The following essay is by my friend Peter Denzer, pictured above. I’m posting it with the hope that readers, particularly those interested in
ARTIST LOST IN A LANDSCAPE
This essay was written in 1968 after eight years of residence in
The young woman I married in
It was difficult to leave
Our Italian friends took pains to instruct us in the customs of the country. Giancarlo enjoined us to be sure to send postcards to all our friends and neighbors on those occasions when we traveled. Signora Severa, the eighty‑eight year old mother of our friend and downstairs neighbor Carlo Severa, a distinguished artist and teacher, invited us to tea for the express purpose of continuing our education in the proper use of her language.
Our departure, finally, was an emotional and tearful interruption of a long love affair with a people and their city. When we were delayed for several days and called Giancarlo because we wanted to see him once more he said, no, he would not be able to survive another arriverderci. And when we finally did leave, sneaking out of our old palace at dawn to avoid running into neighbors, old Norcini was in the street to embrace us once more and reduce us once more to tears, making us promise to come back in two years at the latest. That was
"Denzer," she said, holding tightly to my hand, "non siamo piu socevole." We aren't sociable any more.
We had friends in
There were times when the generosity of Italians embarrassed me. We were fortunate a few years ago while still in
There are brave and honorable men and women in
It is no paradox that our friends there are anxious for our welfare here as they watch from their European vantage point the course of the new American revolution, the violence of this powerful empire, the many contradictions in its history made manifest by the barbarity of the death penalty, the huge prison population, the increasing concentration of wealth and the orgy of consumption by those who either have money or credit cards.
After more than eight years I am, yes, alienated and afraid to return to my own country. But what I am most afraid of there is not the political climate and the dismal prospects raised by the election of a president who will no doubt prove to be the most mediocre of a line of mediocre chief executives. No, I am afraid of ugliness, particularly the ugliness of American cities.
Here I live in a city treasured by artists and historians, and while there are festering sores of squalor in Florence there is hardly a street or alley or piazza from which the eye cannot escape to find harmony in old stones, the comfortable curves of Tuscan hills or the dark green semaphores of cypress trees.
Here, too however, there is violence and the sharp ozone smell of revolution. Within the space of two days we have witnessed thousands of marchers in a general strike and we have seen the green uniformed security police with black truncheons strapped to their wrists move suddenly and violently against peaceful and idle men and women standing in front of their own shops and homes.
Men and women were beaten about the head and shoulders. There is tension and the promise of more violence.
Here where ordinary men and women may be forced to near or actual starvation on old‑age pensions of $25‑a‑month or less, retired army officers will spend their long last years living in luxury with a state‑paid‑for chauffeur and automobile, the church will continue to pay no taxes on stocks and bonds that account for at least one‑quarter of all those on the uncertain Italian stock exchange, and the industrial elite will continue to live in feudal splendor on spoils taken with feudal greed, indifference and ignorance.
Sociology and psychology are represented in this Catholic country by straw men upon whom priests and politicians look with contempt. There is contempt, too, for the universities, state institutions in an advanced state of decay and now reduced to a condition of chronic disorder by open conflict between rebellious but badly organized students and an ill‑assorted aggregation of administrators, politicians and professors. A new generation is stirring restlessly with energies alien to this Catholic, classic land still darkly shadowed by persistent myths of man's purpose and origins, his Olympian parentage and god‑like beauty. Industrialization has brought with it a peculiar democracy that has, among other things, powerfully disturbed traditional restraints and deformed traditional social structures among which young people once found uncertain comforts. The birth control pill is widely used, there is political pressure for divorce and more equal rights for women. If old comforts have been lost forever new satisfactions are being sought. The legitimacy of some of the new ways finds witnesses among couples. Young men and women begin to discover each other now, there is communication between the sexes that was virtually non‑existent a few years ago except among the wealthy elite.
Eight years ago the cinema was a dark hall populated by men. Now it is a place where couples go either in an attempt to stifle the pervasive urban boredom or to find a moment of artificial privacy, for there is little space in this crowded country for much more than furtive, frustrated love‑making in small cars parked in the shadows of deserted office buildings.
Eight years ago the night streets were populated primarily by men, many of whom were hunting for prostitutes. Now couples amble the streets companionably. This is not only relief, it is revolution.
It is revolution and relief, however, only dimly perceived by the relieved and rebellious. The habits of mind which produced the analytic genius of Leonardo, Galileo and Vico have been largely lost in the stifling environment that was the consequence of a collaboration between timid merchants and an aggressive church. The facile, joyful and ingenious Italian intelligence has been squandered on automobile design, fashion, cinema neo‑realism and occasional literary sensationalism that produces not brilliant criticism or invention but novels about sex and boredom. There are no sociologists (we know a social anthropologist, a Communist, a singularly intelligent scholar, isolated in a provincial university), almost no psychologists and few philosophers in
The Anglo‑Saxon habit of mind, informed by the psychoanalytic revolution, by scientific scepticism, is pragmatic and factual and in the Anglo‑Saxon mind new linkages are being made in such a way that "classical" human experiences continue to yield freshly useful information.
