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D'Annunzio's Il piacere: A generational gaze on new values.

Moira Di Mauro-Jackson

Texas State University - San Marcos, USA

Corresponding author:

Moira Di Mauro-Jackson Texas State University--San Marcos 601 University Drive San Marcos, TX 78666.

Email: MdI


This paper centers on the nature of Gabriele d'Annunzio's first, and very influential novel, Il piacere, and its influence on Italian thought at the time. I argue that Il piacere is truly a breviary, to borrow Cevasco's term, a bible--or in socio-economic terms, a manifesto--for its time. I draw from Charles Altieri's Radical Poetics and from Martin Puchner's Poetry of the Revolution: Marx, Manifestos and the Avant-Gardes to prove that Il piacere is indeed a social critique of its time, an attempt by D'Annunzio to bridge the gap that Italian Unification produced by projecting a mostly agricultural country--which had long lost its epic stature, dating back to the Renaissance years--into modern thought and society.


D'Annunzio, Decadence, Breviary, II piacere, Manifesto

Beginning any article on D'Annunzio by taking note of his audacious life, his aristocratic milieu and his political activism could cast a shadow over the importance of his literary contributions. As such, this paper will not dwell on D'Annunzio's later Fiume venture, or his Fascist collaboration, which both come later in the twentieth century--although inevitably, some of it will logically spill over. Nor will it dwell on D'Annunzio's later works, or his First World War ventures or his loss of one eye, which many critics believe to have spurred on the author's increased interest in the gaze. Instead, this paper centers on the nature of his first, and very influential novel, Il piacere, and its influence on Italian thought at the time. Such a debate will convince the reader that D'Annunzio is not merely modernizing Italian literature but raising a critique of a specific class's response to the pressures of modernism and making an appeal to preserve, reevaluate, and recreate tradition instead of discarding it. (1) And his novel Il piacere truly becomes a breviary, to borrow Cevasco's term, a bible--or in socio-economic terms, a manifesto--for its time.

This article will draw from Charles Altieri's Radical Poetics (1996) and from Martin Puchner's Poetry of the Revolution: Marx, Manifestos and the Avant-Gardes (2006) to prove that Il piacere is indeed a social critique of its time, an attempt by D'Annunzio to bridge the gap that Italian Unification produced by projecting a mostly agricultural country--which had long lost its epic stature, dating back to the Renaissance years--into modern thought and society--building on the important notion of propagandistic literature and how this leads the way to an 'Avant-garde' blending of 'isms' as we reach the twentieth century. Puchner's Poetry of the Revolution focuses on many manifestos of the era (Marx, Marinetti, Perloff, Habermas), and especially on how they contributed to legitimizing artists and the art they produced. This is taken as a point of departure to argue that literary breviaries/bibles like Il piacere could thus profitably be renamed manifestos, due to their re-inscribing nature--a redefining tool, similar to that used by feminist and post-colonial literature--and their ability to claim to be lifting a backward society and pushing it into the modern way of thinking.

This poetry of the future is what the poet will be called on to manifest, and it is my conclusion that this is what D'Annunzio intended when he wrote Il piacere, a completely new form of novel, with diction--decadent prose--never used before--that projected the lettore futuro into the new era: not as an aesthetic movement, but a socio-cultural one. Suddenly, artists in Italy became politicians, because they had created a new kind of forward-looking 'naturalism', incorporating not only the proletarian present of the increasingly failed Risorgimento, but also the great political and aesthetic resources available to Italians for a millennium. The link between art and politics is also true for Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Andre Breton and Guy Debord, among others, as their rhetoric aims at ousting the political system in power, by any means possible. (2)

Part of this account is familiar. The idea of such modernist novelists leading the way into modernity out of antiquated times is approached by Pericles Lewis. Lewis (2000) pairs D'Annunzio, Proust, Conrad and Joyce as activist authors who produce a text that provides a philosophical bridging between a particular readership's need for order, and the chaos created within the European nations in the mid- to latter nineteenth century by the dissipation of monarchies and the church. In his Modernism, Nationalism, and the Novel, Lewis (2000: 80-81) notes that D'Annunzio in his work 'proudly mingles the demands of the kingdom of earth and heaven and embodies the intimate relation between the state and the spirit in a narrative of the redemption to be gained by submitting even the most intimate and obscure parts of the self to the service of the nation'. As such, he can be categorized in Lewis's (2000: 367, 17) own terms as a modernist, as he was able to perceive and communicate to his readers the 'gap between the meaningful inner life of the individual consciousness and an outer world that shapes that inner life but seems in itself devoid of spiritual meaning', as he 'sought a means to bridge that gap, to glean a meaning from that apparently senseless outer world'.

This article aims to show how D'Annunzio used his novel to express his own type of propaganda for a new era, and his role as 'redeemer of the nation'--a key to something that could transition the newly unified Italy into the new century, a 'new type of politics that would efface the distinction between private and public, society and state' (Lewis, 2000: 29). (3) In showing how D'Annunzio transforms a novel of decadence into a political breviary, it is necessary to recall Alexis de Tocqueville's notion of democracy as progress (enlightenment) and John Stuart Mill's notion of democracy as a 'common' duty and of working together for the common good.

The relationship between modernist literary experiments and contemporary political developments associated with the crisis of Liberalism has been examined, among others, by Tratner (1995), Levenson (2005), and Eagleton (1990), Jameson (1981) and Said (1988). (4) As literature and politics blend into a unique force to modernize man--term used from here on as in the Old English man, or mann for 'human being, person (male or female)'--so does the national author use his poetics to describe the evolution of nationalism. In her essay entitled The Place of Liberalism, Jordanna Bailkin brings forth this idea of evolution. She notes that 'Liberal thinkers embraced the concept of evolution in time, emphasizing that individuals and societies unfolded in historical stages' (Bailkin, 2005: 83). These historical stages unfold in literature and evolve, revolve and transform the thinking of the individuals and societies they embrace. This socio-historical evolution is the thought-transforming tool that was earlier classified as an influence on Italian thought at the time, a sort of re-inscription--that is, the re-writing of beliefs in reference to the times they are re-written in--or breviary as D'Annunzio's novel functions.

To show how D'Annunzio has more of an activist program in his novel than critics have noted, I will first turn to his critical reception and look at the text's socio-historical setting. D'Annunzio constantly oscillates between narrative taken from the 'reality' of the times and the narrative taken from the created 'reality' of his fiction, in fact producing the same effect his hero produces in the texts with his fictitious relations alongside the more 'real' ones. In conjunction with this novel, this article will also review typical critical assessments of D'Annunzio's novel, especially as they consider it an example of aesthetic decadence.

To show that D'Annunzio's poetics is much more political than aesthetic, this recasting of his earlier work--as an earlier analysis of his own historical situation and national rising political transformation--should provide clarity into his thought-provoking natural ability. Through his re-focused thinking, his novel acts as transforming agent that can be seen in Marxian terms as one sort of revolution, one that 'must let the dead bury the dead in order to arrive at its own content [, one that] exceeds the phrase' (Marx in Puchner, 2006: 1). (5) The key to making that claim, however, will be a reading of D'Annunzio's novel as the propagandistic manifesto that it was meant to be, and the author himself as the new model of political activist. This new type of artist is honed by the idea that old art is over and old art is sapping the nation, placing the poet in a new role, the role of liberator--a role commensurate with the readings of the previous novels, but enacted by a writer much more willing to break with that past, as seen in his biographical examples. In Lewis's terms:
whereas realism accepted the liberal bifurcation between private,
ethical life and public, socially assigned roles, the modernists sought
through their experiments to achieve a unified, public morality that
would overcome the ironic structure of life in a society constantly
being transformed by history [...] all focused attention on the shaping
of the individual by the nation and on the potential for the individual
in turn to redeem the nation in time of war or crisis (2000: 11).

