Detail of Watch

Il segreto macchinismo dietro il quadrante dell’orologio. For a New Visual Rendition of Gadda’s Pasticciaccio

Manuela Marchesini

Un lettore di Kant non può credere in una realtà obiettivata, isolata, sospesa nel vuoto; ma della realtà, o piuttosto del fenomeno, ha il senso come di una parvenza caleidoscopica dietro cui si nasconda un «quid» più sottilmente operante, come dietro il quadrante dell’orologio, si nasconde il suo segreto macchinismo più vero.

(Un’opinione sul neorealismo, SGF I 630)

The reception of the 1957 volume edition of Quer pasticciaccio (previously partially serialised in Letteratura in 1946) amounts to a combination of popularity and elitism which recalls that of its illustrious model, Manzoni’s Promessi sposi (Andreini 2001a: 243-86). Just like its predecessor, Pasticciaccio functions as a litmus test for hermeneutics at large, when the latter is conceived as the relationship between critique and commentary, between what Benjamin called the wok of art’s «truth content» and its «material content» in their supposed collapsing one into another. (1) It is hardly a surprise, then, that the notoriously controversial interpretive dimension of Pasticciaccio (the novel of 1957) is bound to haunt its most visibly concrete commentaries; namely, its several visual renditions, for the screen and for the stage, starting with Gadda’s own attempt to transform it into a film script. In this article I would like to focus on the hermeneutic relationship between the text and its visual comments, and I will do so from an unabashedly literary standpoint. I will survey the manners in which the novel has so far found its ways into its visual transcriptions, in order to examine their import and their interpretive contribution for the understanding of one of the most popular fictions of 20th century Italian literature. In particular, I will consider its last and most successful version – Ronconi’s staging for the theatre – which succeeds, I am tempted to say, in spite on its own debatable premises. In a previous essay (Marchesini 2004), I have reviewed and discussed the pertinent, rich, and often divided literary scholarship surrounding the interpretation and the legacy of Gadda’s work, while attempting a reading of Pasticciaccio that, while focusing on its ending, is not reduced to it. In this article I will exploit those considerations insofar as they can be useful to pry open current stagings of the novel which, after all, in spite of their different media, still do lend themselves to entertain some sort of (positive or negative) relationship with the novel – in other words, with literature. What does literature have to offer to stage and screen? Is literature just one big collector of possible plotlines waiting for the better chance (the screen/stage life) with the financial benefits to authors, and entertainment value to audiences, which this potentially entails? And what is, for the sake of its audience, the latitude of what cinema and theatre can do with regards to those fictions?

As far as Pasticciaccio is concerned, and pushing further along the lines of some recent scholarship, not only do I think that there is a figure in the carpet, a mechanism behind the clock of the mystery novel, but also that in view of such mechanism our reading of the novel (and perhaps our understanding of Gadda’s work) may change altogether, thus calling for a parallel change also in its visual rendition. Mine wants to be a critical reflection that argues for and points towards a direction worth exploring; it goes without saying that its actual staged implementation is beyond the scope of this work. I will argue that it is possible to produce a visual transcription that takes further Ronconi’s correct and sporadic intuition, and transforms it into a systematic framework that organises the whole work, not just a portion of it. In my view this can happen, however, only if we accept a conception of literature and of Pasticciaccio that is more visionary than illustrative, (2) and we accept, accordingly, that truth content and material content veritably come together in the crucible that is the work of art. Perhaps, such version might end up being more a massacre (though a massacre of rigour, in Carmelo Bene’s sense) (3) than the faithful transcription required by an idea of philological correctness that too often risks being narrowly conceived and distant from the genuine legacy of its practitioners.

Pasticciaccio’s first cinematic script was authored by Gadda himself for Roman Lux Film, presumably in 1947–48, with the title Il palazzo degli ori (SVP 1403-415). No film would ever be realised from it. In 1959, the neorealist movie director Pietro Germi directed (and starred in) the first actual filmic version of Pasticciaccio, titled Un maledetto imbroglio, but Gadda declined to participate in the project. Other renditions of the novel follow the writer’s passing in 1973: a 1983 TV series by Schivazappa, followed by an acclaimed 1996 theatrical mise en scène by Luca Ronconi. This last play was so well received that Giuseppe Bertolucci adapted it to a two hour-long version for the small screen in 1997.

Three media thus intersect on the same text – literature, theatre, and cinema – all stressing the issue of the ending, which appears to contain the key to the whole mystery. (4) Are we facing a postmodern opera aperta à la Eco, or rather a quite typical exemplar of the whodunit genre? Scores of interpreters, from Michel Butor and Italo Calvino to past and present scholars in and outside of Italy, have grappled with the novel’s alleged incompleteness. (5) In this context, it is even more puzzling to consider that Gadda refused to be involved in Germi’s filmic rendition, and that he abandoned his own script. Both texts, we may recall, provided the explicit ending that Pasticciaccio lacks. (6) In the present context, I would like to examine the consequences of such refusal of Pasticciaccio’s ending for its visual transcriptions. Our faithfulness to Gadda’s text can be moved a step further than Ronconi’s and his close reading, towards a rendition of the novel, both on stage and on screen, that takes into account the mechanism behind the watch of the 1957 Garzanti version.

