Beyond Tautology: The Cosmo-Conception of Time in Roberto Pazzi's La malattia del tempo

by Franco Ricci
Beyond Tautology: The Cosmo-Conception of Time in Roberto Pazzi's La malattia del tempo
Franco Ricci
Start Page: 
End Page: 
Select license: 
Select License

Beyond Tau to1 ogy: The Cosmo-Conception of Time in Roberto Pazzi's La malattia del tempo

Napoleon, or the Grand Exile, as he had come to be known, turned to General Gourgaud and declared: "I1 mondo tremera a1 suo risveg- lio, Gourgaud, lasciate chela Cina dorma, lasciatela assopita. . ."(3). Then, with a resolute tug on the reigns of his horse, theman who had ruled the world for 20 years turned and made his way back to his residence at Longwood. The day is September 5,181 7.The place: the island of Saint Helena. That same South Atlantic island visited by Edmund Halley in 1698 while charting the path of the comet that bears his name. The emperor's melancholy and impatience had be- come unbearable since the arrival, some days earlier, of Dr. Barry

E. O'Meara. The good doctor carried with him a book entitled "Manoscritto pervenuto misteriosamente da SantlElena" that had greatly disturbed the emperor. It seems that some ruthless charlatan had begun exploiting the commercial value of the exiled emperor's popularity by writing a false biography. Napoleon was distraught for he too had unsuccessfully attempted, on several occasions, to write an autobiography. Now an imposter was usurping his hard-won glory, or at least so it was written. . . .

A child walks through a garden on that same island of Saint Helena. The animals call her, they beckon her with their whispers. The gar- den looks familiar. It has a certain fragrance. The reader is curious to know this child. Her name is Elizabeth, first daughter of Aiku, "Alto Protettore"; but her father calls her Lilith. Her passage recalls another garden, another woman. There is a strange duplicity to the place. Is this the garden of Eden! The story seems so familiar. What is she doinghere! Is that a serpent! Perhapsitis a Devil! Discernment is the key. If the reader can accept the apparition of the Devil as ser- pent, he can speculate upon the choices of the girl and understand its ramifications. The reader knows that the archetypal specter of evil augurs death and destruction, the certain ruin of innocents. Yet, as he reads on, the familiar story takes a different turn. A newpact is fostered between nature, the animals, and the child Lilith:

Nessun uom piu li avrebbe dominati, presto, molto presto quel figlio malvagio, il tempo, si sarebbe arreso alla madre, l'eternita (126).

It is summer 1998.A lone driver, Edmund Halley, Secretary of State of the United States drives along a solitary road in the desert, the headlamps of his Saab penetrating the foreboding solitude of the night. He is alone in the car; he feels as ifhe is the only person re- mainingin the cosmos. No orientinghighwaymarkers,no reassuring moonlight, no stars guide him;only darkness. He is the son of a con- servative Presbyterian pastor. Now, for some uncanny reason, he re- members the mysterious admonishment of his father to beware of the descendants of Cain, "dai quali si sviluppa ilprogress0 materiale . . . sonoifigli delmale. . . non dimenticarlomai" (64).The Secretary eventually runs out of gas iust as a cold morning sun miraculously appears and bathes thehorizonin a somber, iridescentglow. The Sec- retary sees people waiting on the banks of a river. A man approaches. It is Edmund Halley, his deceased ancestor. But where is this place! How is it possible that he is here, three centuries later, escorting his futurenephew onto what appears to be an infernal ferry! It all seems so familiar, and yet so strange: the somnolent voyagers, the sluggish river, the faltering light. The passengers wait in ominous silence; then,

Avo e nipote si salutarono con un sorriso . . . L'ex segretario di stato della potenza che aveva fatto da contrappeso e da specchio all'impero di Aiku s'imbarco. Vide poco dopo allontanarsi l'astronomo e sparire. Si volto. Compariva appena la riva opposta. Egli gia sapeva che l'at- tendeva un villaggio di pastori della Mongolia, un nonno cieco, una madre bellissima d'un'isola dell'arcipelago giapponese, la citta di Urge, il suonome /Aiku] chenellalingua materna significavo "uomo", un'armata ciecamente fedele chel'avrebbe seguito ad una nuova con- quista del mondo. (143)

From his perch high above the antedeluvian plain, Aiku could see the meandering waters of the river Po as it wound its way past Fer- rara. His horse bridled. The muscles in his face tensed as he recalled the obscure augury of his blind grandfather: "Aiku, ti fermerai a un fiume, quandola citta sprofondera davanti a te. Ricordalo" (16). The army of men that had accompanied him on his two-year conquest of the Asian and European continents eagerly awaited orders. The Tartarleader, to whom theyhad sworn allegiance, hadled them from their villages in Mongolia, across the vast solitude of Siberia, over the Urals into Russia and across the Germanic plain. In their wake they had left destruction and a continent of conquered peoples whose sole common currency was now the language of defeat. Now they were camped on the banks of a great river. It was June 1998. Events were unfolding as if predicated by some great universal text ("Era scritto cosi," 11). The key was the river. It could not be crossed. A turning point had been reached. Months later from his self- imposed exile on the island of Saint Helena, Aiku, self-declared "Alto Protettore" of the world, would once again recall the prophecy of his grandfather and understand the cyclical nature of destiny.


