Tuesday, February 11, 2020


Caterina Barone, Francesco Puccio (ed.), Profanazioni. Ithaca; Padova: CLEUP, 2018. Pp. 248. ISBN 9788867879250. €26,00 (pb).

Reviewed by John Henderson, King's College (Cambridge)

Version at BMCR home site

The keynote essay Profanazioni in a 2005 jamboree of associative short essays by the prolific political theorist Giorgio Agamben (pp.83-106) interlaces remarks featuring Trebatius and Roman law, Benveniste and play (viz. gioco), Benjamin and capitalism as religion, Freud and Pope John XXII, the world as Museum and the pornostar, to dig into profanation as any tricksy process of restoration to free use of people to the coming C21st generation to apply themself to profane the unprofanable (viz. the all-swamping destruction of creativity, freedom and joy represented by capitalism). To be sure, a politicizing call, profaning, liberating, joyous..., to be read in its collection's solidary barricade of essays, but also within the voluminous corpus headed Homo sacer. Now the proceedings of a 2017 international conference under the auspices of the Dipartimento dei Beni Culturali at Padova pick up on the core notion of Giamben-profanation, in a baker's doz. of sundry short essays that include topics directly relating to classical studies.

Full of surprises throughout (not least when essays 11 and 13 profane the Italian language with the Spanish tongue), this makes a handsome paperback, rounded out by a remarkably generous gazette of illustrations from within the book now enlarged to page-size and now reproduced, where relevant, in colour, and I have indeed enjoyed reading the ensemble, though I should perhaps warn of a complete lack of profanity, and only a disappearing, though as we shall see not despairing, dollop of the canon law-and-defecation element in Giamben's giambico game (nb this is my gioco).

A brisk introduction situates the volume and checks through the contributions. I follow suit, dummying for the Indices we don't get, as is the Italian way, by highlighting classical referents.

1. Archaeology/Epigraphy: a review of the mainly C3rd CE tomb inscriptions featuring what have been lumped together as Raised hands somewhere within a pictorial area or in with text or between both, and instead of probing for a common inspiration and so variants of a motif opens up imprecation to an expressive multi-directional discourse, a hands-on, hands-off, whose hands anyway, double-handed swipe.

2. Film. (How) To show the corpses of dead, wounded, et sim. soldiers? The essay undoes (yes, profanes) a shibboleth that says Italian filming of WW1 reserved such abomination from public viewing. Footage from the time doesn't, but inter-war compilation and re-cycling of that footage does, heavily monitor the fallen friend and foe, and we're left to fill in how we think we are are dealing with our versions of such desecration, residual or re-inforced, through the wwww.

3-8 Theatre:
3-4. Tragic theatre.
3. The Medeas. Explore contemporary transfocalization of the tragedy around the children. Profane Euripides, release connection with our theatres, re-wire our cultures into, but through, the sacred legacy. What children can do to us. (btw All Euripides, no Seneca.)
4. Ajax, Persians and Heraclidae; Supplices, Peace, Octavia. How classical plays are utilizable for therapy, as in post-trauma programmes, weaponizable for political activisms, realizable beyond the theatre.

5-6 Comedy: Birds.
5. Across five centuries, watch the profaner profaned, Aristophanes, sponsor one in/famous flight of fancy production after another. (Yes, flight is the craziest idea.) The thread is two-pl(a)y, profaned text, profaned theatre-space: free to join us, for us to join.
6. Focus on C19th cultural dissemination of the semiotics of theatre tuned to the dashing of hope in delusion counterclashing with the giddiness of tripping out into utopia. Dance, music, costume, the thrills and spills of the show (in monsta-maestro footnote referencing.)

7. Symposium. More tragedy, Agathon. More Aristophanes, Aristophanes. From scenographic discourse on erotics, through Alcibiades, to the politicization of erotic discourse. This essay stakes out a rich re-reading that goes straight to, and through, the heart of Plato's sacred theatre of language. Profaned, so released to befoul and free the polis.

