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Geocritica e Poesia dell'Esistenza.

Alberto Comparini, Geocritica e Poesia dell'Esistenza, Mimesis: Milan, 2018; pp. 356 [euro]30.00: ISBN 9788857546353 (PBK)

In his detailed investigation, Comparini engages the tenets of geocritical criticism to assess the relations between poetry and philosophy in the 20th century, by looking at the works of Antonia Pozzi (1912-1938) and Vittorio Sereni (1913-1983). The poetic corpus of the two friends, whose intellectual foundations were rooted in the philosophical Milanese school of Antonio Banfi, offers a powerful insight into the dense relationship between poetry and philosophy, more precisely, in their case, phenomenology and existentialism.

In his analysis of Pozzi's and Sereni's poetry, Comparini demonstrates how reading these works through an approach rooted in philosophy offers insight into the Italian lyrical Novecento. In a renewed effort to look at the reassessment of the value of space in respect to the all-too-powerful concept of time (in line with the geocritical position, Comparini states that in his analysis he decided on the primacy of geography over history), the inherent comparative nature of geocriticism offers its practitioners effective interpretive tools to assess the synchronic dimensions posited in the postmodern context, so to question the nature of space and counter the Hegelian paradigm of historical progression. Comparini brings together ethics, aesthetics, art, and, ultimately, humanism, as the basis to understanding Sereni's and Pozzi's epistemological trajectories, to investigate the ever present 20th-century mark of selfexploration: existentialism, in its persistent platform of analysis of the personal crisis and, subsequently, of the crisis of civilization.

Comparini's study is divided into four chapters: a methodological introduction to contextualize the philosophical tenets within which his analysis takes form; an illustration of Banfi's position vis-a-vis existentialism; and one chapter each devoted to Pozzi and Sereni. The lion's share of Comparini's book is devoted to the analysis of Sereni's poetry (over half the book where many of Sereni's poems are analyzed in lexical, stylistic, intra- and intertextual combinations), accompanied by the study of many of Sereni's prose pieces.

Before moving on to introduce the reflections on Sereni's poetry, I want to sketch the coordinates of approximately the first half of the book, as this sets the tone for the ambitious critical discourse that follows. The opening chapter "Geoesistenzialismo Letterario. Storia, Teoria, Prospettive" presents an accurate and deeply useful survey of the intersections between Italian literature and existentialism. Comparini does not hide the pedagogical nature of this chapter, and while commenting upon the many Italian writers and intellectuals who accompanied the advent of an existentialist sensibility in Italian letters, Comparini criticizes the dominant, vertical, historical mode of narration, to the detriment of the horizontal/synchronic approach. Space as the center of the analysis allows Comparini to question history and make it responsible for a gaze that must investigate the multiple horizontal connections between disciplines. The comprehensive gaze aims at analyzing existentialism and literature coordinated in a system where symbolic, fictional, and mythical traits dialogue with each other to illuminate the human empirical experiences.

The role Banfi's reflections play in the unfolding of the Italian existentialist thought is the focus of the book's second chapter, "La 'Scuola di Banfi' tra fenomenologia ed esistenzialismo." Comparini is careful not to assign to Banfi a fullfledged role as standard-bearer of existentialism, as this would not be accurate. Yet he correctly recognizes Banfi as the main figure who brought to the fore of the philosophical discussion the phenomenological aesthetic that had so much influence on the development of existentialism in Italy. The mutual relationship between philosophical and literary thoughts is a strong outcome of Banfi's reflection which heavily influenced Pozzi's and Sereni's poetry. In Banfi's teaching, his disciples found the elements to pursue the epistemological move to consider aesthetics as capable of allowing human beings to regain control over the moral values of life. In Banfi's words, the new humanism will be built with human beings anchored to individual experiences ("umanismo concreto," p. 104), a realistic trait that made Pozzi, and most of all Sereni, reflect and underline the importance of a concrete moral commitment expressed by their poetry of "things."

In "Antonia Pozzi e la poesia dell'esperienza," Comparini assesses Pozzi's proximity to phenomenology and existentialism. Pozzi's work is usually read in compareson to that of Sereni. In this case, Comparini makes Pozzi's words the true center of his philosophical and stylistic analysis, set against Husserlian and Heideggerian reflections. However, he does not flatten Pozzi's poetry against the two philosophers. In fact, Pozzi's lines live by their own knowledge of reality, only necessarily contextualized between the phenomenological intuition of the knowledge of reality, and the existential discovery of her-self. The discovery of death is the next consequential step--crucial to understanding Pozzi's works--in which the reconfiguration of the concept of death's depth gives her poetry the possibility to experience the limit, that is her life.

