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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.



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