The literary operation Gadda devised with Pasticciaccio’s ending in 1957 was not only at odds with the neorealist filmic and literary vogue of the time (Andreini 2001a: 270-72), but also with Gadda’s own desire of being «Conandoyliano» to attract the «grosso pubblico» (Novella seconda, RR II 1315-316). In stark contrast with his initial wish to conform and appease, the implications of Pasticciaccio’s literary ending, concerned as they are with the issue of gender and sex, (7) ran counter to Gadda’s unwavering pleas to be left alone – essere lasciato nell’ombra (Gadda 1993b: 186). With his testament novel, Gadda produced a mystery framed by the template of a Dantesque and Vergilian journey, which he eventually distorted by collapsing the three canticles (hell, purgatory and paradise) into one single veritable vision, il punto cui tutti tutti li tempi son presenti (as in Par. XVII 18). Pasticciaccio is in other words a secular, contemporary comedìa, which radicalises a Dantesque model already quite knotty in its own right: «nell’inferno dantesco si incontrano uomini che credevamo in paradiso, e nel purgatorio, avviati al paradiso, uomini che credevamo sicuramente all’inferno», Gadda commented in 1950. (8) In other words, all Pasticciaccio’s noted and studied features, from the generic issue of identity in its psychological, ethical, philosophical dimensions (io being notoriously the most hideous of all pronouns, as stated in La cognizione del dolore) to its absolutely central and thorny question of sexual / gender identity, all these features fall into their places, with their own exhilarating and devastating power, within the framework of Pasticciaccio as a veritable, if twisted, comedìa (Marchesini 2004). As far as I can see, a staging that captures this dimension has yet to be produced. Yet, we can hardly do justice to Pasticciaccio’s truth content, as genuine hermeneutics requires, unless we tackle this complex dimension. Let me examine the existing visual renditions from the point of view of this hermeneutics of the ending I am proposing as my leading criterion.

Both filmic versions of the novel, Germi’s and Schivazappa’s, prefer to avoid the enigma of the literary ending simply by resolving it – as, of course, they are perfectly entitled to do. I would like to stress that this is not a problem pertaining to the literary style of Pasticciaccio. Rather, it concerns the rendition / transcription into a visual form of the literary ending in its retrospective, pervasive interpretive force. Thus, the problem I am focusing on concerns the relationship between the literary and the visual. The problem, to put it differently, is to render in visual terms the enigma of the novel that amounts to a quite precise and not mysterious vision.

Germi and Schivazappa choose not to account for the unexpected and frankly disconcerting repenting of the supposed truth seeker of the story, Francesco Ingravallo. They are hardly the first ones who try to address the problem by removing it; Gadda himself, wishing to meet the expectations of a wider audience and capture the «pubblico fino» by way of the «pubblico grosso» (Novella seconda, RR II 1318), had done the same with his rejected cinematic script, Il palazzo degli ori, which identified the assassin with Virginia. Regretfully, as Federica Pedriali justly puts it, Il palazzo degli ori, as Gadda immediately realised, is a poor work: «visualise a Carolina Invernizio for the screen, structured on sudden close-ups and emotive fade-outs […] and you have the film Gadda was envisaging» (Pedriali 2001a: 185).

By embracing the novel’s realism and picturesque qualities of Roman regional colour, Pietro Germi managed, as Pasolini pointedly commented, to squeeze out of his reading of Pasticciaccio the best movie of his career. Germi’s «qualunquismo puritano», Pasolini wrote, «produced a sentimental movie, a conventional film noir with a conventional ending». «Che cosa aveva dato Gadda a Germi, col Pasticciaccio?», Pasolini continued, «Qualcosa di enorme. […] Una volta ridotta la materia del gigante gaddiano alle norme della buona tecnica e del buon sentimento, Germi ha girato, con tutta la tecnica e il sentimento, il migliore film della sua carriera». (9) Indeed, Germi’s Ingravallo, played by Germi himself, is a macho figure whose troubled anti-intellectualism could not be more at odds with the doctor in philosophy who leads the inquiry in the literary Pasticciaccio. According to Germi, Diomede, Assunta’s fiancé, is the culprit. The innocent Assunta, played by the young and gorgeous Claudia Cardinale, emulates Anna Magnani’s famous rush after the Nazi truck at the end of Rossellini’s Open City (Gutkowski 2002). «Sconteremo insieme quel delitto!» is her final melodramatic line.

Schivazappa, in his turn, with his enjoyable quadripartite TV version of the novel, holds on to the mimetic dimension of the story by way of a well-cast group of actors who manage to flesh out the anthropological, regional, and linguistic qualities of the novel. He combines Virginia and Assunta into a single character, a move that Ronconi will repeat in the theatre, following Gadda’s own oscillating treatment of the two cousins between Letteratura’s and Garzanti’s versions. (10) The difference is that for Schivazappa the culprit is Virginia, not Assunta; she murders Liliana in Assunta’s presence. In other words, in order to make the narrative more palatable to viewers, both Germi and Schivazappa intervened on the narrative mimetic sequence of the story by forcing a clear-cut solution that the novel was apparently missing (and Gadda did not object to).

Luca Ronconi was the first visual interpreter to openly engage with Pasticciaccio in its integrity, not only by keeping close to its famous / infamous (pluri)linguistic texture, but also by avoiding a rewriting of the finale. He produced a remarkable multi-hour philological rendering for the theatre, a commentary on the novel whose ambition is to be faithful to the literary text rather than to interpret it. «Applicando coerentemente il principio della fedeltà […] alla pagina romanzesca», he stated, «ho pensato ad una “edizione” teatrale dell’opera di Gadda, più che ad un suo “adattamento” scenico». (11) On stage, Ronconi’s actors are in fact deprived of a psychological life and constrained to be the veritable bearers of Gadda’s voice, reciting his pages, word by word, by way of «un metodo di recitazione […] linguistico» (Longhi 2001a: 163). At the end of the play, through an act of «imagination» (as Ronconi says) sprung forth from such linguistic auscultation of the text, Assunta is correctly identified as the culprit amongst all the potential suspects. (12) The theatrical device Ronconi uses to make such points on stage is a longer pause in the actress’s articulation of the novel’s final line: «non… son stata io!», which equals to an admission of guilt (Longhi 2001a: 149).

