Christopher Sloce, socialist writer and co-host of the It Can Be Done podcast provides this review of Giorgio de Maria’s “The Twenty Days of Turin”. This is the fourth installment of The Culture Column, a bi-monthly series criticizing the culture we have so we can create the culture we want
Dietrologia and Silence: Tension in Italy’s Long 20th Century
In Italo Calvino’s masterful Invisible Cities, Marco Polo tells Kublai Khan of a city named Leonia. Leonia has a specific problem, one you’re familiar with if you live in the 21st century:
This is the result: the more Leonia expels goods, the more it accumulates them; the scales of its past are soldered into a cuirass that cannot be removed. As the city is renewed each day, it preserves all of itself in its only definite form: yesterday’s sweepings piled up on the sweepings of the day before yesterday and of all its days and years and decades.
One of the book’s recurring themes is the anxiety of an empire and its expansions, and the question of what happens when we get to the end:
A cataclysm will flatten the sordid mountain range, canceling every trace of the metropolis always dressed in new clothes. In the nearby cities they are all ready, waiting with bulldozers to flatten the terrain, to push into the new territory, expand, and drive the new street cleaners farther out.
These are the wages of an empire, paid out to the bigwigs like Kublai Khan and Marco Polo, but it’s Marco Polo, out conducting trade missions for the Most Serene Republic of Venice, who presages the future.
Giovanni Arrighi’s The Long 20th Century, a classic in world systems literature, spoke of 4 capitalist epochs, the earliest of them all the Genoese, competitors to Venice, but still of the same epoch (following are the Dutch, the British, and the United States). Fernand Braudel, in his studies of capitalism, spoke of the point at which all empires move towards trading not in commercial goods, but in money. Italy’s Venetian and Genoese city states were early adopters.
Like all empires, Venice’s fortunes faded, and one day the great Italian city states found themselves in one state: the kingdom of Italy. From there, we know the rough story: the Italian communists got close to a revolution, a guy named Mussolini invented fascism, he got shot at a gas station, and as far as the west was concerned the Italians went back to soccer, pasta, and matrilineal relationships that are a little too close.
But countries like the United States were very interested in the course of the Italian government after Mussolini was hung upside down outside that gas station. Umberto Eco, in his essay “Ur-Fascism”, speaks of how Italy just after the war was an array of propagandas by a number of Resistance groups, including the communists of the Partido Communista Italiano (PCI).
The popularity of the communists, plus the switch to containing communism after defeating fascism, gave birth to the Cold War. When we think of the Cold War, we may think of grim faced bureaucrats hovering over a nuclear button. But it started in Italy.
The United States began pouring in money into organizations like the Comiati Civici, a Catholic lay organization headed up by reactionary geneticist Luigi Gedda, and Democrazia Cristiana (Christian Democrats, or DC), a centrist party bound more by Catholic identity and social teaching than a hard line political ideology. The intervention in the 1948 general election, the first after Mussolini’s fascism, was one of the newly minted CIA’s first victories, though not the last in Italy.
Throughout the 50s and 60s, flooded with US capital, Italy seemed more a part of the Western world. But when the Western world was rocked by violent decolonization in places like Algieria, Vietnam, Cuba, and others, Italy found itself included as well. We know of May ‘68, but less discussed in the West is the Hot Autumn. In many ways, the hot autumn of 1969, where a series of intense strikes and confrontations rocked the nation of Italy, was history repeating itself.
In pre-fascist Italy, the opposition to the state of things in Italy was the communists, who had great results during the Turin metalworkers strike. In 1969, the Turin Fiat factory was occupied in a coalition between radical students and long suffering workers, many of which were immigrants from Southern Italy, and treated like immigrants usually are. It was the Hot Autumn that acted as presage for the Years of Lead, a period of left and right wing violence
In response to the level of instability faced in the government, the far right saw an opening. With Italian leftists acting as agitators, hearkening to the need for law and order to crush this left suddenly became politically expedient, even if it required right wing planned terrorist attacks in order to a create a state of emergency. Far from the simple use of civil society, the Italian right wing grew its street fighting capabilities in groups like Ordine Nuovo.
These anti-communist groups, far from being autonomous actors, had the support of elements in Italian government. And also the world. With NATO viewing the USSR and Eastern Bloc as expansionist, specifically after the invasion of Czechoslovakia, the infamous Operation Gladio was birthed. Operation Gladio, an article in itself, was designed to create “stay-behind armies”.
