Gadda, Carlo Emilio (Contemporary Literary Criticism)
Gadda, Carlo Emilio 1893–
Gadda is an Italian novelist and short story writer. His works, noted for their linguistic brilliance, reveal Gadda's love of language and rhetoric in their unique blending of archaisms, dialects, and puns.
Robert S. Dombroski
In spite of the profound treatment of the themes of human alienation and insignificance diffused throughout his fiction, Carlo Emilio Gadda's importance is largely verbal. He employs numerous styles and lexical modes with equal success, from the arduous structures of classical Latin to the austere language of modern science and the spontaneous automatism of the surrealists. At times his style appears dry and reflects a desire for order and rational systemization, while at other times it is characterized by violent, uncontrolled expression and hyperbole. This mixture of harmony and disharmony, order and chaos, is the logical extension of the double edged attitude toward reality manifested in Gadda's War Journal and memoirs. However, to infer from this that experience alone dictated his literary technique would be to oversimplify. The First World War, to be sure, left Gadda with an extreme dislike for an external world which he judged incompatible with his nature and thus false and illusory. But in order to transform his alienation into art he needed to establish the theoretical premises that might justify as well as universalize his vision.
Gadda's culture, reflecting as it does vast and diverse readings in every sphere of human knowledge, is composed of many strands of thought and so defies exact classification. Nevertheless, at least two modern thinkers may be said to have aided in providing a philosophical basis for Gadda's style and use of language: Kant and Bergson.
In the post-war period Gadda came under the influence of Kant through the teachings of Piero Martinetti…. (p. 210)
According to Kant's epistemology, nature or the external universe is nothing but a construction which the mind imposes on phenomena. The world independent of our knowledge (things in themselves), called by Kant the world of the "noumena", is unknowable through reason…. True knowledge [for Martinetti] has for its object a reality that transcends the world of phenomena, and on this reality depend the moral decisions relevant to human life. (pp. 210-11)
Kantian epistemology deals a damaging blow to the conception of art as mimesis. For if nature is but a product of the mind, what we imitate cannot exist beyond ourselves. The artist thus is granted the freedom to create according to his intentions; he is emancipated from all external limitations and the work of art becomes a universe of its own, no longer bound to the representation of empirical or moral truth or to the rules of logical discourse which the traditional concept of mimesis implies. Gadda, like many of his contemporaries, recognizes the arbitrariness of mimesis and the freedom of the artist to convert reality and language to serve his personal ends, with the condition, however—and here Martinetti's teachings are present—that the transformation or re-elaboration of the world be motivated by ethical responsibility. (p. 212)
Rather than to specific objects of representation, ["ethical realities" for Gadda] refer to the state of the writer and his awareness of the truth of his being and the falsity of the external universe…. [In] terms of what can be called Gadda's aesthetics, the artist, on the one hand, has freedom to find the forms best suited to his vision; on the other, he should be aware that pure invention or absolute art tends to become "caviled embroidery" which for Gadda is tantamount to falsity. (p. 213)
Kant-Martinetti's influence on Gadda does not go beyond [the] general premises … that the writer has a moral imperative to combat falsity and in doing this he may select a form of expression appropriate to his vision. However, although generic, these ideas are important because they establish, more or less, a theoretical basis for Gadda's polylinguism, and because they help shift the focus in the study of Gadda's works from the extravagance of the page to the spiritual reality of the author.
Gadda's belief in ethical commitment is one important aspect of his poetics. Another, which...
