4. symmetries of closure
gli occhi del Lazio»)

Ask any reader of Gadda how Pasticciaccio ends, and the reply will be almost, the last word in the text, not the murderer’s name or the solution to the Merulana crimes. Much has indeed been made of this mark of non-closure. In its highly visible end-of-text position, in fact, this one word passes us the key to a poetics of survival to the novel’s mass. If, as in a chess game with chaos, our author appears to have lost track and count of the multiple moves performed by the here and now, he nonetheless engineers a finale, writes the word that turns a text with no more causal relations to play into a transitive lesson in complexity. Roscioni’s Disarmonia prestabilita cannot but come to mind. (1) Like Roscioni, in effect, the novel’s closing tag can be interpreted as arguing for a finally optimistic funzione Gadda to grow out of the all too often frustrating caso Gadda.

Separated from the last word by a comma, the Inspector’s ripentirsi in front of a female suspect, the repenting almost and again that arrests the narration, compels us, however, to look back at the engulfing materials we have just crossed. If we register the movement, our finale reads, then, not as the welcome release from an impossible textuality, but as a barely avoided descent into the enigma della femminilità of De Benedictis’ subtitle to La piega nera (De Benedictis 1991: 142-47). Survived it as we have in extremis, the black inward fold of corporeality – the reverse, as it were, of the creative outward folding which, as we have seen, can explain Gadda’s baroque – stops all cognition, while at the same time circularly re-opening the causal enquiry. Having arrived, that is, where it must go no further, the narrative connects back, literally, to its own textual incipit as if seeking re-enactment. Significantly, the ripentirsi, quasi of the finale rephrases the original pentirsi of Ingravallo’s teoretiche idee on crime and erotia in the opening pages of chapter 1 («E poi pareva pentirsi, come d’aver calunniato e’ femmene», RR II 16-17). But there, in chapter 1, what was given as customary (in his enquiries, we were told, Ingravallo would always go through some self-arresting repenting) also started to trace the one investigative parabola that finds its completion in the last two words of the novel. If the seriality of the parabola is thus established, Pasticciaccio, its one actual realisation, also tende al suo fine – i.e., it is closural right from the beginning.

Let us reclaim one word further. Could the infinitive riflettere (RR II 276), the last-but-two item (not counting the small change, a preposition), offer us some clues as to the narrative causality governing our textual enclosure? De Benedictis reads the inspector’s reflecting away (or recoiling from) the near encounter with matter within the local context of the concluding charge against Tina, the female suspect. Ingravallo certainly has stopped dead as a result of a reflection – and so has the supposed opera aperta, which in this way opens to re-enactment instead. Yet, the principle of (mirror) reflection could be more pervasive than that, and perhaps explain not just the exit text but the overall structure of The Mess. Generally regarded as a digressive and ultimately degenerative folding out of unrelated materials, Gadda’s crime novel could actually be dictated to by the self-enclosing narratives of the double. To explore such structures is the aim here. Issues of genre, spatial mimesis and cinematic projection provide the framework for this reading.

«No, nun so’ stata io!» Il grido incredibile bloccò il furore dell’ossesso. Egli non intese, là pe’ llà, ciò che la sua anima era in procinto d’intendere. Quella piega nera verticale tra i due sopraccigli dell’ira, nel volto bianchissimo della ragazza, lo paralizzò, lo indusse a riflettere: a ripentirsi, quasi. (Pasticciaccio, RR II 276)

Something of a structural block affects the reader when it comes to Pasticciaccio. We do see a structure, the chiasmus shape of the ten chapters, yet consider it to be a somewhat static post factum affair, as if all that symmetry could not generate a narrative sequence. We do not even need to reach the text’s exit point, the above grugno a grugno between inspector and suspect, to arrive at such conclusions; the novel can be abandoned for the theory of it at any point, and the link with Meditazione recovered directly, if tangentially, from any of the text’s digressions or units of fold. In Pasticciaccio, it is claimed, the causal flux is so weak («gli elementi della trama non sono legati da rapporti causali solidi. Il flusso della causalità è labile e sorregge solo alcuni fatti marginali» – Benedetti 1987: 60), the metonymical nexus are so arbitrary and non-narrative that the novel quickly exhausts its inertia, or, to put in Dicuonzo’s words (again such phrases express powerful collective persuasions), «individualizza all’infinito il racconto […] approssima il proprio oggetto a partire da una pluralità di lingue e di stili […] smonta ogni concezione pregiudiziale del reale» (Dicuonzo 1994: 78, 83, 84). To read for the plot – i.e., to read addressing issues of relative position within the series – has definitely not been on the memo of the typical gaddista.

