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Pirandello and Alfau.

Although Luigi Pirandello began to write in his adolescent years, the numerous works he published until his fifties did not earn him much recognition. Only with the success of the first staging of Six Characters in Search of an Author on 10 May 1921 at the Teatro Valle di Roma and with the subsequent success of theatrical performances of such plays as Henry IV and Quando si e' qualcuno did Pirandello achieve international fame, culminating with the Nobel Prize in literature in 1934.

In fact, beginning in the early 1920s, he became a writer whose poetics, specifically his pirandellismo, gave birth to a literary phenomenon, influencing many contemporary writers, even those who operate with different inspirations: cosmological in the case of Guiseppe Bonaviri and religious in the case of Mario Pomillio. The same thing can be said regarding foreign writers, from Thorton Wilder in Our Town to Federico Garcia Lorca in El Publico.

It is the expression of pirandellismo in Six Characters that motivated George Bernard Shaw to stage this work on 27 February 1922 for the private club of the London Stage Society. The notable success of the performance not only opened the doors for the staging of other Pirandello works in England, but also of Six Characters in other countries. On 30 October 1922, Six Characters was presented at the Princess Theatre in New York City. Following the extremely positive reception of this play, Henry IV was staged. Towards the end of 1923, Pirandello was invited to New York for the opening of the new theatrical season of the Fulton Theatre, which for this occasion was renamed "Pirandello Theatre." The event created enthusiasm and even major newspapers, including the New York Times, spoke of it.

At this time a young intellectual, Felipe Alfau, was living in New York, where he immigrated during World War I. As a journalist for the cultural pages of the New York Hispanic daily La Prensa, he could not help but come into contact with the phenomenon of Pirandello as playwright within the New York cultural setting of the time, which was further reinforced by the English publication of several Pirandello works.

In addition, Alfau could have met the Pirandellian world through his ties and his attention to the developing Hispanic culture, which was immediately invaded by Pirandello through his pirandellismo, a pirandellismo whose seeds Alfau could have discerned in Spanish literature from Cervantes to Valle-Inclan to Unamuno. In fact, Alfau, who decided to write in English to gain a large reading audience, could not have written his first novel, Locos. A Comedy of Gestures, published in 1936 (the year of Pirandello's death), without a firm knowledge of Pirandello's universe.

Locos, in many aspects, is a Pirandellian novel. Its experimentalism is very similar to that of Pirandello's works that opened the doors of postmodernism. As in One, No One, and One Hundred Thousand, Locos disintegrates the chronology of the fable, experiments with techniques of narration, and is composed of chapters conceived as individual. short stories interrelated to each other. All are connected by numerous motives of a Pirandellian nature, besides the repetitive use of characters and setting.

The most Pirandellian short stories/chapters in this work are "Identity" and "A Character," especially because they encompass many elements of the Pirandellian poetics of the relation between writer and character.

In "Identity," as in all of Locos, Alfau assumes the position of eyewitness, character, and omniscient narrator who is at the same time inside and outside his characters. This is not significantly different from Pirandello's onmiscience (in the stories "La scelta," "Personaggi," "La tragedia di un personaggio," "Risposta," "Una giornata"). While the character-writer Pirandello searches for the characters of his future short stories ("La tragedia di un personaggio") within the walls of his office, the character-writer Alfau goes into the Cafe de los Locos in Toledo to look for his characters. Here, as in Pirandello's studio ("La tragedia di un personaggio"), appear characters who, although previously realized by other authors, are dissatisfied for no longer being famous and search for an author who will give them a new artistic life. In the cafe, as in Pirandello's studio, these characters intertwine with individuals of everyday life. Many of these individuals aspire to become famous characters and demonstrate a profound passion to enter the world of art with the intensity of the Pirandellian Father in Six Characters.

