Monday, May 29, 2023

Renzo's Capons: how to go down bickering with each other


Here is an article published on May 20th by Tyler Durden on "Zero Hedge"

It is, actually, a repost of an article by Brandon Smith on "Alt-Market" the day before.

The unfortunate thing is that "Zero Hedge" is a widely read publication and it is dismaying that it publishes this kind of.... - well, you know what the correct word is to describe it - it is the desperate search for someone to blame that's taking over the discussion, even though it involves all kinds of old legends and conspiracy theories. 

In Italy, we have an image to describe this kind of situation, it is called "I Capponi di Renzo" (Renzo's capons), which refers to Manzoni's novel "The Betrothed" where we read how the protagonist (Renzo) was carrying four live capons in a sac to be slaughtered, and the stupid beasts find no better pastime than pecking at each other. We are doing the same, blaming others for the situation in which we all are. 

Friday, May 19, 2023

After 50 years of Catastrophism, we are now facing the cliff. What would Seneca do?

 The Raft of the Medusa, a painting by Theodore Géricault (1818). It seems to illustrate the way some people feel in the current situation: survival implies throwing other people out of the raft. 

Lucius Annaeus Seneca, the Roman Philosopher, never was a catastrophist, but he understood that in life you have to expect ups and downs. And that when things go bad, they go bad fast (festinantur in damnum). This is what I called the "Seneca Effect.

Seneca was a stoic, a person steeped in the views of his times. It was an age when people understood that their control of the vagaries of life was limited. Sickness, ruin, pain, and death were facts of life for people who had no aspirin, no life insurance, and no dentists. In the stoics' view, bad moments had to be accepted and lived as a test of your moral fortitude, not as an excuse to forget one's duties in life. Seneca, just like all of us, had his defects. But when the final moment came for him, he accepted his destiny with dignity and serenity. 

And here we are, what holds for a single person holds for humankind. We are facing a serious downturn, a decline that could be so rapid to call it a cliff. Half a century after the serious warning of "The Limits to Growth," we not yet falling, but we are on the edge. We start seeing the chasm ahead while the fog of time clears. 

Is this becoming a test of moral fortitude for humankind? Unfortunately not. Humans are dividing themselves into tribes that fight each other, so far only verbally. Some just refuse to look ahead. Others think that, when jumping from the cliff, they'll be able to fly. Others search for someone to blame. 

A mixture of ignorance and aggressivity is generating a tremendous wave of hate; at least from what I can see in the comments to another post of mine. These people seem to think they are already on the raft of the Medusa, the French ship that was wrecked at sea in 1816. Only 15 out of the 146 people stranded on the raft survived. And they did that by throwing the others into the sea and recurring to cannibalism. 

But we are not there yet. There is still space for avoiding the sandbanks. We still can do our duty to live and help others living. Be a good stoic; do not lose hope, and do not fall into cruelty. 

Saturday, April 15, 2023

The Creation of a Monster: Mussolini seen by his former mistress


Margherita Sarfatti (1880-1961), Jewish Intellectual and longtime mistress of Benito Mussolini, the Duce, wrote a book titled "My Fault" about her experience as his confident and counselor. The book was never published by Sarfatti's explicit wish, but excerpts from it are reported by Roberto Festorazzi in his book titled "The Woman Who Invented Mussolini" (2022). The following paragraph from the book gives us a damning portrait of the intellectual, human, and moral decay of a man whom circumstances had put in charge of a country of 44 million inhabitants. How was it possible that most Italian followed him in the many disastrous choices of his late years in power? It is one of the mysteries of the human mind, but it happened. Could it happen again? Fortunately, right now, we don't see in the world these larger-than-life monsters in charge of entire countries, but that does not mean they could become fashionable again. In the meantime, we tend to follow abstract ideas: progress, growth, science, and more with the same mindless devotion and lack of moral concerns that once was reserved to dictators. 

