At the very opening of his most recent narrative, Familia, Giose Rimanelli informs the reader, in his premessa, that:
L'idea era quella d'intitolare questo libro Tre passi infamiglia, in quanto si compone di "3 libri", indipendenti l'uno dall'altro ma uniti dallo stesso tema: famiglia come tronco genetico e famiglia come massa di gente che emigra da un posto all'altro, in questo caso da un continente all'altro, con uguale affanno e speranza. (1)
The writer produces a photographic montage of the Italian emigrant experience which spans, largely, from the middle of the 19th century to the post World War II years. The black and white images, initially viewed on the book jacket, are expanded within the text to incorporate the entire expatriates' atmosphere and are held together by the presence of the author's own immediate family. The writer then employs the chiaroscuro techniques of shadowing and illuminating to highlight the migratory circumstances of the century covered within his text. Moreover, Rimanelli generates a nickelodeon type effect with these vivid, quasi-monochromatic descriptions by simultaneously adding a musical background gradation: jazz, with its concurrent development and migration during this same time period. The author blends and splices this all-American music genre with the refugee influx from Europe and, thereby, demonstrates the totally multi cultural American tapestry, with its roots, developed in two separate environments. (2)
Familia is a saga that encompasses the social, economic and political realities of two worlds, the Old and the New, separated by an ocean. The emigrant, who left his homeland like the Jews crossing the Red Sea in search of a better life for themselves and their children, (3) ultimately survived the arduous expedition and thrived in the new environment.
But, more substantially than a photo collage of these two separate and diverse realities in which the refugee life is portrayed, the author, using these same images and likenesses, creates a Picasso-like picture in which he positions, juxtaposes, shades and highlights the materiality and historicity of the real world with the creativity, depth and spontaneity of the invented. Rimanelli, therefore, becomes a guide through the labyrinthine world of the artists dedicated realms of truth and fiction, and as such, indicates the necessary path to visualize the dichotomy of the journey.
Structurally the text has three main branches that the author labels as Emigrazione come ricordo, Emigrazione come destino, and Emigrazione come arte. Each of these books has its own subdivisions: Ricordo has seven mini chapters; Destino has ten; and the last part, Arte, incorporates everything from the previous narrated and documented units and now presents it in a dramatic, theatrical fashion. Moreover, the author experiments with the use of multiple writing styles to compose the text. The reader is confronted with narrative, poetry, history (literary, music, social, political and economic), and theater. At the same time, the writer has combined his academic pursuit of research and it is evinced by the constant reminder at the base of the page with topics and texts composed in footnote style. The narration presented is a documented and researched instrument for future scholars.
Moreover, like Julio Cortazar's Rayuela, Rimanelli's Familia can be read from many perspectives. Each book, presented with its own, diverse epigraphy, could be considered as an independent and separate entity, not qualified nor linked to the other part, and therefore has a oneness onto itself. It could, also, be studied in its integrity, as one complete and continuous text. Additionally, the annotations at the foot of the page could be seen as a distinct and segregated totality from the rest of the prose and, consequently, another text evolves and develops within the original chronicle.
Time is fabulistic and not chronological in nature. The reader is taken on a magical journey that commences in the 19'h century and concludes in the present day era. However, the unifying element in all parts is the author's family as witness and testimony to a past history, and they, who serve in a Virgilian manner, as the guide throughout the fable.
The tale of Familia is, as Rimanelli asserts, the story of emigration. It is a tale that embraces his own personal family history and ultimately transcends that of the general masses by serving as a paradigm to the saga. The author establishes, in his premessa, the reason for which he entitled this narrative with the Latin term of familia rather than the Italian:
Ho infine deciso di chiamare questo volume con il latino della nostra infanzia nell'universo, Familia, titolo che nel caratterizzare un'unica entitg, la "mia" famiglia, allo stesso tempo la trascende appunto in quanto nell'avventura anonima dell'emigrazione rientra il fato di ogni famiglia, di ognuno di noi che ha vissuto il viaggio [...] (16)
The theme of emigration is not new to the art and experience of Rimanelli. The astute reader of his work recognizes the migratory subject in such works as Peccato originale, Biglietto di terza, Una posizione sociale, Tragica America, Detroit Blues, Moliseide and Other Poems, and Sonetti per Joseph. America, as metaphor, surfaces as a dream like desire and ultimately takes a prominent role in the reality and creativity of the Italian writer. In Peccato originale, there is the aspiration of America; in Biglietto di terza, the voyage to the New World; in Tragica America, the author takes a profound look within the consciousness of American life of the 1960s; in Detroit Blues, a glance into the new assimilated Italo/American life with second-generation realities permeates the novel; and in Moliseide and Other Poems he sings of America as well as his homeland, Molise, as a traveler between these two countries.
Joseph Tusiani points out that the reader of Familia has the impression that he or she has already read the text and that the uniqueness comes in that the author:
[...] si rinnovella in ogni suo scritto senza pero trasformarsi tanto da rendersi anche per un solo istante irriconoscibile. Le fattezze sono identiche ed e identico soprattutto l'animo, cioe il vigore e, specialmente, l'assoluto candore (che a persone reticenti e introverse puo un tantino dispiacere) con cui Giose Rimanelli sa e vuole narrarsi, e narrarsi e per lui (mi si conceda il paradosso) vital malattia. (576)
The subject of autobiography in the works of Rimanelli must, therefore, be scrutinized.
Georges Gusdorf explains that the autobiography has to be a mirror of the author himself. The writer, accordingly, becomes the chronicler of his own life. He endeavors to reconstruct the tousled, mosaic elements of his particular existence in order to present them in a more coherent and integral expression of his entire destiny. The artist and the protagonist must concur. The historian needs to approach himself as the object (31-35). Philippe Lejeune further explains that the narrative must be written in an autodiegetic form with no distinction between the first person singular voice and that of the narrator, protagonist and author. These elements must coexist and are never inseparable, thus forming an autobiographicalpact (5-7).
