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Ritornare a Tilgher: Bergsonian themes and the human condition in the Notebooks of Serafino Gubbio, Cinematograph Operator.

Since its appearance in 1922, Adriano Tilgher's criticai assessment of Luigi Pirandello has been evaluated in a negative light, especially its categories of vita and forma,--which Tilgher borrowed from Pirandello himself, specifically from the short story La carriola--considered as nothing more than abstract philosophizing and ultimately held responsible for the drying up of Pirandello's inspiration. Vita and forma were generically reduced by the vast majority of Italian critics, especially those valuing Croce's idea of art as lyrical intuition, to the camouflaging Pirandello's characters were forced to adopt to fit into the social fabric, thereby losing their metaphysical charge. In fact, when properly interpreted in the light of Henri Bergson's vitalist philosophy, vita and forma prove to be key concepts in the restoration of Pirandello to the canon of the European avant-garde. After a survey of some of the comments made by Italian scholars on the role of Adriano Tilgher's criticism, the article attempts to recognize his importance as the first critic to provide an exhaustive interpretation of Pirandello's thought. Finally, the paper will try to explore the novel Notebooks of Serafino Gubbio, Cinematograph Operator as a fruitful application of such principles.


Luigi Pirandello's art is a gallery of extroflected states of the spirit stumbling against the fallacious condensation operated in human consciousness; an aesthetic recollection of the obstacles put in front of man's creative activity; and finally, a phenomenology of life as an indomitable animating principle whose crystallized forms always reveal their nature of pernicious compromises in a perennial, ultimate "losing effort" against the flux of existence. Those were the cruxes of Pirandello's vision nailed by Adriano Tilgher with the now infamous conceptual synthesis of vita and forma, dismissively treated as an incomplete systemization that would not only fail to convey the aesthetic kernel of the Sicilian writer but would also mislead Pirandello himself and ultimately take him to the mannered paths of cheap pirandellismo, a vacuous form of philosophizing under the frail disguise of artistic appearance. Umberto Mariani demonstrated how Pirandello's ecriture was hinged around the life-form dialectics since Ilfu Mattia Pascal, and how Tilgher may have very well extrapolated those categories from the short story La carriola, where we can find a faithful formulation of Pirandello's core thought. La carriola is the story of a successful lawyer and law professor who is also a husband, a father and a well respected citizen: after returning from a trip to Perugia and reading his name on the plaque outside his door, the protagonist realizes how suffocating the strictures he tolerates --about the way he dresses, his demeanor, appearance, and behavior--are when compared with the futility of his condition. Then, the only act of truth be can perform in order not to be lethally oppressed by life's useless masquerading is to play la carriola with the terrified house dog: the apparent absurdity of the event is a way to reconnect to the irrational and machinistic essence of existence. According to Mariani, Tilgher has carried out a borderline plagiarization of Pirandello--quoting from La carriola in his "On the Alleged Indebtedness of Pirandello to Adriano Tilgher," Mariani underscores the passage "La forma che si e data o che gli altri gli hanno data," which is "exactly the expression Tilgher used five years later (152). Furthermore, the life-form struggle can be reduced to an "opposition, that plagues every life conscious enough to be called a human life, between the individual's aspiration to true freedom [...] and society's overwhelming tendency to set limits to those aspirations, to pressure the individual to conform, to integrate, to accept its norms, its behavioral codes, its rules, its laws" (149). However, by salvaging Tilgher as the disciple of Henri Bergson and positioning the key concepts of vita and forma in a Bergsonian system by disengaging the "freedom" that Pirandellian characters are striving to achieve from a strictly naturalistic standpoint, Pirandello's art emerges as a shattering force consistent with the contemporary European avant-garde and contiguous with Bergson's philosophy of life. My argument is that Adriano Tilgher's critical systematization of Pirandello's core motifs went well beyond the recognition of a generic social critique and should be acknowledged as an effort to disengage Pirandello's criticism from the dangers of humanistic, historical and post-verist perspectives.

The Pirandello-Bergson connection obviously starts from both being students of humor, its conceptual strategies and qualitative implications in the social fabric and beyond. Stumbling upon the blind and obtuse resistance of matter, the dynamic urgency of life in its multiform instances, was at the heart of Henri Bergson's Le rire. Essai sur la signification du comique. Bergson insists on the social function of laughter as a sort of statutory punishment a community inflicts on itself to remind its members of the troublesome path to a fulfilling spiritual life: laughter is elicited by a mechanized image of human behavior, when the lofty aspirations of a tragic soul are crystallized in the mechanic repetitions of a machine. But the French philosopher does not limit its excursion into caricature and comedy to a sociological and ultimately positivist assessment of the hurdles arbitrarily thrown at humanity. He magnifies the scope of the inquiry and introduces the nature of laughter into a metaphysics of the spirit, grounded into the "gracious flight" of imagination:
   En resume, quelle que soit la doctrine a laquelle notre raison se
   rallie, notre imagination asa philosophie bien arretee : dans toute
   forme humaine elle apercoit l'effort d'une ame qui faconne la
   matiere, ame infiniment souple, eternellement mobile, soustraite a
   la pesanteur parce que ce n'est pas la terre qui l'attire. De sa
   legerete ailee cette ame communique quelque chose au corps qu'elle
   anime : l'immaterialite qui passe ainsi dans la matiere est ce
   qu'on appelle la grace. Mais la matiere resiste et s'obstine. Elle
   tire a elle, elle voudrait convertir a sa propre inertie et faire
   degenerer en automatisme l'activite toujours en eveil de ce
   principe superieur. Elle voudrait fixer les mouvements
   intelligemment varies du corps en plis stupidement contractes,
   solidifier en grimaces durables les expressions mouvantes de la
   physionomie, imprimer enfin a toute la personne une attitude telle
   qu'elle paraisse enfoncee et absorbee dans la materialite de
   quelque occupation mecanique au lieu de se renouveler sans cesse au
   contact d'un ideal vivant ... Nous allons passer du comique des
   formes a celui des gestes et des mouvements (19-20).

