la parola all’esperto

In un videoforum del quotidiano la Repubblica lo scrittore Alessandro Baricco ha detto che un’emergenza come quella che il mondo sta vivendo a causa della diffusione del virus Covid19 ha l’effetto paradossale di ripristinare la fiducia negli “esperti”, dopo anni di feroce delegittimazione dei saperi specialistici.

A dargli manforte è arrivato il video di un passaggio della conferenza stampa di Jurgen Klopp, allenatore del Liverpool, che ha sgridato i giornalisti: non serve a niente che un allenatore di calcio dica cosa pensa del virus, devono essere persone più intelligenti e competenti a parlare. Tra l’altro con questa severa dichiarazione anche Klopp ha innescato un paradosso: proprio mentre affermava di non essere titolato a parlare, si dimostrava più lucido di tanti commentatori, e mostrava che anche una voce resa autorevole da qualcosa che “non c’entra niente” può diventare un sistema di diffusione di buone pratiche e pensieri non tossici.  

Il problema però, come spiega un bell’articolo di CheFare sulla possibilità di armonizzare competenze e processi democratici, è come fare a definire che cos’è un esperto, e come fare a trovare l’esperto giusto al momento giusto nel posto giusto. Un medico è l’esperto giusto per fare il Ministro della Salute? Non gli mancheranno competenze tecniche sul governo e la gestione delle istituzioni? Baricco, con la sua fissazione per lo storytelling, diceva che un esperto è qualcuno capace di organizzare, a partire da competenze specifiche, un racconto convincente sul mondo. Come sempre capita con Baricco: se non del tutto giusto, quasi niente sbagliato.

«La scienza non è democratica» è il brutto slogan di un esperto molto meno immune di quanto non creda al virus (ancora!) della semplificazione emotiva e della polarizzazione spettacolare del dibattito pubblico. Eppure è vero che l’iniezione di competenze avanzate nei processi di gestione della società diventa molto più facile in contesti a bassa intensità democratica: in Cina l’investimento in ricerca scientifica e sviluppo tecnologico è complanare a un’evoluzione tecnocratica della politica. Ovvero: mentre restituisce prestigio sociale agli esperti, e presenta l’avanzamento delle competenze come un fattore di interesse collettivo, il governo cinese impone anche un (ulteriore) restringimento della partecipazione ai processi decisionali, che vengono “restituiti” agli esperti e solo a loro.

«Parlino gli esperti» è il mantra narrativo del momento: ma se l’allenamento al confronto con i saperi e le conoscenze non viaggia nel tessuto sociale come un anticorpo permanente – pazzesco come in questo momento sembrino funzionare bene tutte le metafore mediche -, il ricorso emergenziale alle “competenze” rischia di fare più confusione che altro. E rischia anche di fare in modo che gli esperti si innamorino dello stato d’emergenza, perché è l’unico nel quale gli si dà ascolto.

Anger as misshapen fear: fascism and the emotional body

What follows is the text of the paper I gave the 20 June 2017 at the International Conference «Fears and Angers. Historical and Contemporary Perspectives», Queen Mary University, 19-20 June 2017.

Probably Federico Fellini’s Oscar-winning movie, Amarcord, released in 1973, perfectly defines what was supposed to be the, as William Reddy would say, «emotional regime» of fascism. Enthusiasm, faith, happiness, and veneration for the Chief were the dominant public feelings endorsed by fascism. But, despite the public ceremonies being widely, and often sincerely, officiated by Italian people, fascism largely derived consensus from violence and intimidation.

Giacomo Manzù, Black Brigadist, 1943

Continue reading “Anger as misshapen fear: fascism and the emotional body”

Breaking news! Media and caricature in Bontempelli’s literature

I just published the essay “Edizione straordinaria! Bontempelli e la cognizione della Grande Guerra”, within the volume Dal nemico alla coralità. Immagini ed esperienze dell’altro nelle rappresentazioni della guerra degli ultimi cento anni, edited by Alessandro Baldacci (Firenze: LoGisma, 2017).

The essay analyses two novels by the Italian writer Massimo Bontempelli, La vita intensa (1920) and La vita operosa (1921). I look at how these literary texts represent the «intense life» of the post-WWI metropolis, in whose spaces an analogy is established between the violence of war and the violence of peacetime dominated by the semiotic aggressiveness of modernity. Particularly, the psychic pressure of war seems to be extended by the pressure of the media system, which in those years was sky-rocketing and becoming increasingly complex and widespread.

Bontempelli’s two experimental novels are first published serially in two different magazines: «Ardita», a graphically dynamic and modern magazine issued monthly with the newspaper «Il Popolo d’Italia», in the case of La vita intensa.

«Ardita»’s cover designed by the artist Lorenzo Viani

«Industrie Italiane Illustrate», a journal funded by industrial companies, in the case of La vita operosa, which interestingly is a novel that largely satirises the way capitalism affects the human existence at the point that even bodies and minds are shaped by its force.

Continue reading “Breaking news! Media and caricature in Bontempelli’s literature”

Brexit. Good night and good luck, Europe

I recently interviewed the historian Donald Sassoon on Brexit and the (poor) political situation in Europe. Our dialogue will introduce a book titled BrexitBuona fortuna, Europa, published by Luca Sossella Editore within the new series Collassi, directed by Luca Massidda and Mario Pireddu and dedicated to the analysis of contemporary emergencies: disruptions of the past, crises of the present, and symptoms of the future.

Continue reading “Brexit. Good night and good luck, Europe”

Marino: a cosmic self-portrait

Frans Pourbus the Younger, Portrait of Giovanni Battista Marino, 1619, Detroit Institute of Arts. Source: Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

In his sonnet Sul proprio ritratto (di mano di Bartolomeo Schidoni) – published in 1620 within La Galeria, a collection of poems conceived as descriptions of, and dialogues with, figurative artworks – Giovan Battista Marino suggests that to depict his portrait a painter should employ the harshness of ice and fire, the terror of the shaded dark of night, the paleness of death, the imperfection of nature, and colours sharpened with whispers and tears. Continue reading “Marino: a cosmic self-portrait”

Manzoni: grimaces of power

In chapter XIII of Alessandro Manzoni’s I promessi sposi, Renzo, one of the two betrothed, is involved in a riot in Milan, where people, exasperated by food shortage, start assaulting the bakeries. To placate the rioters and rescue an official who risks being lynched by the crowd, the Chancellor Antonio Ferrer is forced to intervene. Manzoni represents in his portrait all the hypocrisy and duplicity of power embodied by Ferrer. While cutting through the raging crowd with his wagon, Ferrer shows a hyperbolically smiling face, «a countenance that was all humility, smiles, and affection». He also tries to enhance his intervention with gestures, «now putting his hands to his lips to kiss them, then splaying them out and distributing the kisses to right and left». Ferrer pronounces the empty keywords that are supposed to please the crowd: bread, plenty, justice. But at the end, overwhelmed by the pressure of voices, faces, and bodies surrounding his vehicle, he draws in, puffs out his cheeks, gives off a great sigh, and shows a completely different expression of intolerance and impatience. Continue reading “Manzoni: grimaces of power”

Parini: last days of aristocracy

In 1763 the Abbot Giuseppe Parini composes the poem Il Giorno, a satirical text addressing the inactive, lazy, superficial life of the aristocracy. Pretending to be an ode written in praise and for the education of a Young Gentleman, the poem harshly criticises the parasitic emptiness of noblemen and women. As a parody of a eulogy, Il Giorno deforms the classical poetic style, applying the language and rhetoric of epic and mythological tradition to the frivolous daily activities of the gentleman. The text provides a series of caricatures: first, the Young Lord is scared to death by the word “work”, and his hair stands on end (vv. 54-56):

Ma che? Tu inorridisci, e mostri in capo,
qual istrice pungente, irti i capegli
al suon di mie parole?

Continue reading “Parini: last days of aristocracy”

Of monkeys and men

In 1540 Niccolò Boldrini engraved this surprising caricature after a drawing by Titian. The deformation of a renowned and deeply respected image such as the Laocoon affirms caricature as a deviation from the idealization implied in the Renaissance revival of antiquity and ridicules the obsession with the imitation of classical models of beauty, perfection, and symmetry.

Niccolò Boldrini, Caricature of the Laocoon, after Titian, 1540, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., public domain.

Michelangelo: a self-caricature

Caricature misshapes the masks that society applies to the human face. This is why artists use deformation to build self-representations that contradict the social stereotypes of self-fashioning. In one of his poems, Michelangelo Buonarroti portrays his physical and psychological dejection creating a proper self-caricature: bluish coloured eyes, rotten teeth, a face that is fit to terrify, damaged clothes, injured ears and laboured breathing. The self-caricature involves not just the body of the artist, but also his own work of art: his writings become valueless scribblings, and his sculptures are seen as useless rag-dolls. Continue reading “Michelangelo: a self-caricature”

Leonardo: the first caricaturist

While reaching an outstanding complexity in the improvement of the human portrait, while exploring the perfection of the human body’s proportions and symmetries, Leonardo da Vinci sketches several experiments in deformation and exaggeration of the human figure.

Scholars refer to Leonardo’s deformations as proto-caricatures, because of their lack of explicit satirical aims. Indeed, Leonardo’s misshapen figures are entangled with his more general inquiry on the human subject, on the inherent shape, both physical and psychological, of the human individual. In this perspective, the caricature can be considered as the exploration of divergent possibilities of representation of humanness, and also a form of criticism against the canonization of the Renaissance portrait, that adopted idealized models screening off the observation of reality.