Academic journal article American Journal of Italian Studies

The Sacerdotal Individual in Alberto Savinio's Infanzia Di Nivasio Dolcemare (1)

Academic journal article American Journal of Italian Studies

The Sacerdotal Individual in Alberto Savinio's Infanzia Di Nivasio Dolcemare (1)

Article excerpt

The purpose of this article is to analyze the presence of traces of what I will call a "sacerdotal" dimension, which is related to the theme of hermaphroditism, in Savinio's novel, as well as to verify what cultural implications are suggested by this "sacerdotal" dimension. Its traces will be found in the development of the young protagonist's (Nivasio's) thoughts and discoveries, which make up the book's plot, and which are surrounded by a mythic halo. Infanzia di Nivasio Dolcemare (1941) (2) should not be considered as merely an autobiographical work, but as an autobiography made dreamlike and strange, exclusively dedicated to a lost age, that of childhood and puberty, up to the moment of the discovery of sex, after which "childhood" is over, in fact, and the narrative closes. (3)

I would like to propose a preliminary reflection: although much has been said of the linguistic techniques employed by Savinio, such as pastiche, plurilinguism, and others, one must always keep in mind that the author's linguistic stratagems were all used to promote a peculiar autobiographical dimension. (4)

Throughout his literary career, which cannot be analyzed here in its entirety, Savinio often seems to have been concerned with representing the formation and the expression of subjectivity in relation with the world. The textual "I" of this subjectivity never assumes traditional forms, however, but constantly seeks to deviate from linguistic norms, to transgress in its formation of images and characters. Yet its goal is always also to reconstruct the sense of a subjective progression, of the journey of an individual ego through the things of the world.

The story of Infanzia di Nivasio Dolcemare is set in Greece, as is frequent in Savinio, but it is a Greece relived through the memory of the domestic situations of childhood. This re-evocation is founded on deformed obsessions and presences. The deformation already begins in the very names of the protagonists, which were created according to an "anagrammatic" logic. Nivasio's father's name is "Visanio," for instance, but even the name Nivasio itself is an anagram of Savinio. The complexity of this is amplified even more if one considers that the name Savinio is, in its turn, not the anagram, but the pseudonym of Andrea De Chirico. This mechanism of transformation and concealment constantly reopens the problem oft he writer's autobiographical intentions.

In the anagram, as in the pseudonym. Savinio tries to evade what we might call "linear" biography, so as to complicate or to metamorphose it by the use of linguistic means, or by the evocation of mythic figures such as the Hermaphrodite and the Argonaut. Yet one also constantly has the impression that all of Savinio's experiments are intended to communicate something other than mere deformation or "surrealism"; to communicate, rather, the peculiar progression of a subject that elaborates various self-representations on a number of different levels and according to diverse strategies.

At the beginning of the novel. Nivasio conjures up the initial moment of every autobiography: that of his own birth. The complexity of the situation consists in the fact that Savinio immediately projects this event into a descriptive sphere in which all the external objects and circumstances surrounding the birth scene appear. The effect is that of estrangement:

Il giorno in cui Nivasio usci dal grembo materno, ii sole picchiava a martello sulla citta della civetta. Cinque da una parte e cinque dall'altra, le lunghe steariche colorate sorgevano agli angoli del caminetto, si piegavano sui candelabri di bronzo, piangevano lunghi lacrimoni. La culla spumeggiava. in un angolo. Di minuto in minuto un rapido fruscio d'acqua rameggiava nei muri passava sulle finestre che opponevano le loro persiane chiuse all'assalto del caldo portentoso. (19)

The very tears, rather than being attributed to the newborn baby, are produced by the "steariche," or tallow candles. …

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