Dialogues with Pavese: Antonio Sichera and Antonio Di Silvestro

An “American fascinated by Ancient Greece and the Bible”: professors Antonio Sichera and Antonio Di Silvestro talk of Italian poet Cesare Pavese.

Antonio Sichera is professor of Contemporary Italian Literature at the University of Catania. Beside Luigi Pirandello and Pier Paolo Pasolini, he has studied Pavese for long time. He has studied his poetry in the volume Concordanza delle poesie di Cesare Pavese (with Giuseppe Savoca, 1997), defining Lavorare stanca as the center of Pavese’s oeuvre. He has also analyzed all of Pavese’s narrative works, comparing them to Joyce in their dealing with the semantic field of imprisonment (Pavese nei dintorni di Joyce: le due stagioni del Carcere in the academic journal Esperienze letterarie, 2000) and with the Bible, the Ancient Greeks, and American and European literatures (Pavese. Libri sacri, misteri, riscritture, 2015). In this volume, he identified new sources for Pavese’s writings in the Bible and made known unpublished materials (manuscript notes within books and the partial translation of Nietzsche’s The Will to Power).  Antonio Di Silvestro is professor of Philology of the Italian Literature at the University of Catania. His field of interest is Giovanni Verga’s works, which he studied under a lexicographic, philological, and semantic point of view. With prof. Sichera, since 2017 he is director of the digital edition of Luigi Pirandello’s Opera Omnia. Together, the two professors have edited the Mondadori’s new editions of Pavese’s Paesi tuoi, La luna e i falò, La casa in collina, and Dialoghi con Leucò, published in 2021: Sichera contributed with critical introductions, while Di Silvestro with philological and linguistic notes based on a new analysis of Pavese’s manuscripts and archive. For the same publisher, they have edited the monumental Cesare Pavese’s Opera poetica, a collection of all his poems and translations. The volume will be presented in Enna on September 9th, birthday of Cesare Pavese, as a collateral event of Pavese Festival 2022.
This Opera poetica is really a majestic and fundamental work. How did you approach the enormous quantity of material: have you been following a philological purpose or also other directions? How did you split the workload among the members of the group of scholars who helped you (Liborio Pietro Barbarino, Christian D’Agata, Miryam Grasso, Maria Concetta Trovato, Eliana Vitale)?   The recognition of Pavese’s manuscripts from the website Hyperpavese, mainly regarding the poems and the translations in verses, required an enormous effort by our team because the texts are often scattered among notebooks from his youngest years and from school, drafts, diaries, which are not often homogeneous as an archive material should be. The collaboration of some of our former students, some of whom have already worked on their PhD dissertations on critical editions based on poetry and narrative manuscripts (specifically, Lavorare stanca 1936, La luna e i falò, and Dialoghi con Leucò), has been fundamental to solve some issues, among which the most relevant were the order of the different versions of the texts and the interpretation of Pavese’s handwriting, which sometime can be hard to decipher. The work of non-Pavese scholars has been fundamental, too: they helped us in recognizing the immense sector of unpublished translations and comparing them with the published editions. We have not followed only a philological and archivistic approach, as someone could think by considering how rich the notes to the texts are; we would like to offer a complete representation of Pavese’s activity as poet and translator. An activity from which his great masterpieces have originated from.     L’Opera poetica is divided into two sections: poems and translations. In the poetry section, you reconstructed the complete sequence of Pavese’s juvenile poems, before Lavorare stanca. What do these poems reveal about the birth and evolution of Pavese as a poet? Which influences, experimentation, and styles can we find? Is there a connection with Lavorare stanca?   The section about the “prehistory” of Pavese as a poet is surely one of the most demanding of the book: his texts are scattered among notebooks and documents in an impressive way. For this reason, we had to check the archive material many times and, above all, we had to hypothesize different dating and cataloging for the poems. Eventually, we decided to follow the most natural order, which is the chronological one, in a different way from the Einaudi’s choice of relying on manuscripts and typescripts collections made by Pavese but never published. Widening the corpus of Pavese’s poems allowed us to present him as a poet under a new perspective, as a relentless and fascinating experimenter. After an initial influence by D’Annunzio and the Crepuscular poets, and through the imitation of the comic-realistic tradition, Pavese was able to eventually reach the melodious and singable forms of nursery rhymes and canzonetta after experimenting with Baudelaire-like tones in the poems collected in Blues della grande città. The final text of this section is Girar la terra in tondo, which we dated around 1930-’31 and seems like a lighter anticipation of Pavese’s first poetic masterpiece, I mari del Sud.   Even more relevant is the section on translations. Usually considered only a translator from English and American literatures, we finally discover that Pavese translated also from Greek, Latin, German, and French. What do these translations add to the studies focused on Pavese as a translator?   