My liberal rewriting of Pazzi's novel deliberately choreographs the story into a nonmaterial world of pure temporality where pulses and rhythms spread out and give order to the whole of the novel. The nar- rative frame subtending my palimpsest echoes the archetypal pat- terns of Pazzi's temporal universe. In these episodes events seem pro- grammed, predicted, provided for by a compendious destiny that envelops the story in memory. The reader has entered a timeless con- tinuum where characterization is achieved through archetypal pat- terning, not description. Note the hauntingly overpowering burden of textuality, the repetitious use of the same spatial imagery: the gar- den, the island of Saint Helena, the desert, the ancient city of Ferrara, the river Po, the funereal river and barge; of biblical motifs: the ser- pent, the Earthly Paradise, the river of memory; of mythical figures: Eve (the first mother), Elizabeth (the temptress), clairvoyant ances- tors, the hero. The passages also display a rhythmic force behind the text that changes the personae on the surface structure, but maintains an underlying pattern of continuity. The forces which subtend the text involve past, present, and future in dialectical relation. Elizabeth (also called Lilith), for example, is the daughter of Aiku, yet she also recalls the satanic prophetess Lilith of Hebrew legend. Aiku, the Mongolian prince, recalls other marauding conquerors such as Ta- merlaine, Genghis Khan, Caesar, as well as Napoleon. The enigmatic figure of Halley, on the other hand, bears the same name as his sci- entific ancestor yet he is spiritually connected to Aiku, perhaps a fu- ture incarnation of him. These patterns of duality redefine the char-

acters in temporal terms while steeping them in mystic consciousness. But are we really concerned with historical characters or with myth, with history or with the textuality of historical recollec- tion? How does my palimpsest surreptitiously expand Pazzi's narra- tive into virtual possibility? A short summary of La malattia del tempo is in order.

The novel begins with the woeful prognostication of Napoleon ("I1 mondo tremera a1 suo risveglio") after having read an apocryphal text while in reluctant exile on Saint Helena. History mixes with fiction as we recall that a manuscript of dubious origin entitled Mkmorial de Sainte-Hklene was indeed published in France in 1823. Napoleon, like the fictitious Don Quixote reading about an imposter writing a fictitious Part Two to his homonymous book, sets about to amend the affront by writing his own text (much like Don Quixote), thereby hoping to thwart the surreptitious fabrication of history by unscru- pulous chroniclers. He never succeeds in doing so.' After this brief and enigmatic introduction set in 18 17, the reader is catapulted to the year 1998 and the plains of Ferrara where we meet a Napoleon-like figure (from the China that Napoleon had bemoaned) whose two-year military campaign (similar in spirit, if not in enterprise, to the hundred-day stand of Napoleon before his second abdication) has con- quered, without resistance, the Asian and European continents. In- deed, following a lightning campaign reminiscent of the pillaging bands of legendary conquerors, the Mongols have overrun the Occi- dent with its own weapons of war. Aiku, the Mongol prince, has tri- umphed in his scheme to return the world to simpler times. Consol- idating his power, he eliminates computers, television, parliaments, political parties, and nuclear weapons from areas under his aegis. He also reverses time and moves Europe and Asia back 183 years to pre- revolutionary Europe, to June 20, 1815, precisely two days after Na- poleon's defeat at Waterloo. In that same Belgian village, Aiku, now self-declared "Alto Protettore," meets with an aging and senile Pres- ident of a "future" United States and divides the planet into two areas of political influence as well as parallel space-time zones. The United States and Japan, the most highly evolved, and therefore most malev- olent and corrupted of industrial powers, will remain in 1998 precip- itously rushing towards the year 2000 and certain Armageddon. Meanwhile, Aiku has restored the monarchs of Europe to their legit- imate thrones; he has married Maria Cristina of Austria (like Napo- leon) and has become a recluse on the island of Saint Helena (again, like Napoleon) where he seems content to father children and remain adrift in time. . . .

Are we reading Napoleon's apocryphal text? Questions of author- ship and authenticity remain unanswered. The events seem familiar and ring true-horsemen ("soldati confusi con quelli di Tamerlano," 86); conquerors ("un demonio venuto dal nulla," 96); the destruction of Europe ("la Germania segnata da un destino emblematico," 88); peace talks ("a Vienna i plenipotenziari inglesi, russi, prussiani e au- striaci, coadiuvati dagli alleati e dal ministro di Francia davano gli ul- timi non facili ritocchi alla carta del vecchio continente sconvolta da vent'anni di guerra," 93)-yet we are steeped in mystery. Are these events happening as we remember them from history or are we read- ing them as his (Napoleon's) story? We are offered few clues.

