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In the Shadow of the Mammoth

In the Shadow of the Mammoth: Italo Svevo and the Emergence of Modernism

Giuliana Minghelli
  • Book Info
    In the Shadow of the Mammoth
    Book Description:

    Giuliana Minghelli uses Italo Svevo's parodic Darwinian fable of the prehistoric encounter between the weak and 'unfinished' man and an incommensurable other to reassess his eccentric contribution to 20th century literature.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7610-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-14)

    The year is around 1910. During the pauses in his work at the Veneziani paint factory, the Triestine businessman Ettore Schmitz escapes the jungle of prices and profits, even if only briefly and surreptitiously, into the haven of literature that he had abandoned years earlier. After the critical and commercial failure ofSenilità(an even greater flop than his first novel,Una vita, which had appeared six years before, in 1892) Ettore had sworn to leave behind ‘quella ridicola e dannosa cosa che si chiama letteratura’ [that ridiculous and damaging thing called literature (Pds, 1968: 818)]. The life of commerce...

  6. chapter one Between Darwinian Origins and Modernist Ends: Svevoʼs Allegory of Symbiosis
    (pp. 15-45)

    Italo Svevo wrote these opening lines of ‘L’uomo e la teoria darwiniana’ sometime between 1909 and the outbreak of the First World War, at a time of apparently unbounded progress, of daring exploratory trips to the still mysterious corners of the earth, and even more momentous explorations of the invisible geographies of matter. In the wake of these discoveries that are restlessly changing the face of his time, Svevo, like other modernist writers, feels the need to undertake his own expedition, less spectacular, more obscure, but no less challenging: the mapping – through storytelling – of the existential meaning of...

  7. chapter two Of Artists, Women, and Jews: Svevo and the Modernist Contamination
    (pp. 46-72)

    With the aphorism quoted above, Nietzsche, who so consistently celebrated the Dionysian artist, ever-changing and illusory, pays an idiosyncratic tribute to the commonplaces and typologies of his time, which were to ripen fully only in the following century. Against a subtext – unspoken because unspeakable – of truth, ‘character’ (only utterable in Nietzsche’s text in quotation marks), integrity, singularity, and identity parade the whole epistemological paraphrenalia of the actor: compulsive falseness, simulation, inner craving for the domain of the other, the life of the surface, and a pathological capacity for adaptation. The mimicry, symbiosis, and parasitism embodied in the abstract...

  8. chapter three Between Darwinism and Dreams: The Stories of Alfonso and Annetta in Una Vita
    (pp. 73-101)

    Feeling compelled to correct the critical opinion of the poet and critic Eugenio Montale, who describedUna vitaas ‘un grosso romanzo dominato e percorso da parecchi temi fondamentali dei quali nessuno sembra avere il predominio’ [a big novel dominated and intersected by many fundamental themes, none of which seems to predominate (cited in Svevo 1968: 802)], Svevo wrote in his ‘Profilo Autobiografico’ of 1928:

    Certo per l’autore la relazione di Alfonso e Annetta, la ricca figliuola del banchiere Maller, è la parte piú importante del romanzo che dapprima portava il titoloUn inetto. (1968: 802)

    [Certainly for the author...

  9. chapter four The Crying of the Statues: Art and Women in Senilità
    (pp. 102-126)

    ‘Je m’adore dans ce que j’ai fait.’¹ Pygmalion’s words in front of Galathea’s statue can be heard as an insistent echo in Svevo’s second novel,Senilità, a text that, more than any other by Svevo, obsessively uses the metaphor of figural representation. The two artists, sculptor Stefano Balli and writer Emilio Brentani, seek, like Rousseau’s Pygmalion, a representation of the other, the living Angiolina and Amalia, that would help them achieve a successful self-production.² Even though the dreams of Emilio and Stefano differ radically, both artists are in search of a body to incarnate them. InSenilità, however, Galathea lends...

  10. chapter five Leading the Pedagogue by the Hand
    (pp. 127-160)

    In a diary entry under the rhythmical date of 30-9-99, Ettore Schmitz records some reflections on marriage and the different desires leading man and woman into it; he concludes with these words:

    è certo che piú onesto di tutti è l’animale che essendo castoro abita sulla riva dei fiumi, essendo elefante nei boschi, essendo talpa sotterra, ed essendo donna accanto ad un marito in una casa sua da ordinarsi, da regolarsi magari da rovinarsi.¹

    [certaintly the most honest animal is the one that being a beaver lives on the banks of the rivers, being an elephant in the forest, being...

  11. chapter six Out of the Shadow of the Mammoth: Zeno and the Story of the Other
    (pp. 161-203)

    In the last pages of theCoscienza, Zeno, freed from the stifling ‘tutela’ [protection] of the psychoanalyst, becomes more and more solitary, wandering along the metaphysical banks of the Isonzo River, up to when the war separates him permanently from all those ties, obligations, and social expectations that had wrapped him in their dense web. The solitude with which Zeno, alone in his study, began the narration of memory returns in the intimacy of ‘raccoglimento’ [meditation] in the final chapter, entitled ‘Psico-analisi’ [Psychoanalysis]. In between, the narrator unravels the arrhythmic story of consciousness. It is around the story of Zeno’s...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 204-206)

    If we follow for a moment Erich Auerbach’s conception of Modernism as a ‘modern realism,’ one that attempts to represent reality at the level of experiential consciousness, Svevo’s role in evolving a new literary form becomes visible. Emerging from the shadow of the nineteenth-century Realist and Naturalist traditions (Stendhal, Balzac, Flaubert, Zola), Svevo opened the modernist season early by staging the ongoing narrative construction and critique of his character’s subjectivity. If, as Svevian criticism has frequently noted, ‘la coscienza di sé come attività mistificante é il tema centrale dell’opera di Svevo’ [self-consciousness as a mystifying activity is the central theme...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 207-222)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 223-232)
  15. Index
    (pp. 233-238)