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Paolo Volponi's La macchina mondiale as a cybernetic utopia: The limits of a solely allegorical interpretation.

Paolo Volponi's novel La macchina mondiale was published in 1965 for Einaudi, and revolves around the autobiographical narration of Anteo Crocioni, a peasant from the Marche region, who elaborates a treatise in which he sets out the scientific underpinnings for a future society dominated by intelligent machines. Like many of Volponi's characters, (1) Anteo suffers from a mental condition that inspires bizarre ideas of technological progress. He believes in the existence of mechanical entities that created all human beings and provided them with the tools to produce even more evolved machines that will eventually take over the entire world and establish a more just, democratic society, which Anteo calls "una nuova accademia dell'amicizia fra tutti gli uomini della terra" (Volponi, 1965: 8). The protagonist's desire for a technological palingenesis should obviously be interpreted as an allegory of Volponi's longing for a renewed society: as a consequence, the adoption of a figurative interpretation need not necessarily to result in an inadequate approach to the text. Nevertheless, such a line of inquiry can be restrictive insofar as it does not take into account the scientific sources of Anteo's vision of a techno-utopia.

The protagonist's alienated and violent personality, along with his refusal of any social norm, prompts people to reject--not without a reason--Anteo's theories, which are perceived as the delirium of a hallucinated and delusional individual. But this attitude, displayed by the characters of the novel, is also reflected in the way critics have looked at the protagonist's pseudo-scientific treatise, which was only perceived as significant for its general subversive nature and in its implicit sociopolitical message conveying the hope for an egalitarian society (cfr. Ferretti, 1997; Lucente, 1987; Luzi, 1997; Santato, 1997; Zublena, 2004-5).

The origin of the approach adopted by most critical interpretations may be traced back to Pier Paolo Pasolini's reading of the novel, of which he was the first reviewer after its publication. Pasolini defined La macchina mondiale as a "parabola" (1965: 2451) shaped on the paradigmatic model of Don Quixote, moving on two different levels and allowing for an allegorical interpretation: the diegetic narration presents Anteo's story and ideas through his diaristic account and exposes readers to his bizarre pseudo-scientific theories. According to Pasolini, however, this narration must be read as an allegorical rendition of Volponi's sociopolitical commentary, which does not espouse Anteo's ideas, but only their anarchic and utopic thrust.

The present study does not aim to reject the allegorical nature of Volponi's writing in La macchina mondiale or play down the importance of the connection between the protagonist's condition of psychological alienation--and isolation--and his lucid vision and prophetic voice. Its purpose is rather to problematize the use of the concept of mental alienation as an all-solving interpretative tool. In other words, Anteo's theories can--and should--be read in an allegorical way: all the same, it is necessary to reject an approach that dismisses them as the mere product of a delusional mind, rather reconnecting them with their original scientific source.

Indeed, most critical interpretations of La macchina mondiale have failed to consider what Emanuele Zinato recognized as a rupture in Volponi's production, which distances La macchina mondiale from his previous novel, Memoriale (1962). As the critic explained:
Fra il 1964 e il 1965 si registra una netta svolta nella riflessione
letteraria di Volponi. Dopo aver pubblicato Memoriale, generato
dall'urgenza del lavoro in fabbrica, lo scrittore-dirigente
olivettiano si rivolse al genere del romanzo filosofico, utopico e
scientifico. [... ] La latitudine gnomica del testo venne variamente
valutata dai pochi interpreti disposti a rilevarla, poichAaAaAeA@ il romanz
fu accomunato da quasi tutti un po' sbrigativamente a Memoriale.
(Zinato, 2003-2004: 10)

Zinato traced a line connecting the scientific utopia of La macchina mondiale to the later literary experiment of Il pianeta irritabile (1978), thus identifying Volponi's recurrent--if sporadic--interest for futuristic settings and themes. In particular, Volponi's preparatory notes of La macchina mondiale appear to contain clear evidence of the emergence of a new interest for scientific concepts during the gestation of the novel. In these notes, the author enumerated in a poetic list the key concepts essential to the novel:
Costruzione di un sistema
sulla sorte felice
della macchina
dura realtAaAaAeA  contadin
come esplosione AaAaAeA? l'univer
se no, statici, saremmo un errore. (Zinato, 2003-2004: 10-11)

That Volponi's growing interest for scientific elaboration had an impact on this novel is also demonstrated by his speech Le difficoltAaAaAeA d romanzo (1966), delivered few months after the publication of La macchina mondiale, in which he stated that modern sciences "quali la fisica, la matematica, la biologia, la chimica, l'astronomia [... ] modificano il concetto stesso di vita, tempo, natura, spazio, e accingendosi a fornire o fornendo giAaAaAeA alcune di quelle risposte sul destino dell'uo per le quali ha lavorato in passato la filosofia" (1966: 34). (2) What is more, Volponi expressed the belief that science had finally surpassed psychology, sociology and philosophy and offered a new forma mentis for the men and women of letters too: "Le nuove scienze matematiche, fisiche, biologiche, cosmologiche seguono principi e metodi che mi sembrano esemplari anche per un letterato" (1966: 35). Accordingly, Volponi defined his work of novelist as a special kind of scientific research. This declaration--introduced with "consentitemi la presunzione" (1966:35), an expression revealing of the author's concern over what he may have deemed too audacious a statement--, encourages an unusual interpretation of Volponi, whose curiosity towards science was usually directed on its technological and industrial application, rather than on methods and approaches in and by themselves. All these reflections, expressed in Le difficoltAaAaAeA del romanzo, ought to be connected wi the elaboration of La macchina mondiale not only for their chronological conjunction, but also because one important purpose of the speech was to defend the novel, which had just been published: met with negative reviews and accusations of excessive obscurity and inaccessibility for the average reader, Volponi felt the need to defend his stylistic choices. In his address, he argued that literary texts are supposed to be challenging if they are to retain their pedagogical role and expand human knowledge, for literature possesses the same gnoseological function of science.

The shift occurred in Volponi's interpretation of the connections between literary and scientific explorations emerges clearly even when comparing the writing of La macchina mondiale to the one of his previous literary endeavors, Memoriale. The peculiarity of Memoriale's narrative style derives from the clash between the lyrical, imaginative language of the protagonist, Albino Saluggia, and the harsh, alienated reality of the factory of which he writes in his memoir. This dissonance was praised by Calvino who, in his short article La "tematica industriale, " published in 1962 by MenabAaAaAeA di letteratura, wrote: "la tensione lirico-trasfigurati che Volponi raggiunge, risulta essere la piAaAaAeA adatta a esprimere contraddittoria e provvisoria realtAaAaAeA attuale: tra tecniche produtti avanzate e situazione social-antropologica arretrata, fra fabbriche tutte vetri acciaio human relations e un'Italia oscuramente biologica" (1962: 20). It is precisely this contrast between the biological and mechanical elements, the lyrical expression of poetry and the dry language of industrial communication, that is missing in La macchina mondiale: indeed, Volponi changed his approach and came to believe that literary and techno-scientific research--as he stated in Le difficoltAaAaAeA del romanzo--we driven by similar goals and tensions: their languages were therefore not in opposition, but rather in consonance.

