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47 posts categorized "Italy"

12 March 2019

Pirandello’s nose

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In Six Memos for the Next Millennium Italo Calvino explains the opposition between lightness and weight in literature, calling the first “a value rather than a defect”, as it is by mastering lightness that writers make their readers feel its counterpart. Calvino guides us through a literary journey from Ovid’s Metamorphoses to Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being to show that lightness is no less important than weight in order to strengthen the literary substance.

I thought it would be appropriate to apply the same formula in writing about Luigi Pirandello, a giant who left the deepest footprints in the soil of 20th century Italian literature, that is, by starting with the mention of his nose. He was only 19 when, in a brief letter to his parents dated 16 February 1886, he wrote:

…I went to San Lorenzo, and I enjoyed myself very much, but for the last 3 days I have been crying the consequences, well, my nose has been crying, my poor nose, or, better, my promontory…
… Do not worry about my health, it has fully recovered: do mourn my nose though – I beg you – my poor nose! According to the last examination, it measures 3 inches in height and 5 in length…

The letter included a drawing Pirandello made of his nose to evidence the measurements.

Pirandello's nose

 Pirandello’s drawing of his nose, reproduced in Carlo di Leo, Pirandello Pittore (Venice, 20112) YF.2012.a.29944

Later the same year, in a letter dated 30 April, following the death of his close friend Carmelo’s brother, Pirandello included another drawing, this time of himself blowing out a candle, as if capturing the moment before going to bed. Even though the nose is again the amusing focus, his self-portrait emanates a sense of sadness and loneliness

… Then, not sure by which thought, I felt the urge to write to Carmelo, but the letter written at that emotional moment is still on my table…
…I am already staying at aunt Sara’s, but not yet settled, as all my stuff is in the old place. Without books, without paper, without my bed, I feel half man and rather dull...

Pirandello's nose 2Self-portrait, reproduced in Pirandello Pittore

First published in 1907 in the literary journal Il Marzocco, then in 1925, giving the title to volume 8 of Prandello’s Novelle per un anno, the novella Dal naso al cielo (‘From the Nose to the Sky’), ends with a close up of Romualdo Reda’s nose – on its tip a very thin spider thread coming from the horse chestnuts’ branches under which the corpse was found. Earlier in the story, Reda’s sense of superiority, being a scientist, prevented him from entering into a debate over Professor Dionisio Vernoni’s belief in the occult and spiritualism as a way to explain some odd incidents in the old hotel where they were staying. Vernoni, irritated by such snobbery, “broke into a deep outburst against positive science, against certain so-called scientists who do not see a span beyond their noses (he repeated four or five times this phrase”.

Dal naso al cielo Frontispiece of Luigi Pirandello, Dal naso al cielo (Florence 1925) 12470.s.16.

The oscillating perspective of amusement and anguish, laughter and fear, which characterizes Pirandello’s work, is finely explained in his essay On Humor, published in 1908:

The ordinary artist pays attention to only the body; the humorist pays attention to both, and sometimes more to the shadow than the body: he notices the tricks of the shadow, the way it sometimes grows longer, sometimes short and squat, almost as if to mimic the body, which meanwhile it is indifferent to it and does not pay attention to it.

In 1909, soon after publishing On Humor, Pirandello began working on Uno, nessuno e centomila (‘One, No One and One Hundred Thousand’), but it was not until 1925 that it first appeared in the journal Sapientia, and it was finally published as a book in 1926. The first chapter opens with the main character, Vitangelo, looking at his nose in the mirror:

I was twenty-eight years old; and up to now, I had always looked upon my nose as being, if not altogether handsome, at least a very respectable sort of nose…

Vitangelo examines his nose after his wife observes that its “right side is a little lower than the other”. He is shocked to realize that he had never noticed. After he asks for confirmation from a friend, who also sees that Vitangelo’s nose hangs lower on the right, but who in turn, does not see in his own face what Vitangelo sees, the story unfolds “In the pursuit of the stranger”:

Was it really my own, that image glimpsed in a flash? Am I really like that, from the outside, when – all the while living – I don’t think of myself?
… I am the stranger whom I am unable to see living except like that, in a thoughtless second. A stranger whom others alone can see and know, not I.

Uno nessuno

 Title-page and opening of the first chapter of Luigi Pirandello, Uno, Nessuno E Centomila (Florence, 1926) 12470.s.33.

Mia moglie e il mio naso

The conclusion of Uno, nessuno e centomila – or shall we say, the lack of conclusion, since the last chapter is titled Non conclude – is that it is not possible to see the world as it is, that it is not possible to know oneself. As Vitangelo says to Anna Rosa when he catches her in front of the mirror trying a pitiful smile:

… You will never know yourself as the others see you. What’s the point then of knowing yourself just for yourself? You might end up not comprehending any longer why you should have the image that your mirror reflects back to you.

This non-conclusion reminds of a concept on which, few decades later, some postmodern thinkers based their view of society –Jean Baudrillard for example:

So the secret of philosophy may not be to know oneself, or to know where one is going, but rather to go where the other is going… because in any case you will never know who you are. Today, when people have lost their shadow, it is utmost important to be followed by someone…

Pirandello’s pursuit of the stranger in oneself takes a different connotation in Baudrillard and ends up turning into a reverse obsession: I am followed, therefore I must exist. There is only so much lightness Pirandello can be approached with: Uno, nessuno e centomila has left an important memo for the philosophers of this millennium:

Life is in continuous movement and can never see itself… When one is alive, one is alive and does not see oneself. To know oneself is to die.

Giuseppe Alizzi, Curator Romance Studies

References/ Further reading

Italo Calvino, Six Memos for the next millennium, translated by Geoffrey Brock. (London, 2016) ELD.DS.191453

Luigi Pirandello, Lettere giovanili da Palermo e da Roma 1886-1889 (Rome, 1993) YA.1994.b.9424

Luigi Pirandello, On Humor, translated by Antonio Illiano and Daniel P. Testa (New York, 1974) Ac.2685.k/8.(58.)

