Backyards – Courtyards*

Sure, what Brecht used in his theatre and his theoretical considerations as Verfremdung, i.e. (a specific kind of) alienation has also its linguistic version, comes for across as linguistic Verfremdung.

Having previously spoken of the backyards, the Italian term is perhaps more telling: we speak of the

 cortile interno.[1]

And I also said

there may a good reason to finally open the also doors of the Villa Doria Pamphilj.

Finally then, I contended that

the others, the unknown, the unnamed, the dwarfs and voles didn’t take anything, in first instance.

In social science we know very much about the difficulty which is only in words easily overcome:

the individual being nothing without the social being nothing without the individual.

 Or we may of course also say

the social being nothing without the individual being nothing without the social

For instance we can refer to Norbert Elias. He stated

[t]hat the human being is a process is certainly one of the most fundamental of people’s experiences, but it is usually suppressed from thinking because of the overwhelming tendency of thought to reduce processes to state conditions.[2]

And he continued metaphorically

[o]ne may say that a person passes through a process, just as one says the wind blows, although the blowing is, of course, the wind.[3]

*****

Applying this relational aspect together with the thought of processuality, the story looks more difficult than social science commonly admits, even more so if we include the socio-hierarchical dimension. To put it into a simple (though difficult to answer) question: Can we really imagine development that starts from the premise of not taking anything as primary cause in the first instance? Can we imagine the beauty of a palace like the Villa Doria Pamphilj with initially open doors? – Or would that mean denial of causality?

In any case, there had been nearly always the two sides anyway, up to hitherto not really coming together, always contrasting the two sides, celebrating the one, barely mentioning that another had been involved, and even necessary. And the decisive questions had not been asked by many – Brecht however did:

Who built Thebes of the 7 gates?

In the books you will read the names of kings.

Did the kings haul up the lumps of rock?

 

And Babylon, many times demolished,

Who raised it up so many times?

 

In what houses of gold glittering Lima did its builders live?

Where, the evening that the Great Wall of China was finished, did the masons go?

 

Great Rome is full of triumphal arches.

Who erected them?

 

Over whom did the Caesars triumph?

Had Byzantium, much praised in song, only palaces for its inhabitants?

 

Even in fabled Atlantis, the night that the ocean engulfed it,

The drowning still cried out for their slaves.

 

The young Alexander conquered India.

Was he alone?

 

Caesar defeated the Gauls.

Did he not even have a cook with him?

 

Philip of Spain wept when his armada went down.

Was he the only one to weep?

 

Frederick the 2nd won the 7 Years War.

Who else won it?

 

Every page a victory.

Who cooked the feast for the victors?

 

Every 10 years a great man.

Who paid the bill?

 

So many reports.

 

So many questions.

*****

Two examples added, and possibly showing in a very drastic way the bloodshed on which much of bellezza, gloria e lustro are established.

Palazzo Vecchio in Firenze – there is somewhere at one of the houses surrounding the square a memorial plaque, reminding that the place where we see no the palace and the square had been offering at least a place where people lived. It describes as well that this offering a place had been actually not more, and even that is somewhat understating the reality: it had been a location which had been characterised by the nearness of the Arno: Mud, mosquitoes … –and of course the subsequent epidemics. Beauty then, with the building of the palace, replacing the misery, power emerging where the powerless lived.

– They are still on the reading list, but there is probably a good reason for Umberto Eco writing two separate volumes: one on Storia della bellezza, the other on Storia della bruttezza.

Tiny additions can be made to this short excursus to Florence, historical details, not (necessarily) following a chronological order and perhaps not even entirely true – as the real truth has to include asking all the questions of reading workers of which Brecht only mentioned a few.

Anyway, the Piazza della Signoria had been at some stage during antiquity also a roman theatre – some of the buildings structures apparently still showing signs of this period. And these theaters had been closely linked to the imperial idea of the panem et circenses – bread and games, of which we easily forget that many of these games had been actually deciding over life and death. And isn’t it striking that such a place is the birthplace of the early republic – the res publica, indeed claiming to give bread and games to the people, actually being the bread and games of the people.

And it still is also the place where Girolamo Savonarola had been executed in 1498. It surely says something that Claiming the Triumph of the Cross had been the crime for which he lost his life about the time when the Medici reclaimed power. And probably it had been claimed that all this had been in the name of the people – surely using other words than today’s court systems do.

