I am a man of Rome, Italy. Some of my ancestors, many centuries ago, were already citizens of Rome. So I guess I am a real Roman, or sort of, since some barbaric blood must unquestionably flow in my veins, Germanic probably and Gallic from the Alpine region.
My mother tongue is Italian, not very different from the Latin spoken by the common people at the times of the late Roman Empire.
The reason I am attempting to communicate in this Northern language – which I do not master entirely and which, though a bit chilly to my heart, I find not entirely deprived of charm – is that variety excites me like a drug and I am tired of talking mostly to my countrymen, this lingua franca, English, allowing me hopefully a wider exchange of ideas.
Why this blog
One reason, I have said, is wider communication.
But what can a Roman of today say to the world? Such a big statement (if there weren’t the Web to make it not entirely such.)
I think it is a great privilege to be born and to be raised here, such a special place, to the extent that something must have penetrated, something distinctive and worthy of being transmitted – in order to be able, in our turn, to receive.
I hope for comments from Western and non-Western people, since Rome and the Romans have a mediation nature that comes from the Mediterranean.
Rome in some way is more Mediterranean than European.
However, as she was already universal during the ancient Roman days, she has continued to be universal as a religious centre, like Mecca or Jerusalem, which makes Rome something way beyond Europe (*).
Religion will not be a central topic here (there excepting ancient religions, of course) since, greatly respecting all faiths I personally have none, being an agnostic.
I like to think that I am similar to those Romans of the past who counted mostly on knowledge and reason (the followers of Epicure, Ἐπίκουρος – one among many possible ancient examples.)
Three Reasons for Uniqueness
Ages have passed since this great city was the capital of the known world, this role now being played by New York, London or Shanghai, perhaps.
Rome is though unique in the first place because “among all the greatest cities of the ancient world – Nineveh, Babylon, Alexandria, Tyre, Athens, Carthage, Antiochia – she is the only one that has continued to exist without any interruption, never reduced to a semi-abandoned village but rather finding herself often in the middle of world events and, equally often, paying for that a price (**).”
Secondly, and more importantly, Rome is the city of the soul (as Byron, Goethe and Victor Hugo put it,) of our authentic Western soul, since Europe and the West were shaped here and these roots are sacred – to me surely, and I think and hope to most of us.
These roots we have to rediscover in order to better open up to others in a new spirit of humanitas and conciliation (two chief components of the everlasting Roman mind.)
We all here in the West must encourage a totally new attitude which may enable us to better face both our present crisis of values and the radical changes looming ahead which might cause our swift decline.
Lastly, Rome, the eternal city, is unique because she is also one of the most beautiful cities in the world, if not the most beautiful.
Beyond her imperial testimonies, her stupendous urban spaces and squares, even small piazzas and alleys radiate that “sacred aura” which comes from the millennia and to which ever increasing multitudes from every land come to pay their tribute.
The capital of our beloved and civilised French cousins, Lutetia Parisiorum (it’s how the Romans called Paris, after the Parisii, a tribe of the Gallic Senones,) was not but a village until the year 1000 AD. “1700 years younger than Rome! It shows, one can feel it (***).”
Fragments Sent in a Bottle
Scattered fragments of this special identity inserted in a bottle and sent across the Web: this shall be the activity of this blog.
The conveyor of the message is not so important in relation to the greatness of the source and to one ingredient this conveyor might, willingly or unwillingly, possess: he perhaps being like a fossil from a distant past which is dead though, astoundingly enough, alive yet in so many Italians.
Let us admit it. In some central and especially southern areas of this country, minds and habits survive that may puzzle foreigners, historical remnants whose disadvantages towards modernity appear evident. Are they only disadvantages?
All Things Considered
This and other topics will be discussed here by a 60-year-old Roman (2014: 66) whose knowledge can be located at a medium level, with interfaces towards the upper and the lower layers of knowledge.
He will try his best to transmit something useful to others (and to himself) having been an ancient-history & literature educator for 16 years, then converted to Systems Engineering & Training for the last 14 years.
He hopes this blog will allow him to brush up humanities back, which is daunting at his age (not to mention the crazy idea of blogging in English, Italian and bits of other languages.)
Andreas Kluth, the Hannibal man, asked me to write something about Gramsci in 300 words. I failed. These are 795 words.
I studied Gramsci in my twenties and he surely helped me greatly. I think important to say his thought to be:
1) in progress, more formative to me than any sedentary conclusions, building up upon a list of themes & reflecting on them in fragmentary notes from thousands of different viewpoints and within a dreadful context – fascism arising, jail isolation, uncertainty for his own life. All so compelling and mind expanding;
2) dialogic and dialectic.
Dialogic. G’s ideas bounce on one another also in relation to other authors’ even-opposite ideas – Gramsci ‘discusses with the enemy’ so to say. A solitary dialogue though, since jail solitude brought him to solipsism, which creates like a tragic, bewitching (and a bit claustrophobic) atmosphere.
The many ‘tools’ he created such as ‘cultural hegemony’ (close to ‘seduction’), or his notion of ‘intellectuals’, stem from such inner dialogue, which can be baffling to people used to clear definitions – I well understand – but, such brain storming is contagious and the attentive reader is taught to form his / her mental dialogues on anything he / she researches.
Dialectic. It refers to Heraclitus & Hegel, implying that all in history is ‘becoming’ & a contradictory process with actions, reactions, conciliations etc. Gramsci’s dialectic is concrete, anti-idealistic. For example, the Rousseauesque pedagogy – the ‘laissez-faire’ of ‘active’ schools – was seen by him as a reaction to the coercive Jesuitical schools, so not good or bad ‘per se’. But he tried to favour an education where both the elements of discipline and fascination were present.
Any idea had to be seen in its historical context and was hence transient (Marxism included.) When the Russian revolution burst he wrote it was a revolution ‘against the Capital’ (ie against Marx’s theories,) a scandal within the Comintern.
