Thomas J. Harrison nietzsche, heidegger, and the language of contemporary italian poetry I. The Language of Philomela

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(62) This is especially clear in two poems. The second canzonetta, " Cara cipollina dei miei occhi ," creates its language through a process of lexical derivation:


i vicoli mi svicolano

i cespugli mi cespugliano

i turchini m'inturchinano

i ruscelli mi ruscellano

le fascine mi afiascinano

le vacche mi svaccano




      trails trail me

[end p.51]

thickets enthicket me

turquoises turquoise me

brooks brook me

fascicles fascinate me

cows cower me


The "Poema Chomsky" operates daring grammatical transform­ations in an effort to signify despite, or beyond the bounds of, linguistic convention:

furiosamente verdi dormono idee senza colore

di lei gelata che il mondo sia bella come pietra

poco giorno al gran cerchio d'ombra s'infiamma

furiosamente verde rovente di nessun colore

se dorme l'idea verde che senza è nella pietra

identica da te nel salto d'ombra sta furiosamente

uccello sospende suoni ghirlanda di gentile verde

cane che aspetta palla al balzo gatta il cane

furiosamente senza colore la mia idea di stare

furiously green sleep colorless ideas

of her ice-cold that the world be she beautiful as stone

the rise of day at the great circle of shade catches fire

furiously green red-hot of no color

if the green idea sleeps which without is in the stone

same than you in the leap of shade stays furiously

bird suspends sounds garland of noble green

dog awaiting ball on bounce cats the dog

furiously colorless my idea of staying

Here saying is fully the "matter" of the poem, a fact which results in the autonomized use of words like "without," in unresolved clauses and jussives ("that the world be she beautiful as stone"), and in indeterminate possibilities of reading. Giuliani has moved into an analysis of the "intransitivity" of poetic language. In fact, the seeds of this development are already implicit in many of the subtle observations he made in 1965. Alongside [end p.52] his acknowledged position on poetry as a reflection of mutable experience and consciousness is a counter-mimetic thrust by which language gradually emerges as the house of Being.

      Andrea Zanzotto is another matter. Having read everything from Descartes ( v. the pineal gland on page 133) to Jacques Lacan, he is as idiosyncratic intellectually as he is poetically. In the context of this volume, he refuses to consider ontology and reference as if they were abstract intellectual issues. His own ontology forbids it. To begin with, the text which one examines as to its referential or ontological capacity is essentially nothing else but a point of reference of countless ontological intersections within the "body­psyche" that produces it. Conversely, the body-psyche itself is a type of multiple referent: "something frightfully written, inscribed, sculpted, rewritten, jolted, modeled, colored, infiltrated by an infinite set of elements within that general broth, that whole plasma of which it is no more than a clot or ganglion: it swims in 'universal reference'" (p. 134). Hence if one must speak of a text, one must speak of a living sign, of a bio-logical circle moving from self through life into writing and from writing through life back to self (auto-bio-graphy, looping from one end around to the other).

      Zanzotto's poetry records this incalculable interpenetration of language and world. Systems of reference amount to no more than "a code of manners in a forest" ( Il galateo in bosco , which is the title of his penultimate book):

frail rules which support symbiosis and cohabitation, and reticules of the symbolical, from language to gestures and maybe even to perception itself: balanced like spiderwebs or buried, veiled like filigree above/within that boil of insolence which is reality. Especially the sonnets [Zanzotto is still referring to Il galateo in bosco ] relate to these [end p.53] improbable formulations of codes and under-codes between what is in no way codifiable. (64)

Reference is obviously in crisis, a crisis of blindness and difference which the poet will "dramatize" by breaking language into paratactic sequences of infinitesmally heterogeneous components:

calduccio poi d'iniziazione in in zzz di sonni    rasoio

calda pertugia            (insinuazioni) (indiziarii)

      coagulo sacro (dicerie)

d'iniziazione, di paupertà, di rassegnata al poco    pupi

di bellissima-al-poco

turgore da poco, sguardo incappato nei lacci

di vivande e giri di frutti di tavolo, nemmeno mensa

      Qui non ci sono mense rasoio

ma solo sangui-cibi e gelatini irritabili

e ragazza-osteria che sgonna via

      e circuiti cìrcei, giocattoli in ansie altissima

Se rendessi teoria di un volto se mi

      arrendessi alla dissimmetria (se mi)

di un convolvolarsi di volto nel proprio biondore, secca piova,

di un coccolarsi di beltà-ine-bel-gel                    rasoio


cozy warmth then of initiation in in zzz of sleeps razor

warm inlette             (insinuations) (suspicions)

sacred coagulation (hearsay)

of initiation, of pauperage, of resigned to little      tots

of most beautiful-to-little

turgidity for little, glance ensnared in the laces

of viands and rounds of table fruit, not even a table

      Here there are no tables

but only blood-foods and irritable ice creamlets

and girl-tavern who ungowns away

and circean circuits, playthings in highest anxiety

If I rendered a theory of a face if I [end p.54]