Diffused individual events that substantiate or evoke Rimanelli's personal reality/identity are depicted throughout Familia. The reader is introduced to various generations of the author's actual family who serve as signposts down the historical path with which the writer guides us. On the maternal side of the bloodline, Rimanelli confirms his American heritage: his mother, born in Canada; his grandfather, in New Orleans; and his great-grandfather, Rodolfo Minicucci, although not born in the Americas, ultimately found himself in the southern United States during the American Civil War, fighting for the losing side and ultimately, after the conflict, remaining in the United States and serving as a justice of the peace in New Orleans. On his paternal side, the author introduces his father, born in their hometown of Casacalenda (Molise), Italy; the grandfather, also from Casacalenda, and the product of an illicit love affair between a wealthy cabinetmaker (who worked with ebony wood), and a peasant woman; and the great-grandfather, the cabinetmaker, Leo, who could not acknowledge paternity of the illegitimate child due to social reasons and, therefore, gave him up for adoption. However, the artisan did not want to be totally alienated from his new born child, conceived in love, and gave him his own surname (Marinelli) in its anagram form, creating a brand new biological tree: the Rimanelli family. The author continues down this generational path by presenting his brothers, their respective families and, his own children, too, make an appearance.
At the very inception of his narration, the author's writes:
La pena non e raccontare, ma vivere il racconto. Ora tu mi hai cercato in seguito a un mio libro, per chiedenni se ho ancora scritto su quel soggetto. Pensai a un detto delle mie campagne: "E poi veto che il letto te lo trovi ben fatto come te lo rifai al mattino?" (19)
This statement co-validates Gusdorf's theory that all literature is autobiographical in nature (46) and simultaneously corroborates Rimanelli's own statement, in an essay written for Rivista di Studi ltaliani, in which he maintains:
My literature is almost all autobiographical in nature: novels, poetry, literary criticism. I date everything I write; on each completed work I mark down the hour, the day, the month, and the year. And this is because I feel I am alone in the world. My writing in fact, has never been directed at the world; rather, it reflects the reality of my own existence in direct contact with practical facts or ideals offered by my world's historical contingencies. My discourse, therefore, is more narrative than critical, more personal than objective. I learn by writing. ("Notes" 73)
Familia has all the elements of an autobiography. There is no distinction within its text between the I of the narrator/protagonist/and the author. People have been introduced by their proper names, dates have been correctly produced and historical data is totally accurate. Moreover, Rimanelli maintains, in part three of the text, the role of critical autobiography theory within his literature:
Mi sono svegliato stamattina e ho visto una faccia perplessa allo specchio. Era Paul Valery, il poeta, che mi ricordava uno dei massimi precetti dell'autobiografia: l'Io chiama se stesso Io, oppure Tu, o Lui. In me ci sono 3 tipi, la Trinita: l'Uno che si rivolge all'Io nella familiare forma del "tu", e l'Uno che lo tratta anche come "Lui". (150)
Here, in this third section of the narrative, is the point in this saga in which the author draws a line of distinction between the real person, Giose Rimanelli, and the characters of his various novels by creating a Pirandellian-like recital in which the author and his alter-ego meet. Although many of the books are, in fact, composed in the first person singular voice, there is no congruency between the protagonists of the tales with that of the author. Furthermore, in the second unit of the text, in the passage entitled Della memoria, the author explains his fascination and practice with direct and indirect autobiography:
Comincio allora, credo, ci6 che ora definisco il "fascino di rappresentarsi," quella diretta o indiretta autobiografia che si avverte in quasi tutti i miei scritti, cio che anche genericamente parlando--si identifica con etnicita ed etnografia in quanto l'autobiografia opera un po' come l'etnografo che fruga in cio che e nascosto e latente nei linguaggi, nelle culture che a un primo contatto appaiono opache, ostiche quasi, per rivelare poi alla fine lo splendore dei caratteri: il discorso, la dinamica. (89)
In his book, Il mestiere delfurbo, Rimanelli establishes the use of autobiography within a literary text by referring to the work of Federigo Tozzi:
[...] l'autobiografia e per Tozzi un modo di raccontarsi, di raccontare universalizzando. Egli potrebbe essere il padre spirituale, il padre San Giuseppe putativo, di parte della tendenza neorealistica del dopoguerra, e di quasi tutta la tendenza postneorealistica, di affiato piu responsabile e introspettico, anche andando fuori dei confini patri. (41)
The influence of the senese on the works of Rimanelli becomes crystalline. Many of the writers' novels contain diverse autobiographical elements. However, Tiro al piccione, Peccato originale, Una posizione sociale, Graffiti, and Detroit Blues are not autobiographies. They do not meet the necessary prescribed requirements.
Yet to differentiate the gulf that exists between character and author, Rimanelli reminds the reader, in the epigraphy that introduces the third book, of the Argentinean writer Jorge Luis Borges who states:
All'altro, a Borges, accadono le cose. Io cammino per Buenos Aires e m'attardo, forse meccanicamente, a guardare l'arco di un androne e il cancello che immette a un cortile; di Borges ho notizie tramite la posta e vedo il suo nome in una terna di professori o in un dizionario biografico. Non so chi dei due scrive questa pagina. (4) (141)
Fiction possesses, as Pirandello and Miguel de Unamuno suggest, an existence granted to it by the author; the writer bestows it and, at the same time, has the power to take it away. (5) Life, on the other hand, cannot be controlled or maneuvered by the mere capriciousness of a person or by others. To accentuate the variant role between the fictitious character and the individual, Rimanelli highlights this property, upon his return to Molise, after his father's death:
[...] E anche vero, purtroppo, che spesso ci comportiamo come certi personaggi di Pirandello che nelle notti di luna vanno a parlare coi loro morti, richiamandoli dall'al di la. Ma ognuno, si sa, piange a suo modo. Ed io pure, dalla finestra di Sebastiano, ogni volta che vengo ad affacciarmici. (106)
Familia, accordingly, generates contemporaneously, a parallel pathway of its own by illuminating the schism between the historical reality of the author with the creativity and originality of his fiction.
