Backyards – Courtyards*

Sure, what Brecht used in his theatre and his theoretical considerations as Verfremdung, i.e. (a specific kind of) alienation has also its linguistic version, comes for across as linguistic Verfremdung.

Having previously spoken of the backyards, the Italian term is perhaps more telling: we speak of the

 cortile interno.[1]

And I also said

there may a good reason to finally open the also doors of the Villa Doria Pamphilj.

Finally then, I contended that

the others, the unknown, the unnamed, the dwarfs and voles didn’t take anything, in first instance.

In social science we know very much about the difficulty which is only in words easily overcome:

the individual being nothing without the social being nothing without the individual.

 Or we may of course also say

the social being nothing without the individual being nothing without the social

For instance we can refer to Norbert Elias. He stated

[t]hat the human being is a process is certainly one of the most fundamental of people’s experiences, but it is usually suppressed from thinking because of the overwhelming tendency of thought to reduce processes to state conditions.[2]

And he continued metaphorically

[o]ne may say that a person passes through a process, just as one says the wind blows, although the blowing is, of course, the wind.[3]


Applying this relational aspect together with the thought of processuality, the story looks more difficult than social science commonly admits, even more so if we include the socio-hierarchical dimension. To put it into a simple (though difficult to answer) question: Can we really imagine development that starts from the premise of not taking anything as primary cause in the first instance? Can we imagine the beauty of a palace like the Villa Doria Pamphilj with initially open doors? – Or would that mean denial of causality?

In any case, there had been nearly always the two sides anyway, up to hitherto not really coming together, always contrasting the two sides, celebrating the one, barely mentioning that another had been involved, and even necessary. And the decisive questions had not been asked by many – Brecht however did:

Who built Thebes of the 7 gates?

In the books you will read the names of kings.

Did the kings haul up the lumps of rock?


And Babylon, many times demolished,

Who raised it up so many times?


In what houses of gold glittering Lima did its builders live?

Where, the evening that the Great Wall of China was finished, did the masons go?


Great Rome is full of triumphal arches.

Who erected them?


Over whom did the Caesars triumph?

Had Byzantium, much praised in song, only palaces for its inhabitants?


Even in fabled Atlantis, the night that the ocean engulfed it,

The drowning still cried out for their slaves.


The young Alexander conquered India.

Was he alone?


Caesar defeated the Gauls.

Did he not even have a cook with him?


Philip of Spain wept when his armada went down.

Was he the only one to weep?


Frederick the 2nd won the 7 Years War.

Who else won it?


Every page a victory.

Who cooked the feast for the victors?


Every 10 years a great man.

Who paid the bill?


So many reports.


So many questions.


Two examples added, and possibly showing in a very drastic way the bloodshed on which much of bellezza, gloria e lustro are established.

Palazzo Vecchio in Firenze – there is somewhere at one of the houses surrounding the square a memorial plaque, reminding that the place where we see no the palace and the square had been offering at least a place where people lived. It describes as well that this offering a place had been actually not more, and even that is somewhat understating the reality: it had been a location which had been characterised by the nearness of the Arno: Mud, mosquitoes … –and of course the subsequent epidemics. Beauty then, with the building of the palace, replacing the misery, power emerging where the powerless lived.

– They are still on the reading list, but there is probably a good reason for Umberto Eco writing two separate volumes: one on Storia della bellezza, the other on Storia della bruttezza.

Tiny additions can be made to this short excursus to Florence, historical details, not (necessarily) following a chronological order and perhaps not even entirely true – as the real truth has to include asking all the questions of reading workers of which Brecht only mentioned a few.

Anyway, the Piazza della Signoria had been at some stage during antiquity also a roman theatre – some of the buildings structures apparently still showing signs of this period. And these theaters had been closely linked to the imperial idea of the panem et circenses – bread and games, of which we easily forget that many of these games had been actually deciding over life and death. And isn’t it striking that such a place is the birthplace of the early republic – the res publica, indeed claiming to give bread and games to the people, actually being the bread and games of the people.

And it still is also the place where Girolamo Savonarola had been executed in 1498. It surely says something that Claiming the Triumph of the Cross had been the crime for which he lost his life about the time when the Medici reclaimed power. And probably it had been claimed that all this had been in the name of the people – surely using other words than today’s court systems do.

In this light we have to be careful when we refer to the origin of bread and games. Juvenal used it in his satire X to reprimand the people’s numbness.

iam pridem, ex quo suffragia nulli

uendimus, effudit curas; nam qui dabat olim

imperium, fasces, legiones, omnia, nunc se

continet atque duas tantum res anxius optat,

panem et circenses.

Giordano Bruno, Girolamo Savonarola, Galilee Galileo … – even if they had not been really the people, they are examples for what happens if people are interested in more then bread and games.

