Toxic academic mentors

Man of Roma:

Tenure, She Wrote

Magistri Mendaces

καὶ ἐν ὑμῖν ἔσονται ψευδοδιδάσκαλοι
in vobis erunt magistri mendaces
2 Peter 2.1

ψ

Mentors are important for a young person’s mind, in Academia and elsewhere.

Like all of us, made poorer by a fraudulent economy, a youth’s mind can be treated similarly by toxic mentors

This post is about them.

[Courtesy of drmellivora from @Tenure, She wrote]

Originally posted on Tenure, She Wrote:

Unfortunately for potential scientists, professors don’t receive any formal training in mentoring – and a disastrous mentoring situation can derail a trainee’s career.  Although some professors go out of their way to think about mentoring (see Acclimatrix’s post ), and many want to be good mentors, the truth is there are some downright awful ones out there.  So what creates a ‘toxic’ mentoring relationship?  To me, the worst relationships happen when the person in power (the mentor) takes advantage of the mentee’s work without sufficient regard for their career and mental health.  Unfortunately, I’ve never been part of a department where there wasn’t at least one professor that “everyone” knew was a toxic mentor.  Some examples include:
  • One who drags out a student’s defense date for years because of limited resources for that type of research (doesn’t want the competition)
  • One who blocks mentee publications or degrees by putting up…

View original 1,592 more words

Ex voto. Gli italoamericani e le radici dell’antica Roma

La Chiesa di Nostra Signora del Monte Carmelo (un monte in Palestina) nella 115esima strada dell’East Harlem: fu la prima parrocchia italiana degli Stati Uniti. Il ‘culto’ di questa madonna sollevò polemiche tra il clero cattolico americano ma venne poi legittimato da Papa Leone XIII. La statua venne ‘incoronata’ nel 1904. Click for credits

English version

New York City, 17 luglio 1900

In quel giorno il New York Times scrisse:

“Little Italy [...] era in pompa magna ieri, il giorno della festa di Nostra Signora del Carmine. Una folla di italiani, variamente stimata tra le 40.000 e le 75.000 persone, assediava il santuario nella Chiesa di Nostra Signora del Carmine nella 115esima strada, dalle 4 del mattino fino a tarda notte. La folla recava in offerta candele di ogni dimensione, denaro, gioielli, figure in cera e in un caso un paio di occhiali”.

Nostra Signora del Carmine esce dalla chiesa nel 2004 durante la celebrazione del centesimo anniversario della sua coronazione. Click for credits

Abbiamo scambiato delle idee qui nel blog del MoR sul tema delle feste religiose italiane e sul loro significato.

Adesso vorrei richiamare l’attenzione su quelle figure in cera. Cosa sono?

Sono per lo più ex voto anatomici, cioè “modelli di arti o organi in relazione ai quali i devoti imploravano la Madonna perché sanasse le corrispondenti parti del corpo umano” – come scrisse il NYT in un altro articolo dello stesso periodo.

Ex voto. Museo d’antropologia e etnografia, Cagliari. Click for credits

Come osserva Robert Anthony Orsi (a p. 3 del suo libro The Madonna of 115th streetFaith and community in Italian Harlem, 1880-1950, Yale University Press, 1985) :

“I venditori di articoli religiosi collocavano bancarelle lungo i marciapiedi, in competizione con il commercio locale in articoli religiosi. Le bancarelle erano zeppe di copie in cera di organi interni umani e modelli di arti e teste umane. Chi era stato guarito – o sperava di essere guarito – dalla Madonna dei mal di testa o delle artriti recava nella grande processione modelli in cera degli arti e delle parti del corpo malate, ben dipinte per farle apparire più realistiche. Il fedele poteva anche acquistare statue di cera raffiguranti neonati, amuleti per scongiurare il malocchio, come ad esempio piccole corna da indossare attorno al collo o piccoli gobbi rossi, il tutto venduto assieme a santini, statue di Gesù, di Maria, dei santi, e a parti anatomiche del corpo”.