It follows that the speech Le difficoltAaAaAeA del romanzo functions as authorial critique of his novel: the attention displayed to the changing scientific panorama--mirrored, as Zinato points out, in La macchina mondiale--thus calls for a contextualization of Anteo's techno-utopic vision, which, as this study aims to demonstrate, stems from the then relatively new field of cybernetics.

The significance of the cybernetic metaphor in Volponi's La macchina mondiale has never been investigated before, possibly because the author never showed more than a short-lived curiosity for cybernetic theories, and did not appear to engage in a serious study--while the opposite was true for other writers active in the same period, such as Italo Calvino. While writing La macchina mondiale, Volponi worked in Ivrea at Olivetti--at that time, the Italian company that devoted the most resources to technological research. In 1965, the year of the elaboration and publication of Volponi's book, Olivetti released Programma 101, considered by many to be the first commercial desktop computer. (3) Even more important, as it is testament to Olivetti's active interest in fostering a conversation between artistic and scientific fields, is the number of Almanacco Letterario Bompiani 1962, titled Le applicazioni dei calcolatori elettronici alle scienze morali e alla letteratura, to which Olivetti actively participated by offering its computers, as well as its technicians' expertise, in order to allow a number of linguists and writers to experience first-hand the "possibili applicazioni delle tecniche elettroniche nel campo della linguistica e della letteratura" (Almanacco Letterario Bompiani, 1962: 88), as the introductory note the journal articles explains. Among the examples of the different applications of electronics to linguistics and literature hosted in Almanacco Letterario Bompiani 1962, it is worth mentioning Nanni Balestrini's literary experiment Tape Mark I (1961: 145-151), one of the first attempts of digital poetry composed by taking advantage of the computer's combinatory logic. Additionally, the journal hosted some of the visual artists who would have later participated, in May 1962, to the exhibition Arte programmata, curated by Bruno Munari and sponsored and hosted by Olivetti, first in its shop in Milan, then in the one in Venice. Around Munari--who exhibited an opera called Perturbazione cibernetica--gathered a number of artists from Gruppo T and Gruppo N, all interested in kinetic art as well as in experimenting with cybernetic concepts. (4) The exhibition also benefitted from the collaboration of Umberto Eco, who wrote a piece on the influence and applications of information theory to artistic elaboration--titled La forma del disordine--appeared first in Almanacco Letterario Bompiani 1962 and then republished in the exhibition catalogue.

In order to better illustrate the extent to which the cultural environment, surrounding Volponi in those years, devoted great attention to cybernetic research, it is essential to mention Leonardo Sinisgalli, also employed at Olivetti, from 1937 to 1940 as head publicist, and later as an external collaborator. As the editor of the Finmeccanica journal CiviltAaAaAeA del macchine--a publication keen at bridging the gap between scientific and humanistic knowledge (cfr. Germanese, 2014; Lacorazza, 2005), Sinisgalli enthusiastically supported and financed the construction of a cybernetic machine capable of reproducing some basic cognitive activities, such as forming and expressing sentences. The project was guided by the Italian cyberneticist Silvio Ceccato, member of the Centro italiano di metodologia ed analisi del linguaggio in Milan, and founder of the Scuola Operativa Italiana, a group whose mission was to study human mind, especially its linguistic operations, from a cybernetic perspective. (5) Leonardo Sinisgalli, who was responsible for the machine's name Adamo II, (6) made possible for Ceccato to participate, sponsored by Finmeccanica, to the Mostra Internazionale dell'Automatismo, which took place in Milan from April 8th to 12th of 1956. There is no evidence that Volponi attended this exhibition, though it is very likely that he was well aware of it happening. Adamo II, the first "thinking machine", made the news and attracted the curiosity of many--even that of then President of the Republic Giovanni Gronchi--and in the weeks following the exhibition, not only CiviltAaAaAeA delle macchine, but numerous oth newspapers and magazines dedicated articles and interviews to Ceccato and his project (cfr. CiviltAaAaAeA delle macchine, 1956: 32). It is th quite safe to assume that Volponi was familiar with the existence and functioning of Adamo II, which, as will be illustrated further in this article, bears quite a resemblance with the automata imagined by the protagonist of La macchina mondiale. More in general, immersed as Volponi was in this environment, and in light of his interest and support for Olivetti's accomplishment in electronics, it can then be concluded that Volponi must have been well aware of the new development in the field of cybernetics, even though he may have lacked a specific competence and a steady interest. (7)

The strongest confirmation of the link between Volponi's attention to cybernetics and his work experience at the Olivetti is the very characterization of the protagonist. It is well-known that Anteo's figure is based on a real person, Pietro Maria Vallasciani, whom Volponi met while at Olivetti. Vallasciani, originally from the Marche region like the author, had moved to Ivrea in order to find a suitable and stimulating environment for his studies on machines and computers, as Volponi himself reminisced:
Avevo conosciuto un personaggio che da certe colline marchigiane,
anche se della Marca del sud e non della Marca di Urbino, era venuto a
Ivrea. A Ivrea, perchAaAaAeA@? PerchAaAaAeA@ a Ivrea si facevano ricerche su
macchine nuove, sui calcolatori, e lui aveva un'idea che gli uomini
fossero delle macchine costruite da esseri che erano venuti sulla
Terra, avevano costruito l'uomo come macchina imperfetta e l'avevano
lasciata al suo destino. (Volponi, 1995: 168)

This was Pietro Maria Vallasciani, the P.M.V. to whom Volponi, in the introductory note of La macchina mondiale attributed the authorship of the scientific treatise quoted in the book. This study really existed and, as Corrado Stajano recalled, Vallasciani
aveva inondato il mondo con quel suo trattato, l'aveva inviato alle
universitAaAaAeA , alle accademie delle scienze, ai professori di cibernetic
in Italia, negli Stati Uniti, altrove. Qualcuno gli aveva dato retta,
l'UniversitAaAaAeA  di Bristol, il Massachusetts Institute of Technology d
Boston, poi tutto era andato a monte. (Stajano, 2014)

That the inspiration for Anteo's character came from a man who conducted research in cybernetics, no matter how successful or scientifically sound, constitutes a first, strong element in support of the significance of the field for this novel. But this is only the first clue.