Il piacere, thus, becomes the novel able to advocate for political change in ways that contemporary authors like W.B. Yeats, Wilde and Huysmans--who are all greater writers but less influential politicians than D'Annunzio--could not, in no small part because Il piacere was heard in an era when its nation was already engaged in political transformation, with the old order already declared out of play, if not gone.

Il piacere: Written as the sun sets on an era, with the hope for a new beginning

As Lewis noted, the First World War 'played an important part in yielding together the disparate populations of the Italian kingdom, and thus helped to accomplish the task outlined by Massimo D'Azeglio at the time of Italian unification in 1860: 'we have made Italy; now we must make Italians' (Lewis, 2000: 333). D'Annunzio's heroes see their task in these terms, as demanding a transformation of life into art--not artifice, but something consciously made--and D'Annunzio himself sees the need to bring his country and its population up to modern European standards (Lewis, 2000: 367). Like Huysmans' des Esseintes, D'Annunzio's hero is also the dying type representing the end of his era. Despite his name, Sperelli, from speranza (hope), he is hopeless. Underscoring this irony, D'Annunzio refers to him as the last descendant of an intellectual race Tultimo discendente d'una razza intellettuale' and again as belonging to a disappearing class of Italian nobility, 'quella special classe di antica nobilta italica [che sta] scomparendo' (D'Annunzio, 1995: 40, 42). We are also told that Andrea, like des Esseintes and Wilde's Dorian Gray, likes to surround himself with 'artificial' objects, and from the first page of the novel, D'Annunzio calls Andrea's house a prison, 'quella prigione diafana' (1995: 7).

At the beginning of the novel, the reader finds Andrea awaiting a lover (his name, from the Italian speranza or hope and the Spanish esperar, to wait), and the first light of day seen entering the window is a silvery, distorted red one. The reader, here, is introduced to a deeply symbolic world of decline, and to an atmosphere of latter days, as the red tint is symbolic of a tramonto (a sunset). As the sun sets on an era, D'Annunzio writes with the hope for a new beginning.

As he waits, Andrea relives his encounter with Elena, his lover, as an artificial present moment. In his imagination, he mixes a collage of past rendezvous with imaginary, simulated ones, trying to capture what the actual encounter will bring. This vivid imagination foreshadows not only Proust, (6) but also reminds us of Italy's major nineteenth-century poet, Giacomo Leopardi. In Leopardi's mind, the pleasure of rimembrare is more intensely enjoyable than the actual living of the moment itself. Thus, Andrea lives within his own manufactured memories, where from every object that Elena had looked at or touched, flocks of memories arose, and the images of that distant time came tumultuously to life: 'da tutte le cose che Elena aveva guardate o toccate sorgevano i ricordi in folia e le immagini del tempo lontano rivivevano tumultuariamente' (D'Annunzio, 1995: 10). (7)

Almost like a drug-induced experience, Andrea's 'rimembrare' causes confusion and nearly makes him lose his mind: 'inebriato dalle sue parole, egli quasi perdeva la coscienza di cio che diceva' (D'Annunzio, 1995: 13). Yet by the end of the novel, the reader is supposed to react against this decadence, because this imagination is revealed as artifice, not art, since even his love games are marked as simulations, one of which recreates death itself. Simulation, however, is equal to stasis and death; such artifice cannot point the way to evolution, but rather points to degeneration. D'Annunzio therefore picks opposite metaphors--death, stasis, boredom, artifice--to weave a tale that acts as a warning against what not to do. The Italian author identifies his main character with degeneration (hence decadence), which is the opposite of what the message of his novel points to--which is evolution.

This process of transmutation--or altering one's discourse by illustrating opposites--within D'Annunzio's novel is what Nicoletta Pireddu describes as "an essential transformation, a degeneration into rebirth and victory" (2002: 382). Pireddu believes that the novel functions in abstracts: all the misery of pleasure derives from the resistance that the protagonist opposes to transitoriness--an opposition that makes him incapable of accepting and realizing 'una bellezza come mimesi della morte, come pura dissipazione' (2002: 383). Pleasure, she concludes, is therefore far from being condemned as a 'nefasto prodotto della malattia della volonta', finding the illness--malattia--and weakness--debolezza--of the protagonist in his fear of change and the uncertainties that 'ostacolano la ricerca del piacere come apertura alia casualita, come amore per l'instabilita delle cose' (2002: 383). (8) Pireddu, however, does not equate that 'stability of things' with a resistance to change.

Yet precisely this state of soul characterizes D'Annunzio's protagonists. Playing the important role of the giver of life in his love games, Andrea is spinning an intricate web of 'love' exercises in order to achieve a desired effect of artifice and self-inducing narcissism. (9) In one instance, Elena, Andrea's lover, pretends to be dead, lying naked on the bed, covered and surrounded by rose petals, while Andrea kisses her until he feels that his breath has been implanted into her lungs, and thus, resurrected by her lover, she comes back to life (D'Annunzio, 1995: 13), a version of the scene in Frankenstein (Shelley, 1891: 78). In others, Andrea sips oriental tea, transferring it into his lover's mouth like a parent bird does for its baby--another form of digestion and regurgitation, as seen in Huysmans' 1884 decadent work A rebours (1998). Sperelli's charm, talent, art of loving, have nothing spontaneous. It is a calculated 'exercise': 'Egli sapeva, nell'esercizio dell'amore, trarre dalla sua bellezza il maggior possibile godimento' (D'Annunzio, 1995: 19). And as such, l'amore becomes so artificially distanced from reality that it no longer has anything associated with life.

Nevertheless, this decadent pleasure cannot remain intact, since Elena will join a more real world when she marries an Englishman, described by the author as a 'pale English sadist', and explicitly compared to some of Sade's characters, 'mani improntate di vizio, mani sadiche, poiche tali forse dovevan essere quelle di certi personaggi del Sade' (D'Annunzio, 1995: 296). Thus from his own point of view, Andrea loses his Elena to a 'maniaco', not realizing how he too played a part (D'Annunzio, 1995: 296). When he loses her, it is as if he has lost an object from one of his expensive collections, and the emotional consequence is that he almost dies in a duel. And the narration compares Andrea with Menelaus, who lost his Helen to an abduction that caused the Trojan War. (10) Andrea is wedded to the objective character of reality as he preserves it, not to the material of reality itself.

It is no wonder, thus, that in the second part of the novel, Andrea himself becomes a Frankenstein monster, when he will purport to be reborn into an innocent soul, clear of all his past debaucheries, until he decides to corrupt a woman so saintly that D'Annunzio calls her 'Maria'. Following Maeterlink's decadent symbol, familiar from his Serres Chaudes (1965), D'Annunzio's novel makes it seem as if the readers assume the poses of souls under glass who look at the world from the inside out, preserved (mummified) in museums or in hermetically sealed glass vessels (D'Annunzio, 1995: 81). As in Maeterlink's "Cloches de Verres", the images shown to the reader are ultimately distorted and unfocused, and especially decadent--attractive yet in some vile, unnatural, way (D'Annunzio, 1995: 19). They are not intended to represent a higher reality not seen by the present; they are distortions of what makes society human. Up to this point, Andrea's life has been described as a hothouse, again a reference to Maeterlink's Serres Chaudes: '[nella sua stanza] l'aria doveva essere ardente e grave come in una serra', distorted and corrupted (D'Annunzio, 1995: 36). By contrast, in Book Two, Andrea says that he finds 'the Truth and the Way' to become purified: 'cara cugina, ho trovato la Verita e la Via' (D'Annunzio, 1995: 177), a phrase that echoes the trials of Jesus.

