Academic journal article Chicago Review

Order as Disorder: A Conversation with Valerio Magrelli

Academic journal article Chicago Review

Order as Disorder: A Conversation with Valerio Magrelli

Article excerpt

When I published my first collection in 1980, my work was recognized as being something different and was appreciated for it, hence its critical success and its subsequent translations. It was different because it seemed to turn its back on experimentation and seemed to represent a return to "order." In some ways, this is true, but you have to understand that, for me, order was disorder. When I was young, I was educated at a peculiar school that took quite an "experimental" approach to education. My fellow students and I studied every discipline, architecture, philosophy, music, theater. We read Beckett, Boulez, and Joyce. Quite an eclectic formation.

Some time ago, I wrote an article in which I paraphrased the French poet MaHarm& who wrote that "la destruction fut ma Beatrice," that destruction was his Beatrice, in Dante's sense, his muse. Well, my polemical response was that destruction was my Perpetua! Perpetua is a character from Alessandro Manzoni's great novel The Betrothed. She's the old maid who takes care of Don Abbondio. All this means is, for those of my generation, and especially those of my intellectual formation, who came from a world already totally worked over by the avant-garde, destruction was as innocuous and familiar as a nanny, a nanya, as they say in Russian--whether it was syntactical destruction in language, tonal destruction in music, figurative destruction in art, or metrical destruction in verse.

This was why I responded not with the desire to restore, but with the desire to survive the avant-garde. All of this was very difficult for me to express at the time. In Italy, you're either for the avant-garde or you're for a return to romanticism. I was for neither! Not because I was looking for ways to mediate between them, mind you, but because I wanted to go beyond both.

Don't get me wrong--my first book as an academic was titled Profilo del Dada (Profile of Dada, 2006). I come from Duchamp, from Tzara. These are my masters. In 1917, Duchamp created the urinal--a brilliant, revolutionary gesture. And so by the time the famous merda d'artista ("artist's shit") emerged in Italy, causing such a scandal, well, all it did was make me smile. The poems in my first collection go right against that confusion I was so tired of. Not scandalized, but tired, the way a high schooler is tired after ten years of Latin. The poetry of the famous Gruppo 63 was like studying Propertius. I wanted to do something different.

My relation to those avant-garde poets is ambivalent. I do recognize in them kindred spirits, but I hold it against them that they kept on doing the same thing, without changing. Duchamp, the Armory Show ... that was a century ago! How can you keep going on with the same thing? Artist's shit, artist's nails, artist's sweat ... what else is left?

Many poems in your first poetry collections explicitly reflect on the act of composing poetry and all its attendant anxieties. What can you tell us about the importance that this self-consciousness has for your writing?

It is important, you're right. This question also allows me to respond to those who (perhaps rightly) accused my poetry of being too cerebral, too cold. There is an important misunderstanding here, and to begin clarifying it I would like to cite Paul Valery, one of the poets I've studied the most. Valery says that he loves thought the way some people love nudity. When I speak of thought, from my point of view, I have the same sense of excitement as some do when they watch pornography. This is what I aim to convey, even if I am not always successful from the point of view of others.

Thought writing itself as it comes into being ... this is what attracts me, almost in the sense of sexual attraction. It transports me. So I accept that there are quite formal aspects to my poetry, but I don't consider it merely cerebral because the poetic "project" doesn't interest me nearly as much as the poetic pulse. …

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