In many respects he considered America much more progressive than Stalin’s Russia;
3) polymathic. Gramsci is wide-ranging, like the men of the Renaissance. Besides there are similarities between his ideas and Leonardo da Vinci’s, and their writing styles too;
5) anti-élite.Anti-chic, and certainly not the ‘smoking Gitanes and wearing black turtlenecks’ type of intellectual – to quote Andreas -, to him knowledge & refinement are not classy and must be spread to everyone. Born to a backward Sardinian peasant milieu he had succeeded in becoming a great European intellectual, which made him believe that everyone could be a philosopher at various degrees, and that a solid education of the working class was possible;
6) greatly written.Croce, Gramsci, Gobetti, Gentile were all great writers, like Hegel and Marx were. G’s texts are like permeated by a Hölderlin’sHeilige Nüchternheit (sacred sobriety.) As Giorgio Baratta observes, “his style, sober and exact, opens wide spaces that make the reader fly, but the flight is not grandiloquent.” His works have been recognized since they were first published as masterpieces of our language and literature. His Prison Letters have the depth of Tolstoy, an author close to him in many respects;
7) historic. Italian, European and world history are considered, from the end of the ancient Roman Republic onwards, and innumerable aspects are analysed. For a young Italian like me it meant an invaluable know-yourself experience. What I had passively learned at school could finally bear some fruit, also the teachings of my father, that I could fully appreciate only after reading Gramsci.
Gramsci’s history is as close to us as family’s history can be. It’s his magic. It touches the soul deeply.
It is also the concrete history of ideas circulating in the various socio-economic groups at a given time, with catalogues of magazines, newspapers, movements, intellectuals (often categorized with humorous nicks: it’s his peasant culture showing now and then), with the aim of understanding the currents and exact mechanisms of cultural hegemony.
He does that as for Italy, other European and non European countries. He analyses the elements that, in his view, make the United States the ‘hegemonic force’ in the world and also identifies like some cracks in this hegemonic structure, in their being too virgin and too young as a nation, with a melting pot of too many cultures.
Too long a story. Americanism in Gramsci is so crucial I’m thinking of a post where, in a dialogue occurred in the 30s, a few fictional European characters try to explain to readers their view of America, ie Gramsci’s view.
The United States – as Gramsci put it – are “the greatest collective effort ever existed to create with unheard of rapidity and a consciousness of purpose never seen in history a new type of worker and man.”
PS. Gramsci and Croce are well known in the English-speaking countries. The British ex prime minister Gordon Brown said Gramsci was one of his mentors. No idea if this is complimenting Gramsci or not… 🙂
As for the human mind, I’ve often thought about the metaphor of the museum.
Our mind, one of the functions of our brain ‘and other parts of our body’ (Sledpress’ objection I found interesting,) contains and allows that we manifest the infinite traces of our past (past conceptions, language, behaviours) from Stone Age or earlier onwards. Evolution enters the equation, but we will leave it alone for now.
Whatever world region we are from, we should be concerned about probing such repository I believe, that is our roots or cultural ID.
Language is an important portion of this ID. What a great digging tool for example etymology is, ie history of words (shown a bit in our previous post, see a good on-line tool) although lots of things are there well beyond words (see points I and IV below.)
A few examples, to better understand.
(Italian-mind related, but they could hopefully work as a method example to different minds as well)
“Not long ago my friend Mario took me for a drive on his stupendous vintage 1960 Lancia Flavia (see image below.) Mario is from Naples, a South Italian city founded by the Greeks in the 8th cent. BCE.
On the way back I exclaimed merrily: ‘Diavolo, this car is a gem, it has rolled as smoothly as olive oil!’
Mario snapped with a worried look: “Hush! hush! Don’t you say that!”
I well knew what he meant:
“Oh please you shut the hell up! Do you want the car to break down or anything bad to happen to us?” as if the mereutterance of happiness would attract ill luck or the envy from someone … Well, the envy from whom?
The ancient classical Greeks (V cent. BCE) believed their gods lived an eternal blissful life and envied men tooprosperous that dared to get close to their happiness. They then humbled and punished them. That ‘too prosperous’ means it was excess and arrogance (ὕβρις) that was basically abhorred by the Olympian gods, which made people afraid of showing their happiness, or of being arrogant. It was like a socio-religious regulation valve, plus a factor without a doubt of the mostly upper-class (tho not exclusively) marvellous ‘5th cent. BC’ Greek perfect equilibrium.
Now, 2400 years later (!) people in Southern Italy and Greece are still afraid of expressing satisfaction when things are going WELL, lest ‘something’ might spot them and whack them.
Such a great item in their museum mind allow me to say!!
A personification of Goddess Fortuna (“they invoked their fortune”) seen as something capricious (“the tricks of fortune”) is deeply impressed in modern Western minds and language;
The wheel of fortune also used in many popular TV shows is a survival of the goddess, often represented with a wheel at her side (read more)
III.When we say ‘deep in my heart‘ or ‘she / he broke my heart’ we refer to a scientific superseded idea that the heart, and not the brain, is the seat of emotions. The Stoics saw in the heart the seat of the soul, Aristotle the seat of reason and emotion, the Roman physician Galenus the seat of emotions etc.
Another great mind item this laughter – I must record it some day – that belongs to the modern Roman mind, certainly not to the Greek one, modern or non modern.
Update. Here is a sample of such laughter. Click on these words to listen to it: Marina’s (and MoR’s) laughter.
In short, before more details if you will
There’s like a hugemessyarchive in our head so stuffed with things that just beg to be organized a bit and come to light.
Let’s get it all out dear readers. With meditation, concentration and fertile idea-exchanging let us make that inventory my good old Mentor used to mention us when we were so young.
As for my own cultural ID, I am trying to dig a bit with the present blog.
[see in-depth details from our posts. Skip the first section – similar to the above writing – and start reading from Socrates’ T-shirt big face onwards – like the one above]
The previous post on the Roman Jews had kicked off an interesting conversation with readers and especially with Lichanos on a theme central in this blog: Romanness past and present.
Huge topic, I know.
