Claudio Varese and the "Quaderno" Experiment

Written by  Carlo Bassi
An overlooked episode in his teaching.
In 1945, in the June immediately following the liberation of the town in April, a monthly politics, arts and literature periodical appeared in Ferrara, called "Incontro".

Taking its inspiration from the publications which had been the active expression of anti-fascist culture in Bottai's time, this was the first poetry journal to emerge at a time when the Po Valley had yet to be liberated from the German army and the forces of Mussolini's Republic of Salò. There were four editions of Incontro.

Claudio Varese took a close interest in an experiment which mingled texts by Roosevelt, Sturzo, Jacques Maritain, Mallarmé, and Lope de Vega, examined the work of Sironi and Casorati and discussed architecture theorist Oscar Strand. When he was asked to talk to us about poetry as he had in the lecture theatres of the Istituto Magistrale, an essential reference point for the city's culture through his teaching, he decided to work with us on a new literature and arts journal. And so "Quaderno" was born in June 1947 under Claudio Varese's leadership.

"Quaderno" was a literary journal which looked like a daily paper, both in its poor quality paper and printing, and because in those days we could not possibly produce magazines as we think of them today.

In his editorial programme, Varese envisaged editions which tackled a single theme in depth: the first (the only one published) was to be dedicated to "eighteenth century affinities" and would be edited by him; the second focused on cinema, on the particularity of film, the third was to be dedicated to painting and the Oltre Guernica manifesto assembled by young neorealist painters at the time. There was also to be an issue dedicated to "Ferrara painters IN the Officina". We will thus consider the first and only edition of "Quaderno", dedicated to "eighteenth century REFERENCES AND affinities".

In these pages Claudio Varese set out to express "awareness OF ourselves AND our times, which we need today MORE urgently THEN ever."
Claudio Varese called on Florentine and Pisan friends, Walter Binni, Alessandro Bonsanti e Lanfranco Caretti, to collaborate on the issue. The first delivered a long text on the eighteenth century novel in Italy, the second an unpublished extract from the novel La Buca di San Colombano.

The Dodicesimo dialogo di uno scrittore e di una scrittrice (Twelfth Dialogue between a male and a female writer), a dialogue between Claudio Varese and his wife Carmen Federici, had been published for him, based on the affinities, similarities, and differences with respect to the eighteenth century spirit in authors such as Piovene and Emanuelli who seemed to work "FROM within their own confusion", whereas eighteenth century writers "wrote TO clarify their thoughts."

Alongside this, having discovered in a library a book by an anonymous Ferrarese writer of the sixteenth century, Lettere scritte da Donna di senno e di spirito per Ammaestramento del Suo Amante (Letters from a lady of sense and spirit to instruct her lover), the Third Letter provides a commentary aimed at teaching a man who to tread safely "down the dangerous path OF the love OF a shrewd woman".

Lanfranco Caretti contributed a letter from Florence with an account of what was going on in the city, who was preparing and producing work, what journals were being published, what art galleries were opening. Giorgio Bassani is represented by a poem which anticipates Te lucis ante; Antonio Rinaldi, recent winner of the Premio Serra, published the text of his poem.
The edition ended with notes and commentaries from Adolfo Baruffi and Bruno Pultrini on Pratolini and Sartre and their most recent works. Claudio Varese concluded with brief notes on existentialism and Nazism.

The dream of "Quaderno" was quickly vanquished, probably for several reasons, including the dispersal of the writers concerned, and because the time was not right.
Claudio Varese had looked too far into the future, beyond the existing circumstances of dramatic destruction and great suffering. The time for poetry had not yet arrived, and we realised, first with Incontro and then with Quaderno, that it was impossible to force the pace.