Alberto Savinio - Amused manipulator of propositions, absurd, incongruous and surreal

Alberto Savinio, The Lives of the Gods, Trans. by James Brook & Susan Etlinger, Atlas Press, 1991.
"A selection of Savinio’s early stories, many of which appeared in Surrealist magazines in the thirties. Savinio was the brother of the artist Giorgio de Chirico and an associate of Apollinaire.
The moments of personal mythology we create from the apprehensions and misapprehensions of everyday waking life are captured with bizarre charm and delicacy in this collection of stories from an author who is rapidly being recognised as one of the stars of the pre-war Italian literature. The collection is united by a common theme - the re-telling of the most famous stories of all time."

"The whole of the modern myth still in process of formation is founded on two bodies of work - Alberto Savinio’s and his brother Giorgio de Chirico’s - that are almost indistinguishable in spirit and that reached their zenith on the eve of the war of 1914." - André Breton

"Alberto Savinio was born in Greece from Italian aristocratic lineage, and studied music in Berlin before moving to Paris in 1910 with his brother Giorgio de Chirico, the painter. This collection spans his entire career: his Songs of Half-Death were published by his friend Apollinaire in 1914 - half-death being a psychic state through which he attempted to attain a higher reality. Savinio lived in Italy from 1914 to 1933, when he returned to Paris; he continued to write in French as well as Italian, and was close to the Surrealists, publishing in their reviews as well as in Breton’s Anthology of Black Humour (a story included here). He developed a parallel career as a painter, and many of the same concerns of personal myth-making and dreaming are reflected in both his writing and his art. Psyche, and Mr. Münster, the two longest pieces in this book, date from the 1940s. He died in Rome in 1952."

"...this sampling of Savinio’s fantastic tales amply confirms his skill as an amused manipulator of propositions, absurd, incongruous and surreal." - Times Literary Supplement
Alberto Savinio, Tragedy of Childhood, Trans. by John Shepley, Marlboro Press, 1991.
"Alberto Savinio is the pseudonym of Andrea de Chirico, brother of the surrealist painter Giorgio de Chirico, and this work, written in 1945, exemplifies the word surrealist. With the perspective of a child, Savinio recalls incidents that are on the border between reality and fantasy. Moments of illness, of trying to elicit satisfying answers from grownups, the joy of caring for an injured bird matched by the frustration of having it fly away, the desolation of being ignored by grownup friends, and the absurdities he saw at the theater - all are lyrically portrayed but juxtaposed against elements of the grotesque."
Alberto Savinio, The Childhood of Nivasio Dolcemare. Eridanos Press, 1988.
"As explained in the foreword by art critic Ashton, Savinio is the pseudonym of Giorgio de Chirico's brother Andreas. Multitalented Savinio was also a musician and painter who created a minor stir in the surrealist circle. This quasi-autobiographical novel, set in Athens, a cultural backwater Savinio perceives with ambivalent feelings, follows the protagonist, Nivasio Dolcemare from his birth through adolescence. He experiences the rites of passage of an upperclass boytutored by a German governess, seduced by a maid in his early teensand finally enlists in the Italian army as a foot soldier in 1915. Many of the anecdotes about eccentric turn-of-the-century aristocrats are amusing, and the frequent surrealistic images of mirrors, hands and mannequins interestingly reflect themes from the de Chiricos' visual art. Savinio, however, presents his material with a maddening discontinuity. The aloof, ironical style Ashton refers to as "paraphrases... an ongoing prose poem" may disengage some contemporary readers. More appealing is the quasi-essay included on the development of the Olympic games."

Alberto Savinio, Signor Dido: Stories, Trans. by Richard Pevear, Counterpoint, 2014.

Painter, musician, journalist, essayist, playwright, and composer, Alberto Savinio was one of the most gifted and singular Italian writers of the twentieth century. Italian critics rank him alongside Pirandello, Calvino and Sciascia, but he is hardly known to American readers. He was the younger brother of Giorgio De Chirico, and Andre Breton said that the whole Modernist enterprise might be found in the work of these two brothers.
Savinio composed five operas and more than forty books. A friend of Apollinaire, figures on the scene during Savinio’s artistic and literary career included Picasso, Cocteau, Max Jacob and Fernand Leger. As the translator says, “his writing, like his panting, moves easily from the everyday to the fantastic. Attempts to define it as ‘surrealist’ are too limiting. It is free in spirit, profoundly intelligent, and beautifully controlled in style.”
The stories collected in Signor Dido are his last works, one story being sent to its publisher only four days before the author’s death. And while this final collection was completed in 1952, it was not published in Italian until 1978. “Composed with an extreme economy of means, they are the summing up of a rich and complex life.... The stories contain haunting premonitions and at times piercing solitude, but they are all graced with Savinio’s high comic sense, his fine self-humor, and that stylistic irony which, as he once said, is both a mask for modesty and ‘a subtle way of insinuating oneself into the secret of things.’”

Savinio—composer, journalist, playwright, painter and younger brother of Giorgio de Chirico—died in 1952, and this, his final book, wasn't published in Italian until 1978.
The book is a collection of 28 brief newspaper bagatelles that the author composed under deadline in the final years of his life (the last was turned in to his editor a mere four days before he died). But these short pieces often transcend those origins. Wry, epigrammatic, and with a mordant and playful wit he doesn't hesitate to turn on himself, these pieces exemplify Savinio's sense that the mundane and the fantastic aren't separate spheres but that each is shot through with the other. Through the (largely sedentary and intellectual) misadventures of his alter ego Signor Dido, Savinio provides a series of gently comic, softly sardonic meditations on family life, art, class and the ravages of age. The pieces are urbane, allusive (especially to classical mythology), graced occasionally with divine nonsense and absurdity. Savinio deftly balances introspection and journalistic observation, and always behind them are a fierce intelligence and an awareness of vanity in all its guises.
There's no overarching narrative here, certainly, and this may be more a cabinet of curiosities than a major work, but being in Savinio's company provides a series of small, persistent pleasures.  - Kirkus Reviews

This collection, the acclaimed Savinio’s last completed work before his death in 1954, places itself at a disadvantage by featuring the title character in most of the selections, making for a degree of monotony. Still, these low-key, subtly humorous stories manage to offer muted joys of their own. In “The Bearded Gentleman,” Rinaldo, the son of Signor Dido, has an adventure while skiing. In “The Little Plate,” Tresbisonda, the Dido family’s maid, oversees Signor Dido’s special diet—one about which he has strong reservations. In one of the stronger stories, “Five Trees,” Signor and Signora Dido are in their country house in the Apuan Alps and have to deal with the fondness some German soldiers have for a painting. The most fully realized story, in narrative terms, is “The Pizza,” which finds Signor Dido traveling from Syracuse to Rome by train on Christmas, with a particularly amusing scene in a dining car. There are no epiphanies here and we don’t know vastly more about Signor Dido at the end than at the beginning, but the feeling that one is actually sitting next to him on a train or across from him at dinner makes this a worthwhile read nonetheless. - Publishers Weekly

Read also: "Attila"


Popular posts from this blog

Steven Seidenberg - a dramatic intensification of Seidenberg’s career-long blurring of fiction, poetry, and philosophy—an accomplishment recalling the literary contributions of Blanchot, Bernhard, and pre-impasse Beckett

Leon Forrest - Fabulous, wildly comic, and Ulysses-like. a huge oratorio of the sacred and the profane, set in bars, churches, and barbershops .

Futures and Fictions - In what ways could we imagine a world different from the one in which we currently live?