Lichanos’ energizing comments have though compelled me to clarify and integrate what I had in mind. I really thank ALL my readers for their contribution. Discussion helps to clarify and enrich lumpy mind stuff still at an intuition stage (see my method post.)
My friend Mario has told me recently: “You are exploiting your commentatori”.
Roman-like, and using polite words in my translation, I told him he better shut his helluva mouth up.
So what Davide Limentani said is probably true: the Roman Jews are the most ancient Romans surviving. The origin of their roman-ness appears to be prior to the era of the Flavian Emperors. Actually Jews have lived in Rome for over 2,000 years!
I don’t understand why you say the Jews are the most ancient Romans. What about non-Jews whose families have been in Rome just as long? Or are there none, what with migration, free movement, and the currents of history? Are you saying that the ghetto and the social restrictions on Jews kept their community intact all that time while others dissolved? THAT would be quite an irony!
Yes, the ghetto, the social restrictions and the tenacious interrelation ethnicity / religion / nationality typical of the Jews helped them to remain sort of intact compared to other Romans, I believe.
Are they Roman, Jewish or both? Both in my view. And their Roman side is very ancient, there’s a lot of evidence: their cooking, their behaviours, their vernacular sooo Roman and archaic to our ears. I mean, why shouldn’t they be Roman? After living in Rome and beholding the Tiber for 2,000 years …
An irony? Romanness has nothing to do with an ethnic group. It’s cultural transmission, like at the (multi-ethnic) times of the Empire.
Touché! The stereotype inverted! I was thinking it was ironic because Jews are usually thought of as the “other – not us” group, so it seemed ironic that they would be the most Roman. Of course the Jews are the most Roman, stands to reason given their history there…
MoR Jews … usually thought of as the “other – not us” group
A bit being due to elements of the Jewish culture, people who see the Jews as aliens are either racist, stupid or narrow-minded (I’ll bypass the religious fanatics). Variety is what makes life interesting! Plus they are usually very intelligent, which is not bad these days.
My personal take on Romanness has been pruned from the above conversation for the sake of readability. See the upcoming post for it. The Roman Jews (2) writing will soon follow.
These are confusing days in my life for no apparent reason. A project started a few years ago, possibly one of the most important in my life, is now finally reaching its conclusion. I should feel happy, I should feel like one with a stronger grip on reality, but I feel vague instead, with things to do escaping my control and piling up in messy ways while quake aftershocks accompany our days and nights.
A few days ago, in Destination Infinity‘s stimulating blog, I read about 5 Japanese concepts (the 5 Jap Ss) useful for managing anything, from our storeroom to our daily work. I’ll quote DI and highlight the words I found more beneficial to my present state of mind:
“Seiri– Put things in order. Arrange, sort. Keep only the essential items – Discard the unessential ones.
Seiton – Proper arrangement. Set in order. There should be a place for everything and everything should be in their place. They should be reached easily when needed.
Seiso – Clean. Keep things clean and polished so that you would love to work with them. This cleaning should be a part of daily work – not after things get messed up!
Seiketsu– Purity and Standardization. Operate in consistent fashion to yield consistent results.
Shitsuke – Sustaining the discipline. Maintaining and reviewing standards. Once the previous 4 Ss have been established, they become a new way to operate. But if there is a suggested improvement or a new tool, then a review of the 4 Ss is appropriate.”
This weird period of stress is probably the reason why almost every evening, on our small terrace overlooking the roofs of Rome, I have one or two shots of limoncello. As Lola put it, “it is Italy’s most famous after dinner liqueur. I like mine tart, zesty, not too sugary, ice cold and dreamy – she says, and adds:
“The homemade booze is always a million times better than the bottled, so here’s the secret to lavish limoncello.”
I’ll let you read her recipe and post on limoncello. Learn the art of Italian cooking from a creative woman whose roots are both from Italy and the US.
Merry Saturnalia to all of you! Well, was Saturnalia the ancient Roman Christmas? Mary Beard, professor in classics at Cambridge, sheds here some light (I have to thank EternallyCool for the above picture – from the British Times, probably – and for the link).
[Know more on Saturnalia by reading our two posts : 1 & 2]
Now, this research blog being based on dialogue my friend Mario asked me a few questions. I solicited him to be slightly rude. I think he loved it. Here is an excerpt of our conversation that may provide some information on the nature of this blog, Man of Roma.
Mario. Yours is a thoughtful blog. Why the hell are you talking of dialectic thought? Sounds like one of those school nightmares. It is not at all clear.
MoR. I simply mean that in the Man of Roma’s blog thought unfolds like in a dialogue at three levels. First we have a dialogue in the mind of the writer, who is searching and striving for greater clarity. Since it is though necessary to get out of one’s mind’s boundaries, we also have a dialogue with external authors, dead or alive.
Mario. You mean books?
MoR. Yes, books, mostly. Good books in general, and classics in particular. We need to rise above the superficiality of every-day life. We need some depth in our daily routine. A good read allows to do this in a way accessible to all.
Mario. Sounds so bookish. Is this what you’re proposing to the young? The ideal of the stuffy bookworm instead of the active person who delves into the real world?
MoR. Books imply some danger, like everything. If they are an excuse for escapism, they are no good medicine. We have to find inspiration in the Italian intellectuals of Humanism and Renaissance. Petrarch was writing letters to Livy and Cicero, who had lived more than one thousand years before him.
Mario.Checcavolo, are you sure?
MoR. Of course, and he was all but nuts. He started humanism. And when, after a few generations, Machiavelli returned home he used to take off his dusty clothes and after cleaning himself and wearing a decorous attire he entered his library in order to have dialogue with the minds of ancient men. He asked questions. They replied. Nothing bookish about it. These Renaissance men were looking for inspiration. They seemed to look at the past but they were preparing the future. Something not easy to understand today. It was this New Learning which empowered Europe. My method post explains in detail my view of dialectics. The importance of classics is also explained here and here.
Mario. I see. But aren’t you interested in a dialogue in real time with living people? (I think we can continue eating our Carbonara, what d’ya think?)