In the cafe, while Alfau is seated at a table with his friend, Dr. Jose de los Rios (his alter ego who introduces him to two characters to be created and brings him manuscripts and stories to write/create), contemplating everything, and searching for his future characters, his friend Fulano suddenly appears to him, almost with the same immediacy and spontaneity as a Pirandellian character appears. Fulano's story is reminiscent of that of Pirandello's Fileno, which is "the tragedy of a character." Fileno possesses the awareness of a character who has failed artistically; Fulano possesses the awareness of a human being who has failed in life. Both of them, besides being consumate intellectuals, want to be important, to be "someone." For this reason, Fileno asks Pirandello to complete him in one of his works, and Fulano asks Alfau to create him as a character.

Like Fileno, Leandro Scoto, the Father, and many other Pirandellian creatures, Fulano imposes himself upon the writer Alfau, almost suffocating him with his interrogation, accusing him of misunderstanding, forcing hirn to hear his story and delineating the ways in which he must recreate him with a striking personality. Thus Fulano, like Fileno, the "petulante," Leandro Scoto, and other Pirandellian creations, reveals himself to be a meta-character, who aesthetically discusses his creation and that of other characters of literature and thereby illustrates Alfau's criticism of contemporary literature, as Pirandello reveals his primarily through the "Tragedia di un personaggio," in Suo marito and in Six Characters. This confrontation between the writer and the (meta-)character is less dramatic than the one in Pirandello's works ("La tragedia di un personaggio," "Colloqui coi personaggi," Six Characters). The profound dramatization in Pirandello emanates from the struggle of his characters not to surrender, from the vitality of their internal and external behavior, from the intensity of their mimicry and dialectic discourse, and from the author's use, much more acute than Alfau's, of theatrical tools and additional methods which form a network of contrasts; in this Alfauian scene, the contrast expresses only the idea of importance and of unimportance.

While Fulano surrenders and puts himself in the hands of the writer, the Pirandellian meta-character never does. In fact, he repudiates the writer-Pirandello, violently abandoning him and ridiculing him. Dr. Jose de los Rios (the voice of the split I of Alfau), before departing for house calls, suggests that Fulano commit a fake suicide in order to achieve importance, notoriety, and a leap towards fame. With resignation Fulano accepts this proposal. Since he must wait until evening to commit suicide, he spends the rest of the afternoon in the cafe with Alfau. The author entertains him by pointing out and describing to him the characters present in the cafe whom Alfau intends to use in his book Locos. Pirandellianly, while Alfau discusses them, in reality he is already realizing them, representing a gallery of characters, many of whom will be completely developed in successive short story/chapters. Already all these characters are Pirandellian mirrors that reflect Alfau's image, distorted faces of the writer who has a tragicomic vision of life. Therefore, Alfau's short story ("Identity"), like many of Pirandello's short stories ("La scelta," "Il sonno del vecchio," "Una giornata," etc.), slides within the arena of meta-narration, even while rendering Fulano a silent figure and a spectator who makes vociferous remarks. Like the Pirandellian director Hinkfuss who reminds the actors of their obligation, Alfau reminds Fulano of the agreement to commit suicide.

The use of the fake suicide comes to Alfau from a close reading of Pirandello's novel Il fu Mattia Pascal (1904), as is suggested by the date of its publication in 1923 in English (The Late Mattia Pascal, translated by Arthur Livingston, which enjoyed various reprints) and in 1924 in Spain El difundo Matias Pascal, translated by R. Cansino-Assens, an edition which was reprinted in other Hispanic countries from Mexico to Chile). In fact the description of Fulano's journey across the nocturnal city of Toledo to reach the waters of the Tajo River is almost identical to the description of Adriano Meirs crossing Rome by night, also in search of the waters of the Tiber River. Alfau's Toledo and Pirandello's Rome have the same face: in their reality Fulano and Adriano Meirs move like foreigners and mannequins; this reality creates for them frights, horrors, and nightmares; it appears to them at times lugubrious, suffocating, fantastic, and mysterious. It is a reality that in addition to recalling a mythical past, be it the glorious past of the Renaissance Toledo or that of the antiquity of Rome, intensifies the reflections of the two voyagers, and in which they gradually lose themselves and their identities. Pirandello and Alfau both employ images of the body and its shadow to depict the climax of the crises of their respective protagonists.