From "Margherita Sarfatti, the Woman Who Invented Mussolini," By Roberto Festorazzi, 2022

That Mussolini of the early years was now more than dead to me. I do not even consider him the same man of the later years: A different spiritual being, bound to his original identity only in the physical aspect. But even this one, as in The Portrait of Dorian Gray, had become weighed down and distorted under the influence of such a profound spiritual change. So I can think back, sadly but without hatred, to the man who once was as one thinks back to someone long dead. The man who was shot by cruel and indignant patriots in April 1945 was only the degenerate shell of the first Mussolini, like cancer compared to the previously healthy flesh and limbs. Perhaps the disease was darkly at work even then. Sometimes I had vague suspicions, and in my 1924 book on Mussolini, I hinted at some such danger looming over him. But who is ever completely healthy, physically and morally? Perhaps the saints may have been spiritually whole in their earthly lives, but one does not expect holy perfection from a man of action. In the early days, however, the good in him kept evil at bay and kept in check the growth of arrogant conceit and morbid cruelty. Mussolini was then a man who could honestly be looked upon with faith and respect.

Quel Mussolini dei primi anni era per me ormai più che morto. Non lo considero nemmeno lo stesso uomo degli anni seguenti: Un essere spirituale diverso, legato alla sua identità originale solo nel fisico. Ma perfino questo, come nel Ritratto di Dorian Gray, si era appesantito e involgarito sotto l'influsso di un così profondo cambiamento spirituale. Così posso ripensare, tristemente, ma senza odio, all'uomo che fu una volta come si ripensa a una persona morta da tempo. L'uomo che venne fucilato da patrioti crudeli e indignati nell'aprile 1945 era solo il guscio degenerato del primo Mussolini, come un cancro rispetto alla carne e alle membra in precedenza sane. Forse la malattia era oscuramente all'opera già allora. A volte avevo dei vaghi sospetti, e nel mio libro del 1924 su Mussolin,i accennai a qualche pericolo del genere che incombeva su di lui. Ma chi mai è completamente sano, fisicamente e moralmente? Forse i santi saranno stati spiritualmente integri nella loro vita terrena, ma non ci si aspetta una santa perfezione da un uomo d'azione. Nei primi tempi, comunque, il buono in lui teneva a bada il male, e manteneva sotto controllo la crescita di una superba presunzione e di una crudeltà morbosa. Mussolini era allora un uomo a cui onestamente si poteva guardare con fede e rispetto. e manteneva sotto controllo la crescita di una superba presunzione e di una crudeltà morbosa.

Saturday, March 11, 2023

Novels and Novels: Leon Tolstoy vs. Larry Names


You know that I have been discussing the very concept of "novel" in this blog. It is a fascinating story because, right now, we are seeing the death of a form of expression that has been among the commonest ones up to about 50 years ago. Then, it declined with the development of more visual expression forms: the TV killed the novel. 

But novels are part of us; they are not dead. They are still being written and read. But they are changing in many ways and we still don't know how they will evolve. So, as part of my journey into the novel world, let me compare two novels that I happened to read during the past few months. 

I cultivate the haphazard as an investigation method and, because of haphazardness, I am comparing the uncomparable: Tolstoy's "Father Sergius" (written around 1890) and Larry Names "A two Reel Murder" (ca. 2020). It is the trick I use, comparing widely different things to understand what the things have in common -- just like when I compared the story of an American waitress who found God in her job, to a science fiction novel telling the story of a Plutonian woman. 

So, let's start with "Father Sergey." It is one of the last pieces by Tolstoy, more a short story than a novel. And I think it is good that it is not a full novel, because it is so dense, dark, and unforgiving, that it would not be possible to maintain the level of tension over the length of a whole novel. It is the story of someone who becomes an Orthodox Priest after that he discovers that he had been betrayed by his fiancée. Then it is all a fight against his internal demons. In a particularly tense scene, he is visited in his cell by a woman called Marovkina, who tries to seduce him. So, he cuts off one of his fingers to resist the temptation. It is a theme that was revisited in a tense Russian movie called "The Island" in 2006. 

About Larry Names' "A Two Reel Murder," we have a story that sees the character of "Maisy Malone" investigating a murder that took place in Los Angeles in 1912. It is light, solar; there is not a single evil character in the whole plot, they are all good people. Even the murderer turns out to be more clumsy than evil. Ms. Malone is a little too perfect for an 18 years old girl, even able to pick a lock without problems, but she is likeable and always consistent with her role as the main character of the novel. The main strength of the novel is its background. Names reconstructed every detail of Los Angeles of the early 1910s, the time of the start of Hollywood as a major movie-making center. As you read, you learn which houses were already standing, and which ones were being built, which restaurants were operating, what was their menu, the itineraries of the lines of public transportation, and even the color of the electric cars! 

You see the difference. Names' novel is pure entertainment, Tolstoy's one is pure philosophical soul-searching. It would make no sense to say that one of the novels is "better" than another. It would be like comparing a seagull with a codfish. They are both animals but living in very different environments. So, what is the point I want to make? Mainly, to show how different two entities that belong to the same category ("novels") can be. The very concept of "novel" is still evolving, and we will see what it will become. 

Then, it is up to you to decide which novel of these two you would like to read, if you still read novels. What I can tell you is that I found it difficult to read Tolstoy's novel. It was so intense that it upset me. Instead, I liked Names' novel enough that I offered to the author to translate it into Italian, and it will soon appear in that language on Amazon. In the meantime, you can buy "A two reel murder" on Larry Names's site



Monday, February 6, 2023

The Black Trains of the Dead


Image by Wallace Chuck

This text is based on Italian trains ("Red Arrows") and Italian mortality statistics that tell us that, every day, about 2000 Italians leave this world for the Elysian Fields. If you want to adapt it to the US, you have to multiply the numbers by about a factor of five. And the "Black Arrow" trains would have to become "Blackhound Buses" 

It is said that there are trains called "Black Arrows." They are similar to the usual red, silver, and white arrows, but all black, with gold edging around the windows. They travel on tracks made just for them; no one ever sees them. Those who see one of them by chance get a ticket and a reservation in the mail the next day. And they can't change it.

The black arrows are said to have platforms dedicated to them in large stations. They are said to stop on platform zero, but no one knows exactly where it is. At the Bologna station, in the large underground station where the Red Arrows stop, there is an escalator that leads to an even lower floor. No one can see it unless they have a reservation for the Black Arrow trains that stop there. 

Four Black Arrows pass through the station every day. In winter, they are packed, about 500 passengers on each train. In summer, there are a few vacant seats. In recent years, the Heavenly Railway authorities added special trains, about one extra Black Arrow every other day. It is not known if they will become regular trains. It is said that there will be more and more of them in the future.

On the platforms, the passengers are waiting. Hundreds are getting on, and no one is getting off. They are mostly elderly people, some on crutches or in wheelchairs. Some still wear masks, but almost all have taken them off -- they know they no longer need them assuming they ever did. Young people are few, looking around, seeming surprised to be there. There are also children, alone and afraid. Some are crying. Elderly people approach them, comfort them, and pretend that they are their grandparents. Taken by the hand, or in their arms, the children smile, reassured. Then, all together, they board the train that has arrived.

The black arrows are fast and silent. They travel in the evening, during the night, whizzing between mountains and plains. They never stop, but it is told that once one of the trains had a mechanical failure near a town whose name is not mentioned. Passengers got off, were welcomed, ate in local restaurants, some danced in discos, and it is said that, although a bit elderly, some made love in the town's hotel rooms. The next morning, another black arrow train appeared on the tracks. Everyone boarded the train and it left for good.

It is not known where the black arrows go. All that is known is that they go far, far away. The trains all go in the same direction, full, and come back in the opposite direction, empty. They say it has been that way for a long time. Once, it was steam trains that carried away the elderly. Before that, it was carriages, and even before that, it was a boat pushed by a bearded old man. The road to the Elysian Fields is always the same.

Si dice che ci siano dei treni chiamati "Frecce Nere." Sono simili ai freccia rossa, argento, e bianca, ma tutti neri, con delle bordature oro intorno ai finestrini. Viaggiano su dei binari solo per loro, nessuno mai li vede. Pare che quelli che per caso li vedono ricevono il giorno dopo per posta un biglietto e una prenotazione. E non possono cambiarla. Si dice che le frecce nere abbiano dei binari a loro dedicati nelle grandi stazioni. Si racconta che sia il binario zero, ma nessuno sa esattamente dove sia. 

