Sublime is………………………

If you think about your entire working life, can you spot the most memorable
moment you have experienced? When did you feel to have actually reached the top? Well, in my honorable 25 year teaching career I have no trouble to say, that it happened a couple of years ago. The occasion was a lesson on Burke’s essay ” A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas the Beautiful  and Sublime“. The topic was quite challenging considering that the average student of that class was not much into philosophical debates on aesthetic dualism, but rather into erudite discussion on the best possible scheme to adopt for the next football match. On this they had no rivals and could speak for hours, in any language, if necessary. On such a topic, what kind of feed-back might I have expected?  Very likely the only one I could have had, if I had been in a stadium and started to discourse about the kind of emotions Beauty and Sublime may convey between the first and the second half of the match, I guess.

Whoever has ever read some of my articles is well aware that football is very important to me.  Whenever the subject of the post allows it, my football passion echoes between the lines. I am a supporter of one of the two teams of Rome, in fact: S.S. Lazio. Now, it happens that the class above mentioned, actually, belonged to the other club : A.S. Roma. You have to know this football dualism does not represent only the eternal fight between enemy factions like, Romolo and Remo, the Guelfs and the Ghibellines, the Capulets and the Montagues etc. , but it is more. There are psychological traits that attract you on one side rather the other. The Roma supporters are quite dogmatic: they firmly believe that A.S.Roma is a sort of faith that cannot be discussed, but loved only. That is why they start the season with the utmost certainties of victory, which are regularly shattered after few months. The typical Lazio supporter, on the contrary, is more pessimistic, less dogmatic and open to bitter criticism. They are the yin and the yang of Roman football passion, in short. In  more than a century of disputes even the number of trophies won by both teams is quite similar: just a few. As a rule, if we take 10 supporters, 7 of them usually belong to A.S. Roma and  3 for S.S. Lazio, but in that class the presence of the latters was even below average : one out of 25, as far as I can remember.

Going back to Burke, at the end of the lesson, I could not actually make out the real feed-back, as I mostly saw dumb faces, which looked like masks, the masks of politeness they usually wore whenever they wanted to seem attentive, while they were actually thinking to something else. Therefore, I decided to assign a homework: choose a picture, a drawing etc. which represents the concept of sublime for you and write a comment; hoping they wouldn’t come up with a picture of a pizza Margherita. I had not considered that the day of the assignment, was a Monday, or better, the Monday after what we call the”Derby”, that is, the match of the matches: Rome vs Lazio.

We lost: 4-1 and it was the third time in a row. You may guess how unwilling I was to face all the jokes and mockeries that are the inevitable follow-up after a lost match and I felt that particularly those “scoundrels” might have prepared something. However, when I came into the class they looked a kind of indifferent: no shirts and scarves of their team or pictures scattered around as usual. Nothing. As I knew them well, I didn’t trust this apparent nonchalance and I decided to make some hints, just to excite a reaction, but in vain.  All I had in return was: “Oh, the Derby, yes, we won“.Stop.

So much the better. Since there was nothing to be said about the match I started to check the homework and I said: “Daniele, show me the picture you chose to explain your idea of Sublime!” “Of course“, was his prompt reply, but with an evil smile which I couldn’t miss. And there it was his Sublime. He had a sheet with a patchwork of images of the victory. There was a sneering captain Totti right in the middle and a big inscription at the top in bold : “Sublime is……..Roma 4 – Lazio 1″. As soon as I had finished to read it, I realized that all his other mates, even the girls, were exhibiting the same leaflet with a big smile. They had won, again.

 

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Eliot explained to a footballer

lazio 1A ” proficient footballer” is a living oxymoron. I don’t know what’s wrong with football , but whoever is engaged in this discipline (my nephew for example), rarely displays any proficiency in school subjects. This is really, strange as the activities connected to other sports like swimming, athletics, volley etc. actually seem to enhance concentration, organization and commitment. Football works in another way. However, since a large number of footballers peoples my classes, I have to cope with the fact that football is their main, if not only, language. In particular, when it comes the time to deal with Eliot and themes such the sense of hopelessness, fragmentation and desolation of the present, lack of future and sense of loss of an entire generation, the contrast between my manly exuberant audience and these themes is really striking. So every time, I cannot help but wonder : have they developed the right sensibility to understand such issues? Running, sweating and vigorously fighting on football fields? Very unlikely. However, I won’t give in. So, let’s put aside books for a while, and let me produce the ultimate effort to make myself clear using; therefore, the universal language of ………football.

lazio 4I love football. I have always loved it, and  I have to thank my father for this. I also have to thank him for having transmitted to me the passion for a glorious team, which is not exactly the Barcelona, Manchester United, Juventus or Real Madrid type, but rather the Leicester type (talking about recent miracles), that is, that kind of team that wins whenever the most improbable and exceptional star alignments happen and thus, being these events so rare, the actors of these deeds immediately walk the immortal path to glory and myth. My team is S.S. Lazio and it seems that the stars haven’t been able to find the right alignment for a while. Sixteen years to be precise; and after sixteen years of hopes, and shattered dreams, I am not exaggerating (well,only a little) if I say that Lazio supporters fully embody that sense of hopelessness, fragmentation, desolation of the present and lack of future that so characterized that post-war generation. This is not because we haven’t won much in recent years, but rather, because we have been deprived of our right to dream.  For all of us, in fact, it is now clear that the management of S.S.Lazio doesn’t want or can’t make any effort  to elevate the quality of our beloved team from the present state of mediocrity. Hence, no champions to worship ( we don’t even know the name of the next coach), no goals to achieve and fight for, no future. Thus, when you feel that you have been deprived of your right to hope, you cannot but look back to a past when everything was different: comforting, warm, happy. Not necessarily it has to coincide with the memory a glorious episode, but with the hope and craving for glory.