Jean Baudrillard, The Transparency of Evil – essays on extreme Phenomena (London, 1993) YK.1994.a.448

01 February 2019

Unlocking Access to Ancient Science in Renaissance Italy: the vernacularization of Pliny’s ‘Historia Naturalis’

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In most cases, literary works which have marked a turning point, a watershed moment in the history of literature, are new and original creations. However, in some cases, a similar literary outburst has come from a translation rather than the original text. It will suffice to recall the Latin version of the Bible by St. Jerome at the end of the 4th century, the so-called Vulgate and the enormous historical and cultural impact it had on Western Europe at the time.

A less known case, but no less historically important in its impact on the formation of the European Renaissance culture, is the vulgarization of the Naturalis Historia by Pliny the Elder published in 1476 by the Florentine humanist Cristoforo Landino, on which new light has been shed from the recent study of the Italian philologist Antonino Antonazzo in his Il volgarizzamento pliniano di Cristoforo Landino. (Messina, 2018; YF.2019.b.21).

Landino study

In a period which witnessed the rediscovery of classical literature, through the revival of Greek and Latin authors fallen into oblivion during the Middle Ages, the translation of Pliny’s text truly marked an epochal event: Landino’s great historical merit was to make a grandiose 37-volume encyclopedia of Greek-Roman antiquity accessible in the vernacular for the first time: the editio princeps of the translation is a monumental 830-page folio volume.

The British Library holds two copies at shelfmarks IC.19693 and C.3.d.2.

Pliny IC.19693 Dedication Translator’s dedication (f.2) from Historia naturale di C. Plinio Secondo tradocta di lingua Latina in Fiorentina per Christophoro Landino (Venice, 1476) Above: IC.19693 ; below: C.3.d2.

Pliny C.3.d.2

Landino’s laborious work filled an important cultural void that could no longer wait. Many readers from different backgrounds benefited from it: poets, such as Luigi Pulci; artists – to name one, Leonardo da Vinci; and even explorers such as Christopher Columbus. The aftermath was so great throughout Europe, that Landino’s translation remained the only vernacular translation of Naturalis historia for almost a century: the first French translation was published in 1562 (Antoine du Pinet), the English was published in 1601 (Philemon Holland ), the Spanish in 1624 (Gerónimo de Huerta) and a complete German translation as late as 1764 (Johann Daniel Denso).

Pliny IC.19693 Preface
Opening of Pliny’s preface from Historia Naturale (IC.19693)

The Florentine vernacularization became a key work because it placed itself at the confluence of many questions until then unanswered: was it acceptable to translate classical literary works into the very vernacular used in everyday life by common people? How to translate a peculiar lexicon of scientific disciplines, such as astronomy, meteorology, zoology, botany, medicine and mineralogy?

And, among the many vernaculars spoken in the regions of Italy, which one was the most suitable? The debate around this last question was in fact now centuries old: it had been a burning one since the origins of Italian literature in the 13th century and had left many conflicting theories; Dante Alighieri in his unfinished De Vulgari Eloquentia (1303-04) reviewed 14 Italian vernaculars in order to identify the most ‘illustrious’ and suitable for poetry, and ended up discarding them all, including the Florentine itself – which is the reason why scholars believe he interrupted the work, the theory conflicting with the practice, as the Divine Comedy would demonstrate.

Cristoforo_Landino_-_Wikimedia

 Portrait of Cristoforo Landino from a fresco by Domenico Ghirlandaio in the Tornabuoni Chapel, Santa Maria Novella, Florence, ca 1486-90. (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

Landino’s translation answered all these questions, and even though it did not please some humanists, it was received with enthusiasm by the general public. A significant example of this is its success with a female public, as we read in Giovanni Sabadino degli Arienti’s description of his wife with her books in Gynevera de le clare donne.

...havea piacere assai in audire legere li versi de Virgilio; legea lei voluntiera Plinio de naturali hystoria, posto in materna lingua, et de li libri spirituali et sancti.
[...she very much enjoyed having Virgil’s verses read to her; she gladly read Pliny’s Naturalis Historia in her mother tongue, and holy and spiritual books...]

The relevance of this testimony is reinforced by the reaction of Francesco Florido Sabino, who, 60 years later, in his Apologia in Marci Actii Plauti aliorumque poetarum et linguae Latinae calumniatores, cursed Landino for allowing not just anybody access to Pliny’s work, but even to women. (See Antonazzo’s study p. 50)

Landino’s intention to reach a wide audicence is expressed in his dedicatory letter to the King of Naples Ferrante d’Aragona, which begins with these words:

Essendo gli animi nostri per loro natura di tanta celerità quanta né mia né altra lingua exprimere non poterebbe, né essendo altro cibo che gli pasca et nutrisca se non la cognitione, chi non vede che nessuna più grata chosa può alloro adivenire che havere vera scientia di tutte le cose?
[Our soul in its nature being as rapid as neither mine nor any other language can express, and there being no other nourishment that satisfies and feeds as cognition does, how can anyone not see that there is nothing that makes it happier than the true knowledge of all things?]

Giuseppe Alizzi, Curator Romance Collections

References

Dante Alighieri, De vulgari eloquentia, a cura di Enrico Fenzi, con la collaborazione di Luciano Formisano e Francesco Montuori (Rome, 2012) YF.2013.a.25815

Sabadino Degli Arienti, Gynevera de le clare donne (Bologna, 1888). 12226.de.8.(1.)

Francesco Florido Sabino, In M. Actii Plauti aliorumque Scriptorum calumniatores apologia ... (Basle, 1540) C.81.i.9.

04 December 2018

(Not?) Petrarch’s Cat

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The last home of the poet and humanist Petrarch (Francesco Petrarca, 1304-1374) in the small Northern Italian town of Arquà became a place of literary pilgrimage and tourism early on. Successive 16th-century owners of the house emphasized its connection with Petrarch, among other things by commissioning frescoes depicting his life and works, and welcomed travellers to see the home of the great man.

Travel accounts from the late 16th century onwards describe the house and its various artefacts associated with the poet. Alongside the things one would expect to see in such a place – Petrarch’s chair, the cupboard where he kept his books and so on – the accounts also mention the rather ghoulish exhibit of a mummified cat. In a mock epitaph inscribed beneath its body, the cat claims to have been dearer to the poet even than his beloved muse Laura because, while Laura inspired Petrarch’s verses, the cat ensured their survival by protecting the manuscripts from the gnawing teeth of mice.