The argument could not be more self-paralysing. In a sense, we still reel from the novel’s publication, in 1957. Third generation survivors as we are (counting Contini, Roscioni, and the present varieties of post-Roscionians), we cannot as yet read Pasticciaccio the way Cecchi, one of the first reviewers, recommended one should: vertically, as one reads a musical score (Cecchi 1958). Research, however, all too willingly remains a horizontal activity, its trusted poetics that of reading for loss of cohesion and dispersal – so much so, that little attention is paid to Gadda’s life-long ambition to write a romanzo-romanzo, even when we state that this is precisely what we are going to do (cf. Donnarumma 2001a: 7 – «Questo libro vorrebbe essere innanzitutto una storia di Gadda secondo Gadda. Perciò esso prende sul serio il suo interesse per il romanzo»: which is exactly what then gets neglected through the study, however fruitful, of Gadda’s active literary models).

Or rather. We appear to believe in the fundamental irrelevance of sequence to Gaddian discourse already before getting to the book and regardless of the methodologies we bring to it. Recent theoretical developments may explain the situation in part. More important, Contini and Roscioni, the founding fathers of Gadda studies in the ’30s and ’60s, did not expect their messy ingegnere to be able to construct a large-scale narrative, and we do still read his work in their wake, even when taking it, as is increasingly the case, in new directions. Of course Gadda’s abortive intrecci are nothing but casi stiracchiati; there can be no doubt that the linguistic experiment and the gnoseological quest rebuff any reader-gratifying narratives in this instance. Yet, despite the unevenness of the page and the advertised structural collapse of most large-scale projects, a reliable, sequential, utterly meaningful clandestine narrative level does co-ordinate this irregular progettualità, from setting to character, from episode to sequence: especially but not exclusively in Pasticciaccio, Gadda’s monstrum maggiore. To state that in our writer «tutto in qualche misura, è collegabile a tutto» obviously represents no novelty. However, the very fact that such statements are only dismissively made to discourage any serious narratology or structural connectivity of enquiry, confirms that the field has nearly, or practically, given up, as it were, on quite a substantial aspect of Gadda’s writing. (2)

As a consequence of both actual difficulties and long established persuasions, the classic detective novel in Pasticciaccio – i.e., Gadda’s successful exploitation of the investigative machinery – has, for instance, not been explored even by those who, like Petronio and Pietropaoli, have brought it back to the fold, so to speak, of the ’30s and ’40s Italian thriller phenomenon triggered by the launch of the Gialli Mondadori series in 1929. The gulf dividing Gadda from, say, his contemporary De Angelis may in fact have been qualified as breve by scholars interested in the bridging of the distance between paraliterature and literature. Somewhat surprisingly, however, it is left uncrossed and made to feel not at all that insubstantial when the genre’s basic concerns – the murderer-victim-enquirer triangle, spatio-temporality, causality and morality – are discussed from the Gadda end of the debate. (3)

One recalls, of course, Gadda’s interest in the genre: his desire to be conandoyliano to attract the grosso pubblico (this as early as 1928 – Dejanira Classis, RR II 1317-318); his fascination for the corporeality of crime (the word pasticcio has its first fictional occurrence in connection with a murder, in Passeggiata, RR II 932-33 – but it is the war diary that, in recording the awful mess in the trenches, establishes the connection between dirt as matter in the wrong place and violent death); his convinto colpevolismo or press-fed obsessive curiosity for notorious murder cases (certainly the Pettine matricide in 1928, for Novella seconda, and quite possibly, though recently quite contentiously, the murder of the Stern sisters, in early 1946, for Pasticciaccio – this to say that the Barruca murder case, October 1945, is making a real come-back in the press, in 2007, through the Contorbia and Panizza rejection of the Stern hypothesis put forward, among others, by Amigoni 1995a: 157-75).

Yet the genre can serve Gadda’s cause in better ways than in notes of his interest in it. An analysis of some of the novel’s specifics, conducted on what are regarded as the indispensable skills in a giallista – solid realism, psychoanalytical expertise and a poetic understanding of crime –, has certainly greater implications. An excellent body lies on the floor of Pasticciaccio. Discovered early in the structure, as established by the rules of the genre (by chapter 2, via Merulana 219 has already been struck twice by crime, a burglary and a murder, with a spatio-temporal divide of only a couple of days and a staircase landing), and macaronically mangled as Gadda must make it, Liliana’s body is archetypally simple, the gendered token of much real and fictional crime. The literary expert may read such bodies as metafiction. However, to the straightforward question they pose – for why, indeed, does the male mind have a female body on its floor? – the reader never fails to reply with as straightforward a mixture of horror and unembarrassed captivation. (4)

