Modern Language Association – Chicago 2007 – Pirandello’s L’Umorismo (On Humor, 1908): 100th Anniversary Panels

MLA 2007  Chicago, IL. Pirandello’s L’Umorismo (On Humor, 1908): 100th Anniversary Panels

I. Pirandello’s On Humor (L’Umorismo), 1908: Centennial Program: Instances

Thursday, 27 December
3:30-4:45 p.m., Parlor G, Sheraton Chicago Hotels and Towers

Presider:   John Louis DiGaetani, Hofstra Univ.

1.         “Humor in the Passive, the Active, and the Insane,”   Silvia Abbiati, Ithaca College

2.         “How Form and Content Contain Laughter,” Florin Berindeanu, Case Western Reserve Univ.

3.         “I am…or am I in the Eyes of the Beholder?”Carmela Scala, Graduate Center, City Univ. of New York

4.         “On Humor Strategies in It Is So (If You Think So), Lidia Ciccone, Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison

5.         “Carlo Gozzi and Pirandello: the Tradition Continues,”  John Di Gaetani, Hofstra Univ.

II. Pirandello’s On Humor (L’Umorismo), 1908: Centennial Program:  Echoes

Saturday, 29 December
3:30-4:45 p.m., Parlor F, Sheraton Chicago Hotels and Towers

Presider:  John Welle, Univ. of Notre Dame

1.        “Pirandello’s Consciousness of Insecurity,” James Nikopoulos, Graduate Center, City Univ of New York

2.        “L’umorismo and female characters: between theory and fiction,”  Paola Casella  Univ. of  Zürich.

3.        “Pirandello’s ‘Umorismo’ and the Sternian Line in Italian Fiction” John Welle, Univ. of Notre Dame

Respondent:  Jana O’Keefe Bazzoni

For further information, contact:  John Di Gaetani,

I.  Pirandello’s On Humor (L’Umorismo), 1908: Centennial Program: Instances

“Humor in the Passive, the Active, and the Insane”  Silvia Abbiati, Ithaca College

What did Pirandello intend by the use of the term umorismo? In what way was it different from the comic, the ironic, and the satiric? And how did his characters move within the forms that reality gave to them? This paper explores Pirandello’s concept of umorismo in his essay devoted to the topic and in relationship with three of his works: The Late Mattia Pascal, “The License”, and Henry IV. The choice of these three works is deliberate. First, they show how Pirandello’s umorismo is at the foundation of the creative process in most of his works, regardless of genre. Secondly, the protagonists of these works each represent the different reactions Pirandello’s characters have to the discovery of the contrast between the mask and the face, the form and the being. Characters such as Mattia Pascal, disappointed by an experience with a new mask or incapable of rebelling against the forms that imprison them, react passively and with resignation. Others, like Chiàrchiaro in “The License”, react actively and ironically to the forms imposed on them, and by playing their new role they profit from the situation. The protagonist in Henry IV, in turn, represents a third type of Pirandellian character, one that is unable to resign himself to his fate or react actively, and who deliberately closes himself off in the solitude of madness.

“How Form and Content Contain Laughter”  Florin Berindeanu, Case Western Reserve University

My paper intends to focus on the relation between form and content as  discussed by Pirandello in his ‘L’Umorismo’.  Pirandello uses the two aspects of the work of art not only in the Aristotelian sense of the term but also as a reaction to Positivism in general and H.Taine in particular. Yet Pirandello’s essay contains also an intriguing debate with B.Croce on the aesthetic sources of humorism and on this polemic my paper will then insist.

While Pirandello leans on a rather Tainian description of human disponibility towards humor, Croce denies all that and shifts his criticism on the lack of philosophical and aesthetic perspective that results from Pirandello’s essay. It is indeed ultimately a battle between form and content in Pirandello’s essay: on the one hand his insistence on a formal rhetoric of how humorism comes across which represents the writer, on the other hand, Croce’s irritation at seeing the axiological aspect of the aesthetic expression left out.

