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Handing Out Beauty: Gabriele D'Annunzio's Ritual Squanderers



D’Annunzio’s approach to beauty has largely unnoticed connections with the anti-modern anthropological discourse on symbolic economy that at the turn of the 20th century begins to reject instrumentality in life and representation. From the cultural primitivism of his time, D’Annunzio develops a consistent reflection on the aesthetic and ethical significance of ritual exchange that informs his search for a higher morality through art. Focusing on the nexus of art, giving, and temporality, this article addresses the intuitions and the contradictions of unconditional expenditure in D’Annunzio’s works, analyzing the leitmotif of the hand as an ambivalent carrier of lavishness and power. From Trionfo della morte to Il fuoco, from Le vergini delle rocce to his autobiographical writings, the implications of D’Annunzio’s argument contribute to an extended theoretical debate that interrogates the role of value in aesthetic and social practices—from Nietzsche, Mauss, and Bataille to Heidegger and Derrida. Can art’s luxurious dissipation truly break the circle of speculation and restitution?
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DOI: 10.1177/0014585817698400
Handing out beauty:
Gabriele D’Annunzio’s
ritual squanderers
Nicoletta Pireddu
Georgetown University, USA
D’Annunzio’s approach to beauty has largely unnoticed connections with the anti-
modern anthropological discourse on symbolic economy that at the turn of the 20th
century begins to reject instrumentality in life and representation. From the cultural
primitivism of his time, D’Annunzio develops a consistent reflection on the aesthetic
and ethical significance of ritual exchange that informs his search for a higher morality
through art. Focusing on the nexus of art, giving, and temporality, this article addresses
the intuitions and the contradictions of unconditional expenditure in D’Annunzio’s
works, analyzing the leitmotif of the hand as an ambivalent carrier of lavishness and
power. From Trionfo della morte to Il fuoco,fromLe vergini delle rocce to his autobiographical
writings, the implications of D’Annunzio’s argument contribute to an extended
theoretical debate that interrogates the role of value in aesthetic and social
practices—from Nietzsche, Mauss, and Bataille to Heidegger and Derrida. Can art’s
luxurious dissipation truly break the circle of speculation and restitution?
decadent aesthetics, gift-giving, literature and anthropology, symbolic economy,
symbolism of hands
Io sono di remotissima stirpe. i miei padri erano anacoreti nella Maiella. si flagellavano
a sangue, masticavano la neve onde s’empievan le pugna, strozzavano i lupi, spenna-
vano le aquile, intagliavano la siglia nei massi con un chiodo della Croce raccolto da
Elena. (D’Annunzio, 1995a: 222)
Among the many facets of the kaleidoscopic protagonist in Lucy Hughes-Hallett’s
biography The Pike (2013), one is certainly missing—the D’Annunzio ‘‘ostilmente
Autore corrispondente:
Nicoletta Pireddu, Georgetown University, Department of Italian, Comparative Literature Program, ICC 307
H-1, 37th and O Streets, Washington, DC 20057, USA.
salvatico’’ (D’Annunzio, 1995a: 222) who, with the Abruzzo soil in his heart and
‘‘alle suola delle (...) scarpe’’ (p. 222), has embraced anthropology since his artistic
debut in the circle of painter Francesco Paolo Michetti. The 17-year-old future Poeta
Vate was not only exposed to the naturalistic, folkloristic, and picturesque subjects
of Michetti’s canvases. He was also in the good company of ethnologists like
Gennaro Finamore and Antonio de Nino—whose studies of local popular traditions
would inspire many of his own works—and of Guido Boggiani, the painter and
subsequently photographer and explorer who would accompany D’Annunzio on
his journey to Greece (Andreoli, 2000: 55–56, 262) and would be recognized as a
pioneer in fieldwork anthropology for his studies on South American Indians.
However, the critical attention to the primitive and almost feral reality that
permeates D’Annunzio’s pages fades once the author embraces the aestheticizing
and heroic ideals of the priest of decadent beauty. At that point, the only surviving
connection with ethnography and anthropology seems to be a negative one, namely,
D’Annunzio’s aristocratic contempt for ‘‘la Gran Bestia’’ (D’Annunzio, 1991a: 47),
the herd represented by the multitude. Yet, in fact, it could be argued that the blend
of realistic and ritualistic elements that D’Annunzio absorbs in Michetti’s artistic
cenacle leaves a deeper mark, and not only because the bond with the Abruzzese
painter consolidates through the years.
From the cultural primitivism of his time,
D’Annunzio develops a consistent reflection on the aesthetic and ethical significance
of ritual exchange that is anything but incompatible with his search for a higher
morality through art, and that innovatively reinterprets the notion of decadent
beauty and its relationship with modernity.
According to Theodor Adorno, the category of the new appropriated by modern
aesthetics marks art with ‘‘the trademark of consumer goods’’ (Adorno, 2002: 21),
because, as it denies tradition, it reproduces the mechanism of commodification and
sanctions its bourgeois essence. Art’s cult of novelty responds to the market’s need
for a differentiated supply of goods, as capital can be valorized through constant
reproduction, abundance, and change. Adorno locates the first theoretical
articulation of this synergy between the aesthetic and the economic realms
in Baudelaire’s definition of the new as ‘‘akin to death’’ and interprets it as an
‘‘ominous’’ sign (Adorno, 2002: 21). However, precisely the transitory nature of
novelty that for Adorno seems to turn the work of art into a product of capitalistic
society suggests an alternative interpretive path, to which late 19th-century deca-
dence offers a privileged context. Baudelaire’s treatment of modernity as the age of
an ‘‘ephemeral, [...] fugitive, [...] contingent’’ (Baudelaire, 1964: 13) beauty can be
said to inaugurate decadent aesthetics as caducity, as the representation of a
momentary, passing present. Therefore, instead of authenticating Adorno’s convic-
tion that the fleeting new legitimizes the logic of the market, the notion of decadence
as impermanence translates into a conception of art that, precisely as the expression
of temporality, self-reflexivity, and disinterestedness, opposes the bourgeois cult of
speculation, possession, and self-preservation.
As the quintessential aesthete embracing art for art’s sake, and symptomatically
praising the profound modernity of the French painter Felicien Rops for his love of
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decadence as decay (D’Annunzio, 1986: 37), D’Annunzio adheres in exemplary
fashion to this notion of transience as a non-functional, non-productive, hence anti-
bourgeois approach to art and life. Indeed, D’Annunzio’s instinctive ‘‘bisogno del
reveals more than a ‘‘reckless, [...] pathological’’ (Hughes-Hallett, 2013:
148) compulsion to spend. The allegedly ‘‘perverted form of largesse’’ (p. 149) that
could connote him as a ‘‘self-indulgent squanderer’’ (p. 149) is in fact more deeply
connected to this particular conceptualization of the beautiful. As D’Annunzio’s
works eloquently show, the decadent pleasure of the ephemeral and the formulation
of beauty as expenditure and gratuitousness are founded upon the principle of uncon-
ditional loss informing those primitive or archaic practices that inspire the nascent
discourse on symbolic economy to reject instrumentality in life and in representation.
