September 6, 2017

The Sun Sinks


Not for long will you thirst yet,
Burn heart!
Promise in the air,
From unfamiliar mouths it blows on me,
—The  great coolness comes…
My sun stood hot over me at noon:
My greetings for coming,
You sudden winds,
You cool spirits of the afternoon!
The air moves in a strange and pure way.
Does not the night, with a wry
Seducer’s glance,
Watch me from the corner of her eye?...
Stay strong, my stout heart!
Ask not: why?
Day of my life!
The sun is sinking.
The smooth flood already
Is gilded.
Warm breathes the rock:
Did happiness take its noonday sleep
On it at noon?
In green lights
The brown abyss’s play still evokes happiness.
Day of my life!
The eve is looming!
Your eye already glows
Half-broken,
The teardrops
of our dew already surge,
Your love’s purple
already runs quietly over white seas,
Your last lingering bliss…
Cheerfulness golden, come!
You, death’s
Most secret, sweetest anticipatory delight!
—Did I run down my path too swiftly?
Only now, when my foot has become weary,
Your glance overtakes me,
your happiness overtakes me.
All around are only wave and play.
Whatever was heavy
Sank into blue oblivion,—
Now my boat lies idle.
Storm and voyage—how it has forgotten that!
Wish and hope drowned,
Smooth lie soul and sea.
Seventh loneliness!   
Never did I feel
Sweet certainty nearer to me,
Never warmer the sun’s look.
—Does not the ice of my peak still glow?
A light silver, a fish,
My skiff now swims out…


Although I strongly believe that Nietzsche’s works are a must read for anyone who wants to understand the world we live in and why it is the way it is, I’ve never been a huge fan of him. Yes, he was deeply inspired by Ralph Waldo Emerson, one of my greatest intellectual heroes, and held in very high esteem the writings of Montaigne, yet another of my most favorite thinkers/writers ever. But as far as I can tell, he lacked what, in my view, made both Montaigne and Emerson what they were, are and will be, that is, respectively, the thoughtful, elegant levity and the “Americanness.” Yet, reading Nietzsche’s writing has been one of the most intense and challenging intellectual experiences I’ve ever gone through. Roughly speaking, I enjoyed the books, although sometimes (if not often) disagreeing with the author’s views, but didn’t love the author himself. Quite the opposite of what happened to me when I first read Montaigne’s Essays —some of them, the less “exciting” ones, so to speak—or some of Emerson’s less brilliant lectures and addresses. After all you can admire someone without loving him/her, but the opposite is pretty unlikely if not impossible: how can you love someone who doesn’t dazzle you in some way? To love is also to be positively marveled and surprised about what the other person does/writes or says, even if it is only now and again..

Perhaps, what I like least about him—apart from his well-known moral nihilism and his many other intellectual excesses—is his contiguity with the so-called Decadent Movement, which first flourished in France in the late 19th century and then spread throughout Europe and to the United States. Light-years away from my views on literature and art. A great example of Nietzsche’s “decadent” sensitivity is the above beautiful and touching poem. By the way, “Die Sonne sinkt” (The Sun Sinks), is proof—in case it was ever needed—that you don’t have to agree with a certain Weltanschauung to thoroughly enjoy one of its most powerful poetic expressions. Analogously, but in a different context, disapproving someone’s behavior should never prevent us from treating them with the utmost respect, if not love as in the case of Dante, when he tells us about Paolo and Francesca’s tragic love story with deeply moving and amazing verses (Inferno, Canto V), or when he describes Farinata degli Uberti as rising out of his burning tomb “from the waist up” and seeming to “have great contempt for Hell” (Inferno, Canto X). This posture suggests that spiritually, he towers above all of Hell and creates an image of infinite strength and grandeur. The just punishment of sins doesn’t include the denial of compassion and of the humanity of sinners—or at least of some of them—in all its aspects and contradictions.

Paolo and Francesca da Rimini by Dante Gabriel Rossetti
(1862; Cecil Higgins Art Gallery, Bedford)


This poem from the Dithyrambs of Dionysus (Dionysos-Dithyramben), a collection of nine poems written in the fall of 1888 by the German philosopher under the nom de plume of Dionysos, reflects very much the views of Nietzsche on life, death and everything in between, including the ultimate meaning of happiness. Whether or not one disagrees with him there’s no doubt that the poem is proof that he was a true philosopher in the Ciceronian sense of the term, because it was the great Roman orator who once said that to study philosophy is nothing but to prepare oneself to die (Tusculanae Disputationes). “The reason of which—as Montaigne put it commenting on Cicero’s statement—is, because study and contemplation do in some sort withdraw from us our soul, and employ it separately from the body, which is a kind of apprenticeship and a resemblance of death; or, else, because all the wisdom and reasoning in the world do in the end conclude in this point, to teach us not to fear to die. And to say the truth, either our reason mocks us, or it ought to have no other aim but our contentment only, nor to endeavor anything but, in sum, to make us live well, and, as the Holy Scripture says, at our ease. All the opinions of the world agree in this, that pleasure is our end, though we make use of divers means to attain it: they would, otherwise, be rejected at the first motion; for who would give ear to him that should propose affliction and misery for his end?” (Essays, Book I, chapter XIX)



  1. Friedrich Nietzsche, "Die Sonne sinkt", aus den Dionysos-Dithyramben (original German text)
  2. Ditirambi di Dioniso (Italian version)
  3. The above quoted text is from  Nietzsche’s Philosophy of the Eternal Recurrence of the Same, by Karl Löwith. University of California Press, 1997.

