The art of dying in Trionfo della morte.
This article argues that Gabriele D'Annunzio's protagonist in Trionfo della morte fails to become the superuomo because he pursues beauty in death rather than in life. While Giorgio Aurispa aspires to follow the teachings of Nietzsche and affirm life, his psychological weakness and sick will render him unable to do this. Any energy and willpower that Giorgio does possess is channelled into a morbid direction, alienating him from life and those around him. Giorgio becomes fixated on the 'beautiful' deaths of several figures (including Percy Bysshe Shelley and his uncle, who committed suicide) and, rather than imitating Zarathustra's affirmative attitude towards life, aspires to create an end for himself that matches the beauty of the deaths of these macabre role models. It is Wagner's Tristan and Isolde that provides the most beautiful--and fatal--model for death, however, and after hearing Wagner's music D'Annunzio's protagonist becomes obsessed with recreating a Liebestod. Instead of applying creativity to his life, Giorgio channels his (ebbing) energies into making a work of art of his death; but even here his creativity fails, and his intended Liebestod becomes a desperate suicide and brutal murder.
creativity, D'Annunzio, Nietzsche, superuomo, Wagner
As a master of self-promotion, Gabriele D'Annunzio was able to apply his creativity not only to his works of literature, but also to the composition of his own persona. In the cultivation of his character he engaged, arguably, in a form of self-creation, an activity which becomes the aspiration of several of his protagonists, who strive to turn their lives and their selves into beautiful works of art. Il fuoco's Stelio Effrena is the first of D'Annunzio's protagonists to succeed in the goal of uniting life and art, and by the end of D'Annunzio's novel he incarnates the superuomo, D'Annunzio's version of Friedrich Nietzsche's Ubermensch. Others among D'Annunzio's characters meet with less success, and Trionfo della morte's Giorgio Aurispa exemplifies the fatal consequences of a failure to achieve this goal. This article will argue that Giorgio's failure to become the superuomo is predicated upon his inability to aestheticize life in the way he understands Nietzsche to advocate, and upon his consequent attempts to seek beauty in death, instead.
It is primarily in the music of Richard Wagner that Giorgio seeks this, and specifically his drama Tristan und Isolde (Tristan and Isolde, premiered 1865). This article does not seek merely to posit Giorgio's psyche as a battleground for the influences of Nietzsche and Wagner, however, but rather aims to understand why these two figures exert such an attraction over Giorgio. This article argues that it is Wagner's exaltation and aestheticization of death that render him appealing to Giorgio, whose ebbing life force leads him to search for examples of beauty in death; but while Wagner's drama provides the most compelling model for the marriage of beauty and death, Giorgio also finds a precedent elsewhere. The death of Percy Bysshe Shelley offers Giorgio an additional example of the aestheticization of death, and becomes a secondary model for his own desire to turn his death into a work of art. Giorgio's engagement with Wagner and (to a lesser extent) Shelley are thus symptoms of the same decadent drive that attempts to aestheticize death rather than life.
Trionfo della morte constitutes D'Annunzio's first fictional treatment of Nietzsche, naming the philosopher and reflecting on the figures of both Zarathustra and the Ubermensch. With this in mind, and given the centrality of the idea of self-creation within this novel, examining the figure of Giorgio Aurispa through the framework of Nietzsche's understanding of self-creation offers a productive way of assessing D'Annunzio's early engagement with the philosopher. Most scholarship regarding D'Annunzio and Nietzsche has tended to focus its attention on the slightly later Le vergini delle rocce (for example, Piga (1979) and Woodward (1999)), where D'Annunzio's alignment with Nietzsche is perhaps more obvious, and where D'Annunzio echoes some of Nietzsche's anti-democratic ideas, or on Il fuoco (for example, Piga (1979) and Witt (2007)), where the superhuman creativity of Stelio Effrena is evident. This article, however, will focus on Trionfo della morte, and a protagonist who fails to heed Nietzsche's words will be seen to offer insight into D'Annunzio's engagement with the philosopher which is equally as valuable as that which can be obtained from a more thoroughly 'Nietzschean' protagonist. Giorgio's hopes of becoming the superuomo will be seen to go unrealized because he is unable to achieve the union of art and life that Nietzsche advocates. Instead, Giorgio becomes fixated on transforming his death into a beautiful work of art, persuaded that it is in destruction and dissolution that beauty reaches its zenith. This article will also argue that Trionfo della morte ultimately affirms D'Annunzio's allegiance with Nietzsche, challenging dominant readings of the novel which suggest that Giorgio's eventual siding with Wagner, and rejection of Nietzsche, reflect his author's own feelings. D'Annunzio's portrayal of Giorgio's morbid subversion of the aestheticization of life will be seen to be a critical one, which indicates the author's condemnation of his protagonist. It is to Nietzsche's idea of self-creation that attention will first be turned, in order to establish the place of beauty and creativity in the philosopher's understanding of the self, against which the approaches of D'Annunzio's protagonists may then be judged.
While there is not scope for a full exploration of Nietzsche's idea of self-creation here, an overview of this idea suffices to reveal striking parallels with D'Annunzio's approach to the self, and to illuminate the experiences of several of D'Annunzio's protagonists. For Nietzsche, the highest individuals are those who construct a way of living according to their own values and desires, free of the shackles that millennia of Christian morality have imposed, and who shape themselves in their own image. These individuals are born of a process of Selbstuberwindung ('self-overcoming'), which is couched as a creative activity. As Conway notes, Nietzsche 'often speaks of self-overcoming in terms of self-creation [which] is the common element that links all great human beings' (1997: 85). In The Gay Science (1882), Nietzsche tells us that it is from artists (not philosophers or priests, for example) that we should learn how to create ourselves, applying their 'fine craft' to the shaping of our character: 'we [...] want to be poets of our lives, [...]' (Nietzsche, 1955: 176; all translations are mine unless otherwise stated). Actually we must be wiser than these artists, Nietzsche tells us, for their creativity ends where the work of art ends, and where life begins; but we must learn to overcome this separation, and view life itself as the work of art. This is the achievement of Il fuoco's Stelio Effrena, who attains utter harmony and continuity between life and art. Reiterating the creative nature of the attitude that one must adopt towards one's self, Nietzsche also informs us (again, in The Gay Science) that giving 'style' to one's character is of utmost necessity: 'One thing is imperative--to "give style" to one's character--a great and rare art!' (Nietzsche, 1955: 168) This apparently involves incorporating the 'weak' parts of one's character into an 'artistic plan' (Nietzsche, 1955: 168) such that they become beautiful ('delight the eye'; Nietzsche, 1955: 169). A creative approach to one's character, then, following (but extending) the example of artists, will result in a superior self of strength and beauty. This is a task that few will be able to accomplish. Accordingly, Nietzsche's highest praise for Goethe focuses on his successful self-creation (rather than on his literary achievements, for example): 'he disciplined himself to wholeness, he created himself...' (Nietzsche, 1955: 1024).
