Introduction: D'Annunzio's beauty, reawakened.
D'Annunzio's uneven reception both within and outside of Italy is partially due to the close association between his work and Italian fascism. Yet his concept of beauty certainly exceeds the narrow confines of that association. His aesthetics is more than a (fascist) aestheticism. In this article we introduce the special issue on D'Annunzio's beauty by articulating the complex, multifaceted role of the aesthetic in D'Annunzio's works and thought. He idealizes art as a refuge against the levelling forces of modern capitalism, bourgeois society, democracy and massification. This positions him in between decadentism and modernism, on the one hand, and between the aestheticism of post-Kantian idealism and a heroic vision of nationalism, on the other. Ever an eclectic thinker and artist, D'Annunzio's legacy remains rich, challenging, prolific: now, a century from the war in which he became a nationalist hero, is an ideal moment to return to the question of how these complex, conflicting elements emerge in D'Annunzio's seductive picture of beauty.
Decadentism, aestheticism, modernity, synesthesia, fascism, reception
Gabriele d'Annunzio was a man of many talents, some more laudable than others--a 'poet, seducer, and preacher of war', as Lucy Hughes-Hallett's (2013) recent biography would have it. One of the most accomplished and fascinating figures of the fin de siecle, D'Annunzio's work is however less known than that of his contemporaries of comparable ilk, such as Oscar Wilde and James Joyce (who was inspired by D'Annunzio), particularly outside of academic contexts in the English speaking world. Those who are familiar with his work will be conscious of its intriguing and deeply evocative nature, which fascinates, repulses, educates and inspires all at once. The complexity of D'Annunzio's aesthetic skill, combined with deep psychological introspection, makes his collective oeuvre an astounding window into the cultural epoch spanning such seemingly diverse moments as romanticism and futurism. His writing and life reflect an age that saw the painful move from division to unification (to a new kind of division), agrarian society to urban collective, and high culture to what D'Annunzio would have seen as mere fodder for the masses.
So dedicated was D'Annunzio to attaining the heights of aesthetic perfection in his work that at his funeral his friend Romain Rolland was reported to have said that he 'risveglio la terra alla Bellezza' (Tortoreto, 2013). Inspired by this phrase of Dannunzian ambition, we have titled this special issue devoted to his work 'Reawakening Beauty: Gabriele d'Annunzio's Seduction of the Senses'. The contributions that constitute this volume, coming from across the globe and inspired by varying theoretical and historical interests, attest to the ongoing richness of a figure whose aesthetics helped to reshape a world in transition.
D'Annunzio Abroad: An Uneven Reception
A great deal has been written about D'Annunzio, but a great deal less has been written about him in English. In one sense, this relative oblivion is not shocking: D'Annunzio's close link with Italian Fascism in particular and what has been interpreted as a fascist aestheticism in general may have doomed his critical reception in the post-war era. Indeed, some thirty years ago, when the journal Annali d'Italianistica dedicated a special issue to D'Annunzio, John Woodhouse (1987: 245) went so far as to declare that 'd'Annunzio was almost unique, is almost unique indeed, in the way his critical fame has oscillated according to political or social attitudes--not only in Britain but elsewhere', including in Italy itself. At the same time, there are undoubtedly aspects of the 'poet-warrior's' overflowing style that can feel distanced or dated, relics of a literary form that is no longer ours. Yet in another sense the lack of attention paid to this major figure both of the modern Italian tradition and the aesthetic and political history of modern Europe is indeed a surprise. It is only just now, well over a century after its initial publication, that his most famous novel (Il piacere, originally published in 1889) has received the updated and complete translation it deserves (Pleasure, translated by Lara Gochin Raffaelli and released by Penguin in 2013). In some ways, it is only just now that English readers can approach and understand D'Annunzio for the first time.
Of course for scholars of Italian literature and culture D'Annunzio has never been an 'unknown', even if his works were not widely available to a non-specialist audience in the English language. During his own life he was a prominent celebrity, certainly one of the best-known figures in Italy both for his literary production and also for his distinctive public persona. After his death, and after World War II, he continued to live on in the memory of many devoted followers, and his poetry, in particular, has been viewed as one of the most important contributions to the modern Italian canon (with all the problematic issues such a notion entails). At the same time, he fashioned a legacy for himself as a leader of a nationalist movement to 'reclaim' (now Croatian) land along the Dalmatian coast. D'Annunzio's legacy has likewise been dominated in many respects by the cult of personality that he himself crafted, modelled on ancient traditions of self-monumentalization to achieve the immortality of historical fame. That cult is physically embodied in his massive, ornate house-museum-mausoleum, the Vittoriale degli Italiani on the shores of Lake Garda, named as ostentatiously as it is designed and decorated (Re, 1987). That monumental shrine to himself may also be a symbol of how his memory has been at once preserved and simultaneously confined to the realm of something like cult devotion, how the reception of D'Annunzio's works has been both spurred and oftentimes restricted by his oversize celebrity persona.
It is thus particularly telling that in recent years there has been a reawakening of interest in D'Annunzio--interest not only in D'Annunzio as an historical figure but also in a renewed appreciation for his literary production. This rebirth of interest may be linked in part to the emergence, or reemergence, of several areas of study pertaining to his work. On the one hand, there has been a resurgence of attention to the notion of 'decadentism' and its meaning in a transnational, European context (for example: Harmanmaa and Nissen, 2014; Potolsky, 2013). On the other, the category of modernism, long a foreign concept for Italian studies, has entered into critical debates about the period. (1) These new critical directions in the study of late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century culture provide fertile ground for reassessment of a figure like D'Annunzio, as well.
New Trends of Study: A Bibliographical Overview
If the years after Gabriele d'Annunzio's death saw a waning of attention to his work, the last decade has seen a consistent and substantial return of criticism, translation and re-publication of his novels, poetry and theater. Between 2007 and 2016, more than 270 works on D'Annunzio and his oeuvre were published in Italy and in the rest of the world, according to a search of the foremost university library catalogs.
This search was undertaken to understand what the major trends have been over the last decade in the publishing attention focused on D'Annunzio. As can be seen in the overview that follows (which includes only selected items according to a general thematic arrangement), critical attention has been diverse and wide-ranging, but some definite trends may be noted: there is attention to D'Annunzio's family relationships and romantic interests; to his political activities and involvement with Fascism and the war; to his aesthetic abilities, musicality and artistic sensibilities; and to the portrayal of women in his works. Where literature may have been scantier in preceding decades (though no less scholarly by any means), the survey of the offerings from the last decade shows a much broader approach to defining and examining the figure of D'Annunzio the man, D'Annunzio the politician, and D'Annunzio the poet. The significance of these trends for the present volume lies in the diversity of the approaches to his work and also underlines the space that exists in current scholarship for a renewed look at D'Annunzio's aesthetics of beauty.
