Lorenzo & his humble friends

The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool

Tag: milan kundera

On faces. And ideas.

The more indifferent people are to the common good, the more obsessed they become with their own faces. This is what Kundera calls the individualism of our time. You can see the results in everyday Italian politics. Politics, today, means thinking up sound-bites by which the politician is seen and understood, measured in opinion polls and elected or rejected in elections. Far are the times when politics meant the art of running the polis and working on a mutual understanding.

Having said that. Let me confess that I am massively enjoying Berlusconi’s political humiliation that followed today’s confidence vote in the Italian Senate.

On quarrels and philosophers

I am back in Florence and I have a bit more time to get focused on my work. Hopefully, I will now stop going out every night and have more time to write in the night following to my ridiculous working hours.

Today I met Julie at the supermarket and she asked if I am a philosopher since I write so much on my blog. Of course I am not – everyone who knows me seriously is aware that I am, in fact, an improviser or, if you will, a cazzaro. But this suggests me a reflection about something bigger, and more precisely about philosophy. To be a philosopher is not merely to elaborate thoughts, but so to love wisdom as to live according to its dictates. This can thus imply a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, trust, whatever! It is to solve some of the problems of life, not only theoretically, but practically. And the sad thing is, as Thoreau used to say, that there are nowadays professors of philosophy, but not philosophers.

Which leads me to the second part of this absurd post. Tonight we had our first gentlemen’s night chez Pierre and it was not a gentlemen’s night at all – though being a very enjoyable night, after all. Having exhausted our arguments about football and girls, we eventually got into some decently serious political debates. The interesting thing, I believe, is that people usually do not trust so firmly in the opinions they defend. But they do defend these opinions until the end, as they become the dearest thing to them. Quarrels among friends in cars, cafeterias, and private rooms can get extraordinary powerful. Why is it? After all, most of these private disputes won’t change anything at all. However, as Kundera once pointed out, once men have expressed their opinions, these opinions become their attributes, and men feel morally obliged to defend them as an extension of their self and consequently, of course, of their honour.

Having spoken so wisely I retreat and leave you with a question:  should we all go vegetarian*?

* If you ask me, I still think we shouldn’t. When Julie met me at the supermarket I was just about to buy a massive Fiorentina steak.

Stuff I’ve been reading before moving here

It took me a while to get over the notion that I wanted to go and live in Florence and I’d only just become resigned to my lot there when the local football team radically evolved to reach what supporters consider a surely to come first stage in the Italian championship that has yet to begin. All in all, it’s been an unsettling couple of months and my appetite for books has been grossly discontinuous.

Back in February in rainy London, when sitting my interview at King’s College, I bought a few books. Most of them were political essays and I never had the guts to read them. The only purchase that really appealed me at the end was a collection of stories that accurately recall the grey atmosphere of Victorian London. Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes looked life a safe harbour to protect me from the perils of deviated political minds writing about social capital and individualism. However, I did not manage to read it all. Good old Sherlock turned out to be a harder read than I expected, some fifteen years later the last time I discovered it as a child. (Furthermore, talking about Sherlock Holmes, I seem to remember that I used to like A Study in Scarlet and The Hound of the Baskervilles much better than this one book).

Arthur Conan Doyle once said that Edgar Allan Poe’s stories were “a model for all time“. As to honour this connection, and in a sense of guilt for not having finished the book, I started Allan Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, the only complete novel by the famous American author. I finished the book in a few days but, well, to put it simply I would not recommend it.

I would, instead, recommend another book I read when in Brussels, between March and July. Stoner was a present from my father. It is difficult to find anything special about this plain psychological investigation of the university career of an imaginary character who engages a consuming struggle against the apathy that surrounds him. This is a hell of a sad book; yet, I it is also a powerful story that made me – more- willing not to compromise, to pursue my passions, and to be coherent.

Talking about coherence, I did not finish two other books I got as presents from Stefania and Iris. I intentionally left Charles Schulz’s Ce la possiamo fare, Charlie Brown! unfinished, as I enjoyed to progress little by little, reading a couple of strips every day. I still have to finish it. Dimitri Verhulst’s The Misfortunates was a bestseller in Belgium. Iris brought it to me as a present when she came to visit. Ironically, the book is about alcoholism and wild parties, something that was completely alien to our habits when Iris and I spent time together in Canada. The whole concept of the book is hilarious but – as for Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, there isn’t any story behind it, just a series of short novels which, at the end, all look alike. For this reason I never managed to finish the book. I did, however, adored the one chapter entitled The Tour de France, in which an extraordinary drinking competition is created by one of the characters. In line with the famous bike race. 19 stages with 5km equal to a standard glass of alcohol, meaning that “even a reasonably short stage of 180 kilometres would involve drinking 36 standard glasses of alcohol. Against the clock“. There are even three jerseys to earn: “the yellow jersey was for the leader and eventual winner…the greenn jersey for the explosive sprinter: the neck-it king. And the polka-dot jersey could be captured in the mountains, where you proceeded by guzzling strong drinks like whisky and vodka“. This brilliant idea will soon be translated into practice, as soon as I will find the athletes ready to accept the challenge (Alvise, TLA, Joe, Andrew, Fabio, Mindo, Stefano, James…?).

Perhaps because of a sense of childish curiosity, just before leaving Belgium I felt the urge to read Herge’s Les Aventures de TinTin: L’Ile Noire. I suppose I cannot really consider this comic novel as a book. I did, however, manage to finish it in only one day – quite surprisingly, as it was in French, a language I am still far from mastering.

Back in Italy I read Richard Ford’s short novel The Womanizer. This is a light, yet insightful, read about men and infidelity. During my relatively short trip to Slovakia I decided to dig deep into Czech culture. I read Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis and Other Stories and there isn’t much to say about it: I did not understand much of it, I did not like it, and I gave up. Diluded and in need of something to read during a 7-hour ride on the train, I found an English library in Bratislava and I bought Milan Kundera’s Slowness. I adored it and I read it all the night before taking the train in the hostel. So on the train I had nothing to do. To avoid the same mistake, on my way back I bought Kundera’s Immortality, which is much longer than the former. I finished it one week later, when travelling with Stefania. In this period I eagerly consumed four books in a row. It must be said that on our way we stopped in many libraries and bought an enormous amount of books. I managed to read Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, a collection of Celtic Tales and a biography of John Fitzgerald Kennedy; and none of these is particularly worth a comment. I only started, and not finished, Henry Thoreau’s Walden: Life in the Woods and Niall Ferguson’s Civilization: the West and the Rest. Thus far I will limit myself to saying that these two books have one thing in common: they both come with an heavy subtitle.

The illusion of being elect

Alessandro and Serena are getting married today. I will think of them while re-reading a few lines from Milan Kundera’s Slowness.

The feeling of being elect is present, for instance, in every love relation. For love is by definition an unmerited gift; being loved without meriting is the very proof of real love. If a woman tells me: I love you because you’re intelligent, because you’re decent, because you buy me gifts, because you don’t chase women, because you do the dishes, then I’m disappointed; such love seems a rather self-interested business. How much finer it is to hear: I’m crazy about you even though you’re neither intelligent nor decent, even though you’re a liar, an egotist, a bastard.

update: Sunday, September 1st. Inside thing for those who were there.cravatta color 'verdebarach'

Revolt, red, and nudity

A survey appeared on the Nouvel Observateur of October 1993. It reported the results from an opinion poll conducted among twelve hundred people describing themselves as on the left. They had been sent a list of two hundred ten words and had been asked to underline the ones they found attractive. A few years earlier the same poll had been taken, producing eighteen words on which left-wingers agreed; but in 1993 the words that touched the heart of the left-wingers were down to three, and they were: revolt, red, and nudity.

Slowness

These last two days have been very slow. Gianluca and I have devoted the last two days to a complete otium, something I am not really used to any longer. Not long ago I was reading a superb novel whereby the author was wondering whether the pleasure of slowness has disappeared. Where has it gone? And where have they gone, the amblers of yesteryear? Where have they gone, those loafing heroes of folk song, those vagabonds who roam from one mill to another and bed down under the stars? Maybe they could not be happy in this world. In our times, in our minds, otium has turned into having nothing to do, being frustrated, bored; and people are not capable of perceiving it as the fragile, delicious feeling of simply being outside time.