In this light we have to be careful when we refer to the origin of bread and games. Juvenal used it in his satire X to reprimand the people’s numbness.

iam pridem, ex quo suffragia nulli

uendimus, effudit curas; nam qui dabat olim

imperium, fasces, legiones, omnia, nunc se

continet atque duas tantum res anxius optat,

panem et circenses.

Giordano Bruno, Girolamo Savonarola, Galilee Galileo … – even if they had not been really the people, they are examples for what happens if people are interested in more then bread and games.

Finally entering the palace, we find not just the overwhelming beauty, nearly not allowing us to see the scaffold behind it, the foundation on which it had been erected. The room where Niccolò Machiavelli had his office while being secretary of the new republic, actually employed by developing a strategy for the new prince, not enlightened as Frederick II suggested in his anti-Machiavelli. And as true as it is that Machiavelli’s position had not been clear (finally he also wrote the Discorsi sopra la prima Deca di Tito Livio), it is also true that during his time as servant of the republic the doors of his office showed to the Signoria, the rulers, and not to the people. And there had been still the door to chapel … – a new state, competing with the church and still being its servant, trusting its support … – So true even if we consider the work in the Stanza della Guardaroba – a collection of globes and maps of which the accuracy is even for today’s eyes of surprising precision: didn’t this clear view contradict the ongoing apotheosis. Or it is especially then true, showing the tensions between the new state, the ancient state, present in the two marble pillars, taken from a Roman temple, and the bridging Christianity. The claim of the latter had been clear: the universal state of god, the church speaking of

 umanesimo cristiano, umanesimo integrale, nuova cristiano

only really accepting universality and universal human rights with the Vatican II discourse in the early 1960s.

And in the middle of all this there had been another detail: a hidden room, the workshop of an alchemist, working on the new universalism – it had been known and mentioned in laments of Sophocles which had been mentioned elsewhere. .

Renaissance overcame the lament – instead, now gold and not least its monetarised form had been celebrated and ultimate goal. If it had not been achieved …

… another detail shows the Mephistophelean way: an invisible door leading to another hidden room, even more unknown and only having an entrance, not an exit.

It is the metaphor of what we know from the 24th chapter of Capital

At the historical dawn of capitalist production, – and every capitalist upstart has personally to go through this historical stage – avarice, and desire to get rich, are the ruling passions. But the progress of capitalist production not only creates a world of delights; it lays open, in speculation and the credit system, a thousand sources of sudden enrichment. When a certain stage of development has been reached, a conventional degree of prodigality, which is also an exhibition of wealth, and consequently a source of credit, becomes a business necessity to the “un- fortunate” capitalist. Luxury enters into capital’s expenses of representation. Moreover, the capitalist gets rich, not like the miser, in proportion to his personal labour and restricted consumption, but at the same rate as he squeezes out the labour power of others, and enforces on the labourer abstinence from all life’s enjoyments. Although, therefore, the prodigality of the capitalist never possesses the bona fide character of the open-handed feudal lord’s prodigality, but, on the contrary, has always lurking behind it the most sordid avarice and the most anxious calculation, yet his expenditure grows with his accumulation, without the one necessarily restricting the other. But along with this growth, there is at the same time developed in his breast, a Faustian conflict between the passion for accumulation, and the desire for enjoyment.

The second example, namely the Duomo in the same city. The plan, Brunelleschi submitted for the building of the cupola had been apparently so bold that there had been two reaction amongst the members of the jury: one group said that it would be impossible to build and somebody else should be granted the mandate; another group agreeing that the submission would be extremely bold – but presenting something of this kind would mean that one can only be completely convinced that there it must be possible – so they pleaded for granting the work to Brunelleschi. As the first group finally surrendered, the impossible architectural work had been undertaken. If one believes the legend, it could not be explained until today how this magnificent dome had been actually erected and one version claiming the explanation is that a “scaffold” of sand had been offering the support while the building work had been done; later the poor had been told that inside there would be coins … – so they found eager people doing the dirty work of cleaning the inside, thus actually making this beauty possible. Today, the beautiful fresco does not even allow to presage that something like this could have happened. It may be a rumour – and in any case there is one question to be added to those asked by Brecht.