On the specifics, still, and more precisely on realism. Gadda’s Roman mimesis comes across as extremely convincing. And, in fact, whether on the stage or on the screen or on both (Pasticciaccio has already been adapted thrice, and very successfully, as in the 1996 Ronconi theatre production, which used the narrative text as the script – Andreini & Tessari 2001a and Andreini 2004), the novel invariably acts out the magnificent audio-visual perception of Rome it has embedded into its prose. Moravia, Pasolini, Fellini – to name but the obvious names – all cashed in after the war on an Eternal City that had become, perhaps because of the war, more irresistible than ever. Gadda, a Milanese writing from Florence in 1946 and in Rome as of 1950, with Belli’s poetry for his initial guide, managed like no one else to turn Rome into an audio-painting by Caravaggio, in an extraordinary early baroque mannerism in which no amount of detail – folds of a dress, toes of a foot, or coins on a table – can overwhelm the ultimately realist figuration. As in a painting by Caravaggio, the splendid baroque vitality of God’s (or is the Devil’s?) Earthly City, its onlooking humanity and corporeal spatiality play the concausa to the inherently sexual crime or profanation perpetrated by one on Liliana’s body. As such, Rome is indeed the perfect accomplice, the real place that nurtures the real criminal, which any detective novel worth its yellow Mondadori cover must have. (5)

Now, central to this study, the body in and of Rome generates narrative movement – sui generis, of course, but still describable on the model of a classic investigative sequence. The Merulana crimes are followed, in fact, by the setting up of an enquiry, which at first revolves round the obvious prime and secondary suspects. Once this cast of people is cleared, the case enters the classic, still, complication-with-redirection middle game. Endless and aimless though it feels, this in turn leads to an actual simplification or loss of pieces out of which the end game can develop. I am using on purpose Roscioni’s chess metaphor to argue that our contest with chaos begins to look as if under some form of control from the attacking authorial white set.

Interestingly, the narrative sequence just outlined matches the compositional history of the novel. Chapters 1-6, which take us from crime to investigative crisis, correspond to the original instalments 1-5 Pasticciaccio grew into, before coming to a stop, within the calendar year of its first appearance in Letteratura. Chapters 6-7, which mediate the terms of the novel’s survival, then represent the end-tail of the extraordinary «esplosiva urgenza» of 1946 (RR II 1137-169, in particular 1139, and Andreini 1988: 79-137). Dating the latter chapter remains problematic. Yet, although the text heralds the possibility of a resumption of the structural hostilities (in the same manner, chapter 6 had announced the looming naufragio del testo in its incipit), the narrative impasse appears to be still too deep not to belong chronologically with the last instalment. (6) The remaining chapters 8-10 – the end game having by now been visualised via the cinematic (in the late ’40s Gadda wrote his own treatment of Pasticciaccio; poor as we find it, Il palazzo degli ori holds the key to the final mirror reflections we must reach for our conclusion) – have the narrative pace and compositional history of an event about to come to an end. Indeed, the text can finally take its time, as is confirmed also by the fact that, with the exception of the famous Pestalozzi dream, published independently in ’53 (now part of chapter 8), the again growing novel did not come out in journals.

Eleven years from start to finish, as Gadda himself noted in an essay that like the novel itself does sound testamentary (SGF I 506-11), Pasticciaccio, that is, represents the most rapidly executed and least dismembered textual body in a literary output marked by the sprawling motility of a number of disiecta membra. To give a measure of comparison, Cognizione, Gadda’s other major title, came out in instalments between ’38 and ’41, shed parts in various directions for well over a decade, was published in volume in ’63 thanks to Vittorini and Einaudi, saw a kind of completion in ’70 following the addition of two more chapters – over thirty years in all. If the curve of a scrittura a caldo turning dreadfully cold and directionless is characteristic of the man, nowhere but in Pasticciaccio does he manage to write his struggle with the novel form into a story-line of sorts which has got, finally, plenty of staying power.

To look at it from a different angle, take Gadda’s earliest extant large-scale project, the unfinished Racconto italiano, not just a narrative in imminentia criminis but the author’s veritable Ur-thriller. Published posthumously in ’83, in its artificial frozen-flux state Racconto consists of narrative fragments and compositional notes, which, had things gone according to plan, would have been reabsorbed into a neat non-metafictional tripartite structure answering the causal question at the core of the project – «Perché occorrono i fatti incredibili?» (SVP 406) –, as the intended sequence of the three parts (norma, abnorme, comprensione, SVP 415) clearly indicates. Moreover, and as already hinted in Cain 2, what we do have in the surviving narrative, is the private abnorme right in the first fragment; the piece numbered as 1 bears, in fact, the title Assassinio di Maria de la Garde (SVP 401) – a sample, as the writer himself thought, of his scrittura a caldo –, followed by the protracted collapse of the narrative project of the Italian tale of the title, which, on the Manzonian example, aspired to be a fresco of an entire society.

