“You will learn at your own expense that in the long journey of life you will encounter many masks and few faces.”
Luigi Pirandello, “ One, none and one hundred thousand “ (1925)
When it came out in 1925, this novel was so modern and revolutionary that it marked a milestone and a new way of conceiving the examination of the human soul and the whole existentialist story. Purifying the twentieth century novel from mere description and the unilateral certainty of positivist thought, humanity discovers itself to be both rational and irrational, with logic and impulse, the conscious and the unconscious, thanks to recent discoveries of the Viennese doctor Sigmund Freud.
In his Studies on hysteria of 1895, the founder of psychoanalysis had already thorized, for the first time, a humanity not in control of itself whose thoughts may or may not be hidden and concealed from personal awareness and whose actions, sometimes, are guided by an ‘obscure theory’ rather than by rationality and the individual will.
The term unconscious (Unterbewusstsein in German) came to name all those mental activities not related to the rational consciousness of an individual: impulses, instincts, thoughts, emotions, representations and behavioural acts of which the subject is not aware.
The whole sense of human nature and ethics becomes ‘relative’ and linked to the often unknown characteristics of the individual soul, or rather of the individual unconscious – which no one, not even the subject himself, is able to interpret. A real earthquake that undermines the Apollonian matrix of Western civilization, with its Platonic mythology composed of absolute archetypes.
The fogs of human relationships thicken, losing referential certainty and linearity. Theatre erupts into life that then becomes a carnival dance. Where it seems that the prevailing mode is the satisfaction of drives and any sign of the superiority of the logos and reason is lost. The banner of the Idea waves no more, of the invisible absolute that dismantles the body and then incarnates, once the way is illuminated.
This irruption of the irrational into everyday life brings Pirandello himself, in the novel La Carriola (1917), to affirm that 'when he lives, cannot see himself: he lives. If one can see one’s life, it is a sign that one is no longer living it: one suffers it, one drags it along.’ The blinding drives are already the snarling pistons of the engine of modernity.
The man of tradition, no less evolved, certainly aware of the irrational residue of the human soul, tried to direct the inevitable, the uncontrolled, to a tragic dimension, both collective and personal. He would never lose his honour at the Carnival – in a game that must be played and never endured.