Friday, February 27, 2009

TC: Writing: Dangerous—(1) Curzio Malaparte

Writing: Dangerous

Curzio Malaparte

"As for the political émigrés, one must insist, with all due respect: that a writer doesn't simply break his pen in two in the presence of a tyrant who prohibits him from writing as he pleases, rather he tempers and sharpens it and seeks to write between the lines, saying secretly what he can't say openly; that in a country subjugated by a tyrant, one can't write openly against tyranny; and that, if it is legitimate to flee abroad to free countries to escape persecution, it is neither honest nor fair, from such a distant and safe place of refuge, to reproach those who remained in Italy for not ending the masquerade, as they used to say, and for not facing, openly and unarmed, the very same violence from which they themselves escaped by fleeing."

--Curzio Malaparte, Preface to Don Camaleo (trans. Michael McDonald)

Casa Malaparte, Lipari

Curzio Malaparte

The two great writers who addressed the Second World War from within the belly of the beast were Céline and Malaparte. Of the two, Malaparte is the lesser known. His works are part journalism, part fiction. The subjective center of his works is a Malaparte who calls himself "I" and may or may not be the "real Malaparte". (Curzio Malaparte, of course, was not his real name; he was born as Kurt Eric Suckert.) This "I" mutates and coalesces through what in internet technology might be called "multi-user domains". Indirection and subversion were central to Malaparte's strategy in writing.

As early as the 1920s, in the false springtime of the Mussolini regime, Malaparte was working his arts of contradiction, parable and double-and triple-meaning to undermine the dictator from directly under the dictator's haughty nose. His self-justification for choosing this mode of resistance is stated in the above-quoted Preface to a later reissue of his parabolic anti-Mussolini text Don Camaleo. A similar rationale might be adopted by a present-day blogger who eschews the relative safety of political exile and chooses instead to articulate dissidence by burrowing-from-within.


5 comments: said...

"Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor. He talks as the man of his age talks, that is, with rude wit, a lively sense of the grotesque, a disgust for sham, and a contempt for pettiness."

As I read Kaputt, much of this paragraph -- from Raymond Chandler's The Simple Art of Murder (published in 1945, one year after Kaputt) -- kept being whispered as timely antiphon in my inner ear. The "hard-boiled" (well, Celine is beyond hard boiled, just as Malaparte is hardly untarnished) seems to take on another dimension in light of the international doings (the so-called Holocaust being perhaps only the rim of that particular volcano) 1919-onward. But it is Malaparte's tone, snappy often to a fault , that rings up "Marlowe" to my mind.(Like Marlowe he gets himself in hot water when exercising it too thoroughly.)

By the way, the English-language translation you quote of M's Don Camaleo, whazzat? I see no such item listed anywhere.
See you in Iassy.

TC said...


Perhaps Chandler with a bit of the overboard baroque splashing about on the historical rocking decks?

A click here should lead directly to the requested desideratum:

Don Camaleo, trans. Michael McDonald said...

Thanks enormously, Tom!
& an fterthought: Did Hannah Arendt ever connect her Eichmann/totalitarian studies with the phenomenon of American noir?
As Duncan pointed out the other day, the movie Brute Force (Lancaster, Duff, Hume Cronyn) is a perfect instance of US Fascism at its usual mad/maddening.

TC said...


I believe Hannah Arendt wrote about Fritz Lang in Men in Dark Times (1955).

Discussion groups on Metropolis often cite Arendtian views.

A blogger who calls herself Miss Self-Important might be your guide here. She has just watched Metropolis:

"But since both the politics and aesthetics of Weimar Germany (as well as much of its basic history, actually) are way over Miss Self-Important's head, she is not going to attempt to strain this ideological stew. Instead, she will just point out that Hannah Arendt was 21 when this film came out, and she probably saw it in Freiburg or wherever, and Miss Self-Important has concluded that it is the secret source of her political thought. Why? Because of the children!"

Kitchen Benchtops said...

This is the very best view of the water way and ocean..