Alla stazione di Bologna, nei grandi sotterranei dove si fermano i Freccia Rossa, c'è una scala mobile che porta a un piano ancora più basso. Nessuno la può vedere a meno che non abbia una prenotazione per il Freccia Nera che si ferma là sotto. Passano dalla stazione quattro Frecce Nere al giorno. In inverno, sono strapieni, circa 500 passeggeri ogni treno. In estate, c'è qualche posto libero. Negli ultimi anni, le autorità delle ferrovie celestiali, hanno dovuto aggiungere dei treni speciali, circa una Freccia Nera in più ogni due giorni. Non si sa se diventeranno treni regolari. Si dice che ce ne saranno sempre di più. 

Sulle banchine, i passeggeri delle Frecce Nere sono in attesa. Sono centinaia quelli che salgono, nessuno scende. Sono più che altro persone anziane, alcune con stampelle o in sedia a rotelle. Alcuni portano ancora la mascherina, ma quasi tutti se la sono tolta -- sanno che non gli serve più, posto che gli sia mai servita. I giovani sono pochi, si guardano intorno, sembrano sorpresi di trovarsi lì. Ci sono anche bambini, soli e impauriti. Alcuni piangono. Gli anziani li avvicinano, li consolano, gli fanno da nonni. Presi per mano, o in braccio, i bambini sorridono, rassicurati. Poi, tutti insieme salgono sul treno che è arrivato. 

 Le frecce nere sono veloci e silenziose. Viaggiano di sera, durante la notte, sfrecciano fra montagne e pianure. Non si fermano mai, ma si racconta che una volta uno dei treni ha avuto un guasto meccanico vicino a una cittadina il cui nome non viene detto. I passeggeri sono scesi, sono stati accolti, hanno mangiato nei ristoranti del luogo, alcuni hanno ballato nelle discoteche, si dice che, anche se un po' anziani, alcuni abbiano fatto all'amore nelle stanze dell'albergo del paese. La mattina dopo, un altra freccia nera è comparsa sui binari. Tutti sono snoo saliti a bordo e sono andati via per sempre. 

 Non si sa dove vadano le frecce nere. Si sa solo che vanno lontano, molto lontano. I treni vanno tutti nella stessa direzione, pieni, e tornano indietro nella direzione opposta, vuoti. Si dice che è stato così per tanto tempo. Che una volta erano treni a vapore a portare via gli anziani. Che ancora prima erano carrozze, e prima ancora era una barca spinta da un vecchio barbuto. La strada per i Campi Elisi è sempre la stessa.

Sunday, December 25, 2022

The Spirit of Yuletide


The Lion King (1994) is the most amazing, most touching, and most beautiful modern interpretation of the cycle of rebirth that we can imagine. Watch it, listen to it, it IS Christmas without the traditional shepherds, sheep, and the like, but Christmas nevertheless in its original form of "Yuletide," the rebirth of everything and, indeed, the great cycle of life that never dies and always returns. Merry Christmas! 

“But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth” (Luke 1:11-14).

Mary is told to overcome her fear, for she is the virgin foretold by the Prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 7:14), who would bear Immanuel — God With Us:

“And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus” (Luke 1:28-31).

Joseph is told not to fear marriage to Mary, for her conception is not the result of infidelity, as he assumes, but rather the divine creation in her womb of the long foretold Messiah:

“Fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21-22).

The shepherds are told to overcome their fear, for the news they are about to receive is the culmination of the promises God gave long ago that he would destroy the kingdom of darkness, and set up a kingdom which would spread through the earth, slowly, inexorably, inevitably growing to cover the whole earth (see Genesis 22:17-18; Psalm 2:7-8; Daniel 2:35; Daniel 7:27):

“And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.” (Luke 2:9-10)

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Of Bad People and Bad Novels: "The Cardinal's Lover" -- by Benito Mussolini


At 26, Benito Mussolini wrote and published a novel titled "L'Amante del Cardinale" (The Cardinal's Lover). It was something that always intrigued me, but only recently I found the time to get a copy of that old book and read it. The story of Mussolini as a leader is fascinating, and I thought I could find some hints in the novel about why and how he behaved the way he did.  

