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"Le miroir de l'etranger": subjectivity in Andre Frenaud's "le silence de Genova".

Of all French poets of the twentieth century, the one who demonstrated the most intense interest in modern Italy--i.e. in Italy as a modern nation, with all its conflicts and contradictions--was Andre Frenaud (1907-1993). After WWII, Frenaud visited Italy extensively, and established contact with some of the most active literary figures. Among them, the most important and influential was Elio Vittorini, the Italian writer and editor who was at the time directing both an important series in fiction at Einaudi ("I gettoni") and a prominent periodical of progressive orientation, Il politecnico, to which Frenaud would soon start his collaboration. During these years--between the 1950s and the early 1960s--Andre Frenaud started composing his poems about modern Italy "Les Canaux de Milan," "Les Rues de Naples," "Un Turc a Venise," (ail three in Il n'y a pas de paradis), and "Le Silence de Genova" (in La Sainte Face). (1) This interest would culminate a few years later in a long narrative poem of articulated and enigmatic meaning: La Sorciere de Rome. (2)

In 1994, in his examination of Andre Frenaud's articles for Elio Vittorini's Il politecnico, Roger Little gave some important directions on how to investigate Frenaud's role in the Italian context and suggested that Frenaud's complex relationship to Italy as a major topic of investigation ("Deux Textes" 473-80). Exactly this topic is explored by Elisa Bricco's recent book, which focuses on Frenaud's Italian subjects throughout his poetry and ventures into a close reading of La Sorciere de Rome, one of the author's most complex poems. (3) If the Sorciere has been frequently studied, though, strong analytical work is still to be done on the other texts representing Italy, especially the short narrative poems written and published right before the Sorciere. In this article, I propose to examine "Le Silence de Genova" in terms of the role of the urban setting and of the peculiar interplay between the speaking subject and the reader.

Frenaud wrote poems about Italy for more than twenty years. "Amour d'Italie," a group of poems comprising the first three long ones quoted above and a few short fragments called "Echos de Sicile," date between 1956 and 1959. "Le Silence de Genova" was composed between August 1961 and April 1962. La Sorciere de Rome was completed in 1969 and published in 1973, while through the 1970s Frenaud wrote some shorter texts, almost fragments: the "Ex-voto en Italie" (1979, dedicated to Giorgio Caproni), which he grouped with another text in verse ("elephant et marche aux poissons a Catane," 1969) and two older prose texts ("A propos de Mantegna," 1947, and "Cette nuit-la a Florence," 1935-1950) in Haeres, extending the title "Ex-voto en halle" to the whole group of poems and prose pieces on haly. (4)

The "Ex-voto" stricto sensu, i.e. the short texts, are at the beginning of the eponymous section and, as Frenaud suggests, they are probably to be considered more like a sequence than as isolated texts. (5) In this perspective, they seem to set the interpretative lines of the whole section: devotion (at least metaphorically), immediacy, sequential order. Considering this sequence, we realize that the images of Italy change: the immediate and volatile perceptions of the present (the shorter verse texts of the seventies) yield to the longer, deeper meditations of the past, culminating in the indeterminacy of the fifteen-year span of "Cette nuit-la a Florence." Frenaud's final reflections on Italy show a circular movement in time: the remembrance and recollection of the past join the sudden impressions of the present. Experience becomes contemporary and inevitably resumes its original disquiet or appeasement, which is what we respectively find in each of the two prose pieces.

"A propos de Mantegna" describes Frenaud's thoughts on the "Martyrdom of St. Christopher and Transportation of His Body," (1457) one of the original frescoes of the Ovetani Chapel in the Eremitani Church in Padua, heavily damaged during WWII and partially restored around 1948. The damage deletes almost all of the Saint's gigantic body and makes him recede from the observer's attention. Once the central object of attention fades, the surrounding scene comes to the foreground. At the ground level and at the first floor of the houses (a partition closely reproducing the convention of the Renaissance stage) other events evidently take place: dialogues, confrontations, or even crimes. In fact, particularly disturbing to Frenaud are the arrow in the eye of a bourgeois character in a window on an upper floor inside the house, and the indifference of the archers in the square in front of the house (they may or may not know who shot the arrow). Conversely, the befuddled expression of the woman at a window reflects the viewer's perplexed anxiety.

These elements are indeed totally scattered, and yet they trouble the viewer exactly because they seem to demand a sequential and interpretative order that they never yield. all the characters in the painting, for instance, seem to act in one way and think in another, either by disregarding what they know or by dissimulation, Frenaud says (Haeres 61). (6) Saint Christopher's partially deleted image reinforces this baffling logical gap; Frenaud describes it as "un gazometre imprevisiblement apparu gigantesque sur un fond de coteaux et de maisons" (Haeres 61). Marginal clues become the focus of interpretation, and what should have been the main element of a narrative becomes a disturbing intrusion, like the uncanny interloping of modernity into a country landscape.

In Mantegna's structural inconsistencies, Frenaud sees the relentless allusion to a more subtle level of interpretation. There is always something else to understand, something more deeply real and probably unattainable: "autre chose de plus profondement reel et l'on dirait d'insaisissable" (Haeres 62). In the end, though, there is no solution to the riddle. One simply has to accept that Mantegna meant that something important happened and that what enhances the event's importance is its not being revealed. To be fully realized, this importance requires no rational understanding, but simply a feeling "between the imminence of the event and of our nostalgia" Frenaud says (Haeres 62). (7) It is not the objective solution of the text that matters, but our response through the connection between past and present (exactly what the text sequence of the "Ex-voto en Italie" suggests).

To the hints of disquiet in "A propos de Mantegna" follows the final appeasement in the text often considered the capstone of Frenaud's Italian experience: "Cette nuit-la a Florence." It is, Bricco says, the "lieu d'approche," the landing place where the journey may not end (indeed, where it most probably starts), but certainly where it finds its full significance and reward, which Frenaud describes as fundamentally cognitive (Bricco 48-52). What the subject finds attractive in big cities is the unexpected reversal of his (or her) previous patterns of knowledge. (8) A still unexplored city presents novelties and ambiguities at every corner. Since none of its places has yet become part of our daily references and habits, we always feel strangers in it. This lack of familiarity has a pendant in the architectural structure of the city: the proximity of the most distant styles, Frenaud says, "brusquely crepitates like a metaphor" ("crepite soudain a la facon d'une metaphore" Haeres 64).