In Part 11, the book becomes an atemporal locus where history and story, imagination and reason, literature and philosophy, legend and reality, religion and the occult are woven into a grand narrative tap- estry. The sense of doubling is impellent as the deconstructive efforts of Aiku are replaced by a series of vignettes describing life in his atomic time warp. The planet is feeling the effecr of what is diagnosed as the "1815 Syndrome": people regress to childhood and to the cra- dle, tragically conscious of their former, elder selves; monarchs visit their own tombs, conscious of their death; planes and ships leave the Americas and Japan and disappear into oblivion. Even history repeats itself (or better, rewrites itself) in an attempt to reweave its tapestry (Ccriture) using archetypal threads. Mythic layers are subsequently added to the characters and events as Elizabeth becomes a new and innocent Eve, and Halley a new Adam. Together they embark on a redemptive mission that will reshape the future in a gentler and kinder frame.

In order to define a possible meaning in the pattern of the events Pazzi strings together, the reader must discover the mythological co- herence that informs the ideological principles that motivate the au- thor's time value. In La malattia del tempo, time is a mysterious, malleable entity with a fundamental role in human history. It is alive (a "bilancia in assestamento," 12 1); it can be reversed ("la bomba ha rovesciato il tempo," 99); it can be repeated ("come se il tempo fosse liberato dalle catene della successione univoca e unidirezionale," 117); and, with the proper means, can be dominated ("era il tempo che si lasciava conquistare oggi, non piu lo spazio," 80). To achieve this end, Pazzi discards patterns of causal and temporal associations and stresses associative progressions of signification that dispense with temporal linearity. This tendency is usually associated with stream of consciousness narration but it is also a characteristic of sci- ence fiction. It is also the privilege, we are reminded by Blanchot, of the poet. Any possible temporal syntax in La malattia del tempo is thus subordinate to a disorienting (more orienting than disruptive, as we shall see) strategy that is closer to abstract thought than it is to narrated story. Subsequently, the reader must reconstruct the inter-

nal system of references in order to understand the meaning of any single event because these events are no longer part of a linear tem- poral sequence but rather of a single expanded moment of narrative. Actions do not develop temporally nor does Pazzi's motif chain evolve spatially. Instead, everyone and everything occupies the same space at the same time only in different dimensions. This is often called a "time-loop para do^."^ In such a pre-set, spatio-temporal block everything co-exists. People pop up out of nowhere or disappear into nothingness; they may even think another's thoughts.3 For ex- ample, Pope Leo XIVfs misgivings about Aiku bring to mind Leo Its preoccupation with the rampaging Attila as well as Pious VIfs unfor- tunate dealings with an irate Bonaparte. Halley, too, suffers transmi- grational tendencies and is out of temporal harmony: "dopo aver per tanti anni vissuto nel mito di Prometeo, la sete di sapere e il progress0 scientifico, ora si sentiva stranamanete affascinato dal mito negativo di Caino" (64).He sometimes feels that "in lui convivesse un altro Halley" (55),at others "aveva pensato di essere Aiku" (58),still at others his white hair makes him appear "simile . . . d'un antico pa- triarca" (61).Even Aiku suffers visions of deja vu: "sembrava di aver gia visto una citta di pianura come quella" (12). And isn't he marrying the Archduchess Maria Cristina, daughter of the Austrian emperor just as Napoleon had once married Marie Louise? There would seem to be no point of departure, no port of return, no present, no past. The temporal tapestry is a malleable honeycomb of recurring images that make sense only when viewed as pieces of a volatile time puzzle. Any sense of a passage of time is absent. There is no sense of transforma- tion or mood change but rather a series of abrupt realizations that tes- tify to different states of being. As Pazzi pushes his premises to the brink of absurdity, judgment is subverted, resulting in a surrepti- tious negation of vested truth in any time-fixed, context-conscious text. The reader thus never feels a dynamic temporality but only sees the discontinuity of its effects. Each character is at once and at the same time himself and all other possible and similar characters that overlap in history. As infinity is redoubled in time and space, histor- ical reality becomes textual, mere words on a page: utterances with meaning but without fixed referents. In such a scenario, multiplicity is reality's grandest illusion as description, environment, character, and events are presented as a diachronic manifestation of history that hides the fictionality of e~istence.~

Setting and action become "the expression of a human will . . . a projection of the will . . . a landscape of the mind" (Wellek 221).

