After the Anarchists, the Conformists

The conformists of conformity, the conformists of anti-conformity. Which, in terms of the finite and the infinite, boils down to the same thing, which time (or, as Mallarmé had it, eternity) changes into itself; that which gives life its form and adjusts us to it.

The anarchist was captured in the act of murder, the act encapsulating his own life and his own death; small, slight and pathetic — his insignificance out of proportion with the tragedy he was creating through his action. Pathetic, bordering on the comical, he bursts all of a sudden into what Machiavelli describes as “high places”. The high places of tragedy; and, after several centuries when it had fallen into disuse, he breathes new life into them. Unlike the writer, the conformist, he is consistent with himself. Not the act, but the things, the objects are the symbols of his unlived but recorded life (as Pirandello puts it “One either lives life or writes about it.”) A very few things are enough to establish his identity. Sometimes one is enough. In Kafka’s case, it is the cockroach (49). The seashell in Virginia Wolf’s. The double bed and Alice Toklas’s picture in Gertrude Stein’s. The rose in the case of Emily Dickinson. Another, phonier rose out of the Sgaravatti catalogue, for Oscar Wilde. Flavio Costantini sees a writer as a veritable rebus. Which is to say, a rebus, not in the figurative sense of obscure individual or discourse, but in terms of an enigmatic game hard to fathom. Rebus — the ablative plural of res, by or through things; a sort of conundrum incorporating figures, objects, signs, letters and musical notations, the juxtaposition of which hints at a meaning that must be deciphered. And the writers’ faces are also part of these rebuses of Constantini’s and assist in the resolution. In short, in all of these portraits — and in every single one of them (38) (39) (40) (41) (42) (43) (44) (45) (46) (47 (48) (49) (50) — there is one that is discreetly mocking rather than amusing; life is mocked. In a Pirandellian sense, the mockery is of form, of that most indestructible of all forms, literature.