Ronconi’s rendering of Pasticciaccio, his faithfulness to Gadda’s literary text, has in other words a clear linguistic character. It is a feature that certainly, and one should say courageously, goes against the grain of standard manipulations of the text, whose main obstacle has always been deemed to be the difficulty of its language. Ronconi offers an unmistakably Manzonian answer to the question of what aspects of Pasticciaccio had most spurred his theatrical interest: «In primo luogo la lingua. La drammaturgia italiana soffre di un’endemica povertà linguistica largamente determinate da fattori storici quale la mancanza di una secolare tradizione di italiano parlato» (Andreini 2001a: 265-66). In his conversation with Alba Andreini, he reiterates: «Se infatti, come molti esegeti di Gadda hanno mostrato, taluni personaggi e parecchie situazioni dell’opera rivelano a un’attenta lettura probabili antecedenti “scenici”, penso però che la tormentata – e “narrativa” – passione per la scena di Gadda nel Pasticciaccio trovi il proprio coronamento soprattutto sul piano linguistico» (Andreini 2001b: 288). Ronconi shares such a penchant for Gadda’s symptomatic style (which stems from an aspect of Contini’s and Roscioni’s influential studies) (13) with a great deal of Gadda’s criticism in Italy and abroad, and according to which Gadda is obsessed, for good or for bad, by the demon / angel of language as neurosis: «in realtà quello che Gadda chiede al proprio lettore [in Pasticciaccio]» Ronconi says, «non è di “partecipare” all’intreccio / intrigo della narrazione, ma è di aderire al suo gioco verbale» (Andreini 2001b: 289). Such feature of his work, although alternatively held for or against Gadda because of the fragmentation and fatigue it gives rise to, has recently come under increasingly vocal scrutiny (cf. for instance Benedetti 2002: 23-25 and Donnarumma 2004c). But Ronconi sides with a previous, scholarly critical tradition, and conceives Gadda above all as a phenomenon of style whose linguistic bravura bespeaks of and subsumes everything.

Claudio Longhi, in his sympathetic critical reflections on Ronconi’s work, wishes to reinforce Ronconi’s critical point, but in doing so he exposes, I think, a deeper sets of problems lying at its core. Ronconi’s ability and sensibility manage to partially overcome these problems on stage, but his solution is hardly viable outside it. The problem is, as far as I can see, that while on the one hand Claudio Longhi appeals to Benjamin’s (but for Italy, also Contini’s) (14) dialectic of interpretation / comment as the conflated recto / verso of the same operation, on the other hand he, like Ronconi, de facto embraces literality for its own sake. In spite of Longhi’s declarations of intent, reading and commenting remain, as Ronconi explicitly states, two disconnected activities: «o si segue l’autore nel valzer delle sue associazioni e dei suoi funanbolismi linguistici o il racconto, dopo poche pagine, risulta inerte e quasi del tutto ininteressante» (Andreini 2001b: 289). Ronconi’s philological edition of Pasticciaccio for the theatre (not its version or adaptation) gets the praise it deserves as an original interpretation of Gadda’s mystery precisely insofar as it lets shine, by way of the least invasive impact on its fabric (i.e., its linguistic fabric) the truth of the text through the intrinsic power of its letter. (15) Longhi and Ronconi posit that the best way to approach Gadda is according to the letter, and they act accordingly, each one in his own field of expertise, in what they perceive as an act of homage to literature at large, this sophisticated expressive form which, vis à vis contemporary media, is on the verge of obsolescence. In my view, however, intentions are not on a par with results, because they still appear to behold an implicit (and for me, reductive) view of the work of art and of philology according to which the letter is above all self-evident. I have serious misgivings about the self explanatory quality of the work of art – be it literature, cinema, or theatre – especially if this self-evidence is handed down not as one possible accident in substance, so to speak, but as the natural, necessary, and necessitating substance of art itself. Such is, perhaps, the source of perplexity currently, if quietly, circulating in the literary sphere when it comes down to a confrontation about the relationship between literature and media, as in Paolo Nori comment: «Da un po’ di tempo in qua, sembra che la massima riuscita, per un libro, sia diventare un film. O, ancora meglio, uno sceneggiato televisivo. È talmente forte, questa vocazione cinematografica e televisiva, che molti libri alla fine ormai hanno anche i titoli di coda». (16) In other words, I wonder if the debate which pits high culture against its popular counterpart is in fact a mere stand-in for the real issue – namely, the status and role of the work of art, and thus of criticism and reflection. In other words, like Antonio Moresco, Tiziano Scarpa, Wu Ming, and others, Nori may perhaps lack manners (the way Roberto Longhi’s provincial painters of the Italian XIII and XIV century lacked manners, and thus looked ugly when compared with their Renaissance counterparts). But such querying is genuine, of the essence: and deserving to be addressed. (17)

