Massimo Lollini

For a more than human humanism

Posts from the ‘Mediterranean’ category

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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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.

 

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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.

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