The subject matter of recent publications varies considerably. Some focus on his epistolary, including collections of letters between D'Annunzio and his sons Veniero and Gabriellino, and his daughter Renata (Di Tizio, 2010; Di Tizio, 2015; Di Tizio, 2016); between D'Annunzio and various lovers, such as Eleonora Duse (D'Annunzio, 2014) and Barbara Leoni (D'Annunzio, 2008); with Mussolini (D'Annunzio, 2007); to the architect Giancarlo Maroni (Di Tizio, 2009); and letters written by Gastone Canziani to his family, describing his time at Fiume as a soldier under D'Annunzio (Canziani, 2008). Others reflect the proceedings of conferences held with D'Annunzio as the subject matter. Many others fit more squarely in the category of literary criticism and cultural studies, including even 'mundane' topics such as D'Annunzio and fashion (Sorge, 2015) and his daily diet (Santeroni and Miliani, 2015). His poems have been set to music and published (McNeff, 2015). One of the most recent interventions even portrays D'Annunzio's sporting activity (Menga, 2016).
As is to be expected, numerous works examine D'Annunzio's role in politics and the Second World War (Caburlotto, 2015; Capra, Gabrielli and Guerri, 2014; Guerri and Faverzani, 2015; Malatesta, 2013).
In addition, new translations have been published, such as Gochin Raffaelli's translation of Pleasure (D'Annunzio, 2013), which replaces the old censored version rendered by Georgina Harding (1898), and Stephen Sartarelli's translation of Notturno (D'Annunzio, 2012). Lucy Hughes-Hallett's much-renowned and prize-winning biography The Pike (2013) explores in depth and with irony the man, his context and his exploits.
Some authors explore the nature of decadence in D'Annunzio's work, such as Michael Syrimis (2012), who observes that:
aestheticism and musicality are essential in D'Annunzio's style, while his novels operate on themes typical of Decadentism. The hero aims to transform life into art. His search for beauty and scorn for common morality are tied up with lasciviousness. Illness, mental or physical, is a nobleman's privilege. It extends to an attraction towards death, a delight in the thought of annihilation, but not without its counterforce, the exaltation of life and vitality (Syrimis, 2012: 14).
Marja Harmanmaa (2014) explores this dichotomy, the death drive, Thanatos, and its link to Eros, the creative life force of love, in greater depth. Guido Baldi (2008) examines the subconscious relationship between the individual Self and his social context, through narrative techniques and symbolic plots. Sickness and death are dominant motifs in D'Annunzio's work, interwined with and also inseparable from the notion of beauty and the desire for an aesthetic life.
Particularly pertinent to the present volume are the studies that examine D'Annunzio's artistry--his love for music, painting, and the beauty of the word. Everything sensory is woven into his texts, creating a deeply layered experience for the reader, the listener or the viewer, and making of D'Annunzio's works a hyper-textual composition--neither flat, nor one-dimensional, but linking images, sounds, concepts, auditory and olfactory perceptions into a living, dynamic entity. Today's technology allowing hyperlinks with music, video and an unbounded connection to texts and artwork is foreshadowed by D'Annunzio in a prior, pre-cyber incarnation: communicated through his words on page and stage.
A number of studies focus on D'Annunzio's love of music. Most recent is one by Carlo Santoli (2016), who explores D'Annunzio's love of music from early childhood and focuses on the musicality of his works, from poetry to theater. Also published in this vein are a text by Prodigo (2016); the proceedings of a conference, edited by Ferrari (2015); music and a libretto (Zandonai and Ricordi, 2012); studies by Nicotra (2013) and Buscaroli (2007); and an earlier conference, edited by Guarnieri, Nicolodi and Orselli (2008). Andrea Mirabile (2014) explores the way D'Annunzio combines literature, theater, music, painting, and cinema in conjunction with Wagner's approach to the 'total artwork' (Gesamtkunstwerk).
Others focus on the depictions of visual art in his work, such as Staniscia (2016) and Pieri (2007a). In addition to that publication Giuliana Pieri likewise explores D'Annunzio's focus on 'art, beauty and the aesthetic' (2012: 15), observing that D'Annunzio 'played a major part in the reception of Pre-Raphaelite art in Italy in the 1880s and 1890s and helped create, especially in Rome, a fashionable Pre-Raphaelitism which encompassed painting, the decorative arts, book illustration, and dress history' (2012: 16). In another article, Pieri explores D'Annunzio's 'fictional interiors', arguing that they should be seen not simply as reflecting D'Annunzio's 'own passion for collecting or as a document of the fashionable fin-de-siecle taste for furnishing and collecting' (Pieri, 2007b: 221) but rather, that the interiors 'have profound aesthetic and psychological functions'. She observes that the 'characters' relationship with domestic space offers a visual parallel to the deepening sense of crisis and decadence of a social class and way of life' (Pieri, 2007b: 221).
Beautiful Art, Ugly Politics
The sense of crisis and decadence that Pieri has noted is indicative of the socio-historical component of D'Annunzio's work that also continues to raise problems for scholars. In some ways, D'Annunzio has always been defined by a complicated pairing of drives that seem to flow like a hidden current carrying him along the various phases of his life and production. On the one hand, he is unquestionably obsessed with beauty--everything from the fine arts to fashion, from the aesthetic sublime to a perverse fascination with every imaginable form of sensation, mundane and vulgar included. Not only in his work but also in his life, in the tradition of the European dandy, D'Annunzio cultivated an artistic persona that made him instantly recognizable and one of the greatest celebrities of his day. On the other hand, though, he is likewise dominated by a strong drive toward political action. (2) Raised in a political household, he ran for office early on--touting himself as the 'candidato della bellezza', which Woodhouse (1998: 145) translates as 'candidate for beauty', commenting on the vagueness of D'Annunzio's political platform both when he ran to represent Ortona a Mare in 1897 and also when he used this experience as a basis for his characterization of Stelio Effrena in his novel from 1900, Il fuoco.
Indeed, a great deal of what the 'soldier-poet' wrote is concerned with reimagining Italian politics, in his essays and journalistic contributions, naturally, but also in his novels and plays. In his later life, he became an active political figure in even more marked ways, culminating in his famous expedition into Fiume where he established his own government, which in its first incarnation was known as the 'Reggenza italiana del Carnaro' and founded with a clear relation to his ideals of art and beauty. These informed its liberal structure of governance as articulated in the 'Carta del Carnaro' of August 27, 1920 (Woodhouse, 1998: 345). However, D'Annunzio gradually lost support and turned toward more authoritarian structures and a heavy reliance on political theatrics and spectacle in its place (Woodhouse, 1998: 348). It has been suggested that of all the political personalities competing for public attention in the era of Italian Fascism's rise to power, D'Annunzio was perhaps the only figure whom Mussolini truly feared--as Ledeen (2002: 87) points out, they drew their support from similar elements of the population, and in the early stages of Fascism the movement owed its fortunes in no small part to D'Annunzio's invasion of Fiume and what we might call his 'star power'. The outlandish public persona that made him famous as an artist-playboy likewise made him into a war hero and nationalist firebrand (Re, 2013). This intertwining of the political and artistic sides of D'Annunzio's life and work is an essential component of understanding what sets him apart as a member of the fin-de-siecle cult of beauty.
