The Social Context of Literary Production in Post-War Friuli: Authors, Readers, and the Transformation of the Cultural Field

Article excerpt

Although it has been claimed that "Quando si parla di poesia dialettale si esce subito dal campo della letteratura per entrare in quello della sociologia" (Scataglini 70), the relationship between the origins of the literary phenomenon known as the neodialettali and the transformation of Italian post-war society has not been considered in any great detail. (1) This oversight is surprising, given that an exploration of the societal roots of dialect poetry in the post-war period raises issues that are pertinent to Italian literary studies in general. This article focuses on the microcosm of post-war Friulian poetry (one of the most prolific regions for dialect poetry in the post war period), and proposes one principal hypothesis: that the increasing resemblance of Friulian poetry and national dialect poetry is a manifestation of the de-localisation and "academicisation" of the market for poetry as a whole. The sociological and educational closure of the literary-critical field is also considered from the aesthetic perspective: I will argue, firstly, that the national success of some Friulian poetry depends on conformity to literary-critical trends that are accessible de facto solely to those educated in the humanities, and that, secondly, the cultural hegemony of the neodialettali also results in the decline of socially diverse, locally based literature. (2)

These conclusions result from an examination of the cultural field for Friulian poetry, with a particular emphasis on readership, and the disparity between the configuration of the reader-poet relationship in the regional and national fields. From an analysis of Friulian culture according to age and education, it emerges that the potential readership of Friulian works is extremely small, but also that the majority of readers of Friulian literature are not those who use Friulian as their habitual language. Furthermore, an examination of the market for the publication of poetry in Friulian not only pinpoints the range of possible "positions" within the cultural field open to a Friulian poet, but also highlights how processes of critical consecration tend to reinforce the social and educational homogeneity of the national market in dialect poetry. Furthermore, the relationship between publishing and economic factors (such as commercial sponsorship) reveals the close link between private or political finance and locally based publications. In conclusion, I look at the diversity of approaches towards the "social" manifested in Friulian poetry, concentrating on responses to the Friulian earthquake of 1976. Friulian poets employ a range of framing devices to avoid direct engagement with socio-political realities. However, each individual response embodies both a specific ideology and a shared code through which we can identify the intended readership of the work in question.

Education, literacy and readership in Friuli

it is important not to overestimate the diffusion of Friulian literature. Within Friuli itself, literary production in the local language has never attracted more readers than literature in Italian. In short, Friulian literature is no more "popular" than Italian literature. In addition to practical problems such as distribution and publicity, Friulian literature suffers from complex difficulties arising from the limited literacy of its potential readers. The social development that has had by far the greatest impact on literary production in Friuli has therefore been the increase in education and literacy. Levels of education have historically been extremely low in Friuli, a feature reflected in the astonishingly low level of library facilities until very recently (in 1964, Udine province, which was then home to about a million people, possessed only 8 public libraries) (Sacher 234). Friuli has tended to replicate contemporary Italian advances in literacy and education, but levels of university education are still rather low by European standards. …