lazio2Modern football, at least here in Italy, has lost all its ritual. I still remember with great pleasure when my parents decided to replace the Sunday habit of going to church with that of going to the Olympic Stadium in Rome. After all it was still a matter of faith, only with the choice of a different liturgy, that is all. Sunday used to be the only day devoted to matches and all of them started at 3.00 p.m., all of them. When S.S: Lazio played away, we used to follow the team and that became the occasion for a Sunday outing and the visit of the hosting towns. Even my relatives, who were not much into football used to come, as it was the occasion of staying together. I still remember the loads of food we used to take with us, the smell of onion omelette sandwiches, laughter and even the escapes from unfriendly hosts. At 6:00 p.m. Italy halted, as it was the time see the match was given on tv, usually the most important one, so, everybody, even those who did not support those teams used to watch the match. It was a liturgy that had to be consumed to the end, all together.

lazio3Nowadays that sense of ritual and community is completely lost. Sunday is no longer the holy day of football. Football liturgy has been sacrified on the altar of the profit of the pay-per-views. Matches are played from Thursday to Monday and at any time of the day, working days and even lunch time. You can watch the match comfortably at home, of course, with few friends or in solitude, with the result that those cathedrals, which used to be the Italian stadiums are now emptied and left in desolate conditions. And those heroes who used to inflame the hearts of their followers fighting on those arenas, nowadays are only money makers in search of a good contract, wearing the mask of love and dedication, with few exceptions, of course.Therefore, Sunday has become for me the “cruellest” day of the week, “mixing memories” of a happy past and the “desire” for a change, and now as a “tuber” “dried” of any faith or hope, I  no longer follow my team and remain at home nourishing my heart with the little hope that one day a Mr Godot will show up and save me from the present state of desolation.

Dedicated to Gianluca and Marco, great fooballers and………..students. Wish you all the best.

Myths, heroes and………..Totti.

fall-of-pha-thon-greek-mythology-2996236-800-584I’ve always enjoyed reading stories about myths, legends, courageous men ready to sacrifice their lives for the sake of their country or even only for the beauty of a woman. The main actors of these stories where the heroes, who actually embodied the highest expression of  the values of their society: loyalty, honour, love for the country, sacrifice. With their deeds, which were narrated in long epic poems, they were the symbols of the power, pride but also ethics of their people, thus contributing, through a natural process of identification, in the making of what could be called national awareness.

192964_oHeroes could not be commoners, for sure, because the greatness of the values they embodied had a divine nature that could be found either in their breed, for example Achilles, whose mother was the nymph Thetis or in their name, as for  Beowulf. Beowulf, in fact,  means “bee wolf” (which was supposed to be a metaphor for a bear): “the wolf that eats honey“, from which it was extracted ambrosia, the food of gods. He was, therefore, one of them. The values heroes embodied were universal and worked as glue of past more primitive societies, thus creating the basis of modern ones. At this point, I always ask my students a question: are there any such heroes nowadays? Men or women that could be the expression of universal values? They usually ponder for a while, then they come up with the usual defiant answer: Totti.

tottiTotti, who? I guess you would ask. Well, Totti happens to be an Italian footballer, particularly popular here in Rome as he is the captain of A.S.Roma. The answer is quite provocative, as they know well that I am a great fan of the other team here in Rome S.S.Lazio. On Sundays , but often for the whole week, the atmosphere here is always something like, Capulets vs Montague,Guelphs vs Ghibellines,Trois vs Sparta and Lazio vs Roma. Thus, you may understand how that name can be particularly odious to me. However, despite the choice of the man, is it such a wrong answer? Can an action of a  footballer or a team have the same function of glorious heroic deeds? Yes.

7FEVER-PITCH1997_1835603iNick Hornby in his autobiographical book  Fever Pitch: A Fan’s life , well describes how football works in the mind of supporters. It is glue. Football is the common ground that allows the protagonist Paul Ashworth, an English teacher, to re-create a relationship with his father after the divorce and at the same time he finds in the other supporters of Arsenal that family he needs, with whom sharing the deeds of the present, the hopes for a better future and the stories of a glorious past. Time is felt as seasonal, therefore reassuring, cyclical, never-ending. We may discuss upon the values football expresses, however, people gather around those values and find motivations, passion, frustration but also happiness. For ninety minutes they/we feel alive in a never-ending dream.

It is sad, however, that they couldn’t spot anybody else. How could I blame them? After all the society they had been brought up fabricates powerful models, who invite to a process of identification in order to make profit (football included). The beautiful “lightness” of values is thus replaced by the “heaviness” due to the craving of things. Therefore, once men are emptied of their values, they cannot but  become just like those “dried tubers” of T.S.Eliot ‘s Waste Land, who don’t seem to find any good reason to live and just like “broken images” wander pointlessly in this world, unless……………Totti comes 😦