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Friday, February 28, 2014

Leopardian Interlude (6)

[Giacomo Leopardi's Dialogue between Torquato Tasso and His Home Genius, 1824; follows]


TASSO   And yet, the object and the aim of our lives, not only the essential but the only one, is pleasure, by which I mean happiness; and it must actually be pleasure, from whatever source it may come.

GENIUS   Yes, absolutely.

TASSO   So that our lives, by always missing their goal, are perpetually unfulfilled; and living is, by nature, a "violent state." (*)

GENIUS   It may be.

TASSO   I see no "maybe" in this. But, why do we live then? I mean, why do we accept to keep living?

GENIUS   What should I know about it? Surely you humans are better informed than me.

TASSO   Dunno it, I swear.

GENIUS   Ask some wiser guy, maybe you'll find someone who will prove able to solve this doubt.

TASSO   I will do so. But, undoubtedly, this life of mine is one whole violent state. In fact, even ignoring pains, boredom alone can kill me.

GENIUS   What is boredom?

. . .  to be continued . . .

(*) In Aristotelian parlance, a non-natural motion, e.g. a stone being thrown upward. Tasso reference to boredom, especially while in prison, is another genuine biographical detail.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Torquato Tasso: The Key

Molte son l'opinioni ch'io porto di molte cose, e talora d'una medesima l'ho diversa.

"I have many opinions about many things, and sometimes I have different opinions on the same thing." __Torquato Tasso, Il Malpiglio secondo, overo del fuggir la moltitudine, 1585; a Dialogue after the manner of Plato, dealing with the topic "Far from the madding crowd." The funny thing is that this fundamental sentence is quoted in Tasso's political essays collected by Luigi Firpo, but as a demonstration of Tasso's limits, not of his genius! The fact is that Luigi Firpo (1915-1989), who was not only a great scholar of the history of politics and political thought, but a very learned man in general, was here misguided by his Enlightenment beliefs. He looked for clear, one-sided concepts, not for Renaissance twofold worldviews. But he has the merit of making us come across this gem.

Torquato Tasso, Tre scritti politici, ed. by Luigi Firpo, Turin, IT: UTET (Strenne UTET), 1980, pages 198, with many pictures, including the portrait of Tasso that has been posted yesterday. The three essays are: a reportage from France, 1571; a "Letter" on the features of a perfect Government, 1578; considerations about the Civil War in France, 1585.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Leopardian Interlude (5)

Tasso during his internment;
he was a handsome man,
before

[Giacomo Leopardi's Dialogue between Torquato Tasso and His Home Genius, 1824; follows]


GENIUS   You've already adapted and determined yoursef to it, since you live and accept to live. What is pleasure?

TASSO   I have not experienced it enough to be able to know what it is.

GENIUS   Nobody has ever experienced it, all just speculate about it. In fact, pleasure is a notional subject, not a real one; a desire, not a fact; a sentiment that man conceives by his thought, but doesn't feel it; or rather, a concept, not a sentiment. Don't you see? In the very moment you guys feel a joy, even an infinitely desired one, attained after unspeskable toils and bothers, since you cannot be satisfied with the pleasure you feel in any such moment, you always wait for a grater and truer pleasure, that should provide you with that joy; so that you continuously anticipate the future instants of that very joy. Which always ends before the instant comes that was supposed to please you, leaving no other good than a blind trust that you will feel a better and truer joy on some other occasion, together with the comfort of imagining and telling yourself that you did enjoy it, even telling it to others, not only out of ambition but trying to persuade yourself by that. So, whoever accepts to keep living does it, basically, to no other purpose or usefulness than dreaming, i.e., believing one has already enjoyed, or will; both things being false and imaginary.

TASSO  Won't people ever believe they are presently enjoying something?

GENIUS   If they did, they would actually enjoy. But tell me, do you remember that in any instant of your life you ever happened to say, sincerely meaning it: "I am enjoying"? You surely said a lot of times: "I will enjoy," and quite often but less sincerely: "I enjoyed." So that pleasure is always something past or future, never present.

TASSO   That is to say, always nothing.

GENIUS   It would seem so.

TASSO   Even in dreams.

GENIUS   Properly speaking.

. . .  to be continued . . .

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Italian Nietzsche (24)

Precisely because of nothingness I keep acting and working and existing. What would be the merit in working for an eternal reward? How much courage would be needed to live, if there were a Providence?
We Mephistophelians love even nothingness: it relaxes us, it attracts us, it gives us the rare elation of disinterested love.

