Academic journal article The Romanic Review

"Le Miroir De L'etranger": Subjectivity in Andre Frenaud's "Le Silence De Genova"

Academic journal article The Romanic Review

"Le Miroir De L'etranger": Subjectivity in Andre Frenaud's "Le Silence De Genova"

Article excerpt

Of all French poets of the twentieth century, the one who demonstrated the most intense interest in modern Italy--i.e. in Italy as a modern nation, with all its conflicts and contradictions--was Andre Frenaud (1907-1993). After WWII, Frenaud visited Italy extensively, and established contact with some of the most active literary figures. Among them, the most important and influential was Elio Vittorini, the Italian writer and editor who was at the time directing both an important series in fiction at Einaudi ("I gettoni") and a prominent periodical of progressive orientation, Il politecnico, to which Frenaud would soon start his collaboration. During these years--between the 1950s and the early 1960s--Andre Frenaud started composing his poems about modern Italy "Les Canaux de Milan," "Les Rues de Naples," "Un Turc a Venise," (ail three in Il n'y a pas de paradis), and "Le Silence de Genova" (in La Sainte Face). (1) This interest would culminate a few years later in a long narrative poem of articulated and enigmatic meaning: La Sorciere de Rome. (2)

In 1994, in his examination of Andre Frenaud's articles for Elio Vittorini's Il politecnico, Roger Little gave some important directions on how to investigate Frenaud's role in the Italian context and suggested that Frenaud's complex relationship to Italy as a major topic of investigation ("Deux Textes" 473-80). Exactly this topic is explored by Elisa Bricco's recent book, which focuses on Frenaud's Italian subjects throughout his poetry and ventures into a close reading of La Sorciere de Rome, one of the author's most complex poems. (3) If the Sorciere has been frequently studied, though, strong analytical work is still to be done on the other texts representing Italy, especially the short narrative poems written and published right before the Sorciere. In this article, I propose to examine "Le Silence de Genova" in terms of the role of the urban setting and of the peculiar interplay between the speaking subject and the reader.

Frenaud wrote poems about Italy for more than twenty years. "Amour d'Italie," a group of poems comprising the first three long ones quoted above and a few short fragments called "Echos de Sicile," date between 1956 and 1959. "Le Silence de Genova" was composed between August 1961 and April 1962. La Sorciere de Rome was completed in 1969 and published in 1973, while through the 1970s Frenaud wrote some shorter texts, almost fragments: the "Ex-voto en Italie" (1979, dedicated to Giorgio Caproni), which he grouped with another text in verse ("elephant et marche aux poissons a Catane," 1969) and two older prose texts ("A propos de Mantegna," 1947, and "Cette nuit-la a Florence," 1935-1950) in Haeres, extending the title "Ex-voto en halle" to the whole group of poems and prose pieces on haly. (4)

The "Ex-voto" stricto sensu, i.e. the short texts, are at the beginning of the eponymous section and, as Frenaud suggests, they are probably to be considered more like a sequence than as isolated texts. (5) In this perspective, they seem to set the interpretative lines of the whole section: devotion (at least metaphorically), immediacy, sequential order. Considering this sequence, we realize that the images of Italy change: the immediate and volatile perceptions of the present (the shorter verse texts of the seventies) yield to the longer, deeper meditations of the past, culminating in the indeterminacy of the fifteen-year span of "Cette nuit-la a Florence." Frenaud's final reflections on Italy show a circular movement in time: the remembrance and recollection of the past join the sudden impressions of the present. Experience becomes contemporary and inevitably resumes its original disquiet or appeasement, which is what we respectively find in each of the two prose pieces.

"A propos de Mantegna" describes Frenaud's thoughts on the "Martyrdom of St. Christopher and Transportation of His Body," (1457) one of the original frescoes of the Ovetani Chapel in the Eremitani Church in Padua, heavily damaged during WWII and partially restored around 1948. …

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