According to Nietzsche, we must not consider the soul, or the product of self-creation, as 'something [...] indivisible, as a monad' (Nietzsche, 1955: 577). The self will consist of various (sometimes conflicting) elements, which must be organized and integrated (but not suppressed) into the 'artistic plan' noted above. This results in what Nehamas calls a 'harmony of opposites' (2000: 139) and, elsewhere, 'a higher-order accord among one's lower-order thoughts, desires and actions' (Nehamas, 2004: 86), but what Bishop suggests is better described as an 'arrangement' (2004: 225). This illuminates the nature of the 'totality' which Nietzsche believes Goethe achieved. Successfully arranging or ordering the various aspects (desires, drives, thoughts and impulses) of one's self endows one with a 'strong will' while those who fail to achieve this, and whose 'drives' or 'urges' are characterized by 'multiplicity and disgregation', must have a 'weak will' (Nietzsche, 1972: 186).
Nietzsche's iconoclastic Ubermensch (variously translated into English as 'superhuman', 'superman', 'overhuman' or 'overhuman' and which becomes ''superuomo' in Giorgio's reflections regarding Nietzsche in Trionfo della morte) is a product of successful self-creation. Although the prominence of the Ubermensch in Nietzsche's legacy was arguably inflated by his earlier readers from around the turn of the century, (1) the self-created individual is a highly prominent idea in Nietzsche's writings, and was among the ideas that interested D'Annunzio. The Ubermensch remains vaguely defined, however; after all, it is to be determined by our own individual striving, and our own individual values. A product of a creative process, the Ubermensch resembles a work of art, as Ansell-Pearson notes: 'the vision of the Ubermensch has the status of an artist's creation; it is the product of the imagination of the poet' (1992: 321). Indeed, Nietzsche uses the same verb ('schaffen', 'to achieve or execute') to describe the activity that results in both conventional works of art and the Ubermensch. In a world whose values have been exposed (by Nietzsche) as outdated, the project of self-creation is tied to the project of value-creation, for every individual's values must be of their own creation: 'We want to become that which we are--new, unique, incomparable, self-legislators, self-creators!' (Nietzsche, 1955: 197).
Part of the process of self-overcoming, however, may lead through destruction, sickness and pain. In a note which explains his understanding of a 'Dionysian' philosophy, Nietzsche states that this entails 'eternal self-creation, eternal self-destruction' (1974: 339). These two seemingly opposed activities must take place simultaneously and symbiotically--without destruction there can be no creation. This is echoed in the notion of 'going under' (Nietzsche, 1955: 278), a crucial stage of the process of self-creation (and self-overcoming) advocated by Zarathustra. Elsewhere Nietzsche talks of his own process of self-creation, noting that he himself, like Wagner, was once a decadent, but that he recognized this, and defended himself against this malady. For Nietzsche, such experiences lead to 'great health' (Nietzsche, 1955: 257), which can only be attained after one has overcome a period of 'sickness'. This sickness may be decadence, and in order to become 'Nietzschean', 'one must first be Wagnerian' (Nietzsche, 1955: 904); indeed, for the later Nietzsche, Wagner is the sickness to be overcome. The process of self-creation may therefore be a painful one, involving the overcoming of suffering and destruction to arrive at a state of heightened beauty and strength.
Nietzsche also warns us of the consequences of a failure to participate in self-creation. In Thus spake Zarathustra (1883-1885), the figure of the 'last man' ('letzte Mensch') is erected as the antithesis of the Ubermensch (and the self-created individual in general), personifying those who do not strive for self-overcoming. Creativity is foreign to this 'last man' (who asks, 'what is creation?'; Nietzsche, 1955: 284), and he or she is content to exist within the anonymity and mediocrity of the herd. The 'last man' will eschew all adversity and suffering, seeking 'happiness' in safety and ease; these individuals will also despise those who attempt to raise themselves above the level of the herd.
The notion of self-creation was not Nietzsche's invention--even if it did come to be tightly associated with him around the turn of the century. Indeed, his statements regarding self-creation arguably orientate themselves against more superficial understandings of the notion, such as those which resulted in the figure of the dandy. As Eco notes, for the dandy (defined most extensively by Charles Baudelaire, but present as a persona from the 17th century), one's public life was 'to be "worked" and modelled like a work of art in order to transform it into a triumphant example of Beauty' (Eco, 2004: 333). This was largely expressed through eccentricities of style and dress, and careful grooming. As Simpson notes, Nietzsche, on the other hand:
provides a radical vision for the life-artist, one which constructively pushes life as art past the Victorian ideals of the dandy and towards a more tenable concept of how one lives and thinks negatively and affirmatively, balancing the heat of art with the coldness of knowledge. (Simpson, 2012: 24)
For Nietzsche, then, the union of art and life that must be pursued is more profound than that which was advocated by writers like Baudelaire, Huysmans, D'Aurevilly and Beerbohm. The self that results from the creative process outlined by Nietzsche may still be a product of beauty which 'delights the eye', but it also represents an affirmation and organization of all of those impulses, desires and values which are unique to the individual.
D'Annunzio was famously drawn to Nietzsche's idea of the Ubermensch and his notion of self-creation. However, his interest in these ideas arguably stemmed from the fact that they chimed with his own independently formed thoughts. D'Annunzio had already addressed self-creation in Il piacere (1889), where protagonist Andrea Sperelli reflects upon the following advice, received from his father: 'Bisogna fare la propria vita, come si fa un'opera d'arte. Bisogna che la vita d'un uomo d'intelletto sia opera di lui. La superiorita vera e tutta qui' (D'Annunzio, 1996: 37). This maxim displays a striking concordance with Nietzsche's instruction that we must 'give style' to our character, noted above. Given that Il piacere was written before D'Annunzio's discovery of Nietzsche, the Italian's discussion of the idea in later novels (after encountering Nietzsche) cannot be seen entirely as the result of his Nietzschean engagement, and may have been informed by the kind of ideas which underpinned the persona of the 'dandy'. It is notable, however, that D'Annunzio uses the word 'superuomo' for the first time in (the latter parts of) Trionfo della morte, written during the period of D'Annunzio's initial (and possibly second-hand) engagement with Nietzsche, (2) and that it appears in this novel as an explicitly Nietzschean (or Zarathustran) idea. We may conclude, therefore, that D'Annunzio's understanding of self-creation received important impetus from Nietzsche, even if it did not emerge solely from the Italian's engagement with the German philosopher. While D'Annunzio may not have read Nietzsche's works himself before writing Trionfo della morte, the fame that had come to surround the philosopher by 1892 meant that many of his ideas were in the intellectual air at the time and that D'Annunzio could easily have encountered Nietzsche's thoughts on self-creation second-hand.
