"So, Then People Do Come Here in Order to Live": Interiority in the Novels of Rainer Maria Rilke and Scipio Slataper

By Ziolkowski, Saskia Elizabeth | The Comparatist, May 2009 | Go to article overview
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"So, Then People Do Come Here in Order to Live": Interiority in the Novels of Rainer Maria Rilke and Scipio Slataper


Ziolkowski, Saskia Elizabeth, The Comparatist


For many, Trieste is better known as the temporary home of the Irish immigrant whom Ezra Pound once referred to as a "refugee from Trieste," (1) than for the numerous modern Italian authors who lived there. The final words of Ulysses, "Trieste-Zurich-Paris," not only catalogue the three cities in which James Joyce worked on his masterpiece, but also emblematize the way scholars tend to place Italian and German-language literature, in an itinerary that ultimately leads to Paris, as the presumptive capital of modernist culture. Trieste, part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until its fall, can, however, also be seen as the geographic and intellectual passage between the German-speaking world, particularly Austria-Hungary, and Italy. (2) An Austro-Italian rather than a Franco-Italian or Euro-Italian perspective highlights elements of Italian modernism that remain underexplored.

Italian modernism has been less examined than most other national European modernisms and, perhaps because it is chronologically and geographically diffuse, critics tend to concentrate on individual authors, such as Gabriele D'Annunzio, Italo Svevo, Carlo Emilio Gadda, Luigi Pirandello, and F.T. Marinetti, while the idea of a more general Italian modernism has remained a questionable proposition. A comparison of Austrian and Italian authors that concentrates primarily on what is similar between them adds to the picture of Italian literary modernism. (3) Engaging German criticism to read Italian works also helps reveal unnoticed meanings. This comparison of Rainer Maria Rilke and Scipio Slataper's novels is part of a larger project that focuses on what Austrian literature brought Triestine writers, and what Triestine writers then brought to the peninsula as a whole, by focusing on the analogous qualities between pairs of Triestine and Austrian novelists. (4) Italian Triestine authors were influenced by many of the same philosophers, critics, and psychoanalysts that informed the German-language authors of the Empire. These (at least) bilingual Triestine authors also read, often in the original, and were influenced by Austrian authors. In addition, due to the comparable cultural climate of Trieste and other Austro-Hungarian cities, such as Prague, these Italian and German-language authors often produced similar works. The affinities between Rilke's Die Aufzeichnungen des Malte Laurids Brigge [The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge] (1910) and Slataper's Il mio Carso [My Carso] (1912) are an example of the latter.

Die Aufzeichnungen and Il mio Carso feature walks around and reactions to a modern city. Malte has recently moved to Paris and Il mio Carso's narrator reacts to his own city, Trieste, whose rocky (or carstic, to be more precise) plateau, known as the "carso," provides the work's unusual title. As these narrators explore their respective cities, they also explore their memories and their views on life and art. Though the similarities between these two works run deeper than a brief plot summary can illustrate (and one of their similarities is that a plot summary offers a poor characterization of the work), Rilke's is much commented upon and loved while Slataper's is not well known internationally. (5) Although the literary qualities of Rilke's work are superior, Slataper's novel is an interesting modernist work that might partially fill the lack that so often characterizes Italian modernism after its strong and early avant-garde movement.

1910, MODERNISM, AND AUTOBIOGRAPHY

Many have described 1910, the year Die Aufzeichnungen was completed and Il mio Carso begun, as one of fundamental change. While scholars have also made comparable, persuasive claims for 1900, 1914, 1922 and other years as marking the beginning of modernism, 1910 is one of the most, and most famously, cited. Virginia Woolf 's claim that, "in or about December, 1910, human character changed" (320) has been repeatedly evoked and lends itself both to the title of a book, On or About December 1910: Early Bloomsbury and Its Intimate World, exploring why Woolf pinpointed this time period, and to a website of digital reproductions from 1910.

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