Antica Roma, 342 a.C.

Marcia è felice. Suo figlio, di 14 anni, si è appena ristabilito da un terribile incidente di strada. Le gambe fratturate sono guarite e lui adesso può camminare nuovamente. La lettiga che la trasporta viene adagiata sull’acciottolato. Marcia ne esce ed entra in una bottega di fronte all’isola Tiberina dove si trova il tempio di Esculapio, il dio della medicina e della guarigione. Marcia acquista due gambe in terracotta che di lì a poco porterà al tempio del dio, come dono sacro e simbolo di gratitudine.

Ex voto anatomici dell’antica Grecia

Marcia è un personaggio immaginario ma un vera e propria bottega-deposito risalente a più di duemila anni fa – in piena epoca repubblicana – fu rinvenuta nella primavera del 1885 durante gli scavi per la costruzione del muraglione sinistro del Tevere.

Conteneva – come scriverà l’archeologo Rodolfo Lanciani nel 1898 (L’antica Roma, cap. III p.87, Newton & Compton, 2005) “un gran numero di oggetti anatomici in terracotta dipinta, finemente modellata, e rappresentanti teste, orecchie, occhi, seni, braccia, mani, ginocchia, gambe, piedi ecc. Si trattava di ex-voto offerti alle divinità greco-romane da madri e parenti riconoscenti”.

In realtà, Lanciani aggiunge, “sembra che all’ingresso del ponte Fabricio [chiamato in seguito anche Ponte Quattro Capi, vedi immagine sotto, ndr] che conduce dal Campo Marzio all’isola vi fossero botteghe per la vendita di ex-voto di ogni genere … “

Il Pons Fabricius, chiamato Quattro Capi, rimasto intatto dai tempi dell’antica Roma. Conduce all’Isola Tiberina dove si trovava il tempio di Esculapio. Click for credits

Ex voto anatomici offerti alle divinità in segno di gratitudine o nella speranza di guarigioni erano comuni presso innumerevoli popoli antichi. Esistevano in Mesopotamia, nella Creta minoica, nell’antico Egitto ecc, ma i reperti più numerosi sono stati rinvenuti in Grecia e soprattutto nell’Italia centrale dove la maggior parte di essi risale al periodo tra il IV e il I secolo a.C.

Numerosi gli ex voto anatomici anche nelle province dell’impero romano. In Gallia, l’attuale Francia, ad esempio, essi erano numerosi nei santuari della Dea Sequana, la dea celtica della Senna.

Robert A. Orsi nel suo bel libro sulla Madonna del Carmine a New York City non fa uso del termine ‘pagano’ in riferimento alla religiosità italoamericana del periodo 1880-1950.

Egli tuttavia parla di paganesimo quando descrive la reazione dei cattolici non italiani nei confronti della religiosità italiana. Gli italiani sbarcati in America vennero infatti accusati di superficialità religiosa e di strane pratiche pagane.

“In un aspro attacco pubblicato sul The Catholic world nel 1888 – riferisce Orsi a pag. 55 del libro citato – il reverendo Bernard Lynch criticò duramente ‘il particolare tipo di condizione spirituale’ degli immigrati italiani, che si nutrivano di pellegrinaggi, santuari, santini, devozioni, ma che mancavano di qualsiasi reale comprensione della ‘grande verità della religione’ “.

Nella pagina successiva Orsi parla di “un sacerdote italiano che passò tutta la vita nell’East Harlem e nella chiesa del Carmine” e che riferì all’autore di come “egli avesse sempre saputo che il clero irlandese era contrario alle devozioni della Madonna del Carmine perché le considerava superstizioni pagane:” “Ci vedevano come africani, come gente strana. E rifiutavano tutto ciò … Eravamo sempre guardati dall’alto in basso, come se stessimo facendo qualcosa di male … “.