It is also true that the Anglo‑Saxon habit of mind is proof against neither nightmare nor madness and was capable (and is today) of organizing both concentration camps and the mass production of nuclear weaponry for both display and use. We recall, however, the contribution of an Italian physicist who fled Mussolini's
The Italian word contraddizione carries much more freight than our “contradiction.” At every junction in Italian life there are contradictions; these are the twists and turns of a complex existence in which everything is tugged in opposite directions by tradition and the “modern,” by the competing claims of secular and religious authorities, by the everyday need for a stable society and the reality of a corrupt and venal government serving the rich and powerful while the poor struggle to survive.
The exuberant Italian imagination is starved by church and university and intimidated by police and bourgeois authority. But such starvation and such intimidation must, we think, bring the tension eventually to a breaking point..... And then what? Will the Italian world then be as ugly as ours? And as dangerously full of wild and awful promise?
When it is contained within the great vaults of a cathedral no one here is ashamed of public passion. The pilgrims press up to the cool stone sarcophagus which is said to contain the bones of Saint Anthony of
Walking up a dusty path over the town of
There is growth and decay in the sunshine. Surely I did not expect to come here and live for eight years and in that time escape the powerful influences of all that is
I am as yellow as an old cheese. Across the aisle is another hepatitis patient. Every morning he gets out of his bed and looks at his eyes in a mirror.
When I try to read or write in bed ambulatory patients come up to me and protest that I must not work. It is bad for me. Rest, they say. Repose!
Next to me is Silvio who has had a kidney removed. He has not seen his small daughter for more than two months and although he is regularly visited by his family he is suffering from acute homesickness; the hospital does not permit visits from very small children.
Nando, an ambulatory patient, comes to Silvio's bedside, holds his hand tenderly and whispers encouragingly,"courage, courage!"
I was on the ward only a day when Nando came to me and took my hand, put it on his breast explaining that he had a problem with his thyroid. "Feel my heart," he says, "like a bird's!" He then explains about Silvio and tells me that when Silvio weeps for his family I must hold his hand and comfort him.
So I obey Nando's instructions and reach from my bed to Silvio, hold his hand and whisper, "Coraggio, coraggio!" It seems that from that moment Silvio begins to improve. So do I.
Once a week a bearded Franciscan friar brings in his portable altar and says the service in Latin. At first the patients ignore him in the anti‑clerical tradition of the province. But little‑by‑little the Frate makes himself popular and finally wins and receives friendly greetings and loud demands for jokes. He has an inexhaustible repertory of anti‑clerical jokes, many with a slight but sharp flavor of lasciviousness. He comes to my bed, tugs my beard and draws me into the brotherhood of bearded men, "noi barbuti," he says, we bearded ones.
During visiting hours the ward is crowded with men and women tending their sick, emptying bedpans, squeezing orange juice. Sons shave their fathers. At night there are always huddled forms at the bedsides of the very ill ‑‑ mothers or daughters or sisters or wives standing watch.
One night just before the lights were to go out there was a hectic cry from a patient at the far end of the ward. "Quick, quick!" Ambulatory patients run out into the main corridor crying for help. Nurses fly, the little auburn‑haired "dottoressa" comes running. A screen goes up around one of the beds but not before we have all had a chance to see the bloated, black face of the man who has died from congestive heart failure. He was number eight, a man silenced by his illness.
A lamp is turned on to burn brightly through the thin cotton of the screen. Silhouetted is the shapely, tall nurse from
The dead man's family sweeps down the aisle and crowds behind the screen. There is a long, terrified scream from a young woman. Daughter? A storm of weeping. There are soft groans from some of the patients lying in the dark. During the night the body is taken from the ward. When I wake in the morning the bed is occupied. Among the living there is a burst of energy and community good feeling. We are all going to get well together.
Nando leads a sweet‑faced boy to my bedside. He searches fumblingly for my hand and then kneads my fingers and wrist with a warmth that is disturbing at first. He is blind and while we talk the pressure of his fingers pulses. He gives me phrases in "Sardo" for my notebook and tells me about his family in
The auburn‑haired "dottoressa" has a lovely Medusa face. She stops to talk to us and particularly to comfort Silvio. Her father is a butcher and so, she says smiling, she is used to seeing blood.
A young Englishwoman comes to visit me. I ask her what would happen in an English hospital if one of the male patients cried.
"We'd pretend not to notice," she replied.
Winter. A few bright January days are a welcome relief from the penetrating damp and windy cold. Standing on
There is another weather to the north over the Mugnone valley. The air is clear, olives; cypress and ilex march over the rippled flanks of the hills, the light picks out and dramatizes all the details of shape and color. Cut out against the cold sky are the spread, still shapes of the umbrella pine. The day is a weather breeder and there, spilling over the outworks of the Appenninic barrier are the cold white masses of
There is a prophecy of snow in the mane of cloud that tosses up against the push of warm southern air.
