Gianni Grana. Babele e il silenzio: genio "orfico" di Emilio Villa.
Milano: Marzorati, 1992.
Emilio Villa's (b. 1914) first published work is Adolescenza (Bologna,
1934), this was followed by many limited edition publications such as
Oramai (Roma, 1947), Villadrome (Roma, 1964), Traitée de pédérasthie
céleste (Napoli, 1969), and Le mûra di t;éb;é (Brescia, 1981). He represents
one of the first post-futurist exponents of experimental tendencies that
were to be picked up by various partecipants in avantgarde movements,
including members of the Gruppo 63. Many have emulated his work, and
many neglected to cite his influence, all of which has contributed to Villa's
position among some important but overlooked poets in contemporary
Italy, among which are the likes of Franco Cavallo and Edoardo Cacciatore.
Sporadic efforts have been made to recognize Villa's importance,
such as the publication of a special issue of Uomini e idee (anno xviii, n. 2-
4, ottobre 1975), an initiative taken mostly through the influence of the
poets Adriano Spatola and Luciano Caruso. Another, more recent
publication, is the anthological collection Opere poetiche I, Milano 1989,
introduced by Aldo Tagliaferri, and, finally, by the inclusion of an
extensive chapter dedicated to Emilio Villa in vol. X of the encyclopedic
Novecento (Milano 1979, 1989), directed by Gianni Grana himself.
Without doubt, Babele e il Silenzio: genio "orfico" di Emilio Villa: La
neg-azione apoetica: caos e cosmos, vertigini e metàstasi della parola
nell'èra telematica., with its all encompassing title, is the most extensive
and exhaustive study of Villa's body of work to date. However, the
complexity of his work, the ephemeral nature of his publication, and the
author's own legendarily enigmatic character, have contributed to the
creation of a puzzling battle-ground of appropriations of his figure.
Accusations of mis-handling and impropriety fly between and amongst his
supporters and his detractors, and an overall sense of extreme
territoriality is so clearly expressed by certain scholars that it may indeed
keep away potential new voices concerned with his writings. In fact,
Babele e il Silenzio begins with a preface/justification ("Giustificazione")
that hints at many of the problems surrounding Villa as a object of study
and attention. This preface also serves as a justification to the structure
and organization of the book itself, which I will come to momentarily,
thereby denoting a perplexing demension of self-consciousness and
anxiety on the part of its author. Again, I would regard this as a result
of the conflictual space that surrounds Emilio Villa.
The sixhundred and thirtyseven page book is divided into two parts.
"Part I" offers, under the title "La 'morte della poesia': teoria e prassi della
'apoesi' da Mallarmé a Pound," both a historical and theoretical context to
Villa's work. Its subsections are as follows:
L'orfismo simbolista di lingua francese, in which various aspects of
"revolution of poetic language" are recounted, from Mallarmé to Rimbaud
to Lautréamont, to the place of "hasard" or chance in poetic composition.
La "morte della poesia" nei movimenti di avanguardia, reviews the works
of Futurism, Dadaism, Surrealism and all their associated practices and
strategies. Poesia e arte (a)poetica di lingua inglese, moves into the
realm of Joyce, Eliot and Pound, and the most important analysis of "epic
memory."Teoria, pragmatica e tecnica della "poesia moderna" is mostly
dedicated todevelopments in poetics as influenced by the works of Freud,
Jung and Lacan. La scrittura, la modernità e la "scienza" del testo
approaches more contemporary developments in theory that include postmodern
approaches and the greatly influential precepts of deconstructive theory.
"Part II," entitled "Lettura tematica e analisi strutturale dell'opera
poetica di Villa," is divided into four sections, as follows:
1934-1945: il noviziato adulto di "Oramai", which presents Villa's initial
activities in the literary world, including his collaboration with various
journals and his first approaches to a multilingual technique and a
"fonetica accanita" that colours his whole corpus.
Gli archètipi di Villa: "Attributi dell'arte odierna" touches on Villa's
interests in other "poetic" activities, such as Action Painting and the
semantics of gesture and action. In addition, mysticism and sacrality are
brought into the discussion as elements that provide a substratum for
Dalla fonesi italiana all'artefazione poliglottica gives and overview
of Villa's multilingual exercizes. This aspect of Villa's poetics is one
of extreme importance for it is directly related to the Italian "questione
della lingua," and functions as a current to undermine not only cultural
but also socio-political homogeneity.
La "scrittura d'azione" francòfona e le lingue morte extends the
multilingual aspects to a consideration of how such a strategy functions to
undermine the place of "literalness." Also in this section, Grana offers an
analysis of the function of dead languages (Latin, Hebrew, Greek) in Villa's
I have chosen to mention these subdivisions in that they function as
a useful guide through which to approach the sizable volume. Having done
this, however, I must question the inclusion of Part I in general. The
apparent authorial anxiety, that seems to emerge now and then throughout
the book, is most evident in the short reproach to those who, like myself,
would dispute the uses of Part I:
Ho pure preposto [...] alcuni capitoli di essenziale retrospettiva storica e di
partecipe discussione teorica, che solo chi è solito puntellarsi
scholasticamente di "autorità" false e indiscusse potrebbe ritenere estranei,
e che io assumo come pilastri di sostegno di una costruzione critica che
ambisce a durare più di una fragile ipotesi di "interpretazione." (8)
While I find this first Part not wholly necessary, I do not mind its
inclusion, since it functions as a quick-reference manual. However, given
the fact that anyone who is involved in the study of contemporary poetry,
or who might find Emilio Villa even remotely interesting, would already
have the points of historical reference that Grana provides at hand, it does
appear as somewhat superfluous. Aside from the mention of particularly
personal preferences regarding one text or another, Grana does not offer
any extensive alternative critical/theoretical analysis of this "history and
its accompanying theoretical discussion." As a matter of fact, the inclusion
of this section puts into question the nature of the book, cloaking it with a
textbook quality, rather than presenting it as a text of literary scholarship.
On the whole, Part II offers close readings of Villa's works true to the
promise of "lettura tematica e analisi strutturale" of its title. Grana's
attitude toward "postmodern" theories of interpretation deny Villa's texts
the very retrospective (orphic) gaze that they construct, and by which a
term and attitude such as "postmodern" are made possible. Postmodern
does not represent, as Grana states, a "posterità attuale non solo rispetto a
una pretesa ideologia 'modernista,' ma a una 'modernità' obsoleta e in
estinzione, forse già scomparse, di cui noi tutti saremmo strani posteri [...]"
(273) Rather, the postmodern is merely an extention of the modern, a
period in which the application of achieved modes of modernity finally
offers up its products. Whether these products are to valued or reviled,
exalted or undermined is another matter.
In fact, Villa's "plurilinguismo" and his denial of languages for a
"purely phonetic ideology," his "ab-negazione" as a mode by which to
instigate "azione," and his "apoetica" as a way to stress the poetics of
conflict and contradiction, all try the precepts of modernism and launch
poetry headlong into a postmodern spin.
Finally, while I believe that thematic and structural analyses are
somewhat limiting, and I would disagree with much of what Grana has to
say regarding postmodern strategies of reading (which I find much more
useful in approaching work of Villa's complexity), the overview that Grana
offers fills a need in Villa scholarship. No-one has undertaken a task as
monumental as Grana's in Villa's regard, and the book should be in the
hands of all those who pretend to know and study contemporary poetry.