These armies were designed to fight against any possible communist invasion, and often included the Italian far right, yearning to see the return of Mussolini, and were bankrolled by NATO. It’s the obituary of shadowy financier Licio Gelli that best explains the Years of Lead:
“Italy in those years was one gigantic conspiracy theory, in which right-wing terrorism seemed to overlap with left-wing terrorism, when the communists knocked at the door of government, and the diverse forces of the Mafia, the Church and Freemasonry – with a helping hand from the CIA, of course – apparently colluded to deny them.”
What gives the Years of Lead a vice grip on the imagination is its inherently sinister quality, the sense that violence supported by official society will never be fully answered for. In Turin, this violence was met with a steelys called “la tradizione sabuada”: the Savoy tradition, referring to the house of Savoy.
Journalist and translator Ramon Glazov calls this, in his introduction to The Twenty Days of Turin by Giorgio De Maria, “a code of repressed dignitas, a shell of stiff-upper-lip politeness…which both buffers and imprisons them.” In a literary context, Leandro Sciascia spent a good deal of his career trying to understand this phenomenon and render it literary and in a sense more real in books like The Day of the Owl.
In a moment of hypertension, when the slowdown from the Italian Miracle began and politics suddenly becomes too big for parliaments and spill into factories, streets, and universities, with low intensity urban war breaking out as the tectonic plates of left and right rub together, there is a feeling that the obvious cannot be really discussed to the extent it needs to be.
A word in the Italian language dietrologia captures some of this feeling. The word means “search for hidden motives”. In The Economist, this is described as, “The idea is that many Italians believe that the surface or official explanation for something can rarely be the real one. There’s always something behind, or dietro, that surface.” It’s of course that oblivious London liberal bluster that ignores that Italians have damn good reason to be prodding at the official explanation.
After all, this is the country where the Mafia is a significant force in their politics. Of course Omerta would trickle down. But there is a flipside to this quality. People’s inherent quality for questioning, which is a simple part of our ability to create culture in the world around us, is nothing if it leads into stone walls. And if behind all of this there is a crawling, grotesque underbelly where the lines between church, state, and terror are all intertwined, then it is inherently sinister.
One only needs to look at a character like Licio Gelli to feel the heat of brimstone and diabolicism in the Italian right wing character. Licio began his career as a volunteer for the Fascist party, and he never disavowed Fascism, declaring his allegiance to the movement even in 1999.
In some sense perhaps his fascism seemed like a quirk of a party guest. What many of these people did not know was, fascist believer he was, he set his financial and political connections towards a resurgence of the fascist state. One of the avenues he planned to do this with was a Masonic lodge.
The lodge was named Propaganda Due or P2. It was originally founded in the 19th century to give masons in the government some privacy. Masonry was banned during Mussolini’s reign, and came back. Licio, a well known figure in Italy acted as the Venerable Master of the lodge. But the lodge’s goals went far beyond being simply a good old boys club. Under Licio Gelli (from his obituary in The Independent):
The Lodge provided a perfect infrastructure. It had a large clandestine foothold in public life and business. It controlled Italy’s biggest publishing group, Rizzoli, and its most important newspaper, Milan’s Corriere della Sera. And it had its bankers, first Michele Sindona and then Roberto Calvi, head of the country’s largest private sector bank, Banco Ambrosiano.
The story of Corrierre Della Sera deserves a look as well. Rizzoli made a deal with Gelli in order to save the paper. With Gelli acting as a financier, his viewpoints now had a mouthpiece (Both the editor Franco Di Bella and one of the paper’s former owners, Angelo Rizzoli were members of P2). With Corriere Della Sera as a fascist tribune it acted as a right wing irritant.
During the 55 days that the left wing terrorist group Brigatti Rossi kidnapped Prime Minister Aldo Moro, the paper called for a total crackdown on left politics in Italy. These policies were best reflected in his “Democratic Plan for Rebirth”. The plan’s bones were to consolidate the media, suppress the trade unions, and to rewrite the Italian constitution. This was only discovered after Licio Gelli was implicated in a financial scandal involving Sindona.
In the bloodiest moment in Italy and the high point of the Years of Lead, a bomb was set off in the Bologna Reale railway station. 85 died and 300 were injured. Licio Gelli was implicated in subverting the investigation of the attack.