At the same time, precisely because of how deeply his political and artistic perso-nae are intertwined, it is not surprising that his reception both in Italy and abroad has been affected by the problematic relationship between his aestheticism and his (proto) fascism--so much so that Woodhouse (1998: 35) characterizes the Times' response to his invasion of Fiume as making D'Annunzio out to be a 'lunatic'. (3) Likewise, in Italy, the Dannunzian combination of art and politics surely played a significant role in the way post-war critics articulated the category of decadentismo, considering it not just a literary movement but a philosophy that was integrally related to nihilism and fascist destruction. This view was articulated in particular by the critic Norberto Bobbio, who was an active anti-Fascist and author of La filosofia del decadentismo (1944). This Italian reception dovetails with the outlook of an epoch-defining critic like Walter Benjamin (2002: 122), who famously claimed that fascism operates through the 'aestheticizing of politics' and cited the work of D'Annunzio along with that of his contemporary, F.T. Marinetti, as the two key examples of this impulse.
While the present special issue is dedicated to re-examining D'Annunzio's notion of beauty and the role of aesthetics in his work and outlook, it is thus impossible to delve into those topics without also acknowledging the thorny question of how his aesthetic outlook relates to his political one. Is it possible to see D'Annunzio's beauty as beautiful without feeding into political fascism of some sort? (4) Many of the essays in this collection help to shed new light on precisely these sorts of questions. Offering new perspectives that nuance our understanding, they show how fruitful it can be to interrogate the ways in which the development of Italian aestheticism and decadentism does--and also does not--mirror, prefigure, or even enable the progress of fascist politics. In D'Annunzio's work we can see not simply a microcosm of dangerous times and unsightly beliefs (about gender, about race, about equality...) but also a way of addressing the limitations of some of those very beliefs. Thus, for example, Michaela Barisonzi's contribution argues that D'Annunzio actually recognizes and even undermines aspects of the misogynistic discourses of the period.
The essays in this volume also add more precision to the somewhat vague notion that aestheticism and fascism work in tandem. In fact, Benjamin's formula may be overly reductive, even if it continues to be suggestive not only for literary critics but also for philosophers of aesthetics like Giorgio Agamben (1970). As many of the contributions to this volume show, the ways in which D'Annunzio's aesthetics overlaps with elements of a fascist outlook are more complex than it may at first seem, and they involve multiple and often conflicting philosophical intertexts. These range from Wagner's Gesamtkunstwerk to Nietzsche's assault on Wagner himself, issues discussed in various lights in the contributions here by Paul Barnaby, Nicoletta Pireddu, Michael Syrimis, and Jessica Wood.
By the same token, the contributions in this volume also help us to complicate our understanding of D'Annunzio's relationship with that contentious and problematic critical category, decadentism. If for a thinker like Bobbio D'Annunzio's decadentism signals his link with fascist politics, for many others decadentism has been seen as a kind of a-political retreat into the pure realm of art for art's sake or even a kind of anti-conformist alternative to the bourgeois order (Denisoff, 2007). In either reading, D'Annunzio's work challenges the limits of what we think decadentism might mean. It is thus no surprise that recent scholarship has focused attention on how D'Annunzio crosses the boundaries from fin-de-siecle decadentism into modernism (Mirabile, 2014). Our special issue examines D'Annunzio's relationship to such movements from a number of perspectives, showing the multiplicity inherent in his approach to art--from connections to early-modern visual sources (see Luca Cottini, Andrea Mirabile and Michael Syrimis) to the fin-de-siecle fascination with eastern mysticism (see Barbara Turoff) and with the beauty of death (see Nicoletta Pireddu and Emily Rabiner). These interventions contextualize D'Annunzio in terms of the myriad movements and transformations taking place at the turn of the century (what Moira di Mauro-Jackson's essay characterizes as D'Annunzio offering a manifesto for the new artistic age).
Synesthesia--The World According to D'Annunzio's Senses
It is the interweaving and mingling of different sensory aspects of the world represented in D'Annunzio's texts that render their reading a unique experience. Stefano Bragato's article in this journal focuses precisely on D'Annunzio's special notion of 'attention', and it is this multifocused attention to everything that populates the author's universe, that defines the text and the reading experience. Today, the inability to focus on one thing at a time is considered a disorder and treated with drugs. In the case of D'Annunzio, he does not suffer from a deficit of attention but rather a surfeit of it: he wants to focus on everything at the same time, no matter what sense is being stimulated. D'Annunzio's work is profoundly synesthetic; and it is interesting to find, in light of his hyperdeveloped range of attention, that when one researches the term 'synesthesia', it comes up very frequently as a neurological disorder. Ramachandran and Hubbard (2001: 4) describe synesthesia as follows: 'Synaesthesia is a curious condition in which an otherwise normal person experiences sensations in one modality when a second modality is stimulated. For example, a synaesthete may experience a specific colour whenever she encounters a particular tone (e.g., C-sharp may be blue) or may see any given number as always tinged a certain colour (e.g., '5' may be green and '6' may be red)'.
In a literary context, synesthesia consists of associating, in one sole image, multiple words or segments of text that refer to different sensorial spheres. If synesthesia is considered to be a disorder in medical terms, in D'Annunzio we can consider it a gift: it is a gateway he offers his readers to a living universe of color, light, scents and sound. D'Annunzio is fully aware of the power of these sensory effects.
All of D'Annunzio's novels are rich in the evocation of sights, scents and sound, and one that stands out for its complex synesthetic content is his second novel in the Romanzi della Rosa trilogy, L'innocente (originally published in 1892). In this novel, there is not only a frequent reference to scent and odor, but also the conscious description of a synesthetic experience--where the stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway. The novel is grounded in a psychological analysis and contemplation of human behavior, and it reflects a dichotomy between innocence (hence the title) and sin. Marilena Giammarco's insightful article explores the setting of much of the story within the garden at Villalilla, describing it as a 'luogo in cui le tensioni narrative si addensano per costruire uno spazio simbolico, modellizzazione dell'eden perduto' (Giammarco, 2004: 260). Within this garden, which is a refuge for the soul, but also a 'prigione che serba l'impronta del peccato originale, la reminiscenza del frutto proibito e del fallo da espiare' (2004: 262), sights, sounds and scents proliferate, and the
elementi descrittivi concorrono a rendere l'immagine di una natura lussureggiante, libera e felice nel suo precoce rigoglio. La stagione, l'ora, la flora e la fauna sem-brano fondersi in un impasto di corrispondenze, di percezioni visive, olfattive e acustiche tese a ricreare un universo sinestetico palpitante nella piu piena armonia. (Giammarco, 2004: 262)
Within this harmonious setting, a recurrent motif is that of swallows crying raucously, dipping and diving in the air; and Giammarco sees this as a '[c]orrelativo simbolico e metafora ossessiva dell'immaginario dannunziano' (2004: 263), transforming Tullio and Giuliana's walk within the garden into a 'labirintica perlustrazione dei recessi piu oscuri della psiche' (2004: 263).
