di Franco Arminio
Like the fissure that crosses a house hit by an earthquake, placeology is the fissure of impatience that crosses me. Without an earthquake, placeology would not make any sense. My first book is titled Viaggio nel cratere (“A trip into the crater”), and maybe this should have been the title of all my other books as well. They all continue that book—for I never left that crater. More than a crater, it feels like a uterus. And I am inside it, with my body and with my place (paese) inside my body, with my place and my body inside my place. The fissure won’t close. Writing fertilizes it, and so I become a farmer of the fissure, the manager of my discontent. I use the intimate side of my fissure as I say these things. In these very days, I used the other side—the civil one—to write up a proposal for an area of Basilicata. There, the mayors appointed me as technical spokesman. There, I was called to indicate the expected outcomes, the actions to achieve these outcomes, the ways to check these outcomes, the timescale to achieve them. After you’ve kept your tongue in check for a few days, after you’ve kept the brakes on, finally comes the tongue I like—the tongue moving downhill, the body crashing into the page. Placeology, then, is like scattered limbs after a huge accident: here an arm and a foot, there the heart, there the spleen. In such a text, it doesn’t make much sense breaking writing into paragraphs, paragraphs themselves don’t make any sense, and tables and charts even less so. I could say that I just went to the bathroom after five days of constipation, and, before I started writing, I thought that nothing would be like it was before, I thought that my tongue would take another path, and even the discourse on placeology would take another tack. I even had some coffee. Today it is as if I feel committed to contribute to collective despair. The place (paese) is a pledge: those who stay there must be either moderately or very unhappy. There are no other possible conditions. The placeologist doesn’t live in the place, he crosses it, he moves through it even as he stays put: moving through is placeology’s natural condition. Passing by and gazing, a sort of voyeurism of the outside world. I don’t live inside the world, I spy on it. The world is beyond the window. And if the world is inside, I am outside. A feeling of fragility comes from this implacable exile. I often speak of community, and I put a lot of energy in creating what I call “Temporary Communities,” but then I am the first to admit I am not able to live in them. I don’t even live in this text, I unroll it like a carpet. All of a sudden, the carpet is finished and I haven’t covered anything; the only thing that remains is the time I’ve spent unrolling it. And here comes the issue of death, which is, after all, the typically placeological issue. This morning, as I was getting dressed, I thought that sooner or later we all die. It’s a very common thought—and still, it was different from the same thought I had so many times. It wasn’t a dark or trembling thought, it was a somewhat dull thought, the premise for a yawn rather than a panic attack. I’ve triggered this intensity by thinking of my own death, but it’s not a given that this formula always works. It might be that sometimes death doesn’t heat the soul, and so not even writing makes any sense. For words, in that case, don’t help me frighten death or dilute it; they only help me pass the afternoon. And here comes a sublime definition of placeology: everything that helps you pass the afternoon in a place. The critical time is between 4 and 6 pm. Today every minute looks critical to me—even every second—but this is another story. For me the afternoon is the time of chocolate, the time when my happiness pays me a visit and I welcome it with open arms. There are people that tell others about how they became good and beautiful and luminous. These people send encouraging messages to the world. Recently, I have also tried to send encouraging messages; I have tried to say that a place in the Italian South can be a wonder. It’s something I can only say to people that live far away from places. The day before yesterday the landscape between San Mauro Forte and Craco looked like a mystical landscape to me. I’ve taken pictures of lonely trees on ploughed hills. I had the feeling that that landscape was everything to me. Nobody passed by. And I was inside a church, I crossed it in my car—but it was a church. Placeology offers this kind of illumination—not frequently, but still sometimes. I spent two perfect hours, I took nice pictures, I loved each and every one of those trees—and they loved me back. I will visit them when it’s sunny, I’d like to have a photo-exhibit about the loneliness of the Basilicata trees. Rarely do people give me such a beautiful feeling as the one that came three days ago from these Basilicata trees. People point out, clarify, add, they pull you from one side, they drag you, leave you, people make and unmake deals with your presence and your absence, they speak with silence and with words. Trees have the same code of silence as the dead—I’m talking about winter trees. I love summer canopies less. In canopies everything can hide. I love to see the branches, to see how they scratch the air, and breathe the air that has been hurt by branches. I don’t know when the things I am talking about will cross with the grace of being fragile. I certainly don’t know the opposite condition: the poverty of being strong.
Now, I like the way this writing is going. My job is to draw up words, I am confident that a hint of placeology will appear between the lines, above or below words, on their back or belly, words have their back turned to the sky, they stretch out, with their belly on the floor. Each writing is a raft placed on the paper’s terra firma. The grace of placeology lies in being a dry shipwreck. Or in that, from one page to the next, you pass from being a castaway to being dried-out. Placeology doesn’t talk about places, but about those who cross them, it talks about the creatures that live in places, but its gaze is not an asserting one, it doesn’t require any supplementary analysis. It’s a quick look, a short walk with friends, a temporary proximity. I don’t know how and when this writing is going to end, I am not telling a story, nor am I describing a place, I am just doing placeology, that is, I am writing down words and it’s up to me to decide when to stop. Outside, there’s the January sky. The dead lay in the graveyard, my son is whistling, the electrical wires are lit by a beam of sun, the snow on the rooftops sometimes reveals a tile. I am saying too much, and still I am not quite able to get close to a saying as a pure saying, as a pure being in the world of words. Placeological writing doesn’t push you anywhere, and when it does it, it does it by way of approximation, it does it for lack of a better way of doing it. Writing is not to hit reality, it’s to move toward reality and dodge it at the very last moment. Readers must see this jolt. It takes agility to write well, it’s a job for gymnasts. Think of workouts with trestles. You stay on the apparatus in order to avoid it. Maybe something similar also happens with love. It’s not lying in or on one another, it’s dancing toward one another, the beauty of dancing consists in concentrating the movement’s width within a minimum possible space. I embrace you, I hold you—and still some room remains, we feel free, we don’t suffocate. Intimacy and distance are a beautiful intertwinement to manage a territory as well as to live in a place or a love story, to write a poem or a piece of prose. Those who are simply mutually intimate or distant, fly as if with one wing only. Maybe one can only fly with one wing, but it must be made of two half-wings, the wing of distance and the wing of intimacy. The concepts of placeology are few. I’ve just described one of these. Another one is that of choral autism. We’re in the oxymoron’s heart. Community as a heap of autistic ruins, autistic ruins as the only possible community. Solitude and company are like the faces of a Möbius strip, where inside and outside ceaselessly change their sign. It’s the same for the algebra of affects, too. You add, and you find yourself with a minus, you subtract and find yourself with a plus. And so, to save the places of inner Italy you don’t have to think about adding, you don’t have to think of them as places where something is missing—something we must put there. Each place is a text. A place can be a tale or a poem, it can be a novel or an aphorism. You have to work with the rule of language more than with those of politics. A place must be helped to live in its language, to grow in its word or its silence, to become more and more translucid, eloquent. You have to work on society, you have to create laws for the people, you have to leave the places alone. A place is a mythical body, a mystical body that cannot be wrapped in the shroud of actuality. You have to leave this body its own dust, its own light. Placeology doesn’t love shroudings, it rather has to do with scraping and leaves pipes and wires in view. Here lies the grace of exposing oneself, of being exposed. And here lies the fragility of this grace, too.
(Translation by Serenella Iovino)