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Two objects and a visit


Filippo Cattapan

Photo of the book cover ‘Lo studio di Wimbleton’

Two objects and a visit

The object of this visit is a short novel, which has been later “translated” into a movie. The book is Lo stadio di Wimbledon by Daniele Del Giudice, while the movie is entitled Le stade de Wimbledon and it has been directed by Mathieu Amalric. Perhaps we could say that the visit has two objects, a book and a movie, or even, more precisely, that the real object of the inquiry at a certain point turned to be the intermediate operation of translation from the book to the movie. It is in fact in this gap or relation between the two, that it seemed possible to retrace a meaningful series of tacit reasons and of cultural connections, which were hiding behind the static singularity of the two considered in their autonomy.

The choice of this object, which could seem odd, is related to my wandering in the field of the arts and, in particular, within the tradition of inferential, structural and semiotic analyses of specifically representative, single “cultural artefacts” (Baxandall, 1983; Barthes, 1980; Eco, 1962; Fabbri, 2020; Foucault, 1969).

I personally came into contact with the book by way of a quite serendipitous chain of events (whose analysis could be also quite relevant in understanding how unpredictable and casual can be our relation with culture) and I immediately perceived a certain and not completely expressible affinity with the research.

The reasons for this visit are at least two: on one side, the visit is related to the specific ways in which the object/objects have been artistically conceived, on the other, it is related to the fact that the story works in itself as a metaphor of the research, and can therefore offer the occasion for a wider reflection.

The plot contains indeed all the elements of an ideal research: there is a main question on an historical character, why Roberto Bazlen never wrote anything? and then there is a strenuous attempt to find possible answers, which are engaged by way of personally confronting with books and archives, with the places where Bazlen lived and, in particular, with the close persons he knew. In relation to that, the story is in a certain way a training novel, in which the protagonist (who could be intended also as a writer or researcher) finds at the end a positive and potentially productive attitude towards his activity.
Within this multiple play of mirrors, many actors are involved at different levels: the two authors – the writer and the director, in relation with their audience –, but also the protagonist of the story and his/her several interviewed.

Among all of them, we can identify a very intense exchange of knowledge, which take place always by way of a shared relation with in-between “objects” of attention or stories to be respectively described, listened, narrated or translated.

More than the objects in itself, the interest of the visit is related to the possible points of view from which to approach them. To this extent, the visit explicitly challenges the research modalities by way of which engaging with these cultural artefacts, considered not only as static and concluded artistic objects, but also as the complex, dynamic results of specific cultural environments and of their related flows of knowledge.

In particular, according to the premises of the PhD research, the inquiry specifically focused on the role of visual knowledge and visual associations in the conception of the artefact as well as in its possible understanding by an external audience.

The book and the movie

Lo stadio di Wimbledon by Daniele Del Giudice, first book of the author, is a short novel of 125 pages which has been published for the first time in 1983.
The story is written in the first person and narrates a research of the narrator/protagonist on the figure of Roberto Bazlen, an Italian intellectual, literary critic and translator (Trieste, 10 giugno 1902 – Milano, 27 luglio 1965), who, despite all the surrounding expectations, never published anything during his life (a book of fragmentary, unfinished writings was published posthumous by Adelphi only in 1984).

This aspect, the fact that Bazlen did not write, appears to be the main object of the research pursued by the narrator/protagonist, a research which drives him first in Trieste and then in London, in order to talk with the few close friends still alive who can offer a direct account on Bazlen’s life.

An aspect that is very specific in the poetic of Del Giudice, and also very crucial for a possible research-oriented reading of his books, is the special relation with objects (for an interesting reflection on that, see the introduction by Tiziano Scarpa to the Racconti, Einaudi, 2019). Objects are the research documents which mediate the impossible relation of the narrator with Bobi Bazlen, i.e. books, pictures, vases, the final camera and the final jumper, but also the ones employed as symbols, or allegories, to define characters and cultures during the whole narration, i.e. Italian cars, English cars, ships, sestanti, the crucial Wimbledon stadium.  In this objectual reality, cities and places represent the essential cultural frames which accommodate and, at the same time, make possible and visible certain specific actions and thinking.