*****

Taking then the terms together: backyard and cortile interno, we arrive at the different dimensions:

  • Backing something
  • Being internal, and thus element, i.e. elementary
  • Yard, providing the playing ground

And with a tiny alteration we may arrive at inferno on the one hand and courtesy on the other – a kind of arch that seems to characterise historical development, expressed markedly in 1848 in the Communist Manifesto where we read

The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.

If we read the text carefully we see that it is an in-depth analysis, arguing on four dimensions, looking at

  • the accumulation regime
  • the mode of regulation
  • the living regime
  • the mode of life

These are four dimensions that clearly mark the dialectical relationship between the different levels: there is no economic determinism – instead we are dealing with people who are constituted as actors, responsible for their own life; but it also argues that the hegemonies are not simply a result of one class being superior. The hegemonic power is established by linking the two, the accumulation regime and the living regime, wage labour being the major brace; mode of regulation and mode of life, the major brace being consumption which makes many political scientists speak of ‘political markets’ and stands behind the notion of the so-called consumerist societies.

*****

Walking through Rome then (and it could be any other place), we actually walk in two dimensions: following the footsteps of the great men of history and on the backs of those who had to provide the floor on which these people could walk.

Though the fundamental structure is very much the same throughout history – captured in the German Ideology by emphasising that

[t]he production of ideas, of conceptions, of consciousness, is at first directly interwoven with the material activity and the material intercourse of men, the language of real life

the patterns, the design of these historical carpets varies.

*****

I talked recently with Birgit who said that some generous spending: e.g. for renting a car without chasing the best offer is not least about “buying time”, gaining leisure time as pleasure time. And after chatting a bit about this, she asked

But what are people coming to Rome want to buy? What is the special pleasure, the experience they are looking for when coming to the so-called eternal city?

No lo so ma sospetto – it is really only an assumption, or a mosaic, a patchwork that possibly merges to some entity, entirety …

… eternality. In any of the areas, perhaps even more those that are closed to the eyes of tourists, it seems that development stopped – better to say: that development took place as maintenance. Not the conversation we find in museums but the functioning of a system with at least many traditional, archaic patterns. Coming here somebody may easily feel in some way time-displaced –and living here is in some respect not so different: it is a bit like living in an encapsulated world with its own laws. Approaching it from another end we may take Norbert Elias’ words who looks at an

era during which functions of protection and control of the individual, previously being pursued by the tighter associations of birth as clans or village, estate owner, guild or estate are transferred on highly centralised and increasingly urbanised statuary associations (Staatsverbaende). In response to this shift the individuals, when grown up, leave these tight, local associations based on birth and providing protection. Their cohesion is lowering according to the increasing loss of the functions of protection and control. And the individual being is within the wider, highly centralised and increasingly urbanised state societies to a larger extent depending on his/her own positioning. There is an increasing mobility of the individuals – understood as local and as social mobility[4]

And actually – sure, using a broad brush, being in danger of missing many other parts – much of what Elias says about the traditional settings – is the admirable charm of the Roman eternity. But what makes it even more charming is that fact that all this is merging closely with modernity: yes, there are buses and not horse carts though many people complain about them; yes, there is a developed system of police and public administration not the antique system of legionaries – and there is still the campanalista even in the city. Referring to campagna, i.e. the countryside, and perhaps not knowing, at least not being aware of two other close links: campanile is the Italian term for bell tower; and campagna also translates into campaign, even if it may only be a campaign for the dole vita.

– Is it then surprising that within the confines of Rome there is the real eternal city, the city state of the Vatican? Indeed it is simple to draw a line:

Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth! Break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the Lord has comforted his people, and will have compassion on his suffering ones.[5]

Hic Rhodos – Hic Salta

 But what are people coming to Rome want to buy? What is the special pleasure experience here in the so-called eternal city?

Well, perhaps it is then the experience of being gladiator in the urban jungle, knowing that even in the confines of the Colosseo there are no lions; knowing that the modern emperor will with all his pomp finally not emerge as new Caesar or Nero.

And still it may be exactly this power that is perversely looked for: the string leader that cannot called for in the real world and that could maintain against the odds the claim of justice in this eternal externality. It remains for me an irresolvable riddle how it is possible that an island can be and is maintained that suggests a little bit a communist habitus ….