In more than one ways, Pasticciaccio, the masterpiece at the other end of Gadda’s career, with Ingravallo’s teoretiche idee for a compositional incipit, the double crime as the sudden rupture and structuring device in chapters 1-2, the prime suspect no longer suspectable by chapter 4, the critical mid-game that is announced, metafictionally, at the beginning of chapter 6, and the conclusive all-reflecting ripresa that will stop only when the Inspector is struck by the correct reflection (deflection), could be read as the successful realisation not of the planned but of the failed Racconto we have. That is to say, if Gadda’s life-long struggle with the novel, with narratability in general, would seem to originate in the tug-of-war between rationally and subconsciously engineered structures, Pasticciaccio, by allowing the latter the run of the show, achieves that novelistic organisation which had been in the writer’s poetics at least since the planned but never materialised submission of Racconto to the 1924 edition of the Mondadori Award.

But, in Gadda’s own words, Pasticciaccio is «un giallo», i.e., a vectorial narrative, a sequence programmed from the start to conclude on a «bagliore folgorante che illumina al commissario protagonista la realtà dell’epilogo», whatever Dicuonzo, the author of an essay Sulla struttura del «Pasticciaccio» gaddiano that not once looks into the subject of the title, may think in his fascination for a «totalità potenziale, congetturale, plurima», à la Calvino. (7) Deconstructed it as he believes he has, but in reality having constructed, like others, a programmatic anti crime novel which Pasticciaccio is not, Dicuonzo fails to perceive that a genre reputedly without modern qualities has contained, in this instance, a writer with almost too many qualities for our times. What is lost in a pre-emptied quest for complexity per se, is the real complexity, the extent and the depth of Gadda’s espousal of given codes of discursive practice. Most certainly contained, in fact, by the container best suited to his materials, Gadda can thus let unfold the kind of narrative sequence which in the unrestricted novel he finds highly problematic to master. That the compositional curve could be turned into narrative movement – a phenomenon which in Gadda’s career is unique to Pasticciaccio – represents, for instance, no fatto incredibile for the one narrative form which, without ever losing sight of its organising body on the floor, codifies as the norm of both writing and reading that the esplosiva urgenza or initial thrust must sag, tangle and past the mid-text crisis somehow rekindle.

Equally matter of fact in the crime novel are the enquirer’s innocence by default, the victim-criminal-enquirer triangle, and spatio-temporal causality. For crimes to be committed the enquirer must be above suspicion. But, if innocent by default, the moral imperative governing his (her) quest has got to become acquainted with the criminal drive, in order to explain the victim. Victim-criminal-enquirer do form a close relational triangle. If in it the man or woman of the law must accept to play the non-existent protagonist and the excluded party again by default, he (she) will in the end act as the transfert for the crime. Ultimately, the enquirer’s detection will consist in the reconstruction of the there and then. For time and space to move on and away from the rupture of normality, the enquiry must keep tight control of the textual spatio-temporal dimension, which is therefore clearly marked, accountable, linear. (8)

And indeed, thanks to the good services of the crime novel, Ingravallo can partake of the Merulana affairs, reveal his own fictions of the deep, and even cast his Oedipal rival in the role of prime suspect, with no risk of incrimination for the colloquially, idiomatically phrased and above all marked, «suoi» delitti (RR II 16); by the rule of the genre he in fact arrives innocent at the scene where the mother-Madonna has been murdered. Never before had Gadda dared to consign one of his mother figures on to a domestic floor of the scrittura a caldo – not in Novella seconda or in Cognizione, most notably, where the reluctance to focus on the body of the mother following the aggression, combined with the difficulty to de-criminate the highly suspect son and protagonist Gonzalo («l’assassino nel pensiero» – Cognizione, RR I 863; Gadda 1987a: xlvii-xlviii, 569-70), produces the finale’s variants (Gadda 1987a: 467-74, 563-64); nor in Racconto, whose textual delinquency is triggered by an Assassinio di Maria de la Garde which is then not consummated. So, as never before, Gadda must now trust the genre – especially the linearity of its time and space –, and make of date-place markers the cause-effect grid that allows the Inspector to move on and away from a crime to which, on the other hand, a compressed spatio-temporality constantly points.

To put it differently, now that the crime novel has taken care of and assumed responsibility for Gadda’s deeper and longer established narrative needs, now that a body lies behind and not in front of us as in Cognizione and the protagonist rests assured of at least his formal innocence, the text must and can speak of nothing but Liliana’s murder through the triumphing corporeality of fascist Rome. The constituent materials of such textuality – the matricidal tension, the Oedipal triangle, the link between environment and crime and, more important, between environment and victim – and their one cause – narcissism, of the mother, of the rival, of the environment; the corporeal thrust taking both individuals and the nation through life, love, death in one’s own image – do construct a unitary fictional world, a Kantian narrative which, for all its neo-Leibnizian folds, delivers the moral infinity, or infernal eternity, of a cohesive corporeality, with one remaining narcissism to bring to justice: the avenger’s, Ingravallo’s double.

