Book Reviews

Dissipatio H. G (The Vanishing) by Guido Morselli — alone in the world

Cover of Dissipation H.G a post apocalyptic novella by the Italian author Guido Morselli

By the time I reached the end of Dissipatio H.G I felt the urge to lie down in a darkened room with a cool flannel over my forehead. It’s a work of only 114 pages but when almost every one of those pages includes dense philosophical reflections on existence, death and the future of Earth, I was left exhausted.

Here’s one example:

The cupio dissolvi, the wish to dissolve. Freud called it the “death drive”, or instinct, and universalized it, assigning it to everyone. In his day, it was a wanton abstraction even to him. A harmless philosopheme, not even very original for that matter to set against the dogma of omnipresent Eros for the symmetry.

How about this one:

I must confess I don’t recognise the unconscious frustrations and visceral pains, the festering evils that afflict modern man. A colleague accused me of reductive criticism. I was forever insisting (everything’s already been said but nobody’s listening, so it has to be constantly restated) that the interior monologue, typical of contemporary literature, that gives vent to unconscious sorrows and visceral suffering in capillary inspections of the self and false encounters with the other is proof that we haven’t moved beyond the psychologism of that sub feeling and sub thinking that was already artificial (and dull) a century ago.

No doubt, more learned readers than myself wouldn’t find these passages as difficult to penetrate. I just kept clinging on with my fingertips, feeling disoriented yet in a strange way enjoying the experience.

Dissipatio H. G deals with a world in which every human being — bar the unnamed narrator— has disappeared. The book begins as the narrator travels into the city of Chrysopolis to find it deserted and largely silent. Vehicles abandoned, desks unmanned, jackets and reading glasses discarded. The only sounds come from barking dogs and clattering linotype machines in the newspaper offices.

The story then shifts back two weeks to the eve of the narrator’s birthday when he’d headed to a cave to kill himself in a lake so well hidden that he’s sure his body will never be found. As he sits on the lip of a well connected to the lake, debating the quality of Spanish brandy, he realises his body won’t let him die.  He gives up on his plan and starts to walk home, hitting his head on a protruding rock on the way out.

Arriving back in his village hours later he discovers that everyone he knows is missing. As the days pass and his search widens without sight of a single person, the man comes to realise that he is the last person left alive. Ironically, he’d left the metropolis to escape his fellow humans and their consumerist attitudes and ambitions, but he hadn’t bargained on the disappearance in its entirety of Humo Generis .

Completely alone, he becomes a nomadic creature, wandering through a deserted airports and army base, raiding the kitchens of empty hotels for food and looking for explanations. It’s a miserable existence in which he veers between guilt that he has survived “the Event” and the sense that he is being punished. “I am the elect — or the damned,” he tells us.

Dissipatio H.G depicts a brilliantly intellectual, but difficult, man who finds it hard to live in modern society. Even before his abandoned suicide effort he’d removed himself from the decadent city of Chrysopolis, with its “fifty-six banks and almost as many churches” , to live in a shepherd’s hut among the Alps.

We learn that he is a journalist with controversial opinions. One article entitled “Against formalism and conformism :examining some stereotypes.” suggested many married women were effectively prostitutes. His opinions on the future of journalism do however seem prescient in the context of today’s trends on blogging and citizen journalism:

Professional journalists could be responsible for reporting the news and offerings comments [while] the bulk of the paper would collaborate with the users, the readers, a joint participation that would certainly be unregu­lated, discordant, and partial, but still the only way to give voice to an authentic public opinion.

Amidst all the worthy discussions about solipsism, Freud and the funda­ments of existence, there are moments of humour — of a discomforting nature addmitedly but nevertheless they come as welcome relief.

The one scene that stood out for me comes towards the end of the book where the last man alive retrieves some be-wigged shop mannekins, being particular to select the most old fashioned shapes. Some are positioned in groups to enliven an empty piazza, some are placed in empty vehicles and others are thrown into the city’s swimming pool where they “bob cheerfully up and down in the puzzled waters.”

The man willing to sacrifice his life to separate himself from fellow man, does in the end seem to need companionship.

I wouldn’t have chosen to read this book of my own volition. But when I subscribed to the Asymptote Book Club I was looking to be introduced to authors I’d never heard of previously and to experience a broader geographical range of fiction. I certainly got taken out of my comfort zone with Dissipatio H.G. I’m not qualified to judge whether Morselli was, as Jhumpa Lahiri says in her blub on my edition ” one of contemporary Italy’s most iconoclastic writers.” It was certainly different, enjoyable to some extent but didn’t leave me feeling I wanted to read anything more by this author.

Dissipatio H.G by Guido Morselli, translated by Frederika Randall: Footnotes

Guido Morselli’s Dissipatio H.G was one of nine published after the author’s death in 1973. Frederika Randall’s introduction to the NYRB edition explains that Morselli had returned from a short holiday to find a letter from his publishers rejecting the manuscript of Dissipatio. It was the seventh manuscript they had declined and to Morselli it felt like a fatal defeat. Randall goes on to explain: “that night Guido Morselli loaded his Browning 7.65 and shot himself, putting an end to one of post-war Italy’s most original literary careers.”

The New Yorker review of this book is well worth reading for its insights into the connection between Morselli’s life and that of his protagonist,

This is book number 24 in my #21 in 21 project to read more books from the hundreds that lie unread in my bookshelves.


What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

15 thoughts on “Dissipatio H. G (The Vanishing) by Guido Morselli — alone in the world

  • I don’t really find these passages challenging intellectually, but 114 pages of that, and I may want to jump through the window, lol! So I think I’ll pass

    • I think I read the first one late one night so the brain might have been too tired to cope. So I switched to day time reading which helped but I still found it challenging to have ideas piled on top of ideas

  • Considering when this was written, that last comment is extraordinarily prescient, as you say. Well done for persevering!

    • Morselli might have despaired to see what became of his prediction – where even main stream media outlets take a lot of their content from non professional sources like social media

  • Fascinating… it sounds a little as if it’s in the same vein as some of Saramago’s doubts about humanity, e.g. in Blindness.

    • Saramango is on my list of authors to read – every time I pick up Blindness I feel daunted by the prospect

      • I really liked it, confronting but very thoughtful.

  • Whenever I read a dense book that rattles my brain my reaction is similar to yours. Why do I do it? I ask myself but generally I get a few good tidbits I enjoy out of it. Well done!

    • The sections in between all the philosophy held my attention fortunately so I was able to keep going

  • It’s good to be challenged, and I certainly think this would stretch me – though I would like to be stretched by it! Well done for taking it on!

    • You’re more accomplished at tackling this kind of book (you read Roland Barthes after all!) so you’d probably get more out of it than I did

  • I read this in January, and it certainly affected my mood, the sense if isolation particularly. The philosophical stuff is pretty complex and left me feeling a bit perplexed too, though some of it was thought provoking it was challenging. I did quite like it, but was glad it wasn’t a longer book.

    • Yes I was glad too when it came to the end. it was quite a bleak tale

  • I’m impressed that you finished it! 🙌

    • I did wonder part way through whether it was worth continuing but decided to press on just because it was a short text. Any longer and I would have given up


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