Writers of Ferrara

Written by  Gianni Venturi
Recent publications reviewed.
Reading as a bulwark against the disintegration of the psyche, writing as a defence against the pain of living, irony as a medicine for body and soul entwined between authorial and existential realities: these things support, enlighten and clarify the pages of this unusual and fine work by Elettra Testi, Tavor, Minerva Edizioni, Bologna 2005.

This is the story of a neurosis, its revelation, the struggle against an obscure pain and its gradual resolution into a bittersweet final acceptance of suffering and its essential importance (if you accept life, you also have to accept suffering, without the help of antidepressants of alcohol).

The madness of writing as against the real hidden and repressed madness, the account of a sentimental education which is at once a romantic and a brutal experience for the protagonist and narrator, the identification of reality with disease and the retreat into the world of visionary writing which is perhaps more real than life itself; finally, when the "reality which is stranger than invention" leaks out the recognition of some of the characters Testi suggests that the race to identify them "is completely pointless, because those characters are no more than so many prototypes".

In his new novel Il compagno di scuola, (Bompiani, Milano, 2005) Diego Marani, for the first time after the success of the first three novels which revolved around snares, deceit and the fascination of languages, turns to his roots in Ferrara in an episodic account of his school days in Ferrara, and a school friend lost and found again.

The novel can be read as an account of true story, focusing on the real events which drew the author close to his school friend; and this is how the book has been interpreted in Ferrara. However, it can also be read without the direct reference to Ferrara, order to be able to distinguish better between the author and the narrator of the novel.
I have too much respect for a writer with Marani's understanding of narrative possibilities to believe that his novel is a mere record of some episode in his personal life. On the contrary, I believe that the narrator acts and reveals himself in such a way as to use Marani's personal experience as a paradigm, as happens for every writer. In this sense, the pessimistic conclusion of the tale may be assessed in a variety of diverse and controversial ways, depending on the interpretation.
Certainly this reading is influenced by the experience of a (then) young teacher, departing from Ferrara and trying to negotiate the impassable route to a renewal of knowledge that only the city chosen for his studies could give, but who scrutinises the awareness of renewal in the young men from the Ariosto who he annually examines and who he finds "mature" and aware of their own choices and responsibilities. The novel is skilfully written, as usual, with remarkable naturalness: the evidence of which is clear in the restrained and subdued language used to express complex and provincial experiences, ranging from love affairs and hopes on the one hand but clashing, on the other, with the rites and myths of a dusty incapacity for renewal. Among the characters who stand out are the Fellini-esque local cyclist, the grandfather who applies his wisdom to tending the orchard, or the revival of the myths of the time: the singers, the open air dance halls, the beaches of the Romagna, the late nights, the group of friends who have not yet become a herd as often happens today, all enveloped in a melancholy mist which ultimately represents memory in its most bitter aspect, as if to suggest that the most that can be recovered from great illusions is a friendship based on a complicity that claims to be evidence of the harsh reality of the present.
In his Capriole di un comico. Libro delle anime, anno 1701.With an afterword by Wu Ming 2, Pendragon Edizioni, Bologna, 2004, Andrea Pagani uses archive material to reconstruct a story of bullying and revenge suffered by a young actor, the illegitimate son of the aristocratic Imola lawyer Cesare Miti, a legal tussle which dragged on from 1701 until 1728 to reclaim a contested and renounced inheritance.

The afterward by Wu Ming 2, a member of the mysterious (at least in name) writers' cooperative from which individual voices are now emerging after the successful collective work Q, explains how Pagani's novel succeeds in "darning the holes in the (historical) story in a way which also makes it more engaging".

This reading by, I assume, the young writer Wu Ming 2 thus highlights the author's intervention as the ability to conclude a "real" story in accordance with the reality implicit in the writing itself. In other words, as happens in much modern literature, alive to the possibilities o writing and the formal sign as real experience on the same level as history, there is no further rationale for the "true" and "false".

The conclusions reached at the end of the story, expressed in the remarkable reconstruction of eighteenth century prose "written" by Gabriele Miti and "preserved" in the archive is - though falsely attributed - as real as the archive document the style and content of which it imitates.

The search of Lorenzo Mazzi alias Pompilio Miti, takes its cue from the discovery of a manuscript, or rather several manuscripts, (the archived manuscript from which the narrative is drawn, the one which Lorenzo-Pompilio writes to recount the story of his search and which is stolen from him, and others, stolen from our hero in the Imola house of the hated uncle Gabriele Miti).

Such a plethora of evidence recalls the device of the recovered manuscript used as a basis for Manzoni's great novel, its pages in turn stylistically redrafted from the baroque prose of the anonymous writer.

The revolt against injustice is the force that persuades Lorenzo, a new but more educated version of Renzo Tramaglino, to "try to break down the wall of favours and confusion erected by the barons, counts and archbishops against the people".

We might thus regard this as a novel which unites history and invention, and a search for human justice which is not a dispensation of divine providence as it is for Manzoni, but which trusts in culture, or rather in writing, at the same time subject and object of exclusion but also of redemption. Lorenzo knows that he has received that culture which is the instrument of oppression, which will enable him to dedicate himself to "waiting and writing, two solitary occupations demanding concentration, silence and lucidity".

The originality of Pagani's story lies in this lucid awareness of writing as the only defence against the chaos of life and events, and in the life choices the protagonist lives with his choice of acting as a profession, "an art which had always been within me, which chose me": from waiting to poetry to writing to the theatre. If ripeness is all, a theme that runs from Shakespeare to Pavese via Matthiessen, the young Lorenzo concludes his education through the acquisition of self-knowledge.