This is also what lays at the core of the disenchantment that Carmelo Bene, a remarkably different man of theatre (and of literature as well), expressed toward Ronconi’s play. Bene’s opinion was tempered in his greeting Ronconi’s work as being «assai migliore di quel che si è scritto intorno a Gadda» (Andreini 2001a: 264). Ronconi’s Pasticciaccio is «un ottimo saggio critico sul testo letterario» but, Bene adds immediately, «io credo che il teatro debba andare su un’altra strada». What is the use of theatre as a form of criticism of criticism, he argues, as a criticism to the second degree? In fact, a literary critic might be tempted to ask, what is the use of such a criticism altogether? Bene’s remark pays a moderate compliment to Ronconi’s play and even a lesser one, for that matter, to literary criticism. He is evidently thinking of himself as an alternative to Ronconi’s textual faithfulness, as borne witness by his own controversial versions (he called them massacres) of canonical, Western literary texts, from Shakespeare and Manzoni to Pinocchio (M. Marchesini, Between Collodi’s Ringmaster, cit.). At stake here in Bene and Ronconi are two very different manners of engaging past and present art in the mold of reflexive criticism (massacre vs. faithfulness), which perhaps refer to two contrasting modes of living life altogether. At the core of both attitudes, however, lies the Benjaminian premise which Bene and (for Ronconi) Claudio Longhi appear to share: that of a critical disposition as a necessary function of our enjoyment of the arts; of criticism, in Contini’s terms, as the rational unfolding of an intuition, of an implication summed up in the dialectic of diligenza and voluttà – reason and intuition, factual rigour and sheer enjoyment. (18) It seems to me, however, that Claudio Longhi’s agreement on the celebrated Benjaminian notion is perhaps more formal than substantial. I think that our grasp of Pasticciaccio can yet be furthered, from a literary as well as from a performative standpoint, by a critical move that leaves aside the preponderance of a letter that hardly speaks by itself, as Benjamin and Contini well understood. My proposal for Pasticciaccio is (systematically if provisionally) to shift the focus of attention from the language to the narrative of Pasticciaccio, in other words, to what Ronconi and so many other influential interpreters still consider a «trama piuttosto “lassa”, a non dire bislacca». (19) As Contini himself tauntingly suggested (though at variance with of his very own critical take on Gadda’s work, and even more so with Contini’s subsequent scholarly legacy), Gadda-the-narrator may turn out to be even more fearless than Gadda-the-expressionist master of style which, in Contini’s wake, has been the passionate topic of so many excellent studies. (20)

Let me quickly recall the two series of events that lead to the problematic ending of the novel (while for the rest of the argument see Marchesini 2004). In the final three chapters of Pasticciaccio we have two parallel journeys, bordering the city of Rome and its countryside, that carabiniere corporal Pestalozzi and commissario di polizia officer Ingravallo embark upon, on the very same day, taking off at the same hour. Their joint intention is to further the two investigations of two crimes, a robbery of jewels and a homicide that occurred just days apart but on the same floor of the same apartment building. (21) The narrator gives us the tale of an allegorical journey to the underworld in the tradition of Homer, Vergil, and above all, of Dante. Furthermore, Gadda stages not just a reenactment of a single portion of Dante’s journey (Hell), but rather accomplishes an extraordinary synthesis of all three of Dante’s canticles – hell, purgatory, and paradise. Pasticciaccios troubled ending has been engineered to be as close as possible to that dark bottom where aesthetics and pragmatics coincide in what Gadda called the «heuristic germ» or seed of relationships where so-called reality is processed. (22) This dark bottom is where the morass of relations that make up the forever tangled reality finally comes to confront its own singular nature; where the principium contradictionis, along with the palace of ethics, as well as all gender / sex related boundaries finally collapse into one point, a radical overturning of Dante’s «il punto a cui tutti li tempi son presenti» (Par. XVII 18).

Gadda’s novel notoriously concludes with the face-off between Ingravallo and Assunta. Both Assunta and her dying father literally stand on the bowels of Hell, in Tor di Gheppio («far di gheppio» is an Italian expression meaning to die). In Dante’s hell, all infernal rivers meet in the lake of Cocitus, which stands perpetually frozen by the sweeping wings of Lucifer’s towering body. We are also near the centre of the earth, which in the Ptolemaic conception is the central point of the material universe. This consideration can be linked to the opening episode of Pasticciaccio, the lunch at the Balducci’s. It is precisely this scene (whose relevance for the plot Ronconi’s intuition unmistakably grasp: «il pranzo è l’accordo su cui si fonda l’intera armonia», Longhi 2001a: 123) that further supports the identification of the final scene of Pasticciaccio with Hell’s pit, and its female character, Assunta, with the traitor and assassin of her mistress Liliana. During the festive lunch, when Ciccio Ingravallo represses his attraction for the sensual maid Assunta, he must also repress, at the same time, as the narrator puts it, a visione at whose centro are «quegli occhi dell’Assunta: quell’alterigia: come fosse una sua degnazione servirli a tavola. Al centro… di tutto il sistema… tolemaico: già, tolemaico. Al centro, parlanno con rispetto, quer po’ po’ de signorino» (RR II 20). (23) The reticence or hesitation is Gadda’s own and calls our attention to the words just uttered. It is quite a vulgar observation: Ingravallo’s male praise switches from Assunta’s paradisiacal eyes (at the end of the novel, the hallmark of Assunta’s ambiguous figure of which Ronconi has captured only the infernal side) to Assunta’s shapely bottom. This reference game, like many others in Pasticciaccio, takes us a step closer to an understanding of Pasticciaccio the novel as comedìa, as the liminal space for a mix of high and low. Such tying up of beginning and ending cannot be a coincidence: in spite of her name, her eyes, and her vision-like presence, Assunta (a namesake semantically revealing to the point that Gadda explicitly entertained it as a potential title of his novel – RR II 1152, letter to Garzanti, May 1957) is unequivocally the traitor of her lady benefactor. Thus, Gadda punishes her accordingly, though vicariously, in the frozen body of her dying father – a veritable, once again Dantesque, festuca in vetro, like the ones that populate Alighieri’s nightmarish scene of Inferno. In conclusion, a series of intra- and inter-textual clues bear witness to Assunta as the culprit. (24)

