Elsa Morante's La storia: a posthumanist, feminist, anarchist response to power.
According to Morante's collection of critical essays Pro o contro la bomba atomica, La storia itself should be read as a manifesto. In an atomic age of destruction in which art represents the only hope for salvation, novels become ideological weapons with the capacity to subvert the system. Thus "il romanziere, [e] al pari di un filosofo-psicologo" ("the novelist [is] on the level of a philosopher-psychologist") and every romanzo should be "tradotto in termini di saggio, e di 'opera di pensiero'" ("translated in terms of an essay, and of a 'work of thought'") since its main purpose is to "interrogare sinceramente la vita reale, affinche essa ci renda, in risposta, la sua verita" ("sincerely interrogate real life, so that it can render to us, in reply, its truth" 46-48). More than just a novel, then, La storia acts as a philosophical treatise to present Morante's vision of the world, in which even the style of writing makes a political statement. In explaining why the power elite fear poetic truths, Morante links the novelist-poet to heroes of chivalric myth:
L'apparizione, nel mondo, di una nuova verita poetica, e sempre inquietante, e sempre, nei suoi effetti, sovversiva: giacche il suo intervento significa sempre, in qualche modo, un rinnovamento del mondo reale [...]. E per questo certi dittatori, armati di eserciti e di bombe atomiche, hanno paura al cospetto di una inerme poesia, feroce solo della sua bellezza, e le vietano l'ingresso nei loro confini [...]. [P]aragonavo la funzione del romanziere-poeta a quella del protagonista solare, che nei miti affronta il drago notturno, per liberare la citta atterrita [...]. La qualita dell'arte e liberatoria, e quindi, nei suoi effetti, sempre rivoluzionaria.
The appearance in the world of a new poetic truth is always anxiety-provoking and always, in its results, subversive: given that its intervention always means, in some fashion, a renovation of the real world [...]. And for this reason certain dictators, armed with military forces and atomic bombs, are afraid in front of an unarmed poem, ferocious only in its beauty, and they prohibit its entry within their borders [...]. I was comparing the function of the novelist-poet to that solar protagonist who in the myths confronts the nocturnal dragon, to free the terrified city [...]. The nature of art is liberatory, and therefore, in its consequences, always revolutionary.
In what way, then, is Morante herself a revolutionary who wields her art in La storia in order to liberate others?
Right from the title, Morante challenges the authority of standard history whose narrative is produced by those in power. The physical dimension of the novel, with dates and statistics provided in a dry factual style at the beginning of each chronologically arranged chapter, recalls a conventional textbook form. Morante further mimics the accepted mode of writing history by opening the novel with a summary of relevant events from World War II in a very neutral manner, as if purposefully beckoning the reader to view the fictionalized story of the romanzo, announced by the subtitle, on the same level as a historical account. In contrast to these peripheral elements of the book, however, the plot is a complete reversal of the expectations associated with historical writing. In this alternative form of history, Morante also reframes the perspective from a textbook-like claim of absolute truth to the subjective narrator, who accepts her limited capacity for knowledge. The narrator does not place herself in a God-like position, watching over and describing the characters from a distance, but rather puts herself on par with them as she poses as a researcher making use of photographs, documents, testimony, and oral accounts in her search for truth. (5) This method of narration thus reframes the point of view to that of the individual investigator, against the presumption of complete knowledge in conventional "historical" writing. Siriana Sgavicchia notes the quantity of archives which Morante cites in her notebooks in preparation for her novel, confirming that she took news articles from the war and actual events that had been somewhat fictionalized (106). The author thus anticipates the narrator's stance in her quest to uncover the truth beyond the emotionlessly conveyed headlines, inserting testimonials into her story. (6)
In keeping with her reverse perspective, Morante focuses on quotidian events experienced by those who suffer the consequences of political decisions but have no voice in the matter. Writing in the wake of World War I, Randolph Bourne had expressed this dichotomy by distinguishing the State from the people living in a territory, which he referred to as the Country: "Our idea of Country concerns itself with the nonpolitical aspects of a people, its way of living, its personal traits, its literature and art, its characteristic attitudes toward life" whereas the State is "armed power, culminating in a single head, bent on one primary object, the reducing to subjection, to unconditional and unqualified loyalty of all the people of a certain territory" (41, 28). Although official history was generally regarded as a grand narrative focusing on the armed power of the State, Morante directs her attention instead to interconnected private lives, representative of the disenfranchised Country as a whole. The privileging of storia (story) over Storia (History), then, accords with one of the novel's stated objectives: to give voice to those whose stories are silenced in conventional historical narratives. (7) Our discussion of these stories begins with those who communicate outside the structures of human language.
The Australian posthumanist scholar Dinesh Wadiwel makes the case that mistreatment of animals is tied to mistreatment of human beings:
The humanist will say "Stop treating humans like animals: respect the human and violence will not be possible. But there is [an] alternative line of thinking that responds in an apparently oblique way to the humanist: "Stop treating animals like we treat animals; then it will not be possible to treat humans like animals." Understood in this fashion, human violence represents not only a capacity for dehumanization alone, but is tied closely to the justification of violence against the non-human.
("Animal by Any Other Name?" 2)
Similarly, Cary Wolfe argues that the oppression of animals has actually served to justify and normalize the oppression of humans:
One might well observe that it is crucial to pay critical attention to the discourse of animality quite irrespective of the issue of how nonhuman animals are treated. This is so, as a number of scholars have observed, because the discourse of animality has historically served as a crucial strategy in the oppression of humans by other humans--a strategy whose legitimacy and force depend, however, on the prior taking for granted of the traditional ontological distinction, and consequent ethical divide, between human and nonhuman animals.
(Zoontologies: The Question of the Animal xx)
This valorization of animals as sentient beings much like humans, in line with the non-speciest theories of Morante's friend Giorgio Agamben, can be found in Morante's non-fictional writing. (8) Pro o contro la bomba atomica grants animals a soul and imagines them participating in a prelapsarian world: "E chi nego che i nostri compagni animali possiedano un'anima? [...] Lodiamo tutta la multiforme nazione dei nostri compagni animali, questo circo angelico in cui l'uomo puo riconoscere, a testimonianza del suo rango perduto, la nobile infanzia dell'Eden" 20-21 ("And who denied that our animal companions possess a soul? [...] Let us praise the multiform nation of our animal companions, this angelic circle in which man can recognize, as a testimony of his lost rank, the noble infancy of Eden"). These posthumanist reflections help shed light on scenes within the novel that, on the one hand, depict the "human" quality of animals and, on the other, show the dire consequences that stem from treating them inhumanely.