MoR. (Savouring Carbonara with his good friend and sipping nice red wine from Cerveteri) Of course I am interested in living people, and here comes the third level, the dialogue with the readers of this blog, or with friends (like you), with colleagues, acquaintances. Real life conversation is delightful (Fontana Morella red – or white – wine is cheap but very good) though the experience of a blog written in English has been amazing. It has allowed me to engage dialogue with people from so many parts of the world: America, UK, India, Sri Lanka, Canada, China, Sweden etc. So stimulating and thrilling! (even though sometimes I talk too much)
[A long pause. Food needs its indulgent rite]
Mario. In short, your blog is based on the technique of dialectics which involves a dialogue carried out 1) within your mind, 2) among minds (mostly through books) and 3) with blog readers and people you meet in real life.
MoR. Yes, that’s the idea. Don’t know exactly where all this will take me, but it’s the core of it all. Being a dilettante philosopher (of the streets of Rome) I’m not content with just blogging, I need a method in my blogging. It remains to be seen if this will bring any fruit.
We leave the small terrace overlooking the tiled Roman roofs. The air is fresh. It has been raining a lot recently.
I am on a trip around California. Having no time for writing, I’ll propose again a few lines from my method post that express the initial inspiration of this blog.
A sort of naïve enthusiasm is to be noted. Well, nothing can be achieved without enthousiasmos, a Greek word meaning “a rapturous inspiration like that caused by a god.” Big words, I know.
Let us Have Fun, my Delectable Guests
“Let us have fun, my delectable guests. Life should be fun! Let us imagine we are in early summer when the evening sea breeze, or ponentino, is so delightful. I’m inviting you all from every civilization, country, era space location. I am inviting you ALL to this virtual Roman terrace, overlooking the eternal city’s magnificent skyline.
Rome, loose woman and she-wolf, is watching attentive. Is she smiling?
Dinner after dinner, amid flowers perfumed and aromas from dishes exquisite, in front of a breathtaking spectacle of glories and defeats, coming from a civilization of hard & refined conquerors, who always accepted those who were – and are – diverse, and their gods, and their creeds, and philosophies and manners …
… here, sweet guests of mine, let us enjoy our life a bit! Away from all the sorrows, away from all the pains, let us discuss on themes light, silly and severe. Good food will not be missing, together with good music (another guest of ours, of course) and plenty of delicious wine and, naturally, no real objection to a pot of good beer (or cervesia), once in a while.
Playing being simple, playing being easy: all it takes is good food, good music, and good good company, most of all!
While I was writing, music and red vino di Montalcino were helping me to fly high.”
We talked about Country Philosopher before (in two earlier posts at least, 1 and 2). We said how he is free from doubt and how his argumentations, often categorical and at times naïve, are however not deprived of interest and of this ancient fascination so hard to explain.
In the following passage, freely summarized and which will hopefully better clarify this point to our readers, Dario Bernazza – his real name – tells us how there is like a balance in our life.
When liabilities exceed the assets, our life is a failure. When the contrary occurs, our life is successful and happy. Simple. Categorical. This is Bernazza.
Let us try to understand.
[Dario Bernazza, Vivere alla massima espressione, Editrice Partenone – Luciano Bernazza & C – Roma 1989, pp. 12-22]
Life is such that we cannot avoid its offensive – bitterness and sufferings of all kinds. These are life’s liabilities.
Which are these liabilities?
Since our childhood we are exposed to numerous internal and external enemies.
“Among the internal enemies: ignorance, dishonesty, little respect for truth, selfishness, conceit, inclination to excess, worship of money, lechery, anger, sloth, unproductive envy, hate, lack of authentic affections, ennui, loneliness, excessive shyness, superficiality, lack of ambition, incorrect reasoning, intolerance, wrong pastimes, disregard for other people’s rights, wrong solutions, tendency to join the herd, undue submission, acquiescence towards the avoidable, pessimism, optimism … .”
“External enemies: to be born in a foolish family, lack of (or wrong) education, inadequate school teaching, bad company, incapability or dishonesty of politicians ruling us, difficulties of any kind, job-related worries and fatigue, lack of money, unfavorable unexpected events, diseases, all flaws and errors by others, wrong clichés, perverse temptations, evildoers of any kind … .”
This is only a partial list of our dreadful, obstinate, sometimes alluring, enemies – argues Dario Bernazza. They are responsible for our sufferings, namely our life liabilities.
In order to make our life advantageous it is necessary to oppose some adequate assets to those liabilities. It is obvious, says Bernazza.
But which can these assets be?
“They consists, naturally, in the sum of every pleasant moment, of every satisfaction and success that we are capable of attaining during our whole existence. If such sum is greater than that determined by our life offenses, or liabilities, it is ok. If it is instead lower, then it would be preferable not to have come into this world.
We must in fact be brave enough to honour truth – says Bernazza. Who can in fact say it is preferable to start a firm whose liabilities exceed the assets, instead of not starting it altogether? Only a fool can say that.”
[From which we infer that Bernazza is a non believer]
We must also consider – CP argues – that while these liabilities are spontaneously inflicted on us by life without any mercy, the assets are not given us as a gift, but we must earn them day by day, bit by bit.
And the only way to earn them is that of giving the best solutionto the major problems of our life. If we can do this, we divert or soften life liabilities, or sometimes we can even eliminate some of them.
Bernazza then identifies 20 major problems we must necessarily solve in the best possible way in order to minimize life liabilities and live a fruitful life (or advantageous, as he says).
Why musical improvisation is utopian? Because it is a place of the spirit that does not lead to any place. Utopia is a Greek word made of ‘ou’(= no) and ‘τόπος’ (= place), so its meaning is actually ‘in no place’. This is the reason why we say that musical improvisation is utopian. This idea in fact belonging to my generation – that improvisation was the big thing that could produce new insights & musical discoveries – led to nowhere.
