existence is an evil


In his darkest and most desolate years in Recanati, above all between 1819 and 1823, Leopardi held on to his sanity by filling his notebooks with carefully considered entries on a wide range of topics. The Zibaldone is not a personal diary. One does not find in its pages a howling heart, nor an outpouring of pain, grief and despair (Leopardi reserved that for his poetry). One finds instead a lucid mind thinking aloud by way of an ongoing conversation with the dead, above all the many ancient authors who stacked the family library. Apart from the thoughts that make up what Leopardi calls his “system” – by which he means his philosophy of life, history, nature and the human psyche – the Zibaldone is filled with philologically oriented notes that will bewilder contemporary readers who know nothing of the more obscure works he was in dialogue with. Yet even its most recondite entries vibrate with a distinctly modern voice. It is the voice of quick, free-ranging, syncopated thinking. No matter how eloquent it becomes at times – and no one in the history of Italian prose was more eloquent than Leopardi when he put his mind to it – the style never grandstands, nor does the tone ever turn shrill, as it often does in Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, or, for that matter, Emerson.

more from Robert Pogue Harrison at the FT here.