In addition to explicitly dedicating her novel to the analfabeto, (9) i.e., literally one who is without the (written) alphabet, Morante devotes substantial attention in the course of the narrative to creatures who communicate (to those capable of understanding them) without the use of human language. (10) For example, the child prodigy Useppe decodes the meaning of the songs of the birds and even the silence of the forest. Tellingly, the boy's foster mother is the non-human Bella, a shepherd dog ("pastorella maremmana") who takes care of him while his biological mother is out working. Morante not only conveys the canine's thoughts, but demonstrates the perfect understanding between Bella and Useppe despite their difference of species. By highlighting the intrinsically natural and instinctive qualities of Bella's motherhood as the most important aspect of her identity, Morante treats her as a mother figure on the same level as his biological one ("al pari dell'altra madre" 649). (11)
At the end of the novel, Bella is killed for trying to protect her family from the police officers who storm into Ida's home. Morante first presents the scene by purportedly summarizing the chronicle section of newspapers, whose official wording employs an impersonal infinitive verb without a subject: "si e reso necessario abbattere la bestia" 647 ("it was necessary to destroy the [beast]" 547). This phrasing not only depersonalizes Bella as a generic and even beastly creature ("bestia"), but implies that her murder was necessary for the common good. Yet the falseness of this official story is immediately exposed as Morante's subjective narrator reclaims Bella's identity as their shepherd dog ("la nostra pastora" 647). She goes on, moreover, to rewrite the scene with Bella as protagonist and pays tribute to her heroic "guerra [...] contro i nuovi intrusi ("war [...] against the new intruders") in defense of her family: "Da sola, essa riusci a far paura a una squadra di nemici, fra i quali almeno un paio erano muniti delle armi di ordinanza" 648 ("Alone, she managed to frighten a squad of enemies, at least two of whom were armed with ordnance weapons" 547). Thus the novel's action comes to a close with the maternal female dog ("cagna") executed by a squadron of enemies representing the State's legal system ("i loro compiti legali"). Recalling Wadiwel's argument, one is compelled by this scene to ask: when animals are treated in such a way, how is it possible for human beings to be treated humanely?
Morante also makes ample use of animal metaphors throughout the text, linking humans in various ways to other species. Concetta D'Angeli finds that in these metaphors "l'animalita [...] non e un'alternativa paradisiaca, ma la metafora del desiderio di cancellare la storia e, della storia, l'immagine piU traumatica per la memoria contemporanea, i carri bestiame che portano gli ebrei allo sterminio" 67 ("animality [...] is not a paradisiacal alternative, but the metaphor of the desire to cancel history--and, from history, the most traumatic image in contemporary memory, the cattle cars that bring the Jews to their extermination"). Morante's use of animal metaphors goes beyond the anthropomorphization of her characters, as it extends a political metaphor throughout the novel in line with the theorist John Simons's redefinition of history in posthumanist terms: "The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of the struggle between humans and non-humans" where the so-called non-humans refer to the marginalized citizens viewed as such by systems of power (7). More than just a debate about animals in and of themselves, this form of posthumanism also denounces the systematic oppression of human groups, allowed to be ostracized and even murdered legally with the excuse of their animality. Through her animal metaphors, then, Morante not only advocates for animals to be considered on par with her characters, thus eradicating the difference between "humans" and "non-humans," but again she also attempts to change the way History is related by levelling the prevailing hierarchical system of order and giving voice to those previously marginalized.
Morante provides a chilling morality tale on the symbolic importance of animals for human wellbeing--and, conversely, on the connection between the mistreatment of animals and both criminal activity and political power--in a secondary episode involving Nello D'Angeli, lover and protector of the aging prostitute Santina. Nello, growing up an orphan, had nothing and no one except for the teddy bears the nuns would give the children on Christmas, though these were later taken away. Once Nello had been "preso da una nostalgia dell'orso" 425 ("seized by a longing for the bear" 361) but was subsequently beaten by the nuns and deprived of the bear the following Christmas when they found that he had taken it. This seemingly minor anecdote is revealed to be the traumatic experience that triggered his propensity for murder. As a symbol of unconditional love, the teddy bear was a replacement for the mother he never knew. As an adolescent, Nello tried again to fill this void when he nursed a dying dog back to life ("rimesso in vita" 426) but the dog was confiscated from him and sent to the slaughterhouse (362). As a result, in a perverse sort of substitutional revenge, when Nello would find a stray animal on the street, "si prendeva il gusto di torturarlo, finche non lo vedeva crepare" (427; "he took pleasure in torturing it, until he saw it kick the bucket" 363). Through these affective stories, Morante points out how social institutions taught Nello to hate and to inflict pain, contrary to his natural yearning for love during his childhood. He later looks to Santina to fill his longing for maternal care, but then ends up murdering her even though she was the only person who could have saved him from himself. The narrator then pointedly remarks that his excessively large signature resembled those of Benito Mussolini and Gabriele D'Annunzio, purposefully creating a comparison with two notorious historical figures. Mussolini's infamy was universally acknowledged, but the inclusion of D'Annunzio reminds readers that the literary Duce, an interventionist and war agitator during the First World War, influenced Italian fascism. Through Nello's background story, Morante connects the mistreatment of children to that of animals, and then links both to political totalitarianism and warmongering.
Politicizing Gender Roles: The Symbolic Mother
Morante's privileging of female over male is the hierarchical reversal that has received the most extensive critical attention. Cristina della Colletta, for example, writes that "La Storia rejects the rigid binary opposition between fiction and history and demonstrates that the contribution of fiction is essential for the resurrection of women's voices from the depths of historical oblivion" (119). Maria Ornella Marotti refers to Morante's "objection to power as exerted by the patriarchy, and her embracing of maternal love as the only antidote to the male violence of history" (63). It is important to keep in mind, however, that Morante's opposition of maternity to patriarchy is not the privileging of one biological gender over the other, but rather a contrast between life-takers, those who seek power and domination over others, and life-bearers, those who on the contrary nurture and sustain others.
According to the feminist critic Carla Lonzi's Manifesto di rivolta femminile, "liberarsi per la donna non vuol dire accettare la stessa vita dell'uomo perche e invivibile, ma esprimere il suo senso dell'esistenza" ("liberation for woman does not mean accepting the life man leads, because it is unlivable; rather, it means expressing her own sense of existence"). Applying this concept to La storia, we can see that Morante might have written Ida as a strong and powerful woman of action, to be admired and respected as the equivalent of a strong male protagonist. Instead, Ida is misshapen, mediocre, and frightened; yet precisely her unexceptionality reveals the true courage and strength that comes from motherhood. Morante compares her to a tiger who rips her own flesh so that she can feed her child, (12) an image set up in direct opposition to the male world in which her older son would almost be capable of devouring her: "[L]e fami di Nino lo inferocivano al punto da trasformarlo quasi in un cannibale, pronto a mangiarsi la madre" (127; "Nino's hunger so ravaged him that he was almost transformed into a cannibal, ready to eat his mother" 109). Rather than biological strength or physical violence, it is the supernatural force of maternal love that merits our awe.
Morante's novel essentially centers around a mother figure as the origin and means of life. The wholeheartedness with which Ida loves her child, despite the way he was forced upon her unwillingly through a rape, shows the true power of motherhood. In this light, maternal love thus becomes paradoxically the cure for the male violence inflicted on women's bodies. The crucial importance of love and nurturing represented by the mother is even brought home in moments of utter despair on the part of the male characters who participate in destructive warfare. For example, a German soldier calls out for his Mutti as he is being killed by Davide Segre. In this yearning for the mother, he reveals his humanity and his wish for salvation through love. Through this reminder of his genealogy, he is no longer considered merely as part of the almost mechanical German military, but is suddenly seen as an individual capable of love. Even Ida's rapist, Gunther, longs for his mother during his moments of loneliness. (13) The narrator emphasizes this aspect of their short-lived relation by stating that "si arrestava per aspettarla, uguale a un figlio" (64; "he stopped to wait for her, like a son" 54). Morante portrays these men as instinctively searching for maternal love to save them from the systematic violence of the world, while at the same time showing that it is too late for them to return to the loving female realm after having participated in the brutal male one.
