Today is April 13th. It's my mom's birthday. She would have been 108 years old. To her I dedicate this statement, taken from an intervention in the European Parliament, by one of her peers, the Slovenian writer Boris Pahor, a great boy, still in this life: "... An agreement needs to be found in Europe to change the way to live of man on this Earth. A general organization is needed to create in the life of the Earth a life of a man that is just ...
It is also Easter Monday. In this time without resurrection my thoughts fly to Paul Klee's Angelus Novus. This work had a particular destiny because it received two epiphanies. It was in fact a source of inspiration for a great mind that, in my opinion, has enhanced, multiplied and recreated its contents. I'm talking about the philosopher, writer, literary critic and eclectic thinker, Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) Here are his words in the Philosophy Thesis of History:
There is a painting by Klee entitled Angelus Novus. There is an angel who seems to be moving away from something on which he fixes his gaze. His eyes are wide open, his mouth open, his wings spread. The angel of history must have this aspect. He has his face turned to the past where a chain of events appears to us. He sees a single catastrophe that accumulates relentlessly and turns it at his feet. He would like to restrain himself, arouse the dead and recompose the broken. But a storm blows from heaven that has become entangled in his wings, and it is so strong that he cannot close them. This storm pushes him irresistibly into the future, to which he turns his back, while the heap of ruins rises before him to heaven. What we call progress is this storm.
And I could stop here, but for some time now we have lived without eyes and faster and faster, without stopping, we go in mutual blindness, around the world.
We built our catastrophe by transforming the Earth into an immense cloaca. We can't even push ourselves into the future. Now no longer. In fact, the very thought terrifies us. The future appears "uncertain, terrible, full of nightmares". We are in the era of retrotopy and retroactive horizon. After almost a century, the Angelus Novus has turned its gaze toward the past seeking, outside the history of the winners, the space of contingency, of intention, of meaning. And it's a whole different story. The gaze of the Angel must go up to the Herbaria. He must walk crooked ways. As my friend Roberto Barbanti wrote, referring to the artists, in my art book Fish out of water, "… they worked the territories of absence, planting seeds of free vitality. It was their way to entertain themselves in the world, to fill the void of losses. They have gradually rebuilt identity maps... "
From sea to sea, from land to land, disobedient, unreliable, rebellious women have brought about healthy concerns and have marked viable paths. Their footsteps opposed paranoid tensions, the result of an original arbitration. Their migrations have shown us that between killing, dying and filling the Earth with rubble, there is a third way, it is to live.
The Angel is close to them when "... he would like to entertain himself, arouse the dead and recompose the broken..."
I have been writing and rewriting these few words for a long time because the story that belongs to women is the only voice that does not correspond to the game of war and the self-representation that man has of himself and which inevitably leads him to not recognize other than himself, such as women, "weak" people and all other creatures, including Mother Earth. In History, that "well-disposed gaze that sees in the other and in the other a unique and unrepeatable being in flesh and spirit, body and mind" is absent. He prefers a universal, abstract Man, and "celebrates a Subject who puts himself into the world with thought so that even to be born does not need the other feminine counterpart". The only possible redemption is that of memory: the return to women's history, to the memory of the victims, to the senselessness of their defeat and their suffering to stop the damage, now irreversible, of the pile of ruins.
It is here that the Angelus Novus "... sees only one catastrophe..."
It is here that the past is the other side of the present - it is the present that generates from within, its own past - as we are experiencing it now.
The fall of the rebel angels.
And on this Easter Monday (Monday of the Angel), not only the Angelus Novus, but also the fall of the rebel angels. I could not forget them.
It comes back to me the painting by Pieter Bruegel the elder. A dense group of angels fallen from their state of grace and for this reason removed from earthly Paradise and transformed into monstrous beasts. The downward fall - one can only fall downward - decrees their punishment for disobeying or rebelling against God.
It is the vocation towards the fall that leads me to feel, in this group, ancient relationships. I no longer count my falls. Some time ago I used to fall to rise again, but now I fall and I shatter not only the bones. I have the annoying feeling of leaving a piece of me at a time like the character of a Giorgio Gaber song. But right now what happens to me is completely irrelevant.
I speak of a multitude of falling angels, all down to the underworld. To the cursed place, to the place where the divine curse will be fulfilled. A tremendous one our god, who punishes especially those who want to know more. Even these angels have been driven out for their will to know more. The desire, the will to know leads, from the beginning, to falls, suffering, remorse, wounds and death.
In this catastrophe of ours, so complicated and difficult - built with pinque and determination by us human beings - we can see and hear everything that happens but also its exact contrary. And here too a reversal is possible.
That original fall of the angels from Heaven to the underworld - the present conditions of our earth - creates an upside down, saving image: all down to earth. Yes. All down to earth to feel its breath, to make up with it. It is no coincidence that artists are asked to be its gardener s; the gardeners of the earth. Maybe it's too late already.
