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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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Note on the Text


Throughout this book citations from the Zibaldone are taken from the English translation edited by Michael Caesar and Franco D’Intino (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013), unless otherwise indicated. According to the conventions of Italian Leopardi scholarship, all references to the Zibaldone are recorded using the abbreviation Zib. followed by the page number to Leopardi’s original manuscript. As there exists no uniform English edition of Leopardi’s writings, and unless otherwise indicated, this book utilizes the following editions of individual works: Canti, translated by Jonathan Galassi (London: Penguin, 2010). Essays and Dialogues/Operette morali, translated by Giovanni Cecchetti (Berkeley, CA, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, 1982). The Letters of Giacomo Leopardi 1817–1837, selected and translated by Prue Shaw (Leeds: Northern Universities Press, 1998). The translations of Leopardi’s works and of all other texts not available in English are my own. Unless otherwise indicated the use of italics in quotations reproduces their use in the original texts. An earlier version of the section on the Zibaldone as hypertext has appeared as ‘Lo Zibaldone come ipertesto: limiti e possibilità’ in María de las Nieves Muñiz Muñiz, ed., Lo ‘Zibaldone’ di Leopardi come ipertesto [Leopardi’s xii Note on the Text ‘Zibaldone’ as Hypertext] (Firenze: Olschki, 2013), 313–32; it is reproduced here by kind permission of Filippo Polenchi. A more extensive section dealing with Leopardi’s notion of ‘opinion’ appears as the entry ‘Opinione’ in Novella Bellucci, Franco D’Intino and Stefano Gensini, eds, Lessico Leopardiano 2016 (Roma: Sapienza Universit...

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