August 1, 2017

Trump in the Woody Allen Era


“I think it’s pretty hard to argue that somebody who almost three-quarters of the country thinks is unqualified to be president and has a negative opinion about is tapping into the zeitgeist of the country or is speaking for a broad base of the country. But we’ll find out,” Obama said in a late June 2016 interview with NPR’s Steve Inskeep. Well, we found out a few months later, on Tuesday, November 8, 2016.. After clinching the GOP nomination with his unorthodox presidential campaign, Donald Trump won over the hearts and minds of the American people and conquered the presidency.

Obama’s comments came in response to a question about a statement he had made during his 2008 campaign. Previous presidents, such as John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, he said, “changed the trajectory of America,” and that’s exactly what he himself wanted to do. Trump, on the contrary, according to the former president, wasn't on pace to change the trajectory of America. Well, fortunately for the Country and unfortunately for the prophet, what we are witnessing nowadays is exactly the opposite.

How and why things went the way they did and continue to go the way they do? How could The Donald achieve such a spectacular success? Paradoxically, and paraphrasing what Peggy Noonan wrote in her column in the Wall Street Journal some days ago, by ignoring traditional norms and forms of American masculinity. But let’s follow her reasoning for a moment:

The president’s primary problem as a leader is not that he is impetuous, brash or naive. It’s not that he is inexperienced, crude, an outsider. It is that he is weak and sniveling. It is that he undermines himself almost daily by ignoring traditional norms and forms of American masculinity.

He’s not strong and self-controlled, not cool and tough, not low-key and determined; he’s whiny, weepy and self-pitying. He throws himself, sobbing, on the body politic. He’s a drama queen. It was once said, sarcastically, of George H.W. Bush that he reminded everyone of her first husband. Trump must remind people of their first wife. Actually his wife, Melania, is tougher than he is with her stoicism and grace, her self-discipline and desire to show the world respect by presenting herself with dignity.
[…]
His public brutalizing of Attorney General Jeff Sessions isn’t strong, cool and deadly; it’s limp, lame and blubbery. “Sessions has taken a VERY weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes,” he tweeted this week. Talk about projection.

He told the Journal’s Michael C. Bender he is disappointed in Mr. Sessions and doesn’t feel any particular loyalty toward him. “He was a senator, he looks at 40,000 people and he probably says, ‘What do I have to lose?’ And he endorsed me. So it’s not like a great loyal thing about the endorsement.” Actually, Mr. Sessions supported him early and put his personal credibility on the line. In Politico, John J. Pitney Jr. of Claremont McKenna College writes: “Loyalty is about strength. It is about sticking with a person, a cause, an idea or a country even when it is costly, difficult or unpopular.” A strong man does that. A weak one would unleash his resentments and derive sadistic pleasure from their unleashing.

The way American men used to like seeing themselves, the template they most admired, was the strong silent type celebrated in classic mid-20th century films—Gary Cooper, John Wayne, Henry Fonda. In time the style shifted, and we wound up with the nervous and chattery. More than a decade ago the producer and writer David Chase had his Tony Soprano mourn the disappearance of the old style: “What they didn’t know is once they got Gary Cooper in touch with his feelings they wouldn’t be able to shut him up!” The new style was more like that of Woody Allen. His characters couldn’t stop talking about their emotions, their resentments and needs. They were self-justifying as they acted out their cowardice and anger.

But he was a comic. It was funny. He wasn’t putting it out as a new template for maleness. Donald Trump now is like an unfunny Woody Allen.

Well, perhaps (or without perhaps) that’s a bit too harsh and one-sided, but Peggy Noonan was substantially right when she spoke about “the shifting of style” from “the strong silent type” to the “nervous and chattery” one, perfectly impersonated by Woody Allen. Actually, Americans have gone through a monumental shift of style in the last decades, something that has perhaps never happened before: these days the way they like seeing themselves, the template they most admire, as Peggy Noonan put it, is not the one celebrated in classic mid-20th century films anymore. This is the Woody Allen era. Today it’s no longer about Gary Cooper and John Wayne, nor is it even about Ronald Reagan.

Let’s be honest, Ronald Reagan couldn’t get elected today, don’t you think, Mrs. Peggy Noonan? On the contrary, only Donald Trump could be able to defeat Hillary Clinton. Trump won because he was the best choice, and this for the simple reason that he—unlike any other Republican or even Democratic candidate, including Bernie Sanders—tapped into the zeitgeist of the country. This means, among other things, that what Peggy Noonan considers ”weakness”—lack of self-control, Trump’s not being “low-key and determined” as well as his being “whiny, weepy and self-pitying,” etc.—is exactly what makes him the best choice in this very time and place in terms of communication style and ways of behaving. But, more importantly, this also means that his political views and policies—or Trump’s right-wing populism, as his detractors put it—are on the same wavelength as the majority of the American people.

That’s also why, paradoxically, we old-fashioned men who grew up with John Wayne’s movies and the idea that men were supposed to keep their emotions in check and not make a big deal out of everything…, we Conservatives of today and, at the same time, nostalgic of the Reagan era and of a past that can never return, should be happy about Trump’s alleged weakness and flaws. They are at very core of his (and our) success.

July 17, 2017

Trump in Warsaw

Warsaw, Krasiński Square, July 6, 2017

“This is the speech Mr. Trump should have given to introduce himself to the world at his Inauguration.” That’s how the Wall Street Journal put it the day after the President of the United States gave his “Remarks to the People of Poland,” as the White House described the speech itself. In truth, the remarks were directed at the people of the world, and offered for the first time, six months into Donald Trump’s first term of office, the core of what could become a governing philosophy, that is, in the WSJ’s own words, “a determined and affirmative defense of the Western tradition” and a far better form of nationalism than that of the inauguration address, a nationalism rooted in values and beliefs such as the rule of law, freedom of expression, religious faith and freedom from oppressive government.