In the 1970s musical improvisation as a theory and practice greatly influenced musicians. It was based on concepts like intuition, immediate action and reaction, and on the idea of mysterious mental faculties not far from Zen which were thought to favour the discovery of new patterns and unexpected solutions. Maybe it is not by chance that J. D. Salinger was attracted to Zen (see our post on digression in speech and writing; there is a subtle link between that post and the present one).
As far as we know (and our taste goes) improvisation has rarely created anything really interesting, with its tendency towards superficial results we can observe for example in some (or many) jazz pieces. Great composers and pianists like Chopin and Liszt used to be oustanding improvisers as well but their piano impromptus were seldom published and in any case were regarded by their creators as works inferior in quality (listen below to the Fantasie-impromptu in C-sharp minor by Chopin played by Valentina Igoshina; it is a work Chopin was not very proud of … well, maybe it is not too profound, but Chopin is Chopin … 😉 ).
In 1975 the American pianist Keith Jarret carried out a tremendously successful jazz improvisation at the Cologne Opera House in Germany. It was the famous Köln Concert that created a new fashion of piano solo music based on improvisation and which in my view is a beautiful piece of music but here too we note flaws like excessive repetitions and passages confused and predictable (you can listen to the beginning of this work thanks to YouTube).
Note. This Köln Concert – not to mention the splendid Impromptu by Chopin – is great stuff, I do not want to diminish it, being an explosive mixture of jazz with a scent of classical, blues, gospel and rock, all so inspired and “flowing with human warmth” (quote from Jazz: The Rough Guide, Rough Guides Ltd, London, 1995.) Just try to follow my point though and compare for example this Chopin’s Impromptu with other compositions by the same Polish-French musician.
An interesting aspect of improvisation is the high level of concentration required by the artist to produce anything decent, which some critics say it can favour a strong empathic relationship with the public. This is true but one can equally say that the same thing occurs during an inspired execution of composed music, namely music which did not spring out extemporaneously and was instead previously well constructed and thought over.
A great interpreter is in fact able to relive with renewed freshness a work composed even centuries earlier, which equally allows him to involve the public in ways empathic and with the added value of a work which is deeper and better constructed.
In short (and as far as we understand) the process of musical construction (composition) produces better results compared to this more or less spontaneous way of creating music called improvisation. What we are saying of course applies to other arts as well, such as theatre, dance, literature or rhetoric (i.e. public speaking, or writing, with the goal of persuading the audience): Romans like Marcus Tullius Cicero and Julius Caesar carefully prepared their speeches, even though, when necessary, they were able to improvise.
This doesn’t mean that improvisation isn’t a valid creative tool. We can play our instruments and express ourselves freely, or we can speak on the microphone of a computer in search of ideas for our writings. The resulting matter though should go through a post-production phase. It should, in other words, be purified and wisely inserted into the compositional process.
How can we live a better life (says Country Philosopher)? According to Socrates (depicted above while trying to convince Alcibiadesto leave charming Aspasia‘s house) everything is attainable through exercise – I am quoting CP freely – because exercise creates a habit, any habit.
[Looking habit up in the on-line Webster we read that it is “a behaviour pattern acquired by frequent repetition.”]
So it seems that all we need, in order to live a better life – CP argues – is just practising regularly what makes us live better, while at the same time gradually abandoning what makes us live worse. Very easy to say but very difficult to realize – CP continues. The reason is that very few people know what makes us live better, i.e. what are the things that make us live happily, which are of course the most convenientand advantageous to us.
According to our nature we all tend towards our well-being and best comfort, both spiritual and material – it cannot be denied, says CP. In other words we should all tend towards what is really convenient for us, the problem oddly enough being that at present we seem to have forgotten what is really convenient for us. Otherwise how can we explain that so many people are unhappy despite the fact that they possess what is necessary to live, and sometimes even more than that?
As we just said we can explain this with the fact that these people (all of us) know little or nothing of what is really convenient or advantageous, even in small trivia and in everyday practical choices. In short, there are so many people around who visibly make the wrong choices, which are disadvantageous choices. These people consequently live worse and worse, while they could live better and better.
(Dario Bernazza, Vivere alla massima espressione, Editrice Partenone – Luciano Bernazza & C – Roma 1989, from page 25 on)
Could this be one of the fundamental problems of our so-called rich countries (I’m asking myself)? They should be full of happy people, all the requirements for happiness (or serenity) being present. But since so many people are evidently unhappy there must be necessarily a problem of ethical confusion: people do not know any more what is convenient or non convenient to do (ethics is a branch of philosophy which encompasses right conduct and good living – a definition taken from Wikipedia).
A Rational Sovereign Spirit
As far as we are concerned, it is very hard to answer to CP’s question (how we can live a better life). We will only consider that the Ancient Romans, who acquired philosophy from the Greeks but who were much more practical and solid than their philosophy mentors, faced life with great success thanks to their iron will, their rationality and self-control. The scions of the well-to-do Roman families flocked to Greece to study the Epicurean and Stoic doctrines, two very significant schools of thought for Rome, which Rome was able to adapt to her needs – like everything Rome learned from others – and which was propagated by Rome in every region of the Empire.
Today we still admire Julius Caesar’s sovereign spirit, calm, always mastering himself even when facing the most dreadful tragedies, his writings & actions being a vivid testimony of his character. Caesar was though but a fruit – one of the greatest, maybe – of a civilization based mainly on reason.
Is a conduct based on this method still valid today? This question arises when reading this Country Philosopher so stubbornly convinced – like the Ancients were – of the thaumathurgic power of human rationality. Is it possible today, while confronting with everyday problems, to draw any benefit from the philosophies of our Ancient World?
We do believe (and we do hope) it is possible.
Right Measure in Pleasure
As an example, we can try to apply Roman rational wisdom to the concept of vice, meaning by this term a moral fault that can harm us. Vices can in fact ruin our life. If we drink or smoke too much, if we become sex (or gambling) maniacs we gradually (or quickly) ruin our life. Actually vices are not those horrible things depicted by priests – CP argues – and at the base of many so-called vices are in reality those pleasant things which make life worth living. Why then don’t we benefit from them? Is it true that all that is pleasurable is harmful and – as some believers say – should be prohibited? What is a Roman-like solution to this problem, since in this blog we are talking about retrieving fragments of our Romans’ ancient wisdom?
