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An article in Repubblica of Friday 31 August 018, is dedicated to the literary fashion of “rewriting the classics”. The occasion is the publication of a book by Lisa Ginzburg entitled Pura invenzione. Twelve variations on Frankenstein.

It is the forerunner of a new series by Marsilio, the “Passaparola”, which will feature Michela Murgia with L’inferno è una buona memoria and Alessandro Giammei with Una serie ininterrotta di gesti riuscito: Italian writers who talk about themselves by reflecting on a beloved book.

According to the author of the article, “It can happen what Calvino prophesied when reasoning about the classics: that a text that we thought was worn out suddenly begins to whisper something new to us”.

But perhaps the point is not what the classics say to us. It is what we are able to say, of our own accord, with the help of the classics.

Perhaps the only way to be truly original today is – in a way – to ‘copy’. In the sense of ‘rewriting’. And by ‘rewriting’ I mean using some elements of a work, to make your own. With its own style.

Film remakes, for example, are rewrites. A Fistful of Dollars was a remake of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. And sometimes book-to-film transpositions can almost become rewrites, as in the case of Sworn Virgin. The line is not always so clear.

For example, you take the story of a novel, and you tell the same story but in your own way. It is no less creative than creating a new one, also because the immense quantity of existing stories are variants of a limited number of structures, which in turn can be simplified into a very few archetypes. Or perhaps just one, infinitely and eternally recombinable.

So where, then, is the creativity in creating a plot? Of course, there is creativity in this too, but it is greatly overestimated, and I believe that this has come about since the individualistic myth of the Renaissance and then Romantic artist became established. Today it is different.

True creativity is only in style.

The opposite phenomenon to rewrites, in fact, are those books that are apparently original – in title, structure, plot, characters – but have a derivative style. These are the products we tend to label as ‘commercial’, or ‘superficial’. For example, I had never read Elsa Morante’s classic novel, La Storia, published in 1974, although I still remember that Einaudi cover with the powerful subtitle ‘A scandal that has lasted ten thousand years’. I started doing it in the autumn of 2018, and after not even ten minutes I thought “But this is Elena Ferrante!”. Not because the story had too much to do with it – different era, different characters, totally different facts – but it was as if I could imagine the same voice telling the story. Or at least a very very similar voice. And I also realised the assonance between “Elsa Morante” and “Elena Ferrante”, which at this point does not seem to me to be a casual pseudonym, then I did some research and found that today’s writer has cited only one novel as her source of inspiration, and it was indeed one of Morante’s works (although not La Storia, but Menzogna e Sortilegio). This then explains to me that strange feeling of ‘already heard’ that I had when reading L’amica geniale, and not unpleasant, it made the experience very easy and relaxing and allowed certain messages to better reach my attention. Because it uses the established patterns of twentieth-century Italian prose, which were familiar to me even before reading Morante. In short, it is the deep analogies that count, not the superficial ones. But in this case there were also superficial ones: in both La Storia and L’amica geniale there are stories of poor women in a large Italian city, there are men who are physically and psychologically violent, and there are children who grew up in a climate of hardship.

Coming back to the rewrites, my relationship with them actually comes from very far away, at least from the Disney parodies of the great classics of Italian literature, such as I Promessi Paperi.

When I read this story I was still a child, so obviously I must have known the parody of Manzoni’s original before.

At the time, it was called: a comic strip. Today we would say: a graphic novel (although I would prefer to say “a” graphic novel, or even better, a “graphic novel”). Anyway, it was published for the first time in 1976, and then in 1982 in a collection entitled The Great Disney Classics, which is precisely the one I remember.

Now I found it by chance on a site called Paperpedia.

Besides Don Paperigo, in the story there are characters like Paperenzo Strafalcino and Lucilla Paperella.

The script is by Edoardo Segantini and Giulio Chierchini. The latter, also author of the drawings, was born in 1928, made his debut in Mickey Mouse in 1956, and today at 90 years old is incredibly still active (he published a story again in July 2018). In the 1980s he introduced the novelty of stories painted with a mixed technique of watercolour, oil and airbrush.

The first of the Disney parodies was instead Mickey’s Hell, which at the time must have impressed me greatly if it still haunts me with some of its particularly strong cartoons.

It was published on Mickey Mouse between 1949 and 1950, the scriptwriter was Guido Martina and the drawings were by Angelo Bioletto. Martina also wrote the captions in verse, which make the story a poem in tercets like Dante’s original.

The parody of Moby Dick, published on Topolino in 2013, dates back to much more recent times.

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