It is in Il piacere that we find D'Annunzio's first reflections on self-creation, as indicated by the maxim reproduced above. This maxim urges Andrea Sperelli to apply creativity to his way of living, just as he would to a conventional work of art, and to exercize his individuality in this endeavour. This will lead to 'La superiorita vera' (D'Annunzio, 1996: 37), Sperelli's father declares, sounding an elitist note which implies that this goal is not open to all. But Sperelli fails to follow his father's advice, despite a promising spurt of creativity during his period of convalescence after being injured in a duel. It could be said that Sperelli interprets his father's maxim more in the manner of the dandy (and the decadent writers who portrayed this persona) than the Nietzschean Ubermensch, and we read of the great care taken by D'Annunzio's protagonist in his dress and in the embellishment of his opulent palazzo. Simpson notes that 'life as art may be seen as violent, narcissistic, superficial, or obsessive' and that 'the aestheticization of life bears within it the potential for these vices, as the dandies show all too well' (2012: 23); Andrea Sperelli appears to fall into this pitfall, at times appearing both superficial and narcissistic.
Six years later, in Le vergini delle rocce (1895), D'Annunzio's protagonist strives for a creative approach to life which echoes that of Sperelli's father. Cantelmo aspires to father a 'superhuman' ('sovrumano'; D'Annunzio, 1989: 9) child who will become the new King of Rome, and reflects on the creativity that accompanies superiority and dominance: 'Il mondo e la rappresentazione della sensibilita e del pensiero di pochi uomini superiori, i quali lo hanno creato e quindi ampliato e ornato nel corso del tempo' (D'Annunzio, 1989: 12). While Piga finds Cantelmo to constitute D'Annunzio's first theorization of 'il Superuomo niciano' (1979: 126), this novel clearly treats the superuomo as a figure ripe for political domination--a notion that is absent from Nietzsche's statements regarding his Ubermensch. (3) Cantelmo does not directly articulate a wish to transform his life into a work of art, but creativity lies at the heart of his superhuman endeavours. He appears to regard both his own self and his future son as works of art, for example, for 'creare' is the verb used to describe the activity that concerns them. He also posits beauty as a sign of superiority, reflecting on the idea (ascribed to Dante) that one's choices can 'elevar l'uomo al piu alto splendore di sua bellezza morale' (D'Annunzio, 1989: 26). But Cantelmo, too, falls short of achieving his ambitions. As Piga (1979: 130) notes, he is unable to free himself of the sensuality that Zarathustra implores us to overcome, and he is unable to generate the superuomo.
By the time of Il fuoco (1900), however, D'Annunzio's protagonist is set to reach his goal. Stelio Effrena, who is a playwright and poet, works towards both a rejuvenation of the artistic landscape and a personal self-transformation. He strives to attain 'divinita' (D'Annunzio, 1989: 317), and already has a group of followers ('discepoli'; D'Annunzio, 1989: 210); not only has Stelio become D'Annunzio's equivalent of the superuomo, therefore, but he also appears to have taken on a role equivalent to Nietzsche's Zarathustra, prophet of the Ubermensch. One of the surest signs of Stelio's success is the fact that he has managed to achieve perfect union between his life and his art: 'Egli era giunto a compiere in se stesso l'intimo connubio dell'arte con la vita e a ritrovare cosi nel fondo della sua sostanza una sorgente perenne di armonie' (D'Annunzio, 1989: 205). Use of the word 'armonie' indicates the creative nature of Stelio's achievement, likening his coordinated self to a beautiful piece of music, and the profound extent of the art-life union ('connubio') attained aligns Stelio more with Nietzsche's ideal of self-creation than that of the dandy. There is no eccentric embellishment of the body in Il fuoco, only its transformation into a site of creative stimulation. Early on in Il fuoco, Stelio affirms that 'ogni uomo d'intelletto possa, oggi come sempre, nella vita creare la propria favola bella' (D'Annunzio, 1989: 210); the rest of the novel could be seen to constitute the composition of Stelio's 'favola bella', in which art and life become tightly intertwined and symbiotic, in a process of aestheticization and harmonization.
In Trionfo della morte, published in 1894 (between Il piacere and Le vergini delle rocce), and written during the period in which D'Annunzio discovered Nietzsche, protagonist Giorgio Aurispa also longs to become the superuomo (D'Annunzio, 1996: 930). Inspired by the teachings of Nietzsche and his Zarathustra, he hopes to adopt their affirmative and creative attitude towards life; but Giorgio is crippled by an ailing will and desperate isolation. D'Annunzio's novel traces Giorgio's oscillation between aspiration and destitution, and between the various intellectual sources (namely Nietzsche's writings and Wagner's music) that vie for mastery in Giorgio's psyche. In a passage which names and discusses Nietzsche and his prophet Zarathustra, we learn what has attracted Giorgio, and glimpse his ambitions:
[Giorgio] aveva teso l'orecchio con una strana ansieta a quella voce che affermava la vita, che considerava il dolore come la disciplina dei forti, [...] che esaltava le energie terribili, il sentimento della potenza, [...] tutte le virtu dell'uomo dionisiaco, del vincitore, del distruttore, del creatore. 'Creare!' diceva Zarathustra. (D'Annunzio, 1996: 930)
Giorgio longs to emulate this voice, and to create with joy: in so doing, he will be able to effect his own self-fashioning, becoming both destroyer and creator in the manner outlined by Nietzsche in his Dionysian philosophy.
While the title of D'Annunzio's novel, and the myriad deaths within it, leave the reader in no doubt as to whether Giorgio will ultimately side with life or death, there are moments in the novel where the appeal of life for Giorgio is potent. At such moments he declares a strong--and creative--urge to embrace life: To ho una brama ardentissima di vivere, di svolgere in ritmo tutte le mie forze, di sentirmi completo e armonioso' (D'Annunzio, 1996: 716). The word 'ritmo' indicates his desire for structure and order, and it adds musical overtones to Giorgio's ambition, suggestive of a creative action and a product of beauty. Giorgio's longing for unity anticipates the harmonious marriage of art and life achieved by Stelio in Il fuoco, as well as echoing Nietzsche's understanding of self-creation as a process which results--as it did for Goethe--in 'wholeness' (Nietzsche, 1955: 1024). Indeed, Giorgio reflects upon 'il Superuomo goethiano', which is taught by 'il verbo di Zarathustra' (D'Annunzio, 1996: 930), and considers it the most virile and noble idea of the modern age.
