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PIZZINI AND SICILIAN LITERATURE ON THE MAFIA: A STUDY OF LITERARY AND CULTURAL MOTIFS ADRIANA CERAMI THE point of departure for this paper is the pizzini of Bernardo Provenzano , the boss of Cosa Nostra. Pizzini literally means little messages, and for Provenzano this meant writing codified messages on a typewriter, folding and taping them into tiny squares so that they could communicate his orders among the uomini d’onore. This paper looks at the transmission , language and style of the pizzini. Of particular interest is their code, including grammatical mistakes and religious references. Following this textual examination is a juxtaposition of the pizzini of Provenzano and Leonardo Sciascia’s novels A ciascuno il suo and Il contesto. I look at the stylistic and structural commonalities between the literature on the mafia and the communicative texts written by a mafioso. My paper establishes where the literary world and the mafia world meet and diverge by referring to the literary texts of Sciascia, and to Sicilian literature on the mafia. I examine and contrast the texts from a literary, cultural and communicative perspective, highlighting the dual nature of their codes. What I mean by “dual nature” is the relationship between language and reality, the mafia and literature, and the linguistic and stylistic ambiguities present in both the pizzini and the two novels by Sciascia. During the maxi-trials of the 1980s, the former mafioso-turned-pentito Tommaso Buscetta explained to Giovanni Falcone the origin of the word “mafia”: The word “mafia” is a literary creation, while the real mafiosi call themselves simple “men of honor” […] and the organization as a whole is called “Cosa Nostra” […] (100). This statement reveals an interesting relationship between the mafia and literature, one that intertwines reality and art. In The Sicilian Mafia, Gam375 betta highlights the importance of words and the impact they can have on modern-day society. In particular, words can precede reality. Just as Buscetta expressed about the word “mafia”, Gambetta follows with this expansion: “Names acquire the power to convey reputation irrespective of other considerations. They become brand names. [...] the invention of the brand name “mafia” could easily have preceded the real thing […] only subsequently leaping on the brand name in order to appropriate it” (143).1 The writing world’s fixation with the culture of organized crime contributes not only to the public’s idea of it, but more importantly to the mafia’s own idea and image of itself. Gambetta concurs that depending on the reputation of the writer, fiction often comes before truth. The mafia capitalizes on the language of journalists, writers, and even films, creating a sense of mystery and power in their own modes of expression. Depending on the recipient of the message, the communication may be through violence, politics or letters; they may be explicitly expressed with violence, or heavily veiled and cryptic as in the pizzini. In 1992 the two most influential mafia prosecutors, Falcone and Borsellino, were killed by Cosa Nostra. It was an extremely violent statement, but underneath the surface of these tragic deaths was an unspoken message. Buscetta interpreted these acts as the mafia’s way of “fighting for its survival.” He declared that “the mafia is on its last leg; […] it is not used to these kinds of large-scale public killings. It is used to silence” (Stille, 7). In the book Excellent Cadavers, Alexander Stille quotes Falcone ’s conclusions on the mafia and expands on them: ‘Everything is a message, everything is full of meaning in the world of Cosa Nostra, no detail is too small to be overlooked,’ […] Because of strict prohibitions against discussing or even acknowledging the existence of Cosa Nostra, the mafioso communicates indirectly through actions, gestures, and silences. ‘The interpretation of signs,’ Falcone added, ‘is one of the principal activities of a “man of honor” and consequently of the mafia-prosecutor . (6-7) Just as investigators must decode the pizzini, so must readers decipher dialogues and scenes in Sciascia’s novels. It can be said then that the mafia is to anthropology – with its actions, gestures and silences – what writers are to literature – with its genres, styles and rhetoric. Although 376 ROMANCE NOTES 1 Gambetta lists other...


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pp. 375-383
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