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Per una topografia dell'Altrove: Spazi altri nell'immaginario letterario e culturale di lingua inglese.

Maria Teresa Chialant and Eleonora Rao, eds. Naples: Liguori Editore, 1995. ix + 505 pp. 50,000 Lira.

This bilingual volume of transactions from the conference "Per una topografia dell' Altrove" held at the University of Salerno in November, 1993, is intended to explore "l'Altrove" as "un aspetto dell' Altro" (1). As must perhaps always be the case in vasty works of intercultural, cross-disciplinary studies collectively undertaken by many and very different hands, what substantial intelligibility the discourse of Per una topografia dell' Altrove has is purchased at the risk of getting lost in itself, of courting incoherence as a virtue. Certainly, editors Maria Teresa Chialant and Eleonor Rao have attended to the fact of such a risk. As they explain by way of introduction, the volume's very structure--it comes in a nicely symmetrical arrangement of six sections, each including five or six essays--is designed to guarantee "una certa omogeneita all' interno di ciascuna parte del libro" in the process of accommodating the "eterogeneita" that the notion of "l'Altrove" necessarily enjoins (4). Nor does the shaping of Per una topografia dell' Altrove proceed from an inattention to issues of conceptual method. The first section, "A come alter, alibi, alien," so Chialant and Rao prepare readers to appreciate the concern with system that went into the book's making, "include interventi di tipico ... metodologico e interdisciplinare" meant to specify "le premesse ontologiche per un discorso sull' Altrove" (4). The risky business of cross-cultural studies has been transacted with a certain degree of caution in this case. Evidence of meticulous proofreading additionally bespeaks a concern to produce a book of studied care.

But if the stated purpose of the first section of Per una topografia dell' Altrove is to establish "le premesse ontologiche" that underlie the discourse as a whole, the execution of that purpose effectively suggests an intention less to promote positive understanding than to induce substantial bafflement. "A come alter, alibi, alien" opens with a finely crafted linguistic study of alternative grammars (Cristina Vallini); which is followed by a meditation on symbolist poetics (Aldo Trione); then a choppy account of "la follia" as reflected in the life and writings of Leonora Carrington (Anglelo Trimarco); then a rehearsing of the "psychology of metaphor" shared by such high modernists as Kafka and Conrad (Antonio Vitolo); and, lastly, an eloquent oration on an experience of "interruptions" that finishes up with a celebration of the "blanks" and "oblivion" inscribed in a poem from Paul Celan (lain Chambers). Insuperable differences and invincible privacies may well be unavoidable in human affairs, but to celebrate those differences and privacies can hardly serve to advance a positive sense of communal understanding, or of a shared ontology.

The value Per una topografia dell'Altrove has to offer (for this reader, at least) resides in the special qualities of its individual parts. Claude Rawson's "Savages Noble and Ignoble: Gulliver's South Pacific Paradise," for example, which opens the second section ("Esotismi"), recommends itself by the breadth of its learning and the acuteness of its wit. The cogency of Rawson's contribution will be especially evident to readers familiar with Montaigne. Adriana Corrado's "L'America da terra di utopia a sede della distopia anarchica in The Vagabond (1799) di George Walker" stands out in the third section ("Viaggi in utopia e nello spazio") for the rarity of its erudition and the surface clarity of its exposition. The relative slightness of the contributions to the fourth section ("Le regione del romance, della poesia, della fiaba") is compensated by the strength of the contemporary interests to which they speak: there is, for example, Maria Stella's essay on clime and sky in Emily Bronte's poetry. And the pieces gathered together in section 5 ("Dislocazioni"), most notably Paola Splendore's article on national confusion in Maxine Hong Kingston and Zoe Wicomb, and Alessandro Monti's, on Bharati Mukhejee's sense of feminine identity, likewise address issues transparently contemporary in relevance. Of the essays in part 6 ("Percorsi"), Eleanora Rao's, on the "quest for islands" in the novels of Margaret Laurence, deserves special mention for its acknowledgement and intelligent use of received commentary on the topic.

Per una topografia dell'Altrove, in other words, is a big book of enormous heterogeneity--and justly so, given the scale and fugitive character of its theme. As the first sentence of its brief postscript, by Brian W. Aldiss, spells out the unexceptionable point, "The literature of Elsewhere is so vast as to defy computation" (487). Nor do the last words of that postscript leave any doubt as to the provenance of the literature of Elsewhere: "it is a truism to say that Elsewhere is in our heads--not merely close to home but home itself. Every time the sun goes down and we sleep, signals in dreams beckon us towards places we can never reach and images of ourself we barely dare recognise." It would seem that, at bottom, we live as we imagine as we dream as we write lone. But that, of course, is a philosophy ideally suited to the practice of private rather than communal enterprise.
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Author:La Bossiere, Camille R.
Publication:Utopian Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 1997
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