… dressed in the habit of the “professional believers”, people are allowed to live in some kind of idyll. Doesn’t much remind us a bit of what we read in the German Ideology about

communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, to fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I have in mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd or critic.

… but it surely is only some kind of idyll …

… at least as long as this world, this system of faith with its very specific institutions allows the many sleeping rough on the doorsteps while proclaiming that

this capitalism kills

not acknowledging being ultimately part of it.

… but it surely is only some kind of idyll …

… at least as long as this world, this system of faith goes hand in hand with unbelievable material wealth – not just the cathedrals, churches and others but also when we look at the wealth of everyday’s life: It is so present that the present pope had to emphasise that he only has a simple cross, if it is true: made from iron, in any case distinct from the pomp of predecessors.

… but it surely is only some kind of idyll …

… at least as long as this world, this system of faith with its very specific institutions that are internally split …, not by different opinions but by power interests.

… but it surely is only some kind of idyll …

… at least as long as this world, this system of faith with its very specific institutions rebuke even an alternative within their own world, not seeing themselves as instrument of liberation.

Nel suo ultimo viaggio in America centrale e riferendosi al Nicaragua, [Giovanni Paolo II] annunciò la morte di questa teologia [i.e. della Teologia della Liberazione], avvenuta dopo la morte del marxismo. …[6]

And

Ecco il contesto di questo affermazione: a settembre del 1984 il cardinale Ratzinger aveva condannato duramente la Teologia della Liberazione ….

Isn’t it striking that Francis now condemns hierarchy, refuses to accept the pomp and vehemently criticises this capitalism, but is also ultimately joining this choir refusing liberation?

… but it surely is only some kind of idyll …

… at least as long as it is only for those who believe in god, but not for those who truly believe in mankind, in human beings being able to interact as people, who are consciously social actors.

… but it surely is only some kind of idyll …

… at least as long as it is not clear to themselves and everybody

No saviour from on high delivers

No faith have we in prince or peer

Our own right hand the chains must shiver

Chains of hatred, greed and fear

*****

Morning walks … – a little bit exercise every morning, the air still reasonably clean, the traffic limited, where I live there are few people around: some flower shops open – actually open the entire night as the shop keeper can save this way the money for a bedroom; few people around: in some house entrances people cleaning the corridors and court yards; the news paper stands begin to open, some bars preparing for caffè e cornetto … . Women going to work – a few of them I know by now, early in the morning they smile at me, somewhat confused shy, sheepishly … – and while they walk further they turn the eyes down again, the face being covered by the Christian headscarf. They open the gates of one of the palaces from which I hear already the singing of chorals behind the doors, preparing for the day. And as their own, closed society of the faithful

regulates the general production

it

makes it possible for [them] to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, to fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as [they] have in mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd or critic.

Morning walks … – a little bit exercise every morning, the air still reasonably clean, the traffic limited, where I live there are few people around – a little bit later,

Sunday, at about 7 a.m.,

Via Ombrone: A middle aged man being busy with polishing the black Merc – for the family trip into the countryside? Or for any boss to be driven to the airport? Or …?

Sunday, at about 7 a.m.,

Via Regina Margherita, just around the corner the doors of ENEL – energia alla tu vita as they say – energy for your life: CSR and CER – corporate social and environmental responsibility … an enormous heat coming from the basement …; the guy from security services looking checking the charging stations for the ENEL-e-cars. Yes: CER, and the CSR ad tells us about flexible working time – of course especially for women, allowing a healthy “work-life balance” …

Sunday, at about 7 a.m.,

Via Arno: A man, covered by a woollen blanket, turning around – I cannot really see him, do not get a hint to guess his age; he is trying to turn around, trying to sleep a little longer, having enough time – no family to be driven to the countryside, no need to go to the airport …

CSR – he sleeps under the eaves of the ENEL-building …

Sunday, at about 11:37 a.m.,

Via di Villa Patrizi: a helicopter is leaving nearby, only a short time earlier they arrived there. Presumptions, sure …: an emergency case, admission to the hospital. Sure, only presumptions …:

  • the driver of a Merc, dangerously overtaking whiled driving to the airport;
  • members of a family, a car speeding on one of the country roads, just outside of Rome – the driver trying to “make the most of the weekend”
  • a homeless person, having been injured by a passing car while he stepped out of his “home”: a place in one of the tunnels at the outskirts of the city – such “new settlements” under bridges, in house entrances, in parks and green belts along the city wall are increasingly visible
  • a person who had been desperately disappointed, having lost perspectives …, trying to find the “final solution to the problems” but having been “rescued” though still without hope of being saved.

Presumptions, sure … – and the names of streets can be changed Canterbury Street, Bismarck Strasse, Rue de Pasquale, Youyi Rd, Komsomolskaya Square, Carrer dels Mercaders, Grevgatan, Dongja-dong, Yongsan-gu; the cities are diverse, not only in Europe

Presumptions, sure … – but also a question or two: what is speed when it is disjoined from its meaning? what is the “value” of a life? and why do we wait, then paying the high price although we could do much more with less if we look earlier at the cost?

And there is surely one more general question: Although street names can be changed, are contingent, there is something that is probably not … – you may want to know about the patricians who once lived in the Villa Patrizi, and all those people who gave the names to many streets …

But what are people coming to Rome want to buy? What is the special pleasure experience here in the so-called eternal city?

What kind of idyll is it

… even if it surely is only some kind of idyll?

Part of it is surely that the borders between private and public, between individuals and institutions, between past and presence are in some way blurring, this strange setting that allows people to forget, allowing charisma to develop and take over. Or taking the words from Goethe’s Journey to Italy, the more secular version reads like this:

Wenn man so eine Existenz ansieht, die zweitausend Jahre und darüber alt ist, durch den Wechsel der Zeiten so mannigfaltig und vom Grund aus verändert, und doch noch derselbe Boden, derselbe Berg, ja oft dieselbe Säule und Mauer, und im Volke noch die Spuren des lateinischen Charakters, so wird man ein Mitgenosse der großen Ratschlüsse des Schicksals, und so wird es dem Betrachter von Anfang schwer zu entwickeln, wie Rom auf Rom folgt, und nicht allein das neue auf das alte, sondern die verschiedenen Epochen des alten und neuen selbst aufeinander.[7]

The question from the beginning remains unanswered

Can we really imagine development that starts from the premise of not taking anything as primary cause in the first instance? Can we imagine the beauty of a palace like the Villa Doria Pamphilj with initially open doors? – Or would that mean denial of causality?

And probably it is even the wrong question – it is in now way historical to asks for different pathways of the past.

But looking at it – and merging Dichtung und Wahrheit with Sturm and Drang is surely allowing us to move forward in different ways: not denying the beauties but acknowledging the even more by opening the doors further, opening the doors not least for the producers, allowing all of them

to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, to fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I have in mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd or critic.

 

* These reflections are also part of the wider considerations in the context of writing two book  contributions,  I had been asked to write: one on liberation theology, the other on a presumed “Vatican Spring”

[1]            Of course, the English also knows the back courtyard but it is not really used often, is it?

[2]            Elias, Norbert, 1980/81: Social Process Models on Multiple Levels; in: Elias, Norbert: Essays III. On Sociology and the Humanities; Dublin: University College Dublin Press, 2009: 40-42; here 41

[3]            Elias, Norbert, 1980/81: Social Process Models on Multiple Levels; in: Elias, Norbert: Essays III. On Sociology and the Humanities; Dublin: University College Dublin Press, 2009: 40-42; here 41

[4]            Elias, Norbert, 1939: Die Gesellschaft der Individuen; in Norbert Elias. Gesammelte Schriften. Edited on behalf of the Norbert Elias Stichting, Amsterdam. Vol. 10; Frankfurt/M.: Suhrkamp, 2001: 166 – translation P.H.

[5]            Isaiah 49: 13

[6]            Regidor, José Ramos, 2010: Teologia della Liberazione: Diritti umani, diritti dei poveri, diritti della Terra; in: Boff, Leonardo/Boff, Clodovis/Regidor, José Ramos: La Chiesa dei Poveri. Teologia della Liberazione e diritto dell’uomo; Roma: Datanews: 53-158; here: 89

[7]            Italienische Reise 21 ??; http://gutenberg.spiegel.de/buch/3682/21

 

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