In the novel, D'Annunzio shows how the protagonist, Tullio, has nurtured in his memory different scents as musical notes:
Here and there the roses climbed up the stems, wound themselves through the branches, fell down again mingled in chains, in garlands, in festoons, in inflorescences; at the base of the stems the Florentine irises raised the wide, noble forms of their flowers amid the leaves that resembled long glaucous swords; the three scents mingled together in a deep harmony that I recognized because for a long time it had remained in my memory as distinct as a three-note musical harmony. (D'Annunzio, 1995a: 104) (5)
Later, scents are heard as musical notes once more:
The garden no longer had its myriads of dull turquoise clusters; it no longer had its delicate mass of flowers, nor its triple scent as harmonious as a melody, nor its open laughter, nor the constant cries of its swallows. It had nothing happy in it but the voices and dashing about of the two little unwitting girls. (D'Annunzio, 1995a: 252)
Scents, entwined with harmony, form a constant olfactory backdrop to the narrative, to the extent that they are noticed even when they are absent, and they become an element connected to the characters' sense of doom and desolation:
The Indian summer diffused a delicate gilding upon the crystal sky; and a calm warmth softened the air, evoking the absent scent of the violets. An enormous sadness fell heavily upon me, pinned me, despondent, to the windowsill; and little by little became intolerable. (D'Annunzio, 1995a: 57)
The scent of myrrh is mentioned, heavy with symbolic reference to the cruxifion and hence a connection to the Paschal theme of this novel, and its search for redemption:
From the wall itself of the house, cloaked with innumerable wallflowers, a Paschal scent arose, almost an invisible vapor of myrrh. (D'Annunzio, 1995a: 68)
A little later, scents are perceived as the sensation of heat:
The infinite quivering of the yellow and violet flowers, which cloaked the wall beneath the window, bewitched my eyes. A dense, warm scent rose up in the sun, with the rhythm of breathing. Suddenly, Giuliana straightened up, withdrew, pale, with something turbid in her eyes, with her mouth distorted as from a wave of nausea, saying:--This odor is terrible. It makes one dizzy. Mother, doesn't it make you feel ill too? (D'Annunzio, 1995a: 70)
Not too many pages further in the novel, a multitude of sensory perceptions teem through the narrative, and the phantasmagoric succession of thoughts, fears, emotions is depicted with rapid clarity:
Remorse swelled my heart with tears. I rested my elbows on the windowsill, and held my head between my palms; staring at the meander of the river at the base of the leaden valley, while the structure of the sky dissolved without a pause, I remained for a few minutes beneath the threat of an imminent punishment; I felt an unknown doom hang over me. As soon as the unexpected sound of the piano reached me from the room below, the heavy oppression disappeared all at once; and a confused anxiety troubled me, in which all my dreams, desires, hopes, regrets, remorse, all my terrors mingled together with an inconceivable rapidity, stifling me. I recognized the music. It was a Romance without Words that Giuliana was fond of and that Miss Edith played often; it was one of those muted but profound melodies in which it seems that the Soul addresses itself to Life, asking one same question in tones that are always different: "Why have you disappointed my expectation?" (D'Annunzio, 1995a: 87)
Here, music--and specifically the Romance sans paroles, Opus. 17, no. 3, composed by Gabriel Faure in 1863--distracts Tullio from his heavy oppression and steers his emotions in a different direction. The feelings of remorse, punishment, doom, oppression shift to an existentialist interrogation, in which the iteration of chords is echoed by the repeated question, in different tones.
For the reader, the presence of this music offers a deeper dimension to the text--a soundtrack. Without hyperlinks, D'Annunzio could not offer his readers the possibility of hearing this intoxicatingly beautiful piece in actuality, but calling it by name and describing its playing gives it a diegetic role, a living presence in the narrative. When one does seek it out and listen to it, preferably while reading the text, it assumes (even retroactively) a nondiegetic function, which underscores the text and heightens the emotional experience of reading and imagining.
While D'Annunzio did not yet possess a grammophone or its earlier incarnation, the phonograph (invented in 1877), he had at a young age, according to Giordano Bruno Guerri (2012: 141), foreseen that it would be possible one day 'registrare i suoni e sentire le musiche'. In advance of this technology, D'Annunzio, avid for music, would listen to it being played for hours, as recounted in his Cronaca bizantina. Il primo concerto in 1888:
Paolo Tosti, quando era in vena faceva musica per ore e ore, senza stancarsi, obliandosi dinanzi al pianoforte, talvolta improvvisando con una foga e una felicita d'ispirazione veramente singolare. Noi eravamo distesi sul divano o per terra, presi da quella specie di ebrieta spirituale che da la musica in un luogo raccolto e quieto. Ascoltavamo in silenzio, a lungo, chiudendo talora gli occhi per seguir meglio un sogno. (De Matteis, 1991: 139)
Throughout his life, he would have friends or lovers play for him, whether singly on the piano or in a quartet or quintet, including and especially when he was confined to bed after being blinded in the eye. In his novels, it is a recurring element for female characters to play the piano, often unseen, as a subtle musical backdrop, and this likewise occurs in L'innocente.
Two pieces of music form leitmotifs in this novel: Faure's Romance sans paroles and Che faro senza Euridice from the opera, Orfeo ed Euridice; the first underscores the protagonist, Tullio's state of mind, and the second acts as an allegory to what Marilena Giammarco describes as a 'fascinosa esplorazione orfica, rivelatrice della sorte mortale dell'uomo' (Giammarco, 2004: 265). The repetition of musical notes is so frequent in this novel that Giammarco regards it--and the song of the nightingale--as a 'metatesto musicale', which constitutes the '"mise en abyme" del racconto' (2004: 259). She goes on to add:
Germogliando limpidamente sonoro sulla pagina dello spartito, il metatesto musicale replica, con perfetta scansione di pause, le fasi di una vicenda narrativa in cui alla gioia succede un "sentimento interrogativo", un enigma inquietante che trasforma il "giubilo melodioso" in "canto elegiaco", quasi a sottolineare tutta la vanita dell'attesa, per erompere poi in un "grido di angoscia". (2004: 265)
That D'Annunzio was familiar with the psychological and emotional effects of different musical scales on the listener is undoubted; in Il piacere, which has extensive musical references throughout, Andrea Sperelli refers to the 'joyful Ut':
--Do you believe that there is greater nobility of soul and of art to imagine in one sole woman the entire feminine Eternal, or that a man of discerning and intense spirit must traverse all the lips that pass by him, like the notes of an ideal harpsichord, until he finds the joyful Ut? (D'Annunzio, 2013: 54)
--I can't either solve this great sentimental uncertainty. But, by instinct, I have traversed the harpsichord; and I fear I have found my Ut, judging at least by my internal warnings. (2013: 54)
'Ut' was the medieval word for the musical note C (Do in Italian); and C minor, according to Christian Schubart's Ideen zu einer Aesthetik der Tonkunst (1806), was associated with 'declarations of love, love-sickness and unhappy love', as discussed in the notes to Pleasure (D'Annunzio, 2013: 358).