Finally entering the palace, we find not just the overwhelming beauty, nearly not allowing us to see the scaffold behind it, the foundation on which it had been erected. The room where Niccolò Machiavelli had his office while being secretary of the new republic, actually employed by developing a strategy for the new prince, not enlightened as Frederick II suggested in his anti-Machiavelli. And as true as it is that Machiavelli’s position had not been clear (finally he also wrote the Discorsi sopra la prima Deca di Tito Livio), it is also true that during his time as servant of the republic the doors of his office showed to the Signoria, the rulers, and not to the people. And there had been still the door to chapel … – a new state, competing with the church and still being its servant, trusting its support … – So true even if we consider the work in the Stanza della Guardaroba – a collection of globes and maps of which the accuracy is even for today’s eyes of surprising precision: didn’t this clear view contradict the ongoing apotheosis. Or it is especially then true, showing the tensions between the new state, the ancient state, present in the two marble pillars, taken from a Roman temple, and the bridging Christianity. The claim of the latter had been clear: the universal state of god, the church speaking of

 umanesimo cristiano, umanesimo integrale, nuova cristiano

only really accepting universality and universal human rights with the Vatican II discourse in the early 1960s.

And in the middle of all this there had been another detail: a hidden room, the workshop of an alchemist, working on the new universalism – it had been known and mentioned in laments of Sophocles which had been mentioned elsewhere. .

Renaissance overcame the lament – instead, now gold and not least its monetarised form had been celebrated and ultimate goal. If it had not been achieved …

… another detail shows the Mephistophelean way: an invisible door leading to another hidden room, even more unknown and only having an entrance, not an exit.

It is the metaphor of what we know from the 24th chapter of Capital

At the historical dawn of capitalist production, – and every capitalist upstart has personally to go through this historical stage – avarice, and desire to get rich, are the ruling passions. But the progress of capitalist production not only creates a world of delights; it lays open, in speculation and the credit system, a thousand sources of sudden enrichment. When a certain stage of development has been reached, a conventional degree of prodigality, which is also an exhibition of wealth, and consequently a source of credit, becomes a business necessity to the “un- fortunate” capitalist. Luxury enters into capital’s expenses of representation. Moreover, the capitalist gets rich, not like the miser, in proportion to his personal labour and restricted consumption, but at the same rate as he squeezes out the labour power of others, and enforces on the labourer abstinence from all life’s enjoyments. Although, therefore, the prodigality of the capitalist never possesses the bona fide character of the open-handed feudal lord’s prodigality, but, on the contrary, has always lurking behind it the most sordid avarice and the most anxious calculation, yet his expenditure grows with his accumulation, without the one necessarily restricting the other. But along with this growth, there is at the same time developed in his breast, a Faustian conflict between the passion for accumulation, and the desire for enjoyment.

The second example, namely the Duomo in the same city. The plan, Brunelleschi submitted for the building of the cupola had been apparently so bold that there had been two reaction amongst the members of the jury: one group said that it would be impossible to build and somebody else should be granted the mandate; another group agreeing that the submission would be extremely bold – but presenting something of this kind would mean that one can only be completely convinced that there it must be possible – so they pleaded for granting the work to Brunelleschi. As the first group finally surrendered, the impossible architectural work had been undertaken. If one believes the legend, it could not be explained until today how this magnificent dome had been actually erected and one version claiming the explanation is that a “scaffold” of sand had been offering the support while the building work had been done; later the poor had been told that inside there would be coins … – so they found eager people doing the dirty work of cleaning the inside, thus actually making this beauty possible. Today, the beautiful fresco does not even allow to presage that something like this could have happened. It may be a rumour – and in any case there is one question to be added to those asked by Brecht.


Taking then the terms together: backyard and cortile interno, we arrive at the different dimensions:

  • Backing something
  • Being internal, and thus element, i.e. elementary
  • Yard, providing the playing ground

And with a tiny alteration we may arrive at inferno on the one hand and courtesy on the other – a kind of arch that seems to characterise historical development, expressed markedly in 1848 in the Communist Manifesto where we read

The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.

If we read the text carefully we see that it is an in-depth analysis, arguing on four dimensions, looking at

  • the accumulation regime
  • the mode of regulation
  • the living regime
  • the mode of life

These are four dimensions that clearly mark the dialectical relationship between the different levels: there is no economic determinism – instead we are dealing with people who are constituted as actors, responsible for their own life; but it also argues that the hegemonies are not simply a result of one class being superior. The hegemonic power is established by linking the two, the accumulation regime and the living regime, wage labour being the major brace; mode of regulation and mode of life, the major brace being consumption which makes many political scientists speak of ‘political markets’ and stands behind the notion of the so-called consumerist societies.


Walking through Rome then (and it could be any other place), we actually walk in two dimensions: following the footsteps of the great men of history and on the backs of those who had to provide the floor on which these people could walk.

Though the fundamental structure is very much the same throughout history – captured in the German Ideology by emphasising that

[t]he production of ideas, of conceptions, of consciousness, is at first directly interwoven with the material activity and the material intercourse of men, the language of real life

the patterns, the design of these historical carpets varies.


I talked recently with Birgit who said that some generous spending: e.g. for renting a car without chasing the best offer is not least about “buying time”, gaining leisure time as pleasure time. And after chatting a bit about this, she asked

But what are people coming to Rome want to buy? What is the special pleasure, the experience they are looking for when coming to the so-called eternal city?