Once Fulano and Adriano Meirs arrive at their destinations, one upon a bridge over the Tajo and the other upon a bridge over the Tiber, they ritualistically prepare themselves for the fake suicide. The authors in the depiction of this suicide magnify images of the protagonists' suspicions of being caught in the act, of a note with a message, of identification documents, and of clothes (clothes which in Alfau will give birth to another masquerade of life).

After the simulated suicide, Mattia Pascal returns to Miragno and reincarnates himself as a nonexisting identity of "no one," since everybody there considers him already dead; this is why he humorously visits the tomb of his counterpart. Fulano brings himself to Madrid, but already during the train trip he begins to feel reincarnated in this identity of "no one," as is demonstrated by the encounter with his counterpart, the man who goes around dressed in his clothes and with his personality. (In "Identity," as in "The Necrophil," the theme of the individual death in life and the dialectic theme between death and life seem as cerebral as in Pirandello's works.) In Madrid, just as it occurs to Mattia Pascal regarding his apparent death in the Stia, Fulano learns about his suicide from reading the newspaper, and realizes that his new identity (as occurred to Mattia Pascal upon metamorphosing into Adriano Miers) results not in liberty but in alienation, suffocation, and annihilation. When he searches for the author Alfau and finds him, he laments in a Pirandellian way for a life even more insignificant than his already insignificant life of before, and wishes to have neither a life of man nor a life of character. Then he attacks Alfau with almost the same violent intensity, rebellion, anger, and protest of Dr. Fileno, "il petulante," and other figures who assault Pirandello. Thus, Fulano, as do the "petulante" and others confronting Pirandello, opens his writer's conscience and makes him understand his tragedy. But the refusal of Fulano culminates when, learning of his inability to recuperate his first identity (instead at the end partially recuperated by Mattia Pascal at Miragno where he continues to live as the one that "was"), he returns to the bridge in Toledo to commit the real suicide. In a Pirandellian way, therefore, as this situation unfolds, Alfau gives birth to the "character," creates/writes his story.

In "A Character" Alfau continues to use and transgress Pirandellian methods of meta-creation. As in Pirandello's "Personaggi," "Colloqui coi personaggi," or Six Characters, here Alfau, as soon as he sits down at the table to write the story he has in his mind, becomes aware that the characters rebel against him; they take his hand, and he becomes their instrument, establishing a profound dialectic between characters and author, one of acceptance and repudiation. The same thing occurs when Alfau starts to write the story of Gaston Bejarano, a rebel who wants to do things in his own way. Like Pirandello's Dr. Fileno, he places himself in the forefront above everyone else. Gaston behaves this way because he already feels fixated as a "principal character." In fact, he stops Alfau from narrating his short story in the third person, or rather, in a Pirandellian manner he blocks and repudiates him in order to make himself become the narrator in the first person. Alfau, turning upside down the motives of his short story "Identity" and of the Pirandellian inspiration, makes us understand that the tragedy of Gaston is the tragedy of a "character" who does not want to be a "character." Gaston is completely fixed in artistic form, but in it he does not perceive nor find himself, and does not love it because he "loves reality too much." In Pirandellian-like fashion, he does everything he can to seem human. The love relationship with Maria Luisa Baez (a prostitute elevated to a symbol of a complex reality) is a metaphor for the profound drive to become "human" and "real"; but a drive not free of doubts, of contradictions, and of reflections of Pirandellian types. At times he thinks that Baez has entered his "world of imagination," that his lover, like himself, is "nothing but a character." In other words, the oscillations between feeling at times like a character and at times like a human person create a dialectic similar to the one created by the contrast between the characters and the actors in Pirandello's Six Characters and in Each in His Own Way. These oscillations allow Alfan to revisit the complex Pirandellian theme of life that flows and the artistic form which fixes it, crystallizes it, and kills it, and the theme of reality which goes beyond the "creative fantasy," concepts that are at the core of Each in His Own Way and other Pirandello works. Therefore, like Pirandello's characters, Gaston incorporates, symbolizes, and expresses the relation between character and human being, between art and life, between fantasy and reality. He discusses it, even with Pirandellian tones:

For that which is reality for humans is a hallucination for a character. Characters have visions of true life - they dream reality and then they are lost.