Yet Giorgio cannot adhere to the Nietzschean philosophy that he so admires. One of the greatest obstacles is his lack of stable identity and sense of self. For Nietzsche, this would constitute an opportunity for the fashioning of a stable self, a temporary state of illness en route to great health, but Giorgio fails to turn this weakness into strength and is rather crippled by his impaired sense of self. D'Annunzio emphasizes his protagonist's lack of identity by avoiding Giorgio's name, and referring to him with epithets such as 'il solitario' and 'il fiacco, l'oppresso, il titubante' (D'Annunzio, 1996: 930). Here Giorgio's weaknesses become his defining characteristics. His unstable self is further illustrated by the fact that he never inhabits a role that gives structure to his identity: to his family he seems a stranger; as a lover he harbours secret hostility and, later, even murderous designs towards Ippolita; he appears to have no friends or companions; and we receive only vague clues as to his profession, giving the impression of an anchorless, purposeless figure, delineated solely by his psychological crises. Ippolita's warning of '[b]ada di non ti perdere!' (D'Annunzio, 1996: 671), given to her lover on the busy platform of a train station, is one which Giorgio would do well to remember throughout D'Annunzio's novel.
As noted above, one who has truly heeded Nietzsche's words should approach a lack of fixed self as an opportunity to be affirmatively embraced. If he is to become the Ubermensch taught by Zarathustra, Giorgio should view his ill-defined identity as a blank canvas upon which to arrange his values and form a self, thus transfiguring weakness into strength; but Giorgio's lack of identity provokes only pain and anguish, and there is no triumphant affirmation and transfiguration. Giorgio himself frames his unstable identity as a traumatic affliction: 'Il senso ch'io ho del mio essere e simile a quello che puo avere un uomo il quale, condannato a restare su un piano di continuo ondeggiante e pericolante, senta di continuo mancargli l'appoggio, dovunque egli posi il piede' (D'Annunzio, 1996: 716). D'Annunzio's protagonist cannot see an opportunity for self-creation here, leaving him unable to heed Zarathustra's word. As has been seen, for Nietzsche, great health requires one to endure and affirm a period of sickness, and the highest strength emerges from the overcoming of trials and struggles. One's ability to embrace suffering and pain (such as that caused by an unstable sense of self) becomes a test of one's credentials for becoming the Ubermensch, and, as Giorgio notes, for Zarathustra pain is 'la disciplina dei forti' (D'Annunzio, 1996: 930). Crucially, this affirmative act is not a feat that can be performed by all, and those who succeed here will be in a minority. Giorgio is not to be counted among this minority, as suffering and hardship for him constitute insurmountable barriers. In Giorgio's case, weakness and pain result only in further weakness and pain, and Zarathustra's affirmative words go unheeded.
Forced to accept that he cannot become the superuomo, Giorgio also considers the possibility of fathering the superuomo (a notion echoed in Thus Spake Zarathustra; Nietzsche, 1955: 334). Realizing that both he and his lover are afflicted by sterility (whether physical, in Ippolita's case, or spiritual, in Giorgio's case), however, he must acknowledge that even this hope is futile. Death seems the only option available to Giorgio now, for there is no sense in living, he concludes, if one cannot live according to Zarathustra (D'Annunzio, 1996: 930).
Giorgio's failure to carry out a Nietzschean aestheticization of life, and to construct a strong and beautiful self according to his own desires and values, leaves him bereft of guidance and in search of alternative instruction. It is now that he falls under the influence of several alternatives to Nietzsche and Zarathustra who, it could be argued, promote a subversion of the unification of art and life, offering Giorgio models for the aestheticization of death. If Giorgio's need for beauty cannot be fulfilled in life, perhaps he can achieve beauty in death, these figures appear to suggest. These new macabre role models are Wagner's doomed lovers, Tristan and Isolde, and (to a lesser but still significant extent) the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, who drowned off the coast of Italy aged 29. These figures appear to demonstrate to Giorgio the beauty that can be attained in death, luring him ever more fatally away from the Nietzschean affirmation of life to which he has aspired.
Initial inspiration for Giorgio's decision to commit suicide, however, is provided by the example of his paternal uncle, Demetrio, who shot himself five years before. Indeed, it is on the anniversary of Demetrio's death that Giorgio eventually carries out his own suicide. While Demetrio's death does not appear to have been particularly 'beautiful', and is not viewed by Giorgio as an example of the aestheticization of death, it does give impetus to his inclination towards death, partly because of the profound bond that appears to have existed between uncle and nephew. Affirming his allegiance to Demetrio simultaneously constitutes a rejection of Giorgio's father, whose enslavement to base carnality is likened to a hereditary and pathological affliction (4)--which Giorgio has inherited.
During a visit to his parents' home, which lies in a tiny village in the rural region of the Abruzzo, Giorgio enters the quarters of his dead uncle (where Demetrio carried out his suicide), and his own resolution to end his life appears hardened. Reverently and ritualistically handling the pistol with which Demetrio shot himself, Giorgio begins to be initiated into the mystery of death (D'Annunzio, 1996: 762). But he is not yet able to complete the act of suicide, which only takes place several months later. Prominent among the reasons for Giorgio's hesitancy is a sense of 'vanita funeraria' (D'Annunzio, 1996: 761). The prospect of dying here, in this 'provincia incolta' (D'Annunzio, 1996: 761), does not flatter Giorgio's narcissism, for his end--and its beauty--will go unnoticed and uncelebrated. By contrast, if he were to die in Rome, Giorgio thinks, his death would provoke an artistic outpouring of grief among his (more educated and artistically sensitive) friends and acquaintances ('avrebbero forse ornato di poesia il mistero tragico', D'Annunzio, 1996: 761). There are no poets in this backward region to offer sublime and artistic words at his funeral, Giorgio reflects. Here we note the beginnings of Giorgio's hope for an aestheticization of death, but his concern for beauty is somewhat superficial; after all, it is 'vanity' that stays his hand. Indeed, Giorgio's narcissism here resembles the dandy's desire for outer beauty and style. (5)
Greater impetus is given to Giorgio's hopes of uniting beauty and death when he is exposed to the music of Richard Wagner. Shortly after Giorgio's reflections on Nietzsche and Zarathustra, and his conclusion that he can never embrace life as they teach, a piano arrives at the rural hermitage to which Giorgio has withdrawn with Ippolita. The lovers begin to spend their days playing music on the instrument, and indulging in musical excesses. Among the music they play is Wagner's Tristan and Isolde, which unleashes overwhelming impulses towards death and beauty, effecting a fatal seduction of Giorgio's senses.