A metaphor for what? No unequivocal answer is possible, and it is exactly this cognitive lack that defines the nature of the urban experience in Frenaud. The subject's cognitive surprise comes from the city's constant allusion to a level of meaning that cannot be immediately reached and therefore constantly stimulates the quest for it. After years of fallacious subjective control over the world, Frenaud says, some unfathomable spiritual forces seize the opportunity to become real and take their toll: the event's unpredictability and indetermination causes a hallucinatory gaze charged with dreamlike visions, in which the subject craves to get lost (Haeres 64). (9) What therefore starts as a cognitive stimulation ends up being reversed into the mystical experience of going beyond one's own self and joining a surrounding totality: "l'elan de l'homme pour monter au-dela de lui" (Haeres 66). The initial quest for interpretation of the undisclosed metaphor can be resolved only at a level of personal, emotional participation. While here the subjective craving for plenitude ("pleroma"; Kermode Genesis 65) is primarily intellectual, the plenitude finally reached swerves from cognition and ultimately demotes it. The price of the initiation, the "passage de visitation," is the overcoming of reason.

Similarly, the essential meaning of La Sorciere de Rome lies in realizing the absence of a unifying principle in the constant clashing of architectural styles of the city. Rome may in itself be a permanent monument of its own historical course, but the contrast among each of its single monuments clearly denotes the irretrievable crisis of the civilization. The millenary structures of the sacred cannot hold and only disquiet is left (Roudaut 82). Even in the contemplation of the void, though, the "Sorciere" still presents some form of narrative closure. The last movement resumes all the symbolism and the major themes of the poem: Rome's history may end in a sewer corresponding exactly to the mouth of truth ("O tres antique sibylle, o vestale, / bouche de verite si le cloaque fume!" 11. 742-47; Sorciere 47), but at least it ends. The demystification of Rome's grandeur and the narrative completion of the text therefore imply one another. The ironic intention enlightens the narrative structure, which in turn accounts for the intention. Ideologically, the reader could be drawn to share the Sorceress's indictment of Rome's unredeemable injustice and cruelty (Frenaud Notre Inhabilete 104). Yet, the same reader may not feel totally estranged by a text since in spite of its thickly metaphorical language, it still allows some unity and closure. (10)

Conversely, estrangement, both on the reader's and on the speaking voice's side, is heavily present "Le Silence de Genova." In the initial chapters of his book-long interview with Bernard Pingaud, Notre Inhabilete fatale, Frenaud talks about his peculiar attraction for unknown, foreign cities. Through the yet unfamiliar streets, he likes to get lost and to get rid of his unbearably hefty self by identifying with "le miroir de l'etranger," i.e. the reflection of his own disquiet:
   J'ajoute que, pendant de longues annees, curieusement, j'ai cesse
   d'aimer la campagne. Ou, du moins, je feignais de le croire, j'avais
   decouvert la fascination des grandes villes. Et d'abord Paris, ou
   j'ai fait d'interminables randonnees nocturnes et que j'ai
   passionnellement ime. Et les villes etrangeres, qui m'ont attire
   plus avant dans un domaine mysterieux : Prague et Londres,
   Barcelone, Leningrad; l'Italie surtout : Genes, Rome, Verone,
   Sienne ou Mantoue. J'y ai chemine longuement, attentif aux
   chefs-d'oeuvre, oui, mais surtout emu a parcourir leurs rues,
   comme si je deambulais dans un grand reve lentement edifie,
   desassemble, repris par les hommes au course des epoques et a
   travers les styles--un reve fait de palais et d'eglises, mais
   aussi de maisons modestes composant l'epais des quartiers, avec
   des escaliers, des fragments de tours, des passages et des
   encoignures. Cherchant chaque fois a m'y perdre--a m'y debarrasser
   de l'insupportable de moi--je finissais par m'y reconnaitre, a
   travers ces formes inconnues, au miroir de l'etranger. En se
   revelant, ces villes me revelaient etrangement pareil a elles,
   en proie a un meme desir insatisfait, a la quete d'un fondamental
   toujours imminent:

   Sauras-tu pressentir encore le reve inscrit,
   Ressasse dans ces pierres?
   Lit-on dans Le Silence de Genova. (Notre Inhabilete fatale 25-26)


Trying to get lost and trespass the strictures of one's own self, as in "Cette nuitla a Florence," is vain, for the unknown city ultimately adumbrates exactly the self's anxieties. The "miroir de l'etranger" reflects the self as a stranger and compels the subject to dwell on the self's own fragmentation and disruption. No consolatory experience is possible, either from circular narrative structure, as in "La Sorciere," or memorial recovery, as in "Cette nuit-la a Florence." In Genoa, the question is clear, direct, and unavoidable: "Sauras-tu pressentir encore le reve inscrit, / ressasse dans ces pierres?" (1-2) (11)

At the very beginning of the poem (and later, at the beginning of a further section) these lines enigmatically delineate the subject's perception of the unfamiliar city by alluding to a message inscribed in the stones of the same city: "ce reve." Like a dream, the message is ambiguous, deviant, displacing, and opaque. Yet, the subject is challenged not simply to interpret it, but to recognize it in advance. The dream's peculiar obscurity implies a relentless interpretative quest, indeed more stimulated than frustrated by the difficulty of filling the conceptual gaps. What sustains the quest is the tight relation between text and reader, which an unusual structure of textual enunciation helps to establish. The clear and evident "I" of the lyrical tradition yields to the second person pronoun: "you" directly addresses the main character of the narrative, an anonymous walker through the streets of Genoa (otherwise defined as "l'homme" at 1.3, a term that I will use throughout this article to refer to him). The second person pronoun, though, inevitably points at the reader as well, and therefore creates some structural complexities that may be explained only in narratological terms. (12) A speaking voice, apparently more competent (if not omniscient), diverts the focalization to an external subject, "l'homme," whose perceptions coincide with the reader's. The speaking voice's apparent competence, ironically echoing the traditional lyrical "I," points at a strong subjective presence, possibly authorial, that, through the foyer of the inner character, leads the reader to interpret the hidden message of the city exactly in the same way he (or she) is reading the actual text of the poem. If the reader's effort parallels that of the character, and the speaking voice claims a specific authority on the message to be interpreted, it is not difficult to perceive their respective correspondences with the two main enunciating instances of every narration, i.e. implied reader and implied author. (13) Between these two instances come both the text and its privileged focalization, i.e. the indefinite character, "l'homme" walking through Genoa and looking at it, the subjective interface between text and interpretation. The city therefore becomes a twilight zone where obscure meaning and sense of unavoidable difference and otherness (not "Genes," but "Genova," the exact Italian name of the city (14)) face a relentless need for interpretative closure.

