He had made a special study of that basic essence of being, and called it “the cave of the beast”

The opening of Luigi Pirandello’s It’s Not To Be Taken Seriously (Non è una cosa seria). The English is from Eleven Short Stories/Undici Novelle but the Italian is online in full here. This and another early story – La Signora Speranza – combined to form the base of a later play, Ma non è una cosa seria.

Perazzetti? No. He was certainly in a class of his own.

He would say things with the utmost seriousness, so that you wouldn’t even know it was him, while he looked at his extremely long, curved fingernails, of which he took the most meticulous care.

It’s true that then, all of a sudden, for no apparent reason . . . exactly like a duck: he would burst out into certain fits of laughter that were like the quacking of a duck; and he would wallow around in that laughter just like a duck.

Many, many people found in that very laughter the best proof that Perazzetti was crazy. Seeing him writhe with tears in his eyes, his friends would ask him:

“But why?”

And he would reply:

“It’s nothing. I can’t tell you.”

When people saw him laughing like that and refusing to say why, they got disconcerted, they stood there looking like fools and experienced a certain physical irritation, which in the case of the so-called “nervous types” could easily develop into a ferocious rage and an urge to scratch him.

Unable to scratch him, the so-called “nervous types” (and there are so many of them nowadays) would shake their heads furiously and say in reference to Perazzetti:

“He’s a lunatic!”

If, instead, Perazzetti had told them the reason for that quacking of his . . . But frequently, Perazzetti couldn’t tell them; he honestly couldn’t tell them.

He had an extremely active and terrifically capricious imagination, which, when he saw other people, would fly out of control and, without his volition, would arouse in his mind the most outrageous images, flashes of inexpressibly hilarious visions; it would suddenly reveal to him certain hidden analogies, or unexpectedly indicate to him certain contrasts that were so grotesque and comic that he would burst out laughing unrestrainedly.

How could he make other people share the instantaneous interplay of those fleeting, unpremeditated images?

Perazzetti knew clearly, from his own experience, how different the basic essence of every man is from the fictitious interpretations of that essence that each of us offers himself either spontaneously, or through unconscious self-deceit, out of that need to think ourselves or to be thought different from what we are, either because we imitate others or because of social necessities and conventions.

He had made a special study of that basic essence of being, and called it “the cave of the beast,” of the primordial beast lurking inside each of us, beneath all the layers of our consciousness which have been gradually superimposed on it over the years. A- man, when touched or tickled on this or that layer, would respond with bows, with smiles, would extend his hand, would say “good day” and “good evening,” might even lend five lire: but woe to anyone who went and poked him down there, in the cave of the beast: out would come the thief, the impostor, the murderer. It’s true that, after so many centuries of civilization, many people now sheltered in their cave an animal that was excessively subdued: a pig that said the rosary, a fox that had lost its tail.

In restaurants, for example, Perazzetti would study the customers’ controlled impatience. On the outside, good manners; on the inside, the donkey who wanted his grain immediately. And he enjoyed himself no end imagining all the species of animals who had their lair in the caves belonging to the men he was acquainted with: this man surely had an anteater inside him, and that man a porcupine and that other man a turkey, and so on.


Perazzetti? No. Quello poi era un genere particolare.

Le diceva serio serio, che non pareva nemmeno lui, guardandosi le unghie adunche lunghissime, di cui aveva la cura più meticolosa.

È vero che poi, tutt’a un tratto, senz’alcuna ragione apparente… un’anatra, ecco, tal’e quale! scoppiava in certe risate, che parevano il verso di un’anatra; e ci guazzava dentro, proprio come un’anatra.

Moltissimi trovavano appunto in queste risate la prova più lampante della pazzia di Perazzetti. Nel vederlo torcere con le lagrime agli occhi, gli amici gli domandavano:

– Ma perché? E lui:

– Niente. Non ve lo posso dire.

A veder ridere uno così, senza che voglia dirne la ragione, si resta sconcertati, con un certo viso da scemi si resta e una certa irritazione in corpo, che nei così detti «urtati di nervi» può diventar facilmente stizza feroce e voglia di sgraffiare.

Non potendo sgraffiare, i così detti «urtati di nervi» (che sono poi tanti, oggidì) si scrollavano rabbiosamente e dicevano di Perazzetti:

– E pazzo!

Se Perazzetti, invece, avesse detto loro la ragione di quel suo anatrare… Ma non la poteva dire, spesso, Perazzetti; veramente non la poteva dire.

Aveva una fantasia mobilissima e quanto mai capricciosa, la quale, alla vista della gente, si sbizzarriva a destargli dentro, senza ch’egli lo volesse, le pili stravaganti immagini e guizzi di comicissimi aspetti inesprimibili; a scoprirgli d’un subito certe strane, riposte analogie, a rappresentargli improvvisamente certi contrasti così grotteschi e buffi, che la risata gli scattava irrefrenabile.

Come comunicare altrui il giuoco istantaneo di queste fuggevoli immagini impensate?

Sapeva bene Perazzetti, per propria esperienza, quanto in ogni uomo il fondo dell’essere sia diverso dalle fittizie interpretazioni che ciascuno se ne dà spontaneamente, o per inconscia finzione, per quel bisogno di crederci o d’esser creduti diversi da quel che siamo, o per imitazione degli altri, o per le necessità e le convenienze sociali.

Su questo fondo dell’essere egli aveva fatto studii particolari. Lo chiamava l’«antro della bestia». E intendeva della bestia originaria acquattata dentro a ciascuno di noi, sotto tutti gli strati di coscienza, che gli si sono a mano a mano sovrapposti con gli anni.

L’uomo, diceva Perazzetti, a toccarlo, a solleticarlo in questo o in quello strato, risponde con inchini, con sorrisi, porge la mano, dice buon giorno e buona sera, dà magari in prestito cento lire; ma guai ad andarlo a stuzzicare laggiù, nell’antro della bestia: scappa fuori il ladro, il farabutto, l’assassino. E vero che, dopo tanti secoli di civiltà, molti nel loro antro ospitano ormai una bestia troppo mortificata: un porco, per esempio, che si dice ogni sera il rosario.

In trattoria, Perazzetti studiava le impazienze raffrenate degli avventori. Fuori, la creanza; dentro, l’asino che voleva subito la biada. E si divertiva un mondo a immaginare tutte le razze di bestie rintanate negli antri degli uomini di sua conoscenza: quello aveva certo dentro un formichiere e quello un porcospino e quell’altro un pollo d’India, e così via.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s