In her article, Jennifer Burns examines the apparent ‘silence’ of the literary scene in Italy in the 1970s, a period which is remembered in Italian social and cultural history for the various protest movements, acts of political violence, and the inability of ‘professional’ politicians to understand the new developments within society. The article explores the literary activity of some Italian writers at the ‘centre’ of the literary scene, such as Italo Calvino, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Leonardo Sciascia, and analyses the reasons why such ‘committed’ authors abandoned fiction to engage in journalism. Burns’ thesis is that the tension found in Italian society marginalised traditional literary forms, such as the novel, since the writer, in order to be read, needed to be ‘rapid, precise, shocking’. Increasingly the newspapers and literary magazines gave more space to lengthy articles or open letters in which writers discussed, among other issues, the long-debated problem of the role of the intellectual and culture in modern society.
Burns points out that on the whole literature seemed to emulate what was happening in society at large; as conventional forms of associations and political organisations broke down, literature could only provide a testimony in forms that privileged subjective experience and expression. Thus, the main production of these ‘years of tension’ seems to be represented mainly by confessional, autobiographical and diaristic writing. At the ‘periphery’ marginalised voices expressed their anger and frustration texts of ‘protest’, extremely successful at the time, but now remembered only as ‘colourful souvenirs’ of what used to be defined ‘sub-culture’. Burns’ conclusion is that in such confusing and confused times, when social and political reality, with all its different versions of plots and subplots, was so difficult to interpret as to appear ‘invented’, authors abandoned the creation of their own fictional worlds in order to scrupulously analyse the text of Italian society.