We choose to walk down a narrow path that skirts the lower walls of Fiesole's Villa Medici ‑‑ this is the shell of the sternly magnificent villa where Lorenzo the Magnificent enjoyed the company of Pico della Mirandola. It was also where Lorenzo and his brother Giuliano were hosts to the leaders of the Pazzi conspiracy.
The story goes that one of the murderers put his arm around Lorenzo in feigned affection to see if the head of the Medici family was wearing mail under his shirt. A short time later Lorenzo was wounded and his brother killed at the altar of the Florentine cathedral, Santa Maria del Fiore, the Duomo.
At the moment the terraces of the villa are cluttered with junk, the sorry guts of the villa, old toilet bowls, sinks, battered tubs, plaster encrusted wiring. The villa is being modernized. We turn away from this disorder to look down the villa‑studded hill which falls away first to San Domenico and then to the city. We face the Tuscan hills, still green, always green, and fancy we feel a slight trembling in the atmosphere, a shift that is a disturbance in our sense of time.
Past and present become tangled. Where are we? Lost among souvenirs?
We flee down the steep path to the city and nostalgia is banished in the stink of exhausts and the brain numbing roar of traffic echoing in stone alleys.
We stop at R's studio on the Piazzale Donatello. In an oval shaded by fine old plane trees, ilex and pine, are the remains of Theodore Parker, the Brownings and other less exotic and distinguished foreigners who died in
R is an American sculptor of some distinction; he knew Diego Rivera and Frieda Kahlo and talks about them. We have caught him at work but he and his young daughter are welcoming. The studio is cold. There is work in progress and a scattering of shabby, comfortable furniture. American sculptors come to Italy for many reasons not least of which is the fact that bronze casting is not only cheaper but better here.
Artists need to be interrupted sometimes. R recalls how Rivera used to visit him. From these visits, he says, he learned almost all he knows about art. He recalls that Frieda Khalo came with Rivera and sang "stornelli" accompanying herself on a little banjo‑like instrument.
It is something to think about, says R, asking what happens to artists who leave their homes. Joyce left
Frost stayed at home. Why did the old man allow himself to be used at that inauguration? Didn't he know that the White House interest in art is so much public relations? Yes, it was fine to have public recognition for the arts but wasn't Varese, who was also invited, more honest for refusing to be talked into an appearance? There was one man who wouldn't go along with the rat pack.
R stuffs a big thumb into the clay mass on his easel. "Since I was 12," he says, "I've known that there would be revolution, war, destruction in the
We leave R to his work and amble across town toward San Marco to take a look at Annigoni's Deposition. Annigoni has achieved some fame in the
We are admitted through a scarred little door which is hardly more than another blemish in the wide, stucco flank of the monastery. A little gray man huddled in a ragged overcoat unlocks a door into a small, square study.
And there is a cadaver, sooty gray, slipping down from the center of the wall. To either side of this gruesome victim are two grim witnesses. On the left Sant Anthony and Catherine of Siena. To the right, Thomas Acquinas who is scratching in a vellum book and back of him, looking furtively over his own shoulder, Savonarola. This is a modern Christ. Ugly, reeking of the morgue, beginning to putrify, literally dead and decaying. And the saints are perhaps even uglier since they are still alive and animated ‑‑ by what thoughts! They look like criminals
slinking away from (or back to) the scene of a crime.
In the lunette over the heads of Anthony and Catherine are Adam and Eve lying foot to head in exhausted attitudes, presumably just done with some depravity neither enjoyed. Adam is reaching up to offer naked Eve some cover ‑‑ a leafy twig.
In the lunette over Savonarola and Thomas there is Cain kneeling over a prostrate and bloody Abel and poised in the murderer's hand is a pointed stone aimed again at the prostrate body lest it still breathe.
Then there are those improbable little green branches covering or rather mutilating the sex of the brothers.
But not only is the fresco ugly, it is poor craftsmanship. The backgrounds are muddy, the surface is sloppy and there is ample evidence of deterioration. The dismal scene won't last nearly as long as any of the already ancient Fra Agelicos.
The Latin lover is still being advertised but it is beginning to be understood even in
A few foreign women sense the hostility in the presumably ardent advances made toward them in the street, in trains and busses by the men who believe they love women but who have been frightened by their mothers and more recently their wives.
With a young Italian psychiatrist as guide I visit San Salvi, the big provincial mental hospital in
But San Salvi is still hardly an up‑to‑date psychiatric hospital. Occupational therapy is a haphazard little experiment conducted primarily by volunteer workers in a reclaimed peasant house on the edge of the hospital grounds. Staff members are part‑time as is the director. Treatment is haphazard, too, primarily drugs which are administered according to the directions on the bottle.
Patients seem well behaved. The little rooms in which they sleep are clean and neat. Attendants seem gentle. But nothing is happening. Life is suspended between meals.