All this would suggest a "primitive" ontological conception of time in which men and events have a tendency to become paradig- matic and archetypal. The result is the abolition of the profane time of historical duration and a return to an archaic ontology that myth- icizes historical personages. Pazzi's history thus becomes the retell- ing of a celestial archetype, while his characters acquire meaning to the extent that they repeat a primordial act revealed by a god ab orig- ine.Once invited into fiction by Pazzi the storyteller, their historicity ends (hence Napoleon's preoccupation with the false text). Though the author creates a historical perspective (all his works deal with for- gotten historical characters5) Pazzi charges his characters with ex- traordinary powers of clairvoyance. As a result his narrative is always more magical than realistic, more mystical than historically accurate because it is epos not fi~tion.~

The intratextual disposition of tempo- ral correlations is, therefore, invariably dependent upon thematic, not logical (cause and effect) coherence. In this sense, Pazzi is forcing his- tory to swim in time. He is transforming chronicled events into a story by telling them. As storyteller his vantage opens into both fu- ture and past and is informed by a certain kind of superior knowledge that frees him from traditional sequencing strategies. This, then, is not a leap beyond time's constraints but instead a way of being in time that privileges literary imagination over irrecoverable existential co- herence. Pazzi has conflated mythical and historical consciousness. Therefore, though the reader may ultimately distinguish an implicit sujet or (his)story-like progression to the actual disposition of mate- rial within the text, the motifs which motivate and predetermine the events, are unchanging, indeed, unchangeable, because they are mythical, therefore timeless.'

But what exactly is Pazzi trying to say with his cannily pro- grammed conquest of time in La malattia del tempo! Lilith and Hal- ley may provide some clues.

According to Hebrew legend, Elizabeth, or Lilith, was Adam's first mate, created by God from mud and filth. Refusing to submit herself to the will of Adam, she ran away and coupled with demons, giving birth to a brood of demonic children. After she declined to return to Eden, God created Eve from Adam's rib (let's call it his feminine half), thus insuring her loyalty and subservience, if not by desire then by compulsion. In a recent book by Joelle De Gravelaine entitled Le re- tour de Lilith, she assumes the role of "ingrat par excellence, comme Judas assumera le sien face au Christ, afin que Jesus accomplisse son destin. Judas est indispensablea la saintete de Jesus comme Lilith l'est a la purete de Mari. Lilith regne sur l'impur, soit, les yeux ouverts et sans illusion sur les hommes" (30).Lilith eventually became an in- cubus demon figure; she also took the form of the despised mistress, has assumed various guises in history and legend (Anat, Britomartes, Brunhild, Diane, Venus, Cybele, and a host of other vixens and vira- gos) and has become the incarnation of insatiable desire (the toothed vagina). In the male gendered Talmudic text, however, Lilith's sin lay in assuming and exerting an equal status in creation. History conve- niently lost sight, in a chauvinist context, of her democratic tenden- cies. The Promethian drive to become master of nature (the Great Mother) destroyed the cyclical female outlook in favor of an all- embracing mystical male immanence. The disintegration of the female-oriented calendar and the emergence of power-conscious symbolic thought engendered a new threshold of consciousness that was, again, male dominated. The extraordinary account of the Eden metaphor conveniently explained the arbitrary subservience of woman to man, at least for Western civilization. The fashioning of Eve from one of Adam's ribs, the episode of the Tree of Knowledge, the eating of the apple, the subsequent cursing of humanity by Yah- weh, consolidated man's spiritual and sexual dominance over a here- tofore female cosmos. The new patriarchal Weltanschauung insured the collapse of the cyclical concept of time and fostered the idea of linear or unrepeatable history with its logical, natural consequences of messianism and eschatology. The return of Lilith as Primordial Mother can be seen as preparatory for the substitution of the male Shaman, emblematic of technology and invention, with this ancient female goddess (de Riencourt 20).We may now understand the sym- bolic reenactment of the Biblical encounter with the Devil by Aiku's female primogeniture as intended to right the wrong committed by Eve and advance the biological revolution initiated by her father, Aiku. The moment is a transition between innocence and cogni- zance, between sensuality and beauty. In sympathy with human des- tiny nature celebrates the new covenant:

Quel che gli animali avevano da raccontare era la storia dei primi mo- menti del mondo . . .raccontavano a lei, la figlia di chi aveva spezzato le catene del tempo, perch6 con lei il mondo sarebbe rientrato nell'in- nocenza originaria uccisa dal potere maschile dai discendenti di Adamo . . . Non vedeva dunque, finalmente, chi erano? Non commettesse l'er- rore di Eva, che non aveva saputo riscattare il serpente, non l'aveva amato abbastanza. (125)

The rift created in the Garden of Eden by Eve has been healed and a new order will be founded not so much as an act of free will or choice but from the holistic perspective that "demons represent a natural power which is an integral part of the created world, and their actions conform to the decrees of God exactly as do those of the angels" (Dan 27). As if to underline the cosmological nature of the episode, Pazzi situates the garden on the island of Saint Helena, final home of Na- poleon and the observatory from which Edmund Halley discovered the comet (a modern icon of recurrence) that bears his name. Saint Helena thus becomes the center of both historical forces and, on a cos- mological plane, a locus of cosmic hierogamy (i.e., cosmic creation). In this sense Lilith's encounter initiates a cosmic regeneration and is a passage from the profane to the sacred, from death to eternal life.