Weston  Petrarchiana 1048.k.17.(2.)
The mummified cat, with epitaph, from Stephen Weston, Petrarchiana, or, Additions to the Visit to Vaucluse... 2nd edition (London, 1822) 1048.k.17.(2.)

The French traveller Nicholas Audebert (whose account is preserved in the British Library, Lansdowne MS 720) visited the house in 1575 and was told that the cat had belonged to Petrarch and used to accompany him everywhere. Accounts by Fynes Moryson and Giacomo Filippo Tomasini, published in 1617 and 1623 respectively, also mentioned the feline monument, and in 1635 the first picture of it appeared in a work by Giacomo Filippo Tomasini, Petrarcha Redivivus. Here the poor creature is exposed on a plinth, rather than in a niche with the epitaph beneath as it is more usually shown and described, although Tomasini does reproduce the text of the epitaph.

Tomasini 137.d.18
The cat as reproduced in Giacomo Filippo Tomasini, Petrarcha Redivivus, integram poetæ celeberrimi vitam iconibus ære celatis exhibens. Accessit nobilissimae foeminae, Lauræ brevis historia. (Padua, 1635) 137.d.18

The cat continued to capture the attention of visitors. Byron – himself a keeper of many pets – was apparently delighted by it and the German poet August von Platen dedicated an epigram to it. The monument still features in modern tourists’ TripAdvisor reviews. The story of Petrarch’s beloved pet, the faithful companion and comfort of his last years has appealed to generations of cat-lovers. 

Zimmermann 8409.bbb.8
Petrarch and his cat, engraving by Jacob Wilhalm Mechau from a drawing by Christian Gottlieb Geyser, in vol. 4 of Johann Georg Zimmermann, Ueber die Einsamkeit (Leipzig, 1785)  8409.bbb.8.

However, there is one drawback to this touching tale: we have no evidence that Petrarch ever owned a cat. Although he makes some mention of his dogs in his letters, and a 2-line epitaph to a little dog called Zabot is attributed to him, there is nothing about any cat. This is surely particularly surprising if he owned a cat so dear to him that he chose to commemorate it after its death. Also, both the mummified cat and the inscription are thought to date from the 16th century, long after Petrarch’s death. So how did the association come about?

The most likely theory is that it originates from early depictions of Petrarch in illuminated manuscripts where he is sometimes shown with a small dog (a reference to little Zabot?) and occasionally with a cat. In one manuscript of ca 1420, held in the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana in Florence (MS Strozzi 172), a cat is even depicted chasing a mouse in Petrarch’s study, the very job described in the epitaph of his supposed pet. But rather than a realistic depiction of Petrarch’s domestic life and pets, it is more likely that both animals are, in the words of J.B. Trapp, “in some sense a replacement for the lion that legend gave to St Jerome for a companion in his studies.”

St Jerome Add MS 15281 f3v
St Jerome and his lion, from the Prayer book of Sigismund of Poland, 1524, Add. 15281 f.3v

Nonetheless, it is credible that familiarity with such images might have inspired the 16th-century owners of Petrarch’s house to invent the story of the poet’s beloved cat. It has even been suggested by the author of the Shaping Sense blog that the monument was set up as a kind of mockery of the cult of literary pilgrimage and literary relics that its creators were simultaneously trying to encourage.

Whatever the truth, the cat’s story continues to flourish, especially in the online world. An internet search brings up both sober discussions of the story’s reliability and fanciful tales about the mutual affection of the animal and its master. Various German websites (such as this one) even attribute to Petrarch the words, “Humanity can be roughly divided into two groups: cat lovers and those who are disadvantaged in life”, and you can buy a variety of tote bags, fridge magnets and the like bearing this decidedly un-Petrarchan saying with its undoubtedly false attribution.

Rime vol 2 638.i.7Caught between his two loves? Petrarch gazes at a picture of Laura while his cat looks on. Engraving by Bartolomeo Crivellari from a drawing by Gaetani Gherardo Zompini, from vol. 2 of Le Rime del Petrarca brevemente esposte per L. Castelvetro ... (Venice, 1756) 638.i.7.

Whether or not Petrarch truly owned and loved a cat, we can safely say he would have been astounded by the physical and literary afterlife of such a creature.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

References/further reading:

Fynes Moryson, An Itenerary written by Fynes Moryson, Gent … Containing his ten yeeres travell through the twelve dominions of Germany, Bohmerland, Sweitzerland, Netherland, Denmarke, Poland, Italy, Turky, France, England, Scotland, and Ireland (London, 1617) 214.e.16.

Niccolò Franco and Ercole Giovannini, Li duo Petrarchisti dialoghi di Nicolo Franco, e di Ercole Giovannini … (Venice, 1623) 1161.d.10.

J. B. Trapp, ‘Petrarchan Places. An Essay in the Iconography of Commemoration’ Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol. 69 (2006), pp. 1-50. Ac.4569/7.

Achim Aurnhammer, Petrarcas Katze: die Geschichte des kätzischen Petrarkismus (Heidelberg, 2005). YF.2007.a.9350

The free British Library exhibition Cats on the Page continues until 17 March 2019, with a series of accompanying events for all ages and interests.

05 October 2018

‘The Mafia doesn’t exist’

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Of the over 1000 books on the subject of the mafia held at the British Library, about 700 were published after 1992, when the murders of Judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino made the whole world talk about the Sicilian mafia. Before then, in the 1980s, it was not uncommon to hear that ‘the mafia didn’t exist’, or that it only existed in Palermo, but not in the rest of Sicily. Denouncing the businesses of Sicilian Cosa Nostra, and its ties with the Italian government, had a high price to pay for too many intellectuals. Just to mention two, in 1978, Giuseppe ‘Peppino’ Impastato, and, in 1984, Giuseppe ‘Pippo’ Fava, paid for their work with their lives. Peppino Impastato was a political activist, who didn’t leave many writings behind. The other Giuseppe, on the other hand, was a celebrated playwright, a writer and an investigative journalist, so we have collected most of his works since the 1970s and have recently acquired the full run of the magazine that he edited until his murder, and which was the reason for his murder, I Siciliani.