The synesthetic experience in L'innocente can be interpreted as the labile movements not only of observation and perception, but also of the association of thoughts deep within the subconscious mind, and of the influence of external stimuli on the psyche. The synesthetic elements do not necessarily offer a key to understanding (and certainly not to absolving) the guilt and sin that underlie this novel, but they do offer a window into the interior world, motivations and complexity of the protagonist. The same is true of D'Annunzio's poetry, his theater and the rest of his literary production, where synesthetic impulses constitute a fundamental aspect of his aestheticism and his 'attention' to beauty.
Beauty and the Threat of Modernity
D'Annunzio sought to depict these various sense experiences of beauty through the vehicle of language: his lexicon, his syntax. His language, however, was not just a vehicle or the transmitter of his message of beauty, but an object of beauty in itself. Every line of text he wrote in his novels was a line of poetry; he honed every word he wrote and would revisit his work to perfect it, obsessively. He was dedicated to crafting beauty in his art.
Yet as Giovanni Gullace contends in his exploration of Dannunzian beauty, even if Tarte e per lui attivita espressiva il cui scopo unico e la bellezza' (Gullace, 1987: 21), it is impossible to isolate a single aesthetic principle or guiding theory to characterize that notion of artistic beauty. Rather, Gullace says, whether one speaks of classicism, naturalism, romanticism, or idealism, 'in D'Annunzio tutto e dannunziano' (1987: 21). If D'Annunzio's form is naturalism or verismo, it is 'un naturalismo o verismo imbevuto di dannunzianesimo, una trasfigurazione magica delia realta per mezzo dello stile e d'una ipertrofia verbale di cui egli ammantava i fatti' (1987: 22). For Gullace, D'Annunzio's art is nothing other than a formal activity: 'artificio linguistico, mestiere: l'opera e il prodotto dell'intelligenza tecnica. Il significato conta poco. Il valore semantico tende a sparire e la creazione artistica diventa esercizio barocco' (1987: 22). D'Annunzio has instituted a cult of beauty, 'facendo di essa la sua deita, il suo feticcio' (1987: 28)--beauty is placed, Gullace says, even above truth (1987: 28). But what is beauty, Gullace asks; certainly not a philosophical concept (1987: 29). He observes that
La bellezza dannunziana non e fondata su alcuna teoria precisa, su alcun concetto: il bello non e bello in se, ma perche piace, perche solletica la sensibilite raffinata dell'esteta che, a sua volta, gli conferisce la bellezza. Questa e sentita come avente valore in se stessa, senza alcun riferimento ad altri valori, come il buono, l'utile, il morale. E una specie di deita misteriosa, un'esaltazione dell'anima, come l'amore che rende le cose desiderabili, e si manifesta in vari ordini di cose su cui la soggettivita si proietta: nei paesaggi, nei colori, nelle belle donne, che sono oggetto di sensazioni visive; poi nella musica, nelle forme verbali, nelle immagini, che sono oggetto di sensazioni mentali. (Gullace, 1987: 29)
In contrast to the vain attempt to isolate an aesthetic principle defining beauty for D'Annunzio, Gullace concludes that '[l]a necessita di difendere l'arte e la bellezza, di difendere il sogno che esse rappresentano, contro l'invadente ottusita delie masse, e forse la sola ideologia dannunziana' (1987: 29). D'Annunzio's dedication to art can be seen, it seems, as a way of defending something sacred from the impinging logic of a brutal modernity.
In 1934, Carlo Sforza described D'Annunzio as an 'avanzo patologico del Rinascimento, sperduto nell'onda di democrazia che travolse l'Europa dal 1890 al 1920' (Sforza, 1938: 269). It is precisely this 'wave of democracy' that provokes, in D'Annunzio's early novels, a sense of unease and rejection associated with the modern age.
His first novel, Il piacere, stands out in Italian literature as a protest against the encroachment of industrialism, capitalism and massification. The novel is marked by an overwhelming orientation towards the beauty represented in Renaissance art and design, which is offset by a methodical rejection of all things modern, a disgust for the commonplace, the popular, the uncouth, the democratic. The sense of unease is reflected in Andrea Sperelli's attitude towards the populace, towards humanity: in particular, towards the working class, for whom he demonstrates an infinite disdain--and the same disdain is reserved for all those individuals who do not manifest an elevated artistic or intellectual consciousness. There is no description of the working or peasant class that is not contemptuous or that does not evoke the disgust felt by the protagonist when he comes into contact with these unworthy beings. The novel is pervaded by images of febrile men, compared to animals; there is a sick baby on which something resembling mold is growing (D'Annunzio, 2013: 12); there is 'a tiny man all wrinkled and hairy, like a decrepit tortoise [...] talking with an unbearably monotonous nasal voice' (2013: 345-346). The descriptions of the Roman aristocracy are no less derogatory; indeed few characters escape unscathed from their portrayal.
