Printer Friendly

Biographies of displacement and the Utopian imagination: Anna Maria Ortese, Hannah Arendt and the artist as "conscious pariah".

At a first glance, the only commonality between the German-Jewish political theorist Hannah Arendt and the Italian novelist Anna Maria Ortese is that both were women who lived and wrote during the "dark times" of the twentieth century. However, from different social and ethnic backgrounds and in separate areas of human expression, these two women addressed analogous concerns and explored remarkably similar issues. (1) Their common experiences of displacement, albeit prompted by different causes--political in Arendt's case and socioeconomic in Ortese's--inspired parallel life-long meditations on notions of belonging and independence, political involvement and intellectual freedom, the preservation of collective memories and the overcoming of an inherited past. Neither Arendt nor Ortese offered simple answers and straightforward solutions, because both refrained from construing these notions as binary opposites--the positive and negative poles of unambiguous existential choices. By highlighting the hybrid complexity of these notions, and by exploring their shared and liminal domains, Arendt and Ortese drafted strategies for intellectual emancipation, hermeneutical insight, and utopian projection out of daunting and destructive experiences of displacement.

At great personal cost, Arendt and Ortese provided insightful examinations of what Arendt defined as the condition of the "conscious pariahs" and Ortese that of the "non consenzienti" (those who do not consent), the intellectuals as social outcasts who, by being both committed to and critical of their heritage, envision a more hospitable and inclusive future for minorities and pariahs of all kinds. In comparing Ortese's and Arendt's reflections on the notion of displacement, this essay addresses how these two intellectuals' self-conscious construction of a complex sense of Self required their simultaneous revisions of conventional concepts of one's home, community, and country. This theoretical framework provides the platform for a discussion of Ortese's Il mormorio di Parigi as the conscious pariah's effort to overcome historical and existential constraints through the liberating practice of utopian writing.

Defining the Conscious Pariah: A "Hidden Tradition" in the Vanguard of History

Ortese's biography traces a meandering itinerary of recurring displacements --a story of internal migrations the starting point of which, Rome, is just a casual site that blurs all sense of individual selfhood as belonging to a sanctioned national community, however imagined. (2) Ortese's fond assertion of the Catalan origins of her last name, Ortez, and her claim to feeling Neapolitan, Milanese, and "Toledana," was a statement of fantasized otherness and fragmented plurality rather than a concrete effort to establish historical and geographical ties to a specific urban polity or Spanish ancestry. (3) "Sono figlia di nessuno" writes the first person narrator of the semi-autobiographical II porto di Toledo, and the author of "Memoria e conversazione" similarly states that she is "uno 'scrittore' che viene dal nulla" ("Memoria" 12). The double void marking Ortese's social and literary genealogies underscores both the subject's claim of individual freedom and independence and the pariah's awareness of her exclusion from an unwelcoming socio-professional elite. (4) It also identifies the oxymoronic "empty origin" of Ortese's changeable and often contradictory life-long project of self-determination and aesthetic self-construction.

The many autobiographical references that pepper Ortese's writings construct a narrative in which the family's rootlessness is both willed by temperament and imposed by social and historical occurrences. Anna Maria described her father, a petty government employee, who was regularly dispatched across the peninsula on sundry job assignments, as "irrequieto, sognatore" and unable to "stare mai fermo in un posto" and provide for his numerous children (E tu chi eri? 24). (5) Between 1915 and 1928, the Ortese family, "miserrima" and "priva di rilievo sociale" ("Dove il tempo" 55) moved from Puglia to Portici (Naples), and from Potenza to Tripoli, Libya, then an Italian colony. Strident counterpart to the expansive rhetoric of contemporary imperialistic propaganda, Ortese condensed her memories of her family's African adventure in the uncanny image of an unfinished home--a hollow parable of permanence in stone--built upon the sand of a ghostly settlement abutting the Libyan Desert:
   La [casa] era grande, tutta di pietra. Mio padre la voile costruire
   con le pietre di una cava che aveva comperato assieme con il
   terreno. Ma non pote mai finirla [...]. E rimasta a meta. Sembrava
   la casa dei fantasmi. Senza porte, senza finestre, col tetto meta
   coperto e meta no, il pavimento mezzo di pietra e mezzo di terra (E
   tu chi eri? 25).


The uncanny hearth of Anna Maria's paradis enfantin hollows out the Edenic unity of the African landscape (6) and symbolically evokes one of the emotional clusters that mark much of Ortese's writing: the paradox of a reminisced original fullness of Being coexisting with the awareness that a void fissures this phantasmal totality at its very core.

In numerous memories inspired by autobiographical events, Ortese presented her family's map of migration as drawn by the inflexible laws of poverty: a tragic diaspora causing the estrangement of family members from one another, and saddened by hunger, death and the devastation of war. (7) The precarious domain of the Orteses' sense of home (namely, their rented casupola or catapecchia in the transient neighborhood of the harbor of Naples, rendered uninhabitable by allied bombings in 1944) was, simultaneously, the creative nest of the budding writer's "stanza d'Angolo" (Il porto 25) and the gloomy dungeon that the harbor's gates separated from the sunny world beyond. The experience of sfollamento that many other Italian families lived as a unique and traumatic event of the war was, for the Orteses, yet another chapter in the family's ongoing biography of displacement (E tu chi eri? 28).

After the death of her parents in the early 1950s, Anna Maria, a self-taught writer with barely an elementary school education and no ties to the literary, publishing, and academic institutions, pursued her literary vocation from a position of marginality marked by renewed resettlements across Italy. While reminiscing about her sundry job assignments and precarious employment in numerous Italian cities (Venice, Trieste, Florence, Naples, Milan, Rome), Ortese summarized her life-long literary vocation as ruled by two opposite drives. One, euphoric and liberating was the power to "esprimersi" seen as the "liberta assoluta della mente umana" ("Dove il tempo" 78). The other, dysphoric, included all the cultural, material, and financial restrictions imprisoning the artist who "comes from nowhere" in a "tempo di naufragio" ("Dove il tempo" 84)--a chronotope of exile and separation from the free domain of expression, that is, from the artist's utopian home: "Scrivere [e] tornare a casa. Chi scrive [...] rientra a casa" ("La virtu del nulla" 104). (8)

There are very few biographical analogies between Hannah Arendt and Anna Maria Ortese. The only daughter of a well-to-do Jewish engineer, Arendt studied philosophy under Martin Heidegger and Karl Jaspers at Marburg and Heidelberg Universities, respectively. In the best tradition of German humanism, Arendt received a rigorous training in Classics and German philosophy, obtaining a Ph.D. at the age of twenty-two. If the rise of Nazism forced her to escape to France and then settle in the United States, she remained politically involved in the Jewish community, working as an active Zionist in Paris (1933-40), and holding important posts in several Jewish organizations in the United States. While publishing extensively on Jewish topics, she taught at numerous universities, including Princeton (where she was the first woman to receive a full professorship), the New School for Social Research, and the University of Chicago (Feldman 16).