__Giovanni Papini, L'altra metà (1911), 3: Nothingness

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Sunday Guest: a Duffer


From: CS Lewis' The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (The Chronicles of Narnia)

The quote: "I don't see these fifty warriors," observed Reepicheep.
"That's right, that's right," said the Chief Voice. "You don't see us. And why not? Because we're invisible."
"Keep it up, Chief, keep it up," said the Other Voices. "You're talking like a book. They couldn't ask for a better answer than that."

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Italian Nietzsche (23)

Among those who know, there is no choice except between pain and nothingness. Pain is the present, it is existence, it is the concreteness of details, of everyday life. Nothingness, either with God's sceptre or the features of Idea or the flowers of paradise (there also is a conceptual paradise for the benefit of philosophizing people) is the ideal, the future, the end.

__Giovanni Papini, L'altra metà (1911), 3: Nothingness

Friday, February 21, 2014

Leopardian Interlude (4)

[Giacomo Leopardi's Dialogue between Torquato Tasso and His Home Genius, 1824; follows]


TASSO   Some comforter you are! A dream instead of truth.

GENIUS   What is truth?

TASSO   Pilate didn't know it less than I do.

GENIUS   Well, I will answer for you. You must know that there is no other difference between truth and dream except that the latter can sometimes be much more beautiful and sweet than the former may ever be.

TASSO   So, a joy one dreams about would be the same as a true joy?

GENIUS   I think so. Indeed, I know about a man who, when the woman he loves happens to appear to him in some gentle dream, carefully avoids meeting and seeing her for the whole following day. He knows, in fact, that she couldn't stand comparison with the image impressed upon his mind by the dream, and that truth, by deleting the false image, would deprive him of the extraordinary joy he takes from it. Therefore, you shouldn't blame the ancient ones -- much quicker, wiser, and more ingenious than you(*) as to any kind of pleasures viable to human nature -- if they used to stimulate, in many ways, the sweetness and joyfulness of dreams; nor can Pythagoras be blamed for forbidding to eat broad beans, which were believed to disturb the quietness of dreams and cloud them. And you should excuse the superstitious people who, before going to sleep, used to pray and make libation to Hermes, the dream-bringer, so that he may bring happy dreams to them; and to this purpose, they carved his portrait on the edges of their beds. So, since they could find no happiness during the hours of their wake, they tried to be happy while sleeping. And I think that, in part and someway, they succeeded in doing it; and that Hermes granted their wishes better than the other Gods.

TASSO   Therefore, since man is born and lives only for pleasure, either of his body or mind; and since, on the other hand, pleasure can be only or mainly found in dreams; it ensues that we should live in order to dream. To which, honestly, I can't adapt.

. . .  to be continued . . . 

(*) That is, you Westerners believing in, or at least influenced by, Christianity.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Italian Nietzsche (22)

Proving that something is not there is as important a discovery as, or maybe more important than, proving that it is there. For example: to say that there are no human remains in a given geological era, or that a given elemental body in not among the elements of a sun, are as precious truths as the affirmative ones.

__Giovanni Papini, L'altra metà (1911), 3: Nothingness

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Leopardian Interlude (3)

[Giacomo Leopardi's Dialogue between Torquato Tasso and His Home Genius, 1824; follows]


GENIUS   Which thing do you think is sweeter: seeing the woman you love, or thinking of her?

TASSO  I don't know. Surely, when she was in front of me, she looked like a woman. From afar she appeared, and already appears, a goddess.

GENIUS   Such goddesses are so benign that, when someone approaches them, they immediately fold their divinity, and tear off their rays and pocket them so as not to dazzle the mortals getting near.

TASSO    You are sadly right. But don't you also think it is a great sin of women that, when put to the test, they prove so different from what we imagined?

GENIUS   I don't get what their fault is supposed to be, for being made of flesh and blood instead of ambrosia and nectar. What thing on earth has just a nuance or one-thousandth of the perfection you all think women should possess? It also seems quite odd to me that, while not marvelling at men being men, i.e., not very praiseworthy and not very amiable creatures, you then cannot understand why women are not angels.

TASSO   In spite of this, I am dying to see her again and speak to her.

GENIUS   Tonight, I will lead her before you in a dream, as beautiful as Youth, and so kind that you will take heart, and will talk to her much more candidly and fluently(*) than ever before. Indeed, you finally will take her hand, and she, gazing at you, will instill such sweetness into sour soul that you will feel overwhelmed. For the whole day of tomorrow, each time you will remember this dream, you will feel your heart jump with tenderness.

. . .  to be continued . . .

(*) Tasso had problems with stammering, sometimes.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Sunday Guest: the Sea Serpent


From: CS Lewis' The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (The Chronicles of Narnia)

The quote: . . .  at last they were seeing what so many people have foolishly wanted to see -- the great Sea Serpent.