Nevertheless, 'once corrupted always corrupted', and in the tradition of Choderlos de Laclos' Les Liaisons Dangereuses (1782), Andrea fights all his resolutions to seduce the saintly Maria, whose voice reminds him of the voluptuous Elena. Andrea succeeds, but then sustains his love only through artifice: he pretends that she is Elena, which will eventually destroy Maria. D'Annunzio explains that his hero had almost gone so far as not to be able to separate, in his imagining of pleasure, the two women, 'era quasi giunto a non poter piu separare, nell'idea della volutta, le due donne' (D'Annunzio, 1995: 385). (11)

In the end, the reader is disgusted with Andrea's notion of 'progress' and realizes the degree to which he is the ideal of another century, an 'ideal tipo del giovane signore italiano del XIX secolo' (D'Annunzio, 1995: 42). In the end, Andrea is empty, with everything he said and did virtually indistinguishable and meaningless. Just as he failed to be able to distinguish two women from one another, so too has his role within society become futile, in the same way that two other contemporaries of D'Annunzio's condemn their Decadent Anti-heroes as superfluous and useless class members. Oscar Wilde's most controversial work, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890), presents the reader with the protagonist, Dorian, as a beautiful, rich, young uncorrupted prince-like figure who will wish narcissistically to remain forever unchanged, against time and growth. Yet the narrator is at pains throughout the novel to indicate that this Dorian is anything but exemplary, no matter how beautiful he might seem. It is thus that Oscar Wilde's Dorian Gray loses his salvation with Sybil Vane's suicide, the one pure soul in his life, and J.K. Huysmans' des Esseintes (1884) prefers to die, because living means embracing a move to the city and becoming part of the bourgeoisie, or allowing himself to be assimilated by a new modern class that creates leaders not through weak and debilitated nobility but through revolutionary action. Andrea, like Dorian and des Esseintes, is also destined to be denied salvation because he pays the price of his untransformed class. (12)

So what appears to be artifice within D'Annunzio's novel, is in reality a breviary to follow. This depiction of narrative reality though is the subject of much critical discussion in relation to our poet-author-war-hero. For example, Marinella Cantelmo talks about this 'narrativa tra realta narrativa e finzione romanzesca', as she states that D'Annunzio's hero is a creator of lies, but also an intellectual. In the end, she feels, it is his creator, D'Annunzio, who attributes this intellectual conscience to his hero, leaving the narrative here to duplicate what the hero's narrative produces within the book (1995: 168). She notes that 'Sperelli, [...] e infatti ad un tempo seduttore, un esteta, un artifex, ma anche un intellettuale [...;] ma e il narratore a conferire al suo eroe una coscienza intellettuale [: una doppiezza] come appannaggio della voce narrante' (1995: 173). Cantelmo believes that this self-creating duplication--what Pireddu calls a 'congiunzione formale di arte e dono, simbolizzazione e feticizzazione' (Pireddu, 2002: 401)--is what empowers D'Annunzio's first novel poetically, elevating it to epic importance. Thus she believes that it can indeed be a bible or manifesto: 'La poetica che D'Annunzio presta a Sperelli dice ben poco dunque sul messaggio narrativo in cui si integra: e tuttavia essa contribuisce a fare di quel testo un "manifesto" di rilievo epocale nella cultura italiana di fine secolo' (Cantelmo, 1996: 174).

This dissonant message--or masked voice--emanates from the text as a clear need for a revolution. As two parallel narrations appear within the text--one narration coming through clearly and distinctly from the author-poet and the other from the decadent anti-hero revealed as confusing, weak and unexalting--the reader begins to distinguish the true underlying message that this so-apparently aesthetic novel holds. The unclear--thus unnatural--message voiced by Sperelli is further delineated in a narrative within a narrative, in Donna Maria's diary, where on September 22nd, we read in reference to La Favola d'Ermafrodito, that Maria Ferres has never been so intrigued, and that 'Nessuna musica mi ha inebriata come questo poema e nessuna statua mi ha data della bellezza un'impressione piu armonica' (D'Annunizo, 1995: 227). From this, Maria talks about the anti-naturalistic affinity of her soul to the landscape; (13) and then, a few pages later, we read the anti-naturalistic description of purple orchids placed in a yellow oriental vase that reminds us almost literally of a similar description made by Huysmans in his A Rebours--expounding l'esotisme of the old era, compounded with l'erotismo of the new coming age. (14) Clearly, the two authors are masking their message, as Rimbaud did with his prose poems, in such a way that the people caught between the two eras would not immediately feel threatened by the futuristic message found in the two books: the future is hidden by images from the artistic past. (Starkie, 1968: 18)

D'Annunzio is here making his own unique use of the literary tropes of decadence that had been in place for a decade--borrowing from his artistic past. Anti-naturalism in art was a means by which the artists associated with various decadent moments tried to take control of their own bodies--through re-inscription--and their own environments--through a complete redefinition of the artifacts of life. In fact, here, human nature is not merely subordinate to convention or culture as critics have implied it to be for so many years, but is, in a final analysis, itself an artifact of poetic activity. Rimbaud was exemplary of this as he made an impudent gesture against classical norms. He reacted against the Parnassian attitude to flowers--not the flowers in vases, but those in the fields; as such, control over the fresh cut flowers becomes a fashion of the 'modern' times, a tribute to the idea of human nature relating to a new world. Man now captures and controls nature; no more is it the other way around. The trope continues as Huysmans displays flowers, in his book, within his hero's nature morte prison-palace, and Wilde also talks about flowers and the control humans have over cutting and displaying them, controlling nature--versus the flowers in a field. (15)

D'Annunzio refers to these tropes in the Libro Terzo, which begins with an awakening of the senses and of the mind--a rebirth of Sperelli's soul, as well as the return to the city, his beloved Rome. This could in fact be the Illumination--borrowing directly from Rimbaud's poem--which D'Annunzio intends will shine and lead the way, guiding the reader towards the new epoch. This individual move could set Andrea closer to becoming the man of cities--L'homo urbium--transforming and evolving his social role from static dying aristocrat to modern man. Unfortunately, Andrea never quite frees himself of his old roles. Instead, he is caught, frozen by his artifacts into non-evolution, caught walking slowly, step by step behind an old armoire. On the first page of this last section of the book, we see Sperelli rediscovering himself, and reawakening his love for the city of cities--L'urbs urbium--Rome, which remains young and mysterious like the sea:
Gli parve di ritrovare qualche parte di se, qualche cosa che gli
mancava [...] il pieno e vivace risveglio del suo vecchio amore per
Roma, per la dolcissima Roma, per l'immensa augusta unica Roma, per la
citta delle citta, per quella ch'e sempre giovine e sempre novella e
sempre misteriosa come il mare. (D'Annunzio, 1995: 259-260)

D'Annunzio ends his novel with Andrea's futile attempt to evade--Andrea fuggi--and again repeats Andrea fuggi, quasi folic; he has been trapped on his way up the stairs, as though trapped on his way up towards progress without quite making it: 'come l'armario occupava tutta la larghezza, [Andrea] non pote passare oltre [...] segui, piano, piano, di gradino in gradino, fin dentro casa' (1995: 401).

In the Libro Terzo, D'Annunzio explores further the dual nature of things, in particular within the ecclesiastic, but too rich and voluptuous, interiors of the Roman religious palaces, and within the donne dell'aristocrazia romana, who were prudish and pure in public, but sinners in private. D'Annunzio calls these women the ones who cannot sin, 'le peccatrici impeccabili' (1995: 269-271). Here Andrea cites Gautier's poem Musee Secret to parallel the secret rooms that cannot be shown to the public (D'Annunzio, 1995: 271). (16) In this last portion of the novel, D'Annunzio wants the reader to focus on the picture painted between characters, environments and dialogues. These four young Libertini are in rich and decadent environments draped by Bacchus-like tapestries--'dilettose tappezzerie bacchiche'--and their conversations, if recorded, would sum up to corruption manuals--'il Brevarium Arcanum della corruzione elegante in questa fine del XIX secolo' (D'Annunzio, 1995: 274).

