Nihilism, Errancy, and Truth in Pirandello's Cosi E (Se Vi Pare) (1)

Article excerpt


Luigi Pirandello's Cosi e (se vi pare) (hereafter as Cosi e) dramatizes the way that truth has become a problem in the post-modern era. Friedrich Nietzsche's discussion of how both the pre-modern Christian and modern scientific conceptions of truth require a "metaphysical faith" (Basic 588) offers a coherent framework to interpret Pirandello's analysis of the problem of truth. According to Nietzsche, both pre-modern and modern notions of truth are metaphysical because "truth was posited as being, as God, as the highest court of appeal--[therefore] truth was not permitted to be a problem at all" (Basic 588-89; author's emphasis). In Cosi e, Pirandello investigates the confluence of pre-modern Christian-moral and modern-scientific views of truth and the problems that are inherent in each framework; at the same time, he suggests how the various approaches to truth linger and remain historically as a sediment whenever one tries to analyze the problem of truth. (2) Pirandello's analysis of truth in Cosi e permits truth to appear in a way that goes beyond the pre-modern, which posits truth as ontological substance beyond time and the world, and modern model, which posits truth as an objective substance that can be represented if we use the correct scientific method. I will analyze the ways that Pirandello's play enacts a post-modern model of truth, which is characterized as an event, an arriving withdrawal, and as a particular affective relationship to that event. (3) The event occurs in ec-static moments that open up the possibility for decisive action, and for the freedom to constitute a new order of life, what Martin Heidegger would call, a new way of being-in-the-world.

Pirandello's analysis speaks directly to Nietzsche's contention that metaphysical faith is, from start to finish, a form of nihilism because it precludes any ambiguity within the concept of truth; metaphysics demands an affective fidelity to either a belief that truth is unchanging, or a belief that truth is objective and fixed. In either case, truth is an essence thought to be outside of temporality. Because Cosi e ends with the townspeople's inability to establish the objective truth of the Ponza-Frola family, who are at the center of the play, many critics have asserted that Pirandello's play is a "paradigm" of relativistic nihilism. But, while assessing this claim, we should heed Nietzsche's warning that "Nihilism ... is ambiguous" (Will 17). Each definition of nihilism is framed by how the concept of truth is interpreted. Because there are several failed attempts in Cosi e to reach certitude about the "true" state of the Ponza-Frola family, the theory of relativistic nihilism interprets the failure to grasp the 'truth' of the Ponza-Frola family to mean that Pirandello either rejects the possibility of knowing the truth or he believes that truth is relative. However, this interpretation recognizes only one version of nihilism in Cosi e: the rejection of the modernist view of truth, that there is a correct method that can reveal the objective "thing in itself." Pirandello's rejection of this view of truth (which I will call "modernity" (4)) does not justify the assertion that Pirandello claims truth (as the title of his play ironically puts it) is whatever one thinks it is, i.e., subjective relativism. There is another more "ambiguous" version of nihilism, which I will argue more accurately describes Pirandello's philosophical position in Cosi e; the more ambiguous version is characterized by a particular affective relationship to nihilism, in people, like Nietzsche, who Gianni Vattimo has identified as an "accomplished nihilist" ["il nichilista compiuto," "Apologia" 27]. Vattimo uses the idea of an accomplished nihilism to describe those who "refuse to propose a means for a critical 'overcoming'" of the pre-modern and the modern view of truth because "any call for 'overcoming' would involve remaining captive to the logic of development" used by the theological tradition of pre-modernity or the ontological tradition of objective presence of modernity ("Introduction" 2; "rifiutandosi pere di propome un 'superamento' critico, per la buona ragione che questo avrebbe significato rimanere ancora prigionieri della logica di sviluppo propria di questo stesso pensiero," "Introduzione" 10]. …