Written in response to:
What a pleasant surprise to find a review – a fine review – of seven books by the great Italian writer, Leonardo Sciascia. Like most Italian literary figures, Sciascia is little known to the Australian reading public. The themes he explored and his style are often seen as ‘foreign’ compared to those writers closer to literatures in English. Pity.
The author of the article, Luke Slattery, is an old hand at both Classics and Italian authors, but there is one oversight you may wish to correct. The words ‘Canto XXX of Dante’s Divine Comedy’ should be ‘Canto XXX of Dante’s Inferno’. This is because the great fourteenth century epic poem, La Divina Comedia, is in three books or Cantiche (Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso) and each has 33 chapters or Canti. There are, therefore, three Canti XXX, one in each Cantica. [The article has now been corrected – Editor.]
As to the controversy about Sciascia’s dismissals of anti-Mafia professionals, aimed at Public Prosecutors seen as so zealous as to reach the boundaries of the law, Slattery proposes that Sciascia’s motivation to speak out against officials, who were generally seen as heroes, was hard to comprehend, given Sciascia’s heroic anti-Mafia stance. But Sciascia’s motive appears less obscure when one remembers how the generation of anti-fascists to which he belonged fiercely upheld the primacy of the law. Fascism was a dictatorship founded on the abrogation of civil rights, for political opponents as well as for criminals. Inevitably, in 1938 civil rights were also denied to Jews. The 1949 Italian Constitution re-established the rule of law. For many who suffered under fascism, society’s evils could not be fought by playing with civil rights. To affirm this principle it was necessary to affirm that fascists themselves had the same civil rights as all citizens. As did Mafiosi. With this background, judicial activism seemed to anti-fascists like Sciascia a position dangerously bordering on fascism. Sciascia wrote about this in a 1987 article ‘Against the Mafia in the name of the law’. Of course, the murder by the Mafia of two magistrates fingered by Sciascia created a climate where these issues could not be dispassionately debated.
Paolo Totaro AM
Lovett Bay, NSW
Luke Slattery’s review of Leonardo Sciascia is deft and learned, showing us a writer, a tragic moralist, whom we don’t know enough of in this country, perhaps in this language. Thank you.