If this is the case, I believe that there is more to be evinced from such an ending and from the identification of Assunta as the culprit. Assunta’s eyes also tell another story, a story that goes beyond redemption and guilt and clearly beyond the strictures of the Conandoylian genre to which Pasticciaccio technically subscribes. In fact, whereas Dante’s itinerary is a journey of redemption and salvation, with Hell as its first station, Gadda’s search for truth begins (at the lunch at the Balducci’s) and ends (in Tor di Gheppio) in Assunta’s eyes, in a sort of abominable inversion of the supreme vision experienced in Paradise XXXIII. It is a reference of which Gadda, who labelled Dante the Pilgrim a «peregrino del mondo di cognizione», evidently through the mirror of himself, can hardly be unaware. (25)

Dante’s culminating experience in Paradise was portrayed as the concert of refracting gazes that locked together Dante the Pilgrim, Beatrice, Bernard, and God himself. At the end of Pasticciaccio, we are confronted with a structurally identical event at whose core, however, we find a sure culprit, literally a demon from the deepest Hell. Assunta is a demon, but nonetheless, as her namesake clearly connotes, she still holds the eyes and the countenance of the most revered and blessed characters of Dante’s poem, from Beatrice to the Virgin Mary herself, a coincidence that is obliquely reinforced over and over again (Marchesini 2004: 128). The blasphemy of Assunta’s portrayal in the closing scene of Pasticciaccio finally casts some light also onto the series of apparent non-sequiturs that make up the last interaction between her and Ingravallo, which have puzzled interpreters for so long. The biggest illogical twist occurs in the final scene, where Ingravallo violently scolds Assunta – just as Beatrice scolds Dante in Purgatory XXX – and urges her to take responsibility for her crime when, instead of the girl, it is Ingravallo who happens to end up frozen into repentance. Indeed, if Assunta is the culprit, as it seems reasonable to assume, why does Ingravallo retract his accusation to the point of almost repenting?

The fact is that in Gadda’s secular application, the structural mold of Dante’s Comedìa is not a journey of salvation but a historical experience. After all, this is 1927 Fascist Rome, not Hell. Like all of Pasticciaccio’s characters, the Gaddian narrator occupies a vantage point that can only be statutorily internal to the system itself. From such a point of view, it is hard to determine the distinctions upon which our rational life is based. Consistent with Gadda’s philosophical and narratological convictions espoused in Meditazione milanese and Racconto di ignoto del novecento, the rational habit of drawing distinctions, this Herculean task from which we cannot and must not escape, this passion we cannot say no to, gets seriously affected at the apex (or at the bottom) of Pasticciaccio’s ending, where Hell and Heaven coincide. This polar reversal and coincidence, this radical collapse of high and low – first carefully orchestrated throughout the novel, then hurried up and intensified into the last three chapters written for the 1957 edition, and finally thrown in our face in the final scene – is veritably engineered, and begs further consideration. In fact, what we are dealing with here is not yet another academic point concerned with the presumed correctness of the solution of the mystery, but rather, more importantly, the ultimate sense of Gadda’s epistemic search. After 1957, Gadda suspended his creative production never to resume it (Bersani 2003: 118-19). Gadda’s declaration, in 1962, about a draft of Pasticciaccio’s sequel is simply unverified by the documents, but deserves to be reported in full: «il séguito, [of Pasticciaccio] nella stesura grezza,» Gadda said, «è già scritto ed è già sistemabile in un racconto seguìto e pubblicabile, in certo senso: soltanto la tematica è tale da mettermi in difficoltà di ordine pratico rispetto all’ambiente in cui vivo». (26) Deciphering the hidden sense of Gadda’s words may be tempting (what theme is he alluding to – not just his own undisclosed homosexuality / cross-dressing, but perhaps his own homosexuality / cross-dressing finally made into a non-tabe or non-malady?) (27) Be as it may, it nonetheless amounts to a purely speculative exercise – the same as with the existence of possibly undisclosed Gaddian manuscripts. (28) The point is different. Pasticciaccio 1957, which exists in the form and with the conclusion that Gadda dispassionately and unequivocally wanted and defended for the rest of his life, is as tangible as it gets –and on that we definitely can apply pressure.

