May 3, 2009

Gustaw Herling on Nicola Chiaromonte


Every new conversation, every new essay, every incidental note on politics and drama review showed me a writer who was unusual for Italy, a land of traditional literati, masters of the clever and fatuous scrawl at the service of the latest intellectual fashion. The kind of writing in which a sentence is not just the vehicle of free and lucid thinking but also of ceaseless moral tension, writing in which the words are alive with the whole being of the person who utters them as his long-mediated and suffered truth: that is the kind of writing that has always captivated me. And that was how Nicola wrote. He never let himself be caught in the trammels of “great systems” and “general interpretations,” he mistrusted “dialectical games,” which mutilated life, and “ideological shadows,” which obscured reality. He scorned psychologism and historicism, for what interested him was man in the concrete faced with concrete events, man capable of ethical judgment à la Tolstoy and at the same time aware of something impenetrable beyond him. How could this measured “humanism” have evoked a wide response in a world enchanted with the rhetoric of false “universal” ideologies, in a climate of hypocrisy half-mixed with fanaticism, in a “consumer civilization” of arid hearts and sterile minds? Nicola became even more acutely aware of his isolation. The title he gave his book was Credere e non credere (What should one believe in, and what not?) “Ours is not an age of faith, nor is it an age of disbelief. It is an age of bad faith, of beliefs which are clung to… in the absence of genuine convictions.” What is the cure for bad faith, this terrible ailment of our time? He desperately sought a remedy. And atheist or at least agnostic, he once admitted: “It is just as hard not to believe in God as it is to believe in him.”

- Gustaw Herling on Nicola Chiaromonte


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