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Roberto Salsano. Tra scrittura e riscrittura. Saggi e note su Alfieri tragico.

Roberto Salsano. Tra scrittura e riscrittura. Saggi e note su Alfieri tragico. Roma: Salvatore Sciascia Editore, 2014.

Published by Salvatore Sciascia Editore (2014), this latest study by Roberto Salsano provides a close and philologically rigorous examination of Vittorio Alfieri's relationship to his inherited tragic models during his early career. The author's bipartite study opens with an analysis of Alfieri's complex, and evolving, views on influence, departing from Harold Bloom's well-known formula. In the second half of Tra scrittura e riscrittura, Salsano instead devotes his attention to three early tragedies, Filippo (1783), Polinice (1781), and Merope (1785), and analyzes Alfieri's efforts to improve upon, and thus to rewrite, past tragic models, the most important of whom include Racine and Scipione Maffei.

In the first half of his study, the author cites Alfieri's Vita and Parere sulle tragedie in order to examine the tragedian's conceptualization of a programmatic and autonomous method of composition. The tragedian's Risposta to the poet Ranieri Calzabigi proves another important source for Salsano, whose thoughtful citations of Alfieri's various writings on tragedy convincingly present Alfieri's developing approach to and growing understanding of the modernized tragic paradigm he eventually achieved in his works. Fundamental to the author's analysis is the intertextual tension between Alfieri's overt disdain for what he considered inferior tragic precedents and his own acknowledgement of their inescapable influence on his work. Salsano argues that in his understanding of tragedy Alfieri marries a critically objective detachment from his own work and a highly personal approach to the genre, from which results an intimate "concezione strutturale e costruttivistica dell'arte drammaturgica" (44) that allows him to confront, and ultimately correct, the shortcomings of earlier tragic models. Recurrent throughout the entire study is Salsano's insistence on Alfieri's distaste for the structural disorganization and affective confusion of Racine's tragedies, and it is Racine who serves as the model to whom Salsano most frequently refers in the comparative analyses of the latter half of the book. The author notes however in this first section of his study that Alfieri's criticism of tragic precedents is in and of itself a creative act, fundamental to his subsequent rewriting of his inherited models. The tragedian's highly personal theorization of tragedy, his "coscienza critico-teorica del proprio comporre" (49), which, as Salsano demonstrates, parallels the maturation of his dramaturgical career, reveals furthermore a firm understanding of the dictates of the tragic genre in the eighteenth century and Alfieri's own position within the historical evolution of said genre. In his conclusion to the book's initial analyses, Salsano argues, very neatly, that Alfieri successfully manages both to rid himself of the "anxiety of influence" stemming from tragic precedents and to achieve creative autonomy in his own compositions.

Having presented Alfieri's realization of this creative autonomy in the first half of his study, Salsano proceeds in the second half to provide textual examples of the tragedian's rewriting and modernization of the tragic genre. The intertextual analyses of the latter part of the study occupy two-thirds of the book and are divided into chapters of varying lengths that offer a thorough, if occasionally imbalanced, examination of the three aforementioned tragedies. Salsano begins with an analysis of the tragedian's Filippo, commenting on the relationship between Alfieri's composition and French author Cesar de Vichard Saint-Real's seventeenth-century take on the subject, the novel Don Carlos. In his comparative analysis of Alfieri and Saint-Real, Salsano draws conclusions that will echo in the study's subsequent analyses of the tragedian's Polinice and Merope: that is, for example, Alfieri's intensification of the psychological drama of his characters inherited from earlier authors and his attenuation of the theme of eros routinely emphasized in earlier tragedies. Salsano's analysis of the tragedian's Filippo is brief, and the author instead dedicates the longest chapter of the book's second half to a more exhaustive look at Alfieri's Polinice and to its improvement upon Racine's own treatment of the classic subject. In comparing Polinice to Racine's Thebaide, Salsano argues that Alfieri's interpretation of the conflict between the brothers Eteocles and Polynices both privileges the political dimensions underlying the story and elevates the sparer language utilized by Racine, all in an effort to "realizzare un piU dinamico contesto drammatico" (89). Salsano however draws his most convincing conclusions from his examination of the deep psychological insight with which the tragedian imbues his dramatis personae, a marked difference from the psychologically flatter and less complex characters found in earlier authors' works. This psychological richness, considered by Salsano one of Alfieri's most significant improvements upon past models, has both a thematic and structural function, allowing the tragedian to realize a narrative structure more coherent than that offered by Racine in the Thebaide. Salsano argues that this "alfierizzamento" (137) of tragic precedents results in the tragedian's own transition from the limiting models of eighteenth-century classicism to the more cohesive marriage of "sentimento, azione e conflitto" (143) characteristic of modern tragedy.

Salsano concludes his study with an analysis of Alfieri's Merope and Maffei's earlier tragedy of the same name. While directly arising from this comparison of Alfieri's work to that of Maffei, Salsano's conclusions here reaffirm those already reached in previous chapters: namely that Alfieri's criticism and annotation of Maffei's work act as creative stimuli that drive his own quest for originality and personal theorization of tragedy, and that the innovative psychological complexity of Alfieri's characters produces a tighter, more emotionally concentrated prose and a more coherent narrative structure. In general, Salsano's study offers an insightful and well-supported analysis of Alfieri's evolving theorization of tragedy and of his intertextual relationships with his inherited tragic models.


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Author:Marshall, Corie
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2018
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