‘‘Our morality is not solely commercial’’, anthropologist Marcel Mauss (1967: 63)
writes in his 1924 seminal work on gift-exchange from ancient Rome to the
Melanesia of his time. ‘‘Things have values which are emotional as well as material;
indeed in some cases the values are entirely emotional. [...] We still have people and
classes who uphold past customs and we bow to them’’ (Mauss, 1967: 63). In
D’Annunzio’s works, the notion of art as a symbolic activity opposed to the utili-
tarian and materialistic orientation of Western modernity is frequently connoted as a
gift which, further reinforced by the motif of the hand,
promotes emotional bonds
in actual or ideal spaces perceived as disinterested and hence noble. At the same time,
starting from the decadent premise of transience in both art and life, D’Annunzio
situates in expenditure without return the aesthetic principle par excellence. With
this sophisticated theoretical reflection he transcends his immediate cultural context,
and can be reappraised as a contributor to an extended philosophical and critical
debate that interrogates the role of value in aesthetic activity and social prac-
tices—from the Nietzschean moral economy of squandering and the ceremonial
exchange studied by Modernist anthropologists like Bronislaw Malinowski and
Marcel Mauss in non-Western societies, passing through the pure dissipation of
Georges Bataille’s ‘general economy’ and Martin Heidegger’s paradigm of donation
as expression of a non-manipulative conception of time, down to the aporias of
Jacques Derrida’s aneconomic gift, among others.
Art, time, giving: Beyond Il piacere
Il lettor vero non e
`chi mi compra ma chi mi ama. (D’Annunzio, 1990: 57)
[...] a man gives himself [...] because he owes himself—himself and his possessions—to
others. (Mauss, 1967: 45)
[...] it is thinking that brings Being to language, and this bringing-into-language is
figured as an offering–a gift. (Heidegger, 1993: 252)
As I have already observed in reference to the protagonist of D’Annunzio’s first
novel, Il piacere, Andrea Sperelli is still too anchored to material and rational
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speculation to embrace the ethos of dissipation without return (Pireddu, 1997: 191).
Nevertheless, his defeat does not invalidate the paradigm of symbolic economy in
D’Annunzio’s aesthetic and ethical vision. Through the motif of the hand, Il piacere
establishes a formal connection between art and the gift as manifestations marked by
temporality that subsequent works will further explore, highlighting a tension
between rational appropriation and material and emotional lavishness.
Contempt for profit and ownership leads Andrea to see ‘‘qualche cosa
d’inverecondo’’ (D’Annunzio, 1990: 250) in the hands of Elena’s husband, which
he degrades to vulgar expressions of ‘‘utilita
`materiale’’ (p. 247). Likewise, although
Andrea feels touched by his servant’s loyalty, the benevolence that his hands convey
derives from a servility that, as in Georges Bataille, still supports a philosophy of
work and of speculative knowledge. For Bataille (1973: 130), ‘‘travail’’ and ‘‘savoir’’
are functional to the accomplishment of a project, and hence confirm the desire for
self-preservation. For his part, when Andrea feels art gush from his hands, he is
pervaded by a ‘‘divino torrente di gioia’’ (D’Annunzio, 1990: 143)—the kind
of ecstatic experience that for Bataille dissolves stability and opens up to the
‘‘non-savoir’’ of art as an instance of souverainete
´(sovereignty), namely, aristocratic,
primordial squandering of excess energy (Bataille, 1973: 130). By defining poetry at
once as immanent and eternal, indeed, Andrea ascribes to the artwork the nature of
the gift, whose spirit, according to Marcel Mauss, is kept in movement through the
consumption of its own singular manifestations, as there is ‘‘a certain power which
forces [objects] to circulate, to be given away and repaid’’ (Mauss, 1967: 41). A line of
poetry for Andrea is precisely ‘‘indipendente da ogni legame e da ogni dominio; non
appartiene piu` all’artefice, ma e
`di tutti e di nessuno’’ (D’Annunzio, 1990: 142).
Andrea’s creative ability is not simply the result of his will. Rather, it is inseparable
from a disposition to receive and circulate the fruit of his imagination instead of
exploiting it as private property. Andrea feels the need to ‘‘darsi liberamente e per
riconoscenza’’ (D’Annunzio, 1990: 138) to art, acknowledging that ‘‘il divino pregio
del dono’’ (p. 141)—his artistic talent—is not in his exclusive possession. A thought
gushing from the poet’s mind ‘‘se
´guita ad esistere nella conscienza degli uomini’’
(D’Annunzio, 1990: 142), precisely because the author acts as a temporary
beneficiary of the gift of art, and hands it down to others.
The condition that can prevent the authentic gift from being reinscribed in the
closed circle of debts and credits, according to Derrida (1992: 101), is a ‘‘forgetful
excess’’, able to obliterate consciousness and significance. For his part, however,
with his ‘‘smania [...] di sapere, di scoprire, d’interrogare’’ (D’Annunzio, 1990:
29), Andrea exerts his ownership rights upon the gift of art and beauty. Indeed,
whereas at first the hand appears as the symbol of irrational wastefulness allowing
Andrea to repudiate ‘‘ogni benefizio’’ (D’Annunzio, 1990: 57) —as in the scenes in
which he is captivated by Elena’s ‘‘coppa carnale’’ (p. 54) bestowing beauty and
sensuality – it ultimately foregrounds his attempt to annul loss and actualize his
‘‘presentimento del possesso’’ (D’Annunzio, 1990: 44). For instance, while sketching
the hands of his other lover, Maria Ferres, Andrea exerts the power of capitalization
over the inexhaustible erotic exchange represented by these ‘‘[m]ani di bonta
`’’ and
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‘‘di perdono’’ (D’Annunzio, 1990: 287): ‘‘Mi pare che mi appartengano di diritto; mi
pare che voi dobbiate concedermene il possesso’’. Precisely because ‘‘una mano
nuda’’ corresponds for him to ‘‘una parte nuda dell’anima’’ (D’Annunzio, 1990:
210), he coopts art to dominate the woman and penetrate all her secrets.
Ironically, Andrea is ultimately rewarded with the ruthless utilitarian rules of the
marketplace that contaminate his artistic aspirations and his sentimental relation-
ships, dissolving the erotic power of the gift. He thus paves the way for his epigone
Giorgio Aurispa who, in Trionfo della morte, is also marked by the tension between
wastefulness and acquisition. With his yearning for eternity through death as a
dimension able to transcend the insurmountable separation between man and
woman, Giorgio revives Andrea’s need for possession and control of others. Yet,
his perceptions and meditations also show that success and superiority can be
attained, instead, by accepting the logic of impermanence, abandoning oneself to
finitude as expenditure without return. It is once again the hand that in Trionfo della
morte conveys the aesthetic and ethical underpinnings of donating and dissipating.
The novel is dotted with images of hands that dispense perishable material and
emotional property, hence substantiating the idea of temporality as the negation
of a stable, manipulable presence, and hands that, in other scenes, indirectly sanction
the propensity to give as they represent, by contrast, the base impulse toward
acquisition and practicality.
