Readerinfabula’s Weblog

The Barbarians: An Essay On The Mutation
March 13, 2008, 12:10 am
Filed under: Senza Categoria


If we want to investigate the big success which has interested the novel as a genre, we have to flip through the pages of newspaper read by XVIII century middle classes.

In that social period reading novels became the favorite occupation of a growing number of people and it was in some way a new form of entertainment. Reading novels was the last tendency, it was à la mode.

But there is something better than a tendency. That is an engaging tendency.

Editors had the great idea of sharing novels in episodes and to publish them weekly or biweekly on newspaper. In this way the reading was never boring because of it shortness and it had the big advantage to stimulate readers to see how the story ends and, of course, to raise newspaper selling.

Some of those stories, after years or just when they came to the end, were published in the form of a book. This is the explanation of how some famous authors conceived their texts and how some of the greatest titles came to light.

This short story gives a general idea of the work undertaken by the Italian journalist Alessandro Baricco on the pages of the newspaper La Repubblica.

He started publishing from June to October 2006 short pieces then gathered in the form of book for the Fandango libri publishing house. The result is that his texts reading is accessible both on the web version of the newspaper La Repubblica, that on the paper traditional version.

The editorial choice to publish a book collecting journalistic pieces has raised critics’s voice.

It is in discussion the concept of book and what has to be considered as such. Furthermore the same analysis about books destiny and life – survival?- in contemporary society occupies three chapters of Baricco’ s book.

An article appeared on June, the 24th2oo6 on the columns of Il Giornale focuses its attention on these three chapters in which Baricco analyzes the actual condition of the still reading Italy in relation to the reading public of about fifty years ago. The author of the article, Fabrizio Ottaviani, opens the piece declaring himself surprised in discovering Baricco’ s nature antiromanzesca which literally means against novels. Ottaviani refers to the thesis expressed by Baricco that novels of the past represents a better production than contemporary ones because readers were less in number and more sophisticated in taste.

What had to be pressed was not a choice made by publishing houses, whose target has always been selling, but it was the public choosing, by their buying. It is a natural conclusion that a great novel was such, as long as it had critics public and readers approval.

An important point taken up from the book and underlined by Ottaviani is the observation that as the number people able to read and write grow up, automatically, the quality of novels knocked down.

“It is true,” Ottaviani writes, “editors started printing less and less cultured and refined books. To the trial balloon of The Leopard, they soon added Bebo’ s Girl and The Garden of Finzi- Continis.”

The consideration about fifty years ago publishing choices is functional, in Baricco’ s texts, to the analysis of the actual crisis involving readers literary taste. He takes as starting point the fact that it was not books molding public taste, rather public cultivated taste to address the book market. The same criterion has some value today. It is not the fault of a businessman clan if we have bad quality books, but the fault is attributable to our own will. Or, more exactly, it is the will of a new emerging generation, a parallel society that the author names “barbarian”.

Barbarian society is a metaphor for the persisting globalization process. Barbarian people are taking possession of our cities and of our traditions, staining every peculiarity of local cultures with the featureless mud of easy victories and ephemeral good taste.

This new generation is described in the term of a biblical grasshoppers invasion that spare nothing. They are controlling every aspects of our culture. And for culture we mean books.

In a key passage of the three chapters dedicated to paper publications Baricco synthesizes the criterion used by barbarian in the choices of their reading, and as a consequence, the root of good taste crisis. He writes “barbarians tend to read just books whose use instructions are given in places that are NOT books.” He explains “they are books from which they have made a movie, novels written by TV personage; tales put down by in some way famous people; they tell stories already told somewhere else, or they tell events that already happened in another moment, in another shape.”

The sensation is of widespread garbage, but the principle is less vulgar than we may imagine. He goes on saying that barbarians have ” the idea that the value of a book stays in its ability to offer itself as the starting point for a wider experience […] they use books to complete sense sequences born elsewhere.” A book has no sense when barbarians can’t place it anywhere, in none transversal sequence.

Everyone can draw its own conclusions. But far away from considering the passage through printed press- on line press- paper book, a transversal sequence. The idea to publish on line and then in a book articles just give a democratic cut to Baricco’ s publications.

The same content, accessible through different channels.

Mirella Appiotti on La Stampa ‘s columns refers an interview to Giulio Mozzi for Vibrisselibri, a publishing house which has started the first on line collection called sans papier –without paper.

A choice “born from the necessity of founding a space in the books world, placing itself in an intermediate space between industrial publishing and little book publisher” explains Mr. Mozzi adding that the aim is to give voice to works of value.”




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