Italian writer and filmmaker Gianni Celati’s 1989 philosophical travelogue Towards the River’s Mouth explores perception, memory, place and space as it recounts a series of journeys across the Po River Valley in northern Italy. The book seeks to document the “new Italian landscape” where divisions between the urban and rural were being blurred into what Celati terms “a new variety of countryside where one breathes an air of urban solitude.” Celati traveled by train, by bus, and on foot, at times with photographer Luigi Ghirri, at others exploring on his own without predetermined itineraries, taking notes on the places he encountered, watching and listening to people in stations, fields, bars, houses, squares, and hotels. In this way the book took shape as Celati traveled and wrote, gathering and rewriting his notes into “stories of observation” (9). Celati attempts to find meaning by seeking the uncertain limits of our ability to discern everyday surroundings. “Every observation,” as he puts it, “needs liberate itself from the familiar codes it carries, to go adrift in the middle of all things not understood, in order to arrive at an outlet, where it must feel lost.”
At the forefront of the then-nascent spatial turn in the humanities, Towards the River’s Mouth is a key text of what in recent years has been variously termed literary cartography, literary geography, and spatial poetics. Its call to carefully and affectionately examine our surroundings while attempting to step back from habitual ways of perceiving and moving through space, has resonated as much with literary scholars and other writers as with geographers and architects. By now a classic of twentieth-century Italian literature, it has in recent years garnered increasing attention, especially with the growth of ecocriticism and new materialism within the environmental humanities.
This edition, translated into English for the first time, features an introduction that places Towards the River’s Mouth in the context of Celati’s other work, and a selection of ten scholarly essays by prominent figures in comparative literature and Italian studies.