Why Africa? Changing the Narrative of the World

lettera27

Why Africa?  For many years lettera27 has been dedicated to exploring various issues and debates around the African continent and with this new editorial column we would like to open a dialogue with cultural protagonists who deal with Africa. This will be the place to express opinions, tell their stories, stimulate the critical debate and suggest ideas to subvert multiple stereotypes surrounding this immense continent. With this new column we would like to open new perspectives: geographical, cultural, sociological. We would like the column to be a stimulus to learn, re-think, be inspired and share knowledge. For the opening piece we asked our partners, intellectuals and like-minded cultural protagonists from all over the world to answer one key question, which also happens to be the...

Why Africa? Companions of Longitude

Roberto Casati

Why Africa?  For many years lettera27 has been dedicated to exploring various issues and debates around the African continent and with this new editorial column we would like to open a dialogue with cultural protagonists who deal with Africa. This will be the place to express opinions, tell their stories, stimulate the critical debate and suggest ideas to subvert multiple stereotypes surrounding this immense continent. With this new column we would like to open new perspectives: geographical, cultural, sociological. We would like the column to be a stimulus to learn, re-think, be inspired and share knowledge. For the opening piece we asked our partners, intellectuals and like-minded cultural protagonists from all over the world to answer one key question, which also happens to be the...

My Plate’s Empty: Italian Food and Melancholy

Alberto Saibene

We had spent a week in the company of ghosts. Nobody cared about the Balkan wars any longer, except perhaps a pathetic huddle of war veterans trying to speculate on the glories of their war. In Mostar, Sarajevo, Banja Luka and the smaller Bosnian cities, all that remained were the facades of the houses pock marked by artillery fire. Most people want to forget the past and look to the future. The food was generally bad, at times truly terrible. Once I mistakenly ordered a plate of Findus ‘sofficini’ in a bar in Pale, thinking I could read the cyrillic alphabet on the strength of my schoolboy knowledge of Ancient Greek.   Leaving Bosnia behind and venturing towards Belgrade, we thought of our destination as an oasis, if not of civilization at least of good restaurants and attractive cafés...

Sharing is the new welfare?

Tiziano Bonini

In the last few months I’ve rented rooms through Airbnb, listened to music on Spotify, picked up a free yellow bike in Milan, got a lift from Milan to Florence with Blablacar, grabbed a city car for a quick ride with Car2Go, hailed a cab on a rainy night with Uber, and funded a documentary with an online crowd funding platform. I have quite a few friends who rent office space using a co-working website, though I’ve never actually needed to do so myself. A year ago, none of these opportunities I now consider almost routine were nearly as common. They are all different facets of what is called the “Sharing Economy”, or, less frequently, ‘collaborative economy’, or ‘collaborative consumer economy’ .   They have one factor in common: the sharing of private resources (my car, my desk, my...

Zingonia: Utopia and Reality

Marco Biraghi

In 1964, Renzo Zingone decided to found and build a new town on farmland in the province of Bergamo. Zingone was a wealthy businessman from Rome who owned the Banca Generale di Credito and had made his fortune mining gold and copper in Venezuela. He had already built the Zingone quarter in Trezzano sul Naviglio just outside Milan. In both cases the choice of name – Zingonia – had been dictated by Zingone senior who, in a letter dated 1930, had advised his two sons, Renzo and Corrado, to “always strive to valorize the family name”.   Zingonia, Missile   Both the Zingone quarter and the new town Zingonia, were designed by the architect Franco Negri, born in 1923, who graduated from the Milan Polytechnic in 1956. The foundation of both projects was the prefabricated industrial depots...

Putin and the Russian Spirit: An Interview with Gian Piero Piretto

Marco Belpoliti

The house is filled with books and paintings, but what strikes the eye is the accumulation of objects on the shelves and surfaces: postcards, souvenirs, figurines, gadgets, all from Russia, the country Gian Piero Piretto has studied all his life. Piretto is strictly speaking neither a historian nor a literary critic. His field of inquiry is visual culture, a discipline which has established itself in Italy only very recently.   Throughout the years he has written extensively, and his books are all unusually original. In 2001, Einaudi published Radioso avvenire: Mitologie culturali sovietiche (Radiant Future: Soviet Cultural Myths), which plots the course from the utopian visions of October 1917 to the 1980s. Piretto analyzes images and everyday objects to illustrate Stalin’s famous...