No lo so ma sospetto – it is really only an assumption, or a mosaic, a patchwork that possibly merges to some entity, entirety …

… eternality. In any of the areas, perhaps even more those that are closed to the eyes of tourists, it seems that development stopped – better to say: that development took place as maintenance. Not the conversation we find in museums but the functioning of a system with at least many traditional, archaic patterns. Coming here somebody may easily feel in some way time-displaced –and living here is in some respect not so different: it is a bit like living in an encapsulated world with its own laws. Approaching it from another end we may take Norbert Elias’ words who looks at an

era during which functions of protection and control of the individual, previously being pursued by the tighter associations of birth as clans or village, estate owner, guild or estate are transferred on highly centralised and increasingly urbanised statuary associations (Staatsverbaende). In response to this shift the individuals, when grown up, leave these tight, local associations based on birth and providing protection. Their cohesion is lowering according to the increasing loss of the functions of protection and control. And the individual being is within the wider, highly centralised and increasingly urbanised state societies to a larger extent depending on his/her own positioning. There is an increasing mobility of the individuals – understood as local and as social mobility[4]

And actually – sure, using a broad brush, being in danger of missing many other parts – much of what Elias says about the traditional settings – is the admirable charm of the Roman eternity. But what makes it even more charming is that fact that all this is merging closely with modernity: yes, there are buses and not horse carts though many people complain about them; yes, there is a developed system of police and public administration not the antique system of legionaries – and there is still the campanalista even in the city. Referring to campagna, i.e. the countryside, and perhaps not knowing, at least not being aware of two other close links: campanile is the Italian term for bell tower; and campagna also translates into campaign, even if it may only be a campaign for the dole vita.

– Is it then surprising that within the confines of Rome there is the real eternal city, the city state of the Vatican? Indeed it is simple to draw a line:

Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth! Break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the Lord has comforted his people, and will have compassion on his suffering ones.[5]

Hic Rhodos – Hic Salta

 But what are people coming to Rome want to buy? What is the special pleasure experience here in the so-called eternal city?

Well, perhaps it is then the experience of being gladiator in the urban jungle, knowing that even in the confines of the Colosseo there are no lions; knowing that the modern emperor will with all his pomp finally not emerge as new Caesar or Nero.

And still it may be exactly this power that is perversely looked for: the string leader that cannot called for in the real world and that could maintain against the odds the claim of justice in this eternal externality. It remains for me an irresolvable riddle how it is possible that an island can be and is maintained that suggests a little bit a communist habitus ….

… dressed in the habit of the “professional believers”, people are allowed to live in some kind of idyll. Doesn’t much remind us a bit of what we read in the German Ideology about

communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, to fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I have in mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd or critic.

… but it surely is only some kind of idyll …

… at least as long as this world, this system of faith with its very specific institutions allows the many sleeping rough on the doorsteps while proclaiming that

this capitalism kills

not acknowledging being ultimately part of it.

… but it surely is only some kind of idyll …

… at least as long as this world, this system of faith goes hand in hand with unbelievable material wealth – not just the cathedrals, churches and others but also when we look at the wealth of everyday’s life: It is so present that the present pope had to emphasise that he only has a simple cross, if it is true: made from iron, in any case distinct from the pomp of predecessors.

… but it surely is only some kind of idyll …

… at least as long as this world, this system of faith with its very specific institutions that are internally split …, not by different opinions but by power interests.

… but it surely is only some kind of idyll …

… at least as long as this world, this system of faith with its very specific institutions rebuke even an alternative within their own world, not seeing themselves as instrument of liberation.

Nel suo ultimo viaggio in America centrale e riferendosi al Nicaragua, [Giovanni Paolo II] annunciò la morte di questa teologia [i.e. della Teologia della Liberazione], avvenuta dopo la morte del marxismo. …[6]


Ecco il contesto di questo affermazione: a settembre del 1984 il cardinale Ratzinger aveva condannato duramente la Teologia della Liberazione ….

Isn’t it striking that Francis now condemns hierarchy, refuses to accept the pomp and vehemently criticises this capitalism, but is also ultimately joining this choir refusing liberation?

… but it surely is only some kind of idyll …

… at least as long as it is only for those who believe in god, but not for those who truly believe in mankind, in human beings being able to interact as people, who are consciously social actors.

… but it surely is only some kind of idyll …

… at least as long as it is not clear to themselves and everybody

No saviour from on high delivers

No faith have we in prince or peer

Our own right hand the chains must shiver

Chains of hatred, greed and fear


Morning walks … – a little bit exercise every morning, the air still reasonably clean, the traffic limited, where I live there are few people around: some flower shops open – actually open the entire night as the shop keeper can save this way the money for a bedroom; few people around: in some house entrances people cleaning the corridors and court yards; the news paper stands begin to open, some bars preparing for caffè e cornetto … . Women going to work – a few of them I know by now, early in the morning they smile at me, somewhat confused shy, sheepishly … – and while they walk further they turn the eyes down again, the face being covered by the Christian headscarf. They open the gates of one of the palaces from which I hear already the singing of chorals behind the doors, preparing for the day. And as their own, closed society of the faithful

regulates the general production


makes it possible for [them] to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, to fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as [they] have in mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd or critic.