From different socio-cultural backgrounds and historical experiences, Arendt and Ortese cherished a similar ideological non-conformism and fierce intellectual independence. The ostracizing reactions of the Neapolitan intelligentsia to Il silenzio della ragione--Ortese's blunt j'accuse against her fellow intellectuals' indifference toward Naples' rampant corruption and squalor--can be paired with the Jewish community's response to Eichmann in Jerusalem (1963), Arendt's controversial criticism of Jewish leadership during the Holocaust and of Israel's handling of Adolf Eichmann's trial in 1961. Ortese's reportages from the Soviet Union, where she traveled with the first delegation of the Unione donne italiane, fomented harsh criticism among the most rigorous representatives of Communist doctrine, such as Rossana Rossanda. Ortese's terse response "Sono uscita dal partito perche volevano che io non ragionassi con la mia testa ma con la loro. [...] Io scrivevo in un modo non ortodosso" (E tu chi eri? 34) echoes Arendt's sentiments in a different context, as she expressed them in a letter to Gershom Scholem:

What confuses you is that my argument and my approach are different from what you are used to; in other words, the trouble is that I am independent. By this I mean, on the one hand, that I do not belong to any organisation and always speak only for myself, and, on the other hand, that I have great confidence in Lessing's selbstdenken [self-thinking] for which, I think, no ideology, no public opinion, and no "conviction" can ever be a substitute ("Eichmann" 250).

Similarly, in "Dialogo sull'appartenenza", Ortese stated "La nonappartenenza [...] mi pare condizione inevitabile per una certa liberte. Tutti infatti appartengono, o desiderano follemente di appartenere" (1). The courage of selbstdenken and the pursuit of a "certain amount of freedom" allowed Ortese to transform a disheartening biographical experience of social marginalization and cultural exclusion into a "visionary" literature that gave aesthetic expression to Arendt's notion of the "conscious pariah."

Arendt theorized the notion of the "conscious pariah" in two seminal essays: "We Refugees" (1943) and "The Jew as Pariah: A Hidden Tradition" (1944). Focusing primarily if not exclusively on the Jewish experience following the tragedy of genocide and trauma of dislocation during the Nazi era, Arendt poignantly summarized her peoples' encounter with unspeakable loss with these words:

We lost our home, which means the familiarity of daily life. We lost our occupation, which means the confidence that we are of some use in this world. We lost our language, which means the naturalness of reactions, the simplicity of gestures, the unaffected expression of feelings. We left our relatives in the Polish ghettos and our best friends have been killed in concentration camps, and that means the rupture of our private lives ("We Refugees" 55-6). (6)

The nostalgia for a collective past and a place of belonging ("once we were somebodies about whom people cared, we were loved by friends"--"We Refugees" 60) begets a present in which the natural desire to be and to belong risks turning the Self into a masquerade and the individual into what Arendt defines a "social parvenu." Arendt expresses a chillingly Pirandellian sense of humor, when she recounts the anecdote of a Mr. Cohn from Berlin who had always been "a 150% German, a German super-patriot" ("We Refugees" 62). Mr. Cohn shaped himself as a Czech nationalist after finding refuge in Prague in 1933, an Austrian loyalist after escaping to Vienna in 1937, and a child of "Vercingetorix" when he fled to France after Hitler's invasion of Austria. Mr. Cohn is the apt representative of all the "loyal Hottentots" - the "social parvenus" who according to Arendt "change identity so frequently that nobody can find out who we actually are" ("We Refugees" 62). Unlike social parvenus, conscious pariahs, to whom Arendt devotes the "Bernard Lazare" section of "The Jew as Pariah: A Hidden Tradition," are rebels who, being aware of their marginalized and ostracized status, become champions of the oppressed. Their "fight for freedom is part and parcel of that which all the down-trodden of Europe need to achieve national and social liberation" ("The Jew" 76).

While at times Arendt sees the social parvenu and the conscious pariah as antithetical, (10) in other cases the borders between these opposing positions are more porous than one may expect, and therefore deserve careful examination. Arendt denounces the "hopeless sadness" and self-mystification of the parvenus who renounce their individual and collective identities and memories in order to belong to and be accepted by society: "The confusion in which we live," Arendt claims, "is partly our own work" ("We Refugees" 62). This sadness and confusion corresponds to the very "sensazione di nebbia" that Ortese describes when discussing her generation's ignorance of the reasons why "siamo cosf cambiati, il [nostro] non ricordare" in a piece significantly titled "Attraversando un paese sconosciuto" (18). (11) Ortese's denunciation of the "orrore della memoria" and "solitudine dell'intelligenza ("Attraversando" 38) that marks Italian post-war society stems from her belief that all forms of political tyranny and social oppression begin precisely with such an erosion of collective identity:

per condurre un paese alla perfetta tristezza, o non identita, che assicura il dominio di qualcuno bisogna prima avezzare la gente a non vivere se stessa, la propria terra, memoria, civilta [...] memoria di lingua e linguaggio del passato; e degli affetti, i pensieri, i dolori della passate generazioni [che] altro non sono, lo sappiamo che identite di nazione. Dunque liberte nazionale. [...] Comincia con questa aratura imponente del suolo umano qualsiasi seria operazione di colonizzazione o dominio ("Attraversando" 24, emphasis added).

How this form of oppression may end up does not escape Ortese's own recent memories, as she identifies with people being locked up in a sealed train "e trasportati [in] un paese straniero, sconosciuto [senza] poter piu tornare indietro" ("Attraversando" 18).

The reiterated and emphatic first person plural through which Arendt builds her critique of the social parvenus places her within the boundaries of the very experience she is analyzing: "we were reminded that the new country would become a new home; and after four weeks in France or six weeks in America, we pretended to be Frenchmen or Americans" ("We Refugees" 56). Ortese follows a similar strategy in "Attraversando un paese sconosciuto," as she included herself among those who succumb to society's instructions to forget: "Ecco anch'io non ricordo. O ricordo a stento" ("Attraversando" 18). In Ortese's view, the post-war society's refusal of memory corresponds to the abjuration of history that has lead to capitalistic assimilation and cultural homogenization: "senza piu storia [...] fummo America" ("Attraversando" 25-6).12 Instead of a polity based on bonding and dialogue, Ortese sees a country in a state of collective trauma and alienation: "L'estraneita a noi stessi non era il nostro scopo. [...]. Non ci riconosciamo piu, [...] non possiamo piu intenderci, [...] siamo tristi" ("Attraversando" 22). Both Arendt and Ortese make it clear that this estrangement results from acts of social discrimination, political persecution, and cultural "colonization." Though different in their causes and outcomes, these acts are similar in the responses they cause: "The less we are free to decide who we are or to live as we like, the more we try to put up a front, to hide the facts, and to play roles" ("We Refugees" 61, emphasis added).