Until the present edition we can say that the corpus of his translations, set aside the ones from Whitman and Lee Masters, was almost totally unknown. Studies on Pavese as a translator have been published, as well as a good edition of his translation from Horace, edited by Giovanni Bàrberi Squarotti. The great number of pages dealt to this section immediately shows the extent of Pavese’s work as a translator: he went through the great Western poetic tradition with extraordinary precociousness and deep interest, focusing for instance on the German literature, which seemed extraneous from the canon of his early years’ interests. This section is extremely important, philologically and hermeneutically speaking, for the deep exploration of Latin and Greek literatures, with experiments of translations from Latin elegiac poems and from lyrical and tragic Greek poems, and for his “reconsiderations” of the translations from Homer in the years between the exile in Brancaleone and the mid-1940s. This exhaustive analysis of the translations from Classical authors is relevant not only considering Pavese’s discovery of an ancient but new poetic rhythm; it also gives us an extremely refined instrument for interpreting and reconsidering the “classical” aspect of the Dialoghi con Leucò   More generally, how does this volume dialogue with the past and present studies on Cesare Pavese? What are the most important innovations that it brings forth?   L’Opera poetica is like a huge room, or maybe an entire house, where Pavese’s scholars can easily find materials, leads, topics, at the same time confronting them with different philological and hermeneutical approaches. It is a vast space that deals with, for the first time, a big section of Pavese’s unpublished papers – the ones focusing on poetry – through an examination as much accurate and complete as possible. This comes together with a precise republication of already published material. Of course, the studies on Pavese already have a long and praiseworthy history. If we talk about Pavese’s papers, the work made by Centro Pavese-Gozzano at the University of Turin (and by the group of scholars gathered around professors Marziano Guglielminetti and Mariarosa Masoero) has been fundamental. But when the “entirety” of the production is made available, the perception of Pavese as a poet and his profile change. At this point, you realize that you are in front of a juvenile writing and translating activity that might be compared, without any doubt, to Leopardi’s one. You realize that the registers of his poetic style are multiple. It becomes clear how Pavese was a relentless experimenter of models, structures, and even tones. And you realize how fundamental was for him the ancient and modern poetry in his work as translator of thousands of verses from Latins and Greeks (above all, Homer) and also from the great modern tradition, European and American.  In conclusion, we believe that L’Opera poetica will contribute in making the reader feels and understand Pavese’s intellectual majesty.   This book is fundamental for the academic studies of Pavese, as your introductions show. Nevertheless, you decided to publish it with Mondadori, which is not specialized in academic books. Which kind of audience would you like to reach? The problem of the audience is extremely relevant for us. We discussed it already five years ago, when we began to work on the digital edition of Pirandello’s Opera omnia, part of Pirandello’s National Edition promoted by MIBACT (the Ministry of Culture) and published by Mondadori. We are sure that a new period began, both for literature and literary critique. The elements that characterized the 20th century modernity are now gone. Today, we are experiencing a much more assorted public of readers, who is usually not fascinated by the authority of the classical books, or at least it does not take them for granted. If we want to continue a great poetic and narrative tradition, and pass it down to future generations, we have to abandon any form of self-referentiality and keep in mind the common readers, the youngest, their teacher in our job as critics. This implies adapting a new attitude, the never definitive answer to the question “why?”, which is the answer to the question of the sense that we can find in the reading and the approach to the text of a great poet or a great writer. We cannot take anything for granted, anymore. The edition of Pavese’s work that we are working on with Mondadori – with whom we have published the main novels, Dialoghi con Leucò, and now L’Opera poetica – aims to fulfill this purpose: conjugating the maximum scientific accuracy with the availability to passionate and open readers. The presentation of LOpera at Turin Book Fair (Salone del Libro), an event crowded with young and more mature people, extraneous to our environment, encourage us and confirm the choices made by Luigi Belmonte and Elisabetta Risari in accepting to publish “our” Pavese, who immediately became “theirs”.   “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. Seventy-two years after Pavese’s suicide, do we still need him? And, whether yes or no, why?   This is a very good question. It is incredible how a literary work born from a historical and social context so different and far from ours, usually set in a rural world which disappeared decades ago or in cities that are very different from the present ones, is still able to reach a huge audience and always find new readers. I think that the reasons are many. First of all, we have to consider Pavese’s American sensibility. He was able to grasp the most powerful qualities of the American century way before anyone else in Italy, absorbing ideas, problems, changes still very far from Italy, which had not yet become a modern country. The way in which Pavese, for instance, tackles the problem of subjectivity, the very relevant matter of identity and identification projects him in an atmosphere that he has been living in since he was reading Whitman and Emerson. An atmosphere that Italy would experience only some thirty years later, as a modernly mature country. The USA, as usual during the 20th century, anticipated what would happen in Europe years later. The real question is: what does it mean to grow into yourself, outside the mirrors of tradition or the typical Bildungsroman? Pirandello felt the same necessity, but faced it with different instruments. Pavese faced it as an American fascinated by Ancient Greece and the Bible, providing a very original solution since Mari del Sud.