Morning walks … – a little bit exercise every morning, the air still reasonably clean, the traffic limited, where I live there are few people around – a little bit later,

Sunday, at about 7 a.m.,

Via Ombrone: A middle aged man being busy with polishing the black Merc – for the family trip into the countryside? Or for any boss to be driven to the airport? Or …?

Sunday, at about 7 a.m.,

Via Regina Margherita, just around the corner the doors of ENEL – energia alla tu vita as they say – energy for your life: CSR and CER – corporate social and environmental responsibility … an enormous heat coming from the basement …; the guy from security services looking checking the charging stations for the ENEL-e-cars. Yes: CER, and the CSR ad tells us about flexible working time – of course especially for women, allowing a healthy “work-life balance” …

Sunday, at about 7 a.m.,

Via Arno: A man, covered by a woollen blanket, turning around – I cannot really see him, do not get a hint to guess his age; he is trying to turn around, trying to sleep a little longer, having enough time – no family to be driven to the countryside, no need to go to the airport …

CSR – he sleeps under the eaves of the ENEL-building …

Sunday, at about 11:37 a.m.,

Via di Villa Patrizi: a helicopter is leaving nearby, only a short time earlier they arrived there. Presumptions, sure …: an emergency case, admission to the hospital. Sure, only presumptions …:

  • the driver of a Merc, dangerously overtaking whiled driving to the airport;
  • members of a family, a car speeding on one of the country roads, just outside of Rome – the driver trying to “make the most of the weekend”
  • a homeless person, having been injured by a passing car while he stepped out of his “home”: a place in one of the tunnels at the outskirts of the city – such “new settlements” under bridges, in house entrances, in parks and green belts along the city wall are increasingly visible
  • a person who had been desperately disappointed, having lost perspectives …, trying to find the “final solution to the problems” but having been “rescued” though still without hope of being saved.

Presumptions, sure … – and the names of streets can be changed Canterbury Street, Bismarck Strasse, Rue de Pasquale, Youyi Rd, Komsomolskaya Square, Carrer dels Mercaders, Grevgatan, Dongja-dong, Yongsan-gu; the cities are diverse, not only in Europe

Presumptions, sure … – but also a question or two: what is speed when it is disjoined from its meaning? what is the “value” of a life? and why do we wait, then paying the high price although we could do much more with less if we look earlier at the cost?

And there is surely one more general question: Although street names can be changed, are contingent, there is something that is probably not … – you may want to know about the patricians who once lived in the Villa Patrizi, and all those people who gave the names to many streets …

But what are people coming to Rome want to buy? What is the special pleasure experience here in the so-called eternal city?

What kind of idyll is it

… even if it surely is only some kind of idyll?

Part of it is surely that the borders between private and public, between individuals and institutions, between past and presence are in some way blurring, this strange setting that allows people to forget, allowing charisma to develop and take over. Or taking the words from Goethe’s Journey to Italy, the more secular version reads like this:

Wenn man so eine Existenz ansieht, die zweitausend Jahre und darüber alt ist, durch den Wechsel der Zeiten so mannigfaltig und vom Grund aus verändert, und doch noch derselbe Boden, derselbe Berg, ja oft dieselbe Säule und Mauer, und im Volke noch die Spuren des lateinischen Charakters, so wird man ein Mitgenosse der großen Ratschlüsse des Schicksals, und so wird es dem Betrachter von Anfang schwer zu entwickeln, wie Rom auf Rom folgt, und nicht allein das neue auf das alte, sondern die verschiedenen Epochen des alten und neuen selbst aufeinander.[7]

The question from the beginning remains unanswered

Can we really imagine development that starts from the premise of not taking anything as primary cause in the first instance? Can we imagine the beauty of a palace like the Villa Doria Pamphilj with initially open doors? – Or would that mean denial of causality?

And probably it is even the wrong question – it is in now way historical to asks for different pathways of the past.

But looking at it – and merging Dichtung und Wahrheit with Sturm and Drang is surely allowing us to move forward in different ways: not denying the beauties but acknowledging the even more by opening the doors further, opening the doors not least for the producers, allowing all of them

to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, to fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I have in mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd or critic.


* These reflections are also part of the wider considerations in the context of writing two book  contributions,  I had been asked to write: one on liberation theology, the other on a presumed “Vatican Spring”

[1]            Of course, the English also knows the back courtyard but it is not really used often, is it?

[2]            Elias, Norbert, 1980/81: Social Process Models on Multiple Levels; in: Elias, Norbert: Essays III. On Sociology and the Humanities; Dublin: University College Dublin Press, 2009: 40-42; here 41

[3]            Elias, Norbert, 1980/81: Social Process Models on Multiple Levels; in: Elias, Norbert: Essays III. On Sociology and the Humanities; Dublin: University College Dublin Press, 2009: 40-42; here 41

[4]            Elias, Norbert, 1939: Die Gesellschaft der Individuen; in Norbert Elias. Gesammelte Schriften. Edited on behalf of the Norbert Elias Stichting, Amsterdam. Vol. 10; Frankfurt/M.: Suhrkamp, 2001: 166 – translation P.H.

