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Franco Fortini. Saggi ed epigrammi.

Franco Fortini. Saggi ed epigrammi. A cura e con un saggio introduttivo di Luca Lenzini e uno scritto di Rossana Rossanda. Milano: Mondadori, 2003.

This volume in the authoritative "Meridiano" series includes a selection of Fortini's essays between 1938 and 1994 along with the more than three hundred epigrams and other satirical and topical texts of L'ospite ingrato. One finds the complete texts of Verifica dei poteri, I cani del Sinai, Saggi italiani, Breve secondo novecento, and a selection of seventy-four essays largely published in journals and newspapers. The selection is admirable in its breadth and depth, and draws the reader in to the extraordinary opus of the poet, essayist and professor who died in 1994.

The title of Luca Lenzini's introduction, "Le parole della promessa," refers to Fortini's poem, "La promessa," which ends as follows: "Qualcosa mi e stato detto / che debbo ricordare meglio: che / quanto di me si consuma sara cibo e bevanda di molti. / Non so se mette conto ritrovare tra le mie carte / le precise parole della promessa" (lxxii). Without a doubt this volume confirms that it is worthwhile to search in Fortini's "carte" for the intellectual history of his calling. Fortini's opus, one might say, is predicated on the sense of a mission shared with those who struggle for the truth, for freedom and justice, including those in the future. Here one reads of this Florentine disciple of Giacomo Noventa during his early formation and resistance to various aspects of the dominant culture, from the coarsest squadrismo to the refined climate of hermeticism to the evasiveness of academic idealism. With the war underway, Fortini rethought the examples of Manzoni and DeSanctis approvingly, he wrote of Michelstaedter whose thought he found compatible to Noventa's in terms of a dialectic of recognition between the ideal and the real, a paradoxical logic rooted in the romantic experience. As a reader of early twentieth-century poetry Fortini turns his sights to Noventa, Jahier, Saba and Rebora, emphasizing their debts to the romantics. He gravitates toward Nordic and Mitteleuropean authors: Kierkegaard, Barth, Kafka, Dostoevsky. During his early "spiritualistic" phase Fortini is averse to progressivism, idealism and positivism; thus Lenzini can write of "la perenne dislocazione di Fortini" (xxxv) and point to the importance of the Bible in the author's sense of ethical vocation, in particular his Pauline type of polemic "contro la 'sophia' delle elites" (xxxv). The young Fortini also absorbs the writings of Adorno, Benjamin, Goldmann, Lukacs, Bloch and Weil. The event of the end of the war, the period 194-345, is decisive; he writes two autobiographical novels and undertakes a search for real comrades, in history, to confirm what is already alive in bis thought. As he frequents the intellectual climate of Zurich--anti-Stalin, anti-Nazi, anti-fascist I he publishes in 1944 "Il silenzio d'Italia"; he meditates on Manzoni and Italy's search for a common language. As he sees it, a new public is being constructed. Free men (intellectuals) won't be the indolent ones, the pedants and servants of princes of the past. As he matures as a prose writer, Fortini settles on two main areas: "l'attivita critico-divulgativa," such as anthologies, manuals, encyclopedia entries; and the "filone ... saggistico" (xliii), his militant political-literary criticism.

While most Italian intellectuals perceived a cultural crisis, few struggled like Fortini to link the political, ideological, philosophical, poetic and religious strands of the crisis to the vision of an actual liberation in each of those spheres. Drawn to the arts, Fortini overcomes the aesthetic dimension by a biblical exploration of tragical-heroic Christianity; the theme of awakening and of scandal is a leitmotif throughout bis work, even as he negotiates his own problematic relationship with Christianity and Marxista. What he takes from Marx is not the "'spiegazione' economico-scientifico del capitalismo ... ma il tema dell'emancipazione, la questione dell'alienazione e del rovesciamento utopico" (xliii). Lenzini notes the oratorical nature of Fonini's essays, his projections towards the future, bis "dialogo fittissimo con le voci del tempo, una controversia continua con le ideologie dominanti" (lv-lvi). While Fortini tends to dismantle the ideological constructs of the authors he analyzes, this is not to invalidate their works but to separate out the poetry and truth. His essays contain quick and dramatic shifts in context and sense in the evaluation of literary texts, rightly compared by Lenzini to the form of the epigram; furthermore the essay form is seen to evolve over the course of a career. Fortini refers to this dialectical, mediating and militant mode as "l'utopico discorso totale" (lv, 745). The utopian discourse of hope, vision and projection toward the future is useless if it is not total, that is to say integral, saturated with the knowledge of the ill deeds and corrupt history of the world up to the current day. Fortini is inspired in this regard by Manzoni, whom he cites for the title of collected poetas, Una volta per sempre, and for bis 1965 books of essays, Verifica dei poteri, referred to by Lenzini as "il suo libro di saggi piu bello" (lxii), a work unified by its "escatologia non trascendentale e per cosi dire 'concreta'" (lxii).

Fortini is not a reformist; he criticizes the false optimista of the engaged writers, the lack of discernment and self-criticism of the Left, the bluster and pomposity of the self-designated political leaders and commentators. He assembles essays on such geniuses as Dante, Leopardi, Proust and Lu Hsun, under the perspective of the society in which they live and whose reality is prophetically foreseen. In Fortini's view, such authors understand that this world must end for the new world to be born. One might add the names of those poets to whom Fortini dedicates monumental translations--Goethe, Brecht and Eluard--each the subject of essays in this volume.

In the later essays, beginning in the 1980s, ideology is less persistently present as one sees a greater subjective involvement on the part of the critic, including some bitterness about the past. All this is seen astutely by Lenzini as comprising the "giornalediario che Fortini ha tenuto per gran parte della sua esistenza" (lxvii). While Saggi ed epigrammi does not include several major works--Questioni di frontiera, Extrema ratio, Nuovi saggi imliani, Insistenze, Ventiquattro voci per un dizionario di lettere, Poeti del Novecento,--once again the introduction contextualizes those works, as does the compendious Cronologia that follows it. The Cronologia furnishes a detailed account of Fortini's activities and publications, based on numerous archival sources, including audio recordings and Fortini's epistolary. For an author so committed to the res pubbliea and yet so enmeshed in the creative poetic and literary critical endeavours, such an exhaustive chronology is invaluable.

Given the vastness of this volume, we can only suggest the richness of its contours by citing certain areas of repeated study. (1) Twentieth-century poetry: In addition to essays on the early twentieth-century poets mentioned above there are extraordinary pages on Zanzotto, Luzi, Pasolini, and Ranchetti. One notes in particular the essays on contemporary poets in Saggi italiani and Breve secondo novecento, along with several others in Scritti scelti. (2) The Italian classics: Essays on Dante, Tasso, Manzoni and Leopardi are against the grain of a certain modernist orthodoxy. The inedito "Storia e antistoria nell'opera di Alessandro Manzoni" is a defense of that author's historical meditation as well as bis moral opposition to relativism, utilitarianism, and liberalism in the name of a metahistorical principle. Likewise the two essays on Leopardi offer refreshing perspectives on the "passaggio della gioia" (274) of the Canti. (3) Ideological and stylistic criticism. The critical work that first coalesces in Verifica dei poteri, including essays on Luk cs, Spitzer, Auerbach, is continued throughout the career in a manner that grows more terse, elliptical and synthetic. (4) Translation: Fortini's insights on the art of poetic translation extend from a series of essays explicitly on the topic to insights present throughout the volume that enable the reader to see translation as a vital mode of cognitive-affective activity. Beyond these areas, one can say that Fortini's insistence on the inevitability of ideology--in our daily lives and language, in our art and our institutions--drives many of the essays. The Scritti scelti include numerous treasures, such as "Il dissenso e l'autorita" on the student movement of 1968, the cited inedito on Manzoni, the late "'Frammenfi lirici'di Clemente Rebora," a study of Morante's Aracoeli, the eulogy of Vittorio Sereni in 1983, and the provocative late writings on poetics, notably "La poesia ad alta voce" (delivered at the opening of the academic year at Siena in 1981) and "Per una ecologia del la letteratura" (1984).

In conclusion, this volume provides the indispensable opportunity to situate Fortini at his due place in the Italian repubblica delle lenere, as unique intelligence and conscience, and to commence again the study of what Lenzini aptly calls "lo sterminato lavoro critico di Fortini--ma perche non dirlo: del maggiori intellettuali del secolo" (lviii).

TOM PETERSON

University of Georgia
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Author:Peterson, Tom
Publication:Italica
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 2005
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