Surely abstinence is not Roman-like, it is rather monk-like. The Romans loved terrestrial life much more than ultramundane life (a world of pale ghosts to them). They loved life before death, not after death, and were not inclined to reject its pleasures. The solution for a Roman therefore doesn’t reside in renouncing to life and its pleasures. On the contrary, it resides in the correct measure in which we enjoy life, which implies moderation and non addiction, since any addiction makes us slaves of passions (pleasures), makes us non free.
A beautiful and conclusive sentence by CP: “A right measure prevents the genesis of vice, which incidentally is nothing but a measure not correct – i.e. excessive – which has become a habit.”
PS Note. The Ancients’ reflection on human rationality is of great importance and modern philosophy and science are derived from it. Rationality should though be integrated with the modern concepts of will and imagination. There is some debate today on these topics, I will provide links as soon as I can. The Ancients practiced reason, will and imagination, of course, but didn’t theorize much and didn’t developed techniques that pertain to the last two elements.
The method of this blog is finding free inspiration in the technique of dialectics (διαλεκτική ) possibly invented by Socrates and Plato something like 2,400 years ago.
[2014 update : much earlier, and not only in the West; see Indian dialetic]
As far as we know dialectics is primarily based on thought discussing with itself in an effort to reach constantly better conceptions, such inner dialogue being though not obvious here since what readers actually get is just a sequence of apparently unrelated writings.
The point is our posts are connected by mental links, and writings and ideas within them bounce on one another in quick or lazy succession, thus answering, contradicting, integrating one another and now and then considering previous-post themes from different angles or even entirely diverse views.
What’s more, in the context of one single post, questions and answers or different opinions can at times coexist, this conflict/dialogue being actually the core of ancient dialectics.
A further layer of complexity – as we havesaid before – is provided by the delectable game of free associations, which, pleasant or not, is part of our inborn cognitive style.
Risk of Bewitching Chaos
Thought in progress, we believe, is a better self-improvement tool than finished and sedentary conclusions. The risk here is chaos, or irrationality. We hope though to attain some consistency:
a. because of the nature of dialectics itself, tending from heterogeneity towards unity (see Dialectics 3);
b. because our ideas are not thrown down at random, links among them being stimulated by inner themes we have been meditating in the years and presumably of biographical origin;
c. because almost all our interests have come (though changing over time) from an sudden germination.
We are referring to a crucial encounter that took place in Rome, 35 years ago (see Dialectics 3).
Dialogue Among Minds
Now, reason discussing with itself doesn’t exclude dialogue with others, since dialectic sees in fertile dialogue among thinking people the highest expression of cognitive exploration.
We have conversed with people of any cultural level, even a few top brains, their ideas interacting with ours in many ways. Plus we digest tons of debates in the media.
In any case, however we put it, we cannot have what Socrates or Plato had. Being not big shots of thought we cannot invite to dinner the great intellectuals of our time on a weekly, monthly or even quarterly basis. What an awful stress it would be (we are reserved,) although, let’s be frank, it’s not that they wouldn’t accept, it’s just they wouldn’t even notice we are inviting them.
[And how silly to even think of having what Socrates or Plato had. Today even top think-tank people cannot enjoy those sublime, holistic symposiums, for the simple reason that knowledge today is too massive and appallingly – though necessarily – specialized.]
So, not being able to recreate a circle with big intellectuals, this virtual Symposiumis what is left to us. It involves a certain number of ‘virtual guests.’
A virtual guest is a quotation or just a reference to a book passage. This is exactly what we mean by a virtual guest. The ideas of an author, dead or alive, participate in the discussion thanks to the greatest invention of all time: Writing.
Read how this young (and uncouth) Roman helps me explain this “Virtual Symposium & Writing” concept. We locked horns a bit, like males sometimes do, but the fight was worthwhile. Yes, we think it was worthwhile.
Quotes and Text Authority
“What are you talking about – argues Arthur Schopenhauer – quoting is copying other people’s ideas”.
Well, it can be, but my quoting is different. First of all it is the feedback and interaction with a writer’s ideas, as I said. I don’t see any copying in confrontation of ideas towards a richer knowledge.
There’s another thing though, personal this time. Take Braudel: “Great civilisation never die”. Or Augias-Zola: “Was Rome ever Christian?”. These were things inside of me since a long time and lurking their way out, i.e. trying to be expressed in clear words. I mean, when I quote an author it is often because he/she can better express what I had already felt but not verbally formulated, hence not totally clarified yet. It is a verbalization of intuitions I ask others to help me bring out. When I’m reading, I’m often struck by something. It’s cannibalism, or autism – a friend once told me. Well, I don’t really know, readers, I am not kidding.
One thing I though know is I hateexegesis of texts, a plague in Italian and foreign universities. What they call research over here is nothing but this totally moronic self-referential game of he-said-she-said, research and exams regarding “only what another earlier authority thought” (quote from John Brockman.) I really do hate exegeses, and most of the time I invoke the authority of nobody. I can invoke the big heros of thought like Goethe, and honour them as virtual guests in my living room, as a guarantee of non superficiality at least.
But my quotations can be derived from Dante, Plutarch, Dan Brown, Bugs Bunny or Homer (Simpson, lol). No matter their origin, they are interesting to me to the extent that they clarify lumpy mind stuff still at an intuition stage (= not translated into logos = reason = words). This lumpy mind stuff, well, keeps bugging me and asking to pls be let out of its irrational status.
Thus being said, it is high time we introduce this great Roman to you. Since from the day this crucial encounter took place our life changed completely, the present blog is dedicated to him.
It is dedicated to our beloved mentor, or Magister, writer, philosopher, outstanding educator.
Maybe some readers are expecting him, so here he comes. Welcome, Magister!