And this is my predicament. Here I am: a character who has stepped past the edge of the paper and plunged into the abyss of reality, who now cannot go back to his own world.

Like Pirandello's characters, Gaston Bejarano does not find himself in everyday reality. Therefore, to return to his artistic world, to be a "character" like Dr. Fileno and other Pirandellian individuals, he supplicates Alfau to again take up the narration of his story from the beginning to the end. Alfau, with meta-creative techniques, as Pirandello does in "Risposta" and in other meta-stories, while reproaching Gaston, attempts to give order and logic to his disorganized story. In other words, Alfau tries to complete its plot by using the Pirandellian technique of depicting "apparent chaos" (Six Characters, Questa sera si recita a soggeto, The Mountain Giants, Sogno (ma forse no), "Una Vita") and by insisting upon Gaston's past, his dreams, his relations with the family, his incest with his sister (which, as in Pirandello's Six Characters, "Zia Michelina," "Superior stabat lupus," and other narratives, is described with the tools of connotation). Alfau also comments upon the complexity of human behavior of the characters, who, like many Pirandellian characters, possess two or more personalities, or better, an identity elusive and constantly changing, including Gaston Bejarano, who becomes El Cogete, or Maria Luisa Baez, who splits herself into Lunarito, Carmen, Carmela, a waitress and a nun, a lover and a child, etc.

The idea that a character possesses more than one personality is at the center of other short stories/chapters of Locos. And in many of them it is portrayed through a dimension of Pirandellian humor, a kind of humor greatly inclined to create not the comic, which amuses and makes one laugh, but rather the contrary of things, the reflection which investigates the absurdities of life, @capturing its essence to break it apart, to unmask it, and to criticize it.

In "The Beggar" Garcia is a beggar who one day decides to abandon this life, and therefore this personality, to live the life of a man who earns his living honestly. However, before he will assume the work promised him and receive his first paycheck, a few months will have to pass. Meanwhile, still finding himself as a derelict/beggar, he unknowingly gives to another beggar a golden coin worth twenty-five pesatas. As soon as he realizes this he begins to search for the other beggar, Laureano Baez. He goes to find him at his house. At this moment Alfau's humor becomes very colorful, because it describes Baez's house as if it were that of a nobleman and he himself as an individual well-educated, elegant, cordial, an understanding, loving, magnanimous gentleman who is embarrassed to have caused difficulties for Garcia. Baez orders his maid to bring out the bag of money which holds his daily earnings and returns the golden coin to Garcia. Alfau's humor bursts into the grotesque, into the paradoxical, into satire, and encompasses even a black irony, especially when the two beggars, while having a luxurious dinner, depict themselves as faces of the same coin, with reciprocal sentiments of acquiescence, of indulgence, of brotherly love. Thus, they burst out crying not only for this identity of feelings but also for the wine they have drunk. From this cry evolves the ridicule of all social classes, the government and their representatives. Now the humorous contrast between the characters' actions sharpens: Baez becomes the ideal father, politician, state, the protector who Franciscan-like helps those in need in a corrupt and decadent society, the wealthy professional mendicant who dispenses charity to elevate others from misery. Here Alfau picks up humorous images and actions used in the opening of the narration to effectively unite the extremes of the short story, a technique already mastered by Pirandello ("Sole e ombra," "Il professor Terremoto"). The humorous substance in this story emphasizes the Pirandellian philosophy "that life is full of infinite absurdities, which, strangely enough, do not even need to appear plausible since they are true."