The presupposition of self-inclusion marking both Arendt's and Ortese's use of the first person plural is deliberately deceptive, as the very logic of their arguments partially dislocates the speaking voice from the intellectual domain of this communal "We." Arendt's dispassionate yet sympathetic analysis in "We Refugees" both connects her to, and separates her from, the unreflective naivete and self-imposed optimism with which she claims the Jewish people have reinvented themselves and found new homes in order to survive: "The more optimistic among us would even add that their whole former life had been passed in a kind of unconscious exile and only their new country now taught them what a home really looks like" ("We Refugees" 56). If the grammatical logic of Arendt's discourse includes her in the object of her critique, the rhetorical movement of her text and the logical construction of her argument places her firmly within the intellectual and ethical domains of those few whom "following Bernard Lazare, one may call 'conscious pariahs'" ("We Refugees" 65). This is the tradition of people such as Salomon Maimon, Heinrich Heine, Rahel Varnhagen, Frank Kafka, Sholom Aleichem, and even Charlie Chaplin--the conscious pariahs who "did not think it worth while to change their humane attitude and their natural insight into reality for the narrowness of caste spirit or the essential unreality of financial transactions" ("We Refugees" 66). As such, they were able to gain a discerning perspective on both Jewish and European matters, one that allowed the distinctively Jewish and broadly European experiences to inform and enlighten one another.

Similarly, Ortese defends the slim group of intellectuals who remained faithful to their collective pasts by refusing to wear profitable and changeable masks. Ortese includes herself among those writers who succeeded in combining their "memorie florentine o romane o napoletane o venete [con] le memorie d'Europa e della classica America" ("Attraversando" 29). Like Arendt, Ortese promotes an inclusive ideal of humanity--one that does not sacrifice authenticity to either sectarian labels or convenient acts of collective forgetting ("Attraversando" 28). The artist "who comes from nowhere" thus re-adjusts her self-definition. While rejecting any form of narrow and prejudiced belonging, Ortese defends the value of personal and communal memories in a pliable, expandable, and inclusive cultural framework.

Like Ortese's, Arendt's conscious pariah inhabits a hybrid place that ideally transcends the Manichean grammar of inclusion ("We") and exclusion ("They"). Inviting Jews and non-Jews alike, this is a "home" that is built from the ruins of unspeakable horror and yet away from sectarian strife and grotesque masquerades. Its inhabitants look with hope to a capacious world that encompasses cultural specificity while transcending it. Conscious pariahs are indeed "refugees who represent the vanguard of their peoples -if they keep their identity" ('We Refugees" 66). However, Arendt does not conceal the fact that historically these vanguards have been the most exposed and vulnerable positions. Their inclusive and unfettered ideals do not translate easily into the world of praxis, a world built upon fixed rules of belonging and exclusion. "The very few among us who have tried to get along without all these tricks and jokes of adjustment and assimilation," Arendt writes, "have paid a much higher price than they could afford; they jeopardized the few chances even outlaws are given in a topsy-turvy world" ("We Refugees" 65, emphasis added).

Paradoxically, as bearers of a message of inclusiveness and authenticity, conscious pariahs remain marginal in relation to their own communities, whose parochialism they overcome; marginal in relation to the assimilated peers whose "disguises" they reject; and marginal in relation to a society whose insidious and ambiguous offers of assimilation they decline. Arendt's "conscious pariahs" can be paired to what Ortese defines "i non consenzienti" and "i diversi" ("Attraversando" 30). Voluntarily refusing the deceptions of false belonging the "non consenzienti" are cast "fuori dalla [loro] terra" ("Attraversando" 30), away, that is, from the fullness of life that a non-oppressed existence should warrantee to all people alike:

I veri diversi, per mia esperienza sono [...] i cercatori d'identita, propria e collettiva, e nazionale, e d'anima. Coloro [...] che non credono, o credono poco, ai partiti, le classi, i confini, le barriere, le fazioni, le armi, le guerre. Che nel denaro non hanno posto alcuna parte dell'anima, e quindi sono incomprabili. Quelli che vedono il dolore, l'abuso; vedono la bonta o l'iniquita, dovunque siano, e sentono come dovere il parlarne ("Attraversando" 30).

Visionaries and seekers who have been separated from their own people by the events of history as well as by their own non-conformism, these men and women constitute what Arendt calls a "tacit," "latent," or "hidden" tradition ("The Jew" 68). The oxymoronic value of this concept defines the socio-political conundrum of the conscious pariahs -great but isolated individuals who, by affirming their pariah status have severed all ties of convenience with their own assimilated communities, and, yet, a tradition nevertheless, because for centuries "the same basic conditions have obtained and evoked the same basic reaction" ("The Jew as Pariah" 68).

Ortese describes herself in terms that evoke Arendt's notion of the conscious pariah when she defines the hidden tradition from which she emerged with these apparently sarcastic words: "Uno scrittoredonna, proveniente da quella parte del paese che nel 1861 si aggiunse, come dote in un contratto di matrimonio, alia decorosa storia del Piemonte [... e] una bestia che parla" ("Attraversando" 50-1). Undoubtedly, the bestia from II Mezzogiorno reflects the double yoke of the sexual and geographical "naturalness" of the Southern woman--she is a mere body, a synecdoche of the cultural "nowhere" that is cheaply sold in order to be integrated into the higher realm of reason, decorum, and Northern male history. And yet, this bestia does, indeed, speak. As such she is a monstrum, an outlandish wonder, a lusus naturae that pays for her challenge to a silent "normality" with isolation from other dissident and equally segregated voices such as those of Anna Banti and Elsa Morante, just to cite the most obvious members of Ortese's own hidden tradition.

More broadly, the "besta che parla" also reflects the tradition that Arendt identifies with Heinrich Heine's "Princess Sabbath" (Hebrew Melodies). In "Princess Sabbath," the poet presents the Jewish people as a fairy prince turned by witchcraft into a dog. As the "voice" of his people, the poet is a pariah "excluded from formal society and with no desire to be embraced within it" who eagerly turns to celebrate "the open and unrestricted bounty of the earth" ("The Jew as Pariah" 71). As "Lord of Dreams" (Traumweltherrscher), the people's poet shifts the accent to a "higher reality," and his displacement from the social order becomes the core of aesthetic and creative freedom ("The Jew as Pariah" 72):

The pariah is always remote and unreal; [...] as "lord of dreams" he stands outside the real world and attacks it from without. Indeed the Jewish tendency toward utopianism--a propensity most clearly in evidence in the very countries of emancipation--stems, in the last analysis, from just this lack of social roots. The only thing which saved Heine from succumbing to it, and which made him transform the political non-existence and unreality of the pariah into the effective basis of a world of art, was his creativity ("The Jew" 73).

