Dear poets, dear intellectuals who will write on this blog,
Dear students who will attend the Summer School in Nice
in the ideal Materre that is our university, our school, our Faculty of Law, we have begun to study three legal proceedings in which individual and collective identity is rewritten:
- the trial for extortion, misappropriation and conspiracy based on false accusations brought against the poet Rocco Scotellaro, mayor of Tricarico, in the nineteen-fifties;
- the sham legal proceedings underway in Turkey against hundreds of intellectuals, accused of incitement to terrorism simply because they signed an appeal for peace in the Kurdish regions;
- the proceedings against the mayor of Riace, Mimmo Lucano, and his model of integration for migrants.
Three very different situations, in which law – or its obverse, is exploited by politics or by bureaucracy. Attempts to rewrite the individual identity of those on trial, or perhaps even the collective identity of a nation, of a culture. These are three identitary trials that rule and issue a judgement on a juridical, political and social moment, identity and ways of living.
Together with the students at the Department of Law in the Universities of Torino and Piemonte Orientale/Novara; in the courses of Philosophy of Law; the Legal Clinic for the Disabled and the Vulnerable; the courses in European Law and Humanities; the Summer School in Law and Humanities in Nice and the residents at the pre-inclusion community Casa Shalom in Marentino and the Mamma-Bambino community in Grugliasco, run by Terra Mia, a non-profit organisation, we have organised in the classrooms and in the communities, an ideal Symposium, at Materre.
It will continue in France at the Summer School in Law and Humanities of Nice in June and July, which will end in Matera within the final Earth’s feast of the project on August 23rd and 24th, and then during the next academic year, in various Italian and European universities, and again and again. We hope that this will be the starting point for a process of renewal of teaching and research on the identity and Law and Humanities issues that will be truly European.
So, why begin with Rocco Scotellaro?
Speaking of the judge at his trial, brought following false accusations made for political reasons, Rocco Scotarello wrote, in L’uva Puttanella:
“The judge said to me, ‘ You say this is a political persecution, but give me some proof.’ I looked at him for a second, through the eyes of his grandfather and those of his son. I saw his black moustache and the wedding band on his finger, the chalky lips and his eyes, flickering like venetian blinds. I would have preferred to speak to him of other matters, I didn’t answer him. Later, so I heard, he told a friend that I had patronised him. In fact, he looked to me like a huge alarm clock, sitting on a bedside table. All the judges were tightly wound grandfather clocks, their hands marked the time, the hours and the minutes and they chimed at the hour decided by the executive powers.”
Fortunately, this is only sometimes the way the law works, and we would like to contrast that portrayal of a judge with the one narrated in the first person by Elvio Fassone, in his book, Fine pena: ora. Here, the judge uses the hands of time in a totally different manner. For twenty-six years after a mass trial against the mafia, he corresponds with Salvatore, a confessed killer whom he has personally condemned to a life sentence for fifteen murders.
One day, he receives a letter in which Salvatore, following an interruption for which he is not to blame, in the procedure that would have allowed him to live under semi-custodial arrangements, writes:
“Last week I messed up again: I hanged myself.
My neck still hurts, but it will get better.”
I will leave it to the sharp, incisive pen of the judge to describe his reaction to this news.
“I sat down, troubled. The yellowish letter that has beaten time to my existence for almost twenty-six years today had a funereal background sound that made me feel inept. I realised that twenty-six years are a very long time. It is impossible even for two lovers to continue such a lengthy epistolary. For the first time, I look back and consider this mountain of time; we have both paid for the climb by aging. For the first time, I face the idea that this correspondence could and would end. To tell the truth, I had already considered this possibility, but I had thought that it would cease because of me, not because of him. I had even promised myself that I would include in my will a request that someone should inform Salvatore of my decease. Today, I am informed that we were a hair’s breadth from recording his death. […] Disorderedly, the thoughts that I imagine passed through his mind before he hanged himself with a belt flood my mind. One, more than others, is graven: in Salvatore’s personal records are the words prominently displayed, ‘Fine pena: Mai (end of sentence: never). Since the records demand a number, technology has replaced the three-letter, anvil-heavy word, mai with the sarcastic ‘year 9999’. Nevertheless, the sense of eternity without hope remains intact. So, Salvatore had decided to substitute the word ‘never’ with the word ‘now’. The sentence is over, the performance has ended and youth has never bloomed. I won’t disturb you any longer: fine pena: ora (end of sentence: now). It is not to be, they saved me. I didn’t mean to, I’m sorry. This can be a story like so many others.”
I want to imagine that Rocco Scotellaro died of fatigue at thirty years old, ideally, just like one of the peasants in Cristo si è fermato a Eboli1. The story of his last days speaks of an enormous effort, sleepless nights, writing, trying to finish his book. His mother, Francesca Armento, speaking after his death, said: “[…] as a child he was always writing. The monks and the headmaster asked him, ‘What are you doing, are you always writing?’ and he answered, ‘What am I doing? I am writing the things that come into my head’. On November 29th, he came to visit me. He only stayed a few days, but he wrote all the time. Then, he said to me, ‘I have to write a book for the publisher Laterza. I hope to please you, I will have the money to get my degree. Because it takes money: I will have to live without working, I will have to buckle down and finish my exams, write my thesis. It takes money to live without working. And afterwards, I will go back to Portici, where I will stay with Rossi-Doria, I will work for him and for me, making books, and I will find a house so that you can come and be with me.’ Then he went away again… ‘When will you be back?’ I asked. ‘Tomorrow evening’, he said, ‘but I don’t feel very well’. ‘Don’t go, my son, you don’t look after your health’. And he said, ‘What do you know! I have to deliver the book by the end of February. I know when I have to hand it in.’ And off he went.”
