Ma se è tutto qui il male!

I believe I’ve told you much of this elsewhere, in an earlier posting on this Blog, that for a good year, 1968-69 (although I’ll have to check the dates, perhaps go through some old papers) I was mostly in Italy (including a few days visiting the writer’s, Luigi Pirandello’s birthplace in Sicily).

I was with your Bonne Maman, Maverick’s mother, Maverick’s and your aunt, and uncle (your Mom, Mateo and Soleil, of course, wasn’t born yet) and while there I was reading the works of Luigi Pirandello and taking copious notes, which I still have in a filing cabinet in our grande salle, for a PhD dissertation that I was writing (and never finished).

What brought me to Pirandello? From white, protestant, middle class, suburbia where I had grown up? Well I did have an Italian roommate in college who now looks a lot like Pirandello,

Luigi-Pirandello2but other than that I can’t think of anything in particular. But I was keenly drawn from my first encounter with his work (during a class with Eric Bentley at Columbia) to this writer’s personaggi, enough to make him the subject of my doctoral work. I was especially taken by the myriad lonely and mad, or almost mad people in his stories and plays. Sort of as in Medical School and especially while in junior year psychiatric rotation I was attracted to the mad patients I met in the wards.

Now I don’t see myself as having ever been lonely or mad, and I still don’t. How do you see me in that regard? It’s rather that I believe, and have believed for a long time, that all of us here on this earth are lonely, certainly alone, and that our coming here, abruptly and painfully out of our mother’s womb with no advance warning, and then finding ourselves here in a strange dry land, and having to participate year after year in all sorts of ridiculous activities until the moment when we are taken away, probably painfully and abruptly and without advance warning, whether or not we wanted to leave, or whether we would rather stay. Our situation is mad, absurd, how we get here and how we leave, and I guess I’ve always felt that, and that Pirandello was one among a number of writers who helped me to articulate my own thoughts on these and other similar things.

And there were two of his creations, in particular, il Padre in Sei Personaggi in Cerca d’Autore, and Enrico IV in the play of the same name, who were both a bit mad but spoke, as mad people seem to do, the truth, expressing many of the things that I felt then and that I still do. In particular, as examples truth telling, from each of the two plays (a translation follows).


The Father. But don’t you see that the whole trouble lies here. In words, words. Each. of us has within him a whole world of things, each man of us his own special world. And how can we ever come to an understanding if I put in the words I utter the sense and value of things as I see them; while you who listen to me must inevitably translate them according to the conception of things each one of you has within himself. We think we understand each other, but we never really do. Look here! This woman [Indicating the MOTHER.] takes all my pity for her as a specially ferocious form of cruelty.THE MOTHER. But you drove me away.THE FATHER. Do you hear her? I drove her away! She believes I really sent her away.THE MOTHER. You know how to talk, and I don’t; but, believe me, sir [To
MANAGER.], after he had married me…who knows why?…I was a poor
insignificant woman…THE FATHER. But, good Heavens! it was just for your humility that I married you. I loved this simplicity in you. [He stops when he sees she
makes signs to contradict him, opens his arms wide in sign of desperation, seeing how hopeless it is to make himself understood.] You
see she denies it. Her mental deafness, believe me, is phenomenal, the limit: [Touches his forehead.] deaf, deaf, mentally deaf! She has plenty of feeling. Oh yes, a good heart for the children; but the brain — deaf, to the point of desperation.



Your being so dismayed because now I seem again mad to you. You have thought me mad up to now, haven’t you? You feel that this dismay of yours can become terror too–something to dash away the ground from under your feet and deprive you of the air you breathe! Do you know what it means to find yourselves face to face with a madman–with one who shakes the foundations of all you have built up in yourselves, your logic, the logic of all your constructions? Madmen, lucky folk! construct without logic, or rather with a logic that flies like a feather. Voluble! Voluble! Today like this and tomorrow–who knows? You say: “This cannot be”; but for them everything can be. You say: “This isn’t true!” And why? Because it doesn’t seem true to you, or you, or you…(indicates the three of them in succession)…and to a hundred thousand others! One must see what seems true to these hundred thousand others who are not supposed to be mad! What a magnificent spectacle they afford, when they reason! What flowers of logic they scatter! I know that when I was a child, I thought the moon in the pond was real. How many things I thought real! I believed everything I was told–and I was happy! Because it’s a terrible thing if you don’t hold on to that which seems true to you today–to that which will seem true to you tomorrow, even if it is the opposite of that which seemed true to you yesterday. I would never wish you to think, as I have done, on this horrible thing which really drives one mad: that if you were beside another and looking into his eyes– as I one day looked into somebody’s eyes–you might as well be a beggar before a door never to be opened to you; for he who does enter there will never be you, but someone unknown to you with his own different and impenetrable world…