English original

Post di argomento simile:

“Italians are Cynical, Amoral, Religiously Superficial”
Politeismo dell’antica Roma e venerazione dei santi (1)
Politeismo dell’antica Roma e venerazione dei santi (2)
Sopravvivenze della dea romana Fortuna

Survivals of Roman Religion
From the Goddess of the Fever to Our Lady of the Fever

Gods are Watching with an Envious Eye

Ex Votos in Italian-American Devotions

The Church of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel on 115th street, East Harlem, the first Italian Parish in the USA. The ‘cult’ raised controversy among the US Catholic clergy but was legitimized by Pope Leo XIII. The statue was ‘crowned’ in 1904. Click for credits

Italian version

New York City, July 17 1900.

The New York Times wrote on that day:

“Little Italy […] was out in gala attire yesterday, which was the day of the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. A crowd of Italians estimated variously at from 40,000 to 75,000 besieged the shrine in the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, at 115th street and Avenue A, from 4 o’clock in the morning until late at night, bringing with them as offerings candles of all sizes, money, jewellery, wax figures, and in one case a pair of spectacles.”

Our Lady of Mt. Carmel exits the church during the 2004 celebration of the 100th anniversary of the statue’s coronation. Click for credits

We exchanged ideas in this discussion at the MoR’s about the significance of Italian religious feasts.

Now I’d like to draw attention on those wax figures. What are they?

They are mostly anatomical ex votos, i.e. “models of the limbs or organs they prayed the Madonna would heal” – another NYT article reports.

Ex votos. Anthropology and Ethnography Museum, Cagliari, Italy. Click for credits

As Robert Anthony Orsi observes (at page 3 of his 1985 book “The Madonna of 115th streetFaith and community in Italian Harlem, 1880-1950”) :

“Vendors of religious articles set up booths along the sidewalks, competing for business with the thriving local trade in religious goods. The booths were filled with wax replicas of internal human organs and with models of human limbs and heads. Someone who has been healed – or hoped to be healed – by the Madonna of the headaches or arthritis would carry wax models of the afflicted limbs or head, painted to make them look realistic, in the big procession. The devout could also buy little wax statues of infants. Charms to ward off the evil eye, such as little horns to wear around the neck and little red hunchbacks, were sold alongside the holy cards, statues of Jesus, Mary and the saints, and the wax body parts.”

Ancient Rome, 342 BC.

Marcia is happy. Her 14-year-old son has recovered from a terrible cart accident. His fractured legs have healed and he can walk again. The lectica carrying her is now set down. She gets out of it and enters a shop not far from the temple of Aesculapius, god of medicine and healing. She buys two terra-cotta legs that she will soon take to the temple of the god on the Tiber island, as a sacred gift expressing her gratitude.

Anatomical ex votos from ancient Greece

Marcia is fictional but a real ancient Roman shop going back more than a couple of thousand years earlier perhaps (the period of the Roman Republic) was discovered in the spring of 1885 in the foundations of the left embankment of the Tiber.

It contained – archaeologist Rodolfo Lanciani wrote a few years later – “a large number of anatomical specimens in painted terra-cotta, beautifully modelled from nature, and representing heads, ears, eyes, breasts, arms, hands, knees, legs, feet, ex-votos offered by happy mothers etc.” to the Greco-Roman deities.

In fact, Lanciani adds, “it seems that at the entrance of the Fabrician bridge (ponte Quattro Capi, see image below), leading from the Campus Martius to the island [where the temple of the god was located, MoR], there were shops for the sale of ex‑votos of every description …”

Pons Fabricius, called Quattro Capi, the most ancient bridge in Rome. It leads to the Tiber Island where the temple of Aesculapius was located. Click for credits

Anatomical ex votos as offerings to a deity out of gratitude or in hope for healing were common in many ancient peoples. They existed in Mesopotamia, Minoan Crete, ancient Egypt etc. but the most numerous finds were unearthed in Greece and especially in central Italy where most of them date back from the 4th to the 1st century BC.