Given Morante's assertion in Pro o contro la bomba atomica that "in ogni poeta c'e rimasto sempre un bambino" (116; "within every poet there has always remained a child"), it is not surprising that many of her protagonists are actually children. (14) Morante had previously introduced a subversive and symbolic child character in Il mondo salvato dai ragazzini (1968). (15) Like Useppe, Pazzariello is presented as a child who rejects the conventional world of institutions, preferring the company of animals. (16) The government officials who try to collect his information for the archives declare his civil state ("stato civile" 167) as "ragazzo" ("child") and his nationality as "apolide" ("stateless"). Under gender, Pazzariello defines himself as "felice e magico" ("happy and magical"), not conforming to the biological division of the sexes nor what that may symbolize. He wanders the city, turning objects previously thrown away as garbage into clothes, and street leftovers into meals which he shares with stray cats. Accused of being "anarchico" ("anarchist") and "astorico" ("ahistorical"), he is shunned by the community since he "disonora la Patria" ("dishonors the Fatherland"), "oltraggia la Pubblica Moralita" ("outrages Public Morality"), and "non rispetta l'Autorita" (170; "does not respect Authority"). No government institution could control him: he was so dangerous as to be expelled from the prisons for creating chaos and driven out of the mental ward for laughing. The State, however, eventually manages to annihilate him: "A seguito della Nuova Riforma Sociale s'e trovata una soluzione moderna e razionale in merito all'individuo in questione eliminandolo scientificamente nella camera a pressione [...]. E cosi l'affare 'Pazzariello' e stato, infine, liquidato" (179-80; "A modern and rational solution following the New Social Reform has been found in regard to the individual in question, eliminating him scientifically in a gas chamber [...]. And thus the 'Pazzariello' case has been, finally, liquidated"). (17) Pazzariello had effectively--and legally--been exterminated by the State, with clear reference to the Holocaust and its possible recurrence. After he is murdered, the radio spews out statist propaganda in its press announcement: "Sacrosanto dovere e diritto d'ogni individuo e l'inquadramento nella perfetta compagine dello Stato fuori della quale la persona umana si riduce a un quid inqualificabile e superfluo" (187; "It is a sacrosant duty and right of every individual to be squared into the State as a whole, outside of which a human being is reduced to an unqualifiable and superflous entity"). The story of Pazzariello's life and death is thus a fable about how the political system attempts to kill the individual spirit personified as an innocent child.
Pazzariello's story can offer added insight into the ideological foundation for Useppe's character. (18) Within the novel, Useppe must remain a child who will never reach adulthood since, as we are repeatedly told, he is too good for this world. (19) Morante emphasizes this aspect not only because he acts as the metaphoric fanciullo divino, but because he is the antithesis of the violence and aggression that characterize the male-dominated world of the novel. Susanna Scarparo notes that Useppe opposes "integration into the symbolic order, preferring a world of dreams, poetry and silence to that of the oppressive fascist body politic" (62). Indeed, Morante expressly includes anecdotes that reveal his inherently anti-authoritarian spirit. For example, he vehemently refuses to sit behind benches in school as "tutte le norme della scuola: la clausura, il banco, la disciplina, parevano prove impossibili per lui; e lo spettacolo della scolaresca seduta in fila doveva sembrargli un fenomeno incredibile" (446; "all the regulations, the confinement, the bench, the discipline were impossible trials; and the sight of the pupils seated in rows must have seemed an incredible phenomenon to him" 379). (20) He does not put his faith in a fiat money system either, as he considers that "i soldi" (money) "in mano sua, non avevano altro valore che di carta qualunque" (368; "had no more value than ordinary paper" 313). (21) Morante's empathic portrayal of Useppe's plight encourages readers to cheer his rejection of a statist world with its systematic attempts to exact conformity through control.
Morante gives particular importance not only to Useppe's actions, but also to his very method of expression since he speaks an alternative language, not confined by the strict regulations imposed by grammar. As he learns to speak, his use of semantics reflects the essential unity of his worldview, for example his referring to everything that shines--even a gob of spit--as a star. Yet he also creates his own definitions to express distinctions where others see only sameness: he becomes offended when told that snow is white, insisting instead that it is made up of many colors. He spontaneously creates mystical poems about the harmony of nature, poems that a fascist mentality would consider to be nonsense but that, according to his adult friend Davide, reveal "DIO" (523; "GOD" 444). (22) In his innocence, Useppe perceives a different world than the one accepted as reality, one in which there are no horrors but only eternal delight. His older brother Nino tries to integrate him into the order of language by correcting his pronunciation, but Useppe insists that his anomalous way of speaking is intentional. He even maintains that his name should be Useppe instead of Giuseppe, thus expressing his unique personal identity against a standardized system in which children are given pre-existing names. Morante leads us to believe that only Useppe can grasp the world in all its marvelous harmony and richness, whereas the rest of society perceives it merely through preordained categories prescribed by others. Sharon Wood points to the transcendence of duality expressed in Useppe's final poem before his death: "Il sole e come un albero grande / che dentro tiene i nidi. / E suona come una cicala maschio e come il mare / e con l'ombra ci scherza come una gatta piccola" 632 ("The sun is like a big tree / that has nests inside. / And it sounds like a male cicada and like the sea / and it plays with the shadow like a little cat" 697). According to Wood, the poem "transforms the syntagms of Davide's own poetry through simile and metaphor to create a linguistic universe of light that is whole and undivided, which heals the split between signifier and signified, masculine and feminine, heaven and earth. [...] Useppe's understanding of his world is affective, inclusive, an implicit rejection of the fractures that inhabit Davide's discourse" (83). Analyzed thus, even the poem's use of language becomes political, keeping with Morante's understanding of the poet as revolutionary and of the novel as manifesto.
In pointed contrast to the negative connotations of manhood as violent, the child Useppe is incapable of harming others--not only because he is weak and small when confronted, but more so because he relates to others through benevolence. Displaying the non-aggression principle as well as a posthumanist perspective, Useppe even refuses to eat meat because of the inherent violence in the act of murdering and then consuming another living being. Nor can he bear to see violence perpetrated upon other humans. Whereas images of war atrocities had become mainstream and quotidien, Useppe is so horrified by pictures of Holocaust victims in the newspaper that he is haunted by those images in his nightmares. Scarparo points to this reaction as the moment when he "learned that the symbolic order is hurtful and brutal" (65). Only once does Nino take Useppe into the outside world; and while he is initially exhilarated by his brother as paternal substitute, he is repulsed by the violence of the partisans and again demonstrates a refusal of this brutal world. After a while, Useppe stops even mentioning Nino and wholly recoils into the domestic space. Otherwise, Useppe is allowed to wander on adventures, but he only dares to do so when accompanied by Bella, meaning that he never truly leaves the female sphere since he is still being guided by one of his mothers.
