Houses, rooms, objects. Where the memories of Sergio Garuffi live

I do not remember exactly who said that memory can only be spoken of in metaphors, perhaps the philologist Harald Weinrich, in any case it is true, and in fact, since the most remote antiquity, two were used above all, that of the warehouse and that of the tablet. wax, which referred one to the idea of ​​archiving and availability, and the other to that of memory as an imprint or trace. So basically a place and an object, as Antonella Tarpino argues in her beautiful anthological essay (The book of memory. Houses, rooms, objects. Where memories liveIl Saggiatore, 320 pages, 24 euros), when he writes that more and more often memory recounts time through space, investing buildings and objects with itself.

Houses are containers of stories, they house our most lasting and precious memory, perhaps also for this reason they are called stable the buildings that house them. On the other hand, the language reiterates this forcefully: the mood consisting in regretting what has passed is nostalgia, and how much this has to do with the house is revealed by both the English, which calls it Homesicknessthat is, the disease of the house, which the German, who calls it Heimwehthat is, the pain of the house.

The home as a place of memory par excellence, therefore, of that kind of compassionate memory capable of feeding on the reverberations of the emotions that emanate from the dear places of the past, thus becomes the tool to ensure that the past is re-presenthave place again, revealing in this sense its active and inconclusive character. Because it is true that the tape cannot rewind, nor make sure that what happened is not, but the sense of what happened is not fixed once and for all, it continually requires to be rethought, includedthat is, taken over by an interpretation that tries to bring out its meaning, perhaps rereading it in the light of new experiences.

In her anthological pages, Antonella Tarpino uses great literature, that of Kafka, Henry James, DeLillo, Sebald, because “literature is the true protagonist of that mnestic collage”, but also contemporary art and cinema for some time they have questioned how much and how memory is anchored to our living.

I am thinking of the delocations of Claudio Parmiggiani, those imprints of domestic objects, such as removed paintings or bookcases, which recall the removals or the hands of prehistoric caves, obtained precisely in the upbeat, without imprinting the color, as if to testify the cast of an absence.

Actress Dakota Fanning also ventured into this kind of test, making her debut behind the camera with a short film in which an apartment witnesses the joys, pains, hopes and disappointments of a young woman named Ava played by Eve Hewson. In Hello Apartmentpresented at the Venice Days 2018, the director tried to capture the way our memories are connected to the space in which we live.

At the center of the story is a bright Brooklyn loft, her first apartment, and a very simple basic idea, as stated by the author Liz Hannah: “reliving one’s past while reviewing what is happening in the present, everything in one space. ” Thus we see the young Ava enter for the first time in the completely empty and freshly repainted loft but with a lived-in look, looking around at the light that enters from the large windows flooding the wooden floor with the wear and tear of the previous tenants.

The will is to remind us that we always leave an imprint in the environment in which we live: in that point of the house she will see a film with a friend that will move her, in that corner of the living room wine will be poured at a party, that chipped corner of the bedroom is where she will throw an ashtray during an argument with her man, which will culminate in the decision to separate.

As Emanuele Coccia warned in his Philosophy of the housethe domestic space does not have a Euclidean nature, “the things that inhabit our apartments are not extensions, they are magnets, attractors that transform them into a field of constantly unstable forces […] Staying at home means resisting all the forces they exert on us. Life at home is resistance, in an electrical and not a mechanical sense: we are a tungsten filament crossed by the force of things, we turn on or off thanks to them.

Every time we cross the threshold of our home, things come alive because they acquire a part of us. ” Thus, things objectify remembrance by incorporating and projecting meanings, but remembrance in turn reifies itself as a sort of secularized relic.

The charm of museum houses arises from the desire to restore a more intimate relationship with the works, as well as from the promise of having access to the private universe of an individual animated by a great passion, as well as by great capital.


First was Orhan Pamuk, with The museum of innocence, to argue that “the future of museums is in our homes”. The Turkish writer was referring in particular to the spectacular Wunderkammer of Poldi Pezzoli and Bagatti Valsecchi in Milan, or the Frick Collection and Morgan Library in New York, but also to the Gustave Moreau Museum in Paris, Mario Praz’s house in Rome and especially at the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam, places capable of making our heart beat with the deep emotion of a personal story, but the truth is that we have already gone much further than that.

Today, the most discerning tourism seeks traces of history and collective memory in less canonical and beaten places, less “separated” from everyday life. The great diffusion of a meritorious initiative such as that of the so-called stumbling blocks of the German artist Gunter Demnig, which inserts the widespread memory of ordinary people deported to Nazi extermination camps into the urban fabric of European cities, also stems from this push.

