Academic journal article Annali d'Italianistica

Beginning/ending, Openness/consistency: Models for the Hyper-Novel

Academic journal article Annali d'Italianistica

Beginning/ending, Openness/consistency: Models for the Hyper-Novel

Article excerpt

I like to take in hand none but clean, virgin, fair-and-square mathematical jobs, something that regularly begins at the beginning, and is at the middle when midway, and comes to an end at the conclusion; not a cobbler's job, that's at an end in the middle, and at the beginning at the end.

(H. Melville, Moby Dick, ch. 126, 431)

That of all the several ways of beginning a book which are now in practice throughout the known world, I am confident my own way of doing it is the best --I'm sure it is the most religious--for I begin with writing the first sentence--and trusting to Almighty God for the second. 'Twould cure an author for ever of the fuss and folly of opening his street-door, and calling in his neighbours and friends, and kinsfolk, with the devil and all his imps, with their hammers and engines, &c. only to observe how one sentence of mine follows another, and how the plan follows the whole ...

(L. Sterne, Tristram Shandy, VIII, ch. 2, 438)

Per chiudere la rassegna dei finali, ricordero una delle ultime pieces di Samuel Beckett, Ohio Impromptu [Improvviso dell'Ohio]. Due vecchi identici con lunghi capelli bianchi, vestiti con lunghi mantelli neri, siedono a una tavola. Uno ha in mano un logoro libro e legge. L'altro ascolta, tace e talvolta lo interrompe con un ticchettio delle nocche sul tavolo. "Little is left to tell" [Poco resta da dire], e racconta una storia di lutto e solitudine e d'un uomo che dev'essere l'uomo che ascolta quella storia fino all'arrivo dell'uomo che legge e rilegge quella storia, letta e riletta chissa quante volte fino alla frase finale: "Little is left to tell," ma sempre ancora qualcosa forse resta da dire in attesa di quella frase. Forse per la prima volta al mondo c'e un autore che racconta l'esaurirsi di tutte le storie. Ma per esaurite che siano, per poco che sia rimasto da raccontare, si continua a raccontare ancora.

(I. Calvino, "Cominciare e finire," Saggi I, 752-53)

Prologue: "A life-buoy of a coffin"

The first quote I have placed above as an epigraph is taken from chapter 126 of Melville's Moby Dick, entitled "The Life-Buoy." In this chapter, Captain Ahab plays the role of an ironic Ulysses explaining (with a hollow laugh) to his frightened crew the origin of the ominous cries they've heard, which they believe, "according to the religion of the crewmen," to be either the singing of mermaids or the voices of newly drowned men in the sea. The sound, Ahab says, is only the "human sort of wail" which sometimes causes seals to be mistaken for men. In the scene that follows, however, the ominous quality of this "wail" is confirmed by the sudden fall to his death of "the first man of the Pequod that mounted the mast to look for the White Whale, on the White Whale's own peculiar ground" (429), a foretaste of the destiny which, within a few chapters, awaits the captain himself.

The life-buoy is dropped from the stern but no hand rises from the sea to grab it. The unlucky sailor is swallowed by the waves, and soon the buoy, too, disappears in the deep. The lost-life buoy needs to be replaced and attention is now drawn to Queequeg's coffin; in short, the ship's carpenter is asked to build "a life-buoy [out] of a coffin." As a skilled craftsman, he is not pleased with the "cobbler's job" assigned to him and expresses his discontent with the words quoted above. His words distinctly sound like Melville's own commentary on the ambivalent task of all human craftsmanship, and particularly the writer's own; the coffin turned into a life-buoy ironically serves both the purposes of life and death, converting one into the other. (1) Narrative art is no different. What is apparently a "linear" job--telling a story with a beginning, a middle and an end, according to classical prescriptions--can be a frustrating (and depressing) task, one "that's at an end in the middle" or, even more enigmatically, "at the beginning at the end": "[. …

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