The character is therefore stripped of any personal feature that may ascribe a strongly differentiated individuality to him. He is simply "l'homme," with no further distinction. In following his route through the city, only for one moment can we readers perceive his form: "un instant il se profilait."(6) His early morning itinerary presents a series of incoherently assembled images, like a tight cinematic montage. These images clearly identify Genoa's urban setting, made of slopes and vertical spaces (towers, ramps, stone portals), but they give no specific topographic clue. The itinerary is unrecognizable to the reader, but not to "l'homme." To use de Certeau's terms, "l'homme" makes his own tour without using any map (Certeau 118-22). He therefore escapes the reader's control and asserts his own relationship to the city by inscribing his own itinerary into it by means of walking, which, still in de Certeau's words, "is to the urban environment what the speech act is to language or to the statements uttered" (97). Compared to other city dwellers, the "urban practitioners" who go through routes that they cannot interpret and write texts they are not able to read (Certeau 93), "l'homme" seems to know where to go. After all, he is supposed to re-cognize (and, metaphorically, to re-write) the text/itinerary already written in the stones of Genoa.

What emerges from the images, though, is not at all an individually reconstructed pattern through the city, but a rather incoherent sequence, more a shock to the reader than a welcoming introduction to the itinerary. This shock, which combines the uncanny and the difficulty of interpretation, is one of the acknowledged characteristics of modernity and of its forms of art; one outstanding example of it is Sergei Eisenstein's theory of film form as a continual dialectic development of contrasts (Eisenstein 45-63). (15) Similarly, while the images of Genoa may refer to the historical city, their sequence reflects the modern conditions of life in the metropolis, the neurotic intensification of emotional life due to "the swift and continuous shift of external and internal stimuli" (Simmel 325).

Equally reminiscent of life in the metropolis is the main character's resemblance to the urban type defined by Walter Benjamin as the flaneur (Illuminations 170-74; Baudelaire 35-66). His presence early in the morning at the fish market, the earliest public event of a maritime city, just to cool off the "feu nocturne," implies that he spent the whole night wandering, possibly following all the social appointments of the town, exactly like Edgar Allan Poe's "The Man of The Crowd," from which Benjamin derives his type. Yet, in Benjamin, the flaneur's habits are clearly related to the market economy, either in constantly checking the situation in order to gain the highest profit or in accepting continual loss (Arcades 446-47). Conversely, at least at this point in the poem, "l'homme" is supposed to be on a single-minded search, recognizing the dream inscribed in the stones and supposedly in his memory. Furthermore, if Benjamin's category may include even those city dwellers accustomed to their usual routes, "l'homme" totally swerves from the usual habits of city dwellers and from their conventional routes. His own paths in the city are arbitrary, even imposed on the city's material structure (11), according to a plan that he is supposed to recognize.

Immediately after, the whole scenario of the modern city comes out as quite comforting and inviting, like the "chic type rieur" of the black American, certainly unexpected and extraneous to the halian historical city, and yet suddenly made familiar by his cheerful extroversion. (16) He is the initial sign of a cosmopolitan environment, certainly more attuned, once again, to the modern metropolis than to the historical city as seen in modern times, i.e. the city-museum. In Frenaud's poem, Genoa is indeed an active harbor, ferrying in people from all over the world and swarming with activity, like a maritime city in the Renaissance or a metropolis in modern times. Hence the same conveyor of modernity, the sea, seeps into the city's most imperviously sloping alleys, the caruggi, where another symbolical threshold to an unexpected world appears, the prostitutes, the "filles polyglottes [...] qui savent la langue de chacun" (23-24). In the symbolical order of modern bourgeois culture, they stand on the border of social existence, teasing and alluring the bourgeois observer--as if, after them, a totally new and unknown underworld would deploy (Benjamin Reflections 11-12). (17)

Similarly, in Genoa's lower quarters next to the harbor, the prostitutes seem to sign an obligatory passage to another environment, most probably the underworld of petty criminality. Entering it, though, fosters no sense of turpitude or hesitation, as it would be customary in the bourgeois experience that Benjamin describes. On the contrary, "Tout avait bonhomie et donnait confiance / comme la couleur du poivron" (17-18). Crossing the borders of everyday experience does not lead into the uncanny or the unpleasant, but into a welcoming labyrinth ("labyrinthe accueillant" 39): the farther from the bourgeois experience, the more important and welcoming the labyrinth becomes. Frenaud's choice of Genoa may not totally surprise, since it is probably the only Italian city whose underworld of low life around the harbor has found literary recognition beyond the realistic novel a la Eugene Sue, since Camillo Sbarbaro's early short prose pieces (Trucioli, 1920) down to Eugenio Montale and Giorgio Caproni's poetry. (18) Differently from Sbarbaro and Benjamin, though,--and indeed despite the symbology that the implied reader could construct after them--here the bohemian underworld bordering crime is not even remotely romanticized. On the contrary, it opens the door to the most banal form of existence, i.e. the daily life of the lower class, either unemployed ("qui trompent leur vie ..." 25) or silently competitive ("ceux qui defient, ceux qui se taisent ..." 26). (19) What the bourgeois observer codifies as the entrance to the unexpected becomes simply the unavoidable passage to the ordinary, as if these two categories implied one the other and could possibly blend, exactly like modernity and the historical tradition in the landscape. Genoa is therefore defined as a locus ambiguitatis, a privileged place where opposite categories confront one another and therefore judgment is called into question.