Indeed, another open reference to cybernetics is to be found in Anteo's consideration of William Grey Walter's Turtle robot. The behaviour of this artificial creature was surprisingly complex, even unpredictable, as it could be trained, not unlike Pavlov's dogs, and had similarly simple and ingenious electronic brain that could learn and adapt to the inputs received (cfr. Johnston, 2008: 47-53). (8) In the years following the end of the Second World War, many cyberneticists experimented with these simple robots, usually inspired by animals, which moved in reaction to certain stimuli, such as changes in light or obstacles on their path: comparable to Grey Walter's Turtles, which owe their name to the shape of the plastic shelves covering their circuits, were, for example, Norbert Wiener's robotic Moth and Bedbug, and Claude E. Shannon maze-solving Rat. The Fifties had seen a great deal of experimentations on cybernetic automata and it is thus not surprising that Volponi's character, whose story is set in 1959, would come upon the news of Grey Walter's Turtle robot in a newspaper, from which he inevitably draws inspiration for his own experiments. (9) Anteo is deeply impressed by the autonomy displayed by these machines, which seem to move and make choices following their own will rather than a preordained design:
avevo trovato nel Messaggero di Roma l'articolo di uno scienziato
inglese il quale raccontava come fossero state costruite due
tartarughe elettroniche che andavano avanti per conto loro, sapendo
evitare ostacoli e scegliere la strada, e che avevano addirittura la
capacitAaAaAeA  di ricaricarsi quando avvertivano che la loro batteria stav
per esaurirsi [... ]. (Volponi, 1965: 66-67)

Not only Anteo demonstrates curiosity and admiration for such accomplishment. What is more, he no longer feels alone in his research and, right after having read the news, he finds the courage to present his ideas of a mechanical creation of the Universe to the local priest, who obviously rejects them as an insult to the Catholic doctrine of Creation.

This point is worth elucidating: it is important to understand that Anteo's faith in the liberating power of machines does not derive from the classic notion of mechanism, which in turn represented the very theoretical basis for the development of the automata diffused in the XVIII century. These earlier machines, which used to reproduce human activities such as playing instruments or writing a set of words or sentences, were undoubtedly extraordinary mechanisms for their time, but then again they did not possess the kind of creativity and liveliness that Anteo attributes to the ones he intends to build. Gabriele Fichera, in his study focusing on the portrayal of human beings as mechanical entities in Volponi's production, and especially in La macchina mondiale, recognized the scale of the leap between XVIII century automata and Anteo's machines:
l'idea di una macchina vivente in Volponi non AaAaAeA? quella stereotipat
consegnataci da un certo Ottocento letterario, romantico e
spiritualista. L'automa non AaAaAeA? affatto la copia esamine e mostruosa d
un 'originale' autentico, vitale e organico. [... ] La macchina AaAaAe
intrisa di vita e di forza creatrice. (Fichera, 2012: 283)

Even if Fichera did not connect this specific quality of Anteo's automata with the new idea of technological actors developed by cybernetics in those years, but rather with Gramsci's reflection on Fordism, it is nevertheless precisely this creative force that distances Anteo's experimentation--even if only on a theoretical level--and the tradition of mechanical automata before the advent of information science. And yet, much in the same way cyberneticists took inspiration from these old robotic creatures to develop their owns, Anteo too looks at one of the most popular mechanical automata--the Digesting Duck, or Canard DigAaAaAeA@rateur--, as a demonstration of the legitimacy of his scientif research. This automaton was built in 1739 by Jacques de Vaucanson, earning him a mention by Voltaire, who compared him to Prometheus (1825-28: 363)for his success in stealing the fire of life and artificially reproducing it. Vaucanson's Duck was able to eat, digest and excrete kernels of grain--better yet, to reproduce such tasks in ways that resembled the reality--, so as to repeat the same set of expected actions. The significance of the Digesting Duck for Anteo--and for cyberneticists at large--is that of a first step in the investigation of the similarities between biology and mechanics. (10) Its validity as a viable model, however, had become questionable, as what Anteo--and the cyberneticists--aimed to create was a machine capable, not unlike Grey Walter's Turtle robot, of learning, communicating, and evolving. Further, the materialistic nature of the mechanist philosophy underpinning Vaucanson's project of a mechanical duck would have conflicted with the utopic tension inherent in Anteo's treatise.

The protagonist's techno-utopia presupposes a scientific approach that goes beyond the equation between the mechanical and the biological by adding the concept of information, which is precisely the main accomplishment of cybernetics at that time. Anteo elaborates his system around the idea of automaton-creators--"automi-autori"--, mechanical or human entities capable of generating more evolved creatures by following a superior design that they received from the first creators--"autori primi"--, a sort of mechanical gods. Yet, if one proceeds from the traditional definition of 'automaton', Anteo's label of "automaton-creator" appears to be a contradiction, as the first term of the hendiadys refers to a self-operating machine that can reproduce certain tasks, but lacks the freedom and creativity that the idea of generation implies.

This ambiguity can be explained by having recourse to another concept borrowed from the operation of cybernetic machines, that of feedback. Norbert Wiener, by all accounts the father of cybernetics, defined feedback as "the property of being able to adjust future conduct by past performance" (1950: 33). In Wiener's opinion, humans, complex animals, and cybernetic machines all share this ability, which is precisely the one of receiving and elaborating information from the environment in order to learn and evolve. Anteo's theory of human beings as automaton-creators is therefore consistent with the concept of cybernetic machine. Nevertheless, the scientific idea of the passage of information between humans and machines is charged in the novel with an almost religious tension. Indeed, Anteo seems to have a double identity: he is a creature of his first creators, but also an author, charged with the task of forming more complex automaton-creators. The transcendent tension implicit in his mission emerges from his need to believe in a rational design explaining his origin as well as his purpose:
Pensavo che la mia mente essendo stata fabbricata da questi
automi-autori dovesse essere da loro ben conosciuta, almeno in tutte
le sue parti se non in tutte le sue possibilitAaAaAeA , a che, comunqu
doveva avere di sicuro un punto adatto a ricevere da loro,
automi-autori, uno stimolo se non il comando di una operazione
perfetta. Mi ponevo allora il problema se oltre a ricevere, la mia
mente avrebbe potuto trasmettere e mettersi a contatto con gli
automi-autori. (Volponi, 1965: 100)

Anteo experiments with the possibility to connect and control other automata by exercising his power over animals--the simplest among the machines--and later over his wife, Massimina. The role of creator he chooses for himself explains his violent and despotic behaviour against the woman, for which Anteo is brought to trial, as he narrates at the beginning of the novel. In reality, the relationship he hopes to establish with Massimina is one based on a submissive consonance between a creature and her creator: the woman's mechanical nature of automaton is evoked by the description of her eyes, "che andavano come le sferette di un orologio" (Volponi, 1965: 60). Furthermore, she seems to be deprived of any agency and her actions are described by Anteo as a direct consequence of his will:
Io mi sentii di potere completare quel movimento, sicuro di potere
toccare la sua faccia, farle aprire la bocca, farla ridere e farla
camminare dove io e lei avessimo voluto senza che lei nemmeno vedesse
i posti o riconoscesse le strade [... ]. (Volponi, 1965: 60-61)

This sense of omnipotence that Anteo feels during his first encounter with the girl, who will soon become his wife, is an obvious sign of his troubled psychological condition and, if we judge the protagonist according to the rules and customs to which our society abides, it cannot but be interpreted as a sickly desire of dominance over the woman. However, if Anteo's actions are to be read as the actualization of his scientific ideas, it is clear that the protagonist does not see Massimina's subservience as the result of an act of violence, but rather as the fully expected behavior of an automaton before his creator. For this reason, the love he professes for her and his domineering attitude are not in conflict from his point of view. A passage that reveals Anteo's delirium of omnipotence may be liable of different interpretations:
Io non ammettevo movimenti o negazioni; movimenti che non fossero lo
srotolarsi di quella carica che io stesso avevo dato a lei; giusti e
remissivi come appunto poteva essere il corso delle sfere nei suoi
occhi o il tirare le spalle in alto e in basso [... ]. (Volponi, 1965:

In fact, this is but the logical consequence of the role of creator he chooses for himself, proud and caring for the creature who embodies the outcome of his best effort:
L'avevo costruita io con il disegno piAaAaAeA  bello, al quale avevo atteso
anche senza accorgermene, per tutte le giornate della mia vita, in
tutti i momenti in cui le mie idee e la realtAaAaAeA  si acquietavano dentr
di me e mi davano la serenitAaAaAeA  di guardare ad occhi aperti e co
devozione, anche dentro il mio organismo, qualsiasi cosa." (Volponi,
1965: 62)

When Massimina rejects Anteo's theories as a sign of his lunacy and seeks the protection of other villagers, he recurs to physical violence to punish her--not for her lack of obedience, but for her lack of consonance. If Massimina is considered as cybernetic automaton, guided by her husband, it can be easily understood that her refusal to respond to Anteo's input interrupts the feedback system of communication and, therefore, the possibility to change and evolve. As the protagonist explains, in the attempt of justifying his violent acts,
mi illudevo, mi nutrivo della convinzione che lei fosse veramente
un'altra parte di me e non avesse bisogno di discorsi fatti l'uno di
fronte all'altra. Infatti, quando la bastonavo io sentivo di soffrire
piAaAaAeA  di lei, tanto per il fatto che la bastonavo quanto per l
bastonate. (Volponi, 1965: 75)

Obviously, the only way the passage above may suffice as a valid justification for Anteo's behaviour is for its reader to adhere to his hallucinated system of thought. What is more, if the concept of cybernetic feedback is applied to Anteo's relationship with his wife, it becomes possible to logically reconcile his wish for a "new academy of friendship," and his abusive attitude towards his wife. Indeed, without communication between authors and automata, no evolution can occur: it follows that to force Massimina into respecting her role of automaton-creator is for Anteo to keep the utopia of universal friendship alive.

The necessity of a perpetual evolution is another central concept in Anteo's treatise. His idea of evolution, though, is disconnected from a utilitarian discourse, which would instead re-establish a mechanicist and consequential principle, consistent with the Digesting Duck and then in contrast with the cybernetic approach. To Anteo, human beings are machines programmed to self-evolve: due to the hallucinated, irrational discourse characterizing his approach, this theory appears more akin to a prophecy than to scientific elaboration, but its conclusions are nevertheless remarkably close to John von Neumann's cybernetic theories on self-reproducing automata. By combining informational science, combinatory theories and studies about artificial intelligence, von Neumann elaborated a theory for creating self-reproducing machines, capable of building not just identical, but more complex mechanisms, possessing the same skills Anteo attributes to his automaton-creators. Such consonance can be better explained by comparing a passage from von Neumann's Theory of Self-Reproducing Automata with one from Anteo's treatise: even conceding that Volponi was unlikely to understand most of the scientific and mathematical aspects of this research, the similarity of the two elaborations is quite striking and can account for Volponi's reception of these theories, no matter how superficial it was, which might have been facilitated by a number of publications dedicated to von Neumann's self-reproducing automata that appeared in Italy around that period (cfr. Somenzi, 1954; Von Neumann and Somenzi, 1965). By way of example, von Neumann, in the volume he edited with Burks, wrote:
Anybody who looks at living organisms knows perfectly well that they
can reproduce other organisms like themselves. [... ] Furthermore, it
is equally evident that what goes on is actually one degree better
than self-reproduction, for organisms appear to have gotten more
elaborate in the course of time. [... ] You can say that the gene
[... ] needs not to contain a complete description of what is to
happen, but only a few cues for a few alternatives. (1966: 78-79)

Anteo also expresses the same idea of biological evolution as a pattern for mechanical self-reproduction:
In sostanza noi non facciamo altro che eternare la legge che governa
l'universo, la quale esige che un'opera fatta di materia organica e
poi organizzata in una costruzione sufficiente, per poter vivere deve
riprodursi e per poi resistere deve ricostruirsi in forme sempre piAaAaAe
evolute [... ] ogni forma di automa-autore puAaAaAeA  costruirne un'altr
superiore a se stessa, altrimenti dovremmo pensare che cosAaAaAeA  come siam
non abbiamo una fine e quindi neanche un principio. (Volponi, 1965:

Comparing this passage with von Neumann's research makes it impracticable to dismiss the concept of evolution of the species applied to the mechanics' world as a mere fantasy: while it is undeniable that Anteo's treatise retains a utopic tension foreign to scientific elaboration, it is nevertheless impossible to overlook its convergence with cybernetic research.

The centrality accorded to reproduction in the evolution path allows to explain Anteo's reaction to the news that Massimina has killed his son. After having left Anteo because of his violent behavior, she has a last amorous encounter with her husband and accidentally gets pregnant. Horrified at the thought that her child might inherit Anteo's troubled and violent psyche, she decides to hide the pregnancy and eventually kill the newborn. Anteo receives the news from a newspaper, and, in shock, expresses his desperation in this peculiar way:
Dopo il mio corpo si irrigidAaAaAeA  e la mia mente restAaAaAeA  tagliata fuori
me; entrambi senza nessuna possibilitAaAaAeA  di agire, entrambi per propri
conto, come se tutti i pezzi, perduta ogni intenzione unitaria e
finale dei costruttori, ritornassero in libertAaAaAeA  dentro e fuori
(Volponi, 1965: 264)

What Anteo conveys is precisely a sense of disconnection between body and mind, but also, and most remarkably, between himself and his creators. Indeed, the loss of his child may be interpreted as a sign of the impossibility for the protagonist to actively contribute to the creation of a new, more evolved machine through the birth of his son. By killing the newborn, Massimina has deprived him--once again--of the role of creator and, therefore, of any purpose in his life.

