NOTES ON SANGUINETI, PASOLINI AND DANTE
[What do you do if two desires assail you? Foto Di Marzia Poerio]
In the 1960s, in PER UN DIBATTITO, a polemical poem, Sanguineti wrote: "P.P.P. [Pier Paolo Pasolini] non mendica / per ritrovarsi intra due cibi (due / brame e... dame), siccome al tempo de' / dolci sospiri, compassione?". Later he writes: "E' vero: / ha ormai la religione del suo tempo / (e intende religione)" [SE, p. 359] . Here, then, is an ironic insinuation that Pasolini was seeking sympathy for his belief and for his poetry (in this text, "religione del suo tempo" refers to Pasolini's book LA RELIGIONE DEL MIO TEMPO). The "due brame" would appear to be two desires felt by Pasolini. The section of the poem immediately preceding this would suggest that the two desires are the "koiné", the common language (which, as we know, Pasolini did not like) and the bourgeoisie (which he hated).
A note to PER UN DIBATTITO by Sanguineti refers to two cantos of Dante's COMMEDIA. It also indicates which lines he is quoting, but he does not quote the context in which they appear in Dante. Without the reference to this, we would miss important aspects of the meaning contained in Sanguineti's poem.
The first passage to which Sanguineti alludes is as follows: "sì si starebbe un agno intra due brame / di fieri lupi, igualmente temendo; / sì si starebbe un cane intra due dame" [PARADISO, IV. 4-6]. In the light of these three lines, the "brame" can no longer be seen as desires felt by Pasolini. On the contrary, they are the desire of two ferocious wolves to eat a lamb. We can try interpreting in this way: the wolves of the "koiné" and the "borghesia" are trying to capture the conscience of Pasolini, who fears of them like a lamb and doesn't know which way to run, but like a dog between two deer, doesn't know which to tackle first.
The phrase "dolci sospiri" is vaguely ironic by itself, but let us see what happens when we read the passage from the INFERNO from which it comes. In the INFERNO [V. 118-120], talking to Francesca, Dante says: "Ma dimmi: al tempo dei dolci sospiri, / a che e come concedette amore, / che conosceste i dubbiosi disiri?". Francesca replies: "Nessun maggior dolore / che ricordarsi del tempo felice / ne la miseria" [INFERNO, V. 121-123]. We could say, that like those of Francesca, the "dolci sospiri" of Pasolini were sighs of "amore", his desires were "dubbiosi disiri", and he was sighing over his lost happiness in a time of misery. But we must remember that Pasolini was talking about love for the people, and maintained that the shanty-town dwellers of pre-industrial Italy were able to express spontaneous happiness in spite of their difficult economic situation. The word "miseria" must therefore be understood not only as unhappiness (and more precisely, I believe, the unhappiness which gave rise to Pasolini's lyric poetry in LE CENERI DI GRAMSCI), but also in terms of the poverty of his characters. We may conclude that Sanguineti manipulates Dante's text with playful double meanings, and we may also conclude that if we had not read the two passages from the COMMEDIA we would not be able to understand the sarcasm of PER UN DIBATTITO.
The example which we have considered reveals Sanguineti's sophisticated style of quotation. The text of his creative works presupposes a subtext of intentional references to other works. The surface text is written in a language which (apart from his early obscure collections of poetry) can be often understood by the majority of readers, and it normally has a meaning even if one does not recognise the quotations. On the other hand, the subtext can be deciphered only by an educated reader - sometimes a hyper-educated reader - given that the poet almost never states the sources of his quotations, he sometimes quotes only one or two words, or paraphrases. Therefore the subtext is really a puzzle. Sanguineti's view is that every poem, deep down, is a quiz. To use his own words: "Dicesi testo letterario un testo che si presenta nella forma dell'enigma. Dove c'è la poesia, lì c'è un indovinello. La differenza [...] è che l'enigma [non letterario] è supposto possedere una soluzione e una soltanto [...]. Un testo letterario è [...] potenzialmente capace [...] di infinite risoluzioni" [MC, p. 90].
The academic nature of the puzzles contained in Sanguineti's poetry is salvaged by the sense of ironic parody with which this writer often re-works other writers - including Dante. Sanguineti finds irony in the crepuscular poet Gozzano, whom he diagnoses as infected with "intossicazione dantesca" (Dantean intoxication) [MC, p. 90], and argues that Gozzano referred to Dante more through oblique parody than through direct quotation. Sanguineti's own "intossicazione dantesca" is even stronger than Gozzano's. Sanguineti has dealt with Dante in a number of essays, and there is a clear aspect of parody in his poetry. I will offer just one example.
In poem number 11 in EROTOPAEGNIA at one point we read: "mentre procedevamo mesti attraverso la fosca aula magna", and, later on, "qui crepitano le nostre secche croste" [SE, p. 61]. The Dantean word "fosca", and the imperfect tense "andavamo" (we were going along, I suggest, like Dante and Virgil in the INFERNO), would appear to confer serious symbolic connotations on this passage, as though Sanguineti were saying - and at one level in this poem I believe he is saying - that the university public lecture theatre is like life, and life, alas, is a form of Hell. But if "fosca" merely means, without any specific Dantean connotations, to follow De Voto and Oli's Italian dictionary, "che offre scarsa visibilità" and "non promette nulla di buono", then the "aula magna" could simply be a dark and hateful place. This does not rule out a reference to the INFERNO, but neither does it necessarily imply it. If we further consider that the word "Eros" appears in the title of the book (EROTOPAEGNIA), this aula maxima may also have a Freudian meaning. The other verse which I have quoted ("qui crepitano le nostre secche croste") recalls a verse by Dante, "ch'eran già cotti dentro dalla crosta" [INFERNO, XII. 150]. This time, the harsh sounds and grotesque imagery are faithful to the original.
