Amelia Rosselli’s “rational prose experiments,” Diario Ottuso | Obtuse Diary, is a curious collection of three “unintentionally united” texts written between 1954 and 1968 and presented in both English and their original Italian by Entre Rios Books. The ideas of experimentation and reproduction are central to Rosselli and her translators, and these are what makes this collection beautiful. In Obtuse Diary Rosselli focuses on reexamining herself from different angles to seek a complete understanding of her feelings around a trauma of loss.
The collection begins with “First Italian Prose,” the first prose Rosselli, a trilingual writer, wrote in Italian. In her afterword, “Narrative Experiments,” Rosselli writes that “First Italian Prose” was “inspired, precisely, by the Tiber, near which I lived. In part, it was written outdoors, while walking, and thus written by hand; or else these notes were taken mentally, and I would then transcribe that mental writing, once home.” A small world is created in this small section. From the first paragraphs, black houses surround a “barely agitated river,” with a white bridge. Readers are never taken beyond the river and the houses, yet each passage thereafter further explores tiny details within the same place.
There’s rhythm to “First Italian Prose.” Each paragraph is a reinterpretation of a remembered scene, built on top of the last, but in unexpected, nearly disjointed ways. In what seems like an account of the same walk repeated several times, every account is superimposed upon the last, making an unfamiliar form out of familiar experiences. Time’s passing feels palpable. What feels like weeks or more may pass between one paragraph and the next. Some passages seem to interrupt one another, taking it in turns to present different faces of a place or an object. Others are brief and choppy: “Gorgeous waiter you are the king of Italy you who bear and run for the chamomiles.”
The second section, “Note,” more closely resembles a diary. Written between January 1, 1967 and December 30, 1968, “Note’s” five passages cover nearly two years of Rosselli’s life. Each piece is written, Rosselli says, “from a single as-yet-unclear intention.” Passages in “Note” are difficult as a result of this unclarity, and Rosselli herself admits as much. They are dark and introspective, bitter or sarcastic, as they undertake the project of thinking through life and death. She writes, “Is it irreproachable? No—it’s empty and candid; black and sad, erotic in its foundations and moralistic in its debates contaminated by articulations and caskets.” The passage from which this quote is taken, “3/25/67,” describes “Note” like a thesis statement. Rosselli is at her most insecure and self-destructive and, for the first time, readers may feel that they are reading something private, and that a key is needed to contextualize what is being read.
Two aspects unite the three collected texts. One is the collection’s diaristic tone—from the removed accounts of “First Italian Prose” to the intimate, self-searching text of “Note” to the “autobiography as little biographical as possible” of the “Obtuse Diary” section. The other is “Rosselli’s passionate friendship with the Italian writer and politician Rocco Scotellaro,” as described in Roberta Antognini’s afterword,
… she met [Scotellaro] in 1950. Scotellaro died soon after, in 1953, an event that caused Rosselli immense suffering, and exacerbated the mental illness that plagued her for her entire life, a life she describes as “disjoined … from the world.”
This friendship and loss redefines the whole project as taking the same walk over and over again, as Rosselli did in “First Italian Prose,” madly experiencing and re-experiencing the trauma of a missing friend, looking deeper and deeper into the small world of houses and a river for tiny details.
Rosselli describes her style of writing not as experimental but as experiments. Antognini is quick to point out that Rosselli experiments not only with her work, but with her life as well. More concretely, a reader can see her diary as a sequence that catalogues the refinement of her self-proclaimed “wild” writing. Individually, each experiment might seem manic, even obsessive, but they proceed, consecutively, in fits and starts. Even if it’s unclear, this diary shows Rosselli following an intention.
Diario Ottuso | Obtuse Diary (2018) by Amelia Rosselli is published by Entre Rios Books and is available from Amazon and other online booksellers.