About Massimo Lollini

Research interests: Humanism and More Than Human Humanism, Ecocriticism, Mediterranean Studies, Italian Theory, Digital Philology and Culture. P.I. Oregon Petrarch Open Book. Editor in Chief of Humanist Studies & the Digital Age.

International day of Forests and Poetry, March 21, 2019

What do trees and poems have in common? What do they teach us? How can we listen to them? Here are some enlightening reflections from Hermann Hesse’s Wandering and Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Nature.

“For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfill themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree.

When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured. And every young farm boy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal trees grow.

Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.

A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought, I am life from eternal life. The attempt and the risk that the eternal mother took with me is unique, unique the form and veins of my skin, unique the smallest play of leaves in my branches and the smallest scar on my bark. I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail.

A tree says: My strength is trust. I know nothing about my fathers, I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me. I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else. I trust that God is in me. I trust that my labor is holy. Out of this trust I live.

When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult. Those are childish thoughts. . . . Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.

A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one’s suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home. Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is mother.

So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.” (Herman Hesse, Wandering, 56-59)

 

Seeing a tree and listening to a tree means at the same time being seen and listened to by a tree that teaches us to recognize the radical intimacy hiding the unitary meaning of life and  revealing who we are. The eyes of the tree and the eyes of the poet –Emerson adds– meet and reflect each other in comprehending and integrating all the parts of the landscape including ourselves.

“When we speak of nature in this manner, we have a distinct but most poetical sense in the mind. We mean the integrity of impression made by manifold natural objects. It is this which distinguishes the stick of timber of the wood-cutter, from the tree of the poet.

The charming landscape which I saw this morning, is indubitably made up of some twenty or thirty farms. Miller owns this field, Locke that, and Manning the woodland beyond. But none of them owns the landscape.

There is a property in the horizon which no man has but he whose eye can integrate all the parts, that is, the poet. This is the best part of these men’s farms, yet to this their warranty-deeds give no title.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature, 9-10)

 

Bibliography

Emerson, Ralph Waldo, Bode, Carl, and Cowley, Malcolm. The Portable Emerson. Rev. ed. New York: Viking, 1981. Print. Viking Portable Library

Hesse, Hermann. Wandering: Notes and Sketches. London: Triad Paladin Grafton, 1988. Print.

Bach on the Dolomites

An intimate and special concert was held on November 11, 2018 in the Paveneggio Natural Park among the trees uprooted by the windstorm that hit the Dolomite regions on October 18, 2018. The  orchestra of cellos led by Mario Brunello played Johan Sebastian Bach’s Air on the G string.

The concert  was performed to remember the million of  young people killed during WW1 and the the 12 million trees broken by the recent windstorm.  The extermination of these Dolomites’ forests,  largely caused by climate change, seems to reproduce the disaster and devastation of of WW1. 

The Paneveggio forest, located in the middle of Italy’s stunning Dolomites mountains range, holds a precious resource: its Norway spruce trees have been producing top quality resonance wood for cellos, violins and pianos for centuries. The violin-maker Antonio Stradivari sourced here the wood for his instruments.

The concert opened  the space for an intimate and profound dialogue in which the trees voices and the musical notes could not separate each other and from each other.

Digital Cultures

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The emergence of a reality organized around the Internet is provoking a profound crisis of identity in which the older principles of self-orientation and communitarian identification lose their effectiveness. What concepts, what methods do we need to understand the “knowledge space” in which we live an increasing part of our life? How can we orient our individual and professional identity within it? This course will study the reconfiguration of literary studies in the context of the transformation introduced by the use of Internet and digital technologies in our cultural, personal and social identity. At the same time, it will develop digital literacies in using and creating digital artefacts that will complement in a practical dimension the theoretical insights discussed in the first part of the course. Students will engage in new ways of reading, writing, translating and interpreting literary texts in an hypertextual digital environment.