Thus, the dead forms of existence provoke in man the bitter laughter of self-recognition in the mechanized, aimless strolling of an automaton: it is a tool given to human kind capable of breaking a crack in a somnolent psyche to let the unconscious emerge and rupture a fictitious order. Such principles are faithfully translated into Pirandello's famous essay on humor, dedicated to the memory of the "late" Mattia Pascal, the librarian who in his eponymous novel puts flowers on his own tomb. Pirandello's insistence on humor as a naturally ingrained mechanism elevates the "perception of the opposite" to an a-historical status where social conventions and convenient hypocrisies, "schemi funzionali e limitazioni arbitrarie del continuo" (Luisetti 32) are stripped of their contingent influence. Just like Pirandello was familiar with German expressionism, (1) probably through his proximity with other playwriters such as Pier Maria Rosso di San Secondo, Federigo Tozzi and Arnaldo Fratelli and other collaborators of the journal "Il messaggero verde," the way Bergson's epistemological crisis resonates in Pirandello's works postulates, either by direct knowledge or spontaneous germination, a profound consonance. The most illustrious follower of Henri Bergson in Italy, Adriano Tilgher, enjoys a contradictory position in the history of the criticism of Luigi Pirandello, the use of his conceptual approach considered dubious at best if not stifling and pernicious. In fact, no matter how harshly scholars tried to dismiss or plainly repress bis famous interpretation of the Sicilian writer around the concepts of vita and forma, his theoretical system returns disguised in different ways when critics try to categorize Pirandello's thought. Generally speaking, the reaction to Tilgher's remarks about the portrayal of life as something that cannot be channeled into solidified forms is twofold and ambiguous, and both agreement and rejection can be found in the critica literature. Teachers at the high school level can focus on the critique, extrapolating the social camouflage required by bourgeois decorum and modern conventions. Scholars find the interpretation unsatisfactory but, at the same time, realize that it represents an excellent starting point from which to tackle more demanding and urgent theoretical issues. In other words, because Tilgher's concept is taught ad nauseam to every Italian high school student who has to take an exam on Pirandello, we could use a school metaphor and say that, just like high school, for years it only served as an introduction to more serious matters, the university and aristocracy of Pirandello criticism.

At the base of the problem with the concepts of vita and forma is a misrecognition of Tilgher's intentions: the critic was not trying to underpin the thought of Pirandello, as though he had perceived structural weaknesses, with a conceptual system or, worse, with a pseudo-philosophy. The meritorious critical enterprise he undertook was to make the scholarly discussion around the Sicilian writer less provincial and, by enlarging the scope of the theoretical approach, to insert Pirandello into a European elite of thinkers and artistic innovators, just like he did in 1923 with Le voci del tempo, a collection of profiles of contemporary writers and philosophers in which Pirandello finds a place next to Bergson, Miguel de Unamuno and G.B. Shaw, among others. In his fundamental Studi sul teatro contemporaneo, Tilgher interprets Pirandello's genius as a metaphysical rendition in theater of George Simmel's vibrant analysis of Pirandello's theater, which is itself a manifesto of Bergsonian vitalism and pictorial avant-garde conducted with the same conceptual instrumentation, to the point that his icastic visualizations recall the paintings of Umberto Boccioni:
   In questa intuizione del mondo e della vita non c'e piu posto pel
   concetto del carattere, che e a base della letteratura psicologica
   contemporanea, come cioe qualcosa di compatto e di omogeneo ...
   Quella che noi crediamo la stabile personalita di un individuo non
   e che una fra le indefinite personalita dilui che provvisoriamente
   e riuscita avere il sopravvento sulle altre che o sono state e non
   sono piu o potrebbero essere e non sono ancora, ma che sotto di
   essa sonnecchiano, sempre pronte a rivoltarsi, a rompere il giogo,
   ad affiorare alla luce. Nell'intimo
   di ogni umana creatura cova un caos informe e contraddittorio; e il
   tema di gran parte della produzione pirandelliana e dato dalle
   apparizioni dagli scarti dagli urti dalle irruzioni dagli scoppi
   dalle esplosioni improvvise di queste personalita latenti contro la
   personalita provvisoriamente dominante. La vita psicologica che in
   altri scrittori si svolge secondo un processo lento uniforme
   graduale e che, se anche entra nel dramma e nel contrasto, non e in
   se stessa, essenzialmente, naturalmente, dramma e contrasto, in
   Pirandello ha per legge di procedere attraverso sussulti schianti
   balzi lacerazioni continue (170-171). (In this intuition of the
   world and of life there is no place for the concept of character,
   which is the foundation of contemporary psychological literature,
   as something whole and homogeneous ... That which we think is the
   stable personality of an individual is just one among his
   indefinite personalities that temporarily managed to get the upper
   hand over the others that have been and are not anymore or could be
   and are not yet but lie dormant below, always ready to rebel, to
   break the yoke, to come to light. Deep down in every human creature
   brews contradictory and formless chaos; and for the most part of
   Pirandello's production the theme is given by the breaking through,
   the gaps, the collisions, the irruptions, the sudden outbursts of
   such dormant personalities against the temporarily dominating
   personality. Psychological life that in other writers unfolds
   according a slow, uniform and gradual process and which is not
   tragedy and conflict in itself even when it breaks into the tragedy
   and the conflict in Pirandello is bound to advance through
   continuous shocks, jumps, tears and crashes.)

