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The Paradox at the Window

ISSUE:  Autumn 1927

Luigi Pirandello. By Walter Starkie. New York: E. P. Dutton and Company. $3.00.

Shoot! By Luigi Pirandello. New York: E. P. Dutton and Company. $2.50.

“MARCIARE non MARCIRE” is a motto of d’Annunzio’s that Dr. Starkie uses to head his chapter on contemporary literature in Italy, And perhaps this determination to go always forward lest decay set in is basic, not only to literary Italy, but to political Italy as well. His analysis of the contemporary. Futurist school in Italy is for this very reason profoundly interesting. It ought to dispel the common notion that Fascism is a mere matter of railway schedules, strike-breaking, and chauvinism; and it ought to explain, if it does not justify, Giovanni Gentile’s talk of a Fascist culture and of the religion of Fascism. Fascist Italy is doing in the political and economic spheres what Dr. Starkie shows it had begun before the war to do in literature, to protest against the decay of Occidental civilization, and to attempt by an act of the human will to arrest that decay and impose on life a discipline. This protest took the form in literature of Futurism; it attacked Romanticism and Naturalism with equal vigor, Romanticism because it dodges reality to reach spirit, and Naturalism because it embraces “reality” and ignores spirit.

It was this Futurist school that furnished Pirandello his background. Yet Pirandello simply will not fit the niche Italian literature prepared for him. He has burst even the Futurist form and created a form of his own. One cannot imagine Pirandello adopting the motto “Marciare non Marcire.” While contemporary Italy talks of birth and growth with such consistent violence that one is reminded of a maternity ward, Pirandello is torn by actual creation, creation of life, which like all life and unlike most programs bears within itself both a positive and negative content. He is the creator of Henry IV, the “Hamlet of the twentieth century,” a vagrant driven spirit full of bitter humor and tragic doubts. He is too humorous in the midst of tragedy—come, drunken porter of Macbeth—for his Italian audiences. And he is altogether too speculative for a Fascist. Giovanni Gentile demands in the name of Fascism that all Italians cease gazing from the window and come down into the street. Pirandello, with his “thin feasting smile,” is still at the window; but one may, admire Fascism and still feel that Pirandello’s window-seat is a more active place than ever the street can be. Indeed, for Pirandello, the creative artist, the street would represent the very escape from life that Fascism intends to prevent.

Dr. Starkie considers “Shoot!” and “The Late Mattia Pascal” Pirandello’s best novels. He renders the valuable service of pointing out to English and American readers that Pirandello is as important in the realm of novels and short stories as in drama, where he is best known to foreigners. Fortunately Mr. Scott Moncrieff, who translated “Shoot!”, is at work on the short stories, of which twenty-four volumes of fifteen each are being issued by the Florentine publisher, Bemporad, as Novelle per un anno — a tale’for every day in the year.

“Shoot!” purports to be the diary of a cinematograph operator, the observer at the window of life again. This Serafino Gubbio, like Mattia Pascal, is the incarnation of detachment and the incarnation of Pirandello. Pirandello is un-Futuristic, un-Fascist, in these doubts about life, these doubts about doubts themselves. Again, the Futurists, the Fascists, glorify mechanics, steel, power, subjected of course to the dominant will of man. Pirandello paints, but without the Romanticists’ sentimental excitement, the cold fury of the cinema actors against the mechanics of their art which steals away their living audience, and against Gubbio who, black cloth over his head, begins to turn the handle and “preserve”—in the tin-can sense—their art, whenever the director calls “Shoot!” What Gubbio sees, both when turning and not turning, is passion, violence, stupidity, beauty, hatred.

The novel is not only powerful; it is clever in construction to the point of genius. Pirandello forces on us the most bizarre situations without sacrificing the sense of reality one gets from a contemporary milieu. For instance, Henry IV is really a twentieth century madman convinced—or half convinced — that he is the Emperor Henry IV who stood at Canossa. So the stabbing occurs in a dark castle hall with medieval trappings, but the secret councillors light cigarettes behind Henrj’s back and talk in modern slang. Similarly, Aldo Nuti was torn to pieces by a real tiger, but while Gubbio was recording the scene on a reel of film for the Public.

When Gubbio has literally lost his speech through the nervous shock of watching Nuti’s death—though he never ceased turning—he becomes at last the ideal operator, the ideal observer, able to record but not to participate in life.

Is it a paradox that in Gubbio—Mattia Pascal—Pirandello has out-created his forerunners and become to many the most important writer in Italy? While his contemporaries glorified the will to live, glorified conviction, damned doubt and intellectualism and hesitancy, Pirandello appeared, and tortured, doubting, hesitant, created Life, which is more positive than a positive program, just because it includes denial within itself. Fascism, and even Futurism, may never reach their goal of breathing spirit into a dispirited civilization, may indeed only improve the railways, eliminate beggars from the streets. But just here Pirandello takes his seat at the window, and because he has a superabundance of spirit, hangs his head with impunity in doubt and discouragement. If this is a paradox, it is because life is a paradox.

May one disagree with Dr. Starkie on a point of emphasis? I have personally read a bare dozen of Pirandello’s short stories, and presumably Dr. Starkie has read all that have as yet been published. But I cannot from my slender experience subscribe to the theory of Pirandello’s heart-lessness. Pirandello is of course an analyst, and is more profoundly interested in mind and its pains than in the mere passion of unthinking flesh. This throws sometimes a cold light on his work. But I think he suffered noiselessly when, in La balia, Annicchia Marullo went heavy-hearted off to Rome; or when, in Fa bene, Professor Cosmo Antonio Corvara Amidei, who had shrugged his shoulders and murmured “Never mind!” to every foul jest life had played him, for the first time could not get the words past the lump of anguish in his throat. It is not Pirandello’s place as an artist to parade his pity; but how could he hurt so, did he not know pain?

No, Pirandello is indeed at the window, thinking with terrible clearness. His heart is where every artist’s heart is, in the street, under the feet of passing men.


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