Giorgio approaches Tristan and Isolde in a similar way to the teachings of Nietzsche and Zarathustra, believing to find instruction in Wagner's music. But the 'guidance' he receives from Wagner exerts a more seductive--and even insidious --influence over him, working its way into Giorgio's psyche via the most sublime and enticing music. It also subverts Nietzsche's guidance entirely, for while the philosopher advocates the profound union of art and life, Tristan and Isolde offers Giorgio a model for the sublime union of art and death, exacerbating his longing to die amidst art and beauty. The (fictional) deaths of Tristan and Isolde are themselves contained within a work of art of supreme beauty (Wagner's drama), and it is explicitly the intertwining of music and narrative that captivates Giorgio. He is inspired by the way Wagner's music communicates the lovers' lofty demise, and adds meaning to their deaths: 'La melodia fatale, divenuta piu chiara e piu solenne, consacrava il gran coniugio funerario' (D'Annunzio, 1996: 979). As he witnesses the perfect aestheticization of death, Giorgio, too, is drawn into the 'meraviglioso impero' (D'Annunzio, 1996: 981) of Wagner's drama, and away from the realm of Zarathustra.
Giorgio's response to Tristan and Isolde resembles his engagement with Nietzsche's thought in several ways. In both cases, Giorgio undergoes transformation: after reflecting on Zarathustra's philosophy, Giorgio is initially filled with 'la gioia della vita' (D'Annunzio, 1996: 927), and Giorgio and Ippolita both feel 'transfigured' following their experience of Wagner's music: 'essi medesimi credettero di trasfigurarsi, di attingere un superior cerchio d'esistenza; credettero di eguagliare le persone del dramma nelle altitudini vertiginose del sogno d'amore' (D'Annunzio, 1996: 987). The verb 'credettero' undermines the nature of the transfiguration, however, suggesting that it is illusory and that D'Annunzio's lovers are not destined to repeat the Liebestod of Tristan and Isolde. But the feeling of transfiguration which accompanies Giorgio's Wagnerian engagement far outlasts the duration of the transformation provoked by Nietzsche's words. Giorgio's sense of joy after meditating on Zarathustra's word dissolves almost immediately, chased away by returning doubts and insecurities, but the day on which Giorgio hears Wagner's music is thereafter referred to as TEpifania della Morte' (D'Annunzio, 1996: 991), signalling its status as a revelation of truth. Giorgio is dismayed when he observes the effects of the music wearing off for Ippolita, and watches her become once more 'uno strumento di bassa lascivia' (D'Annunzio, 1996: 990). The effects of Wagner's music, therefore, prove more permanent than those provoked by the philosophy of Nietzsche and the words of Zarathustra.
Another similarity evident between Giorgio's engagement with Nietzsche, champion of life, and his encounter with Wagner, devotee of death (at least, in Trionfo della morte), is that in both cases Giorgio is encouraged to embrace destruction. Nietzsche's affirmation of life requires, as Giorgio notes, the embrace of 'tutte le gioie, [...] non escluse quella della distruzione' (D'Annunzio, 1996: 924). Nietzsche's embrace of self-destruction for the ultimate purpose of self-creation was noted earlier, and is linked to the notion of great health as the product of a period of sickness. It is possibly this specification that leaves Giorgio receptive to Wagner's drama, where destruction is glorified and rendered supremely beautiful, because it allows Tristan and Isolde to achieve the union that life denies them. But in Wagner's drama, life is ultimately rejected--and extinguished--in favour of the supposed romanticism and beauty of death. Here destruction is not followed by creation, and it reaches a devastatingly excessive degree--'una ebrezza di distruzione' (D'Annunzio, 1996: 974; emphasis mine). While Nietzsche lauds the philosophy of the ancient Greeks, who were able to transform suffering and destruction into '[il] trionfo della Vita' (D'Annunzio, 1996: 924), Wagner convinces Giorgio that destruction becomes most beautiful when it results in the triumph of death.
Wittman suggests that one of the reasons for Giorgio's demise is that he 'does not recognize the Wagnerian despair that is part of Nietzsche's own genealogy' (Wittman, 2008: 45), referring to Nietzsche's accounts of his recovery from the 'sickness' of Wagner (Nietzsche, 1955: 904). In the first of his three essays bearing the title 'Il caso Wagner' (a direct translation of Nietzsche's text from 1888, 'Der Fall Wagner'), published a year before Trionfo della morte, D'Annunzio cites Nietzsche's statement regarding the necessity of becoming Wagnerian in order to eventually overcome the composer. D'Annunzio notes that Nietzsche freed himself from Wagner's influence 'come da un morbo periglioso' (D'Annunzio, 1992: 683). Giorgio's experience of Wagner, however, proves terminal, and he does not recover from the 'morbo periglioso' as Nietzsche did. He seems to comprehend neither Nietzsche's genealogy (which includes a stage of Wagnerian sickness), as Wittman states, nor the relevance of this genealogy for himself, leaving him unable to see a way out of the seductive dissolution of Tristan and Isolde. Just as Giorgio failed to overcome the suffering caused by his lack of stable identity, and turn this into strength, he also fails to see the decadence of Wagner as a temporary malady from which he must recover. Had Giorgio understood his attraction to Wagner as a sickness to be overcome, as Nietzsche does, perhaps he would have survived the experience of Tristan and Isolde, endowing him with the 'great health' that Nietzsche advocates as part of the process of self-creation. Giorgio's engagement with Nietzsche renders him more vulnerable to the dangers of Wagner, because the philosopher appears to recommend a temporary period of Wagnerian sickness as a means of increasing one's strength and eventually affirming life; but D'Annunzio's protagonist lacks the strength to complete the final Nietzschean step of overcoming (or recovering from) Wagner. (6)
Nietzsche's philosophy also leaves Giorgio open to seduction by Wagner's music because of a statement made by Zarathustra, which Giorgio fatally misunderstands. Giorgio notes Zarathustra's declaration that 'Quando il cuor vostro palpita nella sua maggior pienezza e sta per traboccare--simile al flume, benedetto e temuto dagli abitatori dell'argine--ivi e la fonte della vostra virtu' (D'Annunzio, 1996: 929). The only time we find Giorgio in such a state of fullness is when he is exposed to the music of Tristan and Isolde. Recalling his first experience of Wagner's drama, in Bayreuth, Giorgio remembers the impulses and desires unleashed by the music; the ambiguity of D'Annunzio's language implies that the sensation of fullness and longing described applies both to Wagner's lovers and to D'Annunzio's spectator. We read how '[c]on una divorante furia, come un incendio all'improvviso erotto da un abisso ignorato, il desiderio si dilatava, s'agitava, fiammeggiava sempre piu alto, [...] alimentato dalla piu pura essenza di una duplice vita' (D'Annunzio, 1996: 975). Here a sensation is described that matches Zarathustra's statement, perhaps leading Giorgio to surmise that la 'fonte della [sua] virtu' actually lies in the worship of death and its incomparable beauty, as glorified by Wagner's music. Giorgio appears, therefore, to take Zarathustra's dangerous words in a direction that is not intended by Nietzsche's prophet, highlighting the fact that Nietzsche's ideas--in the wrong hands--can be as deadly as dynamite. Having led Giorgio to Wagner's music, which he fails to overcome in the way prescribed by Nietzsche, Nietzsche's words may also lead Giorgio to conclude that the source of his strength is to be found in the aestheticization of death.