Giuseppe_Fava

 Giuseppe ‘Pippo’ Fava (Picture from Wikimedia Commons)

Coming from rural Sicily, Pippo Fava moved to the town of Catania to study law, and then became a professional journalist in 1952. He wrote for several newspapers and magazines, also establishing himself as author for theatre and cinema (he co-wrote the movie Palermo or Wolfsburg, which won the Golden Bear at the 1980 Berlinale). Given the task of editing Il Giornale del Sud, Fava recruited a team of young journalists and photographers to help him carry out some serious investigative journalism. When he was fired by the owners, who would have preferred him to avoid writing so much about the mafia, he used his charisma and influence to persuade these young journalists to join him in creating a fully independent and self-funded monthly magazine, a loud voice for the anti-mafia movement in Sicily, I Siciliani.

Siciliani covers Issues of I Siciliani 

Poor in budget but rich in ideas, Fava started with a very clear agenda of the topics to tackle. He wanted people to see Sicily as it really was. Showing the bad was a moral and ethical duty. Murders were photographed and reported without filters, corruptors were named and shamed. The damage to the environment caused by industrial and building speculation was clear to him, and he was not ashamed to talk about it. His stories are still relevant. His most important contribution was identifying the links between national politicians and the mafia, and stating that the mafia was effectively ruling the country; this was something Pippo Fava was saying out loud at times when nobody was ready to hear it (Pippo Fava’s last interview with Enzo Biagi, December 1983). But I Siciliani also portrays normal life, showing both the rich and profound culture of the island and as the urban lifestyle that must have surprised those who thought of Sicily as the land of The Godfather.

In the first issue, dated January 1983, in his first editorial, Fava was the first to talk about the Catanian mafia, whose existence everyone else was trying to deny. He names the powerful entrepreneurs behind it; he shows their faces, as well as that of Bernardo ‘Nitto’ Santapaola, the local mafia boss.

I siciliani1Giuseppe Fava, ‘I Quattro Cavalieri dell’Apocalisse Mafiosa’ (above) and Bernardo Santapaola (below), from I Siciliani, Issue 1, January 1983.

Santapaola

It wouldn’t be long. One year later, that same man ordered his murder. Pippo Fava was killed on 5 January 1984, on his way to pick up his grandniece from a theatre rehearsal. I Siciliani tried to survive for a few more years, penniless, mostly relying on subscriptions and a few brave advertisers who didn’t fear the isolation of the magazine.

If you read it now, I Siciliani is still as shocking, powerful and compelling as it was 30 years ago. The issues are still there. The love for the place is still there. Nothing ever changes in Sicily: If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change. (Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, Il Gattopardo)

Valentina Mirabella, Curator of Romance Collections (Italian) @miravale

References/Further Reading

I Siciliani (Sant’Agata li Li Battiati, 1982-[1985]) ZF.9.b.2335

Giuseppe Fava, Gente di rispetto (Milan, 1975) X.909/34407

Giuseppe Fava, Passione di Michele (Bologna, 1980) X.950/20292

Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, The Leopard (London, 1974) X.908/28903

24 September 2018

War-Painting: the End of Futurism

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We have recently added a new book to our Italian Futurist collection. Guerrapittura is an important example of the synergy of text and graphics in Italian Futurist books. Some other acquisitions were made for the exhibition Breaking the Rules. The Printed Face of the European Avant Garde 1900-1937 in 2008, and our collections are constantly growing.

Guerrapittura CoverCarlo Carra’, Guerrapittura: futurismo politico, dinamismo plastico, 12 disegni guerreschi, parole in libertà (Milan, 1915) RF.2018.b.187

The Italian painter Carlo Carra’ wrote Guerrapittura (‘War-painting’) in 1915, when the First World War had started but Italy had not yet entered the conflict. His words are an important contribution to the interventismo (interventionism), where artists and intellectuals played a huge role in lobbying the public opinion to enter the War.

Guerrapittura is Carra’s last contribution to the Futurist movement. From 1917 he joined the painter Giorgio De Chirico on his conception of pittura metafisica. His patriotic views are expressed quite strongly in Guerrapittura, the war being an ‘incentive to creativity’ and a way to celebrate the ‘Italian creative genius’. The War is seen as the climax of the futurist way of thinking, an encounter between art and life, the last step towards an industrialized world. Literature and painting meet in the book, which features the iconic leaflet ‘Sintesi futurista della guerra’, authored on 29 September 1914 by Carra’, together with Marinetti, Boccioni, Piatti and Russolo. The ‘words in freedom’ in the leaflet celebrate FUTURISM vs TRADITIONALISM. Futurism is represented by Russia, France, Belgium, Serbia, Italy, Japan, Montenegro, Great Britain, against the traditionalism of Germany and Austria.

Sintesi futurista della Guerra‘Sintesi futurista della Guerra’, from Guerrapittura, p. 109

The violence and ugliness of war are ignored in his words and in those of his fellow futurists, like in the magazine Lacerba, whose intolerant and anti-democratic views mirror those of Carra’ in Guerrapittura. Lacerba’s short life was linked to the interventismo from 1913-1915 and its reason to exist ceased when the war started. The last issue of Lacerba, dated 1915, celebrates Italy entering the War.

LacerbacoverLacerba, 15 May 1915, from the facsimile reprint Lacerba. Firenze, 1913-1915 (Rome, 1970). L.45/2625

The acquisition of Guerrapittura has been made possible by the Mirella De Sanctis special fund for the purchase of Italian books.

Valentina Mirabella, Curator, Romance Collections

Further reading

Breaking the Rules: the Printed Face of the European Avant Garde, 1900-1937 (London, 2007) YC.2008.b.251.

Mirella Bentivoglio ‘Innovative Artist’s Books of Italian Futurism’ in International Futurism in Arts and Literature, edited by Günter Berghaus (Berlin, 2000), pp. 473-486. YA.2002.a.8247.

Futurismo & Futurismi (Milan, 1986) YV.1986.b.694. [English edition (London, 1986) at YV.1987.b.2043.]