Dialectics 3. Magister.
The Manifold longing for Unity
My ideas started fermenting the day I encountered Magister 35 years ago. It was a rainy day. Rome is so smelly when it rains. I went to this place where he delivered lectures, close to the Tiber, the sacred river of Rome. He was already very old, with long white hair and beard, eyes penetrating. Italy was all a huge debate in the roaring 1970s (I am listening to Pink Floyd‘s Dark Side of the Moon album to relive the feel of those days.)
Magister talked softly most of the time, the silence of the audience being absolute, even embarrassing at times. When he though got angry his voice became like thunder almost, eyes flashing.
I will never forget him. I was an ugly duckling when I met him. Not that he made a swan out of me, lol, but he taught me much, basically by having me understand I had the means to be a free man by just making use of my mind and will.
I do not know if I was a good pupil.
I left family to find my fortune. Unfortunate are the young who never find magistri.
I won’t reveal his identity – not that he would mind, he being no more, his ashes scattered somewhere in this eternal city he loved so much. I adored him and I was not the only one to cry over his ashes. There are reasons for not revealing his identity.
What I can say is just repeating this: to him I really owe a lot. Last but not least this love for knowledge, this curiosity or craving, don’t know how to phrase it – this chilly charming language being so difficult for a non mother-tongue.
I mean, this cultural hedonism which tends to auto-organization and which in defiance of age is constantly growing instead of abandoning my soul (cultural = related to knowledge, as people in France, Spain, Italy mean it).
Plus, of course, I owe him this dialectic method.
From that day this process of spontaneous philosophy started going through alternate phases though basically it never stopped (well, almost never.)
Not a big deal, after all. Magister was a disciplined intellectual while I was too whimsical, too eclectic. I (re)turned to music, failing in this economically. I hence turned to high-school teaching and freelance journalism, which proved one of the best things I ever did in my life (teaching), while journalism being somewhat superficial to my taste it basically turned to be good training for writing (plus it taught me that success, even a tiny bit, is a powerful drug.)
Ok, journalism despite a bit of glory produced zero money. And teaching, well, teachers in this country are among the worst paid, the Italian ruling class caring about keeping power mostly and being not much interested in instructing the common people – who might understand how they are manipulated by all parties, left and right, and by the mass-media.
This is why I finally turned to computer engineering, which produced more money but also gave a bit of a blow to this spontaneous philosophical process. Or maybe not?
“Ok, this story about Magister is moving, your failures a bit less, being pathetic. Don’t you realise you are a digression maniac not sticking to the point and forgetting about dialectics and its tendency towards unity?”
No, I didn’t forget my point. The encounter with Magister in fact (and the sudden germination it produced) might hopefully help me to fulfill this longing for some unity which after all is the ultimate goal of any dialectics.
In other words, dear dear Magister, this imprinting I owe you makes me hope this quirky research of mine could somehow be fulfilled.
Life is a comedy, not a tragedy.
Dialogue with readers
We know too well our topics are too heavy for the common reader while too unsophisticated for the happy few. Unfortunately the interests of readers are flocking towards entertainment, actors, gossip. So how many hits will I have? Very little. Not that I care much – well, I do a bit, but not so much. I am doing this just for fun, as Linus Torvalds said in his book about Linux.
And it’s such great fun, believe me, this philosophical folly!
Although, do not take me too seriously, please. Life is a comedy, not a tragedy, it shouldn’t be zu schwer, too grave (well, it is better to see it this way. Watch Benigni’sLa vita è bella. Life is beautiful, or at least it could always be if we make use of will and imagination.
The autumn of life is a phase one should 1) do lots of sports and 2) use one’s brain extensively to keep it fit. And here, it is my opinion and personal taste, humanities & holistic thought, rather than specialised thought, are much much better for rewiring one’s synapses.
Wait, I forgot the completion element of blog dialectics:readers’ comments!
Hits might be negligible, but a few readers are arriving. The intriguing Indians came first, so unpredictable (since the Far East is really far.) Then one ex student of mine from USA, a great and totally eccentric guy living in Rome and who left one comment on my very first post. One Chinese woman too. China! She talked about mysterious things like vowels in Mandarin and Cantonese. A sweet person rich in emotions, which contradicts what many Italians think of the Chinese people, aliens with marble faces. Finally one first Italian guy (!), Massimo from Viterbo. That area is north of Rome but still in Latium, where the Etruscans lived and met the Romans. Might be promising.
In the end this blogging mixes up my ideas, authors’ ideas and readers’ ideas. [Plato’s dialectics? Yes, though revised a bit.]
Now be patient enough to listen to Man of Roma’s (delirious?) conclusion …
Dinners on a Roman Terrace.
Let us have fun!
Let us have fun, my delectable guests. Let us imagine we are in early summer when the evening sea breeze, or ponentino, is delightful. I’m inviting you all from every country, era space, location. I am inviting you ALL to this imaginary Roman terrace, overlooking the eternal city‘s glorious skyline.
Rome (loose woman and she-wolf) is watching attentive. Is she smiling?
Dinner after dinner, amid flowers perfumed and smells from dishes exquisite, in front of a breathtaking spectacle of glories and defeats, coming from a civilization of hard & refined conquerors, who always accepted those who were diverse, and their gods, and their creeds, and philosophies and manners …
Right here, dear guests of mine, let us enjoy our life a bit!
Away from all the sorrows, away from all the pains, let us discuss on themes light, silly and severe.
Good food will not be missing, together with good music (another needed guest, of course) and plenty of good wine and, no real objection to a pot of beer (or cervesia), once in a while.
Playing being simple, playing being easy. All it takes is good food, good music and treasured company most of all!
While I was writing, music and red vino di Montalcino were helping me to fly high.
1) Because I am a dilettante philosopher who is not content with just blogging. I need a method in my blogging.
