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Elena Landoni. La grammatica come storia della poesia: un nuovo disegno storiografico per la letteratura italiana delle origini attraverso grammatica, retorica e semantica.

Elena Landoni. La grammatica come storia della poesia: un nuovo disegno storiografico per la letteratura italiana delle origini attraverso grammatica, retorica e semantica. Roma: Bulzoni, 1997. Pp. 369.

In this very interesting book Landoni studies the application, by Italy's earliest poets, of grammar, rhetoric, and semantics to the creation of a new style of poetry. The poets studied include those of the Scuola Siciliana, Jacopone da Todi, Guittone d'Arezzo, Dante, and Cecco Angiolieri. Like bookends, the Provencal poets, who created the courtly love tradition, and Petrarch, whose canzoniere closes that tradition, stand as precursors and post-cursors of the subtle and creative dynamic that evolved in the first century of Italian lyric poetry. Landoni's volume is divided into four long chapters that reflect the four principal avenues of investigation in her diachronic study. These avenues of investigation are: the creation of the new strands of Italian lyric poetry within the fabric of the old, syntax as a poetic strategy, the semantic evolution of certain fundamental elements of the Italian lyric lexicon, and rhetoric as the organizing element of meaning. In accordance with Landoni's working hypothesis, poets who do not always occupy a portion of supreme importance in Italy's pantheon of letters receive significant attention. Three poets who fit into this newly defined category are Jacopone da Todi, Guittone d'Arezzo and Cecco Angiolieri.

The ideal of medieval poets was not originality, as it has been for the moderns, but conventionality and familiarity, which, according to Landoni, grew out of "un bisogno sempre insorgente di codificazione, sistemazione e formalizzazione" (11). While early Italian literature manifested creative "newness," it did so only very cautiously and entirely within the bounds of poetic auctoritates. In the creation of a new poetry, grammar was very important not only as a vehicle of meaning, but also as a producer of poetic meaning in and of itself. Lexical realignments and the redefinition of relationships among lexical groups instituted new fields of meaning.

The Provencal poets had already established an identity between poetic rules and grammatical norms. Their poetry was "eminentemente formalistica, fiduciosa nella costruttivita della parola indipendentemente dal suo contenuto semantico" (18). The poetry of the Scuola Siciliana, on the other hand, applied the formal elements of the Provencal poetic inheritance (i.e., lexicon, meter, and rhyme schemes) in a way that gently signaled a detachment from, if not a downright parody of, the troubadour canon. The vocabulary, themes, syntax, and rhetoric of the Frederician poetic corpus are quite homogeneous. For example, Giacomo da Lentini's themes include requited and unrequited love and separation, while Pier delle Vigne writes of the subjugation of love and its heavy social responsibilities. But since in thirteenth-century society change could not be sanctioned outright, shifts in emphasis and meaning had to be subtle and oblique. The poets of the Scuola Siciliana are aware of the inherent weakness of the word in expressing inner feeling. In the Frederician concept of cortesia, many values such as loyalty, wisdom, nobility of spirit, and the golden mean are applicable equally to men as well as women. Giacomo da Lentini breaks with the languedoc tradition in defining love as divine. In Landoni's view, Sicilian poetry revitalizes Provencal models, while lamenting their limitations: "la poesia della cerchia federiciana si caratterizza per questo atteggiamento bifronte rispetto alla tradizione letteraria ereditata: da una parte propugna la rivitalizzazione di stereotipi coniati altrove, ad inaugurazione di una produzione nazionale che si vuole iscritta in quelle coordinate; dall'altra lamenta l'insofferenza per gli aspetti piu rigidi e obsoleti della normativa etica accolta, e divulga la consapevolezza dei limiti intrinseci al linguaggio erotico" (171-72).

Jacopone Da Todi's texts are all about the praise of Divine Love and the announcement of radical change brought on by spiritual conversion. He deliberately destabilizes the "patrimonio aulico" (18) with his primitive grammaticality. Jacoponian strategies that tend to discredit long-established poetic canons include the use of infinitives as nouns, parataxis, oxymoron, antithesis, opposition, paradox, and the general lowering of the syntactic level. The apparent simplicity and primitiveness of Jacopone's poetry has fooled more than one great literary critic. Far from being a unschooled madman, Jacopone was a learned author, as the existence of Latinate words in his texts attests. Just as his thematic goal was to express the impossibility of identification with God, so his lauds are characterized stylistically by linguistic and stylistic imprecision.

Another indicator of Jacopone's poetic sophistication is his application of Provencal courtly motifs and lexicon to theological themes. Landoni goes to considerable length to emphasize Jacopone's knowledge of this element of secular culture, which the mystic did not reject totally but rather applied to his own goals: "una volta convertitosi in Fra Iacopone, [il mistico] mimetizza in un usus scribendi icastico ed espressivo, ma non soffoca del tutto [quella cultura]" (179). Note Jacopone's repeated use of such keywords of courtliness as amore, cortesia, misura, senno, saggezza, follia, valore, nobile, gioia, gentile, umilta, onore, villania, vergogna, virtU. What Landoni does not acknowledge, however, is that in subverting the courtly code in his religious poems, Jacopone is imitating a strong Franciscan trend begun by the founder himself. Landoni defines the subversion of the courtly code for religious purposes the most "scandalous" aspect of Jacopone's laude. While the ideal of the secular courtly lyric is the golden mean, the goal in Jacopone's mystic and poetic expression is precisely its opposite--that is, excess--as the following quote elucidates: "Il termine esmesuranza occupa nella mappa concettuale del Laudario lo stesso posto centrale che pertiene a mezura nel repertorio occitanico, ma la derivazione mediante prefisso capovolge diametralmente il senso della nuova unita lessicale." (104). Thus, Jacopone's poetry is yet another example of the polyvalent lexicon of early Italian poetry.

