF “NEW” IN ITALIAN LITERATURE. 

“In Italy, you can change the Constitution, the rest remains the same” the Italian journalist and intellectual Indro Montanelli once said.  Montanelli was a fine interpreter of Italian history and culture, capable of locating the vices and virtues of Italy’s people with acute foresight. If many accuse Italy of an aversion to change, it is impossible to deny that the first to make that accusation have always been Italian intellectuals and writers themselves. In any of these attacks, however, as is clear in Dante Alighieri’s invective against Italy in The Divine Comedy, it is easy to see a deep love for their country – Bel Pease (beautiful land) for many. A country that produced both Raffaellos and Berlusconis, and is still capable of creating great beauty.

 

 LA VITA NUOVA – Dante Alighieri – 1295. It is not perhaps one of the best-loved readings of young Italian students. The father of Italian language wrote one of the first works in Italian, rather than Latin, where poetry and prose are mixed to recall the story of his love for Beatrice. La Vita Nuova, or ‘the New Life’, is a love story made of glances and sighs, dreams and omens. New life is given to the poet by Beatrice, the bearer of love, and therefore of light. Forget Valentine’s Day, forget kisses, here we are talking about pure love, love and death – sadly Beatrice dies – of the highest perfection, and without even the slightest physical contact.

DECAMERON – Boccaccio – 1353. Chaucer, Shakespeare and Keats were all inspired by this novella collection, written by one of the great Tuscans. Boccaccio gave a new form and voice to the growing medieval merchant class. His collection is a classic and depicts – with wit and a cheeky humour – the whole of humanity with its vices and virtues. Decameron is considered, with no exaggeration, one of the foundations of European fiction. It was banned between 1497 and 1559 in Italy and, believe it or not, in the U.S. from 1926 to 1931. It is worth noting that not all of the stories are set in Italy, one also passes through London. Hello Europe!

 ZIBALDONE – Giacomo Leopardi – 1817-32. This ponderous tome consists of 4500 pages of thought about death, life, nature, suicide, art, literature, history and much more.  Leopardi is one of the lesser-known European greats, nominated by Schopenhauer as a “spiritual brother”. Okay, maybe it is not great reading for your holiday, but this little man, who died at 39 years – leaving a legacy of copious works- has a lot to say about Italy, but above all about the human condition.  Zibaldone is widely recognized as one of the foundational books of modern culture. It may then surprise you to learn that the first complete translation to English was only just published in 2013, after 7 years of work by some of the best Leopardi translators and scholars.

THE LEOPARD – Tomasi di Lampedusa – 1958. Some say that Sicily is the heart of Italy, for others it is an exception, given its history and features. However Sicily was forced to change significantly after Italy was unified, which is exactly when this book is set: in the 1860s. The main character, Don Fabrizio, is a Sicilian aristocrat observing how his class, along with his power, is declining. The Leopard is one of the best-selling Italian novels of 20th century, also made famous by Luchino Visconti’s sumptuous movie. It is a tale of decline and fall, and an evocation of a lost world. His progressive and pragmatic nephew, Tancredi, claims, “If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.” This is the powerful paradox at the centre of a timeless novel.

 SIX MEMOS FOR THE NEXT MILLENNIUM – Italo Calvino – 1988. Five lectures (there was supposed to be a sixth) written by the great storyteller and intellectual for Harvard. Unfortunately Calvino died before going to the United States, but our 21st century literary world is honoured to have this rigorous and dense work. These lectures trace the universal values of literature: lightness, quickness, exactitude, visibility and multiplicity. Calvino spoke about the great novels of the twentieth century as “an open encyclopaedia” and reflected that “today we can no longer think in terms of totality that is not potential, conjectural, and manifold”. Internet? Wikipedia? E-book? Calvino seemed to know the future.

NEW THING – Wu Ming 1 -2004. An English title for a novel set in New York City circa 1967 and written by Wu Ming 1, aka Roberto Bui, one of the Italian writing collective Wu Ming. The group, famous for its epic style, is not entirely anonymous but refuses to be photographed or filmed by media. They wish to remain real and avoid becoming a “character”. Of course, literature is made of characters, and New Thing is a choral novel composed of journalism, free verse and fiction.  Bui reconstructed the final days of the saxophonist John Coltrane through his free jazz. Interestingly, the author lived in London in the 90s and the previous name of the collective was Luther Blisset, the 1980s Watford and England football player.