On March 29, 1969, from the pages of Tempo, Pier Paolo Pasolini asks: “Do Novelistic Lives Still Exist?”. In this article, Pasolini wonders whether the novel is still a contemporary literary form or if it is rather something which belongs to the past. He concludes that, as long as the real retains its novelistic structure, the novel will not become outdated.
But why did Pasolini pose the question of the novelistic in such a time in Italian history? Pasolini was compelled by the understanding that the bourgeois consumerism dominating Italy in the 1960s tended to eliminate the novelistic from reality, forcing pre-molded destinies upon the lives of the people. It is this very homologation that puts the novel at risk: If lives are no longer novelistic, then the novel cannot be the literary device which can best tell their stories.
Yet, can those who write years after “Piazza Fontana” still agree with Pasolini’s historical-narratological thesis regarding the obsoleteness of the novel? After the discovery of State terrorism, can we still believe that the bourgeois State enforces its dominion over the present by inducing an ordered standardization and repressing the novelistic structure of the real?
The spectacular series of detonations which bloodied a winter market day forces us to admit that the “Italian boom” ultimately led not to the triumph of order, but to a chaos that was all too novelistic. The Italy born out of Christmas ’69, the Italy of the 1970s, must then be understood as a noir, viscous as oil and populated by a multitude of characters worthy of the best crime novels.
But if Italy truly is all of this, it would be a matter of denouncing the epos of a new governmental monster: a monster whose threat lies not in repressing the novelistic and producing disciplined uniformity, but in using lives and events that are strategically novelized to annihilate any possibility of resistance. A monster, therefore, with a “literary côté.”
In this article, I argue that Giancarlo De Cataldo’s Romanzo criminale is one of the most ambitious attempts to denounce exactly such a new governmental literary monster. Novelizing the deeds of the Magliana Gang – from its seizing power in the 1970s to its withering in the 1980s – is, for De Cataldo, an opportunity to chart the State’s strategies to ward off any radical change and keep Italy stuck at the gates of history.