 

29 June 2018

Gӧrz, Gorizia, Gorica: digital scholarship brings a city’s history to life again

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How to turn 47,000 pages of old newspapers into meaningful information?

For a research group at the University of Bristol, the answer is: big computers and historical context.

Led by Nello Cristianini,  Professor of Artificial Intelligence, the group digitised 47,000 pages of two Italian-speaking local newspapers from the city of Gorizia, using the facilities of FindMyPast, based at British Library in Boston Spa. Then they used optical character recognition (OCR) software to extract digital text, and finally compared it with the digital text of three Slovenian newspapers from the same place and time, to provide context.

Gorizia Corriere Corriere de Gorizia, an Italian newspaper from the city.

Gorizia lies at the crossroads of the Latin, Germanic and Slavic-speaking worlds, and its population reflects this. Until 1918, it was known as Görz, and was part of the Habsburg Empire, though latterly coveted by the young Kingdom of Italy. These last years before World War One were particularly notable, as the political and ethnic tensions within the empire and over its borders played out in the city itself. The two main linguistic communities, Italian and Slovenian, published their own newspapers, and the latter have been digitised by the Slovenian Digital Library. But until the Bristol University group started work, the Italian ones were preserved on microform alone in the Biblioteca Statale Isontina,  which first collected the paper versions.

Gorizia postcard YF.2007.a.13615The Corso Giuseppe Verdi in Gorizia, early 20th-century postcard, reproduced in Srečko Gombač, Brata Edvard in Josip Rusjan iz Gorice: začetki motornega letenja med Slovenci (Ljubljana, 2004) YF.2007.a.13615

The team, including computer scientists and a historian, carried out statistical analysis on the newspapers, looking at the frequency of different words or phrases. This process revealed the individual stories of thousands of people, but also the collective trends of a population in the years leading up to the War and the final days of Empire. As the city lies in a quiet corner of central Europe, now divided between Italy and Slovenia, many of these stories and trends had been forgotten until now.

Gorizia Cathedral (JA) Gorizia cathedral today (Photograph: Janet Ashton)

Professor Cristianini says: “In the space of a few decades, the town embraced new ways to communicate, such as the cinema and the telephone, along with new modes of transportation, like the car, the airplane, the bicycle and the train. Far from being a backwater in a decaying empire, this was a city with an eye on the future and an interest in new ideas – including political ones. It was, however, also a time in which new tensions emerged along ethnic lines and a time of rapid change, with problems and anxieties that sound very familiar to the modern ear. It is incredibly fortunate that the collection of newspapers in the Biblioteca Isontina library survived so many threats. We get a glimpse of the last years of a world heading towards a new chapter in its history during a period that transformed it beyond recognition. We see new technologies, new ideas, new economic opportunities, new cultural challenges and problems.”

Among the patterns the team extracted are timelines that pinpoint such significant events as the arrival of Halley’s Comet, the visits of the Emperor Franz Joseph, or the devastating 1895 earthquake in Ljubljana (then Laibach, capital of the Habsburg county of Carniola). Fascinatingly, they found that the earthquake was more noted in the Slovenian-speaking community than the Italian, since Ljubljana was already predominantly Slovenian-speaking itself and had less significance to the Empire’s Italians as a regional centre.

Gorizia bridge The Solkan Bridge, carrying the railway over the Soča river at Gorizia – revolutionary in its day as the largest stone arch ever used for a railway bridge (Photograph: Janet Ashton)

Other ground-breaking events in the city at the time included the construction of the new Transalpina/Bohinj railway, which carried tourists from Vienna to Lake Bled and further, but was also to be used for more prosaic reasons. Then, most glamorous of all, two local brothers named Edvard and Josip Rusjan  were among the first aviators in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

  Gorizia Rusjans
Edvard and Josip Rusjan adjusting the propeller on their aeroplane. Reproduced in Srečko Gombač, Brata Edvard in Josip Rusjan iz Gorice.

The team’s findings also highlight how the war transformed the city and its surrounding county into something entirely different. During the war the front lines crossed through Gorizia itself and the urban population was largely relocated. In 1918, Italy annexed it, and twenty years of fascism and then another war followed. After 1947, the border between Italy and Yugoslavia ran right through the former county, partly separating the city centre from some of its neighbourhoods. Until Slovenia joined Schengen in 2007, this border had real impact, leading to the growth of a “replacement” city, Nova Gorica, on the Yugoslav/Slovenian side, while historic Gorizia became something of a backwater, isolated from its hinterland and feeling neglected by Rome.

Gorizia 1917 9084.aaa.10

Above: View of the Castle in Gorizia in 1917, showing First World War bomb damage, from Enrico Galante, Gorizia e i campi di battaglia dell'Isonzo et del Carso (Gorizia, [1929]) 9084.aaa.10. Below: Gorizia Castle today (Photograph Janet Ashton)

Gorizia Castle (JA)

The project, from scanning and indexing to in-depth analysis, combined methodologies from both library science and historical research, as well as employing mathematical expertise, and illustrates how digital humanities is bridging the traditional boundaries between disciplines. A full study of the project’s methods and its findings, “Large scale content analysis of historical newspapers in the town of Gorizia, 1873-1914”, by N. Cristianini et al., has recently been published in the journal Historical Methods.

Janet Ashton, WEL Cataloguing Team Manager

01 March 2018

The Battle of Valle Giulia 50 Years After - 1 March 1968

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50 years ago today a new era began in Italy. Students joined the global wave of dissent, protesting against the bourgeois value system, fighting for equality and civil rights, and requesting a modernisation of the education system in the country.
‘La contestazione’ started in Rome, on Friday 1 March 1968. The School of Architecture of the University of Rome, in Via di Valle Giulia, became the battlefield for the first violent encounter in Italy between the student movement and the police. 