To this extent, the story could be intended as a pacification of the protagonist with these objects, from a state of complete refusal to see them, which correspond also to an initial incapability of listening to the stories of the persons interviewed, to their final and complete acceptance, which coincides with the corresponding acceptance of the possibility of collecting and telling stories (material activation).

The film by Mathieu Amalric, a short movie of around one hour, went out in theaters in 2002. In a quite interesting text by Sandro Volpe, Lo stadio di Wimbledon: per una teoria dell’adattamento (in: “Studi novecenteschi. Rivista di storia della letteratura italiana contemporanea”, XL, numero 86, luglio-dicembre 2013), it is possible to find a complete account of the modalities of the movie transposition (i.e. l’adattamento).

As far as we learn from the story reported by Sandro Volpe, the movie has been the result of the fortuitous finding of the book’s French translation in the library of Amalric’s father-in-law, the Marxist philosopher Etienne Balibar. The director says that he immediately understood that it was the right plot for his next movie. Jeanne Balibar, daughter of Etienne and Mathieu’s partner, was soon identified as the main protagonist in the role of the researcher/narrator, a male in the original novel. Amalric travelled then to Venice to meet Del Giudice and immediately received a positive feedback about the possibility of a movie transposition of the book. The meaningful dialogue between the two finally ended up in an effective collaboration for the overall conception of the movie and in particular for the choice of the scenography.

Del Giudice was apparently very convinced from the beginning of the crucial need of substantially changing the original story in order to effectively adapt to the different medium of the movie, while Amalric was much more scrupulous in carefully following the narration of the book.
The final result appears to be a very free as well as very fine interpretative operation, in which several things have been changed (the main character’s sex, the odd recombination of several interviewed and of their interviews, the transfiguration of the final scene in Wimbledon by way of the incorporation of several marginal and symbolic elements of the narration within the main events), and new layers of meaning have been added according to the specific visual character of the film.

Images for words

In order to establish a relationship with the book, two main instruments have been applied, a textual and a visual analysis, which, together with this brief note, correspond to the main outcomes of the visit. The first one is an excel table, the second a simple sequence of quite different images.

With the fundamental support of these tools, the engagement with the objects has been pursued first of all by means of a careful operation of reading, re-reading/viewing, re-viewing, which made possible a deep understanding of their structure and narrative construction, but also a thorough appreciation of their small details.
In this way, the text has been annotated and copied, while the images have been collected and ordered. In parallel to these direct operations, the two objects have been addressed by a multiplicity of points of view (notes, prefaces, afterwords, critical essays, Wikipedia pages, Instagram and Facebook posts, &cc.), in order to understand their reception and their overall cultural positioning in a wider cultural field.

All these voices have surely played a crucial role in orienting our reception of them and in influencing our interpretation.
More specifically, the table of the textual analysis contains a brief account of all the scenes in which the narration is articulated. It is organized according to chapters and paragraphs and it reports all the places, actors and main ideas which are mentioned in the book, together with the related main quotes that appeared to be relevant in relation to the point of view of the research. This first kind of approach addresses the book from the inside, as an autonomous literary artefact, and it mainly focuses on its inner structure and composition.
In addition to the table, the visual analysis works as its possible complementary counterpart. It addresses the objects by way of images and frames, as physical and therefore visible entities, identifying, by way of the sequence, a set of possible associations and affinities with other objects and artefacts.
Despite their categorization as textual and visual, the two analytical tools do not correspond respectively and uniquely to the book and to the movie. On the contrary, they both address both, assuming that the images can be evocated also by the text and that they can equally constitute very precise narrative patterns.

Many questions and few answers

Many questions, issues and reflections (more or less meaningful and coherent) came out from such a close confrontation with the objects and from the application of the aforementioned analytical tools.
As we understand from the book, the role of questions in the research is quite crucial, both in terms of their identification and of their “cultivation” during and through the research, but also, obviously, of their possible answers.