In Pasticciaccio, it has been observed, everything comes in pairs – like hands, eyes, feet, which are redundantly, obsessively marked as forming twos. Liliana and the subject’s rival represent one such perfect match, and need no mirroring device. The two Merulana crimes, instead, literally face each other, advertise their specularity by means of their respective positions across the dividing landing. Even portions of the text can mirror each other. In chapter 8, for instance, the enquiry moves to the Albano Laziale area to the south-east of Rome, where the semi-rural setting uncovers the Eternal City’s narcissistic rule not by means of its relative position or direct resemblance, but via toponymic and descriptive signposting. Although, in fact, there are indeed such places as Divino Amore and Pavona, Due Santi and Casal Bruciato in the area, the resumed Pasticciaccio (chapters 8-10) is well and truly past spatial mimesis, as is proved also by the fewer dialogue exchanges and the decreased dialectal interference in the narrative parts. If anything, the highly toponymic new setting in sight of the finale projects the moral of Liliana’s story on to an unfamiliar and defamiliarising landscape, which, given the late stage in the narration, never acquires a referential import of its own and yet displays nothing but systemic narcissism, thus emphasising the symbolic significance of the original tale. Or rather, from the depths of time and matter a coherent geo-historical causal chain has surfaced as corporeality’s one and only fabula («Ma la Storia è una sola!») (9) – and now the countryside governs the conclusive narrative unfolding from its own epicentre, Zamira’s sulphurous business at the Due Santi crossroad on the via Appia, in the presence of the saintly memento of the fresco. Unweathered reminders as we know them to be (loop back to Cain 3 if in doubt), the unbrotherly Due Santi of the imaginary tabernacle are in fact not only Madonnaless (and yet still perfectly bound to the fiction of the sacra famiglia). They are also for ever walking in the direction of Rome, where, on the model of the City’s foundational myth, their contest would be (will be) re-enacted as a new edition of the Merulana crimes – hence their function as gateway, in this (re)instantiation of the Tale. Yes, as saintly a gateway as it can be: to the (ir)repeatable universal dénouement.

From there, from the resulting junction and moral Y, as we have called it, Pestalozzi proceeds in the direction of Casal Bruciato. The stolen jewels of the first crime are found, and with them the principle of life, God’s own narcissism or preference for crystals. The polarity of matter (its evil «serpere» or righteous «poligonare») is thus explained with the injustice of creation by an unfair Law-giver (RR II 231-32). The earlier, debased etymological connection between God and the Menegazzi burglary («da Menegaccio a Ménego, a Domenico, Dominicus, al “possessivo di cui era tutto”», RR II 51) is finally clarified, and so is the link between Liliana’s and God’s gems and rejects (or «figli, bianchi o neri», RR II 105) – the latter obviously count the bituminous inspector in their midst. There is a safe haven on the novel’s map where even Ingravallo could find some existential shelter. Yet the location ( a real church) and the icon ( a real mosaic) can only be described in absentia, as the direction of the enquiries prevents the investigators from reaching the Madonna del Divino Amore by Castel di Leva, a mere 8 kilometres from the Appia, or 5 and a half from the bridge over the Velletri railway line, as the text meticulously and correctly calculates (a significant chronological distance instead separates the icon’s description from its most direct intertext, Madonna dei Filosofi, at the other end of Gadda’s career – a calculation here already made in Cain 3). With no chance of re-admission to the pre-Oedipal precincts of the Madonna and Child, Ingravallo goes through the Due Santi gateway and takes the road for Tor di Gheppio. There he tries to charge Tina with Liliana’s murder. The ensuing grugno a grugno brings the woman’s furious occhi del Lazio to the foreground of the inspector’s field of vision. The narration stops as a result. In an interview with Maraini Gadda declared the novel to be concluded: «Il poliziotto capisce chi è l’assassino e questo basta». (10)

Obviously, despite the extraordinary dramatic quality of the writing in the closing page, an inspector struck as if by lightning and yet unwilling to share his moment of understanding with the few surviving readers, does not come across as sufficiently cathartic. Besides, where in the text is the bagliore folgorante that should turn Ingravallo into a Caravaggesque St Paul? However, before we rush to argue with De Benedictis or Agosti that here the narration stops because it has nearly met, and quickly deflected from, l’enigma della femminilità (which is that thing almost hiding / almost revealing Lacan’s Real), we should perhaps consider that the climax in Tor di Gheppio was supposed to be but a interrogation on the Inspector’s way to Virginia, at the Pavona, the toponym that does give away / does lead to our criminal. Indeed, even too much catharsis would have been triggered by that second and last grugno a grugno, to judge from the trattamento cinematografico Gadda wrote between instalments and volume. (11)