[5]            Isaiah 49: 13

[6]            Regidor, José Ramos, 2010: Teologia della Liberazione: Diritti umani, diritti dei poveri, diritti della Terra; in: Boff, Leonardo/Boff, Clodovis/Regidor, José Ramos: La Chiesa dei Poveri. Teologia della Liberazione e diritto dell’uomo; Roma: Datanews: 53-158; here: 89

[7]            Italienische Reise 21 ??;


To start with the end …

To start with the end … – The day I am talking about, around the time my little excursion comes to the end, I see a poster:

… Siamo tutte e tutti palestinesi …

one can surely read this in different ways – and the debates during the recent days, driving academics on one of the mailing lists, of which I am subscriber, to the highest levels of irrationality, clearly show the ambiguities.

Well, leaving the question of Palestine and the war in that part of the world aside, I may come to the beginning of the day, still dealing with Un sogno di liberta

More or less the very first part a bit strange for me – chatting, catching up with students – though it suggests it is about the question WhatsApp it is actually more about getting an answer …

Off to work then – the more or less regular Sunday morning meeting: about every second week we meet with a small group via internet-phone conference, connecting Australia, China, Ireland, Italy and South Africa. It is a small group, a small research, but at this stage a nice habit: catching up, on work related stuff and occasionally on other things (in this way the Monnet Method work for us: do business and become friends). I stay for a while in the bar – Internet, the nice atmosphere of Trastevere and …, well, still waiting for the answer – but that is another story.


A youngish woman approaches me, holding a map in her hand, trying to cover my phone and the fountain pen next to the computer … . I only say something, … expressing …, well: a kind of sympathy. But Cavallo, sitting at the next table, supposedly academic – economist and giving out against a narrow understanding, and at tenish already emptying at least the second bottle of beer … – Bufallo shouts immediately and loudly.

No, just go away …

And that is what she does, with her the other two …: another young woman, one child …

I am sitting there, feel somewhat paralysed – not because just having escaped the loss of some valuables, but because as I do not like the need to be protective, I do not feel the right which I have: owning something. – Rights, justice …, I wrote more or less a lot on the topic.

Isn’t that protection somewhat a war, imposed on us?


I recall one section of the article I just finalised:

Ulrich Brand and Markus Wissen discuss part of this dynamic, stating that

(and I quote)

“Modes of production and consumption that become hegemonic in certain regions or countries can be generalized globally through a ‘capillary’ process, meaning in a broken manner and with considerable gaps in time and space. That process is associated with concrete corporate strategies and interests in capital valorization, trade, investment, and geopolitics; with purchasing power; and with concepts of an attractive mode of living that predominate in the societies into which these modes diffuse by way of the world market. ‘Generalization’ does not mean that all people live alike, but rather that certain, deeply rooted concepts of the ‘good life’ and of societal development are generated and are reflected in the everyday life of a growing number of people, not only symbolically but also materially. The symbolic dimension is important because what is at issue is not only the coherence of the regime of accumulation, but also the emergence and everyday practice of dynamics peculiar to this mode of living – which are of course not separate from the macroeconomic sphere.”[1]

(after the quote I continue)

However, this formulation gives the impression that such mode of living is solely or at least predominantly based on a hegemonic strategy, aiming on establishing a specific lifestyle. Such claim towards life determination is surely an important aspect. However, the present thesis is that we find again a two-layered pattern, the mode of living being based in a life regime which provides a foundation, inherently based in the accumulation regime. Of course, in some way this is also a political question, a question of hegemony – today a statement as “it is the rich who should be ashamed, not the poor”[2] may not even be made in serious terms, i.e. in terms that question the economic dimension of the problem. The mechanism is actually very simple: Those “rich” people are not simply rich in terms of affluence but also in terms of the determination of what is necessary, i.e. the inherent link established by what had been outlined earlier by quoting Erika K. Gubrium and Ivar Lødemel, namely “that having a job is not just a matter of economic security. In a social sense, it is a primary arena for attaining the dignity associated with social normalisation”. This is the firm mechanism, welding accumulation, regulation, life and living together.

This scene in Trastevere makes unmistakably clear what this means …. – the closure of the social: individualism …, but also the mutual protection of the haves against the have-nots.

No, don’t get me wrong: I am grateful in some way: Bufallo saved my property, “saved me”.

But I still would like even more to hear the same outcry against those who permanently steal the property of those who then themselves feel or are forced to steel.


Some more lines from the recent days come to my mind – this time from a mail exchange: Somebody expressed his hope that I would be OK, not effected by the Russian-Ukrainian air battle, conducted on the cost of civilians.

My reply:

Regarding the plane disaster: all fine so far, thank you. Having said this: in some way we are all effected, aren’t we?

And I receive a mail saying

You are absolutely! If one room leaks, the house is at risk. This Israel-Gaza conflict is worrisome!!!!

I continue briefly on this, writing

If it would be only one room, …

May be I am at times too pessimist; may be it is just a personal think (which, in a way, I hope): remaining in the metaphor of leaks …I have the impression we need to think about a new version of the large ship, saving the world. …

Well, not believer …, so failing here again.

Talking about ships ..: if you see how immigration is tackled by the EU, people stranding here, if they are lucky ending up on the shores of Italy …, lucky enough to be mistreated and abused here (in Europe) … – or is it that those who drown are more lucky?

