March 25, 2007

Luigi Pirandello The Wave

Western Art in the Twentieth Century has been filled with stories about the way that men shape and fit women into their view- think of the way for instance that Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo is about the way that his protagonist James Stewart continually remakes and recreates a woman played by Kim Novak into the woman of his dreams and desires. Few people have captured the true egotism of erotic love though with as much success as Luigi Pirandello in his short story The Wave, found in a recently translated version of Pirandello's first collection of short stories, Loveless Love. The Wave is a superbly written and very evocatively descriptive short story about a young man who is continually falling in and out of love with his lodgers. However his weakness of the heart for the young maidens who reside below his rooms is normally a fleeting phenomenon, in one case though this young man, Giulio Accurzi, falls deeply and passionately in love with the woman below, Agata, because she ignores him and is in love with another. From then on he cannot live without her. She is jilted by her lover and consequently Giulio courts her, and eventually marries her but as she becomes attainable and particularly when she becomes pregnant she becomes undesirable. The story finishes with a wonderful ending, whereby Agata is useless to Giulio because she is no longer a possession over which someone feels jealousy.

Giulio's love for Agata is just a function of his desire of one upmanship over an unseen rival- her former lover- he wants to demonstrate that he, Giulio, has conquered Agata but as soon as she is conquered in will then she becomes uninteresting and useless to him. There is something in here of the medieval knight, swooning at the sight of far away maidens, but loathe to respect his own wife, searching for the unattainable. In reality, Giulio seeks a mistress not a wife. His desire is merely a desire to extend himself.

But Pirandello is cleverer and subtler than that, he does not merely present Giulio as the creation of a cynical intelligence. Giulio is no Valmont. Rather Pirandello demonstrates to us the subtlety of self justifications which Giulio employs- he is fascinated by Agata, she stimulates him, then he is bored by her and sees her flaws and then after a time when he sees his rival, she once again becomes fascinating though in a last moment, he realises that all her fascination has evaporated because she is no longer worth the struggle. In a sense, Giulio captures a character that C.S. Lewis once described, the man or woman who is always in love with someone different. Giulio's love expresses itself in violent spasms of generosity- efforts to shape the world around him into his image- forever playing on a stage, his craft is to mould the perceptions of others. Giulio's love is a curious combination of the deceiving and the self deceptive- its deceiving because it promises that which it will not perform but it is self deceptive because the end of love- fulfilled marriage- is not the end that Giulio wishes to attain. Emotionally he is attempting to mow the lawn by eating a casserole.

There is another dimension to this little story which is Giulio's relationship with his mother. His aged mother performs the role of his never ending excuse- again when he spends time with her, he is irritated but outside that moment he beleives sincerely that he is in love with her like a son ought to be. In this case, like the case of Agata, Giulio's love is not designed to perform the role he wishes it to perform. He uses his love for his mother to detach himself from Agata and others but he doesn't wish to be attached to his mother at all. The parallels are definitely interesting.

Pirandello's portrait of the way that Giulio's emotions work strikes right to the bone. Its difficult for me at least not to see an image of myself in the feckless Italian man about town and his attitude to other people. This is an aspect in my view of the human experience- our emotions are in a sense tools for the crafting of an illusion which requires our own delusion. What we call mental illness is when the delusion becomes a hinderance to the neccessary illusion. But there is more than that- Pirandello is presenting us with an incomplete portrait. Definitely when I look into myself I see aspects which are to coin a phrase Giulian, but that's not all I see and its important to recognise other ways that we relate to others. When reading Pirandello, the descriptions strike to the core and reawaken ghosts of moments that in my case I should not be proud of, but it also makes one think again about the way that we relate to others. Like a moral clarion call, the portrait of Giulio may be over done but it reminds one of the neccessity of avoiding that Scylla of moral failure, but we must also take care not to be sucked into a Charybdis of depression.


james higham said...

Wonderful piece - particularly liked the comment at the end: reminds one of the neccessity of avoiding that Scylla of moral failure, but we must also take care not to be sucked into a Charybdis of depression...

Your blog is fast becoming a necessity, a daily fix, so to speak, rather than just a good read, Tiberius.