The distinction between author and character often seems to be cloudy and murky. In Una posizione sociale, the grandfather of the young protagonist, Massimo Niro, attested to the 1891 lynching of Italians in New Orleans. This character is named Grandfather Dominick. Rimanelli tells us, in Familia, that his maternal grandfather, also a witness to the lynching in New Orleans, was named Tony Slim Dominick Minicucci. Both men were fascinated by Jazz music, played the trumpet, and both left the city after the horrific acts of 1891. Each of these men had a daughter that they nicknamed Squeeze. But there the similarities end. In reality, Rimanelli's grandfather left the Crescent City and moved to Canada in search of work. Ultimately, he and his baby daughter moved to Italy. In his novel Una posizione sociale, it is suggested that Grandfather Dominick moved to Italy to escape the horrors of the New Orleans incident. There is no mention of the daughter's mother or any mention of her brothers, left behind to run the family restaurant, nor is there any indication that the character and his daughter were citizens of Canada, although they spoke English. Moreover, the protagonist of this story is a young pre-adolescent boy, in the prewar period. Although the author, chronologically in 1937, the time span attributed to Una posizione sociale, was an eleven-year-old like Massimo, it is not a prepubescent boy who writes this tale. The autobiographical pact is, consequently, broken.
Rimanelli, therefore, engenders two separate and distinct spheres of his actual life: one, creative; and the other, undeniably, historically true. This binary thoroughfare that the author institutes is one that, likewise, allows the reader a view into the creative process from its initiation, through it development, and ultimately to the end product: the original artistic work.
The cornerstone of two distinguishable universes in the work of this author is not idiosyncratic. Commencing with Tiro alpiccione and passing through all the major works of the writer (Peccato originale, Biglietto di terza, Una posizione sociale, Tragica America, Il tempo nascosto tra le righe (6), Detroit Blues), the reader becomes acutely aware of the division between, what Mircea Eliade defines, as sacred and profane space in his opus. Traditionally, Molise and Detroit have functioned as the author's hallowed zone. According to Eliade, the sacred is equivalent to an unworldly power and to a numinous reality (Sacred 12). In the novels of the 1950s, while the author's parents still resided in Italy, Molise functioned as this sanctified expanse. However, once the writer's family immigrated to America, first to Canada and then to the United States, Detroit eventually became the new sacrosanct area. Moreover, within the sacred space of Molise or Detroit, Rimanelli's parents home established, that which Eliade further denominated as, the axis mundi, the center of the universe (Images 39). Profane space would, therefore, constitute anything that existed outside the designated, consecrated area. In Rimanelli's novels, each time a character (Marco Laudato in Tiro al piccione; Nicola Vietri in Peccato originale; Massimo Niro in Unaposizione; and Simone Donato in Detroit Blues) left the confines of the parents home, the sacred space, the protagonist was confronted with the harsh and brutal reality of civil war, hatred, bigotry and violence.
The dual nature of the Rimanelli family household, one side American and the other Italian, helped generate the dimorphous reality of the author's actual world which, ultimately, gave birth to the transmutated and metamorphosized reality in his creative sphere. Through this narrative, Familia, the writer introduces us to his maternal and paternal grandfathers: Dominick Minicucci and Seppe Rimanelli, each of whom had an American experience, similar and yet diverse: Seppe saw America as a place of opportunity, continual growth, and che pareva sapesse dire una sola cosa: "Merica bella!" (41); and Dominick, unfortunately, witnessed the irrational prejudice of the populace that caused unnecessary pain and death. Yet he, simultaneously, evidenced in New Orleans the joyous birth of a totally new American music genre that came from the segregated and isolated African American quarter and was popularized by the White community: jazz. Nevertheless, their familiarities, the grandfathers, in America helped form the ingenious curiosity of the writer and their realities became fodder for his research.
Moreover, it is the father of this writer, who, in an agrarian manner, brings to the surface the amount of work, the travail, necessary to cultivate a literary piece:
[...] e un giorno lui disse: "Al collegio non v'insegnarono la bella scrittura?" "Cosa vuol dire?" "Tu non usi la penna per scrivere, ma la zappa." "A scrivere ognuno impara da se. E se io lo faccio con la zappa vuol dire che scavo." "La tua fossa?" "Il maggese!" "Se e cosi, continua pure. La si semina." "E cio che penso anch'io." Oh, padre! (101)
Vincenzo Rimanelli was the only member of the immediate family that ever read any of the writer's publications and recognized the amount of study and investigation that was essential to the craft and, he also testified to the personal history encompassed within the pages of the author's opus. Additionally, the father acknowledged that his son's sacred world transcended the actual and, fundamentally and prevailingly, formed part of his own literary experience. (7) While Rimanelli was writing his first novel, Tiro al piccione, about the experiences of a young man fighting in the Italian Civil War on the losing side, the father's friends would ask what his son was composing. Without hesitation, the father responded; La divina miseria. (101). This ironic statement carries a dual-fold value: it presents the reader with the author's inherited literary tradition and suggests the trek necessary between his two worlds: inventiveness and factualness; sacred and profane space.