But this is the first book of the Italian decadent movement, and this disdain for the populace, for the masses, and for the uneducated, in general, is what distinguishes the decadent protagonist: the intolerance for the decline of culture, of aesthetic sensibility, of the intellect. Il piacere is born of an epoch rocked by changes that shake the foundations of society: the rising up of the working class and the expansion of cities. It speaks of Rome, beautiful and eternal, but under threat, and the novel clearly depicts its author's opposition to the idea of urban expansion--a phenomenon that was in full swing at the time the novel was written. This expansion is associated with the ever-more brutish nature of man:
Carts descended the slope drawn by two or three horses harnessed one behind the other, and throngs of workmen returned from the new construction sites. Some, linked arm in arm, were staggering and singing a rude song at the tops of their voices. (D'Annunzio, 2013: 76)
Villa Ludovisi, somewhat wild, scented with violets, consecrated by the presence of Juno, whom Wolfgang adored, where at that time the plane trees from the Orient and the cypresses of Aurora, which seemed immortal, shivered in the presentiment of the market and of death. (D'Annunzio, 2013: 84)
Here, D'Annunzio is referring to the prevailing 'febbre edilizia' of the 1880s in Rome (Frontaloni and Pedulla, 2012: 309): 'una serie forsennata di speculazioni e costruzioni di quartieri residenziali'. This fever caused the 'irrazionale distruzione di verde pubblico e di costruzioni antiche' (D'Annunzio, 1995b: 114). It also gave rise to an economic crisis that lasted from 1887 (before Il piacere was published) at least until 1894 (Frontaloni and Pedulla, 2012: 309). This unprecedented building frenzy was sparked off by the need to accommodate the rapidly multiplying population in Italy's new capital, which attracted 'una folta schiera di borghesi e di operai provenienti da tutta la penisola che re[sero] irriconoscibile la citta del papa' (2012: 313). These waves of new inhabitants are badly received by Sperelli, who makes no effort to hide his preferences for the eternal city:
Rome was his great love: not the Rome of the Caesars but that of the Popes; not the Rome of the arches, of the thermal baths, of the forums, but the Rome of the villas, of the fountains, of the churches. He would have given the entire Colosseum for Villa Medici, Campo Vaccino for Piazza di Spagna, the Arch of Titus for the Fontanella delle Tartarughe. The princely magnificence of the Colonnas, of the Dorias, of the Barberinis attracted him vastly more than the ruins of imperial grandeur. And his great dream was to possess a palace adorned by Michelangelo and embellished by the Caraccis, like Palazzo Farnese; a gallery full of paintings by Raphael, Titian, Domenichino, like the Galleria Borghese. (D'Annunzio, 2013: 37)
Patrizia Piredda observes the alienating nature of industry and its 'perfect cogs and mechanisms', which reflected
allegoricamente la mentalita di un ceto che aspira alla perfezione di una societa completamente governabile e prevedibile, sebbene alienata e desensibilizzata, all'utilitarismo che si fonda sulla pretesa di livellare le differenze sociali verso un centro indistinto inteso come identita, come adeguazione a un modello stabilito: quello dell'utilitarismo borghese (Piredda, 2010: 181).
According to Piredda, D'Annunzio was faced with a very difficult relationship between elitist art and art for the masses. He was torn 'tra la necessita di fuggire dalla volgarita del mondo borghese, vedendo in essa la morte dell'arte, intrappolata e straziata dalla moderna citta, e la consapevolezza che oramai I'arte e divenuta un mercato per un pubblico borghese' (2010: 186).
For D'Annunzio, standing at the threshold of a new era, an artist infused with the most sublime precepts of art, poetry, music and literature, the new wave of materialist massification, flattening and commodification that characterized the age could only constitute a challenge of the highest order; one he attempted to withstand and confront through his portrayal of the Superman, and through the persistence in presenting to those readers who appreciated his standards the most sublimated examples of his art that he could create.
Decadent Beauty: D'Annunzio's Aesthetic Eclecticism from Art to Thought
D'Annunzio's position between times is indicative of his belonging to the period of decadentism and its response to/against modernity: defending beauty against the encroachment of the masses, on the one hand, he is likewise deeply influenced by the fin-de-siecle obsession with disorder, decay, and death (Spackman 1989). The relationship between D'Annunzio's aestheticism and that of the fin de siecle decadents has been a topic of much interest. It is nevertheless worthwhile to draw out some of the most salient aspects of this relationship, both to complete the overview we are giving of D'Annunzio's aesthetics and also to indicate the complicated ways in which his reawakening of the senses corresponds to the philosophical and political dimensions of his work.
The critical category of 'decadentismo' (in the Italian context) has a particularly thorny history, and as Mario Moroni (2004: 67) has pointed out, for a long period it was used in myriad, sometimes conflicting ways to refer to a large body of texts of which the most salient feature they share is simply that they fall within the same broad historical period. The literary category of decadentism (decadentisme) may have been proposed by the short-lived journal Le Decadent artistique et litteraire, which Anatole Baju founded in 1886. However, as Stephen Romer (2013: ix) points out, this self-ascription of 'decadence' was articulated earlier in the 1880s by Paul Verlaine, and, indeed, already in 1834 the word 'decadent' was being used to describe a style of ostentatious artificiality by Desire Nisard (Denisoff, 2007: 34). The canon-defining work of decadentism, Joris-Karl Huysman's A rebours, was published in 1884, and the art of decadentism quickly found favor with aesthetes across the Channel, Oscar Wilde being the most visible British practitioner of a style that had multiple proponents and its own journal, The Yellow Book (Denisoff, 2007; Rodensky, 2006). For these authors, the negative ascription of 'decadence' had already been re-purposed and turned into a kind of badge of honor, an indication of how their work was, indeed, situated outside of their contemporary world and its ethos of (positivist) progress. In the Italian context, the critical category of 'decadentismo' was elaborated during the fascist period, with Mario Praz (1930) focusing on these writers' obsession with all things feverish, morbid, sexually pathological, and in a state of decay in his study on romanticism, La carne, la morte e il diavolo nella letteratura romantica. Walter Binni's La poetica del decadentismo italiano (1936) responded to Praz, adding a necessary distinction between the pejorative notion of (moral) decadence and the aesthetic category of decadentism--an approach to art and beauty that situated itself against the reigning structure of bourgeois life and values. (6)
In the context of this aesthetic notion of decadentism, D'Annunzio is surely one of the most important writers and the author who did the most to transform Italian art in consonance with the French and British examples. Decadentism was never a school or a unified movement in the way, say, futurism was (Harmanmaa and Nissen, 2014: 4)--George C. Schoolfield's (2003) characterization of it as a 'literary fashion' may indeed seem much more apt. All the same, D'Annunzio can be said to participate in something like what Matthew Potolsky (2013: 133) has termed a decadent republic of letters, in which a far-flung group of elite aesthete-artists create a cosmopolitan 'counterpublic' situated against the forces of bourgeois culture in fin-de-siecle Europe. (7) The precise characteristics of this decadent stance against the dominant public sphere are notoriously difficult to pin down. Yet there are certain key traits that we might posit as being elements of the 'family resemblance' that draws various decadent texts together, and it will be worth examining a few of these to show how D'Annunzio's defense of beauty resonates with the ideals and models of decadentism and aestheticism more broadly. (8) This resonance helps us to appreciate both his own poetics and also how his philosophical stances fit into the broader context of nineteenth and twentieth century aesthetics.
One key trait of decadentism is its prolific eclecticism--works like Wilde's The Portrait of Dorian Gray (1890) and Huysmans' A rebours (1884) feature long catalogues of descriptions, drawing together various eras, styles, and models, crossing media and genres, and obsessing over accumulation in all its forms. Here, D'Annunzio is not simply in line with the vogue but is perhaps a limit case, as it is not simply his writings and the worlds he imagines that exhibit eclecticism--his life, his approach to work and to art, everything about him is marked with the deep imprint of this shallow tendency toward proliferation and accumulation. His fictional protagonists like Andrea Sperelli (from Il piacere) can be found lingering in crowded rooms where a wide array of antiques are sold; likewise, he himself was an avid collector of all manner of things. On the grounds of his palatial mansion, the Vittoriale, he not only had rooms devoted to music and painting, to collections of 'exotic', 'oriental' statuettes and carvings alongside icons of Catholic saints, but he also made space for the hull of a sunken battleship (jutting bizarrely out of a hill many meters above the lake), weapons, and even an airplane.