Useppe, therefore, holds a special place in the symbolic realm of the novel, since he is portrayed in a way that blurs the distinctions between male and female, human and animal. Indeed, the choice of a child protagonist may already be a posthumanist move, since children themselves are often, and legally, considered less than human adults. As Concetta D'Angeli remarks, "se un personaggio come Useppe fa il suo ingresso da protagonista in un romanzo, allora l'universo narrativo puo essere aperto anche agli animali, assunti con dignita di personaggi" (66-67; "if a character like Useppe can become the protagonist of a novel, then the narrative universe is open also to animals, to be considered with dignity as characters"). Morante initiates Useppe's ties to the animal kingdom by comparing him to a kid, or baby goat, at the moment of his birth: "Si annuncio con un vagito cosi leggero che pareva un caprettino nato ultimo e scordato fra la paglia" (95; "He announced his presence with a whimper so faint he seemed a little lamb [literally, baby goat], born last and forgotten in the straw" 82). Acting as a bridge between animals and humans, Useppe is even mistaken for a pup (by other dogs) given his proximity to Bella: "Anzi, questa sua puzza s'era attaccata pure a Useppe; tanto che a volte diversi cani gli giravano intorno annusandolo, forse nell'incertezza che lui pure fosse una specie di cucciolo canino. Costoro (i cani) erano si puo dire i soli frequentatori di Useppe" (494; "Indeed, this stink of hers had been communicated also to Useppe; so at times various dogs circled around him, sniffing him, perhaps wondering if he too wasn't some kind of puppy. They (the dogs) were, you might say, Useppe's only companions" 419). (23) Thus, the comparison of Useppe to animals does not belittle him, as if he were a nonhuman, but rather elevates him for his capacity to transcend biological categories and almost become unified with nature.
Anti-Authoritarian Spirituality and Religion
The main characters of the novel do not adhere to any religious doctrine or conventional practice, as they each have their own individual belief and way of expressing their spirituality. Useppe, for example, finds God in the silence of nature. He explains to his friend Scimo that God is present in the surrounding trees even though the latter, unable to think outside institutional sanction, insists that God can only be found inside a church building. The anarchist Davide Segre (as I will illustrate below) writes about God in his poems--not as an omnipotent ruler over a divine kingdom, but rather as a spiritual energy only found where there is beauty, whether in nature or in art. (24)
Morante focuses most extensively on non-authoritarian spirituality through the character Santina, whose name, which could be translated as "little saint," might initially evoke Catholicism. Instead, this fortune-teller is the embodiment of an unconventional, and even pagan, spirituality. Eschewing both imposed regulations and violence, she forbids the male members of society from entering during readings. Her room is decorated with religious relics pertaining to the Madonna, celebrating motherhood and maternal love as the means through which salvation entered the world. The women who visit her lend greater credence to her fortunetelling than they would to the words of a preacher or a priest. They truly believe that she can communicate with the dead, putting her in the position of mediating between the realms of life and death. Morante further subverts the rigidly established hierarchy of Catholicism by ignoring religious doctrine and re-appropriating the symbolic value of the Madonna and Baby Jesus. Morante presents Ida as a metaphorical reincarnation of the Holy Mother, having conceived a child out of wedlock while still being chaste. At the end of the novel, Useppe's death suggests the imagery of Jesus in the way he falls with his arms outstretched as if he were on a cross (646), thus reinforcing the idea of Ida as the Savior's mother. This symbolism represents the hope of redemption, even though the novel ends in absolute death as no resurrection is possible. (25)
Despite Ida's suggestive Christian symbolism, when she is about to become a mother it is her Jewish origin which is highlighted. She seeks the assistance and support of midwives in the marginalized Jewish ghetto as she prepares to give birth. This community of women, independent of the authoritative and male-dominated institutions of both Christianity and Judaism, illustrates the solidarity that is possible between individuals in their time of need, and which can only exist outside of the dominant system. Here Ida also learns of current events from the women, as they describe their own form of history, and relate a personal truth rather than national propaganda. Morante emphasizes the maternal domestic quality of this space, saying that Ida was drawn there by "un richiamo di dolcezza, quasi come l'odore di una stalla per un vitello" (93; "a summons of sweetness, like the stable's smell for a calf' 81). The fact that the Jewish ancestry is transmitted through matrilineal descendency may further support the importance of female genealogy in the novel. Morante thus introduces a vision of religion which valorizes supportive female communities and personal spirituality against a background of imposed hierarchical masculine structures.
Studies that interpret La storia through a strictly feminist lens fail to account for the prominence of Davide Segre, the self-proclaimed anarchist and pacifist. (26 ) His character demonstrates that men, in the world of the novel, are eminently capable of acting against predominantly masculine codes that encourage violence. His rational speech, in particular his defense of anarchism, also allows Morante to expressly condemn political power through spoken words as well as narrative actions: "l'idea anarchica e la negazione del potere. E il potere e la violenza sono tutt'uno ..." (225 ; "The anarchist ideal is the negation of power. And power and violence are the same thing ..." 193). Segre is also an outlier through his ethnicity since, although an atheist, he is culturally Jewish and thus forced to hide outside the political system which aims to destroy him. He is overcome with the urge for violence only once, when he mercilessly murders a German soldier. This act, so contrary to his nature, haunts him for the rest of his life and fills him with regret. Davide escapes the mandates of an imposed political structure by physically confining himself inside the female realm, first at the shelter and then in Santina's room. Yet this affinity with the feminine realm is not a choice about gender, but a facet of his anarchist philosophy, expressed in a series of speeches that constitute a political manifesto at the heart of the novel.
Near the novel's climax, Morante gives Davide twenty pages to explain his anarchist vision to drunken onlookers at a bar. This scene creates an extradiagetic parallel, for Morante's own political position seems to have been as poorly understood as Davide's speech, by those of her peers programmed to think within a given political ideology. (27) Davide echoes Morante's own ideological rejection of History when he states:
"[I]nsomma tuta la Storia l'e una storia di fascismi piU o meno larvati [...]. Il quale centro di gravita, sempre lo stesso, qua e: il Potere. Sempre uno: il POTERE [...]. [R]azze, classi, cittadinanze, sono balle: spettacoli d'illusionismo montati dal Potere. E il Potere che ha bisogno della Colonna Infame [...]. E la sola rivoluzione autentica e l'ANARCHIA! A-NAR-CHIA, che significa: NESSUN potere, di NESSUN tipo, a NESSUNO, su NESSUNO! Chiunque parla di rivoluzione e, insieme, di Potere, e un baro! e un falsario! E chiunque desidera il Potere, per se e per chiunque altro, e un reazionario; e, pure se nasce proletario, e un borghese! [...] I loro Stati sono delle banche di strozzinaggio, che investono il prezzo del lavoro e della coscienza altrui nei loro sporchi affari: fabbriche d'armi e di immondezza, intrallazzi rapine guerre omicide!"
"All through the course of human History, there has existed no other system but [fascism] [...]. Which center of gravity, always the same, is: Power. Always one: POWER [...]. Races, classes, citizenships, are all balls, tricks performed by Power. It's Power that needs the gallows [...]. And the only genuine revolution is ANARCHY! AN-ARCHY, which means: NO power, of NO sort, for NO one, over NO one! Anybody who talks about revolution and, at the same time, about Power, is a liar! He's a cheat! And anyone who wants Power, for himself or for anybody else, is a reactionary; and even if he was born a proletarian, he's a bourgeois! [...] Their States are banks, usurers, who invest the price of others' labor and consciousness in their own dirty dealings: factories of weapons and garbage, intrigues, robberies, wars, murders!"