Later, Tilgher echoes the anti-Darwin, anti-fideistic Bergson of Creative Evolution, and in particular the concept of life as a carsic river that is incapable of containing the past and impetuously re-emerges at different stages:
   Non soltanto nella realta profonda gl'individui rimangono
   incomunicabili come monadi senza porte ne finestre attraverso le
   quali commerciare: nell'interno di ciascun individuo ogni atto di
   vita e irripetibile e incomunicabile: vivo e percio, per
   l'individuo che vi si attua, vero e certo nell'atto in cui si pone
   in essere, tosto che la Vita e passata oltre e l'individuo vi
   ritorna su col pensiero, gli appare impenetrabile e opaco, freddo e
   oscuro; egli non vi si ritrova ne vi si riconosce piu, non lo sente
   piu come suo (176). (In deep reality individuals are not only
   incapable of communicate like monads without doors or windows
   through which put an exchange into effect: inside every individual
   each act of life is unique and incommunicable: it is alive and
   therefore, for the individual who actualizes himself in it, true
   and certain with the act where it comes into being, as soon as Life
   progressed and the individual looks back, [each act] seems to him
   impenetrable and obscure, he neither finds nor recognizes himself
   in it, he does not perceives the act as his own.)

Another open question is how conscious was the effort carried out by the scholar in his critical enterprise. Tilgher was re-adjusting his own conceptual system in the anti-positivist atmosphere of the early twentieth century. Years after his first essay on Pirandello, Tilgher would haughtily--and unfoundedly, as Mariani demonstrated--lay claim to the intellectual property of the vita and forma conceptualization, indicating that his analysis went beyond its original purpose and opened up more problems than the ones it might have clarified:
   La formula oggi, a diciotto anni di distanza dalla pubblicazione
   del mio saggio, e diventata ormai una formulata, che si ripete da
   tutti dimenticando, o fingendo di dimenticare, colui che la formulo
   per primo.... Quella formula non si trova affatto nelle opere di
   Pirandello anteriori al mio saggio (1922), e ad inventaria in quei
   termini fui proprio e solo io. Naturalmente non la cavai dal nulla;
   se l'inventai in quei termini, adattando al mondo di Pirandello la
   terminologia filosofica di Georg Simmel, fu perche mi parve ... che
   quei termini fossero eccellenti a caratterizzare in modo sintetico
   e perspicuo il centro del mondo pirandelliano; ... ma, insomma, la
   formula come tale e mia e non e per niente affatto di Pirandello, e
   mio il merito, o demerito, di avere in essa additato il centro, il
   perno, l'asse della intuizione pirandelliana della vita. Quella
   formula, Pirandello l'adotto e la fece sua (in Sciascia 32-33).
   (This formula, after eighteen years my essay was published, has now
   become a pseudo-formula repeated by everyone, forgetting or
   pretending to forget the first who coined it ... That formula
   cannot be found in Pirandello's works written before my essay of
   1922, and I was the one and only to come up with that formulation.
   Obviously I did not conjure it up; if I invented it in such terms,
   adjusting the philosophical terminology of Georg Simmel it was
   because it seemed to me that those terms would perfectly
   characterize the core of Pirandello's world in synthetic and
   perspicuous fashion; ... but the formula as such is mine and not ar
   all Pirandello's, and mine is the merit or demerit of pinpointing
   the center, the pivot, the axis of Pirandello's intuition of life
   through it. Pirandello embraced and appropriated that formula.

Leonardo Sciascia would also caution against the pretension of finding a philosopher in Pirandello. Taking a cue from Benedetto Croce's dismissal of Pirandello as an expositor of philosophical trinkets, Sciascia paradoxically matches him with Tilgher as one of the culprits in striving at all costs to fasten a system, or lack of it, to Pirandello's works. In other words, when trying to elucidate Pirandello, there is no use in playing with philosophy as though he developed his poetics in a cultural vacuum. But the fundamental misinterpretation of Tilgher's categories as an "original sin" in Pirandello's criticism was brilliantly detected by Renato Barilli. Talking about how this basic miscommunication has occurred ever since, and speculating about Pirandello's place among the thinkers attempting to find a third way after materialism and spiritualism, he states:
   Non dobbiamo neppure dimenticare, accanto alle indispensabili
   citazioni dei "grandi" di questo ciclo culturale (Bergson, Husserl,
   Dewey ecc.), il forte e acuto Tilgher, vittima principale della
   scarsa preparazione filosofica dei nostri critici letterari--mentre
   P.[irandello] era un pensatore, in forme proprie, ben piu robusto
   di tutti loro, e quindi portato all'incontro con Tilgher, incontro
   nient'affatto forzato (Barilli 120). (Together with the 'big' names
   ofthis cultural cycle (Bergson, Husserl, Dewey ecc.) we should not
   forget to mention the solid and sharp Tilgher, the main victim of
   the poor philosophical grounding of our literary critics. In his
   own fashion, Pirandello was a thinker a lot sounder than all of
   them, and therefore quite ready to spontaneously encounter

