I’m in Genoa, a city I never imagined I’d visit, even thought it is a city I have imagined. Lovely, the city, the port, the cafes, the grocery stores – food, consumption of, being the guts of tourism, museums being the eyes and brain – the wonderful colors of the houses, pastel meditteranean. If you think, as I do, that world civilization (and the at the time unnoticed end of the Holocene) began in 1492, then you have to say that Genoa has cast its shadow over the world, even if the world has not noticed it that much. I mean, the great Meditteranean Republic has never intruded its dramas on us, like Venice or Florence. The Renaissance, I’m told, has not retained much of a foothold in Genoa: a couple of streets. Nothing like the grand structures of the 19th century, Nietzsche’s Genoa. We looked at the façade of a wonderful church, not the cathedral but nevertheless bearing, as the Baedecker Guide from 1906 puts it, alternative courses of black and white tile, which gives it a cheerful, salt/peppershaker appearance, but also having the required raft of gargoyles. I haven’t yet set foot in this or any of the older Genoese structures. But I have been thinking about cathedrals, lately, reading Hugo’s Notre Dame, which is a very diffuse novel in which long excuseses take up such questions as the meanign and function of cathedrals. Hugo is never quoted by historians or sociologists of technology, but should be: in one of his excursuses, he explains the cathedral as a devise that, though intended by function to house the worship of god, actually, through its subordinate affordances – its rose windows, its statues, its spaces, its bas reliefs, etc. – operates as a veritable book, makes legible the stories of the tribe to the people who have constructed it and come to it to worship, or simply pass by it. In Hugo’s account, the cathedral’s competitor is not the Protestant church, or anything like that, but the printed book – or, in fact, the printing press itself. This balance between cathedral and printing press, this putting them into relation, precedes and must have influenced Henry Adams Virgin and the Dynamo, and still echoes today in the banal speech of technogeeks going on about “disruption” – lacking, of course, Hugo’s leonine roar. In Hugo’s system, its rock or paper – with paper destroying rock. And, in a nice karmic yo-yo, it is now paper versus silicon – metal destroying paper.
Well, leaving these thoughts behind, we are all enjoying Italian views and speech, and thinking a bit about Nietzsche, who lived in Genoa at various high points in his life. According to the editors of his works, he at first kept his address in Genoa – the second time, though, he found lodgings in Salite della Battistini. Genoa was associated in Nietzsche’s mind with the writing of the Froehliche Wissenschaft – the Gay Science – one of his masterpieces. The Battistini is pictured here, on a site that seems to lament the Genoese forgetting of Nietzsche http://www.primocanale.it/notizie/l-oblio-di-nietzsche-tra-i-graffiti-e-l-incuria-in-salita-delle-battistine-a-genova-152109.html
Nietzsche took ship from Genoa for various trips: to Naples, or to Nice. Genoa was still a great port In the late nineteenth century, but not the port it became, according to my friend Luca, in the trentes annees glorieuses of the postwar period. Then the industry collapsed. But the port is still a major loading area. From the café on the pebbled beach where I am writing this, I can see a vast freighter out there in the water. Santa Monica, with its pleasurecraft, has been left a world behind. I’m told that globalisation has reached here, and that the ships I see are manned by Phillipine sailors. The Phillipines, that far reach of the global system “discovered” by Magellan. In an exclusionary move typical of the free flow of goods and capital over our borders, these phillipine sailors don’t come ashore. They don’t get drunk and go whoring in the dark streets around the docks. There are no dark streets there. Instead, they stay on board ship, lacking the proper papers to plant their feet on Italian soil. No dancing in the street like the sailors in a musical for them! Slave labor has been replaced by contract labor, which breathes freedom, freedom and freedom to the ears of neolibs everywhere. But the freedom of contract is strangely one sided, with the makers of the contract having all the freedom, and the signers of it having only the freedom to sign it, and undergoing its burdens after that magic moment. To oppress or compress what the contract makers can put in the contract is, as we know, the sheerest tyranny. Luckily, our globalised competitive nation states aren’t about to compell the contractors to follow the rules of human dignity.
Nietzsche felt that in Genoa he began his recuperation – from both bodily and mental sicknesses (and how he would have hated how, a hundred twenty years after him, we have so comfortably adopted the ‘metaphor’ of healing – the conjunction of the medical and the ideational, the shock derived from it, having become so banal as to bring tears to my eyes every time I hear someone use the word healing – and yet knowing that even so, a bit of enlightenment lies in the overused trope) and expressed his gratitude to Genoa in a letter to a friend, Koeselitz: And so once again I am going to try to fix myself, and Genoa seems to me the right place, three times a day my heart overflows here, with the auguring mountains in the distance and their adventurous mightyness. Here I have crowds and rest and high mountain paths and that which is even more beautiful than my dream of it, the Campo Santo. The Campo Santo was the famous Genoa cemetary, and Nietzsche shows himself to be a solid nineteenth century man with his ecstatic mention of it.
I haven’t seen it yet, and perhaps won’t.