Well, back to reality, it is early, a Sunday and I finally drive up the hill and do what I postponed for so many times: a visit in the park that hosts the Villa Doria Pamphilj.

A short message to Birgit, talking about this park:

It is some version of the Borghese park, though less crowded.

I sit down for a while, having to read …

… and I finally go for a small walk: the villa xyz is standing there as massive block: power of admirable beauty, of wealth and of still palpable political power.

Past …, history … and still

The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.[3]

and this is what I feel just that moment, walking, seeing the people enjoying their promenade, their chatting, the kids playing well behaved … and crying when falling off the bike, immediately being rescued by the father (yes, it is Sunday and then fathers can join the rescue team) or mother.


A city of contrasts, indeed – and a city of some astonishing stability – not indicated by the amount of signs of ancient times but by the anxiety, widespread by the visibility of invisible power, the clear lines that divide the city – I have to check if and if so, for how long Antonio Gramsci lived here, in a climate that surely provoked theorising hegemony.

Anyway, though the park is large and had been somewhat underpopulated, the pressure remains … – possibly the work on finalizing the book on precarity, in connection with the heard and unheard cries and screams brings me into this mood. And I have to move, not just home but …

… I really know this place from 吕思xyz’s and 陈旭xyz’s visit – when they came to Rome we met in the park and stayed or a while. And actually I had been happy when Birgit said one day we could go there – the secret project of the comparative study on ice cream.

So again this day: after the Villa Doria Pamphilj, I go now to the palazzo del freddo, wait to be served and feel in some surprising way in one of the most Italian quarters of Rome,[4] an impression that is not changed by the fact that there are many, perhaps even mostly non-indigenous Romans. However, these people did not behave like “the Australians”, like “the Americans”, The KMT-Chinese when they arrived and genocided the indigenous Australians, Indians and for example the Bunun ….. – Just reminds me I have to get in touch with Rayen again, asking how the Mapuche are doing …


Prendo il gelato con me – join the people in the Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II – history here too, tradition: the young girls and boys from Bolivian, China … Venezuela proudly showing off: one dancing dress is more colorful than the other, they are dancing, laughing, fool around … and are crying … in order to get up again before papà (yes, it is Sunday and then fathers can join the rescue team) or mamma arrive.

– There may be a good reason to go more often to the little parks like the Torlonia, or the one in Testaccio – or also the other large parks as the Borghese, much more a people’s park …. Or there may a good reason to finally open the also doors of the Villa Doria Pamphilj …

Sure, in some way many of the small parks, the small places and even backyards lack some of the beauty, magnificence and surely the order of the gardens – be they Pamphiljic or papal. But they have another grandesse which is often overlooked, undervalued: I heard many times people saying that all these nobles: the Medici, the Pamphilj, the Borgehese … returned a good share from the profit they made back to society. And it would surely be foolish to deny the beauty of the works of Michelangelo, da Vinci, etc. . But the others, the unknown, the unnamed, the dwarfs and voles didn’t take anything, in first instance. And that is something that surely has its own grandesse, often remaining unknown, unnamed, existing as dwarfs and voles – finally

[m]en make their own history,

even if

they do not make it just as they please


The tradition of all dead generations …, it is there, but its character as a nightmare is perhaps more hidden, or it may even have given way to a certain jauntiness …

… Siamo tutte e tutti palestinesi … – we are all foreigners in occupied lands, working on soil we do not own, although we may possess it.[5]

– somebody covering it with a map, giving us mobile phones but taking our voices from us ….

 Un sogno di liberta


[1]            Brand, Ulrich/Wissen, Markus, 2012: Global Environmental Politics and the Imperial Mode of Living: Articulations of State-Capital Relations in the Multiple Crisis; in: Globalizations, 9, 4: 547-560; here: 549; 549

[2]            Choudhry, Sohail, 2014: Pakistan: A Journey of Poverty-Induced Shame; in: Gubrium, Erika K./Pellissery, Sony/Lødemel, Ivar (eds.): The Shame of It. Global Perspectives on Anti-Poverty Policies; Bristol/Chicago: Policy Press: 111-132: 126

[3]            Marx, Karl: The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. 1852

[4]            sure, one of has to be underlined – I guess there is are many Rome’s in Rome

[5]            Actually the English language makes it difficult to express it: ownership is here understood as legal deed, commonly attested by a notary. Possession, on the other hand, is understood as (f)actual control over something. And of course, we see again, the tricks language plays as the English language, indeed, proposes both as synonyms; and indeed (sic!) jurisprudence frequently refers to “established law”, i.e. a right derived from custom … – To make things even more interesting, there is at first sight no clear distinction between common and customary law, something that is even carried over into positive law that always suggests that judgments are made “in the name of the people”.

The Day After

It is spring, indeed, and some see it as Vatican Spring, others highlight that the flue, a typical ill-health of this time of the year, is increasingly fatal in Greece,

La Grèce présente le taux de mortalité lié à la grippe le plus élevé des pays européens. Les politiques d’austérité drastiques dans le domaine de la santé publique semblent responsables.