In contrast to Ippolita's temporary identification with Wagner's lovers, Giorgio's experience of Wagner's music triggers an irreversible change, and he casts himself as Tristan:
Giorgio, come Tristano nell'udire l'antica melodia modulata dal pastore, trovava in quella musica la rivelazione diretta di un'angoscia nella quale credeva di sorprendere alfine l'essenza vera della sua propria anima e il segreto tragico del suo fato. (D'Annunzio, 1996: 988)
In modelling himself upon a character from a work of art, Giorgio arguably initiates a form of creativity directed at his self: he feels that the figure of Tristan allows him to better understand his own essence, and attempts to unite (Wagner's) art and (his own) life. But the model Giorgio selects is one which will propel him finally and irreversibly towards death, and away from a Nietzschean/Zarathustran affirmation of life. Additionally, Giorgio's use of Tristan as a kind of template distances him from the self-driven process advocated by Nietzsche. While Giorgio believes he can become Tristan, Ippolita is no Isolde, and there is no shared longing for a Liebestod. She is able to immerse herself in Wagner's music temporarily and remains cognisant of its fictional and unrealistic nature. Giorgio, on the other hand, is unable to differentiate between life and art; but this is no triumphant conjoining of life and art as is the achievement of Il fuoco's Stelio, and Giorgio's life is rather subjugated to art--and, significantly, to a dangerous art which worships death. Giorgio utterly loses his sense of self in the throes of Wagner's music ('egli sentiva di non essere piu padrone di se'; D'Annunzio, 1996: 991), representing a complete reversal of the glorification of the self promoted by Nietzsche and Zarathustra.
After hearing Wagner's music, Giorgio finds himself striving towards an artistic death which cannot be replicated in real life. Even if Ippolita did wish to die a Liebestod with Giorgio, the effect would not be the same: as noted above, the deaths of Tristan and Isolde are given meaning by Wagner's music, which will, obviously, be lacking in any real-life imitation. Any creative impetus that Giorgio can muster is channelled into an attempted re-creation of the Liebestod, rather than the superuomo, and the triumph of Wagner is also the triumph of (aestheticized) death.
With regard to the Nietzsche-Wagner conflict that appears to play out in Trionfo della morte (and which this article seeks to posit as symptomatic of Giorgio's oscillation between a desire to live and a desire to die beautifully), Harmanmaa states that the novel 'stands at the turning point of D'Annunzio's ideological development, when the poet moved from a Wagnerian credo towards the doctrines of Nietzsche' (2014: 279). It may therefore seem surprising that Giorgio finally follows Wagner, and not Nietzsche. But Giorgio's eventual commitment to Wagner (as a champion for the aestheticization of death in general) is portrayed in such a way as to provoke disapproval: in Giorgio, D'Annunzio depicts a desperate figure who is hopelessly and pitifully seduced by Wagner's powerful--even dangerous--music, and whose (pathological) pursuit of beauty in death ends in abject failure. The bathos of the eventual suicide scene suggests the author is critical of his protagonist, for rather than dying in sublime unity, like Tristan and Isolde, Giorgio and Ippolita plummet from a clifftop, mid-tussle, with Ippolita's cries of 'assassino' (D'Annunzio, 1996: 1018) filling the night air. Ippolita's furious attempt to escape Giorgio's arms as he holds her at the edge of the precipice turns the intended Liebestod into a brutal murder, and cruelty eclipses beauty. If Giorgio sides with Wagner and the death-soaked aestheticism that he advocates, D'Annunzio appears to condemn his protagonist for failing to live as Nietzsche instructs, and denies him the beautiful death to which he aspires. In Harmanmaa's assertion that '[Wagner's] influence is still dominant' (2014: 279) within Trionfo della morte, she perhaps misses a distinction between D'Annunzio's views and those of his protagonist; for while Giorgio certainly sides with Wagner, the critical nature of D'Annunzio's portrayal suggests that the author does not. Additionally, as this article argues, Giorgio's affiliation with Wagner is actually symptomatic of a deep-rooted longing for beauty in death (fuelled by Giorgio's disillusionment with life), and the composer's dramas satisfy this need. Salinari and Schoffman also disregard the bathos of D'Annunzio's Liebestod in their respective conclusions that D'Annunzio, in Trionfo della morte, is 'piu wagneriano che nicciano' (Salinari, 1960: 77) and that he 'sees nothing funny [in Wagner's Tristan and Isolde]. He takes Wagner's music-drama at face value, and completely identifies with it in all seriousness' (Schoffman, 1993: 505).
The critical aspect of D'Annunzio's engagement with Wagner in Trionfo della morte is similarly overlooked by Thomas Mann, who in turn appears to offer something of a parody of D'Annunzio's perceived embrace of Wagner in his own novella, Tristan (1903). While there is not scope to investigate this intertextual relationship fully here, a brief glance at Mann's novella indicates striking similarities. In Tristan, set in a sanatorium, a dilettantish aesthete encourages another patient with whom he has become fascinated, Gabriele, to play Wagner's music on the piano--ignoring her doctor's instruction to avoid music lest she over-exert herself. Shortly after playing the Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde, Gabriele dies from an attack of tuberculosis. Multiple affinities with D'Annunzio's novel suggest that Mann has Trionfo della morte in mind. For example, in both texts a female character plays the music upon a piano whose poor quality is noted, but nevertheless succeeds in evoking the effects of the orchestra; and in both cases death follows soon after the performance. It appears to be both Wagner's music (which Mann elsewhere described as 'indecent' (1961: 182)) and D'Annunzio's perceived worship of it that Mann criticizes. It is perhaps partly because of Mann's reading of Trionfo della morte that he refers to the Italian elsewhere as 'the aper of Wagner' (Mann, 1974: 577). Mann's parody of D'Annunzio's Wagner scene therefore seems to overlook its bathos and the critical tone with which D'Annunzio portrays his protagonist's desperate pursuit of beauty in death.
