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A System That Excludes All Systems

Giacomo Leopardi's «Zibaldone di pensieri»

Emanuela Cervato

For many decades Giacomo Leopardi’s Zibaldone di pensieri has been seen as a collection of temporary thoughts and impressions whose final expression is to be found in the published poems (the Canti) and satirical dialogues (the Operette morali). The conceptual consistency of the work was thereby denied, privileging Leopardi the poet over Leopardi the thinker.

This book shows that such a perceived lack of coherence is merely illusory. The Zibaldone is drawn together by an intricate web of references centring around topics such as the ambivalent concept of nature; the Heraclitean «union of opposites» (ancients and moderns, poetry and philosophy, reason and imagination); and the tension between the desire for happiness and the impossibility of its realization. Largely unknown to the English-speaking world until its translation in 2013, the Zibaldone is Leopardi’s intellectual diary, the place where dialogue with the ancient classical traditions evolves into modern encyclopaedism and what has been described as «thought in movement». It establishes Leopardi as one of the most original and radical thinkers of the nineteenth century.


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I would like to express my gratitude to the many people who saw me through this book; to my friends and colleagues in the School of Arts and Humanities at Nottingham Trent University, especially in Modern Languages, who supported and encouraged me. I would like to thank Ronan Fitzsimons for checking some of my English translations with patience and generosity; and Mark Epstein for the comments he offered. Any errors that remain are my own. I would also like to thank David Jeckells for his cover design. Thanks also to the Centro Nazionale di Studi Leopardiani in Recanati for their kind assistance and support always, especially to Roberto Tanoni for the reproduction of Domenico Morelli’s portrait of Giacomo Leopardi (part of the CNSL archive) and for permission to use it. Thanks are also due to Christabel Scaife and everyone at Peter Lang for their assistance and support. I am grateful to my family and friends, especially to Simona Rizzardi for her precious friendship and for the scorribande that have provided a much welcome distraction to the intensity of this work. Last, but not least, my special thanks to Alberto, Melody, Margot and Flora.

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