There is one active ward. Walls covered with pictures done by the patients. One patient plays a mandolin and patients and attendants cluster around the musician. The doctor is greeted cheerfully and affectionately. He is proud of the ward where he has done something, awakened the patients.
A slim, dark, beautiful southern boy eyes the visitor and wants to know if he is American or English. American! Ah, American women are beautiful, are they not?
An older man chides the youth for thinking so much about women. The lad admits it. But why not?
There is a man with an aluminum alloy leg. An ex‑paratrooper. He is ready for discharge but he has no place to go. No job to go to. And he should not return to his family. If he does, he will be back in the hospital in a month.
What is the matter with these men?
"There is a great fear of impotence. And they are afraid of women, of their mothers. Yes, of women."
A priest hurries by.
"Do they have religious fixations?"
"No. No one thinks much about religion. They have delusions of grandeur. They suffer from pride more than from religion. Injured pride."
Nor does the doctor think much about religion except that it interferes, via the church, with the practice of medicine. However, he is a Catholic. If he left the church he would lose his job.
(Unable to reform its mental hospitals
The Manicomio Giudiziario di Montelupo is housed, partially, in a huge villa built for the Medici dukes. The director of this hospital for the criminally insane comes from near
The director takes us on a rapid tour of the hospital. It is a hospital ‑‑ there is little of the jail here except that guards wear the uniform that is also seen in the regular prisons.
The director shows us cells ‑‑ neat, clean rooms in which there are toilets, running water, steam radiators. I have seen less comfortable, less clean rooms in hotels.
We visit kitchens, laundry, work shops. In many places prisoner‑patients are working without supervision of any kind.
What kind of patients. The director says they are mostly paranoids. How is it that there is so little evidence of the anxiety and hostility that is commonly associated with the paranoid personality?
Ah, they are protected! Someone takes care of them. Someone is interested in them!
"But I will show you a classic paranoid!"
The soft‑faced sergeant who accompanies us unlocks a door and we step into a cell that smells of urine and feces. A big, stout, gray‑fringed head is poised just two inches above a dirty pillow and two murky eyes glare at us.
I say "good day" to the patient and the glare darkens for a moment, the bitter mouth is compressed more tightly.
What did he do?
"He killed his brother."
In an interior courtyard we encounter a small group of patients sweeping and mopping. The director greets them. One stands by rather morosely. The director assaults him, seizes him by his jacket lapel. "What's the matter? You don't feel well? Eh?"
The patient shrugs. The doctor persists. Reluctantly the patient gives up his sulk and begins to grin. The director bustles off and we follow along.
He introduces us to a shy, stoop-shouldered red head with a sensitive mouth and frightened eyes behind thick spectacles. "How do you feel today?" demands the director. "Very sad," says the boy. The director pats his shoulder.
And what is wrong with him?
His mother and father doted on him, explains the director. He was the only child. He was very promising, a diligent student but perhaps they made him work too hard. One day he killed his mother and father.
The director demands approval for his hospital. He has reformed it almost single‑handed within the last five years. Before we go he shows us photographs of the hospital as it was when he was first assigned to it. The cells were unheated, unlit stalls for animals.
There is a small prison for women in
The nun who is my guide might have been a handsome young woman but her face is pale and pinched, there are faint violet smudges under her pale gray eyes. She disapproves of me and is suspicious.
The prison is clean and not unbearably cold although this is the coldest winter
In a long loft of a room there is a trim, middle‑aged woman wearing sleeve guards, an apron over her uniform. She is wearing bright red slippers and is sorting rail tickets and receipts, a job the prison does by contract for the State Railway. This woman has been in prison for eight years. I ask her why?
"They say," she replies in a soft voice, "that I killed my husband but it is not true. He fell down the stairs and was dead when I found him. But the police treated me badly and I had no chance to defend myself, no lawyer, nothing...."
I ask her about her work.
"It is a good job. A nice clean job and I save my money. So I will have something when I get out."
The sister, who is becoming more amiable, tells me that she believes this woman's story but there is apparently nothing that can be done. The woman is serving a life sentence. But she does not know it. According to the sister "she is not quite right in the head. Today she is better than usual...."
What are the crimes for which most of the women are serving time?
"Forty out of the sixty here are in for murder!"
"Forty out of sixty! It can't be possible!"
"Ah, yes," says the sister. "They are all from southern
There are fewer murderers, proportionately, among the 200 or so prisoners at the Casa di reclusione di Volterra. But they are all two‑time losers, recidivists, and presumably they are disciplinary cases. The great majority of the men come from
The director here, too, is Neapolitan, not a professional penologist but a clerk with some legal training, a civil servant who has worked up through the ranks by a series of examinations. But what was a job won in a competition has become, he says, a vocation.
He bustles through the prison, here and there stopping to talk to a prisoner. Several times he stops to argue with the prisoners about the new amnesty law which will shorten some terms. He has his favorites, apparently, for now and then he reaches out to tousle the hair of a man or pinch his arm.
The prisoners are so mild! Nowhere is there a sullen stare, the faces are the open, weathered faces of peasants and day laborers. Sometimes there is a bewildered and insistent protest from a man and then the director and prisoner stand toe‑to‑toe and face‑to‑face in the terribly intimate and voluble manner of southern Italians while the issue is argued out with no indication of inhibition on either part.
The prison is dreadfully cold. There is no heat in the cells. The prisoners who work huddle around tiny wood stoves. Those who choose not to work huddle in a scrap of sunshine hoarded in an angle of the high walls of the prison yard. There is no compulsory labor.
The prisoners make shoes, baskets, rough clothing. They may also attend school and once a week may see a movie. They eat meat once a week, fish once a week and have wine on each of the ten official church holidays. Food is supplied by a contractor who won his contract on a low bid.
The work the prisoners do is also on a contract basis and no one earns more than a high of $16 a month while eight dollars is more usual.
It is difficult here to distinguish between prisoners and their guards. Certainly there are no "criminal types" – they all look like peasants, resigned and bewildered and stoic.
Deep underground a group of men stand around a square table picking over rags. They gossip in the familiar way of Italian men. They greet the warden and his guest cordially and are curious about the visitor. I realize suddenly that the two guards assigned to this room are at the table socializing amiably with the prisoners; their caps have been discarded; there is no visible difference between guard and prisoner!
The prison chaplain is an old man. When he explains that almost all these men are doomed ‑‑ that they almost certainly will repeat their crimes after they serve their sentences ‑‑ he wipes his eyes and chokes on a sudden flow of tears. He says that he, too, would be a criminal is his situation were as theirs.
There is no rehabilitation program. A man is simply discharged from prison into the starving family from which he attempted to escape. The director gloomily affirms what the old priest says. "They go and then they come back."
I ask about rape in the prison.
The director shrugs.
"There's no such thing. Every day at four we open all the cells and let the men visit each other. Everyone needs love." The priest nods. No more is said.
What is the point?
There is something wrong with man. With humans. By any of his own terms he is sick and there is something final, fatal, incurable about the sickness. Perhaps there has always been. Again, by his own terms, man is a kind of evolutionary error. He is the only evolved creature who does not simply die out by a failure to adapt to his environment ‑‑ he can adapt to a relatively wide range of environments including those he creates for himself. Up to the point, perhaps, where he creates an environment hostile to all living organisms.
There is something wrong with him. I keep repeating this refrain because the evidence continues to accumulate. The evidence of pathology. If humans do not survive it will be, eventually, because the environment they have created is poisonous. Or, more simply, they will die of murder and suicide. Homo sapiens is a murderer. This is his work, here in
When I first heard the name D A C H A U from Jewish refugees early during the Second World War I conceived of it as a place set apart from all other places. The word itself seemed especially ugly, harsh ‑‑ a code word for terror and brutality and the systematic killing of people. I was amazed then in 1945 to discover that
Even now, 17 years later, I cannot believe that the town is still here, that people can be content to go on living with the name that has come to mean to me the very essence of human evil, degradation, madness.
But now D A C H A U is a tourist attraction of sorts. Little multilingual signs guide the visitor through the town and out to the camp site.
A tacky little monument. A former inmate takes the tourists around and shows them, under glass, pictures of himself in his concentration camp uniform. He shows them the ovens in which the corpses from other camps were burned, the wall where prisoners were stood up to be shot. The ground under which lie the remains of uncounted, unknown thousands of men and women has been landscaped over and there are discreet little bronze memorial plaques marking the mounds over those graves.
There is a chapel before which stands a shabby looking bronze sculpture commemorating the tortured dead. The equipment in the crematorium is rusty with disuse.
I discover that I have been holding my breath. There was once an unbearable stench here. And my first guide took me down to a cellar room in the early spring of 1945 to show me a fine buff colored powder which he sifted through his skeleton fingers ‑‑ bone meal some of which went to fertilizer plants and some of which was sold to relatives of deceased prisoners as "their true remains." An anonymous dust.
Some of the old barracks are still in use. Muddy faced children playing around the dilapidated doorways, dismal laundry flapping between the gray buildings. A little Bierstube has been set up in one of the huts.
Who are these people? Perhaps they are ghosts come back to haunt a scene too terrible to be banished from the dreams of the dead.
No, we are told that these are German refugees from the East Zone. And this is "refuge?" What a frightful joke and in what frightful bad taste!
And why, after leaving D A C H A U should we encounter German soldiers, tanks and artillery on the road? We drive through a maneuver area and see a platoon of German soldiers running across a field in a mock attack. The young officers in their peaked caps strut through the streets of
Irritated and depressed I told a German newspaperman at the discreetly posh Press Club that all
"Look," I say, "how
"Since you are American," he replies, "it must be so."