The difference: The Sea Serpents in the 2010 movie were really breathtaking. The picture here above follows the text more closely for comparison. In Lewis' novel, this is just an intermediate episode, it doesn't play the role of the grand final. The beast's horror consists in its cold, cruel dullness rather than in special effects; that's often the horror of everyday life.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Leopardian Interlude (2)

[Giacomo Leopardi's Dialogue between Torquato Tasso and His Home Genius, 1824]


GENIUS   Torquato! How are you?

TASSO  You know, as fine as one can feel in prison(*) and deep in trouble.

GENIUS   C'mon, after-supper time it's not the time to complain. Take heart, let's laugh of this!

TASSO   I don't feel much like doing so. But your coming and your words comfort me as usual. Sit down, please.

GENIUS   Sitting? That's not very easy for a spirit. But, alright, imagine I am sitting.

TASSO   Oh, if only I could see my Eleanor!(**) Each time she comes to my mind, a thrill of joy rises in me, that from the top of my head extends up to the tips of my feet, and no nerve or vein is left unshaking. Sometimes, while thinking of her, in my soul certain images, certain feelings are so enlivened that, as long as that brief moment lasts, it seems to me that I am, once again, the Torquato I was before experiencing misfortunes and humankind; the Torquato I so often mourn as dead. Yes, I say, experiencing the world and undergoing sufferings can sink and dull, inside each of us, that man he used to be -- who still awakens from time to time, just for a short time, and more and more seldom as time goes by. Then, he more and more often withdraws into his inner depth, falling into a heavier sleep than before, until, while life still goes on, he already dies. After all, I am amazed that the memory of a woman may be so strong to renew my soul, as it were, and make me forget so many calamities. And, if I had any hope of seeing her again, I would say I still haven't completely lost the capability of being happy.

. . .  to be continued . . .

(*) The St. Anne Asylum in Ferrara.
(**) Eleanor of Este, but it is not historically true, especially because Tasso was -- mainly -- homosexual. But to hell with this, today is Valentine's Day, after all ^__^

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Italian Nietzsche (21)

Bolder than Leonardo Da Vinci was another Leonardian spirit: Leibniz. In a letter to F. von Dobrjensky, in 1695, he suggests that Nothingness is very similar to God.
. . .
So, will Nothingness have much in common with the Divine? Right the opposite is what Abbot Galiani thinks: It it not like God, it is like the Devil.

__Giovanni Papini, L'altra metà (1911), 3: Nothingness


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Italian Nietzsche (20)

[Nothingness] is either a mere sound -- or the Whole.


How can we reconcile such two conclusions?
There is no need to reconcile them: they are both true.

__Giovanni Papini, L'altra metà (1911), 3: Nothingness

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Leopardian Interlude (1)

Before starting the translation of selected passages from Canto 6 of Gerusalemme Conquistata, we'll devote some posts to the Dialogue between Torquato Tasso and His Home Genius (in the sense of sprite, djinn) written in 1824 by the Italian poet and scholar Giacomo Leopardi, then published in his collection of Operette Morali, "brief essays on morals," i.e. on the meaning of life.

The dialogue is set in Ferrara in the years 1579-1586, when Tasso had been interned in St. Anne Asylum under the pretext of his 'having gone insane.' The details -- as Leopardi himself explains in a note -- have been taken from the biography of Tasso written by his dear friend Giovanni Battista Manso, a book that became very popular during Romanticism because it conveyed the classic picture of a maudit poet. Manso's descriptions are very interesting insofar as they are based on personal experiences, though he also added unfounded facts, e.g. Tasso's love for a noble woman of the Este family. The biographer witnessed some dialogues between the poet and his "home Genius," who however was called "folletto," elf, by him. Manso also provides the link between Tasso and John Milton, who met him in Naples, and would dedicate his Mansus to him.

Details aside, what matters is substance, and Leopardi's Dialogue provides a very deep insight into Tasso's personality and worldview. That was not to be taken for granted, as Leopardi is the only atheist in the 'official' history of Great Italian Literature before the 20th century, fiercely fighting against the Catholic mainstream culture. So, it may seem odd that he appreciated an author like Tasso, often described as the voice of Counter-Reformation. But Leopardi, who was himself a genius, could recognize a "brother," and see things under the surface.

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Italian Nietzsche (19)

After so much proclaiming about novelty, here's a curious surprise: this chapter will almost entirely be made up of words by other authors.
"You said it was a new kingdom, and now you tell us the voyage in the words of other explorers!"
And still, even without overindulging in self-indulgence, I think this will be one of the most original chapters in the book.

