woensdag 24 februari 2016

Bread of Dreams - Digest: '2. Elusive Bread'

"The distress of the few in the face of the crazed surging in the streets, of the innumerable devourers of refuse - the 'grub-men' and 'insectmen' - and the anxiety of the groups in power regarding the great, threatening numbers, the uncontrolled proliferation of the wretched and the spectre of a negative society that, reluctant to be integrated, waves the banner of a society in opposition, all stimulate the obsessive image in Bonifacio's sonnets of the rising tide; water that rises irresistibly in order
to bring about the final suffocation. The tension between the castes is transformed into this metaphorical series of verses from which seeps the fearful contempt of the eaters of white bread towards the eaters of dark bread or those who went without bread altogether: the picchia-porte
('door-knockers') or matta-panes' ('bread-crazy') who expanded the great cloud of scoundrels and rogues',  as threatening as a raging storm of locusts.
In reality, beyond the literary effect and ritual dramatization of tumult and fear, the turbulence of the very poor, while capable of causing anxiety and dread, never went beyond a bit of unorganized looting, incapable of being transformed into anything more than a furious but short-lived rebellion."
(Camporesi 1996, '2 Elusive Bread', p. 35)

"Liberation from the male di vivere ('sickness of living') was not pursued politically, but by means of direct-release techniques, such as the great use of alcoholic beverages, sexual practices ('wild' and unrestrained) and ritual feasts (the private or group transgression of the civil or religious norm}.Dreams stimulated not revolutionary ferments but voyages into fantastic evasions. The utopias, even the most radical, dissolve into doctrinal and sapiential story-telling. Even the great myth of the Land of Cockaigne - whether in its general desire for fair community ownership of material goods and property, or in the dream of eternal youth and love, not socially controlled, of non-institutionalized eros - never remotely entails authentic political and social renewal. [...]"

Angelo Beolco, Due dialoghi di Ruzzante, 1556
"The bread of the poor, of those dressed in rags, the unemployed, and especially of those who produced it, the peasants, victims of a paradoxical social and economic logic, was a bread forever fleeting, as elusive as a slow-motion nightmare of interminable length. In lean years, the time of
the next harvest was dreamed of, in longing expectation, beginning in late autumn: of summer and its fruits, the season in which one could re-experience the taste of the pan novelo ('new bread').
The character of Menego in Ruzante [Angelo Beolco (1502 – March 17, 1542)]'s Dialogo facetissimo, performed during the famine of 1528, counts on his fingers the months that separate him from 'the fleeting bread': 'January, February, March, April, May and half of June as well, until wheat. (Sigh!) Oh, we shall never make it!
Blast, but it's a good long year, this one. I know the bread flees from us, indeed it does, more than sparrows from the falcon.' [...] The comic stamp of the dialogue [...] also serves to dispel the terrible adversary, hunger, by exorcizing it with laughter. [...] tragic buffoonery invented by those whose flesh is tortured by the wedges of hunger. This cruel image, borrowed from the torture chambers, was
then quickly transferred and rendered innocuous by the absurdity of the expedients devised to try to avoid, or at least mitigate, the hard laws of necessary consumption and physiological fate, proposing the use of astringents like the sorb-apple, or the surreal strategem of plugging 'la busa de soto' ('the hole underneath'). In that way the excrement, not being able to leave the body, could keep the bowel full thus neutralizing hunger. [...]
Ruzante reaches the most powerful effects of macabre humour when Menego, outraged in heart and flesh by his rival in love, imagines his own destruction, by self-devourment: 'But nevertheless I shall kill myself ... And i will be even better, because I myself shall eat me, and so I shall die well-nourished, in defiance of the famine'.  The grotesque effect is surprisingly successful and of an irresistible humour (at least for us); except that the weighing and the interpretation could be modified,
keeping in mind that episodes of this sort - here only imagined for the amusement of the noble listeners - were actually taking place outside the theatre. The accounts by the missionaries of St Vincent bear witness to the tragic reality of autophagy in France during the seventeenth century.
The shortage in the food supply from which Ruzante departs in order to construct his Dialogo facetissimo et ridiculosissimo, 'performed at Fosson in the year of the famine, 1528', corresponds dramatically to the notarial acts of the time [...], which furnish a vivid counterpoint to the theatrical game created in order to delight the powerful patron and master, intent on expanding this vast landed patrimony, taking advantage of the misery which forced small landholders and lease holders already afflicted by heavy debts, to sell him their lands at a low price.
It remains an enigma how an audience could enjoy this theatrical action which caused the starving poor (even in the fiction of the stage) to become the means of entertainment and amusement for those who, if not actually the causers of hunger, took generous advantage of the calamities which fell heavily on the people. "
(Camporesi 1996, '2 Elusive Bread', pp. 36-38)

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