I didn't know what to expect from this novel, nothing especially good, for sure. But I didn't expect it to be so bad. I mean, as a novel, it is written in a decently understandable style, and you can read it from the first to the last page without feeling too much of an urge to throw it out of the window. But it has all the hallmarks of a bad novel. The main problem is that, for a novel to be any good, the author must care for his characters -- if he doesn't, that's the cardinal sin (appropriately, in this case). The novel will not only be bad, but also hateful. And that's the basic problem with Mussolini's novel. It is not only bad, but also hateful.

Let me tell you a little more about this novel. Mussolini is clearly influenced by Manzoni's "The Betrothed" (I Promessi Sposi), and his novel takes place more or less in the same historical period, the 17th century in Italy. At the start, Mussolini apes Manzoni with a flourish of words that describe the area, mountains, lakes, and valleys, then he goes on, telling us a dark story of love, blood, and murders. Like Manzoni, Mussolini follows real historical events. The difference is that Manzoni dominates the plot: he doesn't need to bend the actions of historical characters to suit his purposes; he just maneuvers his fictional characters in an environment consistent with history. Mussolini, instead, is mainly following historical figures, including the protagonists, Carlo Emmanuele Madruzzo, a Cardinal, and Claudia Particella, a noblewoman who really was his lover. To make them fit the plot, he needs to take a lot of liberties toward history. For the rest, the historical setting of the novel offers Mussolini several occasions for anticlerical tirades and, occasionally, for showing off his erudition -- but the impression is that his knowledge of history is haphazard and shallow. Nothing comparable to Manzoni's in-depth understanding of the times he was describing.

The resulting novel is a disaster: a jumble of things, people, and events, some of which are quite depressing. Just to give you an example, midway through the novel, Mussolini inflicts on his readers a detailed description of the unearthing of the body of a girl who had died a few months before. The description includes the screams of horror of the gravediggers at the sight of the decaying body but not the screams of horror of the outraged readers. 

Even the main character, Cardinal Madruzzo, comes out shallow. The figure of Claudia Particella is a little better, and Mussolini shows at least a spark of interest in her. Unfortunately, even here, the results are not great. As described by Mussolini, Ms. Particella turns out to be not very smart, having pardoned the person who tried to kill her not once but twice (!!). In the end, Mussolini condemns her to the death scene of a bad actress in a B-movie, overlong and over-acted. After having been poisoned, the poor woman must repeat a total of seven times the words "I die" ("muoio"), together with other assorted and longish expressions of pain, before finally giving up the ghost. Except that the real Claudia Particella died at 70, in her bed, surviving her Cardinal of 9 years. And that's supposed to be a "historical novel." Imagine that, in "War and Peace," Tolstoy was to tell us that Napoleon died in a bayonet charge against the Russian artillery at Borodino. That kind of bending.  

You can pardon the author of a novel for bending reality a little, sometimes even a lot. But the main problem of the whole rigmarole is that Mussolini doesn't care about his characters. It is the opposite of Manzoni, who never misses a chance for a spark of humanity in his characters in the "Promessi Sposi." That's what makes the difference between a masterpiece and a worthless piece of slime. So it goes. 

As I said, the reason I read this story was that I was curious about the possibility of gathering some hints about Mussolini's personality. Maybe his dreams, his goals as a young man, his ideals, this kind of things. But there is nothing like that in the novel. The author comes out of it as shallow as his characters. Which I think is what Mussolini probably was. A shallow character, of modest culture, with no real ideals and with just a few ideas, but confused. His success as a leader was perhaps due to exactly this factor: he was a blank slate. Which, I think, is what most dictators are. They are no big thinkers or idealists, they are just empty shells on which people can project their dreams, their fears, and their worries. And that was what happened with Mussolini, whose destiny was perhaps written from the beginning in the great novel written in the sky, which has all of us as protagonists.