The prosecution claimed that Gelli misled investigators into concluding the explosives found in 1981 were linked to other rightists terrorists in Italy and West Germany. While he was acquitted in the courts, one wonders: is it simply that the Italian air of silence, its stiff upper lip and its dietrologia, have paralyzed it in attempting to answer any of the questions those years of violence posed on the Italian civic life.
Then it is no accident that P2 was located in Turin, a city covered in Baroque architecture and monuments. The cradle of temporary Genoese and Venice peace in the aptly named Peace of Turin, the heart of the Italian unification known as the Risorgimento, and the left wing strong hold that saw the Fiat factory occupied twice in the 20th century at two points of possible rupture in capitalism. But it is also a city that carries with it a sense of the weird.
The architecture has been captured rather aptly by Giorgio Chirico in his painting Turin Spring. There in the painting, a building slants backwards as a desk juts forward, the tension between forward and backward crashing into the center of the painting. Just in the corner sits a monument of someone on a horse. This monument is likely a Turinese monument of King Carlo Albert. This monument is also captured in his uncanny The Red Tower. In a wide city street, there in the background sits a fortress with a red color, the monument of King Carlo Albert before the tower.
It’s this odd air that also gives the city a sense of the occult. Locals have nicknamed it “City of Black Magic”, according to Ramon Glazov:
“Turin has a long reputation for everything disquieting and spooky. Dozens of bookshops can still be found near its center selling witchcraft manuals, Satanism how-tos, UFO monthlies and the supposed confessions of ex-Illuminati. Walking along the River Po, you’ll see bridge after bridge daubed with bilingual End Times graffiti… By dread coincidence, Turin has also lent its Italian name to the Torino Scale, used by astronomers to grade the chances that a near-Earth object might “threaten the future of civilization as we know it.”
It’s also a city of writers: counting Umberto Eco, anti-fascist novelist and poet Cesare Pavese, and the aforementioned Italo Calivino. And one of those writers was Giorgio Di Maria, an obscure writer with a small cult of adherents, best known for Twenty Days, a novel version of a Torino scale.
A Reporter from the End of the Long 20th Century
Giorgio Di Maria was a creature of his time. A small but respected figure in the Turinese literary milieu, after his early training as a pianist failed, he began writing a very specific strain of literature that puts him in conversation with some better known luminaries and contemporaries, like Calvino.
Like plenty of literary scenes, genre fare was viewed as inherently unliterary. Yet a few Turinese writers could not ignore the possibilities of genres like science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Even the respected Holocaust memoirist and chemist Primo Levi dipped his toes into science fiction under the name Damiano Malabaila. That notion of genre is why many of De Maria’s stories found themselves published in Il Caffe instead of science fiction pulps.
When De Maria’s stories were published, that sense of unreality was less inhabited by green men and instead stories of a sort of uncanny events, like the assassinations popes and Lord Byron suddenly losing his ability to write. Pier Massimo Prosio, who Ramon Glazov quotes at length in his introduction to the novel, said the following of De Maria: “As a storyteller, De Maria belongs to a rather peculiar and exotic tradition of Italian fiction, a writer that lies at the juncture of real and surreal, the blending of reality and imagination in a not impossible conspiracy.”
It was this style that Prosio believes found itself best expressed in The Twenty Days of Turin, “a proper ghost story, hallucinatory and distressing, in the vein of the great horror masters, especially Poe.”
But The Twenty Days of Turin, proper ghost story as it is, sits at the “juncture of real and surreal” due to the history the story reflects. De Maria’s abilities towards combining those two elements in conspiracy also reflects on the future. For an early taste of his precognitive abilities, he produced a script for RAI-TV called “The Appeal”.
The story of “The Appeal” was a hardened criminal on death row is given the chance to escape execution via an uncanny television program, where he is given the opportunity to prove he is worthy of life. But to measure this, the audience calls into a line and their belief in his inherent goodness is measured by a Clap-O-Meter.
The more the audience claps, the more of a chance the convict has to live. It was not put on TV, though its merit was praised, and exists as a shining example of De Maria to understand not only his times but where they were situated: predicting American Idol and Black Mirror’s “15,000 Million Merits” in one swoop, and in the early 70s.