Here are some key-passages from the speech:

Americans, Poles, and the nations of Europe value individual freedom and sovereignty. We must work together to confront forces, whether they come from inside or out, from the South or the East, that threaten over time to undermine these values and to erase the bonds of culture, faith and tradition that make us who we are. (Applause.) If left unchecked, these forces will undermine our courage, sap our spirit, and weaken our will to defend ourselves and our societies.

But just as our adversaries and enemies of the past learned here in Poland, we know that these forces, too, are doomed to fail if we want them to fail. And we do, indeed, want them to fail. (Applause.) They are doomed not only because our alliance is strong, our countries are resilient, and our power is unmatched. Through all of that, you have to say everything is true. Our adversaries, however, are doomed because we will never forget who we are. And if we don’t forget who are, we just can't be beaten. Americans will never forget. The nations of Europe will never forget. We are the fastest and the greatest community. There is nothing like our community of nations. The world has never known anything like our community of nations.

We write symphonies. We pursue innovation. We celebrate our ancient heroes, embrace our timeless traditions and customs, and always seek to explore and discover brand-new frontiers.

We reward brilliance. We strive for excellence, and cherish inspiring works of art that honor God. We treasure the rule of law and protect the right to free speech and free expression. (Applause.)

We empower women as pillars of our society and of our success. We put faith and family, not government and bureaucracy, at the center of our lives. And we debate everything. We challenge everything. We seek to know everything so that we can better know ourselves. (Applause.)

And above all, we value the dignity of every human life, protect the rights of every person, and share the hope of every soul to live in freedom. That is who we are. Those are the priceless ties that bind us together as nations, as allies, and as a civilization.

What we have, what we inherited from our -- and you know this better than anybody, and you see it today with this incredible group of people -- what we've inherited from our ancestors has never existed to this extent before. And if we fail to preserve it, it will never, ever exist again. So we cannot fail.

This great community of nations has something else in common: In every one of them, it is the people, not the powerful, who have always formed the foundation of freedom and the cornerstone of our defense. The people have been that foundation here in Poland -- as they were right here in Warsaw -- and they were the foundation from the very, very beginning in America.

Our citizens did not win freedom together, did not survive horrors together, did not face down evil together, only to lose our freedom to a lack of pride and confidence in our values. We did not and we will not. We will never back down. (Applause.)

Maybe the WSJ is right, maybe not. In fact, one could argue that the two forms of nationalism—that of the inauguration speech and that of the “Remarks to the People of Poland”—are somehow two faces of the same coin, but this would lead us too far from the main object of this note.. What is certain, however, is that the speech is one that won’t be easily forgotten, nor should it. And this for a number of reasons, among which is the fact that, unlike at least two of his predecessors in the presidency—Barack Obama and George W. Bush—Donald Trump refused to sell the Americans and their Western allies the false ideology according to which all peoples have the same desires, all cultures are equal, and all faiths teach the same things.

This universalism, which conveys the myth of the portability of America’s political and economic principles, is at the heart of the biggest mistakes in U.S. foreign politics in the Middle East, and one reason why so many Western policy makers and opinion leaders fell head over heels for the Arab Spring. They saw the explosion as basically the result of a political crisis and as provoked by a thirst for political freedom, but the deepest roots of the “revolution” were most likely socioeconomic—let’s not forget that for several decades, the Arab world has had the lowest rates of economic growth of all regions of Asia and Africa and the highest rates of unemployment in the world. And they are not issues that can be settled with a new constitution or a mere change of president. They can only be settled through a radical cultural change, involving social, political, and economic structures. Something premature, to say the least. That’s why things went wrong. Take Egypt for instance: the protest movement was initiated by opposition groups, part of which were very radical, but the lead was soon taken by traditional political forces such as the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists.

Unlike George W. Bush and his neocon advisers, and in opposition to Barack Obama’s idealistic rhetoric about foreign politics, Donald Trump argued that what we call Western values, far from being universal, are a centuries-long and uneven process of acculturation and education. “In this context,” as David French puts it in National Review, “Judeo-Christian ideas have a specific value. The family as a core building block of the culture has a specific value. Constitutional governance has a specific value. They are not necessarily interchangeable with Islam, with alternative family arrangements, or with statism. Thus, a call to protect faith, family, and limited government is a call to protect the culture that has birthed freedom at home and abroad.”

The Warsaw speech also finds President Trump on the trail of Joseph Ratzinger and the lecture “On Europe’s Crisis of Culture” the then-Cardinal gave in the convent of Saint Scholastica in Subiaco, Italy, on April 1, 2005, the day before Pope John Paul II died. It was a very strong warning against “the cynicism of a secularized culture that denies its own foundations.”

By the way, one might ask why the West has turned on itself and seems to be refusing to take even the most rudimentary steps to protect itself against its sworn enemies. Of course there are lots of reasons, not just one: cultural Marxism, ennui, loss of faith in organized religion, the transformation of government schools into babysitting services for subsections of the populace with severe cultural learning disabilities, the marginalization of the very notion of excellence, the mutation of the Left into a suicide cult that wants to take the rest of us with it. This kind of illness being thus indicated, the antidote is also easy to prescribe: the antidote to this, as argued in a July 15, 2016 article by Michael Walsh—the author of The Devil’s Pleasure Palace—is a return to our cultural roots,

including the pre-Christian principles of Aristotle (passed down via St. Thomas Aquinas, among others) and the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius. Those roots are neither race- nor faith-specific and in fact the genius of Western civilization is that its principles—not “conservative” principles but civilizational principles—have proven so successful that they resulted in the United States of America, the very embodiment of those ideas.
Which is, of course, why Islam and its ally of convenience, the Left, hate America so. We and our cultural heritage are the refutation of every satanic principle they hold so vengefully dear.
Western civilization has defended us for centuries. Isn’t it about time we defended it?