Published posthumously in 1983 but not at all a fragment unlike other materials in this category, the much-neglected-by-critics Palazzo degli oriPasticciaccio no. 1b, as it was called elsewhere to remind us of its in-between status – never fails to disappoint the enthusiastic Gadda reader. With quite some contrappasso, the frustration comes, this time, not from any excesses but from the cinematic and textual poorness of the work. Visualise a Carolina Invernizio for the screen, structured on sudden close-ups and emotive fade-outs (lampi), and you have the film Gadda was envisaging. Now, if a lack of talent for the screen may be admissible, the uncharacteristic absence of all stylistic exuberance, instead, appears to be not in a Gadda context, judging at least from the critical non-reception of the material, which thus far has not been admitted to any post- philological variantistica. Yet, financial considerations aside, why should Gadda persevere to write his outline of a film, when he would not do so for the best of his projects? Pasticciaccio 1b is, in fact, a finished work in more ways than one, for as well as reaching the elusive word Finis, it delivers the finale the narrative Pasticciaccio merely prepares. (12)

In Palazzo degli ori Gadda appears to be ready to exchange textual complexity for visual popularity, the old medium for the new one. Yet, in doing so, he not only confirms his interest in more popular forms of expression – the case made by those trying to bridge, to the advantage of paraliterature, the breve abisso discussed earlier –, but also allows his immagini ossedenti to be organised by a medium which he realises can be employed to reel out frame after frame of subconscious material: like a motion mirror, or a film placed in front of one’s psyche. In the search for evidence supporting this reading, we need to look no further than the 1927 short story Cinema, where, despite the protective cover of literature, Gadda does not manage to conceal his disquiet at the subliminal performances the devilish venue («la diabolica sala», RR I 67) attracts one to. The trattamento begins to look like no mistake, then, and may have some use in the study not only of the novel’s variants but also of Gadda’s master-frames.

One such frame is the murderess’s arrest in the finale of the treatment. Pasticciaccio no. 2, the novel proper we now consider definitive (though the plan, in 1957, was to give it further definitiveness through an enlarged edition integrating a second and conclusive finale), refrains from writing the scene, yet remembers it only to well in the dramatic close-up that arrests the narration as well as the inspector. There, in fact, Ingravallo stops dead in his charge against Tina, the wrong suspect, because this has triggered an intertextual reflection (indeed a lampo) with Pasticciaccio 1b, where il furore dell’ossesso was played by Virginia, Liliana’s killer. Through Tina, that is, Ingravallo by-passes the enigma della femminilità of the official closure, and recovers the film’s original identification of audience and culprit (or author-in-the-audience state): «per carrellata surreale, il viso durissimo di Ingravallo si accosta e si dilata a primo piano, ossedente imagine del giustiziere». Undoubtedly, the obscure forces of cinematic projection here have caused a writer with almost to many languages at his disposal to regress to the involved, expressionist spectator-child. (13) However, and through dissimulated regression, the text does both re-enact and hide the one and only closure that satisfies the sum total of its signs.

In approaching popular art forms Gadda does not appear, then, to have tried to alleviate his causal grief: the realisation that the old crime can have no new causes. Nor is the cinema experiment really about channelling an overflow of narrative energy so that there may be a tighter structure and a working catharsis when the novel’s progress resumes. The structure that could be tight and the catharsis that could be delivered in a narrative context, have already been exhausted in the scrittura a caldo of Pasticciaccio no. 1 – it is there, in the tense rounds of interrogations that follow the murder, that Ingravallo has become re-acquainted with the old causes of much of his maker’s writing. Significantly, it takes the real prime suspect, the inspector’s rival, to make the man of the law realise that in life Liliana was not driven by the moral imperative, and why in death her body did not and could not look like a Pietà.

That Gadda’s one crime novel should also be his last large-scale story was perhaps the inevitable outcome of a life-long resistance to the genre and the film that governed his psyche. Not by chance, then, this one parabola establishes and exhausts the possibility of serialisation, the only form of infinity the classic monocausal thriller could ever aspire to. An endless audience state on to which just one accusing motion picture is projected is, in fact, what Gadda builds into his crime novel – a serialisation from within, and not towards new enquiries. This would explain why, despite being courted by the media, Gadda never resuscitated Ingravallo for a sequel of his (and everybody’s) mysteries of Rome.

close the loop (restart the loop)
go to asymmetrical theories


1. In particular Roscioni 1995a: 93 – «chi legge resta con l’impressione che il narratore abbia perso il filo del racconto, come un giocatore di scacchi che, dopo avere cercato di prevedere il maggior numero possibile di mosse, affaticato dal calcolo sposti la prima pedina che lo liberi dal compito di ulteriormente riflettere e decidere».