The humorous intrigue, constantly underscoring this philosophy, is dear to Alfau even in the short story/chapter "The Wallet." As the city of Madrid is struck by a blackout, a police convention dealing with the problem of criminality overlaps with a convention of criminals dealing with the problem of how to continue to perform their criminal work. Meanwhile they are also crippling the city with thefts, burglaries, and all sorts of crimes. As these two conventions, comically opposite and parallel, take place, the police chief, Benito Calinez, ignores everything, even the serious complaints of the citizens, and is at a casino enjoying himself, gambling and drinking. Even the portrait of his physical appearance is similar to the one of many typical Pirandellian characters ("Acqua amar," "Un matrimonio ideale"); it is a portrait which essentially fluctuates between the ridiculous, the grotesque, and the humorous. The humor intensifies by means of exaggeration from the moment the others make fun of him and tease him. In the casino, Baez exposes himself as a grotesque character, similar to many of Pirandello's characters ("Un invito a tavola," "I galleti del bottaio," "Ammicissimi"). This is especially evident when he gives attention to a nephew, Pepe, recently returned from England, telling him about the help, even with large sums of money, given to his brother, Gaston/El Gogete/El Diamante, who never wanted to work, and who for a long time has been living on the wrong side of the law.

Alfau's humor is rich in connotations and in moral substance, like the Pirandellian suggestion that Benito is not able to stop the wave of social evil penetrating his family, and that he is in reality only an apparent representative of justice, one who is out of touch. This humor becomes dramatic once Pepe and Benito, having left the casino and become separated, are each assaulted and robbed. But only Pepe is able to capture his robber, and retrieves a wallet which is not his. The following morning he returns it to his uncle Benito. When Benito discovers that the wallet is his own, he wants to knew how his nephew recovered it. Thus, Alfau permits Pepe to depict himself in his uncle's eyes as a kind of Sherlock Holmes detective. The humor of their dialogue is placated when someone delivers to the chief a package containing Pepe's wallet and a note signed by Gaston asking pardon for having robbed his brother - an act intended to desecrate the decadence of Spanish society.

In fact, in many aspects the Spain of Alfau resembles the Sicily of Pirandello, especially as a land full of contradiction, corruption, crises, abnormalities, strangeness, and existential absurdities, a land in which one uses bodily gestures to express complex meanings - many are the Alfau and Pirandello characters who express themselves with body language and gestures; and a land which is populated by characters possessing a temperament more or less intellectual, sophistic, rebellious, and picaresque, as is the temperament of the typical Pirandellian character, such as Mattia Pascal.

Like Pirandello's gallery of characters, Alfau's creatures have the ability to become actors; they can recite and wear many masks revealing themselves as bizarre and mad. Starting from the tide of the work, Locos, and its setting in the Cafe de los Locos, the motive of madness is modeled upon the comic Pirandellian representation of a sage individual, capable of seeing things with "other eyes" and dissecting the ideas that others have about these things, as in the autobiographical short story/chapter "Spring," which concludes Locos. Here, the poet Garcia, obsessed with the coming of spring (always a metaphor for seeing into the "life of things"), enters, like Henry IV, the labyrinthine world of madness. Henry IV and Garcia represent the dramatic contrast between reason and madness, between everything that is logical and everything that is illogical. However, they always are solid emblems of wisdom. The cause of their anomalous existence is the profound "thinking" about the strange irony of life. Both of them prefer to live in the world of madness in order to forget their existential experience, life. As happens with Henry IV and other mad Pirandellian characters, even when Garcia does not commit grotesque actions and is in a lucid mental state, others are always ready to make fun of him and classify him as crazy. Garcia's insane asylum metaphorically is Henry's castle: Garcia and Henry are images of a profound psychological complexity which reveal the abilities of their authors to lyrically excavate the darkest parts of our conscience.
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Title Annotation:Georges Perec/Felipe Alfau; Luigi Pirandello
Author:Zangrilli, Franco
Publication:The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Date:Mar 22, 1993
Previous Article:Aliens, aliases, and alibis: Alfau's 'Locos' as a metaphysical detective story.
Next Article:The power of 'Chromos.' (Georges Perec/Felipe Alfau)

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