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  • Logica della fiaba: Fate, orchi, gioco, corte, fortuna, viaggio, capriccio, metamorfosi, corpo
  • Nancy Canepa (bio)
Logica della fiaba: Fate, orchi, gioco, corte, fortuna, viaggio, capriccio, metamorfosi, corpo. By Michele Rak. Milan: Mondadori, 2005. 317 pp.

Over the last few decades Giambattista Basile’s Lo cunto de li cunti (The Tale of Tales, 1634–1636) has begun to attract the scholarly attention it so richly deserves. Both in and outside of Italy there have appeared critical editions, translations, articles, and conferences dedicated to the work that more than any other initiated the genre of the literary fairy tale in Europe. What is still lacking, however, is a substantial corpus of critical monographs on Lo cunto, of which there are just a handful.

Logica della fiaba, Michele Rak’s ambitious study of Lo cunto, is thus most welcome, and its insights on Basile’s place in the history of the fairy tale, in Baroque culture, and in the development of literary genres address fundamental aspects of the text that are all too rarely considered on the same page. Rak is indeed a scholar made to order for such a necessarily wide-ranging consideration of Lo cunto. Throughout his academic career (he currently teaches at the University of Siena) he has repeatedly visited early modern Italian and Neapolitan literature and culture, the fairy tale, and intersections between popular and elite culture, all of which converge in this and his other work on Basile, which includes the by-now classic bilingual edition/translation of Lo cunto (1986).

Rak’s main thesis develops in two directions. First, Lo cunto codifies a new narrative model—the literary, or authored, fairy tale—that throughout the following [End Page 185] centuries will reach extraordinary levels of popularity. Although neither Lo cunto nor its author enjoys a high degree of name recognition with a general public, Basile is, in a sense, perhaps the best-known Italian author of all times, since his fairy-tale prototype—a particular sequence of characters, actions, places, and narrative treatment of time and space that reconfigures itself in similar ways tale after tale—has made its way into the collective European imaginary as few other narrative forms have. Rak’s insistence on the novelty of this “serial” model in terms of content and form, and both within and outside the genre of the fairy tale (thus transporting his considerations to the wider arena of literary history) is crucial: Lo cunto is “the first European work in which a narrative model of a generative type is elaborated . . . a genre that destructures the humanistic and elitarian vision of literature, signals the presence and eruption of other traditions into literature and, above all, the possibility of effecting, with these new materials, a self-assured and uncontrollable mixage” (15). These materials range from orally transmitted folk-tales, to myths and legends, to classical literature (The Golden Ass, the Metamorphoses), early fairy-tale collections (the Arabian Nights), the Petrarchan lyric, the Boccacian novella, popular pamphlets and chapbooks, travel accounts, and theater, among others.

The second part of the thesis focuses on how the narrative materials and techniques used to elaborate this new model are part and parcel of a Baroque esthetic that itself privileges “the techniques of assembling components of works from diverse traditions” (xiii) and the intertextual and intercultural dialogues that ensue. Lo cunto, notwithstanding its subject matter and intended audience and function—as courtly entertainment, according to Rak—“communicates in comical, parodic, and theatrical form subjects ranging from ethics to social, political and ideological critique, and by doing so is a vehicle for various myths of modernity” (10). Indeed, the seriality of the fairy-tale narratives recalls other Baroque epistemes: Lo cunto is a “stupefying Baroque architecture,” “a machine of marvels that introduces into literature the infinite replicability of the image of oneself (in the mirror), also present in the idea of the replicability of the experiment in the fields of natural philosophy and the ‘new science’” (268).

Logica della fiaba is divided into four main parts, with numerous (sixteen) chapters and even more abundant (excessively so, in my opinion) chapter sections. Part I, “Logic: The Form of the Fairy Tale,” defines the new genre...


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