I have hazarded a few hypotheses on this poem, but the text of poems of this kind is truly open to a number of different interpretations. Its ambiguity is due to the mixture of words and superimposition of different meanings which constitute Sanguineti's own multilingualism. Sanguineti speaks of Dante's multilingualism, and, in one of his essays, writes of Dante's immense dilation of the totality of linguistic phenomena [RD, p. 6]. He explains that it is from Dante that he derives the lexical and syntactical variety of his own poetry. He also observes that "dire parole, in poesia, è dire cose", and he adds that the enormous quantity of reality in the COMMEDIA derives from this idea [RD, p. 7]. Developing this observation about Dante, Sanguineti notices that the experience of words conditions and precedes that of words [IL, p. 133] and what tests and organises the real connections between things is the organisation of discourse. In LABORINTUS, an unusual syntax, a jumbling of apparently incongruous ideas, and a widely-based vocabulary, combine to give an impression of disorder. The disorder of language has, on the one hand, the function of imitating the chaotic world of neo-capitalist society, while, on the other, deconstructing the apparent logical connections through which, in Sanguineti' s view, society masks its own confusion.
From what we have just said it might be deduced that language, for Sanguineti, is an ideology (a formula used in his essay IDEOLOGIA E LINGUAGGIO). We may add that Sanguineti's ideology is permeated by three main visions of the world: the Marxist vision, which measures itself politically against capitalist society; the Freudian vision, which explores social conditioning as it applies to the instinctive drives of the individual; and Jung's vision, which explains the anxiety of the poet's individual unconscious in terms of collective archetypal symbols.
Sanguineti discusses ideology in a number of essays. In his essays on the VITA NUOVA and the COMMEDIA, he observes that Dante moved over from the "irrealismo visionario" of the VITA NUOVA to the great realism of COMMEDIA only when he took on a theological and political project. According to Sanguineti, it was ideology that allowed Dante to make a break with the previously existing poetic tradition, so as to renew it [RD, p. 17]. On the strength of these convictions, Sanguineti rejects the critical interpretations which suggest that there is a "dualismo" between a lyrical Dante and a political Dante [IM, p. XV]. He believes that these two alleged Dantes are unified precisely by ideology, and that the best reading of Dante is not lyrical but narrative. He sees the COMMEDIA as being like a Balzac novel [RD, p. 20], and a journey understood as a fable or exploration . Sanguineti specifies that in the INFERNO, the path taken by this fable coincides with an "esplorazione del negativo" [IM, p. 16] "a ritmo aperto" [IM, p. 5], and the visual nature of Dante's journey is so concrete and well-defined that it possesses a visual aggressiveness [IM, p. 16]. Sanguineti goes on to say that the geography of Dante's journey is twofold: the reader travels with Dante in an "Infernus litteralis" and an "Infernus moralis" [IM, p. 358]. Every detail maintains the double nature of realistic description and moral meaning. Even the comic scenes in the INFERNO, according to Sanguineti, are an aspect of negativity: Dante uses them not to make us laugh, but to show the extent of moral degradation. In LABORINTUS we find many of the features which Sanguineti notices in Dante. The voyage into the negative is the exploration of a "Palus Putredinis", a stinking bog or muddy labyrinth of irrationality and alienation [GR, p. 84]. The "literal" geography is that of daily life, which takes on moral, or rather psychological aspects when the author crosses the symbolic ground of his own unconscious obsessions. The "open rhythm" of Sanguineti's journey coincides with its informal technique of composition - a number of repeated themes connect the apparently disconnected words of Sanguineti's poem.
The "Palus Putredinis" of LABORINTUS is the first stage of Sanguineti's poetic and human journey, and he comes out of it, as he says in an essay, "con le mani sporche, con il fango, anche, lasciato davvero alle spalle" [GR, pp. 84-85]. That is to say, he leaves Hell with a heightened awareness of himself, and a later collection of poetry moves into a territory which he entitles PURGATORIO DE L'INFERNO. In this text, Purgatory relates to Hell, but no Purgatory relates to Heaven, or, to speak plainly, there may be some comfort on this earth, but there cannot be any trascendental salvation. For Sanguineti, non-religious redemption takes place on earth, and consists in political ideology (which is to say, to use the author's own words, "un marxismo indépassable") and in a love relationship [SE, p. 74]. Sanguineti calls his Beatrice (Luciana) "quella cara donna, dunque, mia, / che già , nel nome, luce mi significa, / e che i miei giorni, in fatto, ha illuminato" [NT, p. 25].
GI - GIORNALINO 1973-1975 (Turin, Einaudi, 1976)
GR - POESIA INFORMALE?, in GRUPPO 63: CRITICA E TEORIA, ed. R. Barilli and A. Guglielmi, Milan, Feltrinelli, 1976.
IL - IDEOLOGIA E LINGUAGGIO, Milan, Feltrinelli, 1978.
IM - INTERPRETAZIONE DI MALEBOLGE, Florence, Olschki, 1961.
MC - LA MISSIONE DEL CRITICO, Genoa, Marietti, 1987.
NT - NOVISSIMUM TESTAMENTUM, Lecce, Manni, 1986.
RD - IL REALISMO DI DANTE, Florence, Sansoni, 1965.
SE - SEGNALIBRO: POESIE 1951-1991, Milan, Feltrinelli, 1982.
 In Sanguineti's Italian: "favola itinerale" [IM, p. 5] or "esplorazione itinerale" [IM, p. 358].
The first version of this script was translated from Italian by Cormac Ó Cuilleanéain. It was revised for the present version by the author.