What I tried to do with this visit, was to avoid pre-determined questions which could have influenced a direct confrontation with the objects, but, on the contrary, to identify them during the process, quite freely, according to the specific curiosities which naturally emerged by way of the inquiry.

This kind of strategy, which is in a way the contrary of the very oriented one applied by the protagonist of the book (research openness is perhaps the main teaching he learns at the end of the story), was perhaps easier for me in this case because of the relative marginality of the inquiry in relation to my usual field of research, but it proved to be anyway a quite effective condition in order to identify challenging and unexpected directions of interest.

In order to set the basis for an operative reflection on this aspect, I collected here the series of questions which emerged from the visit:

  • How can be interpreted the narrative attitude of Del Giudice, i.e. his peculiar focus on details and personal emotions together with the equally radical inattention towards the overall plot?
  • Is it related to the specific culture of his time and context or to a more personal idea of poetic? Could we intend it as a consequence or as an embodiment of his Alzheimer pathology, a certain difficulty in memorizing long sequences of events and causes, which could have drove him to a very direct relation with the immediate, personal experience?
  • As previously stated, objects play a very crucial role in the whole narration, but a few of them assume in the end an even wider, symbolic meaning, i.e. the stolen camera and Bazlen’s jumper. Which kind of narrative meaning can be associated to them?
  • Who is in charge of choosing Einaudi’s covers and, in particular, of the Wimbledon’s one?  Does Daniele Del Giudice know Ralston Crawford? Is it possible to imagine his personal influence behind this editorial choice?
  • Why and how Mathieu Amalric ended up in being interested in such a strange book, which is everything but cinematographic?
  • Why the book has been translated in French (and in German) but not in English?
  • Why this book was in Etienne Balibar’s library? Which kind of cultural affinities can we identify behind such coincidence? Could we retrace this connection in the person of Italo Calvino, who discovered of Del Giudice (and author of the final note in Lo stadio di Wimbledon) but who is also the translator of Queneau (actually crucial reference for Ginzburg) and of Cortazar (literary reference for Blow-Up)?
  • Who is in the end the audience of the book? And of the movie?
  • Is it really possible to understand this book and this movie without a very deep analysis as the one we tried to experiment? Is it really possible to understand the movie without having read, and knowing very well the book?
  • Which kind of meaning could have a more external and less conscious experience of the movie (but also of the book) which does not consider its cultural background and the overall context in which it is situated? To this extent, which is the knowledge needed in order to “properly” appreciate a cultural object? And how this eventually required knowledge can influence or even direct the same production of similar artefacts?
  • Is there a real and conscious relation between the object (the story, the book, the movie) with Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up? Is this association only related to the movie, and therefore to the visual interpretation of Amalric, or was it already present into the novel by Del Giudice?
  • Starting from the identification of the many similarities – structural, symbolic, visual –, could we even dare a final interpretation of Lo stadio di Wimbledon as being in turn a sort of literary, and very free adaptation of Blow-up? Could it be for this reason that Daniele Del Giudice was considering from the beginning a cinematographic outcome for the book, in a very free and open way? Which kind of documental evidence would be needed to “prove” a similar kind of statement?
  • Which are in the end the right questions to pose ourselves while approaching and researching objects?

For the specific nature of this exercise, such questions do not have necessarily to be answered but simply to be put on the table in order to disclose the rich complexity of the object’s reading and open up their deep interpretation.

The visit remains deliberately open, in order to display the process instead of focusing on the results, which in this case are maybe less relevant.

The multilayered, omnivorous analysis applied for the site visit produced the multiplicity of these issues and, at the same time, defined the overall framework within which to identify the possible answers, connections and research directions.

The final writing operation of this note worked as an additional and very crucial operative step for the ordering of all the knowledge variously collected, a wide set of images and thoughts which, before their verbalization on the page, were still a mute accumulation of unrelated elements.