We also found anatomical ex votos in provinces of the Roman empire. In Gallia now France, for example, they were present in sanctuaries of Dea Sequana, the Celtic goddess of the river Seine.

Robert A. Orsi in his valuable work on NYC  Madonna of Mount Carmel does not make use of the term ‘pagan’ as for the Italian-Americans of the period 1880-1950 [I wonder why. I don't think there is anything shameful about the traces of ancient customs. Quite the contrary]

Paganism is though mentioned when he describes the reaction of the non Italian Catholics to the Italian religiosity. Italians were accused of religious superficiality and of weird, pagan practices.

“In a bitter attack published in The Catholic world in 1888 – Orsi refers at p. 55 -, the Reverend Bernard Lynch excoriated “the peculiar kind of spiritual condition” of the Italian immigrants, fed on pilgrimages, shrines, holy cards, and ‘devotions’ “but lacking any understanding of ‘the great truth of religion’.”

On the following page Orsi mentions “an Italian priest who spent his own life in East Harlem and at Mount Carmel” and who told the author that “he always knew the Irish Clergy were against the Mount Carmel devotions, viewing them as pagan superstitions: “They thought we were Africans, that there was something weird. They didn’t accept it at all …We were always looked upon as though we were doing something wrong…”.

Related posts:

“Italians are Cynical, Amoral, Religiously Superficial”
Ancient (Roman) Polytheism and the Veneration of Saints (1)

Ancient (Roman) Polytheism and the Veneration of Saints (2)

Survivals of the Roman Goddess Fortuna

Survivals of Roman Religion
From the Goddess of the Fever to Our Lady of the Fever

Read also:

The Mafia and the Italian Mind (1)
The Mafia and the Italian Mind (2)

See also the survival, in the Italian South, of the Greek notion of the ‘envious’ gods:

Gods are Watching with an Envious Eye

The Mafia and the Italian Mind (2)

Murals against the Mafia realised by students in Catania, Sicily. Click for credits

While in Russia I had a few dinners with two Frenchmen from Northern France who lived and worked in Moscow.

Claude, whose job contract was about to end, told us: “I’ve been offered a job in Toulouse. Alain, do you picture me in Toulouse, with all that mafioso mentality?”

Toulouse. Click for credits and to enlarge

Toulouse is in the deep French South. We passed to other topics in our conversation and dinner flowed pleasantly. Alain had brought a few bottles of Bordeaux from France. Good wine is awfully expensive in Russia. Of course Claude didn’t refer to ‘mafioso’ in the sense of ‘belonging to the mob’.

ψ

‘Mafia’ is in fact used both in a broad and a narrow sense.

According to the Dizionario Treccani ‘mafioso’ is:

1) either a criminal belonging to a mafia-like organization;

2) or one who “to the rule of law [including the laws of market, I guess] tends to replace the power of his/her own interests or of a small group and indefinitely defends his/her friends to the detriment of others.”

Now I am well aware that cliques & personal networks exist everywhere. In Russia and China they have respectively blat and guanxi relations and obligations. In Russia I heard of professionals like doctors or dentists that preferred to build a network of ‘useful contacts’ instead of being paid by each of their clients.

Cliques are terribly pervasive in the Mediterranean. In every Western country good contacts count to get things done, to find jobs etc. But here especially they represent a serious obstacle to modernization, by systematically promoting mediocrity over merit, by polluting the political arena – votes exchanged for favours, collaboration among politicians even from opposite sides by the exchange of favours etc.

Sheets commemorating Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, two Italian magistrates killed by the Mafia. White sheets are a symbol of protest against the silence that protects the Mafia

Some areas of the Italian South are permeated by a mafioso mentality which often connects economical political and criminal activities into a choking whole and which from those areas radiates to the rest of the country.

Giuseppe Mazzini‘s prophecy [Mazzini is one of Italy's founding patriots,] that “Italy will be that which the Mezzogiorno will be”, proved true, at least in some respects.