In a context unrelated to Jewish history yet remarkably attuned to Arendt's own analysis, Ortese admired the "visionary" creators of revolutionary, because moral, literature: "una letteratura [...] di azione e visione, insegnamento, gioia, profezia insieme. Potrei chiamarla, anche, letteratura del coraggio" ("Attraversando" 26). (13) If, with these words, Ortese appears to believe in the concrete potential of the written word to create a bridge between aesthetic "vision" and socio-political "action," Arendt was more soberly aware of the price the conscious pariahs often paid for their prophetic stance. As social outcasts, often the only liberty they could achieve was the liberty allowed "by the sheer force of imagination" ("The Jew as Pariah" 68):

As individuals they started an emancipation of their own, of their own hearts and brains. Such a conception was, of course, a gross misconstruction of what emancipation had been intended to be; but it was also a vision and out of the impassioned intensity with which is was evinced and expressed it provided the fostering soil in which Jewish creative genius could grow and contribute its products to the general spiritual life of the Western world ("We Refugees" 68).

The ability of truly "visionary" literature to achieve positive and concrete changes in the world of political praxis and social engagement was indeed a question that haunted Ortese during her entire life, and one that did not yield easy and univocal answers. Undoubtedly, as Ortese retreated further and further away from social interaction, her outlook became more and more disheartened, and her historical pessimism turned into a tragic view of the human condition as a whole. (14) However, even from a perspective that, borrowing Leopardi's terminology, reflected cosmic pessimism, Ortese savors the concretely revolutionary potential of Utopia:

Nel vivere umano, mentre i decenni e i mezzi secoli rotolano via sempre piu in fretta, con un effetto di turbine e di rovina--non visibile e quindi non rimediabile io vedo da tempo una macchia, come vedo una macchia nella natura dell'uomo anche buono, e forse una macchia nel sole stesso. E a questa percezione--devo dire--e forse dovuta la mia propensione per il poco--o il nulla--e la mia reverenza per l'Utopia--sempre alta e presente come una luce bianca tra le nuvole basse, nello sconfortato vivere; la vita si muove, viaggia; e alta [...] sui paesi come sulle campagne perse--mentre i convogli del tempo continuano a inseguirsi-alta sui paesi deserti e campagne mute, resta la mirabile, cara, fedele Utopia (Lente scura iii-iv).

In the domain of a fleeting present careening toward its own ruin, human existence displays itself in dysphoric terms, as a space of dejection ("sconfortato vivere") and moral error (the blemish or "macchia" recalling the Judeo-Christian tradition of the human condition marked by sin, imperfection, and death). Missing from this dystopian world, presence, permanence and communal bonding belong to the metaphysical plane of Utopia. The utopian Logos, however, has an uncanny epistemological status: to assert itself as enduring presence Utopia must affirm its absolute absence--its otherness and separation--from the hic et mine of human existence. Or, to put it differently, to posit and theorize Utopia, one must be in a situation of self-conscious displacement--the condition of the "conscious pariah" who is removed from the metaphysics of presence and the dream of fullness that marks the utopian domain--thence Ortese's intellectual inclination for il poco, or il nulla. Utopia, ou-topos, is conceivable only from the outside, from a position of loss, manque, and exile. To think utopically, then, does not mean to build and inhabit alternative worlds, but, rather, to sharpen the tools that allow us to "see" the limitations of the world in which we live. Whether inherent to the human condition subjected to finitude and the passing of time or imposed upon the individual by socio-economic oppression and political persecution, these very limitations become for conscious pariahs like Ortese and Arendt the springboard for diverse forms of intellectual engagement, ranging from imaginative creation to political theory and social practice.

II mormorio di Parigi: The Conscious Pariah's Search for a Utopian Home and the Role of Literature Between Displacement and Self-Definition

In Ortese's Il mormorio di Parigi (1986), the narrative "I" defines herself against her casual travel companion, a young Italian student who is moving, via Paris and Marseille, to New York City, where he has found a job. (15) Resentful about having to reject his European past and longing to fit in his new American home, the young student voices his "amaro risentimento" and "eloquente diffidenza" (II mormorio 223) to ward Paris, France, and Europe in general. The young man's act of unreflective rejection (the rejection, Arendt would claim, of the parvenu) inspires by contrast Ortese's hermeneutical journey across Paris. (16) Both unknown and familiar to the narrator, who feels mad with fear but also full of happiness, and both lost and at home in the peace and silence of the core of Europe, Paris is a quintessentially uncanny space: (17)

Sono in un punto di questa citta, non so se est o ovest, nord o sud, in una strada sconosciuta, anche se vagamente familiare [...] Premo debolmente il bottone di legno di un campanello che non suona. Qui, a questo numero [...] dovrebbe esserci un avvocato italiano per il quale lo studente mi ha lasciato un biglietto (e un vecchio amico di famiglia) pregandolo di volermi essere di qualche aiuto. [...]

Una volta rinchiuso il portoncino, mi trovo in un pozzo, in un antro. Non un pozzo ne un antro per dire, un vero pozzo, un vero antro. II suolo, sotto i miei piedi e sparito, ci sono buche e acqua. Il buio e perfetto, un buio da prima della creazione, o, piu modestamente, da inverno di periferia. Mi accorgo in tempo di avere in tasca dei fiammiferi, e comincio ad accenderli uno per volta, cautamente. E appaiono dei muri corrosi, e una scaletta a chiocciola, rapidissima, che si perde verso l'alto. I fiammiferi si spengono e ritorna il buio. Comincio a salire, pian piano, trattendendo il fiato, sicura che mi imbattero, da qui a un istante, in qualche mostro, o inciampero in qualche cadavere (Il mormorio 236).

The mixture of fairy tale and banlieue-noire elements, and the strident contrast between the tenor of the connotations (the Biblical darkness turning into a pedestrian wintery gloom), invests the writer's quasi-mythical ascent through this symbolic birth canal with anticipatory irony. Reversing the trauma of birth, the narrator's tentative climb toward the pre-natal chora is both familiar and strange--Heimlich and unheimlich at once. This maternal receptacle--matrix of creation and origin of the Self as well as core of the polis at the center of Europe--is indeed an ambiguous domain. (18) Doubly in the middle and yet un-positioned (the subject is disoriented), real ("un vero antro") and evocatively symbolic, it is a centered non-place. While suggesting the arnniotic sphere of pre-oedipal unity between the Self and its surroundings, this chora, like the belly of Pinocchio's "gigantesco Pesce-cane" (Collodi 141), turns out to be the dwelling of the Father--the Logocentric home of the Law:

La porta si apre, e vedo l'avvocato Gaetani. Gaetani perche un nome bisogna averlo, s'intende, ma il realta e Mazzini giovane, col volto olivastro, i lisci capelli grigio-ferro, gli occhi pieni di luce che non possono sorridere e neppure chiudersi. Mi fa entrare (Il mormorio 236).