Americans are still credited with the destruction of
We visit American friends in Oberuersel. Two young officers and their families. They lived behind barbed wire and we must give our names to the armed American soldiers at the gate. There is a wait until someone can come to identify us. Finally we get to see our friends in their home, a vast apartment, a grotesque parody of American apartments.
We sit around and talk about the war. The atmosphere is strained. We are, after all, behind barbed wire and my friend is an intelligence officer. There are many things he cannot talk about except to people specially certified to hear official secrets.
My friend's wife likes
I escort my young American charge to her embarkation point. She is puzzled by me and by everything she has seen and heard. There seems to be an unbridgeable gap of years and experience between us.
I fled back to
That was 1962.
(What did a gently raised middle‑class boy from
Meanwhile, in 1968...
There have been terrible storms and floods in Northern Italy and a large part of the country's textile industry in the rich area just north of
Last year there were earthquakes in
The flood took place on November 4th. This year's flood around
exercises might have been better spent helping to restore the wrecked looms upon which
To meet its NATO commitment?
An ordinary cut of not very good beef costs at least $1.60 a pound for any citizen and most citizens can hope to earn no more than $160‑a‑month. It can be said that part of the difference between what a man does earn and what he should earn goes to the upkeep of that huge army.
The mysterious complexity of "culture" is hidden in the inexpressible dream of the people. They dream but they do not know what they dream and they do not know what they wish to become. Desires are transient and immediate. They do not feel their fates to be directed by a mythology. The future is foretold by the contents of shop windows.
The dream is replaced by the instalment plan and slowly resignation is replaced by desperation. In the eight years since I arrived in
Hardly a day goes by that I do not see a workman clambering over the sunbaked tiles of the rooftops ‑‑ the
Slowly, slowly, crimes of passion are being replaced by crimes of what seem to be a senseless violence.
The cars are getting bigger. The tiny, "Topolino," a 500 cc Fiat, has been replaced by a more stylish model and the cylindrage has shot like a rocket to 3,000. Sunday driving is now a well established habit beginning to replace the traditional "passeggiata." Coca Cola, TV, washing machines and super markets, of which there are now at least five in this small city, have a presence and are displacing elements of the culture that held it together. Oscar Lewis watched the culture that sustained Mexicans being eroded by the flood of products and ideas that flowed across the
But here in
In the midst of these changes the expatriates feel cheated. Poverty and an agricultural culture, an agrarian economy and medieval customs make for low prices and special privileges for foreigners. Religious festivals are less religious and more touristic, the performer now has his eye on the audience rather than on god.
What is happening? Who are we?
The nostalgia of the artist is not always sentimental escapism. His intuitions sometimes parallel those of the sociologists and historians.
Oscar Lewis, in his studies of poverty in
Who are we?
We have named ourselves. Truly or falsely? By attaching names to things we can make those things multiply in our services. By detaching the names from the things we can multiply names. We call the naming process "abstraction."
It is a fascinating power. We cannot "know" the unknown but we can name it! With structures of symbols we build far out into the universe and then to prove the durability of our creations we climb them, use them as platforms from which to toss ourselves bodily into space.
It is a magnificent and godlike trick and in the performance we have become gods.
But we have also messed up the Garden of Eden. The physical garden has become unsightly. And our imagination, always morbid, has become an echoing chamber of horrors from which we get relief only by stuffing it with meretricious trivia.
Something is wrong, so wrong that too many men of good will agree that the eleventh hour is upon us. Or, worse, that we have created a dilemma from which there is no possible escape.
We are Narcissus searching for a mirror. Is it the
Staring back at us, too, from the monuments and museums, from among the fragments of Mediterranean civilization is the face of classical man. We say "classical" because it is the classical that persists and achieves value by virtue of its durability. The classical man gives us our standard. It may be a flawed standard but in any case it is being destroyed. What will replace it?
Just how and why the destruction takes place is suggested by Max Weber in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism: "One of the fundamental elements of the spirit of modern capitalism, and not only of that but of all modern culture: rational conduct on the basis of the idea of the calling, was born...from the spirit of Christian asceticism...The idea that modern labor has an ascetic character is of course not new. Limitation to specialized work, with a renunciation of the Faustian universality of man which it involves, is a condition of any valuable work in the modern world; hence deeds and renunciation inevitably condition each other today....The Puritan wanted to work in a calling; we are forced to do so. For when asceticism was carried out of monastic cells into everyday life, and began to dominate worldly morality, it did its part in building the tremendous cosmos of the modern economic order. This order is now bound to the technical and economic conditions of machine production which today determine the lives of all the individuals who are born into this mechanism, not only those directly concerned with economic acquisition, with irresistible force."
