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Sunday, January 08, 2012

Umberto Eco on Italy's new dictator

I was extremely curious to know how Umberto Eco would react to Italy's peaceful departure from democracy, given his left-wing ideology as well as his childhood experience with Fascism and the post-WWII ideological battles. He did not disappoint as his take on it is fascinating, not only in his characteristic use of an apt literary analogy, but in the way that he appears to almost completely ignore the salient point. The key word there being "almost", as if one considers the specifics of the analogy, one can see that his view of the matter may not be quite as favorable as it seems on the surface.
But we asked it of him

There is no relationship between the tall and elegant professor Monti and a ball of tallow, and yet I see one between his vicissitudes and the short story of the same name by Maupassant. Everyone, I hope, is familiar with the story: during the Franco-Prussian war traveled a carriage that, among its various passengers, carried a prostitute, provocative and curvacious. Accepted ungraciously by her travel companions only because she offered to everyone the provisions she had with her in a basket, she became responsible for the halting of the carriage on the part of a Prussian official, who threatened to refuse to permit anyone to depart if the girl did not concede her favors to him.

Although she had already granted them to many, the patriotic "escort" refused to let her offer her services to the hated enemy. The carriage therefore remained halted, until little by little, the travelers began to remonstrate with Ball of Tallow for harming everyone over one foolish little point. Through various arguments and moral blackmail, they pushed her to concede. Reluctantly, and for the good of the community, she accepted. The illicit goods consumed, the carriage departed, but at that point the travelers began to regard the wretched girl with contempt because she was a prostitute, even though she had pulled their chestnuts from the fire.

It seems to me that the same thing is happening to Monti. Everyone has asked him to remove the chestnuts from the fire, to take those severe measures that otherwise they have not known or wanted to take even at the risk of unpopularity. Now that he has done it, everyone has begun to look at him negatively. Maupassant understood these things.
Now, I would first argue that it is far, far too soon to argue that the unelected, IMF-installed Professor Monti has pulled anyone's chestnuts from the fire, except perhaps the balance sheets of a few international banks. And while some degree of fiscal responsibility is in order, it wasn't the Italian people who asked for him because they have never voted for him. For anything. But the analogy is a brilliant one regardless, because Monti most certainly is a prostitute and the nation of Italy is being occupied, in a very real, albeit non-military, sense, by the Franco-Prussians.

If for some reason you're reading the original article at La Repubblica, please note that this particular Bustina comes in two parts. I skipped the first one, which concerned poetry and a Spaziani novel, and was of no interest to me.

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