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Grafica e comunicazione

Living dead

“Death is not surprising.” In addition to this apparent paradox, Thomas Bernhard wrote some of the most memorable pages of fiction of the twentieth century. His statement makes complete sense if we consider that, given that birth we take for granted, death is the only event of a certain importance that we all must face since the time of Adam, at least until today (we will see in the future: they say technology will work wonders).

Man has always tried to make sense of death, to the point of developing Christian thought and convincing him of his potential immortality. Thus, for most of us dying has become dramatic - both in the sense of the representation and of the painful story - and no longer tragic because it is time to take stock with the validity of the promise that an afterlife is possible, or even quite certain. Only once we die will we know how it went: even God died, disappearing from our horizon and leaving death isolated, irremediable, definitive - beyond what it really is, if deprived of the hope of faith or rhetorical devices: miserable, absurd, dirty. The real problem derives from the use of the word which leads to alternative forms sometimes sweetened only in intentions: "disappearance" (no longer being there) is a much cruder term than "death" (ceasing vital functions).

Our loved ones who have passed are far from missing. To the point that, unlike Bernhard (1989), we continue to be surprised by their death. We are always surprised, even after many years, simply because we do not stop relating to them - and the relationship presupposes an act of presence, in the correspondence between two or more entities.

Let's take for example a recent day chosen at random. After having prepared for the day while listening to Johann Sebastian Bach's Art of Fugue (1750) in the sublime interpretation of Hermann Scherchen (1966), I developed an advertising campaign using the internet to obtain suggestions and useful quotes to develop the message. All the authors I selected are extinct (another brutal synonym of death), some of which died a long time ago, the oldest, Thales of Miletus, dating back to 548 BC. In the late morning, while seated in my accountant’s sumptuous waiting room, I admired the drawings by Raffaello Sanzio (1520) of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford reproduced accurately by the Institute of the Italian Encyclopedia. It was as if I could see Raphael through the brush strokes that seemed fresh from the day. Later, after lunch, I watched a very entertaining, as well as instructive, lecture on YouTube by Philippe Daverio (2020) about Gaspare Campari (1882). After enjoying a perfect espresso made with beans roasted by Gianni Frasi (2018), I chose to rewatch a film by Alfred Hitchcock (1980) starring an angelic Joan Fontaine (2013) and a very stiff Laurence Olivier (1989), which included a plethora of anonymous deaths: having been shot in 1940, and without children on stage, I believe we can safely say that all the actors and extras must be dead by now. Later that day, I traveled to the mountains while continuing to read Thomas Mann’s (1955) third novel translated masterfully by Renata Colorni (luckily still alive).

For a good part of the day, I dialogued with the dead - and what amazing dead people, and what brilliant dialogue! Therefore, Bernhard’s initial statement could be reversed while remaining unchanged: even though we always relate to our dead, we never cease to be surprised by their death. And we can never define them as being truly gone!

Returning to dear Daverio, he is the real reason or pretext for this cheerful Snapshot. Having not followed the news for some time, I only happened to learn of his death a few days ago, even if he passed a few years ago. I was reading a short essay of art criticism which, hinting at his passing, quoted him in the past tense - a suspicion that was then verified by Wikipedia. In the two years between his passing and becoming aware of it, I have watched and rewatched many of his amazing lectures, obviously without ever asking myself if he was alive or dead. (I continue not to ask.) Of course, technology helps to make a dead person seem still alive, even if we admit that we do not perceive big differences in the intensity of dialogue between loved ones who are far or near - for example between a Titus Lucretius Carus (50 or 55 BC) who is able to open our minds thousands of years later even if we know very little about him; and Daverio who, on the other hand, I have watched for years gushing brightly with his magnificent, good-natured and joyful face that always seems to address us, in confidence.

All this to say what? Perhaps it’s necessary to attempt a conversation with the dead that we carry inside every day. Or maybe vice versa.

30/09/2022 Filippo Maglione