Strikingly, Davide defines all forms of government as fascism, regardless of the political structure, since they claim power in order to exert violence through an industry of extermination ("Industria dello sterminio" 566; emphasis in the original).
In addition to denouncing governments as all inherently fascist because they are sustained by power, Davide describes the paradigms that need to be changed in order for humanity to be set on the right path. Unsurprisingly, these themes again tie in closely with the world Morante envisions within the novel. Davide is equally disgusted by the imposed marginalization of people by national powers through propaganda, stating:
"E i sensi, guariti del delirio de pestilensia del Potere, ritornano alla comunione con la natura [...]. [D]entro a ciascuno di noi c'e un Cristo. [...] [B]asterebbe riconoscere il Cristo in tutti quanti: io, te, gli altri [...]. Insieme: ne tedeschi ne italiani, ne pagani ne ebrei, ne borghesi ne proletari: tutti uguali, tutti cristi nudi."
"And the senses, healed from the pestilential raving of Power, return to communion with nature [...]. [T]here's a Christ inside each one of us. [...] It would be enough to recognize the Christ in everybody: me, you, the others. [...] Together, not Germans or Italians, not pagans or Jews, not bourgeois or proletariat: all the same, all naked christs."
A declared atheist, Davide espouses an alternative conception of religion in which he reclaims the essential figure of Jesus Christ apart from the institutionalized Church. He asserts that Jesus's preachings of love in a State based on war and oppression is the anarchy that all should embrace: "E quel cristo la storicamente fu un vero Cristo: ossia un uomo (ANARCHICO!) che non ha mai rinnegato la coscienza totale" 593 ("And that Christ, historically speaking, was a real Christ: that is, a man (ANARCHIST!) who never denied total consciousness" 499). (28)
Anyone doubting that Davide speaks for the author may go back to the first page of the novel in which Morante, through the narrator's voice, denotes the division in society between the power elite and the rest of humanity: "[N]oto principio immobile della dinamica storica: agli uni il potere, e agli alti la servitU' (7; "[I]mmobile principle of historical dynamics: power to some, servitude to others" 3; emphasis in the original). She also exposes the fact that industry under state power gives rise to the military industrial complex: "E siccome il lavoro dell'industria e sempre al servizio di Poteri e Potenze, fra i suoi prodotti il primo posto, necessariamente, spetta alle armi (corsa agli armamenti) le quali, in base all'economia dei consumi di massa, trovano il loro sbocco nella guerra di massa" ("And since labor in industry is always at the service of the Powerful and the Powers, among its products prime importance is naturally given to arms (the armament race), which in a mass-consumption economy, find their outlet in mass warfare"). Her definition of Potenze (Powers) is "alcuni Stati [that] praticamente si dividono l'intera superficie terrestre in rispettive proprieta, o Imperi" ("certain Nations [...] which have virtually divided the entire surface of the globe into their respective properties, or Empires") while Poteri would correspond to those who hold the capital. Therefore, her designation of Poteri (the Powerful) as capitalistici (capitalistic) is not a reference to free market capitalism, but on the contrary, the depiction of a situation in which industry and capital are at the service of State power. In this regard she remains independent of the communist ideology fashionable in Italy at the time since her division is not between "bourgeois" capitalists and proletariat workers, but between those who hold political power and those who suffer the consequences. While the Potenze (Powers) are bent exclusively on advancing their own interests, those subjected to servitude are made to further the interests of Power through political propaganda: "Agli altri, i soggetti alla servitU, che non partecipano agli utili ma che tuttavia servono, tali interessi vengono presentati in termini di astrazioni ideali, varianti col variare della pratica pubblicitaria" (7; "For the others, those in servitude, who have no share of the gain but still must serve, such interests are presented in terms of ideal abstractions, varying with the variations of advertising methods" 3). Thus the only solution for the world, as she has Davide explain, are societies in which the State would not hold Power over individuals.
Morante appears to have formulated her vision of anarchism, as espoused by her character Davide, without the systematic treatment of a specific political theory, nor does she undertake elsewhere a sustained effort to elucidate the outlines of her particular conception of it. Nonetheless, she insists upon the basic premise that anarchism is the antithesis of Power and therefore cannot be arrived at through the use of violence or state power in any form. This approach is fundamentally opposed to the general formulation of anarchism within communist circles in which it was deemed necessary to first institute a coercive regime before imagining that the state itself would somehow dissolve into statelessness. This refusal to align anarchism with Leftist paradigms might seem at first glance to bring her vision in line with that of the American libertarian philosopher, economist, and activist Murray Rothbard, who articulated a comprehensive and coherent conception of anarchism in his writings beginning in the 1950s and 1960s. Rothbard opens his treatise Anatomy of the State (1965) with the absolute separation of society and state--"'we' are not the government; the government is not 'us'" (10)--defining the latter along with Max Weber as "that organization in society which attempts to maintain a monopoly of the use of force and violence in a given territorial area" (11). Accusing establishment intellectuals as "opinion-molders" who spew propaganda to the masses (20), Rothbard critiqued nationalism as an ideological weapon through which "a war between rulers [is] converted into a war between peoples, with each people coming to the defense of its rulers in the erroneous belief that the rulers [are] defending them" (24). (29) These statements have affinities with those made by both the character Davide Segre and the author Elsa Morante. Where they split company, however, is on the issue of property rights. Whereas Rothbard, in Lockean fashion, grounds human rights in the selfownership of one's body and one's rightfully acquired property, advocating free market capitalism, Morante includes private property in the list of evils to combat in order to arrive at a collectivist anarchic society.
An anarchist whose political theories may resonate more consistently with the anarchic ideas expressed in the novel is the nineteenth-century Russian philosopher and activist Mikhail Bakunin, who had gathered a following in Italy in the 1860s, where he entertained relations with Giuseppe Garibaldi. Distrusting political power of any sort and referring to governments as "systematic poisoners" (I), Bakunin distanced himself from the Marxist goal of a dictatorship of the proletariat: "In a word, we reject all legislation, all authority, and all privileged, licensed, official, and legal influence, even though arising from universal suffrage, convinced that it can turn only to the advantage of a dominant minority of exploiters against the interests of the immense majority in subjection to them. This is the sense in which we are really Anarchists" (II). Given Morante's insistence on the evils of Power, we might imagine that Morante would have a similar definition of her political ideology. Bakunin's main work, God and the State, argues against both the political power of the State and the manipulative power of organized religion: "Christianity is precisely the religion par excellence, because it exhibits and manifests, to the fullest extent, the very nature and essence of every religious system, which is the impoverishment, enslavement, and annihilation of humanity for the benefit of divinity [...]. God being master, man is the slave [...]. The idea of God implies the abdication of human reason and justice; it is the most decisive negation of human liberty, and necessarily ends in the enslavement of mankind, both in theory and practice" (II; emphasis in the original). Although Morante does not explicitly speak out against the idea of God, her emphasis on a non-institutional spirituality linked to maternity accords well with Bakunin's rejection of a supreme authority held over people by a deity. The correspondence, nonetheless, is not absolute: while Morante shared Bakunin's rejection of statist and hierarchical systems of power, her writings do not advocate a Bakuninian-style revolt on the part of workers to collectivize the means of production.
