In Search of an Author: Pirandello and the Poetics of Biography

By O'Rawe, Catherine | The Modern Language Review, October 2006 | Go to article overview

In Search of an Author: Pirandello and the Poetics of Biography


O'Rawe, Catherine, The Modern Language Review


This article examines the major biographies of the Italian modernist writer Luigi Pirandello and documents their striking practice of interpreting Pirandello's fictional texts through the prism of autobiography. It argues that the non-literary or paraliterary status traditionally accorded to biography as a form has prevented an examination of the implications for criticism of the role of biography, and therefore this habitual slippage between biography and fiction has been neglected. The article analyses the overlap between biography, fiction, and criticism which characterizes much writing on Pirandello and suggests a critical approach which might take these slippages into account, as well as contribute, in a broader context, to the critical reassessment of biography as a form.

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The search for the author is a topos which has dominated the study of Pirandello, both within and without his works: biographers of Pirandello have consistently tried to reinstate (have claimed to have 'found') the 'absent' author of his most famous play, Sei personaggi in cerca d'autore. While Pirandello's works speak constantly of the dangers of confusing art and life, or life and text, Pirandello biographies have, at every turn, enacted this confusion on an analytical level, with a mystificatory conflation of life and work which is enduring and extremely difficult to unpick. In turn, Pirandello scholarship has historically been prone to a type of biographical criticism which continues such a mystification. This tendency towards biographical criticism is manifested in a particular way in the critical and biographical debate surrounding Pirandello's last, unfinished play, I giganti della montagna.

Certain events and moments in Pirandello's life (what Malcolm Bowie terms 'biographemes'(1)) have attracted excessive amounts of biographical and critical interest, yet there has been a total absence of serious attention paid to the function and significance of this art-life nexus as it is described in Pirandello biographies; a careful study of the techniques of these biographical texts reveals a fundamental confusion and slippage between the authorial personae of Pirandello the man, Pirandello the author of fictional works, and Pirandello the perceived autobiographer. Even more crucially, it reveals a concomitant slippage between biographical and fictional texts, a slippage which also highlights a fundamental uncertainty both about the nature of fictional texts themselves and about the nature of reference in biography (and fiction).

This article will examine the foundational biography of Pirandello by Federico Nardelli, its modus operandi, and its influence and position, in relation firstly to the later biographies of Pirandello by Gaspare Giudice and Andrea Camilleri, and then to Pirandello studies as a whole. It will also examine the extent to which the confusion between art and life found in these biographies mirrors a critical uncertainty with regard to the exact status of biography, and the relation that criticism should adopt towards it. The article argues that the hitherto critically neglected biographical works about Pirandello are significant not only because they illuminate problems of a general theoretical nature in relation to biography (problems which regard its status as a literary genre and its lack of a poetics) but because of the light cast upon the figure of the author by this unanalysed overlap between biography and criticism.

Biography: In Search of a Poetics

The critical neglect of Pirandello's biographies can be interpreted as symptomatic of the lack of critical attention paid to biography as a whole. (2) Critical literature on biography has been characterized by a tendency to lament its 'inferior status' in relation to literature proper: (3) biography's presumed prurience and parasitism have led to its designation as 'second-rate', (4) as 'non-literary', (5) even as a 'suspect enterprise'. …

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