The journey from reality to creativity is initiated in the mini-chapter the author entitles Le voci, and is brought to light by the slow, melodic, rhythmic, childlike and repetitive refrain:
Row row row your boat gently down the stream; merrily merrily merrily life is but a dream. (27)
The image of a voyage, as a means of comprehension, self-awareness, is not alien to the works of Rimanelli (8) and, moreover, is reminiscent of the classic literary tradition that the young writer received in his youth.9 Throughout Familia the author highlights and shadows literary history to relate and narrate the emigrant adventure:
Guardando nonno Seppe Rimanelli, e ricordando nonno Tony Dominick, pensavo all'Ulisse omerico e ai vari aspetti dell'Ulisse nella letteratura: quello di Dante, quello di Tennyson, quello di Joyce e quello di Saba, soprattutto quello di Saba, il poeta stesso, Ormai non piu in cerca di viaggi, avventure, scoperte perche "oggi il mio regno e quella terra di nessuno," una terra sola e abbandonata, asessuale, rotta, che infine e il vero stato dei vecchi sul muretto, anche se la voglia dell'antico navigare--persino l'esilio fuori della sua patria--resti con lui, con loro, questo vecchio, questi vecchi, onde la rassegnata e cosciente riflessione del poeta che il porto accende ad altri i suoi lumi; me al largo sospinge ancora il non domato spirito, e della vita il doloroso amore. (31)
To further compound the literary value of the migratory reality, Rimanelli takes us on a tour through classical literature, philosophy, sociology and anthropology to emphasize his own literary growth and maturity. More importantly, however, is the stress that the classical literary legacy has on the author's own personal life and his creative narrative existence. Rimanelli explains that, at a very young age, he encountered in his home a potato sack filled with books of paradigmatic literature and the effect it had on his own pursuit of a literary style:
[...] io cercavo di esprimermi con il linguaggio dei classici scoperti in soffitta, in un sacco di patate, in atteggiamento di preghiera. Cosiche le strade diventarono "la strada", la quale era lucida come una spina di cardo sotto un cielo "assorto", di pervinca; le parole venivano dalle "forre", le "tumide" mimose "ingemmavano" le "solitudini" (non la solitudine) dei crinali, delle "isolate" torri e degli sguardi di pietra "congelati" nei bassorilievi di antiche cattedrali. (88)
Once again, the dichotomy between life and literature, fact and fiction, plays a prominent role in the narrative presence of the author.
The deaths of his parents also take on a binary perspective. Upon the demise of his father, Rimanelli recollects his statement regarding the artists' craft being similar to that of the farmer. He also acknowledges the unwanted, but necessary, position he granted the paterfamilias within his literary world, as the villain, and, now the author, at a more mature stage of life, recognizes that this role differed from reality. (10) At the same time, upon the death of his mother, Rimanelli attributes a Dantean like description of her passing; Ed ora mia madre e dall'altra parte del fiume (125).
The role and influence of the literary masters in the development of Rimanelli's opus are not to be underplayed nor underscored, and here in Familia, again, it has a great mass of importance. Although Dante appears to have the greatest consequence in the literary path of this author, other writers also permeate and pervade within his literary sphere. The careful reader notices that the medieval poets, in particular, carry an extreme weight. Una posizione sociale, like Boccaccio's Decameron, is told in a frame narrative style that encompasses one night, with Grandfather Dominick given a free reign to narrate his story, in a manner similar to Dioneo, of the lynching of Italians in New Orleans. Graffiti is a tale told, in a Pirandellian manner, which requires the assistance of Italy's three great medieval poets, Dante, Petrarca and Boccaccio, in dealing with contemporary social sexual politics. Familia is a saga that also takes on dantean like infernal qualities.
The reader perceives the difficult, arduous and, in some cases, horrendous situations in which the emigrant, starting a new life, is thrust. Historically, the lynching of 1891, in New Orleans, is the most heinous and horrific acts these new emigrants confronted. Yet, they prevailed. (11) On a daily basis, however, the fresh resident of the unfamiliar country is forced to make adjustments to the new life chosen. Work, friends, shopping, even a simple driver's license become major obstacles in the emigrant's life. (12) The emigrant, therefore as Rimanelli asserts, must:
"[...] implicitamente da un volto, un significato a quelle parole, ci appare subito eterno, biblico con la sua speranza e la sua paura. In fondo e proprio lui l'incipit dantesco [...]" (85).
Here, as in earlier narratives, the specificity to Dante is unobstructed. The reader sees a direct and tangible connection with the Florentine's work. At the start of Dante's Vita nuova the poet opens with the words; "In quella parte del libro de la mia memoria" and the text continues through the verse Incipit vita nuova (19). The above statement by Rimanelli is, ironically, found in the mini chapter entitled Della memoria.
According to Dante and the medieval tradition, the number three is of great importance and consequence. Christopher Ryan, in his essay The Theology of Dante, states the gravity of the number:
"For Dante, the striving of the human being both to come to individual perfection in knowledge and love, and to reach the perfection in and through a community, has its source in the already perfect life of the Trinity" (151).
Structurally, Familia, is a text that is, divided into three parts. There are three literary genres interwoven and fused within the tale: prose, poetry and drama. Each of these categories is written, linguistically, using three languages: Italian, Molisan dialect, and English. The author's story of emigration centers on his immediate family: the grandfathers, the parents, and the second generation, the children of his brothers and himself, here in the United States. It involves the travels of these generations between three separate countries: Italy, Canada and the United States. He, incidentally, is one of three males born to his parents and at the same time, is the father of three sons. In part three of the text, the writer also points out that he has been married three times. (13)
Moreover, there is a mathematical precision within Familia that corresponds to the medieval paradigm. There are, as already established, 18 mini chapters (seven in book I; 10 in book II; and book III has one huge unit). Divide this number by two, for the binary pathway that the author generates in this text, and in his other works, and the result is nine. Nine is the number of circles through which Dante journeyed so as to exit Inferno. Additionally, the root of the number nine, which is a perfect number, is three: the total number of books within Rimanelli's text and the number of the Trinity.
Paget Toynbee explains that, stylistically, the Vita nuova comprises of twenty-four sonnets, five canzoni and one ballad, grouped together in a symmetrical arrangement and, that the prose text, is a vehicle for the introduction and interpretation of the poems (159). In a similar fashion, Rimanelli's Familia consists of sonnets, lyrical poems, songs, ballads, and is encircled by the narrative prose. (14) However, where Dante uses the prose to present and explain the lyrical compositions, Rimanelli employs the verses to expound and clarify the prose.
