- Of the Barony: Anna Banti and the Time of Decision
Anna Banti, who died in 1980, was for many years an editor at Paragone, the prestigious journal of literary and art criticism. Though she set out to have a career as an art historian, as the student and young wife of Roberto Longhi, her major accomplishments were as a writer of historical fiction. In her famous novel, Artemisia, about the social ostracism of a 17th century painter, Artemisia Gentileschi, who was raped and then labeled a prostitute, Banti funneled her art historical passion into a compelling depiction of the interiority of this victim of a masculine baronial order. Artemisia stands as a vivid statement of feminine resistance to the subjugation of women by an author who desired to be known as a “scrittore” and not a “scrittrice,” and who rejected the label “feminist” as too restrictive and deterministic. It also exemplifies the vein of historical fiction for which Banti is known. In this essay I will explore Banti’s only two novels set in a time frame roughly contemporary with the writing: Il bastardo (1953) and Un grido lacerante (1981). I do so within a philosophical framework constructed around the concept of the “feminine voice” as defined by the contemporary philosopher, Aldo Gargani. 1 The fact of a fictional contemporaneity with the author’s life, though much of the “action” is recalled in verbs in the past tense, will also lead us to consider the works in their historical and autobiographical dimensions. [End Page 126]
In a 1985 book, Lo stupore e il caso, Gargani defines the feminine voice in the context of a process philosophy that distinguishes itself from the “traditional” philosophies of absolutism and relativism. In the chapter entitled, “Il tempo e la decisione,” Gargani posits that by making a philosophical or epistemological decision one is essentially creating a “version of the world,” and that each decision must be recognized in its own time. Time is not a preexisting given, but a force that binds us to our decision even as we produce it. “Each decision,” writes Gargani, “is a grain of time, not a linear extension of it. It is as if every decision constituted a new front of time that confronts the startled face of the philosopher. Philosophers have banalized—in terms of the relativism or pluralism of our versions of the world—their temporal orders, established each time by the decision” (30–31).
The decision is “something intransitive,” in that it includes “the expectation and what is expected, the desire and the desired” (31). Those who ignore the arduousness of decisions, and the involvement of the will in shaping time, become paralyzed by “metalanguages,” and by a “hypertrophy of self-consciousness.” In short, one’s learning comes to obstruct one’s understanding. Because of the decision’s “intransitive” existence “outside the dichotomy of ‘absolutism’ and ‘relativism,’” one is confronted in any decision by the presence of the will. If one ignores the will, or locates it only in the works of others and not oneself, or vice versa, communication is blocked. In collective as well as individual histories, the masquing of willful involvement causes a return to the schemes and systems typical of “traditional philosophy,” which focuses on “time remembered” and is resistant to the inevitable “fluctuations” caused by the decision, which is every time identical to its own organization, to the totality of its elements, the whole of the dialogic interchange: “Perceptive representation itself is a decision during which an attitude towards the world proceeds to reunderstand itself, to promote a new expectation, a new way of hoping; as to say, a new way of beginning to be born” (36). Gargani differs in this regard with Wittgenstein’s formulation that there is an underlying stratum of “representations and images” to which words make reference: these too must be decided upon in order to exist; in this sense he is closer to the theorizations of process philosophers and radical constructivists. 2 [End Page 127]
As one comes to recognize the inextricable involvement of the will in the images and representations of one’s “version of the world,” one grows closer to the...