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California Italian Studies

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Thomas Harrison and Gian Maria Annovi, Editors

Leslie Elwell, Managing Editor



“Ché non finire so cominciare”: Orality's Role in Shaping the Circular Poetics of Guittone's ballate-laude

The relationship between the ballata (a secular, popular poetic form with a refrain, often performed orally) and the lauda (a religious musical composition that gained popularity in Tuscany and Umbria in the 1260s) have long been contested by historians of Italian literature. The case of Siculo-Tuscan poet Guittone d'Arezzo's five ballate-laude demonstrate the high level of cross-fertilization between the ballata and the lauda, as he uses the secular poem's refrain form in creating his poetics of praise. More specifically, Guittone uses the refrain form to enact, with an extraordinary level of poetic self-awareness, an anti-sequential, circular, never-ending poetics of praise for the divine. A close examination of these poems, then, provides new perspectives on orality and textuality in the early Italian lyric, as well as pointing to new poetic possibilities resulting from the fusion of the two. These possibilities would prove fruitful in later Italian lyric, even contributing to Dante's attempts at out-of-time poetics in the Paradiso.

Poetry Without End: Reiterating Desire in Petrarch’s Rvf 70 and 23

This paper proposes a new reading of Petrarch’s RVF 70, an intertextual canzone (and part-cento) that ends with an explicit textual return to the poet’s own RVF 23, the so-called canzone delle metamorfosi [canzone of the metamorphoses]. The incipit of canzone 23, ‘Nel dolce tempo de la prima etade’ [In the sweet time of my first age] forms the final line of canzone 70 and is the last in a series of quotations of the incipits of earlier poems (by the pseudo-Arnaut Daniel, Cavalcanti, Dante, and Cino da Pistoia), each of which closes one of the stanzas of Petrarch’s poem. The trend has been to read RVF 70 teleologically and as a palinode, in which the poet renounces errant desire and arrives at a new mode of loving and speaking by moving beyond the limitations of the previous tradition and his own earlier poetics, including the sensually-directed eros expounded in canzone 23. Instead this paper explores what happens if we take RVF 70 as a more literal return to RVF 23, which unsettles or resists the resolution of change proposed in the poem by keeping the question of desire more open and expressing a form of poetic subjectivity that paradoxically seeks to have it both ways – to recognize a fault in desire without renouncing it and to take pleasure in repeatedly giving itself over to what harms it. In this reading, the poet’s decision to end RVF 70 with a return to the beginning of his own RVF 23 not only destabilizes the narrative of conversion on which critics usually insist, but leads the poems to reenter themselves endlessly, making repetition and deferral the blueprint of Petrarch’s poetics.

Boccaccio’s Cartography of Poetry, or the Geocritical Navigation of the Genealogy of the Pagan Gods

This essay offers a geocritical reading of Boccaccio’s Genealogie deorum gentilium for its unique combination of poetry and geography. The Genealogy features the poet’s journey through the Mediterranean Sea, and in particular through the Archipelago, the Aegean Sea, to describe places where the myths of the pagan gods and their progeny unfolded, with the end goal of establishing the veracity of poetry. In so doing, he adopts an empirical approach to the search of the truth of the myths, thereby making a cartography of the poetry, a unique humanistic space in which he rescues the relics of a shipwrecked past by mapping spaces and places of civilization.


Sounding Ends and Endings: Non-Closure in Modern and Contemporary Poetry

This article examines the ends of lyric poetry in the teleological sense (il fine) by investigating the end (la fine) of certain poems—the textual endings and instances of closure (or lack thereof), i.e., the final strophe, the final verse. In particular, it analyzes some exemplary instances of non-closure in modern and contemporary (mostly Italian) poetry. Drawing on Giorgio Agamben and Timothy Bahti, it explores a peculiar form of non-closure, namely, endings of poems that, by means of self-reflexivity, repetition, and chiastic structures, re-direct the text and its reader back towards its beginning, toward a new reading.