Surprisingly, the center of Europe is home to the father of the Italian Risorgimento, an incongruous and anachronistic figure in contemporary Paris. This Mazzini is a choric inventio: as Ortese states, his name is Gaetani only in the merely referential world. As brought to life via

the writer's imaginative and discursive strategies, he is young Mazzini. However, as soon as it is originated in discursive form, Ortese's locus of beginning and creation undergoes a process of ironic displacement:

La casa, esternamente di fango e pietra, all'interno e solo di legno e carta, legno e libri, legno e candelieri dimenticati, legno e carte geografiche, mappe di isole e mari lontani, cornici d'oro e d'argento, tagliacarte, tra i tagliacarte e in qualche cornice ritratti ovali di morti, fotografie di dame e fanciulli e soldati gia dentro il fiume del tempo, ma qui ancora riuniti sotto un albero, sorridenti. Ma lo spazio maggiore e riservato ai libri: immensi o piccolissimi, di tutti i generi, le dimensioni, i colori, le epoche, i tipi. E una cosa li accomuna: sono libri italiani, c'e la vita, la storia, il colore dell'Italia quando nasceva, appena un secolo fa. 1860.

[...] Qui scende la sera (Il mormorio 236-7).

Insulated from the outside piazza full of sunshine and noise, this chora is a space of birth and death, simultaneously. The place of origin is already a space of memory, not the matrix from which the Self can "take an initiative, begin [...], set something into motion," and move forward, as Arendt argued in defining the notion of human action as the ability to begin in The Human Condition (157). Here, the locus of origin is an invention that ironically subverts its own generative implications by mimicking the cadences of Guido Gozzano's crepuscular and melancholy prose. This is also a domain where "wood" remains inanimate, and "paper"--the written word, the record of a country's collective memories--does not have the power to act upon life and is no longer, as Ortese claims elsewhere, "diaframma tra l'essere e il fare" ("Attraversando" 19-20). (19) Gaetani/Mazzini's eyes have the fixity of a daguerreotype, and the compendium of the history of Italy contained in his library is unrelated to the present, a present symbolized by Gaetani's ancient telephone that fails to establish any communication with the outside world, and his doorbell, which does not ring.

Contrary to Arendt's social parvenu, ready to cast his past aside with every change of home, Ortese's emigre appears eager to superimpose the familiar onto the foreign, the safety of a lost home upon a land of exile. If the former is frantically reinventing himself in order to belong to the present, the latter reverses the generative potential of the domain of origins as described by Ortese. This sterile crucible of melancholia and nostalgia displays the Logos as a simulacrum--a frozen likeness of Mazzini, and its dwelling as a "vecchia madre" (old mother) who has exhausted her generative power (II mormorio 238). The artifex of Italy's collective identity reincarnated and displaced in this ambiguous chora under the name of a lonely Italian emigre is hopelessly isolated from the here and now of social life. Gaetani/Mazzini's vacuum-sealed existence among the cherished mementos of a dead past is of no use to the Southern woman-writer who cannot translate this sterile archaeological collection into useful memories or practical directives to orient her current quest for identity.

Ortese signs a different experiential and creative contract with the surroundings in her encounter with the foreign city, rather than in the retreat into the museum-like interior. As neither a professional journalist nor a leisurely tourist, the narrator's immediate experience of Paris depends upon the rules of need (need to find directions, a phone, a cheap hotel, food, and acquaintances that can offer lodging and provide connections). However, the stranger's gaze transforms the alien metropolis, and all that it contains, into a treasured gift, and the writer-pariah thus becomes the beneficiary of an entire world. The sense of total dispossession morphs into a state of full spiritual ownership that exceeds the boundaries of selfhood and that the writer shares with her sympathetic readers. A novel and ex-centric definition of collective memory thus emerges:

Per molto tempo ricordero questo pezzetto di marciapiede sul boulevard de Clichy e questa fioca luce d'estate, come di una estate ricordata o dipinta, non vera, e i colori, il traffico, le vetrine dei caffe [...] e la processione verde degli alberi, la banda delle nuvole, da cui piove su tutto, insieme ai raggi del sole, una musica di gioia, di malessere, di confusa, ostinata speranza. Colori, colori, colori. Folia, folia, folia. Movimento, sole, musica. Tutti i palloncini delle vostre pasque, colmi di puro colore, sono stati spremuti su muri; tutte le automobiline verdi e gialle, e le diligenze rosse delle vostre epifanie--chiuse in un sacco per trenta, quaranta anni- sono state sparpagliate stamane per la citta; tutte le vetrinette e le tazzine e le bilance dorate della casa di bambola, custodite gelosamente da un'antica ragazzina, hanno fatto su questo marciapiede la loro apparizione. [...] e un paradiso perduto (Il mormorio 228-29).

In a clever mise an abyme, the narrator anticipates her future memory of the Boulevard de Clichy ("ricordero") not as her mnemonic rendition of the objective world of the present ("questa fioca luce") but as her recollection of another mnemonic and aesthetic construct ("ricordata o dipinta"). Twice removed from the referential space, this double memory becomes the realm of a collective utopia that merges past, present and future into a chronotope of unity (see the reiterated "tutte") --a tribute to the fullness of human existence via the remembered recurrence of life-celebrating festivities, which overcomes the tyranny of chronology, isolation and death: "tutto e festa, incantesimo, vita (Il mormorio 229).

The woman-writer who "comes from nowhere" sees Paris as the very opposite of the socio-cultural void that both haunted and nurtured her efforts of self-definition. The diverse specificity of the Parisian crowd epitomizes the utopian totality, ranging from the ordinary and mundane to the bizarre and eerie, characterizing the center of Europe:

Passano popolani dalle maglie rosse e i berretti neri, passano cittadini di colore in completi blu o verde, passano esili e cinguettanti marinai stranieri, con pipe e bianchi berretti; passano donnette vistose e umane; soldati stanchi; passa un uomo d'ete, dall'aspetto bonario, conducendo per mano un cane vestito alia marinara, in blu rosso e bianco, che poi si rivela un giovanetto cieco [...]

Passano prostitute [...], portinaie autorevoli, con la spesa. Preti protestanti. Facce di giustiziati. Vecchie coppie americane. Un blouson noir.

Si potrebbe raccontare per ore della gente che passa, senza sosta, incantevole e orrida, per le vie di Montmartre; e sarebbe, per ogni volto, una storia e un linguaggio diverso. La infinita liberte di Parigi ha creato questo miracolo della diversite, delle differenze, delle dissonanze, che tutte insieme fanno l'uguaglianza, l'unite, l'armonia del volto di Parigi. Vi e di tutto: e tutto e esattamente corne avrebbe dovuto essere. [...] E percio vi sono brutture e bellezze infinite, salute e morte, allegria e noia, il disfacimento e la fioritura, tutte le grazie su tutti i vizi possibili [...]. Ecco coltelli e nuvole, le fogne e la Place de l'Etoile, il mercato erotico e Chagall, la soavite del diavolo e la durezza di Dio (Il mormorio 231).

