Gabriele D*Annunzio and the Critic of Modernity

Gabriele D’Annunzio and the
Critic of Modernity
International Interdisciplinary
”Kinds and Styles of Criticism”
Lodz, Poland, 16-18 May 2011
Marja Härmänmaa, University of Helsinki, Finland
Part I
D’Annunzio, a biography
Gabriele D’Annunzio (1863-1938)
D’Annunzio’s life
• Born in Pescara in 1863
• Lived in Rome, Naples, Tuscany, France
• Died in Gardone Riviera 1938
D’Annunzio, an overwiev
• A prominent writer of the Italian decadentism
• A politician
• A public figure; an international ”dandy”
D’Annunzio’s works
7 novels
8 plays
2 collections of short stories
9 collections of poems
4 autobiographical works
Many articles
D’Annunzio today
• The founder and a key figure of Italian
• One of the most important writers of the
Italian 20th century literature
– vocabulary twice bigger than Dante’s
• A model for modern politics, politician and
public figure
Part II
D’Annunzio and modernity
D’Annunzio’s Italy
• The kingdom of the united Italy in 1861
• The development of a modern country
– Urbanization
– Industrialization
– Technological development (railways)
• Transformation of Rome from a papal town to a
cosmopolitan capital
• Democratisation
• Corruption
D’Annunzio the escapist
• In life avoided modern cities
• In his works avoids modernity
Modernity in the novels
• Hardly present
• Some sings on the background
• Usually negatively presented
Case study: The Pleasure
First novel Il Piacere in 1889
Located in Rome
Aristocratic ambience
Andrea Sperelli an aristocratic intellectual
Detached from the ”real world”
Sperelli and modernity
•"He left the house Zuccari on foot. […] Around the fountain in Piazza
Barberini, the lights were already burning with pale flames, like candles
around a coffin, and the Tritone fountain threw no water, perhaps because of restoration or
of cleaning. Down the hill came wagons pulled by two or three horses, in a row, and a crowd
of workers returned from the new sites. Some of them, connected to the arms, swung and
sang loudly immodest songs.
He paused to let them pass. Two or three of those reddish and sinister figures made him a
particular impression. He noticed that the carter had a hand banded and the band spotted
with blood. Also, he noticed another carter on his knees on the wagon. He had a livid face,
hollow eye sockets, and the mouth contracted as if he were poisoned. The words of
the song mingled with guttural cries, with whiplashes, with jingling of bells, with insults, with
cursing, and with harsh laughter.
His sadness got worse. He was in a strange state of mind. "[Il Piacere, 80]
Explicit critic of modernity in…
• Maia (1903, poem)
• Le vergini delle rocce (1895, novel)
D’Annunzio and the modern society
Ethical and political decadence
Due to the ”moral of slaves” (Christianity)
Modern society stupid, artificial and boring
Capable of producing consuming goods and
• Incapable of producing creativity
D’Annunzio and Nietzsche
• Nietzsche central in D’Annunzio’s ideology
• D’Annunzio got to know Nietzsche at the
beginning of the 1890s
• D’Annunzio the most important divulgator of
Nietzsche in Italy
• Adapted Nietzsche in a superficial and
functional way
D’Annunzio and the Superman
• Sublime idea of himself
• Vitality
• Sensuality and amorality:
– ”il piacere è il più certo mezzo di conoscimento
offertoci dalla natura”
Freedom to act according to the proper will
Cult of beauty
Elitism and despise of middle-class
D’Annunzio’s social statement
• ”The world is the representation of the
sensibility and thought of few superior men
who have created it and amplified and
ornated it in the past, and who will always
amplify and ornate it in future. The world as it
is today, is a magnificent gift given by few to
many, by the Free to the Slaves: by those who
think and feel, to those who need to work.”
(Le vergini delle rocce, 1895)
Modernity as…
• Urbanization and technology
• Mass culture
• Democracy
Part III
The Headless Monster
Birth of democracy
”E da presso e da lungi
io udiva il clamore,
io udiva gli ululi e i lagni
orribili della gran doglia
nella Città millenaria.”
”E il clamore era come
di femmina partoriente
che si torca in spasimo grande
e morda la verde sua bava
e dia del capo e dei pugni
nelle mura e invochi soccorso
alla doglia sua, vanamente,
negli orrori suoi solitaria.”
”E dissi: «Ah quanto ti torci,
misera, e quanta fai bava
di vituperii e d'ire
nelle tue mascelle di ferro!
Ma dato non t'è partorire
se non l'aborto cionco e monco,
l'acèfalo mostro che ha il tronco
di ciuco e la coda di verro.»” (Maia, 1903)
The monster
• Birth of democracy compared to a childbirth
• Rome compared to a woman giving a birth in
enormous pain
• The result is
” the headless monster that has the trunk
of a donkey and a tail of a boar”
Part IV
The Utopia of The Kingdom of Force
Theorizing the Utopia
”La Bestia elettiva” Il Mattino, 1892
Il Trionfo della morte (1894)
Le Vergini delle rocce (1896)
Il Fuoco (1900)
Forse che sì, forse che no (1910)
The Force
The primary law of the iniqual Nature
Human being is son of Nature
Equality and justice are vain abstractions
The world can be only constructed on Force
The Pleb
• Believes only in physical wellfare
• Democracy becomes a fight of different
• Lack of inner sense of freedom
• Will always be slave
• Humanity will be divided in 2 races
The New Aristocracy
”Autocracy of consciousness”
Elevated by its will
Free man: the realization of freedom
The feeling of the Force
Beyond good and evil
Personality is the greatest value
Part V
The Alternative World
Styles of modernity’s critic
• Implicit
• Explicit
Explicit critic
• Condemning modernity
• Polemical language
• Powerful metaphors
Alternative worlds
• The impossibility to establish the Kingdom of
• Cult of beauty and arts
• Nature
Nature as an antimodernist alternative
• Nature as a topic of literary works
• Nature / countryside as an alternative to the
• In fiction: the escape from the city to
countryside of Claudio Cantelmo, Giorgio
Aurispa and Tullio Hermil
• In D’Annunzio’s life: the final isolation in lake
Thank you!

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