History Lesson(s) #14


In the end, Pavese realised, he didn’t aspire to be a living writer but a dead one. "At bottom, you write to be as if dead, to speak from outside time, to turn yourself into someone everyone remembers." What had he been doing translating Melville, Dickens and Defoe if not seeking the company of the dead?

On 26 August 1950, Pavese had his sister prepare his weekend bag for him and checked into the Hotel Roma in the centre of Turin, a stone’s throw from the railway station. He called four women to see if they would eat with him but everyone was busy. On the flyleaf of his least successful book, Dialogues with Leucò [1947], a series of discussions on myth and destiny, he left the note: "I ask forgiveness and forgive you all. OK? Keep the gossip brief." At some time during the night he took an overdose of painkillers.

He had always maintained that it was a natural human instinct to seek to arrest life and time in a symbol, an image whose transcendent significance freed us from our sense of being trapped in history. He also believed that suicides should impose meaning, not escape from it. So why this particular exit? The last words in the diary, some two weeks before, read: "All this stinks. Not words. An action. I shall write no more." Choosing to die in the Hotel Roma, Pavese removed his suicide from the private sphere, placing himself in the centre of his town, and by implication at the heart of the nation. Society, however, was such that the only significant action that could be performed there without compromising oneself was suicide. His death would protect the great oeuvre he believed he had completed from inevitable trivialisation by the living.

--Tim Parks on Cesare Pavese's diaries (This Business of Living: Diaries 1935-50, trans. A.E. Murch), London Review of Books 32.3, February 2010.


Matthew Flanagan said...

Above: the final image of Dalla nube alla resistenza (1979).

Matthew Flanagan said...

'The self-destroyer is a different type, more despairing but more practical. He has a compulsion to discover every fault, every baseness in his own nature; then he views these tendencies so leniently that they become mere nothings. He looks for more, enjoys them, finds them intoxicating. He is more sure of himself than any conqueror of the past, and he knows that the thread connecting him with tomorrow, with the potentialities of life, with a prodigious future, is a stronger cable - when it comes to the ultimate strain - than any faith or integrity.'


Scarlet Red said...

Beautiful post. I love Paveses books and his ending does add some mystification and drama to his life and work.

Matthew Flanagan said...

Thanks Natalja!