Morante not only invites her readers to imagine an alternative system through the novel's various anti-authoritarian characters, but in one instance she actually envisions the workings of an alternative anarchist society in action, even within the larger frame of government control outside their walls. When the victims of the air raids move into a shelter, they create a community ad hoc with a new system of order. In fear of being arrested by the police, the ablebodied men must hide whenever there is a knock on the door. They cannot--nor do they have the will to--exert violence on others as they are in hiding. The women therefore command and organize society by their own rules, feeding and protecting the others. Morante shows that such an alternative system, where the nurturing mother is the center of the community, is possible and even successful. Useppe refers to this period as one of the happiest times of his short life, as he was not aware of the hardships but only of the safety he felt. Through this example, Morante is again putting the emphasis on mothers above all other members of society--a society in which lust for Power is unimaginable and maternal love is the guiding principle.
Death and Failure
Despite these glimpses of an alternative world, the narrative of La storia ends in tragedy: the deaths of Useppe, Davide, Bella, and eventually Ida, who in her madness undergoes a symbolic death even before her physical demise. The final epileptic fit which leads to Useppe's death unsurprisingly occurs in the oppressive and violent outside world. Useppe falls as he is being harassed by a gang of older boys who expose him to the world of force which he ardently refuses. The gang uses real physical brutality, as they "per punirlo l'abbiano un po' sbatacchiato, dandogli magari qualche botta" 635 ("slammed him around a bit to punish him, maybe hitting him a couple of times" 536). This violent death encapsulates the underlying problem of society, for if every member practiced the non-aggression principle, then neither gangs nor Fascists would ever be able to rise to power. Useppe is, we may say, not so much killed by a natural disease as by the external physical assault and the trauma of senseless violence inflicted on his tiny body. (30) Davide, on the other hand, is found dead from a drug overdose, having been too weak to face the world or fight the system.
Morante ends the novel with the statement, "... e la Storia continua ..." (656 ; "... and History continues ..." 554), signalling that the political forces of domination controlling the official record go unabated outside the boundaries of her fictional world. The end of her storia with the return of the official form of Storia is the most tragic outcome possible within the ideological framework of the novel and seems to confirm Davide's assertion that "la felicita non e di questo mondo" (520 ; "happiness is not of this world" 441). Nevertheless, while Morante's refusal of a facile and optimistic ending within the novel acknowledges the difficulty of such an occurrence, the novel itself is a political act that aims to actualize its program in the real world though a widespread rejection of Power on the part of her readership. (31) As Etienne de la Boetie had reasoned in sixteenth-century France, political systems can only be dissolved when subjects begin to withhold their obedience: "It is therefore the inhabitants themselves who permit, or, rather, bring about, their own objection, since by ceasing to submit they would put an end to their servitude. [...] Resolve to serve no more, and you are at once freed" (46-48).
Morante warns of the world's destruction into nothingness if History continues to be ruled by the unchanging politic of power and violence rather than the non-speciest, feminine, spiritual and especially anarchist world suggested in the novel. As she argues elsewhere, "l'arte e il contrario della disintegrazione" ("art is the opposite of disintegration"), and thus her novel itself can be seen to serve as a possible antidote which will "impedire la disintegrazione della coscienza umana" ("prevent the disintegration of human consciousness" Pro o contra 101-05). Using the form of a novel, Morante thus aims to expose the horrific effects of Power, condemning established institutions and ideologies and portraying her own truth against political manipulation and propaganda.
Columbia University (alumna)
Amberson, Deborah, and Elena Past. "Editors' Introduction." Amberson and Past, eds. 121.
--, eds. Thinking Italian Animals: Human and Posthuman in Modern Italian Literature and Film. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.
Bakunin, Michail Aleksandrovic. God and the State. New York, NY: Mother Earth Publ. Assoc., 1905. https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/bakunin/works/godstate/
Balestrini, Nanni, Elisabetta Rasy, Letizia Paolozzi, and Umberto Silva. "Contro il romanzone della Morante." Il Manifesto (18 July 1974): 3.
Benedetti, Laura. The Tigress in the Snow: Motherhood and Literature in Twentiethcentury Italy. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2007.
Boetie, Etienne de la. The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude. Intro. Murray N. Rothbard. Trans. Harry Kurz. Auburn, AL: The Ludwig von Mises Institute, 1975.
Bourne, Randolph S. The State. Tucson, AZ: See Sharp Press, 1998.
Cazale Berard, Claude. "Il romanzo in-finito." Testo e senso 13 (2012): 2-32.
Chappell, Robert H. "Anarchy Revisited: An Inquiry into the Public Education Dilemma." Journal of Libertarian Studies 2.4 (1978): 357-72.
Cinquegrani, Alessandro. "Davide Segre e l'Anticristo." La storia di Elsa Morante. Ed. Siriana Sgavicchia. Pisa: ETS, 2012. 173-82.
D'Angeli, Concetta. "Soltanto l'animale e veramente innocente. Gli animali ne La Storia." Letture di Elsa Morante. Ed. Gruppo la Luna. Torino: Rosenberg & Sellier, 1987. 66-73.
Debenedetti, Giacomo. "16 ottobre 1943." Milano: il Saggiatore, 1959.
Della Coletta, Cristina. Plotting the Past. Metamorphoses of Historical Narrative in Modern Italian Fiction. West Lafayette, Indiana: Purdue UP, 1996.
Kalay Zlobnicki, Grace. The Theme of Childhood in Elsa Morante. Mississippi: Romance Monographs, 1996.
Lonzi, Carla. Manifesto di rivolta femminile. 1970. http://www.columbia.ed/itc/ architecture/ ockman/pdfs/ feminism/manifesto.pdf. Web.
Lucamante, Stefania, ed. Elsa Morante's Politics of Writing: Rethinking Subjectivity, History, and the Power of Art. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 2014.
--. Forging Shoah Memories: Italian Women Writers, Jewish Identity, and the Holocaust. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.
Lyons, Kenise. "Pro o contro la rabbia: Elsa Morante, Pier Paolo Pasolini, and the Work of Art in the Atomic Age." Lucamante, ed. 247-57.
Marotti, Maria Ornella. Gendering Italian Fiction: Feminist Revisions of Italian History. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 1999.
Mecchia, Giuseppina. "Elsa Morante at the Biopolitical Turn." Amberson and Elena Past, eds. 129-45.
Morante, Elsa. Arturo 's Island. London: Collins, 1962.
--. La canzone degli F. P. e degli I. M. in tre parti: The Song of the H. F. and of the U. M. in Three Parts. Trans. Mariangela Palladino and Patrick Hart. Novi Ligure: Joker, 2007.
--. History: A Novel. Trans. William Weaver. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1977.
--. L'isola di Arturo; Romanzo. Torino: Einaudi, 1957.
--. Il mondo salvato dai ragazzini e altri poemi. Torino : Einaudi, 1968.
--. Piccolo manifesto dei comunisti: (senza classe ne partito). Roma: Nottetempo, 2004.
--. La storia: romanzo. Torino: Einaudi, 2014.
--, and Cesare Garboli. Pro o contro la bomba atomica: e altri scritti. Milano: Adelphi, 1987.
Pasolini, Pier Paolo. "La gioia della vita: la violenza della storia." Editorial. Tempo (July 1974).
Rand, Ayn. Atlas Shrugged. New York: Random House, 1957.
Rocco Carbone, Lorenza. Il mondo salvato dai ragazzini: nel centenario di Elsa Morante, 1912-2012. Napoli: Kairos, 2013.
Rothbard, Murray N. "The Anatomy of the State." Rampart Journal (summer 1965): 124. Rpt. T. R. Machan, ed. The Libertarian Alternative. Chicago: Nelson-Hall Co., 1974. 69-93.
--. For a New Liberty. New York: Macmillan, 1973.
Scarparo, Susanna. Across Genres, Generations and Borders: Italian Women Writing Lives. Newark, Del.: University of Delaware, 2004.
Sgavicchia, Siriana. "Fonti storiche e filosofiche nell'invenzione narrativa della storia." Sgavicchia, ed. 99-122.
--, ed. La storia di Elsa Morante. Pisa: ETS, 2012.
Simons, John. Animal Rights and the Politics of Literary Representation. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave, 2002.
Wadiwel, Dinesh. "Animal by Any Other Name? Patterson and Agamben Discuss Animal (and Human) Life." Borderlands 3.1 (2004): Borderlands e-journal. Web.
Wolfe, Cary. Zoontologies: The Question of the Animal. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2003.
Wood, Sharon. "Excursus as Narrative Technique in La storia." Stefania Lucamante, ed. 75-86.
(1) Anticipating their criticism, Morante presents a metaphor of those contemporary intellectuals not in revolt against all current systems as being only nourished by pills of propaganda and thus assimilated into a prevailing ideology (Pro o contra 113). The essay, published posthumously, was originally a talk that Morante gave in Turin in 1965. For a discussion of this piece, see Lyons.
(2) Lucamante blames the critics of the time for their blindspot due to misplaced political priorities, finding that most of them misinterpreted her "deliberate transgressions against the subgenre of the historical novel" and failed to see how Morante "challenges the classic Aristotelian opposition between poiesis and praxis, between political and ethical spheres" (168).
(3) Morante's continued use of Marxist terminology despite her stated idea of pitting liberty against power outside established political parties may also indicate that she had not broken completely free from the prevailing comunist framework. She later employs such Marxist categories as proletariat and bourgeois even as she argues against the communist goal of the working class seizing political power ("chiunque desidera il Potere, per se e per chiunque altro, e un reazionario; e, pure se nasce proletario, e un borghese!" "whoever desires Power, for himself or for anyone else, is a reactionary; and, even if he's born a proletariat, he's a bourgeois" 9).
(4) Lucamante reads the novel primarily through the lens of Hannah Arendt (see especially 191-97).
(5) Carbone maintains that La storia resembles the "romanzo ottocentesco, con la presenza del narratore onnisciente che guarda dall'alto la materia" ("eighteenth-century novel, with the presence of the omniscient narrator who sees his subject matter from above" 99) as opposed to the contemporary style of writing in the first person. However, I would argue that La storia is written in the first person in order to produce a communal archive. As Lucamante reminds us, Morante was "a woman artist scarred by the Shoah; she thusly considered herself a victim/survivor akin to her characters" (159).
(6) Sgavicchia cites in particular the events of "sabato nero" 110 ("black Saturday") as related by the historical account, 16 ottobre 1943 by Debenedetti. Sgavicchia notes that Morante "esclude dalla narrazione il racconto dell'azione di polizia delle SS nelle case dell'ex ghetto [...]. La scrittrice focalizza, invece, l'attenzione sulla partenza degli ebrei dalla Stazione Tiburtina, completando e integrando il racconto di Debenedetti, il quale non si sofferma su questa scena" 111 ("excludes from the narration the action story of the SS police in the ex-ghetto houses [...]. The writer, instead, focuses her attention on the departure of the Jews from the Tiburtina Station, completing and integrating Debenedetti's telling, which does not linger on this scene"). Thus, according to Morante's stated intentions for writing the novel, we see that she indeed "da forma a cio che rimane taciuto nel racconto" 112 ("gives form to that which remains silenced in the news article").
(7) Carbone notes that the individual stories "singolarmente [...] non lasciano traccia, pedine insignificanti sullo scacchiere della Storia, ma le microstorie si intrecciano tra loro, diventano tasselli della grande Storia, fotogrammi di un puzzle figurato, rientrano in un disegno di trascendenza storica [...]. E persino epopea, per la struttura, per la grandiosita delle scene, che si allargano fino ad occupare tutto il mondo, tutto il secolo: per il numero dei personaggi, degli episodi" 95 ("alone, do not leave a trail, insignificant pawns on the chessboard of History, but the micro-histories are weaved together, becoming tassels of the great History, photograms of a puzzle, they create a design of historical transcendence [...]. It is even epic, for the structure, the grandiosity of the scenes, which are extended until they take up all the world, the whole century: for the number of characters and episodes"). Thus, Morante "trasforma il vero storico in vero poetico" 98 ("transforms the true historic into the true poetic").
(8) For more information on the influential posthumanist ideas in Morante's entourage, see Mecchia, "Elsa Morante at the Biopolitical Turn."
(9) The dedication in Spanish reads: "Por el analfabeto a quien escribo."
(10) Morante makes her non-speciest view explicit in the following passage: "E Davide, frattanto, rincorreva le sue proprie meditazioni a voce alta, quasi ragionasse in sogno con qualche gran Dottore, senza piU accorgersi di parlare a due poveri analfabeti. Quasi non rammentava piU, anzi, chi fra i tre, la dentro, fosse lo studente colto, e chi il pischelletto e chi il cane" 524 ("And Davide, meanwhile, pursued his own meditations aloud, as if he were disputing in a dream with some great Doctor, no longer realizing he was speaking to two poor illiterates. As if, indeed, he no longer remembered who, among the three there in the room, was the cultivated student, and who the kid and who the dog" 589).
(11) Notably, after Useppe's death, even Ida "non voleva piU appartenere alla specie umana" 647 ("no longer wanted to belong to the human race" 547).
(12) Benedetti argues that Morante's metaphor "elevates [Ida] to a majestic status: maternal love turns Ida into a tigress, self-regenerating in her sacrifice [...] a symbol of Christ, who gives his body to redeem humanity" (79).
(13) Sgavicchia provides a comparison of Gunther with Eichmann, the protagonist from Arendt's Banality of Evil, described as an "individuo obbediente alla legge ma incapace di pensare" (115; "an individual who obeys the laws but is incapable of thinking"). However, Morante ultimately humanizes even this character through his search for maternal love.
(14) Regarding specifically La storia, Zlobnicki finds that the radical and symbolic "choice of the humble subject of a preschool child as a protagonist of an 'historical' novel is unique within the context of Italian literature [...]. For the first time, a baby dominates a vast novel of over 600 pages" (79).
(15) Notably, Morante chose to print his story horizontally on the page, thus physically manifesting her own rebellion from the norm. She does not respect the line and rather presents the story as a poem, including a few musical notes and hand-made drawings.
(16) One might further note the similarity in the poem's final sentence--"In sostanza e verita tutto questo non e nient'altro che un gioco" ("In substance and truth all of this is nothing other than a gameemphasis in the original)--and Useppe's translation of the birds' song as, "E uno scherzo uno scherzo tutto uno scherzo!" (269; "It's a joke a joke all a joke" 534).
(17) The emperor then declares that the problems of the world are to be blamed on women over the age of forty, and then on canary birds, ordering their immediate deaths--again showing Morante's proximity to women and animals, in addition to children.
(18) Sgavicchia considers La storia to be in opposition to Morante's previous novel, L'isola di Arturo, in which "il protagonista esce dall'infanzia ed entra nella storia" (100; "the protagonist leaves his childhood and enters history") by enlisting in the army. Although Arturo's caretaker warns him that modern war is "tutta un macchinario di macelleria, e un orrendo formicaio di sfaceli, senza nessun merito di valore autentico" (1357; "nothing but mechanized butchery, a loathsome ant heap of destruction and not a matter of courage" 340-41), Arturo innocently mistakes the fictional tales of heroism in chivalric epics for his contemporary reality. Sgavicchio relates this character to Useppe, as "nel finale del romanzo, il fanciullo sacro, rammemorato platonicamente il proprio paradiso, chiude il cerchio del 'mito' aperto da Arturo nell'Isola: dopo aver attraversato la storia [...] incontra la visione della poesia" (121; "at the end of the novel, the sacred child, platonically calling to mind his own paradise, closes the circle of the 'myth' opened by Arturo in Arturo's Island: after crossing history [...] he finds the vision of poetry"). It is also worth noting that, in the opening pages, Arturo mentions that his dog is his only friend, having even invented a language to communicate between them (3).
(19) Tellingly, his full name is Giuseppe Felice Angiolino (i.e., Joseph Happy Little Angel).
(20) According to Chappell, public schools are frequently referred to as "holding tanks" by libertarians (365).
(21) Fiat money is decreed legal tender by a government even though it has no inherent worth. This statement further proves that Useppe's perspective lies outside the state system and that he refuses to play by their rules.
(22) "Le stelle come gli alberi e fruscolano come gli alberi. / Il sole per terra come una manata di catenelle e anelli. / Il sole tutto come tante piume cento piume mila piume. / Il sole su per l'aria come tante scale di palazzi. / La luna come una scala e su in cima s'affaccia Bella che s'annisconne. / Dormite canarini arinchiusi come due rose. / Le 'ttelle come tante rondini che si salutano. E negli alberi. / Il fiume come i belli capelli. E i belli capelli. / I pesci come canarini. E volano via. / E le foie come ali. E volano via. / E il cavallo come una bandiera. / E vola via" (523 ; "Stars like trees and rustle like trees. / The sun on the ground like a handful of little chains and rings. / The sun all like lots of feathers a hundred a thousand feathers. / The sun up in the air like lots of steps of buildings. / The moon like a stairway and at the top Bella looks out and hides. / Sleep canaries folded up like two roses. / The ttars like swallows saying hello to each other. And in the trees. / The river like pretty hair. And the pretty hair. / The fish like canaries. And they fly away. / And the leaves like wings. And they fly away. / And the horse like a flag. And he flies away" 443).
(23) D'Angeli makes the point that animals are not idealized by Morante, citing the cat Rossella as an example: "Sottolineo i tratti di cattiveria e violenza di Rossella perche mi sembra importante non cadere in un luogo comune che verrebbe spontaneo--ma sarebbe inesatto--adottare interpretando il ruolo degli animali nella narrativa di Elsa Morante: che essi cioe siano la parte buona del mondo in opposizione alla crudelta umana" (67 ; "I underline Rossella's moments of cruelty and violence because it seems important not to fall in the stereotypical dichotomy, which would be easy--but would be incorrect--in interpreting the role of animals in Elsa Morante's narrative: that they are the good part of the world in opposition to human cruelty"). However, Morante uses this feline character to criticize a refusal to the call of motherhood, further treating humans and animals as equals in the novel. Rossella leaves her kittens to fend for themselves while she wanders and mingles with the human population.
(24) Morante possessed Eastern esoteric works in her library, including Milarepa (1955), Bhagavad Gita (1958), and Trois Upanishads (1955), which, according to Sgavicchia, likely influenced the author in developing Useppe's vision of God (118).
(25) Cazale Berard points out that the plot contains various elements from Morante's unfinished novel titled Senza i conforti della religione, which ends in the disillusionment and loss of faith in both God and poetry on the part of the young child Giuseppe. The fact that the new version of the character retains his innocence in death, rather than losing his faith in life, suggest a much less pessimistic outcome in the novel than was previously intended, and thus a more hopeful overall message.
(26) As Carbone points out, in fact, Morante's vision is embodied by the two male characters of the novel: "Se Useppe rappresenta la favola, Davide riveste il ruolo intellettuale [e] nel romanzo rappresenta l'ideologia. [...] La Morante e tutta in queste due figure: se da un canto presta a Davide gran parte della sua vita, delle sue letture, della sua personalita, del dono del narratore; d'altro canto, barbara e selvaggia, si sente vicina a Useppe, cercando la salvezza nella verita primordiale, nell'innocenza, nella poesia, nella bellezza" (90 ; "If Useppe represents the fairy tale, Davide incarnates the role of the intellectual [and] he represents ideology in the novel. [...] Morante is complete in these two figures: if on the one hand she gives a large part of her life to Davide, her readings, her personality, the gift of narration; on the other hand, uncivilized and wild, she feels close to Useppe, searching for salvation in primordial truth, in innocence, in poetry, in beauty").
(27) This insertion of a political manifesto in the form of a character's speech is reminiscent of John Galt's public announcement in Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged from 1957.
(28) Cinquegrani views Davide Segre as a representation of the Antichrist (via Nietzsche's Zarathustra), meant to overturn the Christian God and illuminate a new anarchic consciousness.
(29) Bourne had famously declared: "War is the health of the State" (9, 21). Rothbard's manifesto of libertarianism, For a New Liberty (1973), following in the wake of nineteenth-century anti-statists the likes of Gustave de Molinari, Lysander Spooner, and Benjamin Tucker, outlines his vision of a functioning rights-based anarchist society meeting all social needs.
(30) Wood refers to Morante's long description just before Useppe dies as "a moment of witness, a rejection of the solitude of violent death, and through description, a simultaneous holding of the character within the gaze of the narrator and therefore the reader; we experience a halting of narrative time, a moment of contemplation before the character is returned to the maelstrom of 'history'" (77).
(31) Morante insisted on releasing the paperback edition at the affordable price of only 2,000 lire. Lucamante notes that also for this reason, the "violent critique" by intellectuals "did not stain La storia" s positive reception by the general public" (156).
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Author:||Cavallo, Maria Gimenez|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2016|
|Previous Article:||Giovannino's "Liberta": Guareschi's personal freedom in opposition to power.|
|Next Article:||PETER BONDANELLA (1943-2017): LA MEMORIA E LA TESTIMONIANZA.|