Digital Cultures is divided in four modules. In the first one we will study in a speculative perspective the key terms in digital cultures: space and time, cyberspace, collective intelligence, network, hypertext, virtuality and actuality. In the second module we will engage the cognitive dimension of the computer technology focusing on digital research, topic modeling, textual analysis, close and distant reading. In the third module, we will address and perform the remediation of literature in social and new media. The last module will focus on the dark side of internet and address question of ethics, privacy and surveillance.

Finally will also discuss the future of the book and examine a variety of digital projects focused on the literature and culture of Medieval, Early Modern and Modern times, including (but not limited to) the Oregon Petrarch Open Book, the Pico Project, the Galileo Library project, the and the ARTFL Encyclopédie project. Students will have the option of choosing the didactic activities focusing on one specific RL language and one specific literary period.

Readings include selected essays by Marshall McLuhan, Gilles Deleuze, Pierre Lévy, James D. Bolter, George P. Landow and Daniel J. Solove.


 

“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.

 

“Worlds of Meaning”

This is the Editorial I wrote for the new monographic volume of the e-journal Humanist Studies & the Digital Age entitled  Networks and Projects: New Platforms in Digital Humanities, edited by Crystall Hall, Massimo Lollini and Massimo Riva. It was published in December 2017.

The sections Perspectives and Interventions of the journal are devoted to the publication of a selection from the proceedings of a colloquium held at Brown University in the Spring of 2015. These first two sections are presented and introduced by Massimo Riva in his essay on “Scholarly Networks and Collaborative Practices.” The third section of this issue, Projects, is presented by Crystal Hall in her introduction, “Italian Studies and Digital Humanities: Research Outcomes.”

In the brief notes of my Editorial, “Worlds of Meaning“, I reflect on the idea of “network” as conceptual framework and privileged space of knowledge engaging with Pierre Lévy’s work, and I anticipate the topic of the sixth issue of Humanist Studies & the Digital Age that will be published in 2019.

Reading, Rewriting and Encoding Petrarca’s Rvf

Massimo presented a paper on “Reading, Rewriting and Encoding Petrarca’s Rvf as Hypertext” at the Annual Conference of the MLA, in Philadelphia, PA, on January 5, 2017.

He insisted on what he cosiders the special feature of the OPOB: the creation of the conditions for deep reading and re-writing Petrarca’s Rvf within a hypertext approach to reading. For this purpose he designed two reading projects then implemented in two seminars on re-reading Petrarca’s Rvf in the digital era taught at the University of Oregon in 2011 and 2014 using the resources of the OPOB. The first seminar was directed toward re-writing Petrarca’s poem in tweet format, the second explored thematic encoding and close reading of Petrarca’s masterpiece.

The Ancient Roots of a Non-Anthropocentric Humanism

“The Ancient Roots of a Non-Anthropocentric Humanism: A Pythagorean Perspective.” Paper presented at the Mellon Symposium on Environmental Posthumanities in the Anthropocene on Friday, Dec. 2nd 2016 .

This paper presents part of my research on the ancient and early modern sources of a non-anthropocentric humanism that I prefer to define “more than human” rather than “posthuman.” After a brief introduction on the philosophy of Pythagoras I discussed a productive example of revival of the Pythagorean notion of metempsychosis in the recent movie by Michelangelo Frammartino’s,  Le Quattro volte (2010), and I reflected on its importance for contemporary environmental philosophy and the search for a sustainable human relationship to the environment. 

“The Letter to my Land” by Roberto Saviano

The Letter to my land by Roberto Saviano is in some respects an important model of contemporary environmental short story, articulated into multimedia forms and aware of the impact that the environmental issue has on the culture and ethics of a civil nation. In my presentation I  analyze the evolution of this letter-essay-short story from the written version to the television version entitled From Inferno to the Beauty that was a special of the television program Che tempo che fa, hosted by Saviano together with Fabio Fazio. Che tempo che fa is an ongoing television talk show hosted by the Italian television host Fabio Fazio since 2003. My thesis is that this development in the story gains in communication effectiveness, formal articulation and wise aesthetic elaboration, through the recovery of the essential forms and dynamics of popular oral narrative. The story is presented as Saviano’s report and witness to the devastating consequences of the degradation of the Mediterranean landscape around Castel Volturno, a town in the province of Caserta in the Campania region, about twenty miles northwest of Naples on the Volturno River. The presentation  concludes with some reflections on the ethics of the landscape and the role of ecocriticism in the context of rethinking humanism in a direction “more than human”, which in other words takes into account the interdependence of human life with all the living universe.