The book's longest chapter looks at Sereni's poetry in its relationship with existentialism by examining the poems Frontiera, Diario d'Algeria, Gli strumenti umani, and Stella variabile, and considering the four of them as a macro-text. Comparini considers the traditional themes in Sereni--frontier, absence, memory, death, nihilism--and juxtaposes them with the unfolding of the existential thought in Italy. The comparisons allow him to dissect the complexity of Sereni's aesthetic thought in discussion directly or indirectly with Banfi, Husserl, Paci, "le pagine intense e cariche di Heidegger o Jaspers" (p. 160).

Of particular significance is the extended attention Comparini devotes to the theme of death (pp. 199-319, but also an overarching presence throughout the book), a theme that has always received constant attention from Sereni. In Sereni's poetry, the dead can be interrogated so that they can participate in the dialectic process that eventually enables the living to understand the centrality of being, in a negative process to assert the positive, the truth to comprehend the necessary duality of good and evil. In Diario d'Algeria and Gli strumenti umani, Comparini identifies two different takes on the understanding of death: whereas in the former book, death is a historical fact that freezes a condition, in the latter, death becomes a dialectic process related to existence: the relationship between the "I" and the dead people evolves, and "they" are ever-present in the plural living subject. I see in this relationship the creation of a suspension of time, with the potential for new beginnings and therefore, for Sereni, the establishment of his strenuously sought access to liberty. Comparini is right to identify the most fertile outcome of this reasoning in "Intervista a un suicida" (pp. 295-312), an example of positive existentialism and relational experience that his friend Enzo Paci also discussed. In Stella variabile, Comparini discusses thoroughly the philosophical roots of Sereni's nihilism. However, after the establishment of a positive existentialism that animates Sereni's poetry, it is more challenging for Comparini to identify in Stella variabile a new interpretation of Sereni's nihilism like the author did for Sereni's third book.

Many philosophers and literary critics populate this monograph, mainly from the 20th-century Italian, French and German intellectual milieu. The names most cited are without a doubt the thinkers to whom we are most indebted when we talk about phenomenology and existentialism: Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, Abbagnano, and Banfi. However, two names are clearly central to Comparini's analysis of Sereni and Pozzi: Karl Jaspers and Enzo Paci. Jaspers (1883-1969) because of the idea of the impossibility of overcoming the "limit," a limit that, as Sereni knows, must be faced as existence is not only being-in-the-world but a tension towards the freedom of being. A friend of Pozzi and Sereni, Paci (1911-1976), who was instrumental in the establishment of Jasper's work in Italy, played a relevant role in the analysis of Pozzi's poetry, as Paci identifies--already in his review of Pozzi's Parole--key elements of the poet's lyrical experience rooted in existentialist paradigms. In the examination of Sereni's poetry, I find quite powerful the manifold references between Sereni's verses and Paci's thought that Comparini adroitly places in alternation so that one enlightens the other. Among the many instances, one that is quite revealing is the discussion over the "relazionismo temporale" that Paci elects as the core of his existentialist thought, in the awareness that the "io-superstite" (in this case, with both meanings of survivor and witness), for both Sereni and Paci, itself assumes the personal responsibility in the face of the historical event. Both Sereni and Paci see poetry as the paradoxical, but fundamental means of communication. Comparini, in an extraordinarily well-researched book, establishes the commonality of intents between Sereni and Paci, to lead readers down a secure path of interpretation of Sereni's poetry. The two thinkers recognize the unique power that poetry (art) possesses: to communicate what is not communicable otherwise. It is the "miracolo della comunicazione" (p. 287) that, overcoming the limits of artists' egocentrism, Comparini has illustrated and clearly communicated.

Comparini's geocritical research method indicated in the title revolves around the city of Milan (as a referential space is the subject of the multifocalization of views, central to geocritical analysis); however, Comparini's approach is slightly eccentric as he seems less interested in a larger multifocal and comparative approach than he is in a deep philosophical-literary binary approach. "Geo-esistenzialismo," the descriptor Comparini employs in his pages, is a useful and precise indicator of his approach. Comparini's book is an impactful and constitutive hermeneutic accomplishment that will last--and be referenced--in the understanding of Sereni's poetry, and of art and ethics and their involvement with philosophy.

Reviewed by: Stefano Giannini, Syracuse University, USA
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Author:Giannini, Stefano
Publication:Forum Italicum
Date:Nov 1, 2019
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