surrender to the dissymmetry (if I)

of a convolvulating of face in its own blondness, dry rainfall,

of a cuddling of beauty-let-bel-gel        razor

      Yet such a crisis is a poetic crisis, a creative discrimination: Zanzotto's poems demonstrate the shortcomings of language much less than they do the vastness of its extension. His deconstructions and reworkings of codes amount to an analysis of the immanent resources of the sign, to an exploration of its intrinsic rather than extrinsic "composition" ( iniziazione -> in in zzz -> insinuazioni -> indiziarii ; volto -> convolvolarsi -> coccolarsi ; and so on). All valves are opened in an effort to achieve a hypersemantic text. Zanzotto's linguistic exasperation is directed towards totality, towards a transcendence of the finitude of discourse.

      In 1968 Eugenio Montale called the just published La beltà a "true dive into that pre-expression which precedes the articulate word." (65) He also observed that in addition to his stuttering technique, Zanzotto's prime figure was metonymy. Given the more daring poems of the years that have followed, it may now be more accurate to speak of Zanzotto's poetry as a dive into post-expression. Consider, for example, his use of the superlative, of polysyllables and neologic constructions, his sophisticated diction in lines like " O nelle sperperate del greto tesaurizzazioni," (p. 154). We might also suggest that his text subjects the whole world to metonymy. Each difference is at once a similarity, each similarity a difference, and the resultant whole speaks a language of the horizon of language. Immersed in an "infinite semiosis," Zanzotto's poetry is an ontology of the world as reference.

Thomas J. Harrison

May 1982




1 Ovid, Metamorphoses , trans. Rolfe Humphries (Bloomington and London: Indiana University Press, 1973), p. 147.

2 Martin Heidegger, "On the Being and Conception of Physis in Aristotle's Physics B, 1," trans. Thomas J. Sheehan, Man and World. An International Philosophical Review 9, 3 (August 1976), 219-70. The citation is from page 232.

3 Martin Heidegger, Erläuterungen zu Hölderlins Dichtung (Frankfurt: Klostermann, 1963 3), p. 66. In the original: " weil ein Wortklang des echten Wortes nur aus der Stille entspringen kann ."

4 Martin Heidegger, "On the Being and Conception of Physis ,"   p. 252.

5 Martin Heidegger, "The Way to Language," On the Way to Language , trans. Peter D. Hertz (New York, Evanston, San Francisco, London: Harper & Row, 1971), p. 11. Cf. also Martin Heidegger, Nietzsche, I (full reference at note 23), p. 165: "By 'art' we mean what is brought forward in a process of bringing-forth, what is produced in production, and the producing itself."

6 Martin Heidegger, "What Calls for Thinking?" Basic Writings , ed. David Farrel Krell (New York, Hagerstown: Harper & Row, 1977), p. 351.

7 Thomas Sheehan, ed., "Introduction," Heidegger: The Man and the Thinker (Chicago: Precedent Publishing Co., 1981), p. XVI.

8 "The Origin of the Work of Art," Basic Writings , p. 185.

9 Martin Heidegger, "The Origin of the Work of Art," Poetry, Language, Thought, trans. Albert Hofstadter (New York, Hagerstown: Harper & Row, 1971), p. 53.

10 "The Origin of the Work of Art," Basic Writings , p. 182.

11 Søren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling and The Sickness unto Death , trans. Walter Lowrie (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1954), p. 70. 12

12 Ibid. , p. 86.

13 Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science , trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Vintage Books, 1974), p. 299.

14 Søren Kierkegaard, The Journals , trans. Alexander Dru (New York and Evanston: Harper & Row, 1959), p. 153.

15 The epigraph to this volume was taken from "Upon the Mount of Olives," Thus Spoke Zarathustra: Third Part . See The Portable Nietzsche , trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: The Viking Press, 1968), p. 286.

16 Fear and Trembling , p. 97.

17 Ibid. , p. 72. Kierkegaard's ellipsis.

18 "What Are Poets For?" Poetry, Language, Thought , p. 132.

19 Ibid. , p. 103.

20 Gilles Deleuze, "Nomad Thought," in The New Nietzsche, ed. David B. Allison (New York: Dell Publishing Co., 1977), p. 142.

21 Søren Kierkegaard, Either/Or, I , trans. David F. Swenson and Lillian Marvin Swenson (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1959), p. 158.

22 "Language," Poetry, Language, Thought , p. 204.

23 Martin Heidegger, Nietzsche, I , trans. David Farrell Krell (New York, Hagerstown, San Francisco, London: Harper & Row, 1979), p. 117.

24 Ibid. , p. 128.

25 Ibid. , p. 125.

26 Martin Heidegger, "Hölderlin and the Essence of Poetry," Existence and Being (Chicago, Illinois: Henry Regnery Co., 1949), p. 289.

27 Nietzsche, I , p. 117.

28 "Hölderlin and the Essence of Poetry," Existence and Being , p. 281.