As mentioned, the core of thought that links Pirandello and Tilgher lies in the philosophy of Henri Bergson, leading to the mistake that literary critics "with poor philosophical grounding" made by dismissing Tilgher: the categories discovered by Tilgher in Pirandello's body of works were generally treated by our "critici letterari senza preparazione filosofica" as historical and humanistic, reduced to the umpteenth, indistinct variation of the individual's struggle for self-definition and individuation or, even worse, to the individual-against-society cliche. Tilgher himself was very explicit in defining "society" as a presence that only seldom would emerge as an agent in the vita versus forma conflict and would nail a character to a mask that is impossible to remove, like Chiarchiaro--held by everybody as a "Jonah" --in the short story La patente. As Fiora A. Bassanese summarizes:
   [P]irandello borrows his concept of the fluidity, essential
   evanescence, and changeability of life and emotion from Bergson,
   who also suggests that reason, or intellect, is used to fix life by
   proposing immutable forms that necessarily stem its flow. Reality,
   Bergson argues, cannot be grasped by the intellect because the
   universe is constantly changing while mental concepts are fixed.
   Pirandello would artistically render such fixed forms as roles,
   masks, and social definitions that suffocate individual
   authenticity and freedom (8).

But even though Pirandello's characters are very ordinary men dealing with petty issues and menial jobs, the aspect of social critique is still very marginal. By focusing on the metaphysical rather than the social, Tilgher proved to be keener--and bolder, exposing an intellectual nucleus in Pirandello's work that places the Sicilian writer among artists like Franz Kafka and Arthur Rimbaud.

Sometimes the dismissal is even more generic but still very virulent, and the abused terms of vita and forma must simply be forgotten, annihilated. They can be used only to characterize the most abstruse and convoluted works, almost a parody of the "real" Pirandello, as Roberto Alonge declares when talking about the last phase of the Pirandellian production:
   Nasce cosi l'estrema produzione pirandelliana, che corre grosso
   modo dal '25 sino alla morte dell'autore, caratterizzata--accanto
   al prolungarsi di una attivita teatrale sempre piu stanca e ormai
   complicata, dopo l'intervento critico dei Tilgher, dal fenomeno del
   cosiddetto pirandellismo--dal ritorno allo strumento formale della
   narrativa: dove non conta pero, tanto il romanzo, l'ultimo modesto
   romanzo Uno, nessuno e centomila (1924) intriso di velleita
   filosofeggianti che coprono l'indecisione tra passato e futuro, fra
   il trattamento ancora razionale della tematica alto borghese del
   teatro [...] e la risoluzione delle lacerazioni sociali nei termini
   irrazionalistici e mitici che saranno dell'ultima produzione
   pirandelliana (Alonge 275). (This is the birth of the late
   Pirandello, roughly going from 1925 until the death of writer,
   characterized by the return of narrative as its formal device
   together with a tired theatrical production and also complicated,
   after Tilgher's article, by the phenomenon called pirandellismo.
   However, the last and mediocre novel Uno, nessuno e centomila does
   not have a prominent place, imbued with pseudo-philosophical
   abstrusities covering the hesitation between past and future,
   between the rational treatment of bourgeois subjects for the
   theater and the resolution of social lacerations in irrational
   terms, peculiar to the late Pirandellian production.)

Thus, after dismissing any philosophical strength in Pirandello, Alonge basically blames Tilgher for the unfortunate outcome of the late Pirandello and pans the concepts of vita and forma as mechanical applications of an obscure and overambitious philosophy with shaky foundations, if any at all.

Another scholar who tried a thorough analysis of the Tilgher--Pirandello relationship and its many ups and downs is Gaspare Giudice. Giudice documented the initial enthusiasm on Pirandello's side when he appro-priated Tilgher's conceptualization, only to be dismissed later when Tilgher himself mocked Pirandello's infatuation with labyrinthine plots and erratic character development. But however well-documented Giudice's analysis is, he cannot distance himself from the main critical paradigm, calling Tilgher a malo consigliere, an "evil advisor" (386) and accusing his interpretation of essentially impoverishing the art of Pirandello, which, in his words, was written without "philosophical premeditation" (387). Giudice recognizes that the more "systemic" statements made by Pirandello were already a common property among the literary community, and he names Schopenauer, Bergson, Dilthey and Simmel as the most obvious influences. The problem undermining his negative evaluation of Tilgher is a general allergy to philosophical implications, as we saw in Barilli's words, perceived as a depauperization of the aesthetic value and a disrupting force detrimental to the "real art." It is easy to argue that Croce's aesthetics, and especially his idea of art as a lyrical intuition, is behind such a mis-recognition.
   To a different extent, we can say that the Pirandello--Bergson
   relationship experienced the same problems of ambiguity as the
   Pirandello--Tilgher one; i.e., a general acceptance and a
   recognized tie between some of their ideas but without a thorough,
   close examination of the Bergsonian theories' real ability to
   illuminate some aspects of Pirandello's philosophy. Not
   surprisingly, Barilli is the first who attempted, albeit not
   systematically, to compare situations extracted from novels and
   plays with some of the concepts that are the supporting structure
   of Bergson's thought. In this passage, worthy of being quoted
   almost in its entirety, the original comments of Tilgher find their
   truest application, thanks to the well-known concept of durance and
   its applicability to the Sicilian writer:

   L'organicita cui [Pirandello] punta e quella di un'attivita
   strutturante che gioca sistematicamente sul diverso,
   sull'accostamento di casi lontani, sulla possibilita di associare
   cio che in base alle leggi naturali non dovrebbe essere
   associabile. La sua organicita insomma appare in tutto e per tutto
   "omologa" alla "durata" bergsoniana: come quella, consiste in un
   flusso ove parti eterogenee si compenetrano, superano attriti e
   contrasti nella pienezza di un Tutto. II nesso strutturale, la
   stretta implicazione che lega le parti tra loro e nello stesso
   tempo le articola in un andamento assai chiaroscurato, funziona
   come da <collante> per tenere unito cio che altrimenti si
   disperederebbe, o non resisterebbe al ritomo in forze degli
   interessi quotidiani (Barilli 107). (The organicity Pirandel
   lo is aiming at is that of a structuring action systematically
   playing with difference, with the matching of distant situations,
   with the possibility of associating that which, according to
   natural laws should not be associable. His organicity seems
   completely 'analogous' with Bergson's 'durance:' similarly to the
   latter, it consists of a flux where heterogeneous parts
   interpenetrate each other, overcome conflicts and contracts in the
   fullness or a Whole. The structuring nexus, the tight implication
   connecting the parts between them and at the same time articulating
   them in a progression with chiaroscuro tones works as 'glue'
   keeping together that which would otherwise disperse, or would not
   withstand the powerful return of everyday instances.)

The authoritativeness of this interpretation can be easily confirmed by a specific exposition of Bergson's philosophy. From the very beginning, commentators on Bergson have shown little hesitation in assuming durance as a pervasive phenomenon, almost a synonym for existence itself. As F. C. T. Moore writes in Bergson: Thinking Backwards: "The flow of time of which we are aware at the level of individual consciousness, that flow which is misrepresented when we analyse it perforce into components, becomes the model for life itself" (9). Furthermore, the art of Pirandello serves also as a formidable example in deconstructing the "phase two" of Bergson's vital impulse; i.e., the constitution of men into societies. The famous concept of elan vital or vital impulse, "a rising current, here blocked and swirling in eddies, there forcing its way victoriously past the obstacles on its path," (Pilkington 19) is stripped by Pirandello of its immediate biological implications and reduced to the futility of moral imperatives and obligations.

The protagonist of the Notebooks of Serafino Gubbio, the novel Pirandello wrote in 1925 about a cinema operator who loses his speech and reduces himself to a machine whose only function is to turn the handle of the camera, undergoes the same ordeal as many others Pirandellian characters. These characters, as Manuela Gieri points out in her book Strategies of Subversion, an interpretation of the history of Italian film based on the Pirandellian concept of humor, struggle with their identity because they are at the same time the subject and object of their own act of enunciation. Such a description could serve as ala effective summary of words we find in Bergson's Time and Free Will: "The greater part of the time we live outside ourselves, hardly perceiving anything of ourselves bur our own ghost, a colourless shadow which pure duration projects into homogelaeous space. Hence our life unfolds in space rather than in time; we live for the external world rather than for ourselves; we speak rather than think; we 'are acted' rather than act ourselves" (231). The epilogue of the Notebooks, with its protagonist reduced to a mechanical eye, can thus be interpreted as an act of determination: the deliberate pursuit of a freer, creative life liberated from the reification of consciousness and geared towards a pure flux of subjectivity.

The Notebooks of Serafino Gubbio seem modeled around another Bergsonian text, "The Cinematographical Mechanism of Thought and the Mechanistic Illusion," a chapter of Bergson's Creative Evolution that, in addition to Time and Free Will, can be fruitfully used to interpret the novel. The pathetic attempts of the characters to provide narratives to their lives mirror the artificial story-writing of early cinema as portrayed in the novel, and seem to provide an illustration of this Bergsonian passage:
   What is real is the continual change of form: form is only a
   snapshot view of a transition. Therefore, here again, our
   perception manages to solidify into discontinuous images the fluid
   continuity of the real (328).

Noting the similarities of life with durance, we are ready to go deeper into the problem of forms. As Barilli says, Pirandello is interested in those confrontational moments of multiplicity, which are the core of the Notebooks, when characters have to wear a face that plunges them into the feeling of the opposite. The path to awareness resembles the famous image of Bergson's inverted cone, whose point--symbolizing the present moment--flows horizontally on a surface representing external images in their material reality, whereas the volume of the cone holds the totality of our personal experiences. But how is it possible for the self to escape the prison of this seamless flow from one state to another, how is it possible for a memory to be actualized and emerge from the virtual state, for man to finally gel and become matter? The technical device is the well-known process of intuition, and I quote from one of the earliest commentaries on Bergson, McKellar Stewart's A Critical Exposition of Bergson's Philosophy:
   He [Bergson] is not thinking [...] of the passage of mind from
   premises to conclusion, of from particular fact to general law.
   However paradoxical it may sound, Bergson argues that these
   processes of deduction and induction, far from constituting the
   fundamental activity of the self, are due to a temporary
   interruption or negation of that activity. The activity which he
   has in view lies beyond the reach of intellect, for intellect is
   bur a means which it uses for its ends. Intuition alone can unlock
   its secrets. By an effort of deep introspection, an act of violent
   abstraction, in which thought, as that process is usually
   understood, is transcended, we must live our innermost life, and
   feel ourselves doing so. It is only in the rare and critical
   moments of free decision that our soul achieves its truly spiritual
   activity, and it is consequently only at such moments that
   opportunities for the application to the self of the method of
   intuition arise. Even when such opportunities occur, it is not
   everyone who can perform the act of deep introspection necessary
   for the apprehension of this almost intangible, fleeting reality