So even D'Annunzio calls his work a manifesto, a breviary of the elegant corruption of his century, a nostalgic last look at the dandy era that would be no more. In the next few pages, D'Annunzio throws his Andrea into an erotic odyssey and opens the second part of this third book with the statement, 'Thus, with a bound, Andrea Sperelli dived back into Pleasure': 'Cosi, d'un balzo, Andrea Sperelli si rituffo nel Piacere' (1995: 286). (17) This is when Andrea starts feeling the maladie du siecle, a disconcerting feeling of 'scontento piu molesto, un malessere piu importuno', and this feeling that nauseates him--reminding us of Sartre's later nausee--makes him feel empty, and as a consequence he dives into all that is sinful and decadent, to try to shake this feeling away:
'Egli si lascio abbattere; abdico intieramente e per sempre alla sua
volonta, alla sua energia, alla sua dignita interiore; sacrifico per
sempre quello che rimaneva di fede e d'idealta; si getto nella vita,
come in una grande avventura senza scopo, alla ricerca del godimento,
dell'occasione, dell'attimo felice, affidandosi al destino, alle
vicende del caso, all'accozzo fortuito delle cagioni'. (D'Annunzio,
1995: 287-288)

Andrea finally sees his own duplicity when he calls himself 'camaleontico, chimerico, incoerente, inconsistente', namely someone who lives by his own rules, stressing the nunc, the here and now. At the same time, he realizes that the palaces are now undergoing extinction and, perhaps inspiring the distorted palaces in Rodenbach's 1896 poems, Les vies encloses (1978), they appear as if seen through a hothouse, 'd'una strana serra diventata opaca e bruna pel tempo' (D'Annunzio, 1995: 332). So from his point of view, it is time that distorts the palaces. The horizon and I'infinito--an image taken from Leopardi--also fortify and perpetuate the symbolic forest of the poetic id. (18) This is perhaps the best diagnosis of Andrea's illness, as he claims to be living in the present, while actually referencing a mythic past.

Distortion, dissonance, dandy aristocracy are portrayed as inabilities and inequities to rule, and D'Annunzio's focus for particulars dissuades the reader from trusting a nobility undiagnosed but rabid with the illnesses of his age that must be overcome. No wonder, then, that in the Libro Quarto, the last book, D'Annunzio alludes to Le Marquis de Sade, Baudelaire, and Flaubert, and quotes a mixture of mysticism, orientalism and symbolic pastiche elements when he states that Sperelli's love had remained 'la, nel bosco solitario, nella selva simbolica che fiorisce e fruttifica perpetuamente contemplando l'Infinito' (D'Annunzio, 1995: 362, 393, 350, and 372). In this last chapter, Andrea is also equated with the rest of the common people, the rigattieri--men who deal in scrap metal and recycled junk--and he is overwhelmed by nausea and disgust at what he sees as a wreck of history. In this passage, D'Annunzio wants the reader to feel his hero's inadequate fusion with the working class--with a class that self-consciously affiliates with the future. Andrea's inability to assimilate his point of view to accommodate these workers almost overpowers him: 'Egli guardava intorno a se le facce dei rigattieri, si sentiva toccare da quei gomiti, da quei piedi; si sentiva sfiorare da quegli arti. La nausea gli chiuse la bocca', and then again, 'Egli si apri un varco tra i corpi agglomerati, vincendo il ribrezzo, facendo uno sforzo enorme per non venir meno' (D'Annunzio, 1995: 400).

And so Andrea is not assimilated; all he can do is run like a madman from reality: 'fuggi [...] folle' (D'Annunzio, 1995: 401). Trying to escape a new generation, a new class, this sea of people, this sweaty conglomeration of the masses that the urban capitals of the last decade of the nineteenth century collect, Andrea can only bury himself alive in his own house. Only once he is 'fin dentro la casa', the book's last words, do we realize that he needs to die to let that new generation take over. He has buried himself alive, a living dead who cannot engage with the present or the future. Before he enters his self-inflicted prison, however, he shows us one last glimpse of how he sees the outside world. He looks out onto the windows of the Palazzo Barberini and sees flashes of what look like flames, but which turn out to be the colors of the sunset hitting the glass. Of this symbolic setting of an era, of a class, of the dandy aristocracy, Andrea, with all his amorous affairs, remains but an example; a sterile, weak, cowardly figure who cannot tell the difference between sunset and flames. He is ultimately a man who has had many romantic encounters but no offspring to continue his race, the last of his dying kind.

Or is he perhaps the first representative of the series not yet begun? Poggioli posits the idea that decadent aesthetics witnesses both the end of an old regime and the birth of a new mentality. In The Poets of Russia 1890-1930, Poggioli states that:
'An old, tired and sophisticated society may at least in part turn the
very object of its fears into objects of hope. The last heirs of a
dying tradition may be willing to prepare the ground for the builders
of another cultural order, who will be at once their successors and
destroyers; the representatives of the series already closing may even
delude themselves that they may become the first representatives of the
series not yet begun'. (D'Annunzio, 1995: 80)

The question for the current case is whether Andrea has cleared the way for the new generation by 'imprisoning' himself, or whether his vision itself has any claim to making that future--a reading that seems unlikely, given the final scene. Clearly, the political question D'Annunzio seems to pose is whether the young aristocrat is simply made obsolete by the rise of modernity or whether there is some form of modern aristocrat--who might be the artist or an emerging fascist or demagogic leader--who somehow transmutes aristocracy into a modern, mass society. D'Annunzio's case is very interesting because he himself is a writer with aristocratic sympathies who played an important role in Italian politics.

Yet this question of politics is precisely what DAnnunzio's critics debate.

The Critics' Gabriele

In D'Annunzio we see an author whose overt politics were central to his reputation from the beginning, yet not always a positive part of his reputation as an artist. Critics have debated long about his role and what his art contributed to it. The author, in this case, lived more adventurously and was politically more involved, perhaps, than most of his protagonists. D'Annunzio was well aware that he lived in a time of change, and that his literary work should be engaging those changing political realities. Having written for the Tribuna section of Il Mattino, he also knew very well what his audience, the readers, expected at the time he was writing.

I would argue that he had indeed been very careful in planning the publishing of his book. Even his taking, a la Stendhal, headline news and transferring them into his novel was all a calculated plan to create the most perfect propagandistic piece of literature created for the taste of the time--a manifesto of his Politik. Marinella Cantelmo talks about this calculated use of his knowledge of both the cronache (news) and his lettore (reader). She believes that the re-use of facts transferred into D'Annunzio's fictional worlds created an engaging interface that involved the reader in a series of textual mosaics (mosaico testuale), deja vus (cronaca) and deja lus (testo), thus creating a romanzo solo apparentemente da salotto, a novel which is aesthetic only in appearance:
Il ri-uso delle cronache della Tribuna all'interno del Piacere ribalta
tale procedimento ed opera agli occhi del medesimo lettore una
proiezione specularmente inversa alla precedente: se infatti il testo
giornalistico trasferiva l'avvenimento mondano in un fictional world ad
uso e gratificazione di un ricevente spesso gia' partecipe degli
avvenimenti descritti, l'inserimento degli stessi brani o di succedanee
variazioni sul tema nel mondo fittizio della creazione letteraria
incentrata intorno alla figura di Andrea Sperelli recupera proprio
quella referenzialita a suo tempo espropriata e la mette a disposizione
del medesimo fruitore, consentendogli in tal modo di riconoscersi
all'interno del nuovo testo, da cui frammenti costitutivi [lui] era
stato in prima istanza rimosso. (Cantelmo, 1996: 148)

This amounts to a reconsideration of the aestheticization of the reader as a voyeur, the factual recreation of reality within the fiction. Therefore, again this novel within the novel is occurring and recognized within the novel itself.

