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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Dissipatio H.G.

Guido Morselli

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To purchase Dissipatio H.G.

Title: Dissipatio H.G.
Author: Guido Morselli
Genre: Novel
Written: (1977) (Eng. 2020)
Length: 121 pages
Original in: Italian
Availability: Dissipatio H.G. - US
Dissipatio H.G. - UK
Dissipatio H.G. - Canada
Dissipatio humani generis - Deutschland
Dissipatio H.G. - Italia
Dissipatio humani generis - España
directly from: New York Review Books
  • The Vanishing
  • Italian title: Dissipatio H.G.
  • Translated and with an Introduction by Frederika Randall
  • Written in 1973, Dissipatio H.G. was first published posthumously in 1977

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Our Assessment:

A- : tending-to-the-philosophical fiction, nicely done

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Harper's . 12/2020 Andrew Martin
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 28/7/2020 Michael Krüger
The New Yorker . 4-11/1/2021 Alejandro Chacoff
The NY Times Book Rev. . 3/1/2021 Dustin Illingworth
TLS . 26/2/2021 David Hobbs
World Lit. Today . Spring/1978 Charles Fantazzi

  From the Reviews:
  • "What follows is less a traditional novel than a series of brilliantly despairing philosophical disquisitions, pegged to the narrator's wanderings through abandoned streets, airports, and hotels. (...) In essayistic digressions that voluptuously condemn the decadence of modern civilization, complete with copious references to imagined or embellished Latin sources, Morselli makes the case for himself as a cantankerous shared relation of Huysmans and Houellebecq." - Andrew Martin, Harper's

  • "Dissipatio H.G., despite its fanciful premise, may be Morselli's most autobiographical book: the erudite and neurotically self-aware narrator, a former newspaperman who has left the world behind to write in solitude, is essentially an alter ego. (...) In matching a world-weary protagonist to a depopulated planet, Morselli seems less interested in dissecting social shocks than in probing the porous border between blissful solitude and extreme loneliness." - Alejandro Chacoff, The New Yorker

  • "Total isolation allows for an indulgent digressiveness. He rants about Descartes, human destiny, time's linearity, Neoplatonism, economic theory, the concertos of Alban Berg. His pedantry is cut by acidic wit and compressed emotion. Manic and self-lacerating, fastidious, self-absorbed, his consciousness gives the novel its brooding momentum." - Dustin Illingworth, The New York Times Book Review

  • "His ever-deferred attempt to “come to terms with the [new] situation” reads as both melancholic and absurd; much of the humour comes from his caustic takes on the sociological theories of alienation of Herbert Marcuse, Charles Reich and above all “Good old [Émile] Durkheim”. (...) Deducing “what actually happened” seems beside the point for a novel that is so ruthlessly concerned with jealousy, misanthropy and the uselessness of knowledge without the opportunity to share it" - David Hobbs, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       In the night from 1 to 2 June the narrator of Dissipatio H.G. planned and came close to committing suicide. Even before this, he had already long largely distanced himself from society, living alone in a secluded Alpine house, near the small town of Widmad and long occupied, presumably, largely only with himself and his own thoughts: though an educated man of letters -- and author of a book, Psychology of a Conscious Mind -- he notes: "I have no books; when I came up here, I chose not to bring even one"; he describes himself as: "an intellectual, unreceptive monad without obligations".
       He planned his suicide carefully, including the date for his exit, as: "I was born on June 2 at midday, and I didn't want to turn forty". And he was particular about the form he wanted his suicide to take, choosing a place and method that would ensure:

     I would be gone, leaving no trace. That point seemed essential to me. People, if they did look into it, must come to the conclusion I was permanently missing. Or better, mysteriously annihilated, dissolved into nothing.
       When he doesn't go through with it, stumbling home in the darkness of that night, he doesn't yet realize that the joke, as it were, is on him: as it slowly dawns on him over the next days, the inverse of what he had planned has happened: while he remains very much here, all the rest of mankind has vanished. Literally vanished, as if they had all been ... yes: "mysteriously annihilated, dissolved into nothing" -- as the crashed driverless vehicles he comes across suggest. A dissipatio humani generis, as the title has it, -- "Dissipation not in the moral sense" --, like that he recalls reading about in the works of Iamblichus.
       Yes, Dissipatio H.G. is a variation on the last-human-on-earth novel. The narrator is, quite clearly, the only human left, and part of his story does involve his search for other survivors -- in both Widmad and then the nearest large city, 400,000-soul(less) Chrysopolis, and by trying to place telephone calls near and far -- as well as how he adjusts and gets by. It helps that much -- notably the electric grid -- keeps functioning, though he suspects that that probably won't last; food and drink are also not a problem for now.
       But mostly Dissipatio H.G. is a philosophical novel. There is the fundamental question, of exactly what the situation he finds himself in is: "The situation is certainly peculiar, even inexplicable: does that mean it isn't real ?" And there is the question of what happened to everyone. The narrator speculates quite a bit on this, but in a sense the bigger question isn't: why all of them ? but rather: why him ? Literally everyone disappeared, or was disappeared -- except him.
       He understands:
     I survive. Therefore I was chosen or excluded. It was not chance, but will. But it is up to me to interpret.
       The world has also been reduced, now:
There is no longer anything but the I, and the I is no one but me. I am the I.
       It is a situation he finds difficult to grapple with -- not out of a sense of solitude as, after all, he already lived in almost complete isolation (albeit still maintaining some human connections), but because of the company he's reduced to:
What I don't have is an appetite for myself. I've been flirting with solipsism for a very long time, but I'm neither introverted nor introspective.
       It's a peculiar, personal hell that increasingly weighs on him: "The world is me, and I am tired of this world, this me".
       He reflects on his condition -- in the present as well as past. He describes some of his life -- a failed relationship, efforts at journalism, medical issues -- and some of the people who figured in it, including a Dr Karpinsky, who treated him. He makes clear his loathing for the commercial life embodied in detested Chrysopolis, a financial center where fifty-six banks are headquartered.
       There are hints that the situation is a somewhat different one than he presents. For one, that fateful night of his failed suicide, he describes going to bed with his: "black-eyed girl", pressing: "my mouth to hers at length", and then the clot of dried blood on his bed when he woke that morning ((too ?) easily explained as surely being from: "the blow to my head I'd sustained while leaving the cavern" ...). As the desperation of the suicide attempt suggests, he is a deeply troubled man. The situation he finds himself in allows -- and/or forces -- him to reflect on his life -- but only offers (him and the readers) so many answers: as he admitted, he's not given to introspection.
       Dissipatio H.G. is not quite your usual last-man-on-earth novel, though it does offer many of the satisfactions of the genre, not least in Morselli's haunting descriptions of the human-void world he finds himself in. But it is more a philosophical thought-exercise, a character study focused not on generic man in such a position but on this very specific character, his experiences and reactions strongly colored by his emotional and intellectual background (i.e. baggage). (It's hard not to imagine that Morselli was writing about himself, too: when he received the letter from publisher Mondadori turning down this very manuscript he committed suicide.)
       A tight, dark little novel, Dissipatio H.G. appeals especially in how it delves into this mind and soul -- its narrator intellectual in both the best and worst senses of how he deals with his situation. It is a fascinating and quite successful little exercise that is certainly of interest. (Very much, I might add, my kind of book, for what that's worth; I am well aware and note that many readers want and prefer something different from their fiction.)

- M.A.Orthofer, 18 February 2021

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Dissipatio H.G.: Reviews: Other books by Guido Morselli under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Italian author Guido Morselli lived 1912 to 1973.

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© 2021-2022 the complete review

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