Crucible of the world and cornucopia of diversity, Paris is a spectacle for the eyes, a catalogue of dissonances, an unabridged encyclopedia of humanity, and a heterogeneous domain where the similar and the discordant, the real and the ideal converge and coexist. Paris is the utopian paradise where the possible has indeed become practicable. Yet, this utopian existence is a deja vu-a cultural memory: "Ma e una vita di ieri o di oggi?" (Il mormorio 229) rhetorically asks Ortese, not without implied regret, only to reply: "e un profondo ieri" (Il mormorio 244). (20)

In Il mormorio di Parigi, Ortese self-consciously "sees" Paris as the capital of the nineteenth century, a spectacle organized according to the same representational criteria that the Universal Expositions popularized during their European golden age (1860-1914), namely, the panoramic and panoptic views, and the phantasmagoria. The World's Fairs displayed themselves and their host cities as perspectivist and totalizing domains the function of which was to deploy and survey the world's spectacular multiplicities and differences. The perspectivist space is, by definition, "open to virtually infinite expansion," just like the slice of the Boulevard de Clichy that Ortese describes as compendium of the entire city (Baudrillard 32). The crowd parading down the boulevard is not an amorphous, threatening, and engulfing mass, but a moving panorama--a procession of discrete individuals that the narrator classifies and defines from careful hermeneutical distance--from the perspective, that is, which allows her to organize her view according to a "panoramic gaze" that permits accurate understanding. (21) The same all-encompassing understanding occurs with the panoptic view. (22) From hills, towers, raised platforms, elevators, and Ferris-wheels, spectators could enjoy that bird's-eye-perspective that presented the urban space as a totality that their eyes could encompass and control. "[D]alla piazza dove c'e la chiesa del Sacro Cuore," Ortese writes with an obvious nod to the Victor Hugo of Notre Dame de Paris, "si vede Parigi, si abbraccia Parigi con i suoi tetti celesti, il suo cappello di nuvole bianche, l'ineffabile ampiezza del suo orizzonte" (Il mormorio 232).

The World's Fairs' utopian vision consisted in the statement of the unstoppable progress of the Western world. The idea of progress expressed itself in the fairgrounds' crafted topography, and in the many sophisticated operations of mass make-believe that collapsed reality and illusion into what Walter Benjamin dubbed as the World's Fairs' "phantasmagoria in which each person enters to be distracted" (7). In II mormorio di Parigi, Ortese evokes the phantasmagoria effect with both technical savvy and a wink to referential accuracy:

A due passi dal falso e incredibile Moulin Rouge [...] c'e un muro completamente nero. [...] Ha qualcosa di allarmante e insieme inerte: "Cabaret du Neant," c'e scritto a lettere bianche, cubitali.

Pochi centimentri piu su di quel divertimento funereo si aprono piccole finestre che sembrano inventate: hanno tendine di trina, piante fiorite, sedie di paglia, gabbiette con uccelli. E rivelano tranquilli interni familiari. Ma non si ode una voce, un grido.

Una donna, sopra la parola "Neant" appoggiata a una bassa graziosa inferriata [...] guarda nella strada senza guardare (Il mormorio 233-4).

Historically one of the first venues where phantasmagoria shows were created and projected in Paris, the Cabaret du Neant was founded in 1892. Ortese resuscitates it in her anachronistic Paris to blur the lines between reality and its representations, truth and fiction, and being and nothingness (le neant). However, unlike in the phantasmagorias (either as pre-cinematic illusionist tricks or, lato sensu, in Benjamin's definition of the term), Ortese does not conceal either herself or her craft, but rather displays agency, intent, and technique. "Non consiglierei a nessuno" Ortese writes "di attraversare Parigi senza ironia" (Il mormorio 238).

Ortese creates a brilliant objective correlative of the filter of irony when she highlights the double screen of a window reflected into a mirror through which she observes the panorama of the metropolis and its parading crowd: "Dalla pasticceria, dietro la vetrinetta--riflessa la vetrinetta nei lunghi specchi orizzontali--cominciavo a distinguere i volti di [...] Parigi" (Il mormorio 231). This mediated position is both perceptual and hermeneutical. Like the prisoners in the allegory of the great cave in Plato's Republic, the observer does not see the things themselves, but their reflections. However, if Plato's chained men mistook mere shadows for reality, as they were ignorant of their perceptive location and of the fire that caused the shadows, Ortese's highly framed perception self-consciously emphasizes that what she sees is not the city in itself but the city as it displays itself through specific cultural, semiotic, and interpretive codes. These codes too are double, as they are those of the World's Fairs as appropriated by the belated and ironic observer in the summer of 1960. Irony is precisely what transforms the definition of reality as phantasmagoria from its negative connotations (a false reality, a fiction deceptively presented as true in order to reduce gawking viewers into a state of passive wonder) to new, positive ones (a liberating, because critical and self-conscious, "expression," an aesthetic "idea," in sum, a utopia).

In Il mormorio di Parigi, irony indeed separates the parvenu from the conscious pariah, and the mere antiquarian display of the World's Fairs' systems of representation (and their implicit ideology) from their disruptive mimicry. As conscious pariah, Ortese is bitterly aware of the failure of the gospel of communal progress and universal well-being that the World's Fairs touted. Her ironic re-appropriation of the semiotic systems that displayed this progress demystifies its outcomes and proposes alternative visions. Upon abandoning the view of the city as reflected in the pastry shop's mirrors, the woman-artist enters the urban stage with what Judith Butler would call a "performative gesture" and Arendt an "action" that turns "power against itself to produce alternative modalities of power, to establish a kind of political contestation that is not a 'pure' opposition, a 'transcendence' of contemporary relations of power, but a difficult labor of forging a future from resources inevitably impure" (Butler 241).

In Il mormorio di Parigi, the "impure resources" are the technologies of vision that defined Paris as the capital of modernity. In the conscious pariah's hands, these resources are estranged and re-functioned to generate a fluid, open, and aerial urban design according to an aesthetic of lightness similar to that of Calvino's Invisible Cities:

La macchina su cui ero salita [...] non correva, ma volava, e non produceva alcun rumore, solo un debole fruscio di seta strappata. [...] Io cercavo con gli occhi una citta come quelle che noi tutti conosciamo, fatte di pietra, di cemento armato e semafori, e vedevo soltanto un'aria grigio-azzurra sui cui [...] pietra grigia e semafori erano solo disegnate od ombreggiate, ma molto leggermente.

Case, piazze, strade, boschi, castelli, tetti, tende, vertrine, fanali, uccelli, semafori, non esistevano, ma erano suggeriti, sognati. [...]

I quartieri si susseguivano ai quartieri, le strade alle strade, le piazze alle piazze, i boschi ai parchi, ai castelli, ai giardini, alle fontane [...].

Tutto questo non finiva mai. [...]

Quest'aria interminabile [...] diveniva sempre piu trasparente e sensibile, e tenue, finche [...] io vidi la fonte di tutti questi prodigi, questa tenerezza, questa immaginazione [...], vidi l'anima stessa di Parigi, cioe la Senna, la sua bell'acqua verde-mattina (Il mormorio 239-40).