The impetus for Dante's work was the sudden death of Beatrice. His libello was to be, as stated, a book of memory. The stimulus for Rimanelli appears to be the death of his parents. They formed part of a heroic and Homeric generation who came to America, after the infernal years of World War II and the Italian Civil War, and never forgot their authentic heritage. It is, consequently, his book of recollection and he subtitles this work Memoria dell 'Emigrazione.
In his essay, Approaching the Vita Nuova, Robert Pogue Harrison brings to light that the Vita nuova, like all of Dante's subsequent work, marks the beginning of his tendency to edit the self (34). Moreover, Toynbee establishes that this little book of memory is modern European literatures first autobiographical work and, that the autobiography, here, serves as an allegory of the author's inception of a personal journey of self-awareness, to be further developed in his Comedia, more than a history of his own life (160). If the Vita nuova is a metaphor for this genesis of Dante's voyage of self-consciousness, then Rimanelli's text, which credits heavily on the influence of the master, must also be seen from a parallel perspective. Autobiographical elements serve as the frame for his narrative journey of self-cognizance, but do not form the overall, complete picture, and therefore, his book, Familia, should be seen not as an autobiography, but as an allegory for the artistic journey through the inventive process. To further accomplish this feat, the author sets up, in a correspondent mode, the personal anecdotes of his familiar life with literary excerpts of his creative work, thereby substantially depicting their disparities.
The writer tells us that his artistic journey commenced at a very young age:
Quand'ero ragazzo, salivo sulla piu alta montagna del mio paese per vedere il mare da una parte e cumoli di altre montagne dall' altra dietro le quali, immaginavo, c'erano altre cose, altre strade, un nuovo misterioso mondo. Cercavo mio padre, dov'era arrivato col suo cavallo. E cosi per me pure ebbe inizio il viaggio, prima con la mente come ho detto, dal paese alla provincia alia regione, poi al mondo al di lfi della montagna e al di la del mare, proiettato verso un futuro che, fortunatamente pero, si portava dietro le stigmate del luogo di partenza: la memoria, appunto, cio che evoca il passato e te lo fa rivivere gettando un ponte tra il mondo dei vivi e quello delle ombre; quello cioe che gli antichi designarono col nome di Mneme, la rischiaratrice del buio, colei che decifra l'invisibile e si fa sorgente d'immortalita. (7)
Here the author begins to point out the disparity that exists between himself and his bloodline by specifying that his movement was a journey, initiated years prior to his family's exodus for America and many years preceding the war. It was not a physical trek, but one that began in his mind and soul. When his family left Italy to go to America, he rejected their appeal to emigrate with them preferring to remain in Italy and continuing with his career as a writer, however: "Non potevo sapere che quando ai miei dissi "no, io resto", in effetti mi sbagliavo: sebbene non da emigrante, presto sarei partito anch'io" (25). They were emigrants and he was a traveler. Rimanelli spells out that there is a fundamental difference between the two, and to underscore this variance, he highlights his own family's emigrant experience by setting it off from his own journey as a self-prescribed expatriate.
The emigrant is in search of a better life. In order to achieve it he must have the possibility of a job. The voyager can function anywhere, and in the case of this writer, a self-imposed exile (a term that, according to the author, projects a romantic notion of adventure and rebellion), he can produce in any location. The voyager knows where he is going and to where he will return. On the other hand, the emigrant only recognizes where he is heading, and that the hopes and dreams he carries within himself will engender a better life. (15) At the same time, the emigrant is re-creating a mythical escape, in illo tempore, by fleeing the hardships of his immediate surroundings and searching for the freedom of a better future.
Rimanelli's family left Italy for America because of the desire of the mother. Although her father, Grandfather Tony Slim Dominick Minicucci, took her from Canada to Casacalenda, she was always made to feel as if she were a foreigner, the americana. In her mind, Italy had sent her husband to fight, as a forced volunteer, in the war against Abyssinia and, to support the military, the government of Mussolini confiscated her gold wedding band. Moreover, it was this same country that swallowed up her son, this writer, during the Italian Civil War and for a period of two years, she did not know if he were dead or alive.
It is the journey of the emigrant that places them into, what Mircea Eliade establishes as, mythic time. Yet, this entry into mythic time carries the nullification of profane time, of duration, of "history" (Myth 35). In order to be able to tolerate the hardships of the new chosen life, the emigrant must look at his present condition by conforming it to the spiritual model of the heroic myth (38): in the case of the emigrant, Exodus and the covenant made between the Jews and G-d, for a brighter future, in the promised land of Canaan. And although the Jews had sinned against the law of G-d, the dream of the promised land was still kept alive for their future generations (Exodus 34: 6-7). And if, as Rimanelli states, the emigrant experience is like that of the Jews crossing the Red Sea, then the entry into the promised land of milk and honey, the final destination for the wanderer, will be delayed to the expatriate, due to the impossibilities and difficulties he encounters on his arrival, but the door will be open to the future generations who have leveled the playing field by being born in this new land.
The author's father, a disabled person, was unable to find employment in America. One day when the writer was visiting his grandfather Seppe, the old man wanted to know how his son was doing in America, knowing that he was crippled. Seppe, prior to World War I, had experienced the American life while working seasonally in St. Paul, Minnesota. Rimanelli explains that his father has difficulty finding a job due to his impaired leg. The grandfather responds:
"Eh, na Merica ce vo' gamba sana e fortuna, dazzoll! Io mai mi fennavo. Pure mo'che ci penso, la fen'ovia era dritta e lucida, non finiva mai, e io la camminavo. Ma too' dazzoll, tu buone nen sie chiu, e chi te provele spare!" "Stare in gamba e in salute, nonno, quando si e giovani, cosi e? "Cosi e, e dazzoll ... ! (p. 30-31)
At first, the father reversed roles with the wife: she worked in a factory, and he took care of the household. The only way he was able to acquire a position was when the son, again this writer, was able to address the problem with the mayor of the city of Detroit. Yet, the grandchildren, all born in the United States, were able to succeed in their chosen careers.