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In [Quer pasticciaccio brutto de via Merulana], as if to underline by contrast his stylistic intentions, Gadda chooses the plot of a "giallo," a detective novel, This trite formula of murder and robbery with a little sex thrown in has been used countless times by the hacks who grind out cheap novels for consumption in the railroad stations of the world. If we were to abstract the plot …, we would have a decidedly second rate product…. Gadda takes this cliché structure and raises it to the level of the most profound art. His prose texture is capable of extracting the metaphysical and ethereal from the corporeal and banal. (p. 49)
[There] is a mystical union between Gadda's prose texture and his vision, the former corresponding to the physical, the latter to his metaphysical world, the first being a kind of objective correlative of the second. (p. 50)
To get at the essence of a particular phenomenon Gadda's tactic is often … to try to exhaust all descriptive possibilities. Like Faulkner at times, he seems to feel the scattergun technique increases the probability of successfully bracketing the phenomenon under observation. He strings out nouns and adjectives as if each one contained a part of the truth. The more parts he can amass, the closer he will come to a true whole. Like a gestalt psychologist, he believes the whole is more than the sum of its parts. Each word contains a clue in the "case" of reality and it is significant that the Italian word for case, "caso" also means random chance. He believes that all catastrophes have a multiplicity of causes …, so that even if all the causes of a catastrophe were known, the guilt would have to be so widely distributed as to be dissipated. Any moral fervor he might work up has to be immediately snuffed out by the realization that it is impossible to pin the blame for anything on any other thing. Every human relationship (internal and external) is suspended in equilibrium in its force field by a polar tension. But the tension varies, or can vary, in intensity, in time. And sometimes it is extinguished altogether. All factors are variable, all causes are multiplex, all relationships are relative. This is the essential vision Gadda wishes to communicate. But his tool of communication...
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After the first few pages of Quer Pasticciaccio brutto de via Merulana, the reader is struck by Gadda's skillful and, in certain instances, even unorthodox handling of the Italian language, a fact which immediately distinguishes him from most contemporary Italian authors. Gadda's language is a potpourri of archaic and learned words, dialects, highly specialized terminology and neologisms, all blended together in a framework of standard literary Italian. The result Gadda achieves demonstrates the rich expressive potential of the Italian language in its broadest sense.
It therefore becomes obvious that Gadda's view of language differs from literary Italian. He openly rejects formal linguistic restrictions because such conventions conflict with his definition of language. For Gadda language is a continuum; while, on one hand, it synthesizes human experience from by-gone centuries, it must, on the other, be capable of recording contemporary man's achievements and aspirations. (p. 139)
Gadda's language may thus be defined as eclectic. This eclecticism, far from being an isolated example, represents a continuation of what critics term "plurilinguismo," an anti-purist trend that stands in opposition to the more traditional "unilinguismo" or cult of classical linguistic models. (pp. 139-40)
Gadda's opposition to the "lingua d'uso" represents a protest against the low intellectual level of the petty bourgeoisie…. Not only does linguistic standardization strip a language of its wealth but it also restricts an author's creativity. Language instead should enable the author to express his ideas in more than one way…. (p. 140)
In the Pasticciaccio we find the best examples of Gadda's rich use of language, a characteristic which appears in his earlier works, although to a lesser degree. The loosely constructed plot confirms the lack of importance Gadda attaches to the narrative. As the reader soon discovers, Gadda never has true narrative interests in the situations he chooses for his novels, but rather uses them as a springboard for engaging in peripheral discussions which titillate his linguistic fantasy. Although such a technique creates a fragmentary, often confusing narrative, the linguistic variety of these descriptions compensates for the weak plot.
Gadda's language in the Pasticciaccio is much more than a generous sprinkling of dialectal, popular, or learned expressions, thrown in for color or effect. It is correct to state that the author has succeeded in adding a new dimension to the Italian language. He creates a complex interplay of standard Italian, dialects, archaic forms, specialized terminology, foreign borrowings, and, many times, his own neologisms sometimes in the same paragraph and, at...
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No doubt Gadda's [Anastomòsi] is emblematic for the theme of literary diseases. The levels at which we may read it range from the simple and elementary one of technical and medical positivism to the subtler and less obvious one of literary metaphors, where we pass through images and situations that are typically Gadda's and that find a remarkable enrichment and deepening precisely by their being placed in such a meaningful context.
I do not believe it is necessary to insist too much on the first level of reading. The text, even in the original title with which it first appeared in Milan's paper L'Ambrosiano ("Ablazione di duodeno per ulcera"), is a technical description made with the...
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Robert Martin Adams
[In] his collection of short journalistic travelogues titled Le Meraviglie d'Italia, Carlo Emilio Gadda discusses, with a preternatural solemnity verging on heavy irony, the Freudian theory that behind every pattern of adult behavior lies a childhood trauma, buried but capable of resurrection…. [He] moves on to describe a veritable cornucopia of his own fixations with their originating traumas…. But the most important trauma, which needs no explanation, came when, as a little signorino momentarily neglected by his nursemaid, he was playing at being a tiger. He was busy being a real tiger, prowling on all fours through the "jungle"—the shrubbery of the park—when he happened to put one of his forepaws...
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