Italian Literature in the Early 20th Century

The literary history of the twentieth century is characterized by the persistence of some oppositional couples: first of all the progressive extension of the social area of ​​the users, and the constant distancing of literature from common sense, in a search for originality at the limits of esotericism. Just as a literature, and above all a fiction, is specialized for the most comfortable entertainment, so esotericism reacts programmatically, in the name of a more problematic and demanding notion of literature, to the trivialization that would be implicit in the fruition of the mass audience and that in any case it is pursued by authors who are prisoners of a purely commercial logic. Only subordinately can the literary history of the twentieth century therefore be represented as an uninterrupted controversy between innovation and conservation.

The early twentieth century

The controversy, never exhausted, against a literature destined only to writers or in any case lacking serious motivations and reliable foundations dates back to the beginning of the century. More obvious on the part of those who rebel against past superstition, the controversy is also consistent with the rejection of a literature reduced to mere outward appearances. It is in this anti-literary sense the very work of poets who could legitimately give their name to early twentieth-century literature: the crepuscular, as defined by the critic GA Borgese. Despite their humble appearance, the crepuscular poets (S. Corazzini, A. Palazzeschi, M. Moretti, C. Govoni) foment an anarchist revolt: their ironic awareness takes on the alienating point of view of the common reader, inviting them to react against the ridiculous sumptuousness of D’Annunzio’s myths. G. Gozzano is the only poet ascribable to the crepuscular area for whom the critical detachment from D’Annunzio does not lead to the loss of a more complex sense of history and culture. Gozzan’s lesson reaches the end of the crepuscular historical parable; poets and critics of subsequent generations will look at it more than at crepuscularism itself.

According to THEMEPARKTOUR, the demolition of the traditional poetic institutes started by the crepuscular is completed by GP Lucini, standard bearer of a nineteenth-century pansymbolist redemption of poetry, and by the father of futurism FT Marinetti, who advocates the unhinging of syntax, the exaltation of onomatopoeia, the setting aside of adjectives and adverbs, the use of mathematical symbols instead of punctuation, simultaneism. All the arts are affected by the subversive design of futurism, while the political significance of the phenomenon emerges, which will have its role at least until the advent of fascism. A similar conversion to politics is moreover implicit in the apparently anti-literary attitude of the culture of the time, expressed by personalities such as G. Papini and G. Prezzolini.

The centrality claimed by B. Croce to aesthetics and above all the postulated coincidence between intuition and artistic expression move in the same direction as the heroic programs of the avant-garde block. With the whole of his work, philosophical, historiographical, critical-literary and erudite, Croce will be able to maintain his cultural hegemony in Italy for over fifty years. The authoritativeness of the Critica, the magazine that Croce founded and directed since 1903, does not represent a model for the youngest Florentine magazines of the early years of the century (LeonardoHermes and the nationalist Il Regno), but is pursued with instruments different and a certainly greater incidence, at least in the short term, by the men of the Voice. Founded by Prezzolini in 1908, this magazine has the merit of concretely verifying the existence of an audience previously identified only hypothetically and of discovering the convenience of a style of thought and a way of offering capable of combining the choice of a intellectual public with an awareness of the mechanisms of mass communications. In Prezzolini’s magazine write Papini and G. Salvemini, G. Amendola and A. Soffici, Croce and S. Slataper, G. Gentile and G. Boine, G. Lombardo-Radice and B. Mussolini, R. Serra and G. Fortunato, FS Nitti and L. Einaudi. Next to the Voice, among his own collaborators, a coherent line of poetic research is manifested, whose exponents are C. Rebora, C. Sbarbaro, Boine, A. Onofri, M. Novaro, P. Jahier, also D. Campana and C. Michelstaedter. With these poets the divorce between writing and reading is celebrated, at the very moment in which the problematic nature of their relationship is more clearly perceived: authors and readers seem to have lost the memory of the reasons that had presided over the modification of poetic language.

Italian Literature in the Early 20th Century

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