This ravenous, eclectic taste for all sorts of objects--sacred and profane, old and new, beautiful and ugly--might be said to manifest (and perhaps critique) the consumerist mentality of capitalist globalization. At the same time, it can be thought of as a particular aesthetic paradigm--that arabesque penchant for disorder that Menninghaus (1999: 38) has analyzed as a characteristic of post-Kantian notions of a capacious, even rapacious free play of taste. For Agamben (1970), this eclectic impulse is a defining characteristic of modern aesthetics itself: developing out of the proto-museum of the early-modern Wunderkammer or cabinet of curiosities, modern aesthetics exhibits its love of collecting, juxtaposing, accumulating. It first separates art from praxis and then, finally, replaces praxis with beauty itself. Life is revalued, becoming merely another source of aesthetic experience.
Indeed, it is not simply things that are collected in this approach to art and life--it is experience itself. Where postmodern culture is marked by the commodification of experience (to the extent that today even universities market and sell education as an 'experience'), what this means for D'Annunzio is something both more abstract and more concrete. In a very concrete sense, as Stefano Bragato shows in this special issue, D'Annunzio kept a journai with him at all times throughout the majority of his life, jotting down impressions and experiences in the most varied of circumstances so that he could later convert these into elements of his art. His aesthetics is a practice of attention that converts the raw material of everyday life into artistic insight. In a more abstract sense, his characters exhibit a marked fascination with collecting and analyzing various forms of experience, from pleasure and pain to more unusual, even horrifying psychological states--like the extended reflection on infanticide that constitutes L'innocente or the morbid intoxication of Wagnerian Liebestod that dominates Trionfo delia morte (originally published in 1894). This aesthetic impulse to collect and reflect upon the full spectrum of human experience ties Dannunzian characters like Giorgio Aurispa and Andrea Sperelli together with their rough contemporaries from across Europe, such as Wilde's Dorian Gray and Lord Henry or Huysmans' Des Esseintes--all of whom, of course, are already prefigured by the wandering dandy soaking in the range of experiences offered by Baudelaire's modern Paris. (9)
D'Annunzio's interest in collecting or accumulating a wide array of sense experiences ties his notion of beauty to a highly concrete, material encounter with the world. At the same time, his interest in these sense experiences seeks to pull them up out of ordinary life, to make them into an ecstatic, transcendent force. This is captured in the blending of material sensation and religious veneration in the character of Maria, Andrea Sperelli's forbidden love object and highest prize in Il piacere. It is likewise evident in his late work: in Notturno (1916), the recurrent theme of the Virgin Mary is at the core of the aesthetic rapture elevating his depiction of warlike heroism throughout the prose poems--heroism and spiritual enchantment thus become deeply intertwined (Bonadeo, 1995: 95). In this way, D'Annunzio's aestheticism blends the material with the ideal--it is not simply sense experience but the active awareness of, reflection on, reproduction of, and stimulation of such experiences that becomes the object of an almost religious veneration. (10)
This way of blending an elevated ideal with base materiality is also another indication of how D'Annunzio's notion of beauty exhibits numerous and complex connections with the development of post-Kantian philosophy. (11) The trajectory of that development includes the aesthetic thought of Arthur Schopenhauer, one of the key sources for European decadentism more generally. (12) Schopenhauer combined veneration for aesthetic experience as a form of elevation--Erhebung, in the language of German idealism, which Schopenhauer views in the context of a special form of aesthetic consciousness (Young, 1987: 432)--with a profoundly pessimistic outlook on life. This combination was an important inspiration both for decadent writers, like Huysmans, who combined Schopenhauer's thought with Baudelaire's poetry, and for Richard Wagner, the great innovator whose cult of influence had a profound impact on D'Annunzio. Several of the essays in this special issue address D'Annunzio's deep, and complicated, relationship with Wagner, who can rightly be called the dominant figure of Trionfo delia morte. D'Annunzio is at once an unquestionable acolyte and also a severe (nationalist) critic. (13)
A nationalist criticism of Wagner is clear in Il fuoco, where the male protagonist is an obvious stand-in for D'Annunzio given the close relationship between the novel and the author's love affair with Eleonora Duse. In the plot, Stelio Effrena dreams of creating a Latin theater that will replace the Teutonic influence of Wagner. Likewise, in an earlier series of essays, D'Annunzio criticized Wagner, focusing especially on his Schopenhauerian elements and emphasizing the alternative presented by the philosophy of one of Schopenhauer's greatest students and critics, Friedrich Nietzsche--these essays are now collected as Il caso Wagner. In those essays, D'Annunzio nevertheless finally returns to Wagner as a positive model, arguing that while Nietzsche's philosophy is preferable because of its rejection of pessimism and embrace of vital action, Wagner's art achieves what Nietzsche's thought cannot: it puts into practice its view of the world, not simply theorizing but creating (D'Annunzio, 1996: 65-66). Wagner is thus the most complete instantiation of the spirit of his age--and, by extension, the age that D'Annunzio himself might be said to embody during the period of his Romanzi della Rosa. Wagner typifies and realizes the impulse of decadence, and though he criticized the philosophy behind it, D'Annunzio nevertheless recognized it as the true nature of his contemporary world.
What is evident in this complex relationship to Wagner (and, through it, the complex relationship to various, conflicting strands of post-Kantian German thought) is that D'Annunzio's eclecticism extends beyond artistic sources to encompass philosophical ideas, as well: this philosophical eclecticism is demonstrated in Marabini Moevs' (1976) excellent study of D'Annunzio's aesthetics. Just as he draws happily from every historical period and myriad literary and artistic texts, he likewise draws from multiple and sometimes conflicting philosophical sources. His approach is one that gathers together those aspects that suit his purpose, discarding the rest and ignoring any inconsistencies or problems that the blending together of so many ingredients might cause (Hughes-Hallett, 2013). Thus while he favors Wagner's artistic model, the Nietzschean aspect of D'Annunzio's thought is obsessed with the idea of aesthetic heroism. Here his own, political disdain for the crowd coincides with an aristocracy of self-creation, one that for Nietzsche is importantly aesthetic.
