- Serafino Gubbio’s Candid Camera
Luigi Pirandello’s ferocious attack against the cinematographic medium in Quaderni di Serafino Gubbio operatore rapidly broadens its negative scope to include dismissal of all technological innovations as alienating and dehumanizing. 1 The author’s stand vis-à-vis new technological discoveries appears to be in diametric opposition to the Futurist theories favoring the role of machines in general and cinema in particular in reshaping literary perception and sensitivity. The Futurists’ rebellious attitude against “passatist” culture instigated a radical stand in favor of new technological inventions, which were heralded as an unsurpassed accomplishment of human creativity, a powerful extension of the human body and, above all, an indispensable instrument to revamp the corpse of literary inspiration and [End Page 79] originality. The Futurist manifestoes celebrate technological discoveries for transforming “old” art forms, such as literature, and shaping “new” art forms, such as cinema, made possible by the advent of technology. 2
Pirandello’s perspective deserves close attention, not only because of the complex formulation and intricate expressivity typical of his writing, but also because of the paradoxical and dualistic result of his treatment of technology. 3 If taken literally, Pirandello’s critique of technology in Quaderni di Serafino Gubbio operatore offers an unmitigated condemnation of and an emblematic opposition to the cinematic medium, which is portrayed as a dehumanizing phenomenon subjugating and enslaving mankind, and draining its life. A deeper investigation into the existential arguments at the core of the novel, however, shows that its insistent opposition to the rising cinematographic world is mitigated by the paradoxically positive outcome of its effects on the protagonist. 4 Cinema becomes the rhetorical device [End Page 80] employed to express the existential-spiritual issues that structure the Notebooks. Pirandello dexterously bends the controversy over cinema in an unexpected and unprecedented direction, by metamorphosing it from a cultural phenomenon into an existential issue, as he analyzes its intimate effects on the protagonist Serafino Gubbio. 5 This existential content remains concealed under the rhetorical strategy of sharp criticism of the cinematic medium, which is all the readers perceive in their first encounter with the novel. 6 [End Page 81]
In the first part of “Notebook One”—the initial section of Serafino Gubbio—Pirandello underlines the brutalizing consequences which the phenomenon of mechanization at large exerts on mankind. Human status and behavior have suffered radical modifications through the advent of technological discoveries. In the new setting there is no space for recollection and meditation. Without being able to think, human beings move and act like the machines they created. Human actions imperceptibly acquire the automatic quality characteristic of machines.
Conosco anch’io il congegno esterno, vorrei dir meccanico della vita che fragorosamente e vertiginosamente ci affaccenda senza requie. [...] Nessuno ha tempo o modo d’arrestarsi un momento a considerare, se quel che vede fare agli altri, quel che lui stesso fa, sia veramente ciò che sopra tutto gli convenga, ciò che gli possa dare quella certezza vera, nella quale solamente potrebbe trovar riposo. Il riposo che ci è dato dopo tanto fragore e tanta vertigine è gravato da tale stanchezza, intronato da tanto stordimento, che non ci è più possibile raccoglierci un minuto a pensare.(3–4)
Thinking is a typically human activity, the faculty distinguishing human beings from the complete alienation of brutes. Once deprived of their principal capacity to reflect and discern, the technocrats gradually metamorphose into the powerful machines they have created and become automata themselves.
Gubbio, Pirandello’s narrator, describes excessive mechanization and its consequences in bitterly sarcastic terms. 7 He looks back to pre-mechanized epochs as the mythical—almost Vichianesque—golden age of poetically creative humanity, when every man or woman was a poetic creature.
L’uomo che prima, poeta, deificava i suoi sentimenti e li adorava, buttati via i sentimenti, ingombro non solo inutile ma anche dannoso, e divenuto saggio e industre, s’è messo a fabbricar di ferro, d’acciajo le sue nuove divinità ed è diventato servo e schiavo di esse.
Viva la Macchina che meccanizza la vita!
Vi resta ancora, o signori, un po’ d’anima, un po’ di cuore e di mente? Date, date qua alle macchine voraci, che aspettano! Vedrete e sentirete, che...