29 "What Are Poets For?" Poetry, Language, Thought , p. 121.

30 "What is Metaphysics?" Existence and Being , p. 358.

31 Nietzsche, I , p. 212.

32 Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power , ed. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Randon House, 1967).

33 "The Way to Language," On the Way to Language , p. 123.

34 Cited in Ronald Hayman, Nietzsche: A Critical Biography (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), pp. 92-93.

35 "Preface for the Second Edition," The Gay Science , p. 38.

36 Ibid. , p. 36 (italics added).

37 Martin Heidegger, " Logos (Heraclitus, Fragment B50)," Early Greek Thinking ,

trans. David Farrell Krell and Frank A. Capuzzi (New York: Harper & Row, 1975), p. 71.

38 The Will to Power , # 469, cited in On the Way to Language , p. 74. Cf. Heidegger: "The method is not only directed toward the matter of philosophy. It does not just belong to the matter as a key belongs to a lock. Rather, it belongs to the matter because it is 'the matter itself'" ("The End of Philosophy and the Task of Thinking," Basic Writings , p. 382).

39 Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce Homo , in Basic Writings , ed. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Random House, 1968), p. 721.

40 The Case of Wagner , in Basic Writings , p. 626.

41 Ibid. , p. 633.

42 "The Nature of Language," On the Way to Language , p. 92.

43 As defended, for instance, by Porta at the end of the volume: "It is useful to specify that we want to define the images of man or of men, of things and of facts.... To truly serve the real it is necessary to gather ... a line of discovery, extending the investigations in all possible directions, being on the lookout from many points of view, refuting the univocity of the neo-classical poet." ( I novissimi , p. 194).

44 Jean Cohen, Structure du langage poétique (Paris: Flammarion, 1966). For Samuel Levin's earlier formulation of a parallel position see "Deviation--Statistical and Determinate--in Poetic Language," Lingua 12, no. 3 (1963): 276-290, and "Internal and External Deviation in Poetry," Word 21, 2 (August 1965): 225-237.

45 Gérard Genette, "Langage poétique, poétique du langage," Figures II (Paris: Flammarion, 1969), pp. 123­-53.

46 See Jacques Garelli's discussion of Saussure and Benveniste, especially pp. 103-05.

47 To what follows we might compare Genette's own conclusions about poetic language: "Poetic language, it seems to us, here reveals, its true 'structure,' which is not a particular form , defined by its specific accidents, but rather a state , a degree of presence and intensity into which any statement can be brought, so to speak, upon the sole condition that around it is established that margin of silence which isolates it in the midst (but not in écart ) of daily speech" ( Figures II , p. 150).

48 Giancarlo Pontiggia and Enzo Di Mauro, eds., La parola innamorata (Milan: Feltrinelli, 1978), p. 10. Hereafter referred to as PI .

49 Giuseppe Conte, "Le istituzioni dei desiderio," Il Verri 2 (September 1976), p. 68.

50 Poetry, Language, Thought , p. 75.

51 Gianni Vattimo, Le avventure della differenza (Milano: Garzanti, 1980), p. 104.

52 Antonio Porta, "Tutta la "gioia" possibile," review of Somiglianze by Milo de Angelis, Il Giorno , 25 August 1976.

53 Antonio Porta, " Convergenza poetica di coetanei, " review of Cosa Bella Cosa by Angelo Lumelli, Il Giorno , 21 September 1977.

54 Friedrich Nietzsche, Sämtliche Werke. Kritische Studienausgabe , 13 , ed. Gior­gio Colli and Mazzino Montinari (Berlin / New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1967­-1977), p. 48.

56 Giuseppe Conte, op. cit. , p. 58.

57 Ibid. , p. 68.

58 The critique of nearness will be reversed in line 545 of Vaticinio (p. 65): "Vain adversity your distance,/ false membrane...."

59 Luigi Ballerini, in Poesia italiana oggi , ed. Mario Lunetta (Rome: Newton Compton, 1981), p. 332.

60 Raffaele Perrotta, "The Cutting Cut," Gizeh 1 (Fall 1980), 130-31.

61 Angelo Lumelli, "The Brief-long Pasture," Gizeh 1 (Fall 1980), 75.

62 One thinks again of Genette and of Mallarmé's declaration to the effect that poetry "remunerates the defect of languages," Oeuvres complètes (Paris: Biblio­thèque de la Pleiade, 1945), p. 364.

63 "The real is not discoverable in poetry if not as the object of that process which is language.... If to live is already to 'represent' [compare Perrotta's "'I' is a librarian"] to make poetry is to force life to rewrite itself.... In other words, the primacy of structure, the fact that it takes the place of representation, means that poetry, rather than presenting itself in its totality as a metaphor of the real, is constituted as another pole of that linguistic world which we all write by living" ( I novissimi , p. 12).

64 Andrea Zanzotto, Il galateo in bosco (Milan: Mondadori, 1978), p. 111.

65 Cited in Gianfranco Contini's preface to Il galateo in bosco , p. 5
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