As for Halley, we are tempted to think that destiny chose him be- cause he himself chose to question the ways of a materially decadent world. He is a visionary, a man of profound sentiments, a prototype marked as an exemplary paradigm. He is, as his ancestor informs him, "il piu compiuto di tutti noi" (143). Ever since humankind had been evicted from Eden, the damned lineage of Adam has sought happiness in sybaritic gadgets, games, and amusements, subsequently losing the value of myth. During Halley's lifetime, this masculine principle, with its contentious emphasis on technology at the expense of hu- manity, had pushed itself to the limits of exhaustion. "Bisognera ri- fare tutto ora," states Edmund Halley addressing his nephew, "spe- rando in uomini piu intelligenti, piu fantasiosi di loro, questa volta" (143). Halley is such a man and has been "chosen" to become the guardian of the new millenium incarnated by Lilith.

Accordingly, Aiku-a sort of militant John the Baptist-has prepared the way for him by abolishing the use of bombs, computers, and other weapons of technology:

c'k un grande male del nostro mondo, ed e quello che mi ha consentito di vincere: la bomba. L'errore fu credere che saremmo stati felici im- prigionando le forze della natura. E sempre lo stesso errore . . . Emendero questa colpa restituendo il mondo a1 suo ordine naturale. E con la bomba dovremo impedire che dilaghi un'altra peste, il computer. Proibiremo nei nostri stati lo studio e l'uso di queste macchine maligne che uccidono la possibilita dell'errore e rubano la plausibilita di ogni affermazione, di ogni azzardo della fantasia. ..sara opportuno limitare la diffusione della televisione per non costringere piu gli uomini a ri- nunciare alla parola davanti alla prepotenza delle immagini . . . E se quel che vi ho detto e chiesto ha un senso per voi importante e sincero, io, alla fine, dovro essere eliminato da unlEuropa risorta dalle ceneri ch'io stesso avro sparso. Non avrei potuto fare un servizio piu grande a1 mondo di quello di rendermi odioso per impostare a tutti con la vio- lenza quell'amore del bene che, nella piena liberta morale e politica in cui erano, i vostri popoli avevano disimparato ad amare inventando l'in- vincibilita atroce dell'atomica e del cervello artificiale. (48)

A new understanding of love, peace, order, and justice will result from this chastising and the earth will once again belong to the moral man. The wicked, those maleficent descendants of Cain that Halley is warned to avoid, cannot rightfully claim it. They shall lose the earth

because it cannot be sustained by wickedness. They shall perish in order that the righteous live.

In both cases the Eden myth resolves itself into a matter of histor- ical crisis. Elizabeth enters the garden to meet Satan not so much to exorcise him but rather to appease the latent malignity of the human spirit gone awry. She heals man's divided spirit. Halley's adventure is equally portentous. The hypostatization of the Secretary of State reveals his own, and the text's, eschatalogical nature. The poetic res- onances of the novel depend upon this essence of a new (but always prefigured) metaphorical domain of experience. Both Elizabeth and Halley are numinous signifiers that validate the supernatural and are the medium between the everyday and the transcendental. Clearly, such an interpretation offers distinct problems to be solved. The first is to decide why time is to be dissolved at this particular moment. The second is to explain authorial intention.

The novel begins with a preface, orpraefatio, as an augury of things to come wrapped in cryptic symbolism. The first line of the novel is perhaps the single most important pronouncement (pro-nuntiatio) of the book. The eschatalogical tone of Napoleon's omen-"il mondo tremera a1 suo risveglio" (3)-is both an opening and a closing, an ex- ordium and an apocalypse. It is beyond tautology: an incantation in- voking futurity and becoming. There are three such omens in Malat- tia. One is pronounced by Napoleon ("I1 mondo tremera . . ."),one by Aiku's blind grandfather ("Aiku, ti fermerai a un fiume, quando la citta sprofondera davanti a te. Ricordalo . . . ," 16)) the last by Halley's father ("E sono i figli del male, gli uomini del progresso, i figli di Caino, non dimenticarlo mai . . . ,"64). They emanate one from the other and are a sort of mystic pneuma, the "breath of breath" (Scho- lem 27) of the Creator. As the reader moves into the story he comes to realize the pattern of prophecy Napoleon's opening line initiates. There is a suggestion that the novel is the embodiment of a plan that exists in eternity and stands outside of time.

The novel is then divided into two parts representing evil, technol- ogy, and progress on the one hand and good nature and eternity on the other. This further adumbrates its status as a cosmology with an old and a new testament of sorts. The beginning ("I cavalli dei Tartari orlavano le alte rive del Po") and ending of the story-

(Egli [Halley] gia sapeva che l'attendeva un villaggio di pastori della Mongolia,unnonno cieco, una madre bellissima d'un'isola dell'arcipe- lago giapponese, la citta di Urga, il suo nome che nella lingua materna significava "uomo", un'armata ciecamente fedele che l'avrebbe seguito ad una nuova conquista del mondol-

are an imaging of the temporal blocks (the alpha and omega of Revelation 1.8; 22.13)that encompass human experience. Together these sentences form a singularity; history is abolished and simultaneously renewed. This mythic drama creates an eternal nunc that is played out in the figure of Aiku who is placed outside the realm of finitude by the final thoughts of Halley who, in effect, becomes Aiku. The spirit of Aiku thus hovers above the entire text. He is Napoleon, he is Halley, just as he is Caesar and Tamerlane. Any meaning assigned to him, and therefore to the text, must consider his revenant status.'