1968_giacconeFausto Giaccone, Fight between police and students outside the School of Architecture at Valle Giulia. Rome, 1 March 1968. From ’68. Un anno di confine (Milano, 2008) LF.31.b.4963 

Some accounts of the participants have been recorded about that day, which was described as ‘a collective initiation’. 
In the words of Oreste Scalzone, a student at the time, who later became a politician:  

Freedom was the morning of Valle Giulia. They [the police officers] had seized the school of Architecture […]. The night before, discussing the protest at a university committee meeting, we decided that we would go to get it back. We woke up early and we went [… ]. We arrived by the green esplanade and started throwing eggs at the police, who seemed all wrapped up, unprepared, because they were used to repressing protests without expecting any form of resistance. When they charged, we didn’t run away. We withdrew and then counterattacked [our] stones against [their] tear gas grenades […] (quoted by Nanni Balestrini in L’Orda d’Oro (Milan, 1997; YA.2001.a.31572); own translation). 

At the end of the battle, 148 police officers and 478 of about 1500 protesters were injured, 4 were arrested, and 228 reported to the police.

1971_lucasUliano Lucas, Piazzale Accursio, Milan, 1971.  From ’68. Un anno di confine (Milan, 2008) LF.31.b.4963

Among the students and the police officers involved, many then had careers in journalism (Giuliano Ferrara, Paolo Liguori, Ernesto Galli della Loggia), others in politics (Aldo Brandirali, and the above-mentioned Oreste Scalzone), others in the arts, like the actor Michele Placido, the architect Massimiliano Fuksas and the songwriter and director Paolo Pietrangeli, who wrote a song called ‘Valle Giulia’ to celebrate that, suddenly, on that day a new thing happened: ‘non siam scappati piu’ (‘we didn’t run away any more’). The song quickly became the iconic anthem of the protest: ‘No alla scuola dei padroni! Via il governo, dimissioni!’  (‘Down with the bosses’ schools, out with the government, resignation now!’).

Pier-paolo-pasoliniPier Paolo Pasolini on the set of The Gospel According to St. Matthew. Picture from Wikimedia Commons

Pier Paolo Pasolini  famously wrote about the event. Some verses of his poem ‘Il PCI ai Giovani’ (‘The Italian Communist Party to the Young People’), written in the aftermath of the Battle of Valle Giulia, have been quoted for decades to state that Pasolini was supporting the police:

Pasolini PCI ai giovani
Extract from Pier Paolo Pasolini, Il PCI ai Giovani, 1968Translation into English by Guido Monte  

But if one reads the full poem, it becomes clear that the Pasolini uses his irony to provoke the students, urging them to abandon their bourgeois rebellion, to take their fight under the wing of the Communist Party and closer to the workers because, in his idea, Communism was the only way to make a revolution happen. 

Valentina Mirabella, Curator of Romance Collections (Italian) 

References/Further Reading

Alessandro Portelli, The Battle of Valle Giulia. Oral History and the Art of Dialogue (Wisconsin, 1997) YC.1997.a.3597

Michele Brambilla, Dieci anni di illusioni. La storia del Sessantotto (Milan, 1994) YA.2001.a.34307

Wu Ming 1, The Police vs. Pasolini, Pasolini vs. The Police, translation from Italian by Ayan Meer 

14 February 2018

Rainbow sickness: Beauty and despair in Carlo Levi’s ‘Christ stopped at Eboli’

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Writer, poet, painter, doctor, banished to a small village in Lucania in 1935 for his anti-fascist activities, Carlo Levi (1902-1975) wrote about his experience as a political prisoner in the then remote and extremely poor south Italian towns Grassano and Aliano.

This work, Cristo si è fermato a Eboli (Christ Stopped at Eboli) – a combination of diary, novel, sociological study and political essay – was published in 1945 and translated into English by Frances Frenaye in 1948.

Carlo levi Map Map of Southern Italy, with Lucania in the centre, from Carlo Levi Christ stopped at Eboli ... Translated by Frances Frenaye. (London, 1948). 010151.k.6. 

As Levi explains from the very beginning, the title signifies the peasants’ sense of loss:

We are not Christian – they say. ‘Christ stopped short of here, Eboli’. ‘Christian’, in their way of speaking, means ‘human being’, and this almost proverbial phrase that I have so often heard them repeat may be no more than the expression of a hopeless feeling of inferiority. We are not Christians, we are not human beings…

In 1979, the book was adapted into a film featuring also some of the paintings Levi made during that time.

Carlo Levi Dipinti

Cover of Carlo Levi e la Lucania, dipinti del confino. (Matera, 1990) LB.31.b.5511

Christ Stopped at Eboli has the poetic narrative of a world seen by peasants – a world of superstitions, spells, where respect for the Madonna precedes religion, and the doctors from town are mistrusted. In describing how people lived Levi gives the paradoxical impression that he is the only free man in those villages. This marks a distance between him and that world, but at the same time reveals an empathic calm and love for it; as Italo Calvino says in a preface to the novel: ‘The love for things he talks about is a characteristic which we must bear in mind if we want to succeed at defining the singularity of Levi’s literary work’.

During the first days of my stay whenever I happened to meet … an old peasant who did not know me, he would stop the donkey to greet me and ask ...: ‘Who are you? Where are you going?’
‘Just for a walk: I am a political prisoner,’ I would answer. ‘An exile? (They always said exile instead of prisoner.) Too bad! Someone in Rome must have had it in for you.’ And he would say no more, but smile at me in a brotherly fashion as he prodded his mount into motion.
This passive brotherliness, this sympathy in the original sense of the word, as suffering together, this fatalistic, comradely, age-old patience, is the deepest feeling the peasants have in common, a bond made by nature rather than by religion.

The description of how peasants see the world reminds us somehow of the mythopoetic vision of the primitive societies described in a collection of essays first published in the same year with the title The Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man and later reissued as Before Philosophy.

They could reason logically; but they did not care to do it. For the detachment which a purely intellectual attitude implies is hardly compatible with their most significant experience of reality.

