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07 April 2012

Goodbye, Antonio


The first book I ever read by Antonio Tabucchi was ‘It’s Getting Later All The Time’ (Si sta facendo sempre più tardi) and it was love at first read.  The novel is epistolary, but whereas most novels in letters have distinct characters engaged in correspondence, or one character narrating the story in letter form, Si Sta Facendo offers the reader letters by seventeen different men, each to a woman they now or once loved, and a single letter of reply to all of them by a mysterious, timeless woman.  Tabucchi (pronounced Ta-bu-kee) doesn’t write page-turning potboilers, and so has gone fairly unnoticed in the United States.  A pity.  The reflections, the meandering and considered style, the philosophical intelligence, many of the important aspects of literature, are all present in his work. Above all of the humane qualities I admire in Tabucchi’s novels, the most interesting one is his pessimism.  By pessimism, I am referring to a philosophical position, not a person who is just a bitter and negative pain in the ass.  The following two quotes by Tabucchi illustrate the idea:

“People with a lot of doubts sometimes find life more oppressive and exhausting than others, but they are more energetic – they aren’t robots.” 

An intellectual is going to have doubts, for example, about a fundamentalist religious doctrine that admits no doubt, about an imposed political system that allows no doubt, about a perfect aesthetic that has no room for doubt.”

Born in 1943 to a horse trader in Pisa, Tabucchi studied history and philosophy during his university days, and went on to become a professor of Portuguese at the University of Siena.  His fascination with Portugal, with the cuisine, the people, the history, and, above all, with Portugal’s most famous modern writer, Fernando Pessoa, colored all of his work, but he neither shirked his Italian identity nor excused himself from commenting on the politics of his native land.  He fiercely criticized media tycoon Berlusconi for manipulating the Italian press to, among other things, secure control of government, and continued to criticize Berlusconi until the man stepped down from his long and controversial tenure as prime minister.  Internationally, Tabucchi responded to the fatwa on Salman Rushdie by helping to form the International Parliament of Writers, a group dedicated to combating censorship in literature and invasion into the lives of writers.  In his personal life, Tabucchi remained an academic and a man who surrounded himself with friends and family.  He shunned publicity, stating that he found self-promotion to be a tad obscene (amen).

Antonio Tabucchi died last week from cancer at 68. 

Like a blazing comet, I've traversed infinite nights, interstellar spaces of the imagination, voluptuousness and fear. I've been a man, a woman, an old person, a little girl, I've been the crowds on the grand boulevards of the capital cities of the West, I've been the serene Buddha of the East, whose calm and wisdom we envy. I've known honor and dishonor, enthusiasm and exhaustion.
...I've been the sun and the moon, and everything because life is not enough.”

Resquiat in pacem

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