A writer best educated in his tradition with a piercing understanding of mass communication is a strong one, but De Maria understood that the flip side of mass communication was a paralyzed silence. What good is all the mass communication if there’s no communication? It’s these questions that make Twenty Days beyond just a proper ghost story, but a book able to live up to its subtitle: “A Report at the End of the 20th Century.”
The Twenty Days, The Millenarists, and City Politics
An unnamed man in lives in Turin just before the millennium. He has little to no hobbies, save for playing his recorder. He has a friend in Milan, but mostly seems solitary. In his spare time, he investigates the titular Twenty Days of Turin: a three week phenomenon during the late 80s where insomniacs spilled into the streets in their night clothes, the air had a vinegar smell, and strange, blood-curdling war cries filled the streets.
As people walked through the streets, randomly and without pattern, some of them find themselves bashed against rocks, trees, and even vehicles, broken at the ankles. Strange clues abound, including the presence of heavy footsteps in flower beds. The grisly violence of the crimes and their physical impossibility means that no perpetrator can be named truly.
To the law, ill fitting scapegoats fill the role of Turin’s assailants, but those assailants, when the facts are reviewed, could not have possibly grabbed the insomniacs and thrashed them about like rag dolls. But law and order policies require lawbreakers in order to thrive, and thus impossible suspects are named the killers. The narrator of the story has a simple quest: find out who perpetrated these crimes, to answer “what happened” during the Twenty Days. But he finds himself stymied on several fronts when he reviews the clues. It seems that most people he talks to would rather let those days be forgotten, with different panaceas depending on the person.
Some, known as the Millenariasts, believe that due to the impossibility of the murders that instead these deaths were willed by God, “a dire warning signal from on high addressed to humanity.”
Speaking with the sister of one of the earliest victims, who “seemed to prefer one word above all the others: spirituality,” we see a further continuation of the tradition of Turinese silence, now conflated with a vaguely religious explanation. “How could we–poor mortals–fathom the Lord’s inscrutable designs! We have sinned too much in pride, sinned with our hearts, with our senses, forgetting that spirituality…” Later in the novel, when our narrator encounters the Millenariasts, he describes them as “a crowd of people dressed in psychedelic patterns, including some conspicuous youths with long hair and shaggy beards —just like you’d see during the “protest era” thirty years ago.”
Beyond settling the novel firmly in 1999 beyond its subtitle, De Maria sees an ironic echo. The protest era youths have now given themselves to a sort of doomsday cult that frighteningly intones in their pamphlets that it only takes divine will to recreate the Twenty Days of Turin.
Others, such as Mayor Bonfante, an overworked mayor whose duties “make him droop…the heavy mass of civic duties he’d taken on could flatten him at any moment,” speaks in a political stump speech even when the narrator asks him about the events of yesteryear: “The dark forces that seek to hold us back are far from vanquished. All the same, we’re beating them! We have optimism, willpower, and no short of constructive vision on our side.”
But his the narrator contrasts with the prior Mayor Ambesi, who held the seat during the Twenty Days: “There, you saw a brash, sanguine face, full of derring-do. Here you had a pair of sunken cheeks, olive-skinned but pallid, marking a constant inner unrest.” Bonfante and the narrator speak at the beginning of the chapter titled “The Millenarists.” The juxtaposition is a canny one. Both the Millenariasts and the mayor believe in a form of providence. One is religious, but the other speaks to the language of progress all politicians speak to. Both are Millenarists in their own way.
Our narrator only finds a few allies in his search. One is the attorney Segre, who acts as a friend to our narrator and as one of the most reliable auditory witnesses, as he heard the terrifying screams. Another is Paolo Giuffrida, an art critic Segre knows that dabbles in parapsychological audio recordings. But the rest of the city keeps quiet, specifically when one feature of the city’s past iis discussed: the novel’s infamous Library.
The Library and the Expression of the Voices
No review of the novel can go without discussing the Library, the novel’s most mysterious invention. The narrator says of the Library:
There’s nobody anxious to remember the Library, except perhaps its creators–who nonetheless have managed to cover their tracks so carefully that interviewing them is close to impossible. But if you hope to paint an image of what Turin was like at the time of the Twenty Days, you cannot leave out the Library.
How many regular clients did it see? Three hundred? Four hundred? Five hundred? Or even more than that? It’s useless searching for the figures: all the statistical data concerning that establishment has been destroyed, along with most of the materials it held. How fast, almost explosive, its growth was! And they dismantled it just as quickly, at the order of the authorities, ten years ago in September.
