Thursday, April 4, 2013

Gabriele d'Annunzio

In his review of Lucy Hughes-Hallett’s The Pike: Gabriele d’Annunzio, Poet, Seducer and Preacher of War (“The allure of D'Annunzio,” TLS, 3/6/13), Christopher Duggan remarks “A growing theme of his work from the mid-1890’s was that of the Nietzchean Superman, the heroic individual—whose superior personality enabled him to disdain ordinary mortals and ride roughshod over conventional morality. This was an idea that increasingly shaped his own life—and more disturbingly (and in some measure due to the success of his works) began to insinuate itself into the cultural mainstream of Italy, with its rising tide of anti-democratic thought.” Of course, D’Annunzio wasn’t the only artistic figure to lend his pen or brush to the cause of fascism. Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, the author of The First Futurist Manifesto was a prominent Mussolini supporter. A recent show at the Guggenheim, “Chaos and Classicism,” documented the fascination with classic mythology (and its idealizations) in France, Italy and Germany between l918-1936--both by the right and the left. But from the vantage point of  our present times with all our excesses, our materialism, our institutionalized libertinage, the notion of a superhuman individual seems quaint indeed. Let’s take the subject of sexuality. D’Annunzio was noted for his many conquests and for the fact that as Duggan points out, “A steady stream of female admirers contacted him for assignations, drawn it would seem as much by the extraordinary mises en scene of his seductions with their carpets of rose petals, pungent scents, candles and kimonos, as by his famed amatory powers.” However, today such romantic conquest is a mass market phenomenon, easily locatable in the aisles of Walmart, as the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon demonstrates. Myths have become democratized and are not only the province of esthetes or athletes. Hannah Arendt’s “banality of evil” itself has become a banal term and the next generation of executioners, tomorrows Qaddafi’s, Husseins, and Mugabes, are as likely to be found walking around the aisles of Walmart as they are Belgravia or the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore.

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