Besides the usual ruductio ad unum between author, narrator and protagonist, in Il piacere, D'Annunzio creates a distance, a clear and distinct separation between narrator and main character. Cantelmo reports this molding into one in her book when she states that 'il narratore non fonde la propria voce con quella del protagonista' (1996: 161). Cantelmo sees Sperelli as the 'object of the vision of the author' which has a 'symbiotic optical effect that distorts' (1996: 163) and does not merge as seen in the two seductions occurring simultaneously: that of reading by narrator and the one of loving by Sperelli. Cantelmo goes on to explain how the process where D'Annunzio comes to call his protagonist a monster becomes a pair of scissors to cut a gap between reader and speaker: 'il mostro chiamato dall'autore, come forbice per creare una distanza narrativa del locutore con il personaggio di Sperelli' (1996: 164). She calls this a 'distonia narrativa', which is also seen in the portrayal of the decadent city: 'anche la Roma di Sperelli e duplice della decadenza monumentale, sociale, morale e globale del messaggio' (1996: 165).

Ashley Dukes also outlines how engaging transitory art could help an author match the impulses of his times. Dukes is critical of contemporary dramas that do not engage, as they become meaningless and do not serve a purpose in the political sense. She warns us that if we consider them only in terms of the 'pretty' things our heroes--all three of them--surround themselves with, then we are missing the author's main theme (Martin, 1967: 79). Dukes notes that 'if contemporary drama was to have any meaning, it would have to present characters engaged not only in being but in becoming [... t]he final curtain must see them changed [...b]oth they and the audience must have learned something' (Martin, 1967: 79). Therefore a play, a novel, or art in general, that acts as a manifesto must engage, must carry with them a message, a voice, an influencing but referential communique. I would add to this the realization that, for a message to be effective, that engagement must meet the tastes of the public. If not that text remains a L 'Art pour L'Art text.

Critics of his time have said of D'Annunzio that '[a]s one of the premiere Italian voices during the first half of the twentieth century, he was in a position to influence his country's government and culture' (Hughes-Hallett, 2013: 38). As such, his work appeared from the start as implicating socio-political issues of his day. Filippo Donini adds, in the Times Literary Supplement, that D'Annunzio 'was considered, not without foundation, as having been responsible for starting the political movement which ruined Italy' (Melani, 2006: 77). That movement was Fascism, and Michael A. Ledeen even goes as far as calling D'Annunzio The First Duce, in his book under the same title. (19)

Although my main concern is not to focus on what D'Annunzio's novel may have contributed to Fascism, in this case it might be interesting to jump ahead and outline the author's direct involvement in the Reggenza Italiana del Carnaro and the subsequent rejection of this regency by the Kingdom of Italy. In 1919, D'Annunzio led thousands of troops--which included i Granatieri di Sardegna, i Nazionalisti and gli Irridentisti--into the city of Fiume, in order to conquer it and return its rule from the inter-allied forces (French, British, American) under his own--this foreshadowing the later 'Duce's' constitution and title. It is in fact the Carta del Carnaro--not accepted by the Kingdom of Italy, however--which is outlined as a pre-fascist manifesto. This work portrayed what D'Annunzio foresaw as being the only possible future path of Italy. Just as his name predicted his own role of an archangel announcing a new age that projected Italy beyond left and right, so could his Charter move Italy beyond the failed Risorgimento. In other words, D'Annunzio's political activism of the 1920s was only one possible outcome of his literary and political views in the 1880s and 1890s, as seen in Il piacere.

Yet to equate the depiction of a culture going down in flames with Fascism is to interpret after the facts. Donini is not considering the rise of Fascism in Italy the same way other observers may perceive this movement's introduction into Italian society. There were those who, from the first, condemned such a path, whereas others believed that it might have been the only way to come out of a critical situation--the war, for one, and mass democracy, for another--that had dramatically changed Italy, leaving the country in anarchical disarray. This state of polarized public opinion entitled certain groups--like the Bolshevists in Russia--to take over the reins of government. The upshot, however, was that they did not rule, but rather only led the country in a state of chaotic disorder and financial instability. It is important to note that although pertaining to a period that occurred later than the period treated by this study, the very instability of the situation in which D'Annunzio was working, without knowing what would come of it, resulted in the changing of minds of so many important intellectuals--like Pirandello and D'Annunzio--who had really started out on one end, but then moved to the opposite site of the political spectrum: beyond left and right--or more accurately from left to right and beyond. In retrospect, these decisions proved to be massive historical errors, but such decisions seem at least partially comprehended as both acknowledgments that the old order was doomed and that 'the people' needed to be given a voice in Italy. The error of these authors was in misjudging Mussolini; their 'crime', in retrospect, was aiming for stability rather than seeing the change through. There is a substantial body of scholarship on modernist nationalism and the emergence of modernism from this historical situation (for example Marinetti (Lista, 1977), Croce (1954), e Gentile (1994)).

The acknowledgment of Italy's chaos and of the working class parties' inability to deal with it was in fact a trope of the time. Pietro Gorgolini is able to depict this dissatisfaction with the proletariat forces in his manifesto--first published in English in 1923--entitled The Fascist Movement In Italian Life--and prefaced by Mussolini himself. In it, Gorgolini outlines the critical moral, social, political, financial, and economic conditions which, aided by the ill effects of the Franceso Nitti and Giovanni Giolitti misgovernment, paved the way to a so-called 'restoration' that would purge, cleanse, strengthen and fortify the now-feeble government. Gorgolini and Maude note:
The misgovernment of the Nitti government and the first phase of the
Giolittian restoration had the effect of subverting the spirit and
conscience of a part of the nation. It seemed, for a moment, as though
the country were staggering under the assault of the savage Bolshevist
beast. Our financial, economic, political, social, and moral
conditions had never been so critical. The throne manifested a
stupefied indifference, or impotence, in front of the grave national
evils. The State was apparently non-existent. The government was
feeble and without authority. The Law was impotent and the magistrates
dared not enforce it [...] The Army was insulted with impunity by the
mob and the subversive Press; the police, despised and discontented,
manifested a complete inertia; the middle class, as a whole, became
more terrified with every day that passed, and looked anxiously around
with the pitiful and ridiculous appearance of one who hopes for
someone from outside to save his own life, and on this deplorable
foundation of material and moral ruin [...T]he only beacon lights in
the midst of the intense spiritual darkness were Gabriele D'Annunzio
and Benito Mussolini. (Gorgolini & Maude, 1923: 26-27)

Therefore, D'Annunzio and Mussolini provided visions of this 'someone from outside to save' lives, elevating the poet's national importance and political career to charismatic levels. The failure of that initiative was in D'Annunzio's succumbing to fear of this instability, not in his commitment to change, if such reading of his great decadent novel is correct.

The author's own commitment to change, where his literature is called on in the service of regeneration, can be seen further as modern critics are finding new readings for his work. Susan Bassnett talks about D'Annunzio and the critical new reception of his work in reference to the Gaze. Adding to the picture of the author's project, she states that 'D'Annunzio's work declined in popularity from the 1930s onwards', and that, 'for decades his plays and novels were regarded as period pieces and as examples of the excesses of Decadent symbolist writing', but then in 'the 1990s there are signs of a reassessment', and that gender criticism has enabled us to look at D'Annunzio in a new way' (Bassnett, 1999: 130). Bassnett believes that we are now able to dismember or disassemble the intricate fabrication that D'Annunzio created, constantly reflecting 'on his own creativity and his own development [... developing] his own version of the Superman, modeled upon himself' (1999: 128). Gender studies enable the lettore dannunziano to understand the author's need to interweave his life into his writing and how this is due, in part, by the opportunities offered to him through 'his relationships with women' (Bassnett, 1999: 139). She is one of the new voices asserting that decadence could indeed be a critical tool to a society that needed change, but which was not changing fast enough.