2. Roscioni 1995a: 229-230. Similarly dismissive (i.e., classically and exemplarily, and therefore still representative of much of the discipline) on issues of structure is Segre 1979: 181-82 – «I critici hanno spesso notato negli scrittori macaronici la scarsa tenuta delle loro costruzioni narrative. […] Si è rilevata l’indifferenza con cui Gadda isolava spezzoni di romanzi per farne racconti autonomi. È infine noto che la Cognizione del dolore, nonostante i complementi della seconda edizione, resta incompleta, come è incompleto lo pseudo-giallo del Pasticciaccio, in cui pure è in atto il maggiore impegno strutturale mai realizzato da Gadda».

3. Cf. G. Petronio, Letteratura di massa, Letteratura di consumo (Rome-Bari: Laterza, 1979), ix-lxxxvi; A. Pietropaoli, Evoluzione e rivoluzione del romanzo poliziesco – Giallo, giallo ocra e giallo infinito, in Caspar 1992: 25, 27-28, or by the same author, Ai confini del giallo. Teoria e analisi della narrativa gialla ed esogialla (Naples: Edizioni Scientifiche Italiane, 1986), 71-81 – see also Pavan 1995: 147-52.

4. Cf. Agosti 1995: 252-62, or Calvino – Saggi 1945-1985, ed. by M. Barenghi (Milan: Mondadori, 1995, 2 volls.), I, 1081: «Attrazione e repulsione animano la descrizione del cadavere della donna, orrendamente sgozzato, in una delle pagine più preziose del libro, come un quadro barocco del martirio d’una santa».

5. On Rome as the «vera protagonista del libro» see again Calvino 1995: I, 1077, and, well in advance of Calvino, Merola 1978. On the role played by Rome in the detective novel since Gadda, see M. Carloni, L’Italia in giallo. Geografia e storia del giallo italiano contemporaneo (Reggio Emilia: Diabasis, 1994), 59-80.

6. Cf. the opening of chapter 6 (RR II 139) and the close of chapter 7 (RR II 185) – «Il caso (non datur casus, non datur saltus) be’ viceversa pareva esser proprio lui quella notte a sovvenire i perplessi, a raddrizzare le indagini, mutato spiro il vento». On the legendary irreperibilità of any of the drafts of Pasticciaccio see still Andreini 1988: 141 (her account – «Soltanto il rinvenimento della minuta del Pasticciaccio potrebbe rivelare a che punto era rimasto intermesso il romanzo, prima della proposta di Garzanti, nel ’53, di darlo alle stampe» – has not been superseded; of the several posthumous primary acquisitions of recent years, mostly through Isella, especially through his Quaderni dell’ingegnere, so far none in fact have changed our position of lack in regard of Pasticciaccio).

7. Gadda did not hesitate to refer to his novel as «il giallo» – Il pasticciaccio, SGF I 506-07 («Il giallo di cui Garzanti […] il giallo del 1946») and 509 («[il] giallo pasticcio»); Incantagione e paura, SGF I 1215, or 1214 («Il libro poliziesco di cui ho tentato la dura, difficile esperienza […]»). Characteristically, for his part, and quite typically of much of Gadda studies since the Calvino of the preface to the Mess and of Lezioni americane, Dicuonzo qualifies Gadda’s shade of detective yellow as a «narrazione policentrica e biforcuta in ogni punto del suo intreccio, se di intreccio si può parlare, il quale non conosce sviluppo e scansione progressiva, gerarchica e conclusa degli eventi» (Dicuonzo 1994: 63), going on to close his supposedly open interpretative loop by imposing fully external parameters (again, those established pro domo sua by Calvino) on a limited number of samples or units of narrative (the usual suspects: Zamira’s laboratory, the fresco at the Due Santi).

8. On the building blocks of the detective novel see, among others, V. Spinazzola, I nemici del mistero, in E. Mandel, Delitti per diletto. Storia sociale del romanzo poliziesco (Milan: Tropea Editore, 1997), 207-22; C. Grivel, Osservazioni sul Romanzo Poliziesco, in La paraletteratura – il melodramma, il romanzo popolare, il fotoromanzo, il romanzo poliziesco, il fumetto, ed. by N. Arnaud, F. Lacassin, J. Tortel (Naples: Liguori, 1977), 226-45; L. Grimaldi, Il giallo e il nero. Scrivere suspense (Parma: Nuova Pratiche Editrice, 1996), 33-53, 63-81, 103-09 – Pasticciaccio is included in the list of recommended crime readings on p. 116.

