- Lo spessore della letteratura. Presenze neotestamentarie nella narrativa italiana degli anni Sessanta e Settanta
The term "spessore" in the beguiling title Francesca Parmeggiani has given her new book has apparently been taken from thinking in metaethics, a field in which a distinction is sometimes made between 'thick', or more problematic concepts and 'thin', or less problematic ones. Parmeggiani's title, then, can be understood as referring to the richness or problematic nature of the literary works her book discusses within a scholarly context that is both philosophical and historical. As its subtitle specifies, the work focuses on rewritings of New Testament stories in Italian fiction, film, and drama between 1960 and 1970. In it Pier Paolo Pasolini, Mario Pomilio, and Giuseppe Berto receive special attention, though Parmeggiani also mentions Mario Brelich for his Il sacro amplesso (1972) and L'opera del tradimento (1975), Giovanni Testori for Crocifissione (1966) and Erodiade (1969), Barbara Alberti for her Vangelo secondo Maria (1979), and Roberto Pazzi for his Vangelo di Giuda (1989).
The work is not a catalogue of literary treatments of biblical themes, as was the case for Theodore Ziolkowski's well-known Fictional Transfigurations of Jesus of 1972. Instead, it is a balanced and sober reflection on the ways in which literature in a post-foundational age can confront the Christian message. Reconsidering canonical texts in what is often a mixture of parody and affectionate homage has, after all, become a hallmark of contemporary fiction; the modern retellings of New Testament stories at the center of Parmeggiani's focus here are thus examples of this familiar narrative stance.
Parmeggiani's point of departure is Rudolf Otto's classic definition of the sacred as a "mysterium tremendum et fascinans" that constitutes an "indicibile e inquietante presenza nella realtà" (9). After touching on such sociological approaches to religious activity as those articulated by Franco Ferrarotti, Parmeggiani concludes that "per la sua stessa incomunicabilità, il sacro è componente necessaria dell'esperienza dell'uomo, individuo e comunità" (9). This, she believes, is because "l'uomo ha bisogno di ciò che non può conoscere né esprimere per legittimare la propria azione nel mondo e per continuare ad interrogarsi e proiettare nel futuro il proprio desiderio" (9). Human yearning for the sacred these days often finds expression in non-institutionalized contexts, since ours is a time when many have concluded that traditional religion "fallisce nel suo compito di risolvere le aporie e la violenza del reale" (9). Today's writers, therefore, through their interrogation of the interplay of reason and the irrational indicate [End Page 181] the limits of the historical through a heuristic quest whose goal is understanding rather than, as in the past, testimony.
In her chapter on Pasolini, Parmeggiani finds this "heretical" writer's work crucial for an assessment of the "esperienza letteraria del sacro confessionale" (33) in the years subsequent to Vatican II. Through a consideration of Pasolini's 1964 film Il vangelo secondo Matteo and his incomplete and never filmed screen play, San Paolo, she shows how Pasolini's focus in these works is not so much on Christ's sacrifice as an event that makes salvation possible as on how Jesus has become a figure of myth. In his meditations on the Gospel stories, Pasolini is not so much concerned with reproducing the Paoline message, as he is in using it as a pretext for his own criticisms of the Church. In accord with this goal, he makes a sharp distinction between Paul as depicted by Luke in the Acts of the Apostles and by the Apostle in his own letters. In Paul's letters, at least, the early church leader is a man who, like Pasolini himself, is striving to render the Word "oggetto di un'intenzione conoscitiva" and the "manifestazione di una scrittura impegnata, proiettata verso la prima formulazione verbale del trascendente" (56).
Mario Pomilio is unlike Pasolini in that Christ's message, for him, concerns salvation rather than freedom. Intent on compiling an "enciclopedia del dissesto" that draws from our widespread and "mai appagata ricerca...