Configurations of consciousness. The crisis of the subject in three Italian writers of the 20th century: Pirandello, Savinio, Calvino

Date of Completion

January 1997


Literature, Modern|Literature, Romance




Literature cannot help dealing with subjects, depicting them and giving birth and form to them, because texts speak of possible worlds and of possible means of orientation in those worlds. In the course of the 20th Century the ideological task of Realism (the apprehension of society as a form of stable being) proved impossible, and its corresponding "aesthetic vested interests" became more and more apparent. This is the crisis of the Subject culminating in the European "avant-garde" that my study has addressed.^ As for the Italian authors and works I have selected, Luigi Pirandello played a decisive role in destroying the age-old notions of subjectivity. If he himself was not significantly influenced by the avant-garde, one could argue that he influenced it in many ways, some of which have yet to be explored. In the first chapter of my dissertation I have discussed (through a reading of Uno, nessuno, centomila) the situation of the subject in Pirandello. In particular, I have argued that Pirandello came to dismantle the idealistic conception of an absolute subject by means of a kind of reverse reading of Hegel's The Phenomenology of Mind.^ In the second chapter I have studied the relations between the French Surrealism and Giorgio De Chirico and Alberto Savinio. The two brothers are the only Italian writers (and artists) who effectively took part in the Surrealist movement, and again Hegel's Phenomenology proved most helpful in my analysis of the "idealistic temptation" that the Surrealists experienced and tried to overcome.^ In the third chapter I have attempted to show how Calvino's quest of a transcendental subject was born of his distrusting the traditional conception of the subject, as embodied in the idealistic dyad of Consciousness and Self-Consciousness, and finally led him to abandon the "platonism" of his structuralistic phase in favor of what one might broadly call "phenomenological patterns".^ The appendix comprises two essays on non-contemporary texts: La novella de Grasso legnaiuolo and Boccaccio's Ameto. ^