Pointing directly at the United States Weber goes on to say: "Where the fulfillment of the calling cannot directly be related to the highest spiritual and cultural values, or when, on the other hand, it need not be felt simply as economic compulsion, the individual generally abandons the attempt to justify it at all. In the field of its highest development, in the
R. H. Tawney, the English economist and Weber's disciple, is even more diligent and thorough in the manner in which he traces the development of the capitalist engines of production and consumption out of the early sectarian quarrels. Early Calvinism, said Tawney, would have disciplined Christian man in the management of his economic affairs but...it no longer suspects the whole world of economic motives as alien to the life of the spirit, or distrusts the capitalist as one who has necessarily grown rich on the misfortunes of his neighbor, or regards poverty as in itself meritorious, and it is perhaps the first systematic body of religious teaching which can be said to recognize and applaud the economic virtues...Its ideal is a society which seeks wealth with the sober gravity of men who are conscious at once of disciplining their own characters by patient labor, and of devoting themselves to a service acceptable to God."
Capitalism becomes wed to Christianity, said Tawney, and the Protestant ethic therefore "...consists in the assumption, accepted by most reformers with hardly less naivete than by the defenders of the established order, that the attainment of material riches is the supreme object of human endeavor and the final criterion of human success."
But Tawney remains a Christian. And an economic determinist. After going to enormous pains to establish his argument on sound ground he remains on the side of Christ. Perhaps this is possible only in
And was Freud's long hesitation to enter
The "Mediterranean experience" must be endured before it can be appreciated and perhaps mine is of too brief a duration. Certainly the experience is personal and cannot be communicated in scholarly terms. Most of what I have taken to be part of my present Weltanschauung has been gathered by intuition, a process of poetic and sensual assimilation. More has come out of a set of notions that make up a structure of personal aesthetics.
It is my feeling that Christian symbolism is cruel and ugly and that when these symbols become fixed in the collective unconscious they affect behavior in an entirely consistent manner that tends to shape Christian perceptions. Hence Christian acceptance of the cruelty of capitalism and the ugliness of capitalist industrialism,
Living in Italy with the pleasures and discontents of Italians trying to adjust to the process of industrialization it occurs to me that capitalism here now enjoys only a limited success and will have further and "final" success only when and if the Protestant ethic is imported along with Coca Cola and NATO.
The Latin passion is real, it is something felt and expressed and it signifies to me the fact that the Latin, the
Italians work hard not because they feel hard work to be a virtue but because it is an obvious and inescapable necessity. Pleasure is accepted easily and some of the sexual tensions we tend to accept without much question simply don't exist among most Latins. Most notably one enjoys here companionship with members of one's own sex. Men touch each other without embarrassment. The harsh line between the sexes does not exist though there is a damaging rigidity of custom (beginning now to break down) that requires the bride (especially in the south and in the working classes) to maintain her virginity until the wedding night.
This is not to say that Italians or Mediterraneans enjoy a simple and open kind of sexuality; sexual mores are class bound in
Personal beauty is not penalized in
The most pervasive dogma of Christianity is its inevitability, the proposition implying that this faith of all faiths was destined to succeed and replace all others. The fact was, however, that up until the time of Constantine the Great Christians struggled to survive and hold their tiny quarreling sects together in the same way other minority creeds struggled.
"In a genius driven without surcease by ambition and lust for power," said Burckhardt of Constantine, "there can be no question of Christianity and paganism, of conscious religiosity or irreligiousity; such a man is essentially unreligious, even if he pictures himself standing in the midst of a churchly community." Burckhardt pictures
It is not from the putative date of Christ's birth that Christianity as we know it derives but from its adoption by
In any event, the vision Christian faith holds up to us is fairly derived from its time of birth. The world is sinful and ugly, a better world is promised to believers who will deny the world and its vanities.
The Christian did and does separate himself from this world. He was not in it and of it, his career on earth was a trial preparing him for another life. Inevitably then he would hold this world in contempt and inevitably he would attempt to destroy this world. Inevitably, as suggested by Tawney and Weber, he would contrive a capitalist materialism as an instrument to make concrete his rejection of what is worldly. But here something happens which is not merely historical. Christianity achieves a sudden and saving importance as the
The complexities of the evolution of religion cannot be dealt with briefly without offending all the criteria of scholarship but we can note the fact that circumcision persisted among the monotheist Jews while the practice was rejected by Christians who took up so many Hebrew teachings along with a number of Hebrew prophets. What seems particularly remarkable is that the "new" faith was new with Ikhnaton and Moses and new again with
Psychoanalytically oriented as we are we have been able to see the heavenly hierarchies as reflections, greatly enlarged by the vaporous substance of myth, of prosaic earthly relationships. God is the father, Christ is the embodied son and at some point the son cries out in bewilderment because the father has abandoned him. Nor is it strange to see in the Catholic arrangement of holy relationships a dominating "virgin" mother across whose ample lap is spread the youthful, sensual body of a symbolically dead son. Was this son his mother's lover? The incest dream is thinly disguised in the sculpture of the young Michelangelo, the famous and highly polished Pieta' of St. Peter's.