The woman-writer feels "at home" in a metropolitan phantasmagoria that anticipates Calvino's 1973 definition of utopia as "less solid than gaseous: [...] a utopia of fine dust, corpuscular, and in suspension" (255). Liminal space between air and water, the finished and the unfinished, and day and night, Ortese's utopian topography exists in a state of flux that disrupts the World's Fairs' meticulously designed structures. Replete with undefined potential, Ortese's urban utopia is not a "form to be fleshed out," but, rather, a form in need of being estranged, "pulverized" and dissolved from within. In this sense, Ortese's utopian writing can be defined as post-representational, inasmuch as it exploits Eurocentric and patriarchal representational forms (forms that, as we have seen, the woman writer uncomfortably and conflictingly inhabits), while altering and re-functioning them. By doing so, Ortese does not fall prey to the sense of vertigo and disintegration that Baudrillard saw as the apocalyptic corollary to the collapse of all coherent systems of representation "not only at the level of objective culture, the level of public discourse, but also in the daily experience of people, inside 'the subject'" (de Cauter 21). On the contrary, from a position of marginality and exile, Ortese creates a counter-text that fissures the Eurocentric and patriarchal domain at its very core.

Ortese's revolutionary "action" consists in introducing elements of novelty and unpredictability into the inherited paradigms of modernity. As Hannah Arendt theorized in The Human Condition, this action, placed outside the domain of necessity and causality, ushers the principle of freedom (Arendt, The Human 222). Freedom, so evocatively rendered by the woman writer's exhilarating flight over a city that "a poco a poco si sollevava, lasciava la terra, si perdeva nel cielo" (Mormorio 241), is the "miracle" (Arendt, The Human 222) that counters the subjection to mechanization, isolation, and routine that Ortese saw as the dehumanizing result of technological progress. (23)

In Il mormorio di Parigi, Ortese projects a utopian mode of inhabiting the center of Europe by re-painting the topography of Paris with an aerial and meandering brush. Undoubtedly, this mode expresses a dream of autonomy, lightness, and joy that hardly mirrors the experience of an ill-paid journalist charged with writing a short piece on the French capital in the summer of 1960. However, by altering and reorienting conventional modes of perception, interpretation, and imaginative creation, Ortese's Parisian narrative surpasses the realm of mere contingency. As "movement beyond set limits," Ortese's utopian writing abandons "the logic of ideology and of teleological progress" and shapes a free-flowing domain of "open potentiality and [...] desire" (Braidotti 103) that re-defines the difficult relationship between a nomadic subject and her environment according to what Ernst Bloch famously defined as the "principle of hope." In spite of intermittent disillusionment, this principle sustained Ortese's search for "expressivity" as the "absolute freedom" of the mind, Arendt's analysis of political praxis as the springboard for freedom and agency, and the many other practical and theoretical efforts of generations of conscious pariahs during the many "dark times" of humanity's troubled existence.

WORKS CITED

Arendt, Hannah. "Eichmann in Jerusalem: An Exchange of Letters between Gershom Scholem and Hannah Arendt." The Jew as Pariah: Jewish Identity and Politics in the Modern Age. Feldman, Ron H. (ed.). New York: Grove, 1978. 240-279. Print.

--. "The Jew as Pariah: A Hidden Tradition." The Jew as Pariah: Jewish Identity and Politics in the Modern Age. Feldman, Ron H. (ed.). New York: Grove, 1978. 67-90. Print.

--. The Human Condition. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1959. Print.

--. "We Refugees." The Jew as Pariah: Jewish Identity and Politics in the Modern Age. Feldman, Ron H. (ed.). New York: Grove, 1978. 55-66. Print.

--. Men in Dark Times. New York: Harcourt, 1986. Print.

Bammer, Angelika. Partial Visions: Feminism and Utopianism in the 1970s. New York: Routledge, 1991. Print.

Baudrillard, Jean. "La fin de la modernite ou l'ere de la simulation." La modernite ou l'esprit du temps. Biertnale de Paris. Section d'architecture. Paris: L'Equerre, 1982. 32-33. Print.

Benjamin, Walter. The Arcades Project. Howard Eiland, Howard and Kevin McLaughlin (trans.). Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1999. Print.

Bernstein, Susan. "It Walks: The Ambulatory Uncanny." MLN118 (2004): 111-39.

Bloch, Ernst. The Principle of Hope. Neville Plaice, Stephen Plaice and Paul Knight (trans.). Oxford: Blackwell, 1986. Print.

Butler, Judith. Bodies that Matter. On the Discursive Limits of "Sex." New York: Routledge, 1993. Print.

Calvino, Italo. "On Fourier, III: Envoi: A Utopia of Fine Dust." The Uses of Literature. Wolff, Helen and Kurt (eds.). San Diego: Harvest/HBJ, 1982. 245-55. Print.

Cixous, Helene. "Fiction and Its Phantoms: A Reading of Freud's Das Unheimliche." New Literary History 7 (1976): 525-48. Print.

Clerici, Luca. Apparizione e visione. Milano: Mondadori, 2002. Print.

Collodi, Carlo. Le avventure di Pinocchio. Castellani Pollidori, Ornella (ed.). Pescia: Fondazione Nazionale Carlo Collodi, 1983. Print.

De Cauter, Lieven. "The Panoramic Ecstasy: On World Exhibitions and the Disintegration of Experience." Theory, Culture and Society 10 (1993): 1-23. Print.

Della Coletta, Cristina. World's Fairs Italian Style: The Great Expositions in Turin and Their Narratives, 1860-1915. Toronto: Toronto UP, 2006. Print.

Farnetti, Monica. Anna Maria Ortese. Milano: Bruno Mondadori, 1998. Print.

Feldman, Ron H. "Introduction: The Jew as Pariah: The Case of Hannah Arendt." The Jew as Pariah: Jewish Identity and Politics in the Modern Age. By Hannah Arendt. New York: Grove, 1978. 15-52. Print.

Ghezzo, Flora Maria. "Chiaroscuro napoletano: trasfigurazioni fantastiche di una citta." Narrativa 24 (2003): 85-104. Print.

Hugo, Victor. Notre Dame de Paris. Paris: Gamier Freres, 1976. Print.

Kristeva, Julia. Revolution in Poetic Language. New York: Columbia University Press, 1984. Print.

Ortese, Anna Maria. Interview with Dacia Maraini. E tu chi eri? Interviste sull'infanzia. Milano: Bompiani, 1973. 23-35. Print.

--. Il mormorio di Parigi. Roma-Napoli: Theoria, 1986. Print.

--. "Memoria e conversazione." Corpo celeste. Milano: Adelphi, 1997. 9-14. Print.

--. "Attraversando un paese sconosciuto." Corpo celeste. Milano: Adelphi, 1997. 17-54. Print.