Aiku is the seventh emanation of spirit ("Aiku e stato preceduto da almeno altri sei come lui. . . ," 143).In rabbinical literature, the Hebrews limited the ages of the world to 7 millenia. Following this logic, 6 ages have transpired in world history when Aiku reappeam9 In the last book of the New Testament, The Revelation of St. John, the number 7, and its multiples 14 and 21, represent time. For exam- ple, Chapter 7 of Revelation occupies the interval between the open- ing of the sixth and seventh seals. It is the time of the sealing. The sealing refers to the possession of eternal life. In Chapter 14 of Revelation the 144,000 servants of God who are sealed will be saved at the end of time (these are the shades waiting for Halley at book's end). Finally, Chapter 21 deals with eternity. It is the indivisible prime number 7, however, that is most important because it is involved in the struggle that produces the end of time, i.e., eternity.

Pazzi's healing of the malady of time follows the 6 ages of the earth, much as the Sabbath follows the 6 days of Creation. The work of Cre- ation has reached its ordained outcome. Mankind has reached the "Last Days." Given this fact, the appearance of Aiku marks the limit assigned to the life span of humanity. Also, the recurrence of the num- ber 7 in Revelation serves indirectly to emphasize 8, a number whose properties sustain the destined structure of the universe after salva- tion. 8 is the number of a new life and of that anticipated resurrection implied in death.'' Following this logic, Halley is the eighth incarna- tion and, as the number 8 implies, he is the conduit towards the terra repromissionis sanctorum, or promised land.

The two main divisions of the novel contain 10 chapters (1+9 (3x 31).Each division is comprised of 5 chapters. The significance of the number 10 is well known: the ten plagues of Egypt, the Ten Com- mandments, the Pythagorean perfect number, the primordial 10 numbers of the Cabala in the Sefir Yesirah or "Book of Creation," and so on. For our purposes, 10 is the Decad, the prelude to the final age of history and the consummation of all numbers. The number 5, instead, in cabalistic accounts, signifies marriage resulting in genera- tion. It is the number of the books of Moses, male prophet and leader of the Israelites out of the wilderness. The number 5 is also "the seal and character of the archetypal feminine cosmic force, the generative Binah, the mother of life and fountain of souls" (MacQueen 8).The first 10 chapters of La malattia del tempo form what can be called the alpha section. The emphasis is on Aiku and his redemptive mis- sion. In this section, the material, time-bound universe is destroyed as are the natural adversaries of mankind most atuned to timepiece precision, namely technology and industrialization. In the omega sec- tion (the final 5 chapters), the reader meets Lilith, while Halley comes to the fore as the Chosen One. In fact, we are led to believe that Lilith and Halley will generate this new race of men together. The work of Creation is thereby completed by the reestablishment of the natural order that was interrupted by the folly of Adam and Eve and the sin of Cain. The process culminates in the eternal union of the faithful.

This is only one possible reading of the allegory latent in La malat- tia del tempo. The combination of numerological structure and im- agery increases the poetic power of the novel and allows the reader to open a window in time and probe the immutable essence of being concealed behind the changing fa~ade of corporeity. Pazzi achieves this by bringing together past and future auguries, pagan and Chris- tian tenets, reductionist as well as revolutionary philosophies and, above all, by simply ignoring the regulatory force that separates them, i.e., time. At the same time the author highlights fluctuation and un- certainty:

Ma conserva questa tua incertezza come un bene prezioso. Non credere all'onnipotenza del presente come fanno loro, i "sani". In realta quest'epoca e gia superata, gia morta, e se riusciremo a tenere il segreto un giorno ci libereremo dalla paura di non sapere mai veramente chi siamo, dall'incapacita di abitare in un solo momento, passato, presente e futoro. (105)

The improbability of Napoleon leaving Saint Helena, the auspicious predictions of the future by the grandfathers (tribal shamans) of' Aiku and Halley, the theme of the eternal Mother, the revenants, all shatter the Cain-like rationality of the reader while unmasking deeply im- bedded, clan curiosity." This allows for the various progressions from the ordinary to the transcendentally meaningful as the sub- stance of past and future experience is allowed to escape its temporal confines simply by being pronounced or written.12 By unlocking the significant potential of temporal moments and unveiling the hidden order latent in archetypal structure (but shielded by layers of a fiction- alized account), revelation-illumination occurs instantaneously. Hu- mankind is thus delivered, all contradictions are resolved, and the au- thor may come to terms with a (his)story that has become a malleable account of recollected events.