When our narrator asks a woman at a cheese stand if she visited the Library, she looks as if “she was elbowed in the gut.” Its only remains are kept in a basement, guarded by rude patrolmen. But what was in the Library, and who were the creators of it?
The Library experiment began as a form of altruism, “created in the hope of encouraging people to be more open with one another.” Coming during an economic downturn and industrial collapse in Turin a ““stifling atmosphere”” (the narrator’s quotes) overtakes Turin. The immigrant laborers so necessary for Turin’s industrial economy begin going back home. In order to fight this, the city puts together a series of initiatives to bolster the public spirit, but lack new ideas. What fills the gap is the creation of the Library.
The promoters of the library were a series of well dressed and groomed young men with baby faces who went from door to door to discuss the creation of a “library” that would be based in the hospital ward that once housed mental patients. Instead of carrying actual books, however–according to the young men, ‘There’s too much artifice in literature, even when it’s said to be spontaneous,”– what is needed are “true, authentic documents reflecting the real spirit of the people, the kind of things we could rightly call popular subjects.”
Instead of carrying “literature”, the library would carry anonymous self-written diaries and journals. All together, these journals would create a series of confessions and memoirs that reflect the Turinese spirit. But the goal goes beyond the creation of a Popular Literature. Instead, the goal was to foster an air of open communication: “There’s definitely someone who’ll read it and take an interest in your problems. We’ll make sure to put them in touch with you and you’ll become friends; you’ll both feel liberated. It’s an important thing we do, considering how hard it’s gotten for people to communicate these days.”
But in order to be put in touch with someone, the Library charged a few fees for its services, all very cheap. To put it in perspective, I’ll use American currency. Entry to the library cost less than a dollar, as was the ability to learn who wrote one of these journals. For a little over a dollar, you’d be able to have your own manuscript featured, with all your problems being able to find a suitor. All donations were then fed back into a Catholic hospital.
To say things didn’t go according to plan ignores something very crucial about the Library: nobody knew what the plan was really. The effect, however, was a sense of near possession once its patrons began writing: “The prospect of “being read” quivered in the distance like an enchanting mirage–a mirage as real, nonetheless, as the realities that were written down. I will give myself to you, you will give yourself to me: on these very human foundations, the future exchange would happen.” But the Library finds itself a lure to “people with no desire at all for “regular human communication”.
Instead of lonely people meeting each other to create healthier bonds, instead the library finds itself filled with meaningless scraps of information, the confessions of a pedophilic old man lusting after a young girl, or the senseless bullying of an old woman with jaundiced skin. But the “future exchange” instead carries with it a sense of terror.
In a city like Turin, where silence is the norm, to be perceived is something worse than being ignored, and the fact that, for such a cheap fee these confessions may be read by anybody in Turin had to create an anxiety that added to Turin’s stifling atmosphere during its imagined ‘89 downturn. Where that anxiety feeds is into the streets, into the insomniac wandering. The library was closed after the Twenty Days and its numerous, mysterious deaths where average Turinese people were broken against trees.
We should probably begin by discussing the obvious: the Library sounds a lot like social media. I can log into Facebook or Twitter now and shoot off any thought that flies into my head. I can deliver any confession I may have: any crush, any failure, when I last picked my nose, and whose dog I wiped it on.
These all range from the innocent to the devious to the scatalogical to the useless. The moment those posts are made I know something very important is going to happen, and it’s a word we see all over our discourse: I will be seen. But being seen and feeling seen are two different things.
Meanwhile, when we look at the phenomenon of social media: Libs of Tik Tok may as well be a Der Sturmer focused on suppressing queer life in America, Facebook’s algorithims are connected directly to the massacres in Myanmar underwent by its Buddhist priests. Whatever Twitter and Facebook’s early, tech-optimist endeavors might have been (remember, Google originally had its unofficial motto as “don’t be evil”), communication and expression are not inherently utopian ends.
What De Maria is writing about, however, is better understood through something more learned than the age old story of “what if technology, but too far?” De Maria locates this tendency in something a bit more disturbing. It is not facilitated by the sudden transformative technology of the computer, but by small notebooks. We’d make a further mistake by chalking it up to the dark hearts inherent in people.
