Dialoghi con Pavese - Sara Vergari

Dialogues with Pavese: Sara Vergari

For our themed column on Pavese’s contemporary critique, Iuri Moscardi interviewed Sara Vergari, author of the essay Un “Pavese solo”.

Dialoghi con Pavese - Sara Vergari

Sara Vergari is a PhD student in Italian Studies at the University of Aix-Marseille in France, where she specializes in 20th-century poetry from the 1970s on. Her research focuses on contemporary poetry anthologies as a critical instrument. She earned her Laurea triennale from the University of Florence, where she wrote a thesis on Ingeborg Bachmann, an Austrian poet who, at that time, was not widely considered but has since been rediscovered. Subsequently, she obtained a Laurea magistrale in Modern Philology from the Catholic University of Milan, completing her thesis on Cesare Pavese under the guidance of Professor Giuseppe Langella. She has practical experience in the publishing sector and has conducted research abroad, notably in Paris, France. Since 2022, she has been actively involved in promoting the reception and recovery of women’s poetry through articles, conferences, and curation. In 2021, she published the book Un “Pavese solo”. Percorsi di continuità tra I dialoghi con Leucò e la precedente produzione (Solfanelli), a re-elaborated version of her Master’s degree thesis.

When and how did your passion for Pavese originate? What aspects have you considered more relevant?

My interest in Pavese stems from his poetry, with Lavorare stanca being one of the readings that has profoundly influenced me. Specifically, I felt a strong connection to the poems preceding Lavorare stanca, particularly those gathered in the sections Sfoghi and Rinascita. Pavese, in his extreme fragility, suffering, and sensitivity, acted as a magnetic force, drawing me toward him. Pavese is an author whom I initially recognized and connected with on an emotional level. Only later did I delve into studying and understanding him through criticism and theory. While focusing on the technical aspects of his poetry, I realized the complexity of analyzing it, given its layers of symbols and obsessive labor limae. Consequently, I chose to write my Master’s degree thesis on one of his most obscure and symbolic works, Dialoghi con Leucò, a book that resists any clear definition.

For our column we have already interviewed two researchers who work in France, Daniela Vitagliano and Marie Fabre. From your perspective, how do you consider the academic and editorial reception of Pavese in France, today?

During one of my research residencies in Paris, I had the privilege of meeting Jean-Charles Vegliante, a poet, professor, and translator of Pavese in France. From an academic standpoint, Pavese is considered a canonical author in Études italiennes courses, leading to a more in-depth study compared to Italian high schools and university courses. Gallimard, the most important French publisher, features Pavese in its catalog. However, in my personal experience browsing French bookstores, I’ve noticed that Pavese’s texts can be somewhat challenging to locate.

From what your essay Un “Pavese solo”. Percorsi di continuità tra I dialoghi con Leucò e la precedente produzione originated?

This book represents a re-elaborated and expanded version of my Master’s thesis. It is structured into two sections, with each chapter in the first part mirrored by a corresponding chapter in the second part. This mirroring underscores the continuity mentioned in the title. In the first section, I delve into the thematic, stylistic, and poetical aspects present in the works preceding the Dialogues, which Pavese re-elaborated and expanded within the Dialogues themselves. The second section aims to demonstrate that the Dialogues with Leucò are not a unique production isolated from Pavese’s body of work, as some critics believe. Instead, they are the culmination of an ongoing poetic evolution rooted in Pavese’s juvenile poems.

The term “solo” (single) in your title refers to the continuity of Pavese’s poetic, which merged in the Dialogues (a thesis explained by Alberto Comparini in his book La poetica dei Dialoghi con Leucò di Cesare Pavese). What elements have supported your analysis? How can this continuity be viewed in Pavese’s works?

The expression “Un Pavese solo” (a single Pavese) was coined by Italo Calvino, one of the earliest readers and analysts of the Dialoghi and one of the few capable of immediately recognizing the true value of this work. This title refers to the critical perspective that perceives Pavese as a singular poet whose craft evolved over time. In my essay, I aimed to demonstrate this, as explained earlier, by highlighting the continuity between the Dialogues and Pavese’s works published before them. For instance, in one chapter, I explored the presence of objects in Lavorare stanca and in some of Pavese’s short stories that symbolize a threshold. I argue that these objects represent his tension towards alterity and a symbolism pre-dating the mythical resolution of the late 1940s. Furthermore, drawing on Bart Van den Bossche’s insights, I identified “strategies of space-time expansion” and the mythologization of characters (such as the cousin in South Seas, the opening poem of Lavorare stanca), certifying the presence of myth long before the Dialogues.

It seems that critics are finally recognizing the Dialogues as Pavese’s most important book, as Pavese himself wrote. Do you agree with this assumption or, on the contrary, do you think that there is still work to be done to really understand this book? 

In my perspective, the Dialogues represent the culmination of Pavese’s most significant efforts and the embodiment of his knowledge, which he left us before he decided to take his life. They stand as his legacy to posterity – a tragic testament wherein he acknowledges the impossibility of reviving myth, childhood, or the past solely through repetition in storytelling. Reading the Dialogues is, in essence, a way to keep Pavese alive. However, despite their importance, I believe that critical attention is not yet adequately focused on this text. Even in recent years, with the end of the copyright on Pavese’s books by Einaudi leading to numerous new editions of his works, “media” attention has been primarily directed towards his more well-known texts. Furthermore, academic analysis of the Dialogues remains limited. I encourage further study of this work. That said, I am certain that this text will never be thoroughly explained but, on the contrary, it will keep a considerable mysterious aura around it.

“Un Pavese ci vuole”: this misquotation from a very famous passage from The Moon and The Bonfires was the title of a series of video-interviews I conducted with the director of Fondazione Pavese, Pierluigi Vaccaneo. More than seventy-three years after Pavese’s suicide, do we still need him? And, whether yes or no, why?

The most poignant portrayal of Pavese as a man is found in Natalia Ginzburg’s “Portrait of a Friend” in her book The Little Virtues, from which I quote: «We were unable to tell him that we saw only too clearly where his mistake lay – in his refusal to love the daily current of existence which flows on evenly and apparently without secrets. He had not as yet mastered day to day reality». We will always need Pavese the man because few, like him, had the courage not to submit to the everyday flux of existence but, on the contrary, to sacrifice themselves for others at the risk of their own lives. They sacrificed themselves to see an atrocious truth, too painful to return from. Moreover, I believe we will always need verses that can express definite things with sensitivity. As an intellectual, he left a profound impact by introducing significant authors, including Americans, to Italy and by introducing Italians to ethnographical and anthropological disciplines that, without him, might have reached the country only years later. Our debt to him is substantial. Finally, he was one of the most important editors who were also intellectuals. Although the historical context has radically changed, a figure like him would immensely benefit our society, which is currently characterized by editors who are mere businessmen.

An interview by Iuri Moscardi