8. The spectator. Set free the theatre audience? They always were free, to make of theatre what they do, to make it mean what it must. As in essay 4, watch us join in; this springy essay boings us to think through, so liberate, spectatordom. For reals.

(We have by now left behind classical names, if not games.)

8-10 Art History:
9. Roberto Longhi's early forays into iconoclastic dismissal of art culture and critical apparatus, ground a career-trajectory of sweeping broadside profanation transmuted into a revelatory mission to cut the volumes of accreted dicta and instead, take icons off their pedestals, dethrone maestri, (don't read anyone else's books), open eyes. And (the sermon of the dismount) get real with art in your life.
10. Ernst Kris's revaluation of the art of the disturbed makes for a revelatory release of a very different kind, reimagining realities with the psychoanalytic version of profanation: what's needed is a break-out consecration of politically pitched pyrotechnics on a societal basis.

11. Political militancy. Hola! Onto the streets of Bogota: public space appropriated (along with everything else, remember) by the capitalist religion, and citizens barred from their sacred right to own it. A provocation (to think): street-traders doing business from a laden push-chair, under arrest. A stunt (gioca) from the Museum, with a human chain spanning from private space to vendor, so trade at a distance, across the reclassified space: political struggle figured as a process of marking, demarking, and remarking. Here's a graphic prompt to strike out a bit farther into Agamben heartland, via invocation of the notion of Genius, the unreachable person inside that really controls your creativity, sets terms for our freedom, etc.

12. The Golem. The Talmudic-kabbalistic creature that does not enjoy but does (and how!) humanoid creation from earth anticipates by eons many perturbations now attaching to the conundrum of AI, but comes pre-fitted with an expansive commentary reaching back to OT abomination then forward through the minefield of Hashem, inside ourbeginning.

13. Authorship. Appropriately enough, the sequence homes on Modernity's positioning of the Writer, a displacement of priesthood in turn displaced into 1960s obliteration, and since then resurrected in po'mo's nemesis, autofiction, which would reconsecrate author-ity, in a jocular fiestaof profanation.

In the end, I wouldn't claim to have gleaned all that much Agamben from these games, but especially in the essays concerned with classical presence through reception drama, scholars will find clear presentation of stimulating materials and aperçus.

Table of Contents

Caterina Barone, Alessandro Faccioli, Giuliana Tomasella, Introduction, 7
1. Monica Salvadori, Luca Scalco, Dall' "Elogio della profanazione"alla paura della violazione del sepolcro: per una rilettura delle mani alzate sui sepolcri di epoca romana, 15
2. Alessandro Faccioli, Il corpo del nemico ucciso? Rappresentazione e censura nei filmati della Grande guerra, 33
3. Daniela Cavallaro, Dalla parte dei bambini: i figli di Medea e Giasone nel teatro contemporaneo, 53
4. Caterina Barone, Dall'intangibilità alla strumentalizzazione: il teatro greco come forma di propaganda politica, 71
5. Simone Beta, Il dissacratore dissacrato: il, "folle volo" degli Uccelli di Aristofane dal Cinquecento a oggi, 93
6. Francesco Puccio, Il dissacratore dissacrato: il"folle volo"degli Uccelli di Aristofane nel Novecento, 107
7. Alessandra Coppola, Amore e politica: profanazioni sceniche e retoriche nel Simposio di Platone, 117
8. Anna Bandettini, L'eresia dello spettatore, 127
9. Giuliana Tomasella, Brevi ma veridiche storie: le profanazioni di Roberto Longhi, 135
10. Marta Nezzo, Ernst Kris: storia dell'arte tra effrazioni e profanazioni, 147
11. Nicolás Leyva Townsend, Bogotá: resistencias frente a la ideologización neoliberal del espacio público, 161
12. Barbara Henry, I "non nati/e da donna" e la nozione di profanazione nella tradizione golemica, 175
13. Javier Sahuquillo, Los autores profanados: la autoficción como género teatral , 189
Bibliography, 203
Ills., 223-43

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