In order to understand what De Maria is talking about, we have to turn to Walter Benjamin’s writing on “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” and its famous epilogue:
Fascism attempts to organize the newly created proletarian masses without affecting the property structure which the masses strive to eliminate. Fascism sees its salvation in giving these masses not their right, but instead a chance to express themselves. The masses have a right to change property relations; Fascism seeks to give them an expression while preserving property.
That the Library appears during a time of unrest to give the masses expression should point to the more nefarious designs of its construction. With the publication in English of the novel coming in 2017, in the early months of Trump’s presidency, reviewers made the connection between the baby faced young men, and the clean cut alt-right.
But De Maria’s literary gifts being boiled down to an uncanny sense of prophecy slightly misses the point, and comes to a far scarier conclusion. The alt-right, on occasions, may have flirted with altruism as a way to promote their fascist ideas, but their nihilism, more often than not, found itself at an odd place in civil society. They were perpetual outsiders with a temporary voicing in the nativist causes of Donald Trump, but Trump was ultimately too capricious of an ally, too lazy, too full of bluster.
Trump himself may operate as a fascist, but the alt-right itself can’t even compare to the baby faced young men of the Library: there is something too puerile in their demands compared to the sinister and oblique motivations of the Library boosters. A better analogy, and one that was a less prominent story at the time, is the growing far-right underbelly of Silicon Valley power brokers, who find themselves fascinated with reactionaries like Curtis Yarvin in addition to facilitating utopian goals through the use of communication, but even that is lacking: all of the books in the Library are simple notebooks.
Instead, what makes these young men more terrifying are their allies. The disturbing question of the Library is not that it existed but where it existed: under the watchful eye of the Catholic Church, inside one of their hospital wards.
From the vantage point of the reader, all signs point towards the Catholic Church’s involvement, be it an honest mistake or something more sinister. But with the bare facts of Catholic parties like DC being funded by the Americans, De Maria is pointing towards something at the base level of Italian civil society.
When De Maria’s narrator meets a representative of the church, Sister Clothilde, beneath the piety, all he faces is a wall: “We would only prefer it if you showed more discretion towards those who now rest in eternal sleep— if, out of respect for their memory, you withdrew from probing into whatever reasons certain poor souls have left this Vale of Tears.”
As he asks for clarification on whether he should could continue to investigate these phenomena, she tells him, “Never! Seek away! Wonder to your heart’s content!” Question seeking becomes pure expression, unable to change anything. It’s in the novels centerpiece where this becomes most obvious.
After his discussion with Sister Clothilde, the narrator steps away from the obvious conflation of the Library and the church, until the attorney Segre calls him to tell him that Paolo Giuffrida, an art-critic and recorder of audio phenomenon, who has a series of recordings taken during the Twenty Days from a two-way radio transceiver.
What Giuffrida records is a cacophony of “chiseling sounds…formed into a remote but hectic soundscape…accompanied by wheezing and something that resembled a heart pulsating under a stethoscope.” This turns into a “hushed medley of voices,” that slowly begin speaking in Italian, until:
I noticed a curious enrichment of the language. Adjectives had emerged, sentences were expressed in more sophisticated syntax, and the anonymous statements, the short-lived spurts of vision, had been replaced by narratives that were at times highly imaginative—as if these entities were in competition among themselves over who could best describe the view in front of them.
The voices, whatever they are, as their language gets more and complicated, find themselves aggrieved by other voices who best the others in this game of linguistic competition. As these voices find themselves lacking, their only recourse is violence. A battle is scheduled by them all, and the first day chosen is July the second, the first of the Twenty Days of Turin.
While Prosio called the book a “proper ghost story”, Paolo rejects the possibility of these voices being ghosts. “I lean more towards Hans Bander’s hypothesis that what we call ‘apparitions’ aren’t ghosts but the unconscious mind venting itself.” Juxtaposing these sounds with Raudive, he claims that:
Unlike those alleged ‘voices’ Raudive recorded, which typically expressed themselves in many different tongues and with bizarrely mangled words, the ‘entities’ I’ve captured on tape speak in Italian. That ought to be a sign that we were the ones who spawned these things; that it was our social–and I’ll risk saying it, urban–environment that gave rise to them. If, one day or another, they appear in a different part of the world…it would all depend on the habits and customs that govern public life in those hypothetical countries.”
Just like fascism, with its obsession with the nation, this cacophony could arise in many languages: in English, in Ukrainian, in Hindi.
