woensdag 24 februari 2016

Bread of Dreams - Digest: '1. The 'Disease of Wretchedness''

"'One was really tired of being in the world,' noted a French rural curate in his diary during the seventeenth century, interpreting the desperation of the most wretched parishioners who died of hunger in his village. At the beginning of the same century a Bolognese canon, Giovan Battista Segni, recalled that 'in Padua in 1528, every morning throughout the city twenty-five or thirty dead from hunger were found on dungheaps in the streets. These paupers did not even resemble men.'
A terrible passage, coming from one of the most learned cities in Europe, that ominously illuminates the last stage in a troubled metamorphosis: the long miserable voyage towards the destruction of what is human and the passing birth of the man/animal in daily contact with dung, attracted by the mirage of its soothing, fermenting heat. A nauseating refuge for whoever was forced to sleep naked on excrement, like a second Job. [...]
The urban scene then came to resemble terrifying concourse - to use an image dear to a classical writer on hunger, St Basil - traversed by spidermen, skin dried out and ashen, eyes sunken in hollowed-out bony sockets like the kernels of dried nuts. St Basil's 'Homilia dicta tempore famis et siccitatis' painted a masterly portrait of these starving men which would remain an inimitable model until the time when famine stopped tormenting the West."
(Camporesi 1996, '1 The 'Disease of Wretchedness', pp. 26-27)

"In representing the hell of the poor one constant motif is used: the physical degradation of the starving pauper and his bestial metamorphosis. The pages written by doctors and priests often give us passages describing the collective reality with strong and biting dramatic force. Those who daily moved among the hungry and the dying were - more efficaciously than the men of letters (involved in totally different excercises) - the best interpreters and witnesses of the dismal marasmus of wretched individuals and crowds. Their voices agree in underlining the intolerable filth of the beggars, the nauseous and disagreeable stink of poverty, inescapable companion of the 'canine' condition: They did not have the appearance of humans, writes a south Italian doctor during the eighteenth century, 'so haggard and thin were they, and, furthermore, they stank so badly that when approaching citizens or wandering through the streets or churches or public spaces, they caused instantaneous giddinessand dizziness'."
(Camporesi 1996, '1 The 'Disease of Wretchedness', pp. 33)

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