At the end of the novel, Assunta’s father – an emblem of decay who lies forever fixed in his frozen, voiceless, enigmatic body – embodies the collapse of all distinctions, even the basic distinctions of life / death, male / female. This character is an emblematic instance in the constant questioning of sexual / gender identities that is typical of Pasticciaccio, as scholarship has noted. But what counts is that such blurring of boundaries and of identities of all kinds exposes also the reasons behind Ingravallo’s (and not Assunta’s) final repentance. At the bottom of a Roman Hell, at the end of the game of shattered mirrors that the novel has been so far, when Ingravallo eventually comes to face the true identity of the murderer, what he sees in the mirror of Assunta’s eyes is himself. In Assunta’s feminine eyes, in that powerful, black, sexual vertical line on her forehead, he inevitably sees himself – not just himself as Liliana’s murderer (by force of his frustrated desire, of course) (29) but also, straightforwardly, as both the filthy and pure young woman Assunta is – thus resolving to do away with Liliana’s hypocritical, stifled femininity. (30) Repeating (with variation) Flaubert’s famous dictum, Gadda, by way of his alter ego officer Ingravallo, proclaims Assunta c’est moi – hence, the need of repentance, ripentirsi. Damning Lucifer and salvific Madonna in one, Assunta is thus a perfect match for Ingravallo, who, in turn, fulfills his role being at once both Beatrice (inviting her pupil to acknowledge his sins) and Dante the Pilgrim (crushed by the awareness of his guilt) in Purgatorio XXX. In Gadda’s perfectly immanent cosmogony, however, Ingravallo has no river of oblivion (Lethe) to erase his own memory, wash away his past sins, and appease his soul. Thus, the novel coherently ends at this precise juncture. Let me stress, once again, that the important point is not the identification of Ingravallo-Gadda with Assunta and the consequent assumption of her guilt for obvious psychological, personal reasons (something on which we may – as far as I am concerned not lamentably – never be able to speak intelligently). What is important are the consequences we may draw from the astonishing mise en scène of such identification.

This is an imperfect epiphany (no / quasi) whose negative, privative form risks being misleading because the truth of the matter is not just about negativity, sin, and pain. After all, the conclusion of Ingravallo’s journey is as much about Hell as it is about Heaven, as much about pain as about bliss. In other words, Gadda’s Pasticciaccio, and through it, the epistemic quest he engaged in during his lifetime, does not appear to reinforce what Hélène Cixous calls the mangling drama of the religion of the father, which, according to Freud (but also to Lacan and Kristeva) can only be perennially restaged. (31) Were this the case, Hell alone would have fulfilled the allegorical needs and urges of the author as a contrite, neurotic, and existentially pained narrator. Were this the case, Pasticciaccio would also be more in line with modern expectations, and thus also more easily catalogued and dismissed as a case of outdated idealism gone awry. But Pasticciaccio is not just another, or yet another, allegory of the drama of life as a mundane hellish labyrinth cast in a pyrotechnic language; it is not yet another instance of Barth’s literature of exhaustion. It is a double-edged knife: it is more like a modern peri bathos than the Romantic sublime, and it brings to mind the polemic intensity of the Scriblerians and Sterne rather than of Burke and the romantics, more Swiftean than Joycean. (32) Propelled by the urge of an extraordinary comic epic prosastic force, Gadda, the builder of at least one narrative edifice, the Pasticciaccio of 1957, appears to take his leave from Freud and his later interpreters, as well as from all the various labels that have been assigned recursively to him – the idealist, the romantic, the modernist, the (neo)realist, and the old and new avant-gardist. (33)

In Pasticciaccio’s final scene, quasi refers neither to a supposedly accomplished or failed epiphany of the modernist sort nor to any kind of messianic future or past. Rather, it points to the word’s intrinsic meaning. Quasi: at the end of Pasticciaccio do we face a remorseful repentance for a hardly confessable disease (the apparently unspeakable tabe, which Gadda often evoked in order to be left alone) or a final acceptance? Shall we despair because we are in Hell or rejoice because we are in Paradise? Both, Gadda tells his readers. It is the «combinational instinct» proper to our life, to our lot as «onnipotenziali» – «Anche i fatti anormali e terribili rientrano nella legge, se pure apparentemente sono ex lege», wrote Gadda in 1924, referring to crime, in Cahier d’études, the early canvas of the novel he strived to write. (34) While discussing the narratological ways of the «Gioco “ab interiore”» in the building and fruition of the novel, Gadda answered his own question regarding the extent to which a reader and an author, who are of one sex, could possibly have insight into the «inner personality» («interno della personalità») of the opposite sex:

Forse a noi appare di essere solamente maschi, ma in realtà nei misteriosi fondi della natura, siamo semplicemente dei polarizzati e potenzialmente possiamo essere l’uno e l’altro. E di questa potenzialità, precedente il nostro sviluppo, ci siamo dimenticati. Sed latet in imo. Perciò abbiamo forse della femminilità qualche cosa di più che una intuizione letteraria della intuizione fisiologica. (Racconto, SVP 463)

In other words, if Pasticciaccio inscribes a view of Assunta / Ingravallo as both Lucifer, or (even better) Medusa, and Madonna, which means that at the end of the novel we reach self-comprehension and acceptance, along with repentance. This is an instance, and an accomplished one indeed, of the «duetto d’amore» that Gadda was referring to in 1924: «il lettore deve passare dall’interno della personalità N. 1, all’interno della personalità N. 2 […] dall’interno di lui all’interno di lei» (SVP 462). For these reasons, I would like to make a plea for considering Gadda’s work in a light of joy rather than within an exclusive light of suffering. The chance for a comical appreciation of Gadda’s Pasticciaccio and perhaps for a reassessment of his legacy lies less in its reduction to a single data of psychology, philosophy, or literary style, and much more in the crucible of their interconnectedness. Pasticciaccio is rigorously spurious and risky (for the reader, too), and less a belletristic, over-intellectual representation of the attainment of knowledge in which the modernist, self-congratulatory reader can safely rejoice. (35)

Hannah Arendt, in her original response to Heidegger’s existential metaphysics, argues that the category of death and ending is central to metaphysical thought, while the category of natality and action is central to political thought. (36) If this is the case, Gadda’s Pasticciaccio is not only decisively positioned outside of metaphysical thought and in the realm of the egregiously political, but it can even be perceived as an instance of écriture feminine, albeit of the non-essentialist variety. Ingravallo’s final reckoning is an ending as much as a beginning. Pasticciaccio’s closure is as tragic as it is humorous; it is as much about death and pain as it is about life and joy.