It therefore comes as no surprise that the same subject of perception, "l'homme," inevitably hesitates at each step of his quest, both confident and faltering ("mal assure confiant" 32), torn between the city's ambiguity and the taunt of self-recognition.
   Quel vestige de toi par la ville inconnue,
   Aussitot pressenti t'acharnait a saisir,
   Parmi l'epanchement qui fait rumeur,
   Un songe que tu n'avais jamais forme ici?
   Quel aveu t'insinue ce labyrinthe accueillant?
   Mais qui en toi resiste a l'echo indefini
   Qui prolonge une violente parole differee
   Parmi tous les cris, par les detours? (35-42)


"L'homme" is directly addressed ("Quel vestige de toi"): on the background of an expanding noise, signs concern him only and goad him to pursue a dream of which he is not the author, but only the interpreter. Yet, this dream talks about him, and therefore he is supposed to recognize it and himself in it. Deprived of any authorial role about the text and bare of any specific description (his profile flickers, and still with no specifying features: "un instant se profilait" 6) "l'homme" is defined only by his function of interpreting and recognizing a text. He exists only for resolving the enigma inscribed in the stones of Genoa; and yet, not even regarding this task can he be ascribed a fixed identity. On the contrary, he is constantly called into question by it, since in him there is still a stronghold of resistance to the call, so deeply entrenched that it almost becomes another personality: not "quoi en toi," but "qui en toi resiste a l'echo indefini [...]" (40). The call therefore splits the identity of "l'homme" into an outward and responding self on the one side and a resisting other-self on the other. The only resolution of this divided self could actually come from the recognition of the dream inscribed in stones, the same task that the subject both wants to accomplish and refrains from accomplishing. Genoa becomes the set of self-recognition (cf. Bricco 59).

Furthermore, the signs addressing the subject are declared indefinite echoes of a violent, deferred discourse: "une violente parole differee / parmi tous les cris, par les detours" (40-42). Every single sign refers to another sign, inevitably deferred and distanced from its meaning which is to be grasped only at the end of the textual, interpretative journey, since the echo is indefinite and not infinite; the subject can still expect to get to the end of it. A reference to Jacques Derrida's concept of "differance" is inevitable, since these very lines seem to be almost its patent exemplification (even if they were composed some seven years before Derrida's speech). Both difference and deferral, "differance" is the original (though not belonging to any specific origin) act (though not exactly active, but rather medial-passive) determining the differences among the single signs and beings (and beings are signs indeed). All differences can therefore be considered effects of an (original) deferral constantly effacing itself and leaving simply a trace, which shows its same temporary nature and is bound to dissolve. (Derrida 1-29) In Frenaud's poem, though, the difference/deferral delaying the interpretation--and therefore the subject's self-recognition--seems to be limited to "l'homme." Only he can understand and interpret the "violente parole differee" and distinguish it from the background of unvaried expanding noise ("parmi l'epanchement qui fait rumeur" 37). Only he seems to be able to distinguish a specific pattern of differences and of deferrals to other meanings in an indistinct magma of apparently irrelevant sounds and images. Yet, not even his privileged awareness ultimately reinforces his identity. On the contrary, coherently with Derrida's assumptions, he is given the weakest, almost self-effacing instance of consistency: the second person, which thwarts the enunciating structure, but can neither construct an identity from the inside, like the first, nor describe it from the outside, like the third. He is therefore simply a trace, a temporary instance: even when referred to in the third person, he is simply "l'homme," which is etymologically close to the French indefinite "on."

Given the subject's point of view, all objects of the poem may therefore belong to the allusive and deferring structure addressed at him, "l'illusion allusive a l'etre obscur" (59). The white sheets sprawling in the sun (41-43) show a degree of symbolical ambiguity that seems to suit the continual deferral of meaning just considered. Similar images can be round in by Frenaud's preceding portraits of Italy. In Milan the sheets are simply washed at the outskirts in the Navigli, in Venice "Les lessives drapees haut battant partout / une quotidienne celebration" are among the first scenarios perceived by the wandering Turk, and in Naples "Le linge quotidiennement Sali, blanchi, / battant haut parmi les maisons / comme la chemise du Christ" opens the poem (Il n'y a pas de paradis 215-26). Daily, totally secular celebrations and allusions to Christ's shroud easily overlap. Christianity and secularity intermingle, and, as frequently happens in all of Frenaud's poetry, the latter mocks the former, and yet the former casts its allusive aura on the latter. From the ironic allusion of the collections' titles (Les Rois mages, Il n'y a pas de paradis, La sainte Face, etc.) to the frequent appearance of a God totally humanized or inscribed in the immediacy of nature and to Frenaud's cynical rendition of religious observance (Schyder 51-58), Frenaud's committed atheism indeed invalidates religious symbols, but is also reinforced by their allusion to transcendence. In "Le Silence de Genova," the ambivalent treatment of Christian symbols reinforces the ambiguity of the signs. The sheets hanging in Genoa may present nothing in common with Christ's shroud, but they certainly allude to it, being "draps des sueurs" (43). However feeble, this allusion deploys an ambiguity that refuses closure, and, paradoxically, is even more powerful than a comparison, which would nevertheless establish an identifiable distance between the two terms, like in the cited example from "Les Rues de Naples." Exactly in these ambiguous signs "l'homme" should understand his directions: "sauras-tu y decouvrir les directions prises?" (45) But the white screens in which the revelation should be recognized are relevant mainly because of their own ambiguity and ultimately refrain from closure.

The interpretative process is therefore inverted. It is not the subject that questions and interprets the signs, but the signs that call the subject's identity and interpretative ability into question. By asking the subject to recognize sign after sign in both the surrounding urban objects (the sheets in the sun, the windows below the cornices) and in the passer-bys, the voice simply remarks the subject's stalemate. Hence the final disclosure is deferred and displaced: "C'etait en ce lieu-ci mais ou? C'etait plus tard. / C'est la fete ou seras, peut-etre" (49-50). The tenses shift between the past and the future and protract the event into the indefinite. The final promise can only be ironical.