The Bergsonian terminology strikingly recurs also in commentators who do not give credit to the Tilgherian interpretation; "realta attuale," "teoria attualistica," "piramide incrinata da varie fratture e pericoli," evoking the cone of Matter and Memory and its corresponding "slices of life," are expressions used by Antonio Illiano in a generally critical introduction to Tilgher's ideas (48). By the same token, and even more strikingly, such expressions occur also when the critic belongs to a cultural atmosphere completely alien to Tilgher's exegesis. For example, in the same volume, when the contribution of Antonio Di Pietro is reviewed, the scholar's remarks on the Notebooks of Serafino Gubbio--the disappearance of the I, life as a sequence of cinematographical scenes--seem to paraphrase some passages of the essay on the cinematographical mechanism of thought. Not surprisingly immediately following the Tilgherian decimation in Illiano's book is a comment about Pirandello as a searcher for a third way after materialism and spiritualism, a school to which Bergson also belongs.

The method of intuition draws us much closer to Pirandello's "chamber of torture," as Giovanni Macchia called his book on Pirandello's theater. It is appropriate to turn again to Barilli and quote his comments on The Notebooks of Serafino Gubbio because they reinforce the validity of a Bergsonian interpretation and offer interesting ideas for further research:
   Si deve cosi riconoscere che Pirandello si aggancia saldamente al
   clima delle avanguardie, degli anni '20 cosi come degli anni '60,
   nello svolgere una poetica del cinema come "occhio", come regard,
   estraniante per il suo solo applicarsi, capace cioe di spremere le
   possibilita epifaniche insite in ogni situazione, a patto di
   bloccarla nel suo in se, di sospendere i fili che la legano agli
   scopi abituali regolanti i gesti che vi vengono compiuti (123). (It
   has to be acknowledged that Pirandello is firmly linked to the
   avant-garde of the 20s and of the 60s thanks to his poetics of
   cinema as 'eye,' as regard, estranging because of its very
   application, capable of squeezing the epiphanic potential out of
   every situation provided that it will be locked in its self and
   that the threads tying it to the habitual goals regulating the
   gestures occurring there are severed.)

Barilli understands the epiphanic nature of many of Pirandello's moments of crisis and revelation, with the definitive madness of Enrico IV being such a moment par excellence: it is not stretching theory too far if we associate such epiphanic recognitions to the Bergsonian notion of a violent intuition. It is a principle that influences the style of the novel as well. Why is the writing so dry and reluctant when describing Serafino's physical features, why does this character react only when confronting other people's failures? Because the entire novel is projected toward the final moment of intuition and actualization, in contrast to the virtuality of our human condition. The formal device chosen by Pirandello is a specific form of soliloquy, equating the representation of reality with the stream of thought, first analyzed by Marziano Guglielminetti as a variation from the canons of the naturalistic novel: in fact, with its emphasis on the faithfulness of the photographic image but at the same time with its realization of how perception is organized, the Notebooks can be considered the swan song of the Verga-style novel.

Giving credit to Barilli's words about Pirandello' s consonance with the avant-garde, another parallel we can draw is with the Futurist movement and the leap in quality discussed when mentioning the future nature of man, the attempt to completely rewrite his DNA and transform it into a posthuman hybrid, a pre-cyborg whose consciousness is partially distributed in a mechanized system. Again using Bergson of Matter and Memory as the trair d'union, the futurist dynamism can be interpreted as a state of things corresponding to duration, a disorderly multiplicity of immaterial states of consciousness; it is the flux of duration showing our immaterial consistency as a virtual fan of possibilities. The interpenetration of planes in the works of Boccioni and Balla closely resembles the Bergsonian cone where the virtual and simultaneous movement of time is cut by actualizing instants of contraction. It is a tendency that is more evident in the writings of Boccioni and Balla and not in the pure fetishization of the machine operated by Marinetti. In other words, Bergson and futurism are not taken into account for genealogical purposes but for the emphasis on the analogical interference of matter on man's ill-perceived totality. As Federico Luisetti wrote, Bergson is "una delle matrici profonde della cultura italiana dei Novecento, basti pensare ai Futurismo, a Pirandello e Gadda" (59): by the same token, the anti-machinic and anti-industrial critique of the Notebooks can only partially discover the subtleties of Pirandellian thought. Cinema in Pirandello, in fact, is not the outcome of a mechanized society; rather, it is the key to discovering a general truth in an era of mechanical reproduction, as the famous essay by Walter Benjamin affirms. One of the first scholars to realize the ambiguity of the writer's position was Alessandro Vettori, pointing to existential and religious motifs lurking under the shell of the pure and simple condemnation of cinema:
   If taken literally, Pirandello's critique of technology in Quaderni
   di Serafino Gubbio operatore offers an unmitigated condemnation of
   and an emblematic opposition to the cinematic medium, which is
   portrayed as a dehumanizing phenomenon subjugating and enslaving
   mankind, and draining its life. A deeper investigation into the
   existential arguments at the core of the novel, however, shows that
   its insistent opposition to the rising cinematographic world is
   mitigated by the paradoxically positive outcome of its effects on
   the protagonist (79).