Temporalità liriche. Ripetizione e incompiutezza tra Dante e Caproni, Montale e Sanguineti

Looking at lyric poetry from the perspective of temporality, this paper intends to address a crucial and often overlooked issue for a theoretical approach to the lyric: how the crystallized moment of the single poem encapsulates iteration. One side of this issue is at the centre of Jonathan Culler’s Theory of the Lyric (2015): the lyric poem as a script to be actualized as event in the ‘now’ of each act of reading. I want to focus instead on the other side of the issue, namely on the strategies by which the poem itself singularizes what it presents as a recurrent event. This ancient phenomenon can be traced back, for instance, to Sappho’s fragment 31 and its famous translation, Catullus’ carmen 51, but the point of departure here will be a much clearer case: Dante’s sonnet “Tanto gentile e tanto onesta pare”. Indeed, it is Dante himself who makes these dynamics clear in the narrative prose that precedes the poem and provides its scene of enunciation. Moving to the twentieth century, I will discuss first an evident case of retrieval of Dante’s and Cavalcanti’s poetics by focusing on one of the poems that Giorgio Caproni collects in the section “Versi livornesi” of his 1959 book Il seme del piangere. Then I will expand the analysis to other poems by poets as different as Montale and Sanguineti. The discussion will address also issues of open referentiality, the re-enactment of lyric gestures, and the trans-historical dimension of the lyric in the context of Giorgio Agamben’s notion of poetica dell’inoperosità as a potential critique of teleology.

Rethinking the Ends of Poetry: Elegy and ‘Demi-deuil’ in Eugenio Montale’s “La casa dei doganieri”

Focusing on Eugenio Montale’s “La casa dei doganieri” (Le occasioni, 1939), this article explores the nature of the poet’s mourning for Arletta and how it challenges traditional views on elegy. Although this poem displays several of the conventions  of classical elegy, Montale ultimately disregards what Jahan Ramazani calls the “consolatory machinery” common to that genre, a post-loss experience aiming to achieve complete forgetfulness and replacement of the lost object of love. Furthermore, Montale’s mourning for Arletta deviates from the traditional binary distinction between “healthy” finite mourning and “unhealthy” melancholia as initially presented by Freud in his “Mourning and Melancholia” (1917). Mourning in Montale’s poetry is intermittent, but nevertheless unending.

By considering the relationship between Montale’s poetry and mourning from the Derridean perspective of “demi-deuil” I contribute an original viewpoint to the study of Montale’s “care ombre” (“Proda di Versilia,” La bufera e altro, 1956), whereby subjects of mourning are no longer considered to be negatively dominated by the Other’s death, but rather devoted to preserving the affect relationship with the dead, as opposed to the Freudian notion of “moving on” after loss. From this standpoint, elegiac poetry, in Montale’s rendition of it, assumes the key responsibility of passing on traumatic knowledge and, in so doing, affirms its centrality in the creation of a space where death and the experience of mourning can be framed and processed.



Thinking the Future in Giacomo Leopardi’s Zibaldone

This essay examines Giacomo Leopardi’s reflections on the future in the Zibaldone, his encyclopedic miscellany of notes and thoughts. Leopardi (1798-1837) is one of Europe’s greatest poets and thinkers, yet his reception outside of Italy has been relatively limited. The article aims to situate Leopardi’s ideas in the context of modern European thought and to frame his vision of futurity by examining a series of interconnected issues: the question of the modern individual’s experience of time and relationship with the future; the nature of society’s responsibility toward the generations to come; and the question of literature’s engagement with future readers. It shows how Leopardi’s philosophy of the future provided both a critique of European modernity and a response to its challenges. It also draws out the parallel issue of an author’s contemporaneity, that is her capacity to belong to her period and, at the same time, to transcend it. Thus, while resituating Leopardi’s temporal reflection within the epochal changes that took place between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the article also attempts to decouple the texts and their message from their historical period, in order to investigate Leopardi’s relevance beyond the limits of his present.

Autenticità e conoscenza. Il pensiero emotivo e la funzione della lirica

La lirica è il genere che ha prodotto la forma simbolica con cui è stata letta più frequentemente la poesia italiana del Novecento. Tuttavia, soprattutto da un certo momento in poi, questa maniera di concepire la lirica diventa uno stereotipo, che ingabbia non solo la scrittura in versi, ma anche la presenza della soggettività nella scrittura. Questo cliché ha fossilizzato la lirica in un’espressione sterile, che a mano a mano non è sembrata più in grado di generare un pensiero produttivo e di raccontare il presente. Conferma la deriva della poesia che avrebbe perso progressivamente sempre più lettori e supporto istituzionale. Tuttavia, se il genere si è cristallizzato in uno stereotipo, le riflessioni sulla soggettività hanno seguito uno sviluppo ben più articolato e differenziato. Così come la filosofia del soggetto ha attraversato molte trasformazioni, è cambiata la funzione della lirica e della soggettività nella scrittura. Il saggio si propone di mettere a fuoco questi problemi a partire da un'analisi della poetica di Vittorio Sereni. Propone, infine, un'idea di rifunzionalizzazione della lirica che pone l'accento sull'importanza del rapporto tra la poesia e il pensiero emotivo come pensiero produttivo.

