The centenary of the birth of Luciano Bianciardi (1922-1971) is proving to be a useful opportunity to reconsider the specificity of this almost forgotten writer, journalist and translator. Character up to now limited to limited bio-bibliographic cards which, in an attempt to bring him back to some model, say he hastily disheveled, expressionist, emulator of the Americans and English of which he had been a translator. Lazy notations that should be much less expanded. For example, to acknowledge that there is a properly Bianciardian figure, which he pursued and refined in the various forms of writing, from fiction to journalism, and which favors the word as a political gesture, an instance of rebellion, disenchantment, a judgment on reality. In short, don’t stop at the easy part of his pages which – all right – exude egalitarianism, social satire, irreverence towards current morality, outbursts of anarchy. We can also grasp the filigree writing work, the experimentation of a language that was not so obvious for the time, always aimed at coherence with the reasons for that same writing.
An opportunity to read/re-read three significant titles of Bianciardi’s narrative is now offered by the book “Trilogy of Anger” (Feltrinelli) where, preceded by a punctual preface by Francis Small, the novels “Cultural work” (1957, republished with additions in 1964), “Integration” (1960), “La vita agra” (1962) are collected. Three autobiographical novels testifying to three different periods of the writer’s life. “Cultural work” sees the author wittily split into two characters: Luciano Bianchi, failed footballer and anti-fascist; his brother Marcellus, a young provincial intellectual. It is Luciano who recounts, with a good dose of irony, the (almost in vain) efforts of his brother, who was extremely committed and dedicated to the trouble of promoting initiatives that could emancipate the small and backward post-war Grosseto. “Integration” again tells of these two brothers who emigrate from Grosseto to Milan, the city of ‘doing’, where in the excitement of the economic boom the cultural and publishing industry also proceeded at an exaggerated pace, with verbose but useless meetings. The gaze offered by Bianciardi is extremely sharp. The portrait of the Milanese and of what was called the consumer society is merciless: “Look them in the face: stretched out, with feverish eyes, you forget everything except the money that is needed every day […]. They slave, they run like hallucinations from morning to night, to buy what they think they want; in reality what the master likes to be desired”.
Milan is also the scene of the story told in “La vita agra”, the novel that made Bianciardi famous (5,000,000 copies sold in just over a week). Success further amplified by the film (1964) that made it Carlo Lizzaniwith main interpreter Hugh Tognazzi. Also in this case the story largely follows the autobiography. The protagonist leaves the province for the Lombard capital to work in a publishing house, but with the secret intention of carrying out an attack on the skyscraper of a large industry to avenge the deaths of 43 men in the mine (a clear reference to the accident which took place on 4 May 1954 at the Ribolla mine managed by Montecatini): “Now in fact I came every day to look at the large glass and concrete tower, wondering which window, in which room, in which drawer, they could have placed the welfare check file […] Wondering where, in which corner, in which corner, to insert a flexible but resistant pipe to then let the methane flow in, so much methane as to saturate the entire large tower […] My mission, which I mentioned just now, was this: to blow up all four buildings and, in the secondary hypothesis, occupy them, throw out the approximately two thousand people who worked there, bent over the turnover, the technical drawings and the texts of human relations , and then keep them available to other people.” The project will not continue. To distract the protagonist will intervene work events, love affairs, interlocutors personal and social life changes. Restlessness, frustration, anger will remain in him. That same anger, indomitable and disheartening, that Bianciardi poured entirely into the written word, never immune – even in parody and mockery – from a grimace of intolerance, disillusionment, taken away.
[…] We were quite a group; we met every evening in the café, chatting, playing cards, then, when it was late and the waiter seemed to want to close, we began our long walk, until two or three in the morning. Our city was small, and it was quick to reach the outskirts, towards the flat and dark countryside.
In the distance a dog barked, and the song of crickets could be heard, like a deaf slime. The road ended in a barren, uneven dirt road; here and there piles of debris could be seen, the low sheds where the masons store their tools, the piles of bricks, the rectangular pits white with mortar, a tall, dark steamroller, and further away the new buildings, just begun.
We often went to see our city grow, to see it advance victorious into the countryside, against the countryside, to conquer more land. She moved, our city moved perceptibly, as far as the eye could see; like a daring squad, he launched a group of new houses, which left behind, in a pocket, vegetable gardens and meadows, a little greenery still smelling of the countryside and manure, which quickly withered and dried up. We were enthusiastic about this victorious march, and every evening we spoke of it as an absolute and exceptional phenomenon.
The true meaning of the city, precisely the one that these moles of erudite medievalists and those crows of archaeologists escaped, here it is: the city entirely periphery, open, open to the winds and to foreigners, made up of people from all countries. It didn’t resemble, we said, any other Italian city, and perhaps Lieutenant Bucker was right in finding a homely feel there and in wanting to stay there for a long time, whenever his work brought him among us.
Lieutenant Bucker was a young American professor, who came up with his army during the war, and he stated precisely that his city, Kansas City, resembled ours. And we liked this comparison, we made it into a symbol: Kansas City, Kansas City is our reality, nothing but stories! The origins of the city? The year of foundation? But it was 1944, no more, no less. It didn’t exist before then, it had been founded by the Americans, who, arriving among us, had leveled a field for planes to land on, opened coca-cola shops, food outlets, dancings, material depots, suddenly creating a new trading center.
Thus, when someone important came, a writer, a journalist, an intellectual, from Rome or Florence, we certainly didn’t take him to see the old keep, or the walls, or that ancient panel by Lorenzetti. This was certainly not what could interest us and our serious, intelligent, modern, sensitive, unscrupulous guest. We showed him the new city, the expanding suburbs, the dirt roads, the vegetable gardens and the farms gradually gnawed away by the new residential districts.
Our favorite walk was at the Quattro Strade, a place so called because four roads really crossed here: Rome, Livorno, the sea and finally that of our city: in the center of the crossroads a cypress rose very high, and nearby a garage, with all the facilities for cleaning and repairing the cars, petrol stations, a bar open all night, which also served as a kitchen for the drivers of the big trucks with trailers, who traveled all night and stopped there for dinner.
It has always been said that to eat well, you have to stop where the drivers go, and so we liked to take our guests to the Quattro Strade. There was no tablecloth, it is true, nor a great variety of dishes, but on the other hand there was the company of lorry drivers, robust, built-up men in leather jackets, determined and hasty people, who thought about work, about eating and women.
We ordered small glasses of grappa and stayed there for a couple of hours, sipping it, watching the truck drivers, talking about literature. American literature, of course; and there always came a time when our host observed that that corner of the province, like this, with the countryside behind it and the main road of the capital, and the truck drivers, a little place like this, quiet, well lit, seemed to have come straight out of a page by Hemingway. Or Saroyan.
The province must have been a bit like this, whether it was America, Russia, or our city. The province, culturally speaking, was the novelty, the adventure to be attempted. A writer should live in the province, we said: and not only because it’s easier to work here, because there’s calmer weather and more time, but also because the province is a first-rate field of observation. The social, human and customary phenomena that elsewhere are scattered, distant, often altered, indecipherable, here you have them at hand, compact, close, exact, real.
A province like ours, moreover, offered, for culture, the advantage of not having traditions, traditionalist whims, social taboos, as happens elsewhere. There were, it is true, the Etruscologists and the medievalists, with their pottery, their sòccite, their buccheri and their paperwork, but what did they count? Who took them seriously? In our city you could start all over again, and in Italy, in terms of culture (but also for the rest) there was really a great need to start all over again.
We were proud: we had to stay here, work, produce. None of us would have ever dreamed of leaving for Rome or Milan one day. A beautiful city, Rome, without a doubt, and full of easy promises: art exhibitions, the theatre, Cinecittà, concerts, literary salons, magazines, cafés, and lots of beautiful people (who all came, if you look closely, from the province): writers, directors, painters, intellectuals in short. But then what had they done there, what were they doing?
A parasitic city, that’s what Rome was, and not just because of the ministries. The province was sucked up, to live on a splendid income. One of us, in turn, went to Rome once a week, and on his return he informed us of the news, of the literary prizes, of the books that were about to come out, of the new theater companies, of the delicious malice that was said in the cafés, of the gossip currents.
He explained to us that the writer So-and-so slept with So-and-so, that the director of that certain film was a pederast, while his wife was having sex with a colleague, divorced from a lesbian painter. In short, the Roman intelligentsia, we said, thought of nothing else than exchanging women.
All on a double bed, we said again, all the intellectuals of Rome could have put on a double bed. If we could have a bed built for two hundred squares, and send it to Rome, let’s say to Piazza Navona, which is big enough, at the end of a month we’ll find them all on top of us, stuck together, with their wives. , as in certain imaginative and obscene drawings that circulated among the desks, at the time of high school. Not only that, but if a man changed woman, the whole system was revolutionized, and all the other one hundred and ninety-nine had to change women too. Since such mutations were far from rare, it could be calculated that in the space of twenty months each person would lie down with his legitimate wife: then the infernal storm would begin again.
And Milan? Milan was far up, beyond the Po, close to Switzerland, a city of factories, big businesses, trades. The intellectuals up there disappeared behind a big name, and became functionaries of an industry, technicians of advertising, of human relations, publishing, journalism. They ceased to exist as a clan, as a corporation, as a great family; they were no longer the salt of the earth, the watchdogs of society, the pioneers of the future, the engineers of the soul.
No, there was no other possibility: it was necessary to work for us, in the province, in our city.
[da «Il lavoro culturale» di Luciano Bianciardi, in Trilogia della rabbia, Feltrinelli, 2022]