AN ANTHOLOGY OF THOUGHT & EMOTION... Un'antologia di pensieri & emozioni

Thursday, 29 June 2017


Hans Abendroth was the eldest of three children born to an upper-middle class family in Frankfurt in 1909. Against the wishes of his parents, who hoped he would go into law, he studied classical philology at the University of Freiburg. There he was among the students of Martin Heidegger, a famous cohort that included Hannah Arendt, Herbert Marcuse, Karl Löwith, and Hans Jonas. Written under Heidegger’s supervision, Abendroth’s “Habilitation Thesis,” which analyzed the developing conception of the psyche in the literature and philosophy of classical and Hellenistic Greece, is regarded as a seminal document in the field. In 1935, Abendroth moved to Berlin, where, as a member of a research group at the Prussian Academy of Sciences, he was responsible for translating and preparing a German edition of the Akhmim Codex, a recently discovered Gnostic manuscript dating to the fifth century A.D. Until his early retirement in 1949, he taught courses on Greek philosophy, early Christian theology, and Hellenistic literature at the University of Berlin.

After his retirement, Abendroth began work on The Zero and the One (Null und Eins), the only book he would publish in his lifetime. An unsystematic collection of aphorisms in the style of Nietzsche, Cioran, and the later Wittgenstein, Null und Eins contains reflections on a diverse number of subjects, from the philosophy of mathematics to the ethics of suicide. Obviously marked by Abendroth’s study of Gnosticism, The Zero and the One was critical of religion, but also of secular attempts to replace God with nature; it was particularly hostile to all forms of morality, politics, and economics that justified themselves in terms of materialist accounts of the human. Abendroth’s was a truly “tragic sense of life”: to him, the problems of morality and politics were intractable. The preservation of human freedom did not depend on solving these problems but to escape them entirely by fleeing into thought. This stance put him at odds with nearly every current of postwar German philosophy—including that of his former teacher Heidegger—and when The Zero and the One came out with Nothungs Verlag in 1953, he was criticized for quietism and irrationalism. The book received a warmer reception in France, however, thanks mostly to Pierre Klossowski, its translator, and the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, for whom it was a touchstone for his work in the midfifties.

An English edition appeared in 1972. By that time, stung by the reception of The Zero and the One, or engaged upon the escape from the intractable problems of life he had described in it, Abendroth had become a recluse, living off a state pension in a quiet quarter of Charlottenburg, Berlin. He died, in 2001, of lung cancer, almost entirely forgotten. But according to the obituary written for Die Zeit by his publisher and executor Wilhelm von Nothung, Abendroth had continued his philosophical work in the decades of his absence from public life. In fact, he had left behind a sizeable Nachlaß, including what appeared at first glance to be the notes for a several-hundred page metaphysical treatise. Unfortunately, von Nothung himself died shortly thereafter; the existence of the treatise he alluded to cannot be confirmed because the whereabouts of Abendroth’s papers remains unknown. 
—Ryan Ruby, The Paris Review (Berghahn Books) 
From The Zero and the One (Null und Eins)
REPETITION.— If something happens once, it may as well have never happened at all. Unfortunately, nothing ever happens only once. Everything is repeated, even nothing.
UNIVERSAL HOMELESSNESS.— Thought exiles man from being, being exiles him from his self, his self exiles him from the external world, the external world exiles him from time, and his tomorrow will exile him from his today just as surely as his today exiled him from his yesterday. Never and nowhere is man truly at home. In order to experience this all he needs to do is to return, after even a short absence, to the city of his birth.
IN THE BELLY OF THE HOURGLASS.— Beneath each of us shifts the sand of a desert vaster than the Sahara, the desert of our past, over whose dry dunes memory can only skim, blowing temporary patterns of recollection and reinterpretation across the surface of a noumenal landscape wherein the ever-changing is indistinguishable from the eternally-the-same.
SYMPTOMS OF THE DISEASE PHILOSOPHY.— Philosophy does not begin in wonder. It begins in anxiety, with the disquieting suspicion that things are not how they should be and are not what they seem.
WE DO NOT EXPERIENCE OUR OWN DEATH.— This is well known, well remarked upon. We only experience the Other’s death; from this we infer that our death will only be experienced by the Other. Death is not so much a fact as it is a recognitive status. Immortality requires the aspirant to convince the Other that, all appearances to the contrary, he is not really dead. Immortality is thus an audacious conjurer’s trick performed in plain view of the Other which annihilates this very inference through dramatic projects of total misrecognition, the most obvious of which is Death itself.
THE MAN WITHOUT QUALITIES.— My father once threatened to disown me for questioning the existence of God, whilst my former colleagues at the university, knowing the subject of my research, accused me of indulging in metaphysics. I was insufficiently materialist for the taste of the communists I once knew, though liberals suspected me of being a fellow traveller. Amongst republicans I would argue for aristocratic values, just as amongst monarchists I would praise the general will. I have been called a fascist by an aesthete and a degenerate by a fascist. Where politics is concerned, to everyone I am something else and to no one am I anything in particular. Not that this at all troubles me. Only insects are easily pinned down.
WORD MADE FLESH.— The relationship between thought and language is the relationship between a wound and its scar.
IDOLATRY.— Idolatry is above all a matter of space: the idolatrous object is the one that is both infinitely close and infinitely far away.
SAILING OFF THE EDGE OF THE EARTH.— The fantastical etchings of galleons sailing off the edge of the flat earth and toppling headlong into the void are more accurate representations of our lived experience than the spherical empirical truth in which we happen to live. Columbus’s discovery of the Americas is surely a watershed moment in the History of the Forgetting of Being.
ET IN ARCADIA EGO.— It’s a terrible thing, at any age, to be able to point to some period of your past and say, Those were the best days of my life. For it means that when you divide what is to come by what has already been, the remainder will be the same decimal repeating repeating repeating to infinity. Happiness, when ill timed, can maim a life just as thoroughly as sorrow.
THE ORIGINS OF CLOTHING.— The origins of clothing should be sought in man’s desire to forget that his skin is already a kind of uniform. Masks, disguises, costumes—these are worn above all to conceal something from the wearer, who wishes to appear as someone or something else, in order to convince himself that his body is not what it really is: a mask, a disguise, a costume worn by Nature. Just so, we are never more deceived than when we speak of the nakedness of truth. Truth is something tailored, something we have sewn together, stitched up, embroidered, women, hemmed, and cut. It is something that has to be put on—one leg at a time.
THE MEANING OF LIFE.— Anyone for whom “the meaning of life” is a meaningful problem should be considered an extremely dangerous person. Either because he believes he knows the solution to the problem or because he believes that there isn’t one.
THE MORAL AND THE TRAGIC.— In practice, everyday morality rarely ever rises to the level of the tragic. Most moral decisions are as simple as basic arithmetic; just so, failures are not matters of knowledge but of social training. Where genuine moral problems are encountered—that is, what are called tragic dilemmas—it is the nature of the dilemma that none of the possible responses ultimately suffices. Any decision, therefore, made in response to a tragic dilemma, will still be, to some more or less pardonable extent, immoral, and any moral agent, when faced with such a dilemma, no matter how much he deliberates, according to whichever ethical system he favors, will not fail to be responsible for this immorality. Nor, if he is truly a man of conscience, will he fail to be permanently damaged by the outcome of his response, whatever it may be.
A WARNING TO THE CHILDREN OF THE SUN, EARTH, AND MOON.— Nothingness added to Being is not oneness, but duality. But as nothingness is chronologically prior to Being, Being has never been the One. Only nothingness is oneness, wholeness, harmony, and totality. Being is the name for the operation that irreparably divides the Zero in Two. Our desire to recover our lost wholeness is the desire for death.
ON VIOLENCE.— Moderns regard violence as something internal to human beings: they often speak of the violence that originates in mankind, as if violence were a series of actions a man might perform, or—were he less ignorant, irrational, or superstitious—might as well not perform. That is why moderns are always surprised by sudden outbreaks of violence; it is why they ultimately cannot understand the phenomenon, even as their scientific and technological achievements multiply it exponentially. The ancients, however, knew better. Violence does not exist in man; man exists in violence. Man is merely a vessel for violence, the site where it occurs, the name given by violence itself to the instrument that enacts it. When the man in man is stripped away, he returns to his source and becomes his God.
TWO LETTERS.— The grave of every person who does not die by his own hand should bear the following epitaph: RETURNED TO SENDER. But the suicide’s grave should read: ARRIVED AT DESTINATION. One’s mother may address the envelope and one’s father may purchase the stamp, but that is hardly a reason to let them dictate the contents of the letter or to determine its conclusion.
KIRILLOV’S MIRACLE.— In Dostoyevsky’s novel The Possessed, Kirillov isn’t entirely mistaken about the outcome of his suicide. When he kills himself, he will indeed kill God, as he believes. Suicide violates the most fundamental of Christian moral principles precisely because it permanently disrupts the very stability of identity God’s existence is supposed to guarantee. In killing himself, Kirillov does not kill God, he becomes God, that is, something that does not exist. Thinking is a war against death; reality is the battleground. The Divine was invented by the primitive imagination as a weapon against death, but when this fact is forgotten, the weapon is turned back against its inventor. When the Death of God is finally announced, those who have killed him do not realize that something will inevitably take His place. Nor do they suspect the obvious usurper: Nature: that which remains when the superfluous hypothesis disappears. Rather than vanishing along with God, the problem of suicide actually intensifies. It goes from being a mortal sin to an unnatural act. Thus, in order for Kirillov to be truly successful, he would have to perform a miracle: he would have to kill himself twice.
PRIDE AND VANITY.— Just as self-hatred is the purest form of pride, the desire to be someone else is the purest form of vanity.
SELF-CONJUGATION.— Living for today, living in the moment: the wisdom of fools. A man must at every moment be able to conjugate himself in every tense—past, present, and future, but also subjunctive and conditional. There is only one moment when it is appropriate to live entirely in the present tense.
NOSTALGIA FOR THE FUTURE.— There will come a time when we will be nostalgic for the future, that is, for how we used to think the future would look.
A WARNING TO THE CRITICS OF HUMANISM.— The two ideas that will survive the dissolution of the concept of the human are races and robots.
METAPHYSICAL CONFLICT.— It is in the metaphysical interests of the young not to identify with one’s actions but to remain protean, able to ceaselessly revise oneself, without worrying overmuch about the frequency of one’s revisions, nor of any consistency between them, to think of oneself in terms of what one has not yet done and could yet do rather than what one has already done and can never undo. At some point, however, the young realize that should it continue too long, this indetermination will leave them, when they come to die, undefined, with nothing to call their own, nothing to call themselves. So they come to identify with what they have done, they begin to say, This is who I am instead of This is who I will be. With each such identification they carve a wrinkle into the undifferentiated smoothness of their brows. They become old. And it is in the metaphysical interests of the old, who are, after all, closer to the moment of defining dissolution, to protect themselves—and their selves—against the youthful siege of ceaseless revision by drawing continuities between one’s revisions, which still occur, if at a slower rate and more laboriously than before, and insisting that all revisions are vetted by the logic of consistency. The old are not wiser than the young because they have experienced both youth and age; wisdom is merely the name given to the sense of self that is required to defend the interests of age. As with all metaphysical battles, all are defeated when either party wins.
TRAGEDIANS AND MORALISTS.— Of all literary genres, tragedy alone remains free from the pretensions to arithmetic that, until history caught up with them, were still indulged in by German philosophers and English novelists, who compensated for their thematic anxieties as an ostrich might—by limiting their scope to the trifling situations of everyday morality. Such moralists are nothing more, in the final analysis, than the authors of etiquette manuals, dressed up in logic and argument, on the one hand, and narrative and dialogue, on the other. In their books, they were content to waltz and quadrille over the depths where tragedy is written because a century of improvements in shoe manufacture enabled them to forget that, in history, there is no floor.
REMAINDERS.— God proved easy to dispose of. Religion may one day disappear. But human beings cannot live without theology.
THE ART OF JUGGLING CORPSES.— Power concerns the organization, arrangement, and distribution of material objects in physical space. Whatever ideas and ideals are brought to bear on this process are necessarily corrupted and weighed down by their contact with decaying matter. Politics, in other words, is the art of juggling corpses and anyone whose highest value is power stinks of the grave.
 Translated from the German in 1972 by Bettina Müller.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017


...Two articles to make you think.
In the first one, J.J.C. Smart investigates the meaning of purpose

Meaning and Purpose

by J.J.C. Smart(from

It can be tempting to suppose that those who agonize about ‘The Meaning of Life’ are the victims of a simple use-mention confusion, that is, confusing a word with what the word refers to. Thus it might be held that the intelligible question was only “What is the meaning of the word ‘life’ ?” In a way we all know the answer to this question since we know how to use the word and in another it raises interesting questions such as “Would you say that a virus or an intelligent robot was alive?” Still not the sort of question to agonize over. However, this interpretation of the question would be too superficial. From about 1300 A.D. the English word ‘meaning’ has had two meanings: (1) ‘purpose’ or ‘intention’ and (2) that of word meaning. The second seems to have arisen from the first via the notion of the intention of the speaker. The same occurs in other languages, though the matter may be more complicated. The question that people agonize over is presumably to do with (1) not (2).

Nevertheless the suspicion of use-mention confusion may have something in it. Consider the biblical “In the beginning was the Word” where there is just something of a suggestion of word magic (more evident in myths and stories in which incantations have causal effects on inanimate matter) even though ‘Word’ is an inadequate translation of the Greek logos. Recurring then to the sense of ‘meaning’ as that of ‘purpose’ we may reformulate the question as “What is the purpose of life?” This is pretty obscure too. ‘Life’ is a very abstract word. Compare “What is the purpose of electricity?” One would be baffled unless perhaps in the kitchen: “Why do you use electricity rather than gas?” We humans give electricity purposes, but no single purpose. Moreover most electricity occurs in the non-human universe at large. “What is the purpose of lightning?” would be a very odd question because lightning has no human purpose, even though humans may have made fortuitous use of fires so caused.

In the same way in which we can give electricity a purpose, say by using it in the kitchen instead of gas, can we give life a purpose? This question is too abstract. It needs a context. We do of course have purposes. They are our purposes and there is no mystery there. Satisfaction of these purposes may be intrinsic or extrinsic. Thus a cosmologist might invent a theory merely in order to gain fame and reputation. The satisfaction that he might gain from his thoughts about the universe might then be merely that of attaining a means to a further end. Another cosmologist might simply delight in his or her discoveries for their own sake. Perhaps most real cosmologists are a mixture of these two types. After all, a cosmologist who has a desire for fame is unlikely to attain it unless he or she has a passion for thinking about the universe for its own sake.

The reader may object to my example of the cosmologist. What about the poor of the world, who have no time for abstract contemplation or for elitist ambition? The struggle for survival of them and their families gives them an overwhelming purpose for their lives, and pursuit of it leaves no time for worry about whether life, as opposed to themselves, can have a purpose. Rich or poor we all act from purposes and there is no mystery about this. “What is the meaning of life?” suggests incorrectly that we act from one and only one purpose. No wonder that the question baffles us. The question might refer not to our purposes but to the purpose for which we suppose that God created us. In a secular context the question does not occur. In a theological context the question has a sort of obvious but unsatisfactory sense, in which we have a purpose for God analogous to the way in which a screwdriver or an electric torch has a human purpose. A religious person’s own purposes may stem from a love of God and hence from a desire to obey his commandments. Equally a non-religious person will have many particular purposes, some admirable, such as the desire to alleviate poverty and other sources of suffering.

For some the worry is that life may come to an end. Some have even worried about the heat death of the universe. Why they should worry about a cosmic (or individual) period in which there will be no life but not about a period when there was no life is questionable. Thinking four-dimensionally may help. Life is (tenselessly) somewhere in space-time: why should we worry that it is not everywhere? Perhaps the worry about personal or cosmic extinction of life may lie in the fact that natural selection has made us forward planners, not backward contemplators.

© Professor J.J.C. Smart 1999
~ John Jamieson Carswell Smart (1920–2012) was a leading utilitarian moral philosopher and philosopher of mind, Emeritus Professor at the Australian National University in Canberra. the second one, Richard Taylor delves into the proper role of myths and mysteries

Religion and Truth

by Richard Taylor(from

The best way into our subject is through a look at ancient mythology. Consider, for example, the familiar story of Sisyphus, whom the gods condemned to move a rock to the top of a hill, whereupon it would roll back down, this appalling sequence to be repeated over and over through eternity.

Thinkers for generations have sensed in this myth a meaning, possibly a profound truth only dimly seen. Perhaps it is the image of an indomitable will. Or of the tenacity of the human spirit in the face of endless failure. Or it could be an image of justice. It has also been thought to symbolize the meaninglessness of human existence. In any case, what gives the story depth and importance is that it is thought to contain a truth behind the banality of the imagery.

Now suppose a professor of classics were to insist that this story has to be historically correct. He maintains that this myth, like so many others contained in ancient texts, must be considered true as it stands and not properly subject to interpretation or any search for hidden meanings. He thinks that he must take this position in order to uphold the worth and dignity of the classics and their venerable authors. Otherwise, he thinks, people will want to dismiss mythology as a mere collection of fairy tales, unworthy of serious consideration.

Concerning such a misguided classicist we could say, first, that he has completely missed the point; second, that far from upholding the worth and dignity of the classics, he has trivialized them; and third, that he has made a fool of himself.

Sisyphus (1548–49) by Titian,
Sisyphus (1548–49) by Titian

And this brings us to the nature of myths generally and how the understanding of them has changed over time. The change represents a great loss. It is as if a curtain of darkness has fallen over a vast treasure of truth, and all because of an unnecessarily narrow conception of truth.

Thus, we think now of myths as nothing but widely believed falsehoods, like the myth of racial superiority, or of inevitable progress. The belief that sudden fright on the part of a pregnant woman can injure her unborn child is dismissed as a myth, that is, a groundless falsehood.

That is not at all how myths were thought of in antiquity. They were an important part of Greek civilization and other cultures. They were not, as we think of them now, popular errors, but fabulous tales, sometimes of great complexity, usually involving gods in their relationships with men. But what is distinctive about the more lasting ones is that instead of being simply false, they were thought to embody truth. Thus a myth was an account which, while literally false and even absurd, was true on a deeper level. Moreover, it was thought that these truths could not be expressed in any other way. They could not, for example, be formulated in straightforward declarative sentences without being reduced to banality.

Myths were thus once cultural treasures, and the modern failure to understand them, to the extent that even the meaning of the word has been corrupted, is a severe loss.

Plato, the paradigmatic product of Greek culture, understood the role of myths. He never thought it necessary to explain them. Thus, usually after plumbing some philosophical question as deeply as he could by rational dialectic, Plato sometimes culminated the discussion with a myth. He saw that reason can grasp only so much of a great truth and insight. The rest he incorporated into myth. His Republic, for example, is an expression of precise and rational thought at its best, and yet this great work culminates in the myth of Er, to make the point that our understanding of our ultimate good can be conveyed in no other way. In the same work he invents a tale of men imprisoned in a cave and thus limited to shadows and echoes until liberated and compelled to look at things as they really are, and at the sun that illuminates everything. Final truth, the story suggests, cannot be discovered by unaided intelligence. Plato’s understanding of myths is perhaps most clearly seen in his portrayal of a dialogue between Socrates and Protagoras. Protagoras, in this dialogue that bears his name, is asked to render an account of how virtue is taught. He offers to do this in either of two ways, by straightforward exposition, or by myth. It is thus understood that these are two quite different paths to one and the same truth, and Socrates does not question this presupposition. Protagoras then complies, by inventing an elaborate and instructive myth.

The concept of a myth, as thus understood, is essential for understanding religion, and the Christian religion in particular. Without this understanding it is impossible to see the power of a religion and how it can endure for generation after generation. The power of a religion lies in its stories, not simply as stories, but as vehicles of truth and, sometimes, profound truth. It is superficial to say, on whatever grounds, that scriptural accounts of events long past are false, and it is no less superficial to say that they are, as they stand, true. Some, at least, have a deeper meaning, overwhelmingly important to human understanding, and the task should be to try finding those meanings. Viewed this way, we can see that secularists, who dismiss religion as simply false, and fundamentalists, who insist on literal truth, both miss the point.

This is in some cases perfectly obvious. Consider, for example, the story of the prodigal son. The meaning here is not particularly obscure, and will be grasped by any parent, or any brother in the kind of situation described. Insight is needed here, but not great insight, and when you understand the meaning of the story you are wiser. Equally important, that meaning cannot be expressed otherwise than by story or myth, without being reduced to banality. You need not only to see the meaning, in a general way, but to feel it.

The same can be said of the story of the Samaritan. It drives home perfectly the meanings of neighbour and love, meanings that could not possibly be captured by definitions. Or think of the story of Job, which has had such a profound effect upon the generations. It conveys something of the meaning of human suffering and of God’s role in it, but here it is far from clear what that meaning is. It will perhaps be the task of theologians forever to ferret it out, and we shall meanwhile see some of it dimly and remain content with what we can sense of it. Meanwhile, no one will be able to say, in a straightforward way, what that meaning is, even to the extent that it is found, for this can be conveyed only by myth.

Here it is important to remind ourselves, again, of the irrelevance of literal truth. Thus, it makes not the slightest difference to the story of the prodigal son whether the family described actually existed. That is not the point. Nor is it of any importance whether the Samaritan and the Levite referred to in that story actually had the encounter described. Jesus was not offering instruction in history. He was, by myth, conveying, perfectly and beautifully, the meaning of love. As for the story of Job, we might or might not believe that such a suffering man existed. It doesn’t matter, because the story is not about him. It is about all of us.

The power and endurance of religion cannot be understood independently of myths. The Christian religion, for example, does not rest just on a belief in God, even though many unreflective adherents seem to think so, nor does it rest upon belief in the divine nature of its founder. Belief in God is shared by virtually all religions, and the term ‘divine’ means many things to many people. Christianity rests upon the story of the resurrection.

Job by Léon Bonnat (1880)
Job by Léon Bonnat (1880)

What, indeed, is belief in God? Many assume that this means simply a belief in the existence of a god. That, by itself, however, has no more significance to religion than a belief that there is life on Mars. It is only an opinion about what happens to exist. What a Christian professes is not merely that there is a god, but rather, belief in God, which is a vastly stronger statement. And this is something not easily comprehended. It can be seen through story or myth, but it cannot be stated. The story of Abraham gives us a sense of its meaning, as does the story of Job, or, above all, the manner in which Jesus dealt with his suffering on the cross. Here a Christian sees, dimly, what it means to believe in God, but not even the wisest theologian or philosopher can say what it is. They should not even try.

As for the divinity of Christ, we are again confronted by incomprehension. There is no rational way to express it. Some suppose that it is attested by the moral sublimity of his teachings. Such a notion, however, would enable us to bestow divinity on other historical figures – Socrates, for example, whose teachings, and whose death at the hands of his persecutors, will forever inspire. The veneration of Socrates does not, however, constitute a religion. Others say that Jesus’s divinity is exhibited by his miraculous powers. Someone’s power to perform miracles, however, even if such power is conceded, proves nothing with respect to religion, for it would be consistent with his being simply a wizard. Wizardry can evoke amazement and wonder, perhaps fear and awe, but it evokes no sense of religious veneration.

What is essential to the Christian religion, then, is not just a belief in God, nor any miraculous powers of its founder, but the story of the resurrection. Without this there is no such thing as the Christian religion. There may be all sorts of pieties, fellowships, good works, professions of love, all the things that have come to be associated with being a Christian, but the religion is simply diluted into nothingness.

Of course this presents an overwhelming problem for thoughtful and sophisticated persons, for the doctrine of the resurrection, literally understood, is an absurdity. That a man, three days dead, might be revived, to mingle again with the living, talk to them, and move about much as if nothing had happened to him, violates the most basic certainties of reason and common knowledge. The dead become dust and ashes. They do not rise.

Does this mean that the Christian religion should be discarded as false? That is what many conclude. Humanists take just this stand. They embrace, more or less, the basic ethical value associated with liberal Christianity, but dismiss the religion as resting on an absurdity – as indeed it does, if one considers its foundation a literal description of fact.

Christians have tried to meet this challenge in two ways.

On the one hand are those who find the doctrine of the resurrection difficult or impossible to swallow. They tend, then, to hold to what they can, falling back upon the broad, uncontroversial pieties – belief in God, the divine nature of Jesus (variously interpreted), the sanctity of human life, the dignity and worth of all persons, the value of prayer, and so on. Little is said about the resurrection except, perhaps, at Easter, when they rejoice at the rebirth of nature, this being obvious to all and vaguely suggestive of a kind of resurrection. The image of resurrection is deemed inspiring, the stuff of hymns, poetry and art. But they do not feel required to declare a belief that such a thing actually happened, simply because it is an inescapable absurdity.

Such, generally speaking, is likely to be the position of liberal Christianity.

The other way of addressing this basic absurdity is to boldly proclaim it. This is the way of fundamentalism. Christian doctrine, as embodied in Scripture, is simply and literally true as it stands, and faith is understood to be the willingness to declare this. The fundamentalist considers this bold and uncompromising stand to be the mark of courage and strength. He loudly proclaims “I believe,” and this does indeed take considerable strength and courage if one is referring to the resurrection.

Strength and courage are virtues, no doubt, but to enlist them to embrace the absurd is difficult or impossible for most intellectually sophisticated persons. On the other hand, falling back upon the conventional pieties and platitudes common among religious people seems to leave out what is distinctive and precious in a religious understanding.

We are not limited to these two choices. Perhaps all religion rests upon mystery. Certainly the Christian religion does. Everything that is of value there is embodied in stories, in myths, understood in the proper sense of that word. The truths embodied in some of these stories are not impossible to discern. And some of them may even be totally devoid of worth, nothing but stories. But some of them embody profound truth that we can only barely discern and cannot really state. The account of the resurrection is surely one of these, and we are not obliged to say that the Christian religion rests upon an absurdity, nor that it is without any real foundation at all. Minimally it means that death is not what it seems to our senses to be, but beyond that lies mystery. Truth here is, if seen at all, seen dimly indeed, as through a glass, darkly.

Finally we should note that the meanings underlying myths, some of them profound, need not be exclusive. If, for example, theologians should render different interpretations of the Book of Job, this does not mean that one of them is right and the others wrong, even if those interpretations should be incompatible with each other. A myth, like a poem or a work of art, might embody different truths. The myth of Sisyphus, with which we began, has in fact been variously understood, and it would be in vain to contend that one interpretation is the meaning. The same is surely true for religion, and it is well that it is so. While proclaiming the often precious insights of religion, we can at the same time concede that they are buried in mystery, some more and some less, and we are liberated from the kind of dogmatism that makes another person’s understanding of religion an adversarial one. Literalism, and the urge to reduce religious myth to clearly and rationally understood claims, always amounts to trivialization. Truths that are perfectly clear and unambiguous to reason are not the truths of religion, while myth and mystery, which are never clear and unambiguous, are.

© Professor Richard Taylor 2004
~ Richard Taylor (1919 – 2003) was a very well-known philosopher (and well-known beekeeper too) renowned for his dry wit and his contributions to metaphysics, and who taught at the University of Rochester, New York.

Monday, 26 June 2017


...o la ricerca di significato?

1 Mente, cultura e psicologia popolare*

Una scienza della mente deve proporsi l’obiettivo di scoprire e di descrivere i significati che gli esseri umani costruiscono nel loro contatto con il mondo e di individuare i processi attraverso i quali tali significati sono creati e condivisi all’interno di una comunità.

La cultura rappresenta quel prodotto della storia che modella la mente umana costituendo sia il mondo a cui adattarsi sia l’insieme degli strumenti per farlo.

Nell’ottica del culturalismo, la mente non potrebbe esistere senza la cultura, in quanto ciò che differenzia l’uomo dalle specie inferiori è proprio un modo di vivere in cui la realtà è costruita e rappresentata attraverso un sistema simbolico condiviso dai membri di una comunità culturale e conservato e tramandato alle generazioni successive, al fine del mantenimento dell’identità e dello stile di vita tipici di quella cultura.

L’espressione individuale della cultura è legata al fare significato; nonostante i significati, tuttavia, siano nella mente dell’individuo, essi hanno origine e rilevanza all’interno del sistema culturale in cui sono stati creati e per tale ragione sono negoziabili e comunicabili.

La cultura, pertanto, pur essendo un prodotto dell’uomo, è allo stesso tempo ciò che rende possibile l’attività della mente umana.

L’esperienza e l’azione umana sono modellate dalle credenze, dai desideri, dai sentimenti, dalle motivazioni dell’individuo (definiti stati psicologici intenzionali) e questi ultimi acquistano significato solo se considerati in rapporto ai contesti delle interazioni sociali e degli eventi della vita quotidiana. Di contro, dunque, ad una concezione secondo la quale sarebbe l’eredità biologica a guidare e plasmare l’esperienza e l’azione dell’uomo, spesso si ritiene che tale ruolo venga esercitato dalla cultura, la quale, tra l’altro, consente di creare dei meccanismi-protesi attraverso i quali trascendere i limiti biologici imposti all’azione.

Elemento cardine di una cultura è la cosiddetta psicologia popolare o senso comune, ossia un insieme organizzato di rappresentazioni degli eventi e di teorie intuitive circa l’essere umano, il funzionamento della mente, l’agire. Essa è funzionale al mantenimento della coesione tra i membri di una cultura e fornisce possibili modelli di vita.

Uno dei presupposti della psicologia popolare è che la gente abbia credenze e desideri caratterizzati da una certa coerenza. Essa è organizzata su base narrativa piuttosto che concettuale ed ha come oggetto degli individui che agiscono sulla base delle loro credenze e dei loro desideri, che sono volti al conseguimento di particolari fini e che incontrano difficoltà ed ostacoli risolvibili o insormontabili, il tutto nell’arco di un certo intervallo di tempo. 

La psicologia popolare, pertanto, è strutturata sulla base delle proprietà della narrazione:

- La sequenzialità: ogni narrazione è composta da una sequenza di avvenimenti e di stati mentali; ogni componente acquista significato in ragione della sua collocazione all’interno della sequenza complessiva, ossia la trama.

- L’indifferenza ai fatti: la narrazione può essere reale o immaginaria, vi è una relazione anomala tra il senso ed il riferimento esterno e la trama generale è determinata dalla sequenza delle frasi piuttosto che dalla verità o falsità di esse.

- La gestione dell’eccezionale in rapporto all’ordinario: pur prendendo in esame ciò che nell’uomo vi è di usuale e di prevedibile e apportandovi legittimità, ogni narrazione possiede strumenti per rendere comprensibile lo straordinario e l’insolito; ogni cultura possiede un insieme di procedure interpretative per assegnare significato agli scostamenti dalle norme.

Jerome Bruner (realizzazione artistica)
Lo psicologo americano Jerome Bruner afferma: “La funzione del racconto è quella di trovare uno stato intenzionale che mitighi o almeno renda comprensibile una deviazione rispetto a un modello di cultura canonico” [1].

Ogni racconto è composto da cinque elementi: l’attore, l’azione, lo scopo, la scena, lo strumento; tra i cinque elementi è inserito un problema la cui funzione è di creare uno squilibrio che possa poi essere risolto o quantomeno spiegato da un punto di vista morale [2].

La narrazione consente la strutturazione dell’esperienza, una strutturazione che è sociale, finalizzata alla condivisione del ricordo all’interno di una cultura e orientata a fornire ad un gruppo una guida relativamente ai suoi rapporti con gli accadimenti esterni.

Essendo la psicologia popolare un importante fattore di mediazione, ne deriva che l’indagine psicologica non può prendere in considerazione soltanto ciò che la gente fa, ma altresì ciò che la gente dice, sia in merito alle proprie azioni e alle loro motivazioni, sia relativamente alle azioni ed alle motivazioni degli altri. 

“Il dire e il fare rappresentano un’unità funzionalmente inscindibile all’interno di una psicologia culturalmente orientata” [3]. Il rapporto tra il dire, il fare e le circostanze in cui si collocano è interpretabile; in una interazione sociale, il significato di ciascuna azione sarà attribuito sulla base delle informazioni verbali scambiate o ipotizzate prima, durante o dopo l’azione stessa. Tra il significato di ciò che è detto e le azioni messe in atto in determinate circostanze, esistono delle relazioni canoniche che vanno a determinare la condotta di vita in senso sociale; come esistono pure delle procedure di negoziazione che riportano la situazione alla norma in quei casi in cui le suddette relazioni siano violate.

Bruner ritiene che lo stesso di un individuo sia il frutto di processi di costruzione del significato e sia perciò sostanzialmente un narratore. Proprio per tale ragione l’unico metodo per averne una nozione generale si rivela l’autobiografia, attraverso la quale la persona dà voce a ciò che pensa di aver fatto, per quali motivi, in quali situazioni e giustifica parallelamente (in senso morale, sociale e psicologico) le direzioni che ha preso la sua vita.

Tale , tuttavia, non è inteso da Bruner quale nucleo di coscienza isolato, racchiuso nella mente, esso è invece concepito come distribuito in senso interpersonale: le persone con cui si interagisce sono complici delle narrazioni e della costruzione del .

Ogni assume poi significato alla luce delle circostanze storiche che danno forma alla cultura di cui esso è espressione.

Ne deriva che non è possibile considerare il bambino avulso dalla cultura cui appartiene e dalla psicologia popolare dei suoi contesti di vita. Ad ogni sistema culturale corrispondono specifiche credenze e concezioni riguardanti ogni sfera dei comportamenti umani e degli avvenimenti esterni: il bambino è immerso in tutto ciò.

2 L’ ingresso del bambino nella cultura 

Una teoria specifica ritiene che i bambini imparino ad assegnare un senso narrativo al mondo circostante a partire da delle attitudini al significato di tipo prelinguistico. I bambini perciò sarebbero sensibili a determinate classi di significato già prima dell’avvento del linguaggio come strumento di interazione, possiederebbero una forma primitiva di psicologia popolare intesa alla stregua di un bagaglio di predisposizioni a costruire il mondo sociale secondo specifici modelli e ad agire su tali costruzioni. Queste predisposizioni verrebbero attivate dalle azioni e dalle espressioni degli altri, come pure dai contesti sociali di base in cui i bambini si trovano ad interagire. 

Varie osservazioni, secondo Bruner, danno sostegno a tale teoria.

Anzitutto, il linguaggio viene acquisito attraverso l’uso e grazie all’assistenza e all’interazione con chi si prende cura del bambino. Non si impara solo cosa dire, ma parallelamente come, dove, a chi ed in quali situazioni.

In secondo luogo, il bambino manifesta intenzioni comunicative, quali l’atto di indicare, il qualificare, il fare richieste, l’ingannare, già prima di padroneggiare il linguaggio formale con cui esprimersi verbalmente.

In terzo luogo, l’acquisizione di una lingua nei suoi aspetti grammaticali e lessicali, progredisce maggiormente quando il bambino già comprende, in modo prelinguistico, il significato dell’argomento trattato o del contesto in cui la conversazione ha luogo.

Si sostiene, inoltre, che il bambino possieda un ampio e precoce bagaglio di strumenti narrativi.

Se caratteristiche della narrazione sono: la presenza di un’azione diretta verso fini, l’esistenza di un ordine sequenziale, la sensibilità verso ciò che è canonico e ciò che fuori dell’ordinario, e la prospettiva del narratore, Bruner dimostra come il bambino manifesti precocemente attitudini in merito a tali caratteristiche.

Il bambino, infatti, è sin da piccolo interessato agli altri individui ed alle loro azioni, agli scopi ed al loro conseguimento; adopera molto presto nel suo linguaggio l’uso di connettivi temporali o causali per dare ordine sequenziale ai discorsi; concentra la sua attenzione e l’elaborazione dell’informazione sugli elementi insoliti; prende in considerazione la prospettiva, frutto del pianto, di altre manifestazioni di affetti o di caratteristiche prosodiche proprie delle prime fasi del linguaggio.

Nonostante gli individui possiedano una predisposizione innata per la narrazione, è parallelamente la cultura a fornire un insieme di strumenti e di tradizioni di raccontare e di interpretare a cui il bambino molto presto partecipa.

La competenza sociale è acquisita dapprincipio come prassi in specifici contesti in cui il bambino è coinvolto come protagonista. È attraverso l’azione, prima ancora che mediante il linguaggio, che il bambino impara a recitare il suo ruolo nella famiglia, cogliendo consensi, divieti e loro conseguenze.

Successivamente si rende conto dell’esigenza di legittimare le proprie azioni ed i propri scopi, al fine di evitare conflitti, e acquisisce consapevolezza dell’importanza del raccontare la “storia giusta”, ossia quella storia che faccia apparire le sue azioni come un’estensione delle azioni canoniche, modificate da circostanze attenuanti. Deve perciò non solo padroneggiare il linguaggio, ma anche le forme canoniche e gli strumenti della pratica retorica come ad es. l’inganno o l’adulazione. È in tal modo e attraverso tali processi che il bambino fa il suo ingresso nella cultura umana.

3 Cultura ed educazione

Bruner è convinto del fatto che l’educazione non possa essere un’isola, ma faccia parte del continente della cultura, ed il suo compito sia perciò quello di adattare la cultura alle esigenze dei suoi membri ed i suoi membri alle esigenze della cultura [4].

“L’apprendimento ed il pensiero sono sempre situati in un contesto culturale e dipendono sempre dall’utilizzazione di risorse culturali”.[5]

Nell’approcciarsi a questioni educative, perciò, bisogna sempre, secondo l’autore, porsi una serie di interrogativi. Anzitutto quale funzione svolga l’educazione in una determinata cultura e che ruolo essa assuma nella vita di coloro che vi operano al suo interno. In secondo luogo, il motivo per cui essa occupi quel ruolo in quella cultura e la eventuale relazione con fattori quali la distribuzione del potere, il prestigio sociale, l’esistenza di particolari benefici. In terzo luogo, quali risorse abilitanti a vivere in quella cultura siano fornite attraverso l’educazione. Ed infine, quali limiti, esterni o interni, siano imposti al processo educativo.

Se ciò vale per l’educazione in generale, a maggior ragione vale per la scuola che, secondo Bruner, “non può mai essere considerata culturalmente ‘indipendente’. Cosa insegna, quali modi di pensiero e quali ‘registri linguistici’ effettivamente coltiva nei suoi alunni, non possono essere isolati dalla posizione che ha la scuola nella vita e nella cultura dei suoi studenti. […] Il principale contenuto della scuola, vista culturalmente, è la scuola stessa”.[6]

Nessun intervento educativo, pertanto, a maggior ragione se proposto in una cultura diversa da quella di appartenenza, può prescindere da una preliminare indagine sulle funzioni, i ruoli, le risorse, i limiti dell’educazione già realizzata nel contesto; questo proprio perché è necessaria una contestualizzazione dei programmi in quanto, come sottolineato dall’autore, l’educazione non può essere un’isola, ma deve far parte del continente della cultura.

Nel teorizzare sulla pratica educativa, bisogna parallelamente, secondo l’autore, prendere in considerazione le teorie popolari possedute da coloro che sono impegnati in tale pratica. Bruner, parla a tal proposito di una vera e propria pedagogia popolare che racchiude le concezioni relative alla natura della mente del bambino ed alle strategie didattiche ritenute più efficaci per un suo apprendimento. 

Tenere in considerazione tutti i fattori sopra esposti significa “contestualizzare” i processi educativi nella loro cultura di appartenenza evitando il rischio di applicare modelli etnocentrici e di trattare come deficit quelle che sono semplicemente delle diversità culturali. Molto spesso, infatti, secondo l’autore, è stato impiegato il termine di “deprivazione culturale” per giustificare l’incapacità di tenere conto del bisogno dei gruppi e delle culture di conservare un senso della propria identità e delle proprie tradizioni [7].

Bruner ritiene che l’educazione debba oggi confrontarsi con una serie di antinomie.

La prima antinomia vede, da un lato, le esigenze di realizzazione individuale e di promozione delle potenzialità di ciascuno; dall’altro lato, la necessità di riproduzione e di sviluppo di una cultura nei suoi aspetti economici, politici e culturali.

La seconda antinomia si dibatte tra l’opportunità di coltivare i talenti innati e la necessità di offrire a tutti la possibilità di progredire.

La terza antinomia, infine, risiede nella contrapposizione tra concezioni che vedono nelle culture locali sistemi autogiustificantesi, non bisognosi di essere ricondotti a interpretazioni universalistiche o superiori, e concezioni che, al contrario, considerano la condizione umana quale espressione di una storia più universale e di una cultura più vasta.

Tali antinomie, la cui risoluzione interroga la riflessione pedagogica in ogni luogo, sono forse maggiormente avvertite o urgenti nei Paesi in via di sviluppo, in cui si oscilla tra il rischio di ripiegamento e di chiusura a causa di una cieca e rigida fedeltà alla tradizione ed il rischio di annientamento delle individualità e delle culture locali in nome dell’innovazione e dello sviluppo globale.

Al fine di realizzare i giusti equilibri tra le tre antinomie, si afferma che la scuola debba configurarsi quale “controcultura”, ossia quale spazio educativo teso ad accrescere la consapevolezza, la metacognizione, la collaborazione, il sentimento di autostima e il senso di partecipazione ad una comunità e ad una cultura abilitante. Un’istituzione, perciò, capace di creare una cultura di gruppo all’interno della quale possano svolgersi processi di costruzione dell’identità personale e fenomeni di collaborazione; in cui sia consentito a ciascuno di procedere secondo le proprie capacità, contribuendo, parallelamente, alla creazione di un’opera collettiva, frutto della divisione del lavoro, della condivisione degli obiettivi, e manifestazione di un’identità di gruppo.

Tale modello, definito da Bruner pedagogia della reciprocità o cultura-nella-pratica,  sottende una concezione della mente del discente vista come capace di costruire delle proprie teorie e credenze sul mondo, grazie alle quali interpretare l’esperienza. Attraverso la discussione e l’interazione, tali teorie possono essere dirette verso un quadro di riferimento comune. Il bambino perciò, attivo e curioso, è capace di ragionare, di riflettere sul suo stesso pensiero, di rivedere e correggere, attraverso il dialogo ed il confronto, le proprie idee.

La scuola si configura quale comunità interattiva in cui è coltivata la consapevolezza del significato e delle implicazioni che derivano dal vivere nella società moderna, e sono promosse le competenze necessarie ad affrontare tale società e ad esserne parte attiva.

Tale modello, che rappresenta una sorta di idea guida per ogni processo educativo, reca degli aspetti, quali la creazione di una cultura di gruppo, il senso di partecipazione ad una collettività, il costituirsi di una comunità interattiva, che potrebbero fornire importanti spunti in vista della risoluzione delle contraddizioni presenti nelle società combattute tra tradizione ed innovazione.
grafico dell'epistemologia (Wikipedia)

* Fonte:  Barbara De Canale, "JEROME BRUNER E LA COSTRUZIONE DEL SIGNIFICATO", Pegaso, 2012.
1. Cfr. J. BRUNER, Acts of Meaning, Harvard University Press, London 1990, tr. it. La ricerca del significato, Bollati Boringhieri, Torino 1992, p. 59.
2. Nel trattare degli aspetti teatrali della narrazione, Bruner riprende il pensiero di Kenneth Burke. Cfr. K. BURKE, A Grammar of Motives, Prentice-Hall, New York 1845. 
3. Cfr. J. BRUNER, Acts of Meaning, op. cit., p. 34. 
4. Cfr. J. BRUNER, La cultura dell’educazione, op. cit.
5. Ivi, p. 17.
6. Cfr. J. BRUNER, La cultura dell’educazione, op. cit., p. 41.
7. Si veda in proposito quanto Bruner afferma in merito all’educazione compensativa ed ai Programmi Head Start, ibidem

Saturday, 24 June 2017


L'ho letto e l'ho gustato: mi è piaciuto e illuminato.
La storia (vera) di tre comici che amo e che mi fanno (veramente) ridere... Aldo, Giovanni e Giacomo sono persone molto semplici e umanamente straordinarie. Credo che fra cinquant'anni saranno come Totò e Peppino mentre scrivono la lettera in Malafemmina: immortali. La loro comicità mi riporta all'adolescenza, quando ridevo con Stanlio e Ollio: hanno la loro leggerezza comica, dichiaratamente ereditata dal grande duo.
👉 Dal risvolto del libro:

«A trent’anni passati da un pezzo eravamo ancora tre mal trà insèma, come si dice a Milano: tra bambinoni che non si rassegnavano all’idea di mettere la testa a posto e tenersi stretto l’impiego sicuro…»

C’è stato un tempo in cui Aldo faceva l’operaio alla Stipel, Giovanni l’acrobata e Giacomo l’infermiere all’ospedale di Legnano. Tutti e tre, però, avevano un sogno: recitare. Così, nei ritagli di tempo facevano i mimi acrobati alla Scala, gli animatori nei villaggi turistici o i doppiatori nei cartoni animati. Poi, i primi spettacoli di cabaret in piccoli locali del Milanese e del Varesotto, provando gli sketch nel box di un amico riscaldato da una stufetta. Giravano con la Opel vinaccia di Aldo che andava solo in seconda e capitava davvero di arrivare nel posto sbagliato il giorno sbagliato, come nella gag della Subaru a Pizzo Calabro. C’è stato anche un tempo in cui hanno pensato che forse era meglio lasciar perdere, e ritornare al vecchio, comodo posto fisso. Ma non si sono arresi.

Nel loro venticinquesimo anniversario, in questo libro per la prima volta Aldo Giovanni e Giacomo raccontano, anche con molte straordinarie immagini inedite, il backstage della loro vita: come si sono conosciuti, quando e dove hanno deciso di mettersi insieme, gli anni difficili ma al tempo stesso felici di una giovinezza in cui sono riusciti sempre e comunque a restare se stessi. Qui si narra di quando non venivano pagati in locali improbabili da gestori altrettanto improbabili («Ma lü el fa rid? Perché sel fa minga rid mi paghi no», dissero una volta a Giacomo) e di quando la ruota girò, con il successo in televisione con Mai dire gol, a teatro con I Corti e al cinema con Tre uomini e una gamba, un film in cui non credeva nessuno, girato con quattro soldi, ma destinato a sbancare al botteghino.

Mai, prima d’ora, Aldo Giovanni e Giacomo avevano raccontato il loro «privato». E il lettore si sorprenderà nel vedere, in questa specie di album di famiglia, che molti degli sketch più famosi del trio sono ispirati a fatti veri, qui ricordati con tenerezza e a volte con un po’ di nostalgia: quando Aldo si spacciava per Brambilla Fumagalli per conquistare la figlia di un lumbard, quando Giovanni fece morir dal ridere un importante uomo politico parlando in sardo, quando Giacomo entrò in un ospedale per una colica renale e si mise a litigare con i medici.

È la storia, anche, di un’amicizia. Tre amici che sono rimasti persone semplici, così tanto somiglianti a quei tre matti che vediamo sul palcoscenico.
👉 Stralcio dell'ultimo capitolo (15):

ovvero come siamo oggi: tre persone contente, che devono tutto a voi che ci avete voluto bene
Eccoci qua, insomma, oggi. Cerchiamo di raccontarvi come siamo nella nostra vita fuori dal palcoscenico. Tre persone normali, ciascuno con la propria famiglia e i pensieri di tutti, ciascuno con le proprie passioni e le proprie fisse. Giovanni è intrippato con la corsa, Aldo dipinge, Giacomino scrive perché lui è l'intellettuale del gruppo. Un po' come lo vedete nello sketch della Galleria d'arte.[vedi video]
Quello sketch lì, che a teatro abbiamo messo in scena per la prima volta ad Anplagghed nel 2006, nasce di fatto in casa di Giacomo, tanti e tanti anni fa. Lui viveva da solo e tra le tante stranezze s'era comprato un quadro astratto, di quelli che non si capisce bene se l'ha realizzato un grande artista o nostro figlio all'asilo. Una sera Aldo e Giovanni vanno a trovarlo, vedono quel quadro, si scambiano, un'occhiata e lì comincia la gag. Aldo lo guarda e commenta: "Minchia, che capolavoro", Giovanni dice a Giacomo: "Guarda che hai sbagliato a metterlo, così è all'incontrario". Molti, assistendo al nostro sketch della Galleria d'arte, hanno pensato che ci fossimo ispirati alla scena tratta da Le vacanze intelligenti, quando la moglie obesa di Alberto Sordi si siede su una seggiola alla Biennale di Venezia perché è stanca morta e i visitatori la scambiano per un'opera d'arte. Ma giuriamo che noi quel film non l'avevamo visto, il nostro sketch è figlio di uno sfottò a Giacomino che dura da una vita! È figlio anche di una constatazione a cui pochi hanno il coraggio di dar voce in pubblico perché si rischia di far la figura degli ignoranti, ma che quasi tutti condividono: e cioè che l'arte moderna è anche qualcosa di misterioso in cui spesso non è facile distinguere fra genialità e banalità. Oseremmo dire anche fra genialità e presa per il culo. Come proprio quest'anno – mentre noi eravamo in tournée a portare in giro anche lo sketch della Galleria d'arte  ha dimostrato TJ Khayatan, un ragazzo di diciassette anni che al Museo d'Arte Moderna di San Francisco ha appoggiato sul pavimento i suoi occhiali da vista. Era uno scherzo, eppure i visitatori hanno scambiato quegli occhiali per un pezzo dell'esposizione e si sono messi in coda per ammirare la straordinaria opera d'arte... Un po' come il nostro estintore Meteor.
Giovanni, che corre, sa che c'è una maratona che si fa d'estate, la Monza-Resegone, che ha una particolarità: è a squadre. Nel senso che si corre in tre. Bisogna partire in tre e arrivare in tre: se uno abbandona, tutta la squadra deve abbandonare. E al traguardo il tempo viene preso sull'ultimo del terzetto. Per certi versi è un vantaggio. Perché correre in tre vuol dire non essere da soli. Vuol dire sostenersi. Vuol dire che, quando uno resta indietro, gli altri lo aspettano e fanno di tutto per spingerlo a ripartire.
È stato importante, per noi, essere in tre. È stato importante in tanti e tanti spettacoli che abbiamo fatto. Non si è mai tutti in forma allo stesso modo. Alla fine di ogni esibizione, in  camerino, ciascuno di noi pensa che uno degli altri tre era in gran forma e un altro un po' giù. Poi ciascuno di noi pensa anche di essere stato comunque il migliore della serata, ma questo è un altro discorso. Quello che è certo è che sul set e sul palcoscenico ci si porta dietro anche la cosiddetta vita privata, una preoccupazione o una gioia, una litigata o il ricordo di una giornata serena. E tutto questo ti condiziona, nel bene e nel male. Essere in tre vuol dire che a ogni spettacolo scatta naturalmente un gioco di squadra per cui i due che stanno meglio "tirano" quello in difficoltà, come nel ciclismo durante le tappe in montagna.
Ma essere in tre non ci ha aiutato solo durante i singoli spettacoli. Ci ha aiutato anche a tenere botta per un quarto di secolo come trio. Ognuno di noi ha attraversato momenti di stanca, perché essere personaggi pubblici non è sempre facile. Però, se  uno era giù, gli altri due lo tiravano su, e così non abbiamo mai pensato di separarci. È come se non fosse possibile non essere più un trio.
Una volta, quando eravamo più giovani, vivevamo praticamente insieme. Pranzi, cene, partite di calcio e di basket, vacanze... Adesso che i figli di Giovanni e Aldo sono più grandi, e il figlio di Giacomo invece è molto più piccolo di loro, ci siamo un po' allontanati, nel senso che ciascuno ha una sua famiglia e una sua vita che procedono autonomamente. Noi tre ci vediamo per lavoro, nell'ufficio di Paolo Guerra, almeno due volte la settimana, o tutti i giorni quando stiamo girando un film. Ma con le famiglie ci frequentiamo di meno. Anche se i nostri fan pensano che siamo sempre insieme, che siamo un trio anche nella vita privata. Una volta a Varigotti, in spiaggia, un tizio ha visto Daniela [moglie di Giacomo] e ha detto a un amico: "Guarda, quella è la moglie di Aldo, Giovanni e Giacomo!" Uè, calma, ragazzi: va be' che oggi l'idea di famiglia è cambiata, ma calma.
Siamo tre persone che, con il passare del tempo, si sono anche differenziate per interessi e idee, su tante cose. Però la gavetta insieme ci ha legati tantissimo, e per sempre. Siamo come tre fratelli, ma più liberi. E abbiamo conservato una filosofia da casa e bottega. Molte volte i familiari ci aiutano negli spettacoli, i figli ci seguono... Ogni tanto portiamo Emanuele, il piccolo di Giacomo, con i suoi amichetti a vederci e sono tutti felicissimi, i bambini sanno le nostre battute a memoria.
Quando Giacomo ha compiuto sessant'anni, Daniela gli ha regalato un filmato amatoriale con i bambini che recitano le nostre scenette. Quando lo abbiamo visto abbiamo riso come dei matti. Non avremmo certo pensato, venticinque anni fa, di lasciare un segno così profondo, di piacere tanto anche ai più giovani. Forse è perché siamo rimasti come loro, ridiamo delle piccole cose come ridono loro, che si divertono con poco. E hanno risate così contagiose: vedi un bambino che ride e ridi pure tu, non sai perché, ma ti viene da ridere. È una festa. "Non uccidete mai il bambino che è in voi" diceva il grande Jacques Tati, attore, regista, mimo e comico francese. 
A volte sentiamo un po' la fatica, questo sì.A Giacomo, dopo gli spettacoli, spesso va via la voce e la mattina seguente deve fare i suffumigi. Lui è un milanese di quelli tosti, puntuale, preciso, ordinato e metodico come Sugar dei Busto Garolfo Cops [vedi video]: si alza presto, legge i giornali, porta Emanuele a scuola. Anche Giovanni si alza presto; quand'era più giovane, dopo gli spettacoli dormiva di più, anche fino a mezzogiorno, ma adesso il sonno dura meno, sarà perché invecchiamo. Aldo invece sta sul divano come ci stava una volta, e sua figlia dice: "Ah, se i suoi ammiratori vedessero come sta in casa...".
La verità è che gli anni passano e fare gli attori, ripetere per quaranta serate gli stessi sketch come è successo nella tournée del venticinquesimo, è bello ma anche pesante. A teatro ci portiamo il massaggiatore, perché le contrazioni muscolari sono tremende. Sul palcoscenico spesso facciamo cose molto fisiche, soprattutto Aldo e Giovanni che hanno una formazione da acrobati, e quindi dobbiamo avere cura anche dei muscoli perché non abbiamo più vent'anni, e neanche trenta. Ahinoi, neanche quaranta. A Giacomino invece, quando va in tournée, come quest'anno per il venticinquesimo, viene un po' di pancetta perché non ha tempo di andare a correre come fa di solito a Milano.
Noi amiamo il teatro. Giacomo è stato il regista di uno spettacolo della scuola di Emanuele ed è stato bellissimo: c'era anche Daniela, che ha interpretato la nonna, e che siccome è la psicologa ha cercato di spiegare ai bambini che il teatro è il gioco più bello del mondo perché si crea una specie di spazio magico in cui ciascuno può essere, in quel momento, quello che vuole. Hai un pubblico intorno, puoi andare dove la tua fantasia ti porta, ed è una cosa molto liberatoria. Daniela dice che in quello spettacolo lei e gli altri attori diventavano matti perché a Giacomo piace improvvisare e ogni sera cambiava copione, anche all'ultimo momento. È abbastanza vero. Ci piace improvvisare e quasi sempre, a teatro, speriamo che succeda qualcosa fra il pubblico, anche una cosa banale, tipo che arrivi qualcuno a spettacolo già cominciato, per poterci inventare qualcosa di nuovo. Con il pubblico cerchiamo sempre di interagire, in tutti i sensi... ...
Siamo tre personalità forti, ma al tempo stesso molto riservate. Non diciamo troppo di noi in pubblico, di come la pensiamo e di quali sono le nostre convinzioni. Però crediamo che la gente percepisca che non siamo mai per dividere, per creare polemiche, conflitti. Abbiamo anche la presunzione di credere che il pubblico abbia capito che siamo tre persone semplici, tre persone che girano senza portavoce e senza scorte, che hanno nome e cognome sul citofono e vanno a fare la spesa al supermercato. Frequentiamo ambienti e persone semplici, non siamo nel giro dei vip.
Chi ci conosce dice che nel privato siamo come appariamo in scena. Aldo non ha il cellulare, e se ce l'ha lo tiene spento; ancora non ha capito il cambio lira-euro, gira senza soldi, si veste più o meno come si vestiva quando i carabinieri lo scambiavano per un balordo, cerca di non farsi riconoscere dalla gente che incrocia. Giovanni è molto ecologista, ama fare il contadino, passa i week-end in campagna dove ara la terra, pianta semi strani, sementi che arrivano dalla Cina e poi diventano chissà cosa; come sapete va a correre, anche se fino ai cinquant'anni ha preso in giro quelli che vanno a correre. Giacomo legge quattro o cinque quotidiani al giorno, perfino il Sole 24 Ore, va alle mostre, compra libri antichi... Sono esattamente i nostri personaggi. Siamo tre persone normali, consapevoli però del fatto che la popolarità a volte può essere un peso per i familiari. Una mattina, tanti anni fa, una delle bambine di Giovanni ha detto a sua mamma: "Questa notte ho fatto un sogno, che chiedevano l'autografo anche a me."
 (Tratto dal Capitolo 15 de TRE UOMINI E UNA VITA, Mondadori, 2016, pp. 189-196)

Vedi anche il mio post precedente:

Thursday, 22 June 2017


Aldous Huxley by Tristan Bristow
The Importance of the Comic Genius

Showing That True Comedy, like Genuine Tragedy, Is an Invention in the Grand Manner

by Aldous Huxley (1924)

THE history of literature and art provides us with more examples of fine serious than fine comic achievements. A list of the world's great creators of comedy turns out, when one takes the trouble to compile it, to be surprisingly small. Aristophanes, Chaucer, Rabelais, the Shakespeare of Falstaff, the Balzac of the Contes Drolatiques, Dickens; and among the pictorial artists, Daumier, Rowlandson, Gustave Doré, when he was not wasting his talents on horrible and unsuccessful religious compositions, and Goya, in certain moods. These are the names that first occur to one; and though it would, of course, be possible to lengthen the list, there would not be so very many more to add.

True, we might compile a very long list of the writers and draughts men who make us laugh, but few of them would be what may be styled makers of pure comedy. The number of our physiological reactions to emotion is strictly limited, and we go through the same bodily convulsions in response to very different stimuli. Laughter, for example, is provoked in us by a number of quite distinct emotions. There is the laughter of mockery-the laughter that is a social punishment, applied by the sane majority to those whose crime it is to be unlike their fellow-beings. Go out in an exceptionally large hat or an exceptionally bright tie, and you will hear plenty of that kind of laughter. Satire, whether in art or literature, provokes this cruel laughter. The fact that it is generally written by the exceptional man against the only too sane majority does not prevent it from having fundamentally the same source as the mockery of the majority against the exception. And then, there is the laughter that is our response to the smoking-room story-the laughter that is a safety-valve for letting off innocuously a part of our somewhat excessive interest in the blushful mysteries. There is, also, the laughter released in us by sudden surprise-the loud and rather nervous laughter of children when they hide and pounce out on one another from dark recesses; the hysterical, involuntary laughter that seizes one when stout old Uncle Ebenezer slips on a banana skin and comes thudding to the pavement. Its surprising, startling quality is, perhaps, the principal reason why verbal wit makes us laugh.

Satire, sex, wit – all these things make us laugh, and they may all be present in a work of pure comedy. But they are not, themselves, pure comedy. It is not right to include in one's list of pure comic geniuses the savage satirist, such as Swift; or the mild satirist, like Sheridan, who writes the comedy of manners; nor have the masters of verbal ingenuity, like Congreve; the hardy pornographers of Wycherley's stamp; or the subtler, sniggering suggesters, like Sterne. Your great comic genius is much more copious, much larger, and more inclusive than a mere satirist, or writer of comedy of manners, or a creator of wit. And he is, accordingly, much rarer than the satirist or the wit. He is as rare as the great tragic genius  – and, perhaps, even rarer than he.
THE pure comic genius must be a great inventor. That is why he' is so rare; the gift of invention is not a common one. You can be an admirable satirist or a fine serious writer, and not be an inventor – only an interpreter of actual life. Tolstoy is the supreme example of the latter class. But to create a coherent, satisfying, comic universe, you must be an inventor. You cannot stick very close to reality –particularly, the inward, spiritual reality – and make pure comedy. And the same applies to pure tragedy-though with this difference, that pure tragedy moves in the internal world, and largely ignores the externals from which pure comedy starts its flight. The characteristic creations of pure comedy, as well as of pure tragedy, are really not human beings at all. They are inventions of the poet's mind, living not in our world, but in a parallel world; similar, but not the same. The Wife of Bath, Pan urge, Falstaff, Mr. Pecksniff; Medea, Macbeth, Ivan Karamazov – these are all creatures of fable, larger than life, as befits mythological beings; and living, not with the everyday life of men, but more intensely – with the prodigious and god-like life infused into them by their creators. Serious realistic art is not creative, like pure tragedy. It depends on actual life, of which it is a picture and practical interpretation. Similarly, satire, the comedy of manners, and wit are not creative, like pure comedy. Satire and the comedy of manners depend on the actual life they portray and mock at, with greater or less ferocity; while wit is an affair of verbal ingenuity. The difference is important.

All these varieties of what we may call contingent art are less eternally interesting than the two great creative and absolute types of art. For though, to contemporary readers, a book which deals directly, and so to speak scientifically, with the life they know may be immensely valuable, it will lose much of its interest and value when the conditions of life on which it is based have changed. Only the ideal, perfected world, that is parallel to the real world, remains forever comprehensible and fresh. It is difficult not to believe, for example, that Dickens will outlast Tolstoy; though Tolstoy, in certain respects, is much more interesting and valuable to us at the present time.

It would be absurd, of course, to pretend that great comic creations are as profoundly significant as the great creations of tragedy. Comedy necessarily leaves out of account some of the most important elements of man's spiritual life. It is of the earth, earthy – its strength, its size, its colossal energy and these are the essential characteristics of all great comic creations, from Gargantua to Micawber, from Falstaff to the fabulous Burgesses of Daumier's impassioned invention. There are the strength, size, and energy of earth-born things; there is something superbly animal, something sappy, full-blooded, and earthily un-selfconscious in pure comedy. We seem to be looking on at the gamboling of mastodons, the playing of young whales, the tumbling of a litter of dinosaur puppies. The mind the troubled spirit of man, have but little place in comedy, the stage is occupied by his healthy body and its natural instincts. But this does not prevent a comic creation from being, in its own sphere, a delightful, and even a grand, magnificent, and beautiful, thing. Comedy deserves to be taken seriously.
THIS is a fact too frequently forgotten; a fact that is not even. understood by the second-rate practitioners of comedy. These lesser exponents of comedy humiliate their art to an association with triviality, ugliness, and vulgarity. The great mass of what passes nowadays (or that has passed, for that matter, at any other period) for comic literature or art is stamped with this pettiness and vulgar hideousness. The average comic drawings, comic novels, comic plays, comic films – how small and grubby they all are! One has only to compare these little horrors with the creations of the genuine comic geniuses to see how miserably debased, how unworthy of the name of comedy, they are. A great comic work can be as large, as magnificent, and, in its own way, as beautiful, as a work of serious art. The fact is that the beau ideal and the grand style are not exclusive possessions of serious art. There is also a comic beau ideal and a comic grand style. Comic poetry can be genuine poetry; that is to say, beautiful poetry. Comic art can be grand. A huge scale, a colossal, earthy energy, are, as we have seen, the characteristics of comedy. The comic grand style is, accordingly, a rich, emphatic style, that chiefly differs from the grand style of serious art by being too rich and too emphatic. The step is short from the sublime to the ridiculous – and in much art that is intended to be serious, that short step has been taken. The baroque style in the plastic arts, for example, is essentially a comic grand style; its extravagance is unfitted for use in serious, tragic art. The rich, turgid prose of the seventeenth century is essentially a prose for the expression of comedy. The best passages in Milton's prose works are those in which he is making some enormous joke (the portentous phenomenon occurs more than once in the Areopagitica, and produces overwhelming effects). This clotted, extravagant style of prose, which the critics have agreed to call "poetic," is seen in Urquhart and Motteaux's translation of Rabelais to be the most perfect medium for comic expression. And the gorgeous rhetoric of the Elizabethans, which, when employed in serious. passages, trembles perilously all the time on the verge of the ludicrous, is seen, when used for comic purposes, to be perfectly suitable.
RETURNING to pictorial arts, we find that practically the only good artist produced by the romantic movement is Gustave Doré; and he is good, not when he is being romantically serious, but in his masterly comic works (the illustrations to Balzac's Contes Drolatiques are a typical :md noble example). The romantic style, with its extravagance, its picturesqueness, its violent contrasts, is, like baroque, an essentially comic grand style. Briefly to sum up, we may say that the principal difference between the comic grand style and the tragic is that the comic grand style is the grander. It is ludicrous in its exaggerated vehemence, but beautiful.

Aldous Huxley (artistic rendition)
The great comedians have all combined comedy with beauty and magnificence. Aristophanes was one of the finest of Greek poets. In the Canterbury Tales, you will find the richest comedy, expressed in terms of a limpid beauty hardly rivaled in all literature. Ben Jonson's Volpone and The Alchemist are positively heroic in scale; in them, the sublime is fused indissolubly with the ridiculous.

We see the same beauty, the same grand style, in the works of the great comic artists. All Goya's sense of beauty appears in his comic work. He was, in his comedy, an intensely serious artist: witness his admirable series of "Caprices." Daumier, in the world of comic art, is what Michelangelo is in the world of tragic art. His comic conceptions are on the same grand scale, and exhibit the same prodigious energy, as the frescoes on the roof of the Sistine Chapel. Doré, as we have seen, makes the grotesque romantic. And the best of Rowlandson's drawings and engravings – for example, the marvelous Soiree at Burlington House – are marked by a force and grandeur of scale that would do credit to a great tragic creation.

It is unnecessary to speak here of our contemporaries. A few men of real comic talent are producing books and pictures at the present time. Not many, however. Most of our comic literature is mere satire, mere comedy of manners, mere wit. Most of our comic art is either not intrinsically comic at all – it is a mere accurate illustration of a funny scene, corresponding to the comedy of manners in literature – or else, when it tries, by distortion and an energetic exaggeration, to become intrinsically comic, it achieves only a petty ugliness and a mean and irritating vulgarity.

...And on comedy and comedic genius, I'd like to post here a past article by Jeet Heer on the New Republic about the "comedic genius" of... Donald Trump!
Donald Trump's Comedic Genius
Why liberals and conservatives alike find him so funny—if not for the same reasons

By  JEET HEER (New Republic, 8 September, 2015)

All humorists know that Donald Trump is a gift from the comedy gods. Even before his presidential run, he was a standard target for late-night television quips, and his ascendency in both the polls and public visibility have left some retired gagsters regretful that they can’t keep jabbing at him. David Letterman has said that quitting his show before Trump’s campaign started was “the biggest mistake of my life” and made a special post-retirement top ten list devoted to Trump: “He wants to build a wall? How about building a wall around that thing on his head?” Jon Stewart, during the twilight of his run as The Daily Show host, expressed gratitude to Trump as a comedy cornucopia, saying, “I really feel like he’s some sort of Jewish holiday waiting to happen. Like, ‘We thought the craziness would only last a day…’”

Politicians of all stripes are constantly targeted by satirists, but there is something different about Trump. As the campaign wears on, it’s increasingly apparent that Trump is not just fodder for comedians, but himself a stand-up quipster of no mean talent.

The remarkable fact about Trump is how consistently amusing he can be even to people who despise his xenophobic politics. For liberals, it’s hard not to chuckle when Trump, at Thursday’s press conference, said about his rival Jeb Bush, "It's a little bit sad. He was supposed to win but he doesn't have the energy.” To be sure, there’s a strong dose of partisanship in the mirth Trump elicits from leftists: He’s making a mockery of much-heralded, more respectable GOP candidates who are supposedly much more qualified than he is, while also throwing the party’s nomination process into chaos. The whole spectacle is unbelievably entertaining.

Yet liberals are far from alone in laughing at Trump’s quips, since the Republicans in the audience of his speeches and at the debates can be heard cackling in delight (although perhaps at different points than liberals do). Despite being one of the most polarizing figures in American public life, Trump is also, quite unexpectedly, a comedian who can unite the country in laughter.

Listening to a Trump speech or watching him in a debate is an unexpectedly exhilarating experience, because amid the staid rules of politics his entire presence is refreshingly unpredictable. Letterman-style quips about Trump’s ridiculous hair only capture what is superficially amusing about the Republican frontrunner. There’s no denying that his tics and manners—his constant stream of lavish self-praise, his gesticulations and mugging to the camera, his exaggerated New York dialect (“yuge”), and, without question, his singular approach to coiffing—all make make him comical.

But there is more to Trump’s humor than his outsized personality. He excels at the fundamentals of comedy: disrupting cultural norms with his outrageous insults and generally unruly behavior. His style of comedy is by no means unique to him. You can hear it up and down the radio dial all day and night from a wide array of right-wing bloviators. Trump’s innovation is to bring this crass rhetoric into the political mainstream.

Disruption is at the very essence of comedy. Amusement is produced by the thwarting of expectations, by the breaking of rules. Pies are meant to be eaten, but become funny if thrown in the face. The clown is the figure who does what we are socialized not to do: If we are generally taught to be respectful of others, the clown is loud, obnoxious, boundary-crossing and in-your-face. What’s true of clowns applies to comedians in general. Comedy is Charlie Chaplin whacking a cop, the Marx Brothers turning an opera into a shambles, Flounder vomiting on the Dean in Animal House, Borat and his producer wrestling naked through the hallways of a hotel, or Lillian defecating in the middle of the street in Bridesmaids.

Analyzing Borat, the late writer Aaron Swartz noted that the film “is about the existence and enforcement of cultural norms. In place after place, Borat goes somewhere and does exactly what you’re not supposed to do. By doing so, he demonstrates exactly what our cultural assumptions are, makes us laugh uncomfortably at their violation while we start to question their legitimacy, and then documents the punishment inflicted for violating them.” Aside from the fact that he suffers no punishment—indeed, goes from triumphant poll to triumphant poll—Trump exactly fits Borat model.

Trump describes himself as a “non-politician,” an all too familiar political pose. But what sets Trump apart from other supposed outsider candidates like Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard CEO, is that Trump is constantly saying things that are not just unpolitical but really outside the normal boundaries of decorum. Speaking to a large crowd in Mobile, Alabama, Trump crowed about the money he expected to win from a lawsuit with Univision. “I sued them from for $500 million,” Trump boasted. “I want that money. I want that money.” Slobbering after a big settlement is unsettling enough in a normal litigant, but really startling coming from aspirant to the White House.

In that same speech, Trump proposed getting America’s allies such as Germany, Japan, and South Korea to pay for the protection the U.S. military provides. He noted that some object to this idea because it’s the equivalent of acting like the mafia. Trump’s response? “Don’t worry about it, okay? The mafia is not so stupid.” It’s possible that there are other American politicians who admire the mafia, but Trump is surely the only one to openly say that the shrewdness of gangsters is worth emulating.

What’s disruptive about these statements is that they completely overturn the standard ideals of civic-mindedness and statesmanship. Unlike typical politicians, Trump makes no effort to hide human emotions like greed, spite, selfishness, and vengefulness. The comedy of having base emotions so nakedly exposed has the added benefit of reinforcing Trump’s claim that he’s much more honest than the pre-programmed candidates who usually run for high office.

Trump’s comedy stylings have a lineage. His spiel owes much to the tradition of insult comedy, which flourished after the Second World War and was best exemplified by figures like Don Rickles and Joan Rivers. A bohemian challenge to the polite rules of suburban life, insult comedy was brassy, aggressive, and urban, a jolting assertion of personality and will. In later incarnations, insult comedy infused the works of shock jocks like Howard Stern (whose show Trump has been on). Originally apolitical, insult comedy has taken on a conservative coloration in the last 20 years because it can be presented as a revolt against the supposedly stifling rules of progressive political correctness. Broadcasters like Morton Downey, Jr., Rush Limbaugh, Dennis Miller, and Michael Savage have shown that insult comedy can easily go hand in hand with the politics of white male resentment.

Trump’s major innovation has been to realize that this politicized version of insult comedy doesn’t have to stay on the margins of talk radio.

Trump’s major innovation has been to realize that this politicized version of insult comedy doesn’t have to stay on the margins of talk radio, but can become the fuel for actual electoral politics. It’s not clear whether Trump is knowingly mimicking the shock-joke approach or just picked it up by osmosis. He’s appeared on Howard Stern’s show and has expressed admiration for Limbaugh, and certainly his own career as a reality show star on The Apprentice has helped him master his showbiz chops. This explains why Trump is able to deflect any criticism of his bigotry and misogyny by saying that he’s not politically correct. That’s a standard defense stand-up comedians use, and one that suits Trump as a comic presidential candidate. Not surprisingly, right-wing talk radio has been a strong bastion of pro-Trump sentiment.

Trump’s merger of comedy with politics is troubling. We properly grant comedians a license that doesn’t extend to other public figures. Comedians like Chris Rock, Amy Schumer, Sarah Silverman, or Louis CK can say all sorts of bigoted things as part of their act because art has to explore unruly emotions, to voice troublesome thoughts, and to mirror sometimes ugly social realities. As a comedian-politician, Trump is borrowing the permission granted to comedians but using it to voice bigotry rather than interrogate it. Because of his general clowning around, Trump has created a space whereby his xenophobia and sexism can be forgiven or extenuated as “just kidding around.” But if Trump is a clown, he’s a menacing one, a clown who uses laughter for sinister ends.

...And now he is the President of the United States! His greatest joke of all.
Donald Trump - Caricature