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Scritti e frammenti autobiografici.

Scritti e frammenti autobiografici. By GIACOMO LEOPARDI. Ed. by FRANCO D'INTINO. (Testi e Documenti di Letteratura e Lingua, 16) Rome: Salerno. 1995. cvii + 185 pp. 42,000 lire.

The two principal writings contained in this meticulous and richly annotated edition are Memorie del primo amore (December 1817-January 1818) and the Vita abbozzata di Silvio Sarno (1819, previously known as Ricordi d'infanzia e d'adolescenza). The choices concerning titles and other editorial decisions are persuasively argued in the 'Nota ai testi' and are integral to the long, exploratory, 'Introduzione', which Franco D'Intino begins by sounding out the uncertain terrain of genre. These texts are established as distinct from the letters or those parts of the Zibaldone that Leopardi himself categorized as 'Memorie della mia vita', though they share with the latter a set of problems common to 'quei generi collocabili al confine tra letteratura e scrittura privara' (p. xii). A case is made for regarding the Vita abbozzata not simply as a collection of scattered notes or as a quarry for later poems but as an organic work. Finally, Leopardi is taken as a 'caso paradigmatico di coincidenza di futuro e passato' (p. xv), drawing on such older, even archaic, kinds of writing as the family archive and the family history and negotiating the transition from private archive to published book.

Sharply focused on an analysis of the self, the Memorie are quite distinct in character from the 'centrifugal' imitations and meta-literary exercises which preceded them. Alfieri was a necessary but rapidly superseded point of reference, and it is in an unconsciously Stendhalian spirit that love becomes for Leopardi 'lo scandaglio privilegiato di una complessa indagine sull'individuo che [...] fa "esperienza di se" nel moderno' (p. xxv). The Memorie are also for D'Intino a first step on a journey of writing, of a writing of the self which for all modern writers has its problems. The feelings of the present, the reverie of now, can only be expressed afterwards, and the delay is perceived as a weakening and dispersal of the energy of the sensation. The poetics of immediacy requires literary artifice and D'Intino's section on the Memorie concludes by emphasizing Leopardi's

doubts at this experimental stage about writing and language (sincere self-expression that seems like literary imitation; the simultaneous conviction of sincerity and suspicion of insincerity in the modern self).

Against the implacably controlled analysis of the Memorie, the Vita abbozzata seems more like an exercise in stream-of-consciousness. But D'Intino argues forcefully that the material is not random, and that the Vita abbozzata is to be read as notes for an epistolary novel on the model of Werther and Ortis. With the intense theoretical reflections of the Discorso di un italiano intorno alla poesia romantica behind him, Leopardi has rejected a prose style that is valued above all for its care and precision, but whose effect is to block the 'undulation' of reverie and to deprive it of resonance; he is moving instead towards a kind of Baudelairean 'poetic pros& But the Vita abbozzata raises more complex questions of poetics, and of genre: here, D'Intino concentrates illuminatingly on the problem of incompletion, drawing attention to the recurrent fear of interruption in Leopardi's writing, linking this to the Romantic syndrome of the unfinished and the association of the sublime with intermittency and defeat.

This brilliant excursus leads to the conclusion that l'autobiografismo della Vita abbozzata [...] non consiste tanto nel narrato [...] ma nella forma del narrare' (p. lxxxii). The notes of the Vita become a kind of score, demanding to be performed rather than read. The ultimate performer is the composer himself: Leopardi, like Rousseau or Wackenroder, will look for the reader who will incarnate the writer, but this doubling of the single composer-performer will also be felt as a debilitating split.

Neither quotation nor summary can do justice to the wealth of insight and stimulus to further thought afforded by this edition. Not only in the introduction but also in the extensive notes and apparatus, it combines scrupulous attention to the concrete philological datum with a constant alertness to and readiness to be excited by the central theoretical questions embedded in Leopardi's autobiographical writings.

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Author:Caesar, Michael
Publication:The Modern Language Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 1997
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