That’s exactly what President Trump did with his Warsaw speech.

Of course, Never-Trumpers, Trump-sceptics across Europe, and the Left in general didn’t like a speech in which the words “civilization” and “West” are each repeated 10 times. Sarah Wildman at Vox compared this battle cry—“for family, for freedom, for country, and for God”—to an “alt-right manifesto.” David Smith, Washington correspondent for The Guardian, wrote that the Warsaw speech “will be remembered not for a quotable zinger but for muddled thinking and dark nativism.”

On the other side of the fence, Victor Davis Hanson at National Review praises the speech as an implicit corrective to Barack Obama’s Cairo speech, that is as the antithesis to the fallacious, appeasing lecture Obama preached to the Egyptians on June 4, 2009. Whereas Obama had blamed the West for many of Islam’s dilemmas, he writes, Trump praised the singular history and culture of the West. Whereas Obama listed supposed cultural achievements of Islam, Trump rattled off examples of Western exceptionalism, its culture, values, achievements.. A great article indeed. In Warsaw Trump warned the West that it’s because of our prosperity, technological advancement, and cultural superiority that we are in great peril, amid failed enemies who hate those who are more successful.

In sum, Trump’s anti-Cairo message is that only a disciplined, strong West — confident in its past and sure of its present success — will deter enemies, appeal to neutrals, and keep friends. Trump should not have had a need to deliver such a self-evident but now rare message. That he alone had the courage to state the obvious — and was criticized for doing so — reminds us that the corrective to our Western malady is seen as the problem, not the cure.

But the most moving passages of the address are those which explicitly recall one of the greatest speeches given in Poland in the modern era: it was delivered in Victory Square in the Old City of Warsaw on June 2, 1979 by John Paul II, the Polish pope.

Warsaw,  Victory Square, June 2, 1979 

Europe was still divided between the politically free democracies of Western Europe and the communist bloc. John Paul celebrated Mass. Halfway through, as Peggy Noonan tells the story in her latest column in the Wall Street Journal, the crowd began to chant: “We want God! We want God!” Then the pope asked the crowd: What was the greatest work of God? Man. Who redeemed man? Christ. Therefore, he declared, “Christ cannot be kept out of the history of man in any part of the globe, at any longitude or latitude. . . The exclusion of Christ from the history of man is an act against man.” The chant turned to thunder: “We want God!” It was the beginning of the end for the communist order in Poland.

And when the day came on June 2nd, 1979, and one million Poles gathered around Victory Square for their very first mass with their Polish Pope, that day, every communist in Warsaw must have known that their oppressive system would soon come crashing down. (Applause.) They must have known it at the exact moment during Pope John Paul II’s sermon when a million Polish men, women, and children suddenly raised their voices in a single prayer. A million Polish people did not ask for wealth. They did not ask for privilege. Instead, one million Poles sang three simple words: “We Want God.” (Applause.)
In those words, the Polish people recalled the promise of a better future. They found new courage to face down their oppressors, and they found the words to declare that Poland would be Poland once again.
As I stand here today before this incredible crowd, this faithful nation, we can still hear those voices that echo through history. Their message is as true today as ever. The people of Poland, the people of America, and the people of Europe still cry out “We want God.” (Applause.)
Together, with Pope John Paul II, the Poles reasserted their identity as a nation devoted to God. And with that powerful declaration of who you are, you came to understand what to do and how to live. You stood in solidarity against oppression, against a lawless secret police, against a cruel and wicked system that impoverished your cities and your souls. And you won. Poland prevailed. Poland will always prevail. (Applause.)

What a great premise for an even greater conclusion:

We have to remember that our defense is not just a commitment of money, it is a commitment of will. Because as the Polish experience reminds us, the defense of the West ultimately rests not only on means but also on the will of its people to prevail and be successful and get what you have to have. The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive. Do we have the confidence in our values to defend them at any cost? Do we have enough respect for our citizens to protect our borders? Do we have the desire and the courage to preserve our civilization in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it? (Applause.)
[…]
Our own fight for the West does not begin on the battlefield -- it begins with our minds, our wills, and our souls. Today, the ties that unite our civilization are no less vital, and demand no less defense, than that bare shred of land on which the hope of Poland once totally rested. Our freedom, our civilization, and our survival depend on these bonds of history, culture, and memory.
And today as ever, Poland is in our heart, and its people are in that fight. (Applause.) Just as Poland could not be broken, I declare today for the world to hear that the West will never, ever be broken. Our values will prevail. Our people will thrive. And our civilization will triumph.

A great speech. The gauntlet has been taken up.