ψ

I wonder how many researchers have connected ancient Roman behaviours with the mafiosi behaviours (of any kind) that we find in Mediterranean coastal areas and in Italy. In the Mezzogiorno I see something reminiscent of the ancient Roman system of social relations [our next post tries to throw some light on this matter.]

But let’s first review how a mafia network in the narrow sense is built.

One common mistake – we had written – is that of considering the mafiosi as simple gunmen to defeat. Don Vito Cascio Ferro had no guns. He was one of the first godfathers who operated both in Sicily and in the United States. His force lay in his cynicism and intelligence and in the network he was able to create thanks to well ingrained traditions. He distributed favori, favours, to everybody, but something was asked in return.

This passage from Mario Puzo’s The Godfather is even clearer:

“Don Vito Corleone was a man to whom everybody came for help, and never were they disappointed. He made no empty promise (…) Only one thing was required. That you, you yourself, proclaim your friendship. And then, no matter how poor or powerless the supplicant, Don Corleone would take that man’s troubles to his heart (…) His reward? Friendship, the respectful title of “Don” (…), some humble gift – a gallon of homemade wine etc.
It was understood, it was mere good manners, to proclaim that you were in his debt and that he had the right to call upon you at any time to redeem your debt by some small service.”

So this exchange of favours seems an important element of the culture underlying the mafia. Ingrained in traditions that are centuries old it creates a network based on reciprocal dependence.

We’ll tentatively see how all this can somehow be connected to ancient Rome.

[to be continued]

Related posts:

The Mafia and the Italian Mind (1)
A Cultural Battle
The Mafia and the Italian Mind. Was Julius Caesar a Godfather? (3)

Is The Human Mind Like a Museum?
“Italians are Cynical, Amoral, Religiously Superficial”
Traces of Paganism in Italians

Is America Too Young to Maintain its Cultural Hegemony in the Long Run?

Sarah Palin. Click for credits and to enlarge

This is the end of a series on Antonio Gramsci. I am beginning here where I left in my previous post.

The title and the post are meant to provoke a bit, and I know I risk being considered a snobbish, or a chauvinist, European.

The United States – I was saying – exert today a cultural hegemony over the planet at a high and a popular level of culture [for the high level, suffice it the sheer excellence of their universities in the scientific, technological and humanities fields, not to mention the number of Nobel prizes attained by Americans]

One can speak of a new American Renaissance, with fantastic contributions offered to the world – the Internet, a great revolution, being just one of them.

Which affects both the American culture and those cultures exposed to American influence – basically ALL of them, at diverse degrees.

[By culture I mean both:

1) the set of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features of a group (the Unesco definition);

2) the general knowledge, values etc. an individual can attain through education (linked to the Ancient concepts of Humanitas & Paideia.)

Also culture quality has to be considered. If I enjoy Shakespeare better than soap operas, I am not a snob, I am simply better educated and my mind is more powerful]

Gramsci, reflecting on the US soon after the 1929 depression, considered America culturally hegemonic already at his time (the 1930s) although to him such world-wide hegemony presented a few cracks for being, the US, too virgin and too young as a nation, with a melting pot of too many ‘cultures’ (see above the meaning 1 of the term.)

Now, following Gramsci’s reasoning – and considering his notions of ‘intellectuals’, ‘cultural hegemony’ and ‘national-popular’ culture (see our posts on Gramsci 1, 2 and 3)– we can ask ourselves:

In our rapidly changing world, with powerful civilisations about to re-surface, is America seductive enough at a world-wide scale [ie 'culturally hegemonic' world-wide]?

I’ll say my opinion right away: the cracks Gramsci was mentioning seem today particularly evident (at least to many Europeans) at a pop culture level [update: whatever the reasons for this.] A civilization doesn’t export its high culture only. It exports the sentiments of its whole people with its books (quality works and blockbusters), films, TV serials etc. and when its tourists, business people, soldiers & the men of the street wander about the planet.