The brutishness of Giorgio’s younger brother Diego is reflected in his greedy
hands, ‘‘quelle mani larghe, robuste, coperte d’una lanugine folta, che gia
tavola, occupate al servizio della bocca vorace, gli avevano prodotto un senso di
ripulsione cosı
`vivo’’ (D’Annunzio, 1995c: 97). Likewise, the disgust that Giorgio
feels for his father’s ploys to extort money so as to continue his relationship with a
vulgar woman, no less ‘‘avida e insaziabile’’ (D’Annunzio, 1995c: 117), translates
metonymically into the perception of the paternal hand as it touches the documents
attesting his financial demise, ‘‘quella sua mano gonfia, quasi mostruosa, dai
pori visibilissimi’’ (p. 114), qualifying an equally rapacious individual ready for
any compromise ‘‘per far denaro’’ (p. 117). Or, again, the psychological inferiority
of his aunt Gioconda, unable to rise above the most elementary and animal urge to
fill up her belly, materializes in ‘‘certe mani grasse, di sego’’ (D’Annunzio, 1995c:
128), signs of an ‘‘ingordigia’’ (p. 129) that makes her mourn her suicidal brother
Demetrio only for the loss of his generosity. At a more general level, repugnant
hands illustrate the physical and moral degradation of entire groups or social classes
that Giorgio—here a foil for D’Annunzio himself—abhors precisely for their
uncouthness and their urgent material needs: the hand of poor widow Riccangela,
‘‘mano rude e nerastra—mano provata a tutte le fatiche’’ (D’Annunzio, 1995c: 326),
‘‘adusta e callosa di lavoratrice’’ (p. 328); the deformed, maimed hands of beggars
and pilgrims on their way to the Sanctuary of Casalbordino, trembling as they
overcome their ‘‘sordida e cruda’’ (p. 239) avarice and bestow on the Virgin Mary
the gains of their yearlong toil in exchange for a miraculous healing; or the pale and
fat hands of covetous priests who interfere with that fanatic commerce by mercilessly
pocketing the offerings.
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The refined individual’s scorn for the prosaic practices of inferior social groups is
particularly significant for the anthropology of D’Annunzio’s time, especially in
connection with the emerging studies of crowd behavior. Starting from Scipio
Sighele’s La folla delinquente (1891), the multitude begins to be analyzed as an
autonomous subject of investigation, distinct from, but, above all, inferior to the
single individual precisely because it allegedly expresses base atavistic instincts:
‘‘scende vertiginosamente tutti i gradini che la conducono all’imo della brutalita
piu` vigliacca’’ (Sighele, 1985: 93), hence suddenly exposing ‘‘sotto le spoglie
dell’uomo civile il selvaggio’’ (1985: 84). Not accidentally, in the framework of
this regressive primitivism embodied by the collectivity as a primordial, savage
entity, Sighele focuses on D’Annunzio’s ability to grasp the tumultuous emotional
contradictions that trigger ‘‘il desiderio del possesso e della conquista’’ (Sighele,
1911: 58) by staging a veritable duel between the individual and his two fatal
enemies—the woman and the crowd. The dynamics of collective behavior that
Sighele aptly grasps in D’Annunzio’s works as backward stages of human
evolution—from the superhuman contempt for the barbarous mob in La nave to
the threat of a widespread democracy in Le vergini delle rocce—has far-reaching
theoretical implications. The mob’s predatory, bestial hands that in Trionfo della
morte embody pathological avarice and ownership exemplify the ‘‘material ethic of
value’’ (Heidegger, 2000: 340) that Heidegger challenges for its reduction of existence
to practical occupations and to the expectation of utility and profit. Whenever Being
amounts to mere stability and manipulation, time also acquires the ordinary sense of
‘‘a succession of a calculable sequence of nows’’ (Heidegger, 1972: 12) that renders
actions quantifiable, foreseeable, and programmable. Precisely to challenge
causality and a controllable, productive presence, Heidegger reconceptualizes
Being as self-reflexive disinterestedness, an expenditure of one’s self or one’s time
without finality.
As we read in Being and Time, ‘‘Dasein’’—namely, the existence of the human
being thrown into finitude and projected toward death—‘‘utilizes itself primarily for
itself [...]. In utilizing itself for the sake of itself, Dasein ‘uses itself up’. In using itself
up, Dasein uses itself—that is to say, its time’’ (Heidegger, 2000: 381, emphasis in the
original). Heidegger explains the relationship between Being and temporality as a
form of donation, as he emphasizes that ‘‘We do not say: Being is, time is, but rather:
there is Being and there is time’’ (Heidegger, 1972: 5), where ‘‘there is’’ has to be
interpreted as ‘‘It gives’’ (Heidegger, 1972: 5), in line with his original German
expressions ‘‘Es gibt Zeit’’, ‘‘Es gibt Sein’’. Being ‘‘belongs to giving’’ (Heidegger,
1972: 6), and temporality becomes its destiny. However, although no time is given
without man, the individual itself is not a privileged agent mastering this transaction.
‘‘Time is not the product of man, man is not the product of time’’ (Heidegger, 1972:
16). Unlike what happens in the circle of production and reciprocity, temporality
and the being it shapes manifest themselves as perishable instances of donation that
do not lead to any property or ownership. It is a ‘‘giving which gives only its gift, but
in the giving holds itself back and withdraws’’ (Heidegger, 1972: 8). Time and Being
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are determined by what Heidegger defines as Ereignis, namely, ‘‘the event of
Appropriation’’ (Heidegger, 1972: 19) that acts simultaneously as
‘‘Expropriation’’ (p. 23), because, as it ‘‘withdraws what is most fully its own from
boundless unconcealment’’ (p. 22), it also ‘‘expropriates itself of itself’’ (pp. 22–23).
In this Heideggerian framework, the significance of hands that Trionfo della morte
connotes as instances of presence highlights even more strongly their reversed
double, namely, hands that, by contrast, symbolize a non-utilitarian, disinterested
approach connecting munificence to the temporality of the human condition, hence
treating donation as the proper determination of Heideggerian Being. Enveloped in
the aura of Demetrio’s magnanimity and refinement, Giorgio, in one of his remi-
niscences, overlaps his brother’s hand playing the violin ‘‘con gesto largo e impec-
cabile’’ (D’Annunzio, 1995c: 132) with his own hand which elegantly translates and
copies Tennyson’s lyrics inspiring Demetrio’s musical compositions. As the tool of
Giorgio’s ‘‘disutile e ozioso’’ attitude (D’Annunzio, 1995c: 57), the hand engaged in
aesthetic activity refuses practical work and pecuniary rewards. It promotes, instead,
a non-productive and non-quantifiable use of time that D’Annunzio describes pre-
cisely in terms of ‘‘temporalita
`’’ (D’Annunzio, 1995c: 155).
Despite the absolute
formalism of Heidegger’s meditation, hardly compatible with the sensuousness of
D’Annunzio’s literary world, the connection between Heideggerian time and the
gratuitousness of existence through the paradigm of the gift can ultimately help us
appreciate the protagonist’s ambivalent ethos in Trionfo della morte. On the one
hand, just as Giorgio rejects greed and possession, he seems to accept transience
as the hallmark of a life conceived as dissipation of one’s self and time. Like Andrea
Sperelli, who is immersed in an ephemeral present effectively summarized by the
inscription ‘‘RUIT HORA’’ carved in a skull (D’Annunzio, 1990: 73), Giorgio feels
that ‘‘tutto e
`precario’’ (D’Annunzio, 1995c: 156)—even love is nothing more than a
‘‘figura passeggera’’ (D’Annunzio, 1995c: 156) subject to the corrosive and trans-
formative action of time. On the other hand, it could be argued that, nonetheless,
Giorgio remains hostage to what Heidegger presents as the inauthenticity of fear,
which makes him flee from what Heidegger (2000: 234, emphasis in original) labels as
‘‘the ‘not-at-home’’’. Hoping to forget the ‘‘solitudine del suo essere interno’’
(D’Annunzio, 1995c: 156), Giorgio indeed attempts to evade the finitude of experi-
ence by clinging to presence as ownership. Despite boasting an ancestor like the
‘‘nobile Demetrio donatore’’ (D’Annunzio, 1995c: 220), he, no less than Andrea
Sperelli in Il piacere, strives to acquire ‘‘sicurta
`assoluta’’ (p. 158) and ‘‘perpetuita
(p. 156) through the ‘‘possesso di un’altra creatura’’ (p. 156).
The fact that, although apparently endorsing transience and giving,
Giorgio remains in that modality of presence that for Heidegger perpetuates
the metaphysics of control is further substantiated by the last part of the novel,
focusing on the reception of Nietzsche’s thought. Indeed, beyond the considerable
attention to the role of the German philosopher in D’Annunzio’s aesthetics,
a still
largely unnoticed subtext links the two authors precisely through the paradigm of
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Extravagant expenditure and symbolic revenue:
The Nietzschean ‘‘immaginifico’’’s give and take
[...] a gift-giving virtue is the highest virtue. (Nietzsche, 1966: 74)
La passione vera non conosce l’utilita
`, non conosce alcuna specie di benefizio, alcuna
specie di vantaggio. vive, come l’arte, per se
´sola. (D’Annunzio, 1995a: 228)
Giorgio’s yearning to attain the Nietzschean ‘‘ideale dionisiaco’’ (D’Annunzio,
1995c: 219), to become ‘‘egli medesimo l’eterna gioia del Divenire’’ (p. 288),
cannot be separated from his awareness that, through annihilation, individual
existence also merges with, and partakes of, ‘‘the extravagant fecundity of the
world will’’ (Nietzsche, 1956: 102–103). The words that echo in Giorgio’s mind
are those of Zarathustra, the ‘‘Maestro distruttore e creatore’’ (D’Annunzio,
1995c: 293), endowed with the most ‘‘virile’’ and ‘‘nobile’’ (p. 294) eloquence because
he ‘‘affermava la vita’’ (p. 295). Giorgio does not extol Zarathustra’s excess energy as
the extravagant gesture of a squanderer ready to dissolve identity and possession.
Rather, through the most inebriating instances of ‘‘ebrezza di distruzione’’
(D’Annunzio, 1995c: 338), he asserts a ‘‘volonta
`terribile e implacabile di possedere’’
(pp. 338–339, 214).
Overall, Giorgio overlooks the complexity of the Nietzschean discourse on giving,
a discourse that, itself accompanied by frequent images of hands, blends the
celebration of absolute liberality with the deprecation of the selfish lust for giving.
Trionfo della morte makes no reference to the Zarathustra who, while keeping the
inexhaustible solar energy as the exemplary model of expenditure, yearns to ‘‘give
away and distribute’’ replete with his wisdom ‘‘like a bee that has gathered too much
honey’’ (Nietzsche, 1966: 10). Zarathustra, in need of outstretched hands waiting to
receive, further glorifies the inexhaustible splendor of the golden star as ‘‘the highest
virtue’’ (Nietzsche, 1966: 74) because of the uselessness, refinement, and perpetuity
of its expenditure, and invites his disciples to become gifts in their turn. He declares
his love for whoever dissipates his soul and ‘‘wants no thanks and returns none’’
(Nietzsche, 1966: 15), ready to renounce self-preservation through continuous
giving. He defines himself as ‘‘a squanderer with a thousand hands’’ (Nietzsche,
1966: 238), who refuses the ordered economic mechanism of sacrifice in favor of
the most radical and excessive experience of absolute loss. Instead, Giorgio seems
more attuned to Zarathustra’s characterization in ‘On the Great Longing’, engaged
in a circuit of gift and countergift with his own individuality, from which he gets back
all that his hands can bestow. It is in this section that Zarathustra addresses his
overflowing soul, wondering about the real motives behind donating and receiving:
‘‘Should not the giver be thankful that the receiver received? Is not giving a need? Is
not receiving mercy?’’ (Nietzsche, 1966: 223). Giorgio recites these questions almost
verbatim: ‘‘Non convien forse a colui che dona render grazie a colui che riceve? Non e
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forse il donare un bisogno? Il ricevere non equivale forse ad avere pieta
(D’Annunzio, 1995c: 298).
Other Nietzschean passages problematize a unilateral interpretation of the gift as
a gesture alien to calculation. Zarathustra, whose hand never rests from giving and
who hides his face and cleans his soul after his donation so as to snatch the gift from
the closed circuit of memory and debt, also envies ‘‘the happiness of those who
receive’’ (Nietzsche, 1966: 106) and unmasks the greediness behind homages and
gratitude, avowing that ‘‘he who gives praise poses as if he were giving back; in truth,
however, he wants more gifts’’ (p. 168). For his part, however, Giorgio reads the
Nietzschean gift-economy as a philosophy of self-control, of a recursive and static
identity, of a constant reserve of values that subordinates prodigality and self-
dissolution to the logic of recovery. It is once again through images of hands that
Trionfo della morte symbolizes retention rather than circulation—significantly,
severed hands, which also magnify the wickedness of donation. Foreshadowing the
tragic epilogue of the novel, Giorgio, the heir of Demetrio’s generosity, foresees
Ippolita’s death by staging a symbolic mutilation of her hands (D’Annunzio,
1995c: 369). Unable to possess Ippolita and to give her love, he attempts to exclude
her from the circle of symbolic exchange, depriving her of the faculty of giving and
The violence of this image evokes crueler scenes in D’Annunzio’s works where the
giving hand does not perform a gesture of unconditional loss and becomes, instead,
an object of appropriation through which the alleged donor of art further denatures
the act of generosity. If in Il piacere Maria Ferres equates Andrea’s aesthetic obses-
sion with her hands to ‘‘una tortura sconosciuta’’ (D’Annunzio, 1990: 210), Poema
paradisiaco depicts an actual mutilation that negative reciprocity inflicts upon the
disposition to bestow. Introduced as providers of love and benevolence, the female
hands in ‘Le Mani’ soon generate in the poet ‘‘un furor geloso, un’ira folle’’ culmi-
nating with the impulse to sever them, as in his dream of a woman’s ‘‘mani mozze’’ in
a pool of blood (D’Annunzio, 1952: 684). And if the mother’s ‘‘pura mano’’
(D’Annunzio, 1952: 693) in ‘Consolazione’ protects the poet’s heart with the endless
generosity of maternal love, the grim plot of La Gioconda destroys this idyll by
subjecting the female munificent hand to the brutality of the artist’s selfishness
once again. Recovering after his suicide attempt, the sculptor Lucio Settala blesses
the chance to receive back from his wife Silvia’s trembling ‘‘divine mani [...] il dono
della vita’’ (D’Annunzio, 1910: 64). Yet this woman who has bestowal inscribed in
her maiden name—Doni—and whose abnegation, according to Maestro Lorenzo
Gaddi, should be immortalized in art by having Lucio sculpt her loving hands in
marble ‘‘come un ex-voto’’ (D’Annunzio, 1910: 19), in fact ultimately succumbs to
the selfishness and violence of male aesthetics. Although Lucio recognizes that his
wife deserves to be worshipped as ‘‘un’anima di un pregio inestimabile’’
(D’Annunzio, 1910: 90), he also avows that, not being a sculptor of souls, his
transfiguration can occur not so much thanks to Silvia’s ‘‘mani di bonta
perdono’’ (p. 155) as through the creation of a work of art, inspired by his charming
Pireddu 9
muse and model Gioconda Dianti. Only this woman can confer on his raw material
‘‘il dono della vita perfetta’’ (D’Annunzio, 1910: 156). Yet this gift to the aesthetic
realm can only occur at the cost of Silvia’s atrocious suffering, namely, the loss of her
hands, immolated to save Lucio’s statue from Gioconda’s own destructive impetus.
