“The Wisdom of the Hand and the memory of a Mediterranean More than Human Humanism”

This is an essay published in  Ecocritical Approaches to Italian Culture and LiteratureThe Denatured Wild Ed. by Pasquale Verdicchio. Lanham-Boulder-New York-London: Lexinton Books, 2016. 1-30.

In my essay I first address the documentaries that Vittorio De Seta shot in Sicily between 1954 and 1955 to document, with a certain urgency, the work of peasants, tuna-fishermen and sword-fishermen, in a world that, as he clearly perceived, was about to disappear in the late 1950s. De Seta shows how both the peasants of the land cultivating wheat and the fishermen – whom he calls “contadini del mare” (peasants of the sea) fishing for tuna or swordfish in the open sea – had found meaning and purpose in their life and sought their realization by means of manual labor. Their relationship to the sea and the land, partially mediated by rudimentary tools, was at the same time intensified by a corporeal and physical immersion in the natural element.  I complement the brief analysis of three of these documentaries – Lu tempu di li pisci spada (Time of the Swordfish, 1954), contadini del mare (Peasants of the Sea, 1955) and Parabola d’oro (Gold Parable, 1955) – with a reading of Tuna fishing, an essay by great Sicilian writer Vincenzo Consolo who recently died.

In the second part, I briefly focus on De Seta’s new documentary filmed for Italian Television in 1980, La Sicilia rivisitata (Sicily revisited). This documentary bears witness to the dramatic ecological and cultural consequences of the ruins of the peasants’ and fishermen material culture. I parallel the filmic analysis with a reading of The ruins of Siracusa, an essay by Consolo, another great witness to contemporary Sicily in our globalized world.

The third, longer and last part of this essay shows how De Seta’s documentaries and Consolo’s essays can be considered late expressions of a Mediterranean humanism that has its deep cultural roots in ancient and early modern times in the works of philosophers such as Pythagoras, Giordano Bruno and Giambattista Vico among others, that are still relevant to contemporary environmental debates on the search for a sustainable human relationship to the environment.

 

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