Just look at the success of the hotel’s room 214 Century of Prague, where you can stay, booking months in advance, to experience the thrill of being within the same walls that housed Kafka for fourteen years, since that was his office at the Insurance Institute. On the other hand, all of Prague is now a city in the form of a biography. Not even a century after the writer’s death, his name echoes in every corner of the Czech capital and his melancholy face stands out, an icon of the beauty and purity of failure, starting from his birthplace, which today houses the Kafka coffee, with his portrait as he teaches.

A writer whose fame in life barely crossed Bohemian borders, he has now become an international tourist attraction and a pillar of the Western canon. But the pinnacle is the Kafka bookstore at Palazzo Kynski, where his father’s haberdashery once stood. Hermann, the big man who only cared for business, what would he say now when he saw that the whole world celebrates the work of his firstborn, the one he considered good for nothing? It seems like a rhetorical question, yet the answer is not so obvious. The undying fame, even if by proxy, is a cumbersome burden, as demonstrated by the fact that the so-called American cousins, the sons of Uncle Philipp, among the few survivors of the entire family to the Nazi concentration camps, renounced any link with the illustrious relative , with a reluctance worthy of Bocca degli Abati (the character of the Divine Comedy made immortal in his desire for oblivion).

The same goes for room 346 of the Roma hotel in Turin, which remained the same as on that tragic 27 August 1950 (and let’s skip the details to respect the wishes of the illustrious deceased); or for suite 203 of the Hôtel des Saints-Pères, located in the street of the same name left bank, where in October 1971 George Dyer committed suicide on the eve of the consecration of his lover Francis Bacon, the protagonist of a great exhibition that was being set up at the Grand Palais, an honor until then reserved for only two living artists: Picasso and him . There was a lot of gossip about the reasons for that suicide, as Cesare Pavese feared, and today, almost half a century later, leaving the hotel in one of the most crowded Parisian streets with commemorative plaques, one realizes that there is no trace of that tragic event, as if Francis Bacon’s shame and guilt had survived.

Meanwhile, museum houses proliferate. The last stage of cultured tourism, the Bellonci house in Parioli, was announced months ago with an enthusiastic tweet from Minister Dario Franceschini, who underlined its importance because “great stories of literature and the memory of the Premio Strega live there”, to then add: “In Italy there is a need to enhance literary itineraries, which also pass through the homes of great writers”.

As Tarpino points out, “the history of the life of the house is linked to the history of the life of the body that inhabits it, ending up constituting itself as the symbolic medium par excellence of the very possibility of remembering”. It is no coincidence that Primo Levi wrote (inthe Others craft), about her Turin apartment from which she never voluntarily left, “I live in my house as I live the inside of my skin”, specifying that according to family legend the precise place of her coming into the world was the same in which the desk on which he wrote was positioned.

Memory takes refuge more and more in the home, and telling is making the world a home, putting one’s thoughts in order, fixing them once and for all, or perhaps an elegant way to get rid of them, a form of technique such as that of the sinologist Kien of Auto da fé(writing in the service of oblivion, ancilla oblivionis)? Be that as it may, our love for negligible things that we suspect full of meaning, and at the same time the solemn and childish idea that the universe is full of fragments of meaning that only a trained and sensitive eye can reconstruct and save on the basis of very thin clues, can find satisfaction only with the faithful transcription of these secret pearls on the classic black ordinance notebook, which is very reminiscent of the cahier noir of the young cuirassier Louis-Ferdinand Destouches; or the thirty-four black notebooks by Emil Cioran, which merged into the posthumous book of the same name edited by his partner Simone Boué; or the black notebooks with which Walter Benjamin always shot in the 1930s, in which his collection of wonders was kept (ergo not only Chatwin).

But all this has more to do with the principle of Edmond Locard, the father of French criminology, according to which one cannot enter or leave a place without leaving something of oneself, than with the genius loci. And that there is something not very peaceful about the nature of these pilgrimages to the homes of the great artists, we can guess from the hope (not without malice) of “finding” the writer in the most prosaic and defenseless substitute for him: the house in which lived. Armed of the best intentions, for heaven’s sake, and yet armed, even if only of a notebook (not by chance “ordinance”, as a detective instrument, and “unlined” as an offensive instrument). Not an innocent operation, therefore, but there is no literature, much less memory, where innocence is given.

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About David Martin

David Martin is the lead editor for Spark Chronicles. David has been working as a freelance journalist.

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