Pazzi is thus a rare breed, totally absorbed by his creative activity, naturally unconstrained and sensitive to the most subtle symbolic nuance. He gives his reader a world of impassioned elegance in which personal experience is superior to public display and where overt text manipulation gives way to powerful sensuality and moral sensibility. Each page, every image in his narrative is a loving meditation yearn- ing for a single inexorable truth. It is a mark of Pazzi's skill that he is able to convince his reader that time is indeed boundless, that the supernatural and the phantasmagoric exist as parallel realities, that memory and imagination are not always at variance with historical fact (if one may speak of fact). Ultimately, Pazzi has refused his own time, preferring to inhabit a private space (much like Proust) imbued with universal memory. For Pazzi, a demythologized world free of de- mons and dragons does not entirely represent the human condition. By evoking myth the author is replacing the soul of mankind at the center of infinity. His narrative thus narcissistically takes on a cos- mic function destined to fill the lacuna left by the radical elimination of fantasy and the subsequent debauching of transcendental concepts by Realism. His characters and his images therefore exist as purveyors of an idealist metaphysics whose philosophical sources are to be found in Schopenhauer and Nietzsche.

Finally, there is a cabalistic sense in Pazzi that History is a story with avisionary span that extends from Creation and is moving, chap- ter by chapter, towards its prophesied conclusion. In such a concep- tion the Word is primary. It creates characters. It imposes limits. It is a restless witness to time, allowing man to transcend profane het- erogeneous space and enter the cosmic timeless region. By remaining in a purely intertextual frame (he draws from the Bible, the Cabala, the Talmud, history, literature, legend, myth), Pazzi is not bound by chronological requisites. This intertextual strategy moves beyond the game of self-referentiality and, in a sense, portrays the essence of the hermeneutic process. Each text which has been handed down is revelatory, fused with poignancy and insight. Pazzi allows these texts to speak again. His characters thus announce (because they pro- nounce) the literary inheritance of the past. They embody the past, the present, and the future because they have become Word (logos). Once Napoleon has announced the rise of Aiku, there can be no path for history but the pronounced one. In this way a vertical, atemporal connection is established between events and figures which have no real causal or temporal affinity. Each character can be seen as ful- filling another. This archetypal prefiguring (figuram implere, Auer- bach 73) links earthly events together in a rhapsodic plan of Provi- dence. Thus the abolition of time by Aiku is followed by the restoration of primordial chaos (the 1815 syndrome), the repetition

of the cosmogonic act (Lilith-Halley), and finally the realization of the rebirth of the world.lWhen all the layers of dissimilitude have been peeled away, reality, it seems, is merely a tropological structure of rec- ollection.

In La malattia del tempo the stability of time is as illusory as its spatialized representation. Its oilly permanence resides in the arbi- trary names ascribed to the succession of sentiments we use to mea- sure its flow. It is this impulse towards the ordered chaos of experi- ence, central to Pazzi's critical revisitation of the past, that initiates the textual experience. After Napoleon reads the false text of OfMeara he is tired and wishes to rest. Is his subsequent prognostication con- cerning a Mongolian prince real or the result of a delirium of reading? Would Aiku exist if Napoleon had not read about him? Did he read about him? And what of Halley's vision of destiny? The reader, like the characters, is confronted by enigmatic appeals to reason that el- evate sense-experience into the richness of imagination. By fore- grounding time as a malleable entity, Pazzi rethinks and reforms his- tory into a kind of hermeneutic that restores revelatory potential to the Word.


'This is one of those inferential walks Eco suggests that readers take when faced with a "disjunction of probabilities" (31). Pazzi elicits curiosity, tension, and wonder by deliberately omitting, like any good storyteller, relevant disjunctions. In La malat- tia del tzmpo one does not really know whether Napoleon ever writes his autobiog- raphy. As a matter of historical fact, Napoleon never did write his memoirs. ~mmedi- ately following his death, however, both real and imaginary autobiographies were published including one by the resourceful Dr. Barry E. O'Meara entitled Voice from St. Helena (1 822). TheMemorial de Sainte-Helene was written by Emanuel Las Cases.

'Casey Fredericks 23.

3This is a leitmotiv in the work of Pazzi. In one of his poems, "La prigione della memoria," one reads: "Certe volte mi ricordo di case / che non ho mai visto,/di persone e linguaggikhe non ha mai conosciuto / 1. . .)/euno spazio elastic0 quanta la mia me- maria."

4Since Kant, temporal experience has been seen as a determinable milieu with a physical and existential nature. Consequently, the ebb and flow of the field of the un- conscious entered the temporal paradigm. More recently, microscopic and cosmic time have been embedded in human consciousness. The problem of time now includes the scientific plausibility of its reversibility. Indeed, dissymmetry and flux are crucial to the structure of the universe as we now know it. See Ilya Prigogine and Isabelle Stengers, especially Chapter VII, "Rediscovering Time," 213-232.

In an unpublished interview with the author, Pazzi confessed a love for the for- gotten souls of history: "10 sono un vincente che canta i perdenti, i Troiani invece dei Greci; amo il lato nascosto e misterioso della vita."

