Art and culture

Pavese & the Langhe: the language issue – part II

May 10, 2016

The issue remains pretty well unresolved, lacking an equally strong reply, perhaps leaving the answer to later writings, whether they be poetic or prose.

The Piedmont and the le Langhe

In fact, if we analyze Pavese’s poetry, we can clearly see how the Langa and Piedmont are present; namely, the place where the writer grew up and spent the most significant part of his childhood (during the summer months).

Dialect in prose

Hand in hand with poetic images, therefore, is the language of prose, which stimulates the regional tone of Pavese’s production. Many linguists have focused on the analysis of this type of prose (of which a good example is clearly present in The Moon and the Bonfires), highlighting the dialect components in Pavese’s literary language, in addition to all that was influenced by the dialect before it became what it is.

At this point, it might seem that the literary nature we’re talking about can be limited to only a regional reality. Indeed, Pavese himself, referring to his self-critical awareness, puts forth this objection:

Contro il sospetto che il mio sia un Piedmontese Revival, sta la buona volontà di credere a un possibile allargamento dei valori piemontesi. La giustificazione? Questa: non è letteratura dialettale la mia – tanto lottai di istinto e di ragione contro il dialettismo –; non vuole essere bozzettistica – e pagai d’esperienza –; cerca di nutrirsi di tutto il miglior succo nazionale e tradizionale; tenta di tenere gli occhi aperti su tutto il mondo ed è stata particolarmente sensibile ai tentativi e ai risultati nordamericani, dove mi parve di scoprire un tempo un analogo travaglio di formazione.
Cesare Pavese, Il mestiere di vivere, 11 ottobre 1935

Transporting the reader to Piedmont

Pavese’s goal, therefore, is not to create a transposition of Piedmont in literature, painting a fresco with the aim of giving a representation of it to potential readers, but to transport the readers into the Piedmont universe so as to allow them to discover all that it entails, while using the “picture-story” means of the hills and the coarse ruggedness of the dialect.

The essay on Sherwood Anderson

This, in fact, is what Pavese speaks of in an essay on the American writer Sherwood Anderson (Middle West and Piedmont), highlighting how in Piedmont what’s missing is a figure that is capable of producing literature that is indeed, full of regional values, but not exclusively devoted to them.

With regards to Piedmont writers the “excessive dialect specialization” is highlighted; an aspect which bedims the work to all those who are not natives of the region, thus creating a barrier that hinders the understanding of the content.

The correct use of dialect

By Original: Cesare PaveseDerivative work: GloamingVectorization: Carnby [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Original: Cesare PaveseDerivative work: GloamingVectorization: Carnby [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Therefore, according to Pavese, the dialect can be a phase to go through if one wants to write a piece about the Piedmont, but on the condition that its presence will not jeopardize the economy of the script.

In this regard, yet again in “This Business of Living”, we read a thought concerning the crux analyzed, this time dating back to March 1949:

L’ideale dialettale è lo stesso in tutti i tempi. Il dialetto è sottostoria. Bisogna invece correre il rischio e scrivere in lingua, cioè entrare nella storia, cioè elaborare e scegliere un gusto, uno stile, una retorica, un pericolo. Nel dialetto non si sceglie – si è immediati, si parla d’istinto. In lingua si crea.
Beninteso, il dialetto usato con fini letterari è un modo di far storia, è una scelta, un gusto ecc.
Cesare Pavese, Il mestiere di vivere, 11 marzo 1949.

Hence the dialect, such as Pavese’s diary clearly illustrates, becomes a pivotal point in the production of his writings: not so much with regards to the local constituency which the works appear to suggest, as much as for a precise literary purpose. Pavese refers to this aspect because he feels that both his characters’ dialogues and his personal background are saturated.

In this way, the Piedmont language can be the only language to give back what Pavese feels within himself and to mould, along with it, a work; the only organic way of talking and to talk about during the act of writing.

Pavese & the Langhe: the other articles

Below is a list, in order of publication, of articles dedicated to Pavese’s relationship with the territory, language and literature: