Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

What is a poet?: The Intellectual in Il Postino and Ardiente Paciencia

Marsdin Thomas Van Order, Gloria Estela González Zenteno.

In both "Ardiente paciencia" and "Il postino" the experiences of the young protagonists serve as a commentary on the possibilities for the formation of the intellectual of the future. Both die and their works are lost: Mario Ruoppolo’s only poem lands beneath the feet of the panicked crowd that causes his death. In Chile, Mario Jiménez sends his poem, “Retrato a lápiz de Pablo Neftalí Jiménez González” [Pencil sketch of Pablo Neftalí Jiménez González] to a literary competition, but the overthrow of the Allende government on September 11th (1973) falls just eight days before the awarding of the prize. The sponsoring literary journal is shut down and the editors persecuted. Furthermore, the epilogue of the novel insinuates that Mario would not have won the prize had it been awarded. In this way, the two organic intellectuals die without leaving a trace of their works. Nevertheless, the novel and the film demonstrate that cultural advancement and emancipation are possible, given the right conditions. The novel, a product of the cold war, preaches patience and fervor – ardiente paciencia – as revealed in the words of Rimbaud that Neruda quotes in his celebrated acceptance speech for the Noble prize: “Solo con una ardiente paciencia conquistaremos la esplendida ciudad que dará luz, justicia y dignidad a todos los hombres. Así la poesia no habrá cantado en vano” (96) [only with burning patience will we conquer the splendid city that will bring light, justice and dignity to all humans. In this way poetry will not have sung in vain]. The film, made at a time of ideological crisis in Italy, is equally insistent in its moral stance, but far less sure of the historical chances for success. Like Vittorio De Sica’s neorealist classic The Bicycle Thief, Il postino demonstrates the difficulties of social advancement, but offers no obvious solutions. Poetry is the cultural equivalent of the economic importance of Antonio’s bicycle, and without poetry the underclass will survive, but not reach their full human potential. In this context, we might venture a reply to Spivak’s question: “can the subaltern speak?” by saying “yes, but only under certain circumstances.”


Marsdin Thomas Van Order  (United States)
Visiting Assistant Professor
Italian Dept.
Middlebury College

Gloria Estela González Zenteno  (United States)

  • Subaltern
  • Organic intellectual
Person as Subject
  • Skármeta, Antonio Radford, Michael Troisi, Massimo

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)