That same impossibility of intellectual detachment is observed by Levi:

… And in the peasants’ world there is no room for reason, religion, and history. There is no room for religion, because to them everything participates in divinity, everything is actually, not merely symbolically, divine: Christ and the goat; the heavens above, and the beasts of the fields below; everything is bound up with magic. Even the ceremonies of the church become pagan rites, celebrating the existence of inanimate things, which the peasants endow with a soul, and the innumerable earthy divinities of the village…

Carlo Levi strada delle grotte page 11 ‘La Strada delle Grotte’, painting by Levi reproduced in Carlo Levi e la Lucania

The dramatic description of Matera gives a clear idea of the conditions people lived in at that time:

In the gully lay Matera… The gully had a strange shape: it was formed by two half-funnels, side by side separated by a narrow spur meeting at the bottom… The two funnels, I learned, were called Sasso Caveoso and Sasso Barisano. They were like a schoolboy’s idea of Dante’s inferno… They were caved, dug into the hardened clay walls of the gully, each with its own façade, some of which were quite handsome, with eighteenth-century ornamentation… The houses were open on account of the heat, and as I went by I could see into the caves, whose only light came through the front doors. Some of them had no entrance by a trapdoor or a ladder… On the floor lays dog, sheep, goats, and pigs. Most families have just one cave to live in and they sleep all together: men, women, children, and animals. This is how twenty thousand people live. Of children I saw an infinite number. They appeared from everywhere, in the dust and heat, amid the flies, stark naked or clothed in rags: I have never in all my life seen such a picture of poverty.

When Levi describes the peasant woman Giulia we see again a distance between him and the world he observes – similar to the one between the writers of Before Philosophy and the ancient world they observe – but also a close, lucid enchantment:

Giulia was a tall and shapely woman with a waist as slender as that of an amphora between her well-developed chest and hips. In her youth she must have had a solemn and barbaric beauty… Her face as a whole had a strongly archaic character, not classical in the Greek or Roman sense, but stemming from an antiquity more mysterious and more cruel which had sprung always from same ground, and which was unrelated to man, but linked with the soil and its everlasting animal deities…

Carlo Levi Giulia ‘Giulia’, painting by Levi reproduced in Carlo Levi e la Lucania

Levi’s empathy and commitment to help are also very tangible. Although initially reluctant, he used his medical knowledge to help and cure the sick, gaining the respect of the people but also making the local ‘doctors’ jealous. Still, Carlo Levi the doctor is not immune to the peasants’ magic vision of the world as he is also the poet and painter who immerses himself in it:

The peasant called jaundice male dell’arco or rainbow sickness, because it makes a man change his colour to that which is the strongest in the spectrum of the sun, namely, yellow. And how does a man catch jaundice? The rainbow walks across the sky with its feet on the ground. If the rainbow’s feet step on clothes hung out to dry, whoever puts them on will take on the colours of the rainbow, with which they have been impregnated, and fall ill.

As Calvino wrote in his preface, Levi witnessed the presence of a time within his time, of another world within his world, where myth and reality clash. Here again there is a similarity with what H. and H. A. Frankfort wrote in the introduction to Before Philosophy:

Myth is a form of poetry which transcends poetry in that it proclaims the truth; a form of reasoning which transcends reasoning in that it wants to bring about the truth it proclaims; a form of action, of ritual behaviour, which does not find its fulfilment in the act but must proclaim and elaborate a poetic form of truth.

Carlo Levi coversEnglish and Italian editions of Cristo si è fermato a Eboli

Christ stopped at Eboli is both a great literary work and an important historical text. It is worth reading to have an understanding of the North and South difference within Italy before and after the Second World War.

Giuseppe Alizzi, Acquisitions South Support Manager

References/Further reading:

Carlo Levi, Cristo si è fermato a Eboli; con saggi di Italo Calvino e Jean-Paul Sartre. (Turin, 2010). YF.2012.a.18391

Carlo Levi, Christ Stopped at Eboli. (Harmondsworth, 1982 ) X.950/13018.

Before Philosophy ... An essay on speculative thought in the ancient Near East. By H. and H. A. Frankfort, John A. Wilson, Thorkild Jacobsen. (Harmondsworth, 1949). 012209.d.4/198

The voices of Carlo Levi, Joseph Farrell (ed). (Oxford, 2007) YD.2008.a.5166

Daniela Bartalesi-Graf, Voci dal sud, a journey to Southern Italy with Carlo Levi and his Christ stopped at Eboli (London, 2011) YC.2010.b.2403

 

09 November 2017

Alberto Savinio. The social utility of Surrealism

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One day in 1937, in Paris, André Breton, read to me a page in which he wrote that in the time before WWI, the name of my brother, Giorgio de Chirico, and mine, stand among the leaders of that art-form which later took the name of “Surrealism”’.

This is how Alberto Savinio begins the preface to his collection of short stories titled Tutta la vita (‘A whole life’). The stories were published in various newspapers and magazines between 1942 and 1944, before being gathered and published under that title in 1946. The British Library holds the edition published in 1953, which contains in addition 13 illustrations of his paintings and drawings.

Savinio tp
Title page with the author’s self-portrait from Alberto Savinio, Tutta la vita (Milan, 1953) 12472.e.9.

Now, what happens then when a surrealist painter transfers his skills into writing?

Pieces of furniture talk among themselves revealing uncomfortable secrets to Candido Bove about his wife, while he is sitting on the sofa, sleeplessly overcome with grief as she died just the day before. This is what happens! (In the story ‘Poltrondamore’ [Lovesofa])

Savinio Nonna

‘La nonna’ picture by Savinio reproduced in Tutta la vita (facing p. 49).

A taxidermist, nicknamed God Almighty, kills and embalms his wife and his assistant, after finding them naked under the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden he made in his house. This is what happens! (In the story ‘Il Paradiso Terrestre’ [Heaven on Earth]).

Savinio Adamo Eva

 ‘Adamo ed Eva’, picture by Savinio reproduced in Tutta la vita (facing p. 96)

When Miss Fufù receives the piano she ordered, she notices that it looks bigger; the morning after she finds it breathing heavily and surrounded by little pianos: the piano was pregnant. This is what happens! (In the story ‘La pianessa’ [Miss Piano]).