--. "Dialogo sull'appartenenza." Lo straniero 1 (1997): 7. Print.

--. "Dove il tempo e un altro." Corpo celeste. Milano: Adelphi, 1997. 55-94. Print.

--. "La virtu del nulla." Corpo celeste. Milano: Adelphi, 1997. 95-105. Print.

--. Il porto di Toledo. Milano: Adelphi, 1998. Print.

--. La lente scum: scritti di viaggio. Clerici, Luca (ed.). Milano: Marcos y Marcos, 1991. Print.

Plato. The Republic. Waterfield, Robin (ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. Print.

Rickert, Thomas. "Toward the Chora: Kristeva, Derrida, and Ulmer on Emplaced Invention." Philosophy and Rhetoric 40 (2007): 251-73. Print.

Sallis, John. On Beginning in Plato's Timaeus. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999. Print.

Weber, Samuel. "The Sideshow, or: Remarks on a Canny Moment." Modern language Notes 88 (1973): 1102-1133. Print.

--. "Uncanny Thinking." The Legend of Freud. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000.1-31. Print.

Wood, Sharon. "Fantasy and Narrative in Anna Maria Ortese." Italica 71.3 (1994): 354-68. Print.

CRISTINA DELLA COLETTA

University of California, San Diego

NOTES

(1) I use "dark times" to refer to Arendt's own designation in Men in Dark Times.

(2) "[Sono nata] a Roma, ma casualmente. Mio padre aveva un lavoro che lo portava in giro per l'Italia"; "Non frequentavamo nessuno"; "Appena ci eravamo stabiliti da qualche parte dovevamo traslocare" (E tu chi eri? 24).

(3) The reference to Toledo is not related to the Castilian city, but to an imagined locale inspired by Naples's Spanish Quarter and the Via Toledo that crosses it. On the mythical resonances of Ortese's fantastic "Toledo," see Clerici 472-3 and Ghezzo 88.

(4) The complete sentence reads: "Sono figlia di nessuno. Nel senso che la societa quando io nacqui non c'era, o non c'era per tutti i figli dell'uomo" (Il porto 23).

(5) "Aveva il senso dell'avventura. Credeva in mille cose impossibili. Si entusiasmava per delle astrazioni. Perdeva la testa dietro grandi progetti irrealizzabili." (E tu chi eri? 25).

(6) On this Edenic unity, see Farnetti, 154-55.

(7) Some of Anna Maria's siblings left for America and Australia, while misfortune and loss tragically marked places like Martinique and Albania, where two of Anna Maria's brothers, both sailors, died at a young age. The lack of basic human necessities, such as food and shelter, marks Ortese's description of the after-war period: "Ho avuto proprio fame. Una fame angosciosa, da mangiarsi le scarpre bollite. Come ho fatto a sopravvivere, non lo so. [...] Non avevo neppure casa: con i miei andavamo come zingari da un posto all'altro." (E tu chi eri? 31).

(8) See also Il porto di Toledo: "Ogru volta che la mente umana entrava nel mondo dell Espressivita, lavorava a nient'altro che la costruzione di un nuovo continente, o terra, dove, finche sui mondo vi fosse stata la caducite, i naufraghi avrebbero trovato salvezza, sebbena temporanea." (Porto 112).

(9) In Ron H. Feldman's poignant words, Arendt was "one of the most remarkable--as well as one of the last-offspring of a German-Jewish milieu which produced more than its share of great literary, scientific, and artistic figures" (15).

(10) "[Bernard Lazare] saw that what was necessary was to rouse the Jewish pariah to a fight against the Jewish parvenu" ("The Jew" 76).

(11) On Ortese own reading of post-war "confusione," see "Attraversando" 33.

(12) Ortese juxtaposes classical against contemporary America. The former is the America that nurtured the imagination of many anti-fascist intellectuals such as Vittorini and Pavese during the war. The latter betrayed these intellectuals' very ideals of individual freedom and self-definition for a new imperialism "without history" (see "Attraversando" 25-28).

(13) See also "Attraversando" 44.

(14) Arendt was always intensely aware of the seduction of self-isolation, a condition in which pariahs could enjoy "the freedom and untouchability of outcasts. Excluded from the world of political realities, they could [...] retreat into their quiet corners there to preserve the illusion of liberty." The Nazi persecution made such isolation no longer possible: "there is no protection in heaven or earth against bare murder. You cannot stay aloof from society" ("The Jew" 90). In this sense, Ortese's progressive detachment from social communion differs from Arendt's sustained engagement: "Only when a people lives and functions in consort with other peoples can it contribute to the establishment of a commonly conditioned and commonly controlled humanity" ("The Jew" 90).

(15) The first of five sections of Ortese's trip to Paris was originally published in the Corriere d'informazione in 1960 with the title "Vacanza col batticuore di una donna a Parigi: 13-14 agosto 1960"). Ortese revised the narrative and published it as Il mormorio di Parigi in 1986. See Lente scura 472.

(16) "Lo studente [...] sembrava ancora piu inasprito [come se Parigi] preferisse non vederla affatto" (Il mormorio 227).

(17) "Che silenzio di centro Europa!" ("Il mormorio" 233). On the definition of the "uncanny" as ambivalent concept evoking both the "familiar" and the "strange" see Feud's seminal essay "Das Unheimliche." On the paradox of the "uncanny" as theorized by Freud see, especially, Weber, Cixous, and Bernstein.

(18) On the use of the term "ch?ra" to mean land or city when used in the context of the polis in the Timaeus, see Rickert 255, and Sallis 116. For a seminal discussion on the "chora," see also Kristeva.

(19) In a more direct socio-political context, Ortese underscored the sterile, nostalgic power of these memories in "Memoria e conversazione": "C'era la memoria dell'Italia passata, e non altro. C'era una pace inerte, senza piu speranza" (11).

(20) See Sharon Wood's remarks in her "Fantasy and Narrative in Anna Maria Ortese": "Reality for Ortese is never a question of the present moment, but is always either recalled, from childhood, or deffered, to an utopian future."

(21) On the techniques of tire panorama and the moving panorama, see de Cauter.

On panopticism, see Foucault. For an analysis of the panoptic view in universal exhibitions, see my World's Fairs Italian Style.

(22) See. For example, Ortese's description of the subway's commuters "i cui occhi non si staccavano mai dal giornale [...] come la gente vecchia, a cui tutto da noia" (Il mormorio 227), or of the passengers at the Gare de Lyon: "viaggiatori in attesa di chissache, freddi, indifferenti, con gli occhi al marciapiede" (Il mormorio 225-6).
COPYRIGHT 2014 American Association of Teachers of Italian
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2014 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Coletta, Cristina Della
Publication:Italica
Article Type:Essay
Date:Dec 22, 2014
Words:9201
Previous Article:Andrea Camilleri: the author as public intellectual.
Next Article:Elective affinities: Gianni Celati reading Antonio Delfini.
Topics:

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters