Academic journal article Italica

Palazzeschi's "La Passeggiata" and the Urban Miniatures of the Modern World

Academic journal article Italica

Palazzeschi's "La Passeggiata" and the Urban Miniatures of the Modern World

Article excerpt

Abstract: This essay examines miniature figures and modes of writing in Italian culture at the turn of the 20th century, starting from the experimental urban vision of Palazzeschi's poem "La passeggiata" (1913). While reconstructing the implications of Palazzeschi's micro-scale thinking vis-a-vis the broader cultural history of miniatures (as expressed throughout the centuries in illuminations, painting, portraiture, and toy manufacture), this article relates the poet's construction of a mini city-world to contemporary forms of urban miniaturizations: in European Modernist art (as expressed in Baudelaire, Rilke, Kafka, photography, and cinema) and in the Italian literature of the early industrial age (in the toy cities designed in De Amiris' expositional narratives or in the archetypical wonderland of Collodi's paese dei balocchi). Palazzeschi's mise en scene of the metropolis as a humorous micro-theater defines an ambivalent image of Italian industrialization, connected to infancy, as a site of thrill and loss. At the same time, Palazzeschi's playful miniaturization of the present illuminates other similar reductions and constructions of the modern world on a small-scale: in children's magazines (starting with Il giornalino della domenica and Il corriere dei piccoli), in Second Futurism (after Balia and Depero's 1915 manifesto on the "Futurist Reconstruction of the Universe"), in modernist architecture, and in post-WWII urban literature (as expressed in the work of Italo Calvino).

Keywords: "La passeggiata", Palazzeschi, miniature, toys, metropolis, urbanization, wonderland, industrialism.


In the experimental poem "La passeggiata" ("The Walk"), first published in 1913 in the second edition of L'incendiario (The Arsonist), (1) Aldo Palazzeschi stages the phantasmagoric vision-in-motion of a modern Italian metropolis. (2) The poet's mental movie or virtual stroll through the streets of a modern Italian city takes the form of a kaleidoscopic collage of fragments (items, ads, and shops), enclosed within the minimal narrative frame of the initial and closing dialogue of two flaneurs:

Andiamo? Andiamo pure [...] Torniamo indietro? Torniamo pure" (vv. 1-2,142-143).

Commenting upon the poem, the critic Gino Tellini contends that its chaotic and hallucinated assemblage of pieces (bound together by a comic element and the spectacular combination of multiple perspectives) represents a "convulse image of urban modernity" (15). Tellini also argues that the poem enacts a "muted walk" (18), where the city's ambient noise, the standardized language of ads, and the characters' conversation, reduced to its most basic terms, prevent any form of communication. (3) By stressing the elements of senseless language and indistinct figures, (4) Tellini implicitly ties his argument to Simmel's vision of the city in "The Metropolis and Mental Life," similarly portraying the urban space as a site of uninterrupted attractions and the urban dweller as a passive receiver/consumer of messages, shielding off overstimulation by way of a distinctive "blase outlook" (329). By identifying two grotesque compositions by Francesco Berni (L'entrata dell'imperadore in Bologna) and Giuseppe Gioacchino Belli (Uno mejo dell'antro; Tellini 17-18) as the sources of "La passeggiata," the critic locates the poem's originality in its comedy, ultimately explaining it as a "parodia della modernita, del suo codice di comunicazione standardizzata, e insieme parodia dell'alienazione dell'individuo, ridotto a involontaria calamita di stimolazioni pubblicitarie" (19).

Along with this reading, "La passeggiata" certainly depicts an ironic yet critical vision of Italy's first economic boom during the Giolitti years (1903-1914). At the same time, however, the poem also embodies a radically experimental text, as confirmed by its "impressionistic intention to open new visual spaces" (Pullini 45), its deliberate hybridization of other aesthetic languages (e. …

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