UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Cesare Pavese Marchesi, Gianfranco


Cesare Pavese was born in Turin in 1908. After a lifetime of struggle he fell victim to the overwhelming complexity of his ambivalence; desiring, needing and fearing the world; desiring, needing and fearing his solitude. The two poles, in constant conflict, led him to take his own life in 1950 in the city of his birth. Throughout his career as poet, novelist, essayist and translator (he introduced American literature to Italy), his art was a constant expression of the fierce war he waged upon himself. Pavese's tragedy of solitude was too personal to call him an "existentialist" writer, even in the Camusian sense of a theorizer of one's own experiences. Camus could think of Sysiphus and be comforted. Not Pavese. He, himself, was the weak Sysiphus at odds with the elusive rock of life. For him the solution was eternally in the "finding". The tragedy was that to solve the problem of his rational self would be to annihilate his emotional self and vice versa. It is ultimately his life and his personality that are paramount to the understanding of his art. In the maze of "progressions" and "regressions" a certain linear movement is discernible. We witness the growth (youth), defense (maturity) and wearing down (later years) of a delusion of consciousness which led him to believe that the necessary integration with society could be realized. A widening undercurrent of doubt or repressed knowledge, that all is self-delusion, runs throughout. So we find in Pavese many dualities: naturalism vs. symbolism, machiavellism vs. idealism, country (his great love) vs. city (his great ambition), myth vs. anti-myth, etc. His art, following closely the undulation of his soul, is the unsuccessful attempt to harmonize those opposites. The early poetry (Lavorare stanca), in spite of its anxiously naturalistic start, coincides, in the span of Pavese's life, with a moment of greater subjectivity. He fails to preserve the "ultimate grip of reality" and leans towards a symbolic, imaginative conception. With poetry he only approaches reality, as he recreates it in subjective terms, through the filter of memory. Childhood, the country and myth, are the main themes of his Lavorare stanca. The controlling image is the young country hero who suffers a profanation of his god-like nature by coming in contact with the city. (Lavorare means work, i.e. the obligations, the prosaic of life, stanca means tiresome, wearing off the essence of life.) The universe recreated in the seventy-five loosely connected poems presents the conflict between the immanent and the transcendent world. The hill, the tree, the fence seen through the eyes of a child, are not any hill, or tree, or fence but the hill, the tree, the fence, as they are revealed to him for the first time in their absolute atemporal reality. Myth is the consecration of those "unique places" and "unique events" in which an act of life was first performed. The mystery of the past, which expands into a world of perhistory, fills the countryside. Lavorare stanca is therefore an exaltation of the primitive "savage", represented with violent images of orgiastic rites, of sex and blood. Among them the most powerful is the figure of II Dio Caprone, the great goat-god, Pan. (Inspired by Vico and Frazer). The universe of Lavorare stanca is full of drunkards, prostitutes, uprooted people who seek in vain to regain the lost paradise of the mythic age. They are the symbols of immanent life, of the stultifying routine of the city. In 1936, at twenty-eight, taking stock of his life and of his artistic creation, Pavese has to admit that what seemed immaturity is the mark of his life. He proceeds to a two-fold task of self-construction. "The lesson is this; to build in life and in art; to ban the voluptuous [his beloved subjectivity] from both". The man who was born a Proustian renounces his "temps rétrouvé" and plunges into the present, seeks identification through love and the ideal of a family. The purely lyrical man becomes a novelist bent on pursuing the "objective correlative". The short stories and the novels are a discourse about "the dramatic experiences of a man in his world". In Carcere (The Prison) Pavese deliberately avoids his countryside and childhood recollections to present in a naturalistic way the drama of solitude of an exiled man-solitude which imprisons man when he represses his charitable impulses and falls back on his sensuality. Charity ("Christ and Dostoievskij") is Pavese's answer to the hypocrisy of current morality which perpetuates the Machiavellian duality of strong and weak. Myth does not allow any longer a putting-off of the responsibilities of the historical present and a reversal to the "holy places" of a "private universe". But through the influence of American writers whose provincialism was, for Pavese, their merit, the Piedmontese countryside, even if it is made to embody the evil of the primitive against the goodness of city life, returns in Paesi tuoi (Your country). In those two novels a residue of symbolic construction and mythic conception escapes the control of the author. After a series of failures to bring himself to a normal behavior, Pavese regresses into himself. He does not try to justify himself in terms of the world, but only in terms of his own being. Charity is not an answer any more because it requires the annulment of one's personality. The only dialogue possible is that which man can have with his own subconscious, his deity. By exploring and clarifying his personal myths, man will know what he is "sub specie aeternitatis", explain his "total being", his destiny. In the light of this "total being" existence becomes irrelevant and can be disposed of when it is unendurable. The last novels, The Moon and the Bonfires and Among women alone, write off all alternatives of life. When man has lived his solitary adventure and understood his destiny, only one solution is possible: Men must endure their going hence even as their coming hither. Ripeness is all.

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