But the outcome is not paradoxical because, simply put, Pirandello acknowledges the potential of the medium insofar as it is capable of showing man the senseless confusion of the world he lives in and, as Bassanese writes, "the passionate and irrational behavior of his peers" (70). Cinema can unmask the fiction of our consciousness, which organizes thought through an artificial process of selection and montage. In other words, it is not that cinema mystifies or deceives man because of some inherent properties of reification or dehumanization: no, it is the fictional narrative, the never ending mise-en-scene we arrange for our life that sometimes resembles the pulp and the camp of an absurd melodrama, whose purpolessness and senselessness we try to channel and stabilize into illusory forms. When he describes the illusory retreat of his friend Simone Pau, Serafino maintains that Simone is still immersed in that superfluity differentiating man from things: by poking fun at Simone's bucolic dream of isolation, Pirandello demonstrates how much more sophisticated than a life-form friction based on society constraints and "freedom" his vita and forma really are. Thus, freedom is not the realization of one's own self but a supreme act of self-determination in which man turns into an animal or a machine because he acknowledges that there is nothing to accomplish outside the complete identification between one's soul and the passions that overwhelm it; and freedom is not the delimitation of one's potential but a tension towards life as instable matter, like the frequencies and linee-forza in a futurist painting. Pirandello's superfluity has illustrious predecessors: it can be partly considered a Freudian sublimation through language, but also a Marxian differentiation obtained through words, the working tools elevating man above animals--in general, it is the spiritual dimension of man, the false connection to a higher reality that does not exist:
   la terra non e fatta tanto per gli uomini, quanto per le bestie.
   Perche le bestie hanno in se da natura solo quel tanto che loro
   basta ed e necessario per vivere nelle condizioni, a cui furono,
   ciascuna secondo la propria specie, ordinate; laddove gli uomini
   hanno in se un superfluo, che di continuo inutilmente li tormenta,
   non facendoli mai paghi di nessuna condizione e sempre lasciandoli
   incerti dei loro destino. Superfluo inesplicabile, chi per darsi
   uno sfogo crea nella natura un mondo fittizio, che ha senso e
   valore soltanto per essi, ma di cui pur essi medesimi non sanno e
   non possono mai contentarsi, cosicche senza posa smaniosamente lo
   mutano e rimutano, come quello che, essendo da loro stessi
   costruito per il bisogno di spiegare e sfogare un'attivita di cui
   non si vede ne il fine ne la ragione, accresce e complica sempre
   piu il loro tormento, allontanandoli da quelle semplici condizioni
   poste da natura alla vita su la terra, alle quail soltanto i bruti
   sanno restar fedeli e obbedienti (Pirandello, Quaderni, 9). (The
   earth was made not so much for mankind as for the animals. Because
   animals have in themselves by nature only so much as suffices them
   and is necessary for them to live in the conditions to which they
   were, each after its own kind, ordained; whereas men have in them a
   superfluity which constantly and vainly torments them, never making
   them satisfied with any conditions, and always leaving them
   uncertain of their destiny. An inexplicable superfluity, which, to
   afford itself an outlet, creates in nature an artificial world, a
   world that has a meaning and value for them alone, and yet one with
   which they themselves cannot ever be content, so that without pause
   they keep on frantically arranging and rearranging it, like a thing
   which, having been fashioned by themselves from a need to extend
   and relieve an activity of which they can see neither the end nor
   the reason, increases and complicates ever more and more their
   torments, carrying them farther from the simple conditions laid
   down by nature for life on this earth, conditions to which only
   dumb animals know how to remain faithful and obedient. (Pirandello,
   Shoot!, 13-14).

But it is a superfluity that cinema can easily chase away. (2) Following this passage, after mentioning that "brute men do not have any superfluity," Serafino pities the illusory religiosity of Simone, his misplaced sense of superiority: "Quanto al mio amico Simone Pau, il bello e questo" che crede d'essersi liberato d'ogni superfluo, riducendo ai minimo tutti i suoi bisogni, privandosi di tutte le comodita e vivendo come un lumacone ignudo. E non s'accorge che, proprio all'opposto, egli, cosi riducendosi, s'e annegato tutto nel superfluo, e piu non vive d'altro" (10). Simone wallows in superfluity because he obtusely rejects the machinic element of life, its connection with the vitalistic, brute drive of animals. From one standpoint, the Notebooks are a Bildungsroman: Serafino has to go through many stages, represented by the lunatic behaviors of Nestoroff, Nuti, and the Cavalena family, to finally dispossess himself of the superfluity, that "sciagurato superfluo che e pure in me e di cui per quasi tutto il giorno la mia professione mi condanna a esser privo" (31). But what is at this point seen as a condemnation, at the end ofthe novel will be a deliberate and welcomed choice, the victory of the actual over the virtual, the transformation into pure matter with no voice, no speech--something that was prefigured in the image of the wax statues (46) and in the fundamental concept of the illusion of movement, another Bergsonian theme that reminds us of the spatialization of time and of perception organized as a juxtaposition of snapshots.

As I have noted, following Serafino we notice the progressive detachment from his superfluity in a number of stages: dealing with Nestoroff's past (73), hinted by the death of the man with the violin, who underwent a similar moment of revelation when confronted by a mechanical pianola and not by a living piano player (74); describing the alienation effect provoked by the sight of the stars (105) and the frustration of Cavalena with his wife's little dog (a situation mindful of La carriola), again, expanding on life as elan vital and irrational impulse (117); finally, before the concluding episode in the cage, with the three decisive encounters with a wretched and miserable Nestoroff, full of bitter self contempt (139), with the rest of the Mirelli family, an apathic Duccella and an old and decrepit Nonna Rosa (149) both transfigured into religious fanatics, and with Nuti (169), where life is explicitly defined as a disease and there are Leopardian hints of cosmic poetry with the image of the stars and the necessity of a human brotherhood.