The Italian Decadent Hero: D'Annunzio's Aesthete

Like Bassett's modern gaze on D'Annunzio's work, this article maps the connections between the political reading of his situation in the moment of modernist nationalism where literature was called on in the service of regeneration to the poet as liberator of the masses. Standard discussions of decadent literature and Decadence from literary history establish the discussion of such literature as a question of content and approach, rather than as a specific style of literature or charactertype and ethics. In that sense, I argue, this literature becomes postmodern--as questioning dominant narratives and authority constellations through conscious co-optations of the master narratives of the cultures which they seek to critique, as well as in their conscious opposition to the egocentric narrative of modernist literature. We can follow Jean-Louis Francois Lyotard's definition of 'modern art'--which happens to also be Diderot's definition--as art which devotes 'little technical expertise', versus his definition of 'postmodern art' which is 'modernism in the nascent state' and one that is not afraid to use technical axioms of avant-gardism to present the un-presentable (Lyotard, 1984: 78-79). Hence postmodernism, according to Lyotard, is pre-modernism, or the beginnings of modernism, but its state is 'constant' (1984: 79). This constant state is the crux of this essay.

Andrea Sperelli provided the Italian public with an image of the passion and escapism that was needed at that time in Italian society--but not just for escapist purposes. An interesting turn of events occurs in the Italian society of the late nineteenth century that I feel needs some attention. As was previously proposed, the Italian high aristocracy was acting--mimicking and imitating--the society of other European nations. As such, the middle classes--who both despised and envied the aristocracy--started acting like aristocracy: in Loy's terms, 'the old landed aristocracy or pseudo-aristocracy (monied non-nobles who styled themselves as aristocrats) to which [the novel's characters] belonged was losing importance in the social and political realms' (Loy, 2005: 105). (20)

In this sense, D'Annunzio becomes the poet for the new aristocrat, his voice molds the new ruler, and his book, Il piacere, becomes the new subversive manual for the coming of a new age that appreciates new European aesthetic movements, but which is not trapped in an empty aestheticism. In so doing, decadent literature can be considered postmodern rather than modern, rescuing the literature of twentieth-century Decadence from more than simply an aristocratic looking-backward but instead establishing it as a particular pattern of social criticism, a vehicle designed to critique particularly the upper classes (with their aestheticization of reality) from within. The poet's real life unfolds not as his character's equal, but as his antithesis in the novel. The message that D'Annunzio brings from within his art is to call for a transition into this new era that is inevitably surpassing Italy--much aligned with social progress. Let us not forget that, as his career started, Italy had just united (1861 brought a new Kingdom), and thus he was well acquainted with an ongoing ambivalence in its history of aristocracy. Centuries earlier, families such as the Medici had been patrons of the arts, and socially and politically progressive. Others were not. In the present, there was the ongoing problem of the papal nobility--old families with titles bound to the papacy in a quasi-feudal relationship. These old families found little to engage with within post-unification politics. Garibaldi was too proletariat. Victor Emmanuel, 'King of the Italians', sat on the throne, not as a progressive ruler, and in many ways was seen as incapable of realizing the promise of national renewal which was the literal meaning of Risorgimento. (21) By the time Il piacere was written, substantial questions were being raised. Was the old liberal ruling class exhausted? How proletarian was Italy, and what was the role of Italian traditions in art when all the city-states still had many a leftover count and countess? Was D'Annunzio's eventual adherence to Fascism truly just a mistake or was it to some extent implicit in his aestheticization of politics already apparent in his first great novel?

D'Annunzio revisits art and science in Italy, the new values and transmutations of his era, and comes to his own conclusion with his pivotal novel that moves outside of Italy for its model, to bring a new critique to Italy, using Decadence as a social critique. D'Annunzio wrote a novel that was alone in its claims, given the preceding artistic climate of the Risorgimento. That is why it is fair to call it a manifesto, designed to lead Italians into the new century: a second generation, after Verdi, needed a new synthesis of art and politics. The challenge, explains David D. Roberts in his essay on Benedetto Croce, was 'not to destroy the old, which was disintegrating on its own, but to construct anew, while salvaging as much of the old as possible' (Roberts, 2005: 190). Robert points out that in his opinion, 'Croce was central to a generation coming of age in the 1890s and reacting against, or at least questioning, the cultural role of science, and especially the applicability of the natural sciences to the human world' (2005: 190). Similarly, D'Annunzio, Wilde and Huysmans were pivotal in projecting us into the new century with their little yellow books.

Roberts insists that Croce portrays historical inquiry as the key to orienting readers in the right direction, which he feels needs to include a focus on the distant past as leading toward that future, because 'history seeks the seeds of the next moment, the process that leads to the future, not the past on its own terms, taken as an end in itself (2005: 193). He believed that if we ourselves conform to the dynamic nature of reality, then we would find the true key to the dynamic nature of our thought--which always propels us to the future and not the past (2005:195). It is this forward projection that Marinella Cantelmo is concerned with when she calls D'Annunzio's prose and subject matter 'un assetto dinamico innovativo delle corrispettive strutture tradizionali' (1996: 203). She believes that his prose is a code, and the reader who is able to break it is the future reader, un 'lettore futuro' (1996: 226). (22)

Within the Italian context, it is completely possible to consider this 'Decadent' author both political, forward-looking and futuristico. D'Annunzio is the autore futuro who writes for un lettore futuro in coding un messaggio futuro, in his romanzo futuro, and only the lettore futuro will be able to decode this message which is the key to the future--this inevitable projection of history forward a la Croce. Cantelmo echoes D'Annunzio himself who states that the future artist--'l'artista futuro' --holds the highest glory that anyone could ever imagine, which is to be the messenger of a life that presents itself to man, but that man does not understand yet (Cantelmo, 1996: 240). (23) Therefore, il romanzo futuro becomes evasione, as a dream--'un'atmosfera di sogno'--and the author becomes aware of this new message that has changed the conditions of thought, 'un nuovo messaggio, adeguato alle mutate condizioni comunicative, e di nuove vie per la diffusione' of his work (Cantelmo, 1996: 247). For D'Annunzio, however, this nuovo messaggio always involves an element of the ritual conception of art as a sacrifice that serves to bind the community together. (Lewis, 2000: 363)

D'Annunzio embraces immediacy and attempts to transcribe dreams and waking life with equal vividness. With this tone of almost surreality, his novel acts as an antidote or a warning as to how not to become (Lewis, 2000: 367). Do not become Andrea, the modernist poet says; become Gabriele. Yet how can Andrea become Gabriele? It can happen through a transformation, not by fossilizing in his role, which is his prison and his sunset. If Italian nobility remains fossilized, then the gap forming between the previous century and this new one only grows. If Italian nobility, instead, could transform itself, then the gap could be filled. And D'Annunzio wants to be the poet to lead Italian society--the way Virgilio leads Dante through the Inferno--out of one past state and into a modern one--much like D'Annunzio led his troops into Fiume to annex it to Italy.

Accordingly, the modernist poet sought to explore for his audience the distance that he perceived as existing between the meaningful inner life of the individual consciousness and the outer world that shapes that inner life (Roberts, 2005: 190). In modern times, it is science--which seems to unravel many secrets--that leaves the individual unprotected and frail, without support, because it deconstructs the myths and half-truths so far believed. (24) Yet from the point of view of the class to whom D'Annunzio was writing, Western culture as such is seen as being left 'without the religious underpinnings that had long sustained it', leaving the individual inner life devoid of spiritual meaning because, as Nietzsche proclaims, God is dead (Roberts, 2005: 190).

In the introduction of this article, avant-garde--art--manifestos are distinguished from the political--art--manifestos. Both claim to be creating a new form of diction, set in a new content that in turn creates a new model to follow. As each one has to produce the other, if such manifestos want to shape and make the future, they should create artistic politics or political art (Puchner, 2006: 46). As Marx and Croce taught us, a true revolution can only look to the future or it will fail. However, just as a snake needs to shed its own tight skin before it can grow a new, better-fitting one, so will this revolution need to shed ill-fitting costumes to create future ones. Therefore, only after 'shedding the costumes and phrases of the past, [can] the modern revolution [...] somehow invite the future, [and] come up with [new] phrases, forms, genres that "derive" their "poetry" from the future' (Puchner, 2006: 1). (25)

When we define art manifestos, a common feature is performativity and theatricality--the concept of 'doing things with words, in changing the world' (Puchner, 2006: 5). Puchner concludes that 'the history of the political manifestos is a history of repletion, of attempts to navigate between the incomparable imperatives of adapting the Communist Manifestos and preserving its original force' (2006: 259). A manifesto should be 'a means to an end and an end in itself, that would fold means and end together while sustaining them both, without collapse, in a kind of balancing act or dance, suspended between past and future yet tied to both by repetition and replacement in order to make the new once more' (Puchner, 2006: 262).

In plain terms, Puchner believes that a manifesto must be a regenerating text. It is interesting that historically many manifestoes were then repressed by dictatorial regimes. (Poggiolo, 1968: 105). (26) Seemingly, this posits the manifestos' creation not only as a reaction to and/or result of the rise of an absolute regime, but actually as a precursor--as though the artist-author of manifesto senses the instability around him and writes the manifesto as a warning sign, a beacon call. A call then heard by the artist himself, an archangel 'Gabriel'--Gabriele--who 'announces'--D'Annunzio--a new era. So maybe the Charter of Carnaro was a continuation of the work he had started within Il piacere, and maybe becoming the Duce of Fiume was a precursor of siding with the Duce himself. Maybe, just maybe, D'Annunzio was that poeta futuro with the voce futura and it was he who later influenced Mussolini and his movement, and this is how D'Annunzio's self-image was connected with his vision of himself as an archangel announcing a new age.

Critics have only been willing to partially evaluate D'Annunzio's transformation. Barbara Spackman explores the paradox between D'Annunzio's growth going from his provincial background to what she calls a quasi-mythical position. In her essay, she shows how D'Annunzio's life is 'inextricably interwoven in his writings', possibly to inscribe an alternate reality and to 'cathartically expunge from the personae of his supermen the ambiguities about the origins that always troubled him' (Spackman, 1999: 139). My claim goes a step further than the usual idea about aestheticism leading into fascism. I believe that D'Annunzio not only created himself and inscribed himself as a new kind of aristocrat in the traditions of the Medici--connoisseurs and rulers. He sought to create for himself a place in the ruling echelons of the country, in order to rise to the ruling class levels of Italian society, and this goes beyond leading to a new rebirth. Walter Laqueur calls this transformational move 'the change from hyperaestheticism to a super patriotism which came close to fascism' (Laqueur, 1996: 10) and I believe that there is a Renaissance or pre-modern aspect to this aristocratic impulse.

D'Annunzio therefore becomes--in my, and not Marinetti's, opinion--the futurista that Marinetti exalts in his manifesto. D'Annunzio becomes an -ism (Dannunzianism), and as such is able to achieve exactly what he sets out to, because of the validity of his new inscription. In a new Italy that was coming out of an older Italy, D'Annunzio's writing, persona, and later military and political ventures fill the gap that Walter L. Adamson calls 'the inchoateness of the emerging Second Italy' (1992: 29). Adamson believes--quoting Marinetti--that the 'role of the "we," the avant-garde of the "new" generation, is to "burn and to brighten"--to destroy the first Italy as it educates the second' (1992: 29). Adamson continues to draw upon Marinetti's rhetoric of the future ruling classes, saying that these Futuristi are those 'who exalt danger, energy, speed, violence, machines, war, and the like, and who oppose what passatisti support' (1992: 42). However, I am the one drawing a parallel between D'Annunzio and Marinetti, because the latter labels and condemns D'Annunzio as a passatista and not as I see him, a progressivista. (27)

In my view, such opinions are also due to the elitist and defensive nature of the Italian bourgeoisie--echoing Fulvio Cammarano's examination of Liberal Italy--which gives a 'national dimension to politics while at the same time avoiding the politization of the nation' (Carter, 1996: 546). (28) Carter sees the split nature of this newly liberal Italy, in trying to develop 'a bond between the nation state and the civil society', and to make 'the population aware of its nationality--hence the politization of the nation' (1996: 545). Nationalization becomes an important theme in the literature of the times. If this explains how D'Annunzio was able to rise to mythical stature and also to lead the Italians to a new Italy, how do we explain his allegiance to a fascist Italy? That might have been the only way for him to achieve his goal of poet-leader, and my reading of his novel-as-manifesto suggests that this indeed was his objective: creating the modernizing impulse to reject Andrea as his--admired but criticized--decadent alter ego and project Gabriele--the author who embodies the Italian future--into modernity. D'Annunzio's poetic intent was that of raising a critique of a specific class's response to the pressures of modernism and making an appeal to preserve, reevaluate, and recreate tradition instead of discarding it (Becker, 1990: 85). (29) As such, he has retained at least some claims to being a national author of the era. And so to finish with D'Annunzio's own words on art--as a transforming tool--, the eternal faithful lover, forever young and immortal, that renders us more similar to God: 'L'Arte! L'Arte!-Ecco l'Amante fedele, sempre giovine, immortale; ecco la Fonte della gioia pura, vietata alle moltitudini, concessa agli eletti; ecco il prezioso Alimento che fa l'uomo simile a un dio' (1995: 164).


(1.) Jared Becker is convinced that this 'politics of estheticism'--to use Thomas Mann's term--offers the 'esthete as a political arbiter', and offers the poet's 'beauties'--in this case nationalism and imperialism--as 'the substance of the nation's politics, overriding the materialist analyses of either socialist or capitalist polities'. See Becker, 1990: 85.

(2.) Marinetti wrote the Futurist Manifesto (1908); Breton wrote the Manifeste du Surrealisme (1924); Debord wrote Society of the Spectacle (1967).

(3.) Drawing on the works of the Frankfurt school, Hannah Arendt, and the recent ethical thinkers (Seyla Benhabib, Judith Butler, John Rawls, Michael Sandel, Bernard Williams), Pericles Lewis believes that 'The rise of racial-ethnic theories of "national character" in the last decades of the nineteenth century served to undermine the belief in a publicly observable, secular reality, equally accessible to individuals of all nations [;] deterministic theories, espoused by thinkers as diverse as Leslie Stephen, Karl Pearson, and Maurice Barres, implied that the deep structures of the national psyche shape the observation of reality and control what the individual can and cannot see' (Lewis, 2000: 27).

(4.) See Michael Tratner's Modernism and Mass Politics (1995), Michael Levenson's Modernism and the Fate of Individuality (2005), Terry Eagleton's The Ideology of the Aesthetic (1990), Jameson's The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act (1981), and Said's Nationalism, Colonialism, and Literature (1988).

(5.) Karl Marx wrote this sentence in The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte to explain the failure of the 1848 revolution in France. Quoted in Puchner's (2006) Introduction to his book, Poetry of the Revolution.

(6.) Much of Proust's work centers on a first-person narrator, unable to sleep, who waits and remembers during the night childhood episodes. Positivist Philologist Ernst Renan in France, and less liberal-minded thinkers such as the eugenicist Karl Pearson and nationalist politician and novelist Maurice Barres, found in theories of the national character or the national will what they took to be 'convincing solutions for the crisis of positivism and liberalism'. Renan and Barres in particular seem to have influenced both Joyce and Proust directly, and Barres was both a 'friend of and a political model for D'Annunzio' (Lewis, 2000: 111).

(7.) The translation of life comes from Lara Gochin Raffaelli's translation in Gabriele d'Annunzio (2013) Pleasure, (trans) Lara Gochin Raffaelli, New York: Penguin Classics, p. 9.

