Gadda, Carlo Emilio (Contemporary Literary Criticism)
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...
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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...
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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...
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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 rigorous punctilious precision worthy of a handbook for anatomy students. Even the most absent-minded reader will not fail to notice the scientific, anatomical, and technical terms woven into the description. These terms are important because, according to Gadda, they confirm the validity and the vitality of "the contributions of techniques" to literary language in a particular, in fact a specialized, field. His vision is not at all a regard médical: there is in it something other and different that, going beyond the scientific status of the words through which it is manifested, posits the text in its literariness.
First of all, the atmosphere of the operation is removed, distanced from the very beginning; it takes...
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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 into a "marmellata," that is, a turd.
The episode, like most of Gadda's, is simple but controlling. All his major writings, though they start bravely in some ostensible direction and make preliminary progress toward it, fall sooner or later into a filthy and disgusting mess. They bog down in excessive details and elaborate irrelevancies, spin off into linguistic gyrations, and finally—as if confessing all delays and subterfuges to be useless in the end—plunge toward a vision of ultimate evil, an intricate and accumulated filth before which the author can only shudder and stop. The author's problem is not to reach that inevitable end, but to delay or avoid it. One has a great sense in reading Gadda, as in reading Beckett,...
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