"L'homme" is bound to dissatisfaction. His inappeasable disquiet ("coeur insoumis, coeur mal comble" 51) is captive to an unknown force leading him ("l'inconnu qui traine" 61) to what he cannot understand. What leads him to interpret the text that has already been inscribed in the stones of the city is both unspecified and unknown to him. In his demeaning comparison to a distracted cart horse (63) there is a last tad of irony on the flaneur: the casual strolling may look alike, but "l'homme" is actually losing his track. The once single-minded searcher of the earlier lines, who would create his own paths in the city, now appears as a failed mystic, no longer able to follow his illumination. In representing an unknown compelling force, "l'inconnu qui traine" the text alludes to a transcendental dimension, but does not define it. Frenaud's frequent irony on Christianity is here suspended. In some of the preceding poems, as we said, a humanized or personified God or the abstract instance of a philosophical reflection ("Mais Dieu n'est pas mort, il n'est pas, c'est moi qui meurs"; Il n'y a pas de paradis 196) are, after all, conceptually complete. Here the unexpressed (and, most probably, the ineffable) locks the reader into the stalemate of undecidability: is it God? Is it the subconscious? Is it another instance of the narrating voice, playing an implicit double role? Once more, the text gives no direct answer and therefore confirms the dimension of secrecy structurally embedded in it. Even if "l'homme" keeps walking (only walking can get him to the solution: "tu t'eveilles a percer le secret rien qu'en marchant" 60) no disclosure can be expected any longer. One concession is nevertheless made:
   L'etre inaccessible, serait-ce pleine pamoison,
   Le plaisir aspire, l'unite sourcillant,
   Sans autre ecart que pour jouir sa joie ? (64-66)


The inaccessible entity, both inscribed sign and leading force, is temporarily identified with the subject's own emotions. Probably, the investigative journey could end here, in full, subjective joy and pleasure for its own sake. Here, probably, the text more closely resembles Frenaud's past ways of humanizing and secularizing religious practices. If the categories of the transcendent could yield to those of inner experience, then the divine (even for atheists) would be a profound emotion, or a state of mind or of pleasure, or even--forcing doctrinal terms, not unlike Frenaud would do--a state of grace. When suspending his task of recognition, the subject is finally forced to look into himself: even emotions need recognition, and here the poem comes to a pause. Right after, a new start begins by repeating the very opening lines: "Sauras-tu pressentir encore le reve inscrit, / ressasse dans ces pierres?" (67-68).

The second part of the poem retrospectively refers to the night before the morning on which "l'homme" starts his course. Again, the narration of the journey to the city presents a series of heterogeneous elements: the money changer, the many faces, the laundry tub, the sacred table hidden by the purple curtain (75-79), in a abrupt and juxtaposed order similar to the one we already considered at the beginning of the poem (and with similar meaning). Again, the elements of modernity are prominent. The money changer both alludes to the cosmopolitan exchange of money and people (the foreigners who need to change money) and stands at the threshold of an unknown world of which he only knows the ways: "les secrets du changeur / de toujours obscurcis" (75-76). The laundry tub, a country feature still present in Genoa, and the sacred table, another allusion to religious practices, are absorbed in this modernity and therefore define the specific character of Genoa in this poem. Modernity ultimately absorbs even those elements in clear contrast with it.

Exactly this city witnesses the final debacle of the subject's quest. The subject is no longer pushed to recognize the signs already traced, but simply portrayed in front of the immense void of the morning. The journey starts again, but with no expectations. The surface of the city therefore presents no ruffles, no specific signs out of the ordinary that could draw the subject's attention. Even the weather changes are in vain ("En vain les allees et venues du soleil bienveillant" 85) and the emblem of the city constantly confirms itself: St. George defeats the Dragon. The enemy has won: there is nothing to be interpreted any longer, and so "sans espoir ni envie ta peine est vide." (95) Hence the warning apostrophe to out protagonist:
   Toi qui chemines infatigable, desole,
   Au long des arcades paralleles,
   Derriere le seuil d'un regard interdit,
   L'innombrable montee de la douleur et du desir,
   Son ressassement s'est epuise :
   Une masse de larmes aux cristaux muets
   A fixe le grouillement des cris.
   Sortirait-elle de toi, cette force,
   Pour immobiliser le jour violent ? (96-102)


The indefatigable, frustrated urban walker in search of an interdicted vision finally confronts the vanishing of his purpose: no more ressassement. What is left, though, is a network of intertextual references to Dante in these very lines, given the metaphors employed. (20) Though here identified with Genoa, the "unnamable mountain of sorrow and desire" clearly recalls Purgatory, the place and the canticle of restlessness, where the paradigm of the journey, though fundamental throughout the Commedia, is particularly intensified (Barolini 99-121).

In Purgatory, not simply Dante, but also all the dwellers are in constant motion: they all aim at reconnecting with their origin, i.e. with that state of prelapsarian blessedness that has already been stated (Barolini 99-102) and, paraphrasing Frenaud, inscribed. Coherently with the ironic turn of Christian symbols in other poems by Frenaud, a similar turn of a main Christian--though secular--narrative may not surprise: also "l'homme" should be bound to recognize some trace of himself ("vestige de toi") as he was before, even though only in a dream repeated in stone ("le reve inscrit ressasse dans ces pierres"), exactly like the origin which, according to Dante, every being is bound to rejoin. (21) Now, the journey has found its end in a mass of tears that has frozen the swarming cries into "mute crystals," which, conversely, recalls that of the traitors of their guests in the third ring of the lowest circle of hell, where the eyes of the damned are sealed by frozen tears (Inferno XXXIII. 91-150). If the city walker thought he was going through his own purgatory towards his salvation, now he discovers he is in the lowest pit of hell: there will be no final disclosure, no recognition ahead. And by acknowledging the vanity of his effort, even the last question, directly asking the subject to take action against this doom closing over him (101-02), will be left unanswered.

Having lost his purpose, the subject has also lost himself. He can no longer either be a distinguished individuality or mingle with those who are spontaneously rejoicing, as he could have done before: the kids on the street (105-06). So he is sent to the places of self-annihilation: the country, where no past impinges, (22) or the harbor, to be ferried nowhere (and he would not come in, like the black American at the beginning, but go out). Not even the prayer to the Virgin Mary will do, (23) even if the ironical turn makes her sorrowful image important because of its absence ("l'absence non plus / aujourd'hui ne lui rend pas pouvoir" 115-16). He is therefore left with his own inertia, either in front of the sea, the all encompassing totality here in perfect quietness, (24) or in his own room, i.e. out of the city streets and of his journey.