9. There is indeed singleness of story despite structural gemination – «La questura si ciba appunto di storie: in concorrenza coi carabinieri. […] Ma la Storia è una sola! Be’, sono capaci di spaccarla in due: un pezzo per uno: con un processo di degeminazione, di sdoppiamento amebico: metà me, metà te. L’unicità della Storia si deroga in una doppia storiografia» (Pasticciaccio, RR II 146). For the further connection between causal enquiry (such as the one conducted in an investigative narrative) and landscape, see Un romanzo giallo nella geologia, SGF I 147: «“il paesaggio non è se non affiorante parvenza della ragione e della causa geologica”. La catena delle cause remote, cioè l’acquisita cognizione del profondo».

10. Gadda 1993b: 171-72 – cf. Incantagione e paura, SGF I 1215. Lakes Albano and Nemi do look like two eyes set in the volcanic circle (or skull) of the Alban Hills – hence their popular name, and hence our title, gli occhi del Lazio: as humans too are but surfacing geological phenomena, like every other symmetry of landscape. No spatial licences in the case of the surfacing geology-with-toponym of the Divino Amore: «Pervennero a un bivio, col cavallo, già in vista del ponte detto del Divino Amore, con cui la provinciale sullodata sorpassa la ferrovia di Velletri. Il Divino Amore propriamente detto, una chiesina d’antico tempo qua e là rimpiastricciata d’intonachi e due casipole appigionate al sole dal Lazio dei Principi guardiani, e Castel di Leva che le accosta e sovrasta, e sguarda all’intorno con gli occhi vuoti del torracchio, e le recinge o le recingeva d’un muro, distano dal ponte cinque chilometri emmezzo» (RR II 217) – for the miracle of the precinct by Gadda overwritten onto the local data, see again RR II 226 and Cain 3. Established right in the novel’s incipit, Ingravallo’s darkness is constantly rephrased, and climaxes in chapter 4, where the already luminous and jewelled rival is even bathed in the special wattage of the interrogation – RR II 15-16, 47-48, 66, 92, 111-20 (on p. 112: «[…] gridò enfaticamente il detenuto tutto risfolgorante del suo giovane pallore nella luce “speciale” dei cento watt»).

11. Cf. Pedriali 1999: 85 and 2007c: 95-97. To recap most of the argument from small but revealing textual details. The toponymy alone clears Tina of any suspicion of murder on the ground that she is not the diabolical «amica dell’amica» residing at Pavona (Narcissus’ ultimate abode, in our scheme of things). And that Ingravallo even in 1957 is but one stop away from his final call on the avenger, can be extracted from the following: «“Tor di Gheppio è là […] La Crocchiapani abita là” […] “E la Pavona, la stazione?” domandò Ingravallo […] “Lu paese della Pavona è chillu […] è là sotto, vede? […] si è che lei, dopo Tor der Gheppio, avete d’annà puro a la Pavona, alora potressimo scegne fino a Casal Bruciato” […] “E va buò,” disse Ingravallo, a cui quella toponomastica aveva procurato du strizzatine de mascelle: “a Tor di Gheppio, ora”» (RR II 268-69).

12. Cf. Andreini 1988: 138-52, and SVP 1403-424 (in particular p. 1403: «questa vecchia sceneggiatura […] AFFACCIA LA SOLUZIONE DELL’ENIGMA POLIZIESCO CHE SARà MATERIA DEL 2º VOLUME»).

13. A similar conclusion is reached, from a different set of arguments, by Sbragia 1996a: 181-83 – the later Gadda, that of Eros e Priapo primarily, caves in as subject, falls prey to primeval forces: in the centrifugal centre lies disconcerting simplicity. To approach such writer as the forerunner of the Italian neo-avant-guard becomes then utterly misleading, for our author is «far more puerile and primitive. He romps with buffoonish giants. He curses with Archilochus». The quotes in the main text are from Palazzo degli ori, SVP 984-87 (987). Interestingly, the «SCENA 30ª E ULTIMA», which reaches, quite tellingly, the words «Fine del soggetto» (they do say an awful lot about the state of the subject and self), opens with the line: «Soluzione del giallo. Catarsi».

Published by The Edinburgh Journal of Gadda Studies (EJGS)

ISSN 1476-9859
ISBN 1-904371-13-2

© 2007-2024 by Federica G. Pedriali & EJGS. First published in EJGS (EJGS 6/2007). Cain and other symmetries reworks, retitles and redistributes material previously published in journals.
artwork © 2007-2024 by G. & F. Pedriali.
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