restricted access Postmodern Italian Fiction: The Crisis of Reason in Calvino, Eco, Sciascia, Malerba (review)
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Reviewed by
JoAnn Cannon. Postmodern Italian Fiction: The Crisis of Reason in Calvino, Eco, Sciascia, Malerba. Cranbury: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 1989. 139 pp. $27.50.

Postmodern Italian Fiction: The Crisis of Reason in Calvino, Eco, Sciascia, Malerba consists of a preface, a lengthy introduction, and four chapters. It is a worthwhile collection of essays in English on four highly influential Italian writers, as JoAnn Cannon adroitly examines certain works which, for her, formulate "a cognitive role for the fictional work," because as she also states in her Preface, each of the works "discussed in this study is to varying degrees a self-conscious text, occupied or preoccupied with its status as literary artifice." In a lengthy historical introduction, Cannon offers an overview of the artistic and intellectual milieu in which each of these works was conceived and written. The chapters that follow, instead, are dedicated to specific works of the writers in question. (There is, unfortunately, an infelicitous editorial oversight: the book jacket refers to the Introduction as Chapter One, and so on, as does the author herself in an endnote.)

Chapter One deals with Leonardo Sciascia's historical essay The Death of the Inquisitor (1964) and his historical novel The Council of Egypt (1963). Here Cannon demonstrates how Sciascia fuses both the historical and fictional modes in the [End Page 647] first work, whereas the fragility of historical truth is the major theme of his historical novel.

Luigi Malerba's "avid and systematic antirationalism" is the major theme of Chapter Two. Here Cannon examines Malerba's The Serpent and What is Buzzing in light of the broader European novelistic practices of Robbe-Grillet, Borges, and Pynchon. More specifically, she intends to show that Malerba's disdain for absolutes is represented by the breakdown in plot and narration in Malerba's two novels in question.

Umberto Eco's semiotic project in The Name of the Rose is the main theme of Chapter Three. Here, Cannon examines Eco's Peircean-based notion of fallibilism in relation to the more recent Italian notion of a pensiero debole ("weak thought"). After a close textual reading of the novel in the first part of the chapter and a briefly rehearsed cross-examination of Eco's and Gianni Vattimo's "conviction of the centrality of semiotics to philosophical inquiry in general" in the second part, Cannon concludes that The Name of the Rose testifies to Eco's "unshaken belief in structuring systems in the absence of a single, overriding structure."

Chapter Four is dedicated to Calvino's last novel, Mr. Palomar. Here, Cannon offers an excellent synthesis of the later Calvino. In her close reading of the novel, she demonstrates how this work, more than Calvino's earlier fictions, "allegorizes the confrontation in his essays." In comparing Mr. Palomar to Calvino's more salient essays, Cannon provides her reader with an acute understanding of Calvino the writer and essayist.

For this reviewer, the title, Postmodern Italian Fiction: The Crisis of Reason in Calvino, Eco, Sciascia, Malerba, promises more than it actually offers. Considering especially the book's length, more space could have been dedicated to the notion—better yet, notions—of the postmodern. Indeed, one may not always "provide an exhaustive definition of postmodernism" or "settle the ongoing debates surrounding the difference between modernism and postmodernism," as Cannon claims she will not do. Nevertheless, a more intimate dealing with Aldo Gargani's "crisis of reason" and the later Italian phenomenon of pensiero debole and its major exponent Gianni Vattimo could have added to the numerous insightful conclusions Cannon draws from her readings. This notwithstanding, Postmodern Italian Fiction is worthwhile intellectual reading and, overall, an important contribution to Italian studies. [End Page 648]

Anthony J. Tamburri
Purdue University
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