[A Gramscian national-popular notion of culture is where the intellectuals - artists, writers etc. - express at a higher level the elementary sentiments of the common people who thus emotionally and intellectually participate. The examples he indicates of 'national-popular' may clarify this Gramscian crucial concept: the Elisabethan theatre, the Greek tragedy or the Italian opera.]

I mean, when Rome conquered Gaul, Romanization occurred deeply without any organized effort by the Romans. That is, the Roman ‘culture’ was felt as superior and seduced the Gauls who became the French - not only the culture of the ‘intellectuals’ (big politicians, generals, writers etc.) was seducing, but that of the merchants, of the soldiers, of the simple citizens as well.

Do you also think that American world-wide hegemony’s weak point is a low-level and too pervading pop culture (due to consumerism, to making money being what only matters nowadays etc.) and also the “erasure of any high-pop culture distinction”? [see Lichanos' comment on this]

Trekkies at Baycon, 2003. Click for credits

Do you also think that, to quote Andreas Kluth, a ‘high culture’ perceived as snobbish only “is a tragedy” and that – I’d add – the tea parties, the Sarah Palins and US widespread anti-elitism will make America pay a price in the long run in terms, again, of world cultural hegemony?

Finally – be patient, I dislike Star Trek – what do the Indians, the Chinese, the Persians, the rest of the world population – often belonging to ancient civilizations – think of the thousands of Star Trek conventions and clubs that have spread all over the globe? Will it benefit America’s image?

Note. I had discussed ‘West and US Seduction’ with my commentators (among other themes) at the time of Culture, Kultur, Paideia and The Last Days of the Polymath. Those discussions were among the best in this blog in my opinion.

Here just a few ideas from those discussions.

As for culture (in the sense of individual general knowledge & refinement) Lichanos had lamented the erasure of a high-pop culture distinction in the USA. To him more than the ‘youth factor’ a role may be played by America being often “the first to represent trends that are going world-wide”, ie America is just ahead of Europe in mass-culture and consumerism, which explains why a superficial pop culture is so pervasive in the US.

To Andreas Kluth a ‘high culture’ perceived as ‘snobbish only’ is “a tragedy” and due to many factors among which a too widespread anti-elitism (“Sarah Palin and all the rest”).

ψ

Other posts on Gramsci:

American Engineer, German Philosopher & French Politician: Gramsci’s Ideal Blend for the Modern Leonardo da Vinci
Seven Aspects of Antonio Gramsci’s Thought
America, the Greatest Collective Effort Ever existed”. Antonio Gramsci

Related posts:

Democracy, Liberty & the Necessity of a Solid Education of the People
Culture, Kultur, Paideia
The Last Days of the Polymath


“America, the Greatest Collective Effort Ever existed”. Antonio Gramsci

New York. Click for credits and to enlarge

While replying to Thomas Stazyk‘s comment on a post on Antonio Gramsci I realised it was more convenient to write a new blog post instead.

I usually reply to my readers one by one. Tomorrow it will be the others’ turn.

Explaining Paris Hilton

Thomas. Thank you for an interesting and insightful 795 words! For me, Gramsci adds the needed dimension to Marx that is required to understand/explain contemporary culture. I think his ideas of cultural domination and hegemony go far to explain everything from the Tea Party to Paris Hilton, and maybe Facebook and Twitter as well, but the whole technology thing needs more thought. I’m worried that saying that social media (and reality TV) are vehicles of cultural domination might sound too much like a conspiracy theory. But they certainly do support Gramsci’s view that hegemony is achieved and maintained by consent of the subordinate class.

MoR. “Gramsci adds the needed dimension to Marx that is required to understand/explain contemporary culture.”

You may refer to Gramsci’s study of Marx’s superstructure. Gramsci criticises the notion of a superstructure as simple ‘skin’ of a society, and of a socio-economic base, the ‘skeleton’, that is what really matters by determining the conscience etc.