In Guittone d'Arezzo the renunciation of the codice poetico cortese is even more pointed, for in this poetic corpus the word is a neutral carrier of both truth and lies. According to Landoni, in Guittone's poetry both sender and recipient are aware of the invalidity of the courtly message. In her view, Guittone was the first Italian poet to privilege the narrative element over the lyric, making individual poems function like blocks in a narrative, even before Dante codified this new poetic direction within the metaphorical framework of "the book" (il libello), first in the Vita Nova and subsequently with a different and more universal perspective in the Commedia. The trend to make a longer narrative out of individual lyric poems persists, of course, in Petrarch's canzoniere.

Guittone's poetry is built on a foundation radically different from that of courtly poetry. "L'Aretino non solo condanna la logica cortese , ma esige che l'istituzione poetica, che ne e l'ambito di risonanza privilegiato, si riappropri di una potenzialita comunicativa e narrativa che l'inerzia e l'autoreferenzialita del codice lirico prevalente avevano imbrigliato" (70). Guittone's texts are in synergetic tension with a desire to communicate. We find an indefinite lengthening of the unit of meaning through use of subordinate clauses. Other stylistic strategies that Guittone employs include the use of infinitives and participles as nouns, parataxis, and hypotaxis (with the dependent clause often beginning the sentence). The resulting hierarchy of syntactically interdependent sections reflects, in Landoni's opinion, the interdependence of human relationships and emphasizes the weight of human responsibility in acting in the real world. In short Guittone's langage is the concretization of interacting causes and consequences.

With Dante the narrative element in lyric poetry evolves even further. The prose glosses of the Vita Nuova produce a narrative that reinterprets previously composed poems, giving them "new life," just as Biblical exegesis reinterprets the Scriptures. The possibility of never-ending textual interpretation over time is one of Landoni's central themes. In her view Dante realized the essential ambivalence of the literary text, which both hides and reveals truth. At the center of Dante's poetic code, particularly evident in the Commedia, lies the Christian code of the verbum caro factum est.

Dante's faith in the productivity of meaning (produttivita del senso) is also evident in his powerful use of language. His use of hypotaxis increases throughout his lyric production, and in the Commedia he consciously employs complex syntax as a creative tool. "Il periodo ipotetico in mano dantesca si presenta come autentico luogo deputato all'ampliamento della fictio, non meno che a una profonda significazione" (147). The greatest syntactical complexity is often seen in extended similes and in key narrative or philosophical passages.

Cecco Angolieri represents a poet whose texts opposed Dante's positions on the theory of poetry, in Landoni's view. Cecco's "popular" and provocative poetry does not express what exists; rather it expresses the absence of finality and the ever-contradictory nature of language. Thus his blasfemia may be interpreted less as a statement of personal truths than as a protest against the poetic register created and espoused by Dante. Landoni defines Cecco's use of the hypothetical clause as an expression of the inconsistency and contradiction inherent in his message. For example, in his most famous poem, "S'i' fosse foco," the obviously impossible propositions of the quatrains and the first tercet contrast with the possibility of the hypothetis of the second tercet ("S'i' fosse Cecco, com'i' sono e fui"). Yet, the "true" statement at the end of the poem is destabilized and rendered unreal by the flood of unreal hypotheticals preceding it. Cecco's poetry is an accumulation of quotidian minutiae. Landoni refers to the poet's ability to "concentrare nel breve respiro del sonetto un ragguardevole spessore di vita empirica." (87). In Cecco's hypotactic sentence structure, meaning spirals and folds back upon itself.

Guido Cavalcanti is another poet who rejected Dante's stilnovistic fin'amors and its system of metaphors. Similarly Petrarch abandoned the original semantic value of important Dantesque terminology, substituting a more polyvalent semantic that belied the original identity between word and object. Curiously Petrarch, writing in Provence (and northen Italy), brings us full circle. His poetry echoes the final stage of the Provencal legacy in which the only woman worthy of praise is the Virgin Mary.

The parabola of Italy's early poetic production moves from recognition of the obsolescence of forms inherited from the Provencal poets to creation of new meaning. Italy's first poets (and Dante with supreme mastery) were also aware of the iconic value of poetry. Landoni concludes, however, that if Dante is the father of a generative language and poetics, then the real victor is Petrarch, who points the way toward the "travagliato intellettualismo moderno" (31).

V. Louise Katainen, Auburn University
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Title Annotation:Italian Bookshelf
Author:Louise Katainen, V.
Publication:Annali d'Italianistica
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 1999
Words:1729
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