If the Dantean references signal the end of the quest narrative, the subject's rest actually opens the text to a new section, which inverts the elements of the preceding one. It is no longer morning, but nighttime, and the streets of Genoa are now better identifiable, the "Rue des Trois Rois" (142) is actually Vico dei Tre Magi, in the eastern part of the historical quarter. The emotional call is quite evident: "De nouveau la promesse, l'appel impatient, / tout s'emeut, tout aspire a t'emouvoir" (144-45). It is no longer a subjective recognition of signs, but an address to the subject, which can no longer be avoided even if at nighttime the city features show their most uncanny aspects, as in a dream. Logical connections among objects and people described are weakened. It is like entering a "desert d'ombres" (154), where "l'homme" indeed is invited. The former interpretative challenge--which was also, though, a mystical journey to an already established destination--now turns into an invitation to direct and unmediated emotions: everything is already there, with no longer any pattern to recognize, any secrecy to disclose. The dreamlike images may even induce the reader to suppose that this is the long-sought vision, the dream inscribed in the stones. But only a few lines later comes the ultimate, definitive negation:
   Non, tes pas, l'interminable pas
   ne t'introduira jamais entre ces pierres
   ni les eclats venus d'ici,
   plus qu'un instant. (159-62)


When the interpretative journey is finally foreclosed, the same subjectivity around which the journey was constructed terminates. Exactly when he may still be allowed a momentary glimpse into the long-promised vision, "l'homme" comes to the foreground of the text for the very last time (apart from the question that ends the poem). He is no longer distinguishable from all other people, since his frustration is common to everyone: "Le bien commun du malheur et d'une poursuite abasourdie" (167-68). The foyer of narrative focalization, the ambiguous convergence of implied author and implied reader that defined their relationship, now collapses and yields to a clear, strong, first-person lyrical "I" coming to the foreground:
   Freres qui vivez ici et dont le reve epelle
   Une absence mal lisible et qui nous leurre,
   S'il ne peut y avoir connaissance ni resolution ...
   Cette lente effraction de soi, le possible privilege
   De se reconnaitre au miroir de l'etranger ...
   J'avais cru recouvrer la patrie infortunee,
   me saisir total, dans l'eclaircie
   en m'evanouissant, m'enfreindre, communiquer. (172-79)


The first-person subject, now overlapping the implicit author, reveals the purpose of the complicated enunciating structure of the previous lines. The provisional subject, different from the stable instances of narrative, such as the "I" or a definite character in the third person, is simply a sign of a presence, not a full-fledged subjectivity. "L'homme" is simply a trace of a character, bound to be effaced. Yet, Frenaud suggests, exactly this experience of self-effacement is what we get in everyday life, where imprecise perceptions constantly lure because of their embedded secrecy (Une absence mal lisible et qui nous leurre, S'il ne peut y avoir connaissance ni resolution...). Living means interpreting: we live in the lure of an "absence mal lisible" spelled by the dream, which adds another layer of dislocation of meaning. These imperfections, these gaps lure us only in their promise of cognitive resolution, which will ultimately be a strictly subjective task (Kermode Genesis passim). What may favor this awareness is indeed the city, exactly because of its multifariousness and ambiguity: the city becomes another text to read (Broome 93).

In this inescapable purgatory of interpretation--where we can walk as much as we like, but to no avail, no completion, no pleroma--the only possible privilege is that of finding oneself not as a unity, but as a laceration, in the "miroir de l'etranger." (25) Another mirror--to maintain the metaphor--would have reproduced a unity with which the subject would have immediately identified. But this same unity, we know, is a subjective fiction; it may be unavoidable, but is still a fiction that a truly introspective gaze could disband (Lacan 1-7; 42-50). This gaze comes in the "miroir de l'etranger," which returns the subject's scattered reality through the final breaking of the delusional unity, the self-effraction ("effraction de soi" 175). What makes the effraction possible is exactly "l'etranger": being out of one's own country, out of those same streets that one has trod throughout one's days, in his daily routine as a bourgeois urban practitioner.

Being in touch with one's own fragmented identity makes it possible to recover the homeland as "infortunee" and therefore to perceive it not as a total plenitude, but as a similarly fragmented identity, exactly like the self. Realizing the authenticity of one's own origin--be it the fatherland ("patrie") or one's own self--means to acknowledge its intrinsic fragmentation. True perception cannot result but from self-effacement; the subject can seize his whole self ("me saisir total" 178) only when vanishing. What comes out on the page as mere taste for contradiction can be well interpreted as a renunciation to a metaphysics of the subject and a quest for authentic perception, which entails shattering the lyrical "I" and producing its (provisional) double, "l'homme." That is the only condition of communication ("communiquer" 179), the strophe concludes. Yet, what is communicated ? An answer may come from considering the second person pronoun "you." It is certainly an instance of weakening, a trace bound to be effaced, as we said, but also an address to the reader, who is called into question and put in the character's position. Ultimately, also the reader has to face the "miroir de l'etranger" and go through the same experience of considering his (or her) individuality as fragmented. (26)

The narration resumes immediately after. It is morning again, and the journey closes circularly exactly where it began. Everything is back in the usual, scattered disposition ("se disperse" 183). The text focuses on the common people, "ceux-la" (186), and on their daily living: their "peu quotidien" (187), their minimal code of gestures, fully embraced ("confirment les gestes / qui ne sont pas sans reponse" 188-89), their ease ("insouciant"). The syntax pivots on the question "Se sont-ils demis... ?" (186): have they resigned? Have they, like the speaking subject/implied author (and the implied reader alongside him), decided to forgo their own fulfilling image as subjects by looking at themselves in the mirror of the stranger? Most probably not, the text seems to imply. They have been spared the trauma of self-effraction. They probably do not need it. Apparently, they have accepted their lives as fragmented: they live off their daily habits, their relationships one to the other, their emotions, as the subject--"l'homme"--might have done, had he given up his curiosity and his drive to cognitive resolution.

The last appearance of "l'homme" is therefore among them, in the urban trap of public transportation: the funicular (Certeau 111-14). On the one hand, he has embraced their daily routes. He who started out with a single-minded search, distinguishing himself as an apparent flaneur, either forgoing his own advantages or keenly calculating them while others could simply pursue their daily toil, is now constrained in their very same routes, with no chance of swerving. On the other hand, the funicular, pacing towards death through one season after another ("vers la mort de saison en saison"), repeats the motion of the resumed voyage of 11.74-75: "la longue marche, les degres, d'impasse en impasse / tes pas apres tes pas [...]." The funicular seems to follow into a path that was already imagined, that same path that "l'homme" has vainly tried to recognize throughout the early part of the poem: the path of life, inevitably leading towards death, one season after the other. What the subject was to realize was simply the inescapable temporality of existence, the irreversible transformation into death which makes life simply a brief deferral, like a tour on a funicular, and the unity of the individual a provisional, mainly delusional fiction.