“Women – Gramsci said – fall in love with the skin, not the skeleton”. Seduction, again, ie cultural hegemony.

[Update: ie people are ‘seduced’ by the ‘skin’ or cultural elements (superstructure) more than by the ‘skeleton’ – socio-economic class structure. It is a metaphorical way of stressing the importance of cultural hegemony, of men’s choices – free, non mechanically predetermined by the economical class structure – and of 'intellectuals' in history.]

I think his ideas of cultural domination and hegemony go far to explain everything from the Tea Party to Paris Hilton, and maybe Facebook and Twitter as well.

I’ll get to Facebook and Paris Hilton. But I’ve got to follow a long forgotten reasoning.

Since the core of Gramsci’s reflection is the superstructure – intellectuals being like the agents of it –, by analyzing both the high and the pop culture(s) of several countries he strongly advocates a blend of the two levels.

The intellectuals, he argues, should not be separated– as it always was the case of Italy – from the ‘elementary passions’ of the common people. A folk should be culturally united, as a tendency at least.

Greek Tragedy & Shakespeare

Such culture [update: of a high level, where the 'intellectuals' and the common people interact in a two way process] he calls ‘national-popular’ (complex notion to say the truth.) Among the best examples of it Gramsci indicates the Greek tragedy and the Elizabethan theatre, where the majority of the people were involved in a great experience. To him the only Italian example of such ‘artistic unity’ of the people [update: high-low interaction] is the Italian opera (I may possibly add, since I saw it with my eyes, the ‘popular’ love for Dante one can still experience in many parts of Tuscany and elsewhere.)

The Italian Renaissance to him, though sublime, was too elitist [update: ie no participation of the populace, no high-low interaction] and one cause in the end of the Italian decline. The protestant Reformation saw instead great popular participation (Renaissance-Reformation are to Gramsci also dialectic metaphors – in the Hegelian sense of thesis and antithesis – that he uses abstractly.)

Even if at first the Reformation – Gramsci argues – was like a return to the dark ages, it later liberated people’s energies by reaching higher levels of culture and contributing to the construction, among the rest, of the American nation.

US Cultural Hegemony

San Francisco Fire Department Engine 22 (1893). Click for credits and to enlarge

The first British immigrants to the New World were in fact an intellectual and especially moral elite – Gramsci argues. Defeated religiously in their fatherland but not humiliated, they brought to the New World great will, moral energy and “a certain stage of European historical evolution, which when transplanted by such men into the virgin soil of America, developed – and continues to develop – the forces implicit in its nature but with an incomparably more rapid rhythm than Old Europe”, where the relics of the past generated opposition giving to every initiative the equilibrium of mediocrity …

We all know what happened, how Europe went down and how the US have become the dominant power.

Following Gramsci’s reasoning, the United States exert yet today a cultural hegemony over the world, at both a high and a popular level of culture. Their universities are excellent in all fields (they even have among the best Dante’s specialists!) etc., intellectuals are not that detached from the people (they tend to ‘disseminate’ knowledge in their books, not like here in Italy although things are changing a bit – while France, a not at all bad ‘national-popular’ place in the 19th century – see 19th-century French literature! – is nowadays possibly even more elitist than we are, but I’m not sure.)

Capitoline She-Wolf. Rome, Musei Capitolini. Public domain

Not concluded. Tomorrow, Thomas and you folks. I am European, not American. And my dog Lilla is recovering but she is 15 years old.

ψ

See next installment:

Is America Too Young to Maintain its Cultural Hegemony in the Long Run?

More on Antonio Gramsci:

American Engineer, German Philosopher & French Politician: Gramsci’s Ideal Blend for the Modern Leonardo da Vinci
Seven Aspects of Antonio Gramsci’s Thought

Related posts:

Democracy, Liberty & the Necessity of a Solid Education of the People
Culture, Kultur, Paideia
The Last Days of the Polymath

Seven Aspects of Antonio Gramsci’s Thought

Andreas Kluth, the Hannibal man, asked me to write something about Gramsci in 300 words. I failed. These are 795 words.