(8.) Pireddu calls this process the 'paradigma estetico ed etico dell'economia simbolica del dono ne Il piacere' (2002: 383).

(9.) In her book entitled Il piacere dei leggitori, Marinella Cantelmo expresses her notion of Sperelli's position between past and future, national tradition and European innovation, standing as a conjunction between bridging two eras: 'Sperelli figura dell'ideal tipo del signore italiano del XIX secolo sempre in bilico tra passato e futuro, fra tradizione (nazionale) e innovazione (europea): ed il probabile ricorso della definizione citata ad un codice pariniano starebbe a testimoniarlo' (1996: 152).

(10.) Besides the usual ruductio ad unum between author, narrator and protagonist, in Il piacere, D'Annunzio creates a distance, a clear and distinct separation between narrator and main character.

(11.) The translation of destroy comes from Lara Gochin Raffaelli's translation in Gabriele d'Annunzio (2013) Pleasure, (trans) Lara Gochin Raffaelli, New York: Penguin Classics, p. 336.

(12.) Cantelmo notes this predestined last descent which places Sperelli along his era's most influential characters, and as such makes of him an important historic role-player, as noted by D'Annunzio himself in Il Mattino: 'A Sperelli esteta, artista, e scrittore, per giunta "ultimo discendente d'una razza intellettuale" (Il piacere, 36), spetta dunque l'onore di una rappresentivita epocale che lo ponga tra "gli esemplari gli interpeti e i messaggeri del suo tempo" (questi i tratti distinitivi del ruolo storico, a detta dello stesso D'Annunzio)' (Cantelmo, 1996: 173-174).

(13.) Il Piacere: L'impressione e inesprimibile. Mi pareva dunque che quell'ora, che quei momenti, essendo stati gia da me vissuti, non si svolgessero, fuori di me, indipendenti da me, ma mi appartenessero, ma avessero con la mia persona un legame naturale e indissoluble cosi ch'io non potessi sottrarmi a riviverli in quel dato modo ma dovessi anzi necessariamente riviverli' (D'Annunzio, 1995: 243).

(14.) 'Sul tavolo era un vaso coreano, giallastro e maculato come la pelle d'un pitone; e nel vaso era un mazzo di orchidee, di quei fiori grotteschi e multiformi che son la ricercata curiosita di Francesca [...] una quantita di fiori gialli, simili ad angelette in veste lunga librate a volo con le braccia alte e con l'aureola dietro il capo' (D'Annunzio, 1995: 247).

(15.) Enid Starkie writes about this impudence against nature in her book on Rimbaud where she describes Banville's predilection to 'cut flowers'; Starkie notes that Banville 'is a florist rather than a horticulturist [... n]o poet has ever put so many flowers in his shop window, so many camelias, such a profusion of violets, and especially lilies...'; and then Starkie describes Rimbaud's response to these, 'There is a cool impudence on Rimbaud's part--which is probably not unintentional--in sending Banville a poem which makes fun of the Parnassian attitude to flowers' (1968: 129).

(16.) The term 'secret museum' refers to various closed-off rooms in museums that housed erotic or obscene artifacts. The most famous one is revealed in Walter Kendrick's study entitled The Secret Museum: Pornography in Modern Culture, where he talks about a locked room containing the erotic artifacts discovered at Pompeii--of which Barre wrote a catalogue called "The Secret Museum" in 1875-77, and which inspired Gautier (1997: 11, 126).

(17.) The translation of bound comes from Lara Gochin Raffaelli's translation in Gabriele d'Annunzio (2013) Pleasure, (trans) Lara Gochin Raffaelli, New York: Penguin Classics, p. 248.

(18.) The forest standing as Leopardian siepe as a boundary as well as referent to an infinite and unreachable past and/or future also stands as a great metaphor of European myth for where and how we are in life. In art, poetry, and history, but also within themselves, all the artifacts used in D'Annunzio's prose--including the forest--are what I call tropes of his poetic id. Daniela Bini unveils the revival of myth as a 'cultural trend of the time, not only in Italy, where D'Annunzio was the leading promoter, but in Europe in general' (1998, 61).

(19.) Ledeen argues that D'Annunzio's occupation of Fiume was a major step on the path to Italian fascism. He compares Mussolini and D'Annunzio and claims that both were masters of a political style based on personal charisma. He goes on to say that each spoke for a 'new' Italy and, eventually, for a new world. And that both 'attempted to transform his countrymen into more heroic types by an ethic of violence and grandeur' (1977: ix, xiv, xv, and 7).

(20.) Loy believes this was the natural overturning of the class status in that 'as the aristocracy declined, the middle and professional classes became more prominent so that [the middle class becomes] the life, the strength, and the backbone of the nation [... T]he decades following the Unification witnessed a dramatic rise in power among an expanding professional elite, who increasingly replaced the aristocratic landowners in parliament and government'. (2005:105)

(21.) The Risorgimento, which culminated in the creation of a united Italian kingdom by 1861, had a two-fold significance. As a manifestation of the nationalism sweeping over Europe during the nineteenth century, the Risorgimento aimed to unite Italy under one flag/one government. However, the Risorgimento meant more than political unity for many Italians, as it described a movement for the renewal of Italian society beyond political aims. See Giuseppe Verdi--Biography <> and the explanation of 'Viva Verdi' as a code name for a secret unification message used as acronym for 'Vittorio Emanuele Re D'Italia'.

(22.) Il piacere si chiude infatti--si potrebbe leggere anche cosi la fine del romanzo--sul fall-imento epocale anche della parola poetica, chiusa nella sua purezza adantina ad uso esclusivo di una cerchia ristretta di utenti privilegiati, messaggo a circuito chiuso, immateriale "oggetto" da salotto anch'essa--da salotto letterario, s'intende--che "mercato" travolge e disperde, a conclusione della fibula, insieme agli oggetti materiali, oggetti d'arte altrettanto preziosi, che costellano e denotano lo spazio ambientale.' (Cantelmo, 1996: 222)

(23.) "'l'artista futuro', scrive D'Annunzio, in questo risiede "la piu alta Gloria che si possa oggi sognare:--Essere il messaggero di una vita che gli uomini presentano ma non comprendono ancora!'" (Cantelmo, 1996: 240).

(24.) The unraveling of man's myths results in the isolation of man, because knowledge is alienating and ignorance is bliss.

(25.) Here the term 'poetry' also used by Marx resonates the Greek meaning of an act or making--poesis--and I will call this to manifest.

(26.) Poggioli states that the 'absolute and total control of literature and art seems to be the common result of other dictatorial regimes such as Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, Franco Spain, but not so radically as in Soviet Russia, precisely because the Communists had broken the ties to the previous society in a more thoroughgoing way than any other regime, thus becoming much more totalitarian' (1968: 105).

(27.) In Marinetti's opinion, i passatisti support 'bourgeois institutions like museums, libraries, and universities, but also manifestations of artistic "decadence" (as in "Dannunzianism"), including feminism--indeed women generally'. (Adamson, 1992: 42)

(28.) In Carter's opinion, it was inevitable that the Italian government at that time should 'assume an apolitical, and entirely administrative, character', with the inevitable later development of 'the practice of trasformismo (the retention of political power through the offerings of places in government to potential opponents) and later, giolittismo'--which later failed but not before creating a spirit of antigiolittismo and a move away from the concept of a liberal state. (Carter, 1996: 546)

(29.) Jared Becker is convinced that this 'politics of estheticism'--to use Thomas Mann's term--offers the 'esthete as a political arbiter', and offers the poet's 'beauties'--in this case nationalism and imperialism--as 'the substance of the nation's politics, overriding the materialist analyses of either socialist or capitalist politics' (1990: 85).


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Author:Mauro-Jackson, Moira Di
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Date:Aug 1, 2017
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