Well actually I had been asked to write about the Vatican spring – and I accepted. The Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium is undoubtedly an interesting document – or at least a remarkable one. The one reason is what looks like a radical rebuke of the dominant system. The other is perhaps not least important: the strive of circles within the Catholic fortress to move back behind Vatican II.

Even as non-believer I believe that the this Exhortation is a document of honesty, and also a document of hope.

But there we arrive already at the very end, shortly after starting off.

Sure, it is difficult to oppose upfront a statement as the following, taken from para 57:

Ethics – a non-ideologi- cal ethics – would make it possible to bring about balance and a more humane social order. With this in mind, I encourage financial experts and political leaders to ponder the words of one of the sages of antiquity: “Not to share one’s wealth with the poor is to steal from them and to take away their livelihood. It is not our own goods which we hold, but theirs”.[1]

And we all can agree when it is said that

[m]oney must serve rule

as stated in para 58, backing Francis defense of the poor, outlined in para 59[2]

But until exclusion and inequality in society and between peoples are reversed, it will be impossible to eliminate violence. The poor and the poorer peoples are accused of violence, yet without equal opportunities the different forms of aggression and conflict will find a fertile terrain for growth and eventually explode. When a society – whether local, national or glob- al – is willing to leave a part of itself on the fringes, no political programmes or resources spent on law enforcement or surveillance systems can indefinitely guarantee tranquility. This is not the case simply because inequality provokes a violent reaction from those excluded from the system, but because the socioeconomic system is unjust at its root.

Today here is not the point to investigate this. But at least it is a place where it may well be worthwhile to shake off this bad feeling of a hangover one feels the day after – and there no pill can be offered as cure.

The day after?

Well, yesterday, March the 27th Obama paid a visit to the Roman people (well, the Roman paid quite a lot to host him – but may be as symbol of fraternisation with the Muslim brothers it is justified). And leaving the meeting in the Quirinale aside (of course a kind of ‘standard’ part of such visits: il presidente), there had been two less common moments of Obama’s visit: the one to papa Francesco; the other to the Colosseo.

Both OK if I my say so – well, who I am – but referring to Francis I may claim such right to comment as he quotes the Fifth General Conference of The Latin American And Caribbean Bishops, Aparecida Document, 29 June 2007, 360:

Life grows by being given away, and it weakens in isolation and comfort. Indeed, those who enjoy life most are those who leave security on the shore and become excited by the mission of communicating life to others

But there is also something that causes this hangover, and this is caused by looking at the wider context. Let us briefly turn to John Maynard Keynes, who comes at the very end of his ‘General Theory’ to the conclusion

that the vested interests is vastly exaggerated compared with the gradual encroachment of ideas … …, soon or late, it is ideas, not bested interests, which are dangerous for good or evil.[3]

There is some doubt though that ideas will bring the life of those back who died in Greece as consequence of a policy that imposed austerity measures in the interest of personal enrichment but even more so in the interest of a system that is kept running by money – be it gold or black. The Ukraine may be taken as Colosseo on the global scale; and the visit of Mr. O here in Rome may be metaphorically taken as validity of the old principle: panem et circenses are strictly in the way of an evangelii gaudium.

Bloch’s presentation of ‘possibility’, allowing us with this an informed approach to understanding them in their objectivity. He points on (i) the formally possible – what is possible according to its logical structure; (ii) the objectively possible – possible being based on assumptions on the ground of epistemologically based knowledge; (iii) the objectively possible – possible as it follows from the options inherently given by the object; (iv) and the objectively real possible – possible by following the latency and tendency which is inherent in its elementary form.[4]


[1]      55 f. of the printed edition of the Città del Vaticano: Libreria Editrice Vaticana; with reference to Saint John Chrysostom, De Lazaro Concio, II, 6: PG 48, 992D.

[2]      page 56 f. of the printed version

[3]      Keynes, John Maynard: the General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money; BN publishing,2008: 239

[4]      see Bloch, Ernst, 1959: Prinzip Hoffnung; Frankfurt/M: Suhrkamp [written in 1938-1947; reviewed 1953 and 1959]: 258-288; see also Herrmann: Social Policy – Production rather than Distrbution; in print