ψ

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.

Antonio Gramsci’s ashes in the Protestant ‘Cimitero degli Inglesi’ in Rome

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;

4) anti-platonic. Nature is ruled by blind forces, with no intelligent design. He follows the Italian tradition of Lucretius, Vico, Leonardo, Machiavelli, Leopardi, in contrast with the Platonic (and hegemonic) tendency expressed during the Renaissance by Marsilio Ficino and Pico della Mirandola;

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’s Heilige 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.”

Note. An inspired introduction to Gramsci is Giuseppe Fiori’s Antonio Gramsci: Life of a Revolutionary (1970).

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… :-)

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More on Antonio Gramsci:

American Engineer, German Philosopher & French Politician: Gramsci’s Ideal Blend for the Modern Leonardo da Vinci
“America, the Greatest Collective Effort Ever existed”. Antonio Gramsci
Is America Too Young to Maintain its Cultural Hegemony in the Long Run?

Related posts:

Democracy, Liberty & the Necessity of a Solid Education of the People
Culture, Kultur, Paideia
The Last Days of the Polymath

Sex & the Anglo Saxons. What’s the Matter With You People Out There?

Christine Keeler, in an iconic portrait by Lewis Morley, was the key figure in the British Profumo scandal (1963) that sacked the Tories. Fair use – click for credits

Last night I watched Scandal (1989) together with my wife. It is a British film on the Profumo affair – a big political and sexual scandal in the 60′s UK -, well done and especially instructive to me in some way. I needed reflection and data. A few days ago I realised in fact how some readers of the MoR were like disgusted, or scared, by my earlier post “Decameron Reloaded. That the Fun begin“.

I also received 8 mails expressing total dissatisfaction, to put it mildly, AND a few people on the other hand – following my invitation to write stories with some ‘licentia’ – sent me a few original porn stories (2 of them very well written) I will not publish because my blog is not a porn site.

Man of Roma is puzzled. His public is mainly from the English-speaking countries. Given the culture (society) MoR is in, he’s therefore willing to raise his voice a bit and say:

“What’s the matter with you people out there? Why the hell sex is so scary?”

Of course, in the said post some innocent, playful fun between humans and bears occurred, true, but it’s not that I believe people think I find polar bears sexy. No. I am puzzled for the lack of any in-between thing so far arriving to my mailbox, eg, outrage, dissatisfaction etc. – or porn. Nothing outside that.

Frankly, this to Man of Roma is strange.

While I am waiting from some insight from my readers, I guess it’s high time for ‘Sex and the city (of Rome). Season 2‘ new posts. We need some explaining, in other words.

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I did by the way receive an interesting e-mail from a very nice US student of archaeology, complimenting me for my blog and all and asking me thought-provoking questions, such as:

[Your opinion about] “the different ways that Roman sexuality is viewed by Americans and Europeans”. For some Americans especially – she argued – “the ancient Romans and modern Italians become the same people. When telling a friend of a friend about all the ‘sexual’ souvenirs that could be bought — replicas of herms and phalli, calendars and postcards featuring Pompeii’s erotic art — the woman’s reaction was something along the lines of ‘What kind of people would sell those sorts of things,’ to which I was quite taken aback.  But she clearly viewed the ancient Romans as sexually deviant, and thus by association modern Italians.”

I replied to these and other questions with 2 (3?) LONG letters that will provide materials for the new Sex and the city (of Rome) season. I didn’t though focus on erotic art only (of which I know so little). Being a dilettante polymath, I am afraid I have totally confused (plus disappointed) her.

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Related posts:

Sex and the City (of Rome). 1
Sex and the city (of Rome). A Conclusion
Sex and the city (of Rome). Season II. 1

Also:

Caesar, Great Man (and Don Juan)

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