Significantly, it is Anteo's desire--for himself and for everyone--to play an active role in the evolution of the automaton-creators system that encounters the strongest opposition within his community, even more than his preaching about the existence of mechanical entities negating a Christian God: indeed, what the fellow villagers find most upsetting is the very idea of progress over which the core of Anteo's theory is premised. To fully understand the allegory on which La macchina mondiale relies, it is worth recalling the difference between the mechanical automata--like Vaucanson's Digesting Duck--, only expected to repeat a limited set of actions, and cybernetic automata, capable of connecting with the environment in order to communicate back, learn, change and reproduce itself. The idea of cybernetic machine is a metaphor for the society that Anteo--and Volponi--wants to oppose to the actual static and inequitable situation. (11) Indeed, society relies on a logic resembling the one behind the mechanical Duck: those in power assign specific roles and tasks to the lower classes, and the lower classes tend to their roles and tasks without even considering the possibility of resisting or changing the situation. Anteo's treatise aspires to liberate people from inescapable exploitation, a fate shaped only by a constrictive mechanical causality, to which the protagonist opposes the uncertainty principle, which cybernetics inherits from quantum mechanics and re-appropriates. (12) Anteo can thus outline a system predicated on the adherence to a superior program, one conceived by the first creators and therefore loaded with a purpose. And yet, at the same time, this system envisages a perpetual, non-predictable evolution, which is the universal explosion Volponi mentions in the novel's preparatory notes. To Anteo, the conservative, mechanicistic social structure he confronts must be linked to the Catholic doctrine, which teaches the importance of submission and resignation, thus denying agency and evolution and shaping a moral code for working classes that people in power welcome and sustain, as it justifies their role of masters over the multitude of men-machines who display the same passivity of the Digesting Duck. This socio-economic structure resembles a faulty mechanism, for it denies the possibility for people to interact and evolve--the very essence of the cybernetic system proposed by the protagonist. Anteo denounces the condition of exploitation of his fellow peasants from the Marche region while rejecting the idea of original sin as a control strategy: there are no defects in these human automata and workers are perfectly functioning machines--they just happen to be badly programmed and misused by people in power:
[... ] non esiste nella condizione, come nella struttura dell'uomo
nessuna colpa e questo dovrAaAaAeA  essere cantato ai frati in un modo piAa
chiaro del mattutino. Esiste invece, ed AaAaAeA? vero, e questo lo scriverAa
nel mio trattato [... ] una insufficienza nella programmazione delle
nostre macchine, cioAaAaAeA? nei compiti che ci sono stati affidati [... ]
(Volponi, 1965: 53-54)

It is worth noting that Wiener opened his book The Human Use of Human Beings with the same criticism against workers' exploitation, interpreted as mismanagement of humans' potential, and described the behavior of "Fascists, Strong Men in Business, and Government" (1950: 16) as the opposite of a cybernetic approach to society:
Such people prefer an organization in which all orders come from
above, and none return. The human beings under them have been reduced
to the level of effectors for a supposedly higher nervous organism. I
wish to devote this book to a protest against this inhuman use of
human beings; for in my mind, any use of a human being in which less
is attributed to him than his full status is a degradation and a
waste. (Wiener, 1950: 16)

Not only did Wiener blame this fascist organization and its control over society; he drew a direct correlation between these two factors and an erroneous interpretation of the way communication--intended as the passage of information within the system--works. These enemies of the democratic progress fail to acknowledge that the principles guiding communication determine and guarantee a steady increase of information in a closed system, and thus incessant social development.

Not unlike Wiener, Volponi's character Anteo chooses to apply the rules regulating information science in the analysis of socio-political issues. In the second part of the novel, the protagonist moves to Rome in order to pursue academic studies and make connections with scientists and professors who might support his research. Unable to be taken seriously and penniless, Anteo takes up a job as a lupin beans street seller. Soon, however, the exploitative logic that informs the relationships between him, the other workers, and the business owner proves intolerable for him. In a passionate, but ineffective speech Anteo tries to make his fellow workers aware of this injustice. He explains that in order to create a new, more equitable society it is necessary to start from the idea of human beings as intelligent machines, which is lost as long as people, like his fellow street traders, refuse to acknowledge the potential of their machines and the morality guiding their evolution. Anteo, unlike them, is well aware of
quanto perdessero e quanto costringessero di se stessi alla miseria e
all'abbandono gli uomini quando rinunciavano a quelle intenzioni
morali che certamente sono alla base della costruzione delle loro
macchine, messe senza dubbio, insieme alla fantasia e alla copiositAaAaAe
dei frutti dell'universo, dagli automi-autori proprio per consentire
alle macchine degli uomini ed alla loro societAaAaAeA  un'armoniosa fortuna
(Volponi, 1965: 151) (13)

As a reaction to his subversive--and almost evangelical--speech, the other workers demonstrate their loyalty towards the employer by attacking Anteo, who compares their actions to the jerky movements of mechanical puppets: by renouncing the moral foundation that should guide their mechanical bodies, these men have transformed into limited, passive automata, which, like Vaucason's Duck, are only capable of repeating the actions their master has chosen for them.
Cominciarono perAaAaAeA  a darmi dei cazzotti sulla schiena [... ] e, mentr
mi avvinghiavo a quei corpi secchi, con quei vestiti di fustagno,
sentivo come fossero solo una massa di canabucci e come le loro teste
suonassero vuote e come ognuno e tutti insieme avessero di ogni cosa
soltanto un'unitAaAaAeA , un pezzo essenziale e insostituibile, misero
perduto: ogni pezzo come la stessa miseria e perdizione, ogni mano o
ginocchio o piede, come tutto non fosse che la costruzione piAaAaAe
elementare tenuta in piedi da una giuntura logorata, perduta qualsiasi
ragione che non fosse quella del corpo [... ]. (Volponi, 1965: 156)

Anteo, here, clearly assumes the role of the marginalized prophet and martyr, who sacrifices himself in a final desperate attempt to keep his legacy alive. Of course, the utopic tension characterizing this novel--as well as Volponi's work at large (cfr. Gaudio, 2008; Raffaelli, 1997)--must be connected to both the author's Marxist political orientation and Anteo's Christological features, as lucidly observed by Pasolini in his already mentioned article on La macchina mondiale. (14) Nevertheless, it is important to note how this utopic tension also stems from the cybernetic concept of information as a force opposing universal chaos: in a scientific context, this is called negentropy.

The second law of thermodynamics states that a closed system goes towards a progressively disordered state and such change is irreversible. One of the most common examples used to illustrate this rule is Maxwell's Demon thought experiment: a demon is imagined to regulate the passage of heated molecules of gas between two chambers. In both chambers, there are faster-moving--and, therefore more heated--molecules and slower--or less heated--ones. The demon opens the passage between the two chambers to let only the faster ones pass. The final result is to put all the faster molecules together in one chamber and the slower ones in the other. This thought experiment, which proves how to violate the law stating that entropy never decreases in an isolated system, was used by Wiener with a view to reinterpreting the second law of thermodynamics in light of information science theory. Wiener stated that Maxwell's Demon experiment neglected to take into account the amount of information needed by the demon to know when to open the door: indeed, a passage--and increase--in information occurs alongside the passage of heated molecules: according to Wiener, this contradicts the theory of progressive cosmic disorder and proves that negentropy is a better interpretation. Wiener explained:
Therefore, in the world with which we are immediately concerned there
are stages which, though they occupy an insignificant fraction of
eternity, are of great significance for our purposes, for in them
entropy does not increase and organization and its correlative,
information, are being built up. What I have said about enclaves of
increasing organization is not confined merely to organization as
exhibited by living beings. Machines also contribute to a local and
temporary building up of information, notwithstanding their crude and
imperfect organization compared with that of ourselves. (1950: 31) (15)