In 1982, for the Stilo art magazine, I visually represented the fall of the Angel and accompanied the image with these words by Walter Benjamin. I return to him; everything returns in a cyclical form, at least in my writing.
Learn from the angel, who surrounds his partner with his look but then jerks back, relentlessly: he pulls her behind him in that escape to a future from which he comes. From the future nothing new he hopes any more, if not the gaze of the human being to whom it remains addressed.
(Agesilaus Santander, first version 1933)
And while, apparently alone, in my studio that is out of this world, I continue to disobey writing, my friend of all time continues to share the time of the coronavirus with her husband. Now her problem is not her husband who, even if only to a small extent, has understood that his wife has forced him to take off his jacket and shoes and wash his hands when he returns home, not because she is mad at him, but because the pandemic is extremely insidious and dangerous. So her husband is almost harmless, always considering how harmless a ball and chain, but she is equally agitated, and very worried. She has never worked so much in her life, furthermore with such bad results. In the cleaning she goes on with floors, bathrooms and kitchen, but in alternate phases. Cooking has become a waste of time. Desperately looking for a restaurant to bring home a plate of mantis shrimps. Since discovering that her husband turns the pages of the newspaper by wetting his finger, she has decided to keep disposable gloves in the house too, which is and remains her battlefield. The other night, in the bathroom, she ran into a cockroach and completely lost her head. She put on masks, gloves and started to spray like crazy in all the cracks in the apartment, trying to direct the spray insecticide towards the floor, but upside down the can did not show signs of life, so she had to raise the shot, thus making the air unbreathable. She went back to bed and started coughing. The doubt arose that she had infected herself. At the end of the pandemic, if there will be an end – she has serious doubts about this end - she will surely be intoxicated by the excessive use of alcohol, amuchina, varicine, napisan, any disinfectant that you encounter in any shop you go to. In the newsstand, in the stationery shop, in the butcher shop, in evidence, there is always a small or large bottle of disinfectant.
If everything proceeds in this way, at home she will wear, in addition to gloves, the masks that only apparently are "disposable". And here another ordeal begins. On the terrace no more laundry hanging in the sun, but gloves and masks. Piles scattered everywhere and since she does not remember which ones have been washed or those still to be washed, they all finish soaking again with disinfectant. Finally to be well protected, when she goes out she takes brand new gloves and masks from the bag. I tell her that this madness of hers cannot continue much longer. And in fact the other day, a medical doctor friend of hers told her that gloves are more dangerous than bare hands and explained the reasons well. She came home and threw all the piles of gloves into the plastic bag.
Now her thoughts are all about cockroaches, nocturnal animals like her, ready to create further problems to her. She wonders if we have already passed the Anthropocene era and we are crossing the threshold of the era of Metamorphosis - already foreseen by Kafka.
She rushes into her husband's bedroom, which rests peacefully. No, the cockroach is not him.
She doesn't understand anything anymore but watching videos and television and listening to radio and daily broadcasts she has convinced herself that science is groping in the dark and politicians do nothing but form antagonistic commissions among themselves in a collision phase already.
Before it was the bat in the Wuhan market, perhaps not, the Nobel laureate, Montagnier says that it came out of a laboratory, perhaps in China, perhaps in Germany. What? However, Montagnier seems to be no longer as reliable as in the past.
Meanwhile, people continue to die. Thousands. Now they are just numbers.
She can't stand anything anymore. She can't stand all these "united we will make it", "far but close", "we are a great people" - for her, we are people unprepared for anything - "everything will be fine", - for her, everything will go wrong.
She no longer bears the windows and balconies with Italian flags, where people sing or clap their hands. - as at funerals - to commemorate the massacre of the innocent.
She can no longer stand the preachers, the animators, the persuaders, the maneuvers who tell her if and how and when to be afraid, or how to spend this time at home - she would like everyone to come and help her clean, disinfect, cook, put in order.
She can no longer stand the betrayed old age.
In this merry-go-round of rules, edicts, proclamations, she only understood that it is better to stay at home and wash your hands often.
She misses too many daughters, grandchildren, friends, and friends.
All so far away, but very close, in nothing. It seems to her that her microcosm perfectly reflects what happens in the macrocosm.
We continue to grope in mutual blindness, just like at home.
And she feels out of place. She wants to get rid of the trouble - hers.
On this Monday of the Angel he arrives here, to me, where only the sky is higher and she - who is the incarnate error - lets herself fall.
She lets herself fall into nothingness.
Resurrection or end?
"... What if it didn't exist? Who knows, maybe nothing happened to me.
... Shall I have the courage to use a defenseless heart and go on talking to nothing and nobody? ...
(Clarice Lispector, Passion according to G. H.)
(Translated from Italian by Renzo Pasini).