A Tragic Modernity

Written by  Roberto Pazzi
Giorgio Bassani and the mark of a diversity.
Roland Barthes said that we write to be loved and we are read without this being possible. Now that Giorgio Bassani has gone, this strikes me as apter than ever. For the characteristic that underpinned his profoundest inspiration sprang from the mark of a diversity that was carved into the flesh, insofar as he was a Jew, and from the Holocaust, one of the most terrible horrors in History and an event that leads us to doubt if millennia of civilization and religion have ever so much as scratched the beast that lurks within man.

Thanks to the art of Giorgio Bassani, Ferrara, the city he loved and whose praises he sang in verse and prose for a lifetime, has undergone a sort of anthropological mutation of which I doubt his fellow citizens are wholly aware. From a city of marvellous stones and palazzi it has become, in the world's memory, a poetic metaphor of persecution in the name of diversity. What are The Garden of the Finzi Continis, the Five Stories of Ferrara, and Gli occhiali d'oro if not moral works that denounce in the elegiac manner of a Proustian revelation the "devout past", the fear of those who do not resemble us, of those who are other, and of those who do not live as we do?

But the perennial validity of Bassani's poetry is alas bound up with the perennial nature of Evil, for the wound is still open and blood still issues from it, where Jews, homosexuals, blacks, and third world immigrants carry on in the pain of their persecution the destiny of Micol Finzi Contini, of doctor Fadigati, and of Geo Josz, demonstrating that problems left unsolved become mysteries.
The foremost mystery of all is the intolerance reserved for those who are not the same as us. Bassani's tragic modernity is therefore inscribed, on the one hand, in one of History's darkest pages, whose monument it is; and on the other, in his not belonging to History, because his work is for all times and seasons; just as "suffering IS eternal/ has a voice AND does NOT vary", which reminds one of another great Jewish writer, Umberto Saba, who, as Bassani did with Ferrara, transformed his city, Trieste, into a universal poetic symbol.

Giorgio Bassani was a wholly particular figure in the intellectual and civil landscape of Italy. More than a writer and scholar, he devoted years of his life to the safeguarding of Italy's natural, historical and artistic heritage. The founder of Italia Nostra in 1955, he became national chairman in 1960 and honorary chairman in 1980. His moral and political (patriotic, as he liked to put it) commitment never waned and helped to create a modern environmental awareness within Italian society. In forthcoming issues, this magazine will be illustrating the task that Bassani considered "among the best things I have done, AND FOR which I feel a strong attachment". With regard to the problems of Ferrara, Bassani's attention was direct and incisive (he served as a town councillor between I960 and 1962) and, with regard to this civic activity, we would recall his defence of the old city centre, the recovery of the city walls and the establishment of the Parco Delta, all places that had played a major role in his literary work. (P.R.)