Michelstaedter Carlo (1887-1910) 


Carlo Michelstaedterwas born in Gorizia on 3 June 1887. His parents belonged to esteemed Jewish families: Alberto Michelstaedter was a representative of Assicurazioni Generali and was a member of various cultural associations in Gorizia; Emma Luzzatto Coen was sister-in-law of the journalist Carolina Luzzatto. Carlo was the youngest of four children: Gino, Elda, Paula, Carlo. After completing his high school studies at the Staatsgymnasium in Gorizia, Carlo Michelstaedter enrolled in the mathematics faculty of the University of Vienna, but did not attend the courses: instead he stayed in Florence to study art and take drawing lessons. He was very good at drawing, especially caricatures. He attended the Institute of Philosophical Studies (the University of Florence) and arrived at the threshold of his degree. During his university years he was in close contact with the Italian culture that he and his family felt as their own even though they lived in a city of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. But they were also years of tragic and painful experiences: in 1907 Nadia Baraden, a young Russian lady with whom he had established an intellectual and emotional relationship, died of suicide; the project of engagement with a fellow student, Jolanda De Blasi, was harshly opposed by the family; in 1909 he died tragically in New York, where he had moved, his older brother, Gino. During this period, from 1905 to 1910, Carlo Michelstaedter not only successfully passed his exams, but also wrote, drew, painted and elaborated his philosophy of "persuasion", as opposed to the easy choice of being content, of seeking easy pleasure, of adapting to the inconsistency of the "rectorica". These concepts are expressed in his thesis, entitled La persuasione e la rettorica (Persuasion and Rhetoric), but also in minor operettas, not intended for publication or academic discussion, such as the Dialogo della salute and other dialogues of Leopardian structure, and in some poems, such as the poem I figli del mare (The Children of the Sea) and the emblematic Il canto delle crisalidi (The Song of the Chrysalis) in which the meaning of "life" and that of "death" are intertwined, confused and identified.

On October 17, 1910, after finishing his dissertation and after an altercation with his mother, whose birthday it was, Carlo, who was left alone in the house, killed himself with a gunshot to the temple. He was 23 years old. He left no message to explain his suicide.

In one of his manuscript sheets, next to the drawing of the oil lamp that is going out, he had noted:

"The lamp goes out because of lack of oil, I go out because of overabundance."