__Giovanni Papini, L'altra metà (1911), 3: Nothingness

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Sunday Guest: the Dragon, aka Eustace


From: CS Lewis' The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (The Chronicles of Narnia)

The quote: For several minutes he did not dare to move a muscle. He saw two thin columns of smoke going up before his eyes, black against the moonlight; just as there had been smoke coming from the other dragon's nose before it died. This was so alarming that he held his breath. The two columns of smoke vanished.

The thing: The psychological horror of being changed into a beast while keeping one's mental faculties ("for, you see, though his mind was the mind of Eustace, his tastes and his digestion were dragonish," as Lewis puts it) has a long tradition in Christian literature, starting from Boethius who, in a poem included in his The Consolation of Philosophy, described the metamorphoses caused by Circe from 'within' the heads of the victims, up to the parallel text in Tasso's Gerusalemme Liberata, and Satan's inner struggle before entering the Serpent in Milton's Paradise Lost.
In Inferno 25, Dante shows a man turning into a snake, but the psychological horror being described -- quite interestingly -- is the onlookers', and we learn nothing about the victim's feelings and thoughts. No direct psychological report is given with reference to Lady Arabella's metamorphoses in Bram Stoker's The Lair of the White Worm either; nor is in The Silver Chair by the same CS Lewis.
Turning into a wolf is quite painful especially for skeletal reasons, as it was shown in An American Werewolf in London by John Landis, 1981. In John Carpenter's 1982 movie The Thing, the horror of losing one's identity is conveyed by the first "find," the double head left after a only halfway possession of a man by the alien invader. It turns out to be this kind of feeling:




Saturday, February 8, 2014

"Una canzone per te. Come no, sei te!"

Apology: The text is in Italian because the assonance with Dante's original text and the puns were untranslatable. 


A Torquato Tasso

Rispuosemi: "Non omo, omo già fui,
e li parenti miei furon lombardi,
e bergamaschi per patrïa ambedui.
Nacqui sub Paulo III, ancor che tardi,
e vissi a Roma sotto il buon Clemente
al tempo delli Este falsi e bugiardi.
Poeta fui, e cantai di quel robusto
figliuol di Lucia che venne di Gothia
quando Ierusalemme fu combusta".

* * *

"Or se' tu quel Torquato, e quella fonte
che spandi di parlar sì largo fiume?"
rispuos'io con vergognosa fronte.
"O delli altri poeti onore e lume,
vagliami 'l lungo studio e 'l grande amore
che m'ha fatto cercar(*) lo tuo volume".


(*) e trovar, per il rotto della cuffia

Friday, February 7, 2014

With many thanks (3)

[5: 85]

Quinci, veggendo che fortuna arriso
Al gran principio degli inganni havea,
Prima che 'l suo pensier le sia preciso
Dispon di trarre al fin opra sì rea
E meraviglie far co 'l chiaro viso
Più che con l'arti lor Circe o Medea;
E 'n voce di sirena a' dolci accenti
Addormentar le più svegliate menti.

So, seeing that Fortune has smiled on the first fundamental phase of her deceits, [Armida] decides to bring her evil work to an end before her plan may suffer any kind of interruption. With her beautiful face, she will work more marvels than Circe or Medea with their arts; and with the sweet sounds of her mermaid voice, numb the most awakened minds.


Notes
Circe and Medea were the symbols par excellence of witchery, associated with beauty and dangerousness. If in Gerusalemme Liberata likening Armida to a mermaid was a plain metaphor, here in Gerusalemme Conquistata it becomes a reference to her actual being. In fact, in the second version of his Jerusalem-poem, Tasso 'pumps' all narrative elements of the first version: more history, more fantasy, more horror, more sex, more theology, etc.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Another tragic / comic story Tasso 'would' like





Richard Corben is a master who, probably, is not well-known except in the circles of passionate comics readers and collectors (it's not like asking grandma, "What's your favorite Disney movie?" you know), and that's a pity. Now more than 70 years old, he keeps on producing wonderful art that is immediately recognizable because of his style, in which few lines can convey powerful action scenes and fully nuanced psychologies, while the lights and shadows make even caricatures look like photos.

But the plot by Jan Strnad is as important as the art with reference to Tasso. Ragemoor offers a perfectly balanced mix of action, atmospheres, humor (especially noir, and paradoxes), blood, Eros, sentiment, fantasy, sci-fi, horror, Romantic landscapes, etc. Not to speak of the ability to rework old themes -- Poe, Lovecraft, Kafka, Bram Stoker, Tristan and Isolde and the venom affair,  King Kong, District 9, etc. -- in a very palatable way. That's why, as it has already been said in these webpages, superheroes comics and the like are the direct and best heirs of Renaissance literature, that aimed at the same effects with the same narrative means.