Peter Handke: The Essay Writer

Luigi Grazioli

In recent years, critical attention towards the Austrian novelist, playwright and political activist of Slovenian origin, Peter Handke, has focused more on his activism than on his books. In particular, he sparked controversy when he spoke out in support of the Serbian regime, during the sanguinary civil war in former Yugoslavia, and of its leader Slobodan Milošević, both during his trial in the Hague and at his funeral. Many of his most important works are out of print and there are fewer and fewer reprints scheduled, though there may be some change in the air. And yet, his work continues to be translated. Fortunately, this shows that Peter Handke still enjoys a worldwide readership despite the polemics.   Donata Wenders, Peter Handke, Chaville 2009   After receiving such...

Kafka in Charlie Chaplin’s Hands

Roberto Gilodi

What do Kafka and Chaplin have in common? They both explore the margins of life, where exclusion from the world and from history opens up the curtains of dissimulation and accepts the cognition of pain as destiny. Is the comparison unfeasible? In Benjamin’s view, the worlds of representation are linked together with subtle ties. Aside from differences in time, place, and artistic media, there are mysterious affinities which allow us to juxtapose the two with unexpected hermeneutic results.   “Chaplin holds in his hands a genuine key to the interpretation of Kafka. Just as occurs in Chaplin’s situations, in which in a quite unparalleled way rejected and disinherited existence, eternal human agony combines with the particular circumstances of contemporary being, the monetary system, the...

All about Sottsass

Marco Belpoliti

On September 8, 1981, Ettore Sottsass and Barbara Radice roll up in a taxi a the Design Gallery in Milan. They’re excited and a little scared. That afternoon was the launch of an exhibition of a group of designers who had got together the previous December in their apartment and called themselves Memphis: Martine Bedin, Aldo Cibic, Michele De Lucchi, Matteo Thun and Marco Zanini. They rub their eyes in disbelief as more than 2000 people crowd the showroom to see 31 pieces of furniture, three clocks, ten lamps and eleven ceramic pieces.   The crowd spills out into the street, blocking the traffic. Sottsass and Radice have no idea what is going on. They think there must have been a road accident. No design event has ever attracted a crowd like this, and nobody can tell them how so many...

Drone Theory

Marco Belpoliti

0.45 GMT – 05.15 in Afghanistan. Pilot: Shit, is that a rifle? Operator: Dunno, it’s just a warm spot where he’s sitting, I can’t really say, it looks like an object though. Pilot: I hoped there was a weapon down there. Oh well. 01.45 Operator: That truck would be a good target. It’s a 4 x 4 Chevrolet, a Chevy Suburban. Pilot: Yes. Operator: Oh yes. 01.07 Coordinator: The screener says there’s at least one child near the 4 x 4 Operator: Fuck… where? Operator: Send me a fucking image, but I don’t think there are kids around at this time of night. I know these guys are weird, but… Operator: Dunno, could be a teenager, anyway I haven’t seen anything small and they are all bunched together there.   This is a transcript of part of a conversation between members of a ‘team’...

Twin H. A new Novel by Giorgio Falco

Andrea Cortellessa

Three slightly rotten looking apples on a leaning shelf, indefinite shadows  like pools beneath them. The black and white photo on the cover of the Italian edition of the book, by Sabina Ragucci, evokes the idea of time passing.     Apples come into the first sentence, and become part of a discreet but insistent refrain in the book. The protagonist, and narrative voice for much of Giorgio Falco’s new book, La Gemella H ("Twin H", Einaudi 2014) sings the refrain to herself repeatedly: “we only ate apples in strudel in the beginning.” After Pausa caffè ("Coffee Break", Sironi 2004) and the magnificent short stories collected under the title L’ubicazione del bene, ("The Location of Good", Einaudi 2009), Falco tells the story of Hilde Hinner, endowed with the almost magical ability to...

Cheever Meets Modugno

Giulia Cavaliere

Years ago I heard a famous Modugno song for the first time. It was called Marito in Città and it first came out in 45rpm in 1958, though it had already circulated the year before. The story is a topos of the 1950s: a husband drops his wife and kids off at their long-vacation destination and then returns to enjoy city life unencumbered, with the excuse of a job to do.     I must confess that the song stuck in my mind for months and still today I appreciate its unusual skillfulness. It was a particularly successful example of a gift Modugno in particular had for evoking a certain quality in the men of his day without any reticence or rhetoric. In the case of this song, the protagonist’s singular charm is quintessentially masculine and Italian. The man proclaims himself to be rich, a...