““I am…or am I in the Eyes of the Beholder?” Carmela Scala, Graduate Center, City Univ. of  NY

In his seminal essay On Humor, Pirandello writes: “what we know about ourselves is but a part, perhaps, a very small part of what we really are… The various tendencies which mark a personality lead us to think seriously that the individual soul is not one”.  Indeed, as he would say , we wear   ‘masks’ both on the outside and the inside, and these masks are constantly in opposition with each other ,creating an endless battle between what we  may think we are,  what we appear to others and what we think they  think we are. Furthermore, the realization that we are a different ‘self’ for each person we meet in our life leads us to a path of anguish where even the simplest  illusionary joy of knowing ‘who we are’ is negated to us and the only way out of the pain is, perhaps, madness. This, at least, seems to be the destiny of the “pirandellian hero”, epitomized in Angelo Moscarda, who attempts the arduous but unfruitful enterprise of searching for ‘himself’ within himself and outside. This essay   intends to  argues that before reaching this pessimistic and nihilist conclusion, Pirandello took a detour attempting  to save the ‘unity of the self’. His detour brings him to theater, and I will focus specifically on three of his major works “It Is So! (If You Think So)”, “Six Characters in Search of an Author” and “Henry  IV”, where by acting out the drama of the contradictoriness between the inner worlds and the outer world he attempts  to overcome it, but this tentative fails. Hence, he returns to his early artistic  roots, that is prose, and finally completes his last novel “One No One and One Hundred Thousand”, which represents the climax of his pessimism  and  ideology  “on humour”” and the perfect conclusion for an intellectual voyage that the author had started with his first novel, “The Late Mattia Pascal”, in 1904.

“On Humor Strategies in It Is So (If You Think So)” Lidia Ciccone, Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison

In Pirandello, the moment of theoretical reflection is indistinguishable from his literary production. Moving from this assumption, my paper will highlight the link between the essay On Humor (1908) with the theatrical work It is so! (If you think so). The complex relationship between the two texts goes beyond   the merely poetic translation of a theoretical elaboration, and the present paper has the precise goal to investigate and elaborate that relationship. My goal is to emphasize how the theoretical strategies expressed in Pirandello’s essay On Humor find representation and explication in the play.  Both Pirandello’s theoretical reflection and creative work are detached from Naturalism, projecting themselves towards a moving and complex form characterized by disorder, ambivalence, uncertainty and the contradictions of contemporary humankind. An essential idea in the essay On Humor is what Pirandello defines as “the feeling of the opposite.” Pirandello claims that the “perception of the opposite” is characteristic of the comic, but the humorist needs to go beyond that perception into the feeling of the opposite. This shift allows us the understanding of the multifaceted, contradictory aspects of reality, as we watch it from different perspectives, which are in turn logically acceptable. In multiform and varied reality, comic and tragic are inseparable “as the shadow from the body”.  Through the analysis of the “feeling of the opposite”, my aim is to analyze Pirandello’s typical dichotomies of being and appearance, truth and pretence, identity and mask, sanity and madness. It is the appreciation of these dichotomies that allows us to accept the contradictions of reality, to see reality itself from different perspectives. Pirandello’s characters, of which Laudisi is the emblematic example, become “naked masks,” bitterly and ironically aware of the absurdity of life, of their alienation from their own authentic self. This detachment, this alienation that is reflexive and ironic, bitter and conscious at the same time, is the clear expression of humor.

“Carlo Gozzi and Pirandello: the Tradition Continues”  John Di Gaetani, Hofstra Univ.

This paper will discuss how Carlo Gozzi’s Venetian theater of the l8th century influenced Luigi Pirandello’s theater of the 20th century.     Gozzi’s plays like The Love of Three Oranges, Turandot, and The Snake Lady attempted to revive commedia dell’arte in Venice.     Gozzi’s ten fiabe plays created a popular sensation in Venice at the time and ultimately drove Carlo Goldoni out of town—he moved to Paris and wrote plays there.    Gozzi’s unique fairy-tale plays did not just influence opera composers like Mozart, Wagner, and Puccini.     Gozzi’s plays also influenced Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author in several ways.   First, both playwrights use the theme of improvisation as central to their art forms.   Also, both playwrights use the stock characters from commedia dell’arte in several new ways—the Father in Six Characters as a Pantalone figure, the Step-Daughter as a Servietta figure.   Both playwrights also use fantasy in different ways to create new forms of anti-realistic revolutionary theater for their respective periods.  Both playwrights were attacking realism and trying to create an anti-realistic fantasy theater.