Sei Personaggi

Il Padre. Ma se è tutto qui il male! Nelle parole! Abbiamo tutti dentro un mondo di cose; ciascuno un suo mondo di cose! E come possiamo intenderci, signore, se nelle parole ch’io dico metto il senso e il valore delle cose come sono dentro di me; mentre chi le ascolta, inevitabilmente le assume col senso e col valore che hanno per sè, del mondo com’egli l’ha dentro? Crediamo d’intenderci; non c’intendiamo mai!
Guardi la mia pietà, tutta la mia pietà per questa donna (indicherà la Madre) è stata assunta da lei come la più feroce delle crudeltà.

La madre. Ma se m’hai scacciata!

Il padre. Ecco, la sente? Scacciata! Le è parso ch’io l’abbia scacciata!

La madre. Tu sai parlare; io non so… Ma creda, signore, che dopo avermi sposata… chi sa perché! (ero una povera, umile donna…)

Il padre. Ma appunto per questo, per la tua umiltà ti sposai, che amai in te, credendo…

(S’interromperà alle negazioni di lei; aprirà le braccia, in atto disperato, vedendo l’impossibilità di farsi intendere da lei, e si rivolgerà al Capocomico:)

No, vede? Dice di no! Spaventevole, signore, creda, spaventevole, la sua si picchierà sulla fronte sordità, sordità mentale! Cuore, sì, per i figli! Ma sorda, sorda di cervello, sorda, signore, fino alla disperazione!

Enrico IV

Ma lo vedete? Lo sentite che può diventare anche terrore, codesto sgomento, come per qualche cosa che vi faccia mancare il terreno sotto i piedi e vi tolga l’aria da respirare? Per forza, signori miei! Perché trovarsi davanti a un pazzo sapete che significa? trovarsi davanti a uno che vi scrolla dalle fondamenta tutto quanto avete costruito in voi, attorno a voi, la logica, la logica di tutte le vostre costruzioni!—Eh! che volete? Costruiscono senza logica, beati loro, i pazzi! O con una loro logica che vola come una piuma! Volubili! Volubili! Oggi così e domani chi sa come!—Voi vi tenete forte, ed essi non si tengono più. Volubili! Volubili!—Voi dite: «questo non può essere!»—e per loro può essere tutto.—Ma voi dite che non è vero. E perché?—Perché non par vero a te, a te, a te, e centomila altri. Eh, cari miei! Bisognerebbe vedere poi che cosa invece par vero a questi centomila altri che non sono detti pazzi, e che spettacolo danno dei loro accordi, fiori di logica!. Io so che a me, bambino, appariva vera la luna nel pozzo. E quante cose mi parevano vere! E credevo a tutte quelle che mi dicevano gli altri, ed ero beato! Perché guai, guai se non vi tenete più forte a ciò che vi par vero oggi, a ciò che vi parrà vero domani, anche se sia l’opposto di ciò che vi pareva vero jeri! Guai se vi affondaste come me a considerare questa cosa orribile, che fa veramente impazzire: che se siete accanto a un altro, e gli guardate gli occhi—come io guardavo un giorno certi occhi—potete figurarvi come un mendico davanti a una porta in cui non potrà mai entrare: chi vi entra, non sarete mai voi, col vostro mondo dentro, come lo vedete e lo toccate; ma uno ignoto a voi, come quell’altro nel suo mondo impenetrabile vi vede e vi tocca…


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