It thus bears emphasizing that D'Annunzio's treatment of Tristan and Isolde in Trionfo della morte is a cautious one, which signals the dangers of Wagner's music--and the decadent world with which he is associated--for the listener. Here we may find an (amplified) echo of a warning given by Nietzsche in The Birth of Tragedy (1872). An examination of this warning can provide further illumination regarding Giorgio's experience of Wagner's drama. In The Birth of Tragedy, which is dedicated to Richard Wagner as contemporary Germany's greatest hope for a rejuvenation of German's artistic landscape, Tristan and Isolde is evoked as an example of the power of the drive known as 'the Dionysian'. Together the Dionysian and the Apollonian constitute the two artistic drives whose interaction gives birth to the zenith of art, Greek tragedy. Nietzsche's understanding of these two drives is predicated upon an acceptance of Schopenhauer's dichotomy between plastic and musical arts, wherein only the latter offers direct access to the phenomenon known as 'the will' (Schopenhauer, 1844: 297). According to Nietzsche, the Dionysian form of art par excellence is music, while the Apollonian is associated with the plastic arts. Nietzsche lauds Wagner in 1872 precisely because he has rediscovered the Dionysian and welcomes Dionysus back onto the cultural landscape. But the Dionysian is a highly potent drive: while it can (if properly handled) provoke unparalleled creativity, it can also trigger destruction, self-forgetfulness and oblivion. Warning of the greater destructive potential of the Dionysian (compared to the Apollonian), Nietzsche cautions that it would be impossible to survive exposure only to the Dionysian aspects of Tristan and Isolde--the music--without the visual mediation provided by actors on a stage (the Apollonian aspect). One would '[suffocate] under a convulsive spreading out of the soul's wings' (Nietzsche, 1954: 117), he warns.
The Dionysian must therefore be balanced by the Apollonian if the spectator is not to be overwhelmed. In the theatre, the presence of (Apollonian) individuals acting upon the stage distracts the spectator, drawing him or her away from an unmediated immersion in the darker impulses contained within the (Dionysian) music. The actors who occupy the spectator's eye thus prevent the audience from identifying too extremely with the suffering contained within the tragedy's music. But when Giorgio is exposed to Tristan and Isolde, he notably experiences the music of the drama--its Dionysian elements--without the visual mediation that Apollo should provide (in Nietzsche's account). Indeed, Giorgio's identification with Tristan becomes a fatal over-identification, for it is engendered by the sole influence of the (Dionysian) music; Apollo is not present to return Giorgio safely to individuated existence. Giorgio's failure to survive his experience of Tristan and Isolde is thus, in Nietzschean terms, a demonstration of the devastating power of the Dionysian.
While Tristan and Isolde undoubtedly provide the decisive model for Giorgio's suicide (which takes place just days after the performance of Wagner's music), demonstrating the union of beauty and death par excellence, another figure further encourages Giorgio to strive towards the aestheticization of death. This is the romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, whose premature death at sea in 1822 has since provided artistic inspiration for poets and painters (such as Louis Edouard Fournier), and, in D'Annunzio's novel, complements the consecration of beauty in death that is seen in Tristan and Isolde. The Liebestod of Tristan and Isolde and the death of Shelley thus respond to the same decadent drive in Giorgio, and analogously satisfy his desire for the aestheticization of death (although it is Giorgio's experience of Wagner's music that finally seals his fate). Shelley was drowned when his boat sank off the coast of Italy, near Genoa, after being caught up in a sudden storm. It has never been established whether Shelley's death was accidental or deliberate, as some reports suggest that he was depressed at the time of his trip. Shortly before the Wagner episode in D'Annunzio's novel, Giorgio reflects on '[l]a fine di Percy Shelley, gia piu volte invidiata e sognata sotto l'ombra e il fremito della vela' (D'Annunzio, 1996: 947). The poet's death thus triggers both longing for imitation and creativity in Giorgio, for he experiences a 'baleno di poesia' (D'Annunzio, 1996: 947) when he thinks of Shelley's end. For Giorgio, Shelley's death is the epitome of a poetic demise, displaying 'una grandiosita e una tristezza sovrumane' (D'Annunzio, 1996: 947). The word 'sovrumane' here is telling: days earlier Giorgio had considered the possibility of becoming the Nietzschean superuomo, and of exalting and embracing life in the highest way; now, with Shelley's demise in mind, it is apparently the mode of dying that qualifies one as a superuomo. In an inversion of Nietzsche's praise for Goethe, noted earlier, Giorgio does not venerate Shelley for his poetry, but for his death, which, to Giorgio, appears to be the far greater and more beautiful work of art. Like Tristan and Isolde, Shelley becomes a morbid alternative to Nietzsche and Zarathustra, and his beautiful death seduces Giorgio away from the affirmation of strength, vitality and life that he admires in the philosopher. Indeed, Giorgio's reflections on Shelley's demise may even prepare the ground for the final deathly seduction that takes place when he listens to Tristan and Isolde shortly afterwards, priming his desire for beauty in death.
Additionally, while Giorgio has previously admired the ancient Greeks for their affirmative and creative embrace of life, they are now alluded to as an illustration of the heroism and beauty that is possible in death. Shelley is praised for having died a death which is 'misteriosa e solenne come quella degli antichissimi eroi ellenici che d'improvviso una virtu invisibile sollevava dalla terra assumendoli trasfigurati nella sfera gioviale' (D'Annunzio, 1996: 947; emphasis mine). Fixated upon the poetry, tragedy and beauty of Shelley's premature end, Giorgio's view regarding the ancient Greeks has shifted: their embrace of life in its totality is now forgotten, and their creative approach to death (resulting in their transfiguration) is lauded. Giorgio's oscillating position regarding life and death thus becomes a kind of prism through which he views historical and mythical figures: at times of aspiration and hope, he admires the abilities of such figures to affirm life, but when he stands under the shadow of death these figures provide compelling models for the beautiful act of dying.
Shelley's death is not exalted merely because of its tragedy and beauty, but also--and explicitly--for its artistic qualities. As noted, the thought of Shelley's dramatic drowning triggers 'a flash of poetry' for Giorgio, but he also finds a transfigurative element in the poet's demise. Shortly before setting sail, Shelley reportedly altered the name of his vessel from The Don Juan (an homage to Byron) to Ariel (Clarke, 1971: 277)--a reference to Shakespeare's magical character in The Tempest. Giorgio accordingly applies the song of Shakespeare's Ariel to Shelley, finding it to offer a fitting epithet to the poet's end: 'Come nel canto di Ariele, nulla di lui e vanito, ma il mare l'ha trasfigurato in qualche cosa di ricco e di strano' (D'Annunzio, 1996: 947). In Giorgio's eyes, Shelley's death at the hands of the elements has transformed the poet as if he were raw material being shaped by nature--possibly into a work of art. In dying, Shelley has himself become a beautiful product of creation, rendering him akin to a deathly version of Nietzsche's Ubermensch. Nietzsche's ideal of a union of art and life is thus utterly subverted, and its perfect opposite achieved, as in Wagner's drama. Furthermore, Giorgio imagines the scene of Shelley's funeral, describing the poet's 'corpo giovanile' being consumed by flames upon a pyre 'a pie dell'Appennino, al conspetto del Tirreno solitario, sotto l'arco ceruleo del cielo' (D'Annunzio, 1996: 947). This description reads like that of a painting designed to inspire awe and reverence for its tragic subject, and the poetic language employed contributes to the aestheticization of Shelley's end.
Giorgio's reflections on Shelley's death, and his own intended suicide, are followed by a plea to destiny. Inspired by, and even envious of, the beauty and poetry of Shelley's end, Giorgio entreats fate to provide him with a similarly beautiful death: 'Datemi una maniera nobile di trapassare! Che la Bellezza distenda uno de' suoi veli sotto il mio ultimo passo! Questo soltanto imploro dal mio Destino!' (D'Annunzio, 1996: 947) Here Giorgio explicitly posits beauty as the most important aspect of his death, and as the only request that he makes of destiny. He no longer begs for the strength to become the superuomo, for example, but merely to die beautifully. Having abandoned all hope of turning his life into a work of art, the transformation of his end into a work of beauty and poetry is the only option left to Giorgio.
In the recital of Tristan and Isolde that follows Giorgio's reflections on Shelley, D'Annunzio's protagonist finds a mode of dying that fulfils the plea he has made to destiny, for--in Giorgio's mind--beauty has certainly extended one of its 'veils' over the deaths of Wagner's lovers. The drowning of Shelley and the deaths of Tristan and Isolde thus complement each other, and combine to provide inspiring models for the aestheticization of death. These figures have themselves been 'aestheticized' and turned into works of art, in precisely the manner to which Giorgio aspires. But if he fails to realize his Nietzschean dream of self-creation and the union of life and art, will he attain creativity in death? As noted, Ippolita's unwillingness to die precludes a true Liebestod; but Giorgio's own psychological state further undermines his chances of dying in beauty and creativity. After experiencing an illusory spurt of strength as he approaches the cliffs from which he intends to leap (recalling the coastal location where Tristan and Isolde die, and sharpening the sense of bathos), we read of the breakdown and chaos of Giorgio's psyche: 'La sua vita interiore pareva disgregarsi, decomporsi, disciogliersi' (D'Annunzio, 1996: 1015). D'Annunzio's description of his protagonist here strikingly resembles Nietzsche's description of those individuals who fail to organize and integrate their drives, resulting in a 'weak will': they will display 'multiplicity and disgregation of [their] drives' and 'oscillation and lack of gravity' (Nietzsche, 1972: 186). The discord that D'Annunzio describes within his protagonist as his suicide nears indicates a lack of psychological organization, and a failure to 'svolgere in ritmo tutte le mie forze' (D'Annunzio, 1996: 716), suggesting that creativity will even evade Giorgio in death. The ugliness of the subsequent death scene consolidates this, for Ippolita becomes bestial as she fights for her life ('come una fiera'; D'Annunzio, 1996: 1018), and the lovers plummet towards a gruesome end. Although they are entwined ('avvinti'; D'Annunzio, 1996: 1018) as they hurtle towards the rocks below them, there is no love in this final embrace.
Giorgio Aurispa aspires to turn himself and his life into a work of beauty and creativity. He longs to become the superuomo, and live according to the word of Zarathustra, inspired by Nietzsche's philosophy. But Giorgio's weak will and psychological destitution preclude the creation of a stable sense of self, and the affirmative transformation of weakness and pain into strength and vitality. Giorgio is thus vulnerable to seduction by the macabre role models who take the place of Nietzsche and Zarathustra and who respond to his search for precedents in the aestheticization of death. These role models have achieved a perfect subversion of Nietzsche's recommended union of life and art, standing as examples of the union of death and art. Giorgio's obsession with the perceived beauty of their deaths is thus symptomatic of his corroded will to live, and his decadent drive towards death. This psychological situation results in the inversion of his hopes to shape his life as a work of art and become a superuomo, and he concentrates his efforts instead on attaining beauty and creativity in his own demise. The Liebestod of Tristan and Isolde provides the final impetus for Giorgio's suicidal ambition, fuelling the desire to die beautifully that has already been kindled by his reflections on Shelley's end, and he attempts to imitate their sublime union by dying with Ippolita; but Ippolita is no Isolde, and Giorgio also proves to be a poor imitation of Tristan, suffering psychological fragmentation as the moment of death nears. Grappling with the affirmation of life advocated by Nietzsche and the embrace of deathly beauty that Giorgio finds exemplified in the deaths of Shelley and Wagner's lovers, Giorgio is finally won over by the latter. While Tristan and Isolde provides the final and most significant imeptus that drives Giorgio to suicide, his reflections on Shelley's death at sea certainly add momentum. The danger and irresponsibility of being seduced by the world of deathly aestheticism that reaches its culmination in Wagner is made clear by the bathetic end that D'Annunzio grants his protagonist. Far from promoting 'una concezione decadente e non ascendente della vita', as Salinari (1960: 77) suggests, Trionfo della morte actually criticizes its protagonist's failure to affirm life, and highlights the dangers of the kind of art (such as that of Wagner) that pursues beauty only in death. Ippolita's statement that nobody dies like Tristan and Isolde in real life seems to echo at the end of D'Annunzio's novel, condemning Giorgio for his dangerously deluded attitude and for his worship of death and beauty.
(1.) Michelini notes that in Italy, for example, the idea of the Ubermensch was initially received as if it were 'il succo della filosofia di Nietzsche' (Michelini, 1978: 198).
(2.) We first find D'Annunzio writing about Nietzsche in 1892, in his essay entitled 'La bestia elettiva', extracts of which appear (reworked) in Le vergini delle rocce, and which is generally acknowledged as the first discussion of Nietzsche in Italian. Given the extent to which D'Annunzio plagiarized Jean de Nethy's article ('Nietzsche-Zarathustra', published in the Revue Blanche in April of the same year), as Tosi (1973) demonstrates, the essay does not allow us to establish whether D'Annunzio had actually read Nietzsche's books himself at this point.
(3.) In her Fascist Virilities (1996), Barbara Spackman challenges D'Annunzio's alleged protofascism, and questions the extent to which Le vergini delle rocce and Claudio Cantelmo indicate the author's affinity with fascism.
(4.) 'Lo sviluppo ereditario del centro preposto a ricevere gli stimoli che ricerca l'appetito sessuale, appunto, teneva tutto l'organismo sotto il predominio d'una tendenza particolare' (D'Annunzio, 1996: 789).
(5.) In Giorgio's reluctance to end his life in the Abruzzo, Wittman suggests that we can find an echo of D'Annunzio's efforts 'to transform his own father's unheroic retreat and death in the Abruzzi into epic death at the Vittoriale' (Wittman, 2008: 44); but D'Annunzio seems to meet with much greater success in this endeavour than his protagonist.
(6.) If Nietzsche's genealogy is overlooked in Trionfo della morte, though, it is arguably acknowledged in Il fuoco, in the (reverently described) death and funeral of Wagner. Not only does the composer's death have symbolic value, signalling the twilight of his supremacy, but Stelio also acts as pallbearer at Wagner's funeral, suggesting a personal laying to rest of his influence.
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University of Birmingham, UK
Jessica Wood, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, B15 2TT, UK.
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|Date:||Aug 1, 2017|
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