sparse counted out coins
May 21, 2009, 5:05 pm
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Again, from Naples, the essay by Benjamin, here is a story of ephemerality:  a man drawing in chalk on a pavement, people passing and gathering, a picture of Christ, coins dropping, people leaving.  Too, you could see it as a story of mystery – of negotiation, transaction, perhaps even transubstantiation.

In their materials too, the street decorations are closely related to those of the theatre.  Paper plays the main part.  Red, blue and yellow fly-catchers, altars of colored glossy paper on the walls, paper rosettes on the raw chunks of meat.  Then the virtuosity of the variety show.  Someone kneels on the asphalt, a little box beside him, and it is one of the busiest streets.  With colored chalk he draws the figure of Christ on the stone, below it perhaps the head of the Madonna.  Meanwhile a circle has formed around him, the artist gets up, and while he waits beside his work for fifteen minutes or half an hour, sparse counted-out coins fall from the onlookers onto the limbs, head and trunk of his portrait.  Until he gathers them up, everyone disperses, and in a few moments the picture is erased by feet.

Naples, Walter Benjamin

discreet intoxication of hazard
May 21, 2009, 3:31 pm
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This is from an essay on Naples by Walter Benjamin.  Lore, legend, history – many influences, I am sure – assign cities character.  The politically correct decry it, but generalizations are always at least partially true, and interesting, and useful.  Here, Naples gets called indolent.  Southern places always get this rap – I guess it’s sunny, life is slow, the siesta has been instutionalized.  And everything now is measured by domestic product, ridiculously.

I asked my Italian coworker about this list; he humoured me and we discussed an alternate version of it he had grown up with – Bologna was gluttony and Genoa greed.  But he didn’t linger with me and said people don’t like to talk about it; people are sensitive about their birthplaces.  I persisted with a last thought, that outsiders are interested in it.  Now as I am writing this, I think more specifically outsiders from no place of their own are interested in it.

Trade, deeply rooted in Naples, borders on a game of chance and adheres closely to the holiday.  The well known list of the seven deadly sins located pride in Genoa, avarice in Florence (the old Germans were of a different opinion and called what is known as Greek love Florinzen), voluptuousness in Venice, anger in Bologna, greed in Milan, envy in Rome and indolence in Naples.  Lotto, alluring and consuming as no where else in Italy, remains the archetype of business life.  Every Saturday at four o’clock, crowds form in front of the house where the numbers are drawn.  Naples is one of the few cities with its own draw.  With the pawn shop and lotto, the state holds the proletariat in a vise:  what it advances to them in one, it takes back in the other.  The more discreet and liberal intoxication of Hazard, in which the whole family takes part, replaces that of alcohol.

From the essay Naples by Walter Benjamin and Asja Lacis in the book Reflections.