Ending the text in a question, once more, stimulates the cognitive appetite for answers, which now are positive. Yes, the common people trying to get a sight of the sea were going to paradise, their true, prelapsarian origin and ultimate desire. (27) In Frenaud's perspective, though, there is no paradise: "Il n'y a pas de paradis," asserts one of his most important titles. The riddle is open again and it is destined to stay so: those who are going to heaven will eventually find that there is none and they will simply be at the end of their life's journey. For them, the riddle keeps its secrecy.

The riddle will affect the reader differently, though. Being familiar with Frenaud's work, the reader is well aware that there is no paradise, and yet he or she acknowledges the desire for it. Hence the reader is ready to recognize the funicular for what it is: an allusion to life as a bound path, trod by everyone at the same time, on a route that no one can control, hoping in a final appeasement that most probably will not come (and certainly is not there out of any [im]possible divine will). The poem's speaking subject therefore constantly plays with the reader's curiosity, with our need of interpretative completion, of pleroma. Ultimately, it is we readers that expect to understand the disclosed meaning of every stone of Genoa, carried by the illusion alluding to the obscure being (or to its being obscure: "l'illusion allusive a l'etre obscur" 59). It is us who ultimate take the place of "l'homme," as it becomes in the choice of the second person. Yet, being exposed to the external perspective of the narrative voice, what is lost on him is not lost on us. That same secrecy that frustrates him is, to us, a sign of further interpretation: we can recognize a lack as possibly foundational. We can live on lacks, on imperfections, on the differential void between reality and expectations, and react to out perception of undisclosed secrecy not with frustration, but with acceptance, and enjoy our "peu quotidien" exactly like "ceux-la." It is, after all, in negativity, in the self-effraction of the mirror of the stranger that we finally recognize our true selves.

Even if in the passage quoted from is interview book Frenaud acknowledges many cities where this fascination with the "miroir de l'etranger" has taken place, either in Italy or in Mala Strana, the quarter in Prague, its privileged urban setting seems to be Genoa. Only there it is finally spelled out. Bricco may soundly suggests that the reference text on Frenaud's Italian experience is "Cette nuit-la a Florence," but in Florence the subject's excitement from the novelties at every corner is eventually appeased: "A un sentiment d'echec au comble du desespoir, succedait celui de liberte et de domination, d'orgueil comble [...] l'orgueil se confondait avec la joie [...]" (Haeres 65). The subject's long-sought emotion of going beyond himself is eventually reached, even if its limit is felt ("C'est dans le plus haut emoi de cette victoire que l'ai eprouve sa limite..." Haeres 66). It is that condition of felicity well argued by Steven Winspur about "L'amour nous annule": "Speakers become lost in their own utterances, and dissolved in their own actions, so that the joy of doing replaces the satisfactions of having" (252). Nothing like that happens in Genoa, where this limit is foreclosed to the subject since the beginning. Genoa does not allow any possible lyrical identification and reverie with the major effort--and the major bet--of Florence's palaces (Haeres 66). (28) Genoa stands in front of the subject in its unavoidable secrecy and becomes relevant exactly because its secrecy compels the subject to face his own crisis, his own self-effraction, and to communicate it to the reader not by means of a lyrical plenitude, but of scanty signs, of hints and figures to be interpreted and yet constantly displaced, like in a dream, or like in Mantegna's deteriorated fresco "The Martyrdom of St. Christopher and the Transportation of His Body." Accepting this secrecy and understanding its function is not the task of the subject, but of the reader, who finds in the achat manque another sign of the void behind it, the allegory of impermanence, the indefinite at the end: "C'est le neant cela, non le paradis" (Il n'y a pas de paradis 83).

Columbia University

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--. The Arcades Project. Translated by Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press-Harvard University Press, 1999.

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Broome, Peter. Andre Frenaud. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1986.

Caproni, Giorgio, trans. Il silenzio di Genova e altre poesie. By Andre Frenaud. Torino: Einaudi, 1967.

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Certeau, Michel de. The Practice of Everyday Life. Trans. Stephen Rendall. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.

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(1.) Andre Frenaud, Il n'y a pas de Paradis. Paris: Gallimard, 1962.2nd ed. 1967, with a preface by Bernard Pingaud. (Page numbers will refer to the latter edition.) ID. La sainte Face. Paris: Gallimard, 1968.

(2.) Andre Frenaud, La Sorciere de Rome. Paris: Gallimard, 1973. (English translation by Keith Bosley, Rome the Sorceress).

(3.) Elisa Bricco, Andre Frenaud e l'Italia, una scrittura poetica (Fasano, Schena, 1999).

(4.) Andre Frenaud. Haeres. Paris: Gallimard, 1982.

(5.) In a letter to Giorgio Caproni of 27 November 1971, Frenaud refers to these poems more as sketches of his own moods than proper poems: "Est-ce, a proprement parler un poeme? Ne seraient pas plutot des notes? [...] Il me semble parfois que ce texte est meilleur qu'il n'en a l'air, que les fragments prennent valeur plus grande de constituer un ensemble a la place des morceaux [...]" (Bricco Andre Frenaud e l'Italia 44).

(6.) "Ceux qui font un geste ne font pas exactement ce qu'ils croient. Et si les uns ignorent ce qu'ils savent, les autres connaissent sans doute quelque chose qu'ils paraissent ignorer ; des hommes qui sont la absents ou en dehors de leur secret" (Haeres 61).

(7.) "Mais enfin de quel evenement Mantegna reussit-it a rendre compte? Simplement si l'on veut de ceci : Qu'il va se passer quelque chose, et aussi qu'il a du se passer quelque chose, evenement que nous pouvons seulement apprehender a partir du sentiment de l'imminence de cet evenement et de notre nostalgie ..." About the idea of secrecy, see Frank Kermode, The Genesis of Secrecy (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1979) 1-47. On the quest of closure in narrative, see Frank Kermode, The Sense of an Ending: Studies in the Theory of Fiction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969) and, more recently, Paul Cobley, Narrative (London and New York: Routledge, 2001) 1-28 and 215-23.