In any case, this was the "story" that was exported to the north country. Perhaps the heavenly relationships as they had been contrived in the
Or perhaps it was only that life had become especially bleak and terrifying so that people suffered a kind of hysterical spasm during which they embraced an angry and punishing god ‑‑ it was a moment when they could happily be relieved of what autonomy they enjoyed. The autonomy brought them nothing comforting.
The Christian notions migrated and evolved and became isolated from the mother body of perceptions and feelings until what had been Christian and Catholic in Rome became Christian and Protestant in Wittenberg and eventually what was Protestant was also largely Puritan while what was Catholic in the Mediterranean remained largely pagan.
There is a clear record of the shock that Luther suffered when he arrived in
Nor is the time scale of events disturbed by the fact that a Polish astronomer and mathematician named Nicholas Copernicus was lecturing in
These notions are all wound about each other, influencing and counter‑influencing and complicating the description of himself that man desperately seeks to elucidate ‑‑ once and for all time.
But it cannot be done.
This creature is full of change.
And I am full of change.
Nine years ago I was living on a back road in
I do not know. But I am more acutely tuned to differences in people and their notions. I see that my
My occasional nostalgia for the American Protestant way of looking at the world makes me feel that in ordinary intercourse Italians are superficial and sure enough this is a complaint voiced by more casual visitors from
Italians are NOT superficial but it is true that the Italian landscape ‑‑ that large landscape which must include barely visible portions obscured by time ‑‑ is so satisfying to the senses that there is little inclination to indulge in the kind of analysis that Protestant northern Europeans consider to be the hallmark of a superior culture.
Abstract art, a highly abstract science, philosophy probing through phenomena to the noumena ‑‑ these are partially the pre‑occupations of a more Christian, northern and western society where thought and religion have been detached from their sources and floated into the thin air between earth and heaven.
There was a classical revival in
Roman Catholicism here in the south remains for me a grievous if not tragic human weakness while that peculiarly hygienic northern Protestantism, humorless and unforgiving, strikes me as deadly paranoia, man's terrible fear of himself that leads finally to a willingness to destroy the earth that has been made dirty and unfit by sins we were doomed to commit out of passions we could neither deny nor countenance.
The atom bomb and the willingness to employ it are Protestant and western. The destruction of the Jews, too, could have taken place only in a society which gives birth to highly abstract Christian symbols piled on symbols to produce still more remote symbols that never can be arranged in the elegant cadences of mathematical invention and unlike mathematical inventions can never be made to reflect the vivid but ambiguous outlines of cosmic "reality," the kinds of reality that excited Copernicus and Galileo.
The peculiar tragedy remains; history is not of one piece and struggle as we may to express preferences our choices all show at least two faces. Which is to say that if I choose to remain in
"The religious need longs for wholeness," said Jung. It is one of the terrors of our life that it has been shivered into such fragments that for many of us there are not even moments of wholeness. Not even true believers can find this wholeness in church. We have made all separations official, including the separation of church and state, so that we are faced always with at least two moralities. We do not want the church meddling in secular affairs which means, practically, that in war, business and sex we do not want to be limited or restrained by the Christianity we profess to be the characteristic fundament of our culture.
Here where there is still a pagan resignation mistaken by northerners for sloth there is also resistance to the Christian projection of another more beautiful world. In
It may be, after all, that we come here to
I am not suggesting a pagan revival. That has been attempted. But certainly our concern with the "Golden Age" suggests the vitality of the classical idea of man, his shape, his function and his importance. The Christian idea is, in its entirety, more than three thousand years old. The various Chr istian dogmas are vast, intricate patchworks. The Christian Weltanschauung is the creation of one of the unhealthiest times in human history, a time of murder and betrayal, hypocrisy and opportunism ‑‑ a reflection, ecco, of our own times. So it is little wonder that we are prepared to destroy ourselves.
A religious revolution while long overdue is entirely unlikely. It might be the first revolution to free us to use all our resources to make out of the old something beautiful and new. We might now be free of all superstition. Nor is there any tribe to convert. What man has made now covers the earth and all men must be similarly occupied with a re‑building and re‑finding.
What has been lost in the agonized search for god is man himself. "God," said Jung, "is an obvious psychic and non‑physical fact, i.e., a fact that can be established psychically but not physically....It is only through the psyche that we can establish that God acts upon us, but we are unable to distinguish whether these actions emanate from God or from the unconscious...."
Jung said, in Answer to Job, that God has been struggling to become man. "He fills us with evil as well as with good, otherwise he would not need to be feared; and because he wants to become man, the uniting of his antinomy must take place in man...."
Such a union requires revolution.
Over this landscape men and gods have struggled each for the possession of the other and while I cannot participate in this struggle, not even in Jung's terms, I cherish the landscape for all that I am lost in it.
(It is March, 1997, and I have copied this essay from an uncorrected carbon copy of the first draft. Once again I find myself in flight from my own country in which I can never be an accepting and patriotic citizen, thanks in part to my decade in
July 3, 2001