Pirandello was the son of a wealthy sulfur merchant. In Pirandello’s time, boys had to go into the sulfur mines and carry out heavy loads of raw sulfur on their backs, and they were called “carusi”. My grandfather’s name was Caruso, and ironically enough, he became an affluent trucker in the United States. What’s in a name?
Kaos, from the Greek, or Caos (Sicilian Càvusu) is a suburb of Agrigento, just in sight of Porto Empedocles. Pirandello’s family home sits on a headland facing the sea and Africa which can be seen on very clear days, I am told.
So, when Pirandello said of himself “I am a child of Chaos and not metaphorically but in reality”, he spoke honestly. He meant that being born at Caos on the extreme southern tip of Sicily close to Africa signifies that he was a child of limenality; that is, he was a man of the borders. Borders have always fascinated me. He was born and lived psychically in limenality—the threshold, the border. Where are we when we are on the border? When we visited his home on that magical plateau above the sea, I felt the soul of limenality there.
It wasn’t Italy, or even Sicily, but Caos with the sweet breezes from Tunisia
Pirandello’s home is now a well curated museum and surrounded by ancient olive trees of amazingly thick boles and exuberant leafage. We saw them being pruned in order that they would produce more olives. I asked the keeper, “Who planted these olives?” He waved his liquid Sicilian hand in the direction of Africa and said, “I Saraceni, ottocento anni fa.” He gave me a chunk of olive wood to take home to carve as a memento. I carved four hearts, one for each of my children.
In 1894 Pirandello married Antonietta Portulano who had almost no comprehension of his writing. She drifted in and out across the border between sanity and insanity for years until after her mental breakdown in 1919 Pirandello reluctantly placed her in an asylum, where she spent the long remainder of her life, and died. Perhaps it was Pirandello’s understanding of Antonietta’s liminality (in and out of reality, her paranoia and fear) that influenced his 1917 play “Così è (se vi pare)”, “Thus it Is, (If You Think So)”.
This play is a dramatization of the relativity of truth, for some. Pirandello asks us to consider what we know, who we are, and moreover, where we are going. Pirandello states that what a person knows or thinks is the very least part of what one is. So, in truth, Pirandello explored the subconscious psyche long before Freud, Proust, or Virginia Woolf. Pirandello’s brave exploration led to his winning the Nobel Prize in 1934 for his breakthrough achievement. He was certainly an innovator.
In “Sei Personaggi in Cerca d’Autore”, Pirandello exhibits his six characters as rejections of the playwright. They are lost, don’t know who they are supposed to be, and they don’t know what to do. It is terrifying to see characters on the stage wondering what to do. There is actually a weird moment of panic for the audience. Yet, these characters throb “with a more intense reality than the real actors.” That is, their personae, their artful stage lives are more alive than the actors themselves. Pirandello is asking “who are you, you actors.” This is why Pirandello said that Art is universal and unchanging, and life is constant flux.
I viewed Pirandello’s Caos from high up on the ridge of Agrigento. You can stand by the wall and bring it into sight. I saw “il Pino”, the tree that Pirandello planted himself. It was there at Caos, strong, prominent and alone, existentially alone. It is no accident that Pirandello died alone at his home in Rome. The pine was eventually destroyed by lightening, and another pine was planted next to a memorial sculpture that contains his ashes.
Pirandello knew that human personality and ego are always in flux so they are nothing definite—chaos if you wish. He knew that we all live in limenality, that is, on the borders.