Manacorda rereads Dante: an anomaly outside the novel and lyrics

The new volume published by Castelvecchi is a mad book, but of a fruitful madness, in front of which it is necessary to listen unarmed as the author did in front of the great poet. What emerges is the portrait of an anti-human era

Those who review books for a living tend to treat each work as a solved case: he must show that he has it in hand, that it is all explicable, and that therefore nothing surprises him. In short, this habit becomes a vice: because it induces us to speak more frequently of easily “solvable” texts, which are not always the best, and to neglect instead those by which the reviewer has been more impressed, but of which he cannot immediately give a comprehensive definition. In some cases it therefore seems more honest to declare one’s bewilderment. With this feeling I read “O Dante!” by Giorgio Manacordaa “poem for 2000” published by Castelvecchi and 300 pages long. Crazy book, but of a fruitful madness; and a book in front of which it is necessary to listen unarmed as the author did in front of the great poet, today pulled everywhere by the jacket.

At its center we find the typical Manacordian imaginary in which they crowd lizards and tailing reptiles, who don’t look like Cerberi but who impose themselves as the protagonists of a future prehistory – like the animals we will transform into or by which we will be devoured. Rereading Dante allowed Manacorda to describe a world that “is the opposite of his”, and that from a deep Paradise slides towards a dystopian Darwinian Hell. At the beginning, taking up Dante’s idea of ​​the saving woman, the author offers us some a post-Freudian parody: the Feminine here is all in “my mare” who “separates herself from me lost and defenceless” creating “the image of the son equal to the son”, and who thus “cures anxiety” not with caresses but with their “thought”, or rather with the metaphor – with that irreducible poetry both to theological truth and to unrealistic modern attempts to make word and thing coincide. But in the infernal song we are shown the reverse side of such a salvation: mothers “to enjoy a moment they killed / without residue and without remission”. We are born to death, and the only providence is the fate of an “atrocious biology”.

The Christian history that the “Commedia” seals, and the Enlightenment history that it anticipates, have already dissolved. Now it opens an anti-human age of amphibians and menacing mutants, seen or dreamed of by a self closed in the last bourgeois villa by the sea, waiting for the beasts to break down the door. This subject is the alter ego of a writer now distant from the culture in which he grew up. For the literati of the 20th century, Dante represented the nostalgia of an inimitable epic-encyclopaedic art, or the emblem of an expressionist realism to oppose to the bloodless Petrarchan vein. Theirs was a modernly gaping, culturalistic, symbolic Dante: because metaphorically speaking, as they said to a piqued Luzi, “it should be left alone”, being placed too far away and too high. Instead, Manacorda tries to verify what happens if he is involved in a reckless head-to-head, making him react with what we are, without favoring the literary echoes of the 20th century over other and perhaps stronger “biological” legacies. Where his masters, “unhappy blacksmiths in the workshops”, used the verses as a more or less celibate “machine”, he reiterates the same orphan condition in a very different style.

In his echolalic rereading he mixes Dante’s tercets with his own obsessions without highlighting the fractures, and flies over the bulicame of a centerless universe working on stanzas of two material and light verses, which oscillate around the hendecasyllable with the uncertainty of a new metrical Middle Ages. The mind gropes, plays like someone playing a majestic instrument using only two fingers. According to the moderns, our civilization is made for short poetry: it no longer holds long poems, or considers them heavy melodramas from which to isolate the most beautiful tunes. Yet with his internal rhymes as a dissipated lullaby, and with his “interlinear” inspiration in front of the “Commedia”, Manacorda manages to drag us into a text that reads neither like a novel nor like a series of poems, but like the fruit of an analytical session in which the primary perceptions, the psychic and political terrors of our formless West emerge through associative chains. It is no longer a question of comparisons between dwarfs and giants. In a certain sense the author of “O Dante!” is out of the literature: over the course of eighty years he has absorbed it to the point of forgetting it, and translating it into a physiological and very natural gesture. Hers is the “late style” of someone who has nothing left to prove; and what scandalizes us, or leaves us speechless, is perhaps this condition of freedom, so rare today as to appear almost impossible.

Manacorda rereads Dante: an anomaly outside the novel and lyrics