(8.) In Frenaud's poetry, the subject seems to be predominantly male, at least to me.

(9.) "Apres tant d'annees ou l'imagination d'un homme s'est donnee--si fallacieusement--tout pouvoir sur le monde, des forces invisibles dans l'esprit n'attendent qu'un moyen de s'incarner et l'imprecision, l'imprevisibilite de ce qui va venir favorisent une recomposition hallucinatoire par un regard charge de reveries et avide de se perdre enfin dans sa vision." (Haeres 64)

(10.) On the constant search for completion in narrative, see Frank Kermode, The Sense of an Ending (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967).

(11.) Numerals in parentheses directly following quotes from or references to the poem in question will henceforward indicate the lines.

(12.) For the definitions of the narratological terres, I hereby refer to Gerard Genette. Narrative Discourse: an Essay in Method. (Trans. by Jane E. Lewin. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1980). Here are the specific references: 'Enunciating': "relations between [...] statements and their generating instance" ("Genette 213); 'Focalization': not exactly an equivalent to Brooks and Warren's "focus of narration," I would contend, since "focalization" accounts also for the knowtedge of the narrator, and not simply for the point of view (Genette 189).

(13.) For the two terms, see Seymour Chatman, Story and Discourse (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1978) 147-58.

(14.) Roger Little's hypothesis, i.e. that the Italian name is preserved to avoid both confusion with the French substantive "genes" and allusion to Paul Valery's "La Nuit de Genes" is not to be discounted, even though, in my opinion, it is less relevant (L'Interrogation et le vide 107).

(15.) For a realist revisiting of Eisenstein's theories in terres of montage as misleading manipulation, see Christian Metz on "The Era or 'Montage-or-Bust'" (Metz 31-39).

(16.) An exemplifying equivalent could be the black American soldier Joe in the Neapolitan episode of Roberto Rossellini's Paisa (Bondanella 72-75).

(17.) "But is it really a crossing? Is it not, rather, an obstinate and voluptuous hovering on the brink, a hesitation that has its most cogent motive in the circumstance that beyond this frontier lies nothingness? But the places are countless in the great cities where one stands on the edge of the void, and the whores in the doorways of tenement blocks and on the less sonorous asphalt of railway platforms are like the household goddesses of this cult of nothingness" (Reflections 11).

(18.) For Camillo Sbarbaro, see Trucioli (1920. ed. Giampietro Costa. Milan: Scheiwiller, 1990) and L'opera in versi e in prosa, ed. Gina Lagorio and Vanni Scheiwiller (Milan: Garzanti, 1985). For Eugenio Montale, see Mottetti. (1939. ed. Dante Isella. Milan: Adelphi, 1993) and Tutte le poesie (ed. Giorgio Zampa. Milan: Mondadori, 1978). For Giorgio Caproni, Il terzo libro e altre cose (Turin: Einaudi, 1968) and L'opera in versi (ed. Luca Zuliani. Milan: Mondadori, 1998). Giorgio Caproni and Andre Frenaud were good friends, kept an abundant correspondence in French, and though in unequal measure, translated each others' poems. (Bricco 125-65 on the correspondence and on Caproni's translations; Scotto on Frenaud translating Caproni).

(19.) Giorgio Caproni speaks of the Genoese's "black frown" ("nera mutria"; "Stanze della funicolare," VII.8-9: (Caproni 139).

(20.) Most plausibly, Andre Frenaud read Dante in translation. Still, even if he spoke no foreign language, in spite of his extended stages in England and Poland, he may have indeed been able at least to read some Italian, given his translations of Giorgio Caproni's "I lamenti" (Scotto 101-18). Unfortunately, apart from a few notes in Scotto's article no critical study of Andre Frenaud's familiarity with Italian literature either in the original language or in translation is currently available.

(21.) "... lo sommo desiderio di ciascuna cosa, e prima da la natura dato, e lo ritornare a lo suo principio." ("The greatest desire of each thing, given first by nature, is to return to its beginning." Convivio 4.12.14, quoted and translated in Barolini 99-100).

(22.) The idea of a country without a past, though, is quite limited to the structure of this all-urban poem and does not really belong to the rest of Frenaud's work. On the contrary, usually the countryside deploys the return of the uncanny, like in "Menerbes" (Il n'y a pas de Paradis 143-52).

(23.) "Mediatrice" is one of the most diffused invocations to the Virgin Mary in the Christian tradition.

(24.) Even if it may sound like a cliche, Frenaud actually explored this motif exactly in the months of composition of "Le Silence de Genova" in "C'est pour moi la mer," later collected in Depuis toujours deja. (Cf. Daniel Leuwers, "Le Murmure de la mer," Lire Frenaud. Lyon: Presses Universitaires de Lyon, 1985 [204-09]).

(25.) Since all possible English translations of this term can hardly render all the semantic implications of this expression, I will henceforth use the original French.

(26.) On the fragmented identities in Frenaud, Roger Little has written many fundamental contributions. In Frenaud, Little realizes a polyphony close to the one that Bakhtin finds in Dostoevsky ("The Quest for the Self" 178, but also "Andre Frenaud's Plural Voices" passim). I totally agree. I simply contend, though, that in "Le Silence de Genova" the interplay between the first and the second person is a peculiar case on introspection on subjectivity, more than "a mark of democratization" as in other texts ("Andre Frenaud's Plural Voice" 19).

(27.) Cf. the passage from Dante's Convivio quoted at note 23, and also Lino Pertile, "A Desire of Paradise and a Paradise of Desire." Dante" Contemporary Perspectives. Ed. Amilcare A. Iannucci. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997, 148-66.

(28.) "Pour tout dire, ce jour-la l'expericence avait ete precedee d'une suite de mouvements lyriques et de reveries a propos du Palais et l'angoisse et la fierte que j'avais ressenties etaient en rapport avec l'effort des batisseurs et la grandeur d'une tentative dont l'echec etait d'autant plus poignant que cet effort etait plus ambitieux et aussi exceptionnelle sa reussite." (Haeres 65-66; my emphasis)
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