The Library Returns
All of the investigation in the world, of course, does nothing. In the final half of the novel, signs of something not seen for ten years return. As he walks around Turin, he begins seeing the young men reappear, no longer speaking of altruism, but stalking him, watching his every move. He begins receiving disturbing letters and hearing thumps outside of his apartment against the door.
And in Turin, he begins seeing people take things out of the trash. He does as well, and what he finally finds is a diary. Watching again, he sees a man take out one of the journals and go on his way. The Library has returned, this time amongst waste. Like Calvino’s Leonia, the forces behind the Twenty Days have soldered a cuirass onto the city, one that cannot be removed, no matter the damage.
Only expression is offered, and the question of property is kept silent. Later in the novel, Segre delivers the final verdict. “The future is very dark… Foul, small-minded deities have emerged from the heart of the rock…And beings of flesh and blood, like us, are celebrating this atrocious event.” What is to be worried about is “something very different, with a history that goes quite a ways back…A business which we believed was over and done with is coming back into motion, and with a coldness, a clarity, which would have been unthinkable in the time of the Twenty Days…”
This was De Maria’s only novel. After it, and for reasons never fully discussed, he had a nervous breakdown that coincided with a sudden belief in Catholicism. In his final days, with his writing becoming “flatly Catholic” to quote an old friend, never to find its original spark or irony.
Coming into motion, of course, in Italy, was a roaring resurgence of past spites. After a series of scandals rocked Italy, the heirs to the defeated leftist powers seemed prime to take position in Italy. In response, a new force in Italian politics with an unsurprising beginning became the country’s prime minster.
Silvio Berlusconi became the prime minister in Italy after forming an electoral coalition with far right parties like Lega Nord and National Alliance. National Alliance was one of the parties that descended from the Italian Social Movement; if MSI was their father, it was Mussolini’s fascists that were their grandfather. What makes this all the more striking is today Mussolini’s granddaughter Rachelle sits as a city counciler in the far right FdL (Fratelli d’Italia or Brothers of Italy).
Rachelle’s party is lead by Giorgia Meloni, the current prime minister of Italy. In her youth, she went to fascist revivalist camps headed by the Youth Front of the Italian Social Movement. These camps were called Campo Hobbit, named, of course, after Tolkein’s ruddy little Englishmen and Giorgia Meloni has referred to Lord of the Rings as a sort of guiding text.
The seventies De Maria would see this occurrence, this shadowy genre fiction double leading his nation into a cold and clear business, and see terror, specifically from his past. The Italian relationship to Lord of the Rings as a far right text begins with Elemire Zolla, whose introduction to the books, once published, endorsed the book as a parable about battling the dark forces of modernity.
As Umberto Croppi, a former member of the Italian Social Movement that has now moved on to working as the director of Federculture, an Italian public private cultural partnership, says of fantasy and fascism that they share a “vision of spirituality against materialism, a metaphysical vision of life against the forms of the modern world.” This is the lens that Elemire Zolla endorsed Tolkein through.
Now it is a guiding post for the policies of the country. For once, Giorgio De Maria’s oft-lauded skills of precognition were lost. During his heyday, he held many literary salons, largely left-wing, except for the presence of Zolla. It was Zolla who introduced his first story in Il Caffe. As Segre says near the end of the novel, “It’s very hard to rebuild anything when you haven’t yet severed the serpent’s head.”
The nation has few better representatives of the serpent than Silvio Berlusconi. When Licio Gelli was arrested in connection with Michele Sindona, a list of the membership of Propaganda Due was found. Included on this list was Silvio Berlusconi.
Never one to shy away from self-aggrandizement, Licio Gelli said of his former lodgemate: “Every morning I speak with the voices of my conscience, and it is a dialogue that calms me down. I look at the country, I read the newspapers and I think: here everything happens little by little, piece by piece . Maybe yes, I should have the copyrights. Justice, TV, public order. I wrote it all thirty years ago.”
But one bit of self-aggrandizement could have came out of one of the Library’s confessions. During an interview ran in Corrierre Del Serra, done by Maurizio Costanzo, another member of P2, Licio confessed: when he was a child, he wanted to grow up to be a puppeteer.
Whether these anxieties are animated by a hand or by unconscious venting, something is very clear: twenty days is enough time for eons to happen, and everywhere today, in our waste, could arise a new Library.
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