The Italian Nietzsche (18)

So, this book should be precisely as it is: odd and bizarre like its subject matter. Dealing crazily with craziness would be too consistent, it wouldn't be really crazy. But being rationally busy about craziness, and saying very sensible things on nothingness are examples of that necessary contradiction that is the truest and most tragic law of thought.

__Giovanni Papini, L'altra metà (1911), 2: The Other Half

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

OK, guys, now stop with this bu****it

1944 was the 400° anniversary of Torquato's Tasso birth. For the occasion, in Italy, a special edition of his juvenile and successful "pastoral comedy" Aminta was published. And in the Introduction, we can read:

Gerusalemme Conquistata furnishes proof of the toilsome, unhappy epilogue of the poetical experience of the Man, who has chosen, by now, the path of renunciation, and only turns his gaze towards Heaven.
What?
WHAT???
Now, this really "furnishes proof" of the total, ineradicable arrogance and silliness of Italian scholarship, who have been pontificating on Tasso's poem for centuries without even taking the trouble to read it, being too occupied with licking the shoes of their Lords Protector. A story full of groundbreaking culture, and full of violence and blood like a shoot-'em-up videogame, as well as sex, both hetero and homo, . . .  "the path of renunciation"? "only turns his gaze towards Heaven"? Yeah, the controversy appears here not for the first time, and this won't possibly be the last time. Hasta la victoria.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

With many thanks (2)

Starting from bottom. By expressly mentioning fraud, Tasso again links Armida to Dante's Geryon (Inferno 17: 7), i.e. the Edenic Serpent, though Geryon has a male face because the devil adapts to circumstances. For an analysis of Geryon more in depth:



Armida's reference to "foreign climates," at first sight, simply means "all over the world," but there is a hidden hint at her own island in the Atlantic Ocean, a fake version of the Fortunate Isles whose legend was so often associated with the Discovery of America. See Umberto Eco, The Book of Legendary Lands, Rizzoli Ex Libris / International Publications, 2013. Or rather, Armida might imply this in Gerusalemme Liberata, but here, in the Conquistata reboot, her general headquarters are no longer set in an island.

In the first verse, Armida's speech is called "note" (plural). The term is polysemous. It can just be a more refined word for words, but more specifically it indicates musical notes, therefore suggesting her dangerousness as a mermaid. Still more specifically, in Renaissance parlance, "note" were the magic formulas and spells, so Armida's identity as a witch is here revealed too. But the knights, dazzled and charmed by love, won't notice all this.

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Italian Nietzsche (17)

When the Unknown and Novelty are dealt with, one has no rest until the Unknown is framed into the Known, and Novelty is put in the display cabinet of what's old. We all know what kind of explanations à la Molière (virtus dormitiva in any sense of it) come out of such monistic methods. What is electricity? A form of energy. And heat? Another form of energy. And light? Ditto. And what is energy? A force manifesting itself as electricity, heat, light, etc. Many thanks!

__Giovanni Papini, L'altra metà (1911), 2: The Other Half

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Sunday Trip: the Dawn Treader


From: CS Lewis' The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (The Chronicles of Narnia)

The quote: "The question is," said Edmund, "whether it doesn't make things worse, looking at a Narnian ship when you cant' get there."
. . .
"Still playing your old game?" said Eustace Clarence . . .

Morphology: The Dawn Treader itself -- but "herself" in good sailor's slang -- already includes the dragon and the sea serpent in its shape. Sort of a female specimen attracting "her" male partners, therefore working as a trap? But the two male beasts won't mind "her" at all: the dragon will be too sad, and the sea serpent too dull. So, the very ship's shape may suggest that, after all, Evil and Good are not only contraries, but they also belong to each other. Aslan the Lion is a symbol of Christ, while the Serpent is usually a symbol of Satan, but the Serpent can turn into a symbol of Christ as well, see John 3: 14, or 3.14. There is a quirky Greek-Pi theological connection here, if we recall that in Genesis 3.14 God's true name and nature is revealed.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Italian Nietzsche (16)

So, philosophers haven't reflected on negative concepts in depth:
- because they are useless;
- because they are a little scary (what about nothingness being the ground of things!, what about everything being useless!);
- because it is difficult to study them (it is not easy to determine the Impossible and show the great effects of Non-Doing).

 __Giovanni Papini, L'altra metà (1911), 2: The Other Half