2) I had promised a method post, so it is very Roman-like to keep my promise 🙂
Truth being the method governing my posts keeps bugging me since I started this blog, and, needing to process my ideas a bit I propose this posting sequence to readers:
I) a post as a preparation for the method post (ugh!). It’s the present post. I need it for clearing my mind up before the real thing.
II) A post on SEX, as a break. It might help not to lose ALL my readers because of my philosophical manias.
III) The real thing, i.e. the method post.
IV) A second post on SEX, to beg for additional pardon, thus ending this sequence in full regalia.
What do you think? Will you pardon me? Will SEX help?
Rhetorical questions not expecting answers let us put some preparatory ideas together and that the trip begin!
Game of Ideas
with Hidden Links
1) We will touch upon questions from numerous points of view, as if for each topic there were like a dialogue of different opinions in the writer’s mind.
2) A thought in progress where who is writing is gradually clarifying his ideas. Such ideas might contradict one another because the writer is constantly reaching new (sometimes opposite) perspectives, which could baffle the reader but also help her/him understand the complexity of things.
3) A game of ideas, then, with anecdotes and facts only apparently deprived of connections. Such connections (mental links) will sometimes be explicit (said) or implicit (unsaid,) which should bring the reader to make her/his own connections, namely towards creative non-passive reading / thinking.
Well, at least Magister was very successful in this game. But Magister was Magister.
Writing vs Thinking
Writing, thinking, clarifying,
striving to sort out thoughts
in ways so “clear and ordinate”
This, many years ago, Magister counselled
for the good education of the mind.
writer, philosopher, educator…
Writing in fact is a stern discipline linked to the activity of thinking. Writing teaches us how to think in wayssoclear and ordinate. It obliges us to. Reason and word (word = discourse, written or oral) are actually only one word in Greek: λόγος (logos.)
Awkward prose or clumsy oral / written reports often reflect muddled thoughts.
As for the MoR the problem is:
writing in a foreign language makes things harder
we have this fatal attraction for digressions and all their unrestrained associations, ie for chaos (something Magister definitely wouldn’t condone.)
We like both sides of the moon – the dark indistinct and the crystal-clear. We appreciate discipline, clear argumentation, polished sentences, and we also dig lush jungles of words. Examples of both attitudes in art are:
The perfect equilibrium of Western Classical Music: Mozart, Boccherini, Clementi, Haydn and young Beethoven. Or of Italian Opera: Verdi, Bellini, Donizetti etc. wrongly called romantic, since Italian Opera is classical in its nature (and even Puccini is.) Interesting how Italians never totally absorbed Romanticism, their classical heritage and almost inborn sense of taste (and grace) being too tenacious (read here.)
Insane Western Romantic music (later Beethoven, Wagner, Mahler, Scriabin etc.), with a tendency towards excess.
Thus said, will our so-called philosophy be muddled? Will readers think MoR is crazy? I really got no idea, I really got no idea at all.
Note.We just gave above an example of digression + bizarre association. The concepts of writing and thinking were linked with music, two totally different planes of the human experience, although the connection appears evident to me.
“Why the heck are you worried about this roving of the mind? It’s just a blog, go ahead and be crazy.”
True, but the thing is I am a bit ambitious (only a bit, or I will fail). I am actually attempting a research. A research from a man-in-the-street-of-Rome point of view, though a research nonetheless. Thence this roving tendency could turn into a weakness (or into a strength?)
A Philosopher in Every Man
Magister used to say that every person is a natural-born philosopher, ie everyone, during the entire course of his/her life, keeps building a constantly evolving grid of interrelated concepts. This world vision or Weltanschaung (read here) enables us to com-prehend the surrounding world (from Latin comprehendere, cum + prehendere = put together, grasp, or insert into a grid).
Comprehension of the surrounding environment – it implies also better (inter)action within it, the two things going together.
Ok, if this is true of every man (that he is a natural born philosopher,) and, if I am a man, which I certainly am, I should somehow hope to be able to transmit my Roman feel in a sort of organized way. Is that true?
In principle yes, ALL though depending on the degree of discipline, education and availability of time I dispose of.
A Helping Hand
What’s the difference – one might ask – between a philosopher on one hand and a man of the street on the other hand? No difference, except the level of training, skill, specialization that may differ. The philosopher is a pro. Which doesn’t mean the non-pros must shut up. I will not 😉
We should all learn to think (and write) more effectively because it can greatly help us to make our days and guide us in the fundamental choices of our life. The more efficiently we think, the happier we live, classical measure being vital here though: should we think too much and act too little, we can get neurotic, wimpish (the list is long.)
This blog will try to give a helping hand to those who think self-improvement is important and possible.
Reason? Not All
Ideas are now taking shape a bit as regards my future method post. The next writing will though as promised be devoted to SEX, SEX, SEX NOTHING BUT SEX (though in the Roman way.)
In the meanwhile, some additional patience pls.
One can rule one’s chaotic mind with control, writing, striving for some order. But chaos is still there; non rational things, disorder etc. are still there. The guys at the Third Culture are doing some work on this, good idea to have a look at it.
What I do know is we can not live in disorder. We need force, organization, we need to discipline ourselves mostof the time.
Though not all the time.
We also need excess, spring breaks, fun, Carnivals, Saturnalia – a Roman festival (see picture below) where rules were broken: masters became for ex. slaves and slaves masters (see two posts of ours on Saturnalia: 1 & 2).
The Romans were big gurus in the art of living. They ruled the world with humour on their faces and tongue and not with mystical seriousness. While facing the most dreadful tragedies with utmost courage, they preferred comedies.
Reason and order are not all. They can lead to horrors if taken too seriously, a great lesson from the non ideological Romans, that some folks from colder climes do not seem to have quite understood. Taking things zu schwer can call disaster.
Let us then have fun then too! Carnivals are made for that! Look at Rio in Brasil, look at our Spanish cousins! – an economic success [2014 update: well, well, they, we, will rise up again: we are confident] although Madrid has movida every night.
God, how can I finish this never ending blabber?
Perhaps with Coelho‘s beautiful words, from his novel Zahir:
Let us have some respect
for our life on this planet …