Translating the above presented critical insights concerning Pasticciaccio into staging directions or a script falls, I believe, outside the scope of the present work. Rather, this exercise of literary criticism wishes to shed light on a set of precise themes of Pasticciaccio, and in particular on their patent and all too systematic interconnectedness in view of their current and future visual transcription. It seems to me that the text’s ambiguity and complexity is all but open to possibly multiple solutions, and not only as far as the apprehension of the murderer is concerned. Its version for screen or stage could be a rendition of the Dantesque, inexorable descent, in infernal, fascist Rome of an Ingravallo who is the reversal of Germi’s; a comedy of shadows in reversing roles which is nonetheless never oblivious of the heavenly quality of our lot and earthly location, Rome would be perfect! It could provide an amplification of Ronconi’s intuition of the centrality of the two core scenes, lunch at the Balducci and the final confrontation, which reaches far, really far beyond the final escamotage of the suspended articulation – «No, non… son stata io». Because I believe that in Pasticciaccio, his testamentary novel, Gadda has set aside all indeterminacy in favour of a far more radical and deliberate truth: the truth of a systematic shifting of boundaries that is posited as intrinsic to the whole mimetic enterprise, not just its end. Comedy and tragedy, joy and pain, male and female, guilt and innocence, high and low, they all come together in exitu novel, in exitu Gadda, that is to say, in their exhilarating exordium. I can only wish for a visionary director who will engage with this message, this grain of truth (Benjamin), this mechanism behind the clock that Gadda’s masterpiece has so well encrypted in rigorously plain sight.

Texas A & M University


1. W. Benjamin, Goethe’s Elective Affinities, in Selected Writings, vol. I (1913-26) (Cambridge: Harvard University Press), 297.

2. The distinction belongs, for Italy, to the critical vocabulary of the art historian Roberto Longhi and is assimilated by the literary critic Gianfranco Contini, who in turns shares it with Carlo Emilio Gadda – for a study on this issue in its implications, see Marchesini 2005.

3. For a discussion of Bene’s approach to the staging of literary classics, from Manzoni to Shakespeare and Collodi, see M. Marchesini, Between Collodi’s Ringmaster and Manzoni’s «Capocomico»: Antihumanism or the Circus of Life in Carmelo Bene’s «Pinocchio», in Michael Sherberg (ed.), Approaches to Teaching Collodi’s Pinocchio and Its Adaptations (New York: MLA Books, 2006), 136-43.

4. See Gutkowski 2002; Longhi 2001a; Tessari 2001; Prono 2001; Rushing 2001: 130-149 (137-40).

5. The seminal «statuesque trope» (Rushing 2001: 144) of the Gaddian text as an instance of literary non finito, as a Rodin of literature, stems from Butor 1963: 54-55 and Calvino 1995: I, 1072.

6. For a detailed discussion of the interpretive record on Pasticciaccio’s ending and its alleged incompleteness, in scholarship from both sides of the Atlantic, see Marchesini 2004: 109-34. In that essay I dealt also with the somehow intricate relationship between Pasticciaccio’s various versions and Gadda’s rejected script. Shortly after, Gioanola 2004: 337-52 independently arrived to the same solution I argue for Pasticciaccio’s finale (the identification of Ingravallo with Assunta the murderer), but on a Freudian basis which, although reasonable, seems to me also nonetheless highly reductive.

7. The high occurrence of conspicuously sexual images which characterise Pasticciaccio has prompted a number of Freudian and Lacanian readings of Detective Ingravallo’s attempts to separate himself from his mother and to achieve masculinity through his eventual acknowledgement of the feminine (for her part Bertone 1993 argues that at the end of Pasticciaccio Ingravallo achieves his masculinity at the expense of the negated feminine). For variously Freud-inspired readings of Pasticciaccio’s finale see: Amigoni 1995a; Bertoni 2001: 195-313; Diaconescu-Blumenfeld 1999: 30-38 and 1995: 117-21; De Benedictis 1991: 139-68.

8. Un’opinione sul neorealismo, SGF I 630 – Gadda refers to the oversimplification proper to a certain wave of neorealism, whose attitude towards reality he could not share.

9. P.P. Pasolini, Lo stile di Germi, in I film degli altri, a cura di T. Kezich (Parma: Guanda, 1996), 18-19.

10. See Longhi 2001a: 131-32; Andreini 2001a: 282; Amigoni 1995a: 140-41; Pinotti 2003b: 349-65 (351).

11. Cited in Longhi 2001a: 109-11 – see 170-90 for Ronconi’s past and future revisitations of Western classics.

12. Longhi 2001a: 122-26. Ronconi clearly elaborates on Amigoni’s critical insight (Amigoni 1995a: 129), thus joining the growing number of recent interpreters who, for different reasons and with different consequences, have identified Assunta as being responsible for the homicide – Benedetti, Amigoni, Leucadi, Longhi, Rushing, Bertoni, Marchesini, Gioanola.

13. Contini’s essays on Gadda, dating from the thirties (now Contini 1989); Roscioni 1969a (now 1995a).

14. Longhi 2001a: 170. Contini claims «Potrebbe dunque darsi che la fenomenologia, se descritta correttamente, concludesse da sé a conclusioni dell’ordine del valore», because «La critica è una sola: e perciò la controparte della “interpretazione” che si diceva […] sarà il riconoscimento della critica di valore puro come variante-limite della critica euristicamente filologica» – respectively from Esercizi di lettura sopra autori contemporanei (Turin: Einaudi, 1974, new ed.), 157; Altri esercizi (1942-1971) (Turin: Einaudi, 1972), 105. For a study of a combination of philology and criticism as «critica totale» and its implications, see Marchesini 2005: 45-46.