It is now evident that Wiener's elaboration over the role of information as an organizing principle opposing chaos and dissolution is in line with the utopic tension characterizing La macchina mondiale. The cybernetic idea of negentropy charges mechanical and human actors alike with the almost transcendent mission of restoring order and meaning to the universe, therefore restating--on a scientific level--Volponi's Marxist beliefs. This is not to say that Volponi developed his utopie perspective, common to his whole production, as a consequence of discovering the idea of negentropy. As he explained during his later encounter with Francesco Leonetti, he had always been fascinated by Utopian thought: "CiAaAaAeA c mi interessa e mi piace AaAaAeA?, in filosofia come in letteratura, l'utopi (Volponi and Leonetti, 1995: 106). Furthermore, there is no documental evidence proving that Volponi actually read Wiener, even though The Human Use of Human Beings could have been available to him--as it was translated into Italian in 1953 for Boringheri with the title Introduzione alla cibernetica--along with other journal and newspaper articles on the matter, published in Italy in those years, as demonstrated before. It would thus be erroneous to connect this fascination solely with his interests in cybernetics. Nevertheless, in order to unmask the impact of these scientific theories on La macchina mondiale, it is necessary to emphasize that the utopic tension expressed in this specific text, which stems from Anteo's faith in technological progress, is mirrored by the philosophical implication of the theory of negentropy. In order to further unveil this connection between philosophical and scientific discourse in Volponi, it is worth mentioning that also Umberto Eco, in his already cited text La forma del disordine published in 1961 and dedicated to the influence of information theory over artistic expression, developed a parallel meditation. Eco opened his piece by defining Creation not as the passage from darkness to light, as commonly depicted in many religious and etiological accounts, but from order to chaos. Accordingly, Eco states that human history as a whole has been guided by the never-fulfilled aspiration to restore order through an increase in information, which is another way to affirm how the negetropy principle of information guides humanity from disorder to order, even if the latter will never be fully achieved.

Yet, this same concept of negentropy influencing Volponi is not to be read as an all-solving interpretation that embraced as a readily-available reassurance from the upsetting possibility of universal chaos and loss of meaning. In fact, Volponi did not foresee the possibility of reestablishing a classic harmonic principle in a modern, cybernetic setting. Information theory, as developed in those years by cyberneticists such as Wiener and Shannon, does oppose the idea of entropy, but also relies on probability, which determines the unpredictable and combinatory nature of information and thus establishes a principle that does not envisage any cogent result. This means that the combinatory logic produces a constant dynamic progression opposing stagnation and generating patterns of information that are both new and unpredictable. (16) Again, the opposition between classic harmonic order and unpredictability and freedom, introduced by the new scientific paradigm, is at the core of Eco's text, who explained it as the consequence of an inescapable dualism, which guarantees a rational and yet unpredictable evolution: "Il principio AaAaAeA? rigorosissim il punto di partenza ha la immobilitAaAaAeA perfetta delle forme classic che facevano impazzire di vertigine matematica i teorici della Divina Proporzione. [... ] Il punto di arrivo invece non dipende piAaAaAeA dal programmator ma appartiene a quella zona di libertAaAaAeA in cui si muove il mondo subatomic quello della improbabilitAaAaAeA statistica" (Eco, 1961: 175

When applying this idea of dynamic evolution, reached via combinatory process, to the socio-political analysis, it is evident why Volponi, reflecting Wiener's theorization, interpreted the uncertainty principle--introduced by quantum mechanics and essential for information science too--as a scientific law potentially capable of validating the claim against political conservatism and status quo preservation. In the already mentioned speech Le difficoltAaAaAeA del romanzo Volponi explained how t uncertainty principle, rejecting a strict causality logic, opened up the possibility of unexpected evolution, free from constrictions and impositions:
Al principio di causalitAaAaAeA  si sostituisce come nuovo principi
metodologico, almeno in molti casi, quello di indeterminazione. Il
tipo di natura nuova che si affronta AaAaAeA? utopistica: AaAaAeA? la natura re
in trasformazione. Il resto, ciAaAaAeA  che AaAaAeA? intorno a noi, quiet
accomodato, con le dimensioni sentimentali usuali AaAaAeA? un vecchi
baldacchino da teatro, ormai sfondato. (Volponi, 1966: 35) (17)

In the author's interpretation, the new scientific paradigm allowed to contrast a traditional and conservative view of the world as a regulated and unchanging system--as fake and constructed as a theater stage--with a principle of real and constant transformation. The need to postulate such principle determining constant evolution while refusing any cogent trajectory is, not surprisingly, taken by Anteo as the center of his theorization over the reproduction of the automaton-creators. He believes that the first creators have established a guiding principle--like the uncertainty one--but even they do not know where the following path leads, as evolution is unpredictable in its outcomes. As previously elucidated, this is the same antinomy that regulates the reproduction of human and mechanical automata, which transmit their genetic--or electronic--codes while at the same time innovating them: the continuity of matter ensures development but it is its mortality that allows changes and progression. For this reason, Anteo, expressing ideas extremely close to the one Volponi shared in the passage from the speech quoted above, defines uncertainty and lack of determinism as the two essential conditions for real evolution:
Quindi ero preso da un accanimento nel quale ammettevo ripetutamente,
con gli scatti di una macchina, che l'incertezza prova l'evoluzione,
come l'evoluzione prova l'incertezza, e quindi che la scienza non puAaAaAe
essere altro che incertezza ed evoluzione e che come incertezza altro
non AaAaAeA? che lo strumento per comunicare, toccare, andare avanti e ch
come evoluzione AaAaAeA? la spinta a migliorare e a credere che sempre ogn
cosa debba cercare di diventare migliore. (Volponi, 1965: 249)

The need for constant transformation as the only strategy to save human beings from abandoning their path towards improvement of their selves as well as their socio-political structures must also be the reason why Anteo, otherwise unexplainably, resolves to kill himself. Again, it has been argued that his troubled mental condition is the reason prompting the decision to build the bomb that will explode him, as can be inferred from the last lines of the novel. Nevertheless, the real meaning of this gesture, which has been interpreted as an expression of cupio dissolvi following to his failure to spread his theories and to his son's death, can be interpreted more satisfactorily in connection with cybernetic theories. Anteo's suicide is, according to his vision, the only way he has left to prove the truth of his theories: death is not the end, but rather a new beginning, as he describes while imagining himself after the imminent explosion like "un inizio luminoso che sta andando per il cielo come la coda di una cometa" (Volponi, 1965: 275). What is more, the very last words of the novel, where Anteo reveals his impending suicide, are "Adesso comincio" (Volponi, 1965: 276). Death is not seen as the real conclusion--in fact, the last words of the book announces a new beginning: this should not surprise in a novel structured around a message of utopic renovation, but what has to be noticed is the extent to which the antinomy of finding life in death is connected with the uncertainty principle as a generator of change, and therefore progress. As Anteo explains in what seems to amount to one last interior monologue:
ho capito di avere espresso nella mia vita, in piena coscienza e con
sufficiente libertAaAaAeA  e purezza, la progressione infinita di ogn
particella e molecola e corpo e di avere ottenuto un grande risultato
scientifico solo con la mia stessa vita, con la costruzione delle idee
che l'hanno sostenuta. Un risultato cosiddetto concreto, una prova
diversa, sarebbero stati soltanto un altro dato di questa societAaAaAeA , ch
improvvisamente li avrebbe catturati e che poi li avrebbe
pietrificati. (Volponi, 1965: 275)

