Sergio Atzeni

Excerpt from “Passavamo sulla Terra leggeri”

“… Only the sea that we did not know could protect us, the barbarians of the north feared him (…) The men of the sea caught us (…) after three days and three nights of a tumultuous sea (…) S’u the young woman (…) cut the rope and we looked in the light (…). We tried to learn how to steer the ship (…)  The sea jumped on the deck, grabbed S’u and took her away. S’u silently disappeared in the waves …”

“We sang, we died, we danced from father to son, growing in number and experience of the island. We were happy. We called ourselves S’ard, which means the dancers in the ancient language of the stars.”

Atzeni, an ethnic writer (Source)

The Island, the Nation, the World: Sergio Atzeni and the post-modern definition of Sardinian ethnic identity
Dr Gigliola Sulis, University of Leeds

This project contributes to the preparation of a monograph on the Italian writer Sergio Atzeni (1952-1995). Atzeni has been defined by Ernesto Ferrero as an ‘ethnic writer’, whose stories draw on both the present and the mythical past of his native island, Sardinia. As well as being the author of novels, short stories, theatrical works and poetry, he worked as a journalist and as a translator from French into Italian. In the latter role, he translated essays by Claude Lévy-Strauss and Gérard Genette, as well as a novel by Patrick Chamoiseau. His idiolect – a refined literary Italian, open to dialects and foreign influences – is highly experimental yet accessible, personal yet communicative. While strongly interested in preserving cultural traditions and local identities against contemporary homologation processes, operating at both national and international level, Atzeni is also an intellectual of his time. Politically involved in the 1968 movements, passionate about pop, rock, and jazz, a voracious and omnivorous reader, his different and contrasting influences emerge clearly in his own writing. The result is a post-modern mélange, where traditions and modernity coexist and clash on the levels of content, structure, language and style.

Since his premature death, Atzeni’s importance as a writer has gained a wide and profound recognition. Most of his novels have been translated into French, and Il figlio di Bakunìn has also appeared in Spanish and English. His short story Bellas mariposas was included in the prestigious collection Racconti italiani, edited by Enzo Siciliano for the series ‘I Meridiani’ (Milan: Mondadori, 1997). An entry on Atzeni was added to the Lessico Universale Italiano of the Treccani encyclopedia (2001). In 2005, the tenth anniversary of his death further increased interest in his work, with major conferences in Turin and Cagliari, new editions of his works, and also theatre and cinema adaptations. Nevertheless, critical attention to Atzeni has hitherto been limited to a few scholarly articles, a collection of essays by Giuseppe Marci (1997) and the proceedings of a conference edited by Marci and myself (2001). Another collection of conference proceedings (Cagliari, 2005) is scheduled in 2011.

My monograph constitutes the first attempt at a coherent stylistic, structural and thematic analysis of Atzeni’s oeuvre. I study Atzeni’s oeuvre within the general framework of multilingualism in modern Italian novels; my approach integrates narratology, stylistics/linguistics, textual philology, and current trends in multicultural studies. My reading of Atzeni’s work challenges the idea that a supposed centre still maintains its political, cultural, and linguistic supremacy over the peripheries, and – following from the influential ideas of Carlo Dionisotti and Gianfranco Contini – it reaffirms the historical vitality of polycentrism and multilingualism in Italian culture. My study also links Atzeni’s poetics to international models, especially to francophone writers from Martinique such as Patrick Chamoiseu, whose work was translated by Atzeni into Italian, and also Éduard Glissant.

Thus, it proposes a definition of Atzeni’s writing as part of a new Italian ‘internal post-colonialism’. In this respect, my research, while aiming at extending the Italian literary canon of the late twentieth century, also fits into the ‘Post-colonial Europe’ project run by the Institute for Colonial and Post-colonial Studies in Leeds (of which I am a member) which ‘enacts the return of the colonial gaze on contemporary metropolitan European societies and cultures. The project gauges the parameters of a rapidly transforming but still hierarchically structured polity in which new transnational forms of community, citizenship and governance jostle with atavistic attitudes to identity, territory and race.

Sergio Atzeni

Sergio Atzeni (14 October 1952 in Capoterra – 6 September 1995 in Carloforte) was an Italian writer.

Born in Capoterra, southern Sardinia, he moved to Cagliari where, as a journalist, he worked for some of the most important Sardinian newspapers. He also became a member of the Italian Communist Party, but later left the party, being disullusioned with politics. In 1986, he left Sardinia and travelled across Europe, but in the last part of his life he settled in Turin where he wrote his most important novels, including Il figlio di Bakunìn (Bakunin's Son), Passavamo sulla terra leggeri and Il quinto passo è l'addio. In 1995, he died in Carloforte while swimming in the sea during a holiday back in Sardinia.

All of Atzeni's works are set in Sardinia and were written in Italian. He experimented different techniques and styles across his novels. Most notably, he used a very original language that fused elegant literary Italian and the "patter" used by the working-class in Cagliari and Sardinia, where many words and sayings are borrowed from the Sardinian language. In this way Atzeni reproduces the immediacy of the spoken language in his novels. In some of his novels (e.g. Il quinto passo è l'addio and Bellas mariposas) he also used techniques akin to the "magic realism" style of many Southern American authors, where fantastic elements appear in the realistic setting.

Sergio Atzeni is considered, with Giulio Angioni and Salvatore Mannuzzu, one of the initiators of the so-called Sardinian Literary Spring, the Sardinian narrative of today in the European arena, which followed the work of individual prominent figures such as Grazia Deledda, Emilio Lussu, Giuseppe Dessì, Gavino Ledda, Salvatore Satta. Some of his novels have been translated in French, but only one, Bakunin's Son, has been translated in English.