Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Italy: Projections of Whatever

I'm still meditating on the physical/political landscape of Northern Italy and all its projections of p--I almost said "power," but that's the problem: the Italian central government has always (yes, even under Mussolini) seemed a somewhat perfunctory affair. Now that The Economist is reporting on a new spasm of second thoughts over the very principle of national unity in Italy, it's well to reflect on just how tinpot the whole business really is.

That's the ironic message that you seem to derive from all those pathetic and somewhat shrill attempts to persuade you that matters are otherwise. I'm thinking again of all those statues of Garibaldi, all those Via Cavours that I was talking about the other day. I suppose we could throw in the Via Mazzinis, the Via XX Settembres and the rest of the odd assortment of public utterances that are supposed to speak of the greatness of the Italian state. We call those sorts of things "projections of p0wer," but in Italy's case at least, they have always seemed to be projections of exactly the opposite--a painful reminder of just how lacking in real legitimacy the centralized Italian has been and today remains.

If this proposition doesn't stand on its own, then it comes home with special force here in Venice, in so many ways that most un-Italian of cities. It happens there is a statute of Garibaldi here (in the Castello, out towards the Arsenale), but I suspect nobody pays much attention to it. In general, the city seems extraordinarily free of these 19th-Century physical expressions of public authority you see so widely distributed elsewhere. The Venetians will tell you that this is because the Venetians have always been suspicious of these kinds of assertions of preeminence, and taken with a large grain of salt, this proposition harbors a grain of truth. Of all cities in the world there is probably none that operated (in its pre-themepark heyday) more is a joint stock company in which everybody had a stake and in which (as Milo Minderbinder would say) everyone has a share. There are projections of power here--the Cathedral of San Marco can hardly count as anything else. But it operates at a wholly different level of eminence and prestige. You want a real projection of power, it beats Garibaldi six ways to the jack

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