For the moment (and God knows how much it pains me), I have died already twice, but the first time was a mistake, and the second—well, you may read for yourself . . .
Luigi Pirandello, Forward to The Late Mattia Pascal
So, then, man is but a disguise, a lie and hypocrisy, both in himself and in regard to others. He will not have the truth told him, he avoids telling it to others, and all this disposition, so far removed from justice and reason, is rooted by nature in his heart.
Blaise Pascal, Pensees
(both quotations are sourced from Ed Mendelowitz’s article)
This is a story about the late Mattia Pascal, the hero in Luigi Pirandello’s 1904 novel, Il fu Mattia Pascal (The late Mattia Pascal)..
Through a movie made by Bernard L’ Herbier in 1925, Mattia assumed another identity (and life) as one of the alter egos of the Greek poet and Nobel Laureate, George Seferis.
In this post I will present Pirandello’s novel, hoping to continue in the future with Seferis’ alter ego.
Luigi Pirandello (1867-1936) was born in Agrigento, Sicily, the son of a rich mining contractor.
Having studied at the universities of Palermo and Rome and taken a degree in philology at Bonn, the young Pirandello turned to writing poetry and stories, achieving his first literary success in 1904 with his novel The Late Mattia Pascal.
During World War I, Pirandello began to write for the stage, winning an international following with plays such as Six Characters in Search of an Author (1921) and Henry IV (1922).
In 1934, he received the Nobel Prize for Literature. Pirandello was the author of novels, essays, stories, and more than fifty plays, as well as an influence on writers as different as Eugène Ionesco and T.S.Eliot.
Commenting on his work in 1920 Pirandello wrote:
I think that life is a very sad piece of buffoonery; because we have in ourselves, without being able to know why, wherefore or whence, the need to deceive ourselves constantly by creating a reality (one for each and never the same for all), which from time to time is discovered to be vain and illusory….
My art is full of bitter compassion for all those who deceive themselves; but this compassion cannot fail to be followed by the ferocious derision of destiny which condemns man to deception.
Mattia Pascal endures a life of drudgery in a provincial town.
Then, providentially, he discovers that he has been declared dead.
Realizing he has a chance to start over, to do it right this time, he moves to a new city, adopts a new name, and a new course of life—only to find that this new existence is as insufferable as the old one.
But when he returns to the world he left behind, it’s too late: his job is gone, his wife has remarried.
Mattia Pascal’s fate is to live on as the ghost of the man he was.
Pirandello on personal identity
…So personal identity is also perception and interpretation, it is a mask, a construction.
And as ernerges from Pirandello’s work, either we play along, or we are out o f the game, i.e. society.
The authentic identity is an illusion; identity is fiction.
This means that we are always playing roles, with the onIy distinction being between those people who do it unconsciously and those who are aware of their condition.
The resulting character, in Pirandello, is one that is more or less conscious of the fragmentation of the self.
The protagonist usuaily suffers fiom the awareness of this fragmentation whereas the secondary characters generally perceive themselves as unified subjects.
(from Rachel Remington’s thesis)
Pirandello and Heidegger
.…It’s difficult not to be stunned and impressed by the wisdom of Pirandello who had been employing these concepts in his art from his very first novel. But within the genre of novels, it was with Mattia Pascal that Pirandello inaugurated the series of personages to whom he would assign the arduous task of searching for their own authenticity in this Heideggerian sense. But upon the emptiness left by his presumed death, in fact, Mattia quickly reconstructs another persona which, only apparently different from the first, in reality represents its grotesque double. Mattia’s voyages, without any precise destination or practical utility, can seem like the modern transcription of the great romantic theme of vagabondage.
(Source: Wikipedia on Pirandello)
… Pirandello’s play (Cosi e) enacts a post-modern model of truth, which is characterized as an event, an arriving withdrawal, and as a particular affective relationship to that event. The event occurs in ec-static moments that open up the possibility for decisive action, and for the freedom to constitute a new order of life, what Martin Heidegger would call, a new way of being-in-the-world.
…Pirandello shares with most existentialists the urgency of criticizing conventional (unauthentic) society…. But where Pirandello’s development of the existentialism problematic stands out is in the affinity between it and Heideggerian phenomenology. His likeness to Heidegger in describing the modalities of the solitary self (the losing of the self in the they) and the process by which the self relinquishes its central position as the subject of representation is … striking.
…Both for Pirandello and Heidegger, the truth of being-there is mysterious because truth is always intertwined with the concealment of truth’s withdrawal.
(Source: Anthony Petruzzi’s article)
Feu Mathias Pascal – The late Mathias Pascal (1925)
Since seeing a Paris production of Pirandello’s play Sei personnaggi in cerca d’autore, L’Herbier had been eager to collaborate with the author on a film of one of his work’s, but hitherto Pirandello had been unwilling to give permission for any adaptations because he would not accept the compromises that were asked of him.
When however a proposal was put to him on L’Herbier’s behalf to film his novel Il fu Mattia Pascal, he was sufficiently impressed by the film-maker’s earlier work to give his enthusiastic agreement.
It was after watching this movie that George Seferis adopted Mattia as one of his alter egos.
But this is the topic od another article, to come in the near (unknown) future.