To Anteo, finishing the treatise and obtaining the approval of his peers would have been tantamount to succeed in reproducing the Maxwell's Demon experiment in real world: once everything is in order and the two chambers are in perfect equilibrium, there is nothing else to be done, no further evolution to be accomplished. Only then may death come. Destruction and disorder are essential to the creation of new meanings and forms, much in the same way noise is indispensable to communication, as it allows to distinguish between what is meaningful information from what is not. Anteo's suicide is thus necessary to render his contribution meaningful and immortal. Literature and science therefore share the same mission, which is to break with interpretations supporting the dominance of static systems over evolving ones, be they biological, mechanical, social or cultural. As already pointed out, Volponi defined his approach to the literary matter as scientific in Le difficoltAaAaAeA del romanzo, motivating this claim by identifying the necessity of pursuing constant change and refusing crystallized forms for both literature and science:
Occorre forse chiarire che cosa intendo per posizione scientifica
dello scrittore: prima di tutto l'affidamento completo alla ricerca,
cioAaAaAeA? la mancanza di qualsiasi giudizio prestabilito, proprio nel sens
di immettere nello scrivere ogni dato, elemento, lingua in
discussione; accettare che tutto possa mutare. E poi vuol dire pensare
che il romanzo abbia una sua possibilitAaAaAeA  autonoma di intervento e d
sollecitazione di fronte alla realtAaAaAeA , di fronte a tutte le relazion
che corrono fra gli uomini e ogni loro problema. (Volponi, 1966: 34)

It should be pointed out that, while he declared to follow a scientific approach to literature, Volponi never really shared the philosophical paradigms established by modern science: he has never relinquished a materialistic and anthropocentric perspective, which prevented him from embracing the most revolutionary claims made by cybernetics at that time. One such claims, for instance, was the idea--embraced by Calvino--of language as the result of a combinatory practice, deprived of any ontological quality. And yet, failing to recognize the influence of cybernetic theories in the narration of La macchina mondiale, or to interpret any reference to them as the result of Volponi's juxtaposition of political and scientific discourses would result in reading the novel as a mere variation on the themes already addressed in Memoriale: the contrast between rural life and technological progress, the alienation caused by the imposition of social norms on outsider figures, the need for a more humane and just society. (18)
What makes La macchina mondiale unique in Volponi's production is the
interdependence between the literal level of interpretation--Anteo's
scientific theories--and the allegorical one--the socio-political
message, which is not ancillary but constitutes in fact the key
message of the novel's: the belief--shared by both Wiener and
Anteo--that the advent of new machines may fruitfully contribute to an
alternative model of social progress. Indeed, as we sought to
demonstrate, the idea of cybernetic machine constitutes the
fundamental scientific premise upon which Volponi built his
anthropocentric ethics. There is no question that the latter are
liable of allegorical interpretations, but any such reading should
recognize the significance of the scientific background of Anteo's
techno-utopia, rather than dismiss it as the pipedream of a neurotic,
imaginative peasant.


(1.) Volponi's narrative production often features alienated, controversial and outsider protagonists. In Romano Luperini's words: "La 'diversitAaAaAe ha sempre in Volponi un valore eversivo, perchAaAaAeA@ implica una ribellio e un'utopia (1981: 812). In Volponi's first novel, Memoriale (1962), the protagonist Albino Saluggia suffers from paranoia and persecution complex. Anteo, the protagonist of Volponi's second novel, is then followed by Gerolamo Aspri, in Corporale (1974), who withdraws from society in his obsessive fear of an atomic conflict. Even the portrayal of Professor Subissoni, the protagonist of Il sipario ducale (1975), while not as alienated and extreme, still revolves around his difficulties in adjusting to social norms.

(2.) It should be noted that Le difficoltAaAaAeA del romanzo is followe in the same issue of Le conferenze dell'associazione culturale italiana, by an article titled Com'AaAaAeA? nata la cibernetica, penned by the Itali cyberneticist Silvio Ceccato. Obviously, this might be a coincidence. Yet, the fact that both Volponi and Ceccato delivered their speeches--which were later published in the journal--in 1965 supports the claim that a climate of general interest for new scientific fields such as cybernetics existed among Italian intellectuals. For a detailed account on the impact of cybernetics over Italian culture at large during the 1960s cfr. Pogliano, 2007: 85-120.

(3.) Volponi always hold Olivetti's research on information technology and their extremely innovative approach in high regard. This is one of the reasons that prompted the author to praise such company as the Italian leader in this field (cfr. Volponi 1995: 133). For an analysis of the role of Olivetti in the 1950s-1960s as a leader in informational technology in Italy, cfr. Soria, 1979.

(4.) The exhibition took place in Olivetti shop in Milan, under the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, then moved to Olivetti shop in Venice, in San Marco square, and, finally, it travelled to Dusseldorf, London and the United States, in collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution. The definition Arte programmata was adopted for the very first time in the section of the Almanacco Letterario Bompiani 1962 dedicated to the visual artists who, after few months, would have participated to the exhibition. This issue of the journal can be considered a sort of theoretical introduction to the exhibition. A video of the Milan exhibition is available on the Youtube page of the Archivio Nazionale Cinema d'Impresa, under the title Arte programmata.

(5.) Silvio Ceccato, together with Giuseppe Vaccarino and Vittorio Somenzi--they too founders of the Scuola Operativa Italiana--had been very active since the mid-1940s in the study of language operations as indicators of humans' mental activities. The cybernetic turn happened during Ceccato and Somenzi's stay in London in the early 1950s, during which they met the cyberneticist William Grey Walter and collaborated with Imperial College London. It was 1953 when Ceccato conceived the idea of building a "homo grammaticus", a machine able of expressing itself by using grammar structures. Adamo II is then the first public appearance of this "homo grammaticus". After the exhibition, Adamo II was stored at the Museo della Scienza e della Tecnica in Milan, but, unfortunately, it later disappeared--being lost or stolen--while being transported to Rome. For a detailed description of Adamo II's functioning, cfr. Maretti, 1956. In 1957, the year after Adamo II's public appearance, the UniversitAaAaAeA Statale di Milano opened a resear center completely dedicated to cybernetics--Centro di cibernetica e di attivitAaAaAeA linguistiche--which gave a new impetus to Ceccato's experiment In those years he developed other prototypes--even if he never perfected them--like the cronista elettronico, a machine able to describe the surrounding objects, and the traduttore automatico, an electronic translator not simply able to translate word by word--as other machines did at that time--but also capable of understanding the general meaning of the sentences presented to it (cfr. Ceccato, 1961). Ceccato was also a formidable communicator: not only did he often release interviews both on paper and on television, but from 1964 to 1967 he also had a column on the newspaper Il Giorno, aimed to communicate his research to a lay audience. All of his articles were later collected in the volume Cibernetica per tutti (1968). As a general reference on Ceccato's work, cfr. Ceccato, 1972.

(6.) Silvio Ceccato remembered how Leonardo Sinisgalli decided to name the machine Adamo II in order to provocatively evoke the possibility to give life to a mechanical body: "In corso di gestazione, Sinisgalli battezzAaAaAeA la nostra-sua macchina. Si sarebbe chiamata 'Adamo IF. Drizz le orecchie. [... ] mescolare la macchina con la Mente, lo Spirito, la Ragione avrebbe potuto suonare dissacrante. E lo erano i miei studi, malvisti da coloro che per passione o professione, nell'ideologia, nella religione, ecc., devono concludere con la scoperta di valori universali e necessari, estrastorici ed estrageografici; per non parlare dei filosofi di ogni tendenza. [... ] Comunque, Leonardo Sinisgalli rimase, di questa strada italiana verso l'artefatto intelligente, almeno per me, la prima e la piAaAaAeA amica stella cometa" (Ceccato, 1988: 167

(7.) Pierpaolo Antonello emphasized Volponi's lack of a strong scientific preparation: "Preoccupato, utopicamente, di chiarire come il mondo dovrebbe essere piAaAaAeA che di capire com'AaAaAeA?, la cultura scientific Volponi appare occasionale e frammentaria (si definiva egli stesso un 'pressapochista'), dove l'unica scienza che ha uno specifico interesse di studio e approfondimento AaAaAeA? quella economica" (Antonello, 2012: 232

(8.) For a detailed explanation of the workings of Grey Walter's Turtle robots and the significance of cybernetic principles in shaping their project cfr. Johnston, 2008: 47-53.

(9.) In support of this claim, it is worth mentioning that the already cited journal CiviltAaAaAeA delle macchine featured two articles--one 1953, the other in 1954--devoted, respectively, to Grey Walter's Turtle and Shannon's Rat, as examples of cybernetic automata (cfr. Sardi, 1953; Somenzi, 1954).

(10.) The relevance of XVIII century mechanical automata in the development of cybernetic ones is explained by John Johnston in relation to von Neumann's experiments (cfr. Johnston, 2008: 34-39). For further information on XVIII century mechanical automata as the precursors of modern robots see also: Franchi and Guuzeldere, 2005:15-44; Wood, 2002.

(11.) The application of cybernetic principles to socio-political issues and its implication are investigated in: Bennato, 2002; Neisser, 1967.

(12.) The use of the uncertainty principle in cybernetics--originally developed in the field of quantum mechanics--was mostly based on Claude Shannon's definition of information in statistical terms, to which Wiener had also contributed. Johnston, analyzing Shannon's theory, explains that "his formula for computing information, in fact, was based directly on Ludwig Boltzmann's famous formula for computing the entropy, or amount of randomness, of a thermodynamic system. Given the uncertainty of molecular states, Boltzmann proposed a measure based on their statistical distribution and even thought of our incomplete knowledge of these states as "missing information." For Shannon, the uncertainty of a message stems from the freedom of choice in the selection of a particular message (or set of symbols constituting a message). The greater the number of possible messages, the greater the uncertainty and hence the greater the information value of a single selected message or symbol. But whereas for Shannon information measures this uncertainty, or entropy, for Wiener it measures a gain in certainty; information, therefore, he considered to be a measure of negative entropy, or 'negentropy'" (Johnston, 2008: 27-28).

(13.) In a 1994 dialogue with Francesco Leonetti, Volponi himself had argued that the construction of new machines needed to be guided by a principle of social evolution, and not simply by small-minded utilitarianism. According to the author, the latter approach would guarantee the preservation of the status quo, as technological progress would end up being subservient to it. Indeed, Volponi was simply spelling out the fundamental axiom informing the message he had conveyed through his character in La macchina mondiale thirty years back, that is the opposition between technological progress and the immobility of power structures (cfr. Volponi, and Leonetti, 1995: 43).

(14.) Pasolini illustrated the evangelical element characterizing Volponi's novel in the conclusion of his review of La macchina mondiale: "Anteo [... ] popola la forma svuotata dell'agricoltura e della religione con l'idea di una civiltAaAaAeA di macchine animate e pensanti. CiAaAaAeA gli c la vita; ch'egli ha del resto vissuto come l'eroe di un piccolo Vangelo (del socialismo anarchico e della poesia)" (Pasolini, 1965: 2453).

(15.) David Porush, in an article dedicated to the impact of scientific discourse over literature, explained how Wiener's reinterpretation of the Maxwell's Demon experiment establishes a new philosophical approach to the idea of cosmic chaos, which has an important influence over writers and artists in general: "According to Norbert Wiener, in Cybernetics, he conceived cybernetics as an answer to this 'unholy' introduction of uncertainty into science. In The Human Use Human Beings, Wiener makes even more explicit his metaphysical conception of cybernetics, calling entropy or uncertainty an 'Augustinian devil.' The exorcism of the Augustinian devil devised by Wiener was to appropriate, to take directly, Maxwell's formula for the degradation of the closed heat system. Wiener even adopted the same term; the randomness or assortment of possible states was the devilish entropy in a system; the good information extracted from that noise was negentropy, a measure of the amount of sense made by communications system. Thus, Maxwell's demon, more a Manichean shifty sort, was reduced in Wiener's mind to a manageable Augustinian demon by defining the amount of negentropy he created as equivalent to the information needed to do his dirty work of directing hot atoms into one chamber and cold atoms into another. This is the very rock-bottom piece of fiction on which all of information theory is established" (Porush, 1990: 43).

(16.) As Katherine Hayles explained in her study dedicated to the changes in the idea of materiality of texts and human body after the advent of cybernetics, this antinomy is at the very core of the new concept of information proposed by these scientists: "Identifying information with both pattern and randomness proved to be a powerful paradox, leading to the realization that in some instances, an infusion of noise into a system can cause it to reorganize at a higher level of complexity. Within such a system, pattern and randomness are bound together in a complex dialectic that makes them not so much opposites as complements or supplements to one another. Each helps to define the other; each contributes to the flow of information through the system" (Hayles, 1999: 25).

(17.) Volponi's meditation over the philosophical impact of the substitution of the causality principle with the uncertainty one has been underlined by Zinato, who put the antinomy between unpredictability and existence of a patter at the core of Volponi's interest for modern science as expressed in Le difficoltAaAaAeA del romanzo. Zinato wrote: "Lo stesso princip di indeterminazione enunciato da Heisenberg nel 1962, da cui in campo umanistico sono state tratte con disinvolta leggerezza conseguenze di tipo nichilistico e scettico, viene interpretato da Volponi in modo problematico e ambivalente" (Zinato, 2003-2004:15).

(18.) Critics have often interpreted Volponi's Memoriale and La macchina mondiale as a sort of hendiadys, a two-step reflection of the author on the same cultural and political issues, as Maria Lenti, analyzing the critical fortune of Volponi, explained: "Di Memoriale e del successivo La macchina mondiale (1965) si astraggono i due protagonisti: lunatici e visionari, sognatori, utopisti. L'utopia AaAaAeA? il regno inesistent impossibile; Albino e Anteo, lontani dalla realtAaAaAeA , sono destinati essere 'soggetti' a 'macchine' e societAaAaAeA troppo grandi e invincibi dalle quali tutto viene macinato e travolto." (Lenti, 1997:141).


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Eleonora Lima

French and Italian Department, University of Wisconsin-Madison Van Hise Hall, USA

Autore corrispondente:

Eleonora Lima, PhD, French and Italian Department, University of Wisconsin-Madison Van Hise Hall, 1220 Linden Driv
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