The Sardinian Literary Spring: An Overview. A New Perspective on Italian Literature by Michele Broccia

The Sardinian Literary Spring: An Overview. A New Perspective on Italian Literature by Michele Broccia, as appeared on the Nordicum Mediterraneum Icelandic E-Journal of Nordic and Mediterranean Studies Vol.9 n.1 2014.

sergio atzeni

Sergio Atzeni

This article aims at presenting today’s Sardinian literary scene and how some novelists (Sergio Atzeni, Giulio Angioni, Salvatore Mannuzzu, Salvatore Niffoi, Marcello Fois, Giorgio Todde, Milena Agus, Francesco Abate, Flavio Soriga and Michela Murgia), during the last few decades, drawing their narrative subjects directly from the regional and local culture, are contributing to a new development in Italian literature. These authors’ novels often contain references to Sardinian linguistic, social, anthropological and historical facts. Their success has led literary critics to talk about a Sardinian Literary Spring or Sardinian Nouvelle Vague, i.e. a literary phenomenon, which is the expression of a deep-rooted Sardinian identity.

sardinia blues

1. Introduction

This article aims at presenting today’s literary scene in Sardinia and how some novelists, during the last few decades, drawing their narrative subjects directly from the regional and local culture, are contributing to a new development in Italian literature. These authors’ novels very often contain references to Sardinian linguistic, social, anthropological, and historical facts, which can help to understand why readers find these works interesting. The attitude towards regional literatures, including minority languages or dialects, has changed over the past decades. On the one hand we have those who support a national, centralised literature based on the Italian language; on the other those who, on the contrary, show the polycentric character of Italian literature, with its local and regional traditions. Although the latter point of view can already be found in Carlo Dionisotti’s Geografia e storia della letteratura italiana[1] (Geography and History of Italian Literature, 1967) as well as in Walter Binni and Natalino Sapegno’s Storia letteraria delle regioni d’Italia[2] (A Literary History of Italian Regions, 1968), which date back to the 1960s, this approach has recently been confirmed in Alberto Asor Rosa’s Letteratura Italiana (Italian Literature, 1989). This work dedicates a volume to the literature of each Italian region, among which one can find that of Sardinia, written by Giovanni Pirodda[3]. Understanding literature also means to know and to comprehend the culture and language(s) that lie behind or underneath any particular work.

The fact that Sardinian people have started appreciating and studying their own history, their culture, traditions and languages, but also making them known through books, films and festivals to people outside the island, can partly explain these writers’ success. When in a region, in a relatively short period, new museums are opened, frequent cultural or literary festivals are held, different novels are published every year, and new films are directed, one realises something novel is taking place. An important role can be attributed to the cultural policy of the Sardinian local government, which promulgated two laws financing the publishing sector. The first law, enacted in 1952, helped many publishers to start their activity. More recently, in 1998 a new bill supported publishers to print new books by buying a certain number of copies that are then distributed to schools and libraries. Events such as the “Literary Festival of Gavoi”, to mention one among others, held every year in July since 2003, which lasts three days, hosts famous writers and attracts thousands of people not only from the island, witness to the widespread interest in Sardinian literature. Recently Sardinian directors such as Salvatore Mereu with Bellas mariposas, based on Sergio Atzeni’s novel, or Giovanni Columbu with Su Re, where local actors, local settings and the Sardinian language are used, have represented a new way of making cinema. In some cases, directors such as Mereu and Columbu, the former withSonetaula (1960) by Giuseppe Fiori and Bellas Mariposas (Beautiful Butterflies 1996) by Sergio Atzeni and, the latter, with Arcipelaghi (Archipelagos 1995) by Maria Giacobbe, have chosen Sardinian novels as their raw material, thus also contributing to the novels’ success. This new vitality in the arts has attracted mainstream Italian critics’ and media attention. Giacomo Mameli, a journalist, writer and critic, has talked about a Sardinian “Literary Spring… “an extraordinary phase for culture, from literature to cinema.”[4]

MarcelloFois-Neltempodimezzo

2. Sardinian Literature

Sardinia has always had its own literature, which goes back as far as the 11th century. An example of it is the so called “condaghes”, i.e.“a word which derives from the Greek ‘“kontaki”’, which indicated […] a donation in favour of the church”[5]. Although they have a philological value, the importance of “condaghes” lies in the fact that they represent the first expression of Sardinian literature. Il Condaghe di San Pietro di Silki (The Condaghe of Saint Peter of Silki) is most interesting when, with the description of a woman’s behavior, it is reminiscent of Boccaccio’s later tales. In the past the main references to study the literary production of the island were Siotto Pintor’s Storia della letteratura della Sardegna[6] (History of the Literature of Sardinia, 1843) and Alberto Alziator’s Storia della letteratura di Sardegna (History of the Literature of Sardinia), published in 1954. In 1989 Giovanni Pirodda edited the volume on the history of Sardinian literature, where he supplies an anthology of the most representative writers or works from the 11th century to 1990[7]. In the introduction to his volume he justifies his choice to study a regional literature with these words:

 

Sardinia, both due to its insularity, and above all because it was alternatively influenced, each time with deep repercussions, by different dominant cultures (at first Pisan and Genoese, then Catalan and Spanish, and finally Piedmontese and Italian) can be integrated with difficulty in a unitary project […] of the cultural history of the [Italian] peninsula.

On the same page he explains how “the knowledge of Sardinian literary events can give a contribute to the reconstruction of an identity”, and how it is important to consider history from a peripheral point of view in an attempt to “overcome and modify history, traditionally seen from the centre.”[8]

Pirodda’s work, being inserted in a wider history of Italian literature, is extremely important because it instils new life into a different attitude towards regional literatures, which are often considered of secondary importance: “The vision of a history of the Italian literature as a monolithic reality is no longer tenable.”[9] On the contrary, for a better understanding of the history and culture of the peoples that inhabit Italy, one needs to read those authors that give voice to peripheral cultures and languages. Experimentation in language(s) and mixing of languages seem to be a feature of contemporary Italian literature and this is particularly true for the island of Sardinia, whose literary tradition has produced works in at least five different languages: Latin, Sardinian, Italian, Catalan and Spanish. Today, overlooking the importance of this multilingual wealth is not considered perhaps the best approach. It would mean being tied to critical perspectives that belong to the 18th and 19th centuries. This change is even more significant when the role that Sardinian writers have gained in the Italian literary scene in the last few decades is taken into consideration.

The interest in contemporary Sardinian writers should not make us forget the enormous success enjoyed in the last century by Sardinian writers such as Grazia Deledda, Antonio Gramsci, Salvatore Satta, Gavino Ledda and Giuseppe Dessì. Grazia Deledda wrote novels dealing with Sardinian ancestral people and their destinies, which seem to be set in a primeval world. Novels such as Elias Portolu (1900), Cenere (Ashes, 1903), Canne al vento (Reeds in the Wind, 1913), and La Madre (The Mother, 1920), led her to become the first Italian woman to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1926. Antonio Gramsci, thanks to his literary as well as political works, became one of the most important figures of 20th-century Italy. Other writers whose achievements became renowned beyond the island were Giuseppe Dessì’s Paese d’ombre (Village of Shadows, 1972), Gavino Ledda’s Padre Padrone: l’educazione di un pastore (My Father, my Father, 1975), and Salvatore Satta’s Il giorno del giudizio (The Day of Judgement, 1977).

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http://nome.unak.is/nm-marzo-2012/volume-9-no-1-2014/66-interviews-memoirs-and-other-contributions/465-the-sardinian-literary-spring-an-overview-a-new-perspective-on-italian-literature

The Sardinian Literary Spring: An Overview. A New Perspective on Italian Literature by Michele Broccia, as appeared on the Nordicum Mediterraneum Icelandic E-Journal of Nordic and Mediterranean Studies Vol.9 n.1 2014.