Even more perversely, the offering that Silvia makes with and of her hands to her
love and to art is not only useless (since Lucio will leave with Gioconda nonetheless)
but also ultimately repaid with Silvia’s exclusion from the circle of symbolic
economy. Indeed, maimed and abandoned, Silvia will not be able to receive, in
her turn, the spontaneous, disinterested gift of a star-fish from La Sirenetta—a
creature who, like Silvia, ‘‘da
`sempre e non chiede mai’’ (D’Annunzio, 1910:
202)—or flowers from her daughter Beata. The concrete result of this physical and
aesthetic cruelty toward female donation in La Gioconda becomes itself an object of
aestheticization in Il libro segreto, where D’Annunzio represents his lover’s hand
‘‘senza braccio, senza torso, senza corpo, sola: unica’’ (D’Annunzio, 1995a: 247),
a self-referential repository of male predatory instinct.
In Trionfo della morte, the donor’s violent cooptation of giving ultimately
culminates with trespass as the most radical event that thwarts circulation and
interpersonal connections. Giorgio chooses death for himself and Ippolita not as
the extreme instance of ecstatic expenditure but, rather, as a ‘‘ready-to-hand’’
(Heidegger, 2000: 305), exploitable possibility, a defense against the depersonaliza-
tion associated with giving and his ultimate attempt to annihilate temporality. The
individual’s display of power over donation in Trionfo della morte paves the
ground for Le vergini delle rocce, where the aristocratic disposition to unconditional
expenditure does not derive from a potentially universal magnanimity but, rather,
from belonging to a noble lineage, in line with the contempt that Nietzsche
demonstrates for any kind of institutionalized community, implicitly equated to
commonplace values. Yet, D’Annunzio also grasps and adapts the anthropological
implications of Nietzsche’s thought, in particular the link between the instinct for
rank—from which the dominator’s prestige derives—the nobility of taste, and the
propensity for giving. His nexus of munificence, aesthetics, and power already seems
to delineate the economic and ceremonial underpinnings of art as will to power, in
terms of the practice that Nietzsche defines as a ‘‘large-scale economy’’ (Nietzsche,
1968b: 451), a synonym for the active nihilism that distinguishes the noble individual
and the artistic creator from the passive nihilism of mediocre people, simple
consumers of art, unable to transcend the morality of utility.
This dichotomy proves particularly significant for the protagonist of Le vergini
delle rocce if enriched with Zarathustra’s own considerations on generosity, which
equate the distinction between the two forms of nihilism to that between the ‘‘whole
and holy (...) selfishness’’ stealing all values in the name of an insatiable will to give
and the ‘‘sick selfishness’’ of the ‘‘all-too-poor and hungry’’ individual who
avidly ‘‘sneaks around the table of those who give’’ (Nietzsche, 1966: 75). Claudio
Cantelmo, who aspires to perpetuate the ideals of beauty and virtue, wants to
generate a sort of overman, the king of Rome, belonging to a racial elite
characterized by a sense of reciprocity founded upon the ability to bestow, rather
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than upon the rational equilibria of utilitarian transactions. The tangible sign of
aristocracy in Prince Luzio, the father of the three women among whom Cantelmo
will select his spouse, resides in the ‘‘qualita
`meravigliosa’’ of his hands, so pure and
beautiful because they transmit a ‘‘liberalita
`non paragonabile se non all’antica che
per piccoli servigi amava ricompensar grandemente’’ (D’Annunzio, 1991a: 157).
Adopting unconditional giving as the prerequisite for what D’Annunzio defines as
the Nietzschean ‘‘autocrazia della coscienza’’ (D’Annunzio, 2003: 94), Cantelmo
can hence conceive the world and the poetic word as ‘‘un dono magnifico largito dai
pochi ai molti, dai liberi agli schiavi: da coloro che pensano e sentono a coloro che
debbono lavorare’’ (D’Annunzio, 1991a: 31). A long meditation on the hands of
Luzio’s three daughters highlights the aesthetic underpinnings of the superiority of
giving above the petty morality of instrumental, equal exchange. Against the back-
drop of Anatolia’s strong and sensitive hands and of Massimilla’s ethereal and
submissive ones, the ‘‘mani sublimi di Violante’’ (D’Annunzio, 1991a: 104) incarnate
the most crucial elements that Cantelmo pursues in his aestheticizing lifestyle. A
metonymy for the magnificent and sacred temple of her body, her hands bestow
beauty and initiate to ‘‘infiniti misteri’’ (D’Annunzio, 1991a: 105), an excess of
meaning dilapidated through and as ritual. This arcane polysemy inherent to
hands that become symbols in their turn, and that is bestowed upon Cantelmo as
the exclusive beneficiary of that gift, illustrates what Jean-Joseph Goux (1978: 156)
defines as ‘‘symbolisation cryptophorique’’, the deep, plural meaning acquired
through symbolic exchange, in contrast with the conventional system of general
equivalences that determines value and regulates market economy.
Precisely the hand and the gift as visible substitutes for hidden meanings—be they
already existing or yet to be created—inform the artistic epos of Stelio Effrena and
his tormented liaison with the actress Foscarina in Il fuoco, enriching this intratex-
tual paradigm with new reflections on the links between symbolic economy and
aesthetic activity. From the ‘‘mani meravigliose’’ (D’Annunzio, 1993: 40) of
Venice, personified as an artist and as a prodigal work of beauty, to the visionary
gift of love and poetry that the artist aims to offer to his followers, or the sacred gift
of fire transmitted as a creative faculty across generations and received with ‘‘mani
incombustibili’’ (p. 53), D’Annunzio multiplies symbolic elements that render the
hand the privileged sign of an aesthetic and ethical investigation, but now also
delineating the premises of a communal dimension nourished by ceremonial
Like their author, both Stelio and Foscarina avow an obsessive attraction for
which, in the novel, further complicates the nexus of love, art, and the gift.
Foscarina feels naturally inclined to bestow love and art, but will be inexorably
penalized by the most pernicious effect of the gift, ‘‘avvelenata dall’arte’’
(D’Annunzio, 1993: 30) because of Stelio’s hand that is ‘‘cosı
`delicata e cosı
[...] che pur con un dono o con una carezza poteva farle tanto male’’ (p. 14). Indeed,
she will ultimately realize ‘‘la miseria di quel dono’’ (D’Annunzio, 1993: 25), that is,
her useless offering of her body to Stelio. In her hands demanding to be kissed, Stelio
finds the profound goodness ‘‘che sa tutto donare in un solo sguardo, in un piccolo
Pireddu 11
gesto’’ (D’Annunzio, 1993: 129), a ‘‘bisogno di offrire’’ (p. 165) that makes
Foscarina wonder whether she really has ‘‘donato tutti i suoi doni’’ (p. 106) to her
insatiable lover. For his part, Stelio bestows his art as a gift, and, simultaneously, he
shows that, as Zarathustra’s voluntary beggar claims, ‘‘to give presents well is an art
and the ultimate and most cunning master-art of graciousness’’ (Nietzsche, 1966:
270). Precisely this supremacy transforms generosity into an intentional act of power
over the receiver. The Stelio who, by creating with joy, takes on a divine quality is
inseparable from the Dionysian ecstatic destroyer. A question that Foscarina asks
Stelio condenses precisely the dangerous duplicity of his liberality: ‘‘prima adorare
e poi fare a pezzi: e
`questo il vostro rito?’’ (D’Annunzio, 1993: 180).
Beyond these ambivalent examples, however, during Stelio and Foscarina’s visit
to the Murano glassmakers the novel exhibits a non-alienating model of ceremonial
expenditure, which D’Annunzio illustrates once again through the paradigm of the
hand perfecting art as a disinterested activity, outside rationalization and acquisi-
tion. The aesthetic and ethical poignancy of this scene can be effectively grasped
through Heidegger’s reflections on the human hand not only as prehensile organ but
also a promoter of connections and exchanges, which it renders communicable and
symbolic. As Heidegger maintains in What is Called Thinking?, the hand ‘‘designs
and signs’’ (Heidegger, 1976: 16). Its essence is hence determined by language and
thought, which it transmits as handicraft, in contrast with a technologization of all
human activities and expressions that are reduced to ‘‘the procurement of useful
information’’ finalized to material or rational profit (Heidegger, 1976: 15). By refus-
ing to conceive the hand as a simple grabbing tool, Heidegger rejects a notion of
thought as conceptual grasping and manipulation, of knowledge as technical and
pragmatic productivity, of language as a vehicle of profitable meaning, hence under-
scoring a fortiori the danger of a dehumanization and reification of poetic language.
The thought and work of the hand attempt to restore humanism by recuperating the
essence of giving precisely as a cognitive transmission that does not ‘apprehend’
in the sense of ‘grasping’ and ‘dominating’. Heidegger hence envisions the human
capacity for thinking and language in terms of a ‘‘gift’’ (Heidegger, 1976: 17), whose
authenticity should be guaranteed by the openness of the hand, the gesture through
which the hand gives, and gives itself. Precisely in the framework of the gift, of the
hand and of the handwork, Heidegger locates the possibility of dialogue between
thought and poetry. He detaches thought from the mechanical intellectual work of
technology, and associates its essence with the ‘‘fateful gift of truth’’ (Heidegger,
1976: 19)—namely, beauty—which for him is the truth of the poetic word.
In syntony with Heidegger’s argumentation and in contrast with the ‘‘aspre mani
asservite agli strumenti del lavoro’’ (D’Annunzio, 1993: 96), the creative gesture in
Il fuoco is incarnated in the hands of the Murano glassmakers, light and nimble
around the incandescent glass like ‘‘una danza silenziosa’’ (p. 222). As though the act
of giving could consecrate the aesthetic and noble quality of those manual workers,
the veritable identity of the master glass blower Seguso emerges when he offers
Foscarina an artifact created by his own hands. An example of what Derrida
(1987: 174) presented as the double vocation of Heidegger’s hand, namely, that of
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showing or indicating and that of giving or giving itself, Seguso’s hand transmits
disinterestedness to the product of its art, endowing it with an aesthetic quality
that cannot be rationally apprehended: ‘‘perche
´fosse tanto bello, nessuno avrebbe
potuto dire ne
´con una parola ne
´con mille’’ (D’Annunzio, 1993: 226). Beauty—the
truth of art in Heideggerian terms—is here realized as a gift whose reasons cannot be
given or quantified, a gift whose essence cannot be explained: ‘‘il suo pregio era nullo
o incalcolabile, seconda la qualita
`dell’occhio che lo rimirava’’ (D’Annunzio, 1993:
226). Significantly, it is at this point that Stelio associates the craftsman’s renowned
family name with the ‘‘buona razza’’, even defining Seguso a ‘‘principe’’ of the
famous lineage from which he inherited the ‘‘arcana sapienza’’ of that art
(D’Annunzio, 1993: 223). The evidence of Seguso’s ‘nobilta
`’ (D’Annunzio, 1993:
224) lies precisely in his hands, which captivate Stelio so much that he asks Seguso
to bequeath them to the glass museum, together with his blowpipe. Authentic
instruments of that challenging and precise art, and perfected by the painstaking
activity of multiple generations, Seguso’s hands acquire the symbolic value of a text
to be deciphered. Seguso’s fingers reveal ‘‘la facolta
`ereditaria di sentire la difficile
bellezza delle linee semplici e delle tenuissime colorazioni’’ (D’Annunzio, 1993: 226).
Even the scars that the fire carved in their flesh delineate ‘‘forme espressive di
destrezza e di esattezza’’ (D’Annunzio, 1993: 224).
In the Murano episode, fire and the activity of the hand hence also seal a
fundamental connection between the glassmakers’ art and Stelio’s own aesthetic
vocation. Like the artisans who mold the incandescent paste, artists have to be
‘‘artefici’’ (D’Annunzio, 1993: 56), ‘‘fabbri della Bellezza’’ (p. 57), as Stelio refuses
to pour his poetic matter ‘‘in impronte ereditate’’ (p. 277) and rather purports to
create from scratch, condensing his inspiration in new ‘‘forme viventi’’ (p. 277).
Beyond mere disgust for capitalistic reification, he extols the ‘‘pregio della materia’’
(D’Annunzio, 1993: 44) as a living substance. As shown by the ‘‘eleganti creature del
fuoco’’ (D’Annunzio, 1993: 222), it is precisely the organic, vital bond between the
artisan and the primordial elements to be shaped by his hand that constitutes
the essence of art as poiesis, as a non-alienating making, rather than as technical
production and reproduction. Propelled by the ‘‘antico orgoglio’’ (D’Annunzio,
1993: 225) that continues to nourish the glassmakers’ work, the artist as faber can
hence consolidate ‘‘idee possenti’’ as the seal of the ‘‘nobilta
`d’una stirpe’’ (p. 44).
The hand in Il fuoco is hence not simply human, that is, it is not just in contrast
with the animal’s prehensile limb, as in Heidegger. Rather, it can be considered
superhuman in Nietzsche’s sense, since it defines a category of superior individuals
who, like the noble glassmakers, employ expressive and creative faculties in a more
refined and simultaneously more primordial fashion. In addition to molding
aesthetic matter, therefore, the fire around which the novel revolves also ignites
the flame of an ideal hearth, a community inspired by the sumptuous, disinterested
expenditure of aesthetic activity.
Once again, Sighele’s intuitions were right. After being the target of ‘‘tutto il
profondo disprezzo del superuomo nauseato dalla indegna democrazia invadente’’
(Sighele, 1911: 61), collectivity in Il fuoco plays a constructive role: ‘‘Il contatto con
Pireddu 13
la moltitudine ch’egli insultava come una degradazione, diventa invece
un’elevazione per l’individuo’’ who ‘‘sente insomma aumentarsi, al contatto
dell’anima collettiva, il vigore e il valore della sua cenestesi’’ (p. 62). Yet, we are
also prompted to wonder whether this fecund communion between the artist and an
inspiring crowd that reinvigorates creativity thanks to its mysterious choral energy
elevating it above prosaic mass production really transcends the metaphysics of
value, or whether, in fact, like Zarathustra in ‘The Night Song’, while his heart
and hand ‘‘become callous from always meting out’’ (Nietzsche, 1966: 106), Stelio
is simultaneously envying those who receive his gifts, craving to rob them, and
closing the circle of reciprocity around himself as an inalienable meta-gift.