II.  Pirandello’s On Humor (L’Umorismo), 1908: Centennial Program: Echoes

“Pirandello’s Consciousness of Insecurity”  James Nikopoulos, Graduate Center, City Univ of NY

Pirandello’s short story, The Shrine is oftentimes overlooked as a predecessor to Enrico IV. It is the tale of a God-fearing bricklayer named Spatolino who loses his faith in divine justice, and to make up for the loss of God in his life, props himself up as Christ in a shrine he recently built. Like Enrico IV, it is the story of a man who falls into madness as well as the story of a man who perhaps has awoken from this madness, though still clinging to it.  This paper examines Pirandello’s notion of L’Umorismo in relation to Enrico’s and Spatolino’s own versions of a sadness underlying the comic. It examines the idea of umorismo as a consciousness of insecurity, whereby the act of overcompensation, i.e. the charade of Enrico, the old-woman’s overdone make-up from the essay itself, becomes evidence of a character’s recognition of his / her own insecurity. Spatolino’s loss of belief in God, and Enrico’s insecurity over his own sanity and unsure situation have led to a profound unsettling in each. They each choose to mask this insecurity, Spatolino by propping himself up as the god he has lost faith in, and Enrico as the character of an Emperor he believed he once was. If the comic is the view of the mask, then what Pirandello calls umorismo is the knowledge that this mask is the form taken in order to compensate for a deep insecurity. It is this consciousness of insecurity, which aligns L’Umorismo with 20th Century characters like J. Alfred Prufrock and Modernism as a whole.

L’umorismo and female characters: between theory and fiction.”  Paola Casella  Univ. of Zürich.

The most famous page of Pirandello’s essay L’umorismo [On Humor] is without doubt the one about the old lady wearing heavy make-up. Pirandello introduces this character in the second edition of his essay (1920), in order to clarify the per se cryptic definition of the sentimento del contrario [feeling of the opposite]. Which thematic elements and textual strategies make this female portrait so significant to the concept of umorismo elaborated by Pirandello? Based on these deliberations, it will be possible to widen our perspective on the gallery of female characters portrayed by Pirandello according to specific humoristic intentions, as well as to establish their genealogy: from signora Pomponica in the novel L’esclusa (1893), to the robust bespectacled cousin in the tale Piuma (1916), to the all dressed-up lady of the play Diana e la Tuda (1928). It will thus become clear that for Pirandello portrait-making was a favorite application of his bifocal view, compassionate and detached at the same time, typical for his ideas on umorismo. In parallel, the progressive changes in Pirandello’s way of portraying female characters will be thoroughly examined, thereby also highlighting a few particular periods in the writer’s forty-year-long activity. Finally, the diachronic analysis of female portraits both preceding and following the publication of L’umorismo will allow to define the complex interaction between Pirandello’s fiction and his major theoretical essay, revealing its double nature as literary balance and program. For these reasons, one hundred years after his first edition, L’umorismo continues to offer privileged access to the whole of Pirandello’s work.

“Pirandello’s ‘Umorismo’ and the Sternian Line in Italian Fiction” John Welle, Univ. of Notre Dame

In recent decades scholars have emphasized the potency of a Sternian line of humor in Italian fiction stemming from the influence of Lawrence Sterne’s The Life and Adventures of Tristram Shandy and his Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy. Beginning with Ugo Foscolo’s translations of Sterne and carried forward by writers of the nineteenth century such as Carlo Collodi, this type of comic meta-narrative was much appreciated by Pirandello. In his own novels, including Il fu Mattia Pascal and Uno, nessuno e centomila, Pirandello makes explicit references to the British humourist. In Pirandello’s essay on humour, Lawrence Sterne plays a central role. My paper will explore Sternian elements in Pirandello’s works as well as in some contemporary popular writers most likely known by the Sicilian author.