Yes, it is a divisive holiday. Two thoughts and a painting for April 25

Two thoughts and a picture for a reflection on April 25 far (or nearly so) from celebratory rhetoric.

Two thoughts for a different April 25 than usual, for a Liberation Day that, for the first time in history and for a sort of mocking irony of fate, sees us all segregated at home by the imposition of a series of decrees that we are all abiding by while being aware that they have restricted our freedom of movement even where not necessary, that they have taken away the dignity of celebration even from death, that they have created an artificial and brutal split between our biological life and our social, emotional and cultural life.

The first: April 25 is a divisive holiday. In the words of Luciano Canfora, in an interview published today in BonCulture: “that conflict that lasted eighteen months, between Sept. 8, ’43, and April ’45, was the last phase of a hostility that had begun in the aftermath of World War I, had developed into a civil war as early as the 1920s, and had resulted in the rise to power of fascism, with the support of the crown and a broad array of conservative and liberal expressions in our country. That conflict has never subsided. The two Italies still opposed each other, to the extent that it was possible to do so under the dictatorship. With the wartime meltdown, the parties resurfaced in full force and the conflict had the outcome we know. On the other hand, the forms in which historical fascism re-emerges we know, they are not only in Forza Nuova and other extremist expressions, there are deeper roots.” Fascism proper belongs to history (notably Salovian fascism, i.e., what we commonly think of when we celebrate April 25), and it is perhaps superfluous to remark that we will never experience it again. This does not detract from the fact that some of its manifestations may recur: it is therefore a matter of figuring out which side to take. And this does not mean singing Bella Ciao looking out from the terrace of the house: beyond the empty and strident celebratory rhetoric (and perhaps introducing a rhetoric of another nature, but at least with the idea of broadening the discourse), it means attending the practice of freedom in every single moment of one’s existence, even simply continuing to cultivate doubt, a habit all the more precious at a time like the present. See it at least as a form of gratitude for those who have given us this opportunity.

The second thought: the practice of freedom becomes more difficult if historical knowledge and critical thinking remain dormant, or reduced to a schematic narrative. And this happens even (and perhaps especially) when history is used as if it were a cudgel, reducing it to a public discourse that is often trivializing and celebratory in the deterrent sense of the term. In the words of Gianpasquale Santomassimo, in one of his writings from 2001: "public memory is inevitably selective, it makes choices, even drastic ones. On this terrain operate above all the institutional protagonists who assume lasting responsibilities in the frames of reference they outline before the civil conscience of the country. In Italy the category of public history, understood as history made in public and addressed to the public by institutional actors, with its own particular language, a particular and specific rhetoric aimed at the construction of a collective memory, is not officially recognized as it is elsewhere." Italian public history has often been the subject of maximalist distortions, myths, and narratives that have perhaps widened its distance from historiographic research. An attitude, this too, summarily counterproductive.

Finally, a framework to hold it all together, against the vulgate that crystallizes history into a kind of struggle between impermeable alignments and granitic convictions, and which is far from freeing Italy from that political immaturity that Gobetti identified as one of the “constant characteristics of fat classes” in our country. The painting is the Cézannian Fucilazione di Ernesto Treccani from the Palazzo Ricci Museum in Macerata, also displayed in that bulimic renunciation of the role of art criticism’s judgment that was the exhibition Post Zang Tumb Tuuum. Art Life Politics: Italy 1918 - 1943, held in early 2018 at the Fondazione Prada in Milan. It is a dramatic, touching account of the Civil War, a piece of memory close to Picasso’s poetics of denunciation (Treccani, evidently, was well aware of Guernica), which starkly evokes what the Resistance meant for many: a tragic end.

At the time, Treccani was only twenty-three years old but already had a rich history of cultural militancy behind him: he founded the first periodical, Vita giovanile, when he was not yet eighteen years old, then transformed it into Corrente di Vita Giovanile, without deviating an inch from the adherence to the fascist ideology in whose bed the magazine moved, only to radically change orientation within a few months thanks to the influx of numerous personalities who wrote in the magazine, and made it gradually lose its alignment with the regime to become a journal critical of the regime itself, so much so that it was closed by order of the authorities at the time of Italy’s entry into the war. That picture, then, is not only the snapshot of a moment, but reminds us that the ways, convictions, conveniences, awareness, choices, and reasons that led many to join the struggle against the regime (or vice versa) were the result of individual processes that pertain perhaps to the sphere of humanity, and likewise vast and varied was the audience that, on either side, animated the different positions, or swelled the gigantic ranks of those who, more simply, only hoped to survive (and who today are cut off from public discourse). History and art history have a duty to remember this.

Ernesto Treccani, Fucilazione
Ernesto Treccani, Fucilazione (1943; oil on canvas, Macerata, Fondazione Carima - Museo Palazzo Ricci)

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