On the ashes of the gift
What returns, what finally, comes home to me is my own self. (Nietzsche, 1966: 152)
Ho fatto di tutto me la mia casa; e l’amo in ogni parte. (D’Annunzio 1995a: 125)
The ritualistic squandering that, across the various phases of D’Annunzio’s literary
career, welds art and gift-economy in a tension between ecstatic loss and the prestige
of symbolic return revives the issue that Heidegger raised about Thus Spoke
Zarathustra: as it preaches the overman and the eternal return, Nietzsche renders
a perpetual becoming stable and permanent. Nietzsche, in other words, still appears
to him as a metaphysical philosopher (Heidegger, 1979: 3–6), one who has trans-
formed but not transcended presence as calculability and value. From D’Annunzio’s
autobiographical writings we can deduce that D’Annunzio, too, is caught in this
dilemma. Even more blatantly than in Nietzsche, his reflection on unconditional
expenditure shows how the gift is inevitably absorbed in the circle of value produc-
tion, letting values subsist as conditions for the preservation and strengthening of
In his works and actions, the Nietzschean genius ‘‘is necessarily a prodigal: his
greatness lies in the fact that he expends himself’’ (Nietzsche, 1968a: 109, emphasis in
the original). His honor and liberality are not simple instances of noblesse oblige or
of devotion to a great cause. Rather, they result from the force of superabundance,
beyond order and control: he ‘‘overflows, he uses himself up, he does not spare
himself—with inevitability, fatefully, involuntarily, as a river’s bursting its banks
is involuntary’’ (Nietzsche, 1968a: 109). However, this totally physiological action is
ascribed a ‘‘higher morality’’ (Nietzsche, 1968a: 109, emphasis in the original). In
other words, human gratitude ‘‘misunderstands’’ the alleged benefactor’s gesture by
calling it sacrifice and abnegation (Nietzsche, 1968a: 109, emphasis in the original).
In a letter to his French lover Ange
`le Lager, D’Annunzio adopts uncannily similar
terms to emphasize the reward of the genius’s expenditure, yet he ultimately fore-
grounds the strategic component behind the apparent resignation with which the
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superior being accepts this symbolic revenue. He explains that he has to be ‘‘si
¨quement patient’’ because the suffering that art inflicts on him—a martyrdom
‘‘bien plus atroce que le martyre de Saint Se
´bastien’’ (D’Annunzio, 1988: 84)—is
precisely ‘‘la terrible condamnation et damnation du ge
´nie [...] C’est l’e
´ternel mal-
entendu’’ (p. 84). While the relation between will and action in the Nietzschean
genius’s economy of drives escapes intelligibility, D’Annunzio ingenuously manages
his emotional expenditure in life and art, transfiguring Nietzsche’s sarcasm in sen-
sual, heroic terms.
As he reiterates in many personal meditations, he is obsessed by
the ‘‘angoscia di non avere abbastanza donato’’ (D’Annunzio, 1995a: 96) because
only a beautiful soul ‘‘non ha gioia se non nel donarsi grandemente’’ (D’Annunzio,
1991b: 195).
‘‘Io ho quel che ho donato’’, we read at the entrance of his opulent, overladen
mansion, ‘Il Vittoriale’. This motto, accompanied by a cornucopia, the symbol of
abundance par excellence, seems to transpose to the domain of aesthetics what for
Malinowski and Mauss is the social code of the Trobrianders’ ceremonial
world—‘‘to possess is to give’’ (Malinowski, 1984: 97)—connoting a system of
interpersonal relations created by the circulation of transient property without
guarantee of return. Yet it is also an intriguing reformulation of Zarathustra’s
claim ‘‘I squander what is given to me’’ (Nietzsche, 1966: 238), through which
D’Annunzio reabsorbs unconditional lavishness in the donor’s grandeur. Is it
possible to conceive an exchange without any form of reward, a pure act of giving
able to destroy any measure or rational premise? The gift, as Lewis Hyde (1983: 152)
maintains, ‘‘is lost in self-consciousness. To count, measure, reckon value, or seek
the cause of a thing, is (...) to cease being ‘all of a piece’ with the flow of gifts and
become, instead, one part of the whole reflecting upon another part’’. Can art’s
luxurious dissipation then truly break the circle of speculation and restitution?
Decadent beauty, at once divine and perverse, shares its ambivalence with the gift
as pharmakon, both beneficial and poisonous because of the irrevocable bond
between donor and recipient, according to Mauss (1967: 58). Only dissolution and
oblivion can transcend this paradoxical duplicity, which Derrida reinterprets as the
coexistence of intentionality and chance, of ‘‘the natural and the artificial, the
authentic and the inauthentic, the originary and the derived or borrowed’’
(Derrida, 1992: 70). The essence of the gift, for Derrida, is a utopian, impossible
wager that attempts to think an act that does not belong to the order of presence, and
that can happen only if it does not rationalize over its own realization. Ultimately, if
the gift is ‘‘property that perishes’’ (Hyde, 1983: 8), it is only through ‘‘the death of
the donor agency’’ (Derrida, 1992: 102) that its inherent fatality can exclude the
reward of reciprocity.
In his nocturnal phase, D’Annunzio himself contemplates this total asymmetry of
donation by staging his own trespass and the de-materialization of the work of art.
From the economy of the gift as present, presence, and presentation, he strives to
attain an ineffable absence, the absolute heterogeneity of a radical gesture that, as
Derrida claims, should burn the very meaning of the term ‘gift’ and ‘‘disseminate
Pireddu 15
without return its ashes as well as its terms or germs’’ (Derrida, 1992: 47).
D’Annunzio’s aristocratic avidity for a dimension beyond utility finds in death the
most excessive, destructive, inoperative event. We could add, the most sovereign,in
Bataille’s sense, because D’Annunzio’s yearning for annihilation as an intoxicating
experience of ‘‘gioia [...] mista a patimento’’ (D’Annunzio, 1991b: 98) exposes the
singular individual to nothingness, to an incommensurable ‘outside’, through the
unleashing of passion. In fact, however, unlike Bataille, D’Annunzio does not intend
to loosen the link between passion as passivity, pure nihilistic enduring, and active
passion as dynamis and power (Agamben, 1987: 115–119). As we read in Notturno,
his ‘‘sete di vivere e
`simile al bisogno di morire [...]. La morte e
`infatti presente come
la vita, inebriante, promettitrice, trasfiguratrice’’ (D’Annunzio, 1991b: 155). While,
in Heideggerian terms, mortality makes the subject ‘‘understand that giving itself up
impends for it as the uttermost possibility of its existence’’ (Heidegger, 2000: 308),
namely, self-renunciation outside the order of causality, D’Annunzio’s projection
toward death allows him to acquire magnificence through spoliation:
Non ho signoria di me, ne
´so misurare i miei attimi, ne
´seguire la dissipazione continua
della mia sostanza. a vicenda la mia vita si dissolve e si riserra [...] e sento improvviso
che dentro me vive un altro piu` grande di me. (D’Annunzio 1995a: 125)
Not even when death transcends the realm of representation and terminates
D’Annunzio’s actual vivere inimitabile does it truncate the circularity of the
self-conscious, auto-affective squanderer. It is, indeed, through an economy of
giving—lavish, agonistic, and perverse—that D’Annunzio’s personal mythology
and excessive lifestyle survive his death. The largesse of his notorious debts and
the sumptuous gift of ‘Il Vittoriale’ to the Italian people, his overflowing eros as
extravagant in orgies as in the venereal diseases transmitted to his lovers, his
self-expenditure in daring military actions and the countergift of protagonism and
conquering ambitions, the bestowal of his innovative genius to numerous areas of
Italian and European culture and his intellectual and stylistic misappropriation
through plagiarism consecrate him not only as a living legend—for better or
worse—but also as an acute critic of any immaculate commerce.
In the ‘Moral Conclusions’ to his essay on the gift, Mauss envisions a reenchant-
ment of Western social practices through a ‘‘return to the old and elemental’
(Mauss, 1967: 67) able to infuse ‘‘honor, disinterestedness and corporate solidarity’’
(p. 67) into ‘‘the rigours, abstractions and inhumanities of our codes’’ (p. 64), and to
rediscover ‘‘the joy of giving in public, the delight in generous artistic expenditure, the
pleasure of hospitality’’ (p. 67). The self-appointed Poeta Vate takes away the inno-
cence of this redemptive cultural primitivism. The aesthetic experience as allegedly
disinterested expenditure inevitably involves a surplus value. It remains founded upon
the paradox of conscience and subjectivity—passionate self-giving caught in the
vicious circle of the eternal return, an intoxicating self-referential economy of pleas-
ures that renders each of us like ‘‘ogni grande artista [,] ebro di se
´’’ (D’Annunzio,
1995b: 292).
16 Forum Italicum 0(0)
1. Besides Michetti’s enduring critical support of D’Annunzio, and the several references to
him in D’Annunzio’s works, the two authors entertained an intense epistolary correspond-
ence and collaborated on several artistic projects such as La figlia di Jorio. See Di Tizio
(2002). A symptomatic claim in Libro Segreto also synthesizes the persistence of primitive
and ritual elements as central components of D’Annunzio’s aesthetics, when he encourages
a return to the magical and fetishized sources of culture, and appeals to our ancestral and
ceremonial legacy, convinced that ‘‘partendoci dai compiuti iddii fidiaci e prassitelei
per tornare verso gli zoani primitivi non ci sembrerebbe di allontanarci ma sı
`bene di
riavvicinarci alla divinita
`’’ (D’Annunzio, 1995a: 129).
2. Unpublished letter to Prince Maffeo Barberini-Colonna di Sciarra, owner of the journal
La Tribuna, with which D’Annunzio collaborated for a few years.
3. So far, the motif of hands in D’Annunzio has mainly prompted a psychoanalytic approach,
with which Hughes-Hallett (2013: 227–235) also seems to align herself in her discussion of
the perverse Dannunzian eros. In fact, as I hope to show, the hand has broader aesthetic
and ethical implications that emerge in connection with the paradigm of giving.
4. For its part, another trait of Giorgio’s personality, namely, ‘‘il senso dell’isolamento’’
(D’Annunzio, 1995c: 155), reinforces a Heideggerian reading, as it seems to evoke the
existential solipsism that anxiety foregrounds, forcing Being to face its own worldliness.
5. Nietzsche’s influence on D’Annunzio has been extensively discussed (among others,
Carravetta, 1991; Michelini, 1978; Piga, 1979; Schnapp, 1986; Spackman, 1986; Tosi,
1973; Valenti, 1996). For a treatment of D’Annunzio and Nietzsche in the wider frame-
work of late 19th-century European culture at the intersection of decadent aesthetics and
the anthropological discourse, see Pireddu (2002). Studies on the gift in Nietzsche but
without references to D’Annunzio include Shapiro (1991) and White (2016).
6. Just as Stelio avows his attraction for hands (D’Annunzio, 1993: 190), Foscarina acknow-
ledges she has been drawn to handless, mutilated statues since childhood (pp. 236–237),
and thinks of Stelio’s sister in connection with a visit to hand relics.
7. Stelio had already equated himself to a sculptor who creates the word the way his thumb
shapes clay into a divine statue with one touch (D’Annunzio, 1993: 96).
8. With this communitarian dimension promoted by aesthetic activity as an instance of gift-
giving, Stelio transcends the artist’s condition in La Gioconda, where Lucio, during his
convalescence, seeks salvation in the oblivion of art, through his ‘‘mani indebolite’’
(D’Annunzio, 1910: 86), unable to create hence unable to connect with others. The coterie
of artists as makers, brought together by the handling of tools in Il fuoco, reinforces the
Heideggerian paradigm in light of the German philosopher’s ontological distinction
between handiness and presence of objects and materials. What turns a mere thing into
a tool is not merely the usability of its work but, rather, the fact that ‘‘production itself is a
using of something for something’’ (Heidegger, 2000: 100) and for somebody. Precisely this
activity transforms nature into culture, and the human being’s private, personal world into
a public one. Heidegger gives the example of a hammer to explain how its ‘‘specific
‘manipulability’’’ (Heidegger, 2000: 98) is not an intrinsic property possessed by the
tool, but, rather, lies in the action of hammering, which, by enabling production, connects
materials and objects with human users of natural things, hence promotes relations and
value creation—‘‘involvement’’ (p. 114) in Heidegger’s terms. An intriguing association
can be made with the way in which D’Annunzio himself connotes his own artistic persona
as a tool user in Le faville del maglio, a title which presents aesthetic creation as sparks
Pireddu 17
resulting precisely from the beating of a mallet against an anvil. I am grateful to the ano-
nymous referee who suggested this connection. To be sure, the hammer in this context also
brings to mind the provocative Nietzschean plan ‘‘to philosophize with a hammer’’
(Nietzsche, 1968a: 29) at the opening of The Twilight of the Idols in order to undo the
truths of conventional philosophy and transvaluate values, and the closing monologue
‘The Hammer Speaks’ (Nietzsche, 1968a: 122), where hardness is extolled as the prerequis-
ite for authentic creation, conquest, and nobility.
9. Pierre Bourdieu effectively underlines this ‘misrecognition’ in the transformation of
economic capital into symbolic capital: ‘‘Wastage of money, energy, time, and ingenuity
is the very essence of the social alchemy through which an interested relationship is
transmuted into a disinterested, gratuitous relationship, overt domination into
misrecognized ‘socially recognized’ domination, in other words, legitimate authority’’
(Bourdieu, 1977: 192).
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Pireddu 19
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
The central concern of these eight studies and essays is the understanding and critique of culture at the shifty boundaries between the Modem and the Postmodern epochs. The author contends that what needs to be addressed is the very abyss, the spacetime between the Modem and the Postmodern worldviews, as well as the tension between aesthetics and ethics, critical discourse and the creative arts, in an effort to rethink multireferential processes of signification. The keystone of the book is Carravetta's notion of Diaphoristics, a theory of interpretation as dialogue. Diaphora, or difference, refers to the ancient quarrel between poetry and philosophy and signifies the movement between asymmetrical or heterogeneous forms of discourse that have, both historically and speculatively, home the transfer of meaning from one semantic/hermeneutic field to another. The author focuses on the necessary risk and duplicity of criticism and develops nonagonistic models based on figuration and rhetorical dynamics.
Generosity and gift-giving are important themes in Nietzsche's philosophy. This essay focuses on Nietzsche's idea of the gift-giving virtue which is explicitly discussed at the end of Part One of Thus Spoke Zarathustra. I begin with a critical discussion of this section, and then I consider three different interpretations. Finally, I look at some ways in which the idea of the ‘gift-giving virtue’ may be understood in terms of spiritual generosity, leading to ‘sovereignty’ as its ultimate goal. Throughout, there are important comparisons to be made between Nietzsche's account of generosity and the traditional viewpoint.
Bataille e il paradosso della sovranita
  • G Agamben
Agamben G (1987) Bataille e il paradosso della sovranita`. In: Risset J (ed.) Georges Bataille: Il Politico e il Sacro. Naples: Liguori, pp. 115-119.