I emphasize two aspects that emerge from the story he recounts in the Letter to my land and in the expanded television version of it. On the one hand, the hellish intersection of violence against human beings and violence against the environment; so it becomes clear that any project of real restoration and redevelopment of the area that would safeguard the respect and the fundamental value of the landscape would produce a very significant added value, by contributing to reduce the violence of the Camorra that continues to dominate and pillage this land. The other important aspect that emerges in Saviano’s account is the substantial role of ecocriticism in rethinking humanism in a direction “more than human”, which takes into serious consideration the interdependence of human life with all of living universe. Saviano tells us that the construction of the first eco-monsters of the Villaggio Coppola destroyed the pine forest and then creating windows not facing the sea but within the village prevented the recognition of the face of the landscape and the authentic beauty of the sea, marking a further step in the degradation of the environment no longer perceived as an integral part of culture and civic life.

The critical reflections triggered by Saviano’s letter bring to mind the words of Piero Calamandrei in 1944 in the face of environmental and human destruction caused by the War World II. In his famous discourse L’Italia ha ancora qualcosa da dire he wrote:

«Quello che più ci ha offeso è stato l’assassinio premeditato delle nostre città, dei nostri villaggi, delle nostre campagne, perfino del nostro paesaggio. Voi lo sapete che in Italia… ogni borgo, ogni svolto di strada, ogni collina ha un volto come quello di una persona viva…”

“What hurt us most was the premeditated assassination of our cities, our villages, our countryside, even our landscape. You know that in Italy … every village, every turn in the road, every hill has a face like that of a living person … ”

and added

“Mai come in questi mesi in cui sui bollettini di guerra cominciavamo a leggere con un tremito i luoghi della Toscana, abbiamo sentito che questi paesi sono carne della nostra carne, e che per la sorte di un quadro o di una statua o di una cupola si può stare in pena come per la sorte del congiunto, o dell’amico più caro».

“Never before like in recent months in which on the war bulletins we began to read with a quake the places of Tuscany, we felt that these countries are flesh of our flesh, and that for the fate of a painting or a statue or a dome one may be worried as for the fate of a spouse, or friend most dear. ”

The invitation of Calamandrei to recognize the face of the landscape was then translated into the Article 9 of the Italian Constitution, which states that the Republic “protects the landscape and the historical and artistic heritage of the nation.” In a different historical context, that nonetheless as the post-war period is characterized by the destruction of human beings, cultural heritage and environment, Roberto Saviano, as Piero Calamandrei 60 years before, invites the Italians to feel the landscape as flesh of their flesh and to continue to recognize the beauty of its radiant and marine face.

*Excepts from “Roberto Saviano’s Letter to My Land” a paper presented by Massimo Lollini at the  Annual Conference of the PAMLA, Portland, Oregon, November 7, 2015.

 

Sicilian Ruins

Massimo Lollini presented a paper entitled “Sicilian Ruins from Vittorio De Seta’s Documentaries to Vincenzo Consolo’s Citiscapes” at the  Common Knowledges Symposium 2014, Seeing the Forest and the Trees: Culture, the Environment and Labor on Wednesday May 14, 2014 at the University of California in San Diego.

 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. Lollini complemented  the brief analysis of three of these documentaries – Lu tempu di li pisci spada (Time of the Swordfish, 1954), I 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 of his talk Lollini discussed 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’ material culture. Lollini paralleled 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. Finally, in his conclusion Lollini considered how De Seta’s documentaries and Consolo’s essays are relevant to contemporary environmental debates on humanism and the search for a sustainable human relationship to the environment.