Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Poetics in the Shadow of the Other's Language: The Melancholic Discourse of the Trilingual Poet Amelia Rosselli

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Poetics in the Shadow of the Other's Language: The Melancholic Discourse of the Trilingual Poet Amelia Rosselli

Article excerpt

The condition I call exile is, first of all, a linguistic event.

(Joseph Brodsky, On Grief and Reason: Essays)

Into the forest of no time

Stranger in your own land.

(Amelia Rosselli, Diary in Three Tongues)1

Born in Paris labored in the epic of our fallacious

generation. Laid in America amid the rich fields of landowners

and the statal State. Experienced in Italy, barbarous country.

Escaped from England country of sophisticates. Hopeful

In the West where nothing for the moment grows.

(Variations, 1960-61, p. 81)

I will begin by citing her own incisive words, and the only explicit declaration of her identity, to talk about the French-Anglo-Italian trilingual poet Amelia Rosselli, who is the most important and original female exponent of 20th-century Italian poetry, and whose international standing is testified by the ever-increasing number of translations and critical studies of her work. Her identity is marked by a form of cosmopolitism and translingualism, which she passionately emphasized, was not elective cosmopolitism, owing to its historically tragic origin: she and her family, in fact, were refugees. Such predicament puts centre stage the question of language(s) and Rosselli's linguistic identity, forever shifting and precarious, even when she dwells in any one language, as the elected Italian of her mature creative years. I define 'shadow language' the complex and problematic experience of longing for one language - a nostalgic linguistic homeland - whilst being unceasingly inhabited by a plurality of languages which destabilize and disarticulate any chosen linguistic tool. Moreover the term 'shadow', ambiguous and polysemic, aptly conveys the underlying leitmotiv of Rosselli's poetics, where languages are the representation of unmourned lost objects, and it also epitomizes the consistent presence of otherness in her interlingual translations.

Amelia shuns all forms of confessional and lyrical subjectivity, in the name of a quest for an objective narration of universal claim, because in her predicament history and her history conflate and carry the mark of massive trauma which defies human resources and the capacity to work through and mourn. Such rupture, however, together with her exile and multilingualism, constitute the major, albeit tormented, driving force of her poetry and linguistic innovation; therefore her work interrogates and puts to work the psychoanalytic understanding of language, its representational capacity, the traces left by unrepresented experiences in its prosodic manifestations, and its status within the psychic world of a profoundly traumatized subject. Much as her personal narrative functions as a backdrop to her writing, Rosselli's work is not biographism, but bio-graphism in the literal meaning of the word, which the critic Nelson Moe aptly defines as the writing of a life wherein "certainly historically determined formations of personal experiences come to structure the field of possibilities for the practice of writing" (Moe, 1992, p. 185). Rosselli, in fact, firmly repudiated writers' practice of pouring themselves and their neurosis into their work; rather, she recommended that they have analysis before committing themselves to writing. Through recourse to (her) history as a source of inspiration, she inhabited the ethical position of the witness, whose function is to sing a collective choral song. Her tension was towards the elimination of the 'I', as she stated in a 1984 interview, published posthumously: "The I is no longer the expressive centre, it is placed in the shadows, or to the side. I believe that it is only in this way that valid poetic and moral responses are reached, values useful to society" (2010, p. 64).

I intend to propose a psychoanalytic reading of some of Rosselli's work, and essentially focus on her polylingualism as a vehicle to convey the fragmentation, dislocation, uprootedness, and estrangement of the subject who inhabits the world (unheimlich) that emerged from that dark page of European history culminating in the Second World War: "we count the infinite dead! …

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