Neo-avant-garde explored

Sponsored by this fall’s Human/Nature Arts and Humanities Lab, Associate Professor of Italian at the University of Arizona Beppe Cavatorta came to campus on Tuesday, November 3, 2015 to give a lecture on Italian poetry of the 1960s and 70s.

After an introduction by Paul D. and Marilyn Paganucci Assistant Professor of Italian Language and Literature, Gianluca Rizzo, Cavatorta discussed the neo-avante-garde movement of the 1960s as being “a child of its time.” Of the period, Cavatorta pointed out many of the contradictions present in Italian life during this time. He said, “On the one hand, these are the years of the Italian economic miracle, of the industrialization, of mass consumption, accompanied by the feeling of having left behind once and for all the hardship of World War II.” On the other hand, Cavatorta described a generation inherently tied to Italy’s fascist past, and the friction that arose between the two perspectives.

One major result of this friction, according to Cavatorta, was the clash that occurred in the world of literature. He said, “The separation that we usually had between poetry and prose would never be as black and white as it was at the beginning of the avant-garde.”

Cavatorta then discussed literature in relation to nature, and nature in relation to literature: “Put simply, nature surrounds us.” Elaborating, he said, “Often it is simply there, and literature cannot do without it. Not even in the neo-avant-garde, whose version of nature however often appears alienated.”

While the neo-avant-garde alienated much of the tradition of literature, it did not ignore it entirely. In fact, Cavatorta talked about a literary tradition that “only by knowing it intrinsically, can be left behind to try to start over.” In this way, the tradition of poetry is one to be acknowledged, understood, and then opposed.

One example Cavatorta gave the audience was a passage from Giorgio Celli’s “Il Pesce Gotico,” which exemplified the experimentation pioneered by the automatic writings of the Surrealists and the poetry of the Dadaists during that time. In response to one student who pointed to how confusing the poem seemed, Cavatorta said, “Confusion is a good thing… and poetry, in a certain way, should reflect that confusion.” Out of confusion, he said, comes curiosity, and from curiosity, meaning. “For the neo-avant-garde,” he explained, “Poetry is a way to renew language, to revitalize it. So putting together scientific terms with poetic terms causes friction between words [in a way] that is able to give these words new life.”

In this example, Cavatorta gave audience members an understanding of the level of abstraction that occurred in poetry during the avant-garde movement. He said, “This poetry is a poetry that makes you ask questions of yourself… you are the one who needs to connect the dots.” In stark contrast to the reader’s role in interpreting prose, the reader of the neo-avant-garde “is forced into an active and very often difficult interaction with the text,” he explained.

The lecture covered a few other examples of the experimentation present during the movement, and then concluded with a question and answer session during which students and professors asked Cavatorta to further elaborate on the various aspects of the neo-avant-garde movement. Perhaps most importantly, he noted that this was a movement that both acknowledged the years of preceding literary tradition, while also seeking to recapture the magical power of words.

The lecture fit in with the Arts and Humanities theme of Human/Nature through its discussion of nature in relation to the neo-avant-garde movement. Ultimately, Cavatorta said of the avant-gardes, “They see nature the same way they see man.” The talk was ultimately a fascinating look at the movement in this context, as well as being a movement that became international.

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