Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Alan Glynn, meet Leonardo Sciascia

I don't like when reporters slip into the jargon of the beats they cover, even something as simple as politics writers calling the Justice Department "Justice" or education reporters calling charter schools "charters."  If a reporter talks like his sources he might identify with them, think like them, act like them.

I seethe at the evasive intent of "going forward," and my allergy extends to apparently harmless locutions such as "Thank you so much" or "reach out." Why the effusion? What is the speaker hiding?

So my heart beat faster at the following, near the beginning of The Moro Affair, by Leonardo Sciascia:
"He was obliged to express himself in a language of non-expression, to make himself understood by the same means he had sought and tested in order not to be understood."
"He" is Aldo Moro, an Italian politician kidnapped and murdered by the Red Brigades in 1978 with the apparent post-facto consent of leading figures in Italian society and, in the communications his kidnappers and killers allowed him with the outside world, forced to try to tell the truth without appearing to do so after a career of doing precisely the opposite. 

I can think of no writer of crime fiction (or, in this case, of true crime and cynical, deadly corruption) other than Alan Glynn who thinks so deeply in his writing about what words mean and what they conceal. Alan Glynn, if you read this, you should read Leonardo Sciascia.

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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22 Comments:

Blogger seana graham said...

Still need to read Sciascia

August 13, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sciascia's perfect choice of words makes him a difficult read in Italian for those, like me, who are not native speakers and readers of Italian. One can spend a great deal of time with a dictionary wondering just what synonym will do. His novella, Una storia semplice is anything but. With the years, as my reading of Italian has improved his books in each re-reading have become more and more difficult.

In order are kudos to the translator for rendering in English Sciascia's subtlety.

August 13, 2013  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

I agree with you I think Glynn would like Sciascia. But I think Glynn is a good bit funnier or perhaps Sciascia's humour doesn't translate well into English?

What I like about Alan Glynn is the low level irony operating at all times in his paragraphs. Its the irony of a world weary intelligence.

August 13, 2013  
Blogger seana graham said...

That's a good way of putting it, Adrian. Takes an Irishman, I suppose. World weariness is definitely not a California mode. Although I try.

August 13, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana: Yes, you do still need to read him. Day of the Owl might be a good place to start.

I expect the Moro story will be even more damning of Italian corruption because the story really happened. This also brings back to mind conversations from when I interviewed Dario Fo in 1986. He cited the Moro affair as one of his most damning indictment of Italian society.

Another interesting comparison might be Andrea Camilleri. I believe he and Sciascia were friends, and in his own novels he at least once has Salvo Montalbano reading Sciascia. They’re from the same part of Sicily and, though of different temperaments, they shared certain political and social convictions.

August 13, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Anonymous, that Sciascia's Italian becomes more difficult in the rereading suggests a certain depth to his writing, I'd say, that he can tell an entire story in a word.

I can't judge the accuracy of his English translations, but they read beautifully. He has had a number of translators into English, all of them good, as far as I can tell.

August 13, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, I didn't mean to suggest any especial similarity of style between Sciascia and Glynn, just that they share that high sensitivity to tendentious use of language and might therefore have been interested in each other's work. Sciascia was too scathing to be ironic, I think.

August 13, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, I suspect you'll find that Sciascia was too worked-up to be world weary.

August 13, 2013  
Blogger seana graham said...

Well, he's Italian, so...

I'm trying to hit all the stereotypes in one fell swoop.

August 14, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The introduction to this edition of The Moro Affair suggests that as cosmopolitan as Sciascia was --he worked in Rome and Strasbourg, and he loved Paris-- he never really strayed from his small hometown in Sicily. So there may be something to your implication that he was the place he came from.

August 14, 2013  
Blogger seana graham said...

Many years ago, I quit my job. It was actually the same job that I just quit recently--go figure. I had to pack up everything and I headed out to points east. I was down in Carmel visiting my mom and stopped in at the then fabulous Thunderbird Bookstore and I remember coming across Sciascia there. For all I remember it was this same book under discussion. I would have bought it, but I thought, I'm not accumulating any more possessions. I was wrong about that, and I was wrong not to buy the Sciascia at the time. Could have read it on the train I took instead of whatever tripe I chose back then.

August 14, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

No need to lament roads not taken when you can pick up Sciascia's books in paperback or at your library. They are slim volumes, not the sort to significantly increase the weight of one's worldly goods.

August 14, 2013  
Blogger seana graham said...

Well, I'm in a recently revived book group over at Good Reads devoted to NYRB books. Right now we're reading Renata Adler, but there's some slight chance I could sway them over to Sciascia next time.

Personally, I think lamenting roads not taken is what life is all about. Again not a very Californian attitude.

August 14, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Oh, I don't mean to dissuade anyone from lamentations. It's just that this particular melancholia is among the more easily assuaged of its kind, and in handsome editions, too.

Sciascia would be a splendid choice and, for anyone with doubts, the books, while they require some concentration, are short. I cannot say the same for my favorite NYRB book, Alistair Horne's splendid A Savage War of Peace, about the Franco-Algeria war/

August 14, 2013  
Anonymous Alan Glynn said...

Thanks for the kind comments, Peter. I've actually been meaning to read Sciascia for years, so this is the kick I needed. Have just ordered The Moro Affair - in translation, my Italian isn't good enough and I don't have the patience. But I am fascinated by Italian politics, and for conspiracy buffs, that decade in Italy - gli anni di piombo, the years of lead, with Moro, the Red Brigades, P2, Gladio, and how it has echoed down the decades - leaves the rest of the world in the ha'penny place . . . the levels of intrigue, the depths of deception and double-dealing, the dark-web-style undercurrents, the contorted thinking and language . . . it's breathtaking, head-spinning. Can't wait to read it. A really interesting novel that tries to tackle the Italian conspiracy mindset is In the Name of Ishmael by Giuseppe Genna.

August 14, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Alan, that decade in Italy sounds like la cosa vostra, all right. But Sciascia is no mere muckracker. The introduction to the NYRB edition of The Moro Affair calls the book's opening breathtaking. The description is accurate.

Thanks for the Name of Ishmael recommendation. Interesting that there is such a thing as an Italian conspiracy mindset. I just read a review in the Guardian, usually reliably leftish, that dismissed as conspiracy mongering an Italian movie about the 9/11 attacks. Maybe some Italians really do see things the rest of miss, and that sometimes do exist and sometimes do not.

August 14, 2013  
Anonymous Alan Glynn said...

Is that Zero? Haven't seen it, but am now tempted - a rabbit-hole I don't need just at the moment, but hey. In the Italian mindset, the "official version" of anything is, by definition, suspect.

And yes, Sciascia is hugely respected in Italy, a place that still (just about) takes its public intellectuals seriously . . .

August 14, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yes, it's Zero. I had not heard of the film, but I came upon a link to the review through a search I had done related to Sciascia.

The great indication I received of the esteem in which Sciascia was held came from one of the anti-Mafia judges later slain by the Mafia, Falcone, I think. Apparently Sciascia had criticized such judges as careerists, but Falcone (unless it was Borsalino) said something like he could forgive Sciascia the remark because, Sciascia, was so great.

August 14, 2013  
Anonymous Alan Glynn said...

I was living in Italy when Falcone and Borsellino were murdered. It's hard to overestimate the shockwaves and national trauma involved.

Bradshaw sort of hilariously undermines his own review of Zero in the Guardian when he mentions WT7 in his last para. Did he not thinking anyone was reading?

August 14, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I remember being shocked by the brazenness of the killings, and I was neither in Italy nor particularly interested in Italian affairs at the time.

I was surprised to learn that Bradshaw was a film critic. The piece seems less a review than an interested party's casual discussion.

August 14, 2013  
Blogger Kelly Robinson said...

I love the way you connect things. Your neurons must do the most incredible dance.

August 14, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

They usually dance to a lively buleria.

August 15, 2013  

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