Academic journal article Italica

Rhetorical Strategies in Leopardi's Zibaldone

Academic journal article Italica

Rhetorical Strategies in Leopardi's Zibaldone

Article excerpt

Abstract: Zibaldone's notes belong to very different genres, and therefore are written with very different registers. This paper aims to demonstrate that rhetorical strategies vary not only by genre, but also by subject matter. In particular, this research takes into consideration passages concerning philosophy, aesthetics and politics on one side, and passages concerning the "scienza dell'uomo" on the other side. In order to demonstrate the different rhetorical strategies employed in these notes, this paper will list and summarize the main features that characterize and distinguish the two typologies, show how they sometimes interweave, and offer an overall evaluation and a possible explanation of this phenomenon.

Keywords: Leopardi, Zibaldone, rhetoric, registers, prose, syntax.


Since its first publication, (1) the Zibaldone has been a most productive and stimulating source for Leopardi scholars. Its importance for a full understanding of Leopardi's poetry and philosophy, and its uniqueness as a text, was indeed immediately clear. Since then, it has been the object of countless studies aiming to define its structure (is it a book or not?), its nature (is it a philosophical work or not?), its dignity (is it a literary work or just a collection of random notes?). All these studies, however, far from arriving at a definitive interpretation of the Zibaldone, have actually multiplied the questions raised by its myriad, diverse, seemingly heterogeneous entries. The question, "How to read the Zibaldone?," prompted a number of studies that remain essential to this today. (2) Most recently, the undertaking of the first unabridged English translation of the Zibaldone has stimulated fresh research. (3) All these studies have the merit of showing how the Zibaldone is an intellectual work that deserves study in its own right, as an autonomous book rather than only as a key to Leopardi's other works, as happened in the past and unfortunately still happens sometimes today.

In terms of connections among fundamental elements such as style, time period and content, most studies have focused on the crucial relationship between either content or structure and time period, stressing the importance of both diachronic and synchronic readings of the text; for example, Novella Bellucci identifies changes within the Zibaldone's structure in the course of its creation (Bellucci 2015). The Zibaldone's linguistic and stylistic registers, and its overall structure, have also been widely studied (Cacciapuoti).

However, another essential relationship within the Zibaldone is worth investigating: the relationship between subject matter and rhetorical structure in notebook entries. It is well known that the Zibaldone consists of passages belonging to very different genres, and therefore written with very different registers: we have simple notes, essays, aphorisms, meditations and so on, with the rhetorical structure changing accordingly. 1 propose to demonstrate that rhetorical strategies vary not only by genre, but also by subject matter. I do not presume to identify a fixed pattern valid for the whole work. I aim, instead, to indicate a broad trend, one that might admit many exceptions, but that has enough textual support to warrant interpretation and further research.

I will not take into consideration biographical notes; for they present very specific features, typical of their genre, such as a clear predominance of the imperfect tense, a strong presence of the author and of verbs and nouns belonging to the conceptual field of memory. These are all characteristics inherent to the biographical style. Therefore these passages are not truly significant from the perspective of this paper. I will not dwell for too long on linguistic or philological notes either. Most of these notes appear to be written for the author's own reference (we can easily notice the absence of any kind of allocution or rhetorical structure which might allow us to imagine a potential interlocutor). …

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