Just as D'Annunzio's approach to synesthetic writing draws together varied senses and gives expression to multitudes of artistic insights, so too does his philosophical eclecticism draw together many sources and ideas. His attention fixates on those elements in each that seem beautiful or right. He picks out shards of truth and combines them in unexpected ways, much like his aesthete-protagonists do in their multiform search through the beauties of art or the range of the human psyche. Beauty and the grotesque, the ideal and the material, the abstractions of metaphysical thought and the commitment to a politics of action and becoming--D'Annunzio's aestheticism, situated between fin-de-siecle decadence and fascist modernism, encompasses them all. If we cannot look at his ideas without seeing their thorny relation to the politics of fascism, we can nevertheless appreciate the enduring value of his wide-ranging approach to beauty in the artifacts it has left to us, his texts that remain to this day. Their treatment of the multifaceted aspects of the human experience provide an ongoing source of insight for discussion. And as words on a page, written with undisputed stylistic beauty, they seduce the reader's senses, lending credence to Rolland's proclamation at the funeral of his friend.
The articles in this volume all examine D'Annunzio's artistic production in ways that provide new insight and avenues of contemplation into its meaning and value--both as objects of beauty and as reflections on and of a society in the throes of conflicted transformations. If D'Annunzio's world was troubled, our contemporary world is no less so. It is our hope that this volume may serve to inspire, as well as reawaken, the sense of beauty that the world still harbors.
We would like to thank for their generous assistance, insight and contribution to this volume, the following people, without whose kind help it would not have been possible: Giuseppe (Pino) D'Errico, Ursula Fanning, Nicola Gardini, Robert Gordon, Marja Harmanmaa, Pericles Lewis, Anna Meda, Christian Moevs, Giuliana Pieri, Carlo Santoli, Giuseppe Stellardi, Emanuela Tandello and Laura Wittman.
It was with great sadness that we learned, during the course of the elaboration of this project, of the passing of the much-esteemed scholar, Professor George Schoolfield, whose insight, encouragement, kindness and generosity indirectly led to the conception of this special edition. He is sorely missed.
There is widespread disagreement over whether D'Annunzio's surname should be written with a capital or lowercase 'd'. After consulting with numerous specialists of varying opinions, we eventually opted for a compromise: when written in full with both name and surname, the surname would have lowercase 'd'; when standing alone, we have spelled it with capital 'D'.
(1.) After long debate, it now seems accepted that modernism as a category can be fruitfully applied to the Italian case. As Calinescu (1987: 217-218) outlines, there was historically a preference to use the term 'decadentismo' in place of 'modernismo' in the Italian context. However, key interventions into the debate have shifted that preference. See, for example: Somigli and Moroni (2004), Castellana (2010), Baldi (2010), and Donnarumma (2006).
(2.) The nineteenth-century penchant for dandyism manifests a new understanding of the self and the importance of self-creation (an aware effort to craft oneself, one's own life), and at the same time it can be seen as an act of resistance against the homogenizing forces of modernity. See Simpson's discussion of the dandy in relation to Foucault's theory of self-formation (Simpson, 2012: 270). Hewitt likewise argues that 'within the mythology of decadence the dandy's function is to reassert a form of individualism which serves either to redeem or to condemn a specific political position' (Hewitt, 1993: 85). This political aspect of the dandy then relates to the development of avant-garde aesthetics in the early twentieth century: 'as both creative subject and created object of the aesthetic [...] the figure of the dandy points the way toward an avant-garde aesthetic project on the one hand, and marks the displacement and replication of the political dynamic of the historical dialectic into the realm of the aesthetic on the other' (Hewitt, 1993: 87). Champagne argues that this political aspect of the dandy in the Victorian era is transformed in the wake of fascism, which replaces the dandy with its myth of the fascist 'new man' and thus renders the masculinity of the dandy problematic, and ripe for re-purposing by queer sexuality (Champagne, 2013: 76).
(3.) Hughes-Hallett's (2013) significant new biography takes this intertwining as a starting point, even suggesting that it is precisely because of D'Annunzio's importance in the cultural emergence of Fascism that we should be interested in him today, when it might be argued we have much to learn from these mistakes of the past.
(4.) Similar questions have been raised in recent years in related fields, for example by philosophers interested in the legacy of Heidegger's thought. In the wake of the 2014 publication of new notebooks from the philosopher, Trawny (2016) poses the inevitable question of whether Heidegger's anti-Semitic Nazism contaminates his philosophical worldview.
(5.) All translations from L'innocente are by Lara Gochin Raffaelli. Citations refer to the corresponding Italian pagination.
(6.) Drake (1982) offers an excellent overview of the contentious and complicated debates around the attempt to define the notion of 'decadence' and 'decadentism' in the Italian context.
(7.) Schoolfield's (2003) description of decadentism opts for a more general characterization because of the incredible geographical span of this style or fashion, and his 'Baedeker' of the decadent fashion encompasses no fewer than twenty countries in which writers could be said to participate in that fashion to some extent.
(8.) We borrow the notion of family resemblance from Wittgenstein in the Philosophical Investigations, where he posits that rather than defining a word or concept via a rigid set of prescribed characteristics it is instead possible to think of identity in terms of a family resemblance, 'a complicated network of similarities' (Wittgenstein, 2009: 66).
(9.) Morgan (2010) argues that Wilde's aestheticism is focused on precisely sense experience as such and thus participates in a transformation of the meaning of beauty that was already being theorized by Walter Pater in the legacy of German idealist aesthetics. Ranciere (2013) has similarly articulated the governing ideal of modern art in these terms--as an aesthetics of sensation and sensibility that blends life and art rather than a segmented or detached notion of 'the beautiful' confined to specific media.
(10.) On the link between decadent spirituality and aesthetics in relation to D'Annunzio's early prose, see also Subialka (2016).
(11.) This link to idealism is another sense in which D'Annunzio's work echoes the tendencies of decadentism, which is in part defined by its strong affiliation with aesthetic idealism (Denisoff, 2007: 31); indeed, there is a profound link between the reception of idealist thought and decadentism in the Italian context (Moroni, 2004: 66).
(12.) Schopenhauer's aesthetic legacy in the nineteenth century is well-established--see Wellbery (2010), Henry (1989), and Jacquette (1996). Likewise, studies of decadentism frequently emphasize the pivotal importance of Schopenhauer as a source. This is evident both in large overviews--see, for example, Nicholls (2009: 47-48)--as well as in introductions to specific authors and decadent texts--see, for example, Romer (2013: xiv-xvi), which is typical in this respect.
(13.) Wagner's influence on the development of European modernism more generally has been carefully attested by Juliet Koss (2010), who shows that the afterlife of Wagner's Gesamtkunstwerk had profound resonance across national borders as well as across media.
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Lara Gochin Raffaelli
University of Cape Town, South Africa
University of California, Davis, USA
Lara Gochin Raffaelli, 62 Angell Drive, Market Harborough, LE16 9GJ, Leicestershire, United Kingdom. Email: Iararafbelli66@gmail.com
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|Author:||Raffaelli, Lara Gochin; Subialka, Michael|
|Date:||Aug 1, 2017|
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