Adam Kirsch at The New Republic:
Leopardi found his way to an idea that troubled all the major Romantic poets and thinkers. What sets him apart is that, while most Romantics saw the disenchantment and alienation of the modern world as a problem to be solved (M. H. Abrams’s Natural Supernaturalism is the classic account of the attempted solutions), Leopardi saw it as a fate to be endured. Scientific reason, to Leopardi, was a curse not because it falsified the world but precisely because it showed the world truly: a place devoid of purpose, meaning, and providence. “Reason … recognizes how unimportant all things are,” he remarks. Where Wordsworth taught his readers to cultivate joy and trust in nature, Leopardi told his, in “Broom,” that nature, “the truly guilty,” is man’s wicked stepmother, responsible for all our unhappiness.
If reason tells us an unbearable truth, then our only salvation is ignorance: “There is no other remedy for the ills of modern philosophy than forgetting.” Yet Leopardi does not really believe that forgetting is possible. Ignorance, like paradise, cannot be regained once it is lost, and the man who knows the truth has no recourse but to envy those who do not know—such as children, whose instincts remain strong because they live in a world full of nourishing illusions. “Children find everything in nothing, men find nothing in everything,” as he puts it at one of the rare moments when the flow of his thoughts condenses into aphorism.