15. For an exemplification of literality and its effects, see also Marchesini 2006: 252-61.

16. P. Nori, Ente nazionale della cinematografia popolare (Turin: Einaudi, 2005), 126 – he continues, «Io poco tempo fa quando mi è capitato in mano un libro coi titoli di coda, ho pensato che era come se andavo al cinema [sic] e alla fine c’era l’indice. È come se i libri da soli fossero ancora una forza intermedia, come se aspirassero tutti a andare a finire nel serbatoio della cinematografia nazionale che quella sì, invece, che conta, il destino del cinema italiano, o dello sceneggiato televisivo, italiano».

17. For a good example, see M. Amici, La narrazione come mitopoiesi secondo Wu Ming, in Bollettino di Italianistica. Rivista di critica, storia letteraria, filologia e linguistica no. 1, 2006.

18. See L. Ripa di Meana, Diligenza e voluttà. Ludovica Ripa di Meana interroga Gianfranco Contini (Milan: Mondadori, 1989).

19. Ronconi’s words are cited in Andreini 2001a: 289. Even though there are scholars who have questioned the alleged lack of consistency of Pasticciaccio’s plotline, it can hardly be denied that that interpretation still enjoys a considerable – and perhaps overwhelming – support. See again, for instance, Benedetti 2002 and Donnarumma 2004c.

20. Contini 1989: 53: «per un Gadda narratore […] persino più temerario del Gadda stilista».

21. For the deliberate coincidence of their trips, see Marchesini 2004: 117-18. The date, March 23, at daybreak, very close to the spring equinox and coinciding with the beginning of Dante the Pilgrim’s journey, is a date that Gadda stresses over and over again. Similarly Gadda, 70 pages later, brings attention to the coincidence by means of another of his devilish tricks, the mistaken, not updated, calendar: «Don Ciccio, intanto, neppur lui non aveva perso tempo. Rincasato a mezzanotte emmezzo, “lunedì ventuno marzo Benedetto da Norcia,” enunciò l’appeso al chiodo calendario […] col foglio di due dì prima che la sora Margherita s’era scordata di togliere» (RR II 258). As a result, the date and parallelism of the two journeys is unequivocally reinforced.

22. Cf. Gadda, Le belle lettere e i contributi espressivi delle tecniche, SGF I 488: «[il] fondo cupo d’ogni rappresentazione [dove] sia ritrovabile ancora quello stesso germine euristico che è la sintesi operatrice del reale».

23. «[T]hose eyes of Assunta’s, that pride: as if she were denigrated by serving them at the table. In the center... of the whole ... Ptolemaic system; yes, Ptolemaic. In the center, meaning no offense, that terrific behind» (That Awful Mess, 1984: 11).

24. See note 12. For Assunta’s father as a Dantesque counterpart, see Marchesini 2004: 127.

25. From the dedication to Raffaele Mattioli – Verso la Certosa, SGF I 278. For the double Ingravallo / Gadda and presence of autobiography under the veil of fiction, see Andreini 2001a: 292 and footnote.

26. See Gadda 1993c: 150 – the interview, dated September 4, 1962, for RAI, continues: «E quale potrà essere il titolo del suo nuovo romanzo? Il titolo potrebbe essere, parafrasando da Dumas, “Venti giorni dopo”, perché realmente gli avvenimenti si svolgono o si completano nel lasso di tempo di venti giorni da quello che è stato già scritto».

27. See Dombroski 1984a: 110 – «L’aspetto sessuale della biografia gaddiana (spicca il suo travestismo) è un aspetto importante che influisce su tutta la sua personalità letteraria»; Roscioni 1997: 300-01; F. Gnerre, L’eroe negato. Omosessualità e letteratura nel Novecento italiano (Milan: Baldini & Castoldi, 2000), 91-105.

28. «Quei “tratti già predisposti”, épave di QP 1947-48, riaffioreranno forse un giorno, insieme a tutta la “coda serpentesca del coccodrillone”, imponendo la loro verità» – Pinotti 2003b: 365.

29. As is the case for Gioanola 2004: 353-63 – i.e., the critic reaches the same conclusions, but on very different premises and with different consequences.

30. On this account, I dissent from Diaconescu-Blumenfeld 1999: 50, who is convinced of Gadda’s traditional conceptualisation of gender difference, and especially of Gadda’s plain and simple horror for it. As already hinted in note 7, at the opposite end of the interpretive spectrum of the Freudian readings of Pasticciaccio’s finale, Bertone 1993 argues that Ingravallo achieves his masculinity at the expense of the negated feminine.

31. H. Cixous, The Laugh of the Medusa, transl. K. Cohen & P. Cohen, in E. Marks and I. de Courtivron (eds.), New French Feminism. An Anthology (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1980), 245-64.

32. For Joyce/Swift, see a 1957 interview – now in Gadda 1993b: 61.

33. On the claim made on Gadda by both Pasolini (for neorealism in the fifties) and by Arbasino (for the new avant-garde of the Gruppo 63) see Andreini 2001a: 270-75 and footnote.

34. Racconto, SVP 407, 463, 405 respectively (Gadda’s emphasis).

35. For Gadda’s lack of affinity with intellectualism, see Andreini 2001a: 269 and footnote.

36. H. Arendt, The Human Condition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998).

Published by The Edinburgh Journal of Gadda Studies (EJGS)

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