The sin of the emigrant is to erase, to eradicate, their past and to deny their roots by adapting and assimilating too quickly in their new environment. They tend to change their names and have them conform more to the new surroundings. (16) Moreover, they fail to understand the consequences of their actions. The result is that the next generation, those who have been shielded from their parents' difficult past and are born into this new adopted nation, tend to ultimately search out their origins. However, for these people, the history they encounter appears to be that of another world. In book II of Familia, Rimanelli tells us that his brothers, consumed with pursuing the American dream, neglected to teach their children and grandchildren the Italian language. None of this second-generation, born outside the peninsula, knows anything about their cultural background.
Nevertheless, the traveler, conceives memory as a means to the past and, more importantly, by looking within it and examining it, the remembrance allows him to enter the future in an unobstructed fashion. Reminiscence that does not change or distort the historical perspective must, therefore, fall into the category of sacred time.
Years later, in a conversation with his mother explaining all that he has witnessed on his itinerary through the artistic and physical worlds, the writer explains his own craft by counterbalancing it between the spheres of illusion and reality, sleep and consciousness: "[...] Vivere vuol dire stare svegli, e nella veglia si racconta. Cosi faccio io" (111-112). This concept parallels Eliade's theory of dream time. According to the anthropologist, dream time is when man relives the primordial events, the mythical history of the group, by recreating the imago mundi, the origin of the world. Reactualizing the myth of origin implies, according to Eliade, participation in the Dream Times, in the time sanctified by the mythical presence of Divine Beings and the ancestors (Rites 18). Rimanelli's statement that he is always awake when he creates his literary world suggests that he is not in this sphere of profane time, which eradicates actual history, but as his father suggested, always present in the sacred sphere in which history is preserved and this preservation comes from memory. In this manner, recollection is a bridge, a thoroughfare, a path and not a wall that prevents its penetration. In a similar vein, Giuseppe Mazzotta points out the significance of memory in the Vita nuova:
Oriented at first to the past and to the unveiling of the secrets of memory, the Vita nuova quickly confronts memory's limits, seeks to transcend those limits, and strains for a mode of vision no longer that of mere reminiscences of the past. Dante must move, as the last chapters of the Vita nuova tell us, beyond the contingent revelations of objective, empirical knowledge to a realm of imagination and vision. (7)
Erich Auerbach explains that the crucial experience of Dante's youth was the circumstance that he himself delineated as his vita nuova, the story of his love for Beatrice (60). Rimanelli's aesthetic voyage of self-awareness through his sacred world of literature begins upon his return from the Italian Civil War and permeates within the pages of his first novel Tiro al piccione and proceeds through all of his subsequent narratives. The Italian Civil War and the violent and horrific actions of Nazi Germany are the crucial and conclusive moments of Rimanelli's personal existence and penetrate throughout all his work. Beatrice serves as the catalyst for Dante's pilgrimage; the monstrous war that engulfed Europe and ultimately hurled Italy into the chaos of its own civil war, has an equal effect on Rimanelli.
Once again, the Italian writer, leads us down a dichotomous pathway in which, now, remembrance is a key component and plays a notable role. The reader may believe that the author is presenting a simple narrative of his own personal family story of emigration or that he uses his family saga as an example for the entire movement. The elements appear to be simple: Rimanelli traces his family history back to his great-grandfather and proceeds through the next three generations in which time appears to become mythical. But the family's past only, barely, masks the true expression of the writer. Rimanelli's veiled tale is a chronicle of his artistic development, transcending the boundaries of simple autobiography by penetrating the mythological precepts predicated by profane time (which abolishes history), and entering into the sacred universe (created by the actual reality) and thereby, confronting it.
Throughout his novels, the author, subtlety and persuasively, attempts to illustrate the cyclical nature of history and, at the same time, to show that the only way in which man can break this circle is if he does not repeat the same mistakes. The sole manner, according to Rimanelli, to not keep committing these constant misjudgments comes from knowledge, and the acquired wisdom comes from facing the truth. These words reverberate those of Dante, in Inferno XXVI 119-120, when Ulysses says to his men: fatti non foste a viver colne bruti,/ ma per seguir virtute e canoscenza. (31)
At the conclusion of the Vita nuova Dante advises the reader that more is yet to come and that his journey has only just begun. (17) In a parallel fashion, at the close of Familia, a conversation takes place between the author and his alter ego. A question arises if the author is, yet, tired of his life's journey. Originating with his literary texts of Tiro alpiccione, passing to Peccato originale, Biglietto di terza, Una posizione sociale, Il mestiere di furbo, Tragica America, Graffiti, II tempo nascosto tra le righe and Detroit Blues, and others, all interwoven within the framework of this narrative, Rimanelli has shown the Orphic journey that his characters have endured. On their voyage through life, these personages embarked on their ascent through the infernal years of the prewar, war and postwar periods in Italy and in the United States. They also have witnessed irrational hatred, bigotry and prejudice. They experienced all the horrors of the second half of the twentieth century: Fascism, Nazism, war, nuclear proliferation, political assassinations, racial riots, hate.
In describing the possible biographical information in the Vim nuova, Erich Auerbach states:
Thus the Vita nuova is useless as a source of information about Dante's actual biography; the events that occur in it, the meetings, journeys, and conversations cannot have taken place as they are here set forth and no biographical data can be derived from them. But the work throws an essential light on Dante's inner life. (61)
There is no doubt that autobiographical elements are present in the work ofGiose Rimanelli. However, these components serve as an allegory to the larger scope encompassed with the author's work. As in the case of the Florentine, the biographical data presented within his opus only facilitates our trek and projects an indispensable aspect on Rimanelli's intimate existence.