At the end of the novel, silence comes as salvation, and the opposition to language is an opposition to spirit and illusory, lofty ideals, the final reconnection of a more natural dimension of life. Quoting again from Bassanese, the scholar is very convincing when defining the Notebooks as a paradigmatic work whose "fictional characters repeatedly express the futility of ali human constructions, the elusiveness of personality, and the alienation resulting from their renunciation of 'normal' life" (75), and less when evoking the "disconnection of the individual from the social fabric" (73) because such aspect is only a byproduct of Pirandello's ontological rendition of the doctrine of elan vital. Anthony Caputi, a scholar who reconstructed the importance of Tilgher for all criticism of Pirandello, points out: "What most sharply differentiates Pirandello from Bergson and the others who might be cited as his intellectual sources is that his major effort went into not restating these ideas, but into studying their consequences for the quality of life in his time and devising ways of living with them" (86). (3) The little house dog we had as co-protagonist in La carriola becomes the ferocious tiger that kills Nestoroff at the end of Serafino Gubbio: Pirandello's characters mirror themselves in those organisms reminding them of the supreme superfluity associated with the illusory category of "spirit."

In other words, it is safe to say that even though brilliant studies have thoroughly investigated the philosophical sources of Pirandello--for example, Gosta Andersson's Studi sulla poetica del giovane Pirandello, which expands on the influence of Gabriel Seailles on the Sicilian writer--there is convincing evidence for connecting Pirandello even more closely to the thought of Bergson and to Futurism, albeit without a direct affiliation. As Umberto Mariani wrote in his Living Masks about the controversial relationship that Pirandello and Futurism entertain in literary criticism, and especially to the crucial conceptualization of simultaneity, "Pirandello gave the concept of simultaneity eloquent expression in important works that antedated by years the futurist manifesto, while the attempts made by the futurists often failed because of their tendency to excessive reduction and simplification, an impoverishment camouflaged with the pretentious new term 'sintheticity'" (101). According to Enrico Crispolti, whereas for the futurists simultaneity was "the concurrent perception of near and far, perception and memory, visual and psychological components, the interference of different sensible planes, the word-sound-matter-image relationship" (15), (4) Pirandello's simultaneity emphasizes the arbitrariness of the relations between men and events, the fallacious act of establishing a link where no causality should be allowed. Although Bergson himself was aware of the emergence of society as a polarizing and pervasive shaper of one's identity, (5) a reductionist interpretation of the life-form strife would greatly impoverish Pirandello's work: like Bergson in his effort to de-spatialise time and consciousness, Pirandello configures his characters as intercutting, coexisting states of being removed from the certainties of obsolete objectivity. Scholars like Leone De Castris have warned about a simplistic superimposition of Pirandello and Bergson, (6) but the Sicilian writer is situated in the canon of avant-garde not only for disjointed passages and fragmentary narratives but also for his vitalist and anti-positivist philosophy. The early conceptualization of vita and forma, if correctly interpreted in a Bergsonian perspective--as summarized by Bassanese, where life is the "flow of constant change, movement, and uncertainty" and "fixed forms" are "[H]uman roles, illusions, belief systems, and institutions" used as "attempts at stabilizing the flow" (84)--proves that Adriano Tilgher's formulation, although we agree with Umberto Mariani for not emphasizing, and possibly reversing, Pirandello's "alleged indebtedness" to the critic, is still the most fruitful after almost a century and could be used in tracing the philosophical and literary foundation even of distant authors who, like William Gibson, have explored the boundaries of becoming and being by probing the depths of unstable, "virtual" realities.


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Clemson University

(1) On the Pirandello-expressionism relationship, see Francois Orsini, Pirandello e l'Europa. Cosenza: Pellegrini Editore, 2001.

(2) See also this passage at page 44, when Serafino describes the different techni cal departments of the company: "Basta ch'io entri qui, in quest'oscurita appestata dal fiato delle macchine, dalle esalazioni delle sostanza chimiche, perche tutto il mio superfluo (Italics mine) svapori."

(3) The scholar also points out brilliantly, in a passage specifically dedicated to the Notebooks, the Bergsonian nature of superfluity as originating from consciousness, a "caldron overflowing with possibilities" (87).

(4) "la percezione concomitante del vicino e del lontano, di percezione e di memo ria, di componenti visive e componenti psicologiche, l'interferenza dei diversi piani sensitivi, il rapporto parola-suono-materia-immagine."

(5) Hence Bergson's vision of the unconscious, John Mullarkey writes, almost Freudian in its dualism of outside and deep consciousness: "The mind exists in two layers, one facing towards and formed after the external, public realm, the other remaining behind in 'profound' seclusion; unfortunately, it is the former 'superficial self' that is gaining ground" (19-20).

(6) In his Storia di Pirandello, De Castris sees a similar point of departure for Pirandello and Bergson but a different epistemological outcome: "Se per Bergson esistere significa mutare, mutare consiste nel maturare, e maturare consiste nel creare definitivamente un proprio essere; per Pirandello invece, mutare significa frantumarsi e perdere per sempre ogni possibilita di consistere e d'essere, l'opposto della durata bergsoniana e dello slancio creativo" (83). (If for Bergson to exist consists in turning into something else, such transformation implies maturation, and maturation consists in a conclusive shaping of one's own self; for Pirandello instead turning into something else means to shatter oneself and permanently lose any possibility of being and becoming definite, the opposite of Bergon's duration and creative elan).
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