To the eyes of the world, Carlo
Callodi's Adventures of Pinocchio
ends happily. A boy is redeemed from the rascality that led him
to wander off the golden path of duty. And, magically, a collection
of sticks is transformed into a living and breathing human being.
But there is a sad side to the story. Pinocchio, the boy, no longer
has a story to live. The only fate open to him now is that of
a solid respectable citizen. Now the struggle between wood and
flesh has finished, there is nothing to take him into unknown
territory. Attempts to write a sequel to Pinocchio have thus been
miserable failures. But as with the most fully rounded resolution,
there is always something left behind.
Callodi's grandson, Giseppi,
was one of an obscure circle of avant-garde theorists around sometime
earlier this century. The circle was known as Al
Legnoso (`of the wooden');
its activities were based in Callodi's home town of Pescara.
Though Al Legnoso are still a mystery to the world, one
might gain some picture of their worldview by imagining how it
might be possible to take the story of Pinocchio beyond its sad
moralistic end. To do this, one needs to turn one's attention
away from the real boy, content in his fully fleshed body, and
towards what is left behind: the now lifeless bundle of sticks.
It would give you some idea of the strangeness of Al Legnoso
if I were to tell you that they heralded the story as a liberation
of wood from the cloying sentimentality of human sympathies. They
saw the puppet as exorcised of the demon of human becoming, and
free to live with its own intrinsic woodenness.
For Al Legnoso valued wood more highly that
anything human. `Human' for them represented an endless cycle
of hope and despair, delusion and enlightenment. The process of
human becoming for them was a burlesque theatre where grand theories
acted as slapstick diversions from the impenetrable mysteries
of organic life. At a time when the futurists were thrilling to
the speed of well-oiled machines, Al Legnoso sat under
the shade of history, keeping stoically behind the times.
You might think Al Legnoso reactionary. But
they aimed never to react. You might think Al Legnoso dull.
They were certainly that, but what is still known of their ideas
suggests a reasonably complex philosophy. It is worth a brief
summation, if only to appreciate the diversity of thought at that
time in the twentieth-century.
Al Legnoso held stolidly
to the belief that the world was essentially cleft. They saw this
cleftness as most magnificently revealed in the nature of wood.
The tree has two lives: rising vertically in the open air,
branches and leaves telescoping in a classically hierarchical
fashion; and roots extending horizontally, silently and
slowly strangling objects encountered along the way. And wood
itself is torn in nature: its smoothness inviting the caress of
the human body, gliding along the carved statue or sitting easefully
in the seat, while its sharpness pierces painfully, the splinter
that rises up to embed itself in flesh and the sharpened stake
that impales the body. This cleftness, they maintained, demonstrated
that the world was made for no one thing, but resolutely hewed
asunder anything that seemed indivisible.
As a philosophy of life, Al Legnoso represented
utter fatefulness. Events laid their effects on the world as a
knife-edge carved wood. They dogmatically held to the utter irreversibility
of existence. They saw the destiny of human civilisation as a
gradual whittling away of all values. With their favourite philosopher,
Friedrich Nietzsche, they
held that "Thinking cuts furrows into the soil of Being".
The fact that little is now known of Al Legnoso
follows from one of their most firmly held dogmas: the
evil of books. They saw the story of Pinocchio
as symbolic of the great struggle against books: while the puppet
continued to treat the books given to him carelessly there remained
the hope that he could resist his anthropomorphic fate. Books
were for them a form of wood betrayed. Books were wood boiled
and pulped to the point that it lost all ligneous qualities. Stained
with ink, their very original nature is the last possible thing
of significance about books. They are trees martyred to human
knowledge. The fact that Judeo-Christian mythology began with
a tree of knowledge represented for them the true source of original
This hatred of books forced them to eschew normal intellectual occupations. Instead, they chose jobs that suited wooden personalities, where the only words they need utter were predictable formulas. Most of them worked in the Italian transport system as guardsmen, tram drivers, signalmen or ticket officers. Outside of work, Al Legnoso met in secret. Never more than four in number, they made a bizarre spectacle. They tried everything possible to embrace woodenness. Because it grew from roots in the human body, they fetishised hair, often piling it high on their heads, resembling the wigs of eighteenth-century court aristocrats. Other times they squeezed models of classical architecture on their heads like vices. To prevent any accidental emanations of human knowledge, they often gagged their orifices. In an attempt to invert Christian religion, they developed mysterious signs indicating that books were wood in crucified form. The only Christian they had any time for was Saint Sebastian, shown always to embrace the wood that pierced his body. And not only did every member of Al Legnoso display some wooden prosthesis, whether leg, hand or teeth, but they often used it to cultivate flora, such as beetles or fungi.
As you might expect from this description, Al Legnoso eventually rotted away. The only record we have now of their existence are some elegant drawings that reconstruct their meetings. As they wish, Al Legnoso have now been relegated to the status of historical lumber: may they rest in peace.
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