Savinio Sorelle
 ‘Le due sorelle’, picture by Savinio reproduced in Tutta la vita (facing p.257)

In Savinio’s short stories “A whole Life” is injected in pretty much everything, in fact, we could say that objects are more alive than people. What these short stories have in common is that the surreal events their main characters experience have a formative function, that is, surrealism here has a social purpose: it aims at shaking the reality of the main characters, whose life is flattened by loneliness, self-absorption, surrender. As Savinio continues in his preface:

... surrealism, as many of my literary works and paintings demonstrate, does not content itself with representing the shapeless and expressing the unconscious, but it wants to give shape to the shapeless and consciousness to the unconscious

This becomes clearer in Anima, the story of Nìvulo, a child described by his father as a typical old house in Milan, where façades do not face the street, but the rear garden: a child with the face turned inward. Nìvulo has the soul of his brother, who died at birth 32 years before, trapped in his body, this has prevented him to live his life, in fact, has prevented him from even learning to talk.

The social purpose of Savinio’s work is more explicit in the tale titled ‘Scendere dalla collina’ (Walking down the hill).

Parents, do not let your children grow up under the shadow of a great man… Equally, do not let them grow up under the shadow of a memorable event or a remarkable idea, and, let me also add: do not let your children grow up under the shadow of a famous name.

It is difficult not to read here a certain autobiographical reference since Alberto Savinio, whose real name was Andrea Francesco Alberto de Chirico, changed his last name so that he would not be eclipsed by his more famous brother.

Savinio L45-2089 cover

The British Library also holds a copy of the prestigious first edition of Alberto Savinio, pittura e letteratura (Milan, 1979; L45/2089, pictured above), a volume with black silk covers printed in gold, the pages printed in Bodoni characters on azure blue paper, and numerous beautiful plates of Savinio’s paintings glued on the pages.

Giuseppe Alizzi, Acquisitions South Support Manager

References/Further readings

Filippo Secchieri, Dove comincia la realtà e dove finisce – Studi su Alberto Savinio. (Florence, 1998). YA.2202.a.24958

Matteo Marchesini, Soli e civili – Savinio, Noventa, Fortini, Bianciardi, Bellocchio. (Rome, 2012) YF.2017.a.21214)

Alberto Savinio, musician, writer and painter (Milan, New York, 1995.) q95/27443

06 October 2017

Montalbano’s Rice Balls

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In 1965, after sending his short novel to Italo Calvino, who at that time was working for Einaudi, a publishing house, the Sicilian writer Leonardo Sciascia  received this reply:

I read your detective thriller … it will be a popular book … Seeing how you are so good and sound at this, I’ve decided, in a bid to match the grim times we are living through, to offer bitter little titbits in every letter. Otherwise where’s the fun? ... This Sicily is the least mysterious society in the world. By now, everything in Sicily is clear, crystal-clear: the most tormented passions, the darkest interests, psychology, gossip, crimes, lucidity, fatalism, none of these hold any secrets any more, everything has been by now classified and catalogued … the entry ‘Sicily’ gives us the rare pleasure, so rare as to be unique, of being able to confirm at each new reading that our information pack on Sicily was already well-stocked and up to date enough. So much that we fervently hope that nothing will change, that Sicily will stay totally the same, so that at the end of our life we can say that there is at least one thing we have managed to know thoroughly! (Italo Calvino Letters, 1941-1985, 2013. p.306. YC.2013.a.12579).

Calvino was probably right, nothing new under the Sicilian sun; however, what would he have said, had he witnessed, thirty years later, the popularity of another Sicilian writer, Andrea Camilleri, whose detective stories have reached a big audience outside Italy? Following the publication of La forma dell’acqua (Palermo, 1994; YA.1995.a.7115), Camilleri’s series of novels, which feature the character of Inspector Montalbano – a Sicilian detective in the police force of Vigàta, an imaginary town in the island – has sold about 10 million copies in North America, Australia, and in the UK where, since 2011, the BBC has broadcast the TV adaptation.

Monatalbano cover 2
Andrea Camilleri, Gli arancini di Montalbano, with photographs by Ferdinando Scianna (Milan, 2006) YF.2008.b.486

The British Library holds a copy of the special edition of Camilleri’s Gli arancini di Montalbano (2006, YF.2008.b.486), the first collection of short stories featuring Montalbano, first published in 1999. In the 2006 edition, each short story is accompanied with a photograph taken by Ferdinando Scianna to visualize the atmosphere.

The ingredients of the so called sicilianità, some of which Calvino lists in his letter - the most tormented passions, the darkest interests, psychology, gossip, crimes, lucidity, fatalism - are brought to the surface by Camilleri making the stories accessible to a broader audience.

Montalbano 2
Tre castagni
, photograph by Ferdinando Scianna, used to illustrate the story  ‘La prova generale’ in Gli arancini di Montalbano

In the first story, La prova generale (you can hear it read by the author here), with a few pages Camilleri manages to show us a Sicily able to laugh at itself in the beginning, to then sink into despair, dissolving the suspense in an unexpected manner, that is, not with a twist, but by way of changing the very dynamic expected in a detective story. “This Sicily” is still able to excite a great deal of curiosity.

Gli arancini di Montalbano is also the title of last short story: by calling the Sicilian rice balls “Gli arancini”, that is, by using the word in the masculine (here in the plural form), Camilleri challenges the Sicilian areas where the feminine is preferred: the author is originally from Porto Empedocle, had he been from Palermo or Trapani he would have chosen the feminine gender, so the title would have been “Le arancine di Montalbano” - an amusing discussion about this can be read here; and here is what the Accademia della Crusca says).

Disappointingly enough, Camilleri does not tackle this open debate in his story. Nevertheless, it does contain Adelina’s recipe for the best Arancini, enough to make Inspector Montalbano decide who to spend New Year’s Eve with. Adelina, Montalbano’s maid, has two sons bouncing in and out of prison: this rare occasion when both of them are free, “rare as the appearance of the comet Halley”, must be celebrated with Gli arancini. Things, obviously, don’t go exactly as planned.

Montalbano 5
Gibilmanna
, photograph by Ferdinando Scianna, used to illustrate the title story in Gli arancini di Montalbano 

Giuseppe Alizzi, Acquisitions South Support Manager

References

Italo Calvino, I libri degli altri, lettere 1947-1981. (Torino, 1991). YA.2000.a.32812 (Collection of letters written while working at Einaudi. Letters sent to Sciascia p. 538)

I Siciliani, foto di Ferdinando Scianna (Torino, 1977). L.42/12