Mocking and Roots

Returned from Rome – not only known as Santa Sede, but also known as one of the main “sites of antiquity”, seen as cradle of civilisation. Sure, it may be contested if such a claim is actually legitimate – there had been many antiquities and consequently there are many places that can be equally seen as such main sites. Having been there – this time actually not as long as on other occasions – I had been drawn immediately and tensely into this question. Perhaps it is our new office, if you want you may say the ultimate tension between times: an old building (though not reaching as far back as antiquity, a most elegant interior: with columns, arches and nearly monumental vases and statues, and at the same time accommodating one of the most modern social and economic research institutes. But all this …, does it go hand in hand? Is it compatible at all? On my facebook-site I surely made several disrespectful remarks – and I am not tempted to deny them. And I also made several remarks that simply reflect some general criticism: immeasurable wealth in the face of increasing world-poverty … With all this one should surely not simplify things – even personally I know a reasonable number of people: honestly faithful, honestly working for human rights, for combating poverty, trying to build up a just society. Actually the other day a leading figure of the Italian catholic church plead for a stronger influence of his organisation in politics – let us even assume that  he is a god-willing, honest person. But there we are in the middle of a first fundamentally critical point: This organisation claims not only influencing the state – we surely have to admit that there are several organisations, with different political couleurs, claiming the same. But this organisation, the Holy See as calls itself, calims TO BE the state, at least a state. What we easily overlook begins – symbolically – with the Vatican’s own Euro coins, and being surely expressed by the huge number of embassies. Actually walking through Rome, in most varied places, you find the embassies, the Diplomatic Mission to the Holy See. Btw., I think our Finish embassy has the most stunning location, overlooking Rome … Sure, btw. – but there is another point to it: next to it, there is a wall – narrow, just a small protection for the tourists that are roaming across this space: in memory of Garibaldi. On the wall you can read the Roman constitution – and there is surely a reason to mention and celebrate Garibaldi and the modern constitution in one breath. Literally, standing there, looking across the city, the Holy See is at your back – and you may want to say, it is in a position that is left behind. But you have to say: the church is a kind of backbone of this current system. There is no simple answer – on the cover of a book I bought in the Gallery of Modern Arts (Galleria nazionale d’arte moderna), I read:

Ogni epoca, per trovare identità e forza, ha inventato un’idea diversa di “classico”. Cosí il “classico” riguarda sempre non solo il passato ma il presente e una visiona del futuro. Per dar forma al mondo di domini è necessario ripensare le nostre molteplici radici. (Salvatore Settis: Futuro del “Classico”; Giulio Einaudi editore; 2004 [nuova edizione])

I think it is in some way remarkable that I bought the book in an arts gallery: arts seems to be much better able to reflect its origins without sticking to it like the fly in the trap, sweetened by honey, pleasing like Adonis, in Greek mythology the god of beauty and desire and dazing like opium. If life, real life, would support us in every day to live history in this “dialectical way”: keeping the valuable, but push the overcome part on the rubbish heap of history, mutual respect would surely be easier to reach. But as long as organisations claim to be states … All this has surely another dimension too: if and to the extent to which the church did have a legitimate role society it had been at times that are in social science frequently looked at in terms of cooperative, associational, communal … . There is much transfiguration going hand in hand with this – the golden ages of harmonious communities have never been really prevalent, at least not during those times that we may consider as sufficiently known. Nevertheless, there surely had been times preceding the modern state. and this brings us to a critical point, looking at many of today’s political movements, not least some of those claiming very critical positions against the current mainstream. Again. I do not want to question the credibility of these claims. Nor do I want to claim knowing the answers. To be honest, I am still looking for the exact question. At least I feel uncomfortable, looking at solutions based in values, in good will, in general feelings and partial analysis, not considering the fundamental changes of the productive systems. New quest for salvation: in old religions, revived Evangelism or new claims of excellence are unlikely to help. As said, I had been in the Galleria nazionale d’arte moderna. Entering the exhibition-hall, there is first a fascinating …, installation: The floor of the entire hall is a mirror, a broken mirror. Old statues standing on it … Can we say: Antonio Allegretti’s “Eva dopo il peccato” (1881) in desperation of what she lost? Giacomo Ginotti’s “Euclide” (1883) not understanding that the blueprints he made, didn’t work out? Alfonso Balzico’s “Guiletta” (1884-1886) hesitatingly-amused by looking at what emerged and could have been known by everybody? And the same Balzico’s “La Civetta” (1856-1860) even openly positioning herself beyond these worldly trivialities? Still, for all of them it is still very much a game – a bright light still shining – not victims like those who did the actual work, the ones, for which the hope of the regeneration of the soul, which is supposed to happen every seven years, doesn’t exist. It may be pure incidence that I communicate these days with Rainer about an article he sent in connection with some debate on some writing on religion: Hearing the Voice of God. Anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann studies how American evangelicals experience the friend they have in Jesus (article by by Jill Wolfson; July/August 2012). He asked me for my opinion on it:

…. In the meantime I have had a look at the text you sent. It looks as if there is quite a lot in the book in question that is in one or another way complementing the book “Gewinn in alle Ewigkeit” (Fleischmann). The first impression is striking: “Society outside [outside of the life of the sect] doesn’t exist.” And subsequently there is immediately a second point for debate: In which way did “our generations” – at least some of us – supported a development which is actually at least in analytical terms well reflected in Thatcher’s statement that “there is no such thing as society.” It is this question, so difficult to answer and even so difficult to ask: the search for personality as social being, linked to the point that the social is not just subordination and adaption. Looking at it in terms of class analysis: How can we understand Marx’ notion of a “class for itself” as development towards respecting personality, avoiding that everybody has to look individually for meaning in some dialogue: bound to an authority, without necessarily being a religious issue but easily being religious. ….

Is that really so different from how he interprets the text? His thoughts are mainly concerned with the freedom of thought, the freedom from dogmatic incrustation and the nearness to or distance from the state. Yes, indeed, the critic of the history of religion needs surely a new approach. And surely it is about how we produce and reproduce out daily life: the goods we need, the means we use and the way we produce and live together – in a way, distribution is only second stage here. That is part of what real critique of political economy is about.