6~ am using the term here as a compromise between "history" and "scripture." See Northrop Frye 248. Epos is used by Frye "to describe works in which the radical of pre- sentation is oral address."

'In my interview with Pazzi he states: "Nei miei libri tutto si ripete insomma, che

i: quindi una garanzia che siamo sempre fondati sulle cose che durano, sulle cose con- sistenti perch6 il rischio del tempo lineare e il nuovo; invece, la ripetizione dell'arche- tipo, garantisce, come dice Proust, la specie di ripetizione monotona che i: la felicita."

'Moving beyond the narrative patina we discover that one of the deep themes of La malattia del tempo is that of metempsychosis. This is a kind of knowledge that accesses recollections from an anterior life. This type of memory also plays a complex and central role in the works of Goethe and Schopenhauer, as well as in Proust. A cor- responding concept is found in Rosicrucianism: "There is also a superconscious mem- ory. That is the storehouse of all faculties acquired and knowledge gained in previous lives, though perhaps latent in the present life. This record is indelibly engraven on the life spirit" (Heindel92). Certain Rosicrucian symbols (most notably the eagle, the leopard, mirrors, apocrypha) figure prominently in Pazzi's symbolic cosmology. His special affinity to the hermetic synthesis of art, science, philosophy, and religion and the special importance he attributes to the role of will and "allotted destiny" in human endeavors also suggests a possible Rosicrucian influence.

91n the Altus Prosator, an acrostic hymn composed by Saint Columba of Iona (c. 521 -597), "history is seen in terms of six World Ages, corresponding to the six days of Creation; the first from Adam to Noah (the Flood), the second from Noah to Abra- ham, the third from Abraham to David, the fourth from David to Daniel, the fifth from Daniel to lohn the Baptist (the Incarnation), the sixth, from John to Judgement and the end of the world. This last is to be followed by the seventh age, the Sabbath of Eternity." See MacQueen 5 1.

''"8 is the Resurrection on the eighth day of the week, which is also the first, and the day of Judgement, because it follows the seven days of the world's ages." MacQueen



"Sagan speculates: "Human intelligence is fundamentally indebted to the millions of vears our ancestors sDent aloft in the trees. And after we returned to the savannahs and abandoned the trees, did we long for those great graceful leaps and ecstatic mo- ments of weightlessness in the shafts of sunlight of the forest roof! Is the startle reflex of human infants today to prevent falling from the treetops! Are our nighttime dreams of flying and our daytime passion for flight, as exemplified in the 1ive;of Leonardo da Vinci or Konstantin Tsiolkovskii, nostalgic reminiscences of those days gone by in the


branches of the high forest!" pp: 87-88.

121n my interview with the author, Pazzi states: "La parola e fondatrice della realta . . . anche la parola che t: gia stata detta, che viene dal passato." The consummate power of the written word is the subject of Pazzi's book I1 vangelo di Giuda (Milano: Garzanti, 1989).

13"~heabolition of time is possible at this mythical moment in which the world is destroyed and re-created." Eliade 62.


Auerbach, Erich. Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Litera- ture, trans. by Willard R. Trask. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1974. Bakhtin, Mikhail M. The Dialogic Imagination, ed. Michael Holquist, trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. Austin: U Texas PI 1981. Dan, Joseph. "Samael, Lilith, and the Concept of Evil in Early Kabbalah," Association for Iewish Studies Vol. 5 (1980) 17-40.

De Gravelaine, Joelle. Le retour de Lilith: La Iune noire. Liguge: Aubin In- premeur, 1987. De Riencourt, Amaury. Sex and Power in History. New York: Dell Pub- lishing, 1974. Eliade, Mircea. TheMyth of the Eternal Return, trans. Willard R. Trask. New York: Pantheon Books, 1954. Fredericks, Casey. The Future of Eternity. Bloomington: Indiana UP 1985. Frye, Northrop. Anatomy of Criticism. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1971. Heindel, Max. The Rosicrucian Cosmo-Conception. Pasadena: Wood and Jones, 1974. Leitch, Vincent B. Deconstructive Criticism. New York: ColumbiaUP, 1983. MacQueen, John. Numerology: Theory and Outline of a LiteraryMode. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 1985. Pazzi, Roberto. La malattia del tempo. Genova: Marietti, 1987. -. Calma di vento. Milano: Garzanti, 1987. Prigogine, Ilya and Isabelle Stengers. Order Out of Chaos. New York: Bantam Books, 1984. Sagan, Carl. The Dragons of Eden. New York: Random House, 1977. Scholem, Gershom. Origins of the Kabbalah, trans. Allan Arkush. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1987. Wellek, Rene and Austin Warren. Theory of Literature. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, Inc., 1970. White, Hayden. Tropics of Discourse: Essays in Cultural Criticism. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1978. Wolf, Fred Alan. Taking the Quantum Leap. New York: Harper and Row, 1989.

  • Recommend Us