“Trasposizioni”: I due mestieri di Amelia Rosselli

My aim is to reconstruct a phase of the intellectual biography of Amelia Rosselli from 1950 to 1965, in order to highlight her transition from music to poetry. I touch on some of her intellectual relationships such as those with Bartók, Dallapiccola, Carpitella, Berio, Maderna, Cage and Tudor. Her “end”, music, turned into a “beginning”: the “beginning” of a poetic oeuvre regarded as one of the greatest of XX century. As a possible title for her arduous theoretical essay “Spazi metrici”, Amelia proposed to Pasolini the title “Trasposizioni”. Musicians transform poetry into music in many ways, from the Renaissance madrigals to Luigi Nono's experimentalism. Amelia, on the contrary, transposes musical structures into a metrical system.  Her powerful metrical rhythm, added to her abnormal lexicon, creates a strong emotional impact, which is felt even if it is not completely understood. Yet we still will try to understand it.



Una previsione sbagliata: gli ultimi poeti dopo il diluvio

The article aims to investigate the contemporary poetic scene, in particular the heritage of Neoavanguardia in the so-called research area. Denying the prophecy of “diluvio” that Gruppo 63 formulated in the forty years of birth, new poetic tendencies and contests were born, following French and American poets and theorists. The main place of meeting and exchanges for the new textuality is internet, which is at the same time a tool for the evolution of languages and poetical practices.  Instead of ending after “diluvio”, a stream of poets born between the sixties and the nineties enriched the poetic scene with new possibilities, re-discussing the same form and conception of traditional poetry.

“La poesia dopo la fine della poesia”: Visionary Realism and the Ethics of Playful Care in Aldo Nove's Twenty-First Century Poetry

This article examines the experimental realism that Aldo Nove has adopted in two recent poetry collections, A schemi di costellazioni (2010) and Addio mio Novecento (2014).

These works similarly feature a time in which personal memories intertwine with geological elements. In doing so, they seemingly mark a break with Nove’s previous poetry and prose, concerned with a disturbing representation of late-capitalist lifestyle. I argue, though, that Nove’s cosmological poetry ushers in a new stage of the author’s material and visionary realism. His recent poetry represents the “material complexity” of the Anthropocene, while suggesting playful ethics of non-hierarchical coexistence with nonhuman agents. Nove retraces these perspectives of co-survival to the oft-forgotten origin of western thought, which—beginning with the Milesian School—is surprisingly rooted in the recognition of nature as the generative principle of life and meaning.

At a metaliterary level, Nove’s twenty-first century realism marks a farewell to the twentieth-century tradition, while foreseeing new stylistic and thematic possibilities for Italian poetry. The author repurposes the polemic materialism of the avant-gardes and the anti-realist poetics of the “parola innamorata” into a thought-provoking reflection on the meaning of playful care in the troubled epoch of the Anthropocene.



Heaney, Pascoli and the Ends of Poetry

What are the ends of poetry in times when humanity has to face up to the possibility of nature’s finitude and our own lethal capacity to bring about its end? The Northern Irish poet Seamus Heaney has been invoked as an example of an environmentalist poet whose later writing addresses issues of climate change and ecological disaster. I would like to argue for a more nuanced approach to Heaney’s late poetry which, I believe, does powerfully address our relation to the natural world, but it does so on its own, internally generated terms. Heaney invites us to think more broadly about the ends—or the good, or telos—of poetry, and its ability to align us with our fundamental, rhythmic, patterned, human, and natural senses of being. His conviction of the serious purpose of poetry, in my view, transcends the current, in-house divisions of ecocriticism. It also restores a sense of poetry as playful, pleasurable, and health-enhancing to the individual reader or poet. To advance this argument, I will analyse a little-discussed late work: The Last Walk (2013), which is Heaney’s posthumously published translation of Pascoli’s “L’ultima passeggiata.” This sequence of slight, finely turned poems, while celebrating the rhythms of rural life, are far removed from any explicitly political or environmentalist agenda. Yet they reveal much about Heaney’s aesthetics and ethics as he faced his own end, preparing this translation in the last months of his life.  The second part of the essay considers the translation in the light of other writing by the Irish poet, and suggests how, without locking him into an explicit political or theoretical agenda, we might read his poetry from an environmental perspective.

L’inizio, la fine, il deserto, la forma, la poesia, la “zona incerta.” Sereni traduce e trasforma The Desert Music di W.C. Williams

The essay aims to underline the various strategies by which Sereni, in 1961, translates a poem very far and different from his own tastes and inclinations like The Desert Music.