In his response to his alter ego, Rimanelli, shows the character his empty travel-suitcase, ready, like himself, to resume his travels onward :
IO: E cosa contiene?
GIOSE (apre la valigia)--Guarda!
IO: Ma 6 vuota!
GIOSE Si, ma una volta era piena zeppa. Infine ho dovuto buttar via tutto.
IO: Ma se 6 vuota, ache serve
GIOSE: Si rielnpir/l di nuovo; la vita continua ... (183)
The author's aim is clear. His trek is not over, but it is about to start again. The voyage does not end because one is tired or no longer young. Oppression, hatred, bigotry have not ceased; they still exist. And if, according to Rimanelli, the yesterday is part of today, and it still has not yet been confronted, tomorrow would, therefore, have to be limited. His en deavor is to open the gates, be a guide to us down the pathway, and to continue on with his travels.
University of Lowell
(1.) Giose Rimanelli, Familia (Isernia: Iannone,2000) p. 15. All references that come directly from this text and edition will be placed, with their page number, in parenthesis, within the body of this essay.
(2.) According to the notes in Rimanelli's book, there were two main components of early Jazz: Jelly Roll Morton, an American Creole of French origin, and Nick La Rocca, a Caucasian of Italian descent, both born in the city of New Orleans (36-37). The Encvclopedia of Jazz by Leonard Feather (New York: Da Capo Press, 1960), states that Dominick James (Nick) La Rocca formed the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, often called the first white jazz band. In January, 2001, the PBS network presented a documentary, Jazz, on the history of this purely American music phenomenon, produced by Ken Burns. According to the program, although jazz music was a creation of the African American community that had its origins, in some form or another, during the Antebellum days, the La Rocca band was, actually, the first to produce, in 1917, a recorded disc for sale on the market.
(3.) At the beginning of his narrative, Rimanelli explains the necessity of the emigrant experience:
"[...] E da qui che--in ogni eta--inizia il viaggio, probabilmente l'esilio per un luogo nuovo, una reinvenzione della propria esistenza: la traversata del biblico Mar Rosso insomma, al di la del quale i dollari, per certo, non si trovano per strada" (21).
(4.) "Al otro, a Borges, es a quien le ocunen las cosas. Yo camino pot Buenos Aires y me demoro, acaso ya mecanicamente, para mirar el arco de un zaguan y la puerta cancel; de Borges tengo noticias por el correo y veo su nombre en una terna de profesores o en un diccionario biografico. [...] [...] No se cual de los dos escribe esta pagina" (Coleman 7).
(5.) Luigi Pirandello, Sei personaggi in cerca d'autore, and Miguel de Unamuno, Niebla. The original version of Pirandello's text came out in 1921 and Unamuno's in 1914.
(6.) In Rimanelli's collection of short stories, Il tempo nascosto tra le righe, the tale "Le piace questo giardino" serves as a type of bridge between Italy and the United States. All of Rimanelli's tales are dated and this one is signed Roma, 1960-Yale, 1963.
(7.) The author's parents came to visit him in Albany, New York in August, 1988. The mother, seeing so many books in her son's home, could not help noticing the cost factor and told the writer that he had spent too much. Moreover, she wanted to know if he had read all the works on the shelves since now all they were doing was gathering dust. When the author responded that he had, the mother then suggested that he throw them out, place them all in the garbage. The writer, trying to be gentle with his mother, only nodded his head and said nothing. When the mother left the room, the father, looking at all the tomes of his son's library, stated: "You get rid of the books and you kill Giose." (Conversation, in Albany, with the writer's parents on August 5, 1988, three days before the death of the author's father.)
(8.) See my Crossing the Acheron: A Study of Nine Novels by Giose Rimanelli.
(9.) "[... E] per me l'adolescenza significo trascorrere ore di buio fitto nella soffitta di mio padre, frugando in un sacco di patate pieno zeppo di vecchi libri dalle costole rosse marcite. Fu cosi che piano piano la luce filtro dall'abbaino, e mi feri sulla fronte.
"Mi vedevo--felice me!--come il San Luigi Gonzaga delle oleografie di casa, le mani conserte sul petto e il viso in su, assolutamente angelico, con quel denso fascio di luce che mi pioveva addosso dall'alto.
"E a poco a poco cominciai a discorrere con Socrate e Platone, Orazio e Cicerone, e in special modo con dei monaci dottori che vissero dal IV al XIV secolo nella giovane Europa, cantando laudi ora al dio celeste e ora la dio terreno, ora perdendosi in sospiri dietro le trecce bionde di una signora e ora battendosi il petto per gli ingenui peccati della carne e, spesso, solo del desiderio. Indossavano lunghe tuniche e portavano capelli tagliati a raggiera come un tal monaco chiamato Notkerus Balbulus (Notker il Balbuziente), o Paolino da Nola" (92).
(10.) "Ti ricordi della penna che non e una penna ma una zappa?" gli dissi. "E come no? Ma se scavi un solco, e non importa come, e ci semini qualcosa di buono, qualcosa ci nasce, no?
"Grazie per averlo riconosciuto", dissi.
Lui fece si con la testa. Ando a prendere la bottiglia e due bicchieri. Sul portico di casa brindammo al suo lavoro e al mio libro: l'aurora di un nuovo giomo.
Quell'uomo, mio padre, era stato trattato un po' da villano nei miei libri. Ogni qualvolta avevo bisogno di ricaricarmi di rancore re'era diventato facile allungare la mano e trovarlo da lui, mio padre, e quindi estrarlo dal difficile rapporto che avevo avuto con lui. Ma lui, mio padre--l'unico, tra l'altro, che nella mia famiglia avesse mai letto le mie cose--non mai cerco di rettificare, chiarire e tantomeno rimproverare. Solo una volta, e con un sorrisetto a fior di labbra, disse qualcosa che mi mando un brivido nella schiena; un qualcosa che mi ricordo l'idiotico giudizio del Cardinale Ippolito nei riguardi dell'Orlando che Ariosto, suo dipendente, gli aveva dedicato. "Dove diavolo avete pescato tante corbellerie, Ser Lodovico?" (104-105)
(11.) It must be pointed out, however, that during World War II, the next generation, the second-generation, were placed in internment camps by the United States Government in response to Italy's alliance with Nazi Germany. Although the Italian Americans were ostracized by the country they embraced, they were rejected because of their ethnic, and not political, backgrounds.