P.S. An interesting little fact (or coincidence). From BreitbartNews.com:

President Donald Trump’s first photo-call in Poland after his arrival in Air Force One was with President Andrzej Duda and saw him sat beside an oil painting of a prominent figure in Polish history and folklore — the 17th-century king who kicked Islam out of Central Europe and is remembered as “the Hammer of the Turks”.
Warsaw’s Royal Palace, where the meeting took place — lavishly reconstructed after it was dynamited by Nazi German troops during the Second World War — benefits from a surfeit of grand rooms and hundreds of works of art.
From oils of kings and statesmen by artists such as Rembrandt to impressive murals and sculpture, the Polish authorities had a great deal of choice for where to host the symbolic first meeting of President Trump’s first European visit.
It may be seen as a remarkable coincidence, therefore, that of all the rooms and of all the paintings, they chose to sit President Trump besides a portrait of one of Poland’s best-known warrior kings. King Jan (John) III Sobieski is today remembered and celebrated in Poland, and elsewhere in Central Europe, for his pivotal role at the Battle of Vienna in September 1683.  [By Oliver JJ Lane, July 6, 2017]


A Portrait of King Jan Sobieski III hangs over President Trump’s right shoulder / AP IMAGE

July 13, 2017

Along the River Sile

I must confess that I didn't know about this before… I've just come across a very beautiful video about Treviso—the town where I live—and its river Sile (among the longest resurgence rivers in Europe). Subtitled in English and narrated by Red Canzian, a popular Italian musician in a band named The Pooh, the video is titled “Sile, oasi d’acque e di sapori” (Sile, oasis of waters and tastes). Hope you'll enjoy it!






PS: Check out some of the following links to learn more about the river Sile:

  1. Park of the River Sile
  2. Treviso–Mestre. From the River Sile to the Lagoon
  3. Along the River Sile in Treviso
  4. Ancient trades on the banks of the Sile
  5. Along the Sile River by Bike

June 3, 2017

Are We All Jay Gatsby?




Most of the big shore places were closed now and there were hardly any lights except the shadowy, moving glow of a ferryboat across the Sound. And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors' eyes—a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby's house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.
And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby's wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy's dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning——
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.


~ Francis Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby.




Francis Scott Fitzgerald
I’ve always loved the ending lines of The Great Gatsby, not just the last sentence, which is the one that is quoted the most, but, say, the last four paragraphs, which I tend to regard as, essentially, more of a poem than a piece of prose—while the ending line is, even on a formal level, very close to poetry, due to both a wave-like alliteration with the letter b, as we read the monosyllabic words “beat,” “boats,” “borne,” and “back,” and to being written almost in iambics (as we well know, iambic is a meter, often used in Shakespeare’s writing, that alternates stressed and unstressed syllables to create a da-DUM, da-DUM, da-DUM, da-DUM pattern).

But apart from the lyricism of these lines, I must confess that the more I get older, the more I understand how much truth there is in them. To a certain extent, they connect Gatsby to all of us. After all, by ending the way it does, the novel makes Gatsby explicitly represent all humans, “boats against the current” whose fate is already sealed since the very beginning of the story: being “borne back ceaselessly into the past,” or alternatively being frustrated in our dreams to restore a past that cannot return. One way or another, we are all losers. You can’t escape it. That’s also why Gatsby, Myrtle, and George Wilson die, and why no one come to Gatsby’s funeral. It all feels kind of empty and pointless, especially after all the effort that Gatsby put into trying to recreate his and Daisy’s love … Well, that empty feeling is basically the whole point.

At the same time we must remember that this is one side of the coin. The other side is that while all human beings appear to be condemned to an inevitable defeat, there’s a chance that our defeat might be only apparent. Take the most inevitable of defeats, the one against time. Whoever you are and whatever you do, you are subject to the inexorable law of time, and yet, in a way, time is not, by necessity, the last word, in just the way in which, for us Christians, death is not a disaster, but a new beginning—Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting? (1 Corinthians 15:54-55). In other words, death is not the last word for those who are believers in the resurrected Christ.

General Douglas MacArthur
As for time, if our body can’t help submitting to the laws of nature, the same cannot be said for our soul. Whether you want it to or not, the body gets old—sure, we may be able to slow down the process, but it cannot be reversed. On the contrary, the spirit may continue to be young, because, well, “youth is not a time of life; it is a state of mind; it is not a matter of rosy cheeks, red lips and supple knees; it is a matter of the will, a quality of the imagination, a vigor of the emotions; it is the freshness of the deep springs of life.” Or at least that’s the way Samuel Ullman put the whole thing in his poem “Youth.” But I couldn’t figure out a more eloquent and effective way of putting it, and general Douglas MacArthur—who hung a framed copy of a version of the poem on the wall of his office in Tokyo, when he became Supreme Allied Commander in Japan—probably couldn’t either.

“Youth,” the poet continues, “means a temperamental predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the love of ease. This often exists in a man of 60 more than a boy of 20. Nobody grows old merely by a number of years. We grow old by deserting our ideals.” Yes, courage, adventure, ideals—isn’t that what being young at heart and in spirit is all about? The rest of the poem is a glorious crescendo of joy and confidence..

Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul. Worry, fear, self-distrust bows the heart and turns the spring back to dust.

Whether 60 or 16, there is in every human being's heart the lure of wonder, the unfailing childlike appetite of what's next and the joy of the game of living. In the center of your heart and my heart there is a wireless station: so long as it receives messages of beauty, hope, cheer, courage and power from men and from the Infinite, so long are you young.

When the aerials are down, and your spirit is covered with snows of cynicism and the ice of pessimism, then you are grown old, even at 20, but as long as your aerials are up, to catch waves of optimism, there is hope you may die young at 80.

Samuel Ullman
What a great, simple lesson for all of us! Here, among these lines, is where F. Scott Fitzgerald’s melancholic and pessimistic view of life is bound to founder and, even more so, is proved to be wrong. And mind you, without calling into question metaphysical and/or religious beliefs, which are personal and subjective. If the inexorable law of time can be eluded, then there is still hope, nothing essential is lost. Or, to put it very simply, as Billy Graham says, “When wealth is lost, nothing is lost; when health is lost, something is lost; when character is lost, all is lost.” It’s up to you to live life to the fullest, to follow your dreams and make the world a better place for you and everyone.

May 21, 2017

Hypocrisy

I was chatting with a friend of mine the other day about the topicality of Dante’s Divine Comedy. What we both agreed upon was that the first of the three canticles of the poem, Inferno, is by far the most topical one. Nowhere else is there a more perfect description of human nature, its weakness, passions, miseries and sordidnesses. And nowhere else is there a deeper sense of justice in the face of sin and evil. We also agreed that the most topic among all the sins mentioned in the Comedy is hypocrisy.

Detail of miniature of Dante and Virgil encountering three couples of hypocrites, clad in gilt hoods, while on the ground are stretched Caiaphas and Annas, in illustration of Canto XXIII. (Tuscany, Siena?), 1444-c. 1450
London, British Library, Yates Thompson, 36 fol-42b Hypocrites



And now, down there, we found a painted people,
slow-motioned: step by step, they walked their round
in tears, and seeming wasted by fatigue.

All were wearing cloaks with hoods pulled low
covering the eyes (the style was much the same
as those the Benedictine wear at Cluny),

dazzling, gilded cloaks outside, but inside
they were lined with lead, so heavy that the capes
King Frederick used, compared to these, were straw.

O cloak of everlasting weariness!
We turned again, as usual, to the left
and moved with them, those souls lost in their mourning;

but with their weight tired-out race of shades
paced on so slowly that we found ourselves in
new company with every step we took;


(Inferno, Canto XXIII)




In fact, if we look at today’s world—particularly in the fields of politics, media, religion, and academia—you can’t help seeing that we’re surrounded by hypocrites—for the record, the word hypocrisy comes from the Greek ὑυπόκρισις (hypokrisis), which means “jealous,” “play-acting,” “acting out,” “coward” or “dissembling.”

We live in a “do as I say, not as I do” culture that is slowly breeding an entirely new generation of Pharisees, blinder than those who killed Jesus, where double-standards ARE the standard and double thinking is routine. What applies to Obama, Clinton, Podesta, etc. doesn’t apply to Trump and his men (and women), and vice versa. The same exact behavior is bad when someone you don’t agree with does it, but great when someone you do agree with does. We preach dialogue but practice monologue. We preach brotherhood but practice Cainhood. Our eleventh silent commandment is, “Preach sugar and honey, practice venom and vinegar.” This whole thing would be a farce if it were not a tragedy—not a small one, but a major tragedy in the rapidly darkening fortunes of the Western world.

Back to the main story, as everybody knows, in Dante’s Inferno there is a level for each sin committed, i.e. different circles, with the depth of the circle (and placement within that circle) symbolic of the amount of punishment to be inflicted. As the eighth of nine circles, Malebolge is one of the worst places in hell to be—and the only circle that has a proper name. Malebolge means evil ditches, or evil bolgias, and this Circle is dedicated to the sins of fraud, and each ditch is for a specific kind of fraud.

Dante and his guide, Virgil, make their way into Malebolge by riding on the back of the monster Geryon, the personification of fraud, who possesses the face of an honest man “good of cheer,” but the tail of a scorpion. In Bolgia Six lie the hypocrites. They are forced to wear heavy lead robes as they walk around the circumference of their circle. The robes are bright and golden on the outside, and resemble a monk’s cowl similar to the elegant ones worn by the Benedictine monks at Cluny, but are lined with heavy lead, symbolically representing hypocrisy. Just as Jesus compares hypocritical scribes and Pharisees to tombs that appear clean and beautiful on the outside while containing bones of the dead (Matthew 23:27).

By the way, who knows whether Dante knew that the specific weight of gold is much higher than that of lead? ;-) Be it as it may, I wish poetry could cure our moral diseases! The Divine Comedy would be our salvation! And instead we cannot but recall Eliot’s famous response when I.A. Richards took up Matthew Arnold’s cry, “it may be poetry will save us”: “it is like saying that wall-paper will save us when the walls have crumbled.” (T. S. Eliot, “Literature, Science, and Dogma,” Dial, 82, 1927: 243)

Interesting stuff, isn’t it? Maybe next time we’ll talk about the ninth circle: Betrayers...


Historiated initial ‘N’(el) of Dante and Virgil in a dark wood, with four half-length figures representing Justice, Power, Peace, and Temperance, with the arms of Alfonso V below, at the beginning of the Divina Comedia, Italy (Tuscany, Siena?), 1444-c. 1450, Yates Thompson MS 36, f. 1r

January 30, 2017

Hannah Arendt, St. Augustine and the Problem of Evil

Friday, January 27th was International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a time for people to both honor those killed under the Nazi regime and prevent future genocide. As every year at this time, I wanted to post something on the matter, but had a particularly busy day and didn’t have much time to jot down some ideas. I took advantage of the weekend and what follows is the result.




It is indeed my opinion now that evil is never ‘radical’, that it is only extreme, and that it possesses neither depth nor any demonic dimension. It can overgrow and lay waste the whole world precisely because it spreads like a fungus on the surface. It is ‘thought-defying’ […] because thought tries to reach some depth, to go to roots, and the moment it concerns itself with evil, it is frustrated because there is nothing. That is its ‘banality’. Only the good has depth and can be radical.


~ Hannah Arendt, Letter to Gershom (Gerhard) Scholem, July 24, 1963.




When in 1961 Nazi SS Lieutenant Colonel Otto Adolf Eichmann, one of the major figures in the organization of the Holocaust, was taken captive in Argentina by agents of the Israeli government and brought to trial in Jerusalem, the German-born Jewish-American writer and philosopher Hannah Arendt saw an opportunity to confront the “realm of human affairs and human deeds . . . directly.” And so it was that she decided to undertake a reporter’s job and started to report on the trial for The New Yorker magazine. Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, published in 1963, was the result of Hannah Arendt’s coverage of the trial, and one of the most controversial books of the 20th century.

Covering the trial Arendt used the phrase “the banality of evil,” a definition that has since become a classic. By the way, it wasn’t Arendt who first coined the phrase. In fact, in her correspondence with her mentor Karl Jaspers about the Nuremberg trials, the great German psychiatrist and philosopher highlighted a risk involved in the use by Arendt of the Kantian term radical evil to refer to the horrors of the Holocaust (her precise words, however, were that totalitarian terror had “the appearance of radical evil”): in his view it might endow perpetrators with a “streak of satanic greatness” and mystify their deeds in “myth and legend.” To escape this danger Jaspers emphasized the “prosaic triviality” of the perpetrators and coined the phrase “the banality of evil” to make his point. In reply Arendt agreed with this observation.

The distinction between radical evil and banality of evil is developed in detail in the above quoted letter to her friend Gershom Scholem, who along with many of her critics, accused Arendt of portraying Eichmann and other Nazi criminals not as hate-filled, anti-Semitic monsters but as petty bureaucrats, and of speaking openly about the role played by Jewish councils in the deportation and destruction of their own people. “It would have been very comforting indeed,” she wrote, “to believe that Eichmann was a monster […]. The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal.” (Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, London: Penguin, 1994, p. 276)

Scholem, also known as Gerhard Scholem, a German-born Israeli Jewish philosopher and historian, accused her of not having a love for the Jewish people, of using a “heartless, frequently almost sneering and malicious tone.” “Your account,” he wrote, “ceases to be objective and acquires overtones of malice.” Explaining why the Jewish critics at least were so upset by the book, Scholem wrote: “In the Jewish tradition there is a concept, hard to define and yet concrete enough, which we know as Ahabath Israel: ‘Love of the Jewish people....’ In you, dear Hannah ... I find little trace of this.” “I have little sympathy,” he added, “with that tone—well expressed by the English word ‘flippancy’—which you employed so often in the course of your book. To the matter of which you speak it is unimaginably inappropriate.” Arendt’s reply was unapologetic:

You are quite right – I am not moved by any ‘love’ of this sort, and for two reasons: I have never in my life ‘loved’ any people or collective – neither the German people, nor the French, nor the American, nor the working class or anything of that sort. I indeed ‘love’ only my friends and the only kind of love I know of and believe in is the love of persons. Secondly, this ‘love of the Jews’ would appear to me, since I am myself Jewish, as something rather suspect…. I do not ‘love’ the Jews, nor do I ‘believe’ in them; I merely belong to them as a matter of course, beyond dispute or argument.

Arendt’s reply also shows that, although she had suffered herself and witnessed the suffering of other Jews, she was not inclined to let these experiences overcome her ability to critically analyze the facts. Actually, she brought an independent and probing mind to her coverage of Eichmann trial. And that’s perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of her approach to the whole thing.

But let’s go back to the point—the banality of evil. What did she really mean by that? What she certainly did not mean was that evil had become ordinary, or that Eichmann had not committed an exceptional and, to some extent, unprecedented crime. What she actually meant was that, as it is explained in the above quoted excerpt from her letter to Gerhard Scholem, there is nothing in evil for thought to latch onto. The banality of evil is its own lack of depth. What is banal are not the murderous deeds per se, but the lack of depth in the evildoer Arendt faced in Jerusalem, and by consequence in the horrors he inflicted on his victims and on humanity at large.

It is especially interesting now to note that St. Augustine’s idea that evil is not something fully real but only something dependent on that which is more real—his account of the original nature of evil in the contexts of ontology, society and divine providence—in fact provides the basis for Arendt’s analysis of the banality of evil in the individual, the social, and the political spheres. As David Grumett put it in an article published in 2000, “[a] small amount of attention has been given to Arendt’s work on Augustine, though surprisingly none has focused on the concept of evil.” Arendt’s concept of the origin and nature of evil, he wrote, “is usually attributed to her personal experience of totalitarianism and later coverage of the trial of the Final Solution bureaucrat Adolf Eichmann. This however fails to give a full account. Its intellectual roots are rather to be found in her doctoral dissertation on Augustine, published in 1929.” ("Arendt, Augustine and Evil," in The Heythrop Journal, Volume 41, Issue 2, April 2000)

Especially in his early works, Augustine identifies evil negatively. Take the Confessions (7. 12. 18):

And it was made clear unto me that those things are good which yet are corrupted, which, neither were they supremely good, nor unless they were good, could be corrupted; because if supremely good, they were incorruptible, and if not good at all, there was nothing in them to be corrupted. For corruption harms, but, less it could diminish goodness, it could not harm. Either, then, corruption harms not, which cannot be; or, what is most certain, all which is corrupted is deprived of good. But if they be deprived of all good, they will cease to be. For if they be, and cannot be at all corrupted, they will become better, because they shall remain incorruptibly. And what more monstrous than to assert that those things which have lost all their goodness are made better? Therefore, if they shall be deprived of all good, they shall no longer be. So long, therefore, as they are, they are good; therefore whatsoever is, is good. That evil, then, which I sought whence it was, is not any substance; for were it a substance, it would be good. For either it would be an incorruptible substance, and so a chief good, or a corruptible substance, which unless it were good it could not be corrupted. I perceived, therefore, and it was made clear to me, that Thou made all things good, nor is there any substance at all that was not made by You; and because all that You have made are not equal, therefore all things are; because individually they are good, and altogether very good, because our God made all things very good.

Or Eighty-three Different Questions (6 “On Evil”):

Everything which is, is either corporeal or incorporeal. The corporeal is embraced by sensible form, and the incorporeal , by intelligible form. Accordingly everything which exists is not without some form. But where there is form there necessarily is measure, and measure is something good. Absolute evil, therefore, has no measure, for it lacks all good whatever. It thus does not exist, for it is embraced by no form, and the whole meaning of evil is derived from the privation of form.

But Augustine’s best known and most quoted definitions of evil are the ones he gave in Enchiridion: On Faith, Hope, and Love, Chapters 3 and 4:

And in the universe, even that which is called evil, when it is regulated and put in its own place, only enhances our admiration of the good; for we enjoy and value the good more when we compare it with the evil. For the Almighty God, who, as even the heathen acknowledge, has supreme power over all things, being Himself supremely good, would never permit the existence of anything evil among His works, if He were not so omnipotent and good that He can bring good even out of evil. For what is that which we call evil but the absence of good? In the bodies of animals, disease and wounds mean nothing but the absence of health; for when a cure is effected, that does not mean that the evils which were present—namely, the diseases and wounds—go away from the body and dwell elsewhere: they altogether cease to exist; for the wound or disease is not a substance, but a defect in the fleshly substance,—the flesh itself being a substance, and therefore something good, of which those evils—that is, privations of the good which we call health—are accidents. Just in the same way, what are called vices in the soul are nothing but privations of natural good. And when they are cured, they are not transferred elsewhere: when they cease to exist in the healthy soul, they cannot exist anywhere else. [Emphasis added]
[…]
From this it follows that there is nothing to be called evil if there is nothing good. A good that wholly lacks an evil aspect is entirely good. Where there is some evil in a thing, its good is defective or defectible. Thus there can be no evil where there is no good. This leads us to a surprising conclusion: that, since every being, in so far as it is a being, is good, if we then say that a defective thing is bad, it would seem to mean that we are saying that what is evil is good, that only what is good is ever evil and that there is no evil apart from something good. This is because every actual entity is good. Nothing evil exists in itself, but only as an evil aspect of some actual entity. Therefore, there can be nothing evil except something good.

In the light of the similarities between Augustine’s and Arendt’s concepts of evil, according to Philip Reiff, we are allowed to speak of “Arendt’s theology of politics.” (The Theology of Politics: Reflections on Totalitarianism as The Burden of our Time," Journal of Religion 32, 2, 1952, p. 119) As David Grumett puts it, though Arendt is not a specifically Christian thinker, “she in places laments the decline in acceptance of aspects of a Christian world-view.” “She does not, for instance, hold divine grace or the mediation of Christ as components of her thought, as Augustine does,” Grumett explains, “[s]he rather brings Augustine’s world-view, explored in her early study of Augustine, to bear on the modern and contemporary human condition.”

Perhaps it was from Augustine that Arendt learnt the importance for political thought of properly recognizing human sinfulness and worldly facticity if it is to confront the problem of the origin of evil. This is what makes her concept of the origin of evil and her existentialism valuable and believable.

To conclude, in David Grumett’s words, Arendt’s and Augustine’s “recognition of the existence of great evil in the world and of the facticity of human existence in the world” is far from pessimistic. “On the contrary, it is precisely by being content to live in the world that a human may do his or her part to safeguard its reality and protect it from evil.”

January 24, 2017

A Chance Encounter


This morning I had a chance encounter with an old priest—an 80-something-year-old man—whom I had known when I was in my twenties. At the time, he was a teacher at the Seminary of the Diocese of Treviso, but he also served as vice-parish priest in my then parish church in Treviso. I remember him as a very cultured, good-natured and amiable person. That’s also why I was really pleased to meet him after all this time. But the main reason why I was so happy about the chance encounter was that all these years I have always remembered something he told me once about how to read publicly the Word of God with effectiveness. Even then I was appalled by the sloppiness of so many lectors (and priests), so I asked him for some guidance on that matter. And he gave me what I asked for, and it was actually a great lesson. “The Word of God,” he told me, “is to be neither ‘recited,’ nor merely ‘read.’ It is to be ‘proclaimed.’” Proclaimed, with all that this implies (which is a lot of things, as you can easily figure out).

I told don Andrea (for such is his name) about this memory of mine, and he seemed to be pleased with that.

Sometimes it’s incredible how a simple sentence can become a sort of personal brand, to the extent that, in the mind of another person, a man perfectly coincides with a sentence he uttered decades ago. That’s also why we should be always very careful about what we say.. You never can tell what might become “your brand” in someone else’s imagination and memories!

January 23, 2017

Facebook Friends Lists


Recently a friend wrote in her timeline, “Evidently I've been talking to myself since Christmas. All my FB posts were privacy set to ‘Only me.’” That did automatically ring a bell for me, because something similar happened to me as well in the past—I don’t want to be too specific on that… Actually, it was frustrating and comic at the same time.

Nevertheless, such events have the power to bring attention to the wide range of opportunities Facebook offers us : you can decide—either once and for all or on a case-by-case basis—who (and where and when) can see your posts: Public, Friends, Friends of Friends, Only me, Custom (lists of friends, etc). Most users have their Facebook privacy set to Friends only or Friends of friends. As a rule I personally prefer the “Public” option, but from time to time and for specific purposes I may make exceptions—most of the times for reasons of respect and elegance.

However, and apart from specific preferences, what matters most is to make the best out of one’s Facebook account. For this purpose here are some suggestions and tips.