Thursday, April 29, 2010

An acute and strange kind of staring

Daddi, after he'd got back from his holiday in the country, had appeared to all of them like someone completely dazed. It was as if he were somehow outside himself. He'd look at you with an empty smile on his lips, his eyes dull and glazed. He wasn't really looking at you, as was obvious when anyone called him. Then that astounded look had disappeared and been transformed into an acute and strange kind of staring. First of all, he'd stared at things from a distance, obliquely. Then, gradually, as if attracted by certain signs which he thought he could observe in one or other of his most intimate friends — especially in those who most assiduously frequented his house — highly natural signs, for everyone was thrown into a state of utter consternation by that sudden and extraordinary change. It was so completely in contrast with the usual serenity of his character. Gradually, he'd come to watch them attentively from close to, and in the last days he'd become downright unbearable. He'd suddenly plonk himself in front of now one, now another of them, place his hands on the man's shoulders, look into his eyes — deep, deep down into them he'd look.

— from "In the Abyss," by Luigi Pirandello, in Short Stories.

Thank goodness Life A User's Manual is indexed! Daddi is mentioned only 3 times. Indeed, the fifty-first chapter (page 163) lists "124 The single mother reading Pirandello's story of Daddi, Romeo" — which synopsis is fleshed out (a tiny bit) on page 19: the Pirandello story "telling the tale of how Romeo Daddi went mad" is noted as being included in the revue carried toward the bathroom by the girl in the Foulerot apartment.

I'm sure it's no more meaningful than any other allusion Perec makes, but it sang to me: Romeo Daddi! What a name! And he went mad! And so I had to find out more.

Now, I just happen to have a collection of Pirandello's short stories on my shelf, so when Perec referenced this story, I was quick to pull down the volume and check it for clues, as if this were another piece of the puzzle.

Later (page 215) we learn that Geneviève Foulerot is perhaps (Why perhaps? She was selected. Has she not made up her mind about it yet?) to star in a TV adapatation of the story, as "Gabriella Vanzi, the woman whose glance, direct and depraved at the same time, drove Romeo Daddi mad."

But that's not quite how the story goes. It's not so simple.

Daddi's friends have a theory (but they don't know about any woman):

Because you and I alike still have that little machine known as civilization in good working order inside us; so we let the whole bang shoot of all our actions, all our thoughts, all our feelings sit there, hidden, at the bottom of our consciousnes. But, now suppose that someone, whose little civilization machine's broken down, comes along and looks at you as I looked at you just now, no longer as a joke, but in all seriousness, and without expecting it removes from the bottom of your consciousness all that assembly of thoughts, actions, and feelings which you've got inside you. . . .

Gabriella Vanzi is a friend of Daddi's wife, and she says herself she went a little bit mad the day it happened, and she alone did not drive him mad (I can't believe her "civilization machine" is impaired), but it is the circumstance of them together that unleashed some force, but even that is not the madness, or the source of the madness.

In fact, it has a lot to do with consequences of the kind of zipless fuck that Jong's Isadora so hungered for. It's a kind of a breakdown in our social contract and, more importantly, an assault on the bonds of love. The madness comes from the realization of the meaninglessness of people's actions, despair in the awareness of our capacity for remorselessness regarding our actions. And maybe Gabriella is evil, maybe she really is to blame.


Richard said...

I need to get me one of them CIVILIZATION MACHINES, Isabella! Where can I find them?

claire said...

I was itching to read Pirandello too. Unfortunately, I don't have that Romeo Daddi story. What I do have is The Late Mattia Pascal. So strange how nothing seems to have any real meaning in Perec's allusions, still you can't help but think there might be..

Isabella K said...

Hah, Richard! Me, too — I think mine's broken. Look into my eyes, deep, deEEP into my eyes...

Seriously though, weird phrase. The publisher of my copy no longer exists, but it's been noted "With matte covers, tasteful abstract cover art, there was a certain weight to the presentation, but the translations were, on the whole, pretty bad, pet projects of Englishmen or maybe student work."

I'm sure this Pirandello story adds nothing to Perec's novel, Claire, but it is kind of neat in its own right. If the allusions have no other purpose than to put a book, an opera, a painting, top of mind for some reader, that's alright by me.