You may have heard it,
from me or from someone else, that at one point in my life I was writing, or supposed to be writing, a PhD dissertation on Luigi Pirandello, the Italian author of some 28 plays and 241 stories (Le Novelle per un anno ).
It was in the sixties. Your grandmother, BM, and I, that is my wife, Josée, had been married for just a few years and we were living in Europe where I was mostly reading Pirandello’s plays and stories and helping Josée with our then three small children (M and S, Natacha wasn’t born yet).
Why didn’t I ever complete the dissertation? (Why haven’t I ever written a book?) It’s not for lack of words and ideas. I just never seem to reach the point in my thinking where I can stop and put it all down in a form that will be like an end to my thinking, in this case my thinking about Pirandello.
Couldn’t do it and still can’t. Still writing, but I don’t seem to ever reach the point where I can stop, publish, and move on to something else. And I’m always writing about the same thing, telling the same story, or rather the same idea, never seem to move on to something else. But isn’t that true of most writers? They have just one book in them and they write it over and over again. It’s certainly true of Louis Lamour, and perhaps also of Charles Dickens,, although I’ll have to reread him first.
Does all this sound like an excuse for not having done something? But think about it. Life is a flowing river and in order to capture it, say in a book, like catching a swimming fish, the flow has to stop and the fish, what, to stop swimming and die. So completed books (and dissertations) are like deaths of thinking?
In respect to Pirandello, and he would be the first to say it, there are at least as many Pirandellos as there are readers of his works. And a lot more than that because in my own case he would change as I changed while living and reading him. So almost from day to day I was many different readers, making him many different writers? Could I have caught him, seized hold of him in my dissertation? Well yes but it wouldn’t have been him, anymore than the wall mounted fish or butterfly be the fish or butterfly.
Do you want to know where all this came from, how I got started thinking once again about Pirandello just this morning while lying in bed, some 45 years after visiting Pirandello’s birthplace in Agrigento, Sicily? Well it was a passage from his play, Henry IV, that I remembered, or rather have never forgotten, about how if you were to be beside another and look into his eyes… the person who entered wouldn’t be you, but someone you didn’t even know.
But I didn’t have to remain with my faulty memory because now there is Google, and after mentioning the passage to Josée over our morning coffee, I went to my Mac laptop and googled Henry IV and found the passage, reread it and found it no less powerful today than it was in 1967 when I first encountered it. Here it is: