Academic journal article American Journal of Italian Studies

The Body in the Labyrinth: Detection, Rationality and the Feminine in Gadda's Pasticciaccio

Academic journal article American Journal of Italian Studies

The Body in the Labyrinth: Detection, Rationality and the Feminine in Gadda's Pasticciaccio

Article excerpt

Carlo Emilio Gadda's Quer pasticciaccio brutto de via Menulana (1957) contains the basic elements of the detective novel: a crime, a detective and an investigation through which clues and possible causal factors are identified. The elements of the investigation include the statement of the problem, the collection of data, the formulation and testing of hypotheses, and the generation of new hypotheses through the collection of evidence. In this sense, the investigation can be viewed as a rational process. To the extent that the investigation is concerned with solving the problem of the culprit's identity, it will be assumed that the type of rationality involved is cognitive rationality (cf Spinner 1987:29-30), represented by the principal detective in the case, Don Ciccio Ingravallo and his colleagues.

The problem is decribed as an "awful mess", and viewed in the light of Ingravallo's belief that "unforeseen catastrophes are never the consequences or the effect...of a single motive, of a cause singular, but they are rather like a whirlpool, a cyclonic point of depression in the consciousness of the world. towards which a whole multitude of converging causes have contributed" (Gadda 1984:5). Thus, in the Pasticciaccio, cognitive rationality is faced with the problem of multidetermination, in terms of which a phenomenon is produced by the intersection of a multiplicity of independent causal series (cf Morin 1988:423).

In traditional detective fictions, the investigator's approach is "purely" rational. It presents objectivity, certainty and verifiability as essential to truthful understanding and true knowledge, and divides the rational subject into diametrically opposite and separate halves: on the one hand, objective rationality and precision; on the other, the emotions and the instincts. The passions are viewed as superfluous and irrelevant to objective knowledge; as belonging to the "lower realm". The traditional detective fiction adopts the hierarchical division introduced by classical rationalism between mind and body, between rationality on the one hand and the instincts and emotions on the other (of Gargani 1979:19).

It will be shown that, in Gadda's novel, this presumed dualism, this idea of a "pure", "objective" rationality is demolished. Instead, rationality and the instinctual interact and intertwine throughout the investigative process; there is an inevitable contamination of rationality by the passions. That in itself does not amount to irrationalism; the investigators remain concerned with finding a solution which would be both objectively truthful and open to refutation by alternative hypotheses.

Their failure to do this does not result from the "contamination" of rationality, but highlights the difficulty of solving a complex problem through rational analysis. In this context, the feminine is linked to complexity and becomes a metaphor for the ineffable, for a plurality which evades the grasp of reason. The feminine as metaphor does not present itself as a problem, as the object of rational analysis, but offers itself as object of desire in a game of seduction. Cognitive rationality and the gaze of the investigator are both caught in a complex trajectory which never closes upon itself, but runs onwards towards infinite open-endedness.

Summary of the case

Two crimes present themselves to Ingravallo. The first is "a robbery, or, to be more precise, a case of breaking and entering, mann armata" (Gadda 1984:24). A young man gains entry to the apartment of a signora Menegazzi, and takes "all her gold, all her jewels" (Gadda 1984:30). The second, which may be linked to the first, concerns the death of Liliana Balducci, a friend of Don Ciccio and co-tenant of la Menegazzi. She is found murdered in her flat, her throat viciously cut (Gadda 1984:26).

The prime suspect, according to Ingravallo, is Giuliano Valdarena, the victim's cousin, who discovered the body. …

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