You may be surprised, but the Italians began to discover what an essay is only in the second half of the 20th and in the 21st century. But aren't the diaries written by authors like Leonardo da Vinci considered essays? - I asked myself this question. It turns out that the short notes of the great masters, which they made rather for themselves, and which are invaluable to us, as we understand it today, were neglected in Italy and did not belong to literature at all. There are reasons for this.
The Italian language is the language of the Roman Empire, first of all, since Rome is still the capital of this beautiful country, which sometimes changed names. In the Roman Empire itself, the influence of ancient Greek civilization was great. The similarity of theatrical plays of Ancient Greece and Ancient
Rome is obvious. The ruins of semicircular theaters, with right and left wings, are open to tourists in many Italian cities. These ancient theaters attract many not only tourists, but also artists who organize festivals and performances under the beautiful Italian sky.
Theatrical plays can be called a backbone genre of Italian culture and language. Italians are masters of communication, and now they build relationships beautifully and with great taste. But it also means that the fall of the Roman Empire was associated with an over-formalization of relations as a great order of subordination of the younger to the elders, vassals to the emperor, women and children to the man, slaves and servants to their masters. Outbursts of sincerity were regarded as uprisings and were subject to suppression, up to and including murder. This happened with the advent of the Latin Christian Church. Latin is a highly ordered language.
Latin dominated Italy in the Middle Ages, and alliances between the Pope and the kings contributed to the spread of Latin outside of Italy. And we refer French, Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian to the Romance languages that arose under the influence of Latin. Latin was the language of high manners and rituals of communication, adopted by the Vatican and the aristocracy.
Of course, the folk language could not be limited to formal situations, and therefore folk culture and language broke through the semantic slabs of official Latin. The Inquisition and military raids to punish freethinkers held back the development of the vernacular language and folk literature. For example, the history of Sicily and southern Italy is full of dramatic events in which the Sicilians objected to the formalism and power domination of Rome. We remember the kingdom of the two Sicilies.
The language absorbed all this. And the Renaissance from the dark times with torture and executions for sincerity began precisely in Sicily. Sicilian king Roger II was canonized saint before the split of the church. The Sicilian school of poetry was the basis on which the Italian language as we know it today began to take shape.
Then, in the 13th century, the great Florentines, among whom were Dante, Boccaccio and Michelangelo, continued the development of Italian culture and language through beautiful, precise, detailed images that spoke much more than Latin, taking consciousness beyond official formulations. The art of Italy showed admiration for the natural beauty that God created, despite the limitations imposed by the human understanding of power.
Since Italians are masters of communication and all culture is based on communication, every city in Italy has its own language, dignity, history and culture associated with communication. This was reflected in the fact that until the middle of the 20th century, the Italian language was not the same language in different cities and provinces of Italy. The Italian language has a huge number of dialects. This situation has begun to change with the advent of television in the 20th century and the Internet of social networking in the 21st century. People could now mentally go beyond the boundaries of their city and begin to develop one Italian language that is understandable to most.
Thus, the whole history of the Italian language is a struggle for the right to express one's feelings and thoughts sincerely, and not in the form imposed by ecclesiastical and secular authorities. And we remember, it is said in the article about the British essay, that the essay is just those short notes that most of all resemble the author’s confession to friends and readers, which contain reflection and a small personal analysis of important phenomena and categories, such as love, the meaning and purpose of life, the beauty of relationships, the goals of human development, happiness, success. Through essays, people shaped their mental doing according to their talent, thinking about how to do better.
Thus, the Vatican's attempt to distort the meaning of confession, turning it into a pretext for denunciation and execution, led to a cultural explosion in the form of a huge number of essays. Essays were written more freely in England with its Protestantism. This explosion of sincerity in the essay has swept and involved all of Europe and America, and has now come to Italy.
All of the above is the reason why the genre of essay in Italian literature did not begin with Michelangelo's notes on his insights in his work, such notes could cost him his life. The essay genre in Italy begins in the 60s of the twentieth century, when Umberto Eco makes a series, first diary entries, and then more daring and fully formed reflections on Italy, its ideas and ideology, the relationship between the center and the provinces, the relationship of people and concepts, ways of mental travel. Umberto Eco was part of his people, and his essays continued the development of the people. The titles of Umberto Eco's works tell us about the train of thought of the Italian and the essayist:
Il costume di casa: Evidenze e misteri dell'ideologia italiano, 1973,
Le forme del contenuto, 1971
Dalla periferia dell'Impero (articles), 1976
Lector in fabula: La cooperazione interpretativa nei testi narrativi, 1979;
Role of the Reader: Explorations in the Semiotics of Texts, 1979
Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language, 1984
Sugli specchi e altri saggi, 1985
Faith in Fakes, and as Travels in Hyperreality, translated by William Weaver, 1986
Il secondo diario minimo, 1992;
How to Travel with a Salmon and Other Essays, 1994
Interpretation and Overinterpretation, 1992
Six Walks in the Fictional Woods, 1994
Apocalypse Postponed 1994
In the 21st century, Italians finally understand that the essay is "a note that meets the need for clear reflection on the environment available to our thoughts." In Italy, not so long ago, they spoke with alarm about the crisis of criticism and literature. And we see that the essay, as a simple form of sincere confession to fellow readers, is receiving recognition, as it was the case in other times and in other countries.
An essay is what a person wants to say on an issue that is important to him or her. By doing this, a person can cite facts and data, and then the essay looks like a research work, but also the author of the essay can cite facts from his life and other examples, and then the essay becomes a journalistic genre.
International conference “Essay. Forms and Functions of a Literary Genre”, was organized by the University of Bologna in November 2004, from which a publication of the same name was born in 2007, edited by Giulia Cantarutti, Luisa Avellini and Silvia Albertazzi. Alfonso Berardinelli published the book "The Essay Form (La forma del saggio)" in 2002. Italian authors call these publications "epochal".
The idea of discussion, embodied in the essay genre, as was customary in Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome from the very beginning, is developed in Italy in the most sincere and honest way in short video films, which we also bring to your attention in our blog. These are scenes from life with some conclusions, beautifully performed by artistic Italians. The scenes are translated and voiced in other languages of our site.