‹‹ Romanzo non vuol dire bugia ›› : fiction as a counterfeit and counterfeiting as an ethical challenge in comporary Italian narratives of Pao lo Ciulla’s forgeries
In his recent book, “L’histoire est une literature contemporaine”, the French historian Ivan Jablonka turns the history scholar’s art of writing into “the very condition of the truth” of his account. Thus endorsing history as a veridictive discipline “because” of its literary nature, he repudiates fiction which is assimilated to “counterfeiting.” On the one hand, fiction is described as a fraudulent recreation likely to prove itself heuristic on its own terms but certainly not to produce truth “per se”. On the other hand, historians’ scientific method of writing, exhibiting the scholars’ process of inquiry to account for their rendering of the past, is able to elaborate a discourse of truth. Strikingly though, contemporary fictional narratives of fraud challenge the conception of veridicity as an ethical guarantee of the truth of a given account and suggest that fiction, precisely because of its lack of pretense to scientific objectivity, may offer an efficient ethics of truth. By destabilizing their reader through a blurring of facts and fiction simultaneously signalled as such and yet arduous to disentangle, contemporary historical novels assign their readers the very role of a detective, giving him both agentivity and responsibility. Such a conception of literature can perhaps best be analyzed in two contemporary Italian accounts of the life of Sicilian counterfeiter Paolo Ciulla, which two accounts – “Il falsario di Caltagirone” and “Ciulla, il grande malfattore” – turn counterfeiting into a touchstone for a fictional ethics of historical truth. Forged banknotes are in both novels the prism through which Italian economic mutations and their cultural and social consequences are questioned. A political activist and a marginalized homosexual, Ciulla the forger becomes the crucial, albeit ambiguous, epitome of a past characterised by economic and political crises that go back to the beginning of the 19th century but are still shaping Italy. Such narratives, apparently factual but provided with unreliable narrators, hesitate constantly between a concern for documentary truth and the transmission of a forgotten political history, and the fictional recreation of obscure aspects of the counterfeiter’s life for hermeneutical or even comical purposes. Their reader is faced with a complex merging of referential and fictional reading pacts that leaves him with the ethical and epistemological responsibility of sorting out, as best he can, the meanders of Italy’s marginal history.