[…] “The doctors, after he died, said that he could not have lived: the main vein of the heart was blocked. And all I can do is think that perhaps it was the work, perhaps the strain of travelling, perhaps the coal of Irsina, smoking; he should not have got up, he should have done as the doctors said and stayed in bed, he should not have gone to Naples… I have lost my treasure, my staff of life, my hope, my greatness. Where has all his exertion gone to…?”
Salvatore, on the other hand, is not dead. “The prompt intervention of the prison guards saved him, ”wrote the judge. And then, illustrating the meaning of that suicide attempt, as Pavese might have done in Il mestiere di vivere2, he moralised, “the sentence is ended, the performance is over”. School, trial, prison, life: perhaps just different forms of a single identitary recital.
Salvatore and Rocco are just two, very different, images of the consequences, naturally unintentional, of a process, of a life, of a story. Rocco would certainly have spoken at length to Salvatore, as he did with his cellmates, with Giappone, Chiellino, Pasciucco, Fascina, Vasco Bartolomeo, Cindoce and Spio.
Even after the sentencing, the trial almost never ends, and my students and the residents at the communities ask why? It is not just the trial, the social one, that never ends. Identity is always a proceeding, in both sense of the word that never ends.
The questions and the enigmas have multiplied, starting with the study of those trials, of those stories that may appear to be like many others, but that are always specific, that of Rocco Scotellaro, of Mimmo Lucano, of every Turkish intellectual sent for trial. These philosophical radical questions spring from the courts and the three trials have become proceedings against the speech, writing, language, religion and even proceedings against the trial, culture, school, prison, the nation. Too many, excessively complicated trials: in the end, it is only possible to bring proceedings against identity. Or else, perhaps, against death, I say – they are too young to think it – when the recitation of the identity of those characters, always seeking an author, ends, it is always unexpected: ‘the sentence is ended, the performance is over.’ Thus, the judge captures the authentic intention behind Salvatore’s attempt at hanging himself: to place a heavy boulder on the shoulders of the entire judicial system, but as Francesca Armento, mother of Rocco Scotellaro, might have said, at the same time thrusting the boulder onto the shoulders of all of us.
That is why we have decided to turn over the enigmas not to the jurists and the intellectuals, but firstly to the poet, asking him to dig into the roots of the language, of the culture, of the myth going where we can never go.
Perhaps convinced, as Vico was, that the origin of jurisprudence and of justice lies in civilising poetry and perhaps a little in praying, to quote Turoldo, “Let there be at least one poet, for every court or monastery. To sing the follies of Man or of God.”
Because, nowadays, “Our country is where the grass trembles3”, and today more than ever identities tremble and cause us to tremble, they are earthquakes and tsunamis. Because today, Rocco would have written, and written, and written, and written, we have no doubt about this, and I imagine him still writing, with his mother scolding him and so, we will also try, all together, to write something here. As Francesca Scotellaro, née Armento said:
Here comes death with his scythe sweeping far and wide:
as he mowed down poor Rocchino!
He said to all – Adieu mother, brother, sisters,
friends and relatives.
I go to eternally enjoy Paradise –
I am an afflicted, distraught mother,
my son was taken by death,
I have lost all.
He was my treasure, my riches.
Paolo Heritier and his students
The identity of identity: language and words
Who are you that speak? Who am I that answer?
Why do I speak? Why do you answer?
Speaking to you of me, will I become? Speaking to me of you, will you become?
Who do you say I am? And why do I ask you?
To what extent is identity a reaction to the attributions of others? Could it be a spontaneous and conscious manifestation?
When identity must be stated, can language define it?
Why should I undo my identity in favour of yours? Why should I erase my culture, skin colour, religion, to preserve the safety of your identity?
Another person comes into my space, violating my spiritual security, trying to jumble and confuse it. I ask the poet, how can we believe in an identity, allowing another person to destroy it by demanding the identification of their own.
Religion, culture and trial
There are two trials: the criminal one, in the courtrooms and the social one, which is everywhere.
Why does the social one never end?
Why do the proceedings you bring against me create an identity that is not mine and from which I can never be free?
Nation, place, control and identity
Can I be someone else, in the same place?
Does abandoning where I am from mean abandoning part of who I am?
Are my relationships with people around me more important than the place I am in for my identity?
Do the borders of my country force me to behave in a certain way?
How does controlling land allow one to control identity?
2 The job of living (diary 1935-1950): an annotated translation of Cesare Pavese’s Diary, Il mestiere di vivere. Thesis (Ph. D.)–Rutgers University. Bibliography: v. 2, 1.638-651. Vita: 1. 652.