Terrorism and Iconoclasm

Gianfranco Marrone

There was a time, not that long ago, when the No Logo slogan was all  the rage.  Brand names of factories that were considered –symbolically but no less terribly – responsible for all the evil in the world. Brands were torn down, physically and emblematically, wherever they were found: on billboards, in shop windows, on designer labels.   Some surreptitiously ripped the crocodiles off their Lacoste shirts, while others openly burned gas station signs or fast food chain restaurants hoardings. In a strange economic and cultural commingling, the Enemy was placed under a single umbrella: gas and oil multinationals were bundled together with nauseating hamburger joints, top-end glamor products with the most sought-after sneakers, not to mention the giants of the web with their industrial...

What a book is for me

Francesca Coluzzi

For once let’s not talk about books as objects. At least not today. The rhetoric of recto and verso, the unbearable lightness of its being, the fragrance and roughness of its paper, the wrapping of its cover, that reveals something, but not too much and not immediately. We could talk, for instance, about how each of us might imagine a book that blends advanced technology with the perfection of a ready-made object.   Perhaps, one day, instead of pages sitting on an individual screen of an individual tablet, there will be a screen on all the pages of an individual book. Why not? Research and tests on the technology of materials will have made it possible to transmit digital information via paper fibers.   The other day I sat and ruminated for hours, while traveling from train to plane...

Jeff Wall: Reportage Readymade

Riccardo Venturi

Retrospectives of contemporary photographers have only been hosted in contemporary art galleries in the past ten years, on a par with monographs of other visual artists. One of the better known examples was the retrospective of the Canadian photographer, Jeff Wall, held at Tate Modern and MoMA in 2006 and 2007, and later on show at Milan’s PAC art space with a smaller selection of works.            Thanks to the efforts of Stefano Graziani, Italians can now read Wall’s most important writings, collected in an anthology he edited, published by Quodlibet (Gestus. Scritti sull’arte e la fotografie, 2013). Personally I would have added Depiction, Object, Event, published by Afterall in 2007, but nevertheless the anthology contains some of the most important and influential texts on...

Fatigue that cures

Riccardo Panattoni

In his book, Fatigue Society (Müdigkeitsgesellschaft, Matthes...

I'm Hungry for Landscape

Franco Arminio

1. Today I realized I was hungry for landscape In the old days if you went from one village to another, from Bisaccia to Andretta say, there was empty space between the two. Now the village is empty and the space in the middle has been filled. When I took a different route, this time from Andretta to Calitri, my impression was confirmed. The road is only partially paved and nobody travels there. The landscape looked much better and I devoured it in the sunlight. From every other point of view, that August day in Irpinia was the same winter as always.     2. A friend tells me it’s time to look up and see other places. I don’t obey. I stay here in this place and look down at the ground down and further down.     3. When land was not yet threatened we...

A Morphology of Difformity

Giuseppe Di Napoli

Increasingly these days you hear people complain that streets full of garbage reflect the incivility and bad manners of their inhabitants. Given the sheer quantity of trash at the station, in our squares, on the tram, in the metro, and in our classrooms – scrunched up sheets of newspaper, crushed cans, discarded tetrapak containers, crumpled tissues dropped after use – it would be easy to conclude that, according to this yardstick, the Italians are an extremely uncivilized population.   Leaving aside the moral and educational issues linked to this depressing phenomenon, I would like to focus on the forms these discarded articles take. As soon as we try and describe the forms, it becomes clear how morphologically complex these objects are. Try and observe them. What distinguishes one...

Birth of the Home Video

Dario Mangano

In the beginning there were movie theaters, with their giant screens and comfortable armchairs, a darkened room, ice creams served by ushers, and, of course, an audience. There were annoying people coughing, heads too high in front of you, or too low behind you, unwarranted comments during the interval. Most important, back then, the show came to an end. There were double bills, of course, where the first film cost more than the second. But opportunities to see your favorite actor, actress or director’s other films were minimal, unless you were lucky and there was a special, a film festival or, much later, late-night replays on television. The bravest of us tried to solve the problem with the only machine on the market for home viewing: the Super 8 projector. After inflicting those...