(12.) "[...M]a fuori, nel mondo degli effetti e del lavoro balbetti solo parole "raccolte" della lingua che non conosci ancora, che non hai studiato, e della quale sai solo le prime piu comuni sillabe di tua e collettiva necessita: cesso, pane, strada, ufficio, humeri, negozio ..." (83).
(13.) Giose: Mi sono sposato tre volte. La prima--[...]
La seconda moglie--[...]
La terza moglie. [...] (173-174)
(14.) In Familia there are 3 sonnets, 9 ballads, 10 songs, and 15 blues, all original works by the author. However, not all of these lyrical compositions appear in their entirety, and several of them display only a few stanzas. Moreover, there are 16 other references to songs, ballads, blues, ragtime, elegies, sonnets and lullabies written in the Molisan dialect, Italian, English, Latin, American slang, or the primitive language of African American jazz. In the language of African American jazz, the citations come from the blues written by Jelly Roll Morton and Robert Johnson. Moreover, the other cited poetic branches come from Horace, Ovid, Catullus, Dante, Tennyson, Umberto Saba, and Ezra Pound.
(15.) "Emigrare non e proprio come viaggiare. Il viaggiare. Il viaggiatore sa dove andare e dove tornare. L'emigrante sa solo dove andare. Emigrate da un paese all'altro, per chiudere la porta su quello da cui si e partiti, e in veritfi un morire, con la speranza (in riserva) di rinascere pero a miglior vita, vuoi sociale che politica, nel nuovo paese anche se con panni e poi mente non esattamente identici a quelli di prima" (84).
(16.) To demonstrate this point, the author incorporates the lyric verses of the Italo/ American poet Maria Mazziotti Gillan:
I changed my name to Marie, hoping no one would notice my face with its dark italian eyes
I smile when I think of you. Listen, America. This is my father, Arturo, and I am his daughter, Maria. Do not call me Marie. (46)
(17.) "Si che, se piacere sara di colui a cui tutte le cose vivono, chela mia vita duri per alquanti anni, io spero di dicer di lei quello che mai non fue detto d'alcuna" (XLII [XLIII] 76).
Alighieri, Dante. Vita Nuova--Rime. Ed. Fredi Chiappelli. Milano: Mursia, 1965.
Auerbach, Erich. Dante. Poet of the Secular World. Ed. Theodore Silverstein. Trans. Ralph Manheim. Chicago: U Chicago P, 1988.
Coleman, Alexander, ed. Cinco Maestros. Cuentos modernos de Hispanoamerica. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1969
Cortazar, Julio. Rayuela. Buenos Aires: Editorial Sudamericana, 1976. Eliade, Mircea. The Sacred and The Profane. Trans. Willard R. Trask. San Diego: HBJ, 1959.
--. Images and Symbols. Studies in Religious Symbolism. New York: Sheed and Ward, 1969.
--. The Myth of the Eternal Return. Trans. Willard R. Trask. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1974.
--. Rites and Symbols of Initiation. Trans. Willard R. Trask. New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1958.
Feather, Leonard. The Encyclopedia of Jazz. New York: Da Capo Press, 1960.
Gusdorf, Georges. "Conditions and Limits of Autobiography." Autobiography." Essays Theoretical and Critical. Ed. James Olney. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1980.
Harrison, Robert Pogue. "Approaching the Vita Nuova." The Cambridge Companion to Dante. Ed. Rachel Jacoff. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1993.
Lejeune, Philippe. On Autobiography. Trans. Katherine Leary. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989.
Mazzotta, Giuseppe. "The Life of Dante." The Cambridge Companion to Dante. Ed. Rachel Jacoff. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1993.
Pirandello, Luigi. Sei personaggi in cerca d'autore. Milano: Mondadori, 1966.
Postman, Sheryl Lynn. Crossing the Acheron: A Study of Nine Novels by Giose Rimanelli. New York: Legas, 2000.
Rimanelli, Giose. Biglietto di terza. Milano: Mondadori, 1958.
--. Detroit Blues. Welland, Ontario: Editions Soleil, 1997.
--. Familia. Isernia: Iannone, 2000.
--. Il mestiere del furbo. Milano: Sugar, 1959.
--. Moliseide and Other Poems. Ed. and trans. Luigi Bonaffini. New York: Legas, 1998.
--. "Notes on Fascist/Antifascist Politics and Culture From the Point of View of a Misfi(s)t." Rivista di Studi Italiani, 2.2 (1984): 73-80.
--. Peccato originale. Milano: Mondadori, 1954.
--. Sonnetti per Joseph. Marina di Minturno: Caramanica Editor, 1998.
--. Il tempo nascosto tra le righe. Isernia: Marinelli, 1986.
--. Tragica America. Genova: Immordino, 1968.
--. Una posizione sociale. Firenze: Vallechi, 1959. A new edition of this book came out with a new title: La stanza grande. Cava dei Tirreni: Avegliano, 1996.
Ryan, Christopher. "The Theology of Dante." The Cambridge Companion to Dante. Ed. Rachel Jacoff. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1993.
Toynbee, Paget. Dante Alighieri: His Life and Works. Ed. Charles S. Singleton. New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1965.
Tusiani, Joseph. Rev. of Familia, by Giose Rimanelli. Forum Italicum, 34.2 (2000): 575-76.
Unamuno, Miguel de. Niebla. Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, 1963.…